[PLUG-TALK] Expansion, growth, the world, and time

Michael M. Moore moore.michael.m at gmail.com
Wed Mar 23 21:12:45 PDT 2011

On 03/23/2011 01:01 PM, Keith Lofstrom wrote:
> On Tue, Mar 22, 2011 at 10:42:53PM -0700, Michael M. Moore wrote:
>> "Two weeks ago, the scientific journal PLoS Medicine published a study
>> that sought to define the relationship between economic growth and the
>> pervasive problem of undernourished Indian children.  In India, 25-50%
>> of the deaths of children between 6 months and 5 years old are due to
>> inadequate food intake.  This slow, sustained starvation causes stunted
>> growth and puts children at greater risk for infection and disease.
>> "The primary policy tool to combat chronic childhood undernutrition has
>> been economic development, but despite two decades of booming growth,
>> the average calorie intake in India has actually declined.  Indeed, the
>> authors found that there was no link between economic growth and
>> childhood undernutrition; stagnant or thriving, the status of a state’s
>> economy had no effect on its number of underweight children." [1]
> Ah - look carefully at that study, and what it does NOT include -
> actual calories, birthrate patterns, and mobility.  The Mumbai slums
> are not full of the grandchildren of previous Mumbai slum dwellers.
> They are mostly immigrants from poor regions in the countryside.
> The previous slum dwellers are living in the high rises.  Interesting
> things happen to compartmentalized data when the compartments are
> leaky.  That is why an immigrant can move from Guatemala to the US
> and get a 10x bump in income, while simultaneously lowering the per
> capita GNP of both countries.  The "capita" changes, so the process
> is not "adiabatic."
> The graph in figure 3 shows an 8% decline in underweight and a 6%
> decline in stunting between 1992 and 2005.  The population increased
> from 883 million to 1095 million over that same period.  That's not
> what Malthus would expect.

I'm not sure what you're getting at here -- the study wasn't of children 
just in one region, it was across the country.  The point of the study 
was to determine the correlation between economic growth and childhood 
undernutrition.  It found none.  I thought it related to this discussion 
in the sense that it points to "increasing resources" not, absent any 
concerted effort to disperse those resources in something approaching an 
equitable manner, necessarily improving the situation across the board.

> So overall, India is doing something right, most especially allowing
> its citizens to move towards opportunity.  That same process occurred
> a generation earlier in Hong Kong.

India is doing a lot right, and some things wrong.  Pretty much like 
everybody else!

> The article did not measure calories.  Like you, they just assumed
> the cause given the effect.  Malnutrition is endemic in America,
> too, though associated with a surplus of calories.  Like here,
> the people in India are bombarded with ads for crap food, such
> as artificial baby formula, which is expensive and unhealthy.

Then substitute "education" for "calories."  Or substitute "food 
inequity."  I'm pretty involved with Sisters of the Road in Old 
Town/Chinatown.  Sisters has been making a concerted effort over the 
past few years to serve healthier, more nutritious food.  Thanks to a 
lot of relationship-building with farmers markets and the like and 
generosity, and thanks especially to B-Line's B-Shares program, we're up 
to about 70% organic food at this point.  We no longer leave sugar out 
for the taking, it's rationed.  We're doing well on fresh fruits & 
vegetables, but not-so-well on drinks -- basically, it's water or really 
cheap powdered flavored chemical beverage.  We're struggling with 
keeping the milk in supply.  Overall, though, more food is local and 
fresh and more food is organic than ever before, and it's still only 
$1.50 for a meal & drink.  Your first meal is always on the house, and 
you can do barter work to build up credit.  And you can use food stamps 
-- it's pretty difficult to get a hot, cooked meal if you depend upon 
food stamps, and many of our customers don't have access to a kitchen. 
Many don't have a place to live.  How exactly one is supposed to avoid 
malnourishment under those conditions is beyond me, especially when 
there is a chronic lack of affordable health care.  A lot of people who 
actually have a home can't seem to manage it.

>> Based on current and historical behavior, I would guess it's likelier
>> that roughly 1 billion of those people in the U.S. or whatever country
>> or region ascends to superpower status in the centuries ahead will soak
>> up far more than 10 kilowatts each, leaving whatever is left over for
>> the other 9 billion in the rest of the world.
> Could you point me at that history?  The supply of medicine, water,
> food, and energy is increasing rapidly in most parts of the world.
> There are regions where it isn't - Haiti, parts of Africa - but overall
> things are getting better.  How does your income compare to your
> immigrant ancestors?   Mine were freezing in cramped tiny houses
> in Sweden, and they were the /upper/ working class.

Just about any point you'd care to pick, including now.  Can you point 
to a period in history when wealth and access to resources was spread 
fairly evenly across the population?  I think you'd have a pretty hard 
time of it, especially considering that in most (though, certainly, not 
all) cultures slavery was pervasive until just a few hundred years ago. 
  You're implying that I'm saying "Things Are Getting Worse."  I'm not. 
  I'm saying we have enough, we just haven't figured out how to 
distribute it very well.  I'm saying the reason the debates about 
whether nuclear or solar etc. can actually meet our energy needs leave 
me a little cold (so to speak) is because we over-consume energy now, 
and we do it in a wasteful, ill-considered manner.  I'm saying I don't 
buy into the idea that we must necessarily keep expanding capacity and 
supply, that we must accept the trade-offs inherent in all the different 
ways to do so.

> Your posting is couched in the assumption that there is a finite pie
> and "we" are taking too much of it.  The associated assumption is
> that if "we" give "our" resources to "them", they will do better.

Yes and no.  At any given time, there is a finite pie, and certainly, 
yes, "we" are taking too much of it.  We don't need to give our 
resources to "them," we just need to use our resources more efficiently. 
It would be nice if we could stop pretending that some of those 
resources are scarcer than they are. (What was it I read today, that 
various phone companies are now hoarding bandwidth?  What next?  We have 
screwy patent, copyright, agriculture, health care, telecommunications 
policies, all shot through with perverse incentives and designed to make 
some people very, very wealthy by creating artificial scarcities.)

> Ever since I was in high school, I have heard the story "we are only
> X percent of the world, yet we consume Y percent of the resources".
> And every time I hear that, the ratio Y/X decreases.  One can rail
> about the injustice.  Or one can observe that the usable resources
> are going up, and going up faster where we aren't.  After that, the
> important question is whether our involvement (interference?) with
> the growth of other nations helps or hinders them?  Kipling's
> "white man's burden" AKA "What these people need is a honky" is
> a questionable assumption.

Usable resources are going up, but is the reason for that because we 
need them or because we want them?  If it's because we genuinely need 
them, then there really isn't an issue.  If we desperately need nuclear 
energy, despite whatever risks it might entail, despite not quite having 
figured out how to handle the waste, then really, we should just start 
building plants.  If we really need a 12-lane megabridge over the 
Columbia, lets pony up the $4.6 billion and build it.  I mean, if we 
need the resources, let's create them.  But if it's just because we want 
these things, then the question for me is is it worth the trade-offs? 
Your posting is couched in the assumption that we need these things.  I 
always wonder what portion of innovation is spurred by need and what by 
want.  The flip-side of "if you build it, they will come" isn't 
necessarily that they will stay away if you don't build it.  It could be 
that if you don't build it, they'll figure out a better way to manage 
without it, if they remain open to the possibilities.

And I only occasionally indulge in railing against the injustice. 
Mostly I just try to engage in and encourage activities that promote 
equity, or at least don't actively promote inequity.  (That principle is 
probably what most appealed to me about Linux and OSS in the first 
place.)  It doesn't really bother me that the wealthy are getting 
wealthier, despite what that other Michael Moore guy said in Wisconsin a 
few weeks ago.  I don't care how much money Bill Gates has, or whether 
the wealthiest 400 Americans control 50% of the country's wealth or 40% 
or 60%.  I *do* care that so many people can't meet their basic needs, 
despite all our abundance, and I don't think expanding capacity, in and 
of itself, will fix that.  It never has.

>> usually leave me wondering whether anyone is taking a good hard look at
>> their own habits.
> Tell us about yours.  I spent $1000 and two weeks insulating the
> attic of the house we just bought.  We do the walls after we pay
> taxes.  My firewall computer consumes 4 watts, and replaced one
> that drew 20 watts.  I've replaced most of the lights with T8
> electronic ballast long-tube fluorescents, with zone switches,
> and hope to add DALI individual fixture control over the next
> few years.  That's not to brag, but to say that there are options,
> and they are action oriented, not worry oriented.  Let's share
> techniques; perhaps suggestions for good urban walking shoes.

I'm not terribly worried, but I also don't know what actions I can take. 
  My apartment building's landlord already did a major renovation, 
adding solar panels to the roof for water heating, shoring up 
insulation, replacing the windows & doors (and refrigerator) with Energy 
Star models.  I've hardly used the heat all winter, so it all seems to 
be working well.  It's a pretty small apartment anyway, with a nice 
little balcony.  I suppose I could compost?  Oh, I like Keen's shoes. 
And my bike.

> Ah - "plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose".  Interesting words
> from a country that has seriously improved governance, wealth,
> energy production, and distribution of income in the last 200
> years.  A more correct phrase might be "The more things change,
> the more people don't notice".

Come on down to Sisters sometime, meet me for lunch.  You can tell some 
of our customers -- maybe someone who spent the night in Forest Park or 
under the Hawthorne Bridge or someone who's hoping to get a bunk for the 
night at the Portland Rescue Mission -- how much better off they are 
than 17th-century French peasants.  I'm sure they'll get a big kick out 
of it.  I sure would have back when I was homeless.

> Please do read Ridley's "Rational Optimist".  Also Brand's "Whole
> Earth Discipline."  You might also skim Herman's "The Idea of
> Decline in Western History".  Things have seemingly been going
> to hell for millenia.

Indeed, which, again, is why I don't buy the "Things are getting worse" 
mantra.  The world is always about to end, too -- there's a website 
somewhere that collects hundreds of the prophesies of doom throughout 
history, most of them with some religious overtones.  It's just amazing 
we're still here, considering how often the end has been foretold.


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