Monthly Archives: June 2018

Long term planners, Part 4

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en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_College%2C_Oxford#/media/File:New_College_Oxford_Coat_Of_Arms_(Motto).svg (CC BY-SA 3.0)

A while back, a three part bit on long term planners was written.  A bit fanciful, vampires, royal families, and long lived individuals were all tossed around as ways to get us back on track (or at least hitting a wall) with some much needed long term planning.

This weekend, while discussing this with a few folks, a tangential question was put forward – how did we lose the long-term planning meme in society, or how did it get so edged out by short-term thinking?   For sure, long-term planning by societies has been done in the past.  Some prime examples:

Some may cite your own 401K as evidence of long term planning, but this may not really qualify, for two reasons.  For one, the 401K, although useful to some, has only been around for a few decades.  The second, is that the growth of one’s 401K might be predicated on a growth mechanism rooted in the stock market, and the emergence of corporations in the 19th century – and one that ironically may be implicated in the lack of long term planning.

The theory that was put forward was that when corporations came on the scene, (especially when it became enshrined in law to report things on a quarterly basis), companies tended to focus on just that – quarterly, rather than quarter century results.  As a predictable result, companies (and especially, the people up the food chain) didn’t care, so long as the stock price kept going up, no matter what the long term consequences.

Questions:

  • Do you think this theory makes sense?
  • Did the existence of fossil fuels cause a foreshortening of time scales, as ‘apparent’ payback periods on any particular project become shorter?
  • Family owned and private businesses seem to be better run, because they don’t have to worry about quarterly reports.  However, they might suffer other effects, such as kids getting “soft” and used to a cushy lifestyle.   Is this possibly another way forward, in solving the short-term thinking epidemic?
  • Will a stock market crash cause short term thinking to die out?  Or will so many people be scrambling for resources, that we may become even more short sighted?

 

 

 

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If you have the energy…

 

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commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Petroleum_field_at_Moreni.jpg, Public Domain (commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Template:PD-1923)

Yesterday, JHK wrote an article titled “What It’s All About: Coercion.”  A link to the semi-annual Munk debates was given.  Early on in the talk,  one of the speakers, Jordan Peterson, said the following, “our societies are freer and functioning more effectively than any other societies anywhere else in the world and that any other societies ever have.”

My initial response to the article was to ask who could counter Jordan Peterson’s worldview (without namecalling and vitriol), and how such ideas came to be in the first place.  I also wrote, anticipating the kind of arguments that might be made:

“Off the top of my head, one possible reason is that in the sixties, in the era of (apparently) limitless energy and ‘anything is possible’, these ideas were allowed to flourish. Who cared if they were right or wrong; they were just ‘ideas’, and they had no (apparently) adverse effects. Of course, when resources get tight, you can’t screw around, so ideas that cause bad resource management/non-optimal decisions to be made start to be problematic.”

My original thought was thinking that the left might have been enabled by cheap energy, but from Jordan Peterson’s remarks, this might apply to the right as well.

One commenter gave a link to ContraPoints, and I watched a bit.  I was lucky to find a bit on What’s Wrong With Capitalism (Part II), and in it, the complaint I have about Peter Singer (millennials, become hedge fund managers, and donate your wealth!) was echoed.  From what I saw and heard, it was nice to find someone putting together a well produced and relatively non-ranty/non-predictable tack on the world.   Major points for stating “I could be wrong,” which is a mark of someone honest about their worldview.

Deep down under all the back and forth, which was perhaps tangentially mentioned in a What’s Wrong With Capitalism, is that much of the worldviews that both sides have set out may be invisibly predicated on our cheap and very much temporary fossil fuel bonanza (a comment was made on a post-scarcity economy but this wasn’t expounded upon).   The right may think that all of wealth that was created was due to individual brilliance, drive, and capitalism; the left may say that people can be whoever they want to be, because we have the capability to do so.  Both may claim that individuals can do what they want to do (in different ways), but a good deal of this can only be allowed when there are enough resources to do so.

There’s a lot to digest in the Munk debate, but the best bits seem to be given by Stephen Fry.   He was very level headed, and brought up many good elements, but this bit by Bertrand Russell (also mentioned by ContraPoints, in the ‘we could be wrong’ statement) sums up a lot about how we might think about these topics:

“One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision.”

Stephen Fry, like Ben Shapiro, also mentioned ‘decency’ as something missing from our discourse.   That, for me, is another element absent from a good deal of the discussion, and perhaps something to take up in a later post.  It, of course, is subject to debate (what is decency, anyway?).

Questions:

  • If cheap energy has allowed these right and left ideologies to flourish (or at least become possible), what happens when they are gone?
  • Is freedom dependent on cheap energy? Or does cheap energy allow surveillance and coercion (as well as advertising) to happen more readily?
  • Will decency go when cheap energy goes?
  • Who else should we look to for rational discussion of these topics?
  • Is there a middle ground in all of this?  Should there be?  Is there a ‘third way’?

 

 

 

Killing the planet, one flight at a time

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From commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Airplane-logo.png, in public domain.

A recent Rolling Stone article just blew my mind:

Up in the Air: Meet the Man Who Flies Around the World for Free

People are smart enough to find a way (or ways) to “beat the system;” that is understood.  But not one word in the article mentions fossil fuels, resources, carbon dioxide, or pollution.  This isn’t even going from point A to point B with even a smidgen of a decent reason, other than to enjoy the “comforts” of first class air travel.  A search on “carbon+per+airline+mile+vs+car+traveled” will give you a range of answers about the efficiency of cars vs planes, but this isn’t even using the travel for a good or useful purpose.

A long time ago, people might go for a Sunday drive, or go cruising along the boulevard ala American Graffiti.  But those days are long gone, and we should all know better.

Questions:

  • What surprises you more, that this kind of thing happens, or that the writers didn’t ask the people they were interviewing about pollution/carbon/greenhouse gas emissions?
  • Have you met people that are completely clueless about climate change, and their impact on it?  “No snowflake thinks it is responsible for the avalanche.”

 

 

 

 

What to tell/teach the elders

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commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:US_Birth_Rates.svg

Last week, the question of talking to young people was brought up.  Young people have more energy, but generally, not a lot of resources to make things happen.   In the more-likely- than-not converging catastrophe future, whatever scarce resources that remain will need to be used wisely.  The folks that own and/or control these resources are generally the elders.  Of course, what you define as elders may depend on how old you are (we’d perhaps all like to think we are still young, to some degree?).

If you think teaching youngsters is hard, how about teaching one’s elders?!   For those born earlier than 1960 or so (especially in the US – the Baby Boomers),  life has been essentially a rocket ride up.  Lavish retirement benefits, rising markets, and a few other factors have made folks from that cohort a bit used to progress, and getting rid of that worldview is a very hard thing.  For anyone to recognize that we are in trouble is one thing, but it is another to recognize it late in life, especially when you’ve seen your world on a steadily upward trajectory.

Questions:

  • How do you talk to your parents about the coming mess?
  • Have you ever heard an elder state, without a hint of guilt, when talking about any dark clouds ahead, “Well, I’ll be dead by then…”?
  • Do you think they can change their worldview and act accordingly (downsizing, stop flying around the world for vacations, step out of the consumer buying frenzy)?
  • Are you not above bringing up the grandkids, and their world?