This site has been pretty passive since first broad on line in alpha form in late 2014, not much happening and basically waiting for a better day (today!). Nonetheless, over four thousand visitors dropped in during this basically self-driving period, coming from some ninety countries on all continents.
John A. “Skip” Laitner is the first guest contributor whom we are proud to welcome to the important Op-ed section of this site . This section is intended to serve as a tribune for readers and colleagues who are working to develop new ideas and perspectives on the important topics focused on here — Environment, Exergy, Economy and Growth — to share their work, ideas and challenges with our growing network of international readers. We welcome critical discussion and creative disagreement.
The reasons for doubting that William Shakespeare from Stratford wrote the poems and plays are well-known. Shakespeare’s lack of formal education, his illiterate children, the fact that he owned no books or literary properties when he died, the fact that there were no encomiums or epitaphs immediately after his death (until the Folio), his lack of travel experience outside of England, and his lack of acquaintance with the aristocracy are more than enough to create doubts. However, the purpose of this essay is not to debunk the Shakespeare theory but to summarize the case, as it stands today, for Christopher (Kit) Marlowe. Marlowe would have been the obvious candidate but for a deliberate deception that has been generally accepted – especially by Shakespeare scholars – as history.
This book, published in 2005, (subtitled “The Hidden Beliefs and Coded Politics of William Shakespeare”) is a mildly contrarian view of the Shakespeare mythology. Asquith shares the starting assumptions of other Shakespeare scholars, namely that he had at least a grammar school education, that he became an actor and playwright soon after moving to London c. 1590, that he was a member of the “dissident” theatrical company of Lord Strange’s men, and that he was known to other playwrights (notably Robert Greene) as a playwright.
A 15 minute interview of Robert Ayres and Benjamin Warr appearing in the INSEAD Knowledge series posted on 16 September 2009, in which the authors are quizzed on the key findings of their then jut published book, ‘The Economic Growth Engine: How Energy and Work Drive Material Prosperity’ (Edward Elgar Publishing).
Click HERE for 15 minute video
– Robert U. Ayres. Paris, 29 October 2014
Photosynthesis was (and is) the biological process that removed carbon dioxide from the primitive atmosphere and left some of the oxygen in the atmosphere and sequestered CO2 in the earth’s crust. That happened as living organisms, such as diatoms, in the oceans attached carbon dioxide to calcium ions to make shells for themselves and left them as chalk or limestone. This went on for billions of years. When the oxygen level in the atmosphere rose enough, the new ozone layer cut the UV radiation level and made life on land feasible. Plants moved onto the land, and thrived spectacularly during the so-called Carboniferous era, several hundred million years ago when the CO2 level was still quite high by present standards. For over a hundred million years immense accumulations of dead plant biomass were covered by silt from erosion of the land surface. Meanwhile the bodies of dead marine organisms accumulated in some places under the sea. These accumulations were gradually compressed and “cooked” (pyrolized) releasing some of the hydrogen and converting the rest of the mass successively into peat, lignite and coal or (in the case of marine biomass) into bitumen and petroleum.
These accumulations constitute an energy (exergy) resource that currently drives industry and human civilization. We humans are now “un-sequestering” those stored hydrocarbons, combining them with oxygen and putting CO2 back into the atmosphere. Moreover, we are doing this at a rate thousands or even millions of times faster than the original accumulation. This ultra-rapid dissipation of stored exergy in the form of hydrocarbons clearly cannot continue indefinitely, not because we will run out of carbon fuels immediately, but because the atmospheric buildup of CO2 cannot continue much longer without catastrophic climatic consequences (IPCC 2007, 2014).
– For Exernomics. Robert Ayres, Paris. 25 October, 2014
The future of energy will be driven by a combination of price and availability, as it always has. But in an uncertain world one thing is very sure, and that is that this combination is already in rapid transformation, so we are looking at a very different future indeed.
In my recent book (“The Bubble Economy”) , I have argued that the rising price of oil, in particular (because of its unique role as a fuel for mobile applications) together with the declining price of “renewables” creates an opportunity for long-term investors. It is estimated that $2 trillion/year must be invested in renewable energy to meet future energy demand without increasing carbon dioxide emissions. Surprisingly, perhaps, current trends suggest that – contrary to widespread assumptions – such investments can be very profitable.
New York City skyline during power outage
The Exernomics site and program, led by Robert Ayres, has been moved to its permanent address at http://exernomics.wordpress.com/ (If you have signed in here to receive weekly updates, you are invited to sign in to the Exernomics site for their updates.) Exernomics, it’s useful work.
– R. U. Ayres. Support for public presentations in Cambridge, Carnegie Mellon, Washington DC, November 2014
I want to present four theses of possible interest. First, that economic theory today has not caught up with the changes in the world since Adam Smith and David Ricardo. Then externalities were comparatively rare and unusual. Today they are pervasive, thanks to urbanization, networking and globalization. The financial externalities associated with bubbles now far exceed in damage the profits to the bubble-makers.
Second, economic growth since that time has been demand driven because energy prices kept falling,– on average — until the beginning of this century. Future growth is not guaranteed in a world of “peak oil”, and oil price bubbles. It is not certain that our grandchildren will be much richer than we are. Secular stagnation May be caused by energy constraints.
Third, the policy response by central banks – low and lower interest rates, creates the condition for the next bubble. This cannot continue.
Fourth, there is a profit opportunity approaching with a huge payoff If grasped it will kickstart growth, reduce unemployment, ameliorate the Greenhouse effect and help solve the problems of the pension funds.
The problem of providing pensions for retirees is becoming acute. Dependency ratios are climbing in all western countries. By 2050 they will double in most western countries. In Japan, the number of retirees, now 35 percent of active workers, will reach 80 percent. Most European countries will have dependency ratios greater than 50 percent. The US, now about 20 percent, lags a little, because of continued immigration (mainly from Latin America), but the ratio will rise to 40 percent by 2050.
Exernomics is a concatenation of two words, economics and exergy. Economics is a discipline, with scientific aspirations, concerned with the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services in human society. It is also concerned with markets, trade and prices. It has been called “the dismal science” (by Thomas Carlyle), because of the Malthusian argument (c. 1799) that human population will always grow faster than food supply, whence the future of mankind was destined to be constrained by poverty and starvation. That didn’t happen during the following two centuries. So, in recent years Malthus has become an object of derision by mainstream economists, who have adopted a contrary doctrine of perpetual growth driven by unending innovation and substitution.
But the mainstream has ignored the fact that one resource has no substitute. It is “useful energy” or – in techno-speak – exergy.
The standard theory of economic growth, which is the basis of every economic forecasting model used by governments, business or international agencies, says that economic growth is automatic and will, therefore continue at historical rates indefinitely. Both liberals and conservatives believe this, though conservatives influenced by the “Austrian School’ (von Mises, Hayek, et al) warn that growth may be adversely affected if governments interfere with the magic of the Market by excessive regulation or in other ways. The problem is that they are both chugging along the wrong track. Their mistake is so fundamental that it has become invisible. But, as I say, the problem is really simple: virtually all modern economists neglect the role of energy. Or, more accurately, they regard energy as an intermediate output of capital and labor. The idea underlying the standard theory is that capital and labor, in some combination, “produces” coal, some other combination “produces” oil, and so forth.
The standard neoclassical theory taught in the economic departments of major universities and accepted by most of the economists who advise governments (and business leaders) attributes economic output (GDP) and economic growth to cumulation of only two so-called `factors of production’ namely capital and labor. These two factors are assumed to be freely substitutable for each other but not complementary.
The reasons for this assumption are more historical than logical. Natural resources or `gifts of nature’ were originally attributed to `land’ which later in the 19th century was absorbed into the larger category `capital’. Of course sunlight — needed by plants – can be thought of as proportional to the area of the land on which it falls, hence as a kind of indirect attribute of the land itself. The same can be said of natural rainfall and benign climate.
In any case, standard economic theory, as it evolved in the two centuries up to the first “energy crisis” in 1972, did not treat energy per se as a ‘factor of production’. In standard economic growth theory useful energy was (and still is) treated, instead, as an intermediate product of labor and capital. Somehow, a combination of labor and capital are supposed to produce energy. This makes a certain sense if we think of a coal mine or an oil well as an energy producer. Of course, mines and wells are no such thing. The useable energy was there in the ground – a gift of nature, in fact – and what the capital and input did (does) is merely to extract it. A well is useless junk when the oil is gone, and an exhausted mine is likely to be a blot on the landscape if not actually hazardous.
The works of Ayn Rand have become a huge socio-cultural phenomenon. This phenomenon is, currently, of significant and growing political and economic importance in the US. Despite her lack of education or experience in economics, social science, or political science, she was a remarkably successful novelist, whose ideas were formed by her early life in revolutionary Russia, which formed her anti-collectivist political agenda. Her three novels have sold 55 million copies, and her most influential book, Atlas Shrugged –– which sold 70,000 copies in its first edition — now sells 500,000 copies per year.. Her simplistic ideas have been widely accepted in conservative Republican political circles. In fact, despite the naivete of her theories, both the Libertarians and the Tea Party are essentially based on them. So who was Ayn Rand and why does it matter to serious academic scholars today?
This short note appeared in World Streets on 11 October 2014 in response to the initial appearance of the Exernomics test site.
Dear Readers of World Streets,
Behind transport policy and choices lurks the 800 pound gorilla of energy and economics. Which, if you have not noticed, does not seem to be working particularly well in our sector when it comes to guiding us (decision makers yes, but also the voters behind them) toward better policy choices, even in matters purely “economic” (money, prices, interest rates, income distribution, taxation, regulation, growth, etc.).