Category Archives: Mail & Comment

Personal comments and letters that seem to capture an idea well

Ethics for Economics in the Anthropocene, life on a world changed by man

(this is a concept for a part of a longer collaborative work)

The human quest for love, improving our lives and finding understanding, pursue human values that are not inherent in nature.  Their pursuit requires reliable knowledge of nature, though, and the kind of values exhibited in her designs of natural systems.    So ethics for using the earth is partly a matter of learning to notice the way nature makes complex relationships that work beautifully.   It’s also a matter of observing how our having changed the earth alters our own ability to live by our own values.

A world of ecologies converted to monocultures

Nature offers myriad examples of how complex communities can live together, demonstrating many kinds of competition, collaboration, conflict and tolerance, etc., that do or don’t work.   They offer something like a set of natural ethical principles for “what works”.   In nature all living systems need to produce a profit of surplus energy, for example. Continue reading Ethics for Economics in the Anthropocene, life on a world changed by man

Sustainability by design

John Ehrenfeld’s nice blog post on the ethics of sustainability, “On the Merits of Fishing“,  prompted this short response.  It leads to a good way to describe economic sustainability by design, as Keynes envisioned:

“this more favorable possibility comes to the rescue”.

It’s curious that the metaphor of growth has yet to be connected with nature’s general process of making things that reliably work by themselves. Her process invariably involves systems become comfortable with themselves at the end of growth, something like the fisherman’s ethic described here. Continue reading Sustainability by design

Disaster Hidden by the Weather, a Larger Toll

Katharine Q. Seelye’s Year Packed With Weather Disasters Has Brought Economic Toll to Match by was in the NY Times yesterday.  This is my letter to her.


I’m an economic systems physicist, and one of my favorite gold mines for hidden information about events is checking out what’s happening behind the news when more than one natural system of change is involved.  How nature’s systems work tends not to be reported, actually hidden from view *within the internal organization of the systems doing the work*, so you need to discover them.

There are two or three different long term trends behind the recent flurry of news about weather related disasters.   There are the long term trends of climate change and development in hazardous places.   There’s also a faster changing trend that began recently, also associated with severe weather in the minds of many people.

Disasters hit like lightning, like our emerging resource disaster too.

Continue reading Disaster Hidden by the Weather, a Larger Toll

The economic “crazies” all around

the alternative journal Yes! published “Building a Resilient Economy“, a fairly well informed discussion of alternative economic approaches… except for being just like “business as usual” in one critical regard.

It's that false promise we love too much

The economic “crazies” all around..    comment by Phil Henshaw Aug 15, 2011

Of course the most glaring group of “economic crazies” are the business as usual crowd, but I’ve also looked equally closely at the alternative economics literature. There’s no question but that the alternative schemes are differently crazy, but just as unworkable in a physical world as BAU.

Continue reading The economic “crazies” all around

Profiting from mayhem, is that what’s next?

Andy Revkin reposted on Dot Earth my comment (below) on Can Jeremy Grantham Profit From Ecological Mayhem? by Carlo Rotella in the NY Times Magazine.   On Dot Earth Andy also inserted other views, posting them together as Linear Resources + Exponential Demand = ?.

The gist is that it does indeed *seem* an economy designed to consume its resources ever faster would end in mayhem.    Except that’s not how nature always does it, making it a choice.   To solve it would change our institutions, but not would be a lot worse.

The mayhem option is there, and as I’ve discussed in an Profiting from Scarcity and Vicious spirals & relief.   From a systems science and sustainable investment view I have an article in the current New European Economy, “A decisive moment for Investing in Sustainability” also with discussed of Jeremy Grantham’s financial world view and research comments and links at big news… from Henshaw, Grantham &… the earth.

Appended are my two responses to the Dot Earth discussion, #12 “science is finding questions for which there are confident answers” and #28 a more modern view of Malthus.

A general map of emergence to decay for natural self-managing systems


What most people don’t adequately factor in…,

including Grantham, is how classically similar to a “Malthusian crisis” our collision with the resource limits of the earth is.  Our economy is having to adjust to the earth providing linear rates of supply to satisfy our built-in exponentially growing demand.  What’s hidden from view is that nature has two ways to handle that classic crisis of natural limits. Continue reading Profiting from mayhem, is that what’s next?

Does living in social networks change how we think??

The WNYC radio program On The Media, with Brook Gladstone and Bob Garfield is always insightful, and this week addressed The Personal Impact of the Web, and how the internet is changing human culture & society.   There has been some question whether the dramatic changes in how people think and behave are good or bad, or just “change” that older generations feel left out of…

Of course it’s “all of the above”, and I added the following as a comment regarding how in an information age, social networks naturally tend to create their own realities to live in, with the consequence of becoming detached from the changes in the natural world occurring around them…


"Cyberboy" learning that nature is now the network?

Bob & Brooke, Your ideas about how the internet is changing us are insightful and entertaining as always, but honestly, you’re missing the physics of it. The “internet generation” somewhat corresponds to the “productivity people”, the driving force of economic activity and growth around the world, and the internet is a major productivity tool, allowing us to control more and more with less and less awareness of it.
Continue reading Does living in social networks change how we think??

It’s the leeches that make us strong!!

I say it in that ironic way to emphasize the changing role of putting money into the economy to take more out.   It does make the economy grow stronger at first.   Standing outside the struggle of its creative struggle, letting your idle money milk it for more money, first has a stimulus effect on growth, but in real terms is always being being a leech on the system too.

While the system is discovering ever more opportunity to expand the more it expands, then “being a leech” at first does indeed make it bigger and stronger.   That corresponded to the period roughly from 1600 to 1950.

From then on it has successively weakened and foreshortened the future for economic system as a whole.    It’s the continuing use of money to demand ever growing earnings from one’s idle savings from the past, past the point in time when it starts accelerating the depletion of economic resources and opportunity, is the

“Mr Hyde” that automatically follows the “Dr Jekyll”

of magic productivity that being a financial leech begins with.

Continue reading It’s the leeches that make us strong!!

2nd Global Heart Attack, …lifestyle change needed

We’re driving an underperforming asset to return ever more

Excessive demands on ANY relationship naturally produce systemic collapses, like we’re now experiencing.   I’ve been pointing to the root causes, in considerable detail, for many years.  Ignoring them hasn’t made them go away.

It’s like compelling a runner to run faster when their body needs a rest.  At natural limits you need to pace yourself, in response to the responses of the world around you.

It’s hard to grasp how we could have developed a world of expert designed systems that ignore that most obvious principle of survival, but it never the less is clearly evident. Our cultural belief is that driving the economy to produce multiplying returns is the ideal of economic stability.

Pushing too hard naturally leads to collapse

Continue reading 2nd Global Heart Attack, …lifestyle change needed

What would release the logjam?

On our largely ineffective defense of the earth
and of our own prosperity

My critical reading of events is that “everything’s on hold”, speaking broadly about our need respond to how we’re altering the earth.    As I see it, for as long as I’ve been watching every “hopeful response” that gets made has been gutted, when someone needed to add either a prominent or hidden “business as usual” escape clause.

The IPCC climate mitigation protocols are an example, saying that the costs are not to reduce the long term rate of economic growth.  It’s as if to say “OK we’ll fix the problem as long as we can keep multiplying the causes”.    People always feel forced to concede to money interests and when pressed admit they don’t know if multiplying the economy’s physical impacts will keep producing multiplying problems for us and nature, as we’ve been watching take place.

Where we all are today, spinning our wheels

Continue reading What would release the logjam?

Urges, arousal, and Keynes’ “animal spirits”

This is a comment on  The Concept of “Animal Spirits” is a Red Herring, a June 27, 2011 blog post, by the blogger “Lord Keynes”, on exploring what Keynes really meant by people needing the urge to act, as well as a rational expectation…


Thanks for helping clarify the original meaning of “animal spirits” and helping bring out “the real J.M. Keynes”.    I agree:

Keynes uses “animal spirits” in the sense of “a spontaneous [human] urge to action rather than inaction.”

The sense in which his use and Descartes’, as

“the fiery particles of the blood”

are consistent is seen when observing that both would be referring to how people need to be aroused and have inspiration to act, i.e. to make emotional leaps in decision making, and not just form rational expectations.

That is indeed quite different from our having to be subjective in forming expectations with uncertainties.   As you say “The concept of “animal spirits” as used by Keynes is not even necessary to the modern subjective expectations theory. “   But then that is the subject you discuss, and seem to drop the question of what Keynes really thought was important about the need for “animal spirits” to allow people to act.

A related puzzle for understanding “the real J.M. Keynes” is his mysterious Chapter 16 of The General Theory.  It’s his concluding chapter to his grand theory of how to stabilize growth.  He oddly spends the whole chapter on the natural limits of his own model, however.    Continue reading Urges, arousal, and Keynes’ “animal spirits”