Tag Archives: Industry

Imagine Farmer Rights

Yesterday I criticized proposals by George Dvorsky and Anders Sandberg to give rights to ems by saying that random rights are bad. That is, rights limit options, which is usually bad, so those who argue for specific rights should offer specific reasons why the rights they propose are exceptional cases where limiting options helps strategically. I illustrated this principle with the example of a diner’s bill of rights.

One possible counter argument is that these proposed em rights are not random; they tend to ensure ems can keep having stuff most of us now have and like. I agree that their proposals do fit this pattern. But the issue is whether rights are random with respect to the set of cases where strategic gains come by limiting options. Do we have reasons to think that strategic benefits tend to come from giving ems the right to preserve industry era lifestyle features?

To help us think about this, I suggest we consider whether we industry era folks would benefit had farmer era folks imposed farmer rights, i.e., rights to ensure that industry era folks could keep things most farmers had and liked. For example, imagine we today had “farmer rights” to:

  1. Work in the open with fresh air and sun.
  2. See how all  food is grown and prepared.
  3. Nights outside are usually quiet and dark.
  4. Quickly get to a mile-long all-nature walk.
  5. All one meets are folks one knows, or known by them.
  6. Easily take apart devices, to see materials, mechanisms.
  7. Authorities with clear answers on cosmology, morality.
  8. Severe punishment of heretics who contradict authorities.
  9. Prior generations quickly make room for new generations.
  10. Rule by a king of our ethnicity, with clear inheritance.
  11. Visible deference from nearby authority-declared inferiors.
  12. More?

Would our lives today be better or worse because of such rights?

Added: I expect to hear this response:

Farmer era folks were wrong about what lifestyles help humans flourish, while we industry era folks are right. This is why their rights would have been bad for us, but our rights would be good for ems.

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Imagining Futures Past

Our past can be summarized as a sequence of increasingly fast eras: animals, foragers, farmers, industry. Foragers grew by a factor of about four hundred over two million years, farmers grew by a factor of about two hundred over ten thousand years, and the industry economy has so far grown by a factor of about eight hundred over three hundred years. If this trend continues then before this era grows by another factor of a thousand, our economy should transition to another even faster growing era.

I saw the latest Star Trek movie today. It struck me yet again that such stories, set two centuries in our future, imagine a unlikely continuation of industry era styles, trends, and growth rates. At current growth rates the economy would grow by a factor of two thousand over that time period. Yet their cities, homes, workplaces, etc. look quite recognizably industrial, and quite distinct from either farmer or forager era styles. The main ways their world is different from ours is in continuing industry era trends, such as to richer and healthier individuals, and to more centralized government.

While this seems unlikely, it does make sense as a way to engage the audiences of today. But it leads me to wonder: what if past eras had set stories in imagined futures where their era’s trends and styles had long continued?

For example, imagine that the industrial revolution had never happened, and that the farming era had continued for another ten thousand years, leading to more than today’s world population, mostly farming at subsistence incomes within farmer-era social institutions. Oh there’d be a lot of sci/tech advances, just not creating much industry. Perhaps they’d farm the oceans and skies, and have melted the poles. Following farmer era trends, there’d be less violence, and longer term planning horizons. There’d be a lot more thoughtful writings, but without much intellectual specialization having arisen. Towns and firms would also still be small and less specialized.

Or, imagine that the farming revolution had never happened, but that foragers had continued to advance for another two million years, also reaching a population like today. They’d still live in small wandering bands collecting wild food, but in a much wider range of environments. Maybe they’d forage the seas and the skies. Their brains would be bigger, their tools more advanced, and their culture of participatory dance, music, and stories far more elaborate.

These sound like fascinating worlds to imagine, and would make good object lessons as well. Our future may be as different from the world of Star Trek as these imagined worlds would be from our world today.

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Beware Extended Family

In the last few weeks I’ve come across many sources emphasizing the same big theme that I hadn’t sufficiently appreciated: our industrial world was enabled and has become rich in large part because we’ve reduced the power and importance of extended families. This post ends with a long list of quotes, but I’ll summarize here.

In most farmer-era cultures extended families, or clans, were the main unit of social organization, for production, marriage, politics, war, law, and insurance. People trusted their clans, but not outsiders, and felt little obligation to treat outsiders fairly. Our industrial economy, in contrast, relies on our trusting and playing fair in new kinds of organizations: firms, cities, and nations, and on our changing our activities and locations to support them.

The first places where clans were weak, like northern Europe, had bigger stronger firms, cities, and nations, and are richer today. Today people with stronger family cultures are happier and healthier, all else equal, but are less willing to move or intermarry, and are nepotistical in firms and politics. Family firms do well worldwide, but by having a single family dominate, and by being smaller, younger, and less innovative.

Thus it seems that strong families tend to be good for people individually, but bad for the world as a whole. Family clans tend to bring personal benefits, but social harms, such as less sorting, specialization, agglomeration, innovation, trust, fairness, and rule of law.

All those promised quotes: Continue reading "Beware Extended Family" »

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What Predicts Growth?

I just heard a fascinating talk by Enrico Spolaore of this paper on what predicts local growth rates over the very long run. He considers three periods: before the farming revolution, from farming to 1500, and from 1500 to today. The results:

  1. The first regions to adopt farming tended to equatorial non-tropic coastal (but not island) regions with lots of domesticable animals (table 2, column 1).
  2. The regions that had the most people in 1500 were those that first adopted farming, and also tended to be tropical inland regions (table 2, column 4).
  3. The regions that were richest per person in 2005 had no overall relation to populous 1500 regions (table 3, column 1), yet were places of folks whose ancestors came from places where farming and big states first started. Rich places also tend to be cool (i.e., toward poles) coasts or islands (table 5) filled with people that are more related culturally and genetically to the industry-era leaders of US and Europe (tables 6,7).

These results tend to support the idea that innovation sharing was central. The first farming innovations were shared along coasts in mild environments, i.e., not too cold or tropical. During the farming era, sharing happened more via inland invasions of peoples, which tropics aided. Industry first thrived in islands better insulated from invasion, industry travel and trade was more sea-based, and sharing of industry was more via people who could relate more to each other.

Changing technologies of travel seem to have made a huge difference. When travel was very hard, it happened first along coasts in mild climates. As domesticated animals made long-distance land travel easier, inland invasions dominated. Then when sea travel made travel far easier, and invasions got harder, cultural barriers mattered most.

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Wither The Industrial Revolution?

The Numbers, hundreds, thousands of Numbers in light blue unifs (probably a derivative of the ancient uniform) with golden badges on the chest – the State number of each one, male or female – the Numbers were walking slowly, four abreast, exaltedly keeping step. (more)

Over the last year I’ve reviewed several ~1900 era future dystopias, such as Metropolis, We, and Pictures of the Socialistic Future. I wanted to see fears of the industrial revolution, from an era when that revolution was still young enough for people could see things from a farmer era point of view, and yet old enough that people had some idea of where the revolution was going.

A wide mix of concerns are expressed, from aversion to change to fear of weakened connections to nature. But the strongest concerns were about the new scales of social organization, arguably the central distinguishing feature of the industrial era. People saw the rapid increase in the scale of factories and firms, and projected that trend forward to imagine a rapid change to coordinating in this way on even larger scales, and over more areas of our lives. People imagined entire cities and nations being organized as were factories and firms, with commands sent down from above, and little room for local discretion. They also imagined such commands telling people not only what job to do when, but also what to read and eat, who to marry, where to live, etc.

Many of the concerns were about who would control these new organizations. But there were also concerns about there being such organizations, no matter who controlled them, and how they would change humanity.

Today, it seems that such fears were overblown. Yes, the size of cities, firms, and nations has increased, but this increase has been far slower than feared. The scope of activities run by these large organizations increased for a while, but that trend mostly stopped and arguably reversed. For example, cafeteria scale organization of meals increased for a while, but today most folks avoid such structure.

These fears of regimentation were most realized by folks, such as communists, who seemed to take trend projections as destiny, and purposely tried to create the large scale and scope command style organizations they thought inevitable soon. Which shows how dangerous can be overconfidence on future trend projections.

But it is also too soon to claim that these fears will not be realized. The scale of cities, firms, and nations continues to climb. More jobs become more regimented, regulated, and structured, leaving fewer dimensions of discretion. More jobs focus on dealing with other parts of organizations, instead of dealing directly with customers or the physical world.

The non-increase in the scope of regimentation in our lives seems to be mainly due to our increasing wealth. We choose to spend our increased wealth keeping our leisure lives small scale and easily changed. But if per capita wealth were to greatly decrease in the future, this trend could easily reverse. Future very poor descendants, for example, might find it hard to resist the cost savings of cafeteria style food service, or dorm style sleeping arrangements.

The industrial revolution continues, and we have not seen its end. We’ve heard one shoe drop – another may be on its way.

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Closer Horizons

A few curious folks took 250 science fiction stories across thirteen decades and looked at whether the stories were set <50 , 50 to 500, or >500 years in the future. The long term trend is that fewer stories are set in the more distant future:

(Given the small dataset, I wouldn’t take decade to decade fluctuations seriously.)

Some of this effect is probably our expecting faster rates of change, and so any given amount of strangeness is expected to arrive sooner. But I’d guess most of this effect is that we are just less interested in the distant future.

Early in the industrial revolution people were very aware of there being in a great transition, from farming to industry, and they were curious about where it all might lead. Now that we are well into the industrial era, we have a better sense for what industry is like, and are less concerned about there maybe being a new post-industrial era.

Added 1p: I did a regression of their fraction of >500 year stories vs. time, and the relation is 2% significant for both linear and log versions of the fraction. There is enough data here to see this effect. Also, both the linear and log versions of the <50 year fraction are 5% significant.

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The Great “Charity” Storm

Around 1800 in England and Russia, the three main do-gooder activities were medicine, school, and alms (= food/shelter for the weak, such as the old or crippled). Today the three spending categories of medicine, school, and alms make up ~40% of US GDP, a far larger fraction than in 1800. Why the vast increase?

My explanation: we long ago evolved strong feelings of respect for these activities, but modern context changes have allowed out-of-equilibrium exploitation of such feelings. Details:

1. Foragers who personally taught kids, cared for sick folks, and gave food/shelter to weak folks, credibly signaled their loyalty to allies, at least when such needy were allies. Weak group selection helped encourage such aid as ways to signal loyalty, in place of other possible loyalty signals. Humans eventually evolved deep feelings of respect for such activities.

2. Farmers inherited such feelings, and thus also gave social credit to those who donated money instead of time to promote these three classic charities. Rich farmer elites felt this more strongly, as they had more forager style attitudes. As such donations were less observable than forager help, farmer donors had weaker incentives to help. Also, the indirection often resulted in money being spend badly.

3. Industry era folk also inherited such feelings, strengthened by wealth. Voters today get social credit for supporting tax-funded activities that look similar to the three classic charities: medicine, school, alms — even though one can fake such signals without having the loyalty that such signals are seen as showing. That is, votes supporting spending taxes on medicine, school and alms are interpreted as showing loyal “caring” for one’s community, even though most of this spending is on typical voters, not those in special need, and even though one person’s vote doesn’t change outcomes. And even if a vote did change outcomes, paying via taxes doesn’t sacrifice personal income relative to local rivals, making this signal mostly “cheap talk.” Indirection continues to hurt effectiveness. All this creates a perfect storm of vast voter support for tax-funded medicine, school, and alms. So we can all feel fantastic about how caring we all are. Yeah us.

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Rome As Semi-Foragers

It seems that an “almost” industrial revolution happened around 500BC. For example, this graph of estimated world population shows a population jump then similar to the start of the ~1800 jump. Also, consider this brief history of the Roman Empire:

~5 century BC: Roman civilization is a strong patriarchy, fathers … have absolute authority over the family.
~1 century BC: … Material wealth is astounding, … Romans enjoy the arts … democracy, commerce, science, human rights, animal rights, children rights and women become emancipated. No-fault divorce is enacted, and quickly becomes popular by the end of the century.
~1-2 century AD: … Men refuse to marry and the government tries to revive marriage with a “bachelor tax”, to no avail. … Roman women show little interest in raising their own children and frequently use nannies. The wealth and power of women grows very fast, while men become increasingly demotivated and engage in prostitution and vice. Prostitution and homosexuality become widespread.
~3-4 century AD: … Roman population declines due to below-replacement birth-rate. Vice and massive corruption are rampant. (more; HT Roissy)

Yes this exaggerates, but the key point remains: a sudden burst in productivity and wealth lead to big cultural changes that made the Greek-Roman world and its cultural descendants more forager-like than the rest of the farmer world. These changes helped clear the way for big cultural changes of the industrial revolution.

These cultural changes included not more political egalitarianism, but also more forager like attitudes toward alchohol and mating:

Historically, we find a correlation between the shift from polygyny to monogamy and the growth of alcohol consumption. Cross-culturally we also find that monogamous societies consume more alcohol than polygynous societies in the preindustrial world. … Studies find a positive relationship between alcohol use on the one hand and a more promiscuous and high-risk sexual behavior on the other hand. … The Greek and Roman empires … were the only (and first) to introduce formal monogamy. … Hunting tribes drink more than agricultural and settled tribes. … Hunting tribes … have more monogamous marriage arrangements than agricultural tribes. …

The emergence of socially imposed formal monogamy in Greece coincides with (a) the growth of “chattel slavery” (where men can have sex with female slaves) and (b) the extension of political rights. … The industrial revolution played a key role in the shift from formal to effective monogamy and in the sharp increase of alcohol consumption (more; HT Tyler)

This roughly fits my simple story: forager to farmer and back to forager with industry. The key is to see monogomous marraige as an intermediate form between low-commitment feeling-based forager mating, and wives-as-property-for-live farmer polygamy. Let me explain.

Forager work and mating is more intuitive, less institutional. Mates stay together mainly because they feel like it; there is more an open compeition to seduce mates, and there’s a lot of sneaking around. Foragers drink alchohol when they can, and spontaneous feelings count for more relative to formal commitments. The attitude is more that if you can’t hold her interest, you don’t deserve to keep her. Men show off abilities to obtain resources mainly to signal attractive qualities; most resources acquired must be shared with the rest of the band.

Farmers, in contrast, don’t share much, and are far more unequal in the resources they control, by which they can more directly “buy” wives. Farmer wives so bought are supposed to be committed to their husbands even when they don’t feel like it. Marriage was less about mutal attraction and more about building households and clans. Husbands worry about cheating wives, and so try to limit access and temptations, which includes alchohol. Musicians and artists are also suspect if they excite wives’ passions, which might lead to cheating.

When empires like Greece and Rome achieved sustained periods of prosperity, their elites reverted to more forager-like ways. They had more drinking and art, more egalitarian politics, fertility fell, and [non-slave] mating became more egalitarian and about feelings. If a bit of alchohol was enough to get your wife cheat to on you, well maybe you didn’t deserve her. The Greek-Roman move from polygamy to monogamy was a move in the direction of more forager-like feeling-based mating, though it retained farmer-like lifelong commitment.

The Greeks and Romans became models for Europe when industry made it rich again. In our era, fertility has fallen far, divorce and out-of-wedlock births are common, and alchohol, drugs, and sneaking about are more tolerated. Women need men less for their resources, and choose them more on other grounds. Dropping the lifelong commitment element of marriage, and often the expectation of any sort of marriage commitment, we have moved even further away from farmer wives-as-lifelong-property and toward forager “promiscuity.”

Added: Razib Khan and Jason elaborate.

Added 1Feb: A new study says that in places where marriages are more arranged by parents, there is more mate-guarding. Discouraging alcohol seems a reasonable mate-guarding strategy.

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Aliens Among Us

The regulation of our lives by large organizations is necessary for the functioning of industrial-technological society.  The result is a sense of powerlessness on the part of the average person. Unabomber

Many of our regulations apply to big firms more strongly than small firms, and and even less to homes. For example, many regulations apply only to firms with more than a certain number of employees. Now some regulations have big fixed costs of compliance, which cost more proportionally for small orgs.  But this justification doesn’t really explain that much regulation variation. For example, household hazardous waste rules let homes dispose more easily of many kinds of waste, yet trash disposal isn’t dominated by org-size fixed costs.

When I asked my enviro econ students to explain weaker home trash rules, some said firms care only for profit, while homes care about the environment, so homes don’t need rules to do the right thing. Others said the opposite, that homes rebel more against strict rules, such as by tossing trash in the woods, while firms are more obedient.

Now it seems to me that bigger orgs are in fact easier to monitor and punish, which can justify stricter rules when such rules are harder to enforce. Larger orgs regiment behavior on larger scales, making it easier to predict what one part is doing from what other parts does, and making behaviors visible to more people. For example, if one Walmart throws a certain kind of trash away illegally, its a good bet lots of other Walmarts are doing the same, and lots of employees could expose the practice.

But this is only part of the explanation. Firms obey trash rules in large part because we do random inspections of firm trash, yet would not tolerate random inspections of home trash. Big orgs are favorite movie villians, and people seem to demand higher wages to work for them. It seems we love to hate and distrust big orgs, relative to small orgs and individuals.

And this seems objectively unfair; big firms make it easier for us to monitor and discourage them from bad behavior, yet we reward this help by taxing them more, and imposing more burdens.  Big organizations are the new aliens among us, strange and suspicious to both forager and farmer eyes. We can’t look them in the eyes and feel their warmth of their empathy via ancient human protocols of understanding. Yes humans represent them, but we can see that org needs drive their actions; switch the guy at the top and they do pretty much the same things.  Big orgs display deep beyond-human intelligence we only dimly understand, and potential vast longevity.  So we suspect the worst.

Yet on the whole big orgs are a big reason we are rich and peaceful; our industrial economy depends heavily on their unmatched ability to give us what we want. Even on the uneven field in which we make them play, they keep winning, and giving us more. Pause for a moment to wonder if maybe we haven’t been just a bit unfair to the friendly alien giants among us.

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Is Cancer Industrial?

Finding only one case of the disease in the investigation of hundreds of Egyptian mummies, with few references to cancer in literary evidence, proves that cancer was extremely rare in antiquity. The disease rate has risen massively since the Industrial Revolution, in particular childhood cancer — proving that the rise is not simply due to people living longer. … The virtual absence of malignancies in mummies must be interpreted as indicating their rarity in antiquity, indicating that cancer causing factors are limited to societies affected by modern industrialization”. … Hundreds of mummies from all areas of the world have been examined and there are still only two publications showing microscopic confirmation of cancer. (more; HT Kurzweil)

That is from a press release; journal article quotes below. A very thought provoking result, though it would help if, for comparison, they estimated what fraction of modern bones and mummies show evidence of cancer.  It doesn’t fit very well with the observation that natural plant chemicals seem to cause more cancer than artificial chemicals.  So I remain confused. Those quotes: Continue reading "Is Cancer Industrial?" »

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