This book is aimed at general readers. For experts in any of the many fields that I simplify to write it, I can only imagine the sharp intakes of breath, the arched eyebrows, the tapping fingers. In Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), Edmund Burke wrote that, “[l]ess inquiring people receive the[ir] opinions from an authority which those whom Providence dooms to live on trust need not be ashamed to rely on.” For those who choose not to live on trust, the following notes might suffice as a guide into the literature and to suggest some of the nuances that were elided in the interests of a smoother story for general readers.

Also, in the book, measures are American-style not metric (miles, not kilometers; pounds, not kilograms), number names are American-style not European (a billion, not a thousand million; a trillion, not a million million), names are Americanized (corn not maize, railroad not railway, gasoline not petrol, and so on), and complexities are glossed. But here in the notes, everything follows scientific convention.

Seeing the Swarm

[Aristotle quote]
The common phrase “The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.” is often misattributed to Aristotle, who said something more subtle: [Insertions added for clarity.]

“To return to the difficulty which has been stated with respect both to definitions and to numbers, what is the cause of their unity? In the case of all things which have several parts and in which the totality is not, as it were, a mere heap, but the whole is something besides the parts, there is a cause [of unity]; for even in bodies[,] contact is the cause of unity in some cases, and in others viscosity or some other such quality. And a definition [as an explanation of a thing] is a set of words which is one [thing] not by being connected together, like the Iliad, but by dealing with one object.—What then, is it that makes man one [thing]; why is he one and not many [different things], e.g. animal + biped, especially if there are, as some say, an animal-itself and a biped-itself? Why are not those Forms themselves the man, so that men would exist by participation not in man, nor in-one Form, but in two, animal and biped, and in general man would be not one but more than one thing, animal and biped?

Clearly, then, if people proceed thus in their usual manner of definition and speech, they cannot explain and solve the difficulty. But if, as we say, one element is matter and another is form, and one is potentially and the other actually, the question will no longer be thought a difficulty.”

The Works of Aristotle, Volume VIII: Metaphysica, Book VIII, Part VI, J. A. Smith and W. D. Ross (editors), translated by W. D. Ross, Oxford University Press, Second Edition, 1928.

[traffic jams]
From the point of view of physics, a traffic clot is similar to a shockwave (like if we pinch then release a garden hose while watering something, a shockwave propagates backward up the hose) although that’s only at high densities so that it approaches an incompressible fluid. “Three-phase traffic theory and two-phase models with a fundamental diagram in the light of empirical stylized facts,” M. Treiber, A. Kesting, D. Helbing, Transportation Research Part B, 44(8-9):983-1000, 2010. “Self-sustained nonlinear waves in traffic flow,” M. R. Flynn, A. R. Kasimov, J.-C. Nave, R. R. Rosales, B. Seibold, Physical Review E, 79(5):056113, 2009. “Derivation of non-local macroscopic traffic equations and consistent traffic pressures from microscopic car-following models,” D. Helbing, European Physical Journal B, 69(4):539-548, 2009. “Traffic jams without bottlenecks—experimental evidence for the physical mechanism of the formation of a jam,” Y. Sugiyama, M. Fukui, M. Kikuchi, K. Hasebe, A. Nakayama, K. Nishinari, S. Tadaki, S. Yukawa, New Journal of Physics, 10(3), 033001, 2008. “Traffic Flow Theory,” S. Maerivoet, B. De Moor, Traffic, 81(2):301-390, 2005. The Physics of Traffic: Empirical Freeway Pattern Features, Engineering Applications, and Theory, Boris S. Kerner, Springer, 2004. Turtles, Termites, and Traffic Jams: Explorations in Massively Parallel Microworlds, Mitchel Resnick, The MIT press, 1994, pages 68-74.
[some termite nests can live for decades]
Principally that’s those termite species that don’t live in their food (like the wood-dwelling termites, which live inside a piece of wood), such as Mastotermitidae, most Rhinotermitidae, Serritermitidae, and Termitidae, which build nests. “The ecology of social evolution in termites,” J. Korb, in: Ecology of Social Evolution, Judith Korb and Jürgen Heinze (editors), Springer-Verlag, 2008, pages 151-174.
[network forces in economics and philosophy]
In 1714 Bernard Mandeville argued in The Fable of the Bees that our groups often do things in ordered ways, however not through our generosity but more through our selfishness. His idea enraged a lot of readers, who saw it as immoral, sinful, and degrading. Back then, reading his work must have been like expecting Pilgrim’s Progress and instead getting Dangerous Liaisons. Many authors rushed to refute it, but variants of it lived on. In 1776 Adam Smith argued in The Wealth of Nations that in many cases, in at least some of our markets, there seems to be a hidden order to how we network, and it needn’t be one that anyone intends. For him, such networks appear to be guided—but not by us, rather by an invisible hand.
[Mandeville and Smith]
The Fable of the Bees, or Private Vices, Publick Benefits, Bernard de Mandeville, edited by F. B. Kaye, Clarendon Press, 1924. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith, Edwin Cannan Edition, Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1952.

Today, Smith may be the most famous to broach such ideas, but he wasn’t the first, although today he’s recognized as the first to set them in the context of an economic theory. Also, Mandeville was not Smith’s only precursor. Others, particularly those involved in the Scottish Enlightenment, added various insights before, or around the same time as Smith, notably: David Hume, Adam Ferguson, Josiah Tucker, Dugald Stewart, Joseph Butler (Bishop of Durham), Anthony Ashley-Cooper (third Earl of Shaftesbury), and Francis Hutcheson.

For example, in 1767 Ferguson wrote that, “Mankind, in following the present sense of their minds, in striving to remove inconveniencies, or to gain apparent and contiguous advantages, arrive at ends which even their imagination could not anticipate; and pass on, like other animals, in the track of their nature, without perceiving its end. He who first said, ‘I will appropriate this field: I will leave it to my heirs;’ did not perceive, that he was laying the foundation of civil laws and political establishments. He who first ranged himself under a leader, did not perceive, that he was setting the example of a permanent subordination, under the pretence of which, the rapacious were to seize his possessions, and the arrogant to lay claim to his service.

Men, in general, are sufficiently disposed to occupy themselves in forming projects and schemes: but he who would scheme and project for others, will find an opponent in every person who is disposed to scheme for himself. Like the winds, that come we know not whence, and blow whithersoever they list, the forms of society are derived from an obscure and distant origin; they arise, long before the date of philosophy, from the instincts, not from the speculations, of men. The croud of mankind, are directed in their establishments and measures, by the circumstances in which they are placed; and seldom are turned from their way, to follow the plan of any single projector.

Every step and every movement of the multitude, even in what are termed enlightened ages, are made with equal blindness to the future; and nations stumble upon establishments, which are indeed the result of human action, but not the execution of any human design.”

An Essay on the History of Civil Society, Adam Ferguson, 1767, Duncan Forbes (editor), Edinburgh University Press, 1966, page 122.

Ferguson’s last line is a secular reformulation of an age-old religious thought (that is, ‘divine providence,’ which goes back at least as far as Thomas Aquinas, five centuries before). His later paragraphs expand on that. In essence, he argued that to explain the human equation, we need not introduce the divine. Then, if that was accepted, he argued that we also didn’t need the next level down proxies of the divine: Great Heroes who can foresee all possible outcomes and force a design that will lead to the ‘best’ outcome far into the future. In essence, he argued that nobody can foretell the future—the contingency of events is too complex—however, after the fact we inevitably look back and assume that at the beginning of things someone must have done so, because how else could things have worked out the way they did?

Thus in some serious sense, the name ‘spontaneous order’ is wrong, because there’s nothing ‘spontaneous’ about it. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. The core idea is this: Every human practice, whether it be in language, law, politics, economics, or whatever, grew over very long periods, in very small steps, as each of us gradually changed what we did, and others copied us, discarding anything that didn’t seem to work. But we didn’t, or couldn’t, copy exactly, nor could we forsee what would happen after enough of us copied some new thing.

The resulting structure resists change not because we planned it to do so but because many of its parts supported each other. Anything that didn’t would get whittled away over time. We call the structure ‘spontaneous order’ only when we’re look at whatever resulted long after all that has happened and, surprised by the result because we can’t name any particular originator, we’re trying to figure out where that order came from. Thus, ‘spontaneous order’ really means ‘unplanned order.’ It is in no wise ‘spontaneous.’

The idea of spontaneous order amounts to saying that just because something is intricate needn’t mean that it must have been designed. A century before Darwin, that was a disquieting idea—it was disquieting even in Darwin’s time—and, apparently, even today. Broadly speaking: Ferguson applied the idea of spontaneous order to language, Smith to economics, Hume to law, but they all applied it to politics and government. Nor can it be said that any of those writers were thinking of today’s notions of spontaneous network order. Mandeville, for example, wasn’t seriously arguing that we are like bees, but more that our usual explanations of why we do what we do are highly questionable. For instance, see: “The Role of Mandeville’s Bee Analogy in ‘The Grumbling Hive’,” W. J. Farrell, Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, 25(3):511-527, 1985.

Their focus (and the focus, even today, of nearly all economists) is that of ‘betterment.’ Mandeville was more satiric and pessimistic than Smith or other Enlightenment philosophers, who were more usually sanguine and theistic. Mandeville was attacked strongly, primarily because he argued that ‘betterment’ happened largely because of selfish reasons. Many writers, particularly clergy, didn’t like that—for example, William Law, Richard Fiddes, John Dennis, George Bluet, George Berkeley, Alexander Pope, Samuel Richardson, and Henry Fielding. However, the Englightenment idea of ‘betterment’ still persists today. (It’s related to, and descended from, Aristotle’s ‘Great Chain of Being.’) These days it’s primarily used as justification for the ‘free market.’

For example, here’s a Nobel prize-winning proponent of the idea of spontaneous order in economics: “To understand our civilisation, one must appreciate that the extended order resulted not from human design or intention but spontaneously: it arose from unintentionally conforming to certain traditional and largely moral practices.” The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism, F. A Hayek, University of Chicago Press, 1988, page 6.

The text, however, states no assumption that all spontaneous order is necessarily ‘good,’ ‘beneficial,’ ‘progressive,’ ‘civilizing,’ or any of the other adjectives that we often use to say that we approve of something. The text’s main purpose is to show that spontaneous order exists in our species, and that it appears to be becoming more dominant, and then to explain some of the network mechanisms by which it comes to exist and by which it seems to be becoming more dominant. Whether those group arrangements are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ aren’t part of this book.

The following paper extract states this book’s position rather well: “[This paper asks] why the implications of new goods have not more extensively been explored, especially given that the basic economic issues were identified 150 years ago. The mathematical difficulty of modeling new goods has no doubt been part of the problem. An equally, if not more important stumbling block has been the deep philosophical resistance that humans feel toward the unavoidable logical consequence of assuming that genuinely new things can happen and could have happened at every date in the past. We are forced to admit that the world as we know it is the result of a long string of chance outcomes....

Once we admit that there is room for newness—that there are vastly more conceivable possibilites than realized outcomes—we must confront the fact that there is no special logic behind the world we inhabit, no particular justification for why things are the way they are. Any number of arbitrarily small peturbations along the way could have made the world as we know it turn out very differently.”

“New goods, old theory, and the welfare costs of trade restrictions,” P. Romer, Journal of Development Economics, 43(1):5-38, 1994. Paul Romer is the author of seminal work on new growth theory in economics. For example: “Endogenous Technological Change,” P. M. Romer, Journal of Political Economy, 98(5-2):S71-S102, 1990.

[complex networks]
This idea has many names. It’s often called complex networks or complex systems, where the meaning of ‘complex’ is different from merely ‘complicated.’ In economics, the notion grew into the idea of spontaneous order; in biology, it grew into the idea of a superorganism; in computer science, it grew into complex adaptive systems; in physics it grew into complex systems; in planning, it grew into system dynamics; in neuroscience and in philosophy, it grew into emergence. All amount to saying that the whole needn’t be the same as its parts, an idea that goes back to Aristotle (See lead quote above). See: A First Course in Network Science, Filippo Menczer, Santo Fortunato, Clayton A. Davis, Cambridge University Press, 2020. “System Theories: An Overview of Various System Theories and Its Application in Healthcare,” C. P. Cordon, American Journal of Systems Science, 2(1):13-22, 2013. “Eliminating the mystery from the concept of emergence,” B. R. Johnson, Biology & Philosophy, 25(5):843-849, 2010. Complexity: A Guided Tour, Melanie Mitchell, Oxford University Press, 2009. Complexity: 5 Questions, Carlos Gershenson (editor), Automatic press, 2008.

That can happen when many things, each following their own rules, interact over time. It might then make sense to talk about a single large thing as opposed to the several smaller things that compose it, even if the large thing is unintended, perhaps even unnoticed. But what happens if those smaller things are us?

The study of complex networks is both very old and very new. It’s very old in that many early thinkers have pointed out that gestalts don’t always work the way we expect. It’s very new in that the field studying it formally, complex systems theory, is less than two generations old. Today it goes by many names (for example: complex adaptive systems, complexity theory, complex network science, self-organizing systems, non-linear dynamical systems theory). It studies how relationships between parts of a system give rise to the system’s self-organizing behaviors. It’s interdisciplinary, with influences from economics, physics, chemistry, biology, medicine, computer science, and mathematics, as well as more specialized fields like entomology, climatology, geology, ecology, neuroscience, molecular biology, immunology, game theory, control theory, cognitive science, artificial intelligence, and artificial life.

It’s growing now because our computers have grown strong enough for us to use them to see macroscale patterns that were too big for us to see before. It’s also growing now because we now know enough to realize that understanding how the parts of a complex network interact can be just as important as understanding the parts themselves. And it’s growing now that we realize that an entomologist studying termites may have something to say to a molecular biologist studying mitochondria, who may have something to say to a climatologist studying tornadoes, who may have something to say to a sociologist studying city planning.

It’s still a magpie of a science. It steals ideas from condensed matter physics, biochemistry, molecular biology, embryology, entomology, ecology, immunology, evolutionary theory, neuroscience, mathematics, and economics. It feathers its nest with that hodge-podge of ideas, trying to figure out what’s common among them. It’s hoping to answer just one central question: how does order arise out of chaos? It assumes that there’s similarity of origin regardless of whether that order is in cities or crayfish or economies or railway companies. It’s still flailing around in the dark, but the vague outlines of a coherent theory may not be far off. And that theory, if proven true, may one day imply testable things about our future. However, today even the very definition of the word ‘complex’ is unresolved. We don’t yet have a widely accepted way to measure the ‘complexity’ of a system. So we still don’t have a uniform definition of a ‘complex system.’ So it’s still far from a real science.

Our knowledge base is now growing so fast that in recent decades every new scientific field goes through the same cycle. First a few explorers find something of interest. Then there’s a feeding frenzy as many prospectors join the gold rush. After a while, interest wanes as the same prospectors see that the pot of gold is still distant. That speed-up is a side-effect of our growing knowledge base, but the cycle itself is very old. It doesn’t much matter whether it’s in mining or science, finance or the stock market. We behave exactly the same way, everywhere and everywhen. In the last century that cycle has played out in systems theory, cybernetics, information theory, game theory, catastrophe theory, fractal geometry, and chaos theory. It’s now playing out in complex systems. Each wave washes up some new and pretty shell on the shoreline of our knowledge, but it’s hard to build those shells into a coherent picture. Too much is still missing.

For a good summary (before the field existed), here’s Warren Weaver, from 1948. He’s here describing the world where physical sciences (physics, particularly) largely studied problems where everything but for two variables could be kept constant. Then it jumped to problems where there were two billion variables and statistics could be used to average out behavior. That left a vast middle ground, which the life sciences (and all other sciences) are still struggling with:

“One is tempted to oversimplify and say that scientific methodology went from one extreme to the other... and left untouched a great middle region. The importance of this middle region, moreover, does not depend primarily on the fact that the number of variables involved is moderate large compared to two, but small compared to the number of atoms in a pinch of salt.... Much more important than the mere number of variables is the fact that these variables are all interrelated.... These problems, as contrasted with the disorganized situations with which statistics can cope, show the essential feature of organization. We will therefore refer to this group of problems as those of organized complexity.” From: “Science and Complexity,” W. Weaver, American Scientist, 36(4):536-44, 1948, page 538.

For some background, see: “Quantifying Self-Organization with Optimal Predictors,” C. R. Shalizi, K. L. Shalizi, R. Haslinger, Physical Review Letters, 93(11):118701, 2004. Emergence: From Chaos to Order, John Holland, Perseus Books Group, 1999. Hierarchical Structures and Scaling in Physics, Remo Badii and Antonio Politi, Cambridge University Press, 1997. Hidden Order: How Adaptation Builds Complexity, John Holland, Addison-Wesley, 1996. Emergent Evolution: Qualitative Novelty and the Levels of Reality, David Blitz, Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1992.

[humanity as an organism]
That’s hardly an original thought, at least for subgroups of our species. For example, Herbert Spencer wrote the following in 1876:

“Thus we consistently regard a society as an entity, because, though formed of discrete units, a certain concreteness in the aggregate of them is implied by the general persistence of the arrangements among them throughout the area occupied. And it is this trait which yields our idea of a society. For, withholding the name from an ever-changing cluster such as primitive men form, we apply it only where some constancy in the distribution of parts has resulted from settled life.

But now, regarding a society as a thing, what kind of thing must we call it? It seems totally unlike every object with which our senses acquaint us. Any likeness it may possibly have to other objects, cannot be manifest to perception, but can be discerned only by reason. If the constant relations among its parts make it an entity; the question arises whether these constant relations among its parts are akin to the constant relations among the parts of other entities. Between a society and anything else, the only conceivable resemblance must be one due to parallelism of principle in the arrangement of components.

The Principles of Sociology, Volume I: Herbert Spencer, 1885, D. Appleton and Company, Third Edition, 1916, page 448.

Then followed an entire chapter examining the question (Volume I, Part II, Chapter 2). Spencer primarily saw his ‘super-organism’ as an analogy. He intended to point out that a ‘society’ is different from a set of random individuals, but also different from a single organic entity.

Chapter 1. Seeds of the Future: Food

[Brecht quote]
“Erst kommt das Fressen / Dann kommt die Moral.” [First food, / then morals.] The Threepenny Opera, Act II, Scene III. This has many variant translations. Brecht and Method, Fredric Jameson, Verso, 1998, pages 131-132. Thinking about the Playwright: Comments from Four Decades, Eric Bentley, Northwestern University Press, 1987, pages 84-85.

Also, there’s a far older proverb dating to Roman times: Venter non habet aures [The belly has no ears]. Plutarch tells us that Cato the Elder used a version of it in an oration to mean that the hungry don’t listen when it comes to corn. (Arduum esse ad ventrem verba facere, qui careat auribus. [It’s hard to argue with the belly, which has no ears].) And Erasmus later used Venter auribus caret. [The belly has no ears.] Heinrich Bebel’s Proverbia Germanica, W. H. D. Suringar, E. J. Brill, 1879, page 385.

Autocatalytic Runaway

[hunting and gathering at least 1.8 million years old]
We had opposable thumbs, and biggish brains, and walked upright, and made tools, and maybe even talked, we didn’t farm; we hunted and gathered, much the same way that most other animals did. Evidence dates the combination back at least to Homo ergaster, via its use of various hand-axes and cleavers, and the presence of charred animal bones, strongly suggesting hunting, or at least butchery, followed by roasting, in Africa during the late Pliocene. “Human Evolution,” H. M. McHenry, in: Evolution: The First Four Billion Years, Michael Ruse (editor), Harvard University Press, 2009, pages 256-280. Farming started just a geological eyeblink ago—ten millennia or so.
[in 2020, only about one in four still farmers]
In 2018, and around the planet, of everyone working, just 28 percent were still on the farm (a huge drop from 44 percent just in 1991), 23 percent were in industry (no real change from 22 percent in 1991), and 49 percent were in services (a huge rise from 34 percent in 1991). World Social Report 2020: Inequality in a rapidly changing world, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, Figure 2.1, page 61.

By 2019, employment in agriculture was (as a percentage of all employment globally) 26.857. International Labour Organization, ILOSTAT database Data retrieved in March 1, 2020.

In 2006, the figure was 45 percent (1.3 billon people). The Employment Imperative: Report on the World Social Situation 2007, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, 2007, page 15.

In 1997, the figure was 46 percent. “A World of Farmers, But Not a Farmer’s World,” L. A. Ferleger, Journal of The Historical Society, 2(1):43-53, 2002.

[why choose 11.6Kya as a trigger point?]
That’s the start of the current geological epoch, the Holocene. The story is far more complicated than the text makes it seem. For example, precursors to settlement and farming occurred during the last interglacial stadial before the true end of the last ice age, with the Natufian culture, starting around 14.3Kya. Then came a sharp cooling period called the Younger Dryas. It lasted from around 12.8Kya to about 11.6Kya. It may have been caused by the sudden release of a huge ice-pent lake of freshwater in North America into the North Atlantic, thereby slowing the Gulf Stream, and temporarily cooling the planet for a millennium or so. The subsequent warming trend, peaking about six millennia ago, is called the Holocene Maximum, the hottest we’ve been in our recent history. After the Ice: A Global Human History, 20,000-5,000 BC, Steven Mithen, Harvard University Press, 2003, Chapter 5.

For some of the collapses known to be linked to climate change, see: “What Drives Societal Collapse?,” H. Weiss, R. S. Bradley, Science, 291(5504):609-610, 2001. See also: “Climate and the collapse of Mayan civilization,” G. H. Haug, D. Günther, L. C. Peterson, D. M. Sigman, K. A. Hughen, B. Aeschlimann, Science, 299(5613):1731-1735, 2003.

The Younger Dryas is important both because it shows that earth’s climate can sometimes change suddenly (in geologic terms) and because we started farming sometime within it, at least as far as the domestication of emmer wheat in southwest Asia is concerned. Such so-called ‘D-O events’ (named by Wallace Broecker after the Danish climatologist Willi Dansgaard and the Swiss geophysicist Hans Oeschger, who pioneered the research into the phenomenon in the early 1980s) are now garnering increased attention in climatology. A Brain for all Seasons: Human Evolution and Abrupt Climate Change, William H. Calvin University of Chicago Press, 2002, page 228. “Sudden climate transitions during the Quaternary,” J. Adams, M. Maslin, E. Thomas, Progress in Physical Geography, 23(1):1-36, 1999. “Evidence for General Instability of Past Climate From a 250-kyr Ice Core,” W. Dansgaard, S. J. Johnsen, H. B. Clausen, D. Dahl-Jensen, N. S. Gundestrup, C. U. Hammer, C. S. Hvidberg, J. P. Steffensen, A. E. Sveinbjörnsdottir, J. Jouzel, G. Bond, Nature, 364(6434):218-220, 1993. “One thousand centuries of climatic record from Camp Century on the Greenland ice sheet,” W. Dansgaard, S. J. Johnsen, J. Moller, C. C. Langway, Jr., Science, 166(3903):377-381, 1969.

[their goats have died...]
Perhaps they had herded a few goats, but disease killed all of those. That’s just a guess, however perhaps not an entirely silly one. Hard evidence places goat domestication first at Ganj Dareh, in the Zagros mountains of today’s Iran, only a millennium or so into the future from 11.6Kya. “Herded and hunted goat genomes from the dawn of domestication in the Zagros Mountains,” K. G. Daly, V. Mattiangeli, A. J. Hare, H. Davoudi, H. Fathi, S. B. Doost, S. Amiri, R. Khazaeli, D. Decruyenaere, J. Nokandeh, T. Richter, H. Darabi, P. Mortensen, A. Pantos, L. Yeomans, P. Bangsgaard, M. Mashkour, M. A. Zeder, D. G. Bradley, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 118(25):e2100901118, 2021. “The Initial Domestication of Goats (Capra hircus) in the Zagros Mountains 10,000 years ago.” M. A. Zeder, B. Hesse, Science, 287(5461):2254-2257, 2000. “Age, Sex, and Old Goats,” C. W. Marean, Science, 287(5461):2174-2175, 2000.

It’s not impossible that some goats were domesticated much earlier. Mitochrondrial evidence suggests that domestication events for goats were complex and geographically spread out. It seems likely that goats traveled great distances, perhaps by being herded, yet still intermixed with local populations. “Multiple Maternal Origins and Weak Phylogeographic Structure in Domestic Goats,” G. Luikart, L. Gielly, L. Excoffier, J.-D. Vigne, J. Bouvet, P. Taberlet, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 98(10):5927-5932, 2001. “Livestock genetic origins: Goats buck the trend,” D. E. MacHugh, D. G. Bradley, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 98(10):5382-5384, 2001.

Pemmican is dried meat. Similar variants around the world include biltong, jerky, and kilishi. The inuit can live on meat alone for long periods. The Fat of the Land, Vilhjalmur Stefansson, Enlarged Edition of Not by Bread Alone, With comments by Fredrick J. Stare, M.D., and Paul Dudley White, M.D., Macmillan, 1956. Of course, there’s no physical evidence of any such thing 12 millennia ago, but it seems a reasonable guess that rovers might have it as insurance.
[farming in the Zagros mountains... ]
It’s now known that farming arose (at least) twice in the Fertile Crescent: in the eastern portion in the Zagros (eastern Turkey, northeastern Iraq, and Iran) and in the western portion (Israel, Syria, Jordan). A recent genetic survey shows that two different branches separately domesticated animals and plants, then mingled, then spread out: east (to India), west (to Europe), south (to east Africa) and north (to the Eurasian steppe). The Zagros farmers domesticated goats as well as cereals such as emmer, whereas those to the west had their own crops, including barley and wheat. Around 9,500 years ago, these two began spreading. (See also the later Yamnaya and the horse on the Eurasian steppe.)

“We report genome-wide ancient DNA from 44 ancient Near Easterners ranging in time between ~12,000 and 1,400 bc, from Natufian hunter-gatherers to Bronze Age farmers. We show that the earliest populations of the Near East derived around half their ancestry from a ‘Basal Eurasian’ lineage that had little if any Neanderthal admixture and that separated from other non-African lineages before their separation from each other. The first farmers of the southern Levant (Israel and Jordan) and Zagros Mountains (Iran) were strongly genetically differentiated, and each descended from local hunter-gatherers. By the time of the Bronze Age, these two populations and Anatolian-related farmers had mixed with each other and with the hunter-gatherers of Europe to greatly reduce genetic differentiation. The impact of the Near Eastern farmers extended beyond the Near East: farmers related to those of Anatolia spread westward into Europe; farmers related to those of the Levant spread southward into East Africa; farmers related to those of Iran spread northward into the Eurasian steppe; and people related to both the early farmers of Iran and to the pastoralists of the Eurasian steppe spread eastward into South Asia.”

“Genomic insights into the origin of farming in the ancient Near East,” I. Lazaridis, D. Nadel, G. Rollefson, D. Merrett, N. Rohland, S. Mallick, D. M. Fernandes, M. Novak, B. Gamarra, K. Sirak S. Connell, K. Stewardson, E. Harney, Q. Fu, G. Gonzalez-Fortes, E. R. Jones, S. A. Roodenberg, G. Lengyel, F. Bocquentin, B. Gasparian, J. M. Monge, M. Gregg, V. Eshed, A.-S. Mizrahi, C. Meiklejohn, F. Gerritsen, L. Bejenaru, M. Blüher, A. Campbell, G. Cavalleri, D. Comas, P. Froguel, E. Gilbert, S. M. Kerr, P. Kovacs, J. Krause, D. McGettigan, M. Merrigan, D. A. Merriwether, S. O’Reilly, M. B. Richards, O. Semino, M. Shamoon-Pour, G. Stefanescu, M. Stumvoll, A. Tönjes, A. Torroni, J. F. Wilson, L. Yengo, N. A. Hovhannisyan, N. Patterson, R. Pinhasi, D. Reich, Nature, 536(7617):419-424, 2016.

[for some unknown reason...]
We don’t know why our first bands decided to settle. That may have to do with our slowly rising population, the end of the last ice age, and, perhaps (but unlikely), changes in our brain. Likely it was a complex process taking millennia. In a few parts of the planet, like the Levant, the process has begun to be sketched in a fair amount of detail and it seems fairly clear that it was largely population-based: “Becoming Farmers: The Inside Story,” A. Belfer-Cohen, A. N. Goring-Morris, Current Anthropology, 52(S4):209-220, 2011.

But in general, too much is unknown. Perhaps as the ice retreated the drying climate forced us to stay near rivers. Or perhaps the reverse happened since the melting ice raised sea level by 90 meters (about 300 feet), which would have drowned our lowlying camps and forced our tribes into the hills. Or maybe there was especially good wood or stone or game, and an excellent cave, thereabouts. Or perhaps the geography was especially good in relation to the roaming ranges of other nomad tribes. Or maybe a plague forced some of us to stop roaming. Or perhaps a severe drought drove most game away. It’s even possible that our slowly rising population led to overhunting until things got so bad that we started eating grass all the time. It’s tantalizing, for example, that by 11Kya we’d already colonized most of the world that we could reach. So maybe our population had by then maximized, given our technology of the time, and food competition was thus growing. We don’t know. We’re also, likely, still missing a lot of data. For instance, our first cultivations may have happened millennia before the ones we’ve found so far, but they may have been in low-lying regions. If so, they would today be lost to us as the oceans rose with the melting ice. Perhaps, though, it was because the mutant grass seeds were so easy to harvest, and (at least in the Levant) so densely concentrated.

“Unconscious selection drove seed enlargement in vegetable crops,” T. A. Kluyver, G. Jones, B. Pujol, C. Bennett, E. J. Mockford, M. Charles, M. Rees, C. P. Osborne, Evolution Letters, 1(2):64-72, 2017. “Yield stability: an agronomic perspective on the origin of Near Eastern agriculture,” S. Abbo, S. Lev-Yadun, A. Gopher, Vegetation History and Archaeobotany, 19(2):143-150, 2010. “From Foraging To Farming: Explaining The Neolithic Revolution,” J. L. Weisdorf, Journal of Economic Surveys, 19(4):561-586, 2005. First Farmers: The Origins of Agricultural Societies, Peter Bellwood, Blackwell Publishing, 2005. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, Jared Diamond, W. W. Norton, 1997. The Origins and Spread of Agriculture and Pastoralism in Eurasia, David R. Harris (editor), Smithsonian Books, 1996. Last Hunters, First Farmers: New Perspectives on the Prehistoric Transition to Agriculture, T. Douglas Price and Anne Birgitte Gebauer (editors), School of American Research, 1995.

[ice-age settlements... Göbekli Tepe]
Our first known structures predate the end of the last ice age by about 3,000 years (that is, about 15kya). At that time the earth briefly warmed out of its latest long cold spell and we started to settle, but we abandoned those settlements when the climate chilled again during the Younger Dryas. In general, before farming, we had some relatively large settlements, but nearly all occurred near coasts or along rivers with large and regular food supplies—oyster beds or salmon runs are typical. Sedentism (staying in one place in large numbers) is not the same as farming (long-term cultivation of the land or oceans).

Also, recent excavations have found large sites that may have been settlements, but may also possibly have been some form of communal gathering places, which weren’t near large food supplies. One very important one is Göbekli Tepe, in south-eastern Turkey. Another one is ’Wadi Faynan 16 in southern Jordan. At least one site, Jerf el Ahmar in norther Syria, is extra-special, in that it both started in the last ice age and continued into the Holocene, and it gave rise to monumental structures (although they were mainly settlements).

“Monumental — compared to what? A perspective from Göbekli Tepe,” M. Kinzel, L. Clare, in: Monumentalising Life in the Neolithic: Narratives of Change and Continuity, Anne Birgitte Gebauer, Lasse Sørensen, Anne Teather, and António Carlos Valera (editors) Oxbow, 2020, chapter 3, pages 29-48. “Cereal processing at Early Neolithic Göbekli Tepe, southeastern Turkey,” L. Dietrich, J. Meister, O. Dietrich, J. Notroff, J. Kiep, J. Heeb, A. Beuger, B. Schütt, PLoS ONE, 14(5):e0215214, 2019. “Origins of house mice in ecological niches created by settled hunter-gatherers in the Levant 15,000 y ago,” L. Weissbrod, F. B. Marshall, F. R. Valla, H. Khalaily, G. Bar-Oz, J.-C. Auffray, J.-D. Vigne, T. Cucchi, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114(16):4099-4104, 2017. “The role of cult and feasting in the emergence of Neolithic communities. New evidence from Göbekli Tepe, south-eastern Turkey,” O. Dietrich, M. Heun, J. Notroff, K. Schmidt, M. Zarnkow, Antiquity, 86(333):674-695, 2012. “An 11 600 year-old communal structure from the Neolithic of southern Jordan,” S. J. Mithen, W. Finlayson, S. Smith, E. Jenkins, M. Najjar, D. Maričević, Antiquity, 85(328):350-364, 2011. “New light on Neolithic revolution in south-west Asia,” T. Watkins, Antiquity, 84(325):621-634, 2010. The Agricultural Revolution in Prehistory: Why Did Foragers Become Farmers? Graeme Barker, Oxford University Press, 2009. First Farmers: The Origins of Agricultural Societies, Peter S. Bellwood, Wiley-Blackwell, 2005. After the Ice: a Global Human History 20,000-5000 BC, Steven Mithen, Harvard University Press, 2003. Neanderthals, Bandits & Farmers: How Agriculture Really Began, Colin Tudge, Yale University Press, 1998. “Jerf el-Ahmar, un nouveau site de l’horizon PPNA sur le moyen Eurprate Syriean,” D. Stordeur, D. Helmer, G. Wilcox, Bulletin de la Société Préhistorique Française, 94(2):282-285, 1997.

[timing of early farming]
Argument continues about the exact timing and length of various stages of our neolithic revolution. Currently, the most divisive period is the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA), a period of about a millennium where it’s not clear whether we continued our previous hunter-gatherer habits except with more reliance on wild grasses, or whether we settled down but only harvested wild grass varieties. Some recent papers propose a theory of, at least, Near East obligate farming as a result of a mixing of trade routes and early settlement, with subsequent spreading of both in a viable ‘neolithic package’ of technologies and lifestyles and trade arrangements. (The term ‘neolithic package’ originated with Gordon Childe.)

Another question is about the purpose of cereals themselves. Instead of cultivating (or at least simply harvesting) them for bread, some argue that we may have been doing so for beer. One reason being that barley, left to itself, ferments. Another possible reason might be that consuming alcohol might be part of ritual, which might be an aid to tribal bonding.

It’s clear, though, that certainly by 10.4Kya we had settled down in at least a few mountain villages in today’s Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Israel, Syria, Turkey, and Cyprus, and had begun actively cultivating cereals.

“... ‘Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of [beer]!’ (R.L. Stevenson) no beer but rather cereal-Food. Commentary: Liu et al. 2018,” D. Eitam, Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, 28, 101913, 2019. “Fermented beverage and food storage in 13,000 y-old stone mortars at Raqefet Cave, Israel: Investigating Natufian ritual feasting,” L. Liu, J. Wang, D. Rosenberg, H. Zhao, G. Lengyel, D. Nadel, Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, 21:783-793, 2018. “Archaeobotanical evidence reveals the origins of bread 14,400 years ago in northeastern Jordan,” A. Arranz-Otaeguia, L. Gonzalez Carretero, M. N. Ramsey, D. Q. Fuller, T. Richter, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 115(31):7925-7930, 2018. “The Roots of Cultivation in Southwestern Asia,” G. Willcox, Science, 341(6141):39-40, 2013. “Emergence of Agriculture in the Foothills of the Zagros Mountains of Iran,” S. Riehl, M. Zeidi, N. J. Conard, Science, 341(6141):65-67, 2013. “Searching for the origins of arable weeds in the Near East,” G. Willcox, Vegetation History and Archaeobotany, 21(2):163-167, 2012. “Large-scale cereal processing before domestication during the tenth millennium BC cal. in northern Syria,” G. Willcox, D. Stordeur, Antiquity, 86(331):99-114, 2012. Origins and Spread of Agriculture in SW Asia and Europe: Archaeobotanical Investigations of Neolithic Plant Economies, W. S. Colledge, J. Conolly, and S. J. Shennnan (editors), University College London Press, 2005.

[first alcohol]
It’s a stretch to imagine that we had beer as early as 11 millennia ago, but we probably did have it by 10 millennia ago in Turkey, and wine by nine millennia ago in at least China and in Iran. We almost surely had other brain-altering substances long before that as well.

“The role of cult and feasting in the emergence of Neolithic communities. New evidence from Göbekli Tepe, south-eastern Turkey,” O. Dietrich, M. Heun, J. Notroff, K. Schmidt, M. Zarnkow, Antiquity, 86(333):674-695, 2012. “Genetic characterization and relationships of traditional grape cultivars from Transcaucasia and Anatolia,” J. F. Vouillamoz, P. E. McGovern, A. Ergul, G. Söylemezoglu, G. Tevzadze, M. S. Grando, Plant Genetic Resources: Characterization & Utilization, 4(2):144-158, 2006. “Fermented Beverages of Pre- and Proto-Historic China,” P. E. McGovern, J. Zhang, J. Tang, Z. Zhang, G. R. Hall, R. A. Moreau, A. Nuñez, E. D. Butrym, M. P. Richards, C.-S. Wang, G. Cheng, Z. Zhao, C. Wang, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 101(51):17593-17598, 2004.

[submerged camp]
The camp on the southwest shore is now called Ohalo II. “The use of stone at Ohalo II, a 23,000 year old site in the Jordan Valley, Israel,” P. Spivak, D. Nadel, Proceedings of the 1st Meeting of the Association for Ground Stone Tools Research, Haifa, 2015, 3(3), 2016. “The Origin of Cultivation and Proto-Weeds, Long Before Neolithic Farming,” A. Snir, D. Nadel, I. Groman-Yaroslavski, Y. Melamed, M. Sternberg, O. Bar-Yosef, E. Weiss, PLoS ONE, 10(7):e0131422, 2015. “The broad spectrum revisited: Evidence from plant remains,” E. Weiss, W. Wetterstrom, D. Nadel, O. Bar-Yosef, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 101(26):9551-9555, 2004.
[Let’s farm!]
The same thing happened all over the world, wherever farming touched down: Chile, Peru, Mexico, the United States, Denmark, Britain, Portugal, South Africa, Israel, India, Vietnam, Thailand, China, and Mongolia. Ancient Health: Skeletal Indicators of Agricultural and Economic Intensification, Mark Nathan Cohen and Gillian M. M. Crane-Kramer (editors), University Press of Florida, 2007. See also: “Health versus fitness: Competing Themes in the Origins and Spread of Agriculture,” P. Lambert, Current Anthropology, 50(5):603-608, 2009.

“Although agriculture provided the economic basis for the rise of states and development of civilizations, the change in diet and acquisition of food resulted in a decline in quality of life for most human populations in the last 10,000 years.” From: “The agricultural revolution as environmental catastrophe: Implications for health and lifestyles in the Holocene,” C. S. Larsen, Quaternary International, 150(1):12-20, 2006.

“The shift from foraging to farming led to a reduction in health status and well-being, an increase in physiological stress, a decline in nutrition, an increase in birthrate and population growth, and an alteration of activity types and work loads. Taken as a whole, then, the popular and scholarly perception that quality of life improved with the acquisition of agriculture is incorrect.” From: “Biological Changes in Human Populations with Agriculture,” C. S. Larsen, Annual Review of Anthropology, 24:185-213, 1995.

See also: The Backbone of History: Health and Nutrition in the Western Hemisphere, Richard H. Steckel and Jerome C. Rose (editors), Cambridge University Press, 2002.

[farmers shorter than rovers]
Farming boosted our numbers enormously, but otherwise it was a terrible calamity for our health. A comprehensive study of late paleolithic, mesolithic, and neolithic skeletons in Greece and Turkey found that we lost about 100 to 150 centimeters (about 4 to 6 inches) in height for at least about 5,000 years. More recent studies for northern European settlement show similar patterns. Only today is our species recovering the heights we grew to in the paleolithic: around 1.75 meters (five feet nine inches) for males and around 1.65 meters (five feet five inches) for females. “Health as a Crucial Factor in the Changes from Hunting to Developed Farming in the Eastern Mediterranean,” L. J. Angel, in: Paleopathology at the Origins of Agriculture, Mark N. Cohen and George J. Armelagos (editors), Academic Press, 1984, pages 51-73. “Stature of early Europeans,” M. Hermanussen, Hormones, 2(3):175-178, 2003.
Description of its early and later granaries is here: “Evidence for food storage and predomestication granaries 11,000 years ago in the Jordan Valley,” I. Kuijta, W. Finlayson, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 106(27):10966-10970, 2009.

Its population estimates are given here: “Demography and Storage Systems During the Southern Levantine Neolithic Demographic Transition,” I. Kuijta, in: The Neolithic Demographic Transition and Its Consequences, Jean-Pierre Bocquet-Appel and Ofer Bar-Yosef (editors), Springer, 2008, pages 287-313.

[we’re in touch with each other]
We know that the neolithic package spread by contact and not reinvention because things only available at one place—sea shells, obsidian, bitumen, ochre, and the like—show up elsewhere.
“First wave of cultivators spread to Cyprus at least 10,600 y ago,” J. D. Vigne, F. Briois, A. Zazzo, G. Willcox, T. Cucchi, S. Thiébault, I. Carrère, Y. Franel, R. Touquet, C. Martin, C. Moreau, C. Comby, J. Guilaine, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 109(22):8445-8449, 2012.
Prehistoric Archeology Along the Zagros Flanks, Linda S. Braidwood, Robert J. Braidwood, Bruce howe, Charles A. Reed, and Patty Jo Watson (editors), The University of Chicago Oriental Institute Publications, 1983.
[Shanidar Cave]
The Proto-Neolithic Cemetery in Shanidar Cave, Ralph S. Solecki, Rose L. Solecki, and Anagnostis P. Agelarakis, Texas A&M University Press, 2004.
[Çatal Höyük]
“The early management of cattle (Bos taurus) in Neolithic central Anatolia,” B. S. Arbuckle, C. A. Makarewicz, Antiquity, 83(321):669-686, 2009. The Leopard’s Tale: Revealing the Mysteries of Çatalhöyük, Ian Hodder, Thames & Hudson, 2006. After the Ice: A Global Human History, 20,000-5,000 BC, Steven Mithen, Harvard University Press, 2003, Chapter 11. “Subsistence economy in Central Anatolia during the Neolithic: the archaeobotanical evidence,” E. Asouti, A. Fairbairn, and “Animal Remains from the Central Anatolian Neolithic,” L. Martin, N. Russell, D. Carruthers, in: The Neolithic of Central Anatolia: Internal Developments and External Relations during the 9th-6th Millennia cal. BC, Frédéric Gérard and Laurens Thissen (editors), Ege Yayinlari, pages 181-192 and pages 193-216, 2002.
[it’s only a sketch...]
The text’s sketch of a possible path to farming is dramatized for brevity and clarity. But there are many unanswered questions. Why then and there, and not somewhere else and ten millennia earlier? Or later?

An interesting recent model suggests that the particular period was unusual in that it was 1/ warm, and 2/ stable, and 3/ stayed that way for more than 2 millennia. That hadn’t happened at any time in the preceding 44Kya (in which period, presumably, humans were capable of exploiting the conditions—or falling into the trap, as the book has it) “Climate stability and the development of agricultural societies,” J. Feynman, A. Ruzmaikin, Climatic Change, 84(3):295-311, 2007.

There’s so much we today don’t know about those particular 2,600 or so years and what must have mattered to us across that particular stretch of time. But there’s one thing that may have mattered a great deal—genetic changes in wheat.

Step back once again to 11.6Kya. Unlike in the dramatized sketch in the text, we’re intimately familiar with everything that we see in our foraging cycle, for we eat nearly anything that can’t eat us first. The wheat variant we come across is rare around the planet, but in this time and place, it would be no surprise to us. What’s new is that for some reason we start storing its seeds. Why we choose to store anything at all at this particular time is unknown. But of all the seeds that we could have chosen, we probably choose these particular ones because their seeds happen to be a little bigger than other grass seeds. It would make sense for us to gather them rather than other seeds. Also, although most of their stalks shatter as they ripen—so that their seeds fall to the ground, ready to sprout—the stalks of a few mutant wheat plants fail to shatter. Normally that strain would be rare. It can’t make new plants, so from the plant’s point of view, it’s a dead end. But from our point of view, as the last ice age ended, those few mutants might have saved some of our lives.

We would probably ignore wheat stalks that had done the right thing and shattered. Picking up their scattered seeds would take more energy than eating them would give—something we only do when we’re truly starving. But the few mutant plants would still have their ripe seeds on the stalk. That would leave them in the perfect position for us to harvest cheaply.

Then, over time, we built more permanent seasonal shelters where they grew. Then, over time, we spent more and more time there. After a while, we started planting some of the mutant seeds that we didn’t eat. That gave those mutants an edge over their normal cousins, so they spread. As we kept selecting among them, they grew taller, too, which made them easier to harvest, and their seeds grew bigger, which made them more worthwhile to harvest, and easier to store. With that, we hadn’t merely settled, we had also begun to farm. What kept driving us all that time?

[wheat mutants]
Normal wild cereals have dehiscent ears, which shatter at maturity into dispersal units called spikelets. The mutants in question have indehiscent ears with spikelets that do not shatter but separate only when threshed.

Our earliest known settlements were in the Fertile Crescent, a zone of grassland and woodland beginning at the eastern edge of the Mediterranean (the bottom of the Levant) and arching north and east to the Zagros Mountains in today’s Iran. Sites primarily cluster in the Zagros, Taurus, and Pontic Mountains of Iraq, Iran, and Turkey, and the Levant, on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean (primarily Israel and Jordan). (So roughly: today’s Iraq, Iran, Israel, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan.)

From DNA analysis, einkorn wheat probably originated near the Karacadâg mountains in today’s Turkey. The seven primary domesticates of the Fertile Crescent were: barley, emmer wheat, einkorn wheat, and sheep, goats, cattle, and pigs. Of the 56 known species of large-seeded grasses, 32 grow wild in the Mediterranean region.

“AFLP Analysis of a Collection of Tetraploid Wheats Indicates the Origin of Emmer and Hard Wheat Domestication in Southeast Turkey,” H. Özkan, A. Brandolini, R. Schâfer-Pregl, F. Salamini, Molecular Biology and Evolution, 19(10):1797-1801, 2002. “Site of Einkorn Wheat Domestication Identified by DNA Fingerprinting,” M. Heun, R. Schäfer-Pregl, D. Klawan, R. Castagna, M. Accerbi, B. Borghi, F. Salamini, Science, 278(5341):1312-1314, 1997. The Emergence of Agriculture, Bruce D. Smith, Scientific American Library, 1995. Seed To Civilization: The Story of Food, Charles B. Heiser, Harvard University Press, New Edition, 1990. Forces of Change: An Unorthodox View of History, Henry Hobhouse, Arcade, 1989.

Domestication probably took at least a millennium or so given that early farmers had no idea what they were really up to. A mathematical model of how long it might take for genetic change to spread in wild-type versus artificial selection grasses estimates that it might take 3,000 years for our selection to really change a plant. “The genetic expectations of a protracted model for the origins of domesticated crops,” R. G. Allaby, D. Q. Fuller, T. A. Brown, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 105(37):13982-13986, 2008. “How fast was wild wheat domesticated?” K. Tanno, G. Willcox, Science, 311(5769):1886, 2006.

Finally, cereals needn’t necessarily be one of the first plants we tamed. “Early domesticated fig in the Jordan Valley,” M. E. Kislev, A. Hartmann, O. Bar-Yosef, Science, 312(5778):1372-1374, 2006.

[squash in the Americas]
Until recently, archaeologists thought that Mesoamerica lagged behind Eurasia in its neolithic transition by about 5,000 years. That’s no longer so certain. It now appears that squash was domesticated in what is today southern Mexico around 7,920 (calibrated) years ago. Maize came much later, then beans. It’s possible that Mesoamerican populations domesticated plants long before settling, unlike Eurasian populations. (Perhaps densities were lower, so continued roaming, even after cultivation, remained reasonable? Maybe settlement had more to do with defense of the seeds from other bands than maintenace of the food source?) “Reassessing Coxcatlan Cave and the early history of domesticated plants in Mesoamerica,” B. D. Smith, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 102(27):9438-9445, 2005. “Documenting Plant Domestication: The Consilience of Biological and Archaeological Approaches,” B. D. Smith, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 98(4):1324-1326, 2001. “The Initial Domestication of Cucurbita pepo in the Americas 10,000 Years Ago,” B. D. Smith, Science, 276(5314):932-934, 1997.
[domesticating maize]
Maize may have been domesticated as early as 9Kya. “Directly dated starch residues document early formative maize (Zea mays L.) in tropical Ecuador,” S. Zarrillo, D. M. Pearsall, J. S. Raymond, M. A. Tisdale, D. J. Quon, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 105(13):5006-5011, 2008. “Microfossil evidence for pre-Columbian maize dispersals in the neotropics from San Andrés Tabasco, Mexico,” M. E. D. Pohl, D. R. Piperno, K. O. Pope, J. G. Jones, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 104(16):6870-6875, 2007. Prehistory of the Americas, Stuart J. Fiedel, Cambridge University Press, Second Edition, 1992, page 175.
[spread of maize by 1492]
By 1492, some cobs were already six inches long. Columbus’ original log is lost, but in 1514 Bartolome de Las Casas summarized it on his first visit to Cuba. On Tuesday, 6th November, 1492, Rodrigo de Jerez and Luis de Torres returned from an exploration in Cuba noting that, “The land is very fertile and is cultivated with yams and several kinds of beans different from ours, as well as corn.” Quoted in: “Journal of the First Voyage of Columbus,” The Northmen, Columbus, and Cabot, 985-1503, Original Narratives of Early American History, Julius E. Olson and Edward Gaylord Bourne (editors), Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1906, page 142.

For Europeans in North America, maize came to be called ‘Indian corn,’ then simply ‘corn.’ In 1539, Garcilaso de la Vega, part of Hernan de Soto’s expedition in northern Florida and the Carolinas, wrote that, “[We] marched on through some great fields of corn, beans, and squash and other vegetables which had been sown on both sides of the road and were spread out as far as the eye could see across two leagues of plain.” The Florida of the Inca, John and Jeannette Varner (editors and translators), University of Texas Press, 1988.

[watermelon and cow ancestors]
“Diversity and origin of cultivated and citron type watermelon (Citrullus lanatus),” F. Dane, J. Liu, Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution, 54(6):1255-1265, 2007. Retracing the Aurochs: History, Morphology and Ecology of an Extinct Wild Ox, Cis van Vuure, Pensoft Publishers, 2005.
[bulldog births]
“Proportion of litters of purebred dogs born by caesarean section,” K. Evans, V. Adams, The Journal of Small Animal Practice, 51(2):113-118, 2010.
[domesticating animals]
Data on domestication is still fuzzy, but we seem to have domesticated our fellow animals in roughly the following order: dogs while we were still hunter-gatherers in the mesolithic, then cats and sheep and goats once we entered the neolithic, then pigs and cows soon after, then, millennia later, horses, donkeys, llamas, alpacas, and camels, then rabbits, chickens, and turkeys. (Cats around 9Kya are especially interesting as they appear to have domesticated not in the way we had thought until recently but because they followed mice, which followed grain, which followed settlement, not farming, in hunter-gatherer times.)

“Comparative analysis of the domestic cat genome reveals genetic signatures underlying feline biology and domestication,” M. J. Montague, G. Li, B. Gandolfi, R. Khan, B. L. Aken, S. M. J. Searle, P. Minx, L. W. Hillier, D. C. Koboldt, B. W. Davis, C. A. Driscoll, C. S. Barr, K. Blackistone, J. Quilez, B. Lorente-Galdos, T. Marques-Bonet, C. Alkan, G. W. C. Thomas, M. W. Hahn, M. Menotti-Raymond, S. J. O’Brien, R. K. Wilson, L. A. Lyons, W. J. Murphy, W. C. Warren, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 111(48):17230-17235, 2014. “First wave of cultivators spread to Cyprus at least 10,600 y ago,” J. D. Vigne, F. Briois, A. Zazzo, G. Willcox, T. Cucchi, S. Thiébault, I. Carrère, Y. Franel, R. Touquet, C. Martin, C. Moreau, C. Comby, J. Guilaine, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 109(22):8445-8449, 2012. “The taming of the cat,” C. A. Driscoll, J. Clutton-Brock, A. C. Kitchener, S. J. O’Brien, Scientific American, 300(6):68-75, 2009. “From wild animals to domestic pets, an evolutionary view of domestication,” C. A. Driscoll, D. W. Macdonald, S. J. O’Brien, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106(1):9971-9978, 2009. Documenting Domestication: New Genetic and Archaeological Paradigms, Melinda A. Zeder, Daniel G. Bradley, Eve Emswiller, and Bruce D. Smith (editors), University of California Press, 2006.

Pigs and cattle were each domesticated about 10Kya. Horse domestication seems to date to about 6Kya, and donkeys to about 5Kya. “Reconstructing the origin and spread of horse domestication in the Eurasian steppe,” V. Warmuth, A. Eriksson, M. A. Bower, G. Barker, E. Barrett, B. K. Hanks, S. Li, D. Lomitashvili, M. Ochir-Goryaeva, G. V. Sizonov, V. Soyonov, A. Manica, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(21):8202-8206, 2012. “Patterns of East Asian pig domestication, migration, and turnover revealed by modern and ancient DNA,” G. Larson, R. Liu, X. Zhao, J. Yuan, D. Fuller, L. Barton, K. Dobney, Q. Fan, Z. Gu, X.-H. Liu, Y. Luo, P. Lv, L. Andersson, N. Li, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(17):7686-7691, 2010. “A Complete Mitochondrial Genome Sequence from a Mesolithic Wild Aurochs (Bos primigenius,),” C. J. Edwards, D. A. Magee, S. D. Park, P. A. McGettigan, A. J. Lohan, A. Murphy, E. K. Finlay, B. Shapiro, A. T. Chamberlain, M. B. Richards, D. G. Bradley, B. J. Loftus, D. E. Machugh, PLoS ONE, 5(2):e9255, 2010. “The Earliest Horse Harnessing and Milking,” A. K. Outram, N. A. Stear, R. Bendrey, S. Olsen, A. Kasparov, V. Zaibert, N. Thorpe, R. P. Evershed, Science, 323(5919):1332-1335, 2009. “Domestication of the donkey: Timing, processes, and indicators,” S. Rossel, F. Marshall, J. Peters, T. Pilgram, M. D. Adams, D. O’Connor, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 105(10):3715-3720, 2008.

Today all those species can still reproduce on their own, but none of them would exist in the numbers they do without our intervention. Our planet now supports ten thousand million chickens, 1,500 million cows, over a thousand million sheep, 700 million goats, and over 500 million pigs. All those populations are perhaps a thousand times as large as they would be without us. (Of course, they exist in such numbers at the expense of other species.) Today we control their reproduction with selective breeding, hormones, and spaying, and one day, to make them even more suitable as food or pets, we may genetically remove their reproductive ability entirely, just as we in some sense have already done with maize and wheat and seedless grapes. The Archaeology of Animals, Simon J. M. Davis, Yale University Press, 1987.

[rise of slavery after settlement]
For a simple economic model of possible incentives for slavery, see: “The Roads To and From Serfdom,” N.-P. Lagerlöf, Economics Working Paper, Concordia University, 2002. See also: “Slavery and Other Property Rights,” N.-P. Lagerlöf, Review of Economic Studies, 76(1):319-342, 2008. Capitalism, Socialism, and Serfdom, Evsey D. Domar, Cambridge University Press, 1989, especially Chapter 12, which appeared earlier as: “The Causes of Slavery or Serfdom: A Hypothesis,” E. D. Domar, Economic History Review, 30(1):18-32, 1970.

Slavery can arise even among foragers: if they’re sedentary and have access to a rich food source that rewards intensive labor. One such example is the coastal tribes in the northwest of North America. Their subsistence was based on hunting, gathering, and fishing. They all had a tradition of potlatch. Slavery among them was economically valuable not for primary activities (like fishing) but secondary activities—like drying the fish for storage. Aboriginal slavery on the Northwest Coast of North America, Leland Donald, University of California Press, 1997.

These days it’s popular to believe that when we were foragers we likely didn’t take slaves because we were ‘nice’ or just meek and thus didn’t have large wars. Not so. Rovers weren’t meek—skeletons from that time show that they could maim and kill just as well then as now—but they likely didn’t enslave each other. There would be no point. “Anthropology, Archaeology, and the Origin of Warfare,” I. J. N. Thorpe, World Archaeology, 35(1):145-165, 2003. Troubled Times: Violence and Warfare in the Past, Debra L. Martin and David W. Freyer (editors), Routledge, 1998. Killing or exploiting each other is ancient. It’s simply that it didn’t pay as well when we were foragers.

[female fertility]
This analysis assumes that our early hunter-gatherer lives were similar to today’s hunter-gatherers. The Foraging Spectrum: Diversity in Hunter-Gatherer Lifeways, Robert L. Kelly, Smithsonian Institution Press, 1995. The biology itself is now beginning to be fairly well understood, though. “Adaptive changes in life history and survival following a new guppy introduction,” S. P. Gordon, D. N. Reznick, M. T. Kinnison, M. J. Bryant, D. J. Weese, K. Räsänen, N. P. Millar, A. P. Hendry, The American Naturalist, 174(1):34-45, 2009. “Human Ovarian Function and Reproductive Ecology: New Hypotheses,” P. Ellison, American Anthropologist, 92(4):933-52, 1990. From Foraging to Agriculture: The Levant and the End of the Ice Age, Donald Henry, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1989.

Changing Phase

[termites have been fungus farmers for millions of years]
The particular subfamily that the text indirectly refers to here is the fungus-farmers, Macrotermitinae. “Dating the fungus-growing termites’ mutualism shows a mixture between ancient codiversification and recent symbiont dispersal across divergent hosts,” T. Nobre, N. A. Koné, S. Konaté K. E. Linsenmair, D. K. Aanen, Molecular Ecology, 20(12):2619-2627, 2011.
[farming is rare among animal species]
Besides our own species, only a few genera in three animal orders (termites, attine ants, and ambrosia beetles) farm. (Although some other species are so mutualist that they are co-dependent and may be described as horticultural.) Some ants, lineages of the Attini, have been farming (fungus) for perhaps 30 million years. Some leaf-cutter ants cannot survive without their fungus, nor can their fungus survive without them. “Dry habitats were crucibles of domestication in the evolution of agriculture in ants,” M. G. Branstetter, A. Ješovnik, J. Sosa-Calvo, M. W. Lloyd, B. C. Faircloth, S. G. Brady, T. R. Schultz, Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 284(1852):20170095, 2017. “Nutrition mediates the expression of cultivar-farmer conflict in a fungus-growing ant,” J. Z. Shik, E. B. Gomez, P. W. Kooij, J. C. Santos, W. T. Wcislo, J. J. Boomsma, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(36):10121-10126, 2016. “High symbiont relatedness stabilizes mutualistic cooperation in fungus-growing termites,” D. K. Aanen, H. H. De Fine Licht, A. J. M. Debets, N. G. Kerstes, R. F. Hoekstra, J. J. Boomsma, Science, 326(5956):1103-1106, 2009. “Major Evolutionary Transitions In Ant Agriculture,” T. R. Schultz, S. G. Brady, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 105(14):5435-5440, 2008. “The evolution of agriculture in insects,” U. G. Mueller, N. M. Gerardo, D. K. Aanen, D. L. Six, T. R. Schultz, Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics, 36(1):563-595, 2005. “Fungus-farming insects: Multiple origins and diverse evolutionary histories,” U. G. Mueller, N. Gerardo, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 99(24):15247-15249, 2002. “The evolution of fungus-growing termites and their mutualistic fungal symbionts,” D. K. Aanen, P. Eggleton, C. Rouland-Lefèvre, T. Guldberg-Frøslev, S. Rosendahl, J. J. Boomsma, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 99(23):14887-14892, 2002.
[some ants are herders; some are slavers; some are thieves]
Farmers: Ant (and beetle and termite) farming has evolved many times. Ants don’t only farm fungi, they might also farm any of many other ‘crops.’ Ants a “The assembly of ant-farmed gardens: mutualism specialization following host broadening,” G. Chomicki, M. Janda, S. S. Renner, Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 284(1850):20161759, 2017.

Herders: “An ancient tripartite symbiosis of plants, ants and scale insects,” T. Itino, K. Murase, Y. Sato, K. Inamori, T. Itioka, S.-P. Quek, S. Ueda, Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 275(1649):2319-2326, 2008. The Ants, Bert Hölldobler and Edward O. Wilson, Harvard University Press, 1990, page 553.

Slavers and thieves: (Some steal brood members for consumption. Theft of brood for labor, not consumption, is sometimes known not as ‘slavery’ but as ‘dulosis’ or a kind of cleptobiosis.) “Rossomyrmex, the Slave-Maker Ants from the Arid Steppe Environments,” F. Ruano, O. Sanllorente, A. Lenoir, A. Tinaut, Psyche: A Journal of Entomology, 2013:541804:1-7, 2013.

“In this review of cleptobiosis, we not only focus on social insects, but also consider broader issues and concepts relating to the theft of food among animals. Cleptobiosis occurs when members of a species steal food, or sometimes nesting materials or other items of value, either from members of the same or a different species. This simple definition is not universally used, and there is some terminological confusion among cleptobiosis, cleptoparasitism, brood parasitism, and inquilinism. We first discuss the definitions of these terms and the confusion that arises from varying usage of the words. We consider that cleptobiosis usually is derived evolutionarily from established foraging behaviors. Cleptobionts can succeed by deception or by force, and we review the literature on cleptobiosis by deception or force in social insects. We focus on the best known examples of cleptobiosis, the ectatommine ant Ectatomma ruidum, the harvester ant Messor capitatus, and the stingless bee Lestrimellita limão. Cleptobiosis is facilitated either by deception or physical force, and we discuss both mechanisms. Part of this discussion is an analysis of the ecological implications (competition by interference) and the evolutionary effects of cleptobiosis. We conclude with a comment on how cleptobiosis can increase the risk of disease or parasite spread among colonies of social insects.” From: “Cleptobiosis in Social Insects,” M. D. Breed, C. Cook, M. O. Krasnec, Psyche: A Journal of Entomology, 2012:484765:1-7, 2012.

[lactase persistence — digesting dairy not worldwide yet]
Inability to digest lactose, using the enzyme lactase to break it down into glucose and galactose, is different from having an allergic reaction to milk. Adult production of lactase, and thus adult ability to digest lactose, is common in people of north European descent, less so otherwise. (Although milk production goes back at least 9,000 years, particularly in Turkey, and cheese production may be at least 7,200 years old, in Croatia.) “Fatty acid specific δ13C values reveal earliest Mediterranean cheese production 7,200 years ago,” S. B. McClure, C. Magill, E. Podrug, A. M. T. Moore, T. K. Harper, B. J. Culleton, D. J. Kennett, K. H. Freeman, PLoS ONE, 13(9):e0202807, 2018. “On the Evolution of Lactase Persistence in Humans,” L. Ségurel, C. Bon, Annual Review of Genomics and Human Genetics, 18(1):297-319, 2017. “Earliest date for milk use in the Near East and southeastern Europe linked to cattle herding,” R. P. Evershed, S. Payne, A. G. Sherratt, M. S. Copley, J. Coolidge, D. Urem-Kotsu, K. Kotsakis, M. Özdoğan, A. E. Özdoğan, O. Nieuwenhuyse, P. M. M. G. Akkermans, D. Bailey, R.-R. Andeescu, S. Campbell, S. Farid, I. Hodder, N. Yalman, M. Özbaşaran, E. Bıçakcı, Y. Garfinkel, T. Levy, M. M. Burton, Nature, 455(7212):528-531, 2008.

Interestingly, the allele did not arrive in Europe with the first farmers. It became common only in the Bronze Age, many millenia after the domestication of cattle and the start of dairying. “FADS1 and the Timing of Human Adaptation to Agriculture,” S. Mathieson, I. Mathieson, Molecular Biology and Evolution, 35(12):2957-2970, 2018.

From then, lactase persistence apparently spread quickly in Europe, based on a study of one battle gravesite from around 5Kya, where it was very low in comparison to today. “Low Prevalence of Lactase Persistence in Bronze Age Europe Indicates Ongoing Strong Selection over the Last 3,000 Years,” J. Burger, V. Link, J. Blöcher, A. Schulz, C. Sell, Z. Pochon, Y. Diekmann, A. Žegarac, Z. Hofmanová, L. Winkelbach, C. S. Reyna-Blanco, V. Bieker, J. Orschiedt, U. Brinker, A. Scheu, C. Leuenberger, T. S. Bertino, R. Bollongino, G. Lidke, S. Stefanović, D. Jantzen, E. Kaiser, T. Terberger, Current Biology, 30(21):4307-4315.e13, 2020.

[not used to potatoes yet]
Potatoes contain fat-soluble neurotoxins (solanine and chaconine), which are in the bloodstreams of all potato eaters. Potatoes are relatively new to our species, so our genes haven’t yet had time to evolve ways to fully detoxify them. “α-Chaconine and α-solanine content of potato products and their stability during several modes of cooking,” R. J. Bushway, R. Ponnampalam, Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 29(4):814-817, 1981.
[most human genetic change is slow]
“The Role of Geography in Human Adaptation,” G. Coop, J. K. Pickrell, J. Novembre, S. Kudaravalli, J. Li, D. Absher, R. M. Myers, L. L. Cavalli-Sforza, M. W. Feldman, J. K. Pritchard, PLoS Genetics, 5(6):e1000500, 2009. Of course, that’s only true for humans (based on the genes we’ve sequenced so far). Different species have different adaptation rates. For example, for guppies, significant adaptation can happen in as litle as 10 years (30 guppy generations), although it’s not yet clear how much of that is genetic rather than epigenetic (that is a non-genetic change in the protein compositions of the cells the genes express themselves in). “Adaptive changes in life history and survival following a new guppy introduction,” S. P. Gordon, D. N. Reznick, M. T. Kinnison, M. J. Bryant, D. J. Weese, K. Räsänen, N. P. Millar, A. P. Hendry, The American Naturalist, 174(1):34-45, 2009.

For humans, the median age at menarche is about 12, but these days a common age for first reproduction is 20-25, so it’s common to take ‘a generation’ as somewhere in that range of years. The text assumes it to be no more than 25 years.

While most human genetic change is very slow, some recent human genetic change—where ‘recent’ means the last 80,000 years or so—that is, the recent past—aren’t. “Recent acceleration of human adaptive evolution,” J. Hawks, E. T. Wang, G. M. Cochran, H. C. Harpending, R. K. Moyzis, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104(52):20753-20758, 2007. “Genome-wide detection and characterization of positive selection in human populations,” P. C. Sabeti, P. Varilly, B. Fry, J. Lohmueller, E. Hostetter, C. Cotsapas, X. Xie, E. H. Byrne, S. A. McCarroll, R. Gaudet, S. F. Schaffner, E. S. Lander, The International HapMap Consortium, Nature, 449(7164):913-918, 2007.

For an example of very recent (last few millennia) change, see low-oxygen adaptation in Tibet: “Sequencing of 50 Human Exomes Reveals Adaptation to High Altitude,” X. Yi, Y. Liang, E. Huerta-Sanchez, X. Jin, Z. X. Cuo, J. E. Pool, X. Xu, H. Jiang, N. Vinckenbosch, T. S. Korneliussen, H. Zheng, T. Liu, W. He, K. Li, R. Luo, X. Nie, H. Wu, M. Zhao, H. Cao, J. Zou, Y. Shan, S. Li, Q. Yang, Asan, P. Ni, G. Tian, J. Xu, X. Liu, T. Jiang, R. Wu, G. Zhou, M. Tang, J. Qin, T. Wang, S. Feng, G. Li, Huasang, J. Luosang, W. Wang, F. Chen, Y. Wang, X. Zheng, Z. Li, Z. Bianba, G. Yang, X. Wang, S. Tang, G. Gao, Y. Chen, X. Luo, L. Gusang, Z. Cao, Q. Zhang, W. Ouyang, X. Ren, H. Liang, H. Zheng, Y. Huang, J. Li, L. Bolund, K. Kristiansen, Y. Li, Y. Zhang, X. Zhang, R. Li, S. Li, H. Yang, R. Nielsen, J. Wang, J. Wang, Science, 329(5987):75-78, 2010.

Further, at least two genes that appear to be involved in determining our brain size have undergone strong positive selection recently, and (here’s the politically volatile bit) only among some of our populations. One haplotype of Microcephalin was strongly selected for starting about 37Kya (confidence limit from 14Kya to 60Kya), and a haplotype of ASPM about 5.8Kya (confidence limit between 500 and 14,100 years). These are extremely recent haplotypes. Neither have spread very far in our African population yet. “Microcephalin, a Gene Regulating Brain Size, Continues to Evolve Adaptively in Humans,” P. D. Evans, S. L. Gilbert, N. Mekel-Bobrov, E. J. Vallender, J. R. Anderson, L. M. Vaez-Azizi, S. A. Tishkoff, R. R. Hudson, B. T. Lahn, Science, 309(5741):1717-1720, 2005. “Ongoing Adaptive Evolution of ASPM, a Brain Size Determinant in Homo sapiens,” N. Mekel-Bobrov, S. L. Gilbert, P. D. Evans, E. J. Vallender, J. R. Anderson, R. R. Hudson, S. A. Tishkoff, B. T. Lahn, Science, 309(5741):1720-1722, 2005. “Reconstructing the evolutionary history of microcephalin, a gene controlling human brain size,” P. D. Evans, J. R. Anderson, E. J. Vallender, S. S. Choi, B. T. Lahn, Human Molecular Genetics, 13(11):1139-1145, 2004.

On a related note, see also: Pandora’s Seed: The Unforeseen Cost of Civilization, Spencer Wells, Random House, 2010. Survival of the Sickest: The Surprising Connections Between Disease and Longevity, Sharon Moalem and Jonathan Prince, Harper Perennial, 2008.

The text tries to give the considered view of many geneticists. For a contrary view from the popular science world, however, see: The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution, Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending, Basic Books, 2009.

[our genes haven’t yet caught up with our dependence on grain]
“Cereal Grains: Humanity’s Double-Edged Sword,” L. Cordain, in: Evolutionary Aspects of Nutrition and Health: Diet, Exercise, Genetics, and Chronic Disease, A. P. Simopoulos (editor), Karger, 1999, pages 19-73.
[we today are the same anatomically perhaps 300Kya and behaviorally perhaps 100Kya to certainly 50Kya]
“Earliest known human burial in Africa,” M. Martinón-Torres, F. d’Errico, E. Santos, A. Álvaro Gallo, N. Amano, W. Archer, S. J. Armitage, J. L. Arsuaga, J. M. Bermúdez de Castro, J. Blinkhorn, A. Crowther, K. Douka, S. Dubernet, P. Faulkner, P. Fern´ndez-Colón, N. Kourampas, J. Gonz´lez García, D. Larreina, F.-X. Le Bourdonnec, G. MacLeod, L. Martín-Francés, D. Massilani, J. Mercader, J. M. Miller, E. Ndiema, B. Notario, A. P. Martí, M. E. Prendergast, A. Queffelec, S. Rigaud, P. Roberts, M. J. Shoaee, C. Shipton, I. Simpson, N. Boivin, M. D. Petraglia, Nature, 593(7857):95-100, 2021. “On the origin of our species,” C. Stringer, J. Galway-Witham, Nature, 546(7657):212-214, 2017. “The age of the hominin fossils from Jebel Irhoud, Morocco, and the origins of the Middle Stone Age,” D. Richter, R. Grün, R. Joannes-Boyau, T. E. Steele, F. Amani, M. Rué, P. Fernandes, J.-P. Raynal, D. Geraads, A. Ben-Ncer, J.-J. Hublin, S. P. McPherron, Nature, 546(7657):293-296, 2017. “Southern African ancient genomes estimate modern human divergence to 350,000 to 260,000 years ago,” C. M. Schlebusch, H. Malmström, T. Günther, P. Sjödin, A. Coutinho, H. Edlund, A. R. Munters, M. Vicente, M. Steyn, H. Soodyall, M. Lombard, M. Jakobsson, Science, 358(6363):652-655, 2017. “Why did modern human populations disperse from Africa ca. 60,000 years ago? A new model,” P. Mellars, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 103(25):9381-9386, 2006.
[a sketch of possible paleolithic life]
We probably didn’t get into farming because we somehow suddenly got smarter. When we today think of our past hunter-gatherer life, it’s common to imagine that we were dressed in rough-cut hides wandering through desolate, virgin, landscapes. That’s the picture that movies often paint for us. It may be reasonable if 11 millennia ago we were naked apes with bad haircuts and heavy jawlines hefting stone tools while we grunted at each other about how nasty, brutish, and short our lives were. But genetic change is slow, so we likely weren’t any stupider then than we are now. Plus we had lots of spare time since we hadn’t started farming. Plus we had well over a million years to fine-tune our clothes and tools. So it seems more reasonable to assume that back then we wore well-tailored clothes and intricate tattoos and body paint—literally dressed to kill. We may also have carved totems of our passing into any rock faces, hillsides, riverbanks, and trees that we camped nearby, like dogs marking our terrain. Over the millennia, our bodies, and such unsheltered signs would have weathered away, leaving only a few bodnes and some remains of cave art. Adorning ourselves or adorning our territory—both may also have helped us keep the peace. Finally, for millennia we were on foot, so weight was the enemy, so, likely, we probably mostly made grass shoes, net and leather bags, string or strap baby slings, light-weight weapons, and lots of ornaments—not lots of stone axes. Chipped rock from that time may well be the main relic today only because it outlives bone, wood, grass, paint, ink, and leather. So calling that era of prehistory the ‘Stone Age’ (by analogy with the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, and so on) may be misleading. Later ages are named based on what brought the most change to what came before; it’s not at all clear that stone is what brought the most change to what came before—it, however, is the thing that lasts the longest of whatever happened then.

The backhanded reference to naked apes is to: The Naked Ape: A Zoologist’s Study of the Human Animal, Desmond Morris, Jonathan Cape, 1967.

Woven clothing in the paleolithic is a guess. However, that we had woven clothing (as opposed to the typical image we carry of paleolithic hunters dressed only in hides) is not unlikely since their remote ancestors had cordage and nets, and thus some kind of weaving. The Pavlovian variant of the Gravettian people—who lived scattered over a region stretching from Spain to southern Russia about 29Kya to 22Kya—apparently at least had nets. “Ice Age Communities May Be Earliest Known Net Hunters,” H. Pringle, Science, 277(5330):1203-1204, 1997.

Actual twisted fibers dating to about 18Kya have been found in caves in France. The earliest known evidence of woven fabrics might be Venus figurines carved about 26Kya. Some of them have incised representations of what may be skimpy string skirts, presumably for some symbolic purpose. So twining and plaiting may go back 26 millennia. Of course, there’s argument about this particular extrapolation. Findings: The Material Culture of Needlework and Sewing, Mary C. Beaudry, Yale University Press, 2006, pages 45-46 and 90. “Archaeological Textiles: A Review of Current Research,” I. Good, Annual Review of Anthropology, 30:209-226, 2001. “Perishable Technologies and Invisible People: Nets, Baskets, and ‘Venus’ Wear ca. 26,000 B.P.,” O. Soffer, J. M. Adovasio, D. C. Hyland, Enduring Records: The Environmental and Cultural Heritage of Wetlands, Barbara Purdy (editor), Oxbow Books, 2001, pages 233-245. “Upper Palaeolithic fibre technology: interlaced woven finds from Pavlov I, Czech Republic, c. 26,000 years ago,” J. M. Adovasio, O. Soffer, B. Klíma, Antiquity, 70(269):526-34, 1996. Prehistoric Textiles: The Development of Cloth in the Neolithic and Bronze Ages with special reference to the Aegean, E. J. W. Barber, Princeton University Press, 1991.

Tattoos in the neolithic are a total guess. However, a tattooed man existed in the Ötztal Alps 5.3Kya. There seems to be no reason we couldn’t have tattooed, or scarred, ourselves 11Kya, or even 50Kya, or more. “Origin and Migration of the Alpine Iceman,” W. Müller, H. Fricke, A. N. Halliday, M. T. McCulloch, J.-A. Wartho, Science, 302(5646):862-866, 2003. The Man in the Ice: The Discovery of a 5,000-year-old Body Reveals the Secrets of the Stone Age, Konrad Spindler, translated by Ewald Osers, Harmony Books, 1994. Incidentally, that particular find has ramified into a murder mystery with new, and so far unpublished, DNA and forensic analysis of the body and its artifacts by Thomas Loy of the University of Queensland. For the same sort of forensics, see: “Kwäday Dän Ts’ìnchí, the first ancient body of a man from a North American glacier: reconstructing his last days by intestinal and biomolecular analyses,” J. H. Dickson, M. P. Richards, R. J. Hebda, P. J. Mudie, O. Beattie, S. Ramsay, N. J. Turner, B. J. Leighton, J. M. Webster, N. R. Hobischak, G. S. Anderson, P. M. Troffe, R. J. Wigen, The Holocene, 14(4):481-486, 2004.

Paleolithic ornaments, shoes, and tools: Our earliest probable ornaments may go back at least 82Kya (and perhaps 110Kya in the latest unpublished research). “82,000-year-old shell beads from North Africa and implications for the origins of modern human behavior,” A. Bouzouggar, N. Barton, M. Vanhaeren, F. d’Errico, S. Collcutt, T. Higham, E. Hodge, S. Parfitt, E. Rhodes, J.-L. Schwenninger, C. Stringer, E. Turner, S. Ward, A. Moutmir, A. Stambouli, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104(24):9964-9969, 2007. “Middle Stone Age Shell Beads from South Africa,” C. Henshilwood, F. d’Errico, M. Vanhaeren, K. van Niekerk, Z. Jacobs, Science, 304(5669):404-404, 2004.

Our oldest known ornaments are perforated teeth or eggshell beads from Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Turkey, and Lebanon, dated between 41,000 and 43,000-years-old, and 40,000-year-old ostrich-shell beads from Kenya. Beads found in Tanzania also appear to be very old, but are so far undated. “Ornaments of the earliest Upper Paleolithic: New insights from the Levant,” S. L. Kuhn, M. C. Stiner, D. S. Reese, E. Güleç, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 98(13):7641-7646, 2001. “Chronology of the Later Stone Age and Food Production in East Africa,” S. H. Ambrose, Journal of Archaeological Science, 25(4):377-392, 1998. Bead-making may go back at least 100Kya: “Middle Paleolithic Shell Beads in Israel and Algeria,” M. Vanhaereny, F. d’Errico, C. Stringer, S. L. James, J. A. Todd, H. K. Mienis, Science, 312(5781):1785-1788, 2006.

Our oldest known figurine is an ivory Venus dated to 35Kya. “A female figurine from the basal Aurignacian of Hohle Fels Cave in southwestern Germany,” N. J. Conard, Nature, 459(7244):248-252, 2009. The oldest known musical instruments, bone and ivory flutes, are also 35,000 years old. “New flutes document the earliest musical tradition in southwestern Germany,” N. J. Conard, M. Malina, S. C. Münzel, Nature, 460(7256):737-740, 2009.

Our oldest known shoe is 5,500 years old. The oldest known sandal is 10,500-9,300 years old. “First Direct Evidence of Chalcolithic Footwear from the Near Eastern Highlands,” R. Pinhasi, B. Gasparian, G. Areshian, D. Zardaryan, A. Smith, G. Bar-Oz, T. Higham, PLoS ONE, 5(6):e10984, 2010. In Search of Ancient Oregon: A Geological and Natural History, Ellen Morris Bishop, Timber Press, 2003, page 232. “Comments on ‘America’s Oldest Basketry,’ ” T. J. Connolly, W. J. Cannon, Radiocarbon, 41(3):309-313, 1999.

Chewing gum, too, is prehistoric. “Bulk stable light isotopic ratios in archaeological birch bark tars,” B. Stern, S. J. Clelland, C. C. Nordby, D. Urem-Kotsou, Applied Geochemistry, 21(10):1668-1673, 2006. “Chewing tar in the early Holocene: an archaeological and ethnographic evaluation,” E. M. Aveling, C. Heron, Antiquity, 73(281):579-584, 1999. “Chewing gum bezoars of the gastrointestinal tract,” D. E. Milov, J. M. Andres, N. A. Erhart, D. J. Bailey, Pediatrics, 102(2):e22, 1998.

[...we got about on foot]
We didn’t tame horses until about 5Kya. Our picture is still blurry because horses haven’t speciated. There’s little difference between a wild horse, a tamed horse, and a feral horse, so the bones aren’t especially telling, only genes are. At least two different events happened, among the Botai (which died out) and among the Yamnaya.

“The Yamnaya expansions from the western steppe into Europe and Asia during the Early Bronze Age (~3000 BCE) are believed to have brought with them Indo-European languages and possibly horse husbandry. We analyzed 74 ancient whole-genome sequences from across Inner Asia and Anatolia and show that the Botai people associated with the earliest horse husbandry derived from a hunter-gatherer population deeply diverged from the Yamnaya. Our results also suggest distinct migrations bringing West Eurasian ancestry into South Asia before and after, but not at the time of, Yamnaya culture. We find no evidence of steppe ancestry in Bronze Age Anatolia from when Indo-European languages are attested there. Thus, in contrast to Europe, Early Bronze Age Yamnaya-related migrations had limited direct genetic impact in Asia.” From: “The first horse herders and the impact of early Bronze Age steppe expansions into Asia,” P. de Barros Damgaard, R. Martiniano, J. Kamm, J. V. Moreno-Mayar, G. Kroonen, M. Peyrot, G. Barjamovic, S. Rasmussen, C. Zacho, N. Baimukhanov, V. Zaibert, V. Merz, A. Biddanda, I. Merz, V. Loman, V. Evdokimov, E. Usmanova, B. Hemphill, A. Seguin-Orlando, F. E. Yediay, I. Ullah, K.-G. Sjögren, K. H. Iversen, J. Choin, C. de la Fuente, M. Ilardo, H. Schroeder, V. Moiseyev, A. Gromov, A. Polyakov, S. Omura, S. Y. Senyurt, H. Ahmad, C. McKenzie, A. Margaryan, A. Hameed, A. Samad, N. Gul, M. H. Khokhar, O. I. Goriunova, V. I. Bazaliiskii, J. Novembre, A. W. Weber, L. Orlando, M. E. Allentoft, R. Nielsen, K. Kristiansen, M. Sikora, A. K. Outram, R. Durbin, E. Willerslev, Science, 360(6396):eaar7711, 2018.

See also: “Coat Color Variation at the Beginning of Horse Domestication,” A. Ludwig, M. Pruvost, M. Reissmann, N. Benecke, G. A. Brockmann, P. Castaños, M. Cieslak, S. Lippold, L. Llorente, A.-S. Malaspinas, M. Slatkin, M. Hofreiter, Science, 324(5926):485, 2009. “The Earliest Horse Harnessing and Milking,” A. K. Outram, N. A. Stear, R. Bendrey, S. Olsen, A. Kasparov, V. Zaibert, N. Thorpe, R. P. Evershed, Science, 323(5919):1332-1335, 2009. The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World, David W. Anthony, Princeton University Press, 2007. Prehistoric Steppe Adaptation and the Horse, Marsha Levine, Colin Renfrew, and Katie Boyle (editors), McDonald Institute, 2003, pages 69-82.

[hunter-gatherers weren’t Kirk and Spock; slow change of stone tools]
“Continuities in stone flaking technology at Liang Bua, Flores, Indonesia,” M. W. Moore, T. Sutikna, Jatmiko, M. J. Morwood, A. Brumm, Journal of Human Evolution, 57(5):503-526, 2009.
[hunter-gatherers were fit and healthy]
That is, if today’s hunter-gatherers, like the Khoisan in southern Africa, are anything to judge by. The Foraging Spectrum: Diversity in Hunter-Gatherer Lifeways, Robert L. Kelly, Smithsonian Institution Press, 1995.

At a conference in 1966, one eminent anthropologist called hunter-gatherers ‘the original affluent society’ because they (probably) had so much free time. “Notes on the Original Affluent Society,” M. Sahlins, Man the Hunter: The First Intensive Survey of a Single, Crucial Stage of Human Development—Man’s Once Universal Hunting Way of Life, Richard B. Lee and Irven Devore, Aldine Publishing Company, 1968, pages 85-89. See also: Stone Age Economics, Marshall Sahlins, Aldine Transaction, 1972. The !Kung San: Men, Women and Work in a Foraging Society, Richard Borshay Lee, Cambridge University Press, 1979. But for more recent analyses, see: “After the ‘Affluent Society’: Cost of Living in the Papua New Guinea Highlands According to Time and Energy Expenditure-Income,” P. Sillitoe, Journal of Biosocial Science, 34(4):433-461, 2002. “The darker side of the ‘original affluent society,’ ” D. Kaplan, Journal of Anthropological Research, 56(33):301-324, 2000.

[...crucial but perhaps not vital... nursing among neandertals, and paleolithic and neolithic humans]
Living to fight another day: The ecological and evolutionary significance of Neanderthal healthcare,” P. Spikins, A. Needham, B. Wright, C. Dytham, M. Gatta, G. Hitchens, Quaternary Science Reviews, 217:98-118, 2019. “Calculated or caring? Neanderthal healthcare in social context,” P. Spikins, A. Needham, L. Tilley, G. Hitchens, World Archaeology, 50(3):384-403, 2018. “Newly discovered Neanderthal remains from Shanidar Cave, Iraqi Kurdistan, and their attribution to Shanidar 5,” E. Pomeroy, M. W. Lahr, F. Crivellaro, L. Farr, T. Reynolds, C. O. Hunt, G. Barker, Journal of Human Evolution, 111:102-118, 2017. “External auditory exostoses and hearing loss in the Shanidar 1 Neandertal,” E. Trinkaus, S. Villotte, PloS ONE, 12(10):e0186684, 2017. “The postcranial dimensions of the La Chapelle‐aux‐saints 1 Neandertal,” E. Trinkaus, American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 145(3):461-468, 2011.

See also: Towards a bioarchaeology of care: a contextualised approach for identifying and interpreting health-related care provision in prehistory, Lorna Ann Tilley, Australian National University, 2013. Sampling Biases and New Ways of Addressing the Significance of Trauma in Neandertals, Virginia Hutton Estabrook, doctoral thesis, University of Michigan, 2009. “Neanderthals: a history of interpretation,” J. R. Drell, Oxford Journal of Archaeology, 19(1):1-24, 2000. “Vertebral osteoarthritis of the La Chapelle-aux-Saints 1 Neanderthal,” J. E. Dawson, E. Trinkaus, Journal of Archaeological Science, 24(11):1015-1021, 1997. “Pathology and the posture of the La Chapelle‐aux‐Saints Neandertal,” E. Trinkaus, American journal of physical anthropology, 67(1):19-41, 1985. “Shanidar IV, a Neanderthal flower burial in northern Iraq,” R. S. Solecki, Science, 190(4217):880-881, 1975.

[...dogs to help with the hunt]
That’s just a guess, but not an insane one. Dogs are our oldest tamed species. They descended from gray wolves sometime before or during the last ice age (perhaps at least 27Kya to 40Kya). However, for all that time they would have been physically indistinguishable from gray wolves. Their breeding into the physical types that we know today as domestic dogs began happening only around 15Kya. “Worldwide patterns of genomic variation and admixture in gray wolves,” Z. Fan, P. Silva, I. Gronau, S. Wang, A. S. Armero, R. M. Schweizer, O. Ramirez, J. Pollinger, M. Galaverni, D. Ortega Del-Vecchyo, L. Du, W. Zhang, Z. Zhang, J. Xing, C. Vilà T. Marques-Bonet, R. Godinho, B. Yue, R. K. Wayne, Genome Research, 26(2):163-173, 2016. “Ancient wolf genome reveals an early divergence of domestic dog ancestors and admixture into high-latitude breeds,” P. Skoglund, E. Ersmark, E. Palkopoulou, L. Dalén, Current Biology, 25(11):1515-1519, 2015. “Origins of domestic dog in southern East Asia is supported by analysis of Y-chromosome DNA,” Z. L. Ding, M. Oskarsson, A. Ardalan, H. Angleby, L. G. Dahlgren, C. Tepeli, E. Kirkness, P. Savolainen, Y. P. Zhang, Heredity, 108(5):507-514, 2012. “Genome-wide SNP and haplotype analyses reveal a rich history underlying dog domestication,” B. M. vonHoldt, J. P. Pollinger, K. E. Lohmueller, E. Han, H. G. Parker, P. Quignon, J. D. Degenhardt, A. R. Boyko, D. A. Earl, A. Auton, A. Reynolds, K. Bryc, A. Brisbin, J. C. Knowles, D. S. Mosher, T. C. Spady, A. Elkahloun, E. Geffen, M. Pilot, W. Jedrzejewski, C. Greco, E. Randi, D. Bannasch, A. Wilton, J. Shearman, M. Musiani, M. Cargill, P. G. Jones, Z. Qian, W. Huang, Z.-L. Ding, Y.-P. Zhang, C. D. Bustamante, E. A. Ostrander, J. Novembre, R. K. Wayne, Nature, 464(7290):898-902, 2010. “mtDNA Data Indicates a Single Origin for Dogs South of Yangtze River, less than 16,300 Years Ago, from Numerous Wolves,” J.-F. Pang, C. Kluetsch, X.-J. Zou, A.-B. Zhang, L.-Y. Luo, H. Angleby, A. Ardalan, C. Ekström, A. Sköllermo, J. Lundeberg, S. Matsumura, T. Leitner, Y.-P. Zhang, P. Savolainen, Molecular Biology and Evolution, 26(12):2849-2864, 2009. “Fossil dogs and wolves from Upper Palaeolithic sites in Belgium, the Ukraine and Russia: Osteometry, ancient DNA and stable isotopes,” M. Germonpré, M. V. Sabin, R. E. Stevens, R. E. M. Hedges, M. Hofreitere, M. Stiller, V. R. Despres, Journal of Archaeological Science, 36(2):473-490, 2009. “The canine genome,” E. A. Ostrander, R. K. Wayne, Genome Research, 15(12):1706-1716, 2005. “Genome sequence, comparative analysis and haplotype structure of the domestic dog,” K. Lindblad-Toh, C. M. Wade, T. S. Mikkelsen, E. K. Karlsson, D. B. Jaffe, M. Kamal, M. Clamp, J. L. Chang, E. J. Kulbokas, III, M. C. Zody, E. Mauceli, X. Xie, M. Breen, R. K. Wayne, E. A. Ostrander, C. P. Ponting, F. Galibert, D. R. Smith, P. J. deJong, E. Kirkness, P. Alvarez, T. Biagi, W. Brockman, J. Butler, C.-W. Chin, A. Cook, J. Cuff, M. J. Daly, D. DeCaprio, S. Gnerre, M. Grabherr, M. Kellis, M. Kleber, C. Bardeleben, L. Goodstadt, A. Heger, C. Hitte, L. Kim, K.-P. Koepfli, H. G. Parker, J. P. Pollinger, S. M. J. Searle, N. B. Sutter, R. Thomas, C. Webbe, E. S. Lander, Nature, 438(7069):803-819, 2005. “Genetic Evidence for an East Asian Origin of Domestic Dogs,” P. Savolainen, Y. P. Zhang, J. Luo, J. Lundeberg, T. Leitner, Science, 298(5598):1610-1613, 2002.
[Abu Hureyra lifestyle changes]
For brevity, the text collapses two occupation periods into one, entirely skipping mention of the Younger Dryas. In reality, Abu Hureyra was inhabited in two stages: first during the warm interstadial about 14,000 years ago by the Natufians, and again during the time period mentioned in the text.

Emmer wheat domestication at Abu Hureyra began around 10,400 years (calibrated) before the present, but the village was already inhabited by around 11,500 years (calibrated) ago. So they spent about a millennium simply gathering, not planting.

“The plant food economy of Abu Hureyra 1 and 2: Abu Hureyra 1: the Epipaleolithic,” G. C. Hillman, in: Village on the Euphrates: from foraging to farming at Abu Hureyra, A. M. T. Moore, G. C. Hillman, and A. J. Legge (editors), Oxford University Press, 2000, pages 327-398.

[...hours each day to grind]
Just as it still does today for the Kababish, one surviving nomadic desert tribe in the Sudan. “The Eloquent Bones of Abu Hureyra,” T. Molleson, Scientific American, 271(2):70-75, 1994. A Desert Dies, Michael Asher, Viking, 1986.
[farming more onerous than roving]
“Engagement in agricultural work is associated with reduced leisure time among Agta hunter-gatherers,” M. Dyble, J. Thorley, A. E. Page, D. Smith, A. B. Migliano, Nature Human Behaviour, 3(8):792-796, 2019.
[“sweat of thy face”]
“In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”

The Bible, The King James Version, Genesis 3:19.

[weaving became a female specialty]
We can deduce that because their skeletons are clustered, and separated from others. Further, their front teeth are grooved, like today’s Paiute basket-weavers, who use their mouths as a third hand when weaving. The grooves come from the continual rubbing of the strands against the teeth. “Dietary change and the effects of food preparation on microwear patterns in the Late Neolithic of Abu Hureyra, northern Syria,” T. Molleson, K. Jones, S. Jones, Journal of Human Evolution, 24(6):455-468, 1993. Today the Paiute live on reservations in Nevada, Arizona, California, Utah, and Oregon, and a few still practice basket-weaving and other traditional skills. A few other native tribes also continue or have restarted basket-weaving, notably the Jicarilla and San Carlos Apaches, the Hualapais, the Hopis, and the Papagos.
[early weaving]
The earliest known direct evidence for weaving (impressions on fired clay of two different kinds of weaves) is from Jarmo, in northeastern Iraq, around 9Kya. “The Textile and Basketry Impressions from Jarmo,” J. M. Adovasio, Paleorient, 3:223-230, 1975-77.
[timing of pottery]
The text describes the archaeology of pottery as it occurred in the Fertile Crescent. However, Jomon hunter-gatherers in Japan had pottery millennia before (perhaps as much as 16Kya). Ancient Jomon of Japan, Junko Habu, Cambridge University Press, 2002. Hunter-gatherers in China had pre-neolithic pottery as much as 20Kya. “Early Pottery at 20,000 Years Ago in Xianrendong Cave, China,” X. Wu, C. Zhang, P. Goldberg, D. Cohen, Y. Pan, T. Arpin, O. Bar-Yosef, Science, 336(6089):1696-1700, 2012. “Radiocarbon dating of charcoal and bone collagen associated with early pottery at Yuchanyan Cave, Hunan Province, China,” E. Boaretto, X. Wu, J. Yuan, O. Bar-Yosef, V. Chu, Y. Pan, K. Liu, D. Cohen, T. Jiao, S. Li, H. Gu, P. Goldberg, S. Weiner, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106(24):9595-9600, 2009.
[pottery from weaving?]
That’s just a guess, but it’s not impossible that pottery arose from weaving if we first used baskets to keep food, then one day coated a basket of food with mud to heat it in the fire. If we eventually coated the inside of the basket instead of its outside, the basket itself would burn away, leaving a pot. It’s even possible that we later painted pots with stylized patterns simply because our earliest pots, if made as above, would have come out of the fire with basket impressions. Of course, with no hard evidence this is complete guesswork (and by an amateur, too). The point, though, is that just because we today think of an artifact a certain way doesn’t mean that that’s how we thought of it millennia ago when we were inventing it, or one of its precursors.
[possible support for the numbers game hypothesis]
The original idea goes back to Colin Renfrew in 1987. He hypothesized that farming was the big driver of hunter-gatherer replacement (at least in Europe), largely thanks to the difference in numbers that the two technolgies could support. However, we now know that this misses the other big variables: technology and disease. A lot of the genetic replacement occurred not after farmers moved in from Anatolia around 8.5Kya, but after the horse was tamed, and the wheel invented, and pastoralists moved in from the Eurasian steppe around 5Kya. “When the World’s Population Took Off: The Springboard of the Neolithic Demographic Transition,” J.-P. Bocquet-Appel, Science, 333(6042):560-561, 2011. “The Expansions of Farming Societies and the Role of the Neolithic Demographic Transition,” P. Bellwood, M. Oxenham, in: The Neolithic Demographic Transition and its Consequences, Jean-Pierre Bocquet-Appel and Ofer Bar-Yosef (editors), Springer, 2008, pages 13-34. “The Emerging Synthesis: The Archeogenetics of Farming/Language Dispersals amd other Spread Zones,” C. Renfrew, in: Examining the farming/language dispersal hypothesis, Peter Bellwood and Colin Renfrew (editors), McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, 2002, pages 3-16. “Was agriculture impossible during the Pleistocene but mandatory during the Holocene?” P. Richerson, R. Boyd, R. Bettinger, American Antiquity, 66(3):387-411, 2001.
[acreage for 25 rovers supports 1,000 farmers]
The text chooses a (conservative) 40-fold density increase. The actual figure is unknown since it depends on the efficiency of early farming technology, which we don’t know. Estimates are anything between 50 and 100 times as many farmers as rovers. A Concise History of World Population, Massimo Livi-Bacci, translated by Carl Ipsen, Third Revision, Blackwell, 1997, page 27. Archaeology and Language: The Puzzle of Indo-European Origins, Colin Renfrew, Penguin, 1989, page 125. “Size, Density, and Growth Rate of Hunting Gathering Populations,” F. A. Hassan, in: Population, Ecology, and Social Evolution, Steven Polgar (editor), Mouton & Co., 1975, pages 26-52, but especially pages 38-41.
[the farm swallows rovers]
That seems to be what happened to hunter-gatherers in today’s central Europe perhaps about 8Kya when farmers in today’s Turkey swept through from the south. That’s also what seems to have happened to the Amorites west of today’s Iraq in today’s Syria. Over 4Kya we lived up in the hills, tending our flocks. We ate raw meat, didn’t build houses, and didn’t plant grain. But we were good warriors. So when we swooped down on the plains, there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth—but not by us. We won the wars, so our lives likely stayed much the same—for a while. In time, though, we turned into farmers, just like the folks we ruled. Same story for the Hyksos who swept in on Egypt around 3.7Kya. Same for Khoisan hunter-gatherers in Africa about 3Kya, when a wave of Bantu farmers and herders started expanding south and east. Same for the Vikings in Europe 1.2Kya. The Turks in Persia, the Mughals in India, the Mongols in China—the farm swallowed them all.
[first farmers in central Europe about 8.5kya]
Controversy surrounds the conclusion that the first farmers may have swallowed the hunter-gatherers who lived there at the time. One theory is that male farmers fathered, and female hunter-gatherers mothered, much of today’s central European population. Another is that a variety of genes spread into Europe first, then the ‘neolithic package’ of tools spread via trade routes much later without mass migrations from the south. However, the most recent work (see E. Willerslev 2018 and D. Reich 2016 below) strongly suggests that much of the replacement happened only after 4.5Kya, with the horse and wheel, and the subsequent Eurasian steppe invasion from the east. (See earlier references to the Yamnaya and the horse.)

“Ancient genome-wide DNA from France highlights the complexity of interactions between Mesolithic hunter-gatherers and Neolithic farmers,” M. Rivollat, C. Jeong, S. Schiffels, I. Küçükkalıpçı, M.-H. Pemonge, A. B. Rohrlach, K. W. Alt, D. Binder, S. Friederich, E. Ghesquière, D. Gronenborn, L. Laporte, P. Lefranc, H. Meller, H. Réveillas, E. Rosenstock, S. Rottier, C. Scarre, L. Soler, J. Wahl, J. Krause, M.-F. Deguilloux, W. Haak, Science Advances, 6(22):eaaz5344, 2020. “Ancient genomes from present-day France unveil 7,000 years of its demographic history,” S. Brunel, E. A. Bennett, L. Cardin, D. Garraud, H. Barrand Emam, A. Beylier, B. Boulestin, F. Chenal, E. Ciesielski, F. Convertini, B. Dedet, S. Desbrosse-Degobertiere, S. Desenne, J. Dubouloz, H. Duday, G. Escalon, V. Fabre, E. Gailledrat, M. Gandelin, Y. Gleize, S. Goepfert, J. Guilaine, L. Hachem, M. Ilett, F. Lambach, F. Maziere, B. Perrin, S. Plouin, E. Pinard, I. Praud, I. Richard, V. Riquier, R. Roure, B. Sendra, C. Thevenet, S. Thiol, E. Vauquelin, L. Vergnaud, T. Grange, E.-M. Geigl, M. Pruvost, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 117(23):12791-12798, 2020.

“For thousands of years the Eurasian steppes have been a centre of human migrations and cultural change. Here we sequence the genomes of 137 ancient humans (about 1× average coverage), covering a period of 4,000 years, to understand the population history of the Eurasian steppes after the Bronze Age migrations. We find that the genetics of the Scythian groups that dominated the Eurasian steppes throughout the Iron Age were highly structured, with diverse origins comprising Late Bronze Age herders, European farmers and southern Siberian hunter-gatherers. Later, Scythians admixed with the eastern steppe nomads who formed the Xiongnu confederations, and moved westward in about the second or third century bc, forming the Hun traditions in the fourth-fifth century ad, and carrying with them plague that was basal to the Justinian plague. These nomads were further admixed with East Asian groups during several short-term khanates in the Medieval period. These historical events transformed the Eurasian steppes from being inhabited by Indo-European speakers of largely West Eurasian ancestry to the mostly Turkic-speaking groups of the present day, who are primarily of East Asian ancestry.” From: “137 ancient human genomes from across the Eurasian steppes,” P. de Barros Damgaard, N. Marchi, S. Rasmussen, M. Peyrot, G. Renaud, T. Korneliussen, J. V. Moreno-Mayar, M. W. Pedersen, A. Goldberg, E. Usmanova, N. Baimukhanov, V. Loman, L. Hedeager, A. G. Pedersen, K. Nielsen, G. Afanasiev, K. Akmatov, A. Aldashev, A. Alpaslan, G. Baimbetov, V. I. Bazaliiskii, A. Beisenov, B. Boldbaatar, B. Boldgiv, C. Dorzhu, S. Ellingvag, D. Erdenebaatar, R. Dajani, E. Dmitriev, V. Evdokimov, K. M. Frei, A. Gromov, A. Goryachev, H. Hakonarson, T. Hegay, Z. Khachatryan, R. Khaskhanov, E. Kitov, A. Kolbina, T. Kubatbek, A. Kukushkin, I. Kukushkin, N. Lau, A. Margaryan, I. Merkyte, I. V. Mertz, V. K. Mertz, E. Mijiddorj, V. Moiyesev, G. Mukhtarova, B. Nurmukhanbetov, Z. Orozbekova, I. Panyushkina, K. Pieta, V. Smrčka, I. Shevnina, A. Logvin, K.-G. Sjögren, T. Štolcová, A. M. Taravella, K. Tashbaeva, A. Tkachev, T. Tulegenov, D. Voyakin, L. Yepiskoposyan, S. Undrakhbold, V. Varfolomeev, A. Weber, M. A. Wilson Sayres, N. Kradin, M. E. Allentoft, L. Orlando, R. Nielsen, M. Sikora, E. Heyer, K. Kristiansen, E. Willerslev, Nature, 557(7705):369-374, 2018.

“Genomic insights into the origin of farming in the ancient Near East,” I. Lazaridis, D. Nadel, G. Rollefson, D. Merrett, N. Rohland, S. Mallick, D. M. Fernandes, M. Novak, B. Gamarra, K. Sirak S. Connell, K. Stewardson, E. Harney, Q. Fu, G. Gonzalez-Fortes, E. R. Jones, S. A. Roodenberg, G. Lengyel, F. Bocquentin, B. Gasparian, J. M. Monge, M. Gregg, V. Eshed, A.-S. Mizrahi, C. Meiklejohn, F. Gerritsen, L. Bejenaru, M. Blüher, A. Campbell, G. Cavalleri, D. Comas, P. Froguel, E. Gilbert, S. M. Kerr, P. Kovacs, J. Krause, D. McGettigan, M. Merrigan, D. A. Merriwether, S. O’Reilly, M. B. Richards, O. Semino, M. Shamoon-Pour, G. Stefanescu, M. Stumvoll, A. Tönjes, A. Torroni, J. F. Wilson, L. Yengo, N. A. Hovhannisyan, N. Patterson, R. Pinhasi, D. Reich, Nature, 536(7617):419-424, 2016.

<> See also: “Ancient DNA analysis of 8000 B.C. near eastern farmers supports an early neolithic pioneer maritime colonization of Mainland Europe through Cyprus and the Aegean Islands,” E. Fernández, A. Pérez-Pérez, C. Gamba, E. Prats, P. Cuesta, J. Anfruns, M. Molist, E. Arroyo-Pardo, D. Turbón, PLoS Genetics, 10(6):e1004401, 2014. “Origins and genetic legacy of Neolithic farmers and hunter-gatherers in Europe,” P. Skoglund, H. Malmström, M. Raghavan, J. Storå, P. Hall, E. Willerslev, M. T. Gilbert, A. Götherström, M. Jakobsson, Science, 336(6080):466-469, 2012. “Complete mitochondrial genomes reveal neolithic expansion into Europe,” Q. Fu, P. Rudan, S. Pääbo;, J. Krause, PLoS ONE, 7(3):e32473, 2012. “Ancient DNA from European early neolithic farmers reveals their near eastern affinities,” W. Haak, O. Balanovsky, J. J. Sanchez, S. Koshel, V. Zaporozhchenko, C. J. Adler, C. S. Der Sarkissian, G. Brandt, C. Schwarz, N. Nicklisch, V. Dresely, B. Fritsch, E. Balanovska, R. Villems, H. Meller, K. W. Alt, A. Cooper; Members of the Genographic Consortium, PLoS Biology, 8(11):e1000536, 2010. “A Predominantly Neolithic Origin for European Paternal Lineages,” P. Balaresque, G. R. Bowden, S. M. Adams, H.-Y. Leung, T. E. King, Z. Rosser, J. Goodwin, J.-P. Moisan, C. Richard, A. Millward, A. G. Demaine, G. Barbujani, C. Previderè, I. J. Wilson, C. Tyler-Smith, M. A. Jobling, PLoS Biology, 8(1):e1000285, 2010. “A Comparison of Y-Chromosome Variation in Sardinia and Anatolia Is More Consistent with Cultural Rather than Demic Diffusion of Agriculture,” L. Morelli, D. Contu, F. Santoni, M. B. Whalen, P. Francalacci, F. Cucca, PLoS ONE, 5(4):e10419, 2010. “Radiocarbon evidence indicates that migrants introduced farming to Britain,” M. Collard, K. Edinborough, S. Shennan, M. G. Thomas, Journal of Archaeological Science, 37(4):866-870, 2010. “Genetic Discontinuity Between Local Hunter-Gatherers and Central Europe’s First Farmers,” B. Bramanti, M. G. Thomas, W. Haak, M. Unterlaender, P. Jores, K. Tambets, I. Antanaitis-Jacobs, M. N. Haidle, R. Jankauskas, C.-J. Kind, F. Lueth, T. Terberger, J. Hiller, S. Matsumura, P. Forster, J. Burger, Science, 326(5949):137-140, 2009.

[Amorites and Sumer]
Here are the Sumerians writing about one nomad tribe (or confederation of tribes) of herders, the Martu (the “Westerners,” today called the Amorites, who gave rise to the Babylonian era in Mesopotamia—named after the main city, Babylon), over 4Kya: “The Martu who know no grain.... The Martu who know no house nor town, the boors of the mountains.... The Martu who digs up truffles... who does not bend his knees [to cultivate the land (?)], who eats raw meat, who has no house during his lifetime, who is not buried after death.” Who Were the Babylonians? Bill T. Arnold, Society of Biblical Literature, 2004, pages 36-37. Daily Life in Ancient Mesopotamia, Karen Rhea Nemeth-Nejat, Greenwood Press, 1998, pages 113-116. Sumerian Epics and Myths, Edward Chiera, University of Chicago Press, 1934, Numbers 58 and 112.

Incidentally, the Bible refers to the (by then settled) Amorites living in Canaan as being tall. “Yet destroyed I the Amorite before them, whose height was like the height of the cedars, and he was strong as the oaks; yet I destroyed his fruit from above, and his roots from beneath.” Of course, that may merely be a poetic way to say that they were hard to kill. The Bible, The King James Version, Amos 2:9. See also: Deuteronomy 3:11.

[Hyksos in Egypt]
The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, Ian Shaw (editor), Oxford University Press, 2000. The Rise and Fall of the Middle Kingdom in Thebes, Herbert E. Winlock, Macmillan, 1947.
[the Bantu expansion and the Khoisan]
History of Africa, Kevin Shillington, Palgrave Macmillan, Revised Edition, 2005, especially Chapters 3 and 4.
[rovers were swallowed]
That’s assuming, of course, that the rovers didn’t simply kill everyone there. That’s rare (at least, in recorded history), but it did happen. For example, in the 1200s the Mongols (who were horse-riding nomads) started to ride under Genghis Khan. (Note that ‘Genghis Khan’ is more properly transliterated as ‘Chinggis Qan’). They terrorized and razed to the ground many villages, towns, and cities, killing everyone there. Then they discovered the idea of taxation. Even then, they still did it occasionally to keep the terror level up and the taxes rolling in. For example, they sacked Baghdad in 1258, taking all the women and children and killing every adult male Muslim there—perhaps 800,000 to 1 million men. Basically, it was one giant protection racket. Probably not our first. And definitely not our last. Storm from the East: From Genghis Khan to Khubilai Khan, Robert Marshall, University of California Press, 1993. Genghis Khan, R. P. Lister, Dorset, 1969.

Eat Your Heart Out

[peasant food]
The Medieval Village, G. G. Coulton, 1925, Dover, Reprint Edition, 1989. For a more recent survey, but set only in England in the year 1000, see: The Year 1000: What Life Was Like At the Turn of the First Millennium, Robert Lacey and Danny Danziger, Little, Brown, 1999.
[English prices in 1300]
Prices in 1310: “Wheat, 6s. a quarter; oats, 3s.; a cow, 12s. 6d.; a sheep, 1s. 2d.; a fat hog, 3s. 4d.; a fat goose, 2½d.; eggs 0½d a dozen; wine, 4d. a gallon; ale, 0½d. a gallon; a labourer’s wages 1½d. a day, in harvest time 2d.; a journeyman carpenter, 2d. a day; a horse for military service, 13s. 4d.; a pair of shoes, 4d.; an English slave and his family, sold for 13s. 4d.; a bible, £33 6s. 8d; the Chancellor’s salary, £50.” The History of Bradford and Its Parish: With Additions and Continuation to the Present Time, John James, Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer, 1866, page 60 and pages 74-75, footnote. See also: The Laborer: A Remedy for His Wrongs: Or, A Disquisition on the Usages of Society, William Dealtry, Wm. Dealtry and R. Allison & Co., 1869, pages 53-54.

For similar prices in near-contemporary Lancashire, Wiltshire, and Manchester, see: Remains, Historical and Literary, Connected with the Palatine Counties of Lancaster and Chester, Volume LVI, The Chetham Society, 1861, pages 399-400, footnote. The Parochial History of Bremhill, in the County of Wilts: Containing a Particular Account, from Authentic and Unpublished Documents, of the Cistercian Abbey of Stanley in that Parish; with Observations and Reflections on the Origin and Establishment of Parochial Clergy, and other Circumstances of General Parochial Interest, Including Illustrations of the Origin and Designation of the Stupendous Monuments of Antiquity in the Neighbourhood, Avebury, Silbury, and Wansdike, W. L. Bowles, John Murray, 1828, page 17. History, Directory, and Gazetteer, of the County Palatine of Lancaster: With a Variety of Commercial & Statistical Information in Two Volumes, Illustrated by Maps and Plans, Edward Baines and W. Parson, Wm. Wales & Co., 1824, page 24.

[slavery was common in Europe]
That might sound surprising, but only after the 1860s. “Following abolitionism, medieval slavery necessarily came to be portrayed as a barbaric, morally corrupting and uncivilised institution that was destined to disappear before the progress of Christian civilisation. Yet as has been noted, the institution of slavery was at its most significant during those historical periods which are considered to be major watersheds in Western civiliszation. [...] The notion of the freedom loving Anglo-Saxon gave rise to a distinctly English strand in the historiographical tradition regarding the alleged decline and disappearance of slavery from Western Europe during the Middle Ages.” Slaves and Warriors in Medieval Britain and Ireland: 800-1200, David Wyatt, Brill, 2009, pages 10-11.

It’s often said, especially by European or North American writers, that Europeans sometimes tried to stop all slavery (or even succeeded). Really, though, all Europe tried to stop, and that ineffectively, was the lucrative sale of its Christian slaves to non-Christian foreigners. Slavery in medieval Europe was so common that the Roman Catholic Church repeatedly prohibited it—or at least the export of Christian slaves to non-Christian lands was prohibited at, for example, the Council of Koblenz in 922, the Council of London in 1102, and the Council of Armagh in 1171. Sales continued. For example, in 1475 Pope Martin V threatened all Christian slave traders with excommunication. He also ordered all Jewish slave traders to wear a special badge of infamy. But then, in various European nations, Christian export slavery, had been occasionally prohibited since at least 655, by the Church or by various rulers. Not that it mattered. For example, the same year, 655, that Bathild, regent of France, who had herself been a slave (some say, kidnapped from England), tried to ban Christian enslavement in France, the Church, which wanted to maintain full control of ecclesiastical appointments, decreed enslavement for any children produced by clerics. No longer would the bastard child of a priest succeed him to his post.

William the Bastard (the Conqueror), too, is often alleged to have banned slavery in Britain after the conquest in 1066, but what he actually did was the same that any other European ruler did—he banned export slavery of English slaves (maybe because he didn’t get a cut on those sales?). It’s also often reported that various religious leaders, Saint Wulfstan or Anslem of Canterbury or Archbishop Lanfranc or Saint Patrick, for example, ended slavery in England—or even Europe as a whole. Not so. There were occasional admonitions, for example, after the (first) invasion of Ireland by English barons in the 1160s, but at most they lead to a reduction in Christian export slavery. In short: in Europe, it was ok to have slaves, it was ok for them to be Christian, it was ok to export slaves, too. The European abolition effort in medieval times was primarily about the export of Christian slaves to non-Christian lands.

Finally, it’s often stated that even if Christianity itself accepted slavery that after the Protestant Reformation it died out in Europe because of the new Protestant zeal. It’s true that it mostly did die out after the Reformation, and it’s true that Puritans, in particular, who were themselves badly treated, were more against slavery than normal, but it’s also true that many still kept slaves. William Penn, for example, a Quaker, who also owned Pennsylvania, was both a slave holder and a slave trader. England didn’t make slavery on English soil illegal until 1796 (not 1772 as is often reported; the James Somerset case in 1772 prevented slave recapture in England, but the idea of slaves as property wasn’t overturned until 1796). Nor was English slavery particularly special within Europe. For example, thanks to their longships, the Vikings earlier took Norse, Saxon, Irish, Gallic, Italian, and Slav slaves from all over Europe and sold them to other Europeans, to the Muslims, and to each other. Also, from the eighth century on, North Africans—from Morocco, Algeria, Tunis, and Tripoli, known at the time as the Barbary coast—took slaves in England and Ireland for centuries, as well as slaves all over the North Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts, from Iceland to Palestine—including Miguel de Cervantes, who was enslaved off the Catalan coast on September 26th, 1575, 30 years before he wrote Don Quixote.

[medieval life in Europe and peasant bones]
Nor were those our only problems. In Europe at least, damp and cold killed us just as casually. The poorest of us lived in small, dark, smoky huts. We built them with poles and brush daubed with clay and cow dung, and roofed them with thatch and covered their earthen floors with straw. At around five feet tall, we were short and bent. Our skin, like a cured ham, was leathery from our household smoke. By 30 we were nearly toothless, and many of us didn’t live to see 35. Our skeletons from that time show extensive osteoarthritis, spinal deformations, bony growths, and joint enlargements. Dirty and rank, we lived with our livestock and knew everything about lice, fleas, and dung—and nothing about microbes. One in four of us died before we were a year old. And all of us were always working. We tended the fires, the livestock, the fields. We made food, thread, cloth. We repaired clothes, bedding, cottages. And we sewed or carved something to trade. When we were foragers, to stop walking was to die. Once we were farmers, to stop working was to die.

“Biocultural analysis of Sex Differences in Mortality Profiles and Stress Levels in the Late Medieval Population from Nova Raca, Croatia,” M. Slaus, American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 111(2):193-209, 2000. “A Biomechanical Study of Activity Patterns in a Medieval Human Skeletal Assemblage,” S. Mays, International Journal of Osteoarchaeology, 9(1):68-73, 1999. “Dry Bones: a Paleopathological Study of Skeletal Remains from a Medieval Graveyard in Dundee,” R. N. Spalding, D. J. Sinclair, A. Cox, K. D. Morley, Scottish Medical Journal, 41(2):56-59, 1996. The Great Famine: Northern Europe in the Early Fourteenth Century, William Chester Jordan, Princeton University Press, 1996, pages 13-14.

However, paleopathology and paleodemography are still very young fields, with many of their research agendas, tools, and methods still in flux. In particular, any studies that claim anything about disease prevalence, or overall mortality statistics for any non-provably stationary populations, needs to be approached with caution. “The Osteological Paradox: Problems of Inferring Prehistoric Health from Skeletal Samples,” J. W. Wood, G. R. Milner, H. C. Harpending, K. M Weiss, Current Anthropology, 33(4):343-370, 1992.

[medieval Europe’s rich and poor]
Of course, some of us villagers were quite well off. Further, after millennia of practice, most of us were used to our daily bread and porridge. So, most of the time, most of us managed to stave off outright hunger. When we made just the right number of kids, and we slaughtered just the right number of food animals, and the weather behaved, we even feasted. We ate such little meat that slaughtering just one ox on a feast day could feed a whole village. Also, not all of us were equally poor. The richest family in a village might own a couple of oxen, a bullock, two horses, some cows and calves, a pig and sow, a hundred or so sheep, some geese and chickens, and maybe even a cart. Plus, its home might sport as many as five brass pots and pans, a jug and basin, a trestle-table, and maybe even a chair. For most of us, though, the fear of hunger was always there. Over nine-tenths of us were rural, and roughly a third to two-fifths of us not only had no food surplus, we didn’t even have access to enough land to give us all the grain we needed to survive. We had to earn the rest with non-farm labor. If we didn’t, we starved.

That list of possible possessions is from an inventory taken in 1329, upon the death of a wealthy villein named William Lene, who lived in Walsham manor, in Suffolk.

A single brass pot might cost over a pound (20 shillings)—anything that we needed fuel or special tools to make was expensive. “Manorial court roll inventories as evidence for English peasant consumption and living standards, c.1270-c.1420,” Chris Briggs, in: Pautes de Consum i Nivells de Vida al Món Rural Medieval, Antoni Furio, and Ferran Garcia-Oliver (editors), Publicacions de la Universitat de Valéncia, 2010. An Age of Transition? Economy and Society in England in the later Middle Ages, Christopher Dyer, Oxford University Press, 2005, page 26. Plantagenet England, 1225-1360, Michael Prestwich, Oxford University Press, 2005, pages 457-458.

Dyer estimates that, at least in England between 1280 and 1480, given the technology available at the time, a family needed 12-15 acres. In 1280, in the East Midlands, at least 42 percent of households didn’t have that much. In 1480, about a third still didn’t. An Age of Transition? Economy and Society in England in the later Middle Ages, Christopher Dyer, Oxford University Press, 2005, page 175. Prestwich details land holdings in Norfolk between 1220 and 1292. At Hinderclay in 1300 the average holding was seven acres. But some were as large as 30 acres while others were as small as two acres or less. Plantagenet England, 1225-1360, Michael Prestwich, Oxford University Press, 2005, pages 455-456.

Note that the practice of selling tenants along with land, or of selling families separate from land, wasn’t restricted to Europe in 1300. For example, the same thing was common in China at about the same time. The Pattern of the Chinese Past, Mark Elvin, Stanford University Press, 1973, pages 71-73.

Also, a very few of us were royal, and we always lived well. Although, in 1300, with our knowledge of disease being what it was, even princes of a royal family only lived on average around 30 years at birth. For example, here are life expectancies of princes in England in 1300: “The exact figures are: up to 1275, 35.28 years; 1276-1300, 31.30; 1301-1325, 29.84; 1326-1348, 30.22; 1348-1375, 17.33; 1376-1400, 20.53; 1401-1425, 23.78; 1426-1450, 32.76.” From: “The Generation in Medieval History,” D. Herlihy, Viator, 5:346-364, 1974, footnote 10.

[bread for the rich and for the poor]
“Les labourers d’antiquité / Ne furont pas acoustummé / A manger le pain du frument, / Ainçois du feve et d’autre blé / Leur pain estoit, et abevré / De l’eaue furont ensement, / Et lors fuist leur festoiement / Formage et lait, mais rerement.” [“The laborers of olden days / were not accustomed / to eat wheaten bread. Their bread was of bean paste(?) and other grain; / and likewise they quenched their thirst with water. / And then their festive fare / was cheese and milk, but that was rare.”] Mirour de l’Omme, lines 26449-26456, John Gower (a friend of Chaucer), writing around 1376 to 1379. See: “The Function of Food in Mediaeval German Literature,” G. F. Jones, Speculum, 35(1):78-86, 1960. See also: Life in a Medieval Village, Frances and Joseph Gies, Harper & Row, 1990, pages 98 and 198. After the Black Death began decimating Europe starting in 1347, so many died that food became plentiful for a time, and surviving peasants began to eat better. But that didn’t last forever.
[salt as money]
The English word ‘salary’ descends from the Latin salarium argentum [salt money]. Pliny credits it as the source of the name for part of what Roman soldiers were paid: salarium. Natural History, Pliny the Elder, Book 31, part 41. Salt is still in use as money in some parts of the world today.
[Europe’s Great Famine]
“[...] [T]here was undoubtedly a precipitous decline in average consumption among the rural population from 1315 on. The worst-off in the countryside—the ‘many paupers’—are said to have ‘gnawed, just like dogs, the raw dead bodies of cattle’ and to have ‘grazed like cows on the growing grasses of the fields.’ The author who vouchsafes this information was troubled at the report. Was it right to bequeath testimony of such degradation to the world?

His account points us in an important direction. Famine involves not only a net loss in the intake of food but also, granting the victims’ attempts to make up the difference, the intake of ‘strange diets.’ Evidence from current famines attests to the presence in these diets of disagreeable plants, bark, leather, cloth, dirt, diseased animals and others—like grubs and vermin—not ordinarily considered palatable, and, in extreme cases, human cadavers.[...]

The ‘proof’ offered in the chronicle sources that social life and its under-girding morality were in jeopardy from the pain and suffering engendered by the urban crisis is the arresting allegation of cannibalism: Livonia, 1315; England, 1316; Poland, 1317; Silesia, 1317. We have seen that there were a few of these allegations in rural areas, particularly those affected by the cataclysm of war, such as Ireland. However, most of the accusations come from towns. ‘Many indeed consumed the flesh of gallows corpses,’ says one report about the Oderraum, where bands of criminal beggars were probably threatening the new towns. One account tells us that in jails half-starved miscreants feasted on the flesh of other unfortunates. The chronicler who reports these events confessed that he found the narration of them an unhappy task. Exponents of rationalistic explanations would say that such accounts originated from the sight of men, desperate for food, fighting among themselves for the small portions given them by jailkeepers. It was no hard thing after watching a spectacle like this to imagine the worst.

Urban observers regularly couple murder with cannibalism. ‘It is said [the reference is to Baltic towns] that certain people... because of the excessive hunger devoured their very own children.’ ‘Mothers fed upon their sons’ in this region. ‘In many places [in the towns of the Oderraum] parents after slaying their children, and children their parents, devoured’ their remains. Writing long after, the Bermondsey annalist—who, as we shall see, recorded pauperes in England eating pets and pigeon droppings—shared the information that the destitute ate their children too. Such chilling descriptions were to be repeated endlessly.”

The Great Famine: Northern Europe in the Early Fourteenth Century, William Chester Jordan, Princeton University Press, 1996, pages 115, 148-149. Jordan estimates 30 million for the affected European population, with three million dead in the first three years.

Livi-Bacci, though, estimates that Europe as a whole contained that many as far back as the year 1000. However, although Livi-Bacci estimates 74 million for all Europe, it is for 1340 not 1314, and may include parts of Europe not visited by the 1314 famine. A Concise History of World Population, Massimo Livi-Bacci, translated by Carl Ipsen, Third Revision, Blackwell, 1997.

[widespread hunger after 1300]
“A mannes herte mihte blede for to here the crie / Off pore men that gradden, ‘Allas, for hungger I die / Up rihte!’ / This auhte make men aferd of Godes muchele miht.” [A man’s heart might bleed to hear the cry / Of poor men that wail, ‘Alas, for hunger I die, / Up right!’ / This ought to make men afraid of God’s great power.] The Simonie, (written in 1321) in: Medieval English Political Writings, James M. Dean (editor), Western Michigan University, 1996, lines 399-402.
[price of wheat during the Great Famine]
“For tho God seih that the world was so over gart, / He sente a derthe on eorthe, and made hit ful smarte. / A busshel of whete was at foure shillinges or more.” The Simonie, (written in 1321) in: Medieval English Political Writings, James M. Dean (editor), Western Michigan University, 1996, lines 391-393.
[recurrent famine in England]
England alone had suffered famine in 1257, 1272, 1277, 1283, 1292, and 1311. “In the eleventh and twelfth centuries famine [in England] is recorded every fourteen years, on an average, and the people suffered twenty years of famine in two hundred years. In the thirteenth century the list exhibits the same proportion of famine; the addition of high prices made the proportion greater. Upon the whole, scarcities decreased during the three following centuries; but the average from 1201 to 1600 is the same, namely, seven famines and ten years of famine in a century.” See: “The Influence of Scarcities and of the High Prices of Wheat on the Mortality of the People of England,” William Farr, Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, IX, page 158, February 16, 1846.

If we take grain prices as a proxy for poor harvests, then regular famine appears to have been common all over the world and for all recorded time. However, such price evidence may be good only for Western Europe in the recent past, with waves of inflation occurring in the 1200s, 1500s, 1700s, and 1900s. The Great Wave: Price Revolutions and the Rhythm of History, David Hackett Fischer, Oxford University Press, 1999.

[“forgotten crime”...]
“The secret of great wealth is a forgotten crime.” is a popular but half-remembered English version of what Balzac wrote. What he actually said was this: “Le secret des grandes fortunes sans cause apparente est un crime oublié, parce qu’il a été proprement fait.” [“The secret of a great fortune without obvious cause is a forgotten crime, forgotten because it was done properly.”] Le Père Goriot, Honoré de Balzac, 1835, Airmont, Reprint Edition, 1965, page 132.

This isn’t a bad idea. About 2,400 years ago, those of us in Athens sent an armada to the island of Melos to slaughter all men of military age, enslave all women and children, and steal their island. Similarly, in the late 1800s, a few of us in Belgium caused the deaths of at least eight million of us in the Congo, and stole tons of ivory and rubber (literally). The only thing that changed in all that time is the scale.

Athens and Melos: History of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides, translated by Rex Warner, Penguin Books, 1954, Book II, Chapter 34, 2.34-2.46 Thucydides made this affair famous, not for its scale or novelty or brutality, for it was none of those, but for its frankness. Ancient Siege Warfare, Paul Bentley Kern, Indiana University Press, 1999, pages 148-149.

Belgium and the Congo: King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa, Adam Hochschild, Mariner Books, 1999.

[aspirin and willow bark]
Aspirin is acetylsalicylic acid, but willow bark contains salicin, and many other compounds. Salicin has slicylate derivates on metabolism.

“Many believe that willow is the natural source of aspirin. However, willow species contain only a low quantity of the prodrug salicin which is metabolized during absorption into various salicylate derivatives. If calculated as salicylic acid, the daily salicin dose is insufficient to produce analgesia. Salicylic acid concentrations following an analgesic dose of aspirin are an order of magnitude higher. Flavonoids and polyphenols contribute to the potent willow bark analgesic and anti-inflammatory effect. The multi-component active principle of willow bark provides a broader mechanism of action than aspirin and is devoid of serious adverse events. In contrast to synthetic aspirin, willow bark does not damage the gastrointestinal mucosa. An extract dose with 240 mg salicin had no major impact on blood clotting. In patients with known aspirin allergy willow bark products are contraindicated.” From: “Willow species and aspirin: different mechanism of actions,” J. Vlachojannis, F. Magora, S. Chrubasik, Phytotherapy Research, 25(7):1102-1104, 2011.

Aspirin: The Remarkable Story of a Wonder Drug, Diarmuid Jeffreys, Chemical Heritage Foundation, 2008.

[we don’t plan our path]
Our lineage, or a cousin lineage, started making stone tools over 2.6Mya. Over time, that led to a ‘forager toolbox.’ Once we had enough such tools to forage reasonably well, invention slowed. Then when we started to farm, we made a bunch of new tools, and far faster than we had before. After some time, that made up a ‘farming toolbox’ (the ‘neolithic package’). Once we had enough such tools to farm reasonably well, invention slowed. The result was a temporary food explosion. It was temporary because our numbers also exploded, so we ate up all the extra food. A few centuries ago the same sorts of speedups started happening yet again, when we added a huge number of new tools to our ‘industrial toolbox.’ Our food exploded yet again, as did our numbers, but after a while something bizarre happened: some of us got so much food that we stopped multiplying a lot.

Not only that, our path is something we discover only in hindsight. Machado said it best: “Caminante, no hay camino, / se hace camino al andar.” [“Wanderer, there is no road, / The road is made by walking.”] “Proverbios y cantares XXIX,” Campos de Castilla, Selected Poems of Antonio Machado, translated by Betty Jean Craige, Louisiana State University Press, 1978.

[oldest known tools are 2.6 millions years old]
These aren’t provably the oldest tools, nor are they necessarily tools made by members of our lineage of hominins (for a variety of reasons, one of which is that we still don’t know what our lineage is, exactly; another is that just because we find a chipped stone, and can tell that it had been purposely chipped, and can date it, we still don’t know which hominin hand dropped it). “2.6-Million-year-old stone tools and associated bones from OGS-6 and OGS-7, Gona, Afar, Ethiopia,” S. Semaw, M. J. Rogers, J. Quade, P. R. Renne, R. F. Butler, M. Domínguez-Rodrigo, D. Stout, W. S. Hart, T. Pickering, S. W. Simpson, Journal of Human Evolution, 45(2):169-177, 2003.
[carrying capacity and population as the main problem?]
That belief far predates Malthus, but he’s considered one of the seminal proponents since his 1798 book was the first to present a seemingly mathematically airtight argument, not just one based on how the rich had usually viewed the poor. It’s strange indeed that he articulated it just when England was phase changing into industry. An Essay on the Principle of Population, Thomas Malthus, Oxford University Press, 1999.

Factory Embryos

[only one in four still farmers in 2020]
In 2018, and around the planet, of everyone working, just 28 percent were still on the farm (a huge drop from 44 percent just in 1991), 23 percent were in industry (no real change from 22 percent in 1991), and 49 percent were in services (a huge rise from 34 percent in 1991). World Social Report 2020: Inequality in a rapidly changing world, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, Figure 2.1, page 61.

By 2019, employment in agriculture was (as a percentage of all employment globally) 26.857. International Labour Organization, ILOSTAT database Data retrieved in March 1, 2020.

[most flesh is still grass...]
“The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field:”

The Bible, The King James Version, Isaiah 40:6.

[plant dependence on carbon dioxide]
This is similar to Liebig’s Law of the Minimum. Regardless of the supply of plentiful resources, a system is rate determined by the resource in shortest supply. Plant physiology, Frank B. Salisbury, Cleon W. Ross, Fourth Edition, Wadsworth, 1992.
[our dependence on farming in 1999]
“Eight cereal grains: wheat, maize, rice, barley, sorghum, oats, rye, and millet provide 56% of the food energy and 50% of the protein consumed on earth. Three cereals: wheat, maize and rice together comprise at least 75% of the world’s grain production.” From: “Cereal Grains: Humanity’s Double-Edged Sword,” L. Cordain, in: Evolutionary Aspects of Nutrition and Health: Diet, Exercise, Genetics, and Chronic Disease, A. P. Simopoulos (editor), Karger, 1999, pages 19-73.

Even those of us who eat a lot of meat are still grass-eaters. In total, over half of all our nutrition comes directly from plants, and the rest is indirectly dependent on them. Plus, of the roughly 400,000 plant species on this planet, we mostly eat only about 30. They give us around 95 percent of all our plant nutrition. Of those 30, 20 grow on about three-quarters of all cultivated land worldwide. They give us roughly 90 percent of all our plant nutrition. Of those 20, eight are cereals. All of them belong to the same genetic family of grasses. Just one of those, rice, feeds almost half of all of us alive today. All flesh is indeed grass.

Note though that the figure of 400,000 is a guess. We still don’t know how many plant species there are. “Documenting plant diversity: unfinished business,” P. R. Crane, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, B, 359(1444):735-737, 2004. For more recent work just on seed plants, see: “Mega-phylogeny approach for comparative biology: an alternative to supertree and supermatrix approaches,” S. A. Smith, J. Beaulieu, M. J. Donoghue, BMC Evolutionary Biology, 9:37, 2009. They quote a figure of 13,533 for seed plants.

Wheat, barley, rye, and oats belong to the subfamily Pooideae. Maize, sorghum, sugar cane, and most millets belong to the subfamily Panicoideae. Rice belongs to the subfamily Bambusoideae. All are members of the family Poaceae (that is, the true grasses).

[atmospheric carbon dioxide]
The concentration of carbon dioxide is less than one 25th of one percent.
[plant energy loss]
Plants need light (from the sun, mostly). But the sun also heats it; and the hotter it gets, the less work it can do. So it has to open more pores to transpire more water to cool itself down. But that depends on how humid the day is. Unless it’s a windy or rainy day, the hotter or drier the plant gets, the more water it would lose if it keeps its pores open too long. So it has to close its pores, or else it will lose too much water, and thus wilt. Wilting would mean a loss of leaf area, which it needs to capture light. Yet it also has to keep its pores open when it’s capturing light, or else it won’t get enough carbon dioxide.

We understand a great deal about photosynthesis from a reductionist point of view: that is, think of a plant like a machine, like a car. Now imagine it completely dismantled with all its parts lying on the floor. We’ve analyzed many of those parts separately, and many in great detail. But how exactly they go together we don’t exactly know. Plants aren’t only about photosynthesis—they’re about survival and reproduction. Their photosynthetic energy conversion efficiency is determined by the interaction between all the parts of the entire system, not by any particular part of the system. So simply giving the car more gas (more carbon dioxide, say), or replacing a spark plug (a gene for RuBisCO, say), won’t necessarily help. So when it comes to figuring out how to ladder up their overall photosythetic rate we’re still at the stage of just watching what they do in bulk. And that data is now very old (1926, 1942, 1954, and 1971 by Transeau, Lindeman, Odum and others). It took a long while for us to figure out the differences between C3, C4, and CAM vascular plants, and it took a long time to work out the detailed structure of RuBisCO and the separation of the Calvin cycle from the light reactions inside the thylakoids of the plant’s chloroplasts inside their plastids. Considering just how many millennia we’ve depended so abjectly on plants (not just for food, but also for oxygen), this ignorance for so long is amazing.

“Plant membrane transport, like transport across all eukaryotic membranes, is highly non-linear and leads to interactions with characteristics so complex that they defy intuitive understanding. The physiological behaviour of stomatal guard cells is a case in point in which, for example, mutations expected to influence stomatal closing have profound effects on stomatal opening and manipulating transport across the vacuolar membrane affects the plasma membrane. Quantitative mathematical modelling is an essential tool in these circumstances, both to integrate the knowledge of each transport process and to understand the consequences of their manipulation in vivo. Here, we outline the OnGuard modelling environment and its use as a guide to predicting the emergent properties arising from the interactions between non-linear transport processes. We summarise some of the recent insights arising from OnGuard, demonstrate its utility in interpreting stomatal behaviour, and suggest ways in which the OnGuard environment may facilitate ‘reverse-engineering’ of stomata to improve water use efficiency and carbon assimilation.” From: “Predicting the unexpected in stomatal gas exchange: not just an open-and-shut case,” M. Klejchová, A. Hills, M. R. Blatt, Biochemical Society Transactions, 48(3):881-889, 2020.

See also: “Control of transpiration by radiation,” R. Pieruschka, G. Huber, J. A. Berry, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(30):13372-13377, 2010. Principles of Terrestrial Ecosystem Ecology, F. Stuart Chapin III, Pamela A. Matson, and Peter Vitousek, Springer, Second Edition, 2011, Chapter 5, especially pages 134-147. Biology, Kenneth A. Mason, Jonathan B. Losos, Susan R. Singer, based on the work of Peter H. Raven and George B. Johnson, McGraw-Hill, Ninth Edition, 2011, chapters 38 and 39. Ecology: Principles and Applications, J. L. Chapman and M. J. Reiss, Cambridge University Press, Second Edition, 1999, pages 136-138. Why Big Fierce Animals Are Rare, Paul Colinvaux, Princeton University Press, 1978, Chapter 4.

[crop losses before harvest]
“Crop Losses to Animal Pests, Plant Pathogens, and Weeds,” E.-C. Oerke, in: Encyclopedia of Pest Management, Volume II, David Pimentel (editor), CRC Press, 2007, pages 116-120.
[...burn a further 87 percent]
In 1977, Americans got from food roughly 13 percent of the energy used to grow, process, transport, sell, and prepare it. Energy and Food: Energy used in Production, Processing, Delivery, and Marketing of Selected Food Items, Anne Pierotti, A. Keeler, and A. Fritsch, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Energy Series Number 10, 1977. Extending that figure to today may seem problematic because that would assume that world farming is comparable to farming in the United States (which it isn’t, since Americans eat so much more processed foods), and that today’s figures are comparable with 1970s figures (which it may not be, since the price of oil had spiked after 1973 and the report gives no date for its data so it could easily have been taken at the peak of the OPEC oil embargoes).

However, an expert on agronomy, Richard C. Fluck, believes that it’s probably not far wrong. (Personal communication.) His argument is that although technology has improved since the 1970s, largely thanks to precision farming, pressure for improvement has also been nearly flat since then as oil prices had remained relatively low for all that time. “Energy Use in the U.S. Food System: a summary of existing research and analysis,” J. Hendricksen, Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, University of Wisconsin, Madison, 1995. Energy in Farm Production, R. C. Fluck (editor), Elsevier, 1992.

[lost edible food, United Kingdom and United States]
“Weekly food waste collections can benefit the environment and save money,” News Release, March 27th, 2008, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, United Kingdom Government, 2008. “Estimating household and institutional food wastage and losses in the context of measuring food deprivation and food excess in the total population,” R. Sibri´n, J. Komorowska, J. Mernies, Working Paper Number ESS/ESSA/001e, Statistics Division, United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, 2006. “Household Refuse Food Loss,” T. Jones, S. Dahlen, K. Cisco, B. McKee, A. Bockhorst, Report to the United States Department of Agriculture, 2002. “Life Cycle-Based Sustainability Indicators for Assessment of the U.S. Food System,” M. C. Heller, G. A. Keoleian, Report Number CSS00-04, Center for Sustainable Systems, School of Natural Resources and Environment, The University of Michigan, 2000, page 37. “Estimating and Addressing America’s Food Losses,” L. Scott Kantor, K. Lipton, A. Manchester, V. Oliveira, Economic Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture, 1997. “Household food wastage in Britain,” R. W. Wenlock, D. H. Buss, B. J. Derry, E. J. Dixon, British Journal of Nutrition, 43(1):53-70, 1980.
[meat consumption in the United States]
“Food Consumption,” Briefing Room Economic Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture, 2007.
[expensive animal protein]
About 1,700,000 kilocalories of solar energy hit a square meter of earth per year. On land, just 20,810 kilocalories will be transferred to plants. Of that, 3,368 will be transferred to direct consumers, like cattle; and of that, 383 will be transferred to first level carnivores, like us. So for every 100 kilocalories of energy that hits a plant, 1.2 are available to cattle, and 0.12 are available to us. The conversion efficiencies are about 1.2 percent for converting energy to plants, 6 percent for converting plants to animals, and 10 percent for converting animals to other animals. So if we eat an animal we get 0.072 percent of the original solar energy, whereas eating a plant gives us 0.72 percent—ten times as much—of the original energy. Living in the Environment: Principles, Connections, and Solutions, G. Tyler Miller, Brooks Cole, Twelfth Edition, 2002, page 85.
Often miscalled a ‘calorie’ in the United States (but not Europe). Also often called a ‘large calorie.’ A kilocalorie is the energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 kilogram of water by 1 degree Celsius. It’s 1,000 ‘small’ calories, or gram calories.
[energy cost of nitrogen fertilizer in Canada in 2001]
“Prairie Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development,” Program: Prairie Sard. Reports on Development of a Program for Research and Action Towards More Economically and Environmentally Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development for Western Canada, The Canadian Agriculture New Uses Council, CANUC, Bulletin Number 6, 2001. This particular study was about including alfalfa in rotations at Winnipeg, Manitoba, to reduce nitrogen fertilizer costs. Incidentally, to make that 80 pounds of fertilizer per acre in the first place, we needed at least 1,428 cubic feet of natural gas. That, too, costs energy to find, make, process, and transport.
[applesauce is three times more expensive than apples in Florida in 1992]
“To be more energy efficient means to get a higher return on your energy Investment. Some foods are more energy efficient than others. It takes 1,100 Btu of energy to serve one half pound of homegrown potatoes. Supermarket potatoes use 2,000 Btu of energy per half-pound to get from seed to serving dish. There are 15,000 Btu of energy invested in 8 oz (0.5 lb) of potato chips. Similarly, it takes over three times the energy to place a can of applesauce on the grocery store shelf as it does to put an equal quantity of fresh apples in the produce department.” From: “Energy Efficiency and Environmental News: Food to Energy,” July 1992. Florida Energy Extension Service newsletter, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida.
[plants don’t extract nitrogen from the air]
That’s strange because plants colonized the land at least 460Mya. That surely should have given them enough time to figure it out. Why they didn’t is a mystery. “Molecular Timescale of Evolution in the Proterozoic,” S. B. Hedges, F. U. Battistuzzi, J. E. Blair, in: Neoproterozoic Geobiology and Paleobiology, Shuhai Xiao and Alan J. Kaufman (editors), Springer, 2006, pages 199-229. “The plant tree of life: an overview and some points of view,” J. D. Palmer, D. E. Soltis, M. W. Chase, American Journal of Botany, 91(10):1437-1445, 2004. “Molecular data from 27 proteins do not support a Precambrian origin of land plants,” M. J. Sanderson, American Journal of Botany, 90(6):954-956, 2003. “A methodological bias toward overestimation of molecular evolutionary time scales,” F. Rodríguez-Trelles, R. Tarrío, F. J. Ayala, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 99(12):8112-8115, 2002. “Molecular Evidence for the Early Colonization of Land by Fungi and Plants,” D. S. Heckman, D. M. Geiser, B. R. Eidell, R. L. Stauffer, N. L. Kardos, S. B. Hedges, Science, 293(5532):1129-1133, 2001.
[legumes and nitrogen fixation]
Legumes—like peas, beans, soybean, peanut, lentil, alfalfa, and clover—aren’t the only plants that form symbiotic relationships with nitrogen-fixing microbes, however at present they’re the most important ones for our food supply. We don’t know why most plants aren’t rhizobia symbionts. We don’t even know why plants don’t simply fix nitrogen themselves. Perhaps it’s simple competition. Nitrogen-fixation, or simply facilitating nitrogen-fixation as symbionts do, takes energy. (It involves a particular one (of three possible) metalloenzymes dependent on Fe-Fe, Fe-V, or Fe-Mo cofactors, which apparently evolved around 3.2Gya in anerobic, thermophilic conditions among hydrogentropic methanogens and from there laterally gene transferred into aerobic bacteria, including Cyanobacteria. The most common nitrogenase is Molybdenum-dependent. See Mus et al.) Perhaps plants that don’t bother grow faster or grow bigger? On the other hand, such symbionts have a huge advantage as they can grow anywhere, whereas most other plants can only grow in nitrogen-rich soil. All we know for sure right now is that the situation is complicated.

“Members of the plant family Leguminosae (Fabaceae) are unique in that they have evolved a symbiotic relationship with rhizobia (a group of soil bacteria that can fix atmospheric nitrogen). Rhizobia infect and form root nodules on their specific host plants before differentiating into bacteroids, the symbiotic form of rhizobia. This complex relationship involves the supply of C4-dicarboxylate and phosphate by the host plants to the microsymbionts that utilize them in the energy-intensive process of fixing atmospheric nitrogen into ammonium, which is in turn made available to the host plants as a source of nitrogen, a macronutrient for growth. Although nitrogen-fixing bacteroids are no longer growing, they are metabolically active. The symbiotic process is complex and tightly regulated by both the host plants and the bacteroids. The metabolic pathways of carbon, nitrogen, and phosphate are heavily regulated in the host plants, as they need to strike a fine balance between satisfying their own needs as well as those of the microsymbionts. A network of transporters for the various metabolites are responsible for the trafficking of these essential molecules between the two partners through the symbiosome membrane (plant-derived membrane surrounding the bacteroid), and these are in turn regulated by various transcription factors that control their expressions under different environmental conditions. Understanding this complex process of symbiotic nitrogen fixation is vital in promoting sustainable agriculture and enhancing soil fertility. [...]

The host plant provides the microsymbiont with dicarboxylates together with other nutrients, in exchange for fixed nitrogen in the form of ammonium and amino acids. Nitrogen-fixing legumes contribute to nitrogen enrichment of the soil and therefore are valuable in improving soil fertility. The legume-rhizobium association has an important impact on sustainable agriculture since it provides more than 65% of the biologically fixed nitrogen in agricultural systems.” From: “Interaction and Regulation of Carbon, Nitrogen, and Phosphorus Metabolisms in Root Nodules of Legumes,” A. Liu, C. A. Contador, K. Fan, H.-M. Lam, Frontiers in Plant Science, 9:1860, 2018.

“Reconstructing the evolutionary history of nitrogenases: Evidence for ancestral molybdenum-cofactor utilization,” A. K. Garcia, H. McShea, B. Kolaczkowski, B. Kaçar, Geobiology, 18(3):394-411, 2020. “Geobiological feedbacks, oxygen, and the evolution of nitrogenase,” F. Mus, D. R. Colman, J. W. Peters, E. S. Boyd, Free Radical Biology & Medicine, 140:250-259, 2019. “Holy alliances?” B. Osborne, New Phytologist, 175(4):602-605, 2007. “Host sanctions and the legume-rhizobium mutualism,” E. T. Kiers, R. A. Rousseau, S. A. West, R. F. Denison, Nature, 425(6953):78-81, 2003.

Rhizobia symbiosis may have arisen during a period where there was a lot of CO2 in the atmosphere (about 60 million years ago). But why it didn’t take over is unknown. “Evolving ideas of legume evolution and diversity: a taxonomic perspective on the occurrence of nodulation,” New Phytologist, J. I. Sprent, 174(1):11-25, 2007.

We now know that legumes have a gene that triggers the formation of nodules, which then encourage nitrogen-fixing bacteria to come live there. That gene can be transplanted to another legume and it too will become nitrogen-fixing. “Nodulation independent of rhizobia induced by a calcium-activated kinase lacking autoinhibition,” C. Gleason, S. Chaudhuri, T. Yang, A. Muñoz, B. W. Poovaiah, G. E. D. Oldroyd, Nature, 441(7097):1149-1152, 2006.

[remixing cereals and legumes...]
“Nitrogen is a limiting nutrient that needs to be added as fertilizer in agriculture, including cereals, that cannot obtain it from the atmosphere. In contrast, legumes obtain most of their nitrogen through mutualism with nitrogen-fixing rhizobia that reside in root nodules. The majority of global calories are from cereals; hence, it has been a long-standing dream to transfer this ability to these crops. This would reduce the need for nitrogenous fertilizer and the economic, environmental and energy burdens that it brings. One solution is to engineer the bacteria that associate with cereals—whether they are in the soil, on the root surface (epiphytes) or living inside the roots (endophytes)—to fix nitrogen.” From: “Control of nitrogen fixation in bacteria that associate with cereals,” M.-H. Ryu, J. Zhang, T. Toth, D. Khokhani, B. A. Geddes, F. Mus, A. Garcia-Costas, J. W. Peters, P. S. Poole, J.-M. Ané, C. A. Voigt, Nature Microbiology, 5(2):314-330, 2020.

This was done by redesigning the genes themselves, and building their interactions directly using a programming language (called Cello), not merely by cutting&pasting genes from one organism to another by hand, as is customary in genetic engineering: “Genetic circuits have many applications, from guiding living therapeutics to ordering process in a bioreactor, but to be useful they have to be genetically stable and not hinder the host. Encoding circuits in the genome reduces burden, but this decreases performance and can interfere with native transcription. We have designed genomic landing pads in Escherichia coli at high-expression sites, flanked by ultrastrong double terminators. DNA payloads >8 kb are targeted to the landing pads using phage integrases. One landing pad is dedicated to carrying a sensor array, and two are used to carry genetic circuits. NOT/NOR gates based on repressors are optimized for the genome and characterized in the landing pads. These data are used, in conjunction with design automation software (Cello 2.0), to design circuits that perform quantitatively as predicted. These circuits require fourfold less RNA polymerase than when carried on a plasmid and are stable for weeks in a recA+ strain without selection. This approach enables the design of synthetic regulatory networks to guide cells in environments or for applications where plasmid use is infeasible.” From: “Precision design of stable genetic circuits carried in highly-insulated E. coli genomic landing pads,” Y. Park, Y. E. Borujeni, T. E. Gorochowski, J. Shin, C. A. Voigt, Molecular Systems Biology, 16(8):e9584, 2020.

[plants colonized land almost half a billion years ago]
The multicellular photosynthetic autotrophs that we call ‘plants’ colonized land almost half a billion years ago, in the Ordovician, perhaps 460Mya. “Revisiting the Great Ordovician Diversification of land plants: Recent data and perspectives,” T. Servais, B. Cascales-Miñana, C. J. Cleal, P. Gerrienne, D. A. T. Harper, M. Neumann, Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 534(15):109280, 2019. “The timescale of early land plant evolution,” J. L. Morris, M. N. Puttick, J. W. Clark, D. Edwards, P. Kenrick, S. Pressel, C. H. Wellman, Z. Yang, H. Schneider, P. C. J. Donoghue, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 115(10):E2274-E2283, 2018.
[herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides in plants]
Today, our perception of risk from our food is severely distorted. Each day, the average American, for example, eats about 10,000 times more plant-generated pesticides than artificial ones. One gram of roasted coffee, for instance, contains about 59 milligrams of chlorogenic acid, neochlorogenic acid, caffeic acid, and caffeine—all toxins, and all put there by the coffee plant, not us. (However, artificial pesticides are still undesirable because being sprayed on, not built-in, they run off easily and collect in aquifers.) Cooking our food adds further toxicity by producing about two grams per person per day of burnt material that contains many rodent carcinogens: polycyclic hydrocarbons, heterocyclic amines, furfural, nitrosamines, and nitroaromatics, as well as many mutagens. Further, many plant toxins are cumulative. Potatoes, for example, contain fat-soluble neurotoxins (solanine and chaconine), which are in the bloodstreams of all potato eaters. Potatoes are relatively new to our species, so our genes haven’t yet had time to evolve ways to fully detoxify them.

We don’t drop dead (usually) when we drink coffee and eat some potato chips because all plant-eaters have evolved ways to detect harmful plants and avoid them, or have evolved ways to detoxify a few plant poisons. In our case, we’ve selectively amplified only those few plant cultivars and those ways of preparing food from them that haven’t immediately killed us in the past. For example, cassava (a starchy tuber like the potato and the chief thing in tapioca) feeds over 400 million of us in the tropics, but it also contains cyanide. We’ve learned, presumably by long trial and error, how to boil it to reduce the poison to trace amounts. Rhubarb leaves, apple seeds, almonds, lima beans, potato skins, avocado skins, cherry pits—even too much nutmeg in your eggnog—all can kill. Handbook of Pesticide Toxicology: Principles, Robert Krieger, Academic Press, Second Edition, 2001, page 811. “What Do Animal Cancer Tests Tell Us About Human Cancer Risk? Overview of Analyses of the Carcinogenic Potency Database,” L. Swirsky Gold, T. H. Slone, B. N. Ames, Drug Metabolism Reviews, 30(2):359-404, 1998. “Rodent Carcinogens: Setting Priorities,” L. Swirsky Gold, T. H. Slone, B. R. Stern, N. B. Manley, B. N. Ames, Science, 258(5080):261-265, 1992. “α-Chaconine and α-solanine content of potato products and their stability during several modes of cooking,” R. J. Bushway, R. Ponnampalam, Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 29(4):814-817, 1981.

[acreage covered by smart seeds in 2017]
By 2017, it was 189.8 (469 acres) million hectares (half is soyabean). Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops in 2017 - Biotech Crop Adoption Surges as Economic Benefits Accumulate in 22 Years, ISAAA Brief No. 53, 2017, Table 1 (page 3).

In 2005, of that land area, about 87 percent was in the United States. Argentina, Canada, and China made up most of the rest.

By 2010, about 10 percent of the world’s croplands were under cultivation. By 2011, smart seeds covered 160 million hectares, with 69 million hectares (170.503 million acres) in the United States alone. Brazil (30.3 million hectares) and Argentina (23.7 million hectares) followed. With over 170 million acres under cultivation in the United States alone, the world acreage covered by smart seeds grew to one acre in every ten. Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2011, Clive James, ISAAA Brief No. 43, ISAAA (International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications), 2011. “Transgenic Crops,” J. Schahczenski, K. Adam, in: Biotechnology: Perspectives & Prospects, C. P. Malik, Chitra Wadhwani, and Bhavneet Kaur (editors), MD Publications, 2008.

See also: ATTRA Publication Number IP189, National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, 2006. National Agricultural Statistics Service, Agricultural Statistics Board, United States Department of Agriculture, 2005.

In the southern United States, kudzu is sometimes called ‘the vine that ate the south.’ A legume, it will grow even on eroded soils, and was imported from Japan in 1876 then, with government help, it grew like a fungus. It can grow up to 300 centimeters (about a foot) a day, and will often smother even large trees simply by outgrowing them. “Kudzu: Where did it come from? And how can we stop it?” J. H. Miller, E. Boyd, Southern Journal of Applied Forestry, 7(3):165-169, 1982.
[a new superweed]
Despite conspiracy theories about mad scientists deep in military bunkers, we likely won’t be deliberately aiming to create a superweed, but nature is too wily for us to predict precisely what will happen to any plant, transgenic or not. Unintended pollen flow has already resulted in some unduly resistant weeds. “A Field Study of Pollen-Mediated Gene Flow from Mediterranean GM rice to Conventional Rice and the Red Rice Weed,” J. Messeguer, V. Marfa, M. M. Catala, E. Guiderdoni, E. Mele, Molecular Breeding, 13(1):103-112, 2004. “Gene Flow in Commercial Fields of Herbicide-Resistant Canola (Brassica napus),” H. J. Beckie, S. I. Warwick, H. Nair, G. Séguin-Swartz, Ecological Applications, 13(5):1276-1294, 2003. “Gene Flow Between Red Rice (Oryza. sativa) and Herbicide-Resistant Rice (O. sativa): Implications for Weed Management,” D. R. Gealy, D. H. Mitten, J. N. Rutger, Weed Technology, 17(3):627-645, 2003.

Food Machines

[farming’s global water consumption, 2016, 2004]
“Water use has been increasing worldwide by about 1% per year since the 1980s. [...] Approximately 80% of the global cropland is rainfed, and 60% of the world’s food is produced on rainfed land. [...] Agriculture (including irrigation, livestock and aquaculture) is by far the largest water consumer, accounting for 69% of annual water withdrawals globally. Industry (including power generation) accounts for 19% and households for 12%. [...] Over 2 billion people live in countries experiencing high water stress. Although the global average water stress is only 11%, 31 countries experience water stress between 25% (which is defined as the minimum threshold of water stress) and 70%, and 22 countries are above 70% and are therefore under serious water stress. [...] Asia and the Pacific In 2016, 29 out of 48 countries in the region qualified as water-insecure due to low availability of water and unsustainable groundwater withdrawal.” The United Nations world water development report 2019: Leaving no one behind, UNESCO World Water Assessment Programme, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, 2019, pages 1, 5, 6, 13, 132.

“Agriculture is the principal user of all water resources taken together, i.e. rainfall (so-called green water) and water in rivers, lakes and aquifers (so-called blue water). It accounts for about 70 percent of all withdrawals worldwide, with domestic use amounting to about 10 percent and industry using some 21 percent.” Unlocking the Water Potential of Agriculture, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 2003, page 7.

In its separate ‘Key Facts’ summary factsheet, it states the following: “To produce 1 kg of wheat, 1 m3 of water is needed. It takes at least 1.2 m3 of water to produce 1 kg of rice.” The text’s figures uses the usual conversion factors: 1 kilogram is 2.2 pounds and 1 cubic meter is 264 gallons. So 1 pound needs 120 gallons.

However, the global range is very wide. For more recent figures on global evapotranspiration, see: “Review of measured crop water productivity values for irrigated wheat, rice, cotton and maize,” S. J. Zwart, W. G. M. Bastiaanssen, Agricultural Water Management, 69(2):115-133, 2004.

For the figures on evaporation loss for farm irrigation, see: Challenges to International Waters; Regional Assessments in a Global Perspective, United Nations Environment Programme, 2006.

[fresh water is scarce]
“Fresh water makes up only 0.01% of the World’s water and approximately 0.8% of the Earth’s surface, yet this tiny fraction of global water supports at least 100 000 species out of approximately 1.8 million — almost 6% of all described species.” From: “Freshwater biodiversity: importance, threats, status and conservation challenges,” D. Dudgeon, A. H. Arthington, M. O. Gessner, Z. Kawabata, D. J. Knowler, C. Leveque, R. J. Naiman, A. H. Prieur-Richard, D. Soto, M. L. Stiassny, C. A. Sullivan, Biological reviews of the Cambridge Philosophical Society, 81(2):163-82, 2006.
[water content of various foods]
Bowes and Church’s Food Values of Portions Commonly Used, Jean A. T. Pennington, J. B. Lippincott Co., Sixteenth Edition, 1994.
[water content of the human body]
It varies from about 75 percent at infancy to about 50 percent in old age. The Universe Within: The Deep History of the Human Body, Neil Shubin, Vintage, 2013, pages 41-43, and 46.
[earliest land animals dated to around 414Mya]
“A U-Pb zircon age constraint on the oldest-recorded air-breathing land animal,” S. E. Suarez, M. E. Brookfield, E. J. Catlos, D. F. Stöckli, PLoS ONE, 12(6):e0179262, 2017. “Morphology and taxonomy of Paleozoic millipedes (Diplopoda: Chilognatha: Archipolypoda) from Scotland,” H. M. Wilson, L. I. Anderson, Journal of Paleontology, 78(1):169-184, 2004.
[percentage consumption of irrigation in India and China in 1995, 2006]
“Facts and trends: Water,” World Business Council for Sustainable Development, 2005. “Global Water Crisis, the Major Issue of the 21st Century,” H. F. L. Saeijs, M. J. Van Berkel, European Water Pollution Control, 5(4):26-40, 1995.
[global water resource depletion]
“Examples of regions experiencing recurrent water stress are the Sahel, South Africa, the Central U.S., Australia, India, Pakistan, and North‐East China. It is estimated that over 2 billion people (35% of the world population) suffer from severe water stress. [...] [Enumerating the groundwater depletion hot-spots:] “North‐East Pakistan and North‐West India, North‐East China, the Ogallala Aquifer in the central U.S., the San‐Joaquin aquifer in the Central Valley of California, Iran, Yemen and the South‐East of Spain.” From: “Global depletion of groundwater resources,” Y. Wada, L. P. H. van Beek, C. M. van Kempen, J. W. T. M. Reckman, S. Vasak, M. F. P. Bierkens, Geophysical Research Letters, 37(20):1-5, 2010. Factsheet on Water and Sanitation, United Nations World Health Organization, 2008. “Groundwater: A global assessment of scale and significance,” T. Shah, J. Burke, K. Villholth, M. Angelica, E. Custodio, F. Daibes, J. Hoogesteger, M. Giordano, J. Girman, J. van der Gun, E. Kendy, J. Kijne, R. Llamas, M. Masiyandima, J. Margat, L. Marin, J. Peck, S. Rozelle, B. R. Sharma, L. Vincent, J. Wang, in: Water for Food Water for Life: A Comprehensive Assessment of Water Management in Agriculture, David Molden (editor), Routledge, 2007, page 395-423. Water for Life, United Nations World Health Organization, 2005, page 40.
[raising a lamb is water-expensive]
The calculation is crude as it requires several approximations and conversions and over more than one country. In Ontario, average market-weight ranges for lambs are from 40 to 50 kilograms (88 to 110 pounds). Lambs are typically 5 to 8 months old at time of slaughter. “Market Lamb Nutrition: Factsheet,” C. Wand, and “Benchmarks for a Good Lamb Crop: Performance Targets for Replacement Ewe Lambs,” A. O’Brien, Food and Rural Affairs, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Government of Canada, 2003. In Britain, raising one gram of lamb needs about 15 litres of water. Future of Food, George Alagiah, BBC documentary, 2009.

For some estimates of other food animals, see: “World population, food, natural resources, and survival,” D. Pimentel, M. Pimentel, World Futures, 59(3&4):145-167, 2003.

[global landuse in 2000]
Current estimates are that in 2000 cropland took 15.3 million square kilometers (3,780 million acres), pasture took 34.3 million square kilometers (8,475 million acres), and the overall percentage of earth’s land used was 34.9 percent. “The HYDE 3.1 spatially explicit database of human-induced global land-use change over the past 12,000 years,” K. K. Goldewijk, A. Beusen, G. van Drecht, M. de Vos, Global Ecology and Biogeography, 20(1):73-86, 2011.
[15 million acres of primary forest a year]
That is, 6 million hectares annually. Global Diversity Outlook 2, Convention on Biological Diversity, United Nations Environment Programme, 2006.
[topsoil loss in 2000]
One estimate is 1,150 tons per kilometer square per year. That’s about 0.38 millimeters a year globally, with much of the loss concentrated in southeast Asia. About 60 percent of it is anthropogenic, and almost all of that is via farming. “Global potential soil erosion with reference to land use and climate changes,” D. Yang, S. Kanae, T. Oki, T. Koike, K. Musiake, Hydrological Processes, 17(14):2913-2928, 2002. “Global Soil Loss Estimate using RUSLE Model: The Use of Global Spatial Datasets on Estimating Erosive Parameters,” T. N. Pham, D. Yang, S. Kanae, T. Oki, K. Musiake, Annual Journal of Hydraulic Engineering, JSCE, 45:811-816, 2001.
“[...] the percentage of stocks fished at biologically unsustainable levels increased from 10 percent in 1974 to 33.1 percent in 2015, with the largest increases in the late 1970s and 1980s.” The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2018: Meeting the sustainable development goals, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 2018, page 40. See also Figure 4, page 40.

Here’s the story on cod off the Canadian Atlantic coast: “Overfishing of large-bodied benthic fishes and their subsequent population collapses on the Scotian Shelf of Canada’s east coast and elsewhere resulted in restructuring of entire food webs now dominated by planktivorous, forage fish species and macroinvertebrates. Despite the imposition of strict management measures in force since the early 1990s, the Scotian Shelf ecosystem has not reverted back to its former structure. Here we provide evidence of the transient nature of this ecosystem and its current return path towards benthic fish species domination. The prolonged duration of the altered food web, and its current recovery, was and is being governed by the oscillatory, runaway consumption dynamics of the forage fish complex. These erupting forage species, which reached biomass levels 900% greater than those prevalent during the pre-collapse years of large benthic predators, are now in decline, having outstripped their zooplankton food supply. This dampening, and the associated reduction in the intensity of predation, was accompanied by lagged increases in species abundances at both lower and higher trophic levels, first witnessed in zooplankton and then in large-bodied predators, all consistent with a return towards the earlier ecosystem structure. We conclude that the reversibility of perturbed ecosystems can occur and that this bodes well for other collapsed fisheries.” From: “Transient dynamics of an altered large marine ecosystem,” K. T. Frank, B. Petrie, J. A. Fisher, W. C. Leggett, Nature, 477(7362):86-89, 2011.

Estimates are that industrial fisheries typically reduce community biomass by 80 percent within 15 years. “Rebuilding Global Fisheries,” B. Worm, R. Hilborn, J. K. Baum, T. A. Branch, J. S. Collie, C. Costello, M. J. Fogarty, E. A. Fulton, J. A. Hutchings, S. Jennings, O. P. Jensen, H. K. Lotze, P. M. Mace, T. R. McClanahan, C. Minto, S. R. Palumbi, A. M. Parma, D. Ricard, A. A. Rosenberg, R. Watson, D. Zeller, Science, 325(5940):578-585, 2009.

“Rapid worldwide depletion of predatory fish communities,” R. A. Myers, B. Worm, Nature, 423(6937):280-283, 2003.

[today’s mass extinctions]
This area is full of politics and guessing. A figure of about 100 species a day is common. But it’s a total guess. The Sixth Extinction: Biodiversity and its Survival, Richard Leakey and Roger Lewin, Doubleday, 1995. Leakey’s estimates have been challenged. The Ultimate Resource 2, Julian Simon, Princeton University Press, 1998.

The core problem is that we don’t even know how many species are on earth now, far less how many are being lost per day. At a talk given in Cape Town in 2001, Leakey upped his estimate to “between 50,000 and 100,000 plant, insect, and animal species a year” but gave no evidence to support his claim. By some environmentalist guesstimates, about 24 percent of mammal species, 11 percent of bird species, and 3 percent of fish species are thought to be threatened. World Resources 2000-2001: People and Ecosystems: The Fraying Web of Life, World Resources Institute, 2000, pages 246-248. E. O. Wilson estimates that there are between 10 million and 100 million species on the planet. The Diversity of Life, Edward O. Wilson, W. W. Norton, Reissue Edition, 1999.

The most recent comprehensive work estimates that we’re losing an unknown but perhaps large number of species. “Quantifying Uncertainty in Estimation of Tropical Arthropod Species Richness,” A. J. Hamilton, Y. Basset, K. K. Benke, P. S. Grimbacher, S. E. Miller, V. Novotný, A. Samuelson, N. E. Stork, G. D. Weiblen, J. D. L. Yen, The American Naturalist, 176(1):90-95, 2010. “Global Biodiversity: Indicators of Recent Declines,” S. H. Butchart, M. Walpole, B. Collen, A. van Strien, J. P. Scharlemann, R. E. Almond, J. E. Baillie, B. Bomhard, C. Brown, J. Bruno, K. E. Carpenter, G. M. Carr, J. Chanson, A. M. Chenery, J. Csirke, N. C. Davidson, F. Dentener, M. Foster, A. Galli, J. N. Galloway, P. Genovesi, R. D. Gregory, M. Hockings, V. Kapos, J. F. Lamarque, F. Leverington, J. Loh, M. A. McGeoch, L. McRae, A. Minasyan, M. H. Morcillo, T. E. Oldfield, D. Pauly, S. Quader, C. Revenga, J. R. Sauer, B. Skolnik, D. Spear, D. Stanwell-Smith, S. N. Stuart, A. Symes, M. Tierney, T. D. Tyrrell, J. C. Vié, R. Watson, Science, 328(5982):1164-1168, 2010.

[the Anthropocene]
As of 2020, two international geological groups (the International Commission on Stratigraphy, ICS, and the International Union of Geological Sciences, IUGS) are still debating whether to name, and when to date, significant human impact on the Earth as a new geological epoch, successor to the Holocene. It may be the shortest one ever...
[the nitrogen cycle]
The nitrogen cycle and how it affects plant life took almost half a century to figure out, from Jean-Baptiste Boussingault in 1841 to Ulysse Gayon in 1885, with the most important being Justus von Leibig. The World’s Greatest Fix: A History of Nitrogen and Agriculture, G. J. Leigh, Oxford University Press, 2004, pages 184-200. Enriching the Earth: Fritz Haber, Carl Bosch, and the Transformation of World Food Production, Vaclav Smil, The MIT Press, 2001, pages 5-20.
[soil fertility and soil degradation loss per year ... ]
The 1 percent per year figure is from 2011 FAO (United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization) figures, quoted in: “Dust Unto Dust,” M. C. Scholes, R. J. Scholes, Science, 342(6158):565-566, 2013. See also: “Reconstructing the Microbial Diversity and Function of Pre-Agricultural Tallgrass Prairie Soils in the United States,” N. Fierer, J. Ladau, J. C. Clemente, J. W. Leff, S. M. Owens, K. S. Pollard, R. Knight, J. A. Gilbert, R. L. McCulley, Science, 342(6158):621-624, 2013. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, Jared Diamond, Penguin, 2005.

But groups collapse from many reasons, not just loss of soil fertility; there’s also soil erosion from over-reliance on annual plants, increased soil salinity, water mismanagement, and prolonged droughts. Megadrought and Collapse: From Early Agriculture to Angkor, Harvey Weiss (editor), Oxford University Press, 2017.

[By the 1850s, the situation was already dire ... ]
The search for fertilizers didn’t begin the in the twentieth century—that’s just when chemists got to the stage of building factories because the understanding and the tech had advanced enough by then—it began in the nineteenth.

“To many historians, scientists, and agricultural experts, the term ‘Green Revolution’ refers to the controversial array of programs and policies that introduced high-yield seeds, intensive irrigation techniques, herbicides, pesticides, mechanization, and petrochemical fertilizers to parts of the developing world during the 1960s and 1970s. Among the most profound consequences of this recent agricultural transformation was a vast increase in the amount of nitrogen available to farmers in Asia and Latin America. Through the application of imported synthetic fertilizers, these cultivators achieved increased yields of staple crops such as corn, rice, and wheat.

Numerous scholars have portrayed this twentieth-century intervention in world food production as the first human alteration of the global nitrogen cycle during the modern era. Such a depiction is misleading. It obscures an earlier Green Revolution, beginning in the nineteenth century, during which companies and labor contractors transported millions of metric tons of nitrogen fertilizer and more than 100,000 workers across the globe, producing significant shifts in environments and labor conditions throughout the world. A comprehensive understanding of this First Green Revolution fuses two emerging research areas—global environmental history and transnational labor history. An investigation of the relationship between new forms of servitude that emerged in the Age of Abolition and the concurrent development of a worldwide fertilizer trade reveals that the changing nature of work is inextricably intertwined with the work of changing nature.

Between the 1840s and the 1930s, Peru and Chile exported hundreds of millions of tons of nitrogen-rich guano (dried bird excrement) and sodium nitrate (NaNO3) to places as far-flung as California, Virginia, Prussia, Great Britain, and France. For farmers in North America and Europe, guano and sodium nitrate dramatically increased agricultural productivity during the final phase of the Industrial Revolution, which lasted from roughly the mid-1800s through World War I. The widespread availability of imported fertilizers also facilitated a departure from organic ‘closed systems’ of farming, in which nitrogen is cycled among soil, plants, animals, and people at the local scale, toward ‘open,’ energy-intensive approaches to agriculture that included additions of nitrogen from distant places.”

“The First Green Revolution: Debt Peonage and the Making of the Nitrogen Fertilizer Trade, 1840-1930,” E. D. Melillo, American Historical Review, 114(4):1028-60, 2012.

[we’re composed of about seven or so elements]
The big four are: carbon (C), hydrogen (H), oxygen (O), and nitrogen (N). Then the next five are: phosphorus (P), sulfur (S), potassium (K), calcium (Ca), and magnesium (Mg). (A good mnemonic for the top seven is: CHONPSK.) Other elements, like sodium (Na), manganese (Mn), iron (Fe), cobalt (Co), copper (Cu), and zinc (Zn), occur only in trace amounts. (In all, most living things are composed of those plus: lithium, flourine, aluminum, silicon, chlorine, vanadium, arsenic, selenium, bromine, strontium, molybdenum, iodine, and lead.) Also: sulfur, calcium, and magnesium are usually abundant in soils, so they mostly aren’t needed in plant fertilizers.

Interestingly, in 2010 it seemed that in one rare bacterial strain (GFAJ-1), one of the top six elements (phosphorous) could be replaced by arsenic, but this turned out not to be true. Instead, what was happening was that the cell’s own ribosomes were breaking down in the presence of arsenic and the phosphates from that were being recycled. “Growth of a bacterium that apparently uses arsenic instead of phosphorus is a consequence of massive ribosome breakdown,” G. N. Basturea, T. K. Harris, M. P. Deutscher, The Journal of biological chemistry, 287(34):28816-28819, 2012. Bacteria discriminate between nearly identical molecules of phosphate (PO43-) and arsenate (AsO43-).

Strictly speaking, ‘albumin’ is really a whole family of proteins, one of which is ovalbumin, the principal protein in egg whites.
[genes and proteins]
Figuring out proteins (‘proteomics’) is far harder than figuring out genes (‘genomics’). We have roughly 25,000 genes, but an unknown number of proteins. There’s as yet no known mapping between our genes (the description of what does stuff in our bodies) and our proteins (the things that actually do stuff in our bodies). First, genes exist in separated blocks (called exons) in the genome. Those blocks can be put together in different ways to yield different proteins. (That’s called alternative splicing.) Second, on production, some proteins can alter themselves depending on their own structure. That’s called post-translational modification, or PTM.) Third, some genes can, in concert with others, produce multiple proteins. And all of those interactions can depend on which proteins have been expressed in our cells recently, and which are being expressed now. For some background, see: Gene Regulation—A Eukaryotic Perspective, David S. latchman, Taylor & Francis, Fifth Revised Edition, 2005.
[protein is more than half our dry weight]
Estimates for a 70-kilogram elderly male (a Caucasian cadaver) are 42 kilograms of water, 12 kilograms of fat, 12 kilograms of protein, and lesser amounts of glycogen, calcium, and phosphorus plus trace amounts of other elements, starting with potassium and sodium, then decreasing with chlorine, magnesium, iron, zinc, and copper. “Composition of the body,” J. S. Garrow, in: Human Nutrition and Dietetics, J. S. Garrow, W. P. T. James, and A. Ralph (editors), Elsevier Health Sciences, 2000, pages 13-23.
[aside from a few rare cases...]
There are some reported cases of lactating males and infants. “The origin and evolution of lactation,” A. V. Capuco, R. M. Akers, Journal of Biology, 8(4):37, 2009. “Galactorrhea in the adolescent,” R. D. Rohn, Journal of Adolescent Health Care, 5(1):37-49, 1984.

Future Tense

[child mortality and food insecurity in 2018 and earlier]
In 2016, 15,342 children aged under five years died of hunger a day (10.6 a minute), or 5.6 million that year. In 2006, the rate was one child (aged under five years) every five seconds (17,280 children a day, or 6.3 million a year). (The mortality rate dropped from 6.9 in 2005-2007 to 6.1 in 2010-2012.) Tietenberg estimates between 20,000 and 24,000 total hunger deaths a day. Environmental Economics and Policy, Tom Tietenberg, Addison Wesley, Fifth Edition, 2006, page 188.

“After decades of steady decline, the trend in world hunger — as measured by the prevalence of undernourishment — reverted in 2015, remaining virtually unchanged in the past three years at a level slightly below 11 percent. Meanwhile, the number of people who suffer from hunger has slowly increased. As a result, more than 820 million people in the world are still hungry today [...]. [...] even in high-income countries, sizeable portions of the population lack regular access to nutritious and sufficient food; 8 percent of the population in Northern America and Europe is estimated to be food insecure, mainly at moderate levels.” The State of Food Insecurity in the World, SOFI 2019, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 2019, page 3, see also Figure 1 (page 6). In 2012-2014, about 805 million were malnourished; that’s about 11.3 percent of the global population (or about one in nine of us). The State of Food Insecurity in the World, SOFI 2014, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 2014, page 8. In 2010-2012, almost 870 million were malnourished. The State of Food Insecurity in the World, SOFI 2012, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 2012, page 8. In 2006, about 923 million were malnourished (around 14 percent, or about one in seven of us). The State of Food Insecurity in the World, SOFI 2008, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 2008, page 2. The State of Food Insecurity in the World, SOFI 2004, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 2004, page 4.

[world kilocalorie average in 2001]
The State of Food Insecurity in the World, SOFI 2001, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 2001, page 6. World Agriculture: Towards 2015/2030, An F.A.O. Perspective, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 2003, page 32. World Agriculture: Towards 2010, An F.A.O. Study, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 1995, page 36.
[Churchill quote about fake food]
“Up till recent times the production of food has been the prime struggle of man. That war is won. There is no doubt that the civilized races can produce or procure all the food they require. Indeed some of the problems which vex us today are due to the production of wheat by white men having exceeded their own needs, before yellow men, brown men and black men have learnt to demand and become able to purchase a diet superior to rice. But food is at present obtained almost entirely from the energy of the sunlight. The radiation from the sun produces from the carbonic acid in the air more or less complicated carbon compounds which give us our plants and vegetables. We use the latent chemical energy of these to keep our bodies warm; we convert it into muscular effort. We employ it in the complicated processes of digestion to repair and replace the wasted cells of our bodies. Many people, of course, prefer food in what the vegetarians call ‘the secondhand form’, i.e. after it has been digested and converted into meat for us by domestic animals kept for this purpose. In all these processes, however, ninety-nine parts of the solar energy are wasted for every part used.

Even without the new sources of power great improvements are probable here. Microbes, which at present convert the nitrogen of the air into the proteins by which animals live, will be fostered and made to work under controlled conditions, just as yeast is now. New strains of microbes will be developed and made to do a great deal of our chemistry for us. With a greater knowledge of what are called hormones, i.e. the chemical messengers in our blood, it will be possible to control growth. We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium. Synthetic food will, of course, also be used in the future. Nor need the pleasures of the table be banished. That gloomy Utopia of tabloid meals need never be invaded. The new foods will from the outset be practically indistinguishable from the natural products, and any changes will be so gradual as to escape observation.”

“Fifty Years Hence,” in Amid These Storms: Thoughts and Adventures, Winston S. Churchill, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1932, pages 269-280.

[cultured milk]
Biomilq and Perfect Day (previously ‘Muufri’) have test products, but nothing for consumer sale yet (a test run of Perfect Day’s milk was turned into ice cream). Biomilq is intended to replace breast milk.
[specialized food machines—quorn and meat sheets]
On December 19th, 2020, one company (Eat Just) sold (for $23 U.S.) cultured chicken dishes (really, just nuggets) in Singapore. In 2013 another company demoed the first in-vitro meat in London. It costs over $300,000 and took over 2 years to produce. Billion Dollar Burger: Inside Big Techs Race for the Future of Food, Chase Purdy, Penguin, 2020. “Singapore approves lab-grown ’chicken’ meat,” BBC News, December 2nd, 2020. “World’s first lab-grown burger is eaten in London,” BBC News, August 5th, 2013.

Were food machines to come to exist, many of us needn’t even notice them. We might continue to buy our food in grocery stores and markets, except that they might get some of their food from factories rather than farms. That’s already happened with Quorn, a fake meat made from vats of fungus that’s been selling since 1985. Today a few of us are planning to do the same with vat-grown pork from pig stem cells. But we don’t yet know how to do it cheaply, so were such meat-sheets to go on sale today they would cost over $1,000 U.S. a pound. One day, though, that price might drop to $1 U.S. a pound. If so, such meat-makers might then hop from factories to stores. Limited use in rich homes might then be just a question of time. The word ‘homemade’ might then gain a whole new meaning. However, a meat product that might one day cost $1 a pound, but that today costs $1,000 a pound, has little chance to come to exist any time soon given that in our rich countries today beef can cost less than $3 a pound.

Quorn has been on sale since 1985, primarily to the (very small) vegetarian market. It’s made from the fungus Fusarium venenatum. As of 2006, it was only sold in Britain, the United States, the Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, and Switzerland. In 2007, the average price of beef in the United States, averaged over all cuts, was $2.75 a pound. FreshLook Marketing data, for the 52 weeks ending in December, 2007. “Long-term culture of muscle explants from Sparus aurata,” B. Funkenstein, V. Balas, T. Skopal, G. Radaelli, A. Rowlerson, Tissue and Cell, 38(6):399-415, 2006. “In Vitro-Cultured Meat Production,” P. D. Edelman, D. C. McFarland, V. A. Mironov, J. G. Matheny, Tissue Engineering, 11(5/6):659-662, 2005. “In vitro Edible Muscle Protein Production System (MPPS): Stage 1, Fish,” M. A. Benjaminson, J. A. Gilchriest, M. Lorenz, Acta Astronautica, 51(12):879-889, 2002. “Industrial Scale Production of Meat from in vitro Cell Cultures,” W. F. Van Eelen, W. J. Van Kooten, W. Westerhof, Patent Number WO9931222, European Patent Office, 1999.

[price of coal in 2008]
In the United States as of May 2008, Central Appalachian coal, a benchmark grade, was around $90 a short ton (2,000 pounds). Most of coal’s cost isn’t mining it, it’s transporting it. “Coal News and Markets,” May 12, 2008, Energy Information Administration, United States Department of Energy. Also, that price has stayed roughly stable since at least 1973. Monthly Energy Review, March 2013, Table 9-9, Energy Information Administration, United States Department of Energy.
[long pork? (human meat)]
From an idea in the science-fiction novel: Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand, Samuel R. Delany, Bantam Books, 1984.
[Southern Africa’s resistance to engineered food because of European resistance since 2001]
“The relief effort became enmeshed in the quagmire surrounding agricultural biotechnology and genetically modified food, as the pro- and anti-GM lobbies each moved to out-flank the other to capture the moral high ground. [...] despite American claims to the contrary, US food aid to Southern Africa had little to do with the impending famine. Instead, the provision of assistance to Southern Africa was primarily intended to secure particular foreign policy objectives of the US government — in this case, promoting the cultivation of biotech crops, expanding market access and control of transnational agricultural corporations, and isolating Europe in the GMO debate.” From: “Feeding the famine? American food aid and the GMO debate in Southern Africa,” N. Zerbe, Food Policy, 29(6):593-608, 2004.

Andrew Natsios, the head of the US agency for international development (USAid), rejected the accusations and said that it was bound by Congress to offer food and not money.

“There is no way that any responsible country can deal with this drought with cash for work,” he said. “The food deficit in southern Africa is so big that there’s no way people can buy it on the local market. It has to come from outside.

“We offered non-GM foods but they all declined to accept it. We would have preferred to send non-GM wheat, or rice but they only wanted maize. We tried to source non-GM maize but the industry said they could not guarantee that it was GM-free.”

Mr Natsios denied that the US was profiting from the crisis. “They [the critics] may know about the environment, but they don’t know about famine relief,” he said. “Starving people do not plant seeds. They eat them. These groups are putting millions of lives at risk in a despicable way.”

But he was not supported by the latest UN figures on food availability in the region, which showed that 1,160,000 tonnes of cereals are available in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and South Africa. More than double that amount is available on the world market, according to the UN’s global information and early warning system.

“This shows that the alternative to rejecting GM food aid is not starvation,” Alice Wynne Wilson, of Actionaid, said. “Good practice in emergency aid is to provide cash support to the UN’s World Food Programme, so that it can buy grain from the most cost-effective sources.

“Bringing large volumes of food into a region that has areas of surplus can lead to a situation where there are food shortages in one part of a country, and locally produced food rotting in other parts.”

“US ‘dumping unsold GM food on Africa’ ”, The Guardian, October 7th, 2002.

[United States cotton subsidies versus aid to Africa]
“The scale of government support to America’s 25,000 cotton farmers is staggering [...]

[...] America’s cotton farmers receive:

•more in subsidies than the entire GDP of Burkina Faso — a country in which more than two million people depend on cotton production. Over half of these farmers live below the poverty line. Poverty levels among recipients of cotton subsidies in the US are zero.

•three times more in subsidies than the entire USAID budget for Africa’s 500 million people.”

Cultivating Poverty: The Impact of US Cotton Subsidies on Africa, Oxfam Briefing Paper #30, Oxfam, 2002, page 2.

As usual, the situation is more complicated than the simple version given in the text. Several poor nations, particularly in Africa, also gain economically because several rich nations, particularly in the European Union, in effect suppress food prices on the world market by subsidizing their own domestic production. “Liberalizing Agriculture,” A. Panagariya, Foreign Affairs, 84(7):56-66, 2005. (Much more on this in Chapter 5....)

[food cost as a percentage of income in 2003]
In the United States in 2002, it was 9.9 percent. Agriculture Fact Book 2001-2002, Office of Communications, United States Department of Agriculture, 2003. But in Eritrea: “The profile of most vulnerable households has remained similar to the previous year. Poverty is still rampant. A study undertaken in 2002/03 indicates that 66 percent of the population has incomes below the poverty line (and 37 percent below the extreme poverty line). On average 66 percent of household expenditure is spent on food in urban areas, and 71 percent in rural areas.” FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission to Eritrea, United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, 2005.
[ten percent rise in 2007 in Britain]
Future of Food, George Alagiah, BBC documentary, 2009.
[overweight rates in rich countries]
Note that data for Britain and the United States are based on actual measurements. In other rich countries, data is self-reported, which tends to yield much lower figures. The figures are for both the overweight and the obese. OECD Health Data, 2007, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2007. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2003-2004 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, United States Department of Health and Human Services, 2007.
[75 million more went hungry in 2008]
The State of Food Insecurity in the World, SOFI 2008, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 2008, page 6.
[obesity a result of more food not less exercise]
“Hunter-Gatherer Energetics and Human Obesity,” H. Pontzer, D. A. Raichlen, B. M. Wood, A. Z. P. Mabulla, S. B. Racette, F. W. Marlowe, PLoS ONE, 7(7):e40503, 2012. “Physically Active Lifestyle Does Not Decrease the Risk of Fattening,” K. R. Westerterp, G. Plasqui, PLoS ONE, 4(3):e4745, 2009. “Increased food energy supply is more than sufficient to explain the US epidemic of obesity,” B. Swinburn, G. Sacks, E. Ravussin, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 90(6):1453-1456, 2009. “Physical activity energy expenditure has not declined since the 1980s and matches energy expenditures of wild mammals,” K. R. Westerterp, J. R. Speakman, International Journal of Obesity, 32(11):1256-1263, 2008. However, see also: “Trends over 5 Decades in U.S. Occupation-Related Physical Activity and Their Associations with Obesity,” T. S. Church, D. M. Thomas, C. Tudor-Locke, P. T. Katzmarzyk, C. P. Earnest, R. Q. Rodarte, C. K. Martin, S. N. Blair, C. Bouchard, PLoS ONE, 6(5):e19657, 2011.
[about 60 percent of deaths are from hunger]
“On average, 62 million people die each year, of whom probably 36 million (58 per cent) directly or indirectly as a result of nutritional deficiencies, infections, epidemics or diseases which attack the body when its resistance and immunity have been weakened by undernourishment and hunger.” From: “The Right to Food,” Report E/CN.4/2001/53, The Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, 2001, page 5.
[ironmonger in Cornwall]
That’s Thomas Newcomen, who built the world’s first steam engine in 1712. (More about that in Chapter 2.)
[doctor in Florida and first refrigerator]
In May, 1844, John Gorrie in Apalachicola, Florida, built the first known working refrigerator as a way to combat ‘malarial dieases’ (he meant malaria and yellow fever). The Fever Man: A Biography of Dr. John Gorrie, V. M. Sherlock, private printing, 1982.

Previously, in 1805, Oliver Evans in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, had designed the first known refrigerator, but never built it. Then, in 1834, Jacob Perkins in England had applied for a patent for a similar device. In 1846, after Gorrie, Ferdinand P. E. Carre in France produced another cooling device. In 1850, James Harrison in Scotland built one, then moved to England and built successive models in 1856 and 1857, which were used to make parrafin wax and ice. In 1856, Alexander C. Twinning in America tried another design. In 1874, Raoul Pictet in Geneva, Switzerland, produced one and it was used to make ice for a skating rink, but was otherwise not commercially successful. Finally, in 1876, Carl von Linde produced the first reliable and efficient refrigerator. It was used to let German brewers brew beer all year round. None of those inventors were first thinking of food preservation. Further, all that development ignores all the earlier chemists, physicists, amateur scientists, and inventors, like Joseph Priestly, William Cullen, Michael Faraday, Louis Paul Cailletet, Jean Charles Athanase Peltier, Sadi Carnot, and Lord Kelvin, who first separated various gases, and made the earliest observations about evaporation and thermodynamics. It also ignores the century-long story of ice harvesting, which would require a book by itself. (And one has already been written, The Frozen Water Trade: How Ice from New England Lakes Kept the World Cool, Gavin Weightman, HarperCollins, 2001.)

Few of our present-day artifacts came about simply. Most of their problems were solved piecemeal and over long periods by many hands, mostly working independently.

[first cannery in Paris]
The cook’s name was Nicolas Appert (1750-1841). He invented his boiling process before 1809, over 53 years before Pasteur invented pasteurization. Connections, James Burke, Macmillan, 1978, pages 234-235. L’art de conserver, pendant plusieurs années toutes les substances animales et végétales, Nicolas Appert, Paris, 1810.
[first synthetic fertilizer from cheap diamonds, cheap aluminum, cheap gold]
The French chemist was Henri Moissan. In 1893 in Paris he was trying to make artificial diamonds. The Canadian inventor was Thomas Leopold Willson, then living in the tiny town of Spray in North Carolina (the town is now merged into the town of Eden). In 1892 he was trying to make cheap aluminum, then switched to trying to make cheap calcium. Each of them developed the acetylene process using the new electric-arc furnace on coal and lime (calcium carbonate). Moissan received the 1906 Nobel prize for his work. Willson’s factory was eventually bought out by the company that became Union Carbide. Their use of the electric-arc furnace resulted in a lot of calcium carbide and acetylene, whose chief use at the time became oxy-acetylene welding since the use they were thinking of, gaslighting, was preempted by another invention, but only after a lot of money went into acetylene. Gaslighting then became brighter and electricity became cheaper and lightbulbs were made less fragile.

Various chemists, faced with mountains of now nearly worthless calcium carbine in both Europe and the United States, then tried various things. In 1903, two German chemists in Hamburg, Nikodem Caro and Adolph Frank having tried from 1895 on, ran nitrogen over hot calcium carbide, accidentally producing calcium cyanamide, the world’s first artificial fertilizer. They did that not to produce fertilizer but to produce cyanides to help extract gold from its ores (which is sodium cyanide’s chief use today). They formed a company to do precisely that: the Deutsche Gold- und Silber-Scheideanstalt (German Gold and Silver Refinery, formerly Roessler), now called Degussa, AG. Another chemist, Fritz Rothe, soon joined them (he had developed much the same process at about the same time at Beringer Söhne in Charlottenburg, but his patent wasn’t completed by his employer, so he resigned and joined Caro and Frank’s firm instead). Together, the three determined that what they had created wasn’t the calcium cyanide they had thought, on the way to making the sodium cyanide they sought, but calcium cyanamide, which process they patented in 1898. A factory was then built in Frankfurt and its sodium cyanide output was used for gold extraction. But later, after the price of cyanide fell sharply (following a drop in mining after the Boer war), they switched to producing calcium cyanamide in bulk for farmers. Other factories followed, including a large one in Piano d’Orta, Abruzzo, east of Rome, in 1904. It was sited in Italy for hydroelectric power because the high heat in the electric furnace took a lot of energy. Two more plants followed, one in 1907 in Knapsack near Cologne, and another in 1908 near Trostberg in Bavaria.

Nitrogen Capture: The Growth of an International Industry (1900-1940), Anthony S. Travis, Springer, 2018, chapter 5, especially pages 69-75. Enriching the Earth: Fritz Haber, Carl Bosch, and the Transformation of World Food Production, Vaclav Smil, The MIT Press, 2001, pages 51-52. Connections, James Burke, Macmillan, 1978, pages 209-210. The Chemical Industry: 1900-1930, International Growth and Technological Change, Ludwig F. Haber, Clarendon Press, 1971. The Chemical Industry During the Nineteenth Century. A Study of the Economic Aspect of Applied Chemistry in Europe and North America, Ludwig F. Haber, Clarendon Press, 1958.

[the Haber-Bosch process]
In 1909, two more German chemists, Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch, developed a completely different, high-pressure way to make sodium nitrate, also a fertilizer (starting with catalytic conversion of nitrogen and hydrogen directly to ammonia in the presence of an osmium catalyst mesh in a high-temperature, high-pressure cylinder). (The gases were kept in liquid form thanks to earlier advances in refrigeration because of beer vaults, and that in turn helped make possible rockets, which needed liquid oxygen and hydrogen, not nitrogen and hydrogen, as fuel.) Haber first did it mostly to score off of another chemist Walther Nernst, who he envied and had fallen out with after Nernst publically doubted and scoffed at his 1905 ammonia results, at a 1907 chemical conference in Hanover. Being of Jewish ancestry (he was Lutheran) in Germany (or anywhere before Israel existed) didn’t help. But the Caro-Frank process initially nearly destroyed them commercially, since it was initially cheaper. Then, during World War I, Germany turned back to the Haber-Bosch process, but not to make fertilizers—to make explosives.

The Haber-Bosch process has its own involved backstory because fixing nitrogen and hydrogen to make ammonia also wasn’t easy, nor did it happen simply. By 1898, future food supplies were huge fears in Britain, Germany, the United States, and every other rapidly industrializing nation. Haber and Bosch’s 1909 process, started with a letter Haber sent BASF (Badische Anilin- & Soda-Fabrik, originally a dye manufacturing company since Germany had grown powerful that way) and yielded an abundant supply of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer (but at the cost of a lot of energy). And in 1918 Haber got the Nobel prize for it. Then, because it was so important, in 1931, Bosch got the Nobel for it, too (technically, he got it for commercializing the process since a lot of technology had to be invented to deal with such high pressures and temperatures). (And in 2007, Gerhard Ertl got the prize for discovering why the Haber-Bosch surface catalytic process worked.)

The Alchemy of Air: A Jewish Genius, a Doomed Tycoon, and the Scientific Discovery That Fed the World but Fueled the Rise of Hitler, Thomas Hager, Three Rivers Press, 2008, pages 3-11, and chapter 6 pages 65-76. Enriching the Earth: Fritz Haber, Carl Bosch, and the Transformation of World Food Production, Vaclav Smil, The MIT Press, 2001. Catalytic Ammonia Synthesis: Fundamentals and Practice, J. R. Jennings (editor), Springer, 1991.

Degussa, AG, went on to be an integral part of Germany’s chemical industry during the first world war, and on into the second world war. Fritz Haber is implicated in both the production and deployment of the first poison gas (chlorine) used at Ypres in 1915 during the first war (not the only such gas used by either side, just the first), after which his wife, Clara, also a chemist, committed suicide. He’s also implicated, indirectly, via his company, under Bruno Tesch, and his aide, Karl Weinbacher, as well as Gerhard Peters, in the production of Zyklon-B, the pesticide used by the Nazis to gas over a million people. Degussa was not the only such firm. How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States, Daniel Immerwahr, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2019, chapter 3. The Alchemy of Air: A Jewish Genius, a Doomed Tycoon, and the Scientific Discovery That Fed the World but Fueled the Rise of Hitler, Thomas Hager, Three Rivers Press, 2008. From Cooperation to Complicity: Degussa in the Third Reich, Peter Hayes, Cambridge University Press, 2004, pages 273-274, 284-285, 297.

[history isn’t linear]
History is nothing like a linear process. It seems more like a pinball game. Connections, James Burke, Macmillan, 1978, page 288.
[food 1898]
That non-linearity, and subsequent unpredictability, might seem like a terrible thing, but it has already meant several wild swings away from what at the time seemed certain doom. For instance, by 1900, a few scientists in Britain, Germany, the United States, and elsewhere in the rapidly industrializing world, could see that by the 1930s, if not before, their world would surely end. With numbers exploding, and with manure, guano, and saltpeter supplies limited, there couldn’t possibly be enough food to go around. Hundreds of millions would surely die in the next few decades. The worry didn’t spread far until World War I, but it started in 1898, when William Crookes, a famous scientist, gave a bombshell speech.

He said that: “It is the chemist who must come to the rescue of the threatened communities. It is through the laboratory that starvation may ultimately be turned into plenty.” By 1909, chemists started doing just that. They found a way to make ‘chemical manure’ out of thin air. However, it was the war that brought that process online. But not for food—for weapons; because if we can make manure, we can also make explosives, and we care far more about that. War has a way of focusing our attention.

In his speech, William Crookes stated that: “My chief subject is of interest to the whole world—to every race—to every human being. It is of urgent importance to-day, and it is a life and death question for generations to come. I mean the question of food supply. Many of my statements you may think are of the alarmist order; certainly they are depressing, but they are founded on stubborn facts. They show that England and all civilised nations stand in deadly peril of not having enough to eat. As mouths multiply, food resources dwindle. Land is a limited quantity, and the land that will grow wheat is absolutely dependent on difficult and capricious natural phenomena. I am constrained to show that our wheat-producing soil is totally unequal to the strain put upon it. After wearying you with a survey of the universal dearth to be expected, I hope to point a way out of the colossal dilemma. It is the chemist who must come to the rescue of the threatened communities. It is through the laboratory that starvation may ultimately be turned into plenty.” The Wheat Problem: Based on Remarks Made in the Presidential Address to the British Association at Bristol in 1898, Revised, With an Answer to Various Critics, With Chapters on the Future Wheat Supply of the United States, By Mr. C. Wood Davis, or Peotone, Kansas, and the Hon. John Hyde, Chief Statistician in the Department of Agriculture, Washington, William Crookes, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1900, pages 6-7.

But the edition that really caused a stir was the one that came out during World War I, when food blockade of Britain was a serious worry, and it was to be used the next year as a weapon (against Germany). The Wheat Problem: Based on Remarks Made in the Presidential Address to the British Association at Bristol in 1898, Revised, With an Answer to Various Critics, With Preface and Additional Chapter Bringing the Statistical Information up to date, and a Chapter on Future Wheat Supplies by Sir R. Henry Rew With an Introduction by Lord Rhondda, William Crookes, Longmans, Green, and Co., Third Edition, 1917. See also: William Crookes (1832-1919) and the Commercialization of Science, William H. Brock, Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2008, Chapter 20. “The Social and Political Consequences of the Allied Food Blockade of Germany, 1918-19,” N. P. Howard, German History, 11(2):161-88, 1993. The Wheat Problem, by William Crookes, Review by C. F. Emerick, Political Science Quarterly, 15(2):343-344, 1900. “America and the Wheat Problem,” J. Hyde, The North American Review, 168(507):191-205, 1899.

Guano is the Spanish name for bird waste. (It may be a mixture of excrement and urine, since many land birds, galliforms, lack a urethra, and thus can’t urinate, or, in the case of seabirds or waterfowl, anseriforms, may be just excrement, but for those birds living on high-protein fish, like anchovies or sardines Note: almost all male birds also lack a penis, exceptions are waterfowl, like ducks and geese). It also applies to bat excrement. At the time, it, and saltpeter (sodium or potassium nitrate), mined mostly in South America (Chile, Peru, Bolivia) became the world supply for fertilizer as populations in industrializing nations exploded. How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States, Daniel Immerwahr, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2019, chapter 3. “Guano: The global metabolic rift and the fertilizer trade,” B. Clark, J. B. Foster, Ecology and power: Struggles over Land and Material Resources in the Past, Present and Future, Alf Hornborg, Brett Clark, and Kenneth Hermele (editors), Routledge, 2013, pages 68-82. Guano and the Opening of the Pacific world: A Global Ecological History, Gregory T. Cushman, Cambridge University Press, 2013.
[tweaking organisms — synthetic biology]
We’re now in the early stages of synthetic biology. We’ve engineered Escherichia coli bacteria to use an artificial amino acid, to build artificial proteins that it can use to sniff out TNT, serotonin, and lactate, to build anti-malaria and anti-cancer drugs, to build itself a simple biological clock, to build itself a simple memory (a toggle switch), and to build itself simple digital circuits. We’ve also built microbes and viruses from scratch, and have created artificial DNA with six base pairs instead of four. “Synthetic biology 2020-2030: six commercially-available products that are changing our world,” C. A. Voigt, Nature Communications 11(1):6379, 2020. “Creation of a Bacterial Cell Controlled by a Chemically Synthesized Genome,” D. G. Gibson, J. I. Glass, C. Lartigue, V. N. Noskov, R.-Y. Chuang, M. A. Algire, G. A. Benders, M. G. Montague, L. Ma, M. M. Moodie, C. Merryman, S. Vashee, R. Krishnakumar, N. Assad-Garcia, C. Andrews-Pfannkoch, E. A. Denisova, L. Young, Z.-Q. Qi, T. H. Segall-Shapiro, C. H. Calvey, P. P. Parmar, C. A. Hutchison III, H. O. Smith, J. C. Venter, Science, 329(5987):52-56, 2010. “Teaching bacteria a new language,” Y. Gerchman, R. Weiss, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 101(8):2221-2222, 2004. “Microbes Made to Order,” D. Ferber, Science, 303(5655):158-161, 2004. “Programmable cells: Interfacing natural and engineered gene networks,” H. Kobayashi, M. Kærn, M. Araki, K. Chung, T. S. Gardner, C. R. Cantor, J. J. Collins, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 101(22):8414-8419, 2004. “Development of Genetic Circuitry Exhibiting Toggle Switch or Oscillatory Behavior in Escherichia coli,” M. R. Atkinson, M. A. Savageau, J. T. Myers, A. J. Ninfa, Cell, 113(5):597-607, 2003. “Generating a synthetic genome by whole genome assembly: φX174 bacteriophage from synthetic oligonucleotides,” H. O. Smith, C. A. Hutchison, III, C. Pfannkoch, J. C. Venter, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 100(26):15440-15445, 2003.

It all started with this statement:

“Now we are working on the descriptive phase of molecular biology, but the real challenge will start when we enter the synthetic phase.

We will then devise new control elements. And add these new modules to the existing genome, or build up wholly new genomes.”

From: “In-vivo and In-vitro Initiation of Transcription,” W. Szybalski, in Control of Gene Expression, Alexander Kohn and Adam Shatkay (editors), Proceedings of the 18th ‘Oholo’ Biological Conference on Strategies for the Control of Gene Expression, Zikhron Ya’aqov, Israel, 1973, Plenum Press, 1974, pages 23-24,

[building our own life-forms from scratch]
“Creation of a Bacterial Cell Controlled by a Chemically Synthesized Genome,” D. G. Gibson, J. I. Glass, C. Lartigue, V. N. Noskov, R.-Y. Chuang, M. A. Algire, G. A. Benders, M. G. Montague, L. Ma, M. M. Moodie, C. Merryman, S. Vashee, R. Krishnakumar, N. Assad-Garcia, C. Andrews-Pfannkoch, E. A. Denisova, L. Young, Z.-Q. Qi, T. H. Segall-Shapiro, C. H. Calvey, P. P. Parmar, C. A. Hutchison III, H. O. Smith, J. C. Venter, Science, 329(5987):52-56, 2010. “Template-directed synthesis of a genetic polymer in a model protocell,” S. S. Mansy, J. P. Schrum, M. Krishnamurthy, S. Tobé, D. A. Treco, J. W. Szostak, Nature, 454(7200):122-125, 2008. “Complete Chemical Synthesis, Assembly, and Cloning of a Mycoplasma genitalium Genome,” D. G. Gibson, G. A. Benders, C. Andrews-Pfannkoch, E. A. Denisova, H. Baden-Tillson, J. Zaveri, T. B. Stockwell, A. Brownley, D. W. Thomas, M. A. Algire, C. Merryman, L. Young, V. N. Noskov, J. I. Glass, C. J. Venter, C. A. Hutchison, III, H. O. Smith, Science, 319(5867):1215-1220, 2008. “Genome Transplantation in Bacteria: Changing One Species to Another,” C. Lartigue, J. I. Glass, N. Alperovich, R. Pieper, P. P. Parmar, C. A. Hutchison, III, H. O. Smith, J. C. Venter, Science, 317(5838):632-638, 2007. “Approaches to semi-synthetic minimal cells: a review,” P. L. Luisi, F. Ferri, P. Stano, Naturwissenschaften, 93(1):1-13, 2006. “Essential genes of a minimal bacterium,” J. I. Glass, N. Assad-Garcia, N. Alperovich, S. Yooseph, M. R. Lewis, M. Maruf, C. A. Hutchison, III, H. O. Smith, J. C. Venter, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 103(2):425-430, 2006. “Alive! The race to create life from scratch,” B. Holmes, New Scientist, 2486:28, 2005. “Transitions from Nonliving to Living Matter,” S. Rasmussen, L. Chen, D. Deamer, D. C. Krakauer, N. H. Packard, P. F. Stadler, M. A. Bedau, Science, 303(5660):963-965, 2004.
[microbe that eats plastics]
A designed one doesn’t exist yet, but mommy Nature is busy build one. “Biodegradation of mixture of plastic films by tailored marine consortia,” E. Syranidou, K. Karkanorachaki, F. Amorotti, A. Avgeropoulos, B. Kolvenbach, N.-Y. Zhou, F. Fava, P. Corvini, N. Kalogerakis, Journal of Hazardous Materials, 375():33-42, 2019.
[microbe that squirts diesel oil]
“Microbial Biosynthesis of Alkanes,” A. Schirmer, M. A. Rude, X. Li, E. Popova, S. B. del Cardayre, Science, 329(5991):559-562, 2010.
[microbe with corporate logo]
This isn’t a fully synethetic microbe, but a stripped-down form of a pre-existing one. “Minimal bacterial genome,” The J. Craig Venter Institute, United States Patent 20070122826, issued May 31st, 2007.
[world population, 1970, 2018]
3.7 billion versus 7.63 billion
[empty food before nutritious food]
In rich countries we’re indeed likely to one day build food machines—but they may make mountains of expensive, empty food—fat-free, sugar-free, calorie-free—long before they make cheap, nutritious food. For example, low-calorie sugar. The average American eats the equivalent of 20 teaspoons of sugar a day, and 144 million American adults regularly consume low-calorie, sugar-free products such as artificially sweetened sodas and desserts. “Sugar Substitutes: Americans Opt for Sweetness and Lite,” J. Henkel, FDA Consumer Magazine, November-December, United States Food and Drug Administration, 1999.
[over half of us were urban in 2010 (2018, 2010 figures)]
World Urbanization Prospects: The 2018 Revision, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, 2018. TABLE I.6., page 21.

“By the middle of 2009, the number of people living in urban areas (3.42 billion) had surpassed the number living in rural areas (3.41 billion) and since then the world has become more urban than rural. However, major disparities in the level of urbanization remain among development groups. Thus, whereas the proportion urban in the more developed regions was already nearly 53 per cent in 1950, it will still take another decade for half of the population of the less developed regions to live in urban areas.

The world urban population is expected to increase by 84 per cent by 2050, from 3.4 billion in 2009 to 6.3 billion in 2050. By mid-century the world urban population will likely be the same size as the world’s total population was in 2004. Virtually all of the expected growth in the world population will be concentrated in the urban areas of the less developed regions, whose population is projected to increase from 2.5 billion in 2009 to 5.2 billion in 2050. Over the same period, the rural population of the less developed regions is expected to decline from 3.4 billion to 2.9 billion. In the more developed regions, the urban population is projected to increase modestly, from 0.9 billion in 2009 to 1.1 billion in 2050.”

World Urbanization Prospects: The 2009 Revision, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, 2010, pages 2-4.

[world population in 2050 may be 9 thousand million]
That’s the median extrapolation as of 2004. World Population Prospects: The 2004 Revision, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2004. However, by 2011, the estimate had risen to 9.3 thousand million by 2050. State of World Population 2011: People and Possibilities in a World of 7 Billion, United Nations Population Fund, 2011, page 4. World Population Prospects: The 2010 Revision, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2011.
[per-person kilocalories in Eritrea and India in 1998 versus France and Britain earlier]
In 1998 Eritrea had 1,744 kilocalories per person. India in 1998 had 2,466 kilocalories per person. United Nations Statistical Yearbook, 2001. The figures for France in 1705 and Britain in 1850 were 1,657 and 2,362, respectively. The Escape from Hunger and Premature Death, 1700-2100: Europe, America, and the Third World, Robert William Fogel, Cambridge University Press, 2004, page 9. Eritrea has the highest percentage of population suffering from undernourishment in the world. The State of Food Insecurity in the World, SOFI 2004, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 2004.

The text’s description of the French diet circa 1705 is actually from 1777, but it had remained mostly constant for centuries. “Our Frenchmen eat soup with a little butter and vegetables. They scarcely ever eat meat. They sometimes drink a little cider but more commonly water. Your Englishmen eat meat, and a great deal of it, and they drink beer continually in such a fashion that an Englishman spends three times more than a Frenchman [on comestibles].” Delaunay Deslandes, 1777. See: “Continental influences on the industrial revolution in Great Britain,” A. E. Musson, in: Great Britain and Her World, 1750-1914: Essays in Honour of W. O. Henderson, Barrie M. Ratcliffe (editor), Manchester University Press, 1977, page 67, footnote 42.

[current agriculture and consumption not sustainable]
“The food system is a major driver of climate change, changes in land use, depletion of freshwater resources, and pollution of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems through excessive nitrogen and phosphorus inputs. Here we show that between 2010 and 2050, as a result of expected changes in population and income levels, the environmental effects of the food system could increase by 50-90% in the absence of technological changes and dedicated mitigation measures, reaching levels that are beyond the planetary boundaries that define a safe operating space for humanity. We analyse several options for reducing the environmental effects of the food system, including dietary changes towards healthier, more plant-based diets, improvements in technologies and management, and reductions in food loss and waste. We find that no single measure is enough to keep these effects within all planetary boundaries simultaneously, and that a synergistic combination of measures will be needed to sufficiently mitigate the projected increase in environmental pressures.” From: “Options for keeping the food system within environmental limits,” M. Springmann, M. Clark, D. Mason-D’Croz, K. Wiebe, B. L. Bodirsky, L. Lassaletta, W. de Vries, S. J. Vermeulen, M. Herrero, K. M. Carlson, M. Jonell, M. Troell, F. DeClerck, L. J. Gordon, R. Zurayk, P. Scarborough, M. Rayner, B. Loken, J. Fanzo, H. C. J. Godfray, D. Tilman, J. Rockström, W. Willett, Nature, 562(7728):519-525, 2018.
[food gains from 1970 to 1997]
Figures derived from the speech, “Prospects for Food Security in the 21st Century,” given on April 17th, 1997, by Alex F. McCalla, the then Director of the Agriculture and Natural Resources Department of the World Bank. The Future of World Food series, Illinois World Food and Sustainable Agriculture Program, University of Illiois, Urbana-Champaign.
[proportion starving in 1970 versus 2008]
The chronic hunger figure for 1970, that is, 25 percent of us, meant 940 million people at the time. In 2008, the number hit 963 million, compared to 923 million in 2007. The majority live in only seven countries: India, China, the Congo, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Ethiopia. In 2010-2012, almost 870 million were malnourished, which was one in eight of us. That dropped to 805 million in 2012-2014 (about one in nine of us). The State of Food Insecurity in the World, SOFI 2014, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 2014, page 8. The State of Food Insecurity in the World, SOFI 2012, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 2012, page 8. The State of Food Insecurity in the World, SOFI 2008, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 2008.

Chapter 2. Rebooting Reality: Labor

[Faulkner quote]
Requiem for a Nun, Act I, Scene III.

Network Reactions

[“still a shadow”]
“But before the experiment with the wheel-engine could be tried at Soho, the financial ruin of Dr. Roebuck [who had invested £3,000 in Watt’s machine] brought matters to a crisis. He was now in the hands of his creditors, who found his affairs in inextricable confusion. He owed some £1,200 to Boulton, who, rather than claim against the estate, offered to take Roebuck’s two-thirds share in the engine patent in lieu of the debt. The creditors did not value the engine patent as worth one farthing, and were but too glad to agree to the proposal. As Watt himself said, it was only ‘paying one bad debt with another.’ Boulton wrote to Watt requesting him to act as his attorney in the matter. He confessed that he was by no means sanguine as to the success of the engine, but, being an assayer, he was willing ‘to assay it and try how much gold it contains.’ ‘The thing,’ he added, ‘is now a shadow; ’tis merely ideal, and will cost time and money to realise it. We have made no experiment yet that answers my purpose, and the times are so horrible throughout the mercantile part of Europe, that I have not had my thoughts sufficiently disengaged to think further of new schemes.’ [...]

[In May, 1774] Watt had now been occupied for about nine years in working out the details of his invention. Five of these had passed since he had taken out his patent, and he was still struggling with difficulty. Several thousand pounds had been expended on the engine, besides much study, labour, and ingenuity; yet it was still, as Boulton expressed it, ‘a shadow, as regarded its practical utility and value.’ So long as Watt’s connexion with Roebuck continued, there was indeed very little chance of getting it introduced to public notice. What it was yet to become as a working power, depended in no small degree upon the business ability, the strength of purpose, and the length of purse, of his new partner.”

Lives of Boulton and Watt: Principally from the Original Soho Mss., Comprising also: A History of the Invention and Introduction of the Steam-Engine, Samuel Smiles, John Murray, 1865, pages 196-199.

[Jamie’s fire-engine]
To his friends and family, Watt was known familiarly as ‘Jamie.’ Also, at the time, what we today call ‘steam engines’ were called ‘fire engines.’

Watt’s patent for “[A] new Method of Lessening the Consumption of Steam and Fuel in Fire Engines,” was granted on January 5th, 1769, but Watt only enrolled its description at the High Court of Chancery on April 29th, 1769. It was patent number 913.

Watt first worked with John Roebuck in Scotland, then Matthew Boulton in England.

[1772-1773 Scottish banking crisis]
James Watt’s investor at the time was John Roebuck, who ran the Carron iron works, one of the hardest hit by the banking crisis, in which 15 private bankers in Edinburgh failed.

At the time, Adam Smith was working on what would become his Wealth of Nations. On June 27th, 1772, David Hume wrote to Smith: “We are here in a very melancholy Situation: Continual Bankruptcies, universal Loss of Credit, and endless Suspicions. There are but two standing Houses in this Place, Mansfield’s & the Couttses: For I comprehend not Cummin, whose dealins are always very narrow. Mansfield has pay’d away 40,000 pounds in a few days; but it is apprehended, that neither he nor any of them can hold out till the End of next Week, if no Alteration happen. The Case is little better in London. It is thought, that Sir George Colebroke must soon stop; and even the Bank of England is not entirely free from Suspicion. Those of Newcastle, Norwich, and Bristol are said to be stopp’d: The Thistle Bank has been reported to be in the same Condition: The Carron Company is reeling, which is one of the greatest Calamities of the whole; as they gave Employment to near 10,000 people. Do these Events any-wise affect your Theory? Or will it occasion the Revisal of any Chapters?” The Letters of David Hume, Volume II, 1766-1776, J. Y. T. Greig (editor), Oxford University Press, 1932, page 263.

See also: “Upon Daedalian wings of paper money: Adam Smith and the crisis of 1772,” H. Rockoff, Working Paper 15594, National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), 2009. Bank of Scotland: A History, 1695-1995, Richard Saville, Edinburgh University Press, 1996, page 162. “Crises of 1763 and 1772-1773,” E. S. Schubert, in: Business Cycles and Depressions, an Encyclopedia, David Glaser (editor), Garland Publishing, Inc., 1997. Scottish Banking: A History, 1695-1973, S. G. Checkland, Collins, 1975, page 237. “Scotland’s Balance of Payments Problem in 1762,” H. Hamilton, The Economic History Review, New Series, 5(3):344-357, 1953.

[colonists ... ]
By 1773, colonists in British America weren’t angry about the tax on tea—Britain had lowered it to below that of smuggled Dutch tea—they were upset about a variety of things to do with power and competition when seven East India Company ships carrying tea took sail heading for the British colonies. The ship heading for New York was delayed by bad weather, then sent back; the two heading for Philadelphia and Charleston were each impounded and sent back; one of the four ships heading for Boston shipwrecked on Cape Cop; only three of the four ships heading for Boston landed successfully. Some of the protest was motivated by the Boston smugglers of Dutch tea. Others were concerned about the monopoly power of the East India Company. Discussion raged over layalty to Britain, or rather, britain’s parliament, versus representation over control. 1774: The Long Year of Revolution, Mary Beth Norton, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2020.
[an offer from Russia]
Watt had several offers from Russia, starting in April 1771, when he was invited to become “Master Founder of Iron Ordnance to her Imperial Majesty.” In 1773, his friend John Robison tried again. In 1775, the offer was for £1,000, and was for Watt a princely sum. France, too, tried to entice him away from Britain (in 1787-88), as did the Netherlands, the Austrian Empire, and Spain. Competing engine makers in Britain also tried to bribe away his workers. They also tried to place apprentices there to learn what they could. In at least one case, they also bribed workers to sabotage the works. The Lunar Men: A Story of Science, Art, Invention and Passion, Jenny Uglow, Faber & Faber, 2002, page 251. By the Banks of the Neva: Chapters from the Lives and Careers of the British in Eighteenth-century Russia, Anthony Cross, Cambridge University Press, 1997, especially page 258. Partners in Science: Letters of James Watt and Joseph Black, Eric Robinson and Douglas McKie (editors), Harvard University Press, 1969, page 24. See also James Watt and the Steam Engine, H. W. Dickinson and Rhys Jenkins, Oxford University Press, 1927, page 35.
[many eyes would light up...]
One book from 1824 puts it this way: “To take away to-day from England her steam-engines would be to take away at the same time her coal and iron. It would be to dry up all her sources of wealth, to ruin all on which her prosperity depends, in short, to annihilate that colossal power. The destruction of her navy, which she considers her strongest defense, would perhaps be less fatal.” Reflections on the Motive Power of Heat, From the Original French of N.-L.-S Carnot, Graduate of the Polytechnic School, Accompanied By An Account of Carnot’s Theory by Sir William Thomson (Lord Kelvin), Sadi Carnot, translated and edited by R. H. Thurston, 1824, John Wiley & Sons, Second Revised Edition, 1897, page 40.

A book from 1840 sums it up this way: “That the history of invention of mechanism, and the description of its structure, operation, and uses, should be capable of being rendered the subject matter of a volume, destined not alone for the instruction of engineers or machinists, but for the information and amusement of the public in general, is a statement which at no very remote period would have been deemed extravagant and incredible.

Advanced as we are in the art of rendering knowledge popular, and cultivated as the public taste is in the appreciation of the expedients by which science ministers to the uses of life, there is still perhaps but one machine which such a proposition can be truly appreciated: it is needless to say that that machine is the STEAM ENGINE.” The Steam Engine Explained and Illustrated: With an Account of Its Invention and Progressive Improvement, and Its Application to Navigation and Railways; Including Also a Memoir of Watt, Dionysius Lardner, Taylor and Walton, 1840, pages 3-4.

The author goes on to expound at length, and start into what would become the hagiography of Watt, who was by then dead, but mainly though, in hindsight it seems clear that the reason for all the excitment was not how the steam engine worked, or what physical principles it depended on to work, but what the steam engine did—namely, by that point, mass audiences cared about it because it affected masses of people in factories and on railways and elsewhere. The same was true (and is still true) of computers from the 1980s and beyond. Interest in them will wane for the same reason that interest waned in steam engines.

[Ivan Polzunov’s steam engine]
His machine was a double-cylinder rotary atmospheric steam engine built to work in low water conditions. He built it with the aid of dozens of hired, largely illiterate helpers from nearby towns for the Kolyvano-Voskresensky mines, in Barnaul, in the foothills of the Altai Mountains in southwestern Siberia. He died May 16th, 1766. His machine was first tested on May 23rd, then was built out enough to support four bellows pairs feeding three furnaces. It ran from August 7th to November 10th, then its boiler, made of thin copper sheets riveted together, sprang a leak, and the engine stopped working. (Polzunov had intended the thin sheets only for a test boiler.) It was abandoned for a decade, then dismantled in 1782 and forgotten. Russia then went back to waterwheels and forced labor for its minework. It was rediscovered in 1882 when A. N. Voyeykov accidentally stumbled over his papers in Barnual.

Сыны Алтая и Отечества. Ч.2: Механикус Иван Ползунов: Жизнь и творчество выдающегося теплоэнергетика XVIII в., Н. Я. Савельев. Алтайское книжное издательство, 1988. [transliterated: Syny Altaya i Otechestva. Part 2: Mekhanikus Ivan Polzunov: Zhizn’ i tvorchestvo vydayushchegosya teploenergetika XVIII veka, N. YA. Savel’yev. Altayskoye knizhnoye izdatel’stvo, 1988.] [The Sons of the Altai and Motherland: Part II: Mechanicus Ivan Polzunov: The Life and Creative Work of an Outstanding Thermal Power Engineering Specialist of the 18th Century, N. Ya. Savelyev, The Altai Publishing House, Reprint Edition, 1988.]

For English references, see: The History of the Machine, Sigvard Strandh, translated by Ann Henning, Dorset Press, 1989, pages 118-120. The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, A. M. Prokhorov (editor), Macmillan, 1973-1983. The Origins of Feedback Control, Otto Mayr, The MIT Press, 1970, pages 77-78. “The History of Technology in Soviet Russia and Marxist Doctrine,” D. Joravsky, Technology and Culture, 2(1):5-10, 1961.

Also, in the 1740s, a generation before Watt and Polzunov, something similar happened to Joseph Karl Hell (Jozef Karol Hell, or Höll, 1713-1789) compared to John Smeaton. Hell, in Slovakia, was mostly alone and industrial infrastructure was lacking there, while Smeaton, in England, laid foundations that Watt was to later build on. The Maze of Ingenuity: Ideas and Idealism in the Development of Technology, Arnold Pacey, The MIT Press, Second Edition, 1992, pages 152-156.

[the Saint Petersburg fountains]
The steam engine powering the tsar’s fountains were built in 1717-1718 by the French-born English engineer John Desaguliers. (Who, incidentally, had been Isaac Newton’s assistant in his secret alchemical researches.) It was the first steam engine Britain ever exported. The tsar at the time, Peter I, had wanted something to compare with Louis XIV’s fountains at Versailles. He’d built his Summer Garden on the Dvortsovaya Embankment in Saint Petersburg (which he’d founded in May, 1703, in a marshy area he took from Sweden after a war).
[silver output decreasing]
By 1758, the year of Polzunov’s first trip to Saint Petersburg, the Barnaul seams were depleting. As recently as 1751 they had produced about 13,000 pounds of silver, but by 1760 they would be down to about 9,600 pounds. Catherine the Great, Russia’s empress after 1761, promised Polzunov 400 rubles to build his machine. (After his promotion, November 19th, 1763, his yearly salary was then 240 rubles.)
[Russian versus Scottish serfs and feudalism]
In Russia, about the only thing a lord couldn’t do to his serfs was kill them outright (although many still died from the lash). Russian serfs were emancipated only in 1861. Even down to the time of Tolstoy (1828-1910) Russian peasants were still basically serfs.

Not that miners in Scotland were all that better off. For example, the first colliery in Scotland that the Newcomen steam engine was sold to in 1720 was in Elphinstone (in Stirlingshire). A ‘colliery’ is a coal mine where mining is done by ‘colliers’ (coal miners) who, from 1606 until 1800, were serfs bound not to land but to coal mines. While a laird couldn’t be as brutal to a collier as a lord could be to a serf in Russia, a bound collier was a piece of property. He or she couldn’t be sold individually, but in valuing the mine, he and his family were ranked with any other article attached to the mine. Colliers could move, but once bound to a pit, they couldn’t move, and if they tried, they could be brought back and punished. Colliers were expressly excluded from the Habeas Corpus Act of 1701. Collier status was so low that other workers would refuse to marry a collier’s daughter, and a criminal might sometimes be condemned to life as a collier. These bonds were loosened only in 1775, and removed entirely only in 1800, and only because that was the only way that mine owners could entice others to come work the mines to meet rising demand for coal. And women and young children were barred from being colliers, whether in Scotland or Wales or England, only after 1842. The Coal Industry of the Eighteenth Century, T. S. Ashton and J. Sykes, Manchester University Press, 1929, Chapter 5.

[“nothing more foolish than inventing”]
“By this time [1769] Roebuck was becoming embarrassed with debt, and involved in various difficulties. The pits were drowned with water, which no existing machinery could pump out, and ruin threatened to over take him before Watt’s engine could come to his help. He had sunk in the coal-mine, not only his own fortune, but much of the property of his relatives; and he was so straitened for money that he was unable to defray the cost of taking out the engine patent according to the terms of his engagement, and Watt had accordingly to borrow the necessary money from his never-failing friend, Dr. Black. He was thus adding to his own debts, without any clearer prospect before him of ultimate relief. No wonder that he should, after his apparently fruitless labour, express to Small his belief that, ‘of all things in life, there is nothing more foolinsh than inventing.’ The unhappy state of his mind may be further inferred from his lamentation expressed to the same friend on the 31st of January, 1770. ‘To day,’ said he, ‘I enter the thirty-fifth year of my life, and I think I have hardly yet done thirty-five pence worth of good in the world; but I cannot help it.” Lives of Boulton and Watt: Principally from the Original Soho Mss., Comprising also: A History of the Invention and Introduction of the Steam-Engine, Samuel Smiles, John Murray, 1865, pages 150-151.

[James Watt’s first commercial engine]
Was for Bloomfield Colliery near Tipton, which at the time was 14 miles (22.5 kilometers) away from Birmingham, in Staffordshire. An Early Experiment in Industrial Organisation: Being a History of the Firm of Boulton and Watt, 1775-1805, Eric Roll, Longmans, 1930, pages 27-29.
[the parable of the sower]
“Behold, a sower went forth to sow; And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up: Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them: But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.”

The Bible, The King James Version, Matthew 13:3-8.

[James Watt and physics — Joseph Black]
Joseph Black, mentor, teacher, investor, and friend, of Watt’s, was a chemistry professor who had worked out latent and specific heat. But why? Was it sheer genius or immense hard work? Maybe. But his discovery came when trying to reduce the fuel needs of local whiskey distillers.

Watt and Black were connected in several ways. Watt was an employee at Glasgow university while Black was a professor there. Black funded Watt’s first venture (and was later bought out by Roebuck). Black helped Watt with experiments. And Black explained latent heat to Watt when Watt stumbled upon one of its aspects in his own experiments while trying to improve a model of Newcomen’s machine as part of his job for the university.

In 1769, when Watt was 33, before he built a functioning machine and two years before he even got his first patent, and when Black was still alive, he had this to say, in some notes titled ‘A Plain Story’:

“A boiler was constructed which showed, by inspection, the quantity of water evaporated in any given time, and thereby ascertained the quantity of steam used in every stroke by the engine, which I found to be several times the full of the cylinder. Astonished at the quantity of water required for the injection, and the great heat it had acquired from the small quantity of water in the form of steam which had been used in filling the cylinder, and thinking I had made some mistake, the following experiment was tried :— A glass tube was bent at right angles; one end was inserted horizontally into the spout of a tea-kettle, and the other part was immersed perpendicularly in well-water contained in a cylindric glass vessel, and steam was made to pass through it until it ceased to be condensed, and the water in the glass vessel was become nearly boiling hot. The water in the glass vessel was then found to have gained an addition of about one-sixth part from the condensed steam. Consequently, water converted into steam can heat about six times its own weight of well-water to 212°, or till it can condense no more steam. Being struck with this remarkable fact, and not understanding the reason of it, I mentioned it to my friend Dr. Black, who then explained to me his doctrine of latent heat, which he had taught for some time before this period (summer 1764); but having myself been occupied with the pursuits of business, if I had heard of it I had not attended to it, when I thus stumbled upon one of the material facts by which that beautiful theory is supported.” The Life of James Watt: With Selections from His Correspondence, James Patrick Muirhead, John Murray, 1858, pages 78-79.

However, in 1814, when he was 78, highly successful and very well established, and when Black was dead, he had this to say in a letter:

“Here it was my intention to have closed this letter, but the representations of friends whose opinions I highly value, induce me to avail myself of this opportunity of noticing an error into which not only Dr. Robison, but apparently also Dr. Black, has fallen, in relation to the origin of my improvements upon the steam-engine; and which, not having been publicly controverted by me, has, I am informed, been adopted by almost every subsequent writer upon the subject of Latent Heat.

Dr. Robison, in the article ‘Steam-engine,’ after passing an encomium upon me, dictated by the partiality of friendship, qualifies me as the ‘pupil and intimate friend of Dr. Black;’ a description which not being there accompanied with any inference, did not particularly strike me at the time of its first perusal. He afterwards, in the dedication to me of his edition of Dr. Black’s ‘Lectures upon Chemistry,’ goes the length of supposing me to have professed to owe my improvements upon the steam-engine to the instructions and information I had received from that gentleman, which certainly was a misapprehension; as, although I have always felt and acknowledged my obligations to him for the information I had received from his conversation, and particularly for the knowledge of the doctrine of latent heat, I never did nor could consider my improvements as originating in those communications.”

Watt’s hagiographers were pleased to trot out that particular paragraph by the 1840s, when he was long dead, the steam engine was hugely important, and his hagiography began in earnest, but somehow loath to print the coda to it in the very same letter:

“Although Dr. Black’s theory of latent heat did not suggest my improvements on the steam-engine, yet the knowledge, upon various subjects, which he was pleased to communicate to me, and the correct modes of reasoning and of making experiments, of which he set me the example, certainly conduced very much to facilitate the progress of my inventions; and I still remember, with respect and gratitude, the notice he was pleased to take of me when I very little merited it, and which continued throughout his life.” The Life of James Watt: With Selections from His Correspondence, James Patrick Muirhead, John Murray, 1858, pages 496-497 and 500.

[Watt’s personal network]
Watt was also encouraged in his work by his personal circle. Nearly all of them were natural philosophers, inventors, merchants, or manufacturers: John Roebuck, William Murdock, Matthew Boulton, Josiah Wedgwood, Joseph Priestly, William Small, James Keir, Samuel Galton, Erasmus Darwin (grandfather of Charles Darwin), and even Benjamin Franklin—who corresponded from British America. (The United States did not yet exist.) The Lunar Men: A Story of Science, Art, Invention and Passion, Jenny Uglow, Faber & Faber, 2002.
[networks of early industrialists in Britain]
Here’s the original version of the Watt network (as opposed to name-redacted version in the text):

Watt’s machine was intricate; many of its parts depended on other parts, which depended on yet other parts. He built it on an engine common in England, but rare in Russia. It was common because of work done by Thomas Newcomen, John Calley, John Smeaton, Thomas Savery, and others. To make it more useful he had to increase its power, and for that he needed to understand the physics of heat; he got some of that insight from Joseph Black. To build it at all, he needed cylinders that could withstand high pressure (which he got from Abraham Darby and John Thomas). To make it cheaply enough, he needed cheap iron for his cylinders instead of costly brass (Abraham Darby II and Thomas Goldney III). To machine those cylinders precisely enough, he needed high-grade iron (John Wilkinson). To cut those precision-ground cylinders and pistons, he needed crucible steel (Benjamin Huntsman). To run it cheaply enough, he needed cheap fuel, which he got from coke—that is, coal cooked to remove impurities—instead of wood or charcoal (Abraham Darby). To do anything at all, he needed money (Joseph Black, John Roebuck, Matthew Bolton). And so on.

Britain also needed ever-improving steam engines (Richard Trevithick, William Murdock, Joseph Bramah, Jonathan Hornblower, Arthur Woolf). Then it needed ever-improving machine tools (Jesse Ramsden, Edward Nairn, Henry Maudslay, Joseph Bramah, Joseph Whitworth, James Nasmyth). Plus it needed ever-growing canal transport (Josiah Wedgwood, Erasmus Darwin, Matthew Boulton, William Small, Samuel Galton, Thomas Telford, John Rennies). It needed ever-expanding markets (Richard Trevithick, John Smeaton, Isambard Brunel). And it needed ever-expanding rail networks (Richard Trevithick, George Stephenson, John Wilkinson, Henry Cort).

Also, all the changes catalyzed yet another network of tools made by another network of early industrialists in Britain (Thomas Highs, John Kay, James Hargreaves, Richard Arkwright, Samuel Crompton, Edmund Cartwright). They built the early machines of Britain’s textile industry. That then became one of the next killer apps, outside of mining, of the new steam tech. Also, all those people needed yet another network of people (Jethro Tull, Robert Bakewell, Joseph Foljambe, Robert and Charles Colling, and others). Their farm innovations helped Britain raise its food supply until it could almost feed itself.

[more networks and religious repression in Britain]
Nor is even that all. For instance, for Watt’s engine to succeed, not only did he need others to help him build it, he also needed others to help him sell it. To do so, he needed heavy advertising (Matthew Boulton). He needed a ready market (Richard Arkwright, Josiah Wedgwood, Matthew Boulton). He needed banking credit (Sampson Lloyd, James Barclay). And to do anything at all, he needed money (first Joseph Black who lent him £1,000, then John Roebuck who invested £3,000, then Matthew Boulton who took over all debts).

Further, none of that might have happened had he not been a Presbyterian. In the eyes of the state, which had won the previous civil war, that made him a heretic—a Dissenter who refused to join the Church of England. Several of Britain’s early industrialists were Dissenters. For example, Wilkinson was a Presbyterian, Newcomen (Baptist), Roebuck (Independent), Wedgwood (Unitarian), and Huntsman, Darby, Goldney, Lloyd, and Barclay were Quakers. As Dissenters, they couldn’t stand for Parliament, hold public office, join the army, or attend Oxford or Cambridge. Barred from high-status posts—along with other riffraff, like Catholics, Jews, Greek Orthodox, and Gypsies—they went into lowly ones: trade and industry. There they stewed. With nowhere else to go, they did deals with one another. That’s partly what welded together Britain’s early industrial reaction network in the first place. So when Watt fled Scotland for England, it was tiny Britain, not huge Russia, that happened to have large pools of both skilled machinists and skilled financiers. Nobody arranged that. In some sense, our swarm did.

[religious repression in Britain in the 1660s]
The Corporation Act (1661), the Act of Uniformity (1662), the Conventicle Act (1664), the Five-Mile Act (1665), collectively known as the Clarendon Codes—named after Charles II’s chief minister Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon—and the Test Acts (1673, 1678), followed on the end of the civil war in 1651. The Enlightenment of Joseph Priestley: A Study of His Life and Work from 1733 to 1773, Robert E. Schofield, Pennsylvania State Press, 1997, pages 202-205.
[Dissenters and religious repression in Britain]
The argument that religious affiliation solely, or even mostly, explains industry in Britain, is unsupported by data. See: Men of Property: The Very Wealthy in Britain since the Industrial Revolution, W. D. Rubinstein, Taylor & Francis, 1981, especially Chapter 5. However, it is indeed true that several early industrialists in Britain were Dissenters, that is, Protestants who refused to take Church of England vows—which included Quakers, Unitarians, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists, among others. Of the ones listed in the text, the hardest to pin down is John Roebuck, who is cited as an Independent in: The Industrial Revolution: A Study in Bibliography, T. S. Ashton, A. & C. Black Ltd., 1937. But his children appear to have all been baptised at the New Meeting Unitarian Church on Moor Street, Birmingham. Also, Joseph Black might have been baptized Catholic, according to his entry in: Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2008. But perhaps that’s because he was born in France (not Scotland, where his parents emigrated from), since he was buried at Greyfriars Kirk in Edinburgh, Scotland, which is Covenanter—a branch of Presbyterianism.

In Britain, non-Protestants, like Catholics, Jews, and Greek Orthodox, were a different matter. For example, England had kicked out its Jews entirely from 1290 to 1650. By the 1760s they were a tiny portion of the population (about 0.3 percent).

Further, Britain wasn’t unique in its religious repression. Russia was equally good at it. Russia, though, was much more of a peasant economy. It forced its religious minorities, primarily Jews, into finance, peddling, and shopkeeping instead of trade and industry—that is, when not running active pogroms against them. (A peasant uprising in 1768, during the partitioning of Poland, lead to massacres of both Jews and Catholics. Perhaps 20,000 were herded into their places of worship and killed. A century before, a Cossack idea of fun was to ride into a village and kill every male and take every female there.)

Similarly, France had slaughtered or exiled most of its Protestants, the Huguenots. (Two important steam pioneers in Britain, Denis Papin and John Desaguliers, for example, had fled France for Britain. They were Huguenots). Spain, Portugal, Germany, Austria—all have poor tolerance records as well. For long periods of recent European history, only the Netherlands was tolerant of variant religious belief systems. Britain in the 1770s was then merely one of the less-intolerant nations. (Incidentally, England’s history of its treatment of Jews is also quite varied. For example, while it accepted them in the 1100s, it persecuted and ejected them in the 1200s.)

So Russia in the 1700s was still running pogroms against its Jews—and would continue to do so for another 170 years. But while that pressure forced Russia’s Jews together, they had even fewer outlets than Britain’s Dissenters did. Europe’s repression also forced much of its financial and trade expertise—largely in the form of Jews—out of Spain, Portugal, and France and into the Netherlands, and later to Britain.

[“aversion to monopolies”]
“I do not think that we are safe a day to an end in this enterprising age. One’s thoughts seem to be stolen before one speaks them. It looks as if Nature had taken an aversion to monopolies, and put the same thing into several people’s heads at once, to prevent them; and I begin to fear that she has given over inspiring me, as it is with the utmost difficulty that I can hatch anything new.” Letter to Boulton, February 14th, 1782. “From the many opponents we are like to have, I fear that the engine business cannot be a permanent one; and I am sure that it will not in any case prove so lucrative as you have flattered yourself.” Letter to Boulton, February 20th, 1782. From: The Life of James Watt: With Selections from His Correspondence, James Patrick Muirhead, D. Appleton and Co., 1859, pages 316-317. See also: Lives of Boulton and Watt: Principally from the Original Soho Mss., Comprising also: A History of the Invention and Introduction of the Steam-Engine, Samuel Smiles, John Murray, 1865, page 300. Watt didn’t even know about Polzunov.
[if Watt had died young... parallel inventions]
A more general case has been made before. However, note that here there is strong survivorship bias: that is, analysis is based only on inventions that succeeded (ideas that were thought up, built, deployed, and were adopted) not all ideas (any idea that faltered anywhere along that set of hurdles failed to appear and thus be considered). So Watt is counted, but Polzunov is ignored. Darwin and Wallace are counted, but Mendel is (for 35 years, at least) ignored. Who knows how much has been lost? “Are Inventions Inevitable? A Note on Social Evolution,” W. F. Ogburn, D. Thomas, Political Science Quarterly, 37(1):83-98, 1922. See also: What Technology Wants, Kevin Kelly, Viking, 2010, Chapter 7.
[Newcomen’s first engine in Tipton, Staffordshire]
“A confirmation of the location of the 1712 ‘Dudley Castle’ Newcomen engine at Coneygree, Tipton,” J. H. Andrew, J. S. Allen, International Journal for the History of Engineering and Technology, 72(2):174-182, 2009.
[first steam engine patent in 1698, first vacuum in 1643, James Watt’s ancestors]
Thomas Savery patented the steam engine idea in 1698: “A new invention for raising water and occasioning motion to all sorts of mill work by the impellent force of fire, which will be of great use and advantage for drayning mines, serveing houses with water, and for the working of all sorts of mills where they have not benefitt of water nor constant windes.” The Miners Friend; or an engine to raise water by fire, described, and the manner of fixing it in mines, with an account of the several uses it is applicable unto; and an answer to the objections made against it, by Thos. Savery, Gent, London, 1702.

Evangelista Torricelli made the first vacuum in 1643 while creating the first barometer (following the prompting of Galileo). The Edge of Objectivity: An Essay in the History of Scientific Ideas, Charles Coulston Gillispie, Princeton University Press, 1960, page 100.

Denis Papin published his 1676-1679 work with Robert Boyle on his ‘steam digester’ in 1680. “Papin, Denis (1647-1712?),” Anita McConnell, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004.

James Watt was born on January 19th, 1736. James Henry Watt, James Watt’s father, was born January 28th, 1699, in Greenock, Scotland. (He married Agnes Muireheid, and died August 1782.) National Records of Scotland, OPR (Old Parish Register) 564-3/1, page 108. Thomas Watt, James Henry Watt’s father, was born in 1642 and christened April 16th, 1643, in Aberdeen, Scotland. (He married Margaret Shearer, and died February 27th, 1734.)

[early steam power]
The story of steam is largely forgotten today, but once upon a time it was all anyone talked about, and not just in Britain, or even just in Europe. That didn’t begin with James Watt. Long before him, Thomas Newcomen’s engines had been in use, and had been slowly improved, all over Britain (and elsewhere) for well over half a century. It was that kind of engine that so excited Polzunov (and Watt). They both saw that they could improve it—in theory. It seems likely that the reason why Watt is so much remembered is less to do with what he did in comparison to anyone else who worked on steam but what his engine did—it went on to be a part of mass production, so it had a direct impact on mass life. Early steam engines were far more niche—mostly for mining—and so were entirely ignorable by the general public. For example, about five hundred engines were built in 1735-1775, or 13 per yer, while another 850 were built in 1775-1800, or about 34 per year. That’s hardly that earth-shaking changes that came after 1830. The Steam Engine of Thomas Newcomen, L. T. C. Rolt and J. S. Allen, Review by: Charles K. Hyde, The Journal of Economic History, 38(3):813-815, 1978.
[Newcomen’s engine]
“At the beginning of the eighteenth century every element of the modern type of steam‑engine had been separately invented and practically applied. The character of atmospheric pressure, and of the pressure of gases, had become understood. The nature of a vacuum was known, and the method of obtaining it by the displacement of the air by steam, and by the condensation of the vapor, was understood. The importance of utilizing the power of steam, and the application of condensation in the removal of atmospheric pressure, was not only recognized, but had been actually and successfully attempted by Morland, Papin, and Savery.

Mechanicians had succeeded in making steam-boilers capable of sustaining any desired or any useful pressure, and Papin had shown how to make them comparatively safe by the attachment of the safety‑valve. They had made steam‑cylinders fitted with pistons, and had used such a combination in the development of power.

It now only remained for the engineer to combine known forms of mechanism in a practical machine which should be capable of economically and conveniently utilizing the power of steam through the application of now well‑understood principles, and by the intelligent combination of physical phenomena already familiar to scientific investigators.

Every essential fact and every vital principle had been learned, and every one of the needed mechanical combinations had been successfully effected. It was only requisite that an inventor should appear, capable of perceiving that these known facts and combinations of mechanism, properly illustrated in a working machine would present to the world its greatest physical blessing.

The defects of the simple engines constructed up to this time have been noted as each has been described. None of them could be depended upon for safe, economical, and continuous work. Savery’s was the most successful of all. But the engine of Savery, even with the improvements of Desaguliers, was unsafe where most needed, because of the high pressures necessarily carried in its boilers when pumping from considerable depths; it was uneconomical, in consequence of the great loss of heat in its forcing‑cylinders when the hot steam was surrounded at its entrance by colder bodies; it was slow in operation, of great first cost, and expensive in first cost and in repairs, as well as in its operation. It could not be relied upon to do its work interruptedly, and was this in many respects a very unsatisfactory machine.

The man who finally effected a combination of the elements of the modern steam‑engine, and produced a machine which is unmistakeably a true engine—i.e., a train of mechanism consisting of several elementary pieces combined in a train capable of transmitting a force applied at one end and of communicating it to the resistance to be overcome at the other end was THOMAS NEWCOMEN, an ‘iron‑monger’ and blacksmith of Dartmouth, England. The engine invented by him, and known as the ‘Atmospheric Steam Engine,’ is the first of an entirely new type. [...]

In a very few years after the invention of Newcomen’s engine it had been introduced into nearly all large mines in Great Britain; and many new mines, which could not have been worked at all previously, were opened, when it was found that the new machine could be relied upon to raise the large quantities of water to be handled. The first engine in Scotland was erected in 1720 at Elphinstone, in Stirlingshire. One was put up in Hungary in 1723.” A History of the Growth of the Steam-Engine, Robert H. Thurston, D. Appleton and Company, 1878, pages 55-57, and 68.

However, for the practical engineering concerns and all the difficulties that Newcomen had to have faced and overcome, see: Power from Steam: A History of the Stationary Steam Engine, Richard L. Hills, Cambridge University Press, 1989, Chapter 2, especially pages 22-30. His last, and most crucial, and most copied, insight—that of cold water injection—is described on page 25.

[the power of accident—learning from each other]
“The process by which fundamental change comes about at times has nothing to do with diligence, or careful observation, or economic stimulus, or genius, but happens entirely by accident. There were hundreds of clock-makers like Huntsman all over Europe who were equally dissatisfied with the quality of the springs in the clocks they were making. Many of them must have cast about for the answer to their dilemma, but nothing suggested itself. Everywhere, the technique for making steel at the time was the same: alternate layers of charcoal and iron were piled up, covered with a layer of fine sand, and kept red hot for several days. During this time the carbon in the charcoal diffused into the iron, forming a surface layer of steel which was then hammered off. Many of these layers were then hammered together to produce layered, laminate steel: good enough for knives, but liable to snap or deform when bent into springs. Huntsman happened to live near a glass-making community, and at a time when Abraham Darby had discovered the high temperatures that could be obtained with coke. The glass-makers were using coke to fire their ovens, and lining the ovens with Stourbridge clay from local deposits. This clay reflected heat back into the ovens, raising their temperature even further. Huntsman also saw that the furnace men mixed their raw materials for making glass with chips of old glass, which because of the high furnace temperatures would become molten and run together with the freshly made glass.” Connections, James Burke, Macmillan, 1978, page 140.

On Darby I (there were three ‘Abraham Darby’s, father, son, and grandson): Dynasty of Iron Founders: The Darbys and Coalbrookdale, Arthur Raistrick, Longmans, Green, & Co., 1953, pages 23-25. Note: Allen cites King (unread reference) as developing an argument that Darby I was predated by Shadrach Fox, the ironmaster who preceded him at Coalbrookdale, who apparently may be the real inventor of coke smelting. That’s certainly possible, but even so, coke wasn’t viable by itself. Darby also added sand casting, which he got from Netherlands practice. Even then, charcoal competed with coke for half a century. It was only when combined with the steam engine to pump water back up for the bellows pump that the cost really began to fall. The British Industrial Revolution in Global Perspective, Robert C. Allen, Cambridge University Press, 2009. The Iron Trade in England Wales, 1500-1850: the charcoal iron industry and its transition to coke, Peter Wickham King, doctoral thesis, University of Wolverhampton, 2003.

[imagining a vacuum]
Aristotle thought a vacuum, or void, couldn’t exist because motion in it would be impossible or undefined. For him, a void was ‘place in which there is no body.’ He presented several arguments that such a thing couldn’t exist, refuting beliefs proposed in his time by Eleatics like Melissus that a void could exist, by arguing that if one did, objects in motion would persist in motion forever (that is, he was saying that what would become Newton’s First Law couldn’t possibly be true), and with no ‘up’ nor ‘down’ (he means that in a void, soil would feel no force to move downward to the center of the universe, and flame would feel no force to move upward, toward the heavens, so objects in motion could have no defined direction, and so on.

Perhaps he came by such ideas via pure logic (he presented his reasoning in his Physics, see citation). That’s how Plato’s pupils were supposed to discover truth, since to Plato, the senses can lie (consider the allegory of Plato’s cave), so only the mind can plumb the depths of reality. But perhaps it was also because he thought (to put it in today’s terms) that a body fell in a medium at a speed proportional to its weight, and inversely proportional to the amount that the medium resists its fall. So for him, if we dropped a sperm whale and a bowl of petunias from space, the whale would hit first. (His reasoning was more complex than that, but that’s the basic idea.) Perhaps he guessed that after seeing a pebble falling slowly through olive oil, faster through water, and fastest through air. Maybe then in a void it would fall infinitely fast. And that, he declared, was impossible. So a void couldn’t exist. (Actually, in his thought experiment argument, he concluded that its speed would be indeterminate, and that was impossible.)

Today we know that while his arguments were accepted for two millennia, they don’t stand up because the assumptions they were based on were false. To see why, drop three marbles of equal weight. They hit at the same time. Now glue two together, then drop all three again. They still hit at the same time. Yet, were Aristotle right, the two that were glued together, being heavier, would hit first. But none of us back then did any such test. Otherwise, we would have laughed at him. So his guess became dogma for us—for over two millennia.

Aristotle’s physics is still intuitive for most of us today, including first-year university physics students. Newtonian physics is still counter-intuitive to most of us today. For example, most of us believe that a constant force applied to a body will produce constant velocity. That’s wrong. (It will accelerate). And Einsteinian relativity is still completely unknown, not to say counter-intuitive, to most of us today.

“Intuitive Physics,” D. R. Proffitt, M. K. Kaiser, in: Encyclopedia of Cognitive Science, Lynn Nadel (editor), Nature Publishing Group, 2003, pages 632-637. The Unnatural Nature of Science, Lewis Wolpert, Harvard University Press, 1993. Uncommon sense: The Heretical Nature of Science, Alan Cromer, Oxford University Press, 1993. Matter, Space and Motion, Richard Sorabji, Cornell University Press, 1988, chapter 9, pages 142-159. “Common Sense Concepts about Motion,” I. Halloun, D. Hestenes, American Journal of Physics, 53(11):1056-1065, 1985. Much Ado about Nothing: Theories of Space and Vacuum from the Middle Ages to the Scientific Revolution, Edward Grant, Cambridge University Press, 1981. The Works of Aristotle, Volume II: Physica, Book IV, Parts VI-IX, J. A. Smith and W. D. Ross (editors), translated by R. P. Hardie and R. K. Gaye, Oxford University Press, 1952, pages .

What we take to be ’Aristotelian physics’ today is a sort of reinterpretation in mathematical terms of what Aristotle might have believed had he any mathematical talent. For example, around 1328 Thomas of Bradwardine, an English philosopher and theologian, wrote a book on motion based on what he understood to be Aristotle’s beliefs about motion. Bradwardine showed that Aristotle’s theory of motion was inconsistent. First, Aristotle claimed that a body could be in motion only when the force acting on it exceeded the resistance to its motion through the medium. Second, Aristotle claimed that a body’s velocity was proportional to the force acting on it divided by the resistance of the medium it moved through. Bradwardine showed inconsistency between these two Aristotelian tenets by assuming an initial force and resistance, then asked what would happen if the resistance were continually increased while keeping the force constant. At some point the resistance would exceed the force so the body cannot move. But its velocity, which supposedly was its acting force divided by the resistance, could not then also be zero. Thomas of Bradwardine, his Tractus de Proportionibus: Its Significance for the Development of Mathematical Physics, H. Lamar Crosby, Jr. (editor and translator), University of Wisconsin Press, 1955.

[the backstory behind the steam engine is long]
Early steam engines created a partial vacuum in a piston cylinder when an outside weight (the thing the steam engine is designed to move, for example, water in a mine) pulls up the piston against the weight of air surrounding the cylinder. That vacuum then fills with steam from the boiler. Injecting a little cold water condenses the steam to water vapor, which creates a partial vacuum in the piston cylinder, which collapses under the weight of the air surrounding the cylinder, which pulls down the piston, and the cycle repeats.

Before we could make a vacuum, and thus one day a steam engine, Beeckman in the Netherlands, Baliani, Galileo, Berti, Magiotti, Benedetti, Viviani, and Torricelli in Italy; Stevin in Belgium; Pascal in France; and others, first had to refute Aristotle’s argument that a vacuum couldn’t exist. Some of them built on William Gilbert in England—who, in 1600, simply guessed that outer space was a vacuum. But knowing that a vacuum could exist didn’t then mean that we could build a machine that harnessed one. Before there could be a Watt in Scotland there was a Guericke in Germany; a Papin and de Caus in France; a della Porta and Branca in Italy; a Boyle and a Hooke in England. Dressing for Altitude: U.S. Aviation Pressure Suits, Wiley Post to Space Shuttle, Dennis R. Jenkins, United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 2012, pages 15-17. Measuring the Natural Environment, Ian Strangeways, Cambridge University Press, Second Edition, 2003, pages 91-94. “Air Weight and Atmospheric Pressure from Galileo to Torricelli,” R. Zouckermann, Fundamenta Scientiae, 2(2):185-204, 1981. De Magnete magneticisique corporibus, et de magno magnete tellure; Physiologia nova, plurimis et argumentis et experimentis demonstrata, William Gilbert of Colchester, London, 1600.

Further, after all of those names came a whole slew of more names to make practical machines to do something that someone was willing to pay for—like pump water out of mines. Only long after that did it occur to anyone that maybe such machines might be useful for something other than their first use, and for that they had to be changed, which required even more gestation and thus even more names.

[an efficient steam engine millennia ago?]
Why did an efficient steam engine arise in the 1700s and not before?

It’s not uncommon to say that ‘steam engines’ existed in Rome (or Roman Egypt) two millennia ago then cite the aeolipile. But the aeolipile (perhaps invented by Vitruvius, then definitely a century later, by Hero of Alexandria, and also known as Hero’s engine) isn’t a steam engine. It’s a steam turbine. It doesn’t create, nor does it use, a vacuum. The Pneumatics of Hero of Alexandria, from the original Greek, translated and edited by Bennet Woodcroft, Taylor Walton and Maberly, 1851, page 72. One possible source of confusion may be that the translation from the Greek was ‘steam-engine’, but that it was not.

One commonly accepted general argument about slaves and steam in popular science books goes as follows: “[T]he slave economy of the ancient world... discouraged any association of science and technology.... With cheap slave labor in plentiful supply, there wasn’t any incentive to develop labor-saving technology.” Gravity’s Arc: The Story of Gravity, from Aristotle to Einstein and Beyond, David Darling, John Wiley and Sons, 2006, pages 29-30.

The same goes for some research papers: “in [societies] based on slavery, there was no demand for steam power.” From: “The Long-Term Evolution of Social Organization,” S. van der Leeuw, D. Lane, D. Read, in: Complexity Perspectives in Innovation and Social Change, David Lane, Sander Ernst Van Der Leeuw, Denise Pumain, and Geoffrey West (editors), Springer, 2009, pages 85-116.

Even in careful and detailed history books, it’s not unusual to see the following: “The precondition for progress was probably a reasonable balance between human labour and other sources of power. The advantage was illusory when man competed with machines inordinately, as in the ancient world and China, where mechanization was ultimately blocked by cheap labour. There were slaves in Greece and Rome, and too many highly efficient coolies in China. In fact, there is never any progress unless a higher value is placed on human labour. When man has a certain cost price as a source of energy, then it is necessary to think about aiding him or, better still, replacing him.” Civilization and Capitalism, 15th-18th Century, Volume I, The Structures of Everyday Life, Fernand Braudel, translated by Siân Reynolds, Harper & Row, 1981, page 339.

By such arguments, we didn’t have a steam engine in, for example, the early Roman Empire, because we didn’t need a steam engine—because we had a large slave pool.

Other variants of roughly the same argument go as follows: “[Peter Levi]: What technology is nowadays expected to accomplish is the concentration or the transference of energy. And we know from the raising of obelisks that the practical mathematics were quite highly developed. It’s quite clever to raise a monolithic column or an obelisk. But I take it that what went wrong with the Hellenistic rulers’ exploration of different techniques is that they had too much man power—they had too many slaves. To have slaves is, apart from being wicked, inefficient, because you may use a million men where one machine could have done the job.” [...] “[Peter Green]:... It’s not so much that slaves were available, which indeed they were. No, the ruling classes were scared, as the Puritans said, of Satan finding work for idle hands to do. One of the great things about not developing a source of energy that did not depend on muscle power was the fear of what the muscles might get up to if they weren’t kept fully employed. The sort of inventions that were taken up and used practically were the things that needed muscle power to start with, including the Archimedean screw.” From the Discussion section following: “ ‘The Base Mechanic Arts’? Some Thoughts on the Contribution of Science (Pure and Applied) to the Culture of the Hellenistic Age,” K. D. White, in: Hellenistic History and Culture, Peter Green (editor), University of California Press, 1993, pages 234 and 236.

As an example, perhaps the only clearly documented one, see: “Free Labour and Public Works at Rome,” P. A. Brunt, The Journal of Roman Studies, 70:81-100, 1980. Brunt cites Suetonis, who mentions an incident in the life of Vespasian: “mechanico quoque, grandis columnas exigua impensa perducturum in Capitolium pollicenti, praemium pro commento non mediocre optulit, operam remisit, praefatus sineret se plebiculam pascere.” (“To a mechanical engineer, who promised to transport some heavy columns to the Capitol at small expense, he gave no mean reward for his invention, but refused to make use of it, saying: ‘You must let me feed my poor commons.’ ”) This he gives as evidence that keeping the populace happy was more important than new invention.

Such ideas are old, still current, and widely accepted: “[Schneider] traced the early path of the slavery/stagnation/blockage view from Diels in the 1920s through Ferrero, Rostovtzeff, and Lefebvre de Noëttes to Finley, Pleket, and Lee in the 1970s, and its perpetuation by Gille in the 1980s.” See: “Technological Innovation and Economic Progress in the Ancient World: M. I. Finley Re-Considered,” K. Greene, The Economic History Review, 53(1):29-59, 2000.

But there’s something wrong with all such sorts of explanations. “[T]he importance of slavery should not be exaggerated. The ancient slave owner had at least two good reasons to want to reduce his dependence on slave labor if he possibly could, for slaves were quite expensive to feed and they could be difficult to control.” Greek Science After Aristotle, G. E. R. Lloyd, W. W. Norton, 1973, page 108.

Similarly: “[S. M. Burstein]: The common wisdom that cheap slave labor inhibited the development of technology in antiquity should probably be reconsidered for two reasons. First, slaves are expensive, not cheap. Second, as the history of the antebellum American South indicates, the use of slave labor is not incompatible with the development of labor-saving technology, provided—and it is an important proviso—that the technology increases the productivity and value of the slaves.” From: “ ‘The Base Mechanic Arts’? Some Thoughts on the Contribution of Science (Pure and Applied) to the Culture of the Hellenistic Age,” K. D. White, in: Hellenistic History and Culture, Peter Green (editor), University of California Press, 1993, pages 236-237.

All the fairy tales fall apart once it’s seen that slave labor is free labor, but it’s not labor for free. Slave dealers didn’t simply give slaves away. They cost something to capture, feed, clothe, house, and guard. Further, if a plentitude of slaves or coolies is the reason we didn’t build a steam engine, why then did we ever bother to invent labor-saving tools like sails and waterwheels? Or bother to use animal power (horses, oxen, asses, camels) to turn capstans and such? Slaves would’ve sufficed, and often did suffice when the oxen or horse died, for those needs as well. If the waterwheel broke, get the slaves to grind the maize. If the sea’s winds died, get the slaves to row. It seems that using such an argument is ‘just-so’ history.

Yet further, the ‘fact,’ originally stated most forcefully by M. I. Finley in 1965 (and in his widely read 1973 book, The Ancient Economy,), and so widely accepted even today, that the Roman empire didn’t make use of watermills is now debunked. “[S]ubsequent research has revealed numerous water-mills from Hadrian’s Wall to north Africa and to Palestine, and has demonstrated that Italy was not excluded from this phenomenon.” See: “Technological Innovation and Economic Progress in the Ancient World: M. I. Finley Re-Considered,” K. Greene, The Economic History Review, 53(1):29-59, 2000.

It also seems unlikely that we didn’t build a steam engine because we were idiots. For example, in the early Roman Empire we had more flexible financial tools than those we had in eighteenth-century France. So we likely weren’t any stupider then than we are today. However, those tools weren’t as flexible as those we had in eighteenth-century Britain. In Rome, we didn’t have a national debt or a central bank or paper currency, so there was a limit to how much capital we could amass for new enterprises, like building a steam engine. But such tools can’t be all we needed because the Netherlands, and Italy before it, had financial tools about as flexible as those that Britain had. See: “Financial Intermediation in the Early Roman Empire,” P. Temin, The Journal of Economic History, 64(3):705-733, 2004.

Also: “Contrary to Finley, who asserted, ‘[A]ncient slavery... co-existed with other forms of dependent labor, not with free wage-labor,’ and Schiavone, who added recently that ‘slavery... led to the eventual stagnation of the [Roman economic] system, blocking off other paths,’ the analysis herein finds that free hired labor was widespread and that ancient slavery was part of a unified labor force in the early Roman empire, not a barrier to economic progress.” From: “The Labor Market of the Early Roman Empire,” P. Temin, Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 34(4):513-538, 2004.

In sum: “The last twenty-five years have seen a radical overhaul of views on the level and importance of technological development achieved in the Roman world. From the 1960s to the 1980s the view prevailed that ancient technology in general, and Roman technology in particular, was stagnant and contributed little to the economy. Since then a number of studies have argued for a much higher level of ancient technological development, and a more rapid and widespread uptake of that technology. Ancient technology has re-entered the debate on the economy, and the task is now to assess what contribution technological developments might have made to economic growth. [...] [I]t looks increasingly difficult to deny the importance of technological developments to the achievement of per capita economic growth.” From: “Quantifying the Roman Economy: Integration, Growth, Decline?” A. Bowman, A. Wilson, in Quantifying the Roman Economy: Methods and Problems, Alan Bowman and Andrew Wilson (editors), Oxford University Press, 2009, pages 3-86, especially pages 33-38.

It thus seems unlikely that in Rome we didn’t invent a steam engine because we loved slavery, or because we couldn’t imagine living without slaves, or because we needed to keep slaves employed to thus avoid revolution, or because we were stupid. It seems more likely that it was because we didn’t know enough metallurgy, engineering, and physics. We couldn’t make the high-grade iron we would have needed to build a safe and efficient one. And considering what was to happen to both Polzunov in Siberia and Watt in Scotland, we likely didn’t have the skilled machinists we would have needed to maintain a high-precision one, even if an alien spaceship had simply dropped one off in the forum. In the early Roman Empire we didn’t have the tools we would have needed to make the tools we would have needed. We didn’t even have the ideas we would have needed to make the ideas we would have needed. In short, it seems likely that developing all the many tools and skills and knowledge that let us build an efficient steam engine took millennia of accident. All that came together only in the 1700s, and it happened first in Britain.

It would be interesting exercise in alternate history to try to work out how all that could have happened in Italy or China two millennia ago, or Egypt or Iraq four millennia ago.

[digesting fructose via glycolysis]
Principles of Biochemistry and Biophysics, B. S. Chauhan, Firewall Media, 2008, Chapter 12.
[at least 3,000 metabolic reactants]
“Metabolomics is a new technology that applies advanced separation and detection methods to capture the collection of small molecules that characterize metabolic pathways. This rapidly developing discipline involves the study of the total repertoire of small molecules present in the biological samples, particularly urine, saliva, and blood plasma. Metabolites are the byproducts of metabolism, which is itself the process of converting food energy to mechanical energy or heat. Experts believe there are at least 3,000 metabolites that are essential for normal growth and development (primary metabolites) and thousands more unidentified (around 20,000, compared to an estimated 30,000 genes and 100,000 proteins) that are not essential for growth and development (secondary metabolites) but could represent prognostic, diagnostic, and surrogate markers for a disease state and a deeper understanding of mechanisms of disease. Of particular interest to metabolomics researchers are small, low-molecular weight compounds that serve as substrates and products in various metabolic pathways.” From: “Navigating the Human Metabolome for Biomarker Identification and Design of Pharmaceutical Molecules,” I. Kouskoumvekaki, G. Panagiotou, Journal of Biomedicine & Biotechnology, 2011:525497, 2011.

Birth of a Notion

[eighteenth-century Britain stripped of usable trees]
It wasn’t that Britain, or even England alone, had no trees. Transport technology at the time limited economically usable trees to those within 15 miles (24 kilometers) of any river or coast. Too much can be made of what was more usually a fairly local problem. For example, in the time of Henry VIII, England even exported wood (see Perlin, pages 163-164). “Fear of Wood Shortage and the Reality of the Woodland in Europe, c.1450-1850,” P. Warde, History Workshop Journal, 62(1):28-57, 2006. A Forest Journey: The Role of Wood in the Development of Civilization, John Perlin, W. W. Norton, 1989, especially pages 241-245. The History of the Countryside: The full fascinating story of Britain’s Landscape, Oliver Rackham, J. M. Dent & Sons, Ltd., 1986, pages 90-110.
[price of wood in Britain rose]
“[...] firewood prices had already risen 700 percent between 1500 and 1630 and three times as fast as the general price level between 1540 and 1630.” The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy, Kenneth Pomeranz, Princeton University Press, 2000, page 220. A Forest Journey: The Role of Wood in the Development of Civilization, John Perlin, W. W. Norton, 1989.

The high price of grain during (and artifically propped up after) the Napoleonic wars, compounded the problem. “No doubt, a labourer, whose income was only £20 a year, would, in general, act wisely in substituting hasty-pudding, barley bread, boiled milk, and potatoes, for bread and beer; but in most parts of this county, he is debarred not more by prejudice, than by local difficulties, from using a diet that requires cooking at home. The extreme dearness of fuel in Oxfordshire, compels him to purchase his dinner at the baker’s; and, from his unavoidable consumption of bread, he has little left for cloaths, in a country where warm cloathing is most essentially wanted.” The State of the Poor: or a history of the labouring classes in England, from the Conquest to the present period; in which are particularly considered, their domestic economy, with respect to diet, dress, fuel, and habitation; and the various plans which, from time to time, have been proposed and adopted for the relief of the poor: together with parochial reports relative to the administration of work-houses, and houses of industry; the state of the Friendly Societies, and other public institutions; in several agricultural, commercial and manufacturing, districts. With a large appendix; containing a comparative and chronological table of the prices of labour, of provisions, and of other commodities; an account of the poor in Scotland; and many original documents on subjects of national importance, Frederick Morton Eden, Volume II, B. & J. White, G. & G. Robinson, T. Payne, R. Faulder, T. Egerton, J. Debrett, and D. Bremner, 1797, page 587.

None of that means that the industrial phase change was good for Britain’s trees. In fact, with the coming of the railway, then the internal combustion engine able to reach anywhere, even more trees were cut until Britain’s forestation had dropped to an all-time low of four percent by 1918. Today it is 11 percent. A Reference for the Forestry Industry, The Forestry Industry Council of Great Britain, 1998.

Brtain’s (then continental Europe’s) attitudes to the natural world started changing after the scientific revolution (also, the scientific revolution was itself partly an outgrowth of changes in attitudes toward the natural world). Deforestation, rather than a calamity, increasingly came to be seen as a symptom of increased industrial change, and therefore of ‘progress.’

[coal abatement in England]
That was tried from early on, but no attempt to curtail its use lasted. As early as 1306, King Edward I tried and, by 1321, had already failed since his own palace ordered some of it. Report of the Commissioners Appointed To Inquire into the Several Matters Relating to Coal in the United Kingdom, Volume 3, George Douglas Campbell Argyll, G. E. Eyre and W. Spottiswoode for H. M. Stationery Office, 1871, page 4. “[Such] hath bene the plenty of wood in England for all uses, that within man’s memory it was held impossible to have any want of wood; but contrary to former imaginations, such hath been the great expense of timber for navigation; with infinite increase of building of houses, with the great expence of wood to make household furniture, casks, and other vessels not to be numbered, and of carts, waggons, and coaches; besides the extreame wast of wood in making iron, burning of brick and tile; that whereas in the year of our Lord God 1306, King Edward I. by proclamation prohibyted the burneing of sea-coale in London and the suburbs, to avoid the sulferous smoke and savour of the firing, and in the same proclamation commanded all persons to make their fires of wood; which was performed by all (Smith’s only excepted); yet at this present, through the great consuming of wood as aforesaid, and the neglect of planting of woods, there is so great scarcity of wood throughoute the whole kingdom, that not only the city of London, all haven townes, and in very many parts within the land, the inhabitants in general are constrained to make their fiers of sea-coale or pit coale, even in the chambers of honourable personages; and through necessitie, which is the mother of all arts, they have of very late years devised the making of iron, the making of all sorts of glass and burning of bricke with sea coal or pit coal.” From a book started by John Stow and completed by Edmond Howes, published in 1632. See: The History and Description of Fossil Fuel, the Collieries, and Coal Trade of Great Britain, John Holland, Whittaker, 1835, page 335.
[growing dependence on coal in China and elsewhere]
In parts of China we had started turning to coal perhaps four millennia before. Other of our nations had also been limited by vanishing wood supplies as our numbers slowly rose over the centuries. In France as early as the 1300s we had chopped down so much of our forests that they covered two million fewer acres than they would do by the 1970s. So we started importing coal from England and Belgium. By at least 1548, we started mining to make up the fuel shortage. By 1715, in parts of France, wood was so dear that ‘timber was not to be found.’ Civilization and Capitalism, 15th-18th Century, Volume I, The Structures of Everyday Life, Fernand Braudel, translated by Siân Reynolds, Harper & Row, 1981, page 368. The Medieval Machine: The Industrial Revolution of the Middle Ages, Jean Gimpel, Penguin, 1976, page 76.

“There is no positive information concerning the time when coal was first produced in France. During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries coal was imported from Newcastle, England, and from Liege, Belgium, and traditions indicate that coal was being mined during this period in the Loire, Brassac, and Decize coal fields of France. In 1548 the first concession for coal mining of which there is any record was granted by Henry II. In 1667 Louis XIV placed an import tax on coal, which tax was increased in 1692, resulting in increased mining operations in France. In 1698 an edict was issued granting land proprietors the right to mine coal for their own profit on their lands without the permission of the sovereign, and as a result coal mining was actively carried on in France, beginning in the Loire and Brassac fields and gradually extending to the others. In 1744 Louis XV annulled the law of 1698, and required that thereafter concessions for coal mining must be obtained from the sovereign. The first concession for lignite mining was granted in 1788.” Coal Mine Labor in Europe, Carroll Davidson Wright, United States Bureau of Labor, 1905, page 183.

[in 1700 Britain produced five times as much coal as the rest of the world]
“[...] we must not overlook the important fact that coal was assuming an ever greater role in the British industrial economy from the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries, well before the onset of the ‘Industrial Revolution’, and thus long before any comparable industrial changes on (or in most of) the continent. John Hatcher has contended that: ‘In the latter half of the seventeenth century, sweeping changes occurred in the pattern of industrial coal consumption’, so that ‘by 1700 coal was the preferred fuel of almost all fuel consuming industries, and access to coal supplies had already begun to exert a determining influence over industrial location’. Even if the aforementioned textile industries did not, as noted earlier, undergo any significant technological changes in this era, certainly none involving power, nevertheless they also experienced a major growth in coal consumption for many of their industrial processes: from combing to dyeing to finishing; and in the production of dyestuffs and mordants. Hatcher estimates that British coal output (England, Scotland, Wales) had expanded almost 12-fold: from about 227,000 tons in 1560 to about 2.640 million tonnes [sic] in 1700, when it was supplying about half of England’s fuel needs. Anthony Wrigley has furthermore observed that British coal output was then at least five times greater than the combined output in the rest of the world.” From: “Tawney’s Century, 1540-1640: The Roots of Modern Capitalist Entrepreneurship,” J. Munro, in: The Invention of Enterprise: Entrepreneurship from ancient Mesopotamia to Modern Times, David S. Landes, Joel Mokyr, and William J. Baumol (editors), Princeton University Press, 2010, pages 107-155.

Continuity, Chance and Change: The Character of the Industrial Revolution in England, E. A. Wrigley, Cambridge University Press, 1988, page 54. The History of the British Coal Industry, Volume I: Before 1700: Towards the Age of Coal, John Hatcher, Clarendon Press, 1993, Table 4.1, page 68.

[patents in Britain from 1561 to 1642]
“In the period 1660-1750, 118 patents and extant applications covered water-raising devices or power sources that claimed water-raising as their main function. Twenty-five of them cited mines-drainage as their exclusive or principal application and a further 40 mentioned it as one of several functions.” Inventing the Industrial Revolution: The English Patent System, 1660-1800 Christine MacLeod, Cambridge University Press, 1988, page 101.

“[O]f the fifty-five patents granted for inventions granted during the reign of Elizabeth, 1561-99, one in seven is for the raising of water, and of the 127 patents granted between 1617 and 1642, the same proportion is observable.” A Short History of the Steam Engine, H. W. Dickinson, 1938, Frank Cass and Co., Reprint Edition, 1963, page 16.

[by 1700, mine depth in England already 360 feet]
“Among the causes which would prevent the miners from employing Savery’s engine, may be mentioned its limited range, and the danger of explosion attending its working. The greatest height to which it could raise water with safety, was not more than from 60 to 80 feet, so that for a mine of 50 or 60 fathoms [300 or 360 feet]—a depth which had already been reached in some districts at this time—no less than four or five engines would have been required, one delivering to the other. Such a complication of engines was not to be thought of. But in any case where the water was required to be raised to a considerable height, there was great danger of the boiler bursting, on account of its not being provided with any species of safety-valve.” The Steam Engine and Its Inventors; A Historical Sketch, Robert L. Galloway, Macmillan and Co., 1881, pages 66-67.
[deep mining before 1700]
Scientific American Inventions and Discoveries: All the Milestones in Ingenuity--From the Discovery of Fire to the Invention of the Microwave Oven, Rodney Carlisle, John Wiley & Sons, 2004, page 55. “Mining at Great Depths,” The Iron Age, Volume 59, March 4th 1897, page 14.
[experience with steam in Britain versus Russia]
Thus, in the 1700s Britain had far more experience with steam engines than Russia had. That’s why, for instance, Russia gave up on homemade ones after Polzunov died and his engine failed. It’s also why, in 1753, Britain banned further export of steam engines. Russia, denied the tools, then tried to sneak the tool-makers. The £1,000 a year offer to Watt in 1775 was only one of several such efforts. (Russia wasn’t the only place that tried to do so. British America also did, but successfully, sneak a steam engine and its maker in 1753 for the Schuyler copper mines in New Jersey.)
[Britain exported steam engines]
The first one was built in Saint Petersburg by John Desaguliers in 1717. It was the same one that fired the imagination of Ivan Polzunov in 1758. Britain exported steam engines to Russia, then Belgium, Hungary, France, Germany, Austria, and Sweden—but by 1753 Parliament banned their further export. By then it had realized how valuable the technology was. From then on, other nations tried to steal it, or those who could make it.
[English population doubled after 1520]
In 1520, it’s estimated that England’s population was about 2.35 million. By 1707, just before union with Scotland (to form Great Britain), it was about 5.2 million. That was about twice the growth rate of Europe.

English Medieval Population: Reconciling Time Series and Cross Sectional Evidences,” S. Broadberry, B. M. S. Campbell, B. van Leeuwen, (unpublished manuscript), 2010. “Statistics of production and productivity in English agriculture 1086-1871,” M. Overton, B. M. S. Campbell, in: Land productivity and agro-systems in the North Sea area (middle ages-20th century): Elements for Comparison, Bas J. P. van Bavel and Erik Thoen (editors), Brepols, 1999, pages 189-209. Christ’s Hospital of London, 1552-1598: “A Passing Deed of Pity”, Carol Kazmierczak Manzione, Associated University Presses, 1995, page 17. “People and Land in the Middle Ages, 1066-1500,” B. Campbell, in: Robert A. Dodgshon and Robin A. Butlin (editors), Historical Geography of England and Wales, Second Edition, Elsevier, 1990, pages 69-122. The Population History of England 1541-1871, A Reconstruction, E. A. Wrigley and R. S. Schofield, Cambridge University Press, 1981, Table 7.8, pages 208-209.

[ever since the 1500s...]
The date is somewhat arbitary. It’s chosen because 1543 was the year that the first one-piece cast-iron cannon was made in England. (It was made by a Frenchman, Peter Baude, at a foundry near Buxted, Sussex. He was employed by, or worked with, Ralph Hogge (aka Raffe Huggett), who was the servant of Rector and ironmaster William Levett, who had started the foundry, called Queenstock, with his brother John Levett.) “The lordship of Canterbury, iron-founding at Buxted, and the continental antecedents of cannon-founding in the Weald,” B. Awty, C. Whittick, Sussex Archaeological Collections, 140:71-81, 2002. Sussex Cavalcade, Arthur R. Ankers, Pond View Books, Revised Edition (with Michael Smith), 1997, pages 45-48. Industrial Biography: Iron Workers And Tool Makers, Samuel Smiles, John Murray, 1863, Chapter II.
[a king started the Royal Navy...]
That was Henry VIII and, well, not really. (As usual, the text simplifies a more complex story.) However, he was the first to spend large sums on shipbuilding and dockyards and defences against naval attack. He also encouraged continental iron, glass, and ship builders to come settle in England. He was also invaded by a fleet even larger than the Spanish Armada that Elizabeth I was to face 43 years later. (In 1545, two years before Henry died, Francis I of France tried invading England with 30,000 soldiers in over 200 ships. Henry had broken with the Pope, uniting Catholic Europe against newly Protestant England.) Henry had good reason to fear the continent.

Henry VIII had continued a major push to bring iron making to England, by importing foreign ironworkers. His father, Henry VII, the first Tudor king, had started the push in the 1490s, after he stole the throne. (For example, he started the first blast furnace in England in 1491.) But it was only by the 1540s, under his son Henry, that industry in England really started to take off. The push continued under Elizabeth I, Henry’s daughter, who continued to import foreign experts in the 1570s. She increased the production of brass and glass in England. All three sovereigns lived in great fear of invasion. And iron-, brass-, glass-, and ship- production all needed massive numbers of trees. For example, a battleship (like the later Victory, which launched in 1765) might need more than 6,000 trees, at least 2,000 of which were 100-year-old oak trees. The Mary Rose, which launched in 1511 and sank in 1545, needed around 600. D. Goodburn, “Woodworking Aspects of the Mary Rose,” in: Your Noblest Shippe: Anatomy of a Tudor Warship, The Archaeology of the Mary Rose, Volume 2, Peter Marsden (editor), The Mary Rose Trust, Marsden, 2009, pages 66-68, and 71. The Iron Industry of the Weald, Henry Cleere and David Crossley, Jeremy Hodgkinson (editor), Second Edition, Merton Priory Press, 1995. Industry before the Industrial Revolution: Incorporating a study of the Chartered Companies of the Society of Mines Royal and of Mineral and Battery Works, Volume II, William Reese, University of Wales Press, 1968. Wealdean Iron, Ernest Straker, G. Bell & Sons, 1931. Opera Mineralia Explicata: Or, The Mineral Kingdom, Within The Dominions Of Great Britain, Display’d. Being a Complete History of the Ancient Corporations of the City of London, of and for the Mines, the Mineral and the Battery works. With all the Original Grants, Leases, Instruments, Writs of Privilege and Protection, by Sea and Land, from Arrest (except in the Mineral Courts); or being Prest, or Serving Juries and Parish-Offices: as also the Records of the said Mineral Courts, from the Conquest, down to this present year, 1713. Likewise Proposals for New Settlements and Plentiful Provision for All the Industrious Poor, be their Number ever so Great. M. S. (that is, Moses Stringer), Jonas Brown, 1731, Chapter 3, pages 27 and on.

[“moat defensive”]
“This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle, / This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, / This other Eden, demi-paradise, / This fortress built by Nature for herself / Against infection and the hand of war, / This happy breed of men, this little world, / This precious stone set in the silver sea, / Which serves it in the office of a wall / Or as a moat defensive to a house, / Against the envy of less happier lands,-- / This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.

Richard II, William Shakespeare, Act II, Scene I.

[...a war every 6 years from 1512 to 1672...]
England warred at least 26 times from 1512 to 1672. This Seat of Mars: War and the British Isles, 1485-1746, Charles Carlton, Yale University Press, 2011.
[Britain’s urban shift in the 1600s]
In England from the 1670s to the 1750s, towns with a population over 5,000 rose from around 13 percent to about 21 percent (rural agricultural population declined from over 60 percent to about 46 percent, and rural non-agricultural areas rose from about 26 percent to about 33 percent).

Here are estimates of urban population percentages: c. 1520 - 5.25 percent, c. 1600 - 8.00 percent, c. 1670 - 13.25 percent, c. 1700 - 16.25 percent, c. 1750 - 20.75 percent. c. 1800 - 27.75 percent. Energy and the English Industrial Revolution, E. A. Wrigley, Cambridge University Press, 2010, Table 3.2 page 61.

This is especially interesting given the discussion on the previous pages: “Removing English urban totals from those for Europe suggests that in continental Europe as a whole urbanisation was almost at a standstill between 1600 and 1800.” In other words, almost all new European urbanization in two entire centuries happened in England. Some of that was England playing catch-up with more heavily urbanized countries—particularly Italy and the Netherlands.

[king lost his head — ]
That was Charles I, who was beheaded. A king lost his head in 1649 because he misunderstood that an England that was urbanizing and reading was a very different England than the rural and illiterate one that his ancestors had ruled. Its inhabitants couldn’t be ordered about and taxed for wars as easily as before. But also they could work together and think together more easily. A made B more possible, but B amplified A, which accelerated A, which amplified B still more.

Of course, Charles I wasn’t the first monarch of England to be deposed, counting from Athelstan in 924. He was merely the first to be deposed via popular unrest. Before him, Harold II (1066), William II (1100) (possibly), Edward II (1327), Richard II (1399), Henry VI (1461), Edward V (uncrowned) (1483), Richard III (1485), and Jane (uncrowned) (1553), all lost dynastic (or external, in the case of Harold) power struggles. After him, only James II (1688) did.

[paper money in China 900 years ago]
Of all our nations, China has had, by far, our longest experience with paper money. In 1111 it issued a new paper currency to combat inflation and counterfeiting. “The Origins of Paper Money in China,” R. Von Glah, in: The Origins of Value: The Financial Innovations that Created Modern Capital Markets, William N. Goetzmann and K. Geert Rouwenhorst (editor), Oxford University Press, 2005, pages 71-75.
[finance in Sumer 3,800 years ago]
For example, in Sumer 3,800 years ago, Dumuzi-gamil, a risk-taker, borrowed eight and a half ounces of silver, at interest, from a money-lender. He then financed a bakery, which supplied a temple of the moon god. He also lent smaller sums, at higher interest, to farmers and fishers. Meanwhile, the money-lender took the money and ran by selling on the loan to two other risk-takers. Five years later, Dumuzi-gamil repaid the loan, plus interest, to his new bond-holders and made a huge profit. So even when we were still writing on wet clay, we already had a bond market. We also already had trade networks, loans, contracts, credit, interest, deeds, and venture capital. More recently we invented other tools of finance and trade—banks, insurance, joint-stock companies, stock markets, credit cards, hedge funds, and so on—but their principles are the same. We may invent such tools for our own profit-seeking reasons, but they spread because they increase formal exchange and thus let more of us work together without us necessarily intending to do so. They’re all networking tools. “The Invention of Interest: Sumerian Loans,” M. Van De Mieroop, in: The Origins of Value: The Financial Innovations that Created Modern Capital Markets, William N. Goetzmann and K. Geert Rouwenhorst (editor), Oxford University Press, 2005, page 26. The Babylonians: An Introduction, Gwendolyn Leick, Routledge, 2003, page 88. See also: The Invention of Enterprise: Entrepreneurship from Ancient Mesopotamia to Modern Times, David S. Landes, Joel Mokyr, and William J. Baumol (editors), Princeton University Press, 2010.
[By the 1670s the navy consumed over three-quarters of the national budget]
The figures actually are for the army and navy, but before Britain’s big land wars, that’s mostly the navy. “The Political Economy of British Taxation, 1660-1815,” P. K. O’Brien, The Economic History Review, New Series, 41(1):1-32, 1988.
[financial tools in the Netherlands]
The First Modern Economy: Success, Failure, and Perseverance of the Dutch Economy, 1500-1815, Jan De Vries and A. M. van der Woude, Cambridge University Press, 1997, especially Chapter 4. Labyrinths of Prosperity: Economic Follies, Democratic Remedies, Reuven Brenner, University of Michigan Press, 1994, pages 53-61.
[government bonds in Italy]
See, for example, the Venetian prestiti (forced) loans to the state, which were, at first, really a kind of tax, with no actual paper certificate, but became fungible, and thus liquid assets, and thus an exchangeable government bond. Genoa tried a variant, the luoghi. A History of Interest Rates, Sidney Homer and Richard Sylla, Wiley, Fourth Edition, 2005, pages 93-101.
[France was powerful in the 1690s]
In the 1620s, England feared Spain (and Austria). But from the 1670s on, France was expanding, and Louis the XIV ruled France. By the 1690s, the French standing army numbered 300,000, which was three times the size of the largest armies deployed during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648). England’s Troubles: Seventeenth-Century English Political Instability in European Context, Jonathan Scott, Cambridge University Press, 2000, page 167.
[political scuffle in 1688]
That was the ‘Glorious Revolution,’ when William III came to power (from James II). 1688: The First Modern Revolution, Steve Pincus, Yale University Press, 2009.
[England lost a naval battle in 1690]
That was the Battle of Beachy Head, on July 10th, 1690. The Wars of Louis XIV, 1667-1714, John A. Lynn, Longman, 1999, page 214.
[England lost a year of trade goods in 1693]
That was the Battle of Lagos (during the Nine Years’ War) on June 27th, 1693 (known at the time as June 17th). It’s also sometimes known as the Battle of the Smyrna Convoy. The Royal Navy: A History from the Earliest Times to the Present, Volume II, Wm. Laird Clowes, assisted by Clements Markham, A. T. Mahan, H. W. Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, L. Carr Laughton, etc., Sampson Low, Marston and Company Limited, 1898, pages 357-360.
[the creation of the Bank of England]
In 1689 England discovered that war had grown insupportable under the current system of taxation, and with the current system of control of sovereign spending—even killing a king and having a civil war hadn’t worked sufficiently well. Parliament slowly took more and more charge as different ideas got tried. Cobbling together the successful ones, a new system evolved centered around a new idea, which effectively was a bond market as a mechanism to raise money reliably and tax in a way that seemed acceptable to the public. The Treasury devolved more and more responsibility to the Bank, which was left to be run by financiers and merchants, who became richer and more powerful. Taxes could be raised more efficiently, and could be raised to a higher level than before, and war could be expanded.

“From a period of immemorial antiquity it had been the practice of every English government to contract debts. What the Revolution introduced was the practice of honestly paying them.” The History of England from the Accession of James the Second, Vol. I Thomas Babington Macaulay, Tauchnitz, 1849, page 284 (and on).

“The immediate result of England’s entry into the war against France in 1689 was to make public expenditure increase between two and three times. [...] [B]oth the government and Parliament made serious mistakes which ran the new state into Crisis. [...] [T]here was before the 1690s little or no experience of large and sophisticated financial projects, either in Whitehall or in the City of London. [...] In the harsh and uncertain conditions of eighteenth-century life the state lottery was a perennial way of escape into wealth and leisure—if only in the imagination. [...] [I]t attracted more subscribers than any other form of government loan. [...] In April 1694, a month after passing the Bill for the Million Lottery, Parliament assented to a very different project whose consequences were to be as far-reaching as the prior decision to create a National Debt. This was the establishment of the Bank of England.” [...] The first measures taken to create a system of government long-term borrowing were thus marked by haste, carelessness, and episodic failure—even if in comparison with the management of short-term finance they were shiningly successful. But such mistakes and errors of judgement were perhaps inevitable in a trial period. Some valuable lessons had been learned: about the Connections between long- and short-dated finance, about consultation with the City of London, about the importance of foreign confidence in sterling, about the relative popularity of different kinds of loans. Above all, a national bank had been established which quickly showed that in the quality of its management it could challenge comparison with the Bank of Amsterdam, hitherto the cynosure of European eyes. It provided a point of growing importance around which the developing machine of government finance could turn.” The Financial Revolution in England: A Study in the Development of Public Credit, 1688-1756, P. G. M. Dickson, Macmillan, 1967, pages 46-47, 54, 57-58, and Table 2 (pages 48-49). See also page 256 for early bank subscribers. See also The Sinews of Power: War, Money, and the English State, 1688-1783, John Brewer, Unwin Hyman, 1989, Chapter 5.

“In effect, the Bank of England created a bond market, providing safe investment at reliable rates for investors and providing the government with a ready source of funds at low rates. It also systematized over several years the national debt. Over the long run, through the continental and world wars of the 1690s and the long eighteenth century until Waterloo, Britain had a huge financial advantage over much larger and arguably wealthier France, because its government could borrow at much lower rates, thanks to the Bank of England. The bank facilitated that borrowing and provided a ready source of currency, and the representative Parliament, which levied the taxes that provided reliable interest payments: institutions that got their beginnings in the arrangements that Parliament devised to finance the wars of William III.” Our First Revolution: The Remarkable British Upheaval That Inspired America’s Founding Fathers, Michael Barone, Random House, 2007, page 224.

The government was in such desperate need that it allowed the Bank of England to register as a joint-stock company—so, unlike every other bank, its investors had no personal liability if the bank failed. Its job was to lend money to the government at eight percent, and pass on that interest to its subscribers, less overhead costs (and profit). Its capital of £1.2 million was subscribed within 12 days. Only 60 percent of it, £720,000, was called up immediately, and that was loaned to the government in installments, the first of which was on August 1st, 1694. In return, the bank took the government’s promise to repay the loan, with interest (interest-bearing tallies, or bonds—in short, government debt), which essentially were backed by an Act of Parliament that amounted to earmarked taxes to be collected in future. The public then accepted the bank’s notes “as good as gold.” Thus for £100,000 in earmarked tax revenue, the government could drawn on £1.2 million (and the bank’s subscribers could expect £96,000 a year, and of course the bank’s proprietors could expect the difference, £4,000, every year). Overall, in the 15 years from 1688 to 1702, the government only borrowed £13 million as compared to the £59 million it raised in taxes.

However, the Bank of England wasn’t the first money-making scheme England tried to fund its latest war with France. The Bank was hard fought in Parliament, and were it not for the onerous war with France likely it would not have succeeded. Parliament first tried annuities and lotteries (which were popular) and tontines (which weren’t; a tontine is for a group who put in money and the last person to die gets it all). Nor was the Bank of England the first national bank; it’s just one of the oldest ones still surviving (after the Bank of Sweden). Banks had been founded in Amsterdam (1609), Barcelona (1609), Middle-burg (1616), Hamburg (1619), Delft (1621), Nuremberg (1621), Rotterdam (1635), and Sweden (1656).

The Making of Modern Finance: Liberal Governance and the Gold Standard, Samuel Knafo, Routledge, 2013, pages 91-97. 1688: The First Modern Revolution, Steve Pincus, Yale University Press, 2009, pages 388-393. “ ‘Fictitious cash’: English public finance and paper money, 1689-97,” R. Kleer, in: Money, Power, and Print: Interdisciplinary Studies of the Financial Revolution in the British Isles, Charles Ivar McGrath and Chris Fauske (editors), University of Delaware Press, 2008, pages 70-114. “How it All Began: the Monetary and Financial Architecture of Europe during the First Global Capital Markets, 1648-1815,” L. Neal, Financial History Review, 7(2):117-140, 2000. The Rise of Financial Capitalism: International Capital Markets in the Age of Reason, Larry Neal, Cambridge University Press, 1990. The Bank of England: A History, Volume 1, 1694-1787, John Clapham, Cambridge University Press, 1944, pages 19-58.

[effect of Britain’s bond market]
Britain’s bond market didn’t do all that by itself, but it helped catalyze all that. In essence, it was a bet that Britain made with itself that it would not only survive but prosper. That bet didn’t have to work—like any nation, Britain was making stuff up as it went along and could have fallen on its face at any point—nor did anyone foresee its effects; but that doesn’t matter. The bet led to a huge navy, which meant deficit spending, a huge national debt, and high taxes, which led to many scuffles in Parliament. But the bet also helped further shift Britain from farming to industry, from the countryside to the towns, from illiteracy to literacy. The effect of that cycle is part of why those of us in Britain were moving from generalizing for our home or village to specializing for some particular market in a town. It’s also part of why by 1750 one in five of us were townsfolk.
[Parliament argued over the national debt and high taxes]
Britain endured quite high taxes to build its navy: “the real cost of taxation afflicting Britain’s economy and society mounted decade by decade. That burden ... surpassed by a considerable margin the real and relative levels of taxation borne with such marked reluctance by the citizens of ancien régime France and was probably in excess of the taxes imposed on the population of other European powers, with the possible exception of Holland. The central authorities of a society which had undergone a revolution, occasioned initially by revolt against the taxes of a Stuart monarch, managed to appropriate significantly higher proportions of the nation’s income than the ‘despotisms’ of continental Europe. Between the Restoration and the French Revolution that share multiplied fivefold without provoking political upheavals, except among those fiscally privileged colonials of North America.” From: “The Political Economy of British Taxation, 1660-1815,” P. K. O’Brien, The Economic History Review, New Series, 41(1):1-32, 1988.

But there were many arguments over high taxes. For example, here’s part of one about increasing the size of the navy from 20,000 to 30,000 seamen in 1735. It’s part of a combined statement by Robert Walpole, Horatio Walpole, and (James?) Oglethorpe.

“To pretend to tell us, Sir, what France and Spain intended to have done last Year, or to pretend to tell us what they intend to do this next Year, with the Ships of War they have continued in Commission, is, I think, something extraordinary. We may perhaps guess at some of their Designs, but I shall always think it very imprudent, to leave the Peace and Quiet of this Nation to depend upon such Guess-work; especially when we consider, that they have no Occasion to fit out any great Fleet against any Power in Europe but ourselves; and therefore it is not to be presumed, that they would put themselves to such a great Expence, unless they were suspicious that the Measures they have resolved to pursue, may make this Nation engage in the War; and in such a Case, I think it is natural to believe, they would take the first Opportunity to invade or disturb us: They have such an absolute Command over all the Seamen of their Country, they have always such Numbers of regular Troops upon their Coasts, or within a few Days march of their Sea-Ports, that when they have their Ships ready equip’d and fit for sailing, it would be easy for them to clap Seamen and Land-Forces on Board; and they might arrive upon the Coasts of this Kingdom, before it would be possible for us to man and fit our Fleet sufficient to engage them, if we had not made some extraordinary Provision beforehand: This every Man must be convinced of, who knows the Difficulty we had to procure Seamen enough for the Squadron we fitted out last Summer, notwithstanding the long Time we had to look for them, and the Method of Pressing which we were even then obliged to make use of. Nor does it signify to tell us, that at this Rate we shall always be obliged to fit out Squadrons, and put ourselves to a great Expence, whenever any of our Neighbours begin to fit out one; for I take it to be a right Maxim, I really think we ought to prepare and fit out a Squadron, whenever we see any of our Neighbours doing so, unless we very well know the Purposes their Squadron is designed for. The Expence bestowed upon fitting out a Squadron may be an Expence to the Publick, but it is little or no Loss to the Nation; the whole is expended among our own People, and it not only improves our Seamen, by making them acquainted with the Service on Board a Man of War, but it increases their Number; for every Fleet we fit out encourages a Number of Land-Men to engage in the Sea-Service: Whereas, if by neglecting to do so, the Kingdom should be invaded, and a civil War kindled up, the Nation would in that Case suffer a real Loss, a Loss which might far surmount the Expence the Publick could be put to by the fitting out of twenty Squadrons; so that We may suffer by neglecting this Maxim, but can never suffer by observing it.

I shall readily grant, that this Nation would be more formidable, if we owed no publick Debts, and had the same Fleet and the same regular Army we have at present; but if we had no Squadron ready to put to Sea, nor any regular Troops ready to take the Field, I cannot admit that we should then be so formidable as we are at present, even tho’ we did not owe a Shilling in the World. We all know, that what now makes a Nation formidable, is not the Number nor the Riches of its Inhabitants, but the Number of Ships of War provided with able Seamen, and the Number of regular well disciplined Troops they have at Command: And, whatever Gentlemen may think of the Acceptation of his Majesty’s good Offices, I am persuaded they would not have been so readily accepted, if the Parties had not seen us preparing to do them bad Offices, in Case they had refused to accept of our good.”

“Debate in the Commons on the Number of Seamen for the Year 1735,” The Parliamentary History of England, From the Earliest Period to the Year 1803, Volume IX, A.D. 1733-1737, Hansard, 1811, pages 691-719, specifically pages 715-716.

[slavery nurtured Britain’s expansion]
A point first argued by Williams. Capitalism and Slavery, Eric Williams, 1944, Andre Deutsch, Reprint Edition, 1964.

The idea has been challenged as more quantitative and comparative data has come to light, but it’s hardly been disproved. Africans and the Industrial Revolution in England: A Study in International Trade and Economic Development, Joseph E. Inikori, Cambridge University Press, 2002. Slavery, Atlantic Trade and the British Economy, 1660-1800, Kenneth Morgan, Cambridge University Press, 2001. “The Atlantic Economy of the Eighteenth Century: Some Speculations on Economic Development in Britain America, Africa, and Elsewhere,” S. L. Engerman, Journal of European Economic History, 24(1):145-175, 1995. The Atlantic Slave Trade: Effects on Economies, Societies, and Peoples in Africa, the Americas, and Europe, Joseph E. Inikori and Stanley Engerman (editors), Duke University Press, 1992.

[...Lead, Tin, Fuller’s Earth, and coarse Wool]
That’s Voltair, writing in 1733. “As Trade enrich’d the Citizens in England, so it contributed to their Freedom, and this Freedom on the other Side extended their Commerce, whence arose the Grandeur of the State. Trade rais’d by insensible Degrees the naval Power, which gives the English a Superiority over the Seas, and they now are Masters of very near two hundred Ships of War. Posterity will very possibly be surpriz’d to hear that an Island whose only Produce is a little Lead, Tin, Fuller’s Earth, and coarse Wool, should become so powerful by its Commerce, as to be able to send in 1723, three Fleets at the same Time to three different and far distanc’d Parts of the Globe. One before Gibraltar, conquer’d and still possess’d by the English; a second to Porto Bello, to dispossess the King of Spain of the Treasures of the West-Indies; and a third into the Baltick, to prevent the Northern Powers from coming to an Engagement. [...]

In France the Title of Marquis is given gratis to any one who will accept of it; and whosoever arrives at Paris from the midst of the most remote Provinces with Money in his Purse, and a Name terminating in ac or ille, may strut about, and cry, such a Man as I! A Man of my Rank and Figure! And may look down upon a Trader with sovereign Contempt; whilst the Trader on the other Side, by thus often hearing his Profession treated so disdainfully, is Fool enough to blush at it. However, I need not say which is most useful to a Nation; a Lord, powder’d in the tip of the Mode, who knows exactly at what a Clock the King rises and goes to bed; and who gives himself Airs of Grandeur and State, at the same Time that he is acting the Slave in the Anti-chamber of a prime Minister; or a Merchant, who enriches his Country, dispatches Orders from his Compting-House to Surat and Grand Cairo, and contributes to the Felicity of the World.”

Letters Concerning the English Nation,. by Mr. de Voltaire. London, Printed for C. Davis in Pater-Noster-Row, and A. Lyon in Russel-Street, Covent-Garden. First edition, translated by John Lockman, 1733, pages 69-72.

[an unintended set of incitements in Britain]
Such a case could be made out of Mokyr’s introduction to: The British Industrial Revolution: An Economic Perspective, Joel Mokyr (editor), Second edition, Westview Press, 1999, pages 1-127.
[why Britain? The pinball game of history]
A lot of those changes followed from a few of us trying to pump water out of coal mines in 1700. The industrial phase change that followed was a bonfire that could burn only after a lot of tinder ended up, for whatever reasons, in one place and time. That happened first in Britain, perhaps just as farming happened first in Iraq millennia ago. But if our species does indeed pile up tinder over time, that tinder has to pile up enough somewhere first. Then it’s just a question of whether it’ll be dry enough there so that a match can set it ablaze. But if it isn’t, or if there is no suitable match, maybe it’ll pile up enough somewhere else, and be dry enough there, and a match will light it there—or not. Carry on the pinball game of history for long enough and it seems likely that at some point the tinder will catch fire somewhere, somewhen. Steam power happened in Britain in the 1700s as a byproduct of other things, and it was made possible as a byproduct of yet other things, each of which were themselves byproducts of still other things, and so on, back through time.

For a discussion of some of the current economic theories, see: The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry and Invention, William Rosen, University of Chicago Press, 2010, Chapter 11. However, Rosen avoids discussing at least two of the most venerable and still quite popular (even today) theories, namely: genes and religion.

Prime Movers

[“cry havoc”]
“A curse shall light upon the limbs of men; / Domestic fury and fierce civil strife / Shall cumber all the parts of Italy; / Blood and destruction shall be so in use / And dreadful objects so familiar / That mothers shall but smile when they behold / Their infants quartered with the hands of war, / All pity choked with custom of fell deeds; / And Caesar’s spirit, ranging for revenge, / With Ate by his side come hot from hell, / Shall in these confines with a monarch’s voice / Cry ‘Havoc!’ and let slip the dogs of war, / That this foul deed shall smell above the earth / With carrion men groaning for burial.”

Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare, Act III, Scene I.

[“tote that barge”]
“You an’ me, we sweat an’ strain / Body all achin’ and wracked wid pain / Tote dat barge! Lift dat bale! / Git a little drunk and ya lands in jail.” From: “Ol’ Man River,” Show Boat the 1927 Broadway Musical, Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II, 1927.
[prime mover]
In engineering, a prime mover converts energy into motive power (energy flows into mechanical energy).
[some first tools... ]
The first known sickles are 23Kya in Israel: “Composite Sickles and Cereal Harvesting Methods at 23,000-Years-Old Ohalo II, Israel,” I. Groman-Yaroslavski, E. Weiss, D. Nadel, PLoS ONE, 11(11):e0167151, 2016.

Hunter-gatherers in Japan had pottery perhaps as much as 16Kya. Ancient Jomon of Japan, Junko Habu, Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Hunter-gatherers in China had pre-neolithic pottery as much as 20Kya. “Early Pottery at 20,000 Years Ago in Xianrendong Cave, China,” X. Wu, C. Zhang, P. Goldberg, D. Cohen, Y. Pan, T. Arpin, O. Bar-Yosef, Science, 336(6089):1696-1700, 2012.

Oxen are castrated male cattle. Cattle were domesticated more than once, in one case (the zebu) in India perhaps 9Kya. “Domestication of cattle: Two or three events?,” D. Pitt, N. Sevane, E. L. Nicolazzi, D. E. MacHugh, S. D. E. Park, L. Colli, R. Martinez, M. W. Bruford, P. Orozco-terWengel, Evolutionary applications, 12(1):123-136, 2018.

Horses were (perhaps) domesticated perhaps 5.5Kya on the Steppes. “Reconstructing the origin and spread of horse domestication in the Eurasian steppe,” V. Warmuth, A. Eriksson, M. A. Bower, G. Barker, E. Barrett, B. K. Hanks, S. Li, D. Lomitashvili, M. Ochir-Goryaeva, G. V. Sizonov, V. Soyonov, A. Manica, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(21):8202-8206, 2012.

[Britain from 1750 to 1800]
Britain had great growing weather from 1720 to 1750, but the productivity of land in England may have more than doubled between 1700 and 1850, with a large jump coming after 1750, although the largest part of the increase came only after 1800. The Transformation of Rural England: Farming and the Landscape, 1700-1870, Tom Williamson, Exeter University Press, 2002. Agricultural Revolution in England: The Transformation of the Agrarian Economy 1500-1850, Mark Overton, Cambridge University Press, 1996.

It would be wrong, though, to assume that Britain in 1776 was already well-off, just because a larger but still tiny percentage of its population now were. Even as late as 1850 Britons only ate about as well as Indians did in 1998. In 1776 the Poor Laws were still in full force, and for good reason—most of the population were still starving, or near starvation. They were also strictly tied to the land—and not just in an farming sense, but also in a legal sense. To travel, the poor needed passes, which they rarely got.

For example, on May 28th, 1795, a bill slightly ameliorated the travel problem: “Many industrious poor persons, chargeable to the parish, township, or place where they live, merely from want of work there, would in any other place where sufficient employment is to be had, maintain themselves and families without being burthensome to any parish, township, or place; and such poor persons are for the most part compelled to live in their own parishes, townships, or places, and are not permitted to inhabit elsewhere, under pretence that they are likely to become chargeable to the parish, township, or place into which they go for the purpose of getting employment, although the labour of such poor persons might, in many instances, be very beneficial to such parish, township, or place.” Poor Removal Bill, 35 George III, Chapter 101, (To Prevent the Removal of Poor Persons, Until They Shall Become Actually Chargeable). The bill explicitly excluded pregnant females, as the law had done for centuries already—they were the least able to work and the most expensive to support.

[tool change before the steam engine in a zero-sum labor world]
Inventing a new tool (the wheelbarrow, for example) would be the same as if we suddenly got nicer weather. For a while we’d eat better, but we’d also make more kids. (Or rather, in a world with no incentive to control births, it might just be that more of our kids would survive infancy because we could feed them better; or it might be that we would ease up on infanticide because we would have more food.) Then those extra mouths would eat up the surplus. That would then drag us back down to about the same amount of food per person, given the tools and trade deals we had at the time. Or conversely, if lots of us died because the weather got bad or a pest hit the crops or a plague hit, then if that sudden pressure on us ever ended we’d each end up with more land, so we’d make more kids. That would then would push us back up to about the same numbers supported by the land, given the tools and trade deals that we had at the time. This is the Malthusian world. An Essay on the Principle of Population, Thomas Malthus, Oxford University Press, 1999.
[population growth to 1800]
“[I]t is fairly clear that up to 1800 or maybe 1750, no society had experienced sustained growth in per capita income. (Eighteenth century population growth also averaged one-third of 1 percent, the same as production growth.) That is, up to about two centuries ago, per capita incomes in all societies were stagnated at around $400 to $800 per year. [...] Between year 0 and year 1750, world population grew from around 160 million to perhaps 700 million (an increase of a factor of four in 1,750 years). In the assumed absence of growth in income per person, this means a factor of four increase in total production as well, which obviously could not have taken place without important technological changes. But in contrast to a modern society, a traditional agricultural society responds to technological change by increasing population, not living standards. Population dynamics in such a society obey a Malthusian law that maintains product per capita at $600 per year, independent of changes in productivity.” From: “The Industrial Revolution: Past and Future,” in: Lectures on Economic Growth, Robert E. Lucas, Harvard University Press, 2002, pages 109-188.

See also: The World Economy: A Millennia Perspective, Angus Maddison, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2001.

[early water screws and waterwheels]
The waterscrew, also known as the Archimedes screw may be much older, perhaps dating as far back as 2.7Kya in Nineveh (in Mesopotamia, today’s Iraq). The Mystery of the Hanging Garden of Babylon: An Elusive World Wonder Traced, Stephanie Dalley, Oxford University Press, 2013, pages 62-63. “A Relief of a Water-powered Stone Saw Mill on a Sarcophagus at Hierapolis and its Implications,” T. Ritti, K. Grewe, P. Kessener, Journal of Roman Archaeology, 20(1):138-163, 2007. “Water Mills in the Area of Sagalassos: A Disappearing Ancient Technology,” K. Donners, M. Waelkens, J. Deckers, Anatolian Studies, 52:1-17, 2002. “The Turn of the Screw: Optimal Design of An Archimedes Screw,” C. Rorres, Journal of Hydraulic Engineering, 126(1):72-80, 2000. Millstone and Hammer: The Origins of Water Power, M. J. T. Lewis, University of Hull Press, 1997.
[Japanese waterwheels in 610]
“Water Wheels in the Preindustrial Economy of Japan,” R. Minami, Hitotsubashi Journal of Economics, 22(2):1-15, 1982.
[English watermills a millennium ago]
“Inland Water Transport in Medieval England—the View from the Mills: a Response to Jones,” J. Langdon, Journal of Historical Geography, 26(1):75-82, 2000. The Mills of Medieval England, Richard Holt, Blackwell Publishers, 1988, pages 7-8. Stronger than a Hundred Men: A History of the Vertical Water Wheel, Terry S. Reynolds, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983. Domesday England, H. C. Darby, Cambridge University Press, 1977, page 361. “Domesday Water Mills,” M. T. Hodgen, Antiquity, 13(51):261-279, 1939.
[waterwheels and windmills versus the horse or man]
The History of the Machine, Sigvard Strandh, translated by Ann Henning, Dorset Press, 1989.
[advantage of early steam engines]
In 1744, Desaguliers noted that: “When Water is to be raised for supplying a Town or a Gentleman’s House, or a Mine is to be drained of the Water which hinders the getting of the Ore; if there be a River, Brook, or Collection of Springs in our power, it is best to make use of an Undershot, Overshot, or BreastWheel; or of any Fall of Water, in Costar’s Way, or that which I mentioned in Sect. 12. of this Lecture, if there be a Drain to carry off the falling Water: because as such a Power costs nothing, there is no other Expence but setting up an Engine, and keeping it in order. But where there is no Water to be had, and Coals are cheap, the Engine now call’d the Fire-Engine, or the Engine to raise Water by Fire, is the best and most effectual. But it is especially of immense Service (so as to be now Lect. XII. of general use) in the Coal-Works, where the Power of the Fire is made from the Refuse of the Coals, which would not otherwise be sold.” A Course of Experimental Philosophy, Volume 2, J. T. Desaguliers, M. Senex & T. Longman, 1744, pages 464-465.

Fifty years later (1795), one observer wrote that: “Water is seldom convenient; wind is a feeble and precarious agent; and muscular force is very expensive and very limited; but steam is free from each of these imperfections, and is superior to all in strength and duration.” Inventing the Industrial Revolution: The English Patent System, 1660-1800 Christine MacLeod, Cambridge University Press, 1988, page 176. However, steam engines were still expensive.

[problems with early steam engines]
“Patentees of steam engines concentrated instead on the major drawback of steam power—its expense. Nature provided wind and water irregularly but freely; cost-conscious manufacturers were often prepared to ignore the irregularity in order to benefit from the minimal running costs. And so patentees of steam engines feature largely among those who cited the saving of fuel as a goal of their invention; Watt’s separate condenser was but the most successful among many, prior to the compounding of steam engines (pioneered by Jonathan Hornblower and successfully resumed by Arthur Woolf early in the nineteenth century). Not that steam engines did not have reliability problems of their own: Edmund Cartwright promoted his chiefly for its fuel-saving potential, but also reckoned to have overcome a defect of other steam engines, their propensity ’without great care and attention, to be frequently out of order’. A water wheel might run foul of the weather, but it was mechanically far more dependable and quicker to repair than were early steam engines.” Inventing the Industrial Revolution: The English Patent System, 1660-1800 Christine MacLeod, Cambridge University Press, 1988, pages 176-177.
[...the better we got at making it: Abraham Darby’s grandson and James Watt]
Abraham Darby’s grandson, Abraham Darby III, works to keep ironmongers: Dynasty of Iron Founders: The Darbys and Coalbrookdale, Arthur Raistrick, Longmans, Green, & Co., 1953.

Watt had trouble: “[T]he making of the invention is not the sole difficulty. It is one thing to invent, said Sir Marc Brunel, and another thing to make the invention work.... [Watt’s steam-engine] was so much in advance of the mechanical capability of the age that it was with the greatest difficulty it could be executed. When labouring upon his invention at Glasgow, Watt was baffled and thrown into despair by the clumsiness and incompetency of his workmen. Writing to Dr. Roebuck on one occasion, he said, “You ask what is the principal hindrance in erecting engines? It is always the smith-work.” His first cylinder was made by a whitesmith, of hammered iron soldered together, but having used quicksilver to keep the cylinder air-tight, it dropped through the inequalities into the interior, and “played the devil with the solder.” Yet, inefficient though the whitesmith was, Watt could ill spare him, and we find him writing to Dr. Roebuck almost in despair, saying, “My old white-iron man is dead!” feeling his loss to be almost irreparable. His next cylinder was cast and bored at Carron, but it was so untrue that it proved next to useless. The piston could not be kept steam tight, notwithstanding the various expedients which were adopted of stuffing it with paper, cork, putty, pasteboard, and old hats.... Yet better work could not be had. First-rate workmen in machinery did not as yet exist; they were only in process of education. Nearly everything had to be done by hand. The tools used were of a very imperfect kind. A few ill-constructed lathes, with some drills and boring-machines of a rude sort, constituted the principal furniture of the workshop....

Watt endeavoured to remedy the defect by keeping certain sets of workmen to special classes of work, allowing them to do nothing else. Fathers were induced to bring up their sons at the same bench with themselves, and initiate them in the dexterity which they had acquired by experience; and at Soho it was not unusual for the same precise line of work to be followed by members of the same family for three generations. In this way as great a degree of accuracy of a mechanical kind was arrived at was practicable under the circumstances. But notwithstanding all this care, accuracy of fitting could not be secured so long as the manufacture of steam-engines was conducted mainly by hand.”

Industrial Biography: Iron Workers And Tool Makers, Samuel Smiles, John Murray, 1863, pages 179-181.

[...uphill battle...hard to keep skilled hands...]
“[...] when the men got well trained, the difficulty was to keep them. Foreign tempters were constantly trying to pick up Boulton and Watt’s men, and induce them by offers of larger wages to take service abroad. The two fitters sent up to London to erect the Bow engine were strongly pressed to go out to Russia. There were also French agents in England at the same time, who tried to induce certain of Boulton and Watt’s men to go over to Paris and communicate the secret of making the new engines to M. Perrier, who had undertaken to pump water from the Seine for the supply of Paris. The German States also sent over emissaries with a like object, Baron Stein having been specially commissioned by his Government to master the secret of Watt’s engine—to obtain working plans of it and bring away workmen capable of making it,—the first step taken being to obtain access to the engine-rooms by bribing the work men.” Lives of Boulton and Watt: Principally from the Original Soho Mss., Comprising also: A History of the Invention and Introduction of the Steam-Engine, Samuel Smiles, John Murray, 1865, pages 227-228.
[steam engine improvements]
“James Watt and his rotary engines,” R. L. Hills, Transactions of the Newcomen Society, 70(1):89-108, 1999. Power from Steam: A History of the Stationary Steam Engine, Richard L. Hills, Cambridge University Press, 1989.
[in 1800, one English textile factory...]
“An extensive cotton-mill is a striking instance of the application of the greatest powers to perform a prodigious quantity of light and easy work. A steam-engine of 100 horse-power, which has the strength of 880 men, gives a rapid motion to 50000 spindles, for spinning fine cotton thread: each spindle forms a separate thread; and the whole number work together, in an immense building erected on purpose, and so adapted to receive the machines that no room is lost. Besides these spindles the engine gives motion to an extensive suite of preparing machines which work the cotton by many successive operations, beginning with the cotton-wool in it raw and dirty state as it comes from abroad in bags, beating out the dirt, carding, or combing out and disentangling the fibres, till they are all laid straight and parallel to each other, and drawn out into long minute bands, ready to be twisted into thread by the spindles. Although spinning is not an operation of main force, the advantage of machinery in this case are still greater than in laborious work; for if the thread were to be spun by the distaff and spindle in the simplest manner which was in use in Queen Elizabeth’s time, each person could spin but one thread at a time, and the most diligent and expert spinner could not produce one-fourth as much thread as one of the spindles which are turned by this engine. Seven hundred and fifty people are sufficient to attend all the operations of such a cotton-mill; and by the assistance of the steam-engine they will be enabled to spin as much thread as 200000 persons could do without machinery, or one person can do as much as 266. The engine itself only requires two men to attend it, and supply it with fuel. Each spindle in a mill will produce between two and a half and three hanks (of 840 yards each) per day, which is upwards of a mile and a quarter of thread in twelve hours so that the 50000 spindles will produce 62500 miles of thread every day of twelve hours, which is more than a sufficient length to go two and a half times round the globe.” A Treatise on the Steam Engine: Historical, Practical, and Descriptive, John Farey, Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green, 1827, page 8. See also: A Statistical Account of the British Empire: Exhibiting Its Extent, Physical Capacities, Population, Industry, and Civil and Religious Institutions, Volume I, J. R. McCulloch, Charles Knight and Co., Second Edition, 1839, page 648 (footnote). History of the Cotton Manufacture in Great Britain: With a Notice of Its Early History in the East, and in All the Quarters of the Globe; A Description of the Great Mechanical Inventions which Have Caused Its Unexampled Extension in Britain; And a View of the Present State of the Manufacture, and the Condition of the Classes Engaged in Its Several Departments, Edward Baines, H. Fisher, R. Fisher, and P. Jackson, 1835, Chapter XI, pages 220-244.
[spread of steam in Britain in 1800]
Europe, 1783-1914, William Simpson and Martin Jones, Routledge, 2000, page 99. The Industrial and Commercial Revolutions in Great Britain During the Nineteenth Century, L. C. A. Knowles, George Routledge and Sons, 1921, page 73.

A Synergetic Machine

[coke smelting in China]
“By 1078 North China was producing annually more than 114,000 tons of pig iron (700 years later England would produce only half that amount).” China: A New History, John King Fairbank and Merle Goldman, Harvard University Press, Second Edition, 2006, page 89.

Why this, and similar advances, didn’t lead to a huge change in China is a puzzle. (The medieval Islamic world is also puzzling.) China had so very much so very early, but the pieces either didn’t come together in industrial synergy, or when they did they didn’t stay together long enough to break our pattern of subsistence. Why? At least one big piece of ‘network physics,’ and probably many big pieces, must still be missing. The Pattern of the Chinese Past, Mark Elvin, Stanford University Press, 1973.

[reduction in coal needs of steam engines, 1727 to 1860]
Power from Steam: A History of the Stationary Steam Engine, Richard L. Hills, Cambridge University Press, 1989. Steam Power and British Industrialisation to 1860, G. N. von Tunzelmann, Clarendon Press, 1978.
[growth of cotton mills in Manchester from 1783 to 1816]
“The Social Archaeology of Industrialisation: the example of Manchester During the 17th and 18th Centuries,” M. Nevell, in: Industrial Archaeology: Future Directions, Eleanor Conlin Casella and James Symonds (editors), Springer, 2005, pages 177-204. Power from Steam: A History of the Stationary Steam Engine, Richard L. Hills, Cambridge University Press, 1989, pages 42-45.
[fast, cheap, large-scale—pick any two]
This is similar to the ‘iron triangle’ in software engineering. It’s part of widespread observation in much project management, not just software.
[before 1830 industry couldn’t be fast, cheap, and large-scale]
With the steam engine we began to break through a barrier that we had never known that we could ever break through. Before the 1800s, that barrier lay between us and cheap, fast, and large-scale industry. Of course, large-scale industry had always been possible—we built the pyramids, for instance. But such industry either couldn’t be cheap, or it couldn’t be fast. It was as if three kids were trapped in a burning building, but we could only ever carry two, so we always had to decide which one had to die.

For example, to make pots we might need clay for the pots, potter’s wheels and lathes to shape the pots, flint and salt to glaze the pots, coal to fire the pots, power to grind the flint and run the wheels and lathes, and, of course, potters. But geography is a problem. Where do we put the pottery? Where the clay is? Where the coal is? How about where the power is? What about the flint, or salt—or potters? Wherever we site the pottery, we might need ships, carts, packhorses, and people, to fetch the clay, coal, flint, or whatever is missing—maybe even people—because to make pots we have to bring everything together. That transport adds either time or cost, or both. Plus, power is a special case. Waterwheels and windmills are stuck in place.

For any large-scale industry, we need large amounts of stuff. To make large amounts of any tangible thing, edible or not—whether it’s ground grain for an army, crucible steel for swords, spun thread for clothes, or dressed stones for a pyramid—we need lots of three things: power, hands, and resources (that is, materials and energy). To get lots of power—outside of ourselves and our draft animals, which would mean ongoing and irreducible food expense, even counting slavery—we usually need swift-running water, and to get that we need hills. To get lots of hands, we need food, which means water, but usually not swift-running water, which means plains. To get lots of resources beyond the usual—land, plants, and solar energy—we often need quarries or mines. However, hills, plains, and mines don’t often go together. Of course, that wouldn’t matter if mass transport, or any transport, was cheap, or at least fast, or better yet, both. But on land it wasn’t. So even after the horse, then the waterwheel, cheap, fast, and large-scale industry was all but impossible.

So for millennia most of our industry had to be small-scale. Only a few hands could move to where power was, or where resources were. Most hands stayed where food was, and we moved resources to where hands were, then hands made do for the missing power. None of us anywhere on the planet saw the problem, but we all faced it daily: Could we bring all three industrial needs—power, hands, and resources—together in one place? Or could we cut transport times, or costs, or maybe even both? Either way would smash the barrier and free us from our cage. In Britain, by around 1800, canals let us put a dent in the second, but the steam engine let us do both: the first by around 1800 with the steam-powered factory, then the second by around 1830 with the steam-powered locomotive.

[the pottery story]
That pottery story is based on Josiah Wedgwood’s 1762 petition to Parliament in support of a turnpike road because of the poor state of the roads. (This later evolved into a canal, and then later, a railway. The same sort of thing happened for cotton manufacturers in Manchester.)

“In Burslem, and its neighbourhood, are near one hundred and fifty separate Potteries, for making various kinds of stone and earthenware; which, together, find constant employment and support for near seven thousand people. The ware in these Potteries is exported in vast quantities from London, Bristol, Liverpool, Hull, and other seaports, to our several colonies in America and the West Indies, as well as to almost every port in Europe. Great quantities of flint-stones are used in making some of the ware, which are brought by sea, from different parts of the coast, to Liverpool and Hull: and the clay for the making of white ware is brought from Devonshire and Cornwall, chiefly to Liverpool; the materials from whence are brought by water, up the rivers Mersey and Weaver, to Winsford, in Cheshire; those from Hull, up the Trent, to Willington; and from Winsford and Willington, the whole are brought by land-carriage to Burslem. The ware, when made, is conveyed to Liverpool and Hull, in the same manner as the material brought from those places.

Many thousands of tons of shipping, and seamen in proportion, which in summer trade to the northern seas, are employed in winter in carrying materials for the Burslem ware: and, as much salt is consumed in glazing one species of it, as pays annually near £5,000 duty to Government. Add to these considerations the prodigious quantity of coals used in the Potteries, and the loading and freight this manufacture constantly supplies, as well for land-carriage as inland navigation, and it will appear, that the manufacturers, sailors, bargemen, carriers, colliers, men employed in the salt-works, and others who are supported by the pot trade, amount to a great many thousand people; and every shilling received for ware at foreign markets is so much clear gain to the nation, as not one foreigner is employed in, or any material imported from abroad for any branch of it; and the trade flourishes so much, as to have increased by two-thirds within the last fourteen years.

The Potters concerned in this very considerable manufacture, presuming from the above and many other reasons that might be offered, the Pot trade not unworthy the attention of Parliament, have presented a petition for leave to bring in a Bill to repair and widen the road from Red Bull, at Lawton, in Cheshire, to Cliff Bank, in Staffordshire; which runs quite through the Potteries, and falls at each end into a Turnpike road. This road, especially the northern road from Burslem to the Red Bull, is so very narrow, deep, and foundrous, as to be almost impassable for carriages; and in the winter, almost for pack-horses; for which reason, the carriages, with materials and ware, to and from Liverpool, and the salt-works in Cheshire, are obliged to go to Newcastle, and from thence to the Red Bull, which is nine miles and a half, (whereof three miles and a half, viz. from Burslem to Newcastle, are not Turnpike road), instead of five miles, which is the distance from Burslem to the Red Bull, by the road prayed to be amended.”

The Borough of Stoke-upon-Trent, in the Commencement of the Reign of Her Most Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria: Comprising Its History, Statistics, Civil Polity, & Traffic With Biographical and Geneologicial Notices of Eminent Individuals and Families; Also, the Manorial History of Newcastle-under-Lyme, and Incidental Notices of Other Neighbouring Place & Objects, John Ward, W. Lewis & Son, 1843, pages 28-29. For more general background, see also: The Wedgwoods: Being a Life of Josiah Wedgwood, With Notices of his Works and their Productions, Memoirs of the Wedgwood and other families And a History of the Early Potteries of Staffordshire, Llewellynn Jewitt, Virtue Brothers and Co., 1865, pages 162-163.

[Britain’s growing transport network—turnpike roads]
In Britain, the length of turnpike roads increased from 300 miles to around 15,000 miles from 1706 to 1770. By 1836, it was around 20,000 miles (17 percent of the entire paved road network). “Turnpike trusts and the transportation revolution in 18th century England,” D. Bogart, Explorations in Economic History, 42(4):479-508, 2005. Similarly, “by 1775, a network of canals connected all the major English ports of London, Bristol, Hull and Liverpool with every large coalfield.” The Day the Universe Changed, James Burke, Little, Brown, 1986, page 183.
[The first railroad: effect of the Stockton-Darlington railway line on the cost of coal in Stockton from 1825 to 1827]
The first railroad, just 25 miles long, halved the cost of a ton of coal—from 18 shillings to eight shillings and six pence. “The carriage of coals for landsale was the traffic on which the Company mainly relied for their revenue, and it was in connection with this traffic that the railway was first used. Extensive depôts, which stand out so prominently in the well-known lithographic view of the opening, had been erected at Darlington, on the west side of the Great North Road, near the Northgate Bridge. These were brick-arched cells, each thirty feet long, eighteen feet wide and thirteen feet high. Others, not so open to objection as the Darlington cells on the score of height, had been built, and were in course of erection, at Stockton. Soon after the opening of the railway, the price of coals at Stockton fell from 18s. to 12s., dropping afterwards [by 1827] down to 8s. 6d.” The North Eastern Railway: Its rise and development, William Weaver Tomlinson, Andrew Reid & Company, 1915, page 117.

“The [early British railways] originated in the wagon ways, or tramways, used in the coal industry, and it was only with the construction of the Stockton & Darlington Railway (S&DR) that it was discovered that railways could be used for passengers and general freight. The S&DR was launched in 1825 as a line designed to carry coal some 30 miles from collieries south of Durham to Stockton on the coast so that it could be transported by ship to London and elsewhere. The intention was to reduce the exorbitant cost of moving coal from the colliery to the coast. The S&DR’s authorising Act of Parliament followed the pattern of those for turnpike roads and canals. While the S&DR was free to operate its own vehicles on the railway, it had to permit the owners of other vehicles to use it on payment of a toll. The result was that the railway was used in a variety of different ways. Most of the traffic was pulled by horses, and while a large proportion of the trains were owned by the S&DR itself, individual colliery owners used their own wagons and horses. It was also used for passenger traffic, and two lady publicans ran horse-drawn carriages. The result was a combination of chaos, invention and success. The railway was built as a single track with passing places, and as traffic increased there were queues (and disputes) for their use. Light passenger coaches were supposed to give way to heavier coal trains. The locomotive engines introduced under the guidance of George Stephenson confirmed that mobile engines were at least as good as suppliers of motive power such as horses or stationary engines hauling wagons by ropes. The success, both technical and commercial, of the S&DR demonstrated for the first time that railways could have a commercial use beyond coal and mineral traffic in the north-east of England.

The discovery that railways could be highly profitable for transporting goods generally, not just coal and people, was made by the Liverpool and Manchester Railway (L&MR), which set the pattern for all other railways. Like the S&DR, the L&MR was established to break the stranglehold of a monopoly canal which took an indirect route between the two cities. The result of the monopoly was that the rapidly expanding cotton trade was faced with massive transport costs between its main centre, Manchester, and its chief port, Liverpool. As a consequence, and in what was to become the traditional fashion, the businessmen of the two cities, Liverpool merchants and Manchester mill owners, collaborated to build a railway between the two centres. An Act was passed in 1826, and the railway was opened in September 1830. Almost immediately upon completion, the L&MR was carrying mail, road ‘containers’ for Pickfords and had begun passenger excursions. From the start the proportion of passenger traffic was far larger than had been expected. It rapidly became clear that there were very large profits to be made, and that passengers as much as freight would be responsible for profitability. By the end of 1830, 70,000 passengers had been carried by the L&MR, and between 1831 and 1845 passengers accounted for 56 per cent of its total traffic receipts.” Parallels between the early British railways and the ICT revolution, Robert C. B. Miller, The Institute of Economic Affairs, 2003, pages 34-35.

[railway mania in 1825]
“The year 1825 marks one of those periods in history when the speculative mania, always present in a commercial community, and more or less active, suddenly burst into delirium: projects, however visionary, were eagerly taken up; shares in ideal mines were bought and sold with marvellous celerity; and thousands became dupes of their own folly or thirst for gain. Every thing was to be done by steam: by means of coal-gas, people were ‘to ride among the clouds at the rate of forty miles an hour, and whirl along a turnpike-road at the rate of twelve miles an hour, having relays, at every fifteen miles, of bottled gas instead of relays of horses.’ A writer of the day remarks: ‘this nondescript gas-breathing animal, something of the velocipede family, is intended to crawl over the ground by protruding from behind it six or eight legs on either side in alternate succession.’ And referring to the numerous schemes then put forward for railways, he continues: ‘nothing now is heard of but railroads; the daily papers teem with notices of new lines of them in every direction, and pamphlets and paragraphs are thrown before the public eye, recommending nothing short of making them general throughout the kingdom.’ All the great towns of the north were to be connected by railways: Liverpool with Birmingham, Birmingham with London, London with Dover. The ironmasters—trade being slack, and having an eye to business—had the credit of fostering the speculative spirit for their own interests. ‘All physical obstructions,’ as Telford said, ‘were forgotten or overlooked amid the splendour of the gigantic undertakings.’

Real enterprise was, however, steadily pursuing its aim amid all the excitement. Application had been made to parliament for leave to lay down a railway from Liverpool to Manchester—a work then become indispensable to those two increasing and important towns. At that period, and for some time afterwards, canal-boats, and slow, heavy roadwagons were the only available means for the transport of heavy goods or bulky merchandise. The charge for conveyance from London to Yorkshire amounted frequently to £13 per ton, and even at this high cost the service was very imperfect. Beneficial as canals had proved they were becoming inadequate to the growing requirements of trade. Besides the road there were two canals for the traffic between Liverpool and Manchester, the distance by the latter fifty-five miles, and the carriage of goods in some intances £2 per ton. Manchester was so entirely dependent on Liverpool for supplies of raw material, and the saving of time in transport so much an object, that any measure for an additional route was more a necessity than a speculation. It was notorious that goods were frequently conveyed from Liverpool to New York in less time than to Manchester. To make a third canal was impossible, as the district afforded no more water than sufficed for the two already existing. A thousand tons of merchandise were sent daily between the two towns, and produced a yearly revenue of £200,000 to the carriers. On one of the canals the profits were so great that the proprietors received the amount of their original outlay every alternate year.

Reasonable compliance with their wishes would have satisfied the merchants, who sought only to secure prompt and certain means of transport, not to depreciate canal property. Failing in their object, a railway, which had from time to time been talked about, was again discussed. The ‘Liverpool and Manchester Railway Company’ was formed, and their prospectus issued in 1824. In the following year the bill came before parliament, and there encountered all the opposition which selfishness could invent or ignorance employ, as may be seen in the parliamentary records of the session. The bill, however, was successfully carried in 1826.”

“Railway Communications,” in: Chambers’s Papers for the People, Volume 12, William Chambers, J. W. Moore, 1852, pages 14-15.

See also: “The collapse of the Railway Mania, the development of capital markets, and the forgotten role of Robert Lucas Nash,” A. Odlyzko, Accounting History Review, 21(3):309-345, 2011. “This time is different: An example of a giant, wildly speculative, and successful investment mania,” A. Odlyzko, B. E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, 10(1):article 60, 2010. Fire & Steam: A History of the Railways in Britain, C. Wolmar, Atlantic Book, 2007. The Railway Mania and Its Aftermath, 1845-1852, Henry Grote Lewin, The Railway Gazette, 1936.

[tool change speedup]
This is the proposed change that led to our break from the Malthusian world, so the discussion here analyzes some Malthusian pressures that led to rising populations driving us to larger and larger ‘carrying capacities.’
[cost of engine labor fell below cost of human labor]
The Marvels of Modern Mechanism and their relation to Social Betterment, Jerome Bruce Crabtree, The King-Richardson Company, 1901, pages 500-503. “The Animal as a Machine,” R. H. Thurston, The North American Review, Volume 163, July 1896, pages 607-619. The Animal as a Machine and a Prime Motor, and the Laws of Energetics, R. H. Thurston, John Wiley & sons, 1894. “Energy and Labour,” G. C. Cuningham, Transactions of the Canadian Society of Civil Engineers, Volume 5, Part I, January to June 1891, pages 235-261. “Black Diamonds,” F. M. Maury, Popular Science Volume 14, January 1879, pages 337-345. Fourteen Weeks in Physics: Steele’s Series in the Natural Sciences, J. Dorman Steele, A. S. Barnes & Company, 1878, page 181.
[steam’s contribution to growth before 1830 was small]
The British Industrial Revolution in Global Perspective, Robert C. Allen, Cambridge University Press, 2009. “Steam as a General Purpose Technology: A Growth Accounting Perspective,” N. Crafts, Economic Journal, 114(495):338-351, 2004.

Allen convincingly argues that in Britain, as opposed to France and China, labor was expensive and capital and energy were cheap. The substitution of capital and energy for labor was then economically forced. This is a great argument. However, it doesn’t quite explain why Britain was able to supply the machinery and know-how to accomplish that substitution, and why that particular substitution then went on to trigger such huge changes.

Also, see Elvin, and the even earlier Killough, for a sketch of an earlier version of the same argument: The Pattern of the Chinese Past, Mark Elvin, Stanford University Press, 1973. International Trade, Hugh Baxter Killough, McGraw-Hill, 1938, pages 83-84.

[Britain’s exploding iron production 1800-1872]
“The Output of the British Iron Industry Before 1870,” P. Riden, The Economic History Review, 30(3):442-459, 1977. Griffiths’ Guide to the Iron Trade of Great Britain, with plates and illustrations, Contains An Elaborate Review of the Iron & Coal Trades for Last Year, Addresses and Names of all Ironmasters with a list of Blast Furnaces, Iron Manufactories, and other Statistics and Information respecting Iron and Coal which may be useful to Merchants Coalowners Brokers Bankers Ironmasters and all others interested in the Iron Trade, Samuel Griffiths, 1873, page 2.

The following quote seems apropos: “This is not inappropriately called the iron age, and certainly it deserves the name of the metallic age. That men should chase wild animals, and having taken, should tame and feed them, and thus always secure a supply; that they should appropriate the spontaneous fruits of the earth, and, imitating the processes of nature, should cast seed into the ground and become cultivators, always to have the fruits of the earth; that they should, from wrapping their limbs in the skins of animals, weave clothing to protect their bodies and become manufacturers; that they should launch a hollow tree on a stream, and end by navigating every part of the ocean, absolutely winning bread from the salt wave,— seems less surprising than that that they should find the means of subsistence and of welfare in the bowels of the earth.... [E]very step has been successive; slowly, gradually, but surely, has man been led from utter ignorance of the objects around him to use and profit by every solid thing on the surface of the earth, by the waters which surround it, by the circumambient atmosphere, and by the minerals deep hidden in its bowels.... In 1798... the make of iron [in Britain] was 125,000 tons; in 1806 it was 258,000 tons; in 1823 it was 450,000 tons; in 1830, 670,000 tons; and now it is more than five times as much. We use iron in ways that our fathers never thought of. Our palaces and our ships are built of iron. Our railways are in the main iron; our telegraphs depend on iron.” From: “The British Iron Trade,” The Economist, 14(659):391-392, 1856.

[the railway in the United States]
Nothing Like It in the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad, 1863-1869, Stephen E. Ambrose, Simon & Schuster, 2000. By 1916, railway mileage in United States was 254,037 miles of ‘road (first track) owned.’ By 1929, it was 249,433 miles. Statistical Abstract of the United States, United States Bureau of the Census, 1931, page 411. However, for a counterfactual economic analysis that the railway might have made little economic difference see: Railroads and American Economic Growth: Essays in Econometric History, Robert W. Fogel, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1964.
[coal and iron production in Germany]
The Spirit of Capitalism: Nationalism and Economic Growth, Liah Greenfeld, Harvard University Press, 2001, pages 216-218. The Economic Consequence of the Peace, John Maynard Keynes, Harcourt, Brace and Howe, 1920, page 16.
As a sign of just how fast the changes came, trains flew between places so fast that keeping time by the sun abruptly stopped making sense. Railroads in Britain created the idea of time zones then standardized them in 1847, just 17 years after the first commercial railroad there. Those in northern Germany standardized in 1874. Those in Sweden did the same in 1879. Those in the United States did so in 1883—just 14 years after the first transcontinental railroad there. Entire continents were now changing in a matter of decades. That was completely new.
The industrial dynamic sketched in the text went like this: mine coal to smelt iron to build machinery to build factories to build locomotives to power railways to move coal to fuel factories to make machinery to mine coal to fuel machinery to mine iron to build machinery—to mine yet more coal, to smelt yet more iron, and so on.

Our industrial phase change wasn’t the first time we fell into that kind of pulsing, self-propelling, synergetic cycle. In our recent past, for example, we autocatalytically cemented another: get slaves to harvest sugar to buy tobacco to buy ships to get slaves to work plantations to buy opium to buy tea to get slaves. That particular cycle changed the futures of Britain, the United States, the Caribbean, Africa, India, Indonesia, and China. We made another cycle even further back in time: make war to get slaves to grow food to feed slaves to swell armies to support kings to make war to get slaves. The industrial phase change, however, may be our first synergetic cycle that didn’t directly depend on slaves.

The text takes some liberties with the term a chemist might use for that kind of process. The word ‘synergy’ comes from the Greek synergos, which roughly means ‘working together’ or ‘combined action.’ The word is in common use but chemists don’t normally use the word (although they might sometimes use ‘synergistic’). For the same idea (of a self-stimulating reaction network) they might instead say ‘jointly catalytic’ or ‘collectively autocatalytic’ or ‘network catalytic.’ But such phrases are too cumbersome for a book of popular science. For a survey of much more relaxed meanings of the word in physics, chemistry, biology, ecology, and anthropology, see: Holistic Darwinism: Synergy, Cybernetics, and the Bioeconomics of Evolution, Peter A. Corning, University of Chicago Press, 2005. “The Synergism Hypothesis: On the Concept of Synergy and Its Role in the Evolution of Complex Systems,” P. A. Corning, Journal of Social and Evolutionary Systems, 21(2):133-172, 1998.

In economics, a similar idea is called ‘agglomeration economies’ or ‘economies of agglomeration’ (also sometimes ‘economies of scope’) (to contrast it with ‘economies of scale’—also called ‘increasing returns to scale’—which is subdivided into ‘internal,’ that is, at the firm level, and ‘external,’ that is, at the industry level). It’s related to what economists from Adam Smith on call ‘division of labor’ (that is, specialization) coupled with concomitant ‘externalities,’ ‘complementarities,’ ‘spillovers,’ and ‘increasing returns.’ Paul Krugman extended that to ‘economic geography’ (or ‘geographic economics’—or sometimes ‘location theory’) then to international trade, based on Alfred Marshall’s 1890 observation of the spatial formation of reaction networks (he didn’t call it that). That is, it is division of labor when that happens across multiple nearby firms (for example, in a city) as opposed to inside one firm. Perhaps the distinctions that economists draw relate to whether the division of labor is intentioned or not, whether it pre-dates or post-dates some event (that is, whether it happens as a result of some event, or whether the event happens because of it), whether it’s within one firm or not, within one industry or not, or within one cluster, city, or country or not. But for the text’s purposes, none of that matters since attribution of invention, ownership, and income division is irrelevant from the species point of view. Agglomeration Economics, Edward L. Glaeser (editor), University of Chicago Press, 2010. World Development Report 2009: Reshaping Economic Geography, The World Bank, 2009, Chapter 4. “Intra-industry Foreign Direct Investment,” L. Alfaro, A. Charlton, American Economic Review, 99(5):2096-2119, 2009. “Location, Competition and Economic Development: Local Clusters in a Global Economy,” M. Porter, Economic Development Quarterly, 14(1):15-34, 2000. “Urban Concentration: The Role of Increasing Returns and Transport Goods,” P. Krugman, International Regional Science Review, 19(1-2):5-30, 1996. Principles of Economics: An Introductory Volume, Alfred Marshall, Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1890, pages 271-272.

[synergetic biochemical networks]
Many important biochemical networks are synergetic. The Krebs cycle in our mitochondria is one such. Our body takes in food, breaks it down, then feeds the parts to our mitochondria. In them, a molecular network uses the eight synergetic steps of the Krebs cycle to take those parts and both reproduce itself and produce essentially all our body’s usable energy. The Calvin cycle in plant chloroplasts produces parts useful for everything in our body. All our sugars, fats, and proteins start inside it. All our vitamins, and all our DNA start there. For millions of years, the core molecules of the Krebs and Calvin cycles have reproduced themselves so that they, and the synergetic networks that they form, can continue to persist, keeping us all alive.


[“people prefer lottery tickets”]
A Capitalist Romance: Singer and the Sewing Machine, Ruth Brandon, Lippincott, 1977, page 45.
[first practical sewing machine]
Singer didn’t invent the sewing machine. As with Watt, he improved a bit of it until it became economically practical. Barthlélémy Thimonnier patented the first one in 1830. Benjamin Wilson, Walter Hunt, Elias Howe, Charles Morey and Joseph Johnson, and John Bachelder also worked on sewing machines. Charles Weisenthal, Thomas Saint, Henry Lye, women in all agrarian groups everywhere and everywhen. But to look only at agrarian groups because they represent the bulk of our groups today is to overfocus. Pastoralists (herders, like say the Hebrews before they settled in Canaan) might be different. And nomads (like the Eurasian horseclans) are different again. As are hunter-gatherers. Herders, horseclans, and hunter-gatherers lived differently since they didn’t farm.

For millennia, however, men and women had well-defined roles. In China, for example, the saying is nan geng nü zhi (men plow women weave). For millennia, agrarian synergy had forced women all over the world into baby-making. When you’re a perpetual baby-machine, the three jobs that best fit you are child watching, home food production, and home clothing production. When some of us were speaking languages like Akkadian, those jobs were spinning thread and weaving, and milling flour and cooking. But in the 1800s such tasks began to matter far less than before. Our new factories and industrial farms were pumping out mass-produced food and clothes in vast peristaltic waves. Clothes got so cheap that many of us could afford more than one set. Food also got cheaper and cheaper. Child watching costs also declined as cities grew and schools ballooned. All three of the traditional female occupations grew less economically valuable. Women found other things to do, things that paid money.

[Baltimore to Philadelphia cost $11]
Adams gives the following figures: $6 for the coach, $2.25 for room and board each day, and a journey of three days. History of the United States of America During the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson, Henry Adams, Library of America, 1986, page 13.
[...laundress or caterer]
“Female Slave Participation in the Urban Market: Richmond, Virginia, 1780-1860,” M. Takagi, University of Memphis Working Paper 8, 1994.
[married women as property]
In English, the legal term for a married woman during most of European (and European colonial) history is ‘feme covert,’ (a single woman is a ‘feme sole’) and the whole institution is called ‘Coverture.’ When women married, they were covered by their husbands, in all senses of the word. In most of Europe that meant they couldn’t testify against their husbands, they couldn’t control money, or own property, or sign any legal document. Women and Gender in Medieval Europe: An Encyclopedia, Margaret Schaus (editor), CRC Press, 2006, pages 282-283.
[“their numbers [double] every twenty years”...]
That was Nicholas Cresswell, an English vistor who had intended to settle, but left as the 1776 war of Independence made his stay untenable. He was remarking on how early most women married.

“They are rather volatile than otherwise, but in general have very good natural capacities. If they have any genius, it is not cramped in their infancy by being overawed by their parents. There is very little subordination observed in their youth. Implicit obedience to old age is not among their qualifications. Their persons are in general tall and genteel, particularly the women, they are remarkably well shaped. I think I have not seen three crooked women in the country. Few, or none of them wear stays in the summer and there are but few that wear them constantly in the winter, which may be a principal reason why they have such good shapes. But to counterbalance this great perfection they have very bad teeth. Very few of them have a good mouth at twenty-five. It is said that eating so much hot bread (for they in general bake every meal) and fruit, is the reason why their teeth decay so early. They are good natured, familiar, and agreeable upon the whole, but confoundedly indolent. The men are universal Mechanics, Carpenters, Sadlers and Coopers, but very indifferent Husbandmen. Though the inhabitants of this Country are composed of different Nations and different languages, yet it is very remarkable that they in general speak better English than the English do. No County or Colonial dialect is to be distinguished here, except it be the New Englanders, who have a sort of whining cadence that I cannot describe.

The great population of this country is amazing. The emigration from Europe, added to the natural population, is supposed to double their numbers every twenty years, some will say, every sixteen years. It is certain that they increase much faster than they do in England, indeed they marry much sooner. Perhaps one reason may be, in England they cannot maintain a family with so much ease as they do in America which I believe deters many from marrying very early in life. None in England, but those who have not the fear of want and poverty before their eyes, will marry till they have a sufficiency to maintain and provide for a family. But here there are no fears of that sort and with the least spark of industry, they may support a family of small children. When they grow to manhood, they can provide for themselves. That great curiosity, an Old Maid, is seldom seen in this country. They generally marry before they are twenty-two, often before they are sixteen.

In short, this was a paradise on Earth for women, the epicure’s Elysium and the very centre of freedom and hospitality. But in the short space of three years, it has become the theatre of War, the Country of distraction, and the seat of slavery, confusion, and lawless oppression. May the Almighty of his infinite goodness and mercy, reunite and reestablish them on their former happy and flourishing situation. I am almost tired with scribbling, but these hints may be of service if ever I correct my Journal.”

“Saturday, July 19th, 1777.” The Journal of Nicholas Cresswell, 1774-1777, edited by Samuel Thornely, Dial Press, 1924.

[“the children swarm on the rich land” ...]
That was a French official remarking on many women who married in their late teens. In the early 1800s, that was especially so in the rural south. However, the average marital age for white women in the more industrial north was about 20. Chevalier Félix de Beaujour, France’s consul general to the United States from 1804 to 1811, wrote that, “No human consideration there operates as a hindrance to reproduction, and the children swarm on the rich land in the same manner as do insects.” From: “The History of the Family” M. R. Haines, Taylor & Francis Online, 1(1):15-39, 1996. Same paper: “Long Term Marriage Patterns in the United States From Colonial Times to the Present,” M. R. Haines, Historical Paper 80, National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), 1996.
[no more guns from Europe]
In particular, Britain and Spain stopped supplying guns to the natives after losing the War of 1812. France was tied up in the tail end of the Napoleonic wars, and was soon to be defeated (in 1815, with the Battle of Waterloo). Russia was unsure that it could project its military power that far away.
[expanding frontier]
The United States jumped from 17 states to 24 just from 1812 to 1821. It added Louisiana, Indiana, Mississippi, Illinois, Alabama, Maine, and Missouri.
[guns and smallpox]
Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900, Alfred W. Crosby, Cambridge University Press, Second Edition, 2004. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, Jared Diamond, W. W. Norton, 1997.
[no working steam engine in the United States in 1800]
Steam engine production in the United States didn’t begin until 1801. “Notes of steam engines in the United States about the year 1801, and a description of those in use at the Water-Works of the City of Philadelphia,” F. Graff, Scientific American, Supplement, 35(19):706-708, 1876. However, the Philadelphia engine wasn’t the first one to operate in the United States, it was just the first one built there. In 1753, the colonies that were to become the United States got their first steam engine. It was smuggled from Britain to New Jersey that year. American Science and Invention, A Pictorial History: The Fabulous Story of How American Dreamers, Wizards, and Inspired Tinkers Converted a Wilderness into the Wonder of the World, Mitchell Wilson, Simon & Schuster, 1954, pages 48-49.
[early steam engine production in the United States]
History of the Rise and Progress of the Iron Trade of the United States, from 1621 to 1857: With Numerous Statistical Tables, Relating to the Manufacture, Importation, Exportation, and Prices of Iron for More Than a Century, B. F. French, Wiley & Halsted, 1858, page 37. The number of Pittsburgh steam engine factories in 1830 is listed in: Pittsburgh and Allegheny in the Centennial Year, George H. Thurston, A. A. Anderson & Son, 1876, page 172. For more detailed estimates, and also for Cincinatti steam factories, see: Pittsburgh as it is: or, Facts and Figures, exhibiting the Past and Present of Pittsburgh; Its Advantages, Resources, Manufactures, and Commerce, George H. Thurston, W. S. Haven, 1857, page 118. A History of Manufactures in the Ohio Valley to the Year 1860, Isaac Lippincott, University of Chicago Press, 1914, pages 108-109.
[women in the early United States]
By 1830 in the United States, women’s lives there were still much the same as in 1800. Even with a severe labor shortage, the idea of paying most women (other than freed slaves) to work was still too alien to imagine. Nor did most women, slave or free, expect to be paid. Nor did they expect to have any control over their bodies or lives.

But that didn’t make the United States truly unusual. Britain, and the rest of Eurasia, wasn’t much different, except for being far more urban. That pattern had held for millennia. For example, in seventeenth-century England, Shakespeare could read, but neither of his daughters could. The pattern wasn’t uniform, though. Small newly rich places could be different. For instance, in fourteenth-century Florence, Dante pined for the good old days—back before rich Florentine women grew so uppity. (Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy, Paradiso, Canto XV.) “Gender and Civic Authority: Sexual Control in a Medieval Italian Town,” C. Lansing, Journal of Social History, 31(1):33-59, 1997, page 42.

The resemblance between all of our agrarian groups until the coming of industrialization doesn’t mean that all such groups were exactly the same. For example, here is de Tocqueville comparing France to the United States: “In no country has such constant care been taken as in America to trace two clearly distinct lines of action for the two sexes, and to make them keep pace one with the other, but in two pathways which are always different. American women never manage the outward concerns of the family, or conduct a business, or take a part in political life; nor are they, on the other hand, ever compelled to perform the rough labor of the fields, or to make any of those laborious exertions which demand the exertion of physical strength. No families are so poor as to form an exception to this rule. If on the one hand an American woman cannot escape from the quiet circle of domestic employments, on the other hand she is never forced to go beyond it. Hence it is that the women of America, who often exhibit a masculine strength of understanding and a manly energy, generally preserve great delicacy of personal appearance and always retain the manners of women although they sometimes show that they have the hearts and minds of men.” Democracy in America: Part the Second; the Social Influence of Democracy, Alexis de Tocqueville, translated by Henry Reeve, J. & H. G. Langley, 1840, page 225.

Mostly though, wherever the plow had touched down women had fallen over, supine and silent. Thus, nineteenth-century women in Britain were, by law, inferior to men. Married women didn’t even exist, legally. They were home-bound, unable to vote, barely allowed to trade. They also had to be widows before they could control their own property. Outside of brothels and nunneries, half of us in 1830, in the United States, Britain, and nearly everywhere else, were wards of the other half, not counting slaves and natives.

[“anything new is quickly introduced”]
That was Georg Friedrich List, a German political economist who visited in 1825. He was then in Philadelphia. Life of Friedrich List, and Selections from His Writings, Margaret E. Hirst, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1909, page 35.
[“half-naked in mills”]
Writing of life in Cincinnati in 1831, Frances Trollope, mother of Anthony Trollope, the novelist, noted that “The greatest difficulty in organising a family establishment in Ohio is getting servants, or, as it is there called, “getting help,” for it is more than petty treason to the Republic to call a free citizen a servant. The whole class of young women, whose bread depends upon their labour, are taught to believe that the most abject poverty is preferable to domestic service. Hundreds of half-naked girls work in the paper mills, or in any other manufactory, for less than half the wages they would receive in service; but they think their equality is compromised by the latter, and nothing but the wish to obtain some particular article of finery will ever induce them to submit to it....

One of [my servants] was a pretty girl, whose natural disposition must have been gentle and kind; but her good feelings were soured, and her gentleness turned to morbid sensitiveness, by having heard a thousand and a thousand times that she was as good as any other lady, that all men were equal, and women too, and that it was a sin and a shame for a free-born American to be treated like a servant.”

Domestic Manners of the Americans, Mrs. Trollope, Whittaker, Treacher & Co., 1832, pages 61-62.

Later on (page 74) she mentioned women and religion in the United States. “The influence which the ministers of all the innumerable religious sects throughout America, have on the females of their respective congregations, approaches very nearly to what we read of in Spain, or in other strictly Roman Catholic countries. There are many causes for this peculiar influence. Where equality of rank is affectedly acknowledged by the rich, and clamourously claimed by the poor, distinction and preeminence are allowed to the clergy only. This gives them high importance in the eyes of the ladies. I think, also, that it is from the clergy only that the women of America receive that sort of attention which is so dearly valued by every female heart throughout the world. With the priests of America, the women hold that degree of influential importance which, in the countries of Europe, is allowed them throughout all orders and ranks of society, except, perhaps, the very lowest; and in return for this they seem to give their hearts and souls into their keeping. I never saw, or read, of any country where religion had so strong a hold upon the women, or a slighter hold upon the men.”

There is much more of this, including descriptions of ‘Revivals’ as a form of theater.

[pastor against innovation in 1803, fulminating against innovation]
Even as late as June 6th, 1803, a pastor in the United States put our age-old attitude thus: “Let us guard against the insidious encroachments of innovation, that evil and beguiling spirit which is now stalking to and for through the earth, seeking whom he may destroy.” That was Jedidiah Morse, a pastor in Charlestown, Massachusetts, and the father of Samuel F. B. Morse, who later invented the electric telegraph’s Morse Code. History of the United States of America During the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson, Henry Adams, 1891, Library of America, Reprint Edition, 1986, page 56.

Morse was hardly the last holdout against change. For example, here is Emerson in 1847: “Things are in the saddle, / and ride mankind.” (However, although this has been taken by many humanists along with his line: “law for man and law for thing” as including him in the Luddite camp, others disagree and see it as much more historically specific.) Aside from the whole Luddite movement, much of which might be taken as working-class reaction, there were strong reactions within the religious, literary, and even patrician classes (for example, Lord Byron). One writer in particular is worth quoting here, and that is the fulminator (over many issues, not just this one), Thomas Carlyle. Here he is, writing in 1829, on the evils of mechanization, in terms quite similar to Karl Marx’s writings in 1844:

“Were we required to characterise this age of ours by any single epithet, we should be tempted to call it, not an Heroical, Devotional, Philosophical, or Moral Age, but, above all others, the Mechanical Age. It is the Age of Machinery, in every outward and inward sense of that word; the age which, with its whole undivided might, forwards, teaches and practises the great art of adapting means to ends. Nothing is now done directly, or by hand; all is by rule and calculated contrivance. For the simplest operation, some helps and accompaniments, some cunning abbreviating process is in readiness. Our old modes of exertion are all discredited, and thrown aside. On every hand, the living artisan is driven from his workshop, to make room for a speedier, inanimate one. The shuttle drops from the fingers of the weaver, and falls into iron fingers that ply it faster. The sailor furls his sail, and lays down his oar; and bids a strong, unwearied servant, on vaporous wings, bear him through the waters. Men have crossed oceans by steam; the Birmingham Fire-king has visited the fabulous East; and the genius of the Cape were there any Camoens now to sing it, has again been alarmed, and with far stranger thunders than Gamas. There is no end to machinery. Even the horse is stripped of his harness, and finds a fleet fire-horse invoked in his stead. Nay, we have an artist that hatches chickens by steam; the very brood-hen is to be superseded! For all earthly, and for some unearthly purposes, we have machines and mechanic furtherances; for mincing our cabbages; for casting us into magnetic sleep. We remove mountains, and make seas our smooth highways; nothing can resist us. We war with rude Nature; and, by our resistless engines, come off always victorious, and loaded with spoils.”

The Collected Works of Thomas Carlyle, Thomas Carlyle, Volume Three, Chapman and Hall, 1858, pages 100-101. See also: Against the Machine: The Hidden Luddite Tradition in Literature, Art, and Individual Lives, Nicols Fox, Island Press, 2002, especially Chapter 4. The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America, Leo Marx, Oxford University Press, 1964, especially Chapter 4. “Emerson’s ‘Ode Inscribed to W. H. Channing,’ ” G. Arms, College English, 22(6):407-409, 1961.

[new attitudes to machines and labor]
The land-rich and labor-poor United States puzzles Europe because Europe is land-poor and labor-rich. Its hereditary aristocracy holds most of the land, and its nearly hereditary artisans hold most of the skills. Landless and unskilled immigrants had fled that world to make a new life, so many of the laws of the new land work against both aristocracy and guilds. In the new land, labor is largely unskilled and unreliable.

For instance, Singer, like many boys in his time, left home at 13. He kept moving for the next 26 years. Like him, most white men were on the move, and women followed their men. The new nation was ballooning west, into an expanding native-free vacuum. But that in itself wasn’t new. The same slaughter was happening at about the same time for about the same reasons in Russia, Australia, and South America. Foragers were dying everywhere as our new transport tools carried the gun and the plow to every land.

For example, in the 1800s the, then small, Russian state expanded east much as the, then small, United States expanded west. Russian expansion into the Balkans was partly checked by the British and French in the Crimean War in 1854, but it continued expanding from 1856 on into the steppes of Central Asia, eventually stretching all the way to the Pacific. Although it was more conquest than outright replacement, it still led to many of the usual genocides against nomadic, or even settled, peoples, just as western expansion did in the United States starting a little earlier. Taming the Wild Field: Colonization and Empire on the Russian Steppe, Willard Sunderland, Cornell University Press, 2004.

[population of Britain in 1830]
was 24.1 million (this includes Ireland, counting from 1821, when it made up about 30 percent of the population). (Italy was 21.1 million; Germany was 26.6 million; France 32.6 million; Russia 56.1 million.) The United States population in 1830 was 12.8 million, counting about 2 million slaves. (Total: 12,866,020, of which 2,009,043 were slaves.) European Historical Statistics, 1750-1975, B. R. Mitchell (editor), Second Edition, Palgrave, 1980. By 1900, Britain was 41.5 million. The United States would be 76 million (total: 76,212,168).
[origin of the name Chicago]
In 1673, what was to become Chicago was selected as a portage site because it was on the continental divide between the Mississippi and the St. Lawrence (which empties into the Great Lakes). It was a marsh, with lots of skunk weed (a plant that when bruised, by stepping on, for example, smelled like garlic). “Chicagoua/Chicago: The Origin, Meaning, and Etymology of a Place Name,” J. F. Swenson, Illinois Historical Journal, 84(4):235-248, 1991.
[shifting labor options up to 1860]
For a more nuanced argument about the rapid rise in surplus labor in the eastern states of the United States up to 1860, see: The Roots of American Industrialization, David R. Meyer, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003.
[massacring the natives]
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West, Dee Brown, Owl Books, 30th Anniversary Edition, 2001. The Trail of Tears: The Story of the American Indian Removals 1813-1855, Gloria Jahoda, 1975, Wings, Reprint Edition, 1995.
[immigration and steamships]
The first transatlantic service started in 1837.
[“iron needle-woman”]
From a 1858 poem by George P. Morris, which was made into a song the “Song of the Sewing Machine” by Henry C. Watson. It ends this way: “Mine are sinews superhuman, / Ribs of brass and nerves of steel— / I’m the iron needle woman, / Born to toil but not to feel.”

“Home and the Sewing Machine,” The National Magazine, Volume 12, 1858, pages 539-544.

[“best boon to woman in the nineteenth century”]
“To America belongs the honor of giving to the world many new inventions of great practical importance to mankind. Prominent among these are the Electric Telegraph, the Reaper and Mower, and the Sewing-Machine. What the telegraph is to the commercial world, the reaper to the agricultural, the sewing-machine is to the domestic....

No one invention has brought with it so great a relief for our mothers and daughters as these iron needle-women. Indeed, it is the only invention that can be claimed chiefly for woman’s benefit. The inventive genius of man, ever alert to furnish the world with machinery for saving labor and cheapening the cost of manufactures, seemed to regard man as the only laborer, prior to the invention of the sewing machine....

[E]verywhere that the busy needle is plied, these tireless workers have found their way, carrying relief for woman’s trembling hands and weary eyes. The swift-flying needle—this best boon to woman in the nineteenth century—has already won many victories, and soon the song of the shirt will be heard only in tradition of sufferings passed away.”

“The Story of the Sewing-Machine,” New York Times, January 7th, 1860.

[New York seamstresses employment options in 1858]
As reported by the New York Shirt Sewers’ and Seamstresses’ Union in 1858. A Capitalist Romance: Singer and the Sewing Machine, Ruth Brandon, Lippincott, 1977, pages 69-70.
[female control of their own credit cards in 1974 in the United States]
That’s the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974 (no bar to credit based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, or age). Until then, every married woman’s credit was tied to her husband’s. And unmarried women often couldn’t get credit; they had to bring a man as co-signer, and answer many personal questions.
[female manufacturing options in Bridgeport in 1860]
A History of American Manufactures from 1608 to 1860: Exhibiting the Origin and Growth of the Principal Mechanic Arts and Manufactures, from the earliest Colonial period to the adoption of the Constitution; and Comprising Annals of the Industry of the United States in Machinery, Manufactures and Useful Arts, with a Notice of the Important Inventions, Tariffs, and the Results of each Decennial Census. To which are added statistics of the principal manufacturing centers, and descriptions of remarkable manufactories at the present time. J. Leander Bishop, Volume II, Edward Young and Co., 1864, page 764.

In 1860, an estimated 12,106 people lived in Bridgeport. Population of the 100 largest cities and other urban places in the United States: 1790 to 1990, Population Division Working Paper Number 27, United States Bureau of the Census, 1998.

Incidentally, Bishop also lists manufactory occupations, with a breakdown by male and female, for many towns, notably Hartford, where Samuel Colt had his gun manufactory. Hartford had a much larger spread of female occupations (but then, it was a much larger town than Bridgeport), however, the top three female occupations were still clothing of one kind or another. The largest group was 595 women in clothing. Then 512 women in ‘silk, sewing.’ Then 409 in hosiery. Then 302 in paper. Philadelphia was much larger still, and so had an even wider spread of industries.

[it only took $5 to bring one home]
“The Disappearance of the Domestic Sewing Machine, 1890-1925,” M. Connolly, Winterthur Portfolio, 34(1):31-48, 1999, page 32.
[attraction of hire-purchase]
The following is from Scientific American, 51(14):217, 1884.

Anomalies of the Sewing machine

In an editorial in a recent issue of the Scientific American, under the above title, the following paragraphs appeared, to which we have received a reply from a lady subscriber from Michigan.

“A psychological fact, possibly new, which has come to light in this sewing machine business is that a woman will rather pay $50 for a machine in monthly installments of five dollars than $25 outright, although able to do so.

“The curious processes of reasoning by which the feminine mind is led to regard the lapse of time as a cheapener and a hundred per cent interest as of no consequence, have not yet, we believe, been discovered.”

Our correspondent replies: “She does it from policy, for if she says, ’Husband, I wish $25 to buy a sewing machine with.’ she expects a shrug of the shoulders, and is unable to obtain the money; but if she says, ’I can buy a sewing machine, and pay for it in monthly installments, only $5 each month,’ perhaps she can get the coveted machine. A psychological fact, but is it masculine or feminine?”

See also: Financing the American Dream: A Cultural History of Consumer Credit, Lendol Calder, Princeton University Press, 1999, page 164.

[half a million sewing machines a year by 1880]
Thus doubling the figure for 1870, when it sold 127,833 a year. From the American System to Mass Production, 1800-1932: The Development of Manufacturing Technology in the United States, David A. Hounshell, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984, page 6.
“Farm-making Costs and the ‘Safety Valve’: 1850-60,” C. H. Danhof, The Journal of Political Economy, 49(3):317-359, 1941. Cyrus Hall McCormick: His Life and Work, Herbert N. Casson, A. C. McClurg & Co., 1909, page 106.
[Chicago grain shipments]
“The Agricultural Development of the West During the Civil War,” E. D. Fite, The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 20(2):259-278, 1906.
[newspapers and common cause]
“The effect of a newspaper is not only to suggest the same purpose to a great number of persons, but also to furnish means for executing in common the designs which they may have singly conceived. The principal citizens who inhabit an aristocratic country discern each other from afar; and if they wish to unite their forces, they move toward each other, drawing a multitude of men after them. It frequently happens, on the contrary, in democratic countries, that a great number of men who wish or who want to combine cannot accomplish it, because as they are very insignificant and lost amid the crowd, they cannot see, and know not where to find, one another. A newspaper then takes up the notion or the feeling which had occurred simultaneously, but singly, to each of them. All are then immediately guided towards this beacon; and these wandering minds, which had long sought each other in darkness, at length meet and unite.” Democracy in America: Part the Second; the Social Influence of Democracy, Alexis de Tocqueville, translated by Henry Reeve, J. & H. G. Langley, 1840, page 119.
[“native extermination”]
That was L. Frank Baum, a decade before he wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Here are the two germane editorials he wrote for his small South Dakota weekly paper: one on the murder of Sioux leader Sitting Bull on December 15, 1890, and the other on the slaughter of Sioux at Wounded Knee Creek in southwestern South Dakota on December 28, 1890.

“Sitting Bull, most renowned Sioux of modern history, is dead. He was not a Chief, but without Kingly lineage he arose from a lowly position to the greatest Medicine Man of his time, by virtue of his shrewdness and daring.

He was an Indian with a white man’s spirit of hatred and revenge for those who had wronged him and his. In his day he saw his son and his tribe gradually driven from their possessions: forced to give up their old hunting grounds and espouse the hard working and uncongenial avocations of the whites. And these, his conquerors, were marked in their dealings with his people by selfishness, falsehood and treachery. What wonder that his wild nature, untamed by years of subjection, should still revolt? What wonder that a fiery rage still burned within his breast and that he should seek every opportunity of obtaining vengeance upon his natural enemies.

The proud spirit of the original owners of these vast prairies inherited through centuries of fierce and bloody wars for their possession, lingered last in the bosom of Sitting Bull. With his fall the nobility of the Redskin is extinguished, and what few are left are a pack of whining curs who lick the hand that smites them. The Whites, by law of conquest, by justice of civilization, are masters of the American continent, and the best safety of the frontier settlements will be secured by the total annihilation of the few remaining Indians. Why not annihilation? Their glory has fled, their spirit broken, their manhood effaced; better that they die than live the miserable wretches that they are. History would forget these latter despicable beings, and speak, in later ages of the glory of these grand Kings of forest and plain that Cooper loved to heroism.

We cannot honestly regret their extermination, but we at least do justice to the manly characteristics possessed, according to their lights and education, by the early Redskins of America.”

Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer, December 20th, 1890.

“The peculiar policy of the government in employing so weak and vacillating a person as General Miles to look after the uneasy Indians, has resulted in a terrible loss of blood to our soldiers, and a battle which, at its best, is a disgrace to the war department. There has been plenty of time for prompt and decisive measures, the employment of which would have prevented this disaster.

The Pioneer has before declared that our only safety depends upon the total extirmination [sic] of the Indians. Having wronged them for centuries we had better, in order to protect our civilization, follow it up by one more wrong and wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth. In this lies future safety for our settlers and the soldiers who are under incompetent commands. Otherwise, we may expect future years to be as full of trouble with the redskins as those have been in the past.

An eastern contemporary, with a grain of wisdom in its wit, says that ‘when the whites win a fight, it is a victory, and when the Indians win it, it is a massacre.’ ”

Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer, January 3rd, 1891.

[a woman’s life in Arizona around 1890]
That was Lucy Hannah Flake, a Mormon wife on a ranch in the Silver Creek Valley in the White Mountains of Colorado. She died in 1900. Arizona: A History, Thomas E. Sheridan, University of Arizona Press, 2012, pages 195-196. “Rural Life among Nineteenth-Century Mormons: The Woman’s Experience,” L. J. Arrington, Agricultural History, 58(3):239-246, 1984.
[reactions to the typewriter]
“While visiting San Francisco in 1887, Rudyard Kipling complained that he had been driven to distraction by a new species of woman, the Type-Writer Girl. She was ‘an institution of which the comic papers make much capital, but she is vastly convenient. She and a companion rent a room in a business quarter, and copy manuscript at the rate of six annas a page.... She can earn as much as a hundred dollars a month, and professes to regard this form of bread-winning as her natural destiny’. Unable to believe that any woman, even an American, could truly enjoy working for a living, Kipling questioned the other typists in the office and found one who confessed to the hope that she might be rescued from the drudgery of the keyboard by a husband.” From: “The Cultural Work of the Type-Writer Girl,” C. Keep, Victorian Studies, 40(3):401-426, 1997.

See also: Women and Work in Britain since 1840, Gerry Holloway, Routledge, 2005. “Jobs for the Girls: The Expansion of Clerical Work for Women, 1850‑1914,” M. Zimmeck, in Unequal Opportunities: Women’s Employment in England, 1800-1918, Angela V. John (editor), Blackwell, 1986, pages 152-177. “ ‘To Barter Their Souls For Gold:’ Female Clerks in Federal Government Offices, 1862-1890,” C. S. Aron, Journal of American History, 67:835‑53, 1980‑1981. History of American Technology, John W. Oliver, Ronald Press, 1956, pages 440-442. The Natural History of a Social Institution: The Young Women’s Christian Association, Mary S. Sims, The Women’s Press, 1936, pages 84-85. Shorthand Instruction and Practice, Julius Ensing Rockwell, Bureau of Education, Circular of Information No. 1, 1893, Whole number 192, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1893.

[...handful of successful writers]
Like Harriet Beecher Stowe with Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and Louisa May Alcott with Little Women.

In 1891, F. Henrietta Müller (whose penname was ‘Helena B. Temple’) commented that, “One of the things which always humiliated me very much was the way in which women’s interests and opinions were systematically excluded from the World’s Press. I was mortified too, that our cause should be represented by a little monthly leaflet, not worthy of the name of a newspaper called the Women’s Suffrage Journal. I realised of what vital importance it was that women should have a newspaper of their own through which to voice their thoughts, and I formed the daring resolve that if no one else better fitted for the work would come forward, I would try and do it myself.” From: “Interview,” Woman’s Herald 4(161):915-916, 1891. (November 28th, 1891, 915-916.) Quoted in: Feminist Periodicals, 1855-1984: An Annotated Critical Bibliography of British, Irish, Commonwealth and International Titles, David Doughan and Denise Sanchez (editors), New York University Press, 1987, pages 3-4.

Despite all the agitation since at least 1792, it wasn’t until 1918 that 1918 that all adult men, and all women over 30, could vote in Britain. It wasn’t until 1920 that all adult women could vote in the United States. It wasn’t until 1928 that all adult women could vote in Britain.

[“thrown into the ash-heap”]
That was Henry Adams, grandson of one President, and great-grandson of another, recalling in 1905, in old age, his early childhood in Boston in 1844, and the great upheaval of new technology on his education and outlook.

“This problem of education, started in 1838, went on for three years, while the baby grew, like other babies, unconsciously, as a vegetable, the outside world working as it never had worked before, to get his new universe ready for him. Often in old age he puzzled over the question whether, on the doctrine of chances, he was at liberty to accept himself or his world as an accident. No such accident had ever happened before in human experience. For him, alone, the old universe was thrown into the ash-heap and a new one created. He and his eighteenth-century, troglodytic Boston were suddenly cut apart—separated forever—in act if not in sentiment, by the opening of the Boston and Albany Railroad; the appearance of the first Cunard steamers in the bay; and the telegraphic messages which carried from Baltimore to Washington the news that Henry Clay and James K. Polk were nominated for the Presidency. This was in May, 1844; he was six years old; his new world was ready for use, and only fragments of the old met his eyes.”

The Education of Henry Adams: An Autobiography, Henry Adams, Houghton Mifflin, 1918, page 5.

[United States mortality and height changes, 1890-1930]
“The Use of Model Life Tables to Estimate Mortality for the United States in the Late Nineteenth Century,” M. R. Haines, Demography, 16(2):289-312, 1979.
[wheat production in 1900]
The exact figure is 599,315,000 bushels of wheat. Historical Statistics of the United States 1789-1945: A Supplement to the Statistical Abstract of the United States, Bureau of the Census, United States Department of Commerce, 1949, page 106. For background, see: “U.S. Grain Exports: A Bicentennial Overview,” H. D. Fornari, Agricultural History, 50(1):137-150, 1976. “Reorganization of American Farming: Intensive Cultivation the Goal,” H. C. Price, Scientific American, Supplement, 69(1795):339, 1910.
[...the means to prevent pregnancy]
By 1860 female labor options are changing fast, but female reproductive options, and thus constraints on female labor lives, are still much as they had been before. Then in 1861 the New York Times carries the first ad for mass-produced rubber condoms. The nation goes insane. By 1873 the government bans all birth-control ads, aids, and books—even giving them away could mean six months hard labor, or a $100 fine. The Comstock Act of 1873 (U.S. Statutes At Large, Volume XVII, page 598). United States Duties on Imports, 1877, Lewis Heyl, W. H. & O. H. Morrison, 1877, page 144.
[female changes, United States, 1800-2004]
From 1800 to 1920, the total birth rate for white married women would plunge 58.7 percent. The rates for black and native women would also fall, but not as much. (That’s still true in 2006.) In 1900, many black and native women, whether married or single, are at work outside the home, but chiefly as servants or on the farm. With fewer opportunities outside of servile status, their options are more limited. Further, from 1890 to 1980, many more married non-white women would take paying jobs than married white ones did. Even as late as 1890, just 2.5 percent of married white women worked for money. That figure didn’t reach 20 percent until as late as 1950. By 2004 it still hadn’t reached 80 percent. Also, sex segregation remained strong. In 1900, 91 percent of all working women worked in only 12 percent of all jobs. Job specificity has declined only slowly since then. However, over the century, women’s main traditional tasks—babies, food, clothing, and daycare—all fell in financial value. In all our newly industrial countries, we started to produce faster than we needed to reproduce.
[fertility rate decline for ever-married white women, 1800-1920]
“Quantitative Aspects of Marriage, Fertility and Family Limitation in Nineteenth Century America: Another Application of the Coale Specifications,” W. C. Sanderson, Demography, 16(3):339-358, 1979.
[native and black population changes, 1492-2006]
From 1492 to 1890, native population had fallen from perhaps five million (Thornton’s 1990 estimate, although by 2005 his estimate was 1.845 million; see also Henige 1998 and also Klein 2004) to about a quarter million. Native fertility rates before 1890 are unknown; however after that date they were high, yet native mortality rates were so high that the native population barely changed. From 1890 it took 70 years, until 1960, to double. Black rates before 1850 are also unknown. After 1850, they, too, were higher than white rates, but they also fell as white rates did. However, even in 2006 they were still higher than white rates. Black infant mortality was also far higher. It too fell, but in 2006 it too was still higher than white rates. Black life expectancy also was still lower. By 2006, urban-rural differences in the United States had vanished. Black-white and native-white differences still hadn’t. “American Indian Mortality in the Late Nineteenth Century: the Impact of Federal Assimilation Policies on a Vulnerable Population,” J. D. Hacker, M. R. Haines, Working Paper 12572, National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), 2006. “Estimating Prehistoric American Indian Population Size for United States Area: Implications of the Nineteenth Century Population Decline and Nadir,” R. Thornton, J. Marsh-Thornton, American Journal of Physical Anthropology 55(1):47-53, 2005. A Population History of the United States, Herbert Klein, Cambridge University Press, 2004. A Population History of North America, Michael R. Haines and Richard H. Steckel (editors), Cambridge University Press, 2001. Numbers from Nowhere: The American Indian Contact Population Debate, David Henige, University of Oklahoma Press, 1998. “The Growing American Indian Population, 1960-1990: Beyond Demography,” J. S. Passel, in: Changing Numbers, Changing Needs: American Indian Demography and Public Health, Gary D. Sandefur, Ronald R. Rindfuss, and Barney Cohen (editors), National Academies Press, 1996, pages 79-102. Statistical Abstract of the United States, United States Bureau of the Census, 1993. “American Indian Fertility Patterns: 1910 and 1940 to 1980,” R. Thornton, G. D. Sandefur, C. M. Snipp, American Indian Quarterly, 15(3):359-367, 1991. American Indian Holocaust and Survival: A Population History since 1492, Russell Thornton, University of Oklahoma Press, 1990. “A Statistical Reconstruction of the Black Population of the United States, 1880-1970: Estimates of True Numbers by Age and Sex, Birth Rates, and Total Fertility,” A J. Coale, N. W. Rives, Population Index, 39(1):3-36, 1973.

[settlement changes in the United States]
In 1800, only 6.1 percent of the population of 5,308,483, lived in towns. In 1900, 39.6 percent of the population of 76,212,168, did. In 2000, 79.0 percent of the population of 281,421,906 did. United States Bureau of the Census, 1995, Table 4, Population: 1790 to 1990.
[ad with female cyclist smoking]
She was wearing a ‘rational’ (knee-length baggy pants) made for liberated women in Victorian Britain. The ad was for the Ogden Guinea Gold cigarette. There were many such ads, but this is the most daring one. Ogden & Philips Limited was a British tobacco company, bought out by American Tobacco in 1901.

Here’s Zola on the issue a year before:

“— Alors, l’émancipation de la femme par la bicyclette.

— Mon Dieu! pourquoi pas?... Cela semble drôle, et pourtant voyez quel chemin parcouru déjà: la culotte qui délivre les jambes, les sorties en commun qui mêlent et égalisent les sexes, la femme et les enfants qui suivent le mari partout, les camarades comme nous deux qui peuvent s’en aller à travers champs, à travers bois, sans qu’on s’en étonne.”

[“So women are to be emancipated by cycling?

‘Well, why not? It may seem a droll idea; but see what progress has been made already! By wearing rationals women free their limbs from prison; then the facilities which cycling affords people for going out together tend to greater intercourse and equality between the sexes; the wife and the children can follow the husband everywhere, and friends like ourselves are at liberty to roam hither and thither without astonishing anybody.”]

Paris, A Novel, Émile Zola, translated by Ernest Alfred Vizetelly, Chatto & Windus, 1899, pages 335-336.

See also: “Liberating Technologies? Of Bicycles, Balance and the ’New Woman’ in the 1890s,” A.-K. Ebert, Icon, 16(Special Issue: Technology in Everyday Life):25-52, 2010.

In the Grip of a Metal Hand

[work week changes in the United States]
Sobel reports 69.7 hours per week in 1850 and 60.1 in 1900 as the average work week, averaging over all industries. Note however that the earlier the date, the more unreliable the estimate. Lifestyle and Social Structure: Concepts, Definitions, Analyses, Michael E. Sobel, Academic Press, 1981, page 44. United States population had tripled in that time; in 1850 it was 23,191,876 and in 1900 it was 76,212,168.
[job changes in the United States]
The job-market data below doesn’t cover 1900 to 2000 precisely. It’s from 1910 to 2000. “Occupational changes during the 20th century,” I. D. Wyatt, D. E. Hecker, Monthly Labor Review, 129(3):35-57, 2006.
[United States farmers and beauticians]
In 1900, 38.8 percent of the population, 29.5 million people, were farmers. In 2006, there were 859,000 agricultural workers. versus 825,000 personal appearance workers. (That includes barbers, cosmetologists, makeup artists, manicurists, and pedicurists.) There were 435,000 computer programmers. Also, there were 1,860,000 heavy truck and tractor-trailer drivers, and 1,051,000 light truck or delivery services drivers. Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008-09 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, United States Department of Labor, 2009.
[farm income]
Farm Household Economics and Well-Being, United States Department of Agriculture, 2009.
[changes in food labor-costs in the United States]
In 1900 in the United States, a year’s worth of food for an average family there cost that family about 1,700 hours of labor. By 2000, it cost 260 hours. The Escape from Hunger and Premature Death, 1700-2100: Europe, America, and the Third World, Robert William Fogel, Cambridge University Press, 2004, page 90.
[changes in housework costs in the United States]
In 1945, a year’s worth of housework—preparing meals, doing laundry, cleaning the house, and such—might have cost an average family there about 3,120 hours. By 1975, that time had dropped to around 1,040 hours. In 1945 in the United States, housework might have cost an average family about 60 hours a week. By 1975, that time had dropped to around 20 hours. “Assessing the ‘Engines of Liberation’: Home Appliances and Female Labor Force Participation,” T. V. de V. Cavalcanti, J. Tavares, The Review of Economics and Statistics, 90(1):81-88, 2008. “Engines of Liberation,” J. Greenwood, A. Seshadri, M. Yorukoglu, Review of Economic Studies, 72(1):109-133, 2005. Although, while housework tools reduced drudgery, they didn’t necessarily reduce domestic labor. More Work for Mother: The Ironies of Household Technology from the Open Hearth to the Microwave, Ruth Cowan, Basic Books, 1983.
[changes in leisure and retirement in the rich world as a whole]
The Escape from Hunger and Premature Death, 1700-2100: Europe, America, and the Third World, Robert William Fogel, Cambridge University Press, 2004, page 67. Note though that the new leisure time is not uniformly distributed. First, a lot of it is caused by prevention of disease. Second, much of the time has gone to the young, who have spent it in schooling, and the old, who have spent it in retirement. Also, reductions in home employment for females has been compensated for by male home employment. And the overall pattern seems to be similar in both the United States and Europe. “A Century of Work and Leisure,” V. A. Ramey, N. Francis, American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics, 1(2):189-224, 2009. “The times they are not changin’: Days and hours of work in Old and New Worlds, 1870-2000,” M. Huberman, C. Minns, Explorations in Economic History, 44(4):538-567, 2007.
[the nineteenth century computer]
That was Charles Babbage’s proposed Analytical Engine, which he tried building from 1833 to his death in 1871. He intended it to supplant his (also largely largely unfinished) Difference Engine. The British government funded him, but only up to a point. Had it been intended for a war, or for financial gain, funding may have stayed the course. Charles Babbage: Passages from the Life of a Philosopher, Martin Cambell-Kelly (editor), Rutgers University Press, 1994.

See also: Bit by Bit, Stan Augarten, Ticknor and Fields, 1984, pages 37-39. It describes the Arithmometer, the first commercial adding machine (it also subtracted, multiplied and divided) in 1851, which was based on Leibniz’s Stepped Reckoner, which goes back to 1631, but which was never fully developed. There’s also Pascal’s Pascaline, which was built in 1644 but pitched to aristocrats, it never sold well (“bookkeeping was for servants”).

[the twentieth century computer]
When it comes to a physical machine, there were 3 main strands in the 1930s and 1940s: Konrad Zuse in Germany, John Atanasoff in the United States, and Alan Turing in Britain. There were many other people in satellite orbits of various kinds, crucial for one thing or another: among them, John von Neumann, Tommy Flowers, Clifford Berry, Helmut Schreyer, John Mauchly, J. Presper Eckert, Howard Aiken. Then there’s Warren McCulloch, Walter Pitts, Alonzo Church, Emil Post, Kurt Gödel, David Hilbert.... This list could be arbitrarily extended.

“Von Neumann Thought Turing’s Universal Machine was ’Simple and Neat.’: But That Didn’t Tell Him How to Design a Computer,” T. Haigh, M. Priestley, Communications of the ACM, 63(1):26-32, 2020. ENIAC In Action: Making and Remaking the Modern Computer, Thomas Haigh, Mark Priestley, and Crispin Rope, The MIT Press, 2016. The Computer—My Life, Konrad Zuse, translated by Patricia McKenna and J. Andrew Ross, Springer-Verlag, 1993. Atanasoff: Forgotten Father of the Computer, Clark R. Mollenhoff, Iowa State University Press, 1988. Alan Turing: The Enigma, Andrew Hodges, Simon and Schuster, 1983.

For a general reader’s book that tries to trace all the strands, see also: The Man Who Invented the Computer: The Biography of John Atanasoff, Digital Pioneer, Jane Smiley, Doubleday, 2010.

[...almost no mechnical memory, logic, simulation, or visualization aids]
Some of what we had: For memory: wet clay, papyrus, paper, books. For arithmetic abacus, sliderule. For simulation (of planetary motion, and solar system motion): clocks, astrolabes. Other devices invented over the millennia revolved around arithmetic or astronomy and time keeping.
[tab for a fab—cost of computer chip plants]
Itanium Rising: Breaking Through Moore’s Second Law of Computing Power, Jim Carlson and Jerry Huck, Prentice Hall, 2002, page 54.
[over half of the world online by 2018]
‘Online’ means: using any Internet-based application from any location and device over the last three months by the end of 2018. (Note: United Nations estimate for 2020 of 57 percent is likely to be an overestimate, based on data to 2018 of only 51.2 percent. And United Nations estimate of 70 percent by 2025 is likely to far overshoot the mark.) “Global Computing: Are We Losing Momentum?” C. Iglesias, D. Thakur, M. L. Best, Communications of the ACM, 63(2):22-24, 2020.

The first billion was reached in 2005. The second billion in 2010. The third billion in 2014. The fourth billion by 2018. Then growth rate slowed. The second half of the world will take longer to get online.

Data collated from the United Nations International Telecommunication Union, the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, the World Bank, and the United States Central Intelligence Agency.

“When drones fly,” S. Greengard, Communications of the ACM, 62(11):16-18, 2019.
[companies as contracts]
Once upon a time, the average company had to be tiny, limited to one building, and most everyone in it was related, or was part of a small circle of friends and family. That company might make anything, grow anything, service anything, yet its staff had to cover all the company’s roles. It’s rare for one person to be the brain (who thinks something up), the mouth (who sells it), the wallet (who pays for it), the hand (who builds it), the sword (who defends it), and so on, but still the set of people fulfilling those roles usually had to be small. All sorts of trust and transport and communication barriers enforced such limits.

Nowadays, faster and longer-range matter- and data-flow (transport and communication) can mean larger markets, longer supply-chains, and thus more money, and more competition. That can splinter having an idea from testing it, finding the money to build it, distributing and accounting for the money to build it, organizing the people and tools needed to build it, building it, legally defending it, regulating it, managing it, owning it, profiting from it, and controlling it. Large companies can now support many roles: scientist, engineer, inventor, entrepreneur, investor, banker, lawyer, shareholder, board member, director, manager, accountant, designer, contractor, marketer, regulator, consultant. The people playing such roles might be distinct when building something large or complicated. Similar splintering can happen with large growing or servicing concerns, too, whether they be corporate farms or investment banks or major hospitals.

However, even in multinationals, while most such people may no longer be kin, or close friends, to be hired into the company they, often, still have to be ‘near’ each other, if not in location, then in language, origin, friendship circle, or at least, perceived education. Part of the reason for the persistence of such ties may be because they help guarantee performance, but also that they enhance trust and reduce the chance of betrayal, malfeasance, or non-compliance. Companies survive only if they cohere long enough to profit from internal cooperation.

But if a ‘mental railroad’ comes to exist, some of those geographic, linguistic, credit, and legal barriers to company creation, cohesion, and maintenance might erode. The barriers may no longer be quite so vital to enhancing or enforcing trust. It may no longer matter so much where someone lives, what language they speak, where they’re from, or perhaps even that some particular person in the company knew them before joining. Perhaps only skills, personalities, or predilections may matter. (Of course, government agencies, militaries, and defense and aerospace contractors, won’t ever adopt this model. Trust there is paramount; it’s not inter-company, it’s inter-government; and it’s not money but lives at stake.)

If so, no matter how small the company, or how esoteric its product or service, its roles might start splintering as some company tasks spin off into world-spanning contracts. If that happens, more people around the world might compete for such a contract, then perhaps farm out some of it, which other contractors might compete for, then they might farm out some of that to yet other contractors, and so on. Many such contractors might live anywhere, speak any language, and be any age, any gender, any sexual orientation. If so, only contracts might then bind such a company together.

Just as when the railroad started linking mines, factories, cities, ports, and such, there will surely be all sorts of barriers—particularly those surrounding individual, corporate, and national (maybe even regional) espionage, sabotage, and rivalry. So, probably, this will be largely a legal, political, and geopolitical issue, not so much a technical one. But if such global contracts do become viable, then after a while, all that may be left of any such company may be the network that glues producers—whether on farms, in factories, or in offices—to consumers.

Further, some of those producers, and even some of their consumers, may become robots—more and more of which may be any size, from whole city blocks down to gnats, so that some ‘services’ or even ‘factories’ (maybe eventually even some ‘farms’ too?) might even fit on rooftops or in bedroom closets. Why not? Establishing, branding, growing, and marketing such networks across national boundaries would then become such a company’s main business, regardless of what it grows, makes, or serves—or to whom, or what, it serves that to. Increasingly, company reputation may become everything it is to its clients. ‘Can you deliver the thing (food, fuel, part, service), in time and in budget, as promised?’ After a while, that may be all that defines the company.

If such companies were (legally) allowed to come to exist, and if they were rewarded, they could grow in number, variety, and size. As they compete, they could skeletonize as other companies arise to aid them. For instance, writing, insuring, and enforcing distributed contracts so that they could work in varied legal domains might grow so useful that it alone might become a new kind of company’s business. Identifying, targeting, and tracking suitable talent might become another kind of company’s business. Designing sets of contracts so that they mesh well, or are standardized, or are accredited, might become yet another kind of company’s business, and so on. Then, such helper companies could themselves skeletonize. The result could be a bouquet of skeletonized global companies, driving down global wages but driving up global variety.

Another such kind of helper company might arise to solve problems for other such companies—or for any company at all—or for no company at all, for some of them might even do some things just for the sheer joy of trying to see if they could do it. Science and math seem like prime candidates for that and pioneer volunteer groups in those areas already exist. In any such group, no one need necessarily be superfast or supersmart, but with the right tools and links to others, the group might well be—if not compared to other such groups, certainly compared to a lone person, or any number of lone people. That group might have an edge in terms of facility, creativity, curiosity, or tenacity.

Were such groups to become routine, a new term might enter the languages: ‘metaconcert.’ It might denote how people behave when they mass together to solve human problems, for there would then be a new kind of power grid—a mental one—because cleverness would then be on tap, like water or electricity. Depending on demand, perhaps half the planet might be in constant touch, and, enhanced with ever cheaper thinking aids, might attack problems—at least technical ones in science, engineering, medicine, math, finance, and business—in ever larger metaconcerts across planetary distances.

If the sheltering effects of location, language, origin, and prior friendship do indeed decline, any profit-motivated skeletonized groups that survive would have to become more nimble. With fewer tethers to physical existence, many such groups may then have the lifespans of mayflies—winking into and out of existence. Change would then be not merely constant, but torrential. As with steam engine dispersal two centuries ago, new centers of ‘mental industry’ would then spring up wherever they’re best suited to grow. Mental production would then explode, just as physical production once did when rails synergetically linked coal and iron and factories, making for a fifth wave of industrial phase change, possibly more like a tsunami than a wave.

[We don’t yet have mental steam engines.]
Take software production. Software is easy to make—unless we want it to do what we mean, not what we say. We struggle with that because mental labor today is no more mechanized than physical labor was in 1776. We still have to hand-make almost all computer programs. So despite the glamour that’s usually slathered over nearly anything to do with computers, today’s programmers are still little more than yesterday’s blacksmiths and handicrafters—except that instead of us asking them to shoe horses or make wagon wheels, we’re asking them to build missile defense shields, nuclear power plant controllers, and deep space probes—by hand—while running—on roller skates.

Such tasks far exceed our tools and skills. We’re still our own mental carthorses. We don’t yet have mental steam engines.

[...bits and pieces are already here...]
Examples are: world-wide group-work websites on the web in various question-and-answer sites, encyclopedia sites, funding sites, competition sites, reputation sites, job hunting sites, and so on. Of course, these are all for individual participation, not group formation, per se. Google, wikipedia, stackoverflow, Spiceworks, CrowdFlower, kickstarter, craigslist. SETI@home. Zooniverse’s Galaxy Zoo, eBirds, Foldit, EteRNA, Quantum Moves, Phylo, Ancient Lives. NASA’s Stardust@home, ClickWorkers, SETILive, CosmoQuest. National Geographic’s Field Expedition: Mongolia. Innocentive. Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. Luis van Ahn and CAPTCHA, reCAPTCHA, ESP Game, duolingo. Project Polymath. For more detail, see: “glimmers of a possible coming age of metaconcerts” in the Chapter 6 notes of this book to the section ‘Wiring the World.’
[today’s companies]
Today a company often means idea and money suppliers, energy and materials suppliers, tool suppliers, buildings containing those tools, labor suppliers working in those buildings, perhaps another set of buildings where product is sold, retail staff working in those buildings, and yet other buildings for office staff, designers, advertisers, and possibly shippers. Most of those workers are still human.
What we today call ‘virtual’ organizations are hardly new. In fact, some are millennia old. “Distributed Work over the Centuries: Trust and Control in the Hudson’s Bay Company, 1670-1826,” M. O’Leary, W. Orlikowski, J. Yates, in: Pamela J. Hinds and Sara Kiesler (editors), Distributed work, The MIT Press, 2002, pages 27-54.
The term is Julian May’s, as used in her science-fiction novel: The Saga of the Pliocene Exile, in four volumes, Julian May, Del Rey Books, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984.
[talk of a global brain]
Today, despite a world web, and even some brave talk of a global brain, we still have neither. At best, we now have a global folk-database. It’s the first rude beginnings of a global memory. It can’t become a true world web until many more of us are digitally linked, and it can’t become a real global brain until its parts can synergetically interact at speeds we each can’t match. That won’t happen tomorrow. But one day it might well happen. Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind from the Big Bang to the 21st Century, Howard Bloom, John Wiley & Sons, 2000. Metaman: The Merging of Humans and Machines into a Global Superorganism, Gregory Stock, Simon & Schuster, 1993. But the idea is hardly new, only the trappings are: World Brain, H. G. Wells, Methuen & Co., 1938.

Research toward what might eventually become such a thing is proceeding along several lines (although no responsible researcher says that the ultimate result might be a ‘global brain,’ or at least, nobody says so publicly). The problem is how to coordinate action by massive numbers of mobile, computational agents, each with limited knowledge, as they interact to solve various problems in a massive, distributed, global computer network. The chief areas of research are: ubiquitous computing (also called ubicomp), pervasive computing (sometimes called ambient intelligence), mobile agents, massively parallel computation, and grid computing. Security for Ubiquitous Computing, Frank Stajano, John Wiley & Sons, 2002. Swarm Intelligence: From Natural to Artificial Systems, E. Bonabeau, M. Dorigo, G. Theraulaz, F. Kluegl, Oxford University Press, 1999. The Grid: Blueprint for a New Computing Infrastructure, Ian Foster and Carl Kesselman (editors), Morgan Kaufmann, 1998. Software Agents, James E. White (editor), AAAI Press/MIT Press, 1997. The Ecology of Computation, B. A. Hubermann (editor), North-Holland, 1988.

[Daniel Webster in 1847]
“It is an extraordinary era in which we live. It is altogether new. The world has seen nothing like it before. I will not pretend, no one can pretend, to discern the end; but every body knows that the age is remarkable for scientific research into the heavens, the earth, and what is beneath the earth; and perhaps more remarkable still for the application of this scientific research to the pursuits of life. The ancients saw nothing like it. The moderns have seen nothing like it till the present generation. Shakspeare’s fairy said he would “Put a girdle round about the earth / In forty minutes.” Professor Morse has done more than that; his girdle requires far less time for its traverse. In fact, if one were to send a despatch from Boston by the telegraph at twelve o’clock, it would reach St. Louis at a quarter before twelve. This is what may be called doing a thing in less than no time. We see the ocean navigated and the solid land traversed by steam power, and intelligence communicated by electricity. Truly this is almost a miraculous era. What is before us no one can say, what is upon us no one can hardly realize. The progress of the age has almost outstripped human belief; the future is known only to Omniscience.”

“Opening of the Northern Railroad to Lebanon, N.H.,” Daniel Webster, Wednesday 17th Novemember, 1847, The Writings and Speeches of Daniel Webster, pages 116-117.

Chapter 3. Dynamo: Resources

[Churchill quote]
Here’s the beginning of Churchill’s speech before the House of Commons on October 28th, 1943: “On the night of 10th May, 1941, with one of the last bombs of the last serious raid, our House of Commons was destroyed by the violence of the enemy, and we have now to consider whether we should build it up again, and how, and when. We shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us. Having dwelt and served for more than 40 years in the late Chamber, and having derived fiery great pleasure and advantage therefrom, I, naturally, would like to see it restored in all essentials to its old form, convenience and dignity. I believe that will be the opinion of the great majority of its Members. It is certainly the opinion of His Majesty’s Government and we propose to support this resolution to the best of our ability.

There are two main characteristics of the House of Commons which will command the approval and the support of reflective and experienced Members. They will, I have no doubt, sound odd to foreign ears. The first is that its shape should be oblong and not semi-circular. Here is a very potent factor in our political life. The semi-circular assembly, which appeals to political theorists, enables every individual or every group to move round the centre, adopting various shades of pink according as the weather changes. I am a convinced supporter of the party system in preference to the group system. I have seen many earnest and ardent Parliaments destroyed by the group system. The party system is much favoured by the oblong form of Chamber. It is easy for an individual to move through those insensible gradations from Left to Right but the act of crossing the Floor is one which requires serious consideration. I am well informed on this matter, for I have accomplished that difficult process, not only once but twice. Logic is a poor guide compared with custom. Logic which has created in so many countries semi-circular assemblies which have buildings which give to every Member, not only a seat to sit in but often a desk to write at, with a lid to bang, has proved fatal to Parliamentary Government as we know it here in its home and in the land of its birth.

The second characteristic of a Chamber formed on the lines of the House of Commons is that it should not be big enough to contain all its Members at once without over-crowding and that there should be no question of every Member having a separate seat reserved for him. The reason for this has long been a puzzle to uninstructed outsiders and has frequently excited the curiosity and even the criticism of new Members. Yet it is not so difficult to understand if you look at it from a practical point of view. If the House is big enough to contain all its Members, nine-tenths of its Debates will be conducted in the depressing atmosphere of an almost empty or half-empty Chamber. The essence of good House of Commons speaking is the conversational style, the facility for quick, informal interruptions and interchanges. Harangues from a rostrum would be a bad substitute for the conversational style in which so much of our business is done. But the conversational style requires a fairly small space, and there should be on great occasions a sense of crowd and urgency. There should be a sense of the importance of much that is said and a sense that great matters are being decided, there and then, by the House.”

Winston S. Churchill: His Complete Speeches, 1897-1963, Volume VII: 1943-1949, Robert Rhodes James (editor), Chelsea House Publishers, 1974, pages 6869-6871. See also: The Second World War, Volume V: Closing the Ring, Winston S. Churchill, Houghton Mifflin, 1951, pages 149-151.

Marshall McLuhan may have been rephrasing Churchill’s observation that “We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us” when he said “We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.” in The Medium is the Massage. Note that the quote isn’t from his book of that name but from his album, The Medium is the Massage, which appeared the same year (1967). He has a child speak it on Side 2.

The King’s Stigmergic Argument

[urbanization in Britain (and the United States)]
Britain became half-urban in 1851. The United States didn’t become half-urban until 1920. The Environment in World History, Stephen Mosley, Taylor & Francis, 2010, page 92.
[London overtook Beijing in the 1820s]
Similarly, New York overtook London in the 1920s. Tokyo overtook New York in the 1960s. “Spatializing 6,000 years of global urbanization from 3700 BC to AD 2000,” M. Reba, F. Reitsma, K. C. Seto, Scientific Data, Issue 3, 160034, 2016.
[British slavery around 1851]
Its overseas slavery ended (legally, at least) in 1834. Its penal slavery ended (legally, at least) in 1868.

As for penal slavery, “It is truly extraordinary that European scholars have either neglected this whole aspect of the subject or defined it as something other than slavery when they recognized it.” Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study, Orlando Patterson, Harvard University Press, 1982, pages 44-45.

[press-ganging lasted until 1833]
The Press-Gang Afloat and Ashore, John R. Hutchinson, G. Bell and Sons, 1913. Note that, at least from 1776 to 1783, the numbers of men pressed-ganged on land is much smaller than the total number in the navy. Further, while the numbers pressed may have been relatively high, the desertion rate was also high. “Royal Navy Impressment During the American Revolution,” R. G. Usher, Jr., The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, 37(4):673-688, 1951. The Naval Enlistment Act of 1835 (5 & 6 William IV, Chapter 24) ended the practice of unlimited-time impressment. It limited impressments to at most five years. The Naval Enlistment Acts of 1853 (16 & 17 Victoria, Chapter 69) and 1884 (47 & 48 Victoria, Chapter 46), further changed the rules.
[Britain’s drug trade]
Some Britons may have continued the opium trade past 1917 illicitly, but officially it ended, by mutual agreement between Britain and China, in 1917. However, that wasn’t the end of opium use in China, since its government was disintegrating and warlords replaced Indian opium with local opium. The Chinese and Opium under the Republic: Worse than Floods and Wild Beasts, Alan Baumler, SUNY Press, 2007. The Opium Monopoly, Ellen Newbold La Motte, The Macmillan company, 1920.
[the Crystal Palace]
For simplicity the text gives the impression that all of Britain supported the idea of the fair, but actually the initial impetus came from Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s consort. However, to actually get it built he needed to rouse interest among the mercantile population to show off their wares, and so get the funding for the building. The Great Exhibition of 1851: a Nation on Display, Jeffrey A. Auerbach, Yale University Press, 1999.
[“which will kill eight times as quick”]
“The most popular and famous invention of American industry, is a pistol which will kill eight times as quick as the weapon formerly in use. It has been reported upon by committees, and sanctioned by Congress, and so keen is the national appreciation of this great discovery, that the Republican Government of Washington does not hesitate to pay about three times as much for cavalry pistols as England pays for infantry muskets.” The Times went on to sardonically call Samuel Colt ‘the American Jenner.’ “Here you may make yourself acquainted with the new method of vaccination, as performed by the practitioners of the Far West, upon the rude tribes who yet incumber the wilderness with their presence. This, in a word, is the stand of Samuel Colt, the inventor of the six barrelled revolving pistol, an arm which in all probability will supersede the fire-arms at present carried by the cavalry of every military power, and which, by the extension of the invention, might be made equally applicable to the efficiency of the foot service. The weapon is of the simplest kind, although it is clear enough that a vast amount of pains must have been bestowed upon the attainment of what seems to be a very simple result.” The Times, June 9th, 1851. See also: American Superiority at the World’s Fair; designed to accompany a chromo-lithographic picture illustrative of prizes awarded to American citizens at the Great Exhibition: a compilation of public and private sources, Charles T. Rodgers, J. J. Hawkins, 1852, page 65.
[France had lost a big war with Britain]
That was the Seven Years’ War, 1756-1763. Sometimes called the ‘first world war,’ it was the first to involve actions all over the globe. It was fought by France, Austria, Russia, Saxony, and Sweden against Britain, Prussia, and Hanover. Spain and Portugal were later drawn in. It’s part of an even larger conflict sometimes called the ‘Second Hundred Years’ War.’ That was the fight for supremacy between Britain and France, which counts from the accession of William III (in the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688) to the Battle of Waterloo (in 1815).
[Mao’s famous phrase]
It dates to 1927, not as is commonly stated, 1938. He first used it at the ‘August 7th Emergency Conference,’ where he’s quoted as saying: 政权是由枪杆子中取得的 [transliteration: “Zhengquan shi you qiangganzi zhong qude de.”] [“Political power is obtained from the barrel of the gun.”] And in 1938, at the Sixth Plenum of the Sixth Central Committee, he said: 枪杆子里面出政权 [transliteration: “Qiangganzi limian chu zhengquan.”] [“Political power comes out of the barrel of a gun.”] Mao’s Road to Power: Revolutionary Writings, 1912-1949: Volume VI: The New Stage, August 1937-1938, Mao Tse-tung, Stuart R. Schram (editor), East Gate, 2004, page 552. Mao’s Road to Power: Revolutionary Writings, 1912-1949: Volume III: From the Jinggangshan to the establishment of the Jiangxi Soviets, July 1927-December 1930, Mao Tse-tung, Stuart R. Schram (editor), East Gate, 1995, page 31.
[cannon motto]
The Latin was: Ultima ratio regum [The last resort of Kings]. In 1626, Cardinal Richelieu ordered it put on cannon for his king, Louis XIIV. Louis the XIV also ordered it put on his cannon. However, it was sighted on one as early as 1613. The Navy and Government in Early Modern France, 1572-1661, Alan James, Boydell & Brewer, 2004, pages 113-114. Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men: With Historical and Explanatory Notes, Samuel Arthur Bent, Ticknor and Company, 1887, page 345. Anecdotes of Distinguished Persons, 4: Chiefly of the Present and Two Preceding Centuries, Volume IV, W. Seward Salisbury, T. Cadell Jun and W. Davies, Fourth Edition, 1798, page 200.

The term was in use in Europe (at least in Italy and France, perhaps England) by at least 1731. “[...] ils n’ont point d’abord recours au Canon, qu’ils ont eux mêmes nommé ultima ratio Regum, la raison à laquelle on a recours quand toutes les autres sont inutiles.” [First they did not resort to Cannon, they have even called them ultima ratio Regum, the reason that’s used when all others are useless.] From: “Reflexions sur les Nouvelles d’Italie,” in: Lettre historique (et politique), Contenant l’état présent de l’Europe, ce qui se passe dans toutes les Cours, l’interêt des Princes, leurs brigues, & généralement tout ce qu’il y a de curieux pour le Mois de Janvier 1731, Henri Basnage de Beauval, Jacques Bernard, and Jean baron de Carlscroon Du-Mont, Herman Uytwerf, 1731, pages 267-272.

Another popular one was Pluribus nec impar [A match for many].

[France’s newest artillery engineers and science]
They were trained in the then young scientific method. “Five artillery schools, all located in garrison towns, had been started in 1720. Enrollment was expanded after 1763 and the curriculum enlarged and made more rigorous. In addition to normal military training, cadets studied geometry, mechanics, drafting, and elementary physics and chemistry. Before graduation they took an examination in mathematics set by Bézout and after his death by none other than Laplace. Over a thousand officers were thus trained in the last quarter-century of the old regime.” See: “Engineering the Revolution,” C. C. Gillispie, Technology and Culture, 39(4):733-742, 1998.
[Blanc was the first to make precision parts]
As usual, the text compresses a long and complex story into a simpler one in the interest of brevity. Christopher Polhem (1661-1751), a Swedish inventor, was actually the first known one, but his machines, which made cogwheels for clocks, didn’t trigger further change partly thanks to its rejection by the best clockmakers and partly by the difficulty of distribution in sparsely populated and largely rural Sweden. The History of the Machine, Sigvard Strandh, translated by Ann Henning, Dorset Press, 1989, pages 54-55. Nor was Polhem alone. Guillaume Deschamps, a French armorer, also made interchangeable parts in the 1720s. Plus, they were gunlocks too. “Innovation and Amnesia: Engineering Rationality and the Fate of Interchangeable Parts Manufacturing in France,” K. Alder, Technology and Culture, 38(2):273-311, 1997. For the development of mass production in the United States but outside government control, see: Ingenious Yankees: The Rise of the American System of Manufactures in the Private Sector, Donald Hoke, Columbia University Press, 1990. For an analysis of the economic versus military pressures that led to them in the early handgun business (especially revolvers), see: “Interchangeable Parts Reexamined—The Private Sector of the American Arms Industry on the Eve of the Civil War,” R. A. Howard, Technology and Culture, 19(4):633-649, 1978.
[Blanc’s second demo]
It was held five years after his first, on November 20th, 1790. By then, Jefferson was back in Washington. Blanc, as general inspector of three French arsenals, was part of an effort in France pushed along by Lieutenant General Jean-Baptiste de Gribeauval, the chief power behind the “uniformity principle” after France’s 1763 defeat. He funded Blanc but died in 1789, the year of the French Revolution. Blanc then struck out on his own. From the American System to Mass Production, 1800-1932: The Development of Manufacturing Technology in the United States, David A. Hounshell, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984, pages 25-26.
[Brunel’s rejection by the Southampton block manufactory]
“Your brother has certainly given proofs of great ingenuity, but he certainly is not acquainted with our mode of work. What he saw at Deptford is not as we work here. I will just describe in a few words how we have made our blocks for upwards of twenty-five years — twenty years to my own knowledge. The tree of timber, from two to five loads’ measurement, is drawn by the machine under the saw, where it is cut to its proper length. It is then removed to a round saw where the piece cut off is completely shaped, and only requiring to be turned under the saw. The one, two, or three, or four mortises are cut in by hand, which wholly completes the block, except with a broad chisel cutting out the roughness of the teeth of the saw, and the scores for the strapping of the rope. Every block we make (except more than four machines can make) is done in this way, and with great truth and exactness. The shivers are wholly done by the engines, very little labour is employed about our works, except the removing the things from one place to another.

My father has spent many hundreds a year to get the best mode, and most accurate, of making the blocks, and he certainly succeeded; and so much so, that I have no hope of anything ever better being discovered, and I am convinced there cannot.

However, Southamptom’s rejection may have turned to dejection once Brunel built his factory, for:

“where FIFTY MEN were necessary to complete the shells of blocks previous to the erection of Brunel’s machinery, FOUR MEN only are now required; and that, to prepare the sheaves, SIX MEN can now do the work which formerly demanded the labours of SIXTY.

So that TEN MEN, by the aid of this machinery, can accomplish with uniformity, celerity, and ease, what formerly required the uncertain labour of ONE HUNDRED AND TEN.”

Memoir of the life of Sir Marc Isambard Brunel: Civil Engineer, Vice-President of the Royal Society, corresponding member of the Institute of France, etc., Richard Beamish, Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts, Second Edition, 1862, pages 50-51 and pages 97-98.

[Brunel’s block manufactory]
Brunel first landed in the United States, then later settled in Britain. He sailed for England on January 20th, 1799. The United States and France were at war then, although they never declared war, but fighting at sea had begun by then.

Brunel got as far as he did, despite many failures, largely because his wife’s brother was senior in the British Navy. He provided introductions.

Brunel then worked with Samuel Bentham, who was himself very inventive. Brother of Jeremy Bentham (the political radical and philosopher), Samuel was inspector general of the British Navy. They then hired Henry Maudslay to build the machines they would need. Maudslay was one of Britain’s rising stars in precision tools. His machines for Brunel’s block-making manufactory at the Portsmouth yards were so well made that they were still in use in 1944, 141 years later. Blocks for the landing boats at Normandy on D-Day were made there. At the same Portsmouth yards, Bentham had a steam engine in use to drain the docks as early as 1799, and, by 1802, another to run mechanical saws.

The block factory paid for itself in just four years. But it suffered after the Napoleonic wars ended in 1815 and demand dried up. By 1821 Brunel was in jail for debt. The government let him, and his family, languish there until he started corresponding with the Tsar of Russia, who was interested in hiring him away. Then the government paid off his debts with the understanding that he’d remain in Britain. He then went on to invent several more machines and initiate many more building projects. His son, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, did the same.

The Greater Genius? Harold Bagust, Ian Allan Publishing, 2006. Brunel: The Man Who Made the World, Steven Brindle, Sterling Publishing Company, 2005, page 37. The Portsmouth Block Mills: Bentham, Brunel and the start of the Royal Navy’s Industrial Revolution, Jonathan Coad, English Heritage, 2005. Henry Maudslay & the Pioneers of the Machine Age, John Cantrell and Gillian Cookson (editors), Tempus Publishing, 2002. “The Portsmouth System of Manufacture,” C. C. Cooper, Technology and Culture, 25(2):182-225, 1984. English and American Tool Builders, Joseph Wickham Roe, Yale University Press, 1916.

[France (and Spain) widened the war...]
France, still smarting from the 1762 losses (of Canada, India, and in the Caribbean) was looking for a way to hit back at Britain. Separating British America from Britain seemed like it, at least in 1778 after the colonists had finally managed to win a battle, after losing many. A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America, Stacy Schiff, Thorndike Press, 2005. Britain and France at the Birth of America: The European Powers and the Peace Negotiations of 1782-1783, Andrew Stockley, University of Exeter Press, 2001.
[Connecticut and Pennsylvania were at war...]
That’s the the Third Pennamite War (1784). “Frontier Vengeance: Connecticut Yankees vs. Pennamites in the Wyoming Valley,” A. M. Ousterhout, Pennsylvania History, 62(3):330-363, 1995.
[State of Franklin...]
It lasted for only four years; it was part of what’s now Tennessee. History of the Lost State of Franklin, Samuel Cole Williams, The Watauga Press, 1924.
[slave revolts in the United States]
In the United States, revolts were feared more than anything else and many laws governing slaves were designed to prevent them. Despite that, slaves still sometimes rebelled anyway, most recently in New York in 1741, and then in Virginia in 1800. Encyclopedia of Slave Resistance and Rebellion, Junius P. Rodriguez (editor), in two volumes, Greenwood, 2006. Gabriel’s Rebellion: The Virginia Slave Conspiracies of 1800 and 1802, Douglas R. Egerton, University of North Carolina Press, 1993. A Rumor of Revolt: The “Great Negro Plot” in Colonial New York, Thomas J. Davis, University of Massachusetts Press, 1990. Some revolts outside the United States did succeed—in Haiti for example.
[Jefferson and the development of interchangeable parts]
Jefferson probably met with Blanc in Paris on July 8th, 1785. He was then in Paris as the new ambassador to the court of King Louis XVI. Engineering the Revolution, Arms and Enlightenment in France, 1763-1815, Ken Alder, Princeton University Press, 1997.

Jefferson mentions the event toward the end of his letter to John Jay on August 30th as follows: “An improvement is made here in the construction of muskets, which it may be interesting to Congress to know, should they at any time propose to procure any. It consists in the making every part of them so exactly alike, that what belongs to any one, may be used for every other musket in the magazine. The government here has examined and approved the method, and is establishing a large manufactory for the purpose of putting it into execution. As yet, the inventor has only completed the lock of the musket, on this plan. He will proceed immediately to have the barrel, stock, and other parts, executed in the same way. Supposing it might be useful in the United States, I went to the workman. He presented me the parts of fifty locks taken to pieces, and arranged in compartments. I put several together myself, taking pieces at hazard as they came to hand, and they fitted in the most perfect manner. The advantages of this, when arms need repair, are evident. He effects it by tools of his own contrivance, which, at the same time, abridge the work, so that he thinks he shall be able to furnish the musket two livres cheaper than the common price. But it will be two or three years before he will be able to furnish any quantity. I mention it now, as it may have influence on the plan for furnishing our magazines with this arm.” The Writings of Thomas Jefferson: Being His Autobiography, Correspondence, Reports, Messages, Addresses, and Other Writings, Official and Private: Published by the Order of the Joint Committee of Congress on the Library, from the Original Manuscripts, Deposited in the Department of State, Volume 1, Thomas Jefferson, Taylor & Maury, 1853, pages 411-412.

Another important catalyst was Major Louis de Tousard, who kept pushing the idea in the United States (after leaving France in 1793 after the Revolution), particularly by writing a proposition that partly led to the establishment of West Point in 1802. From the American System to Mass Production, 1800-1932: The Development of Manufacturing Technology in the United States, David A. Hounshell, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984, pages 26-27.

[“slit the throats of their sons, and women”]
The reference is to La Marseillaise. Composed in 1792 by Claude-Joseph Rouget de Lisle, a captain in the French army, after Austrian and Prussian troops invaded France to try to quell the revolution. It was originally titled: Chant de guerre pour l’Armee du Rhin — War Song for the Army of the Rhine.

First verse: “Allons enfants de la Patrie, (Arise, children of the Fatherland) / Le jour de gloire est arrivé! (The day of glory has arrived!) / Contre nous de la tyrannie, (Against us tyranny’s) / L’étendard sanglant est levé (repeat) (Bloody banner is raised) / Entendez-vous dans les campagnes (Do you hear, in the fields) / Mugir ces féroces soldats? (The roar of those ferocious soldiers?) Ils viennent jusque dans vos bras (They’re coming right into your midst) / Éorger vos fils, vos compagnes! (To cut the throats of your sons, your women!)”

Chorus: “Aux armes, citoyens, (To arms, citizens) / Formez vos bataillons, (Form your battalions) / Marchons, marchons, (Let’s march, let’s march) / Qu’un sang impur (Let an impure blood) / Abreuve nos sillons (repeat) (Water our furrows)”

[United States in undeclared war with France and North African states]
The United States was in an undeclared war with France from 1797-1801. The (primarily naval) actions lasted from 1798 to 1800. That was the first time that United States troops were used abroad, and was undeclared by Congress (which hardly existed at the time anyway). The Quasi-War: The Politics and Diplomacy of the Undeclared war with France, 1797-1801, Alexander DeConde, Scribner, 1966.

It was also in the First Barbary war from 1801-1805 (against Tripoli, Algiers, Tunis, and Morocco). Before, its ships had been protected by Britain’s navy, then by France’s navy (from 1778-1783), and for a while it simply paid tribute. That began to break down and conflict started in 1801, when Jefferson became president. That was the second time that United States troops were used abroad, and was also undeclared (by the United States, although it was ‘declared’ by Tripoli by chopping down the consulate’s flagpole, the custom at the time). At the time, the United States navy had just started and consisted of just six ships. The Barbary Wars: American Independence in the Atlantic World, Frank Lambert, Hill and Wang, 2005.

[Britain restricted technology transfer to its colonies]
As an example of the limitations, here’s a bit of the Iron Act of 1750.

“An act to encourage the importation of pig and bar iron from his Majesty’s colonies in America; and to prevent the erection of any mill, or other engine, for slitting or rolling of iron; or any plateing forge to work with a tilt hammer; or any furnace for making steel in any of the said colonies.”

There were many limitations, not just of technology, but also of people skilled in the technology, particular textile artisans. Britain wanted to encourage its own industry, by gaining the right raw materials from the colonies, yet discourage industrial competition from the colonies. In return, the United States, after independence in 1789, would offer bounties for the skilled, who would disguise themselves and their tools to slip through the export bans. It would also enact the first Tariff Act, which imposed some of the highest rates on slit and rolled iron, castings, mails, spikes and wool cards (the wire brushes used for carding wool). The idea was to stimulate home-grown production. A Social History of American Technology, Ruth Schwartz Cowan, Oxford University Press, 1997. “An Industry Evolves: Lathes to Computers,” J. J. Benes, American Machinist, August 1996. Connections, James Burke, Macmillan, 1978, page 148. English and American Tool Builders, Joseph Wickham Roe, Yale University Press, 1916, page 111.

[British America smuggled a steam engine in 1753]
In 1753, the colonies that were to become the United States got their first steam engine. It was smuggled from Britain to New Jersey that year. But word of it grew slowly. Folks living only two days’ walk away still hadn’t heard of it 17 years later. American Science and Invention, A Pictorial History: The Fabulous Story of How American Dreamers, Wizards, and Inspired Tinkers Converted a Wilderness into the Wonder of the World, Mitchell Wilson, Simon & Schuster, 1954, pages 48-49.

The machine was built for the Schuyler copper mines (now near Belleville, New Jersey). Benjamin Franklin mentioned a visit to the mine in a letter he wrote on February 13th, 1750: “I know of but one valuable copper mine in this country, which is that of Schuyler’s in the Jerseys. This yields good copper, and has turned out vast wealth to the owners. I was at it last fall, but they were not then at work. The water has grown too hard for them, and they waited for a fire-engine from England to drain their pits. I suppose they will have that at work next summer; it costs them one thousand pounds sterling.” The Writings of Benjamin Franklin, Volume III, 1750-1759, Albert Henry Smyth (editor), Macmillan, 1905, page 1.

The machine was smuggled in by Josiah Hornblower, of Cornwall, who brought all the parts for a Newcomen engine, which he, his brother, and their father had built by hand. He also brought many spare parts because he knew that he could not rely on the crude colonial machinists to make new ones. By 1755, the machine was in operation, pumping out the deepest mine shaft—the first time steam power was used anywhere in the colony. Five years later the machine was down for repairs, with a new brass cylinder having to be sent for all the way from London. Then, in 1761, Josiah and a partner leased the mine from its owner, John Schuyler. The next year there was a fire. By 1767 the mine was idle as wars plagued the area. Another fire in 1773 closed the mine. By 1794 Nicholas Roosevelt, who, in partnership with Arent Schuyler, John’s son, had leased the mine, repaired the steam engine, then went bankrupt. The exhausted mine went on to bankrupt many partnerships for the next 50 years. However, by 1838 the new United States had over 5,000 steam engines. By then the new country had begun to turn the corner of industrialization. Josiah Hornblower and the First Steam Engine, With Some Notices of the Schuyler Copper Mines at Second River, N. J., and a Genealogy of the Hornblower Family, William Nelson, Daily Advertiser Printing House, 1883.

[why did mass production spread in the United States first?]
Mass production took off in the United States first. But why? It can’t be fear alone because fear wasn’t alone enough to push through such a major change in production—it wasn’t enough in France, nor in Britain. And, over the millennia, lots of our groups have been plenty afraid many times before, yet only rarely did that lead to anything other than our usual death and despair. Further, the same fear didn’t force the same production change in Europe—at least, not at first. There, our clotted layers of artisans, and the political arrangements surrounding that, smothered it. In the United States, unlike Europe, fear could break the back of our age-old piecework tradition only because there we didn’t have much of a tradition to begin with. Skilled labor was scarce. Compared to Europe, the little ex-colony was a backwater full of hicks.

But so what? Relative to Europe in 1800, lots of countries were backwaters—Papua New Guinea, for instance. The new country wasn’t merely hicksville; there, any labor—skilled or unskilled—was undependable. It was expanding quickly. And as it expanded, and killed off more and more of its native hunter-gatherers, land was cheap and plentiful. So holding on to labor was hard. Anyone with a grubstake could head west and homestead. Europe, though, aside from Russia (which was expanding east much as the United States was expanding west, but which had its own problems), had killed off its native hunter-gatherers seven millennia before. So it had no new land to steal—at least, not in Europe—and it had large, stagnant pools of skilled labor. Thus, in Europe, only military emergency was enough to overcome its labor inertia—and then, only while the emergency lasted. For the infant country, though, it was all one long emergency. (Perhaps the same forces would apply were we to ever colonize another planet.)

Being land-rich and labor-poor mattered a lot, but if that were all, then Russia, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, or Uruguay might have developed mass production first. They, too, were rapidly crowding out earlier farmers, herders, foragers, or nomads at about the same time. But they weren’t mavericks living under threat of imminent dissolution. In the United States, making guns of swappable parts was central to survival, then expansion. Just as with the first bloom of the steam engine in Britain as opposed to anywhere else, various accidents of geography and history came together to make the United States peculiarly suited to adopting the new steam power and the new precision tools quickly. But the main reason it could adopt those new tools at all was that there were new tools to adopt.

For instance, in 1810 the United States had no working steam engines, almost a century after Britain’s first ones. By 1838, it had over 5,000. So the United States did what Britain and France couldn’t, but were it not for France and Britain it might well have been just as stuck in our age-old production tarpit as they were.

The idea that labor shortage encouraged machines in the United States is hardly new. It seems to have first been articulated as part of previous scholarship, and then questioned, in: American and British Technology in the Nineteenth Century: The Search for Labour Saving Inventions, H. J. Habakkuk, Cambridge University Press, 1962. See, for example: The Emergence of Industrial America: Strategic Factors in American Economic Growth Since 1870, Peter George, SUNY Press, 1982, pages 37-47. See also: Taming the Wild Field: Colonization and Empire on the Russian Steppe, Willard Sunderland, Cornell University Press, 2004.

[“one boy”...]
“[O]ne boy by the aid of these machines can perform more work than ten men with files, in the same time, and with greater accuracy.” From: “John H. Hall, Simeon North, and the Milling Machine: The Nature of Innovation among Antebellum Arms Makers,” M. R. Smith, Technology and Culture, 14(4):573-591, 1973.
[funding and growth of mass production in the United States]
From 1800-1850, most small arms were made at two federal armories (in Harpers Ferry, Virginia, and Springfield, Massachusetts), and at the small private manufactories of federal contractors, mostly in New England. The Army enforced sharing of ideas (with one notable exception, Thomas Blanchard). By 1840, about a third of all the nation’s small arms came from just the two armories. Private companies outside the bubble lacked capital, expertise, and markets. That began to change after the 1830s and the Seminole wars in Florida. Greater expansion and larger borders led to higher demand. “Industrial Manifest Destiny: American Firearms Manufacturing and Antebellum Expansion,” L. S. Regele, Business History Review, 92(1):57-83, 2018. The Dawn of Innovation: The First American Industrial Revolution, Charles R. Morris, PublicAffairs, 2012, Chapter 4. Hall’s Breechloaders: John H. Hall’s invention and development of a breechloading rifle with precision-made interchangeable parts and its introduction into the United States service, R. T. Huntington, George Shumway, 1972.

“Lee’s appointment as superintendent of the Springfield Armory in 1815 followed an important change within the War Department. James Monroe, then secretary of war, pushed through Congress legislation that gave control of the Springfield and Harpers Ferry armories to the Ordnance Department, thus removing them from the immediate supervision of the secretary of war. An army bureau, the Ordnance Department had been created in 1812 to inspect and distribute military stores. Colonel Decius Wadsworth, who had worked with Louis Tousard in the Corps of Artillerists and Engineers, was the first chief of ordnance. To assist him, Wadsworth recruited a group of West Point junior officers. When the department gained jurisdiction over the armories in February 1815, these West Pointers moved immediately toward the institution of an American version of ‘le système Gribeauval,’ which Tousard had championed in his American Artillerist’s Companion. From their experience in the War of 1812, when a vast number of arms had been damaged beyond repair in the field but could have been fixed had parts simply interchanged, the ordnance officers believed that uniform parts manufacture (proven technically possible by Blanc, North, and possibly others) would be worth almost any price. Lieutenant George Bomford, Wadsworth’s chief assistant and his successor (1821-42), proved to be instrumental in the department’s efforts to achieve uniformity.” From the American System to Mass Production, 1800-1932: The Development of Manufacturing Technology in the United States, David A. Hounshell, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984, page 33. See also: Harpers Ferry Armory and the New Technology: The Challenge of Change, Merritt Roe Smith, Cornell University Press, 1977, page 104-107.

Just as with the steam engine in Britain, swappable parts took a long time to develop in the United States. It depended on decades of cross-pollinating work of the two men most in charge of ordnance: Decius Wadsworth and then George Bomford, and also Roswell Lee; and those who made it happen, some from gun develpment and some from textile development: John Hancock Hall, John H. King, Philip Burkart, Daniel Young, Jerome Young, Armistead M. Ball, James Henry Burton, Christian Sharps; Samuel Slater, Horatio Nelson Slater and John Fox Slater, Amos Adams Lawrence, Simeon North, Sylvester Nash, Thomas Blanchard, Joseph Whitworth, Jean Laurent Palmer, S. E. Robbins, Richard S. Lawrence, Oliver Winchester, Samuel Colt, and others. Industrializing Antebellum America: The Rise of Manufacturing Entrepreneurs in the Early Republic, Barbara M. Tucker and Kenneth H. Tucker Jr., Palgrave Macmillan, 2008. Ingenious Yankees: The Rise of the American System of Manufactures in the Private Sector, Donald R. Hoke, Columbia University Press, 1990. From the American System to Mass Production, 1800-1932: The Development of Manufacturing Technology in the United States, David A. Hounshell, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984. Samuel Slater and the Origins of the American Textile Industry, 1790-1860, Barbara M. Tucker, Cornell University Press, 1984. “Interchangeable Parts Reexamined—The Private Sector of the American Arms Industry on the Eve of the Civil War,” R. A. Howard, Technology and Culture, 19(4):633-649, 1978. “Technological Change in the Machine Tool Industry, 1840-1910,” N. Rosenberg, The Journal of Economic History, 23(04):414-443, 1963.

One can stand for many: Simeon North. On November 7th, 1808, he wrote to the Secretary of the Navy: “To make my contract for pistols advantageous to the United States and to myself I must go to a great proportion of the expense before I deliver any pistols. I find that by confining a workman to one particular limb of the pistol untill he has made two thousand, I save at least one quarter of his labor, to what I should provided I finishd them by small quantities; and the work will be as much better as it is quicker made.” Simeon North, First Official Pistol Maker of the United States: A Memoir, S. N. D. North and Ralph H. North, The Rumford Press, 1913, page 64.

In such ways did this group in the United States develop much the same basic production ideas as the group that James Watt and others fit into in Britain had to, since they had earlier had to do much the same sorts of things with what were initially largely unskilled hands.

That more or less the same thing happened in two different countries when trying to solve difficult industrial problems in two different domains is partly attributable to some cross-fertilization (from Britain and France to the United States) but is also attributable to network forces. By 1890, Alfred Marshall was to put our drive toward the formation of industrial reaction networks as follows:

“When an industry has thus chosen a locality for itself, it is likely to stay there long: so great are the advantages which people following the same skilled trade get from near neighbourhood to one another. The mysteries of the trade become no mysteries; but are as it were in the air, and children learn many of them unconsciously. Good work is rightly appreciated, inventions and improvements in machinery, in processes and the general organization of the business have their merits promptly discussed: if one man starts a new idea, it is taken up by others and combined with suggestions of their own; and thus it becomes the source of further new ideas. And presently subsidiary trades grow up in the neighbourhood, supplying it with implements and materials, organizing its traffic, and in many ways conducing to the economy of its material.

Again, the economic use of expensive machinery can sometimes be attained in a very high degree in a district in which there is a large aggregate production of the same kind, even though no individual capital employed in the trade be very large. For subsidiary industries devoting themselves each to one small branch of the process of production, and working it for a great many of their neighbours, are able to keep in constant use machinery of the most highly specialized character, and to make it pay its expenses, though its original cost may have been high, and its rate of depreciation very rapid.

Again, in all but the earliest stages of economic development a localized industry gains a great advantage from the fact that it offers a constant market for skill. Employers are apt to resort to any place where they are likely to find a good choice of workers with the special skill which they require; while men seeking employment naturally go to places where there are many employers who need such skill as theirs and where therefore it is likely to find a good market. The owner of an isolated factory, even if he has access to a plentiful supply of general labour, is often put to great shifts for want of some special skilled labour; and a skilled workman, when thrown out of employment in it, has no easy refuge. Social forces here co-operate with economic: there are often strong friendships between employers and employed: but neither side likes to feel that in case of any disagreeable incident happening between them, they must go on rubbing against one another: both sides like to be able easily to break off old associations should they become irksome. These difficulties are still a great obstacle to the success of any business in which special skill is needed, but which is not in the neighbourhood of others like it: they are however being diminished by the railway, the printing-press and the telegraph.” Principles of Economics: An Introductory Volume, Alfred Marshall, Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1890, pages 271-272.

[spread of mass production out of the United States to Europe]

By the 1851 Great Exhibition, knowledgable Britons would be writing this: “The Americans carry out the factory system, the well-planned division of labour, to a greater extent than we do. They have not more hands than are requisite to do the work which is to be done; and they have not before their minds that fear of strikes, and grumblings and discontent, which frequently deter inventors from introducing new machines in England. Among us, guns and pistols are handwork, made in pieces by artisans who use the hammer and file, and other hand-tools; but in the United States the art is regarded as a kind of engineering, in which steam-power and beautiful machines are employed.” Chambers’s Edinburgh Journal, “What Is A Revolver?” Anonymous, Number 519, December 10th, 1853. (Robert Chambers is the likely author of this piece; he often wrote anonymously to fill his journal.)

Even after 1851, mass production still took more decades to evolve and spread. For instance, in 1852 Samuel Colt started a revolver factory in London to rival his first one Hartford, Connecticut. However, the workers he hired there repeatedly sabotaged it, so he fired them and imported trained staff from his hometown. By 1854 his London factory was open for business. As with Blanc’s, and Brunel’s, it was successful—for a while. Britain and France had just declared war on Russia in the Crimea and, as usual, all of us in Europe went gun-mad. By December 1856, though, Colt closed his London factory. The war had ended. British gunsmiths were still making nearly everything by hand in their cottages and after the shooting war against Russia ended, they won the propaganda war against Colt with ‘Buy British.’ See: “Colt’s London Armoury,” H. B. Blackmore, in: Technological Change: The United States and Britain in the 19th Century, S. B. Saul (editor), Methuen & Co., 1970, pages 171-196.

By 1873, though, a respected German engineer wrote that “[T]he entirely new ideas of American machinery have tossed the English out of the satchel, and we must without hesitation attach ourselves to the new system if we do not want to fall behind.” That was Franz Reuleaux, author of the seminal Kinematics of Machinery. “Industry and Transport,” W. J. Ashworth, in: A Companion to Nineteenth-Century Britain, Chris Williams (editor), Wiley-Blackwell, 2004, pages 223-237. New Profession, Old Order: Engineers and German Society, 1815-1914, Kees Gispen, Cambridge University Press, 2002, pages 115-118.

At the Vienna Exhibition in 1873, Reuleaux noted that “Upon the field of inventions and inventive genius, there are but few highly remarkable achievements present, and among these America held the highest rank. Her machine exhibition bore almost exclusively the character of originality, * * * and it contained examples of the highest order of constructive ability and perfect workmanship.” See: “American Machinery at International Exhibitions,” T. R. Pickering, Transactions of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Volume V, November 1883 and May 1884, pages 113-130.

Reuleaux was widely respected and he traveled to World Exhibitions in London (1862), Paris (1867), Vienna (1873), Philadelphia (1876), Sidney (1879), and Chicago (1893). The Machines of Leonardo da Vinci and Franz Reuleaux: Kinematics of Machines from the Renaissance to the 20th century, Francis C. Moon, Springer, 2007, page 56.

Incidentally, on page 57, Moon summarizes Reuleaux’s eight-volume Book of Inventions (in 1884) this way: “He did not accept the contemporary theory of invention as resulting from scientific discovery, a view that is often expressed in popular literature on technology in the United States. Nor did he believe in the discontinuous genius theory of invention, where the ‘hero’ inventor, working alone, makes an important advance that benefits humankind. He viewed both scientific discovery and technical invention as evolving from a tension between the two, sometimes within the same man. Reuleaux viewed the development of new machine technology as one of evolution, that every invention has had a close antecedent developed further by clever inventors, new scientific ideas and the pressure of marketplace competition.”

Reuleaux was not alone in thinking along those lines. In the 1840s, Friedrich List, a German political economist, had long been trying to figure out how the United States, and especially England, were shooting ahead so quickly. Before 1844, List wrote (in reaction to Adam Smith’s ‘division of labor’ idea) that: “If we consider merely bodily labour as the cause of wealth, how can we then explain why modern nations are incomparably richer, more populous, more powerful, and prosperous than the nations of ancient times? The ancient nations employed (in proportion to the whole population) infinitely more hands, the work was much harder, each individual possessed much more land, and yet the masses were much worse fed and clothed than is the case in modern nations. In order to explain these phenomena, we must refer to the progress which has been made in the course of the last thousand years in sciences and arts, domestic and public regulations, cultivation of the mind and capabilities of production. The present state of the nations is the result of the accumulation of all discoveries, inventions, improvements, perfections, and exertion of all generations which have lived before us. They form the mental capital of the present human race, and every separate nation is productive only in the proportion in which it has known how to appropriate these attainments of former generations and to increase them by its own acquirements, in which the natural capabilities of its territory, its extent and geographical position, its population and political power, have been able to develop as completely and symmetrically as possible all sources of wealth within its boundaries, and to extend its moral, intellectual, commercial, and political influence over less advanced nations and especially over the affairs of the world.” The National System of Political Economy, Friedrich List, translated by Sampson S. Lloyd, Longmans, Green and Co., 1916, pages 113-114.

[invention would be impossible...]
A point made by Henry Ford about his first car (in 1893). He later said, in effect:

“I invented nothing new. I simply assembled into a car the discoveries of other men behind whom were centuries of work, and the discoveries of still other men who preceded them. Had I worked fifty or even ten or even five years before I would have failed. So it is with every new thing. Progress happens when all the factors that make for it are ready, and then it is inevitable. To teach that a comparatively few men are responsible for the great forward steps of mankind is the worst sort of nonsense.”

“The Schoolmaster of Dearborn,” New Outlook, CLXIV (September 1934), pages 61-62, in: Monopoly on Wheels: Henry Ford and the Selden Automobile Patent, William Greenleaf, Wayne State University Press, 1961, Reprint Edition, 2011, page 138.

“No society is so isolated or self-sufficient that it has never borrowed at least some aspects of its technology from an outside source. Because humans engaged in normal communications are bound to exchange information about novel techniques or artifacts, general cultural contacts are the oldest means of transferring knowledge about technology from one culture to another. These contacts may be the result of exploration, travel, trade, war, or migration. All of these ensure that the parties, concerned will be exposed to new technological opportunities. What is traditional practice for one culture may be an important innovation in a different setting.” The Evolution of Technology, George Basalla, Cambridge University Press, 1988, page 78.

The neologism is already in use. It comes from two Greek words stigma (‘sting’ or ‘mark’ or ‘sign’) and ergon (‘the work’ or ‘the task’ or ‘the action’), so transliterated it would mean ‘sign of work.’ It’s usually taken as ‘incite to work’ or ‘incitement to work.’ Self-Organization in Biological Systems, Scott Camazine, Jean-Louis Deneubourg, Nigel R. Franks, James Sneyd, Guy Theraulaz, and Eric Bonabeau, Princeton University Press, 2001.

For an example of human stigmergy (in an electronic landscape), see: “Group path formation,” R. L. Goldstone, A. Jones, M. Roberts, IEEE Transactions on System, Man, and Cybernetics, Part A,. 36(3):611-620, 2006.

For more general discussion, and an introduction to more expansionary terms like ‘sematectonic’ (by E. O. Wilson), and how it fits in to a whole panoply of terms to do with self-organization, see Chapter 7. (Stigmergy often means witting or unwitting communication via modification of the environment; putting up a signpost is witting, and creating shortcuts on grass by repeated walking is unwitting.) “Mindscapes and Landscapes: Hayek and Simon on Cognitive Extension,” L. Marsh, in: Hayek and Behavioral Economics Roger Frantz and Robert Leeson (editors), Palgrave Macmillan, 2013, pages 197-220.

[termite nest is ... nest is a humidity-controlled air-exchanger]
“Solar-powered ventilation of African termite mounds,” S. A. Ocko, H. King, D. Andreen, P. Bardunias, J. S. Turner, R. Soar, L. Mahadevan, Journal of Experimental Biology, 220(16):3260-3269, 2017. “Extended Physiology of an Insect-Built Structure,” J. S. Turner, American Entomologist, 51(1):36-38, 2005. “On the Mound of Macrotermes michaelseni as an Organ of Respiratory Gas Exchange,” J. S. Turner, Physiological and Biochemical Zoology, 74(6):798-822, 2001.
[New York Times on the future of the United States in 1852]
“Cuba, Mexico, Hawai: Whichever of our wide windows we look through there lies a fresh prize for ambition; a new field for the experiment of republican theories. The national power, influence, cupidity, enlarge in geometrical ratio to the frontier. The primal sin, by which we fell, was the appropriation of Texas. Then followed California, with its golden cornucopia. Then Cuban forays upon the Texan models; Isthmus difficulties pointed to the annexation of Mexico as the cheapest solution; covetous longings for the lovely isle of the Pacific King: longings which possession alone can appease. These are the upper, sun-kindled points of current history, to which posterity will look back as beacon stations whence the scope and hearings of the age may be measured. They are the phenomena of a new mental direction. Every nation, as it passes from the swaddling-bands and other needful restriction of infancy, calls for wider room, and gets it by the strong arm or the cunning policy. National energy, as it develops, devotes itself to acquisition. But it is the boldness, the magnificent scope, the indomitable purpose of the American people, that distinguish their plans of aggrandizement from all that has gone before.

These phenomena have multiplied so rapidly, as to constitute a new science. Manifest Destiny must have its chair, within friendly proximity to those of Political Economy and the Science of Government. It ranks with the speculative Sciences. [...]

Between these two sects of believers in Manifest Predestination, these political Calvinists on the one hand, and the Universalists, or those advocating world-wide Republicanism, on the other, is there no middle ground, where compromise may be possible? Doubtless yes. A political evangel may very well be preached with the same impressive eloquence that sped the religion of Islam, like a prairie-fire, from Persia to the Pillars of Hercules; the conjoint eloquence of Saint and Scimetar. The influence of republican example may be strengthened and enforced by the direct application of power. In this way can Mexico be republicanized, and in no other. Cuba and its enslaved population, must owe its future liberties either to this principle, whether employed in the form of grape-shot, or as round dollars. It is morally certain that purely democratic institutions can never exist quietly in South America, unless some inconceivable revolution occur in the character of the people. Everywhere, beyond our borders, on this Western Hemisphere, do we see the need of the steady, ballasting traits of Anglo-Saxonism. It will never do to argue the practicability of our system beyond the confines of the race, until the experiment has been abundantly tried. The lights now before us seem to justify the idea that such institutions as those our Fathers devised, must be sustained by the continued exercise of traits peculiar to the national character. Believing this, and both branches of the Predestinarians accepting the fact that the national influence and national force must operate together, we see nothing irrational in the hope of a more dazzling future for the race than imagination has yet ventured to outline. Not a continent, a half-globe, but the world—shall be ours. Through what vista into the future shall we look to see a more splendid destiny?”

From: “The Science of Manifest Destiny,” New York Times, September 9th, 1852. (The New York Times, which started publishing on September 18th, 1851, was then one year old.)

By 1882, Walt Whitman was to crow: “Long ere the second centennial arrives, there will be some forty to fifty great States, among them Canada and Cuba. When the present century closes, our population will be sixty or seventy millions. The Pacific will be ours, and the Atlantic mainly ours. There will be daily electric communication with ever part of the globe. What an age! What a land! Where, elsewhere, one so great? The individuality of one nation must then, as always, lead the world. Can there be any doubt who the leader ought to be?” From: “Democratic Vistas,” Democratic Vistas and Other Papers, Walt Whitman, (London, 1888), page 66.

[the second Crystal Palace]
Art and Industry as Represented in the Exhibition at the Crystal Palace, New York—1853-4, Showing the Progress and State of the Various Useful and Esthetic Pursuits, Horace Greely, Redfield, 1853.

Amalthea’s Recursive Horn

[impact of machines—volume increases, price drops]
As machines entered manufactories, costs headed down and volume and variety headed up. For instance, for millennia, spinning 100 pounds of cotton into thread took one of us about 50,000 hours. In Britain by the 1790s, thanks to new machines, like the spinning jenny, that time had plummeted to 300 hours. By the 1830s, it fell to 175 hours. The Lever of Riches: Technology, Creativity, and Economic Progress, Joel Mokyr, Oxford University Press, 1990, page 99. The Cotton Industry: An Essay in American Economic History; Part I: The Cotton Culture and the Cotton Trade, M. B. Hammond, Macmillan, 1897, page 171. Also, by 1873 in the United States, the cost of shipping that same 100 pounds of cotton from New Orleans to New York was 60 cents U.S. By 1880, it was to 45 cents. By 1892, it was 32 cents. However, there was a long-term price deflation in the United States from the 1870s on as the government withdrew the greenbacks it had printed during the civil war (the greenbacks were inflationary). That essentially brought a return to a gold standard. So as primary producers continued to increase production, and markets continued to integrate, more produce chased roughly the same amount of money, so prices fell.
[Fanuc’s first automated robot factory in 2008]
Fanuc’s (Fujitsu Automated Numerical Control) factory in Oshino-mura, Yamanashi, at the base of Mount Fuji, has to be visited once a month to replenish supplies and retrieve product. It runs lights-out, air conditioner-out, and heat-out. “Direct input and output system: another secret underlying Fanuc’s unmanned factory,” Y. Kusuda, Assembly Automation, 28(2):115-119, 2008. “Long-time unattended manufacturing system with intelligent robot,” K. Hariki, K. Yamaguchi, K. Yamanashi, M. Oda, 36th International Symposium on Robotics, 2005, page 138. At the 2005 World Expo, held in Japan, about 100,000 of the 22 million visitors were greeted by what appeared to be four Japanese women, who each spoke phrases from four languages. They were fembots; an unthinkable idea at our first world’s fair in 1851. Now that robots are beginning to make more robots, who knows what our recursive production network will be making by 2051.

For an overview of the various technical problems that had to be solved (especially tool steel in 1899) before true mass production could happen, see: “Mr. Taylor, Mr. Ford, and the Advent of High-Volume Mass Production: 1900-1912,” J. Paxton, Economics & Business Journal: Inquiries & Perspectives, 4(1):74-90, 2012.

[ideas behind mass production]
None of those ideas were new. Using some sort of mold or form or template to make things in bulk is old. That’s how we made coins, pots, cannon balls, buttons, and such. A factory, meaning someplace with a power source where several of us might work together, is also old. Well over a millennium ago, a mill might use a waterwheel—or slaves, oxen, horses, or asses on a treadmill or capstan—to drive several machines. Dividing our labor so that we could specialize our skills is even older. It dates back at least as far as our first cities and armies, perhaps seven millennia ago. Its use in factories goes at least as far back as the 1600s. However, those ideas didn’t come together in synergy until we figured out the last two ideas—precision parts and assembly lines—and then meshed them all together.

The ideas are old. It was bringing them together that was new. For example, we had manufactories in China around 1,000 years ago: “In +1175, the Hangchow factory [for printing paper money], for example, employed more than a thousand daily workers.” Science and Civilization in China: Volume 5, Chemistry and Chemical Technology, Part 1, Paper and Printing, Tsuen-Hsuin Tsien, Joseph Needham, Cambridge University Press, 1985, page 48.

We had grain mills in the Roman Empire over 1,000 years ago: “Technological Innovation and Economic Progress in the Ancient World: M. I. Finley Re-Considered,” K. Greene, The Economic History Review, 53(1):29-59, 2000. Division of labor is also old. For example, Xenophon explained 2,400 years ago why Greek artisans specialize in cities. The Ancient Economy, M. I. Finley, University of California Press, 1973, page 135. Moreover, any large mass of us will specialize—for example, in armies. Probably the idea is so old that it’s impossible to date.

Division of labor in manufactories is also old. Around 1676 William Petty noted that “Cloth must be cheaper made, when one Cards, another Spins, another Weaves, another Draws, another Dresses, another Presses and Packs; than when all the Operations above-mentioned, were clumsily performed by the same hand.” Political Arithmetick, OR A DISCOURSE Concerning, The Extent and Value of Lands, People, Buildings: Husbandry, Manufacture, Commerce, Fishery, Artizans, Seamen, Soldiers; Publick Revenues, Interest, Taxes, Superlucration, Registries, Banks Valuation of Men, Increasing of Seamen, of Militia’s, Harbours, Situation, Shipping, Power at Sea, &c. As the same relates to every Country in general, but more particularly to the Territories of His Majesty of Great Britain, and his Neighbours of Holland, Zealand, and France, William Petty, Robert Clavel and Hen. Mortlock, 1690, page 19.

A century later, in 1776, Adam Smith noted that “[A pin-maker] could scarce, perhaps, with his utmost industry, make one pin in a day, and certainly could not make twenty. But in the way in which this business is now carried on, not only the whole work is a peculiar trade, but it is divided into a number of branches, of which the greater part are likewise peculiar trades. One man draws out the wire, another straights it, a third cuts it, a fourth points it, a fifth grinds it at the top for receiving, the head; to make the head requires two or three distinct operations; to put it on is a peculiar business, to whiten the pins is another; it is even a trade by itself to put them into the paper; and the important business of making a pin is, in this manner, divided into about eighteen distinct operations, which, in some factories, are all performed by distinct hands, though in others the same man will sometimes perform two or three of them. I have seen a small manufactory of this kind where ten men only were employed, and where some of them consequently performed two or three distinct operations. But though they were very poor, and therefore but indifferently accommodated with the necessary machinery, they could, when they exerted themselves, make among them about twelve pounds of pins in a day. There are in a pound upwards of four thousand pins of a middling size. Those ten persons, therefore, could make among them upwards of forty-eight thousand pins in a day. Each person, therefore, making a tenth part of forty-eight thousand pins, might be considered as making four thousand eight hundred pins in a day.” An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith, Edwin Cannan Edition, Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1952, Book I, Chapter 1, page 3.

In other words, pin-makers specialized and together they formed a reaction network. Before that, a pin-maker could only make about one pin a day. Now, the same pin-maker could average around 5,000 pins a day. The price of pins dropped like a rock. It’s widely accepted that Smith based his example of division of labor on the Henri-Louis Duhamel du Monceau’s 1761 introduction to L’Art de l’Epinglier.

By dividing labor we could thus make an assembly line. By adding a steam engine we could also power all the tools on that line. That alone was a huge change, but mass production also involves yet another idea—precision parts. While we could divide our labor in factories to make pins in volume, those pins needn’t be precision-made. Conversely, we could make precision pins in low volume in factories without dividing our labor—painstakingly and by hand.

Also, mass production isn’t just volume: For example, Abraham Darby’s brass castings for cast iron, or Josiah Wedgwood’s pottery molds for kiln pottery, or Christopher Polhem’s cogwheels milling machine, or any number of other such items (bootlaces, buttons, coins, cannon balls, and so on), all were in volume, yet none were ‘mass produced.’ In 1452, Gutenberg had made the lead type for his printing press in bulk, but that wasn’t ‘mass production’ either.

Mass production is thus a form of volume production in which we divide both the making of, and the putting together of, standard parts into a series of steps so simple that we can make tools do them. We can then divide the labor of making and putting together the parts for those tools, thus closing the recursive loop. For efficiency sake, today’s forms of mass production extend the assembly line to a conveyor belt.

[Blanc’s parts were the first to do that on a mass scale]
Not strictly true. As noted, Polhem in Sweden and Deschamps in France preceded Blanc, and following Blanc there was Eli Terry in the United States (in 1806), who did something similar (by hand) with wooden parts for clocks. But none of these attempts lead to machine tools, either because of where they were or perhaps because they worked in wood. Blanc happened to have Jefferson in his audience.

However, as Hounshell notes, the wooden clock industry did contribute to the marketing strategies later used by the sewing machine industry. Ingenious Yankees: The Rise of the American System of Manufactures in the Private Sector, Donald Hoke, Columbia University Press, 1990. From the American System to Mass Production, 1800-1932: The Development of Manufacturing Technology in the United States, David A. Hounshell, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984, page 51.

Recursion is a tricky idea, and even math and computer science students have trouble with it. The essence of their problem is this: if a process depends on itself, how do you define it? And how can it ever stop? For example, when you stand between two mirrors facing each other what you see is a recursive image: it contains a reflection of you, a smaller reflection of that reflection of you, a yet smaller reflection of that, and so on. The recursion doesn’t go to infinity because after some number of reflections, the next reflection is either too small or too dim for you to see. Every recursion eventually ‘bottoms out’ sometime, so if we were to start at its bottom and work our way out we’d have a more easily understood operation. (For instance: imagine that the mirror starts with a just barely discernible image of your reflection, then the second mirror magnifies that, and so on, until the reflected image occupies the whole mirror’s surface). However expressing the operation recursively (going the other way) is more compact and, almost always, more powerfully expressive.
[mass labor leaving the farm for the factories]
In Arthur Lewis’ seminal work in economics in 1954, poor economies have two sectors: farming and manufacturing. Farming is low-productivity with much excess labor because, at first, farm hands have nowhere else to go. However, at first, manufacturing is high-productivity. Because farming has surplus labor, wages are low; so manufacturing can remain profitable yet can still grow rapidly by absorbing surplus labor off the farm at low wages. Also, since there is much surplus labor on the farm, drawing off labor from the farm will not affect productivity there. Because the productivity of manufacturing can increase faster than the wages in manufacturing, manufacturing is more profitable than it would be if the economy were at full employment. That profitability encourages higher capital formation, which encourages reinvestment, so manufacturing can grow rapidly. However, as the number of surplus workers dwindles, manufacturing wages begin to rise, so profits there fall, so investment there falls. At that point, the economy is said to have crossed the Lewis Turning Point. For this work, Lewis started development economics and got the Nobel prize in 1979. “Development with Unlimited Supplies of Labour,” W. A. Lewis, Manchester School of Economic and Social Studies, XXII, 139-191, 1954.
[...guns germinate steel foundries]
An homage to an outstanding book: Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, Jared Diamond, W. W. Norton, 1997.
[Marx thought there might be a book in it]
The backhand reference is, of course, to: Das Kapital. Kritik der politischen Öekonomie, [Capital. A Critique of Political Economy,] Karl Marx, Verlag von Otto Meisner, 1867. Capital: An Abridged Edition, Karl Marx, edited by David McLellan, Oxford, 2008.
[children in the mine pits]
The Pit Brow Women of the Wigan Coalfield, Alan Davies, Tempus, 2006. The White Slaves of England John C. Cobden, Miller, Orton & Mulligan, 1854, chapter 2.

Here are just the first 10 conclusions of the original 1842 report:

“The follow conclusions in regard to Ironstone mines, blast furnaces, underground labour in tin, copper lead, and zinc mines, etc.]

From the whole of the evidence which has been collected, and of which we have thus endeavoured to give a digest, we find — in regard to COAL MINES-

1 That instances occur in which Children are taken into these mines to work as early as four years of age, sometimes at five, and between five and six, not unfrequently between six and seven, and often from seven to eight, while from eight to nine is the ordinary age at which employment in these mines commences.

2 That a very large proportion of the persons employed in carrying on the work of these mines is under thirteen and eighteen.

3 That in several districts female Children begin work in these mines at the same early ages as the males.

4 That a great body of the Children and Young Persons employed in these mines are of the families of the adult workpeople engaged in the pits, or belong to the poorest population in the neighbourhood, and are hired and paid in some districts by the workpeople, but in others by the proprietors or contractors.

5 That there are in some districts also a small number of parish apprentices, who are bound to serve their masters until twenty-one years of age, in an employment in which there is nothing of deserving the name of skill to be acquired, under circumstances of frequent ill-treatment, and under the oppressive condition that they shall receive only food and clothing, while their free companions may be obtaining a man’s wages.

6 That in many instances much that skill and capital can effect to render the place of work unoppresive, healthy, and safe, is done, often with complete success, as far as regards the healthfulness and comfort of the mines; but that to render them perfectly safe does not appear to be practicable by any means yet known; while in great numbers of instances their condition in regard both to ventilation and drainage is lamentably defective.

7 That the nature of the employment which is assigned to the youngest Children, generally that of ‘trapping’, requires that they should be in the pit as soon as the work of the day commences, and, according to the present system, that they should not leave the pit before the work of the day is at an end.

8 That although this employment scarcely deserves the name of labour, yet, as the Children engaged in it are commonly excluded from light and are always without companions, it would, were it not for the passing and repassing of the coal carriages, amount to solitary confinement of the worst order.

9 That in those districts in which the seams of coal are so thick that horses go direct to the workings, or in which the side passages from the workings to the horseways are not at any length, the lights in the main ways render the situation of these Children comparatively less cheerless, dull, and stupefying; but that in some districts they remaining solitude and darkness during the whole time they are in the pit, and according to their won account, many of them never see the light of day for weeks together during the greater part of the winter season, excepting on those days in the week when work is not going on, and on the Sundays.

10 That at different ages, from six years old and upwards, the hard work of pushing and dragging the carriages of coal from the workings to the main ways, or to the foot of the shaft, begins; a labour which all classes of witness concur in stating requires the unremitting exertion of all the physical power which the young workers possess.”

Children’s Employment Commission (Mines) 1842 report, Thomas Tooke, T. Southwood Smith, Leonard Horner, Robert J Sanders.

[‘childhood’ in nineteenth-century Britain]
In Britain until the 1840s over 400 crimes carried the death penalty. Cutting down a sapling, damaging Westminster Bridge, being a very malicious child, stealing a letter—all were hanging offenses. Children weren’t excepted. At the time, many crimes in Britain had only one punishment—hanging. Spending a month in the company of gypsies, stealing goods worth five shillings, impersonating a Chelsea Pensioner, blacking up at night, being a runaway sailor—all were hanging offenses.

Criminal penalties were so severe that in practice few convicts were actually hanged, so transportation (essentially penal slavery) was a popular alternative. Also, pregnant women, young children, clergymen, anyone who could read (or pretend to) well enough to pass muster, and—of course—anyone who was rich, often received pardons or reduced penalties, like whipping or branding or pillorying. The laws were beginning to be softened by the 1830s—after huge postwar political unrest from 1816 on, largely having to do with the way the rich treated the poor—but many such laws were still in force by the 1850s. Crime and Punishment in England: A Sourcebook, Andrew Barrett and Christopher Harrison (editors), Routledge, 2001. “London Crime and the Making of the ‘Bloody Code,’ 1689-1718,” J. M. Beattie, in: Stilling the Grumbling Hive: The Response to Social and Economic Problems in England, 1689-1750, Lee Davison, Tim Hitchcock, Tim Keirn, and Robert B. Shoemaker (editors), St. Martin’s Press, 1992, pages 39-76. The London Hanged: Crime and Civil Society in the Eighteenth Century, Peter Linebaugh, Penguin, 1991. Crime and Punishment in Eighteenth-century England, Frank McLynn, Routledge, 1989.

[transported children]
For example, two children in Birmingham were sentenced to be transported to Australia on January 5th, 1844. John Locksmith (also known as William Joach), aged 14, got 14 years, and George Wort, aged 15, got seven years. Home Office 11/15: Convict Transportation Registers, 1846-1848, pages 190 and 225. The National Archives, Kew, England. Transportation didn’t legally end until 1867, but emigration of delinquent children continued past that point. Remember, though, that at the time, marriageable age was 14 for boys and 12 for girls, and many would be dead by 20, so ‘children’ is a somewhat misleading term.
[“little depraved felons”]
Said by Governor Arthur, of Port Arthur, in Australia. The Fatal Shore, Robert Hughes, Knopf, 1986, page 408.
[21 umbrellas and three boxes of toys]
James Gavagan, an 11 year-old, stole 21 umbrellas. He arrived at Point Puer in Tasmania in 1835. James Lynch, a nine year-old, was a London laborer and he could read a little. Previously he’d stolen stockings, for which he got 10 days in jail, then two bonnets, for which he got six months in jail. For stealing three boxes of toys he got transportation and seven years at the Surrey Quarter Sessions, Newington, on September 11th, 1843. He sailed with 289 other convicts on board the Equestrian and arrived in Hobart in Tasmania on May 2nd, 1844. “Transportation, Penal Ideology and the Experience of Juvenile Offenders in England and Australia in the Early Nineteenth Century,” H. Shore, Crime, Histoire, Sociétés, 6(2):81-102, 2002. Pack of Thieves? 52 Port Arthur Lives, Hamish Maxwell-Stewart and Susan Hood, Port Arthur, Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority, 2001. The Village Labourer 1760-1832: A Study in the Government of England Before the Reform Bill, J. L. and Barbara Hammond, 1911, 1913, Augustus M. Kelley Publishers, Reprint Edition, 1967.

In 1857, Britain had the following numbers of child committments: 29,949 who were between 16 and 21, 10,624 between 12 and 16, and 1,877 under 12 years old. “Crime, Pauperism, and Education in Great Britain,” The American Journal of Education, 6(16):311, 1859. For far more detail, see: “A Survey of Indictable and Summary Jurisdiction Offences in England and Wales, from 1857 to 1876, in Quinquennial Periods, and in 1877 and 1878,” L. Levi, Journal of the Statistical Society of London, 43(3):423-461, 1880.

[London’s child vagrants]
The Seven Curses of London, James Greenwood, Stanley River, 1869. See also: Artful Dodgers: Youth and Crime in Early Nineteenth Century London, Heather Shore, Boydell Press, 1999. “Histories of Crime and Modernity,” Andrew Davies and Geoffrey Pearson (editors), special issue of the British Journal of Criminology, 39(1), 1999.
[virgin girls... sex trafficking of young girls abducted and sold in Britain (and the United States)]
Sex Trafficking, Scandal, and the Transformation of Journalism, 1885-1917, Gretchen Soderlund, University of Chicago Press, 2013, especially chapter 2 (pages 24-66). Chapter 3 examines the same issue in the United States.
A typical baby-farmer ad read: “NURSE CHILD WANTED, OR TO ADOPT — The Advertiser, a Widow with a little family of her own, and moderate allowance from her late husband’s friends, would be glad to accept the charge of a young child. Age no object. If sickly would receive a parent’s care. Terms, Fifteen Shillings a month; or would adopt entirely if under two months for the small sum of Twelve pounds.” The Seven Curses of London, James Greenwood, Stanley River, 1869, page 23.

In Britain, after passage of the new Poor Law in 1834, an unwed mother bore the sole financial responsibility until her child turned 16. Many a poor and unwed mother couldn’t support her offspring, especially if she was young and had been impregnated by the master of the house or shop or factory in which she worked. Then, too, there was the stigma of having an illegitimate child. So what many mothers wanted was to make the child disappear. But it was illegal to kill your children (or at least, to be caught at it). Baby farmers existed for those (many) mothers who couldn’t bring themselves to kill their own children, or who didn’t want to risk it, or who chose to believe that their children would be raised properly, albeit very cheaply. Child Abuse and Moral Reform in England 1870-1908, George K. Behlmer, Stanford University Press, 1982.

Baby farming also existed in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States until at least 1917. One Chicago ‘farmer’s slogan was: “It’s cheaper and easier to buy a baby for $100.00 than to have one of your own.” Baby Farms in Chicago: An Investigation Made for the Juvenile Protective Association, Arthur Alden Guild, Juvenile Protective Association of Chicago, 1917.

[Dickens toned down reality in Oliver Twist]
It appeared as a serial from 1837 to 1839. He based it on his own direct evidence, partly from childhood and partly from current observation. Dickens & the Workhouse: Oliver Twist & the London Poor, Ruth Richardson, Oxford University Press, 2012. London Labour and the London Poor: A Cyclopaedia of the Condition and Earnings of Those That Will Work, Those That Cannot Work, and Those That Will Not Work, Volumes I-IV, Henry Mayhew, 1851, Dover, Reprint Edition, 1968.
[children sent to school]
In Britain, reformers like Mary Carpenter, Sydney Turner, and Matthew Davenport Hill campaigned for better schools—or even for just less useless, destructive, and harsh schools—but against stiff opposition. The idea was that poor children, and their parents, and essentially all paupers, were lost to sin, so there was no point trying to educate them.

Mandeville’s 1723 satiric comment below suggests something of England’s more usual attitude to the children of its laboring classes, prior to mass production:

“Few Children make any Progress at School, but at the same time they are capable of being employ’d in some Business or other, so that every Hour those of poor People spend at their Book is so much time lost to the Society. Going to School in comparison to Working is Idleness, and the longer Boys continue in this easy sort of Life, the more unfit they’ll be when grown up for downright Labour, both as to Strength and Inclination. Men who are to remain and end their Days in a Laborious, Tiresome and Painful Station of Life, the sooner they are put upon it at first, the more patiently they’ll submit to it for ever after. Hard Labour and the coarsest Diet are a proper Punishment to several kinds of Malefactors, but to impose either on those that have not been used and brought up to both is the greatest Cruelty, when there is no Crime you can charge them with.” The Fable of the Bees, or Private Vices, Publick Benefits, Volume 1, Bernard de Mandeville, edited by F. B. Kaye, Clarendon Press, 1924, pages 288-289.

Similar attitudes prevailed in the United States. The Underground History of American Education: An Intimate Investigation Into the Problem of Modern Schooling, John Taylor Gatto, Oxford Village Press, 2001.

[president says mass production needs mass demand]
That was Calvin Coolidge, in 1926.

“[...] [A]dvertising is the life of trade.

Two examples of this influence have come to me in a casual way. While I can not vouch for the details, I believe in their outline they are substantially correct. One relates to an American industry that had rather phenomenal growth and prosperity in the late eighties and early nineties, being the foundation of one or two large fortunes. In its development it had been a most generous advertiser. A time came when various concerns engaged in this line of manufacturing were merged and consolidated. There being no longer any keen competition, it was felt that it was now no longer necessary to explain to the public the value of this product or the superiority of one make over another. In order to save the large expense that had been made for that purpose, advertising was substantially abandoned. The inevitable result followed, which all well-informed trade quarters now know would follow. But the value of advertising was not so well understood 25 or 30 years ago. This concern soon became almost a complete failure. As I recall, it had to be reorganized, entailing great losses. This line of trade was later revived under the direction and counsel of some of its old managers, and with the proper amount of publicity became a successful enterprise. [This was probably ‘Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound’]

But let us turn from the unfortunate experience of the loss that occurred through lack of advertising to an example of gain that was made through the shrewd application of this principle. In a somewhat typical American community a concern was engaged in an industrial enterprise. Its employees were not required to be men of great skill. Oftentimes they were new arrivals in this country who had been brought up to be accustomed to the meager scale of living abroad. Their wants were not large, so that under the American rate of wages they found it possible to supply themselves and their families without working anywhere near full time. As a result, production was low compared with the number employed and was out of proportion to the overhead expense of management and capital costs. Some fertile mind conceived the idea of locating a good milliner in that community. The wares of this shop were generously advertised through window display, newspaper space, and circularization. I suppose that every head of a family knows that a new bonnet on the head of one of the women in the neighborhood is contagious. The result in that community almost at once was better wearing apparel for the women, which necessitated more steady employment for the men. The output of the plant was greatly increased, its cost units were reduced, its profits were enlarged, it could sell its product to its customers at a lower figure, and the whole industry was improved. More wealth was produced. But the reaction went even further. The whole standard of living in that locality was raised. All the people became better clothed, better fed, and better housed. They had aspirations, and the means to satisfy them, for the finer things of life. All of this came from the judicious application of the principle of advertising.

The system which brought about these results is well known to the members of this association. You have seen innumerable instances where concerns have failed through lack of advertising and innumerable others where they have made a success through the right kind and amount of publicity. Under its stimulation the country has gone from the old hand methods of production which were so slow and laborious with high unit costs and low wages to our present great factory system and its mass production with the astonishing result of low unit costs and high wages. The preeminence of America in industry, which has constantly brought about a reduction of costs, has come very largely through mass production. Mass production is only possible where there is mass demand. Mass demand has been created almost entirely through advertising.

In former days goods were expected to sell themselves. Often times they were carried about from door to door. Otherwise,they were displayed on the shelves and counters of the merchant. The public were supposed to know of these sources of supply and depend on themselves for their knowledge of what was to be sold. Modern business could neither have been created nor can it be maintained on any such system. It constantly requires publicity. It is not enough that goods are made, a demand for them must also be made. It is on this foundation of enlarging production through the demands created by advertising that very much of the success of the American industrial system rests.”

President Calvin Coolidge, Speech to the American Association of Advertising Agencies, October 27th, 1926.

Coolidge wasn’t wrong. He himself benefitted from media manipulation. His ‘pancake breakfast’ with Al Jolson and other vaudeville stars helped his 1924 election. Nor was that a one-off. For example, from 1900 to 1925, population rose 50 percent, but consumption of goods went up 400 percent. Telling people what to buy, then enticing people to buy, mattered. The History and Development of Advertising, Frank Presbrey, Doubleday, 1929, page 598.

This wasn’t merely a question of spin. It was engineering. It had been unconscious before, and aimed at the rich. Now it was being done consciously, and aimed at the mass. Bernays, who had engineered Coolidge’s ‘pancake breakfast,’ and many other publicity stunts and advertising campaigns, wrote: “This is an age of mass production. In the mass production of materials a broad technique has been developed and applied to their distribution. In this age, too, there must be a technique for the mass distribution of ideas.” From: “Manipulating Public Opinion: The Why and The How,” American Journal of Sociology, E. L. Bernays, 33(6):958-971, 1928 (page 971, last paragraph of last page). See also Josiah Wedgwood, the earliest mass-marketer: Josiah Wedgwood: Entrepreneur to the Enlightenment, Brian Dolan, HarperCollins, 2004. The Wedgwoods: Being a Life of Josiah Wedgwood, With Notices of his Works and their Productions, Memoirs of the Wedgwood and other families And a History of the Early Potteries of Staffordshire, Llewellynn Jewitt, Virtue Brothers and Co., 1865.

[advertising is old...]
For example, here’s a little of what we scrawled on Pompeii’s walls almost 2,000 years ago.

(1) On a wall: “The petty thieves support Vatia for the aedilship.” (2) Near a home: “At Nuceria, look for Novellia Primigenia near the Roman gate in the prostitute’s district.” (3) On a street: “Traveler, eat bread in Pompeii but go to Nuceria to drink.” (4) On a block of flats: “For rent from July 1st. Streetfront shops with counter space, classy second-story rooms, and one townhouse. Renters, contact Primus, slave of Gnaeus Alleius Nigidius Maius.”

Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, Volume 4: Inscriptiones parietariae Pompeianae, Herculanenses, Stabianae, Karl Zangemeister and Richard Schöne (editors), Walter de Guyter, Reprint 1955. Abbreviated as CIL IV. Original Latin: (1) “Vatiam aed[ilem] furunculi rog[ant]” CIL IV 576. (2) “Nuceria quaeres ad porta romana in vico venerio novelliam primigeniam” CIL IV 8356. (3) “Viator Pompeis pane gustas Nuceriae bibes” CIL IV 8903 (partial). (4) “Insula Arriana Polliana [C]n Al[le]i[i] Nigidi[i] Mai[us] / Locantur ex [kalendis] Iuli[i]s primis / Tabernae cum pergulis suis et c[e]nacula equestria et domus / Conductor convenito Primum [C]n Al[le]i[i] Nigidi[i] Mai[us] ser[vum]” CIL IV 138.

Most of what we wrote was much the same for millennia. Here’s a little more of what we scrawled: In a tavern: “Restituta, shuck your dress, I beg, show [your] hairy c[*bleep*].” In a bar: “I f[*bleep*]ed the barmaid.” In a gladiator barracks: “Antiochus spent time here with his [girlfriend] Cithera.” On a merchant’s house: “Atimetus got me pregnant.” In a basilica: “I wonder, o wall, that you haven’t collapsed in ruin with the tedious scribbles of so many writers.” Original Latin: “Restituta pone tunicam rogo redes pilosa co” CIL IV 3951. “Futui copanam” CIL IV 8442. “Antiochus hic mansit cum sua Cithera” CIL IV 8792 (second entry). Gravido me tene(t) / Atm[etus?] CIL IV 10231. The last one is a famous epigraph: “Admiror o paries te non cecidisse ruinis qui tot scriptorum taedia sustineas” CIL IV 1904. [Note: The two bleeped words are stronger forms of “pudendum,” and “screwed.” Figure it out for yourself.]

[the normal view of the poor in 1771]
“If you talk of the interests of trade and manufactures, every one but an idiot knows that the lower classes must be kept poor or they will never be industrious; I do not mean, that the poor in England are to be kept like the poor of France, but, the state of the country considered, they must (like all mankind) be in poverty or they will not work.” The Farmer’s Tour through the East of England; Being The Register of a Journey through Various Counties of this Kingdom, to Enquire into the State of Agriculture, &c., Arthur Young, Volume IV, W. Strahan; W. Nicoll; B. Collins; and J. Balfour, 1771, page 361.

Here’s another, of many pronouncements of the same stripe: “It seems to be a law of nature, that the poor should be to a certain degree improvident, that there may always be some to fulfil the most servile, the most sordid, and the most ignoble offices in the community. The stock of human happiness is thereby much increased, whilst the more delicate are not only relieved from drudgery, and freed from those occasional employments which would make them miserable, but are left at liberty, without interruption, to pursue those callings which are suited to their various dispositions, and most useful to the state. As for the lowest of the poor, by custom they are reconciled to the meanest occupations, to the most laborious works, and to the most hazardous pursuits; whilst the hope of their reward makes them chearful in the midst of all their dangers and their toils. The fleets and armies of a state would soon be in want of soldiers and of sailors, if sobriety and diligence universally prevailed: for what is it but distress and poverty which can prevail upon the lower classes of the people to encounter all the horrors which await them on the tempestuous ocean, or in the field of battle? Men who are easy in their circumstances are not among the foremost to engage in a seafaring or military life. There must be a degree of pressure, and that which is attended with the least violence will be the best. When hunger is either felt or feared, the desire of obtaining bread will quietly dispose the mind to undergo the greatest hardships, and will sweeten the severest labours. The peasant with a sickle in his hand is happier than the prince upon his throne.” A Dissertation on the Poor Laws by a Well-Wisher to Mankind, Joseph Townsend, Section VII, page 35, 1786, University of California Press, 1971.

Nor was that attitude rare earlier in England (or, probably, anywhere else). Compare the same thought from about 1388, four centuries prior: “And gif laboreris weren not, boþe prestis and knyȝtis mosten bicome acremen and heerdis, and ellis þey sholde for defaute of bodily sustenaunce deie.” [If laborers didn’t exist, both priests and knights must become farmers and herders, or else they would, for lack of bodily sustenance, die.] “Thomas Wimbledon’s Sermon: ‘Redde racionem villicacionis tue,’ ” N. H. Owen, Mediaeval Studies, 28:176-197, 1966.

That idea extended to slavery itself. The notion that many of us just have to be enslaved so that the few can have decent lives is very old. For example, Aristotle, 2,300 years ago, wrote: “But is there any one thus intended by nature to be a slave, and for whom such a condition is expedient and right, or rather is not all slavery a violation of nature? There is no difficulty in answering this question, on grounds both of reason and of fact. For that some should rule and others be ruled is a thing not only necessary, but expedient; from the hour of their birth, some are marked out for subjection, others for rule.... Again, the male is by nature superior, and the female inferior; and the one rules, and the other is ruled; this principle, of necessity, extends to all mankind.... It is clear, then, that some men are by nature free, and others slaves, and that for these latter slavery is both expedient and right.” Politics, Aristotle, Book I, Chapters iii-vii, translated by Benjamin Jowett, 1885, Dover, Reprint Edition, 2000, pages 32-34.

Today, slavery is no longer legal, but it still exists. Today, it’s common to say that we abolished legal slavery in the nineteenth century ‘because it was bad.’ But that can’t possibly be all that matters. If it were, why didn’t we abandon it millennia before? If the explanation for that then amounts to ‘because our ancestors were bad,’ then why are there an estimated 100,000 slaves today just in the United States alone? Why are 27 million of us still slaves today? Why must 250 million of our children between the ages of 5 and 14 still labor today? Why are we forcing perhaps 60 million of those children to become prostitutes or soldiers? Aren’t those things bad too? We’ve been slavers and slaves ever since we phase changed into farming and herding, millennia ago. The Hebrews kept slaves. The Maya kept slaves. The Bantu kept slaves. The Persians, the Romans, the Egyptians, the Sumerians—anyone and everyone kept slaves. Even when we tried to abandon slavery we rarely succeeded. For instance, the first effort in Europe to ban slavery came in 655. Europe still kept slaves 1,300 years later. We had to do more than talk before we could do without slavery—and we still haven’t fully done so.

Nor did we change our division of labor simply because of the steam engine alone. The United States had steam engines early on but still kept legal slaves up past the mid nineteenth century. Japan, Germany, China, and Russia all had steam engines by the late nineteenth century, but they still kept penal slaves in the twentieth century. In short, throughout our farming history, we all wanted slaves for our fields, our armies, our beds—or maybe even just as a threat of punishment. It didn’t much matter whether we had a king, a constitutional monarchy, a federal republic, a collective. It didn’t much matter whether we were Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, Muslims, Polytheists. It didn’t matter where we lived, nor what languages we spoke, nor what we looked like. Land and bodies were wealth. Legal slavery began to end worldwide only with our phase change into industry. That helped alter whether slavery was legal or not, whether our children had to work or not, whether women got paid for their labor or not, and what jobs men did.

For a sampling of the wider history, see: Slaves and Warriors in Medieval Britain and Ireland: 800-1200, David Wyatt, Brill, 2009. Slavery in the Twentieth Century: The Evolution of a Global Problem, Suzanne Miers, Rowman Altamira, 2003. Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters: White Slavery In The Mediterranean, The Barbary Coast, And Italy, 1500-1800, Robert Davis, Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. Speaking of Slavery: Color, Ethnicity, and Human Bondage in Italy, Steven A. Epstein, Cornell University Press, 2001. Beyond Child Labor: Affirming Rights, United Nations Children’s Fund, 2001. Slavery in the Arab World, Murray Gordon, New Amsterdam Books, 1989. Slaves and Slavery in Muslim Africa, two volumes, John Ralph Willis (editor), Routledge, 1986. Slavery and Human Progress, David Brion Davis, Oxford University Press, 1984. Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study, Orlando Patterson, Harvard University Press, 1982.

[was the phase change for the ‘better’?]
Was it ‘better?’ Was it ‘worse?’ Well, in many ways it does seem better. When given a choice, we usually flee one for the other. For some of our groups, because of our new machines, slavery stopped making sense; women stopped having to be baby-machines; children stopped having to work at age seven; and so on. But life today is just what many of us are used to now. And the shift was destructive, just as our last shift was. Each new phase has a choice: make new stuff, or kill off the last phase and take their stuff. One way is a lot cheaper. If there’s some future phase, the same rules may apply.

Trigger Effect

[spread of inventions from 1860 to 1910]
Some of the inventions, or precursors to them, listed in the text predated the period 1860-1910, but that’s when they really started to spread across several countries. For example, China had toilet paper 1,500 years ago, but its use didn’t spread out of China until the 1800s. Science and Civilization in China: Volume 5, Chemistry and Chemical Technology, Part 1, Paper and Printing, Tsuen-Hsuin Tsien, Joseph Needham, Cambridge University Press, 1985, pages 43, 109, 123, 356.
[petroleum in history]
In Hassuna and Mattarah in northern and eastern Iraq, we used bitumen to water-proof our grain bins at least 7.5Kya. Encyclopedia of Prehistory: Volume 8: South and Southwest Asia, Peter N. Peregrine and Melvin Ember (editors), Springer, 2002, pages 50-52.

Noah is supposed to have used it to caulk his ark. “Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch.” The Bible, The King James Version, Genesis 6:14.

Ditto for Gilgamesh before that. The Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic: Introduction, Critical Edition and Cuneiform Texts, Volume I, A. R. George, Oxford University Press, 2006, page 513.

See also: The Chemistry and Technology of Petroleum, James G. Speight, CRC Press, Fourth Edition, 2006, pages 3-10. But our hydrocarbon use started exploding only in the late 1800s. That’s when, through our usual bumbling, we developed practical versions of both the internal combustion engine and the dynamo.

Opium use goes back at least 5,400 years. But heroin, made by what is today the Bayer pharmaceutical company, was originally used to treat tuberculosis in the 1890s. It was also used for coughs.
[plastic TVs, displays, and computer screens]
The leading research center in this technology is the Flexible Display Center at Arizona State University.
[increasing food production]
The single biggest first step was the Haber-Bosch process for synthetic fertilizer starting in 1909.
[United States maize productivity rose nearly 800 percent]
The increase is for maize yields per hectare. “Biomass as Feedstock for Bioenergy and Bioproducts Industry: The Technical Feasibility of a Billion-Ton Annual Supply,” R. D. Perlack, L. L. Wright, A. Turhollow, R. L. Graham, B. Stokes, D. C. Urbach, 2005, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, ORNL/TM-2005/66, 2005.
[increasing nitrogen-fixation]
That was the Green Revolution. The Man Who Fed the World: Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Norman Borlaug and His Battle to End World Hunger, Leon Hesser, Durban House, 2006. The Doubly Green Revolution: Food for All in the Twenty-First Century, Gordon Conway, Cornell University Press, 1998, especially Chapter 4. Feeding the Ten Billion: Plants and Population Growth, L. T. Evans, Cambridge University Press, 1998.
[rice yields almost tripled from 1967 to 2002]
“Rice-based production systems for food security and poverty alleviation in Latin America and the Caribbean,” L. R. Sanint, Proceedings of the FAO Rice Conference, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 2004, pages 97-101.
[meat production tripled from 1980 to 2002]
Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options, H. Steinfeld, P. Gerber, T. Wassenaar, V. Castel, M. Rosales, C. de Haan, Animal Production and Health Division, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 2006, page 15.
[oil and food in the United States in 2000 and 2012]
That counts all the energy to fertilize, protect, transport, refrigerate, process, store, cook, and serve our food. “In total, providing the 3800 kilocalories of food energy available per capita per day in the United States is estimated to consume 10.2 quadrillion BTUs annually. This represents about 10% of the total energy consumed in the United States. By our estimates, therefore, it takes about 7.3 units of (primarily) fossil energy to produce one unit of food energy in the U.S. food system. This estimate is somewhat lower than others presented. Pimentel and Hall both put the ratio of output food energy to input energy at 1:10.” From: “Life Cycle-Based Sustainability Indicators for Assessment of the U.S. Food System,” M. C. Heller, G. A. Keoleian, Report Number CSS00-04, Center for Sustainable Systems, School of Natural Resources and Environment, The University of Michigan, 2000, page 42.

However, if consumers put energy in themselves, that figure may be falling locally over time. In one district: “One average kcal of food energy requires a minimum input of approximately 6 kcal of fossil energy, down from 9 or 10 in 1970.” From: “The potential of Onondaga County to feed its own population and that of Syracuse, New York: Past, present, and future,” S. B. Balogh, C. A. S. Hall, A. M. Guzman, D. E. Balcarce, A. Hamilton, in: Global Economic and Environmental Aspects of Biofuels, David Pimentel (editor), CRC Press, 2012, pages 273-320.

[oil consumption, 1900-2008]
Energy for the 21st Century: A Comprehensive Guide to Conventional and Alternative Sources, Roy L. Nersesian, Taylor & Francis, Second Edition, 2010, pages 161-171.
[world population, 1800 to 2050]
State of World Population 2011: People and Possibilities in a World of 7 Billion, United Nations Population Fund, 2011, pages 2-3. It estimates that the one thousand million mark was hit in 1804, the two thousand million mark in 1927, the four thousand million mark in 1974, and the six thousand million mark in 1999.

As for the neolithic estimate, that is more debated. “Human genetic data reveal contrasting demographic patterns between sedentary and nomadic populations that predate the emergence of farming,” C. Aimé, G. Laval, E. Patin, P. Verdu, L. Ségurel, R. Chaix, T. Hegay, L. Quintana-Murci, E. Heyer, F. Austerlitz, Molecular biology and evolution, 30(12):2629-44, 2013. “MtDNA analysis of global populations support that major population expansions began before Neolithic Time,” H.-X. Zheng, S. Yan, Z.-D. Qin, L. Jin, Scientific Reports, 2:745, 2012. “When the World’s Population Took Off: The Springboard of the Neolithic Demographic Transition,” J.-P. Bocquet-Appel, Science, 333(6042):560-561, 2011.

[oil running out?]
Those many effects over our last 160 or so years—counting from 1859 and our first oil well—have led to fears that oil will soon run out. But the chance of that seems small. Cheap crude oil will one day run out, yes, and maybe even relatively soon, but our planet has larger reserves of coal and natural gas. And we can make oil from coal. (For example, wartime Germany’s enemies had denied it much of its crude oil supply, so by 1943 it had resorted to making 56 percent of its oil from coal.) Of course, making oil costs more than simply finding it. However, we may have a couple decades to find new oil, or extract more from our present sources, or extract oil from costlier sources (like oil shale or tar sands). But as long as crude oil remains cheap enough, we shan’t bother with substitutes. Yet whether we extract, or start making, more costly oil, its price most likely will rise because we’ll surely keep using ever more of it, so demand might well be rising just when supply might well be falling. Also, making oil just to then burn it for energy makes no sense—it takes more energy to make oil than we could get out of the resulting oil. But it does make sense as a source of transport fuel, which is our biggest near-term energy problem. So while cheap crude oil is surely going to run out, oil itself probably isn’t going away any time soon.
[oil from coal in World War II]
Wartime Germany made 56 percent of its oil that way by 1943. But by 1944 its enemies began bombing the new plants, thus starving its war machine. The Second World War, 1939-45: A Strategical and Tactical History, J. F. C. Fuller, Da Capo Press, 1993, pages 314-316. “Technology Transfer as War Booty: The U.S. Technical Oil Mission to Europe, 1945,” A. Krammer, Technology and Culture, 22(1):68-103, 1981. “The Role of Synthetic Fuel in World War II Germany,” P. W. Becker, Air University Review, 32(5):45-53, 1981. “Synthetic Fuels in Germany: 1. Introduction,” B. Orchard Lisle, Petroleum, 9(4):74-93, 1946.
[oil from coal in 2009]
More recent synthetic oil processes are far better than earlier synthetic oil processes. They can also work with biomass instead of coal as feedstock. “Producing Transportation Fuels with Less Work,” D. Hildebrandt, D. Glasser, B. Hausberger, B. Patel, B. J. Glasser, Science, 323(5922):1680-1681, 2009. “Sustainable fuel for the transportation sector,” R. Agrawal, N. R. Singh, F. H. Ribeiro, W. N. Delgass, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104(12):4828-4833, 2007. “Catalytic Alkane Metathesis by Tandem Alkane-Dehydrogenation-Olefin-Metathesis,” A. S. Goldman, A. H. Roy, Z. Huang, R. Ahuja, W. Schinski, M. Brookhart, Science, 312(5771):257-261, 2006. Synthetic Fuels, Ronald F. Probstien and R. Edwin Hicks, McGraw-Hill, 1982.
[oil is running out... soon?]
Clearly crude oil is running out. It’s hard, though, to say when the real crunch will hit. Some argue that oil has already peaked, or will soon. Others argue that oil hasn’t peaked and won’t anytime soon. Given that everything is ultimately limited, the second side would be easy to dismiss, except that the figures come from the United States Geological Survey. The differences between the two positions are huge. Beyond Oil: The View from Hubbert’s Peak, Kennet S. Deffeyes, Hill and Wang, 2005. The Party’s Over: Oil, War, and the Fate of Industrial Societies, Richard Heinberg, New Society Publishers, 2003. Hubbert’s Peak: The Impending World Oil Shortage, Kenneth S. Deffeyes, Princeton University Press, 2001. “World Energy Assessment 2000,” United States Geological Survey. Are We Running Out of Oil? Edward D. Porter, American Petroleum Institute, Policy Analysis and Strategic Planning Department, Discussion Paper Number 81, 1995.

Recently, consensus seems to be forming that no matter when the peak is, economic and political decisions taken within two decades of it will make a huge difference on its mitigation. One new study predicts the peak as early as 2014. “Forecasting World Crude Oil Production Using Multicyclic Hubbert Model,” I. S. Nashawi, A. Malallah, M. Al-Bisharah, Energy Fuels, 24(3):1788-1800, 2010. “Uncertainty about Future Oil Supply Makes It Important to Develop a Strategy for Addressing a Peak and Decline in Oil Production,” United States Government Accountability Office, GAO-07-283, 2007. “Peaking of World Oil Production: Recent forecasts,” R. L. Hirsch, World Oil, 228(4), 2007. “Peaking of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation & Risk Management,” R. L. Hirsch, R. Bezdek, R. Wendling, United States Department of Energy, National Energy Technology Laboratory, 2005. “Long Term World Oil Supply Scenarios - the future is neither as bleak or as rosy as some assert,” J. H. Wood, G. R. Long, D. F. Morehouse, Energy Information Administration, United States Department of Energy, 2004.

Both sides of today’s arguments about oil depletion and alternative energy have clear political agendas. They each see the same amount of future oil in the ground in two completely different ways. Huge amounts of power and money—not to mention strong feelings of guilt and shame—depend on what policies each of our countries adopt. So the urge to sway those policy choices one way or the other is strong. However, the data on which such policies might be based is poor—and may even be deliberately distorted in some cases. When giants clash, amateurs can only watch and try to come to as reasonable a conclusion as possible. Those who say that oil production has peaked, or will soon, seem right. Physics favors them. But that still means that we have as much oil left as we’ve used until now. So those who say that we’ll likely invent our way out of disaster also seem right. Economics favors them. That seems to be roughly what those who are most informed seem to be saying on our oil futures markets. That’s where we place long-term public bets about future oil supplies and consumption patterns. There at least, hard data is in constant demand and continuous evaluation. Also, politics matters less there. Futures traders are betting thousands of millions of dollars on being right. Maybe they’re wrong, but so far it doesn’t seem so.

Since then, particularly since 2009, horizontal drilling, and most especially hydraulic fracturing (‘fracking’), when used with CCPP (combined cycle power plants), has changed the landscape a fair amount, particularly in North America, opening up vast new reserves of natural gas, and thus easing dependence on coal and shiftng some dependence away from oil. Also, fracking releases about half the carbon dioxide per kilowatt-hour compared to coal, so it’s also having some effect on the climate change arguments.

[reserves of oil, natural gas, and coal in 2011]
In 2011, BP stated that the proven reserves were 46.2 years, 58.6 years, and 118 years. BP Statistical Review of World Energy, June 2011 British Petroleum, 2011, pages 7, 21, and 31.

The Cheapskate Way

[economy of the United States and the world in 2010, 2018]
The European Union was about a seventh; together, China, Japan, and South Korea, was about a quarter. In 2018, World total GDP PPP (in millions of current international dollars): $136,305,131. China: $25,398,678 18.6 percent = ~1/5 United States: $20,544,343 15.0 percent = ~1/6 European Union: $19,390,055 14.2 percent = ~1/7 Japan: $5,415,124 3.9 percent = ~1/25 South Korea: $2,071,182 1.5 percent China+Japan+South Korea: $32,884,984 24.1 percent = ~1/4 World Development Indicators database, World Bank, December 23rd, 2019,

In 2011, the International Monetary Fund’s database figures for GDP PPP (that is, purchasing power parity) from 2009 to 2011 were: $15,064.816 thousand million for the United States, $15,788.584 thousand million for the European Union, and $19,819.335 thousand million for East Asia (now classified as ‘Developing Asia’). With a world total GDP (PPP) of $78,852.864 thousand million, that means 19 percent for the U.S., 20 percent for the E.U., and 25 percent for Developing Asia. However, nominal GDP figures are different. Market measures are also different. World Economic Outlook Database, International Monetary Fund, 2011.

[United States fuel consumption, 2018]
Natural Gas: 702.6/3309.4 (21.2 percent) ~1/5 Oil: 919.7/4662.1 (19.7 percent) ~1/5 coal: 317.0/3772.1 (8.4 percent) ~ 1/12 nuclear, hydro, renewables: 192.2 65.3 103.8 totals: 611.3, 948.8, 561.3, all: 2300.6/13864.9 (~16.5 percent) ~1/6 Statistical Review of World Energy 2018, British Petroleum, 2018, page 9.

For gasoline, the average for 2018 based on 43 countries was 367.97 thousand barrels per day. The highest value was in the USA: 9328.98 thousand barrels per day. In 2019, about 142.17 billion gallons (or about 3.39 billion barrels—there are 42 U.S. gallons in a barrel) of finished motor gasoline were consumed in the United States, an average of about 389.51 million gallons (or about 9.27 million barrels) per day. “Petroleum Supply Monthly,” With Data for March 2020 Energy Information Administration United States Department of Energy, 2004.

[California fuel usage in 2006 and 2013]
In 2020, California consumed 1,716.3 trillion btus of gasoline. Note too, though, that California has the world’s fifth-largest economy. California is the most populous state in the nation, has the largest economy, and is second only to Texas in total energy consumption. In 2013, California used more than three billion gallons of diesel fuel. California State Energy Profile, Energy Information Administration, United States Department of Energy, 2020. State Energy Data System, Table C10, Energy Consumption by End-Use Sector, Ranked by State, 2017. Energy Information Administration, United States Department of Energy, 2017. 2013-2014 Investment Plan Update for the Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program, CEC-600-2012-008-SD-REV, California Energy Commission, 2013, page 21.

“California is the second largest consumers of gasoline and diesel fuels in the world, surpassed only by the United States as a whole. In 2006, Californians consumed an estimated 20 billion gallons of gasoline and diesel fuel on the state’s roadways, an increase of nearly 50 percent over the last 20 years. This demand continues, even in the face of record petroleum prices.” State Alternative Fuels Plan, AB 1007 Report, California Energy Commission, 2007, page 11.

[household daily electricity use in the United States in 2018]
In 2018, the average annual electricity consumption for a residential utility customer in the United States was 10,972 kilowatt-hours (kWh), an average of about 914 kWh per month (30.46 kWh a day). Tennessee. which had the cheapest electricity, had the highest annual electricity consumption at 15,394 kWh per residential customer, and Hawaii, which had the dearest, had the lowest at 6,213 kWh per residential customer. “Electric Sales, Revenue, and Average Price,” Table 5.a, Energy Information Administration, United States Department of Energy, 2019.

[United States retail electricity price: 2006, 2013, 2018]
In 2006, the cents per kilowatt-hour was 10.6 cents averaged over all residences, but 8.64 cents averaged over all users and all states. In 2013, it was 11.59 residential, but 9.69 cents overall. In 2018, it was 12.55 residential, but 10.27 overall. “Comparison of Preliminary Annual Data Versus Final Annual Data at the U.S. Level, 2016 through 2018,” Table C.3., Electric Power Monthly with Data for February 2020, Energy Information Administration, United States Department of Energy, 2020. “Average Retail Price of Electricity to Ultimate Customers by End-Use Sector, by State,” Table 5.6.A., Electric Power Monthly with data for March 2013, Energy Information Administration, United States Department of Energy, 2013. “Average Retail Price of Electricity to Ultimate Customers by End-Use Sector, by State,” Table 5.6.A., Electric Power Monthly with data for May 2006, Energy Information Administration, United States Department of Energy, 2006.
[solar panel efficiencies in 2008]
Solar energy is politically popular. It’s clean. It’s unlimited. It’s free. None of that is true. Gathering solar energy is one thing but getting it to do work—that is, solar power—is another. Solar power isn’t clean—no power system can be because it needs factories to make its parts. Nor is it unlimited—the energy it produces isn’t yet cheap to store. (Various prototype fuel cells, and lead-acid, sodium-sulfur, and flow batteries, are all still expensive and limited.) Most of all though, it isn’t free. It isn’t even cheap.

In 2008, energy from solar panels costs at least 25 to 30 cents per kilowatt-hour. That’s about three times as much as retail electricity, even in a sunny region. Solar panel efficiency is measured as a percentage of the energy hitting it. Today’s commodity solar panels have energy efficiencies around 10 to 15 percent. Some research versions are now up to about 40 percent, but they’re expensive since they need exotic materials and delicate production processes. Cheap versions are around 8 percent, or less. It takes about 20 years for a solar installation to pay for itself.

The following abstract summarizes where experts think the technology is going over the next four decades: “Subjective probabilistic judgments about future module prices of 26 current and emerging photovoltaic (PV) technologies were obtained from 18 PV technology experts. Fourteen experts provided detailed assessments, including likely future efficiencies and prices under four policy scenarios. While there is considerable dispersion among the judgments, the results suggest a high likelihood that some PV technology will achieve a price of $1.20/Wp by 2030. Only 7 of 18 experts assess a better-than-even chance that any PV technology will achieve $0.30/Wp by 2030; 10 of 18 experts give this assessment by 2050. Given these odds, and the wide dispersion in results, we conclude that PV may have difficulty becoming economically competitive with other options for large-scale, low-carbon bulk electricity in the next 40 years. If $0.30/Wp is not reached, then PV will likely continue to expand in markets other than bulk power. In assessing different policy mechanisms, a majority of experts judged that R&D would most increase efficiency, while deployment incentives would most decrease price. This implies a possible disconnect between research and policy goals. Governments should be cautious about large subsidies for deployment of present PV technology while continuing to invest in R&D to lower cost and reduce uncertainty.” From: “Expert Assessments of Future Photovoltaic Technologies,” A. E. Curtright, M. G. Morgan, D. W. Keith, Environmental Science and Technology, 42(24):9031-9038, 2008.

(Note: ‘Wp’ means ‘peak Watts,’ that is the wattage that a panel can produce on a bright sunny day. So a price of ‘$1.20/Wp’ means that the panel costs $1.20 for every watt pumped out on the panel’s best day. Also note that over the past decade, good ratings for panels are in the $4.50/Wp to $5.50/Wp range.)

[no grid-scale rechargeable batteries yet]
Since 2005, every now and then there was an announcement of a new scalable rechargeable battery idea (often by a professor at a major university, or backed by professors at major universities who’re friends), followed by a startup, followed by wild excitement, followed by early investors, followed a few years later by unspecified technical problems, followed by restructuring, followed by bankruptcy. Just in the last few years this happened to: Aquion Energy’s saltwater battery, Alevo’s stealth operation, LightSail compressed air storage, ViZn Energy’s flow battery, and A123 Systems lithium-ion battery. (Note: Before going bankrupt, A123 Systems, Alevo, Aquion Energy, Better Place, and Fisker together raised over $5 billion U.S. Better Place and Fisker, weren’t battery companies, but charging station and car companies).

Here are some more startups: Natron Energy, NantEnergy, NeoSun, Primus Power, Sakti3, UniEnergy Technologies, are also still around. All are mainly research shops awaiting their big break. One such startup, Ambri, has gone through all those stages except the last. Their idea is, basically, the reverse of aluminum electrolysis; it started with magnesium and antimony—two dirt-cheap metals that are widely available—so if it could be made to work it could be done at scale.

But it’s not just startups trying to survive on a few tens of millions of dollars; big companies have gotten into new batteries, too. For example, General Electric sunk perhaps a billion dollars on Durathon, an internal push to replace lithium-ion batteries with their sodium-ion (sodium-nickle-chloride with molten salt) batteries. But they started in 2010, when lithium-ion was $1,000 a kilowatt-hour. By 2015, when it dropped to $350 a KWh, they gave up. (By 2016, it was $273 per kWh. By 2019 they sold the entire parent subsidiary, GE Transportation, to Wabtec.) “Wabtec and GE Transportation complete merger,” Railway Gazette International, February 25th, 2019. “Lithium-Ion Battery Costs and Market,” C. Curry, Bloomberg New Energy Finance, July 2017.

Why did lithium-ion drop in cost so fast? Easy: phones and electric vehicles (and behind them, more than anyone else, Apple and Tesla). As those markets mushroomed, demand escalated, so research on improving them focused. Now hundreds of millions of dollars a year at Panasonic, LG Chem, and Samsung, (also Mitsubishi and Saft), go into improving battery performance. However, it’s being optimized not for grid-scale battery use, but for phones and cars (and laptops). So the emphasis has been on chasing expensive, low-weight, small-size, batteries whose capacities fade, not low-cost, long-life, fade-free batteries. Improving one thing often means paying for it by reducing something else so that intensive research doesn’t transfer to grid scale.

For reliable power, what we need is rechargeable gigawatt-scale batteries that we could place anywhere, to store energy when the sun shines then give it back when the sun doesn’t. To be cheap enough for deployment they have to last for many years (ideally, decades), recharging over and over again, with low capacity-fade. For that, lithium-ion likely won’t cut it, and may never. It’s expensive (although cost has been falling unexpectedly fast with wider use, but, as mentioned, that’s for low-weight, small-size, fade-free batteries). Also, lithium has a fire-risk, and recharge potential drops below useful levels too fast. Its rare elements (lithium and cobalt) may also be a little too local to only a few sensitive nations (China, the Republic of the Congo). (Why wean off oil only to get addicted to lithium or cobalt?) Also, there’s too little of it compared to plentiful stuff like aluminum or magnesium. In general, rare, toxic, and costly elements are, a bad idea. So the search is on for grid-scale rechargeable batteries that are cheap, long-lived, and easy to build anywhere.

The tried-and-true way to do grid energy storage (grid-scale rechargeable batteries) with reasonably low loss per recharge is to use hydroelectric dams (this is pumped-storage hydroelectric). Almost 96 percent of the world’s grid scale battery power is of this type. We can often get back as much as 80-85% of the energy put in. Problem is: there are few places on the planet that have the right geological features to make it possible at gigawatt scale. To make it work, you need two dams near each other but also at different heights (high enough so that it’s worth while linking the two with a channel into which you put pumps and turbines). When grid power is cheap you pump water from the lower dam up to the upper dam, and when power is dear, you let water run back down through the turbines to generate electricity.

A startup, Quidnet Energy (founded 2013), is trying to drill wells next to a dam and force-pump water from the dam down the wells, then run the water in reverse through a turbine to recover some of the energy used. This might alleviate the problem, if they can get the recovery percentage high enough and the cost to drill plus equipment low enough.

If you have a mountain, a similar idea is to put a railroad on it. Fill a train with rocks and, when you have cheap power, pull the train up the mountain; then, when you need power, let it run down again. A startup, Energy Vault (founded 2017), is trying to do something similar with AI software controlling a multi-headed crane. When grid power is cheap, it stores that as potential energy by stacking heavy blocks into a giant tower; then when power is dear again, it releases it by lowering blocks to the ground. “SoftBank to invest $110m in brick tower energy storage start-up,” L. Hook, Financial Times, August 15th, 2019.

If you have a big mine, pump compressed air in, then let the air out again through a wind turbine. All such cases need some special geological feature: two nearby dams, a mountain, a mine. Also, they must have no other use. (For example, water in the dam can’t be needed for irrigation.) Failing that, you go with combustion-turbine (natural gas or coal), or hydroelectric or nuclear power plants, which idle when solar or wind is plentiful, but are on hot-standby to ramp up and take over to handle load-shifting and replace the missing sun or wind. (Such plants are called ‘peaker,’ ‘peaking,’ ‘load-shifting,’ or ‘load-following’ plants.) That costs far more energy than running at normal capacity. Energy Storage: A Nontechnical Guide, Richard Baxter, PennWell Books, 2006.

Too-rapid deployment of solar (and wind) recently led to a special case (as happened in California because of tax breaks and mandates, plus China flooding the market with cheaper panels). Lunchtime supply began to far exceed what it once was. To avoid massive surge, which would destroy all equipment, many peaker power plants need to be throttled back since demand doesn’t also increase to consume supply, and there was no way to store the energy oversupply (so it was just dumped). Then as dinnertime approached, all the oversupply went away, which meant that those idling plants then needed to ramp up again to meet peak demand. This led to a ‘duck curve’ of ever-more-defined duckieness as solar (or wind) deployment rose, and also ever more stress on the system. The upside, though, is that the width of peak demand narrows, so if we had a grid storage solution that could outlast the ever-shorter peak, both the thing causing the problem (increased solar) and the thing producing the solution (grid-scale batteries) could work in tandem to smooth out grid power and reduce the need for peaker plants. This made grid storage batteries even more attractive. “Overgeneration from Solar Energy in California: A Field Guide to the Duck Chart,” P. Denholm, M. O’Connell, G. Brinkman, and J. Jorgenson, NREL/TP-6A20-65023, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, November 2015.

Solar is a potentially much larger supply than wind, but, like wind, it’s variable, and we want power anytime, not just when the sun’s high and there’s no cloud, storm, or snow. Without batteries, we solve that problem today with peaker plants. But that can burn even more fossil fuels than not having solar (or wind) at all. If such plants were running all the time, instead of being on hot-standby, they would be more efficient. “Grid-Scale Battery Storage: Frequently Asked Questions,” T. Bowen, I. Chernyakhovskiy, P. L. Denholm, NREL/TP-6A20-74426, National Renewable Energy Lab. (NREL), September, 2019. “The Potential for Energy Storage to Provide Peaking Capacity in California under Increased Penetration of Solar Photovoltaics,” P. Denholm, R. Margolis, NREL/TP-6A20-70905, National Renewable Energy Lab. (NREL), March, 2018.

The problem of energy is simple: we want to live as well as possible as cheaply as possible; we never want to face it, but we’re cheapskates. These days, renewables like solar have good odor—they’re ‘clean,’ they’re ‘unlimited,’ they’re cheap (or even ‘free’), so only politics must be keeping us from much more of them. But little of that is true. Yes, there’s politics (there’s always politics) and, yes, they’re easier to start and build out, so they’re easier to scale, but all options have costs; all are limited; none are ‘clean.’ Gathering energy, whether it’s from the sun, the wind, the waters, or whatever, then getting it to do work—that is, getting power from that energy—takes factories and tools, which we have to design and make. Like wind, solar is a dilute and variable energy source that’s far less efficient than fixed and concentrated sources like coal or oil—or even better, uranium or thorium. Solar panels have to reverse that to concentrate energy again to be useful. Making those panels means digging stuff out of the ground, refining it, shaping it, transporting it, installing it, running it. Even just choosing where to put it means sacrificing land we might otherwise use for growing food, or something else. Everything has a cost. No power system can be ‘clean,’ nor ‘unlimited,’ nor ‘free.’ We pay in money, we pay in opportunity, we pay in effluent and planetary destruction, and we pay in lives—not only other species but also our own. In choosing among options, all we can do is learn a bit more about them then decide which set of costs we’re willing to pay, now and in the future.

The problem with ‘clean’ and ‘unlimited’ energy sources is that: 1/ They aren’t ‘clean.’ To build a wind farm or solar farm or hydro dam or whatever, takes energy and raw materials—cement, steel, cobalt, lithium, whatever—which means mining and fabrication. Without stored energy already saved to do the work, that takes energy and raw materials, which burns fuels. For example, ‘load-following’ electricity (peaker plants) add 12 percent of all carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Smelting iron and steel adds five more percent. Making cement means burning limestone, which adds a further four percent. Everything we do has a cost. “Net-zero Emissions Energy Systems,” S. J. Davis, N. S. Lewis, M. Shaner, S. Aggarwal, D. Arent, I. L. Azevedo, S. M. Benson, T. Bradley, J. Brouwer, Y.-M. Chiang, C. T. M. Clack, A. Cohen, S. Doig, J. Edmonds, P. Fennell, C. B. Field, B. Hannegan, B.-M. Hodge, M. I. Hoffert, E. Ingersoll, P. Jaramillo, K. S. Lackner, K. J. Mach, M. Mastrandrea, J. Ogden, P. F. Peterson, D. L. Sanchez, D. Sperling, J. Stagner, J. E. Trancik, C.-J. Yang, K. Caldeira, Science, 360(6396):eaas9793, 2018.

2/ They aren’t ‘unlimited.’ Even if such things were dropped from the sky by space aliens, we’re already maxed out on hydro (there are only so many rivers), there’s only so much wind, there’s only so much biomass—and we’re already at the stage of cutting down forests to feed biomass into biomass burners, which makes no sense, and so on. Solar is our long-term future. Statistical Review of World Energy 2018, British Petroleum, 2018, page 50. Energy and Civilization: A History, Vaclav Smil, The MIT Press, 2017, page 397. “Europe’s Green-Fuel Search Turns to America’s Forests,” J. Scheck, I. J. Dugan, The Wall Street Journal, May 27th, 2013.

Today’s solar and wind (and tidal) farms exist not because they pay but because of laws and mandates to discourage old technology, and government subsidy to encourage new technology (Germany, Spain, Denmark, the United States, the United Kingdom, elsewhere). That’s tax payer will and money at work to juice the market to try to get the technology developed more quickly than it would otherwise. It doesn’t yet pay. But it will.

Solving the grid-scale rechargeable battery problem is important because without it, all the ‘clean’ (or ‘green’) schemes—solar (photovoltaic or solar thermal), wind, hydro, geothermal, tidal, biomass, ocean thermal...) and all the ‘clean’ electric vehicles, and such, don’t mean much—except even more carbon dioxide and more over-production. Today (directly or indirectly) they all really run on fossil fuels—natural gas, coal, or oil—or hydro or nuclear power.

Finally, there’s the question of what else we pay for our power besides money (whether out-of-pocket, or via tax) and carbon dioxide in the air. Incidents like Three-Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima get a lot of media attention, but deaths per terawatt from nuclear is by far the lowest among all power sources. Coal is by far the highest. Solar (at least rooftop solar) (and wind) is also not the lowest. Nuclear is—by far. “How Deadly Is Your Kilowatt? We Rank The Killer Energy Sources,” J. Conca, Forbes Magazine, June 10th, 2012.

Solving the problem is about gaining knowledge about the space of possible solutions as we grope around in the dark. Likely, all the people licking their wounds now from all the failed attempts over the past couple decades will be circulating around and eventually some will put their heads together and create a new network which will struggle to get funding and finally solve it. Evolution is blind.

Here’s the problem from the consumer end (not residential but commercial, industrial, or municipal). You’re mayor of a small town, or CEO of a company, or manager of a factory, and cost of grid power is going up (and perhaps surges, or brownouts, or maybe even blackouts, are either not uncommon or are increasing). That cost is high only during the daytime, when demand is high. It’s always much lower late at night. So what you want to do is arbitrage the cost down (buy low, sell high). Essentially, you want a gigantic UPS, plus surge protector. So you’re looking into plopping down some money on a newfangled grid-scale battery solution (sort of like cloud storage, except for energy). Problem is, the field isn’t stable yet, there are many tiny companies with many solutions, and the tech is based on exotic science you don’t understand.

You aren’t a scientist, and none of these potential battery companies have been around long enough to have a proven track record (many have already tried and died, so all the ones out there now are so new and fragile that none have much income, so none have been around long enough to be through IPO to offer stock on the stock market). Plus, choosing any one would be an enormous spend, since it would mean lock-in for 10- to 20- years. What happens if you choose wrong and it goes belly-up? It’s too big a spend, too much risk, and too little information for you to decide anything.

Besides, you have no serious push to move off grid power. The government hasn’t mandated any change, and has no tax credits for storage use. This is just something you’d be doing to reduce your long-term spend on electricity (and also ensure no brownouts or surges). So it’s sort of like buying insurance, plus lowering costs over time (that is, if the battery company you pick survives, and if grid power continues to climb in price, like in California, Texas, Florida, Hawa’ii, and so on, but not Tennessee). So why take a risk? No one’s going to fire you for not doing anything since no one else understands the situation, either. So the battery companies keep dying on the vine, propped up only for as long as their investors have patience.

Now a startup, Prisma Energy Solutions (founded 2017), claims to have found a way to break the logjam. Their plan to solve your dilemma with a lease program so that you can rent-to-buy instead of having to buy outright. Or just keep leasing until the market stabilizes and you know what shakes out. So you can join their program, then lease the service for only 5 years at a time, not 10 or 20, and don’t have to choose any particular company. Also, the battery companies get income, so they get to survive and develop the tech instead of going under all the time.

(BEGIN GUESSWORK: Prisma MUST be pooling battery companies somehow, perhaps like collateralized debt obligations (CDOs), so that, if any one, or a few of their contracted companies, do fail, lessees still get guaranteed power from the pool). Perhaps they stack them in shipping container trucks and back them into loading bays to just jack into a factory or business directly. Dunno how else they could make it work... where are they gonna find the money to lease so many expensive experimental batteries? that’s like the very earliest form of RAID hardware, except for power and at GIGAWATT scale! or maybe they’re also buying used car batteries as backup for the backup? a market is developing for used tesla batteries, for instance, so perhaps they’re making racks of them as backup in case too many companies fail?) In 2017, California put 396 stacks of Tesla batteries to use for 80 megawatt-hours backup at the Mira Loma substation in Ontario, California. The array can power 15,000 homes for over four hours. That’s enough to get over most peak shortfalls. “Rows of Tesla batteries will keep Southern California’s lights on during the night,” A. Micu, ZME Science, January 30th, 2017.

[United States energy use in 2011 and 2019]
For 2019 figures see: Monthly Energy Review (April 2020), Report No. DOE/EIA‐0035(2020/4), Energy Information Administration, United States Department of Energy, September, 2020. Tables 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4a, 1.4b, 1.4c, 2.1, and Figure 10.1. Note: ‘natural gas’ includes NGPL (‘natural gas plant liquids,’ or just liquid natural gas). Coal has been steeply falling since 2008 from around 20 percent to around 10 percent (so far). Natural gas (and NGPL) have been steeply rising from around 10 percent to around 28 percent since then. Renewables have been gently rising up to almost 10 percent since about 2000.

In 2011, the proportions were: about two-fifths of the electricity came from coal-fired power plants. Natural gas supplied roughly another quarter, and nuclear about another fifth. Oil added only about two more percent. That accounted for almost nine-tenths of the country’s electrical energy. Water power added more than half the rest. The remaining dribble mostly came from biomass (like wood). Wind, geothermal, tidal, and solar were so tiny that they simply didn’t matter. But the picture changes a lot when looking at the same country’s total energy use. Oil claimed over a third of that. (Of that oil, almost three-quarters went to transport, and almost a quarter to industry.) Coal claimed a further fifth; natural gas claimed a further quarter or so. Nuclear added roughly another twelfth. Again, that was about nine-tenths of the country’s total energy use (electricity included). But here, only around a third of the rest was water power. And, again, most of the dribble left was biomass, but increasingly wind. Geothermal, tidal, and solar again simply didn’t matter.

For 2011 figures, see: Figure 2.0: “Primary Energy Consumption by Source and Sector” (page 37), Figure 2.1a: “Energy Consumption Estimates by Sector Overview” (page 38), Figure 8.2a: “Electricity Net Generation, Total (All Sectors)” (page 222), Figure 8.2b: “Electricity Net Generation by Sector” (page 223), Figure 10.1: “Renewable Energy Consumption by Major Source” (page 278), Annual Energy Review 2011, Report No. DOE/EIA-0384(2011), Energy Information Administration, United States Department of Energy, September, 2012. Note: for the 6 percent of ’Other’ for electricity sources, it lists: “Wind, petroleum, wood, waste, geothermal, other gases, solar thermal and photovoltaic, batteries, chemicals, hydrogen, pitch, purchased steam, sulfur, miscellaneous technologies, and non-renewable waste (municipal solid waste from non-biogenic sources, and tire-derived fuels).”

[a quarter-billion cars, trucks, and buses: 2017, 2010]:
In 2017 there were 111 million cars and 138 million light trucks in the U.S. (249 million total light vehicles). And 211,757 planes. In 2010, the figures were 235,034,000 cars and light trucks and 10,973,000 heavy trucks. Table 10.3: “Summary Statistics for General Aviation, 1970-2017” Transportation Energy Data Book: Edition 38, Stacy C. Davis and Robert G. Boundy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, United States Department of Energy, 2020.

Transportation Energy Data Book: Edition 30, Stacy C. Davis, Susan W. Diegel, and Robert G. Boundy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, United States Department of Energy, 2011. Table 1-11: “Number of U.S. Aircraft, Vehicles, Vessels, and Other Conveyances” Table 4-4: “U.S. Energy Consumption by the Transportation Sector” Table 4-6: “Energy Consumption by Mode of Transportation” National Transportation Statistics, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Research and Innovative Technology Administration, United States Department of Transportation, 2011.

[United States transport fuel use by sector in 2006]
Transportation Energy Data Book: Edition 26, Engineering Science & Technology Division, Center for Transportation Analysis, United States Department of Energy, 2007, Table 2.6, Transportation Energy Use by Mode, 2004-2005.
[ten largest companies worldwide in 2006, 2010, 2019]
According to Fortune magazine, in 2019, the top ten were, in order: Walmart, Sinopec Group, Royal Dutch Shell, China National Petroleum, State Grid, Saudi Aramco, BP, ExxonMobil, Volkswagen, Toyota. All but two (Walmart, in the United States, and State Grid, in China) are transportation companies). According to Fortune magazine, in 2010 they were, in order: Wal-Mart Stores, Royal Dutch Shell, ExxonMobil, British Petroleum, Toyota Motor, Japan Post Holdings, Sinopec, State Grid, AXA, and China National Petroleum. Besides Wal-Mart, there’s now AXA (French), State Grid (Chinese), and Japan Post (Japanese) as non-transport companies. According to Fortune magazine, in 2006 they were, in order: ExxonMobil, Wal-Mart Stores, Royal Dutch Shell, British Petroleum, General Motors, Chevron, DaimlerChrysler, Toyota Motor, Ford Motor, and ConocoPhillips. Only Wal-Mart isn’t a transport company.
[hydrocarbons provide over four-fifths of all our energy in 2012, 2018 since at least 1971]
In 2018, hydrocarbon use was 84.6 percent. Statistical Review of World Energy 2018, British Petroleum, 2018, page 50.

In 2012: “Today’s share of fossil fuels in the global mix, at 82%, is the same as it was 25 years ago; the strong rise of renewables only reduces this to around 75% in 2035.” World Energy Outlook 2013, International Energy Agency, 2013.

In 1971, coal, oil, and natural gas was 86.3 percent, and has only fallen slightly as a relative percentage since then, although the world total energy supply has increased 2.6 times (from 5,519 Mtoe to 14,282 Mtoe) and its structure has changed. Natural gas was 16.2 percent, oil was 44.1 percent, and coal was 26 percent. World Energy Balances: Overview, International Energy Agency, 2020.

[“too cheap to meter”]
“Our children will enjoy in their homes electrical energy too cheap to meter.” Lewis Lichtenstein Strauss, then Chairman of the United States Atomic Energy Commission, in a speech before the National Association of Science Writers, September 16th, 1954. New York Times, September 17th, 1954. However, when committing his thoughts to paper four years later, Strauss was more pragmatic: “It is a hard economic fact that before nuclear power can begin to be commercially competitive in the United States, its cost must be brought down to levels well below those acceptable in Western Europe and other areas where conventional fuels are in short supply.... There is confidence that these targets can be reached, but it is clear that a highly developed technology will be required.” Atoms for Peace: U.S.A. 1958, United States Atomic Energy Commission, 1958.
[nuclear fission plants]
The ones described in the text are light-water reactors. Breeder reactors, and molten-salt reactors (which can also be breeder reactors) are more heavily regulated, since they can produce weapons-grade fissile material.
[price of uranium versus coal in 2008]
In 2020, a pound of uranium cost over 1,200 times as much as a pound of coal. In the United States as of April 2020, spot prices for uranium oxide (U3O8) were around $34 a pound and Central Appalachian coal, a benchmark grade, were around $55 a short ton (2,000 pounds). Most of coal’s cost isn’t mining it, it’s transporting it. “Coal News and Markets,” April 24, 2020, Energy Information Administration, United States Department of Energy. “Ux Weekly,” May 25, 2020, The Ux Consulting Company, LLC.

In 2008 a pound of uranium cost over 1,300 times as much as a pound of coal. In the United States as of May 2008, spot prices for uranium oxide (U3O8) were around $60 a pound and Central Appalachian coal, a benchmark grade, were around $90 a short ton (2,000 pounds). Most of coal’s cost isn’t mining it, it’s transporting it. “Coal News and Markets,” May 12, 2008, Energy Information Administration, United States Department of Energy. “Ux Weekly,” May 12, 2008, The Ux Consulting Company, LLC.

Incidentally, radioactivity is a source of great fear and also of great fearmongering. Most of the radiation one of us receives over a lifetime (about 82 percent, in the United States) comes from natural sources, including food, no matter how ‘organic.’ About 55 percent comes from radon in the home (and other structures). And nuclear power plants release far less radiation than coal-fired plants do. They also kill far fewer of us than any other power source, including all accidents (Three-Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima). Deaths per terawatt from nuclear is by far the lowest among all power sources. Coal is by far the highest. But solar (and wind) is also not the lowest. Nuclear is. By far. “How Deadly Is Your Kilowatt? We Rank The Killer Energy Sources,” J. Conca, Forbes Magazine, June 10th, 2012. Power to Save the World: The Truth About Nuclear Energy, Gwyneth Cravens, Knopf, 2007. “Radioactive Elements in Coal and Fly Ash: Abundance, Forms, and Environmental Significance,” Fact Sheet FS-163-97, United States Geological Survey, 1997. Environmental Aspects of Trace Elements in Coal, D. J. Swaine and F. Goodarzi (editors), Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1995. “Ionizing radiation exposure of the population of the United States,” National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements, Report 93, 1987.

[inertia and replacement costs of heavy equipment]
This consequence of stigmergy is also known in economics as ‘path dependence.’ “Path Dependence in Spatial Networks: The Standardization of Railway Track Gauge,” D. J. Puffert, Explorations in Economic History, 39(3):282-314, 2002.
[oldest generating units in the United States in 2010]
In 2010 in the United States, 24 generating units were over 70 years old. In 2010, the oldest still existing generating unit (note, not a power plant) dated back to 1924. “Existing Generating Units in the United States by State and Energy Source, 2010,” Energy Information Administration, United States Department of Energy.
[...not so easy, it takes 3-6 years to develop a useful strain...]
With our current levels of understanding of cell biology that’s not surprising. What we’re doing is coaxing, over many generations, cells to do something that they didn’t evolve to do. To train a yeast cell to move from taking glucose and producing mostly ethanol into instead producing butanol at efficient yields can take 3-6 years. Why is that? Well, a yeast cell has >1,500 metabolic reactions (associated with >900 genes) (a human cell has >8,000 metabolic reactions, associated with >3,000 genes). Figuring out how they all work is hard.

“Metabolic engineering is the enabling science of development of efficient cell factories for the production of fuels, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and food ingredients through microbial fermentations. The yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae is a key cell factory already used for the production of a wide range of industrial products, and here we review ongoing work, particularly in industry, on using this organism for the production of butanol, which can be used as biofuel, and isoprenoids, which can find a wide range of applications including as pharmaceuticals and as biodiesel. We also look into how engineering of yeast can lead to improved uptake of sugars that are present in biomass hydrolyzates, and hereby allow for utilization of biomass as feedstock in the production of fuels and chemicals employing S. cerevisiae. Finally, we discuss the perspectives of how technologies from systems biology and synthetic biology can be used to advance metabolic engineering of yeast.” From: “Metabolic engineering of Saccharomyces cerevisiae: a key cell factory platform for future biorefineries,” K.-K. Hong, J. Nielsen, Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences, 69(16):2671-2690, 2012.

[possible effects of a magic biofuel...]
Such possible consequences of a magic biofuel aren’t too long for us to think about ahead of time, but even if we do so, our conclusions usually don’t come out that way. It often comes out to be whatever political reality presently demands it to be. It doesn’t matter if that’s likely to be correct in the long run or not. As long as it sways enough of us now, it takes root.

“Land Clearing and the Biofuel Carbon Debt,” J. Fargione, J. Hill, D. Tilman, S. Polasky, P. Hawthorne, Science, 319(5867):1235-1238, 2008. “Use of U.S. Croplands for Biofuels Increases Greenhouse Gases Through Emissions from Land-Use Change,” T. Searchinger, R. Heimlich, R. A. Houghton, F. Dong, A. Elobeid, J. Fabiosa, S. Tokgoz, D. Hayes, T.-H. Yu, Science, 319(5867):1238-1240, 2008.

[bizarre subsurface fire]
That’s not completely insane. Oil fires are common only at the surface but it’s not uncommon for coal mines to burn for decades. One has been on fire since 1916. Parts of subsurface India today, for example, are on fire. “Detection of coal mine fires in the Jharia coal field using NOAA/AVHRR data,” R. Agarwal, D. Singh, D. S. Chauhan, K. P. Singh, Journal of Geophysics and Engineering, 3(3):212-218, 2006. So is part of Pennsylvania. Unseen Danger: A Tragedy of People, Government, and the Centralia Mine Fire, David DeKok, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1986.
[1970s attempts to control the value of dollars, oil, and gold]
In 1970, and for the first time in the 1900s, the United States, after spending too much for too long on both guns and butter, had both a budget deficit and a trade deficit. As those rose, other rich countries, like France, who exported goods to the United States and got paid in U.S. dollars, saw those dollars dwindling in value relative to the gold that backed them. So they started demanding gold for the dollars they held. The United States, its gold reserves shrinking, panicked. It then tried to compensate by taking the dollar off the gold standard and devaluing it relative to gold. Oil exporters, like Saudi Arabia, then lost money since their oil was priced in U.S. dollars, not gold. Also, for decades they had been losing money to rich countries, like the United States, who had gotten them to sell their oil cheap, then turned it into wheat (or sugar or cement or other products), then sold that back to them at vastly higher prices. Having earlier formed a trade bloc, they then jacked up their oil’s dollar price. That then triggered inflation around the globe. The United States panicked. It then tried to compensate by raising domestic interest rates. But that then triggered a recession there, then both unemployment and inflation spiked. By 1974 the United States had tumbled into a wholly new state, stagflation, which put an end to its 30-year post-war economic boom. The Oil Kings: How the U.S., Iran, and Saudi Arabia Changed the Balance of Power in the Middle East, Andrew Scott Cooper, Simon & Schuster, 2011, pages 138-141, and pages 189-190. The Age of Deficits: Presidents and Unbalanced Budgets from Jimmy Carter to George W. Bush, Iwan Morgan, University of Kansas, 2009. “Oil Market Power and United States National Security,” R. Stern Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 103(5):1650-1655, 2006. Gold, Dollars, and Power: The Politics of International Monetary Relations, 1958-1971, Francis J. Gavin, University of North Carolina Press, 2004. The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power, Daniel Yergin, Simon & Schuster, 1991. Secrets of the Temple: How the Federal Reserve Runs the Country, William Greider, Simon & Schuster, 1987, pages 336-343.
[oil-price sensitivity]
In 2007-2008 in the United States, the price of gasoline at the pump suddenly jumped by about a third. Road travel then fell by 3.3 percent (67.2 thousand million fewer vehicle-miles a year.) August 2008 Traffic Volume Trends, Federal Highway Administration, United States Department of Transportation. “Pain at the Pump: The Differential Effect of Gasoline Prices on New and Used Automobile Markets,” M. R. Busse, C. R. Knittel, F. Zettelmeyer, Working Paper 15590, National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), 2009.

Further, a global economic slump in 2008 halved the growth rate of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide. Emissions from burning fossil fuels and from making cement rose 1.7 percent in 2008, as against 3.3 percent in 2007. “Global CO2 emissions: annual increase halves in 2008,” Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL), 2009.

On the other hand, the rising price of oil in 2007-2008 helped increase food cost. That then led to riots and other unrest in 22 countries—all of them poor. Poor countries feel even more of a pinch than rich countries do.

[renewables were a small part of world energy: 2003, 2010, 2018]
2018: (in terawatt-hours) world consumption: 13864.9 oil - 4662.1 - 33.6 percent. coal - 3772.1 - 27.2 percent. natural gas - 3309.4 - 23.8 percent. (oil+coal+natural gas = 84.6 percent) hydro - 948.8 - 6.84 percent. nuclear - 611.3 - 4.4 percent. renewables - 561.3 - 4 percent. wind (1/2 of that) - ~280 - 2 percent. solar (~1/4 of that) - ~140 - 1 percent. Statistical Review of World Energy 2018, British Petroleum, 2018, page 50. Energy and Civilization: A History, Vaclav Smil, The MIT Press, 2017, page 397.

In 2006, the EIA estimated that it was about 7 percent as of 2003 (the latest data available as of 2006). International Energy Outlook 2006, Report DOE/EIA-0484(2006), Energy Information Administration, United States Department of Energy, June 2006, Tables A2 and A8 in the Reference Case Projections Tables (1990-2030).

By 2013, the EIA put their estimate for 2010 renewables at 10.7 percent (renewables only comprised 7.6 percent for the industrial sector). “World industrial sector delivered energy consumption by region and energy source, 2010-2040 (quadrillion Btu)” Table 18. (page 127), “World total energy consumption by region and fuel, Reference case, 2009-2040 (quadrillion Btu)” Table A2. (page 181), International Energy Outlook 2013, Report DOE/EIA-0484(2013), Energy Information Administration, United States Department of Energy, June 2013.

[solar will better wind, then water, then coal]
The IEA projects those milestones might happen in 2025, 2030, and 2040 (for power systems, not necessarily for all energy consumed). World Energy Outlook 2018, International Energy Agency, 2018, page 3.

Some Assembly Required

[17.5 terawatts in 2010; 14 terawatts in 2006]
In 2010, world consumption was about 523.9 quadrillion BTUs, which is about 552 exajoules, which is equivalent to a burn rate of around 17.5 terawatts. “World total energy consumption by region and fuel, Reference case, 2009-2040 (quadrillion Btu)” Table A2. (page 181), International Energy Outlook 2013, Report DOE/EIA-0484(2013), Energy Information Administration, United States Department of Energy, June 2013.

Overall energy consumption in 2006 was around 448 exajoules, thus giving a burn rate per second of about 14.2 terawatts. (Note the difference between energy and power; A joule is a unit of energy; a watt is a unit of power; energy = power * time) “A multi-trillion dollar/year business supplies about 450 Exajoules (EJ, or 1018 joules); equivalently, we ‘burn’ energy at a rate over 14 Terawatts (TW, or trillion watts). About 86% is supplied by fossil fuels—coal, oil, and natural gas. The United States uses about a quarter of the total.” Report of the Energy Research Council, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2006, page 6.

The solar irradiation on the upper atmosphere per second is about 340 watts per meter squared, or around 174 petawatts (174,000 terawatts) in total. So the solar energy reaching our planet in an hour is more than enough to supply all of our current energy needs for a year. About half of that energy incident on top of the earth’s atmosphere reaches the surface. “Radiation (Solar), ” Q. Fu, in: Encyclopedia of Atmospheric Sciences, James R. Holton, Judith A. Curry, John A. Pyle (editors), Academic Press, 2003, pages 1859-1863. “Earth’s Annual Global Mean Energy Budget,” J. T. Kiehl, K. E. Trenberth, Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 78(2):197-208, 1997.

[shuttle to LEO and GEO]
Low Earth orbit (LEO) begins only about 100 miles up, and from there, transfer rockets can take payload the rest of the way (to high orbit, at 22,000 miles up). The shuttle installed various instruments in geostationary Earth orbit (GEO, 35,200+ kilometers; 22,000+ miles up) by carrying them up, with boosters attached, to low Earth orbit (LEO, 160-2,000 kilometers; 100-1,200 miles). After launch, the booster takes them up to GEO.
[payload per pound costs to LEO, 2011, and GEO, 2018]
NASA claimed the following average costs per pound: $21,268 (Space Shuttle) $18,149 (Russian Progress) $26,770 (new initiatives, like SpaceX) to potentially support the International Space Station (which is in LEO). NASA’s Commercial Cargo Providers; Are They Ready to Supply the Space Station in the Post-Shuttle Era? United States Congress, House Hearing, 112th Congress, Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics, Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, Thursday, May 26th, 2011. United States Government Printing Office, Serial No. 112-20. Although these are almost surely underestimates (at least for the shuttle).

By 2018, SpaceX was regularly launching their reusable-booster, in-house parts, Falcon 9, with launch costs to LEO of $62 million, and GTO (geosynchronous transfer orbit) capacity of 18,300 pounds, which yielded a cost of about $4,100 per pound to GEO. The Annual Compendium of Commercial Space Transportation: 2018, FAA AST, Office of Commercial Space Transportation, United States Federal Aviation Administration, 2018, page 144. In 2016, Charles F. Bolden, Jr., NASA Administrator, noted that more venture capital was invested in 2015 than in all 15 years prior to that combined.

[worldwide launches per year, from 2010-2017, 1957-1999, 2001-2005]
From 2010 to 2017, we launched around 70 to 90 times, and about one in four were commercial. In 2017, of 90 launches, 33 were commercial (37 percent). (5 failed, 5.5%) In 2016, of 85 launches, 21 were commercial (25 percent). In 2015, of 86 launches, 22 were commercial (26 percent). In 2014, of 92 launches, 23 were commercial (25 percent). In 2013, of 81 launches, 23 were commercial (28 percent). In 2012, of 78 launches, 20 were commercial (25 percent). In 2011, of 84 launches, 18 were commercial (21 percent). In 2010, of 74 launches, 23 were commercial (31 percent). Over 8 years, that’s 670 launches, 183 of them commercial (about 27.31 percent). The Annual Compendium of Commercial Space Transportation: 2018, FAA AST, Office of Commercial Space Transportation, United States Federal Aviation Administration, 2018, page 39. The Annual Compendium of Commercial Space Transportation: 2014, FAA AST, Office of Commercial Space Transportation, United States Federal Aviation Administration, 2015. Commercial Space Transportation 2013 Year in Review, FAA AST, Office of Commercial Space Transportation, United States Federal Aviation Administration, 2014. Commercial Space Transportation 2012 Year in Review, FAA AST, Office of Commercial Space Transportation, United States Federal Aviation Administration, 2013. Commercial Space Transportation 2011 Year in Review, FAA AST, Office of Commercial Space Transportation, United States Federal Aviation Administration, 2012. Commercial Space Transportation 2010 Year in Review, FAA AST, Office of Commercial Space Transportation, United States Federal Aviation Administration, 2011.

From 1957 to 1999, our species launched about 104 times a year. From 2001 to 2005, we launched about 62 times a year. Of all those launches, only about 19 a year were commercial. For these earlier figures, see: The Space Launch Industry Recent Trends and Near-Term Outlook, Futron Corporation, 2004. “Space Launch Vehicle Reliability,” I-S. Chang, Crosslink, 2(1):23-32, 2001.

[launch limitations]
“Only a few countries in the world have the technology and facilities to carry out an orbital space launch, or to maintain a fleet of operational launchers. In 2014, this applies to eight countries (United States, Russian Federation, China, Japan, India, Israel, Iran and Korea) and the European Space Agency (ESA). Since 1994, more than 1 300 successful launches have been carried out, with the Russian Federation and the United States accounting for almost 75% of all launches. The launch industry is subject to strong yearly variations (due to the low number of launches per year, satellite life and replacement cycles, etc.). After a drop in the early 2000s, launch numbers are back at 1990s levels, mostly due to increased activity in the Russian Federation and in China, which now has the same number of yearly launches as the United States. In 2013, 78 successful launches were carried out: 31 Russian launches, 19 US, 14 Chinese and seven European. India and Japan had three launches each, and Korea’s launch vehicle Naro-1 successfully placed STSAT-2C in orbit. There were three failed launches: one Russian, one Chinese and one commercial launch (Sea Launch).

As most institutional satellites are placed into orbit by national launchers, the market open to international competition is relatively small. It was about USD 2 billion in 2013, a 20% decrease compared to 2012. As of spring 2014, there were six companies able to commercially launch satellites to geostationary (GEO) orbit, which is the most profitable orbit, home to large commercial communications satellites. They include the European Arianespace company (the current market leader, with the Ariane 5 launcher), the Russian Federation’s International Launch Services (Proton launcher), the United States’ Lockheed Martin (Atlas V) and Boeing (Delta launchers), China Great Wall (Long March launchers) and Sea Launch, an international consortium (Norway, Russian Federation, Ukraine and United States). Other companies can launch satellites in lower orbits, most notably SpaceX (USA), which carried out its first commercial launch in December 2013 with its Falcon 9. It is currently developing its Falcon heavy launch vehicle, with two commercial flights scheduled for 2015 and 2017. India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) has a long track record. India is also developing and has successfully tested a heavy-lift cryogenic engine for its Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) with the ambition to enter the commercial GEO launch market. Launch demand in the next 10 years is expected to remain robust, with stable or increasing demand from institutional and commercial actors driven primarily by growth in emerging economies.”

The Space Economy at a Glance 2014, OECD, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2014, page 52.

“Space infrastructure is associated with launch vehicles, satellite operations and services, human spaceflight, and other critical functions. Rocket launch attempts, the most publicly visible reminder of space activity, increased in 2014 to 92, up from 81 launch attempts in 2013. The United States and Russia conducted the majority of the launch attempts in 2014, but organizations and countries such as the European Space Agency, China, India, and Japan also successfully launched payloads into orbit. New launch systems continued to be explored in 2014, with one company testing space launch vehicle reusability as a possible way to lower the costs of launch objects into orbit. Other companies focused on suborbital rocket flight, hoping to entice potential passengers into an adventure to the edge of space and back.

The nature and size of rocket payloads, the satellites, are changing. Of the nearly 300 satellites launched in 2014, slightly less than half weighed 10 kilograms (22 pounds) or less. In 2014, a single Russian space launch vehicle launched and deployed a combination of 33 small satellites and cubesats into low Earth orbit. Some of those deployed satellites eventually deployed more satellites into orbit as well. The size and commonality of parts in cubesats is increasingly attracting researchers, small companies, and schools to invest, build, launch, and operate satellites in space. The International Space Station started to become a launch platform itself, deploying small satellites into orbit.”

The Space Report: The Authoritative Guide to Global Space Activity, The Space Foundation, 2015.

[space shuttle’s costs]
The United States space shuttle program was originally designed to be cost-effective when shuttles flew hundreds of times a year. But for political reasons, the shuttle was scaled back, and thus the program was changed, so there were never more than nine shuttle flights a year. The public relations cost of failure was just too high. The United States space shuttle program, before it was shuttered in 2011, employed about 50,000 of us. So each year’s payroll cost about $5 billion U.S., whether or not a shuttle flew that year. From 1981 to 2010 the program’s total cost—counting buildings, support, and research—was $192 billion, or about $6.6 billion a year. In the same period, shuttles flew just 131 times—or about 4.5 times a year. “Shuttle programme lifetime cost,” R. Pielke, Jr., R. Byerly, Nature, 472(7341):38, 2011. “A Reappraisal of the Space Shuttle Program,” R. A. Pielke, Jr., Space Policy, May, 1993, pages 133-157. “The Space Shuttle Program: Performance versus Promise,” R. A. Pielke, Jr., R. Byerly, Jr., in: Space Policy Alternatives, Radford Byerly, Jr., (editor), Westview Press, 1992, pages 223-245.
[Atlanta aiplane flights in 2006 and 2010]
As of 2006, Atlanta International Airport was the world’s busiest, counting by number of landings and takeoffs of a single aircraft per year. In 2006, it handled 976,447 such landings and takeoffs. That averages to 115 turnarounds per hour. Airports Council International, March 16th, 2007. In 2010, it had 950,119 flights, averaging 108 per hour. “Operating Statistics,” Department of Aviation, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, March 23rd, 2011.
[...“we have it, we like it”...]
[In 1997] [NRO Director Keith R. Hall] reiterated a famous line in several public speeches that was later borrowed by his successor Peter Teets: ‘In regard to space dominance, we have it, we like it, and we’re going to keep it.’ Star Wars: US Tools of Space Supremacy, Loring Wirbel, Pluto Press, 2004, page 84. The NRO (National Reconnaissance Office) is, along with the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency), NSA (National Security Agency), DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency), and the NGA (National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency) one of the ‘big five’ intelligence agencies of the United States. It designs, builds, launches, and operates reconnaissance satellites (which can image down to the inch).
[Failure is not an option]
Failure Is Not An Option, Gene Kranz, Berkley, 2000.
[an aerospace company’s number of employees]
The shuttle employed around 50,000. Even SpaceX, which is private and very slimmed down, employs around 6,000.
[solar power satellites]
The Case for Space Solar Power, John Mankins, Virginia Edition Publishing, 2014. Solar Power Satellites, Don M. Flournoy, Springer, 2012. Entering Space: Creating a Spacefaring Civilization, Robert Zubrin, Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 1999, pages 70-84. Solar Power Satellites: A Space Energy System for Earth, Peter E. Glaser, Frank P. Davidson, and Katinka Csigi (editors), John Wiley & Sons, Second Edition, 1998. None of these books tend to examine the realities of actually finding the funding for such endeavors, only the technical difficulties on the assumption that we decide to actually go through with it. Consider only one: how likely is it that we’ll want to build just one, or a few, big ones? Besides their greater cost, they would make more tempting targets if there’s another war. So, although it’s much messier, and much more expensive, we may well be more likely to end up building many smaller ones.
[solar panel efficiencies in 2014]
“As an initial investigation into the current and potential economics of one of today’s most widely deployed photovoltaic technologies, we have engaged in a detailed analysis of manufacturing costs for each step within the wafer-based monocrystalline silicon (c-Si) PV module supply chain. At each step we find several pathways that could lead to further reductions in manufacturing costs. After aggregating the performance and cost considerations for a series of known technical improvement opportunities, we project a pathway for commercial-production c-Si modules to have typical sunlight power conversion efficiencies of 19-23%, and we calculate that they might be sustainably sold at ex-factory gate prices of $0.60-$0.70 per peak Watt (DC power, current U.S. dollars).” From: “A wafer-based monocrystalline silicon photovoltaics road map: Utilizing known technology improvement opportunities for further reductions in manufacturing costs,” A. Goodrich, P. Hacke, Q. Wang, B. Sopori, R. Margolis, T. L. James, M. Woodhouse, Solar Energy Materials & Solar Cells, 114(2013):110-135, 2013.

As as 2014, the most efficient solar panels were between 40 percent and 44 percent efficient (Sharp, Solar Junction, Spire Semiconductor, Spectrolab, NREL, Fraunhofer). However, those are research products, or are military-grade, intended for use in space, but perhaps only, or primarily, for private contractors (that is, subcontractors of defense contractors in the aerospace or weapons business). At least, that might be a reasonable guess since these products (all multijunction cells) never seem to reach the mass market, despite more than one occasion when a subsidiary company of a parent company (for example, Spectrolab, now owned by Boeing) announces that the product is about to be mass produced, but then it never actually is. In the commodity market (all crystalline silicon cells or, more recently, thin-film cells), 15 percent is still a reasonable efficiency to expect, although 20 percent is becoming more normal than before. When it comes to space, the two most important variables are efficiency and weight-to-power ratio. The ideal is high efficiency and low weight-to-power ratio. The lower the efficiency, the less energy extracted per square meter, and the higher the weight-to-power, the more weight has to be carried up for the same power returned. For satellites, for example, long-life and robustness and low-weight are valuable. The commodity market is earth-based and (so far) is not terribly motivated by such variables, but the military and exploration market is. The solar power panels on the ISS (International Space Station) are currently in the 1 watt per kilogram range, and those on most commercial satellites are limited to the 80-100 watts per kilogram range.

Entech, a NASA spinoff in Texas, has a promising technology, now marketed as SolarVolt, that scores on the low-weight, high-efficiency metrics and that may one day have the advantage of being mass producible. However, even stretched Fresnel lens multijunction panels are bounded to at most 300 watts per kilogram (so about 136 watts per pound). “Low-Cost 20X Silicon-Cell-Based Linear Fresnel Lens Concentrator Panel,” M. O’Neill, A. J. McDanal, D. Spears, C. Stevenson, D. Gelbaum, Seventh International Conference on Concentrating Photovoltaic Systems (CPV-7), Las Vegas, April 2011, pages 120-124. “Space Solar Cells and Arrays,” S. Bailey, R. Raffaelle, in: Solar Cells and Their Applications, Lewis Fraas and Larry Partain (editors), John Wiley, Second Edition, 2010, 397-494. “The Stretched Lens Array SquareRigger (SLASR) for Space Power,” M. F. Piszczor, Jr., M. J. O’Neill, M. I. Eskenazi, H. W. Brandhorst, Jr., 4th International Energy Conversion Engineering Conference (IECEC), San Diego, June 26-29, 2006.

[satellite growth]
Commercial satellite launch exceeded government launch only in 1997. “Commercial Communications Satellites,” M. A. Cáceres, World Space Systems Briefing, Teal Group Corporation, December 1998.
[satellite losses and insurance]
A rocket’s payload has to endure many stresses. Rockets produce intense vibration—accelerative stress, high pressure, violent shaking, and sheer noise. Delicate objects have to be packed in such a way that they don’t shear or break. On passing through the ionosphere, the air itself becomes conductive and that can short out electrical gear. Then, once the payload reaches orbit, temperature variations as it passes in and out of the earth’s shadow can cause problems. Then there’s the problem of impact from detritus from parts and waste (including human waste) already up there.

“Although launching satellites appears to be a routine operation to the general public, there are still major risks involved. A branch of the insurance sector specifically covers the commercial space sector’s operations. The main risks covered still tend to be a failure at launch or mechanical troubles for large commercial telecommunications satellites. In addition to launch and deployment failure, space debris and solar storms pose collision and damage risks for satellites. The insured values usually cover the satellite’s replacement costs and/or the resulting business interruption.

In late 2013, there were around 205 insured satellites in orbit, of which 185 were in geo-synchronous orbit (GSO). The total insured value represented about USD 24 billion. Every year, there are on average 70-80 launches worldwide, of which 30-40 are insured, carrying 20-25 GSO satellites and 15-30 low-earth orbit satellites. Average insured value for a satellite in low-earth orbit is approximately USD 40 million with an operational lifespan of five years, while the more costly GSO satellites (USD100-400 million insured value) have an operational life span of about 15 years. A dual launch may be insured for up to USD 750 million. Annual premiums average between USD 750 million and USD 1 billion. The number of satellite failures in a given year has dropped in the last decades, but the average claim per loss has gone up from USD 38 million in the mid-1990s to USD 116 million in 2013, due to the increased size and complexity of telecommunications satellites. For instance, 2013 may be the first money-losing year for the insurance industry since 2007, with reported premiums of USD 775 million and possibly more than USD 800 million in claims.

Commercial suborbital flights and space tourism are not covered by any existing insurance regime. The few paying space tourists to the International Space Station have so far taken out personal accident insurance. As suborbital vehicles transporting paying customers on the edge of space (not entering into a full orbit) are to start operations in 2014-15, insurance issues will need to be addressed.”

The Space Economy at a Glance 2014, OECD, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2014, page 76.

“[...] launch insurance for a satellite may vary from 10%-20% of the satellite value depending in part on the number of recent launch vehicle failures. This would translate to industry-wide costs dedicated to commercial satellite insurance ranging from $5 billion - $10 billion over the next ten years. On average, this is about $3.5 million to $7 million per satellite.” Risk Transfer Modeling among Hierarchically Associated Stakeholders in Development of Space Systems, Thomas Grove Henkle, doctoral thesis, University of Southern California, 2007, page 5.

See also: Communication Satellites, Donald H. Martin, The Aerospace Press, Fourth Edition, 2000. “Cost Drivers — Why Do Conventional Satellites Cost So Much?” C. Elliott, Small Satellites Systems and Services, 4S Symposium, Conference, Arcachon, France, 1992, pages 703-708. “Insurance for Space Systems,” S. Fordyce, IEEE Journal on Selected Areas in Communications, 3(1):211-214, 1985.

[space-weapon ban of 1967]
There’s really only one, the Outer Space Treaty of October 1967. which covers outer space, the moon, and other celestial bodies. But it doesn’t cover satellites in LEO, which is where most satellites (including the ISS) are today. Also, only Article 4 might be construed to really apply. It doesn’t apply to weapons mounted on aircraft, or on the ground, only orbitals, so GEO sats and above can’t have lasers, but LEO sats can, as can ground and air-borne installations. and combinations of them (for example, a laser on the ground aimed at an orbital mirror in LEO, which aims at a sat in GEO, or anywhere...). There may also be some wiggle room about whether a laser, depending on how built, is a weapon of mass destruction... Basically, it’s all up in the air (literally) until there’s a firefight.

Article IV

States Parties to the Treaty undertake not to place in orbit around the earth any objects carrying nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction, install such weapons on celestial bodies, or station such weapons in outer space in any other manner.

The moon and other celestial bodies shall be used by all States Parties to the Treaty exclusively for peaceful purposes. The establishment of military bases, installations and fortifications, the testing of any type of weapons and the conduct of military manoeuvres on celestial bodies shall be forbidden. The use of military personnel for scientific research or for any other peaceful purposes shall not be prohibited. The use of any equipment or facility necessary for peaceful exploration of the moon and other celestial bodies shall also not be prohibited.

Five other treaties address space issues. These are: the Limited Test Ban Treaty of 1963, which prohibits nuclear tests and any other nuclear explosions in the atmosphere or outer space; the Astronauts Rescue Agreement of 1968, requiring the safe return of astronauts and objects launched into space to their country of origin; the Liability Convention of 1972, establishing procedures for determining the liability of a state that damages or destroys space objects of another state; the Registration Convention of 1976 requiring the registration of objects launched into space; and the Moon Agreement of 1984, which took the first steps to establish a regime for exploiting the natural resources of space.

Laser Weapons in Space: A Critical Assessment, William H. Possel, Lt. Col., USAF, Maxwell Air Force Base, 1998.

[ a WAG...]
WAG is a technical term in engineering: wild-ass guess.
[cost of a one-gigawatt power plant on earth in 2010, 2017]
Construction figures fell by 2017. Average construction cost for combustion turbine (includes coal and natural gas) was around $1,000/kilowatt. Onshore wind was about 1.6 times that, as were internal combustion engines, which was also about where batteries were as well. Solar was about 2.3 times it. “Generators installed in 2017 by major energy source,” and “Generators installed in 2017 by prime mover,” Form EIA-860, 2017 Annual Electric Generator Report, U.S. Energy Information Administration,

In 2010, figures were: On earth, new coal plants might cost around $1 thousand million per gigawatt. Natural gas, $1.2 thousand million. Hydroelectric, $1.3 thousand million. Nuclear, $2 thousand million. (Solar would be $5.1 thousand million—except that none yet exist in the gigawatt range.) Those figures are very approximate. In reality, they vary depending on the plant’s scale, on what technology it uses, on the country it’s sited in, and on overall energy demand. The figures also don’t count various government subsidies (for example, Germany heavily subsidizes solar power plants), nor does it count maintenance costs, various lawsuit costs, taxes, and so on.

The nuclear estimate comes from China’s project of building four of the latest Westinghouse AP1000 nuclear reactors, which produce 1.117 gigawatts, for $8 thousand million U.S. for operation starting in 2013 to 2015.

The coal estimate comes from India’s project of building a 4-gigawatt coal plant for $4 thousand million. It expects to build at least five over five years.

Both China and India’s projects are using the same steam generator technology, supplied by Doosan Heavy Industries and Toshiba.

The hydroelectric estimate comes from China’s Three Gorges Dam project, In 2011 it expected to produce 22.5 gigawatts at a cost of $30 thousand million. It’s using turbines made by a consortium that includes General Electric.

The natural gas estimate comes from the proposed Eastshore Energy Center, in Hayward, California. Originally expected to go onstream in 2009, it application was denied in 2008. It was to produce 115.5 megawatts and cost $140 million.

The photovoltaic power plant estimate comes from the €130 million ($204 million U.S.) cost of the 40-megawatt Waldpolenz project in Germany. In 2007 it was the world’s biggest photovoltaic power plant.

[cost of the cold war arms race was about $10 trillion U.S. in 2009 dollars]
“Was that arms race necessary? By one estimate that properly counts delivery systems as well as weapons, it cost the United States $4 trillion—roughly the US national debt in 1994 [about $10 trillion in 2009]. Soviet costs were comparable and were decisive in the decline of the Soviet economy that triggered the USSR’s collapse. Cold warriors have argued from that fact that spending the Soviet Union into bankruptcy itself justifies the arms race. Their argument overlooks the inconvenient reality that the expense of the arms race contributed to US decline as well, decline evident in an oppressive national debt, in decaying infrastructure and social and educational neglect. The potlatch theory of the arms race also overlooks the unconscionable risk both superpowers took of omnicidal war.” Dark Sun: The Making of The Hydrogen Bomb, Richard Rhodes, Simon & Schuster, 1995, page 582.
[France and its oak forest plan]
The oak forests of Tronçais were planted by Colbert in 1670. Civilization and Capitalism, 15th-18th Century, Volume II, The Wheels of Commerce, Fernand Braudel, translated by Siân Reynolds, Harper & Row, 1982, page 240.
[Hubble space telescope superseded]
“HST [Hubble Space Telescope]... had a total cost-to-launch of approximately $5 billion in current dollars. Hubble’s LCC [Life Cycle Cost] was approximately double this because of servicing costs over 20 years.” James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) Independent Comprehensive Review Panel (ICRP) Final Report, NASA, 2010, page 32.

The particular instrument referenced in the text is the new Large Binocular Telescope atop Mount Graham in Arizona. It cost $120 million, but $13 million per year to run. However, as adaptive optics and lucky-imaging techniques spread, all large earth-based telescopes were being upgraded. In 2009, at least ten were about twice as good as Hubble in many wavelengths. Hubble was still useful, however, particularly for deep-field and ultraviolet (and higher) observations. In general, our best telescopes have doubled in size every 30 years over the last century. Science with the VLT in the ELT Era, Alan Moorwood (editor), Springer, 2009. The Universe in a Mirror: The Saga of the Hubble Telescope and the Visionaries Who Built It, Robert Zimmerman, Princeton University Press, 2008. “Is the broken Hubble Telescope worth saving?” C. Moskowitz, USA Today, October 10th, 2008.

[many satellite-phone companies died in the 1990s]
Iridium, OrbComm, GlobalStar, New ICO, Celestri, and Teledesic. But while the companies died, the satellites they had put up didn’t. After bankruptcy, those satellites changed hands. The effect is that the first wave of companies all lost money, but companies based on the same satellites, like Iridium, GlobalStar, and Orbcomm, still exist. “Tele-Communications,” H. Smith, R. E. Sheriff, in: Spacecraft Systems Engineering, Peter Fortescue, Graham Swinerd, and John Stark (editors), Wiley, Third Edition, 2003.
[an orbital mesh of comsats...]
That’s Starlink, and Elon Musk company.
[solar power still not yet a toddler]
Thus, in 2008 Spain cut its solar subsidies by about a third. The next year, the world market shrank from an expected 2.5 gigawatts to around 0.375 gigawatts. In 2009, Germany had our largest installed toolbox of solar energy. After decades of state subsidies, it generated about 5.4 gigawatts of Germany’s power. Was that a lot? Well, yes and no. Compared to everywhere else, it was a lot. But it was also only about one percent of the country’s total electricity needs. So where did Germany get most of its power? Coal. “Spain’s Solar-Power Collapse Dims Subsidy Model,” A. Gonzalez, K. Johnson, The Wall Street Journal, September 8th, 2009. Renewables: Global Status Report, 2009 Update, Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century, 2009.
[British Petroleum and ExxonMobil]
In 2002, ExxonMobil partnered with General Electric, Schlumberger, and Toyota to fund a research effort at Stanford University called the Stanford Global Climate and Energy Project. ExxonMobil is contributing $100 million out of $225 million in total. However, such figures are a tiny fraction of its profits. Its average net income from 2005 to 2010 was $35.2 billion U.S., so over those six years it made an average of $96.4 million a day. 2009 Financial & Operating Review, ExxonMobil Corporation, 2009, page 28.

In 2010 BP spent over $93 million on advertising alone. Oil companies seem to be presenting one public face but by their (less public) exploration and investment decisions are presenting another face. “BP Tripled Its Ad Budget After Oil Spill,” Wall Street Journal, T. Tracy, September 1st, 2010. “BP to Invest $500 Million on Biofuels at a Research Center,” J. Mouawad, New York Times, June 14th, 2006.

[...just 8 percent of patents]
In what way are these companies serious about new energy research? Some are: Total, Eni, Repsol, and Shell are, but most aren’t (ExxonMobil, Aramco, Chevron, BP, Equinor, Conoco, Suncor, EOG, and Anadarko). it seems to depend on how much oil reserves they control. “The Energy Transition and Oil Companies’ Hard Choices,” R. West, B. Fattouh, Energy Insight: 50, The Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, July 2019, Figure 4, page 5.

[kangaroo joeys]
All marsupials have the same birth cycle, unlike placentals (nourisment via placenta) and monotremes (nourishment via egg). Animal: The Definitive Visual Guide, David Burnie and Don E. Wilson, Third Edition, DK Publishing, 2017, pages 93 and 103.
Nobody knows what the cost of humans versus robots in space is, but a possible figure might be between a 10- to 100-fold difference, although that’s just a guess. Estimates of the cost differential vary widely since the missions that each get sent on are so very different. Robots are far less flexible, but humans are vastly inferior in terms of endurance, weight, consumables, cost, and risk.

Space robotics is still in the covered-wagon stage, but there have already been a few in-space experiments (Germany’s ROTEX in 1993, Japan’s ETS-VII in 1997, and Germany’s ROKVISS in 2005). “Ground verification of the feasibility of telepresent on-orbit servicing,” E. Stoll, U. Walter, J. Artigas, C. Preusche, P. Kremer, G. Hirzinger, J. Letschnik, H. Pongrac, Journal of Field Robotics, 26(3):287-307, 2009. Advances in Telerobotics, Manuel Ferre, Martin Buss, Rafael Aracil, Claudio Melchiorri, Carlos Balaguer (editors), Springer, 2007. The Moon: Resources, Future Development and Settlement, David Schrunk, Burton Sharpe, Bonnie L. Cooper, Madhu Thangavelu, Springer Praxis, Second Edition, 2007. “Robotics Component Verification on ISS ROKVISS - Preliminary Results for Telepresence,” C. Preusche, D. Reintsema, K. Landzettel, G. Hirzinger, 2006 IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems, 9-15 October, 2006, pages 4595-4601. “Space Robotics—DLR’s Telerobotic Concepts, Lightweight Arms and Articulated Hands,” G. Hirzinger, B. Brunner, K. Landzettel, N. Sporer, J. Butterfaß, M. Schedl, Autonomous Robots, 14(2-3):127-145, 2003.

[possible future orbital transport]
Although launch costs are high today, the energy needed to reach orbit is in fact low. If energy could be converted directly into propulsion, it would only take at most a few hundred kilowatt-hours for a human being weighing around 200 pounds to achieve escape velocity and thus get into orbit, not counting the costs of overhead for the transport system. At present energy prices, that would only cost a few hundred dollars. The Exploration of Space, Arthur C. Clarke, Harper, 1951.

“[T]he energy cost of going to the Moon is less than a hundred dollars in terms of kilowatt hours of electricity [per human passenger]. The fact that the Apollo round tickets cost about two billion dollars per passenger is a measure of the chemically-fueled rocket’s inefficiency.” From: “2001: The Coming Age of Hydrogen Power,” A. C. Clarke, Infinite Energy Magazine, Issue 22, 1998. The problem is figuring out how to do that.

We have various proposals to reduce launch costs today. One startup, the Space Island Group, has a clever way to reduce costs even if we use today’s launch technology: namely, instead of jettisoning the main fuel tanks once in orbit, outfit those tanks as space habitats. They also propose launching to low-earth orbit, then boosting to high-earth orbit (geostationary orbit) using specialized ion-drive tugs that would remain in orbit. PowerSat Corporation has similar plans. They also plan to split up their powersat into hundreds of micropowersats then gang them together in a phased array. Other companies in this domain include Space Energy, Inc., and Solaren, Inc. NASA is presently studying a plan by Masten Space Systems that argues for smaller but more robust rockets to put fuel stations in orbit and thus reduce costs and risks of later flights. “Depot-Centric Human Spaceflight: Strengthening American Industry, Creating a Robust Beyond-LEO Exploration Program, and Enabling the Commercial Development of Space,” J. Goff, S. Traugott, A. Oesterle, unpublished manuscript, 2009.

There are other, more far-out, ideas: Perhaps we could build cheap and reliable suborbital hypersonic scramjets or rocketplanes. We might also use nukes in orbit-changing spacecraft. Or, one day, we might replace rockets with superconducting mass drivers and free-electron launch lasers. We might even figure out how to build a space elevator. Costs would also lower if we already had moon colonists and got them to build satellite parts. Or if we already had an orbital power satellite. (Its power could reduce the cost of lunar mining and manufacture so the next one would be cheaper.)

For a survey of powersat technology, see: Laying the Foundation for Space Solar Power: An Assessment of NASA’s Space Solar Power Investment Strategy, Committee for the Assessment of NASA’s Space Solar Power Investment Strategy, United States National Research Council, National Academies Press, 2001. Much of scramjet research is classified, so it’s hard to say anything definitive. Here’s a report giving a good overview of what little is known publically: “A Comparison of Propulsion Concepts for SSTO Reusable Launchers,” R. Varvill, A. Bond, Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, 56(3/4):108-117, 2003. Mass drivers and launch lasers are even more speculative: “Preliminary Feasibility Assessment for Earth-To-Space Electromagnetic (Railgun) Launchers,” E. E. Rice, L. A. Miller, R. W. Earhart, NASA Report Number CR-167886, United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 1982. For something a lot more speculative, but even bigger-picture, see: The Millennial Project: Colonizing the Galaxy in Eight Easy Steps, Marshall T. Savage, Little, Brown, 1994, pages 103-123. The Space Elevator: A Revolutionary Earth-to-Space Transportation System, Bradley C. Edwards and Eric A. Westling, BC Edwards, 2003.

In the more immediate future though, the private company, SpaceX, became suborbital on March 21st, 2007. Its rocket then achieved orbit on September 28th, 2008. However, its rocket is not the first privately owned orbital rocket; it’s the first private liquid-fueled rocket to achieve orbit. Orbital Sciences Corporation was the first company to orbit its own (sold-fuel) rocket (in 1990). The private company, Blue Origin, is also developing its own rocket (but for suborbital flight).

[future energy alternatives?]
There are many experiments today. For example, the oceans are huge batteries. They hold about three terawatts of recoverable power. The sun warms the ocean’s upper layers more than its lower layers and we can use that temperature difference to extract energy. One way is to sink a deep pipe and place another in the surface layer. Then we pump warm surface water into a low-pressure chamber, where it boils. The steam drives a turbine. Then we pump up cold water and use it to condense the steam for the next cycle, just as if we were running a giant refrigerator in reverse. As a byproduct, we can use the nutrients in the deep ocean water to make metric tons (literally) of high-protein food from algae. Or we can use that to grow metric tons of seafood. And we can use the same power plant to also make hundreds of litres of distilled water. Just its use as a desalination plant alone is valuable. But seawater is also highly corrosive. And it contains living things that grow fast and thus quickly foul equipment. Although small-scale experimental plants exist, we don’t yet know how to cheaply scale them from kilowatts to gigawatts. We also don’t yet know how to put them anywhere cheaply. And we don’t know what their effect might be on deep-ocean ecology. “An Order-of-Magnitude Estimate of Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion Resources,” G. C. Nihous, Journal of Energy Resources Technology, 127(4):328-333, 2005. Renewable Energy from the Ocean: A Guide to OTEC, William H. Avery and Chih Wu, Oxford University Press, 1994. Ocean Energies: Environmental, Economic and Technological Aspects of Alternative Power Sources, R. H. Charlier and J. R. Justus, Elsevier, 1993.

We have other possible energy options, too. In the nearer term, we might find more efficient ways to mine oil from shale or oil sands, or from methane clathrates on the ocean floor. Then there’s bioreactors that extract energy from waste. We can also tailor life-forms for use in such bioreactors using artificial evolution. We’ve already evolved bacteria to extract heavy metals and sulfur and nitrogen compounds from coal or oil. “Biochemical technology for the detoxification of geothermal brines and the recovery of trace metals,” E. T. Premuzic, M. S. Lin, H. Lian, in: Heavy Metals in the Environment, Volume 2, R.-D. Wilken, U. Förstner, and A. Knöchel (editors), CEP Consultants Ltd., 1995, pages 321-324. We might, for example, grow hydrothermal bacteria in their normal nutrient bath mixed with small amounts of oil. Then, in stages, grow the survivors with ever higher proportions of oil, until they eat only oil. Then we add coal in the same staged way. We might end with bacteria that can eat coal at high temperatures and pressures.

A similar scheme might make bacteria that could leech oil from shalesands. That might lower the mining price for oil sands and shale oil enough to compete with liquid oil. Or it might even be used to convert our planet’s vast coal reserves into oil. Other research efforts to make genetically modified bacteria (or wholly synthetic cells) that make biofuels (like ethanol) are already underway. We can also make oil—it just costs more than digging it out of the ground. We can thermally depolymerize biomass into light crudes, water, and minerals. We can even grow plants to get fuels like ethanol and biodiesel. We can burn waste to make syngas (which is mostly carbon monoxide and hydrogen), then make diesel fuel from that. A new company, Synthetic Genomics, has gotten funding from ExxonMobil on the hundred-million dollar scale to investigate making biofuels directly from genetically engineered algae. We can also simply burn biomass to make electricity. Plasma processing can convert municipal solid waste (or farm wastes like corn stover or rice straw) into syngas. Then we can steam-reform the syngas to make nearly pure hydrogen.

Hydrogen might be a good byproduct because we could use it to fuel cars and trucks. It’s also clean-burning and can be handled safely. But making it via electrolysis is currently three times more expensive than gasoline, and ten times more expensive than natural gas. Also, converting all our gas stations and cars and trucks and motorbikes to use hydrogen would be costly. Rich countries have a huge investment in cars and trucks powered by petroleum (whether gasoline or diesel). If they do it slowly enough to avoid severe economic disruption, and if they only have today’s science and technology to do it with, it’ll take decades for them to move from gasoline to hydrogen. On the other hand, hydrogen might be an easier choice for industrializing countries like China and India and Brazil. They don’t yet have as many cars per person. Also, new and relatively cheap pebble-bed nuclear reactors make both hydrogen and electricity. So such countries may convert to hydrogen sooner than rich ones.

Making cheap hydrogen might also be useful if we ever decide to do something about climate change. We’ve just recently learned that, unlike animals, a plant’s metabolism is almost solely governed by its nitrogen supply. If we could change that, we could change a lot of things. “Universal scaling of respiratory metabolism, size and nitrogen in plants,” P. B. Reich, M. G. Tjoelker, J.-L. Machado, J. Oleksyn, Nature, 439(7075):457-461, 2006. “Dark respiration rate increases with plant size in saplings of three temperate tree species despite decreasing tissue nitrogen and nonstructural carbohydrates,” J. L. Machado, P. B. Reich, Tree Physiology, 26(7):915-923, 2006.

Spirits from the Vasty Deep

[“the vasty deep”]
“Glendower: I can call spirits from the vasty deep. / Hotspur: Why, so can I; or so can any man: / But will they come, when you do call for them?”

Henry IV, William Shakespeare, Part I, Act III, Scene I.

[Washington Monument aluminum]
Before 1886, aluminum was very expensive, more expensive than silver. Then two different inventors, Charles Martin Hall in the United States and Paul-Louis Héroult in France, hit on the idea of using electrolysis to separate it from bauxite, its ore. Both were 23 years old. “[S]imultaneity should alert us to the fact that invention is not simply a matter of individual genius or luck; rather, it is a matter of convergence of information, training, purpose, perseverance, and dedication to a cause, building on existing knowledge and processes.” Aluminum Dreams: The Making of Light Modernity, Mimi Sheller, The MIT Press, 2014, pages 39-45. “The Point of a Monument: A History of the Aluminum Cap of the Washington Monument,” G. J. Binczewski, JOM, (formely the Journal of Metals), 47(11):20-25, 1995.

[labor-price collapse of aluminum]
Since laborers in the United States in 1884 got about ten cents (before taxes) an hour, and in 2008 most laborers there got over $6 (before taxes) an hour, then in 2008 aluminum might have cost over $1,000 a pound. Instead, in 2008 it costs less than a dollar a pound. We also had about 100,000 times more of it than we did in 1884. Thus, in a little over a century, our aluminum supply per hour of work went up about 100-millionfold.

In 1884 in the United States, a laborer got about $1 for a day’s work of ten or more hours. A highly skilled artisan might get $2. A well-paid clerk might get $3. In 2008, the United United States minimum hourly wage was $6.55. In 2009, it was $7.25. (In 1938 it was $0.25.) “Federal Minimum Wage Rates under the Fair Labor Standards Act,” United States Department of Labor, 2010.

Over the 15 years from 1995 to 2008, the cost of a pound of aluminum has mostly bounced between 50 cents and $1 U.S. From 2006 to 2007 it was a bit over $1 but never more than $1.50. As of January, 2007, it cost about $1.16 a pound. As of November, 2008, it cost about $1 a pound.

Aluminum makes up 8.2 percent of the earth’s crust. It’s the most abundant metal, and the third most abundant element (after oxygen and silicon), on earth.

Worldwide, from 1884 to today, our yearly aluminum supply rose from around 200 metric tons to around 22 million. About five million of that is recycled. So our species as a whole now has at least 100,000 times as much aluminum as we did before. And we have it at about 1,000th the price. We now make more aluminum than any other metal, save iron. It’s now so plentiful and cheap that we make throw-away cans and tin-foil with it.

That price drop comes through better infrastructure and knowledge. We now know more about the cosmos than we did in 1884. We also now have more tools than in 1884. We have more trained people, and they’re more highly trained. We also have more and bigger and faster and cheaper mines, railways, ships, smelters, and the like. Education, exploration, mining, shipping, and processing costs—they’ve all have fallen for a good chunk of our species. Lastly, though, the price of aluminum has fallen because of our new energy supplies.

[other labor-price collapses]
It’s the same for copper, zinc, tin, lead, iron, tungsten, titanium, chromium, sodium, sulfur, chlorine, and so on. Even some relatively price-stable commodities, like diamonds, sometimes retain their price points partly by being artificially limited, both on supply and for resale. But the price of diamonds, both for industrial use and for jewelry, may be about to collapse, as industrial diamond production ramps up.
[coal tar]
We made a series of largely accidental discoveries and our knowledge of it began to grow in France and Britain, then Germany, then the United States. Today we know that coal tar contains over 10,000 different hydrocarbons. So far we’ve found uses for less than half of them. Coal tar’s value might well double as we learn more about it. Chemistry, Society and Environment: a New History of the British Chemical Industry, Colin A. Russell (editor), Royal Society of Chemistry, 2000, pages 217-270.
DuPont developed the first nylon in 1935, and showed it off at two World’s Fairs in San Francisco and New York in 1939. When nylons first went on sale in 1940, millions of pairs sold out in days. World War II shifted production away from stockings to parachutes and such but by 1945 they were back on sale. There were riots until production could ramp up enough to satisfy demand. Popular Ideologies: Mass Culture at Mid-Century, Susan Smulyan, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007, pages 41-71. American Plastic: A Cultural History, Jeffrey L. Meikle. Rutgers University Press, 1995, pages 142-152.
[early mining of uranium and pitchblende]
“Uranium Mining and Milling: Navajo Experiences in the American Southwest,” B. R. Johnston, S. Dawson, G. Madsen, in: The Energy Reader, Laura Nader, John Wiley and Sons, 2010, page 132. Guide to Assessing Historic Radium, Uranium and Vanadium Mining Resources in Montrose and San Miguel Counties, Colorado, United States Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, 2008. Uranium Frenzy: Saga of the Nuclear West, Raye C. Ringholz, Utah State University Press, 2002, page 5. Report of the Industrial Commission, of Utah, Period July 1, 1917-June 20, 1918, page 359. “The occurrence and preparation of radium and associated metals,” C. L. Parsons, Proceedings of the Second Pan American Scientific Congress, Section VII: Mining, Metallurgy, Economic Geology, and Applied Chemistry, Volume VIII, Government Printing Office, 1917, pages 310-321. “Carnotite—I,” T. F. V. Curran, Engineering and Mining Journal, 96(25):1165-1167, 1913. “On Carnotite and Associated Vanadiferous Minerals in Western Colorado,” W. F. Hillebrand, F. L. Ransome, American Journal of Science, Series 4, 10(56):120-144, 1900.
[using earth’s resources in old ways]
Once upon a time, we would shape stone and wood and sinew into tools and weapons, but we today don’t bother. Few of us today even know how. We could turn hides and bones into clothes, shoes, knives, flutes. We could make fire with a stick, a cord, and dried moss. We could build homes with brushwood and clay. We could render fat to make ointments, lamps, torches. We could turn barley into beer, grapes into wine, honey into mead, milk into kumiss, rice into sake. We could find aspirin in willow trees, scopolamine (for nausea or vomiting) in henbane, opium in poppies. We could abort with pennyroyal, and control menopause with black cohosh. Practicing Primitive: A Handbook of Aboriginal Skills, Steven M. Watts, Gibbs Smith Publishing, 2005. Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year, Susun S. Weed, Ash Tree Publishing, 2002. Economic Botany: Plants in our World, Beryl Simpson and Molly Ogorzaly, McGraw-Hill Science/Engineering/Math, Third Edition, 2000. Primitive Technology: A Book of Earth Skills, David Westcott (editor), The Society of Primitive Technology, 1999.
[even our bodies make resources...]
Gunpowder: Alchemy, Bombards, and Pyrotechnics: The History of the Explosive That Changed the World, Basic Books, 2004.
[cellular engineering — synthetic biology]
Today the field is coming to be called ‘synthetic biology.’ “ ‘The time has come for synthetic biologists to develop more real-world applications [...] the field has had its hype phase, now it needs to deliver.’ So concluded an infamous article in 2010. Early research struggled to design cells and physically build DNA with pre-2010 projects often failing due to uncertainty and variability. Since then, rapid technological advances occurred that are well-reviewed in this series of commentaries. Products from synthetic biology are rapidly permeating society and by 2030, it is highly likely that you will have eaten, worn, used or been treated with one.” From: “Synthetic biology 2020-2030: six commercially-available products that are changing our world,” C. A. Voigt, Nature Communications 11(1):6379, 2020.
[molecular manufacturing]
John von Neumann first sketched the idea of machine self-replication in the 1940s. Richard Feynman first presented the idea of building on the atomic scale in 1959. K. Eric Drexler carried those ideas forward in his 1991 doctoral thesis at MIT (Molecular Machinery and Manufacturing with Applications to Computation,), publishing a paper in 1981 and books in 1987 and 1992. Springer Handbook of Nanotechnology, Bharat Bhushan (editor), Springer, Second Edition, 2006. Nanosystems: Molecular Machinery, Manufacturing and Computation, K. Eric Drexler, John Wiley & Sons, 1992. Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology, K. Eric Drexler, Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1986. “Molecular engineering: An approach to the development of general capabilities for molecular manipulation,” K. E. Drexler, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 78(9):5275-5278, 1981. Theory of Self-Reproducing Automata, John von Neumann and Arthur W. Burks, University of Illinois Press, 1966. “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom,” R. P. Feynman, Engineering and Science, 23(5):22-36, 1960.
[artificial plants]
We’re still in the basic science phase of artificial plants. We have much to learn about biophysics, biochemistry, synthetic chemistry, and physical chemistry before we can build our own cheap and efficient plant-substitutes. We’ve also only just recently learned exactly how photosynthesis works. But today we’re beginning to duplicate it. One day we might have huge bioreactors that function as plants do. They might take in water and carbon dioxide (the single largest greenhouse gas), and make fuels, or oxygen plus edible starches. We might also have versions that split water to make cheap hydrogen. We could then use that hydrogen as fuel. That might then solve two problems at once—reducing greenhouse gases and making fuel. Right now, though, cheap artificial photosynthesis might be as far as three decades ahead. We have little idea of the best chemistry to make such devices, and even less idea of their various costs. “Biologically templated photocatalytic nanostructures for sustained light-driven water oxidation,” Y. S. Nam, A. P. Magyar, D. Lee, J.-W. Kim, D. S. Yun, H. Park, T. S. Pollom, Jr., D. A. Weitz, A. M. Belcher, Nature Nanotechnology, 5(5):340-344, 2010. “Design and analysis of synthetic carbon fixation pathways,” A. Bar-Even, E. Noor, N. Lewis, R. Milo, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(16): 107(19):8889-8894, 2010. “Artificial Inorganic Leafs for Efficient Photochemical Hydrogen Production Inspired by Natural Photosynthesis,” H. Zhou, X. Li, T. Fan, F. E. Osterloh, J. Ding, E. M. Sabio, D. Zhang, Q. Guo, Advanced Materials, 22(9):951-956, 2009. “Direct photosynthetic recycling of carbon dioxide to isobutyraldehyde,” S. Atsumi, W. Higashide, J. C. Liao, Nature Biotechnology, 27(12):1177-1180, 2009. “In Situ Formation of an Oxygen-Evolving Catalyst in Neutral Water Containing Phosphate and Co2+,” M. W. Kanan, D. G. Nocera, Science, 321(5892):1072-1075, 2008. “Light harvesting in photosystem I supercomplexes,” A. N. Melkozernov, J. Barber, R. E. Blankenship, Biochemistry, 45(2):331-345, 2006. Artificial Photosynthesis: From Basic Biology to Industrial Application, Anthony F. Collings and Christa Critchley (editors), Wiley-VCH, 2005. “Towards complete cofactor arrangement in the 3.0 Å resolution structure of photosystem II,” B. Loll, J. Kern, W. Saenger, A. Zouni, J. Biesiadka, Nature, 438(7070):1040-1044, 2005. “Architecture of the photosynthetic oxygen-evolving center,” K. N. Ferreira, T. M. Iverson, K. Maghlaoui, J. Barber, S. Iwata, Science, 303(5665):1831-1838, 2004. “Water Photolysis in Biology,” A. W. Rutherford, A. Boussac, Science, 303(5665):1782-1784, 2004. “Reduction of CO2 with H2O Using Highly Efficient Titanium Oxide-based Photocatalysts,” M. Anpo, in: Carbon Dioxide Utilization for Global Sustainability, Sang-Eon Park, Jong-San Chang, and Kyu-Wan Lee (editors), Proceedings of the 7th International Conference on Carbon Dioxide Utilization, Seoul, Korea, October 12-16, 2003, Elsevier, 2004.
[climate change]
We now accept anthropogenic explanations of global warming (at least since 1750). But we still haven’t decided what we might do about it that’s also politically and economically acceptable. Natural forcing—mainly volcanic aerosols and solar irradiance—does not account for a temperature rise for the latter half of the 1900s of about 0.25 degrees Celsius, so that portion of the rise is almost surely due to our actions. Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis, Working Group I contribution to the WGI Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), World Meteorological Organization and United Nations Environment Programme, 2021. Surface Temperature Reconstructions for the Last 2,000 Years, Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate, The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), National Academies Press, 2006.
[plastic waste]
“That half-century’s total production now surpasses 1 billion tons. It includes hundreds of different plastics, with untold permutations involving added plasticizers, opacifiers, colors, fillers, strengtheners, and light stabilizers. The longevity of each can vary enormously. Thus far, none has disappeared. Researchers have attempted to find out how long it will take polyethylene to biodegrade by incubating a sample in a live bacteria culture. A year later, less than 1 percent was gone.” The World Without Us, Alan Weisman, St. Martin’s Press, 2007, pages 126-127, and in general Chapter 9: “Polymers are Forever.”
[rising use of solar and wind is increasing... 12 percent... iron and steel... cement...]
“Net-zero Emissions Energy Systems,” S. J. Davis, N. S. Lewis, M. Shaner, S. Aggarwal, D. Arent, I. L. Azevedo, S. M. Benson, T. Bradley, J. Brouwer, Y.-M. Chiang, C. T. M. Clack, A. Cohen, S. Doig, J. Edmonds, P. Fennell, C. B. Field, B. Hannegan, B.-M. Hodge, M. I. Hoffert, E. Ingersoll, P. Jaramillo, K. S. Lackner, K. J. Mach, M. Mastrandrea, J. Ogden, P. F. Peterson, D. L. Sanchez, D. Sperling, J. Stagner, J. E. Trancik, C.-J. Yang, K. Caldeira, Science, 360(6396):eaas9793, 2018.
[United States government spending on clean energy research versus defense, 2009]
Those figures are in constant 2005 U.S. dollars. Catalyzing American Ingenuity: The Role of Government in Energy Innovation, American Energy Innovation Council, 2011, page 12. Average expenditure from 1978 to 2007 was $5 billion U.S. (again, constant 2005 dollars): A Business Plan for American’s Energy Future, American Energy Innovation Council, 2010, page 20.
[hydrocarbon energy... over $2 trillion U.S. a year]
“Global demand for energy has risen at a 2.8% per annum (pa) CAGR [cumulative annual growth rate] since 1900, and has sustained a similar 2.2% annualised pace of growth so far in the 21st century. Assuming even a lower energy consumption of 1.7% CAGR, by 2050, we estimate global energy consumption will surpass 100,000 TWH (Terawatt Hours) pa. This is will be driven mainly by population growth, rising incomes and decreasing poverty. Thus, unless the world takes a radically different direction, 2050’s energy market will surpass 100,000 TWH. [...]

Carbon Tracker predicts global demand for fossil fuels to peak in 2023 posing a significant risk to the financial system as trillions of dollars’ worth of oil, coal and gas assets could become worthless. [...]

The dual challenge of an accelerated transition to a decarbonized world without jeopardizing profitability seems insurmountable. As argued above, a key challenge is to attract the capital required to transition a vast, 100,000 TWH industry, which spends $2 trillion per annum. Smaller quantities of capital do not move the needle in this mix. Larger quantities of capital are not going to be available unless they can earn a competitive return. Any decarbonization strategy should be based on firm economic foundations.” From: “The Energy Transition and Oil Companies’ Hard Choices,” R. West, B. Fattouh, Energy Insight: 50, The Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, July 2019, pages 1, 3, 4.

See also: Oil Insurance Limited (OIL), a mutual insurance company spread among several major international oil companies, which claims to have over $3 trillion U.S. in assets under insurance.

[rapid income growth... spread of economic acceleration]
The Escape from Hunger and Premature Death, 1700-2100: Europe, America, and the Third World, Robert William Fogel, Cambridge University Press, 2004, page 50.
“[...] graves at my command / Have waked their sleepers, oped, and let ’em forth / By my so potent art. But this rough magic / I here abjure, and, when I have required / Some heavenly music, which even now I do, / To work mine end upon their senses that / This airy charm is for, I’ll break my staff, / Bury it certain fathoms in the earth, / And deeper than did ever plummet sound / I’ll drown my book.”

The Tempest, William Shakespeare, Act V, Scene I.

Chapter 4. Sweat of the Sun God: Wealth

[C. S. Lewis quote]
“There is something which unites magic and applied science while separating both from the ‘wisdom’ of earlier ages. For the wise men of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue. For magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men: the solution is a technique; and both, in the practice of this technique, are ready to do things hitherto regarded as disgusting and impious—such as digging up and mutilating the dead.

If we compare the chief trumpeter of the new era (Bacon) with Marlowe’s Faustus, the similarity is striking. You will read in some critics that Faustus has a thirst for knowledge. In reality, he hardly mentions it. It is not truth he wants from the devils, but gold and guns and girls. ‘All things that move between the quiet poles shall be at his command’ and ‘a sound magician is a mighty god’. In the same spirit Bacon condemns those who value knowledge as an end in itself: this, for him, is to use as a mistress for pleasure what ought to be a spouse for fruit. The true object is to extend Man’s power to the performance of all things possible. He rejects magic because it does not work; but his goal is that of the magician.”

The Abolition of Man: Or Reflections on Education With Special Reference to the Teaching of English in the Upper Forms of Schools, C. S. Lewis, Macmillian, 1947, page 88.

Ecogenetic Wolves

[Viking pillage of Saxons]
The text takes artistic license with the scene-setting, but everything is based on what we know. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, on January 6th, 793, (perhaps a misprint for June 8th, as Symeon of Durham later amends three centuries later, and as Plummer argues), they raided Saint Cuthbert’s monastery in Lindisfarne, off England’s northeast coast. It wasn’t really the first raid, but the first major one, and the first one that caused a real stir in what was to become England.

On the choice of date: Two Saxon Chronicles Parallel with Supplementary Extracts from the Others, A Revised Text, Volume II, Charles Plummer, John Earle, Oxford University Press, 1952, page 62.

“On the seventh of the ides of June [7th June], they reached the church of Lindisfarne, and there they miserably ravaged and pillaged everything; they trod the holy things under their polluted feet, they dug down the altars, and plundered all the treasures of the church. Some of the brethren they slew, some they carried off with them in chains, the greater number they stripped naked, insulted, and cast out of doors, and some they drowned in the sea. Yet this was not unavenged; for God speedily judged them for the injuries which they had inflicted upon St. Cuthbert. In the following year, when they were plundering the port of king Ecgfrid, that is, Jarrow, and the monastery which is situated at the mouth of the river Don, their leader was put to a cruel death; and shortly afterwards their ships were shattered and destroyed by a furious tempest; some of themselves were drowned in the sea, while such of them as succeeded in reaching the land alive speedily perished by the swords of the inhabitants. Although the church of Lindisfarne had been thus ravaged and despoiled of its ecclesiastical ornaments, the episcopal see still continued therein; and as many of the monks as had succeeded in escaping from the hands of the barbarians still continued for a long time to reside near the body of the blessed Cuthbert.”

The Church Historians of England, Volume III, Part II, Historical Works of Simeon of Durham, translated by Joseph Stevenson, Seeleys, 1855, page 652.

“The news of this calamity filled all the nations of the Saxons with shame and sorrow. Lindisfarne had long been to them an object of peculiar respect; and the Northumbrians hesitated not to pronounce it the most venerable of the British churches. Alcuin received the account at the court of Charlemagne, and evinced, by his tears, the sincerity of his grief. ‘The man,’ he exclaimed, ‘who can think of this calamity without being struck with terror, who does not in consequence begin to amend his ways, and who does not cry to God in behalf of his country, has a heart not of flesh but of stone.’ It reminded him of an extraordinary phenomenon, of which he had been an eye-witness during his last visit to England. ‘See,’ he writes to Ethelred, king of Northumbria, ‘the church of St. Cuthbert is sprinkled with the blood of its priests, and robbed of all its ornaments: that place, the most venerable of all places in Britain, has been given in prey to the Gentiles; and where Christianity first took root among us, after the departure of St. Paulinus from York, there hath occurred the first of the calamities which awaited us. What else was portended by that rain of blood which we saw in Lent, at a time when the sky was calm and cloudless, fall from the lofty roof of the northern aisle of the church of St. Peter in York, the capital of the kingdom? Did it not denote that carnage would come upon us, and come from the north?’ He wrote to the monks of Lindisfarne, who had escaped from the swords of the Danes, and asked how it came that St. Cuthbert, and the saints, whose remains were interred within their church, had not preserved it from pollution. Nothing happened by chance. If it was not the first of a long train of evils destined for the whole nation, it must have been meant by God for the punishment of the inhabitants of the island. If then there was any thing sinful in their conduct, let them hasten to correct it. [...]

It was, however, his persuasion that the destruction of Lindisfarne was but ‘the beginning of sorrows:’ that the Danes were destined to act the same part in England, which the ancestors of the Anglo-Saxons had formerly performed in Britain.”

The History and Antiquities of the Anglo-Saxon Church; Containing an Account of its Origin, Government, Doctrines, Worship, Revenues, and Clerical and Monastic Institutions, Volume II, John Lingard, C. Dolman, 1845, pages 221-223.

[Saxons bribed the Vikings]
In 991, after the Saxon armies were defeated at Maldon, the Saxon king of England, Aethelred II, paid the Danes 10,000 pounds of silver to go away. Then he paid 16,000 in 994 and 24,000 in 1002, in which year he tried to massacre all the Danes then living in England. Then he paid 30,000 in 1007, 3,000 from East Kent alone in 1009, and 48,000 in 1012. A year later, Swegn (Sweyn, Sven) Forkbeard (a Dane) attacked in force and soon his son, Cnut (Canute), was on the English throne. In 1018, Cnut took a danegeld of 82,500 pounds of silver (10,500 paid by London alone). “The Collection of Danegeld and Heregeld in the Reigns of Aethelred II and Cnut,” M. K. Lawson, The English Historical Review, 99(393):951-61, 1984. Domesday Book and Beyond: Three Essays in the Early History of England, F. W. Maitland, Cambridge University Press, 1897, New Edition, 1907, page 3.
[“so strong with God’s consent...”]
From a homily by Wulfstan II, Archbishop of York and Bishop of Worcester, written around 1014. Here are two translations of the same passage:

“Over-cowardly laws and shameful tributes are common among us, understand it who can; and many misfortunes befall this nation over and again. For long now nothing has prospered, within or without, but there has been devastation and persecution in every part, over and again. And for long now the English have been entirely without victory and too much cowed because of the wrath of God, and the pirates so strong with God’s consent, that in battle often one will put to flight ten, and sometimes less sometimes more, all because of our sins. And often ten or twelve, one after the other, will disgracefully insult the thegn’s wife, and sometimes his daughter, or near kinswoman, while he who considered himself proud and powerful and brave enough before that happened, looks on.” Angle-Saxon Prose, Michael Swanton (editor and translator), Everyman, 1993, pages 181-182.

“Base laws and scandalous extortions are common among us, and many mishaps happen to this nation time after time because of the wrath of God, let him acknowledge it who will. This nation has not been successful for a long time either here or abroad, but there has been devastation and hatred in pretty well every district again and again; and now for a long time the English have been utterly defeated and much disheartened because of God’s wrath. And the Vikings have been so powerful with God’s consent that often in battle one of them puts 10 to flight, sometimes more sometimes less, all because of our sins. And often 10 or 12, one after the other, offer disgraceful insult to the wife of a thane, or sometimes his daughter, or close kinswoman, while he looks on—one who considered himself important and powerful and brave enough before that happened.” Vikings: Fear and Faith, Paul Cavill, HarperCollinsPublishers, 2001, pages 254-255.

For an annotated version of the original Old English version, see: Sermo Lupi ad Anglos, Dorothy Whitelock (editor), University of Exeter Press, 1977, page 59.

[Norse loan words in English]
“Language Contact in the Scandinavian Period,” A. Lutz, in: The Oxford Handbook of the History of English, Terttu Nevalainen and Elizabeth Closs Traugott (editors), Oxford University Press, 2012, pages 508-517. “Norse-derived Terms and Structures in The Battle of Maldon,” S. M. Pons-Sanz, The Journal of English and Germanic Philology, 107(4):421-444, 2008. See also: Why Do Languages Change? R. L. Trask, revised by Robert McColl Millar, Cambridge University Press, 2010, pages 96-98.
[France was then swallowing northwestern Germany]
That was during Charlemagne’s wars with Saxony from 772 to 804. (Saxony was a broad plain bounded by the rivers Ems, Eider, and Elbe.)

“Charlemagne is notable for his brutality and severity toward those who opposed him. The most obvious example of such brutality is the famous episode at Verden, where Charlemagne responded to the latest Saxon rebellion by having 4500 Saxons beheaded in one day.” Charlemagne’s Practice of Empire, Jennifer R. Davis, Cambridge University Press, 2015, page 157.

“These campaigns of Charlemagne were very bloody. [...] With his large kingdom and well-organized army, Charlemagne was able to inflict much more violence, seize more booty, and demand greater tributes than the Vikings could ever dream of.” The Age of the Vikings, Anders Winroth, Princeton University Press, 2014, pages 57-58.

“Never was there a war more prolonged nor more cruel than this, nor one that required greater efforts on the part of the Frankish peoples. [...] war was declared, and was fought for thirty years continuously with the greatest fierceness on, both sides, but with heavier loss to the Saxons than the Franks.” Early Lives of Charlemagne, Eginhard & the Monk of St. Gall, translated and edited by A. J. Grant, Chatto & Windus, 1922, pages 16-17.

[sweat of the sun, tears of the moon]
The Incas, Terence N. D’Altroy, Wiley-Blackwell, Second Edition, 2015. The Incas: New Perspectives, Gordon F. McEwan, W. W. Norton & Company, 2006. Sweat of the sun and tears of the moon: Gold and silver in pre-Columbian art, André Emmerich, University of Washington Press, 1965.
[ away... although land may be not as good...]
Warfare was possible if group conflict was over a desirable shared and fixed hunting or fishing area, for example.

“The nature of inter-group relations among prehistoric hunter-gatherers remains disputed, with arguments in favour and against the existence of warfare before the development of sedentary societies. Here we report on a case of inter-group violence towards a group of hunter-gatherers from Nataruk, west of Lake Turkana, which during the late Pleistocene/early Holocene period extended about 30 km beyond its present-day shore. Ten of the twelve articulated skeletons found at Nataruk show evidence of having died violently at the edge of a lagoon, into which some of the bodies fell. The remains from Nataruk are unique, preserved by the particular conditions of the lagoon with no evidence of deliberate burial. They offer a rare glimpse into the life and death of past foraging people, and evidence that warfare was part of the repertoire of inter-group relations among prehistoric hunter-gatherers.” From: “Inter-group violence among early Holocene hunter-gatherers of West Turkana, Kenya,” M. Mirazón Lahr, F. Rivera, R. K. Power, A. Mounier, B. Copsey, F. Crivellaro, J. E. Edung, J. M. Maillo Fernandez, C. Kiarie, J. Lawrence, A. Leakey, E. Mbua, H. Miller, A. Muigai, D. M. Mukhongo, A. Van Baelen, R. Wood, J.-L. Schwenninger, R. Grün, H. Achyuthan, A. Wilshaw, R. A. Foley, Nature, 529(7586):394-398 2016.

[predation and rent-seeking]
We had gone from pots to hold grain to potters to build pots, granaries to hold pots, masons to build granaries, troops to guard granaries, metal workers to make weapons for the troops, miners to fetch the metal, smiths to shape it, artists to decorate it, priests to bless it, raiders to steal it....

Had this happened in only one place on the planet, it could be attributed to accidents of history plus cross-fertilization of tropes over time. However at the beginning of the Columbian exchange: “What took place in the early 1500s was truly exceptional, something that had never happened before and never will again. Two cultural experiments, running in isolation for 15,000 years or more, at last came face to face. Amazingly, after all that time, each could recognize the other’s institutions. When Cortés landed in Mexico he found roads, canals, cities, palaces, schools, law courts, markets, irrigation works, kings, priests, temples, peasants, artisans, armies, astronomers, merchants, sports, theatre, art, music, and books. High civilization, differing in detail but alike in essentials, had evolved independently on both sides of the earth.” A Short History of Progress, Ronald Wright, House of Anansi Press, 2004.

For a view from anthroplogy, see: “The emergence of status inequality in intermediate scale societies: A demographic and socio-economic history of the Keatley Creek site, British Columbia,” A. M. Prentiss, N. Lyons, L. E. Harris, M. R. P. Burns, T. M. Godin, Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, 26(2):299-327, 2007.

For a view from political science, see: Prosperity and Violence: The Political Economy of Development, Robert H. Bates, W. W. Norton, 2001.

For a view from economics, see: Power and Prosperity: Outgrowing Communist and Capitalist Dictatorships, Mancur Olson, Basic Books, 2000.

[the state and the gang]
Writing in 1377, Ibn Khaldûn noted that: “Mutual aggression of people in towns and cities is averted by the authorities and the government, which hold back the masses under their control from attacks and aggression upon each other. They are thus prevented by the influence of force and governmental authority from mutual injustice, save such injustice as comes from the ruler himself.” The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History, Ibn Khaldûn, translated by Franz Rosenthal, edited by N. J. Dawood, Princeton University Press, 1967, page 97. It is sometimes called the Prolegomena [The Introduction].
[the bee-loud glade...]
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree, / And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made; / Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee, / And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow, / Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings; / There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow, / And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day / I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore; / While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey, / I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

“The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” William Butler Yeats, The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats, Collier Books, 1989.

[...“a thousand invisible cords”...]
“When we try to pick out anything by itself we find that it is bound fast by a thousand invisible cords that cannot be broken, to everything in the universe.” An early naturalist, John Muir, wrote that in his journal for July 27, 1869. The American Conservation Movement: John Muir and His Legacy, Stephen Fox, University of Wisconsin Press, 1986, page 291.
That’s a neologism in this text, although it appears to be first used in 1904 by Carl Detto, a University of Jena botanist, to a different purpose. More recently, it’s also been used in landscape design by the Brazilian Fernando Chacel. It pops up occasionally in the ecology literature.

Of the semantically obvious choices, this word seemed the most euphonious. The possibilities involving Greek roots for ‘self-changing’ or ‘self-evolving’ sound bad. (For example, one possibility for ‘self-evolutionary’ might be ‘autoexelixic.’ However, ‘autoallagic,’ to mean ‘self-changing,’ might be a reasonable possibility.) Another problem was how to keep the distinction between ‘self-assembling’ and ‘self-evolving’ (and later concepts in the book like ‘self-maintaining’) clear to the reader. An ecogenetic network is a self-assembling one, but not necessarily a self-evolving one. It relies on a fixed set of parts that have already evolved and it’s merely ‘choosing’ among various random assortments of them to see which ones ‘fit together.’ (In short, it self-evolves as a network, but its parts themselves don’t need to evolve.)

Botanists and ecologists mostly don’t use the word ‘ecogenesis.’ They do however have several related concepts, principally ‘ecological succession,’ ‘seral succession,’ ‘community assembly,’ ‘pedogenesis,’ and ‘demutation.’ There are also various biome-specific cases, like xerosere, lithosere, and so on. These were either too specific, too technical, or too colorless for a popular science book.

Assembly Rules and Restoration Ecology: Bridging the Gap Between Theory and Practice, Vicky M. Temperton, Richard J. Hobbs, Tim Nuttle, and Stefan Halle (editors), Island Press, 2004. A Theory of Forest Dynamics: The Ecological Implications of Forest Succession Models, Herman H. Shugart, Blackburn Press, 2003. Ecological Assembly Rules: Perspectives, Advances, Retreats, Evan Weiher and Paul Keddy (editors), Cambridge University Press, 2001. Plant Succession: Theory and Prediction, David C. Glenn-Lewin, Robert K. Peet, and Thomas T. Veblen (editors), Springer, 1992. “A study of the ecology of pioneer lichens, mosses, and algae on recent Hawaiian lava flows,” T. A. Jackson, Pacific Science, 25(1):22-32, 1971.

The idea of succession is old in some ways, young in others. Early forms of it trace back to Theophrastus, a student of Aristotle. “Ecology today: Beyonds the Bounds of Science,” Nature and Resources, 35(2):38-50, 1999. Traces on the Rhodian Shore: Nature and Culture in Western Thought from Ancient Times to the End of the Eighteenth Century, Clarence J. Glacken, University of California Press, 1976, pages 129-130.

[below-soil fungi]
“Arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi are mutualistic symbionts living in the roots of 80% of land plant species, and developing extensive, belowground extraradical hyphae fundamental for the uptake of soil nutrients and their transfer to host plants. Since AM fungi have a wide host range, they are able to colonize and interconnect contiguous plants by means of hyphae extending from one root system to another. Such hyphae may fuse due to the widespread occurrence of anastomoses, whose formation depends on a highly regulated mechanism of self recognition. Here, we examine evidences of self recognition and nonself incompatibility in hyphal networks formed by AM fungi and discuss recent results showing that the root systems of plants belonging to different species, genera and families may be connected by means of anastomosis formation between extraradical mycorrhizal networks, which can create indefinitely large numbers of belowground fungal linkages within plant communities.” From: “At the Root of the Wood Wide Web,” M. Giovannetti, L. Avio, P. Fortuna, E. Pellegrino, C. Sbrana, P. Strani, Plant Signaling & Behavior, 1(1):1-5, 2006.
[leaf litter alters soil chemistry]
“Leaf litter fall and soil acidity during half a century of secondary succession in a temperate deciduous forest,” S. Persson, N. Malmer, B. Wallén, Plant Ecology, 73(1):31-45, 1987.
[generalizing ecosystems into a game-theoretic information dynamics problem]
A mathematician might generalize this further to any set of entites of different kinds that may perpetuate themselves over time, whether it’s people holding different beliefs, restaurants from different franchises, game-players trying different strategies, chemicals of different types, and so on.
[earliest Norse longships]
The Earliest Ships: The Evolution of Boats Into Ships, Robert Gardiner and Arne E. Christensen (editors), Naval Institute Press, 1996.
[Norman reaction to Norse]
That’s where words like ‘borough’ and ‘moat’ and such come from: mottes (hill forts) and burghs (walled villages). The Normans were originally ‘Northmen’ or ‘Norsemen.’ In 1086, writing of the death of William (the Bastard), the Anglo-Saxon chronicle (the Peterborough version) mentions this about him:

“Castelas he let wyrcean, / 7 earme men swiðe swencean. / Se cyng wæs swa swiðe stearc, / 7 benam of his underþeoddan manig marc / goldes 7 ma hundred punda seolfres.”

[He had castles built / and poor men terribly oppressed. / The king was very severe, / and he took from his underlings many marks / of gold and hundreds of pounds of silver. ]

Inventing English: A Portable History of the Language, Seth Lerer, Columbia University Press, 2007, page 43.

Six government space agencies have full launch capabilities: the China National Space Administration (CNSA), the European Space Agency (ESA), the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the (United States) National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the Russian Federal Space Agency (RFSA or Roscosmos).

See. Want. Take

[the idea of law]
Law is very old. The idea of restitution, of graduated punishment, of a difference between intentional versus accidental causation, and so on, all go back to our oldest written laws. The Code of Ur-Nammu (in Mesopotamia) is the oldest known, and is not yet fully deciphered, but it goes back 4,000 years (or more). It deals with divorce, adultery by a married woman, the defloration of someone else’s female slave, the escape of slaves, bodily injury, and false accusation, among others.
[herdsman and slavery]
The accounting tablet was deciphered by Robert K. Englund. (Personal communication.) The herdsman’s name was Ur-Kanara. The tablet in question is MVN 10, 155. It dates Ur-Kanara’s death to the 32nd year of Šulgi, which was a little over 4Kya. On his death he owed 140 litres of clarified butter and 180 litres of cheese, assuming the usual Uruk measures (1 sìla = 1 litre, 1 bán = 10 litres, 1 barig = 60 litres). “Hard Work-Where Will It Get You? Labor Management in Ur III Mesopotamia,” R. K. Englund, Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 50(4):255-280, 1991. See also: Archaic Bookkeeping: Early Writing and Techniques of Economic Administration in the Ancient Near East, Hans J. Nissen, Peter Damerow, and Robert K. Englund, translated by Paul Jansen, University of Chicago Press, 1993, page 82. The Beginnings of Accounting and Accounting Thought: Accounting Practice in the Middle East (8000 B.C to 2000 B.C.) and Accounting Thought in India (300 B.C. and the Middle Ages), Richard Mattessich, Taylor & Francis, 2000, page 112, footnote.

About a century later, three nobodies—one of them a gardener’s slave and another a barber—resolved to kill somebody important—a temple official. After the murder, they told Nin-dada, the victim’s wife, but she kept silent. Later, the facts came out and all four went on trial. In today’s terms, everyone agreed that Nin-dada was an accessory, but was she also an accomplice? Argument followed, then the verdict: All four were guilty. All four were killed. It was the law. The Ancient Mesopotamian City, Marc Van de Mieroop, Oxford University Press, 1999, page 122. History Begins at Sumer: Thirty-Nine Firsts in Recorded History, Samuel Noah Kramer, University of Pennsylvania Press, Third Edition, 1981, pages 56-59.

[the English word ‘law’ is of Scandinavian origin]
It descends from the Old Norse word lagu, replacing the Old English equivalent æw. Of the many other related words, only ‘outlaw’ also survived to the present day. “Language Contact in the Scandinavian Period,” A. Lutz, in: The Oxford Handbook of the History of English, Terttu Nevalainen and Elizabeth Closs Traugott (editors), Oxford University Press, 2012, pages 508-517.
[“With law must our land be built”... ]
Njal’s Saga, Chapter 70. Viking Age Iceland, Jesse Byock, Penguin, 2001, page 170.
[the Icelandic legal system]
May be very old among some Germanic peoples since it seems to be shared with the Saxons (but not the Franks, Vandals, Goths, ...). Hucbald’s account of Lebuinus, a missionary among the Saxons around 770, wrote of them that they had no king and they met once a year. Each district sent 12 nobles, 12 free men, and 12 freed men (previous slaves), who “confirmed their laws, gave judgements on outstanding cases, and determined by common counsel whether to go to war or be in peace that year.” From: “Popular Revolt, Dynastic Politics, and Aristocratic Factionalism in the Early Middle Ages: The Saxon Stellinga Reconsidered,” E. J. Goldberg, Speculum, 70(3):467-501, 1995 (page 473).

[The Vita Lebuini antiqua had this to say: Regem antiqui Saxones non habebant, sed per pagos satrapas constitutos; morisque erat, ut semel in anno generale consilium agerent in media Saxonia iuxta fluvium Wisuram ad locum qui dicitur Marklo. Solebant ibi unam in omnes satrapæ convenire ex pagis, ex pagis quoque singulis duodecim electi nobiles totidemque liberi totidemque lati. Renovabant ibi leges, praecipuas causas adiudicabant et, quid per annum essent acturi sive in bello sive in pace, communi consilio statuebant.]

“In Hucbald’s ‘Life of St. Lebuinus,’ written between 918 and 976, we have some curious details of the Saxons. He also tells us they were divided into three classes: edlingi (nobiles), frilingi (ingenuiles), andlassi (serviles). This information he probably derived from Nithard. He tells us further that each pagus was governed by its own chief. At a certain time in each year there were elected from these pagi, and also from the three orders, twelve men who assembled together at a place near the Weser, called Marklo (which is identified by the editor with Markenah in the district of Hoya near the Heiligen loh, i.e., the sacred wood) and Adelshorn. There they discussed the public weal according to the prescribed rules. One of these councils, as I have said, was attended by Lebuinus (Pertz, ii, 361 and 362.)” From: “The Ethnology of Germany: Part IV, The Saxons of Nether Saxony, Section II,” H. H. Howarth, The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, 9:406-436, 1880.

See also: Formation and Resolution of Ideological Contrast in the Early History of Scandinavia, Carl Edlund Anderson, doctoral thesis, University of Cambridge, 1999, chapter 2. “The Missionaries: The First Contact between Paganism and Christianity,” M. De Reu, in: The Pagan Middle Ages, Ludovicus Milis (editor), Boydell & Brewer Ltd, 1998, pages 13-38, especially pages 17-20. “The Early History of the Saxons as a Field for the Study of German Social Origins,” J. W. Thompson, American Journal of Sociology, 31(5):601-616, 1926.

[the Thing]
In Iceland a millennium ago we had a legislature, a judiciary, one part-time government employee (the law-speaker), but no executive branch: no prosecutors, no police, no army, no king. All prosecution and enforcement was private. We had no offenses against all of us (that is, ‘crimes’). We only had offenses against specific free men. Viking Age Iceland, Jesse Byock, Penguin, 2001. A History of the Vikings, Gwyn Jones, Oxford University Press, Revised Edition, 1984.
[Icelandic women and the law]
“Feuding and lawsuits were primarily carried on by men, and consequently Grágás discusses women primarily in relation to men. Nevertheless, the law gives considerable information about freeborn women (though much less about female slaves). Investigating what the legal status of freeborn women was exactly also leads us to the critical issue of sources. Despite the fact that a freeborn woman could legally run a farm and make economic decisions as a bóndi, Grágás clearly indicates that women took no part in the overt workings of the judicial system. There is no reason to doubt the reliability of this information. Only men served as judges in the local springtime assemblies (várthing) or in the Althing courts. Likewise, it seems that women did not participate as members of the panels of neighbours called kviðir (sing, kviðr) that were a vital element in legal administration and local government.

Being barred from participation in kviðir had serious repercussions. It meant that a woman, even when acting as the head of a household, had fewer formal rights than hired workmen. Even men who owned no land could serve on a panel: the requirements for a male to participate in kviðir were a minimum age of twelve years and an ability to earn his own keep. Probably women were also barred from serving as witnesses in court, because almost all the discussions in Grágás concerning the eligibility of witnesses turn on descriptions of freemen (karlar). Women were not allowed to participate personally in prosecutions for manslaughter (vígsök), yet when wronged a woman could legally claim the right to prosecution. The sources are in general agreement that if a woman was an aggrieved party and owned a right of prosecution, she was to put her claim into the hands of a man. Women could also pursue their desires for vengeance by pushing their male kinfolk into action or by restraining them. The same was true in the case of a defence. Whatever the initial purpose of such regulations, they distanced women from a good deal of violence as prosecutions moved through stages of threat and sometimes force. Shielding women meant removing them completely from armed political life, and in Grágás women are barred from carrying weapons.”

Viking Age Iceland, Jesse Byock, Penguin, 2001, pages 316-317.

[Norse prices]
The wergild, or man’s price murdered, was common among Germanic peoples, not just the Norse. The Saxons in England had a similar scheme: a noble was worth 1,200 shillings; a thane, 300; a churl, 200; a serf, nothing. Technically, Norse thralls had no wergild, but it was still often customary in Iceland to pay something for killing them. (Unless you owned them, in which case you could do what you liked—unless you killed them during a festival, or during Lent—and that last only applied after Christianity began to spread among the Norse.) Also, prices fluctuated over time. The figures given in the text are from Friedman (1979). Law’s Order: What Economics Has to Do with Law and Why It Matters, David D. Friedman, Princeton University Press, 2000, pages 263-267. A thousand cows back then would be worth at least $6 million U.S. in 1979. “Private Creation and Enforcement of Law: A Historical Case,” D. D. Friedman, Journal of Legal Studies, 8(2):399-415, 1979.
[termites as analog models for Icelandic law enforcement]
“Termites as models of swarm cognition,” J. S. Turner, Swarm Intelligence, 5(1):19-43, 2011.
[Icelanders had no jails]
Saxons had no jails either, and for the same reason—they couldn’t afford them. Feeding a man was too costly if he couldn’t work for his keep. Thus, England at least wouldn’t have its first jail until 1166. Even then, most jails were temporary holding places until punishment could be decided and meted out. The idea of using mere imprisoment as a punishment in itself spread only when we grew rich enough to afford it—in the 1800s in Britain, and then elsewhere later on.
[violence in history]
When we were hunter-gatherers we may have had little war as we understand the term today, but that doesn’t mean that we were meek. The Origins of War: Violence in Prehistory, Jean Guilaine and Jean Zammit, translated by Melanie Hersey, Wiley-Blackwell, 2005. Constant Battles: Why We Fight, Steven Le Blanc and Katherine E. Register, St. Martin’s Griffin, 2004. War Before Civilization: The Myth of the Peaceful Savage, Lawrence H. Keeley, Oxford University Press, 1996. Primitive War: Its Practices and Concepts, H. H. Turney-High, University of South Carolina Press, Second Edition, 1971.
[long-term decline in violence]
“Explaining the Long-Term Trend in Violent Crime: A Heuristic Scheme and Some Methodological Considerations,” H. Thome, International Journal of Conflict and Violence, 1(2):185-202, 2007. “The Long-Term Development of Violence: Empirical Findings and Theoretical Approaches to Interpretation,” M. Eisner, in: International Handbook of Violence Research, in 2 volumes, Wilhelm Heitmeyer and John Hagan (editors), Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2003, pages 41-59. “Long-term Historical Trends in Violent Crime,” M. Eisner, in: Crime and Justice: A Review of Research, M. Tonry (editor), volume 30, pages 84-142, University of Chicago Press, 2003. “Modernization, Self-Control and Lethal Violence: The Long-term Dynamics of European Homicide Rates in Theoretical Perspective,” M. Eisner, The British Journal of Criminology, 41(4):618-638, 2001.
[murder and suicide in the United States in 2004 and 2013]
In 2013, it was 16,121 homicides and 41,149 suicides, out of a population of 316,128,839. National Vital Statistics Reports, United States Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, 64(2), 2016, Table 18, page 84. In 2004, it was 16,611 homicides and 31,647 suicides, out of a population of almost 300 million. National Vital Statistics Reports, United States Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, 54(1), 2006, Table 2, page 19. See also: “Democracy and Crime: A Multilevel Analysis of Homicide Trends in Forty-Four Countries, 1950-2000,” G. Lafree, A. Tseloni, The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 605(1):25-49, 2006.

Weaving the Web

[ninth-century northern Europe was poor]
Perhaps part of that had to do with climate and geography, which limited populations, which limited trade. For example, 1,200 years ago, in the 800s, Charlemagne, who styled himself Europe’s Emperor, ruled maybe 15 million of us. At the same time, China’s emperor ruled perhaps 80 million of us. China: A New History, John King Fairbank and Merle Goldman, Second Edition, Harvard University Press, 2006, page 106. At the time, Paris was the largest European city. It supported perhaps 50,000. Even as late as the 1400s, Cologne, the largest city in Germania, only supported 20,000, and London only 50,000. London in 1086, the year of the Domesday book, may have had between 10,000 and 15,000 people. London: A Social History, Roy Porter, Harvard University Press, 1994, page 26.

Northern Europe’s trade was low, too. For one thing, the Catholic Church, threatened by Islam’s expansion, had banned contact with Muslims. That had different outcomes for different parts of Europe. Merchants in Venice and Genoa simply ignored the ban. Other parts of southern Europe only half-ignored it. Merchants there still traded with Muslims, but then paid up to a quarter of their profits to the Church to buy penance for their sin. Southeastern Europeans (mostly the Byzantines, the last survivors of the Roman empire) traded in the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. They ignored Rome—just as Rome ignored them. Northern Europeans though were too far from either the Mediterranean or the Black Sea. Besides, they didn’t have much to trade that anyone wanted—except slaves and furs. Instead of trade, they had Vikings.

As climate warmed in the 800s and 900s (the Medieval Warm Period), Norse longships had appeared in the newly ice-free north seas. They sailed south to harry coasts and rivers in today’s Britain, Ireland, France, Spain, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Russia, and Lithuania. They both traded and raided. In some cases, they even settled. In England, for example, they pushed the Saxons into the south and west. Centuries before, the Saxons had conquered their way into England the same way. The Norse were just another instance of the same ecogenetic process. Nor were the Saxons strangers to slavery either. Like the Norse, they were too poor to have jails, so they enslaved each other for some crimes—incest, for instance. Or they enslaved for debt, or after wars among themselves or with the Celts (who had invaded centuries before them). Or they did it just for fun.

“It is shaming to talk about what has occurred far too widely, and terrible to know what far too many people do who practise the crime: these people club together and buy a woman for themselves out of the common fund, and one after the other, practise disgusting sin with that one woman, taking turns like dogs, disregarding the filth. And then for the right price they sell God’s creature, the purchase which he bought so dearly, out of the country into the hands of enemies. We also know well enough where the crime has been committed that a father sold his son for a price into the hands of strangers, and a son his mother, and a brother his brother.” Vikings: Fear and Faith, Paul Cavill, HarperCollinsPublishers, 2001, page 254. At the time, Bristol was a major slave port. Dublin was the largest slave market in western Europe.

The Norse also colonized Iceland by 870, then Greenland by 986, then pushed all the way to ‘Vinland’ by 1002, five centuries before Columbus. They were traders as well as raiders. In fact, often they raided one place on the coast and sold the proceeds further down the same coast.

Writing in 922, an Arab diplomat tells us of other Scandinavians, perhaps Swedish traders (but they might also have been Slavs), on the banks of the Volga in what would one day become Russia: “They arrive from their territory and moor their boats by the Ātil (a large river), building on its banks large wooden houses. They gather in the one house in their tens and twenties, sometimes more, sometimes less. Each of them has a couch on which he sits. They are accompanied by beautiful slave girls for trading. One man will have intercourse with his slave-girl while his companion looks on. Sometimes a group of them comes together to do this, each in front of the other. Sometimes indeed the merchant will come in to buy a slave-girl from one of them and he will chance upon him having intercourse with her, but [he] will not leave her alone until he has satisfied his urge.” From: “Ibn Faḍlān and the Rūsiyyah,” J. E. Montgomery. Journal of Arabic and Islamic Studies, 3(1):1-25, 2000.

[sable pelts and slave girls]
“Ibn Faḍlān and the Rūsiyyah,” J. E. Montgomery. Journal of Arabic and Islamic Studies, 3(1):1-25, 2000.

[sent them pregnant to market...]
“There is a maritime town, called Bristol, which is on the direct route to Ireland, and so suitable for trade with that barbarian land. The inhabitants of this place with other Englishmen often sail to Ireland for the sake of trade. Wulfstan banished from among them a very old custom which had so hardened their hearts that neither the love of God nor the love of King William could efface it. For men whom they had purchased from all over England they carried off to Ireland; but first they got the women with child and sent them pregnant to market. You would have seen queues of the wretches of both sexes shackled together and you would have pitied them; those who were beautiful and those who were in the flower of youth were daily prostituted and sold amidst much wailing to the barbarians. Oh execrable crime, wretched dishonor, men who remind us of beasts, to sell into slavery their nearest relative because of their necessities.” The Life of Saint Wulfstan, William of Malmesbury, 1066. Quoted in: The Growth of English Industry and Commerce During the Early and Middle Ages, William Cunningham, Cambridge University Press, 1890 Edition, page 82.

Malmesbury also wrote: “When he [Godwin] was a young man he had Canute’s sister to wife, by whom he had a son, who in his early youth, while proudly curveting on a horse which his grandfather had given him, was carried into the Thames, and perished in the stream; his mother, too, paid the penalty of her cruelty; being killed by a stroke of lightning. For it is reported, that she was in the habit of purchasing companies of slaves in England, and sending them into Denmark; more especially girls, whose beauty and age rendered them more valuable, that she might accumulate money by this horrid traffic. ” Chronicle of the Kings of England, From the Earliest Period to the Reign of King Stephen, 1065: Book II, William of Malmesbury, translated by J. A. Giles, Henry G. Bohn, 1847, page 222.

Of course, the Catholic Church had a problem with that. But the problem wasn’t slavery. Churchmen owned slaves just like anyone else with two shillings to rub together. The problem wasn’t Christian slaves, either. By the eleventh century, much of Europe was Christian. The problem was selling Christian slaves to non-Christians overseas. Two centuries later, Thomas Aquinas debated whether male slaves could become clerics (nope), whether their kids were slaves (yep), and so on. He argued that “offspring follow the womb.” So slave mother, slave child, even if the father were free.

“Of the Impediment of the Condition of Slavery,” Supplement, Question 39, Article 3, Summa Theologica, Thomas Aquinas, Translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Province, Benziger Bros. Edition, 1947.

Writing in 1273, Aquinas had much to say about slavery. See, for example, Question 52, 57, and 65. Some apologists have chosen to muddy Aquinas’ relatively clear pronouncements on slavery by claiming that he didn’t mean slavery as the Greeks did. Naturally that must be so, but to Aquinas slaves were still chattel. They weren’t merely servants who were only a little unfree. For example: “Adultery, however, and inducing a slave to leave his master are properly injuries against the person; yet the latter, since a slave is his master’s chattel, is referred to [as] theft.” Supplement, Question 67, Article 3. That’s pretty explicit.

[English slavery in Lewes, Sussex, in 1084]
The king’s toll on the sale of a horse was a penny. Both buyer and seller had to pay the tax to complete the sale, so the king got tuppence for each horse sold in England, and eight pence every time any slave was sold in England. (And this was in the days before VAT!) Presumably he got nothing if a sale completed outside England. Domesday Book, I, 26. “If now we recur to the days of the Conquest, we cannot doubt that the law knew a definite class of slaves, and marked them off by many distinctions from the villani and cotarii, and even from the coliberti. Sums that seem high were being paid for men whose freedom was being purchased. At Lewes the toll paid for the sale of an ox was a halfpenny; on the sale of a man it was fourpence.” Domesday Book and Beyond: Three Essays in the Early History of England, F. W. Maitland, 1897, New Edition, 1921, page 33 (see also page 44 footnote).
[slavery for incest in Saxon England]
Slavery in Early Mediaeval England: From the Reign of Alfred until the Twelfth Century, David A. E. Pelteret, Boydell Press, 1995.
[eleventh-century Cordoba]
Just one of Cordoba’s libraries held around 440,000 books. That was more books than in all of France—whose largest library, the Sorbonne, held perhaps 2,000 books. The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain, Maria Rosa Menocal, Little, Brown, 2002. “The Historical Context of Arabic Translation, Learning, and The Libraries of Medieval Andalusia,” C. Price, Library History, 18(2):73-88, 2002. The Encyclopedia of World History, Peter N. Stearns (editor), Houghton Mifflin, Sixth Edition, 2001, page 179.

Further, Cordoba was linked by trade and post to other great centers of learning. For example, in 1004 the library at Cairo, Dar al-Hikma, was public and was said to house 1.6 million books. The Story of Libraries: From the Invention of Writing to the Computer Age, Fred Lerner, Continuum International Publishing Group, 2001, pages 71-72. The Medieval Library, James W. Thompson, Hafner, Reprint Edition, 1957, pages 348-350.

As a general rule, Muslim treatment of colonized Christians was less harsh than Christian treatment of colonized Muslims, but that doesn’t make either treatment even close to mild. Muslim tolerance certainly broke down in the 1100s and 1200s. The Dhimmi: Jews and Christians Under Islam, Bat Ye’or and David Maisel, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, Revised Edition, 1985.

For a sketch of the world he was born into, see: The Year 1000: What Life Was Like At the Turn of the First Millennium, Robert Lacey and Danny Danziger, Little, Brown, 1999.

The text narrative is partly made-up (especially his early trading activity) since we don’t know much about his early life, but the details and the settings are real. Words for occupations present special problems. For example, the text uses ‘earthling’ (yrðlicg) over the more usual gebúr (from which descends ‘boor’) as the more colorful word. (In any case, a gebúr was likely richer than Godric’s parents were, but they might have been either cottars or geneats, or any gradation in between; we really don’t know.)

Here are the Old English names and today’s English cognates used in this section: Engla-lond - England; earthling - farmer; thane - baron; thorp - hamlet; widuwe - widow; madm - palfrey, that is, a placid horse; webbestre - web-maker, that is, weaver; isenwyrhta - iron-worker, that is, blacksmith; gleeman - minstrel and storyteller; scop - poet and storyteller; chapman - merchant; gemot - law court.

Here is an extract from Reginald of Durham’s writings on Godric:

“[I]n his beginnings, he was wont to wander with small wares around the villages and farmsteads of his own neighborhood; but, in process of time, he gradually associated himself by compact with city merchants. Hence, within a brief space of time, the youth who had trudged for many weary hours from village to village, from farm to farm, did so profit by his increase of age and wisdom as to travel with associates of his own age through towns and boroughs, fortresses and cities, to fairs and to all the various booths of the market-place, in pursuit of his public chaffer. [...]

At first, he lived as a chapman for four years in Lincolnshire, going on foot and carrying the smallest wares; then he travelled abroad, first to St. Andrews in Scotland and then for the first time to Rome. On his return, having formed a familiar friendship with certain other young men who were eager for merchandise, he began to launch upon bolder courses, and to coast frequently by sea to the foreign lands that lay around him. Thus, sailing often to and fro between Scotland and Britain, he traded in many divers wares and, amid these occupations, learned much worldly wisdom. [...]

[A]t length his great labours and cares bore much fruit of worldly gain. For he laboured not only as a merchant but also as a shipman... to Denmark and Flanders and Scotland; in all which lands he found certain rare, and therefore more precious, wares, which he carried to other parts wherein he knew them to be least familiar, and coveted by the inhabitants beyond the price of gold itself; wherefore he exchanged these wares for others coveted by men of other lands; and thus he chaffered [haggled] most freely and assiduously. Hence he made great profit in all his bargains, and gathered much wealth in the sweat of his brow; for he sold dear in one place the wares which he had bought elsewhere at a small price.

Then he purchased the half of a merchant-ship with certain of his partners in the trade; and again by his prudence he bought the fourth part of another ship. At length, by his skill in navigation, wherein he excelled all his fellows, he earned promotion to the post of steersman.” From: “A Merchant Adventurer,” in: Social Life in Britain from the Conquest to the Reformation, G. G. Coulton (editor and translator), Cambridge University Press, 1918, pages 415-420. Also see: Medieval Panorama: The English Scene from Conquest to Reformation, G. G. Coulton, Cambridge University Press, 1938, pages 317-320.

See also: “The Benedictines, the Cistercians and the acquisition of a hermitage in twelfth-century Durham,” T. Licence, Journal of Medieval History, 29(4):315-329, 2003. “Durham Priory and its Hermits in the Twelfth Century,” V. Tudor, in: Anglo-Norman Durham, David Rollason, Margaret Harvey, and Michael Prestwich (editors), Boydell & Brewer, 1998, pages 67-79. St Cuthbert and the Normans: The Church of Durham, 1071-1153, William M. Aird, Boydell & Brewer, 1998. From Memory to Written Record: England 1066-1307, M. T. Clanchy, Wiley-Blackwell, Second Edition, 1993, pages 238-240. “Literate and Illiterate; Hearing and Seeing: England 1066-1307,” M. T. Clanchy, in: Literacy and Social Development in the West: A Reader, Harvey J. Graff (editor), Cambridge University Press, 1981, pages 14-45. The Hermits, Charles Kingsley, Macmillan, 1913, pages 309-328. Roger of Wendover’s Flowers of History, Comprising the History of England from the Descent of the Saxons to A.D. 1235. Formerly Ascribed to Matthew Paris, Volume II, translated by J. A. Giles, Henry G. Bohn, 1849.

Godric also had a younger brother and sister. “Pater sancti hujus viri dictus est Ailwardus, mater vero Edwenna, fortuna quidem et divitiis tenues, sed justitia et virtutibus abundantes. Qui de Nordfolca nati sunt, et in villa quæ dicitur Wallepol, diutissime conversati. Recti et innocentes, et coram Deo simpliciter ambulantes. Hi cum sobolem non haberent, devotis precibus adorabant, ut prolem ad Dei cultum idoneam generarent. Concepit igitur mulier, et peperit filium, qui dictus ex patrini sui appellatione Godricus, quod interpretatur, ‘Bonum Regnum’ sive ‘Dei Regnum.’ Deinde post aliquot annos nati sunt eis filius et filia, quorum alter Willielmus, altera Burgwenna est appellata.” Libellus de Vita et Miraculis S. Godrici, Heremitæ de Finchale, Reginaldo Monacho Dunelmensi (Reginald of Durham), Joseph Stevenson (editor), Surtees Society, S. & J. Bentley, Wilson, and Fley, 1847, page 24.

[eleventh-century England had hares (but not rabbits)]
Food and Drink in Britain: From the Stone Age to the 19th Century, C. Anne Wilson, Academy Chicago Publishers, 1991.
[shod horse worth twice an unshod one]
Living in the Tenth Century: Mentalities and Social Orders, Heinrich Fichtenau, translated by Patrick J. Geary, University of Chicago Press, 1991, page 337.
[marriage at 14]
Minimum legal ages for marriage in Europe until recent times were 12 for girls and 14 for boys. “Marriage and the Law in the Eighteenth Century: Hardwicke’s Marriage Act of 1753,” D. Lemmings, The Historical Journal, 39(2):339-60, 1996. In 1457, for example, Lady Margaret Beaufort was 13 when she gave birth to the future Henry VII, England’s first Tudor king.
[early English guilds]
The first documented guild (Gildhalda Teutonicorum) in England was for the Hanse (the Emperor’s men), which was not an English guild, (and which later became part of the Hanseatic League), but trading is everywhere ancient. Foreign traders got special dispensation, then local bodies of traders got special dispensation. Then in London, then other towns, other bodies of mercers got special dispensation. The Domesday book records at least one gihalla, or guildhall (in Dover), for merchants. English Merchants: Memoirs in Illustration of the Progress of British Commerce, Volume I, H. R. Fox Bourne, Richard Bentley, 1866, Chapter 1, especially pages 23-31.
[trade can create wealth]
A trade shares economic benefit among two parties, but not necessarily equally. For example, economists are fond of the following scenario: Alice has an apple, which she values at one dollar, and Bob wants an apple, which he values at two dollars. Alice and Bob bargain for a mutually acceptable price for the apple, then the apple and money change hands and both parties benefit. This must be so as long as neither Alice nor Bob has a gun, because Bob will have paid less than two dollars and Alice will have received more than one dollar. The agreed upon price might be $1.50, sharing the benefit equally, but it could just as easily be closer to Bob’s ceiling of $2.00 than Alice’s floor of $1.00 because Alice as the seller might well have many more things to sell. She might also well have more experience with bargaining, and she might well have more disposable income than Bob does. To a millionaire, a dollar is worth less than a penny is worth to a pauper. Further, the more experience Alice has, the better she is at gauging a potential buyer’s commitment to acquiring the apple in question. And the larger a supplier she is, the more likely it will be for her to have other people competing to buy her apple, so demand for Alice might be more uniform than supply is for Bob.

On the other hand, buyers can sometimes have the upper hand as well. For example, when a multinational goes looking for a city to build a shopping center in, many cities want the increased development, so the corporation can cherry-pick to find the best deal. Publishers versus authors, commodity brokers versus farmers, insurance companies versus homeowners, multinationals versus cities, rich nations versus poor ones, often the usual simplifying neoclassical economics assumptions that there is perfect symmetry, perfect competition, and perfect knowledge on all sides is false.

Of course, economists know all that, but lacking more detailed yet still mathematically tractable models, neoclassical economics seems to be the best we can do at present.

[trade can be unfair]
The discussion in the text assumes only fair trades (no force or fraud, and of course no theft). However, once the system has many traders and a freer flow of goods in a more urban economy, things can change. Here is the great Arab scholar Ibn Khaldûn on trade two centuries later:

“Commerce, as we have said before, is the increasing of capital by buying goods and attempting to sell them at a price higher than their cost. This is done either by waiting for a rise in the market price; or by transporting the goods to another place where they are more keenly demanded and therefore fetch a higher price; or, lastly, by selling them on a long-term credit basis. Commercial profit is small, relatively to the capital invested, but if the capital is large, even a low rate of profit will produce a large total gain.

In order to achieve this increase in capital, it is necessary to have enough initial capital to pay in cash the sellers from whom one buys goods; it is also necessary to sell for cash, as honesty is not widespread among people. This dishonesty leads on the one hand to fraud and the adulteration of goods, and on the other to delays in payment which diminish profits because capital remains idle during the interval. It also induces buyers to repudiate their debts, a practice which is very injurious to the merchant’s capital unless he can produce documentary evidence or the testimony of eyewitness. Nor are magistrates of much help in such cases, because they necessarily judge on evident proofs.

As a result of all this, the trader can only secure his meager profits by dint of much effort and toil, or indeed he may well lose not only profits but capital as well. Hence, if he is known to be bold in entering law suits, careful in keeping accounts, stubborn in defending his point of view, firm in his attitude towards magistrates, he stands a good chance of getting his due. Should he not have these qualities, his only chance is to secure the support of a highly placed protector who will awe his debtors into paying him in the first case, and by compulsion in the second. Should a person, however, be lacking in boldness and the spirit of enterprise and at the same time have no protector to back him up, he had better avoid trade altogether, as he risks losing his capital and becoming the prey of other merchants. The fact of the matter is that most people, especially the mob and the trading classes, covet the goods of others; and but for the restraint imposed by the magistrates all goods would have been taken away from their owners [...]

The manners of tradesmen are inferior to those of rulers, and far removed from manliness and uprightness. We have already stated that traders must buy and sell and seek profits. This necessitates flattery, and evasiveness, litigation and disputation, all of which are characteristic of this profession. [...]

As for Trade, although it be a natural means of livelihood, yet most of the methods it employs are tricks aimed at making a profit by securing the difference between the buying and selling prices, and by appropriating the surplus. This is why [religious] Law allows the use of such methods, which, although they come under the heading of gambling, yet do not constitute the taking without return of other people’s goods.”

An Arab Philosophy of History: Selections from the Prolegomena of Ibn Khaldun of Tunis (1332-1406), Charles Issawi (editor and translator), John Murray, 1950, Darwin Press, 1987, pages 68-70. See also: World History in Documents: A Comparative Reader, Peter Stearns (editor), New York University Press, 2008, Chapter 12.

[division of labor is old]
The idea is surely far, far older than Plato. However, in the Republic we see him making Socrates say that a city comes about because no one is self-sufficient. We all need things that we can’t supply by ourselves, and we each are good at some things and bad at others. “[A]ll things are produced more plentifully and easily and of a better quality when one man does one thing which is natural to him and does it at the right time, and leaves other things.... Suppose now that a husbandman, or an artisan, brings some production to market, and he comes at a time when there is no one to exchange with him, —is he to leave his calling and sit idle in the market-place? Not at all; he will find people there who, seeing the want, undertake the office of salesmen. In well-ordered states they are commonly those who are the weakest in bodily strength, and therefore of little use for any other purpose; their duty is to be in the market, and to give money in exchange for goods to those who desire to sell and to take money from those who desire to buy.” The Dialogues of Plato, Volume II, The Republic, Book II, 371, translated by Benjamin Jowett, Scribner, Armstrong, and Co., 1874, pages 241-242.

We all need help, just as Virgil appeals to his Muses, saying: Non omnia possumus omnes [facere]. [We can’t all all things do.] [Or: We can’t all do everything.] [Or, to transliterate: Not all we can all things [do].] Eclogues, Book VIII, line 63.

[no more than seven miles from home]
For a sketch of the time, see: The Day the Universe Changed, James Burke, Little, Brown, 1986, pages 91-96.

A more comprehensive, but less likely, figure than seven miles a day might be 12 miles (about 20 kilometers), since 25 miles (about 40 kilometers) is about as far as a fit person can walk in a day, but that assumes no stopover at the destination and no heavy luggage. Also, high speed used to be about 90 miles (about 140 kilometers) a day—and that was only for the few and expensive couriers—the king’s, or those of a rich banking family like the Fuggers or the Medicis—traveling fairly short distances on safe and well-maintained roads in good weather with fit horses and changing horses on each leg of their journey. Pony Express riders in the United States in 1860-1861 averaged about 75 miles (120 kilometers) a day. Although in the 1200s, with numerous horses and riders, Genghis Khan’s messages often covered 180 miles (290 kilometers) a day across the steppes of Central Asia, and by the time of his grandson, Khubilai Khan, messages could cover 300 miles (480 kilometers) per day in emergencies. The Travels of Marco Polo, translated by William Marsden, edited by Thomas Wright, Orion Press, 1958.

[“Norman spoon in English dish”]
The quote is from: Ivanhoe, Walter Scott, 1825, American Book Company, Reprint Edition, 1904, page 276.
[Norman slaughter of rebels]
The Normans fought for nearly 30 years to bring rebellions to an end. They only truly conquered England by 1093. “[T]he English were groaning under the Norman yoke and suffering oppressions from the proud lords who ignored the king’s injunctions. The petty lords who were guarding the castles oppressed all the native inhabitants of high and low degree, and heaped shameful burdens on them. For Bishop Odo and William fitz Osbern, the king’s viceregents, were so swollen with pride that they would not deign to hear the reasonable plea of the English or give them impartial judgement. When their men-at-arms were guilty of plunder and rape they protected them by force, and wreaked their wrath all the more violently upon those who complained of the cruel wrongs they suffered.” Historia Ecclesiastica, Orderic (Ordericus Vitalis), Book IV, written around 1125, The Ecclesiastical History of Orderic Vitalis, Volume II, Marjorie Chibnall (editor and translator), Oxford University Press, 1969, page 203. Orderic, born in 1075 near Shrewsbury, was of the first generation of Normans to follow Guillaume le Bâtard (William the Bastard)’s invasion of 1066, although he spent nearly all his life (after age 10) in a French monastery, so much of his work is second- or third-hand.
[Norwich was a large city in the 1000s]
As reported by the Domesday book. The other one, besides London, was York, but it was put to the sword because it rebelled after the Norman invasion, and it took a while to recover. Godric, born in Walpole around 1065, in Norfolk, would have grown up in the neighborhood of Norwich.
[‘just price’ theory is old]
As with many statements in the text, this is a simplification. From Aristotle on to medieval times, several European philosophers and clerics, including Aquinas, recognized that there is a subjective aspect to prices, that both supply and demand mattered. Medieval Economic Thought, Diana Wood, Cambridge University Press, 2002, Chapter 6. “The Concept of the Just Price: Theory and Economic Policy,” R. de Roover, Journal of Economic History, 18(4):418-434, 1958.

However, it wasn’t until the 1500s and the enormous inflation and price differentials brought about by Europe’s conquest of the Americas that Europe began to develop a more sophisticated price theory. Diego de Covarrubias y Leiva, soon to be Archbishop of Santo Domingo, put it into words in 1554: “The value of an article does not depend on its essential nature but on the estimation of men, even if that estimation be foolish. Thus in the Indies, wheat is dearer than in Spain because men esteem it more highly, though the nature of the wheat is the same in both places.” The School of Salamanca: Readings in Spanish Monetary Theory 1544-1605, Marjorie Grice-Hutchinson, Clarendon Press, 1952, page 48.

[Homer’s Odyssey and trading]
“A man who can find peaceful entertainment and come home rich is most of the time a trader; Odysseus’ voyage is not a trading voyage, but it works like one. In this sense trade is a latent theme in the Odyssey, and this latency is suggested in a number of places, as when the disguised Athena twice describes her own voyaging in language appropriate to trade.” From: “The Economic Man,” J. M. Redfield, in: Homer’s Odyssey, Lillian E. Doherty, Oxford University Press, 2009, pages 265-287.

Homer’s presentation of trading is decidedly negative, but then he, most likely, was orating before audiences, many of whom were Greek traders, so this required walking something of a fine line. With but one exception, the poem looks down on the Phoenicians as ‘greedy’ and ‘deceptive’ and ‘untrustworthy,’ but then, in this era, the Greeks were upstarts, competing with them. The Raft of Odysseus: The Ethnographic Imagination of Homer’s Odyssey, Carol Dougherty, Oxford University Press, 2001, Chapter 5, especially pages 117-121.

See also: Warriors Into Traders: The Power of the Market in Early Greece, David W. Tandy, University of California Press, 1997, Chapter 3, especially pages 72-75.

[demise of Islam in Europe]
Toledo fell in 1095. Other Islamic cities fell soon after, most before 1200. But before coming away with the belief that Europeans copied everything they found, consider this: In Granada in 1499, Francisco Ximénes de Cisneros, Archbishop of Toledo, father-confessor of Queen Isabella, and soon to be head of the growing Spanish Inquisition, had about five thousand Arabic books burnt in a great public bonfire. He saved only about 30 or 40 medical books. “Cisneros y la Quema de los Manuscritos Granadinos,” D. Eisenberg, Journal of Hispanic Philology, 16(2):107-124, 1992.
[European warming?]
By Godric’s time, Europe’s weather had been warming for over two centuries in a climate phase we now call the Medieval Warm Period. It lasted from about 800 to about 1200, giving way to the Little Ice Age, which then brought on Europe’s Great Famine in 1314. “Climate over past millennia,” P. D. Jones, M. E. Mann, Reviews of Geophysics, 42(RG2002):404-405, 2004. The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History, 1300-1850, Bryan Fagan, Basic Books, 2000.

The time period coincides with the Viking incursions into the rest of Europe. So perhaps the Vikings were marauding then because of northern Europe’s warming climate. Maybe that warming kept the north seas ice-free all year round, but it also changed northern Europe’s farming.

However, recent work suggests that the Little Ice Age may be a statistical artifact of the smoothing effect of taking a moving average of a random process. “Change Points and Temporal Dependence in Reconstructions of Annual Temperature: Did Europe Experience a Little Ice Age?” M. Kelly, C. Ó. Gráda, Annals of Applied Statistics, 8(3):1372-1394, 2014. “The Waning of the Little Ice Age,” M. Kelly, C. Ó. Gráda, Journal of Interdisciplinary History 44(2):301-325, 2013.

[The horse collar and nailed horseshoe increased crop yields]
Since Roman times, horse collars choked horses when pulling heavy loads. The new horse collar took the weight off the horse’s neck and put it on the horse’s shoulders, thus relieving it of the threat of strangulation. Since a horse can work for about 3 hours more per day than an ox, animal power no longer was the limiting factor in food production. Land was. The word ‘acre’ originates from that time; it’s the amount of land a horse can plow in one day. The Medieval Machine: The Industrial Revolution of the Middle Ages, Jean Gimpel, Penguin, 1976. The nailed horseshoe is itself also an important technology, necessary because horses evolved on the steppes, not the heavy wet soils they found themselves on under domestication in northern Europe. The hoof, instead of wearing properly to a hard nub, grew and split, which led to bleeding and unstable footing.
[medieval silver strikes]
Money and its Use in Medieval Europe, Peter Spufford, Cambridge University Press, 1988, particularly pages 119-125.
[minted silver in medieval England and Europe]
“The Volume of the English Currency, 1158-1470,” M. Allen, The Economic History Review, 54(4):595-611, 2001. “The English Inflation of 1180-1220 Reconsidered,” P. Latimer, Past and Present, 171(1):3-29, 2001. A New History of the Royal Mint, C. E. Challis (editor), Cambridge University Press, 1993, especially Chapter 2. Money and its Use in Medieval Europe, Peter Spufford, Cambridge University Press, 1988, especially Chapter 5.
[twelfth-century technology]
Over the past century Europe had built up its arms enough to deter the Vikings raiding from the north and to attack the Muslims settled in the south. By 1100, the Vikings had mostly stopped making pests of themselves and turned into taxpayers. By 1200, the Muslims had lost most of their grip on southern Spain. To Europe’s east, the Magyars settled in and stopped pillaging. Then the Mongols also called it a day for a bit. (Though they came back for more fun in 1241.) A new textile tool also came to Europe around then (again via the Muslims): the horizontal loom. Then came the spinning wheel (yet again via the Muslims). Both came all the way from China, where all our best high-tech was.

With Europe’s new books, weather, currency, tools, food, numbers—and safety—machinery grew. Europe began to put the old Roman waterwheel to new uses—running furnaces and forges, beating textile fibers, fulling cloth, making beer and wine and glass. It even had a few windmills already in use (in Normandy and England). Towns grew. So did trade. Fat new ships plied fat new trade routes. New roads and bridges appeared. And in rich monasteries like Canterbury, huge new Gothic cathedrals soared. Europe began to phase change into industry. But it wasn’t industry based on the steam engine—that was five centuries into the future. It was based on the waterwheel.

Cathedral, Forge, and Waterwheel: Technology and Invention in the Middle Ages, Frances and Joseph Gies, HarperCollins, 1996. The Maze of Ingenuity: Ideas and Idealism in the Development of Technology, Arnold Pacey, Second Edition, The MIT press, 1992. The Medieval Machine: The Industrial Revolution of the Middle Ages, Jean Gimpel, Penguin, 1976.

[the ‘just price’ idea in New England]
The Boston shopkeeper was named Robert Keayne. “Why is There a Conflict Between Business and Religion? A Historical Perspective,” K. E. Schmiesing, in: Business And Religion: A Clash of Civilizations? Nicholas Capaldi (editor), M & M Scrivener Press, 2005, pages 90-99, especially pages 91-94. The Journal of John Winthrop, 1630-1649, John Winthrop, Richard S. Dunn and Laetitia Yeandle (editors), Harvard University Press, 1996, pages 305-309.

Bright Lights, Big Cities

[London as an organism]
Seeing a city as an organism is hardly an original idea. Aristotle, among others (including Plato, his tutor), saw the city as an organism. Near the beginning of his Politics he observes that: “He who thus considers things in their first growth and origin, whether a state or anything else, will obtain the clearest view of them.” Politics, Aristotle, Book I, Part II, translated by Benjamin Jowett, 1885, Dover, Reprint Edition, 2000, page 26.
[London statistics as of 2000]
These statistics are hard to come by. Only recently has anyone even thought to compile them in one place and that effort is not yet complete. There’s lots of data on a per-person or per-country basis, but very little on a per-city basis (and even less on a per-region basis). Plus, while there’s a lot of data, getting current data, and getting it all together in one place, is hard. Also, whole sectors are unmeasured (or under-reported) by city government, although the Greater London Authority is one of the first to make a stab at this. The figures in the text are thus intended to give a rough idea only. They are accurate to within an order of magnitude though. No other city in the world has yet undertaken this effort.

For example, according to the following main source (see Table 1, page 7), petrol consumption in Greater London in 2000 was 1,505,000 tonnes (that is, metric tons, and 1 gallon = ~0.002791 metric tons, so that’s about 539,233,249.731279 gallons per year, or about ~1,477,351.37 gallons per day).

City Limits: A Resource Flow and Ecological Footprint Analysis of Greater London, Best Foot Forward Limited, 2002.

For explanations about why so many figures are missing or proxied, and for warnings about using the above booklet as a basis for policy, see: London’s Ecological Footprint: A review, Greater London Authority, June 2003.

See also data from other reports that gave such data without citation. Monthly Digest of Statistics, Office of National Statistics, July 2009. Britain from Above, Ian Harrison and Andrew Marr, (a BBC documentary that aired in August, 2008), Pavilion, 2008. Focus on London 2007, Office of National Statistics, 2007. The Urban Environment, Twenty-Sixth Report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, The Stationery Office, 2007. Drought in London, July 2006, Health and Public Services Committee, London Assembly, 2006. The London Plan: Spatial Development Strategy for Greater London, Greater London Authority, 2004. Access to Primary Care, A Joint London Assembly and Mayor of London Scrutiny Report, The Access to Primary Care Advisory Committee, 2003. Planning for London’s Growth, Greater London Authority, 2002. 1992-2002 Annual Abstract of Statistics, Bank of England, 2002.

For lack of London-specific data in some areas, the text proxies it based on total British figures (for example, for the number of British Telecom phone calls per hour, or the cash flow per day, or the M0 of the Bank of England) then divides that by the ratio of London’s population to Britain’s total population. That is almost surely a serious underestimate of the actual figures since London is richer and denser and more business-oriented than most of the rest of Britain.

Finally, the figures are for a spread of dates over about a decade, roughly from 1997 to 2008.

[urban proportion of GDP circa 2004]
“[M]ost of the growth in economic activities in all regions of the world over the last 50-100 years has been in urban centres. Today, around 97 per cent of the world’s GDP is generated by industry and services and around 65 per cent of the world’s economically active population works in industry and services—and a very high proportion of all industry and services are in urban areas. For low- and middle-income nations, around 90 per cent of GDP is from industry and services—and around half the labour force works in industry and services.” From: “The Transition to a Predominantly Urban World and its Underpinnings,” D. Satterthwaite, Working Paper Series Urban Change Number 4, International Institute for Environment and Development, 2007, page 28.

“Flows of capital, labour, technology and information have supported the growth of world trade from US$579 billion in 1980 to US$6.272 trillion in 2004, an increase of 11 times. Trade in goods has become an increasing share of the GDPs of national economies, rising from 32.5 per cent in 1990 to 40 per cent in 2001.... the location of infrastructure investment is an important determinant in the quality of housing, education and other services. A study of infrastructure investment in Buenos Aires from 1991 to 1997 concluded that 11.5 per cent of the population received 68 per cent of investment, leading to the observation that the city is, in fact, five cities, each with different levels and quality of infrastructure and public services.” State of the World’s Cities 2004/5, Globalization and Urban Culture, UN-Habitat (The United Nations Human Settlement Programme), 2004.

Of course, no city can get arbitrarily rich. Suppose a crazy billionaire comes to a city to start a company and decides to pay every new hire a million dollars a month. What would happen? The cost of high-end housing would jump to about half a million dollars a month. The cost of exotic food, of, um, entertainment, of expensive transport would jump (or imports of them would jump), and so on. Rents for everything would jump. The city as a whole would get richer, but the cost of living there would also rise. We know this because that’s just what has happened time after time, whenever there was a gold rush, silver strike, oil boom, or anything like that, anywhere and anywhen. The crazy billionaire would just be yet another gold mine.

[urbanization, 1800 to 2050]
In 1800, around a thousand million of us were alive but only 2 percent of us were urban. In 1950, nearly three thousand million of us were alive and about 30 percent of us were urban. In 2010, almost seven thousand million of us were alive with over half of us urban. By 2035, over 8.57 thousand million of us will likely be alive and over six in ten of us will likely be urban. By 2045, nearly nine thousand million of us will likely be alive and over two in three of us will likely be urban.

Urbanization data is imprecise because the definition of ‘urban’ varies from place to place. However, in 2010 in the Americas and the Caribbean, about 80 percent of us were urban. In Oceania and Europe, about 70 percent of us were. In Asia and Africa, about 40 percent, and rising, of us were. (More precisely: Africa - 40 percent; Asia - 42.2 percent; Oceania - 70.2 percent; Europe - 72.8 percent; Latin America and the Caribbean - 79.6; Northern America - 82.1 percent.)

State of World Population 2011: People and Possibilities in a World of 7 Billion, United Nations Population Fund, 2011, pages 2-3. World Urbanization Prospects: The 2009 Revision, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, 2010.

[rising urbanization, 1950 to 2009]
World Urbanization Prospects: The 2009 Revision, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, 2010, page 3.

Nor is that because we spawned more in cities than in the countryside. We’re fleeing the countryside. From 1950 to 2009, our numbers rose 2.7-fold while our urban numbers rose 4.7-fold. Since 1960, over 40 percent of our urban growth has not been because of rising urban birth rates but via rural flight to urban areas. “People Who Move: New Reproductive Health Focus,” R. Gardner, R. Blackburn, Population Reports, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, Population Information Program, 24(3):1-27, 1996. “Fertility and Family Planning in African Cities: The Impact of Female Migration,” M. Brockerhoff, Journal of Biosocial Science, 27(3):347-358, 1995.

[Tokyo and Kenya in 2000, and Ulaanbaatar in 2008]
The area ratio with Kenya takes the Metro definition of Greater Tokyo, which is its largest extent. “Spatializing 6,000 years of global urbanization from 3700 BC to AD 2000,” M. Reba, F. Reitsma, K. C. Seto, Scientific Data, Issue 3, 160034, 2016. Figures used are from: Greater Tokyo Area - 14,034 square kilometers (5,419 square miles). Tokyo Metropolitan Employment Area - 2000 - 31,730 (thousands). quoted area for 2010 is: 10,403.76 square kilometers. “Metropolitan Employment Area (MEA) Data,” Yoshitsugu Kanemoto, Center for Spatial Information Science, The University of Tokyo.

Kenya area - 580,367 square kilometres (224,081 square miles). Kenya - 1999 - 28,686,607. The Kenya population figures for 1999 are from: Kenya Census 2009, Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, 2010. “Kenya: Provinces, Counties, Cities, Towns, Urban Centers — Population Statistics in Maps and Charts.”

Population of Mongolia and Ulaanbaatar: Mongolia - 2009 - 2,671 (thousands). Overall urban - 61.5 percent. And 57.7 percent were in Ulaanbaatar alone. Ulaanbaatar - 2009 - 966 (thousands) (38.1 percent). Mongolia area - 1,564,110 square kilometres (603,910 square miles). World Population Prospects: The 2008 Revision, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2008, Table A.1, page 33, Table A.2, page 26, Table A.16, page 42.

[size of earlier big cities crossing a million...]
Rome (1 C.E.), Chang’an (today’s Xi’an) (800), Kaifeng (1000), Beijing (1800). Why the West Rules—For Now, Ian Morris, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010.

Since the figures are guesstimates, for contrasting views, see also: Size of eleventh-century Baghdad: World Cities: -3000 to 2000, George Modelski, Faros, 2003. Size of seventeenth-century Edo (today’s Tokyo): The Origins of Japanese Trade Supremacy: Development and Technology in Asia from 1540 to the Pacific War, Christopher Howe, Hurst, 1996, page 55. Size of eighth-century Chang’an (today’s Xi’an): Encyclopedia of Asian History, Volume I, Ainslee T. Embree, Robin J. Lewis, Richard W. Bulliet, Edward L. Farmer, Marius B. Jansen, David S. Lelyveld, and David K. Wyatt (editors), Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1988, page 320.

[at least 8,000 London migrants in 1700]
The figures are very approximates, and are lower bounds, since there were no records. 1700: Scenes from London Life, Maureen Waller, Hodder & Stoughton, 2000. Some of those migrants were foreign: Immigrants and the Industries of London, 1500-1700, Lien Bich Luu, Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2005, page 34-42, and especially 38-42.
[Roman life expectancy]
Structure & Scale in the Roman Economy, Richard Duncan-Jones, Cambridge University Press, 2002, Chapter 6, especially page 103. “Roman Demography,” B. W. Frier, in: Life, death, and entertainment in the Roman Empire, D. S. Potter and D. J. Mattingly (editors), University of Michigan Press, 1999, pages 85-109. The Ancient Roman City, John E. Stambaugh, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988, page 337, footnote 3.
[Tokyo and Delhi in 2009 and Hong Kong-Shenhzen-Guangzhou region in 2008]
If sheer density is so great, why don’t we live in even denser clumps than we do now? In 2009, Delhi was our largest city. But it only housed 21.7 million of us. For urban areas instead of cities proper, the Greater Tokyo Area was largest with 36.5 million. The Hong Kong-Shenhzen-Guangzhou region, although not a city, housed about 120 million. Why haven’t we yet crammed ourselves into cities of 100 million or more? World Urbanization Prospects: The 2009 Revision, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, 2010, page 6.

Hong Kong-Shenhzen-Guangzhou region home to about 120 million in 2008: State of the World’s Cities 2008/2009: Harmonious Cities, UN-Habitat (The United Nations Human Settlement Programme), 2008.

[cities became healthier than the countryside...]
For example, infant mortality in Brazil: Thus, a news report about Rio de Janiero’s favelas might focus on its trade in sex, drugs, and weapons—or on its crime, grime, and disease. All true. But it’s also true that in 1996 the infant death rate there was less than half that in all of (rural) northeastern Brazil (it was 3.3 percent versus 7.4 percent). Rural life, especially in poor countries, is poorer, harder work, more limited—and more boring. World Development Report 2006: Equity and Development, The World Bank, 2005, page 55. See also: ‘the pull of city life’ below.
[cities can shrink...]
In 1910, 465,766 of us lived in Detroit. By 1950, 1,849,568 of us did. By 1960, 1,670,144 of us did. By 2010, 713,777 of us did. In 1931, 846,101 of us lived in Liverpool. By 1961, 653,133 of us did. By 1981, 503, 726 did. By 2001, 439,476 did. By 2011, that number rose a little to 466,415.
[cities generate 80 percent of global gross domestic product...]
World Urbanization Prospects: The 2018 Revision, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, 2018, page 3.
[rich metropolitan areas in the United States versus countries in 2012]
Estimates in billion U.S. in 2012 are: Australia - $1,541. New York - $1,335. Spain - $1,322. The Netherlands - $770.6. Los Angeles $765.7. Saudia Arabia - $711. Chicago - $571. Sweden - $525.7. “Table 2: Gross Product of Countries (GDP) and Metro Areas (GMP),” U.S. Metro Economies: Outlook - Gross Metropolitan Product, with Metro Employment Projections, Including International and State Comparisons, November 2013 IHS Global Insight (USA), Inc., 2013, page 9.
[two can live as cheaply as 1.4]
The figure of 1.4 wasn’t plucked out of the air. It’s the current Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimate for couples living in rich countries. Pensions at a Glance 2009: Retirement-Income Systems in OECD Countries, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2009, page 56.
[city highway growth is sub-linear (grows slower than linear)]
The number of highways in a city rises slower than does the city’s surface area (so it grows sub-linearly with area; it scales roughly as the 3/4th power of the surface area). However, the number of highway exits rises faster than does the city’s surface area (it scales roughly as the 9/8th power of the surface area). That data is empirical and was taken from a study of cities in the United States varying in size from about 10 thousand to about 10 million. “Common scaling laws for city highway systems and the mammalian neocortex,” M. A. Changizi, M. Destefano, Complexity, 15(3):11-18, 2009.
[city people versus countryside people... Einstein and his collaborators]
City people needn’t be smarter than country people, but they’re exposed to more varieties of people and things more often. An Einstein could be born in a village just as in a city, but the same village is highly unlikely to also birth a Planck. So the two can’t strike sparks against each other and come up with 1+1=3. Chances of there also being a Bohr or Minkowski in the same village to then come up with a 3+3=27 are impossibly small. But as communication costs fall, the limiting effects of place also fall.

Like everyone, Einstein, while a genius, had a life, an education, and collaborators. For instance, without Hermann Minkowski, he would have had trouble developing the math behind his general theory of relativity. Without Max Planck and Neils Bohr, he couldn’t have been as productive in quantum theory, without Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosen he wouldn’t have been as productive on quantum information theory and possible wormholes, and so on. Then there were all the people before him who created the fields he drew on, like Galileo, Newton, Maxwell, Mach, and Lorentz. Subtle is the Lord: The science and the life of Albert Einstein, Abraham Pais, Oxford University Press, 2005.

[growth dynamics of entrepreneurs and firms in cities]
This study belongs to a new branch of economics sometimes dubbed ‘geographic economics’ or sometimes ‘economic geography.’ It deals with the spatial effects of economic activity and the effects of location on economic activity. “Rethinking human capital, creativity and urban growth,” M. Storper, A. J. Scott, Journal of Economic Geography, 9(2):147-167, 2009. “Why So Many Local Entrepreneurs?” C. Michelacci, O. Silva, Review of Economics & Statistics, 89(4):615-633, 2007. “Homegrown Solutions: Fostering Cluster Formation,” M. P. Feldman, J. L. Francis, Economic Development Quarterly, 18(2):127-137, 2004. “Scale Economies and the Geographic Concentration of Industry,” G. H. Hanson, Journal of Economic Geography, 1(3):255-276, 2001. “Space: The Final Frontier,” P. Krugman, Journal of Economic Perspectives, 12(2):161-174, 1998. “How the Economy Organizes Itself in Space: A Survey of the New Economic Geography,” P. Krugman, in: The Economy As an Evolving Complex System II, Proceedings Volume XXVII, W. Brian Arthur, Steven R. Durlauf, and David A. Lane (editors), Addison-Wesley, 1997, pages 239-262. “Complex Landscapes in Economic Geography,” P. Krugman, American Economic Review, 84(2):412-16, 1994.
[city wealth grows super-linearly (faster than linearly)]
Some potential measures of wealth, like number of patents, personal income, and spending on research and development, seem to grow faster than linearly with city size. However, crime and infectious disease also grows at almost exactly the same rate.

“Similar increases apply to almost every socioeconomic quantity, from innovation rates and rhythms of human behavior to incidence of crime and infectious diseases. They express a continuous and systematic acceleration of socioeconomic processes with increasing numbers of people, so that larger cities produce and spend wealth faster, create new ideas more frequently and suffer from greater incidence of crime all approximately to the same degree.” From: “Urban Scaling and Its Deviations: Revealing the Structure of Wealth, Innovation and Crime across Cities,” L. M. A. Bettencourt, J. Lobo, D. Strumsky, G. B. West, PLoS ONE, 5(11):e13541, 2010.

See also: “The Self Similarity of Human Social Organization and Dynamics in Cities,” L. M. A. Bettencourt, J. Lobo, G. B. West, and “Innovation Cycles and Urban Dynamics,” D. Pumain, F. Paulus, C. Vacchiani-Marcuzzo, in: Complexity Perspectives in Innovation and Social Change, David Lane, Sander Ernst Van Der Leeuw, Denise Pumain, and Geoffrey West (editors), Springer, 2009, pages 221-236 and 237-262. “The Size, Scale, and Shape of Cities,” M. Batty, Science, 319(5864):769-771, 2008. “Growth, innovation, scaling, and the pace of life in cities,” L. M. A. Bettencourt, J. Lobo, D. Helbing, C. Kühnert, G. B. West, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104(17):7301-7306, 2007. “Urban Land Area and Population Growth: A New Scaling Relationship for Metropolitan Expansion,” J. D. Marshall, Urban Studies, 44(10):1889-1904, 2007.

[moving to a city is equal to jacking into the world grid]
Hardly a new idea. For example: “If to prevent trade were to stimulate industry and promote prosperity, then the localities where he was most isolated would show the first advances of man. The natural protection to home industry afforded by rugged mountain chains, by burning deserts, or by seas too wide and tempestuous for the frail bark of the early mariner, would have given us the first glimmerings of civilization and shown its most rapid growth. But, in fact, it is where trade could best be carried on that we find wealth first accumulating and civilization beginning. It is on accessible harbors, by navigable rivers and much traveled highways that we find cities arising and the arts and sciences developing. And as trade becomes free and extensive—as roads are made and navigation improved; as pirates and robbers are extirpated and treaties of peace put an end to chronic warfare—so does wealth augment and civilization grow. All our great labor saving inventions, from that of money to that of the steam engine, spring from trade and promote its extension. Trade has ever been the extinguisher of war, the eradicator of prejudice, the diffuser of knowledge. It is by trade that useful seeds and animals, useful arts and inventions, have been carried over the world, and that men in one place have been enabled not only to obtain the products, but to profit by the observations, discoveries and inventions of men in other places.” Protection or Free Trade: An Examination of the Tariff Question, with especial regard to the Interests of Labor, Henry George, Henry George, 1887, pages 56-57.
[the pull of city life]
Urban dwellers have different opportunities and different consumption patterns than rural dwellers. Regardless of income level, urban dwellers have fewer kids, eat more and better food, and consume more energy and durable goods. Of course, all that demand has costs as well. World Development Report 2009: Reshaping Economic Geography, The World Bank, 2009, pages 48-72. “Consumption Patterns: The Driving Force of Environmental Stress,” J. K. Parikh, S. Gokam, J. P. Painuly, B. Saha, V. Shukla, The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, 1991. “Impact of Trends in Resources, Environment and Development on Demographic Prospects,” N. Keyfitz, in: Population and Resources in a Changing World, Kingsley Davis, Mikhail S. Bernstam, and Helen M. Sellers (editors), Stanford University Press, 1989. For example, in the 1980s, China’s urban households compared to rural households were twice as likely to have a TV; they were eight times more likely to have a washing machine; and 25 times more likely to have a fridge. Consumer Demand in China: A Statistical Factbook, Jeffrey R. Taylor and Karen A. Hardee, Westview Press, 1986.

See also: Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier, Edward Glaeser, Penguin, 2011. Cities Transformed: Demographic Change and its Implications in the Developing World, National Research Council, National Academies Press, 2003.

[distribution of city sizes]
Greater Tokyo and Delhi are large, but not all big cities are that large. The distribution of city sizes follows Zipf’s law (in economics it’s more often called a Pareto distribution; in bibliometrics, it’s called Bradford’s law), which in mathematics is called a power law. (It’s called a power law because element frequency is determined by some power of a variable.) Power law distributions are highly skewed. The most frequent elements are far more frequent than the next most frequent elements, and so on down to the least frequent. “Zipf’s law for cities: An explanation,” X. Gabaix, The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 114(3):739-767, 1999.

The distribution of the firm sizes also follows Zipf’s law. “Zipf Distribution of U.S. Firm Sizes,” Science, 293(5536):1818-1820, 2001.

National incomes also obey a power law: “Power Law Scaling in the World Income Distribution,” C. Di Guilmi, E. Gaffeo, M. Gallegati, Economics Bulletin, 15(6):1-7, 2003. In the paper, ‘middle-income’ means countries with GDP between the 30th and the 85th percentiles. That is, all countries but the very richest (which mostly means North America, Japan, and Europe) and very poorest (which mostly means African countries).

There’s a related scaling result, called Kleiber’s law, when it comes to living organisms, but it was recently shown, after almost 80 years, to be in doubt. It predicted a power law with an exponent of about 3/4 for homeotherms (like mammals and birds) but the exponent may be closer to 2/3rds. This has led to a fair amount of feather-ruffling among theorists. But whatever the real exponent, it’s still a power law. “Optimal Form of Branching Supply and Collection Networks,” P. S. Dodds, Physical Review Letters, 104(4):048702, 2010.

For a more general result (perhaps applicable to anything with a metabolism, which might be said to include nations, cities, firms, and such), see: “The Self Similarity of Human Social Organization and Dynamics in Cities,” L. M. A. Bettencourt, J. Lobo, G. B. West, in: Complexity Perspectives in Innovation and Social Change, David Lane, Sander Ernst Van Der Leeuw, Denise Pumain, and Geoffrey West (editors), Springer, 2009, pages 221-236. “Sizing Up Allometric Scaling Theory,” V. M. Savage, E. J. Deeds, W. Fontana, PLoS Computational Biology, 4(9):e1000171, 2008. “Growth, innovation, and the pace of life in cities,” L. M. A. Bettencourt, J. Lobo, D. Helbing, C. Kühnert, G. B. West, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104(17):7301-7306, 2007.

The key conjecture is the following from the original paper: “We conjecture that organisms have been selected to maximize fitness by maximizing metabolic capacity, namely, the rate at which energy and material resources are taken up from the environment and allocated to some combination of survival and reproduction. This is equivalent to maximizing the scaling of whole-organism metabolic rate, B. It follows that B is limited by the geometry and scaling behavior of the total effective surface area, a, across which nutrients and energy are exchanged with the external or internal environment. Examples include the total leaf area of plants, the area of absorptive gut or capillary surface area of animals, and the total area of mitochondrial inner membranes within cells.” From: “The Fourth Dimension of Life: Fractal Geometry and Allometric Scaling of Organisms,” G. B. West, J. H. Brown, B. J. Enquist, Science, 284(5420):1677-1679, 1999.

But before rushing off into la-la land, scientists need to be cautious. Ecology as a whole might be moving toward a unifying theory, the so-called metabolic theory of ecology. The idea is to try to establish that metabolism is to ecology roughly as genetics is to evolution. This has potential, but also potential pitfalls. “Testing the metabolic theory of ecology,” C. A. Price, J. S. Weitz, V. M. Savage, J. Stegen, A. Clarke, D. A. Coomes, P. S. Dodds, R. S. Etienne, A. J. Kerkhoff, K. McCulloh, K. J. Niklas, H. Olff, N. G. Swenson, J. Chave, Ecology Letters, 15(12):1465-1474, 2012. “Testing the Metabolic Theory of Ecology: Allometric Scaling Exponents in Mammals,” R. P. Duncan, D. M. Forsyth, J. Hone, Ecology, 88(2):324-333, 2007. “Allometric scaling laws of metabolism,” J. K. Leal da Silva, G. J. M. Garcia, L. A. Barbosa, Physics of Life Reviews, 3(4):229-261, 2006. “The origin of allometric scaling laws in biology from genomes to ecosystems: towards a quantitative unifying theory of biological structure and organization,” G. B. West, J. H. Brown, Journal of Experimental Biology, 208(9):1575-1592, 2005. “Ecology’s Big, Hot Idea,” J. Whitfield, PLoS Biology, 2(12):e440, 2004. “A General Model for the Origin of Allometric Scaling Laws in Biology,” G. B. West, J. H. Brown, B. J. Enquist, Science, 276(5309):122-126, 1997.

[matter and data transport in Star Trek]
Of course, it’s not true that transporters and communicators are cosmos-wide, instant, secure, and free, even in Star Trek. But the limits and problems are vague, except for an entity like Q.
[first fresh milk in New York in decades]
Thomas Selleck began the railway import of fresh Orange County milk into New York City in 1841, just six months after the New York and Erie Railroad opened. At the time, the city lived principally on ‘swill milk’ (also called ‘still-slop milk’), the highly adulterated and watered-down product of sickly, and often diseased, cows fed on slops produced by beer and whiskey distilleries in the city. There were only about 18,000 such cows. All others had vanished from the city long before. Swill milk was so weak it wouldn’t make butter or cheese. And when boiled, it smelled of beer. It was also often blue, so the distillers added things like starch, flour, or even chalk to whiten it. They also added water to make up volume. They sold it as ‘Pure Country Milk.’ But it was cheap, so the business stayed profitable for decades after real milk was available. In the 1890s, certified country milk might cost 25 cents a quart. Swill milk cost between 6 and 9 cents a quart. (At the time, a day laborer might make $1 a day. A clerk might make $2 to $3.33 a day.) So perhaps 6,000 distillery cows still existed as late as 1904. The business only ended in 1930. Other cities, like Chicago, were similar. Pure Food: Securing the Federal Food and Drugs Act of 1906, James Harvey Young, Princeton University Press, 1989, pages 35-39. “A History of the Purification of Milk in New York: or, ‘How Now Brown Cow,’ ” N. Shaftel, New York State Journal of Medicine, 58(6):911-928, 1958. Between the Ocean and the Lakes: The Story of Erie, Edward Harold Mott, Collins, 1899, pages 406-409. Memorial of Robert Milham Hartley, Isaac Smithson Hartley, Curtiss & Childs, 1882, Ayer Publishing, Reprint Edition, 1976, Chapter 9. An Historical, Scientific, and Practical Essay on Milk, as an article of Human Sustenance; with a consideration of the Effects consequent upon the present Unnatural Methods of producing it for the Supply of Large Cities, Robert M. Hartley, J. Leavitt, 1842, Arno Press, Reprint Edition, 1977.
[urban technology]
“Growth, innovation, and the pace of life in cities,” L. M. A. Bettencourt, J. Lobo, D. Helbing, C. Kühnert, G. B. West, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104(17):7301-7306, 2007. “Gig@city: The Rise of Technological Networks in Daily Life,” D. Lorrain, in: Sustaining Urban Networks: The Social Diffusion of Large Technical Systems, Olivier Coutard, Richard E. Hanley, and Rae Zimmerman (editors), Routledge, 2005, pages 15-31. American Cities & Technology: Wilderness to Wired City, Gerrylynn K. Roberts and Philip Steadman (editors), Routledge, 1999, pages 104-124. Cities and Their Vital Systems: Infrastructure Past, Present, and Future, Jesse H. Ausubel and Robert Herman (editors), National Academies Press, 1988.

Lawyers and judges also matter. So does road congestion and external trade. Smog, schools, jobs, all matter too. Many other factors—rivers, available land area, the cost and tensile strength of steel and concrete, and so on—all matter. And they all interact. Plus, we can always argue about definitions and the various purely political ways that a city can grow (for instance, by annexation). But despite all our urban planning, our mayors, our city councils, our earnest debates, our cities grow more like unruly ecosystems than like anything planned. The same is true of our other corporate bodies—our neighborhoods, universities, countries, regions, firms, institutions, governments, markets. They all grow or shrink ecogenetically. As new tools or new lives enter them, they act like ecosystems with new species invading.

[energy and land footprints of London and Hong Kong in 2000]
Making London a Sustainable City: Reducing London’s Ecological Footprint, LondonFirst and London Remade, 2005, page 1. Green Light to Clean Power: The Mayor’s Energy Strategy, Greater London Auhority, 2004, page 8. City Limits: A Resource Flow and Ecological Footprint Analysis of Greater London, Best Foot Forward Limited, 2002, page 6. “Ecosystem appropriation by Hong Kong and its implications for sustainable development,” K. Warren-Rhodes, A. Koenig, Ecological Economics, 39(3):347-359, 2001.
[urban landuse]
“Cities concentrate populations in ways that usually reduce the demand for land relative to population. Valuable agricultural land might be lost to urban expansion, but in most nations the area taken up by cities and towns is less than 1 per cent of their total surface area.” From: “The Transition to a Predominantly Urban World and its Underpinnings,” D. Satterthwaite, Working Paper Series Urban Change Number 4, International Institute for Environment and Development, 2007, page 61.

Although the overall percentage of land being used by cities and industry is tiny compared to farm use, cities grow where we first settled, which originally meant the most arable land. So although cities consume far less land than farms, they still cover a significant fraction of arable farmland. How much exactly is unknown. “Assessing the Impact of Urban Sprawl on Soil Resources in the United States Using Nighttime ‘City Lights’ Satellite Images and Digital Soils Maps,” M. L. Imhoff, W. T. Lawrence, D. Stutzer, C. Elvidge, Perspectives on the Land-Use History of North America: a Context for Understanding our Changing Environment, T. D. Sisk (editor), United States Geological Survey, Biological Resources Division, Biological Science Report USGS/BRD/BSR 1998-0003, Revised 1999.

In Britain, however, paving covers only a small proportion of the land. “More than 6.8% of the UK’s land area is now classified as urban” (a definition of ‘urban’ that includes rural development and roads). The UK National Ecosystem Assessment: Synthesis of the Key Findings UK National Ecosystem Assessment, 2011, page 75.

[cities as slime molds]
That’s only a metaphor, but not a completely idle one. It can be literally true at least for cities and transportation networks (roads and railways). “Road planning with slime mould: If Physarum built motorways it would route M6/M74 through Newcastle,” A. Adamatzky, J. Jones, International Journal of Bifurcation and Chaos, 20(10):3065-3084, 2010. “Rules for Biologically Inspired Adaptive Network Design,” A. Tero, S. Takagi, T. Saigusa, K. Ito, D. P. Bebber, M. D. Fricker, K. Yumiki, R. Kobayashi, T. Nakagaki, Science, 327(5964):439-442, 2010. The Social Amoebae: The Biology of Cellular Slime Molds, John Tyler Bonner, Princeton University Press, 2009.
[future gigacities?]
Our attitudes to the future matter, so altering the price of children was one of the key changes for us both in our phase change from foraging to farming, and then from farming to industry. Is yet another phase change based on yet another change in the price of children ahead for us? Perhaps. One possible cause of future change might be a new kind of city that’s taking shape right now. It’s not a megacity with a few million of us in one place, but a gigacity with a couple thousand million of us in one ‘space.’ Half of us are now urban, but not all of us living in cities are yet rich enough to live in such a digital gigacity. However our digital tools are dropping in price by the hour. Not too long from now, perhaps three thousand million of us may work and play in that digital gigacity. And given our current population distribution, half that three thousand million may be children. A new kind of workforce might well be coming if we lower legal working ages as a result. If so, our children’s economic costs and benefits may again change. Maybe we’ll start making lots of them again, even in our rich world.
As noted in chapter 2: The term is Julian May’s, as used in her science-fiction novel: The Saga of the Pliocene Exile, in four volumes, Julian May, Del Rey Books, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984.

The Non-Linear Elephant in the Living Room

[trying to save downtown]
Forcing landlords to increase tenant benefits might sound good. Apartment blocks are big buildings. So, we might think, their owners must be rich. Therefore they can afford to spread the wealth. (Right?) To our leaders, too, it might sound good. First, they might actually believe it’ll work. But even if they don’t, they usually can’t afford to think beyond their next election. Tenants far outnumber landlords—and when election time rolls around, that might matter. But even beyond that, leaders get to be leaders by knowing that simply trying something that sounds good might help them. With each public trial solution, they might gain ‘compassion dollars.’ With those compassion dollars they might later buy an increased chance of re-election, or an increased chance of getting some other desired thing. They might even buy a lower chance of unrest in the city. But they wouldn’t gain any compassion dollars by, for instance, forcing car dealers to give away mobile phones with each car sold. That political calculus works for other things too: Drug companies with AIDS treatments and African countries with HIV. Genetics companies with seed patents and Latin American countries with starving people. Recording companies with copyrights and university students with computers. Arms dealers with guns and warring countries (or warring gangs) who want them. Or anyone with money and anyone with less.

Unintended consequences from temporarily freezing rents, or the more serious use of complete rent control, is well-known in urban planning (for example, the case of New York and of California). But more generally, Jay Forrester, who started the field of system dynamics (and who also invented the first flight simulator in 1944), below reports on a model of urban housing that showed several counter-intuitive results, all of them completely sensible when the real variables and feedback loops are understood. But most of us either don’t see them or don’t understand them, or perhaps don’t wish to understand them 9for policitical or self-aggrandizing reasons).

He notes that “It is my basic theme that the human mind is not adapted to interpreting how social systems behave. Our social systems belong to the class called multi-loop nonlinear feedback systems. In the long history of evolution it has not been necessary for man to understand these systems until very recent historical times. Evolutionary processes have not given us the mental skill needed to properly interpret the dynamic behavior of the systems of which we have now become a part. [...]

People would never attempt to send a space ship to the moon without first testing the equipment by constructing prototype models and by computer simulation of the anticipated space trajectories. No company would put a new kind of household appliance or electronic computer into production without first making laboratory tests. Such models and laboratory tests do not guarantee against failure, but they do identify many weaknesses which can then be corrected before they cause full-scale disasters. [...]

Our social systems are far more complex and harder to understand than our technological systems. Why, then, do we not use the same approach of making models of social systems and conducting laboratory experiments on those models before we try new laws and government programs in real life? The answer is often stated that our knowledge of social systems is insufficient for constructing useful models. But what justification can there be for the apparent assumption that we do not know enough to construct models but believe we do know enough to directly design new social systems by passing laws and starting new social programs? I am suggesting that we now do know enough to make useful models of social systems. Conversely, we do not know enough to design the most effective social systems directly without first going through a model-building experimental phase. [...]

The mental model is fuzzy. It is incomplete. It is imprecisely stated. Furthermore, within one individual, a mental model changes with time and even during the flow of a single conversation. The human mind assembles a few relationships to fit the context of a discussion. As the subject shifts so does the model. When only a single topic is being discussed, each participant in a conversation employs a different mental model to interpret the subject. Fundamental assumptions differ but are never brought into the open. Goals are different and are left unstated. It is little wonder that compromise takes so long. And it is not surprising that consensus leads to laws and programs that fail in their objectives or produce new difficulties greater than those that have been relieved.”

“Counterintuitive Behavior of Social Systems,” J. W. Forrester, Technology Review, 73(3):53-68, 1971. See also: “System Dynamics and the Lessons of 35 Years,” J. W. Forrester, in: A Systems-Based Approach to Policy Making, Kenyon B. De Greene (editor), Springer (originally Kluwer), 1993, pages 199-240.

For another example, a German city once decided to do something about the problem of noise and air pollution in its downtown shopping area. The mayor and city councillors reduced speed limits and added speedbumps to ensure compliance. Citizens applauded. But drivers spent more time negotiating downtown, so noise and air pollution increase. Aggravated by the new problems, shoppers started going to suburban malls. Downtown businesses went bankrupt. City taxes plummeted. And, thanks to the new speedbumps, noise and air pollution remained downtown. The original problem had grown worse. The Logic of Failure: Why Things Go Wrong and What We Can Do To Make Them Right, Dietrich Dörner, translated by Rita and Robert Kimber, Henry Holt and Company, 1996.

See also: Wicked Problems - Social Messes: Decision Support Modelling With Morphological Analysis, Tom Ritchey, Springer, 2011. How Markets Fail: The Logic of Economic Calamities, John Cassidy, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009. Thinking in Systems: A Primer, Donella H. Meadows, Chelsea Green Publishing, 2008. The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Random House, 2007. Why Most things Fail: Evolution, Extinction and Economics, Paul Ormerod, Pantheon Books, 2005. Dialogue Mapping: Building Shared Understanding of Wicked Problems, Jeff Conklin, Wiley, 2005. Business Dynamics: Systems Thinking and Modeling for a Complex World, John D. Sterman, McGraw-Hill, 2000. System Effects: Complexity in Political and Social Life, Robert Jervis, Princeton University Press, 1997. Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences, Edward Tenner, Knopf, 1996.

[urban planning: London congestion charge]
In sum, there’s pattern to the growth and structure of our cities, but it isn’t one that we planned. People go where people go, and people do what people do. Yes, we’re smarter than termites, and yes, we plan, but as planners we can imagine only a tiny fraction of the space of the possible. Even if we one day could picture everything, that would still be a problem—because it would be only a picture, and a city is more like a movie. Cities grow ecogenetically, layer upon layer. Despite all our mayors and city councils and planning commissions and whatnot, we don’t control them. At best, we manage them—or rather, try to. For instance, in 2003 the mayor of London tried to reduce congestion in central London by putting in license-plate cameras. Photographed drivers had to pay £5 (£8, from 2005, then £10 from 2011) to enter central London (then, briefly, parts of west London). It worked. The number of entering cars dropped by 14 to 21 percent. Traffic speeds and bus usage rose, while travel times and taxi costs dropped. But drivers complained about loss of privacy. Shop owners complained that business was slacker because fewer of us were shopping in the core. Plus, municipal planners saw the lower car volumes as a chance to dig up more roads—so congestion grew back to its earlier level. Further, some of us started using fake license plates, which increased enforcement costs, which cut into the scheme’s profits. Then, after a few years, we got used to the extra cost to drive into the core. Traffic started rising again. London Congestion Pricing Implications for Other Cities, Todd Litman, Victoria Transport Policy Institute, 2011. Central London Congestion Charging: Impacts Monitoring, Sixth Annual Report, July 2008, Transport for London, 2008.

For Braess’ Paradox, and other failures of otherwise seemingly intuitively obvious network traffic congestion reduction in general, see: “The negation of the Braess paradox as demand increases: The wisdom of crowds in transportation networks,” A. Nagurney, Europhysics Letters, 91(4):48002, 2010. “How Bad Is Selfish Routing?” T. Roughgarden, E. Tardos, Journal of the ACM, 49(2):236-259, 2002.

[supplying cheap diapers—the bullwhip effect in supply chains]
Also called the whiplash or whipsaw effect in supply chain management. It’s a story that gained wide notice with P&G (Procter and Gamble Company) and the sale of Pampers diapers in the 1990s, but it was noticed by many companies soon after. It goes back to 1961 and the Forrester effect, in a field he originated called System Dynamics. “Network-induced oscillatory behavior in material flow networks and irregular business cycles,” D. Helbing, U. Witt, S. Lämmer, T. Brenner, Physical Review E, 70(5):056118, 2004. “The Bullwhip Effect in Supply Chains,” H. L. Lee, V. Padmanabhan, S. Whang, MIT Sloan Management Review, 38(3):93-102, 1997. Industrial Dynamics, Jay Forrester, The MIT Press, 1961.

Trying to make a supply network behave linearly is as hard as controlling a shower’s temperature if the hot water faucet responded not in seconds, but in minutes, and with irregular delays. Choosing to call any such network ‘efficient’ merely because no one is in charge—or, choosing to call it ‘inefficient’ simply because no one can be in charge—has more to do with political affiliation than reality. It’s equal to thinking that we can have traffic, yet somehow banish traffic jams. Good luck with that.

[use of the word ‘non-elephant’]
We inherited the terms ‘linear’ and ‘non-linear’ from math and physics because until computers existed, those fields mostly only studied linear equations, linear differential equations, and linearly separable systems. Everything else was too hard. Today, though, our computers are helping us simulate and analyze more complex reaction networks. Almost all of them are non-linear. But there is no clear definition of just what ‘non-linear’ means.

The term ‘non-linear’ originates with a mathematician, Stanislaw Ulam, circa 1950. He’s reported to have said that using the term ‘non-linear science’ was like calling the bulk of zoology ‘the study of non-elephants.’ “Experimental Mathematics: The Role of Computation in Nonlinear Science,” D. Campbell, D. Farmer, J. Crutchfield, E. Jen, Communications of the ACM, 28(4):374-384, 1985.

When we think about the world around us, we often assume ceteris paribus, Latin for ‘all else being the same.’ In reality, though, it’s cetera desunt (‘all else is missing’). In non-linear networks, ceteris is never paribus. Ecologists have long had to face this chasm separating what we think will happen and what actually happens.

[large bailouts can encourage capital flight]
In July 1998 the International Monetary Fund began a bailout of Russia with a first tranche bond sale valued at $4.8 thousand million U.S. Within days, the money appeared in offshore banks in Cyprus and Switzerland. Russia’s currency collapsed, and a banking crisis followed. Globalization and its Discontents, Joseph E. Stiglitz, W. W. Norton, 2003, page 150.
[layers of meaning of a bailout]
The last layer is called ‘moral hazard’ in insurance (and now economics). “Moral Hazard: A Question of Morality?” A. E. Dembe, L. I. Boden, New Solutions, 10(3):257-279, 2000. Essentially, if something is insured against failure, we sometimes act so as to increase the chance of failure, thereby either negating the extra protection or passing on extra risk to someone else. An example might be antilock brakes. Drivers of cars with them alter their driving behavior in such a way that overall they don’t significantly increase safety.
[large bailouts can be about the rich country, not the poor one]
Since 1929, that has actually happened—in 1982, supposedly for Mexico—and continues to happen, perhaps most recently in 2015 for Greece. The bailouts themselves may not even have been necessary had foreign investment not been so easy to move around the world since the 1980s—the Latin American Crisis in the ’80s, the Asian Crisis in the ’90s, the Euro Crisis early in the next century, ultimately, all were caused by ‘hot money.’

This is in fact what happened on Friday, August 13th, 1982. The United States Federal Reserve then called the heads of many large foreign banks, pleading with them to honor large United States banks, even though those were all insolvent, thanks to their years of unadvised (by the Fed) lending to several Latin American countries, each with high inflation and unstable governments. In brief, it was a bubble, and each bank was getting while the getting was good. Bloated with petrodollars from the oil price hikes of the 1970s, they had treated each Fed warning as a yellow traffic light—namely: better speed up to get to the profit to beat the other banks, who were surely speeding up as well.

The blowup started with Mexico about to default that Friday, but Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Venezuela were nearly as bad (and would each fail, just later; Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina together came to be called ‘the MBA problem’). Citibank and Bank of America were in hock for around $2.5 billion each. Manufacturers Hanover and Chase Manhattan were in for about $1.5 billion. Morgan Guaranty was also in deep. The next five big banks were also in a bad way. In all, the top 10 United States banks were in deep trouble. Seven of the top eight money center banks were insolvent. Also, perhaps a thousand banks had outstanding loans of over $1 million U.S. just to Mexico alone. Of the smaller banks, each one wanted to avoid further lending and just write off the bad debt. But if any bank did that it would be a Prisoner’s Dilemma problem because they were all linked—since they had all lent to the same failing Latin American countries.

If any bank, even a small one, pulled out, the others would notice, and would pull out too, which would collapse the whole system. Also, if the Fed publically mentioned that there was a problem, or if any bank suspended lending, its depositors would notice, then begin a bank run, which would draw down the bank, and, short of a massive capital infusion, that would rapidly collapse all the banks. Further, there was no law to handle this situation, so the Fed couldn’t legally force the banks to do what it wanted them to do, so it used enticement and coercion.

Crisis was averted because this was all kept quiet while various bridging loans, with the big one amounting to $5 billion U.S. collected across a consortium of 526 banks, many of them international, papered over the holes.

In essence, this all amounted to the Fed getting foreign banks to keep lines of credit open to United States banks so that those banks could keep lending to Mexico, so that Mexico could keep paying interest on its loans to United States banks to keep the pretense going that all was well, while the banks repaired their balance sheets another way (principally by the Fed keeping interest rates artifically high even after inflation was vanquished at home, so that banks could make money on domestic loans over the next decade or so).

In brief: the Fed (and the IMF and the BIS) arranged for United States banks to keep afloat by indirectly paying themselves via roundtrip paths through Mexico, to thus give themselves enough time to gain money another way so that they could finally shed the bad loans publically (via Brady Bonds). This had the effect of keeping Mexico afloat (and later on the other Latin American countries as they each toppled and had to be kept afloat the same way).

However resolving all this behind the scenes took over a decade and, likely, lead to the first real spread of the belief among financiers that they could make big mistakes and be bailed out—once the mistakes were big enough, or interlinked enough, so that they became systemic (a term first coined by William Cline). That then leads to the moral hazard problem. Secondly, it led to the belief that big banks were treated far differently than small banks, something that was demonstrably true. Likely that encouraged capital concentration and the rise of a few very large banks.

While politicians come and go, and officials come and go, financiers mostly don’t—or at least, their knowledge gets passed on down the generations because it’s vital to their firm’s survival. So while rulers might say one thing (and maybe even think it), bankers know something else. They form one stigmergic layer of our non-linear financial network, thus giving it a memory.

This was the first real instance where regulators and central bankers were made aware of the notion of systemic risk (since 1929). But that lesson was forgotten—at least by the regulators, but probably not by the bankers. It could be argued that what happened in 1997-1998, and then again in 2007-2008, were reruns, except bigger, on bigger stages, with bigger players—and bigger consequences. It happened yet again, in an even more disguised form, in Europe in 2010-2015 (and ongoing as of 2017), in the Greek ‘bailout’—which was really a bailout of big French and German banks (Deutsche Bank, Finanz Bank, Commerzbank, BNP Paribas, Societe Generale, and others), engineered by the IMF, the ECB (European Central Bank), and the European Commission, and ultimately paid for by French, German, Spanish, Portugese, Irish, Italian, Greek, and other EU taxpayers, under the guise of ‘saving’ the failing Greek economy, which owed € 195 billion. As it is, the original government bond speculators who benefited aren’t paying, the original Greek oligarchs who benefited from the flodd of inflowing money aren’t paying, and now, neither are the big French and German banks who made all those bad loans.

Adults in the Room: My Battle with Europe’s Deep Establishment, Yanis Varoufakis, Bodley Head, 2017. Volcker: The Triumph of Persistence, William L. Silber, Bloomsbury Press, 2012, pages 218-227. Balance Sheet Recession: Japan’s Struggle with Uncharted Economics and its Global Implications, Richard C. Koo, Wiley, 2003, pages 126-131. Silent Revolution: The International Monetary Fund, 1979-1989, James M. Boughton, International Monetary Fund, 2001, Chapter 7, pages 281-318. For Each, the Strength of All: A History of Banking in the State of New York, J. T. W. Hubbard, New York University Press, 1995, Chapter 13, pages 251-270. Governing the Global Economy: International Finance and the State, Ethan B. Kapstein, Harvard University Press, 1994, Chapter 4, pages 81-102; see also pages 74-80 for the petrodollar setup. Changing Fortunes: The World’s Money and the Threat to American Leadership, Paul Volcker and Toyoo Gyohten, Times Books, 1992, pages 198-201. Secrets of the Temple: How the Federal Reserve Runs the Country, William Greider, Simon & Schuster, 1987, pages 517-521. Debt Shock: The Full Story of the World Credit Crisis, Darrell Delamaide, Anchor Press, 1985. “External Debt and Macroeconomic Performance in Latin America and East Asia,” J. D. Sachs, see also pages 74-80 for the petrodollar setup. Changing Fortunes: The World’s Money and the Threat to American Leadership, Paul Volcker and Toyoo Gyohten, Times Books, 1992, pages 198-201. Secrets of the Temple: How the Federal Reserve Runs the Country, William Greider, Simon & Schuster, 1987, pages 517-521. Debt Shock: The Full Story of the World Credit Crisis, Darrell Delamaide, Anchor Press, 1985. “External Debt and Macroeconomic Performance in Latin America and East Asia,” J. D. Sachs, Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, 16(2):523-573, 1985. International Debt: Systemic Risk and Policy Response, William R. Cline, Institute for International Economics, 1984. “External debt: system vulnerability and development,” W. R. Cline, Columbia Journal of World Business, 17(1):4-14, 1982.

“As a prelude to the overall review of the debt crisis and the debt strategy in later chapters, this chapter takes an in-depth look at the handling of the crisis in Mexico. Although Mexico was not the first indebted economy to erupt, nor the largest, nor the one with the most serious economic or financial problems, the 1982 Mexican crisis was the one that alerted the IMF and the world to the possibility of a systemic collapse: a crisis that could spread to many other countries and threaten the stability of the international financial system. [...]

By the next morning—Tuesday, September 7—there was indeed a panic in the interbank market. International banks were refusing to roll over lines of credit to Mexican banks. Unless calm could somehow be restored, the Mexican banks would have no choice but to default, and the whole interbank market could collapse overnight with incalculable consequences for financial markets. Throughout this Black Tuesday, Volcker, Leutwiler, Sam Y. Cross of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and Brian Quinn of the Bank of England all worked the telephones to persuade banks to maintain the level of interbank credits. A substantial portion of the BIS loan that had just been approved was parceled out to repay portions of the outstanding claims, and the banks—knowing they could not get paid that day in any case—agreed to preserve the rest. By nightfall, the banking system had squeaked by without a default—and without a systemic collapse. [...]

The pressure put on the banks by the [IMF] Managing Director [on Tuesday November 16] was unprecedented, and it sent shock waves through the banking community. When the shock was absorbed, however, it became clear that cooperation was in everyone’s interest. The fundamental advantage to the banks as a group was that the package would enable them to get a net reflow of dollars from Mexico. As de Larosiére had indicated, the Mexican public sector would owe about $10 billion in interest payments during 1983. Without a fully financed adjustment program, the chances were virtually nil that Mexico would be able to make those payments. De Larosiére’s arithmetic implied that Mexico would pay approximately $5 billion in interest to banks in 1983, while the remainder would be rolled over into new principle. Thus, by raising exposure by $5 billion, the banks would receive a similar amount in net reflows that they otherwise could not get. Furthermore, if the Managing Director had been prepared to follow standard practice and take the program to the Board without any prior commitment regarding private financing, the Advisory Committee would have had a far tougher job—perhaps an impossible task—raising the $5 billion because of the free-rider problem they would have faced. Each individual bank that was small enough not to threaten the agreement by itself had an interest in trying to get its money back as rapidly as possible. Only if those banks could be convinced that withdrawal was impossible could the cost to each bank in terms of increased exposure be kept to a reasonable level.[...]

The primary explanation for the difficulty in reaching a globally optimal solution without outside intervention is that there was a sharp split in interests within the banking community. While the 25 largest creditors would provide for just over $2 billion of the $5 billion required by raising their exposure by the specified 7 percent, the next $2 billion would take another 75 banks, and the final $1 billion would require pulling in more than 400 additional banks. Furthermore, as a general rule, the banks with smaller exposure (and thus smaller required commitments) were not just smaller banks; they also had smaller exposure relative to their own size and thus would have been better positioned to cut their losses and run if the prospects of program success were judged to be poor. One goal of the concerted-lending package was to raise the stakes for those small banks by making success depend on their participation. Every bank with significant exposure would face a linkage between its decision to participate and the likelihood of program success; the free-rider problem was thereby greatly diminished.” Silent revolution: the International Monetary Fund, 1979-1989, James M. Boughton, International Monetary Fund, 2001, pages 281, 301-302, 307-308, 312.

[...try to stop big panics while we still can]
That’s the ‘moral hazard’ problem again. “Moral Hazard: A Question of Morality?” A. E. Dembe, L. I. Boden, New Solutions, 10(3):257-279, 2000.

For example, what might happen were an earthquake-prone city, like Istanbul or Mexico City, to require that all its buildings be made earthquake-proof? Sounds like a good idea, but if it were actually done, the city might simply die, because although most quake deaths are due to collapsed buildings, and we could reinforce or rebuild all our buildings, few of us could afford to. All of us would like to live or work under a roof that won’t one day fall in, but such a building would take time to build and cost a huge amount. Meanwhile, what about food, power, heat, clothes, transport...? Also, redoing all our buildings would be a massive undertaking, which would take time, and for all that time, construction costs would skyrocket. So what about new buildings—especially schools and hospitals—never mind bridges, roads, dams...? No single fear, not even the fear of death—unless it’s obvious and imminent—is easy to plan for because we don’t often see very much or very far, plus we’re inveterate risk-takers because we’re always faced with finite resources and infinite demands.

[limitations of banking regulation and banking insurance]
International Economics: Theory & Policy, 11th Edition, Paul R. Krugman, Maurice Obstfeld, and Marc J. Melitz, Pearson Education, 2018, pages 646-677. For simpler United-States-centric examples, see also: Macroeconomics, Paul Krugman and Robin Wells, with Margaret Ray and David Anderson, Second Edition in Modules, Worth Publishers, 2011, pages 245-247.
[a worldwide bank run...]
Here’s yet another made-up story, again based on real events: Mexico is in trouble, but if it fails, Brazil might be next. If Brazil fails, Argentina might be next. Panic might spread wider and wider. If the United States can’t sell its stuff to Mexico and Brazil and Argentina, it might try to space out interest payments on its debts to Britain and Japan and China—or try to borrow more from China, Norway, and Saudi Arabia. Interest rates in the United States, France, and Germany might then rise. As credit there tightens, Russia, South Korea, and Thailand might wobble. If Thailand fails, Malaysia might follow. Then Indonesia might fail. If so, the same might happen to Singapore, Hong Kong, Laos, the Philippines, then Japan, then the United States. As the dominoes tumble, the network process might turn into something like a bank run, except worldwide. If that lasts long enough, or happens at just the wrong time, bewilderment can turn to anger, then anger can turn to trade war. If that escalates, the result might be, and has been, world war.
[...the long-term result might be world war]
For instance, in 1917 the United States, with its newly large middle class, started selling government bonds to fund its entry into World War I. By 1921, the public had grown used to buying government bonds. So why not try to sell them corporate stocks? Exciting new tech was spreading—cars, planes, radios, fridges, movies—why not buy stock in the firms that made them? Combine a new mass urban populace, with both new wealth and vast financial ignorance, and a decade later you get a massive stock market crash. A liquidity crisis followed. Banks failed. Capital markets shrank. Industry stalled. World trade halved. Jobs fled. Currencies collapsed. Whole countries went bankrupt. World War II followed.

[susceptibility to scams and bubbles]
This reasoning style (‘I’ll do it because others are doing it’) normally is an excellent computational shortcut. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Robert B. Cialdini, Quill, Revised Edition, 1993. It works well for a lot of things—foraging, for example, or choosing a restaurant, doctor, or dentist—but it doesn’t serve us well in non-linear situations. How Con Games Work, M. Allen Henderson, Citadel Press, 1985. Flim-Flam! Psychics, ESP, Unicorns and other Delusions, James Randi, Prometheus Books, 1982. Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, Charles Mackay, 1841, Harmony Book, Reprint Edition, 1980.

Many of us don’t like uncertainty and will do nearly anything to remove it as a possibility. Reasoning and Decision Making, P. N. Johnson-Laird and Eldat Shafir (editors), Blackwell, 1994. Minimal Rationality, Christopher Cherniak, The MIT Press, 1986. Decision-Making: A Psychological Analysis of Conflict, Choice, and Commitment, Irving L. Janis and Leon Mann, Free Press, 1977.

In the stock market it’s called ‘The Greater Fool Theory,’ and it goes something like this: ‘I may be a fool, but since I’m induced to buy this stock now, there should be greater fools out there I can sell it to later.’ For some of the extremes this style of reasoning can drive us to see: When Genius Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long-Term Capital Management, Roger Lowenstein, Random House, 2001. Inventing Money: The story of Long-Term Capital Management and the legends behind it, Nicholas Dunbar, John Wiley & Sons, 2000.

Scientists fall for such mental shortcuts, too. Should We Risk It? Exploring Environmental, Health and Technology Problem Solving, Kammen and Hassenzahl, Princeton University Press, 1999. Uncertainty: A Guide to Dealing with Uncertainty in Quantitative Risk and Policy Analysis, M. Granger Morgan and Max Henrion, Cambridge University Press, 1990. “Assessing uncertainty in physical constants,” M. Henrion, B. Fischoff, American Journal of Physics, 54(9):791-797, 1986.

[seat belts and safety]
An effect first suggested by Peltzman, however its universality has been questioned since. Seat belt laws do reduce fatalities, however not as much as predicted, but compensatory carelessness is not as high as predicted, either. In 2003, seat belt use, even given the laws, was only at 68 percent. The original target level was supposed to be 90 percent. That level was finally hit only in 2019. “Traffic Safety Facts,” Research Note DOT HS 813 072, NHTSA’s National Center for Statistics and Analysis National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, U.S. Department of Transport, 2021. “The Effects of Mandatory Seat Belt Laws on Driving Behavior and Traffic Fatalities,” A. Cohen, L. Einav, The Review of Economics and Statistics, 85(4):828-843, 2003. “The Effects of Automobile Safety Regulation,” S. Peltzman, Journal of Political Economy, 83(4): 677-726, 1975. Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of The American Automobile, Ralph Nader, Grossman Publishers, 1965.
[boom-bust cycles in particular markets]
We’ve gone through that big financial cycle over and over again, going back at least as far as China nine centuries years ago. That’s when we first issued paper currency to squelch inflation and counterfeiting. The particular market we’re risking our financial future on doesn’t seem to much matter. It could be in tulips, imaginary countries, or gold. It could be in land, houses, or firms. Or it could be in currencies, stocks, junk bonds, savings and loan associations, dotcoms, collateralized debt obligations, sovereign debt, or whatever we’ll fool around with next. The particular financial tools that we invent to manage risk in that market also don’t seem to much matter. They may be limited liability companies, bonds, futures, mortgage-backed securities, credit default swaps, or whatever else we’ll next think will eliminate all risk and finally let us spin straw into gold. All that really seems to matter is our mix of risk strategies—that is, in food-web terms, the mix of our ways of food-getting and baby-making—and the spottiness of our knowledge, or rather the depth of our ignorance, of the true mix of risk strategies in our network. Our core problem isn’t stupidity about finance but ignorance about networks.

In essence, the text gives a simplified version of Minsky’s financial instability hypothesis. The essence of it is that the problem is systemic (see William Cline), not individual. Can ‘It’ Happen Again? Essays on Instability and Finance, Hyman P. Minsky, M. E. Sharpe, 1982.

Detractors might argue that the hypothesis is an unholy cross of Austrian economics with Keynesian economics. But the basic idea is very old. See, for example: This Time is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly, Carmen M. Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, Princeton University Press, 2009. The Land that Never Was: Sir Gregor MacGregor and the Most Audacious Fraud in History, David Sinclair, Da Capo Press, 2004. Manias, Panics, and Crashes: A History of Financial Crises, Charles P. Kindleberger, Wiley, Fourth Edition, 2001. Devil Take the Hindmost A History of Financial Speculation, Edward Chancellor, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999. Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, Charles Mackay, 1841, Harmony Book, Reprint Edition, 1980.

The same idea (of the mix of strategies changing simply because organisms in the food web get used to, then begin to depend on the stability of the current mix of strategies) is common in ecosystem thinking. “In Quest of a Theory of Adaptive Change,” C. S. Holling, L. Gunderson, D. Ludwig, in: Panarchy: Understanding Transformations in Human and Natural Systems, L. H. Gunderson and C. S. Holling (editors), Island Press, 2002, pages 3-24. The idea is also familiar in game theory, and more recently in adaptive algorithms for complex systems: “Evolutionary Stable Strategies: A review of basic theory,” W. G. S. Hines, Theoretical Population Biology, 31(2):195-272, 1987.

[paper money and fiscal mismanagement in China 900 years ago]
China issued the world’s first paper money in 1111 to combat inflation and counterfeiting. But after losing a war in 1127, the state lost most of its bronze reserves. (Bronze coins were the basis of currency in China at the time.) In China, our confidence in the new paper cash began to fall. Then the mints began to fail, so the state began debasing its coins. Our confidence fell further. With coinage debased, counterfeiting rose, so confidence fell yet further. As confidence fell, prices rocketed up. We were in full monetary crisis. In response, moneychangers began issuing their own paper money. Coin began to disappear under mattresses. By 1150 a coin famine was in full swing. Trade then fell, and grain prices fell with it. As peasants, we were caught between deflation on the one hand and mounting taxes on the other. By 1159, the state, trying to combat the cash famine, made hoarding cash a crime. Many moneychangers then went out of business. The state then tried a new issue of paper money, which drove all private paper money out of circulation. But the state, needing money for its army, then printed so much that by 1166 hyperinflation struck. Our money was worthless again. “The Origins of Paper Money in China,” R. Von Glah, in: The Origins of Value: The Financial Innovations that Created Modern Capital Markets, William N. Goetzmann and K. Geert Rouwenhorst (editor), Oxford University Press, 2005, pages 71-75.
[the flash crash of 2010]
“Over the past four decades, the remarkable growth of the semiconductor industry as embodied by Moore’s Law has had enormous effects on society, influencing everything from household appliances to national defense. The implications of this growth for the financial system has been profound, as well. Computing has become faster, cheaper, and better at automating a variety of tasks, and financial institutions have been able to greatly increase the scale and sophistication of their services. At the same time, population growth combined with the economic complexity of modern society has increased the demand for financial services. After all, most individuals are born into this world without savings, income, housing, food, education, or employment; all of these necessities require financial transactions.

It should come as no surprise then that the financial system exhibits a Moore’s Law of its own—from 1929 to 2009 the total market capitalization of the US stock market has doubled every decade. The total trading volume of stocks in the Dow Jones Industrial Average doubled every 7.5 years during this period, but in the most recent decade, the pace has accelerated: now the doubling occurs every 2.9 years, growing almost as fast as the semiconductor industry. But the financial industry differs from the semiconductor industry in at least one important respect: human behavior plays a more significant role in finance. As the great physicist Richard Feynman once said, ‘Imagine how much harder physics would be if electrons had feelings.’ While financial technology undoubtedly benefifits from Moore’s Law, it must also contend with Murphy’s Law, ‘whatever can go wrong will go wrong,’ as well as its technology-specific corollary, ‘whatever can go wrong will go wrong faster and bigger when computers are involved.’ [...]”

The key moment was 14:42:44 (Eastern Standard Time) on May 6th, 2010.

“[...] a rapid automated sale of 75,000 E-mini S&P 500 June 2010 stock index futures contracts (worth about $4.1 billion) over an extremely short time period created a large order imbalance that overwhelmed the small risk-bearing capacity of financial intermediaries—that is, the high-frequency traders and market makers. After buying the E-mini for about 10 minutes, high frequency traders reached their critical inventory levels and began to quickly and aggressively unwind their long inventory at a key moment when liquidity was sparse, adding to the downward pressure. High frequency traders rapidly passed contracts back and forth, contributing to the ‘hot potato’ effect that drove up trading volume, exacerbating the volatility.

Meanwhile, cross-market arbitrage trading algorithms rapidly propagated price declines in the E-mini futures market to the markets for stock index exchange-traded funds like the Standard & Poor’s Depository Receipts S&P 500, individual stocks, and listed stock options. According to the interviews conducted by the SEC staff, cross-market arbitrage firms ‘purchased the E-Mini and contemporaneously sold Standard & Poor’s Depository Receipts S&P 500, baskets of individual securities, or other equity index products.’ As a result, a liquidity event in the futures market triggered by an automated selling program cascaded into a systemic event for the entire U.S. financial market system.

As the periods during which short-term liquidity providers are willing to hold risky inventory shrink to minutes if not seconds, Flash-Crash-type events—extreme short-term volatility combined with a rapid spike in trading volume—can easily be generated by algorithmic trading strategies seeking to quickly exploit temporarily favorable market conditions.”

“Moore’s Law vs. Murphy’s Law: Algorithmic Trading and Its Discontents,” A. A. Kirilenko, A. W. Lo, Journal of Economic Perspectives, 27(2):51-72, 2013. See also: Dark Pools: The Rise of the Machine Traders and the Rigging of the U.S. Stock Market, Chris Patterson, Crown Business, 2012.

High-frequency trading has gone on to play a role in the crackups behind the Facebook IPO, the collapse of Knight Capital Group, Inc., spoofing and layering by the Hold Brothers On-Line Investment Services, and the New York Stock Exchange fine.

The Price of Life

[South Korea about as poor as Ghana in 1963]
Korea’s per capita income level in 1961 is given as $82 U.S. versus Ghana’s $179 U.S. in: Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism, Ha-Joon Chang, Bloomsbury Press, 2007, page 3. However, their rough equality in 1963 per capita income levels is stated in several other references. Cultural Liberty in Today’s Diverse World, Human Development Report, 2004, United Nations Development Programme, 2004, especially page 19. “Ghana and South Korea: Explaining Development Disparities—An Essay in Honor of Carl Rosberg,” H. H. Werlin, Journal of Asian and African Studies, 29(3-4):205-225, 1994. “Third World Economic Development,” C. Crook, in: The Fortune Encyclopedia of Economics, David Henderson (editor), Warner Books, 1993. “Ghana and South Korea: Lessons from world bank case studies,” H. Werlin, Public Administration and Development, 11(3):245-255, 1991.
[South Korea in 2020 about as rich as Italy, in 2007 about as rich as Canada]
In 2020, the International Monetary Fund estimated that GDP (PPP) in South Korea (in millions of International dollars) was $2,307,718, making it 12th richest (about $2.3 trillion—that is, million million). Italy was 14th richest at $2,244,767. (Turkey was 13th richest at $2,257,987; Japan was 4th richest at $5,451,452.) Ghana was 62nd richest at $209,179. South Korea’s income per person (in International dollars) was $46,452; Japan’s was $46,827, making them 29th and 28th in rank; Ghana’s was $7,343, making it 126th. “World Economic Outlook Database, April 2020,” International Monetary Fund, 2020. “World Economic Outlook - GDP per capita,” International Monetary Fund, October 2019. North Korea’s GDP (PPP) was estimated at $40 billion. it’s per person income was estimated at $1,800. “GDP (PPP) Field listing,” CIA World Factbook, 2014.

In 2007, the International Monetary Fund estimated that GDP (PPP) in Canada was $1,265,838, while in South Korea it was $1,200,879, making them 13th and 14th in the world. The United States Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook estimated Canada at $1,266,000 and South Korea at $1,201,000, again making them 13th and 14th in world ranking. The World Bank reversed that order, but its estimates were about the same: South Korea at $1,199,270 and Canada at $1,178,205.

However, per-person, South Korea wasn’t as rich as Canada. In 2007, its population was 48.6 million whereas Canada’s was 32.89 million. South Korea is a big exporter of cars and computers. Its per-person income was about that of Israel’s. And like Israel, it has military and geopolitical significance, and thus investment, that Ghana lacks. So by 2007, Ghana’s per person income was over 17 times smaller than South Korea’s.

[South Korea’s fear of invasion]
“[T]he governments of most other developing countries know that they can fail economically and not risk invasion, the governments and elites of these countries [Taiwan and South Korea] knew that without fast economic growth and social stability this could well happen. This led them to make an unusually close coupling of national security and economic strength.” Governing the Market, Robert Wade, Princeton University Press, 1992, page 314.
[changes in South Korea]
For an analysis from the firm level of the economy, see: Emergent Economies, Divergent Paths: Economic Organization and International Trade in South Korea and Taiwan, Robert C. Feenstra and Gary G. Hamilton, Cambridge University Press, 2006. The introduction of the shipping container also mattered. See: The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger, Marc Levinson, Princeton University Press, 2006.
[big retail chains...]
Those includeded Wal-Mart and Nike.
[South Korea versus Ghana]
For urbanization data, see: “Urban Growth in Korea, 1970-1980: An Application of the Human Ecological Perspective,” S. H. Ko, Korea Journal of Population and Development, 23(1):1-18, 1994. For other data on growth (like life expectancy), see: The Transformation of South Korea: Reform and Reconstitution in the Sixth Republic under Roh Tae Woo, 1987-1992, Robert E. Bedeski, Routledge, 1994, especially pages 79-81.
[Japan’s postwar growth acceleration]
“Japan’s remarkable postwar growth spurt in the 1960s would not have been possible without Japan’s alliance with the United States. Policy makers, political scientists, economists, historians, and journalists on both sides of the Pacific have made this claim, but no study has yet tested it with modern statistical methods. In this article, we compare the economic growth trajectories of Japan and a statistically constructed ‘synthetic’ Japan, which had a similar profile until the late 1950s but did not experience the consolidation of the U.S.-Japan alliance, a process that began in 1958 and culminated with the signing of a formal defense pact in January 1960. We find that Japan’s per capita gross domestic product (GDP) grew much faster than the synthetic Japan’s from 1958 to 1968. We substantiate these results with in-depth historical analyses on how the United States facilitated Japan’s economic miracle.” From: “America’s Role in the Making of Japan’s Economic Miracle,” M. Beckley, Y. Horiuchi, J. M. Miller, Journal of East Asian Studies, 18(1):1-21, 2018.

See also: “Japan and the Asian Economies: A ‘Miracle’ in Transition,” T. Ito, Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, 27(2):205-272, 1996. The East Asian Miracle, The World Bank, Oxford University Press, 1993. America and the Japanese Miracle, Aaron Forsberg, University of North Carolina Press, 2000. The Making of Modern Japan, Marius Jansen, Belknap, 2000. Eastern Phoenix: Japan Since 1945, Mikiso Hane, Westview Press, 1996.

[other comparative case studies]
Similar things might be said about South Korea versus the Philippines (which was also occupied by the United States, then Japan, then the United States again), Malaysia versus Ghana, and perhaps Taiwan versus Kenya.

South Korea versus the Philippines: Lectures on Economic Growth, Robert E. Lucas, Jr., Harvard University Press, 2002, especially Chapter 3. Ghana versus Malaysia: “An Economic Development of Two Countries: Ghana and Malaysia,” B. Asare, A. Wong, West Africa Review, 5(1), 2004. And of course, South Korea versus North Korea.

[population of North and South Korea, 2019]
South Korea (population 51.2 million, as of 2019). Seoul (population 9.7 million, as of 2018), which is in the Seoul Capital Area (population 25 million, as of 2017), which also contains Incheon (2.9 million, as of 2019). North Korea (population 25.6 million, as of 2019, estimated). Pyongyang (population 3.2 million, as of 2008). World Population Prospects: The 2019 Revision, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2019. Volume I: Comprehensive Tables, Table A.9., Volume II: Demographic Profiles.
[differences in heights and weights between North and South Korea, 2008]
“Height and weight differences between North and South Korea,” D. Schwekendiek, Journal of Biosocial Science, 41(1):51-55, 2009. “Recent growth of children in the two Koreas: a meta-analysis,” D. Schwekendiek, S. Pak, Economics and Human Biology, 7(1):109-112, 2009. “Doors closing for North Korean defectors,” T. Johnson, The Seattle Times, September 30th, 2007. By comparing 1,075 North Korean defectors to the South Korean population, in 2005 the Korean Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that North Korean males between 20 and 39 are 165.6 centimeters tall (5’ 4.5”), while South Korean males are 172.5 centimeters (5’ 8.5”). For females, the values were 154.9 centimeters (5’ 1.0”) and 159.1 centimeters (5’ 3.5”).
[why compare South Korea and Ghana—the question of ‘culture’]
The text chooses the particular example of South Korea and Ghana partly because it was earlier used to a different end: “... How could this extraordinary difference in development be explained? Undoubtedly, many factors played a role, but it seemed to me that culture had to be a large part of the explanation. South Koreans valued thrift, investment, hard work, education, organization, and discipline. Ghanians had different values. In short, cultures count.” From: “Cultures count,” L. E. Harrison, in: Culture Matters: How Values Shape Human Progress, Lawrence E. Harrison and Samuel P. Huntington (editors), Basic Books, 2000, pages xiii-xvi.

The idea that ‘culture’ is mostly all that counts is both old and widely accepted. For example: “If we learn anything from the history of economic development it is that culture makes all the difference.” Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich and Some So Poor, David S. Landes, W. W. Norton, 1998, page 516. See also: Conquests and Cultures: An International History, Thomas Sowell, Basic Books, 1998, especially pages 86, 97, and 166.

On the other hand, a few scholars, like Andre Gunder Frank, (in ReORIENT: Global Economy in the Asian Age, University of California Press, 1998) see a more chaotic picture—however, they, too, ascribe basically everything to ‘culture’ and ideology, specifically with respect to Europe. So, one side, the more dominant one in Anglo-American academia, essentially says that Europeans are the best. The other side, a much smaller iconoclastic side of the same Anglo-American academia, says that Europeans are the worst. Both assume that ‘culture’ and ideology are the main things that matter.

That seems wrong. For a summary of why that’s so, at least in the case of South Korea and Ghana, see: Cultural Liberty in Today’s Diverse World, Human Development Report, 2004, United Nations Development Programme, 2004, especially pages 18-19 and 38-44 in Chapters 1 and 2. See also: Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism, Ha-Joon Chang, Bloomsbury Press, 2007, especially Chapter 9.

For other examples of what’s wrong with the ‘culture counts’ argument, consider the following quote: “Scholars often used to offer cultural explanations for economic growth, and even today it is common to hear that China and Japan are booming because of the intuitive capitalist spirit or ingrained industriousness of the Chinese and Japanese peoples. But explanations based on immutable culture have been discredited, because the enthusiasts could not get their story straight. Confucianism used to be seen as an obstacle to economic growth, because it looked down on commerce; now it is praised as a great boon to growth. Chinese are now seen as industrious; just a decade ago, at least within Chinese factories, they were ridiculed for spending all their time on tea breaks and taking naps. Tamils are an exceptionally enterprising and hard-working people in Sri Lanka, but if this is ingrained in Tamil culture, then what happened to the Tamils in southern India?

Japan is a good example of the problems with explanations based on immutable culture. The Japanese are renowned today for their high savings rates, for their discipline and commitment to hard work and high quality. But a century ago, Japan’s savings rates were far lower than in the West. Likewise, foreigners used to be firmly agreed on the laziness and incompetence of Japanese workers. In 1881, a foreigner wrote in a Yokohama newspaper: “The Japanese are a happy race, and being content with little, are not likely to achieve much.” As late as 1915, an Australian expert told the Japanese government: “My impression as to your cheap labor was soon disillusioned when I saw your people at work. No doubt they are lowly paid, but the return is equally so; to see your men at work made me feel that you are a very satisfied, easygoing race who reckon time is no object. When I spoke to some managers they informed me that it was impossible to change the habits of national heritage.” ”

Thunder from the East, Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, Alfred A. Knopf, 2000, pages 131-132.

See also: The Lever of Riches: Technology, Creativity, and Economic Progress, Joel Mokyr, Oxford University Press, 1990. Institutions, Institutional Change, and Economic Performance, Douglass North, Cambridge University Press, 1990. How the West Grew Rich: The Economic Transformation of the Industrial World, Nathan Rosenberg and L. E. Birdzell, Jr., Basic Books, 1982.

Here is how Britain saw, or more accurately sneered down on, the United States in 1820: “Such is the land of Jonathan—and thus has it been governed. In his honest endeavours to better his situation, and in his manly purpose of resisting injury and insult, we most cordially sympathize. We hope he will always continue to watch and suspect his government as he now does—remembering, that it is the constant tendency of those entrusted with power, to conceive that they enjoy it by their own merits, and for their own use, and not by delegation, and for the benefit of others. Thus far we are the friends and admirers of Jonathan. But he must not grow vain and ambitious; or allow himself to be dazzled by that galaxy of epithets by which his orators and newspaper scribblers endeavour to persuade their supporters that they are the greatest, the most refined, the most enlightened, and most moral people upon earth. The effect of this is unspeakably ludicrous on this side of the Atlantic—and, even on the other, we shall imagine, must be rather humiliating to the reasonable part of the population. The Americans are a brave, industrious and acute people; but they have hitherto given no indications of genius, and made no approaches to the heroic, either in their morality or character. They are but a recent offset indeed from England; and should make it their chief boast, for many generations to come, that they are sprung from the same race with Bacon and Shakspeare and Newton. Considering their numbers, indeed, and the favourable circumstances in which they have been placed, they have yet done marvellously little to assert the honour of such a descent, or to show that their English blood has been exalted or refined by their republican training and institutions. Their Franklins and Washingtons, and all the other sages and heroes of their Revolution, were born and bred subjects of the King of England,—and not among the freest or most valued of his subjects. And since the period of their separation, a far greater proportion of their statesmen and artists and political writers have been foreigners, than ever occurred before in the history of any civilized and educated people. During the thirty or forty years of their independence, they have done absolutely nothing for the Sciences, for the Arts, for Literature, or even for the statesman-like studied of Politics or Political Economy. Confining ourselves to our own country, and to the period that has elapsed since they had an independent existence, we would ask. Where are their Foxes, their Burkes, their Sheridans, their Windhams, their Homers, their Wilberforces?—where their Arkwrights, their Watts, their Davys?—their Robertsons, Blairs, Smiths, Stewarts, Paleys, and Malthuses?—their Porsons, Parrs, Bumeys, or Bloomfields?—their Scotts, Rogers’s, Campbells, Byrons, Moores, or Crabbes?—their Siddons’s, Kembles, Keans, or O’Neils?—their Wilkies, Lawrences, Chantrys?—or their parallels to the hundred other names that have spread themselves over the world from our little island in the course of the last thirty years, and blest or delighted mankind by their works, inventions, or examples? In so far as we know, there is no such parallel to be produced from the whole annals of this self-adulating race. In the four quarters of the globe, who reads an American book? or goes to an American play? or looks at an American picture or statue? What does the world yet owe to American physicians or surgeons? What new substances have their chemists discovered? or what old ones have they analyzed? What new constellations have been discovered by the telescopes of Americans? What have they done in the mathematics? Who drinks out of American glasses? or eats from American plates? or wears American coats or gowns? or sleeps in American blankets? Finally, under which of the old tyrannical governments of Europe is every sixth man a slave, whom his fellow-creatures may buy and sell and torture?” From: “America,” The works of the Rev. Sydney Smith, Sydney Smith, Longman, Brown, Greene, and Longmans, 1850, pages 283-284,

The problem with the word ‘culture’ is that it is too vague. There are hundreds of definitions of the word ‘culture’ going back to at least the 1750s. Culture: A critical review of concepts and definitions, A. L Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn, Vintage, 1952. Boyd and Richerson give one popular recent meaning that is in the style of both Harrison and Landes above. “Culture is information capable of affecting individuals’ behavior that they acquire from other members of their species through teaching, imitation, and other forms of social transmission.” Not By Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution, Peter J. Richerson and Robert Boyd, University Of Chicago Press, 2004, page 5.

But such attempts to ignore artifacts and other aspects of material life seem unnecessarily restrictive. Ogburn gives an older and more encompassing definition that includes material things.

“A group of new-born infants on an island uninhabited by man would be without a social heritage, although, like the lower animals, they would be born into a natural environment. The social heritage is therefore not coextensive with environment. The environment of man may be said to consist of two parts: natural environment, including air, heat, land, water, soil, moisture, vegetation and minerals; and the social heritage, consisting of buildings, technological equipment, social organization, language, the arts, philosophies, science, religions, morals and customs.

The social heritage is very similar in meaning to the word, culture, as used by sociologists and anthropologists. Culture has been defined by Tylor as ‘that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.’ In this definition of culture the use of material objects is not particularly emphasized, and there is a tendency to think of culture as somewhat removed from material objects. However, the use of material things is a very important part of the culture of any people. A special term, material culture, is frequently used, giving particular emphasis to the material features of culture. The word, culture, properly includes, as does the term, social heritage, both the material culture and also such parts of culture as knowledge, belief, morals, law, and custom.”

Social Change with respect to Culture and Original Nature, William Fielding Ogburn, B. W. Huebsch, Inc., 1922, pages 3-4.

[effect of distance on trade]
A ten percent reduction in ocean distance between two of our countries means roughly a five percent increase in trade between them. “Distance, Trade, and Income: The 1967 to 1975 Closing of the Suez Canal as a Natural Experiment,” J. Feyrer, Working Paper 15557, National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), 2009.
[Australia’s trading partners, 2016, 2007]
“Australia’s trade in goods and services 2016,” Australian Government: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Year Book Australia, 2007, Australian Bureau of Statistics.
[Japan’s food trading partners]
The United States was the most important trading partner, being the largest exporter and second largest importer. Evaluation of Agricultural Policy Reforms in Japan, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), 2009, Table 1.8, page 29.
[other trade networks in ‘trade space’]
There are several other trade networks. For instance, Switzerland is tiny and has few resources. (Salt mines and fast rivers are about all.) Nigeria is over 20 times bigger, and almost 20 times as many of us live there. Plus, it’s chock-full of oil and other goodies. Yet in Switzerland we’re 25 times richer. Why? Even if Switzerland had no other edge, it gains from the European trade network it’s a part of. If we were to extract Switzerland and plop it down in the middle of Africa it would immediately get much poorer.

Similarly, Turkey joined the European Union in 2005. To fit in, it had to change much of its red tape on banking, investment, and trade. As it did so from the 1990s to 2005, foreign investment quintupled. Greece and Portugal have had similar experiences, although they, like Italy, have had more recent upsets. Ditto for Spain and Ireland. (They have more recently been all joined together into the ‘PIIGS,’ especially since the collapse of Greece.) The change in foreign direct investment in Turkey to 2005 is from: “Why Doesn’t Capital Flow from Rich to Poor Countries? An Empirical Investigation,” L. Alfaro, S. Kalemli-Ozcan, V. Volosovych, The Review of Economics and Statistics, 90(2):347-368, 2008.

The United States, Canada, and Mexico entered free trade agreements in 1994 that have so far been more economically mixed than experience in the European Union. The agreements in question are the Canada-United States Free Trade Agreement (CUSFTA) signed in 1989 and the North American free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) signed in 1994. Briefly, the combined North American economy has doubled in a decade, however it’s still not clear how much of that is a result of NAFTA and how much is better technology. Also, as of 2004, there were many points of friction between the three countries. It does seem to have benefited Mexico, though. NAFTA’s Impact On North America: The First Decade, Sidney Weintraub (editor), Center for Strategic & International Studies, 2004. NAFTA Revisited: Achievements and Challenges, Gary Clyde Hufbauer, Jeffrey J. Schott, Paul L. E. Grieco, and Yee Wong, Institute for International Economics, 2005.

[rural hand-to-mouth life]
The argument in the text includes what seems like the top three variables affecting rural family size, but it’s missing something, however it’s not clear what. The reason is that aristocrats also had large families until just a bit before the industrial phase change. There are variations (at least in Europe, between east and west Europe, and between north and south Europe) but in general, aristocratic family sizes dropped before peasant family sizes, and both dropped before mass-produced contraceptives were widespread. So it can’t simply be because of new tools to prevent pregnancy, nor can it simply be that the wealth of a family was all that mattered, nor just the growth of cities, nor the spread of schooling, and so on.

The missing factor may may well include something to do with female options, whether rich or poor—although rich females started to change before poor females, so wealth does matter. There are probably several other relevant variables: for example, the rise of the wage-earning woman coupled with the decline of the three-generation family alone may have put pressure that led to fertility decline. Of course, there are many confounds. For example, even when aristocratic family size was low, that didn’t mean that all aristocrats had fewer children than average; it merely meant that aristocratic women did. Aristocratic males may still have procreated a great deal and produced a lot of illegitimate children, who weren’t counted. The Black Death may also have played a part.

For some exploratory references on the issue of aristocratic family size, see: A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World, Gregory Clark, Princeton University Press, 2007. The Household and the Making of History: A Subversive View of the Western Past, Mary S. Hartman, Cambridge University Press, 2004. Fertility, Class and Gender in Britain, 1860-1940, Simon Szreter, Cambridge University Press, 2002, pages 45-50. Fertility Control, Stephen L. Corson, Richard J. Derman, and Louise B. Tyrer (editors), Taylor & Francis, Second Edition, 1994, pages 396-398.

[sub-Saharan economic decline from 1975-1995]
Countries there didn’t merely stay the same, they got poorer and poorer. “Patterns of Long Term Growth in Sub-Saharan Africa,” J. S. Arbache, J. Page, Policy Research Working Paper #4398, The World Bank, 2007.
[working-age ratios worldwide in 1996]
Beyond Economic Growth: An Introduction to Sustainable Development, Tatyana P. Soubbotina, The World Bank, Second Edition, 2004, page 131.
[phase change into wealth as a demographic transition]
Economists call that phase change a ‘demographic transition.’ We can stigmergically react to tool and trade changes around us to then change our attitudes and that internal change alone can itself lead to further changes. But that phase change isn’t guaranteed because it depends on our initial state. Demographic Transition Theory, John C. Caldwell (editor), Springer, 2006. “Public infrastructure and growth: new channels and policy implications,” P.-R. Agénor, B. Moreno-Dodson, World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 4064, 2006, Appendix A. Health and Development: A Compilation of articles from Finance & Development, International Monetary Fund, 2004, page 12. The Demographic Dividend: A New Perspective on the Economic Consequences of Population Change, David E. Bloom, David Canning, and Jaypee Sevilla, RAND Corporation, 2003, pages 44-45. “The Health and Wealth of Nations,” D. E. Bloom, D. Canning, Science, 287(5456):1207-1209, 2000. “Economic Development and the Demographic Transition: The Role of Cumulative Causality,” D. E. Bloom, D. Canning, the United States Agency for International Development under CAER II, (Consulting Assistance on Economic Reform), Harvard Institute for International Development, September, 1999. “Demographic Transitions and Economic Miracles in Emerging Asia,” D. E. Bloom, J. G. Williamson, World Bank Economic Review, 12(3):419-455, 1998.
[dependence on history]
Economists call that ‘path dependence.’ “Increasing returns and economic progress,” A. A. Young, Economic Journal, 38(152):527-542, 1928.

It’s a consequence of stigmergy (what we’ve built, especially if large, strongly influences what we can next build.). Mathematically speaking, though, it’s more strictly any non-ergodic stochastic process. That is, any process whose asymptotic distribution is at least partly a consequence of its history. Increasing Returns and Path Dependency in the Economy, W. Brian Arthur, University of Michigan Press, 1994.

Arthur’s models have been challenged, particularly for VHS versus Betamax and for the Dvorak versus the QWERTY keyboards. That challenge in turn led to further argument. “Path dependence, Its Critics and the Quest for ‘Historical Economics,’ P. A. David, in: Evolution and Path Dependence in Economic Ideas: Past and Present, P. Garrouste and S. Ioannidis (editors), Edward Elgar Publishing, 2001, pages 15-40. “Path Dependence, Lock-in, and History,” S. J. Liebowitz, S. E. Margolis, Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, 11(1):205-226, 1995. “Defending the Concept of Network Externalities: A Discussion of Liebowitz and Margolis,” P. Regibeau, Research in Law and Economics, 17:33-39, 1995.

In economics, the argument revolves around whether path dependence (stigmergy, in the text) can force fixable free market errors. That is, whether the history of an innovation can lock a free market into choices that are economically inefficient even when more efficient choices exist. In general, that seems unlikely (in a free market). However, that’s not the point being made in the text. It argues that whether or not our choices are economically efficient, stigmergy does affect which options we choose, can choose, or are forced to choose.

[London’s growth]
London grew from around 50,000 in 1500 to 200,000 in 1600, to half a million in 1700, to a million in 1800. By 1900 it was 6.5 million. Britain’s urbanization rate jumped from perhaps seven percent in 1500, to 25 percent in 1800, to 50 percent by 1850. By 1900 it was 77 percent.

Chapter 5. Economic War: Poverty

[Heller quote]
“The economists here, including the theorists, seemed well aware that their profession has much to be humble about these days. Self-mockery abounded, perhaps best summed up by Walter W. Heller, a top economic adviser to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. “An economist,” he averred while moderating a panel discussion, “is a person who, when he finds something that works in practice, wonders if it will work in theory.” ” From: “A Fed Camp in the Rockies,” R. D. Hershey, Jr., New York Times, August 26th, 1985.

“[Walter] Heller has his own definition of his breed: An economist is a man who, when he finds something works in practice, wonders if it works in theory.” From: “Take an economist, any economist...,” E. B. Furgurson, Seattle Daily Times, July 4th, 1979.

Insoluble Closure

[the dead donkey...]
This is a composite story based on an eyewitness report in July, 1985, plus several Egyptian government white papers, and conversations with Egyptian friends. Adoption of Community Water Systems: An Area Study in Three Villages in Muhafzat Kofr-Shaykh, Egypt, David Berton Belasco, doctoral thesis, University of Denver, 1989.

For a brief overview of the piped water initiative from the innovation diffusion point of view, see: Diffusion of Innovations, Everett M. Rogers, Free Press, Fifth Edition, 2003, pages 107-116. For more recent ethnographic background on Delta problems, see also: Agrarian Transformation in Egypt: Conflict Dynamics and the Politics of Power from a Micro Perspective, Caroline Laetitia Tingay, doctoral thesis, Freie Universität Berlin, 2005.

[child deaths in Egypt]
During the 1980s in Egypt, two-thirds of all deaths of infants and children under five were from diarrhea and associated dehydration. The proportion of water-related child deaths was highest in the Nile Delta.

“[L]ife expectancy at birth, only thirty-nine years in 1952, had climbed to fifty-nine years for men and sixty years for women by 1989. The crude death rate, which was 23.9 in 1952, had declined to 10.3 by 1990. Its main component, the infant mortality rate, declined more dramatically in the same period, from 193 infant deaths per 1,000 live births to 85 per 1,000. Nevertheless, major disparities remained in the mortality rates of cities and villages as well as in those of Upper and Lower Egypt. Although mortality and morbidity data were adequate for establishing general trends, they were not reliable for precise measurements. Egypt’s official infant mortality rate, for example, was probably understated because parents tended not to report infants who died in the first few weeks of life. Corrected estimates of the infant mortality rate for 1990 ranged as high as 113 per 1,000 live births.

Although mortality rates have declined since 1952, the main causes of death (respiratory ailments and diseases of the digestive tract) have remained unchanged for much of the twentieth century. Death rates for infants and children ages one to five dropped, but children remained the largest contributors to the mortality rate. Nearly seventeen infants and four children under five years of age died for each death of an individual between age five and thirty-four. Children younger than five years of age accounted for about half of all mortality—one of the world’s highest rates. During the 1980s, diarrhea and associated dehydration accounted for 67 percent of the deaths among infants and children.”

Egypt: A Country Study, Helen Chapin Metz (editor), Fifth Edition, Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, 1991, page 148.

[half the hospital beds...]
“Poor water and sanitation produce nonfatal chronic conditions at all stages of the lifecycle. At any given time close to half the people in the developing world are suffering from one or more of the main diseases associated with inadequate provision of water and sanitation such as diarrhoea, guinea worm, trachoma and schistosomiasis. These diseases fill half the hospital beds in developing countries.” Human Development Report, 2006, United Nations Development Programme, 2007, page 45.
[over a billion of us lacked access to safe water in 1990]
In 1990, the United Nations World Health Organization reported that 1,015 million of us, almost one sixth of everyone alive, had to drink contaminated surface water, and 1,764 million, almost a quarter of us, were without adequate sanitation. Despite huge gains over the next decade, an additional 800 million of us made the situation much the same ten years later. “The percentage of people served with some form of improved water supply rose from 79 percent (4.1 billion) in 1990 to 82 percent (4.9 billion) in 2000. Over the same period the proportion of the world’s population with access to excreta disposal facilities increased from 55 percent (2.9 billion people served) to 60 percent (3.6 billion). At the beginning of 2000 one-sixth (1.1 billion people) of the world’s population was without access to improved water supply and two-fifths (2.4 billion people) lacked access to improved sanitation. The majority of these people live in Asia and Africa, where fewer than one-half of all Asians have access to improved sanitation and two out of five Africans lack improved water supply. Moreover, rural services still lag far behind urban services. Sanitation coverage in rural areas, for example, is less than half that in urban settings, even though 80 percent of those lacking adequate sanitation (2 billion people) live in rural areas - some 1.3 billion in China and India alone.” Global Water Supply and Sanitation Assessment 2000 Report, WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation, 2000.
[dirty water was the largest single cause of disease and death in 2004, update to 2015]
“Shockingly, in many parts of the world a child dies every 35 seconds of pneumonia; every 60 seconds, another child dies of diarrhoea. Of the nearly 6 million children who do not live beyond the age of 5, nearly one quarter die from these illnesses.

Pneumonia and diarrhoea mortality disproportionately affect the youngest children: around 80 per cent of deaths associated with pneumonia and approximately 70 per cent of deaths associated with diarrhoea occur during the first two years of life.

Pneumonia and diarrhoea deaths are dropping — but not quickly enough.

There has already been substantial progress to reduce pneumonia- and diarrhoea-related mortality since 2000: deaths from these two diseases declined by nearly half between 2000 and 2015, from 2.9 million deaths to the current 1.4 million. Diarrhoea deaths have dropped more significantly since 2000, falling from 1.2 million to 526,000 in 2015 — a decline of 57 per cent. Deaths due to pneumonia declined at a slower rate during this period, falling from 1.7 million in 2000 to 920,000 in 2015. Indeed, pneumonia mortality rates have declined at a significantly slower rate than those of other common childhood diseases, such as malaria, measles and HIV.”

One is too many: Ending child deaths from pneumonia and diarrhoea, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), November 2016, pages 5 and 7.

“Diarrhoeal deaths among children under-five have more than halved from 1.5 million in 1990 to 622 000 in 2012. Inadequate WASH accounts for 361 000 of these deaths, or over 1000 child deaths per day. [...] The burden of diarrhoea attributable to inadequate WASH is estimated on the basis of the total diarrhoeal disease burden. The number of diarrhoeal deaths has dropped dramatically over recent decades from around 2.5-2.9 million deaths in 1990 to 1.5 million in 2012. Mortality from diarrhoea in children under-five has also decreased during the same period.” Preventing diarrhoea through better water, sanitation and hygiene: Exposures and impacts in low- and middle-income countries, World Health Organization, 2014, pages ix and 1.

“Even though the percentage of the world’s population with access to improved water supply rose from 78 to 82 per cent between 1990 and 2000, and the percentage with access to improved sanitation rose from 51 to 61 per cent during this same period, contaminated water remains the greatest single cause of human sickness and death on a global scale.” Global Environment Outlook, GEO-4, United Nations Environment Programme, 2007, page 151.

“Some 1.8 million child deaths each year as a result of diarrhoea—4,900 deaths each day or an under-five population equivalent in size to that for London and New York combined. Together, unclean water and poor sanitation are the world’s second biggest killer of children. Deaths from diarrhoea in 2004 were some six times greater than the average annual deaths in armed conflict for the 1990s.” Human Development Report, 2006, United Nations Development Programme, 2007, page 6.

“10.7 million children every year do not live to see their fifth birthday.” Human Development Report, 2005, United Nations Development Programme, 2006, page 3.

[Egyptian words]
abāyah - a robe-like dress, covering the arms. maglis al-qarya - conclave of village elders to decide on a communal agreement about some issue affecting the village. fellahin - villagers, farmers, peasants. effendi - land-owners or members of the professional classes. al-Nīl - the Nile. Allāh - God. al-Qāhirah - Cairo. al-Kuwayt - Kuwait City. imām. - learned person who leads the village in prayer at the mosque.
[age-old belief that Nile water was fecund]
The belief goes back at least two millennia, long before Islam. Natural History, Pliny the Elder, Book 7, part 3. See also: Water in the cultic worship of Isis and Sarapis, Robert A. Wild, Brill Academic, 1981.
[water problems and the Aswan High Dam in Egypt]
“The Artificial Nile: The Aswan High Dam destroyed a fishery, but human activities may have revived it,” S. Nixon, American Scientist, 92(part 2):158-165, 2004. “The Imperiled Nile Delta,” P. Theroux, National Geographic, 191(1):2-35, 1997. “Nile delta: extreme case of sediment entrapment on a delta plain and consequent coastal land loss,” D. J. Stanley, Marine Geology, 129(3):189-195, 1996. “The southeastern Mediterranean ecosystem revisited: Thirty years after the construction of the Aswan High Dam,” S. El-Sayed, G. L. van Dijken, Quarterdeck, 3(1):4-7, 1995.
[water problems in Egypt]
“The Egyptian State Under Threat of Hydraulic Crisis and Peasant Poverty: The Risks of a Free-market Management of Water,” H. Ayeb, Fourth Pan-African Programme on Land and Resource Rights Workshop, Cape Town, South Africa, 5-7 May 2003. “Some Technical and Economic Considerations on Irrigation Water Pricing,” M. A. Abu-Zeid, Water Science Magazine, Number 7, 1990. “Water Supply and Demand in Egypt,” Sami El Fillali, Ministry of Agriculture Report, Egypt.
[Egypt went socialist in 1952]
A group of officers seized power in the 1950s and Gamal Abdel-Nasser took power. He instituted land reform that led to the breakup of the old big estates, thus redistributing land to the peasants.
[poverty in Egypt in 2008, 2019]
The poverty line is defined as the minimum income deemed adequate for an individual to meet their basic needs. In 2015, the World Bank set the international poverty line for lower-middle-income countries, such as Egypt and India, at $3.20 U.S. a day, with the extreme poverty threshold set at $1.90 U.S. a day. (2011 PPP) In Egypt though, the national poverty line is actually set at $1.48 U.S. a day ($44.4 a month). However, in 2019, 32.5 percent in Egypt were below the poverty line ($1.3 U.S. a day, $41.7 a month). “Poverty & Equity Brief,” Middle East & North Africa, Arab Republic of Egypt, The World Bank, October 2019. Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS), July 29th, 2019. In 2008, average monthly income in Egypt was $140 U.S. ($4 U.S. a day). The National Report On Literacy and Adult Education, Arab Republic of Egypt, 2008, page 25. In 2008, according to the World Bank, 22 percent of the population was below the world poverty line of $2 U.S. a day.
[illiteracy and rural population in Egypt in 2006, 2015]
In Egypt in 2015, 29.3 percent of us couldn’t read. Ages 15-24: 93.9 (2017) Ages 15+: 71.2 (2017). In 2015, 57.3 percent were still rural. (Of the urban population of 42.4 million, 20 million lived in Cairo, and 5 million lived in Alexandria.)

Statistical Yearbook — Population Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS), Issue No 110, 2019. World Urbanization Prospects: The 2018 Revision, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, 2018, Table III.4, page 70. Literacy Statistics Metadata Information Table, UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), 2019.

In Egypt in 2006, 29.3 percent of us couldn’t read and 57.6 percent were rural. The National Report On Literacy and Adult Education, Arab Republic of Egypt, 2008, pages 7 and 10. Even those figures may be inflated thanks to corruption, since a literacy certificate is so valuable for jobs. In 1970, illiteracy was even higher, at 68.6 percent.

[1977 riots in Egypt]
The riots were triggered by the state’s abrupt lifting of various subsidies brought on by International Monetary Fund and World Bank requirements. “The political economy of food subsidy reform: the case of Egypt,” T. Gutner, Food Policy, 27(5-6):455-476, 2002. “The Egyptian Food Subsidy System: Structure, Performance, and Options for Reform,” A. U. Ahmed, H. E. Bouis, T. Gutner, H. Löfgren, Research Report 119, International Food Policy Research Institute, 2001, page 7. Egypt During the Sadat years, Kirk J. Beattie, Palgrave Macmillan, 2000, pages 207-210.
[Egypt’s containerized port facilities]
Ports in Egypt used to be havens of high cost, weak investment, and poor service. However, since 2003 the situation has changed. There have been major upgrades at Alexandria but also Port Said and elsewhere. In 2006, Port Said East and Port Said West together handled around 75 percent of transit containers. (Damietta handled much of the rest.). Ports, Cities, and Global Supply Chains, James Wang, Daniel Olivier, Theo Notteboom, Brian Slack (editors), Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2007. “Logistics chain analysis of Alexandria container handling company in Egypt: a basis for assessing services,” K. Abbas, Freight and Logistics Seminars, The European Transport Conference, 2003.
[new desalination technology]
“Towards sustainable seawater desalting in the Gulf area,” M. A. Darwish, N. M. Al-Najem, N. Lior, Desalination, 235(1-3):58-87, 2009. “Optimized design of a reverse osmosis system with a recycle,” P. Sarkar, D. Goswami, S. Prabhakar, P. K. Tewari, Desalination, 230(1-3):128-139, 2008. “Design of single-effect mechanical vapor compression,” H. Ettouney, Desalination, 190(1-3):1-15, 2006.
[causes of Egypt’s changes since 1990]
In Egypt, rising oil income, policy changes, cheaper technology, spreading literacy, and more money sent home from expats, have made for a change. Egypt is now phase changing from rural to urban, from peasant to industrialist, from unlettered to educated. For example, farming as a share of national Egyptian income fell from more than 38 percent in 1975 to 16 percent in 1995. The State of Food and Agriculture 1997, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 1998.
[Egypt’s life expectancy in 2005, 2015]
Life expectancy at birth in 2015 was 70.8 years. World Population Prospects: The 2019 Revision, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2019. Volume I: Comprehensive Tables, Table A.9., Volume II: Demographic Profiles. World Health Statistics, 2007, United Nations World Health Organization, 2007.
[growth rates of Egypt’s population and economy]
The rate of growth of Egypt’s population peaked at 2.7 percent in 1987 and has since been falling. World Factbook, United States Central Intelligence Agency, 2005.
[average household size was about four in 2017]
In 2017, Households - 23,455,079; persons - 94,757,081; average household size - 4.04. (57.58 were rural.) 2 - 14 NO.OF HOUSHOLDS, AVERAGE SIZE OF HOUSEHOLD, NO. OF PERSONS AND SEX RATIO IN URBAN &RURAL, ACCORDING TO FINAL RESULTS OF 2017 POP. CENSUS Statistical Yearbook — Population Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS), Issue No 110, 2019.
[Egypt’s urbanization has stalled at 42-43 percent, 1990-2017]
The population in 1990 was 51.9 million. That had grown to 95.2 million by 2017. However, the urbanization rate was 43.4 percent in 1990 and 42.5 percent in 2017. It had stayed in that range for all that time. Perhaps that’s only because the state hasn’t changed what it’s counting as ‘urban.’ More likely though, it’s perhaps because more rural people can’t move to cities. 2 - 3 ESTIMATES OF MIDYEAR POP. BY URBAN & RURAL AND THEIR PERCENTAGE (1990-2017) Statistical Yearbook — Population Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS), Issue No 110, 2019.
[plunging child death rates in Egypt]
Egypt’s child death rate dropped from 104 per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 33 in 2005. State of the World’s Mothers: Saving the Lives of Children Under 5, Save the Children, 2007, pages 22 and 27. State of the World’s Children, The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 2007, Table 10.
[Egypt’s statistics]
In 2003, the quality of Egypt’s new services still wasn’t high. There still wasn’t enough money, nor enough skilled people. In Egypt, two in every five of us were still below or just above the world poverty line—$2 U.S. a day. In the Arabic-speaking world as a whole, life for us was changing fast as well. Since 1970, female literacy has tripled. But our problems were still vast. In 2003, 43 percent of all Arabic women still couldn’t read. And 35 percent of men couldn’t either. Arab Human Development Report 2003: Building a Knowledge Society, United Nations Development Programme, 2003.
[child and infant mortality, 2017]
For rural families, child mortality dropped from 60.7 per 1,000 live births in 1992 to 14.9 per 1,000, and infant mortality dropped from 38.1 to 11.1 over the same period. (‘Child’ is defined as under five years old. ‘Infant’ is under one year old.) So it dropped about four-fold. For urban families, the same figures were: 45.4 to 24 and 33.5 to 19.1. So it roughly halved. (Started lower, but dropped less, proportionately.) 3 - 3 INFANT AND CHILD MORTALITY RATES IN URBAN AND RURAL AREAS BY SEX (1992 - 2018) Statistical Yearbook — Vital Statistics Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS), Issue No 110, 2019.
[the economics of development]
This is wide field, with a number of competing theories. However, speaking very generally, in recent times (post World War II) the basic idea has evolved from the Big Push strategy (epitomized by the Marshall Plan’s success in Europe and Japan) to the micro-investment strategy (epitomized by successful microfinancing efforts, first in Pakistan then elsewhere). The other main variant is the ‘linked investment’ strategy, which effectively means: choose a small set of functionally linked industries to invest in heavily, then spread out from there. There are also the usual political tugs-of-war. For example, from the left: ‘the market won’t change unless government taxes the rich to then invest heavily,’ to the right: ‘the government is the main drag on the economy and the market is the only thing that works reliably.’ See also the ‘Soft State’ theory of Gunnar Mydal (ex-colonial states whose previous regulatory infrastructure has been destroyed.) The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time, Jeffrey D. Sachs, Penguin, 2005. The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists’ Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics, William Easterly, The MIT Press, 2002. “The ’Soft State’ in Undeveloped Countries,” G. Myrdal, in: Unfashionable Economics: Essays in Honour of Lord Balogh, Paul Streeten (editor), Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1970. The Strategy of Economic Development, Albert Hirschman, Yale University Press, 1958. Economic Theory and Under-developed Regions, Gunnar Myrdal, Duckworth, 1957.
[termite colony]
The specific subfamily referred to here is Macrotermitinae.
Closure, as defined in the text, is relative to the desired state. Thus, Egypt is ‘operationally closed’ in that it provides for its most basic wants—it continues to exist and hence in that sense it must be getting everything it needs to at least survive. However, Egypt also wants to save all its children’s lives and grow richer, so it’s trying to move from one state to another. Thus it’s from the perspective of the second state, its desired state, that it lacks operational closure. It’s not closed with respect to growth.

Also, note that ‘operational closure’ is more than ‘catalytic closure’ (that is, that a reaction network makes all its own catalysts). That’s already guaranteed if the given reaction network has collective autocatalysis (which is called ‘synergy’ in the text). Operational closure means that the reaction network is closed not just with respect to its catalysts but also their reactants (biochemists call those the reaction’s substrates)—that is, the ‘resources’—that the collectively autocatalytic (‘synergetic’ in the text) reactions need. So it regenerates its own catalysts (it has catalytic closure) and it regenerates the molecules that those catalysts act on.

Note, however, that what exactly it ‘regenerates’ has to be considered carefully. It would be inefficient for a reaction network to regenerate resources already plentifully supplied by its surroundings. For example, termites don’t generate or fetch air; that’s treated as a given. Also, ‘regenerate’ has to be taken quite broadly. The fungus needed for the fungus farms in a termite colony, for instance, isn’t generated from nothing; it’s grown from old batches. Similarly, in a cell, if small non-catalyst helpers, like vitamins or cofactors or whatever, can come from the surroundings, they aren’t ‘regenerated.’ The point is that if the network is operationally closed, it has access to everything it needs to keep working. Such things may come from the surroundings, but if they don’t, it regenerates them. Energy, however, always comes from outside.

Note, too, that the loose way that the text (initially) defines operational closure differs from the definition given by Varela, which is more concerned with a system’s autonomy. However, both definitions are motivated by the same underlying idea of closure in mathematics (and especially in topology).

See the Preface and Introduction to: Toward a Practice of Autonomous Systems: Proceedings of the First European Conference on Artificial Life, Francisco J. Varela and Paul Bourgine (editors), The MIT Press, 1992. “Organism: A Meshwork of Selfless Selves,” F. J. Varela, in: Organism and the Origins of Self, Alfred I. Tauber (editor), Kluwer, 1991, pages 79-107. See also: “Closure, causal,” M. Mossio, in: Encyclopedia of Systems Biology, Werner Dubitzky, Olaf Wolkenhauer, Kwang-Hyun Cho, and Hiroki Yokota (editors), Springer, 2013, pages 415-418. There the conceptual core is traced back to Kant in his 1790 Critique of Judgment. But for a more detailed formulation, at least for molecular networks, see: “Autopoiesis 40 years later. A Review and a Reformulation,” P. Razeto-Barry, Origins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres, 42(6):543-567, 2012.

[early Egypt]
When Egypt was going through its first and second dynasties (the Early Dynastic Period, which ended circa 4,700 years ago) there was no written Latin, Greek, nor even Phoenician (from which they both descend). The Italics hadn’t copied their alphabet from the Greeks yet. Nor had the Greeks copied their alphabet from the Phoenicians yet. Nor had the Phoenicians copied theirs from Egyptian hieroglyphics yet. Further, it’s now becoming accepted that writing arose, perhaps independently, perhaps not, in three different places: along the Nile, along the Tigris, and along the Indus. All three places traded with each other. Also: Stonehenge was still only a ditch with timber posts. “Stonehenge remodelled,” T. Darvill, P. Marshall, M. Parker Pearson, G. Wainwright, Antiquity, 86(334):1021-1040, 2012. “Writing Gets a Rewrite,” A. Lawler, Science, 292(5526):2418-2420, 2001. The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, Ian Shaw (editor), Oxford University Press, 2000, page 481.

The Properties of Property

[buying land and living extralegally in Egypt]
The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else, Hernando de Soto, Basic Books, 2000, pages 20 and 33.

De Soto also points out how it’s much the same in many of our other poor countries. To get the legal permits to build a house on state-owned land in Peru takes almost seven years. It takes 207 steps spread over 52 government offices. To get legal title to that land then takes a further 728 steps. Buying a house in the Philippines can take 168 steps spread over 53 public and private associations and agencies. It can take 13 to 25 years. Leasing state-owned land in Haiti takes 65 steps. It takes about two years to lease a plot for five years. To then buy that land takes a further 111 steps. And 12 more years. Mexico, Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina are similar.

[days to get a business license]
“In Cameroon, it takes an investor who seeks a business licence on average 426 days (that is almost a year and three months) to perform fifteen procedures; whereas in China it takes 336 days and thirty-seven procedures, and in the USA, only forty days and nineteen procedures. What entrepreneur starting a business in Angola wants to spend 119 days filling out forms to complete twelve procedures? He is likely to find South Korea a much more attractive business culture, as it will take him only seventeen days to complete ten procedures.

It’s not only the red-tape. It’s also the opacity. Investors don’t know where to go, or who to ask. In a number of mining-dependent countries, rather than the government offering parcels of land in open auction, prospective investors are expected to provide the government with specific land coordinates. The geological survey offices know where the ore lies, but they just can’t be bothered to help the investors along. Though the countries’ livelihoods depend significantly on such entrepreneurs coming in, given the nature of doing business it is hardly surprising that this much-needed investment stays away.”

Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa, Dambisa Moyo, Macmillan, 2009, page 100.

However, there is a problem with that quote since, based on the World Bank reference the author cites for the figures, only the stated figure for South Korea (17 days) is for the number of days to get a business license. The other figures given are for how long it takes to get a construction permit, not the number of days to get a business license. For more details on that and on other countries, see: Doing Business 2009: Comparing Regulations in 181 Economies, World Bank, 2008, page 16 and other pages for specific entries for each country.

[legal cases in Argentina can take over 20 years]
“The Formation of Beliefs: Evidence from the Allocation of Land Titles to Squatters,” R. Di Tella, S. Giliana, E. Schargrodsky, Quarterly Journal of Economics, 122(1):209-241, 2007. The above paper is of independent interest as it describes a natural experiment on the consequences of titling for belief in the free market versus family support and local community over 20 years in Buenos Aires.
[over a billion squatters in 2005]
In 2005, over a billion urbanites were squatters, living in squalor in huge shantytowns. But they weren’t herded there at gunpoint from some pristine countryside. Rather, they shoved themselves in, despite the best efforts of city leaders to keep them out. Cities are wealth generators. They needn’t necessarily make more poor, but they do attract more who are poor. So counting the number who’re poor in a city is like counting the number who’re poor near a gold mine, or the number of flies near a picnic. Shadow Cities: A Billion Squatters, A New Urban World, Robert Newuwirth, Routledge, 2005.
[Solon on laws]
That’s not exactly what he said, for we don’t know what he said, exactly. But it’s the spirit of what he said. “He used to say, too, that speech was the image of actions, and that the king was the mightiest man as to his power; but that laws were like cobwebs—for that if any trifling or powerless thing fell into them, they held it fast; but if a thing of any size fell into them, it broke the meshes and escaped.” The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, Book I, Solon:10, Diogenes Laërtius, translated by C. D. Yonge, Henry G. Bohn, 1853, page 28.

However, Plutarch attributes a similar thought to a contemporary, Anacharsis: “[W]ritten laws, which in all respects resemble spider’s webs, and would, like them, only entangle the poor and weak, while the rich and powerful easily broke through them.” Lives of Romulus, Lycurgus, Solon ... and Others, translated by John and William Langhorne, Wm. L. Allison Company, 1889, page 71. The text follows Diogenes and gives it to Solon as he’s widely acclaimed as a law-maker, even though he himself left no writings.

Whoever said it, the saying became proverbial. For example, millennia later, Jonathan Swift wrote: “Laws are like Cobwebs, which may catch small Flies, but let Wasps and Hornets break through.” In “A Tritical Essay upon the Faculties of the Mind,” Miscellanies in Prose and Verse, Jonathan Swift, John Morphew, 1711, page 257.

[bribery in driver’s licensing bureaus in Delhi]
“The average licence getter pays about Rs 1,080, or about 2.5 times the official fee of Rs 450, to obtain a licence. More mportantly, close to 60 per cent of licence getters do not take the licensing exam and 54 per cent are unqualified to drive (according to the independent test we performed) at the time they obtain their licence.” From: “Corruption in Driving Licensing Process in Delhi,” M. Bertrand, S. Djankov, R. Hanna, S. Mullainathan, Economic & Political Weekly, 43(5):71-76, 2008.
[corruption in Afghanistan]
Corruption in Afghanistan: Bribery as Reported by Victims, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2010.
[corruption is common everywhere]
Global Corruption Report 2009: Corruption and the Private Sector, Cambridge University Press, 2009. Global Corruption Report 2008: Corruption in the Water Sector, Cambridge University Press, 2008. Global Corruption Report 2007: Corruption in Judicial Systems, Cambridge University Press, 2007. Global Corruption Report 2006: Special Focus: Corruption and Health, Pluto Press, 2006. Global Corruption Report 2005: Special Focus: Corruption in Construction and Post, Pluto Press, 2005.
[indirect speech useful for bribery (and other things)]
“The logic of indirect speech,” S. Pinker, M. A. Nowak, J. J. Lee, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 105(3):833-838, 2008.
[building an apartment complex... construction costs in Manhattan]
“Why Gotham’s Developers Don’t Develop,” W. J. Stern, City Journal, Autumn 2000, pages 62-67. More generally, see: “Construction, Corruption, and Developing Countries,” C. Kenny, World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 4271, The World Bank, 2007. Five families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America’s Most Powerful Mafia Families, Selwyn Raab, Macmillan, 2005. Gotham Unbound: How New York City Was Liberated From the Grip of Organized Crime, James B. Jacobs, Coleen Friel, and Robert Raddick, New York University Press, 2001, especially Chapter 7. Corruption and Racketeering in the New York City Construction Industry: The Final Report of the New York State Organized Crime Task Force, Ronald Goldstock, Martin Marcus, Thomas D. Thacher II, James B. Jacobs, New York University Press, 1991.
[French labor code in 2014]
That the Code du Travail, dating back to 1910, and growing ever since. In 2014 it was 3,604 pages long. Because of it, if a business has at least 50 employees inside France, management must create three worker councils, share profits, and submit any restructuring plans to the councils for approval.
[bloated legal codes in rich lands]
The problem of an ever-growing legal system is not one limited to poor countries. For example, the United States has an overgrown legal system. That’s not just because it benefits lawyers, judges, and officials. In both rich and poor lands, our law codes always grow. They must, because as times change, we add new laws to fit, but we don’t as often subtract old ones. While old ones may cost many of us, they wouldn’t exist at all unless they profited a few of us, and those few will fight for them. So while there’s pressure to add laws, there’s less pressure to cut laws. (Imagine if your fridge automatically expanded as you added food; what would be in there after a year?) The Death of Common Sense: How Law Is Suffocating America, Philip K. Howard, Random House, 1994.
[regulatory capture and the revolving door for office-holders]
“The Political Economy of Dodd-Frank: Why Financial Reform Tends to Be Frustrated and Systemic Risk Perpetuated,” J. C. Coffee, Cornell Law Review, 97(5), 2012. “The Lobbying Game: Why the Revolving Door Won’t Close,” Timothy J. Burger, Time, February 16th, 2006. “The politics of government decision making. A theory of regulatory capture,” J. J. Laffont, J. Tirole, Quarterly Journal of Economics, 106(4):1089-1127, 1991. “The economic theory of regulation after a decade of deregulation,” S. Peltzman, Brookings Papers on Economic Activity. Microeconomics, 20:1-59, 1989. “Toward a More General Theory of Regulation,” S. Peltzman, NBER Working Paper No. 133, 1976. “The theory of economic regulation,” G. J. Stigler, The Bell Journal Economics and Mangagement Science, 2(1):3-21, 1971.
[white-collar and blue-collar crime law enforcement: NYPD and SEC workforces in 2012-2013]
For the New York police, in 2012 it was: 50,325 total, with 48,748 full-time, 1,577 part-time, for a total of 15.4 percent of all employees. The largest share of employees, by far, was education, which was 40.5 percent of the total. Next down was health at 11.8 percent; then fire at 4.7 percent. So first teachers, then police, then nurses, then fire fighters. Workforce Profile Report, New York City Government, 2013, page 6.

“As of September 30, 2013, the SEC’s workforce included 4,138 employees, of which about two-thirds were located at the SEC’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. and one-third were at the SEC’s 11 regional offices. In FY 2013, about 72 percent of the agency’s workforce consisted of attorneys, accountants, economists, and compliance examiners. The remaining 28 percent of the employees occupied other professional and administrative positions.” Audit of the Representation of Minorities and Women in the SEC’s Workforce, United States Securities and Exchange Commission, 2014, page 2. “The SEC has responsibility for overseeing more than 25,000 market participants, including over 11,000 investment advisers, almost 10,000 mutual funds, 4,450 broker-dealers, 450 transfer agents, and 18 securities exchanges, as well as the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB), Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (MSRB), the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC), and the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB). The SEC also has responsibility for reviewing the disclosures and financial statements of approximately 9,000 reporting companies, and has new or expanded responsibilities over the derivatives markets, an additional 2,500 exempt reporting advisers to hedge fund and other private funds, more than 1,000 municipal advisors, 10 registered credit rating agencies, and 7 registered clearing agencies.” Office of Minority and Women Inclusion, Annual Report, United States Securities and Exchange Commission, 2014, page 5.

[in 2011, one United States bank had over 50,000 employees...]
That was Morgan Stanley. Goldman Sachs had over 34,000. By 2014, Goldman had fewer—32,400 employees, which was almost 24,000 fewer than an even larger Morgan Stanley.
[chihuahuas chasing cheetahs]
That’s based on the following comment by John G. Heinmann: “Supervisors and regulators are bloodhounds chasing greyhounds. The bloodhounds may have the scent, but the greyhounds are over the hill in the next county. That is reality. It is not a knock on supervisors and regulators; it is just that they do not have the resources to keep up with the private sector.” Comments and Discussion on: “Financial Regulation in a Global Marketplace,” C. W. Calomiris, R. E. Litan, in: Brookings-Wharton Papers on Financial Services, Robert E. Litan and Anthony M. Santomero (editors), Brookings Institution, 2000, paper: pages 283-323, comments: pages 324-339 (quote: page 332).

“[...] though the governments of the developed countries acting together do have the ‘power’ to control market behavior, it is doubtful that they have or will have the competence to do so. To use John Heimann’s analogy, there is not much point setting bloodhounds to track greyhounds. The governments cannot design a new architecture, but given the certainty that the private sector’s risk-control models will fail at some point, they can demand earth-quake bracing.” From: “Risk Reduction in the New Financial Architecture: Realities and Fallacies in International Financial Reform,” M. Mayer, Working Paper No. 56, Jerome Levy Economics Institute of Bard College, 1999, page a47.

[international corporate corruption]
The 2008 Siemens case is only one of many. Many other big companies, among them Goodyear, Daimler, Lockheed, British Aerospace, General Electric, Volvo, Johnson & Johnson, Bausch & Lomb, Chevron, Xerox, GlaxoSmithKline, and Fiat, stand accused of using similar foreign bribes. Bribery of foreign officials to gain contracts is common among rich nations. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) made it illegal only in 1999, and as of 2009 was still only very sparsely enforced. Just four nations take active measures (the United States, Switzerland, Germany, and Norway). Before that, only the United States had passed such a law (the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act) and then only in 1977. OECD Anti-bribery Convention Progress Report: Enforcement of the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions, Fritz Heimann and Gillian Dell, Transparency International, 2009. FCPA Digest of Cases and Review Releases Relating to Bribes to Foreign Officials under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977, Shearman & Sterling LLP., 2009.
[problems of poor borrowers, especially in poor countries]
Creating a World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism, Muhammad Yunus, PublicAffairs Books, 2008. Banker to the Poor: Micro-lending and the Battle Against World Poverty, Muhammad Yunus (with Alan Jolis), PublicAffairs Books, 1999.
[correlation between city education and wages in the United States in 2000]
“Regression 9-1 in table 9 reproduces a version of the Rauch result using area-level human capital and wages from the 2000 Census. Individual skills and industries are held constant. As before, we look only at fully employed men between 25 and 55 years old. As the share of the adult population with college degrees increases by 10 percent, wages increase by 7.8 percent. Figure 16 shows the relationship across metropolitan areas between the average wage residual from this equation and the share of the population with a college degree.” From: “The Economics of Place-Making Policies,” E. L. Glaeser, J. D. Gottlieb, Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, 39(1):155-253, 2008. However, Figure 16 is more of a scatter plot than a linear regression. There is correlation, but it is far from strong.
[going to school in the favela in 2003]
World Development Report 2007: Development and the Next Generation, The World Bank, 2006, endnote 8, page 229.
[fast food advertising in 2011]
That was McDonald’s. Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future, Martin Ford, Basic Books, 2015, page 13.
[female restrictions in Uttar Pradesh in 2004]
“The Determinants of Gender Equity in India: Examining Dyson and Moore’s Thesis with New Data,” L. Rahman, V. Rao, Population and Development Review, 30(2):239-268, 2004.
[female property ownership in Cameroon in 2005]
“The Development Impact of Gender Equality in Land Rights,” K. O. Mason, H. M. Carlsson, in: Human Rights and Development: Towards Mutual Reinforcement, Philip Alston and Mary Robinson (editors), Oxford University Press, 2005, pages 114-132.
[more women than men can’t read in 2009, 2015]
In 2015, 773 million adults couldn’t read. Of those 63 percent were female. (487 million). After falling from 1970 to 2000, the female proportion has stablized for the last 20 years. “Adult and Youth Literacy,” UIS Fact Sheet No. 32, UNESCO Institute for Statistics (September 2015). United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture. UNESCO Institute of Statistics, 2015. United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture. In 2009, 774 million adults couldn’t read. Of those, 64 percent were female. “Trends in Global Gender Inequality,” S. F. Dorius, G. Firebaugh, Social Forces, 88(5):1941-1968, 2010. UNESCO Institute of Statistics, 2009. United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture.

In 2001, of our more than 110 million kids out of school, nearly two-thirds were girls. “Girls are expected to be primarily or exclusively domestic workers in many cultures, so household work at young ages is regarded as natural for them. Such domestic work is also often seen as more valuable than any perceived returns from education, especially when parents calculate how, and for which of their children, they can pay school costs and fees. In addition, many schools are threatening places for girls, where they are at risk of sexual harassment from classmates and teachers and sidelined by prejudice and poor curricula. Solely by virtue of their gender, therefore, many girls are kept from school or drop out, ending up in exploitative labour. Of the more than 110 million children out of school, nearly two thirds are girls. Commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking in children for prostitution have also burgeoned, with at least 1 million children a year, most of them girls, entrapped in a network stretching from South-East Asia and the former Soviet bloc to Latin America.” Beyond Child Labor: Affirming Rights, United Nations Children’s Fund, 2001, pages 2-3.

[rulers aren’t keen to help you... ]
Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security, Sarah Chayes, W. W. Norton, 2015, Chapter 7. The Politics of Elite Corruption in Africa: Uganda in Comparative African Perspective, Roger Tangri and Andrew M. Mwenda, Routledge, 2013. The Dictator’s Handbook: Why Bad Behavior is Almost Always Good Politics, Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith, PublicAffairs, 2011, Chapter 4. Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa, Dambisa Moyo, Macmillan, 2009. The Politics of Patronage in Africa: Parastatals, Privatization, and Private Enterprise, Roger Tangri, Africa World Press, 1999.
[your insurance company is your offspring...]
That’s only for direct implicit insurance. For informal, indirect, or partial implicit insurance, which may extend to the whole village, or perhaps even the whole region, see: “Rural Financial Markets in Developing Countries,” J. Conning, C. Udry, in: The Handbook of Agricultural Economics, Volume 3, Agricultural Development: Farmers, Farm Production and Farm Markets, Robert Evenson and Prabhu Pingali (editors), Elsevier, 2007, pages 2857-2910. However, in cases of large cities and grinding poverty, corruption is endemic and no cooperation is possible. Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, Katherine Boo, Random House, 2012.
[...knocking on a door that isn’t there foxes]
“[O]nly twenty-five of the world’s two hundred countries produce capital in sufficient quantity to benefit fully from the division of labor in expanded global markets. The lifeblood of capitalism is not the Internet or fast-food franchises. It is capital. Only capital provides the means to support specialization and the production and exchange of assets in the expanded market. It is capital that is the source of increasing productivity and therefore the wealth of nations.

Yet only the Western nations and small enclaves of wealthy people in developing and former communist nations have the capacity to represent assets and potential and, therefore, the ability to produce and use capital efficiently. Capitalism is viewed outside the West with increasing hostility, as an apartheid regime most cannot enter. There is a growing sense, even among some elites, that if they have to depend solely and forever on the kindness of outside capital, they will never be productive players in the global capitalist game. They are increasingly frustrated at not being masters of their own fate. Since they have embarked on globalization without providing their own people with the means to produce capital, they are beginning to look less like the United States than like mercantilist Latin America with its disarray of extralegal activity. Ten years ago, few would have compared the former Soviet bloc nations to Latin America. But today they look astonishingly similar: strong underground economies, glaring inequality, pervasive mafias, political instability, capital flight, and flagrant disregard for law.

That is why outside the West advocates of capitalism are intellectually on the retreat. Ascendant just a decade ago, they are now increasingly viewed as apologists for the miseries and injustices that still affect the majority of people.”

The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else, Hernando de Soto, Basic Books, 2000, pages 208-209.

[...smirking foxes]
The situation is much the same for the poor in a rich country. It’s only that the poor in rich countries are far richer than the poor in poor countries, but the rich are so much richer than it can feel about the same.

Our institutional tools are machines whose main parts are us, but our incentives inside those machines vary depending on what our surrounding network is. Changing that network isn’t easy because it benefits all of its most powerful parts. It doesn’t seem to much matter what languages we speak, what faiths we have, what beliefs we espouse: rich land, poor land, all that might change is the levers of power.

Off the Books: The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor, Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh, Harvard University Press, 2006. Poverty Traps, Samuel Bowles, Steven N. Durlauf, and Karla Hoff (editors), Princeton University Press, 2006. Fighting Poverty in the US and Europe: A World of Difference, Alberto Alesina and Edward L. Glaeser, Oxford University Press, 2004. Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, Barbara Ehrenreich, Owl Books, New Edition, 2002. Framework for Understanding Poverty, Ruby Payne, Aha Process, Inc., Revised Edition, 2001.

Where Ignorant Armies Clash by Night

[“ignorant armies”]
“Ah, love, let us be true / To one another! for the world, which seems / To lie before us like a land of dreams, / So various, so beautiful, so new, / Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light, / Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain; / And we are here as on a darkling plain / Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight, / Where ignorant armies clash by night.” From: “Dover Beach,” Matthew Arnold.
[2002 steel tariff in the United States]
The tariff was put in place for political reasons. Policy makers did their best to present appropriate fig leaves—first for the desperate need for the tariff, and then for the desperate need for its absence. “Ironing out Reelection: George W. Bush and the Politics of Steel,” D. M. Brattebo, in: George W. Bush: Evaluating the President at Midterm, Bryan Hilliard, Tom Lansford, Robert P. Watson (editors), SUNY Press, 2004, pages 85-104.
[at least 15,000 steel-related jobs lost in the United States in 2002]
Estimates vary depending on the source. One commonly reported figure is ‘50,000 to 200,000’ jobs. A later report reduced that to perhaps 15,000 jobs. “Steel Protection and Job Dislocation,” G. C. Hufbauer, B. Goodrich, Institute for International Economics, Consuming Industries Trade Action Coalition (CITAC), Washington DC, 2003. “The Unintended Consequences of U.S. Steel Import Tariffs: A Quantification of the Impact During 2002,” J. Francois, L. M. Baughman, Trade Partnership Worldwide LLC, 2003.
[metal-makers and metal-users in the United States, 2017]
(In thousands) 377.4 in metal-making jobs versus 1,500 jobs in fabricated metal products, 1,100 in machinery, 955.4 in motor vehicles, and 486.9 in aerospace products for a total of 4042.3. Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2018 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, United States Department of Labor, 2018.
[trade war]
The steel tariff was not the only example of recent potential trade war. In 2009, the United States imported tires from China cheaper than it could make them. But it didn’t thus get out of the tire business. Its jobless tire-makers said that they felt humiliated, that their children would starve, that without domestic tires the country would be doomed, and that they would protest in the streets until something was done. The United States then imposed a tariff on tires from China. Meanwhile, China imported car parts from the United States cheaper than China could make them. But it didn’t get out of the car parts business. Instead it threatened to impose a quota on chicken and car parts from the United States. The United States then imposed import duties on steel pipes from China. China then imposed tariffs on adipic acid used in the production of a type of nylon and some medicines. Were such playground spats to go on for long enough, the two countries might tumble into a trade war.
[two ways to make cars...]
The example in the text on what international trade restrictions mean in economic terms is adapted from: Hidden Order: The Economics of Everyday Life, David Friedman, HarperBusiness, 1996, page 70. For the same example in a very gentle introduction to economics, see: The Armchair Economist: Economics and Everyday Life, Steven E. Landsburg, First Press, 1993, pages 197-199. An earlier example goes back to Frédéric Bastiat in 1845, which he posed as a petition by candle makers to force everyone to close their shutters to prevent unfair competition from the sun, which was providing free light at zero wages. His argument exposes the essence of the issue: the tug-of-war between local producers and local consumers over the goods and services produced by foreign producers. Fallacies of Protection: Being the Sophismes Économiques of Frédéric Bastiat, translated by P. J. Stirling, Cassel and Company, 1909, pages 60-65.

In economics this is related to the idea of ‘comparative advantage.’ Even if one person, group, or country were to make everything more efficiently than some other person, group, or country (that is, have ‘absolute advantage,’ it would still gain economically by specializing in whatever it was best at making then trading with other nations for everything else). The absolute cost of production doesn’t matter because of opportunity cost. By choosing to make one thing, you’re also choosing not to make another thing. Everything has an opportunity cost, so it’s best to specialize then trade for everything else. The idea goes back to the Irish economist Robert Torrens, but was much expanded upon two years later by the English economist, David Ricardo. Comparative Advantage in International Trade: A Historical Perspective, Andrea Maneschi, Edward Elgar, 1998, pages 54-55. On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation, David Ricardo, John Murray, 1817.

[farmers versus non-farmers—laws are products]
This is a typical example of concentrated benefits and diffuse costs. The particular example in the text is an example of a relatively recent branch of economics called ‘public choice theory.’ It’s an attempt to explain politics in terms of the economic choices of rational agents—whether they are voters, politicians, bureaucrats, or lobbyists. The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups, Mancur Olson, Harvard University Press, Revised Edition, 1971. The Calculus of Consent: Logical Foundations of Constitutional Democracy, James M. Buchanan and Gordon Tullock, University of Michigan Press, 1962. For a good recent textbook, see: Public Choice III, Dennis C. Mueller, Cambridge University Press, Third Edition, 2003. For a reexamination of some of the basic tenets, see: Democracy and Decision: The Pure Theory of Electoral Preference, Geoffrey Brennan and Loren Lomasky (editors), Cambridge University Press, 1993. For a questioning of the foundational assumptions of (pure) actor self-interest, see: “Skating on Thin Ice: Cracks in the Public Choice Foundation,” N. Frohlich, I. Oppenheimer, Journal of Theoretical Politics, 18(3):235-266, 2006.
[almost $2 billion a year for cotton farmers in the United States]
“High Cotton: Why the USA Should Not Provide Subsidies to Cotton Farmers,” M. Helling, S. A. Beaulier, J. Hall, Economic Affairs, 28(2):65-66, 2008. For more specific numbers, see the cotton entry in Table 9 of: “Farm Commodity Programs: Direct Payments, Counter-Cyclical Payments, and Marketing Loans,” J. Monke, CRS Report for Congress, Congressional Research Service, The Library of Congress, 2006.

For general analysis of the economic costs of farm subsidies in the United States, see the following United States Congressional Budget Office Reports: “The Effects of Liberalizing World Agricultural Trade: A Review of Modeling Studies,” June 2006. “The Effects of Liberalizing World Agricultural Trade: A Survey,” December 2005. “Policies That Distort World Agricultural Trade: Prevalence and Magnitude,” August 2005

[subsidized cotton purchases in the United States]
“U.S. Subsidizes Companies to Buy Subsidized Cotton,” E. Becker, New York Times, November 4th, 2003. That particular support was repealed on August 1st, 2006.
[over $5 billion a year for maize in the United States]
From 1995 to 2006, total maize subsidies amounted to $56.17 thousand million. In that time the number of beneficiary farms amounted to 1,568,095. About 10 percent collected 75 percent of the subsidies. Farm Subsidy Database, 2007, Environmental Working Group. 1436 U St. N.W., Suite 100, Washington, DC 20009, U.S.A.
[farm subsidies in the United States in 1999]
In 1999, just seven percent of all farms got 45 percent of all federal payments.

Floor statement of Senator John McCain on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, October 25th 2001:

“Mr. President, I would like to discuss for a few moments the fundamental problem with this appropriations bill and then talk a little bit about the pork that is again prevalent and on the increase in this appropriations bill.

First of all, I want to talk about Federal subsidies, where they go, who should be receiving them, the largess of the Federal Government taxpayers’ money under the present setup, how we are going to work subsidies, and how the money is distributed.

Earlier this year, the General Accounting Office released a report that details some very critical information on the disturbing trends of federal farm assistance. The GAO reports that over 80 percent of farm payments have been made to large- and medium-sized farms, while small farms have received less than 20 percent of the payments.

In 1999, large farms, which represent about 7 percent of all farms nationwide with gross agricultural sales of $250,000, received about 45 percent of federal payments. These payments average about $64,737.

Seventeen percent of farms that are medium-sized with gross sales between $50,000 and $250,000, received 45 percent of all payments. Payments average $21,943.”

Congressional Record, Volume 147, Part 15, October 25, 2001 to November 2, 2001, United States Congress, 107th Congress, First Session, United States Government Printing Office, Jan 1, 2006, page 20757.

[30-year textile trade agreement]
That’s the Agreement on Textile and Clothing (also known as the Multi-Fibre Arrangement).

“World trade in textiles and clothing was also highly distorted by the Multi-Fiber Arrangement [....] The Uruguay Round phased out the MFA over a 10-year period, eliminating all quantitative restrictions on trade in textiles and clothing. (Some high tariffs remain in place.) This was a fairly dramatic liberalization— remember, most estimates suggested that protection of clothing imposed a larger cost on U.S. consumers than all other protectionist measures combined. It is worth noting, however, that the formula used in phasing out the MFA was heavily ‘backloaded’: Much of the liberalization was postponed until 2003 and 2004, with the final end of the quotas not taking place until January 1, 2005.

Sure enough, the end of the MFA brought a surge in clothing exports from China. For example, in January 2005, China shipped 27 million pairs of cotton trousers to the United States, up from 1.9 million a year earlier. And there was a fierce political reaction from clothing producers in the United States and Europe. While new restrictions were imposed on Chinese clothing exports, these restrictions were phased out over time; world trade in clothing has, in fact, been largely liberalized.”

International Economics: Theory & Policy, 11th Edition, Paul R. Krugman, Maurice Obstfeld, and Marc J. Melitz, Pearson Education, 2018, page 293. TNCs and the removal of textiles and clothing quotas, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, 2005.

[over a billion dollars a day...]
In 2006, rich nations spent $372 thousand million U.S. a year on food subsidies. The statistic was quoted by Jacques Diouf, Director-General of the Food and Agrculture Organization of the United Nations, in his opening speech of the Rome Summit on the Global Food Crisis, June 2008.

For comparison, our richest countries (the OECD countries), gave $103.94 thousand million in ODA (Official Development Assistance, that is, foreign aid) in 2006. OECD in Figures, 2007 Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development, 2007.

For instance, in 2003, every cow in Europe got about $2 U.S. a day in subsidy—that was twice as much as half of us in Africa earned that same day.

The estimate of $250 million lost by West African farmers each because of protected cotton alone is from an address by Mark Malloch Brown, who was then the head of the United Nations Development Programme, His address was given at the launch of the Human Development Report 2003, to the Second Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union, in Maputo, Mozambique, July 10th, 2003.

A year before, he noted that “Every cow in Europe today is subsidised two dollars a day. That is twice as much as the per capita income of a half of Africa. It is the extraordinary distortion of global trade, where the West spends $360 billion a year on protecting its agriculture with a network of subsidies and tariffs that costs developing countries about US$50 billion in potential lost agricultural exports.”

From: “Globalization, the Transition Economies, and the IMF,” T. C. Dawson, International Monetary Fund, Joint Vienna Institute, Vienna, March 14, 2003. “The Millennium Development Goals and Africa: A new framework for a new future,” M. M. Brown, Kampala, Uganda, November 12th, 2002.
[effect of cotton and rice supports on West African farmers]
“The origins of the cotton dispute go back to 2002 when Brazil and four African cotton producers (Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, and Mali, the so-called C-4) argued that cotton subsidies caused world cotton prices to decline and reduced their export revenues. At the time, the value of global cotton output averaged between $25 and $30 billion and the United States (which accounts for one-third of world cotton exports) supported its cotton industry to the tune of $2 to $4 billion annually. The EU provided considerable support to its cottons sector as well—around $1 billion annually—though applied to much less cotton and hence much lower impact on world prices.” From: “Cotton Subsidies, the WTO, and the ‘Cotton Problem’,” J. Baffes, Development Prospects Group, Policy Research Working Paper 5663, The World Bank, 2011.

“More than 10 million people in Central and West Africa depend on cotton production for their livelihoods and food security. For many countries in the region, cotton exports provide the main source of foreign exchange revenues and rural employment. In 2001, cotton accounted for more than 50 percent of the total agricultural exports and 2.5-6.7 percent of the GDP of Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali and Togo.

Working small plots of 1-2 hectares and relying on manual labour, farmers in West Africa rank among the lowest-cost producers of cotton in the world. Since the mid-1990s, however, they have been battered by a collapse in cotton prices and by competition with cotton exports from the United States. Production costs in the United States are three times higher than those in West Africa. But United States cotton farmers also benefit from US$3-4 billion per year in direct support — more than the entire GDP of Burkina Faso, where 2 million people depend on cotton production.

Between 1998 and 2001, as cotton prices slumped to record lows, cotton production in the United States grew by more than 40 percent and the volume of exports doubled.

[...] a study by FAO suggests that eliminating all domestic support — not only support notified to the WTO — would increase world cotton prices by 5-11 percent, and would prompt an expansion in African exports of at least 9 percent and possibly as much as 38 percent.” The State of Agricultural Commodity Markets 2004, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 2004, page 25.

“The scale of government support to America’s 25,000 cotton farmers is staggering, reflecting the political influence of corporate farm lobbies in key states. Every acre of cotton farmland in the US attracts a subsidy of $230, or around five times the transfer for cereals. In 2001/02 farmers reaped a bumper harvest of subsidies amounting to $3.9bn — double the level in 1992. This increase in subsidies is a breach of the ‘Peace Clause’ in the WTO Agreement on Agriculture, opening the door to the Brazilian complaint.

To put this figure in perspective, America’s cotton farmers receive:

•more in subsidies than the entire GDP of Burkina Faso — a country in which more than two million people depend on cotton production. Over half of these farmers live below the poverty line. Poverty levels among recipients of cotton subsidies in the US are zero.

•three times more in subsidies than the entire USAID budget for Africa’s 500 million people.

In 2001, sub-Saharan exporters lost $302m as a direct consequence of US cotton subsidies. Two-thirds of this loss ($191m) was sustained by eight countries in West Africa, with Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali, Cameroon, and Côte d’Ivoire the worst affected. The cumulative loss suffered by this same group of countries over the three-year period 1999-2001, taking into account the price decrease for each year, was $334m. Outside this group, countries such as Zambia, Nigeria, and Tanzania have also suffered serious losses.

The small size of several West African economies and their high levels of dependence on cotton inevitably magnify the adverse effects of US subsidies. For several countries, US policy has generated what can only be described as a major economic shock.”

Cultivating Poverty: The Impact of US Cotton Subsidies on Africa, Oxfam Briefing Paper #30, Oxfam, 2002, page 2, 17.

Japan has a complex system in place to block as much foreign rice as possible. The markups mostly come from import duties, and can reach as high as 1,000 percent, depending on the rice variety. National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers, 2005 The Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR), United States Government, 2005, page 314.

[after 1985 reforms, amount of New Zealand sheep fell 14 percent in five years]
The Contribution of the Primary Sector to New Zealand’s Economic Growth, Alex Harrington, New Zealand Treasury Policy Perspectives Paper 05/04, 2005, page 21.

Even without subsidies, New Zealand has a farming advantage compared to its trading partners. Take, for example, its main one, Britain. Both countries have about the same land area. Yet, per person, New Zealand has eight times more farm land than Britain does. Its population is 15 times smaller and it produces nine time more food than it can eat. It’s thus cheaper to raise a lamb in New Zealand, slaughter it, freeze it, then ship it 11,000 miles from Auckland to Felixstowe than it is to raise a lamb in Devon. We would all lose if Britain subsidized sheep rearing. (Although it still does, a little.) Similarly, it’s cheaper for Britain, not New Zealand, to finance the Danish, Italian, French, or Taiwanese ship that carries that frozen lamb. We would all lose if New Zealand subsidized banking. (Today, of its 19 banks, none are subsidized.)

[New Zealand and subsidy reduction in 1984]
“Efficiency in New Zealand sheep and beef farming: The impacts of regulatory reform,” C. J. M. Paul, W. E. Johnston, G. A. G. Frengley, Review of Economics and Statistics, 82(2):325-337, 2000. “Economic Reform in New Zealand 1984-95: The Pursuit of Efficiency,” L. Evans, A. Grimes, B. Wilkinson, Journal of Economic Literature, 34(4):1856-1902, 1996. For a view that argues against the direness of New Zealand’s economic situation in 1984, see: “The Polish Shipyard: Myth, Economic History and Economic Policy Reform in New Zealand,” S. Goldfinch, D. Malpass, Australian Journal of Politics & History, 53(1):118-137, 2007.
[sectoral share of New Zealand’s GDP; other changes]
“The process of economic growth in New Zealand,” P. Conway, A. Orr, Bulletin of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand, 63(1):4-20, 2000. Child Poverty in New Zealand, Jonathan Boston and Simon Chapple, Bridget Williams Books, 2014.
[cost of New Zealand lamb in Britain versus British lamb]
Future of Food, George Alagiah, BBC documentary, 2009.
[Japan’s food insecurity]
“Food Security Measures in Japan since World War II,” A. Hirasawa, in: Food Insecurity in Asia: Why Institutions Matter, Zhang-Yue Zhou and Guanghua Wan (editors), Asian Development Bank Institute, 2017.
[growth in world trade from 1870 to 1910]
This was under Britain’s increasing dominance (the ‘Pax Britannica’). Klasing-Milionis data.
[growth in world trade from 1960 to 2008]
From 1960 to 2008, world trade grew by about six percent a year. World Merchandise Exports and GDP 1960-2008, International Trade Statistics 2009, World Trade Organization, 2009, Chart I.1. This is based on the Penn World Tables data.

Call this period the ‘Pax Americana,’ perhaps followed by another period, more global period after 1991 and the end of the Cold War as China became an industrial exporting power and the ‘workshop of the world.’ It isn’t so much the change, especially for a large economy like the United States, but its speed. For example, from 1999 to 2011, manufacturing jobs in the United States fell by a third. That shift in the locus of manufacturing displaced around 2.5 million jobs in the United States (other jobs were created, but over two million people were disrupted from the late 1990s to 2007). That resulted from a massive labor migration in China, after its creation of SEZ’s (Special Economic Zones). “The massive increase in China’s industrial labor force—resulting from the decollectivization of agriculture, the closing of inefficient state-owned enterprises, and the migration of 250 million workers from farms to cities—has made China the default location for all types of labor-intensive production.” From: “The China Shock: Learning from Labor-Market Adjustment to Large Changes in Trade,” D. H. Autor, D. Dorn, G. Hanson, The Annual Review of Economics, 8(1):205-240, 2016. “The Hyperglobalization of Trade and Its Future,” A. Subramanian, M. Kessler, Peterson Institute for International Economics, Working Paper WP 13-6, 2013. As the economist Paul Romer, now chief economist of the World Bank, has often said: “Everyone wants progress; nobody wants change.”

[growth in world trade from 1980 to 2011]
“International trade flows have increased dramatically over the last three decades. According to WTO trade statistics, the value of world merchandise exports rose from US$ 2.03 trillion in 1980 to US$ 18.26 trillion in 2011, which is equivalent to 7.3 per cent growth per year on average in current dollar terms. Commercial services trade recorded even faster growth over the same period, advancing from US$ 367 billion in 1980 to US$ 4.17 trillion in 2011, or 8.2 per cent per year. When considered in volume terms (i.e. accounting for changes in prices and exchange rates), world merchandise trade recorded a more than four-fold increase between 1980 and 2011.

Many factors may have contributed to this remarkable expansion of trade but the fact that it coincided with a significant reduction in trade barriers is inescapable. Trade barriers include all costs of getting a good to the final consumer other than the cost of producing the good itself: transportation costs (both freight costs and time costs), policy barriers (tariffs and non-tariff barriers) and internal trade and transaction costs (including domestic information costs, contract enforcement costs, legal and regulatory costs, local distribution, customs clearance procedures, administrative red tape, etc.).”

World Trade Report 2013: Factors shaping the future of world trade, World Trade Organization, 2013, page 55.

Swimming with Autopoietic Barracuda

[population and urbanization in Germany and Egypt in 2009]
World Urbanization Prospects: The 2009 Revision, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, 2010, Table A7, page 33.
[Germany became half-urban around 1910]
Mosely cites 1900 as the date: The Environment in World History, Stephen Mosley, Taylor & Francis, 2010, page 92.

But the following paper states that in 1910 Germany was still only 48.8 percent urban. “Although the process of urbanization began around the middle of the century it reached completion essentially between 1871 and 1910. It brought about a shift in the population which doubled the proportion of city dwellers. In 1871 23.7 per cent of the population lived in communities of over 5000 inhabitants; by 1910 this figure had risen to 48.8, whilst the share of the rural population, including those living in country market towns, fell from 75 to 50 per cent of the population.” From: “The Process of Urbanization in Germany at the Height of the Industrialization Period,” W. Köllman, Journal of Contemporary History, 4(3):59-76, 1969.

That figure also seems to be what Seymour implies in his 1916 book: “In 1871 less than a quarter of the German people resided in the towns; at the end of the century, the town population comprised nearly half of the whole.” The Diplomatic Background of the War 1870 to 1914, Charles Seymour, Yale University Press, 1916, page 64.

Dawson gives even lower figures of 23.7 percent in 1871 and 42.26 percent in 1900. These seem to be the most accurate of all. The Evolution of Modern Germany, William Harbutt Dawson, T. Fisher Unwin, 1908, page 39.

[adult literacy rates in Egypt and Germany]
Human Development Report 2007/2008: Fighting climate change: Human solidarity in a divided world, United Nations Development Programme, 2007, Table I.
[poverty in Egypt in 2008]
In 2008, average monthly income in Egypt was $140 U.S. ($4 U.S. a day). The National Report On Literacy and Adult Education, Arab Republic of Egypt, 2008, page 25. In 2008, according to the World Bank, 22 percent of the population was below the world poverty line of $2 U.S. a day.
[urbanization in Egypt flat in 2018]
Egypt’s urbanization rate has been flat for over two decades (from 1998 to 2018). It may be that Egypt is continuing to urbanize, however it’s not being reflected in the statistics if the country isn’t reflecting it in its definition of what is urban. “The speed of urbanization also varies substantially across countries. Figure 2 illustrates the diversity in the pace of urbanization for some populous countries located in the regions considered here. Starting at almost identical levels in 1950, trajectories of urbanization have been very similar for China and Indonesia. In contrast, despite having comparable levels in 1950, Brazil and Egypt followed very different trajectories thereafter, with Brazil experiencing rapid urbanization while the trend in Egypt has been flat since the 1970s, a reflection of the official definition of cities not accounting for the recent urbanization of rural settlements.” World Urbanization Prospects: The 2018 Revision, Online Edition, United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2018). POPFACTS, No. 2018/1, December 2018.
[definition of poverty level in Germany in 2009]
In 2009, those of us in Germany who had a disposable income of less than €11,278 per year (€940 per month, or about 31 a day), after inclusion of government transfer payments, were at risk of poverty. That’s anyone living off less than 60 percent of the median household income. It was 15.6 percent of the population. Leben in Europa, Statistisches Bundesamt Deutschland, 2009.
[Germany in 1850]
The state of Germany at the time as described in the text is but a summary of the following 1903 quote:

“[T]owards the middle of last century, Great Britain was the merchant, manufacturer, shipper, banker, and engineer of the world and ruled supreme in the realm of business. Two-thirds of the world’s shipping flew the British flag, two-thirds of the coal produced in the world was British; Great Britain had more miles of railway than the whole Continent, and produced more cotton goods and more iron than all the countries of the world together. Her coal mines were considered inexhaustible, and the coal possessed by other nations was believed to be of such inferior quality as to be almost useless for manufacturing purposes. Great Britain had therefore practically the manufacturing monopoly of the world, and the great German economist Friedrich List wrote with perfect truth in his Zollvereinsblatt: ’England is a world in itself, a world which is superior to the whole rest of the world in power and wealth.’

Our economists and many of our merchants thought that our economic position was so overwhelmingly strong and so unassailable that it would be impossible for other nations either to compete with us in neutral markets or to protect their own manufactures against the invasion of our industries by protective tariffs. They believed that Great Britain’s industrial power was stronger than all tariff walls. During the reign of these intoxicating ideas of Great Britain’s irresistible economic power Cobden proclaimed that ‘Great Britain was and always would be the workshop of the world;’ Great Britain threw away her fiscal weapons of defence, opened her doors wide to all nations, and introduced free trade.

While Great Britain was the undisputed mistress of the world’s trade, industry, finance, and shipping Germany was a poor agricultural country. She had been impoverished by her constant wars; she had neither colonies nor good coal, nor shipping, nor even a rich soil or a climate favourable to agriculture. She was divided into a number of petty States which were jealous of one another and which hampered one another’s progress. Communications in the interior were bad, and her internal trade was obstructed and undeveloped. Besides she was burdened by militarism and she possessed but one good harbour. According to the forecast of the British free traders Germany was predestined always to remain a poor agricultural country, exactly as Great Britain was predestined always to remain a rich industrial nation.”

From: “The Fiscal Policy of Germany,” O. Eltzbacher, The Nineteenth Century and After, 54(318):181-196, august 1903, Note: In 1905 Eltzbacher published a book that expanded on much the same subject, titled: Modern Germany: Her Political and Economic Problems, Her Policy, Her Ambitions, and the Causes of Her Success, Smith, Elder, & Co., 1905. The above quote was included in Chapter 12. He later changed his named to J. Ellis Barker and published a second edition in 1907. The above material was then in Chapter 21.

[German goods called “cheap and nasty” in 1876]
That was Franz Reuleaux, a highly respected German engineer. He was then the German government’s representative to the World’s Fair in Philadelphia. He was comparing German goods to high-precision mass-produced goods made in the United States and Britain. New Profession, Old Order: Engineers and German Society, 1815-1914, Kees Gispen, Cambridge University Press, 2002, pages 115-118. “Cheap and Nasty: German Goods, Socialism, and the 1876 Philadelphia World Fair,” A. Bonnell, International Review of Social History, 46(2):207-226, 2001.

Although note that Reuleaux, having set off a firestorm in Germany, on his way home in 1876 he wrote (in his tenth letter) that “[T]he enemies have written themselves into quite a rage. The English press could not resist adding slightly to the translation, to increase their instinctively awakened triumphalism, by telling their English readers that I called German products ‘cheap and nasty.’ ”

[“contend with us...”]
“Up to a couple of decades ago, Germany was an agricultural State. Her manufactures were few and unimportant; her industrial capital was small; her export trade was too insignificant to merit the attention of the official statistician; she imported largely for her own consumption. Now she has changed all that. Her youth has crowded into English houses, has wormed its way into English manufacturing secrets, and has enriched her establishments with the knowledge thus purloined. She has educated her people in a fashion which has made it in some branches of industry the superior, and in most the equal of the English. Her capitalists have been content with a simple style, which has enabled them to dispense with big immediate profits, and to feed their capital. They have toiled at their desks, and made their sons do likewise; they have kept a strict controlling hand on all the strings of their businesses; they have obtained State aid in several ways—as special rates to shipping ports; they have insinuated themselves into every part of the world—civilised, barbarian, savage—learning the languages, and patiently studying the wants and tastes of the several peoples. Not content with reaping the advantages of British colonisation—this was accomplished with alarming facility—Germany has ‘protected’ the simple savage on her own account, and the Imperial Eagle now floats on the breezes of the South Sea Islands, and droops in the thick air of the African littoral.

Her diplomatists have negotiated innumerable commercial treaties. The population of her cities has been increasing in a manner not unworthy of England in the Thirties and Forties. Like England, too, she is draining her rural districts for the massing of her children in huge factory towns. Her yards (as well as those of England) too, are ringing with the sound of hammers upon ships being builded for the transport of German merchandise. Her agents and travellers swarm through Russia, and wherever else there is a chance of trade on any terms—are even supplying the foreigner with German goods at a loss, that they may achieve their purpose in the end. In a word, an industrial development, unparalleled, save in England a century ago, is now her portion. A gigantic commercial State is arising to menace our prosperity, and contend with us for the trade of the world.” Made in Germany, Ernest Edwin Williams, William Heinemann, 1896, pages 9-10.

[“have no manners...”]
“[T]he Prussian is an optimist who looks on his immediate surroundings with a superb indifference. He needs little in this life and seems to expect less in the next. So long as he can sit in a tree-shaded garden, smoke tobacco, drink lager-beer, and listen to a band, he is perfectly happy. The stern joy of violent physical exercise he cannot understand, preferring rather to cultivate philosophy and a portly figure. Occasionally he is considerate, frequently he is kind. But now and again the English visitor finds himself recalling with satisfaction the answer of the schoolboy who, when asked to describe the manners and customs of a certain tribe, laconically replied, ‘These people have no manners, and their customs are beastly.’ ” From: “Berlin: A Capital at Play,” B. Fletcher Robinson, Cassell’s Family Magazine, 235, February, 1898. Cited in: British Identity and the German Other, William F. Bertolette, doctoral thesis, Louisiana State University, 2012, page 158.
[quotes about America, China, and Japan in 1820, 1879, and 1881]
[1] “The Americans are a brave, industrious and acute people; but they have hitherto given no indications of genius, and made no approaches to the heroic, either in their morality or character.” From: “America,” The works of the Rev. Sydney Smith, Sydney Smith, Longman, Brown, Greene, and Longmans, 1850, pages 283-284, Smith (1771-1845) was a famous Anglican cleric, who had founded the Edinburg Review, and his article on the United States had a huge impact. See also: “The Verdict of Sydney Smith,” R. E. Spiller, American Literature, 1(1):3-13, 1929.

[2] “Whether the resubjugation of entire provinces by the Imperial Government may be regarded as a blessing or a curse to the populations concerned, it is difficult to decide. For them it is unhappily a mere choice between being at the mercy of unscrupulous adventurers, elated with a series of successes, and rendered ferocious by a life of rapine, but utterly unprepared to introduce any serious system of reform; or being restored to a rule which, although worn out and feeble, has the advantage of an old-established organization, and can prove, by its general policy at any rate, that it has the welfare of the governed seriously at heart. On the whole, setting aside the wholesale cruelty which has unhappily too often distinguished such governmental triumphs on the part of the Chinese, and to which, indeed, the unlucky people seem liable whichever party may happen to gain the ascendency, the preferable conclusion would seem to be that resubmission to native authority is perhaps the mildest fate that can be desired for those subjects of China whose country has unfortunately been the scene of civil war. But an entirely different result may be looked for when foreign dominion—that is to say, European—has taken the place of Chinese. In the case of England, there can be little fear but that, in spite of the notable mistakes which have at times marked her colonial administration of Asiatic peoples, the primary object to which she has always set herself has been the welfare of the governed, and the development of the resources of the country which they occupy. And even as regards Russia, however irresponsible her system of government, selfish and unscrupulous her foreign policy, and corrupt her executive, may be regarded from an English point of view, still there can be little question that her assumption of authority over any tract of Asian territory must be considered preferable in the interests of philanthropy and general expediency to its restoration to an intrinsically weak and unpractical Government like that of the Chinese.

Assuming that the above proposition is a reasonable one, it follows as a fair inference, that the sooner China or any part of it is brought under the sway of some strong and progressive Power the better. And really, looking at the matter from a purely philanthropic and utilitarian point of view, that is about the best fate that can befall its inhabitants, as well in their own interest as in that of the world at large. Many things conspire to show that the days of the ruling dynasty are numbered; and who can say, when the catastrophe does come, whether the huge but crumbling fabric will ever be reconstructed? or, if so, whose will be the head and hand that will accomplish the task? The probability is that the empire will, in spite of the marvellous homogeneity which characterizes its people, at once lose its cohesion, and break up into a number of petty chiefdoms; and one may well imagine the grievous and protracted misery that must follow upon such a dissolution. It would be ridiculous, nay wicked, to suggest that this contingency might be anticipated, and an endeavour made to avert it by the timely absorption of a portion or of the whole of the Chinese territory. But we are entitled to express the hope that the course of mundane affairs may so shape itself as that such a calamity may be indefinitely delayed; or, if it be inevitable, that it may fall to the lot of some nation to take up the reins which shall have the will as well as the power to use the opportunity to the best advantage of the millions concerned.”

“The Future of China,” W. H. Medhurst, The Contemporary Review, September, 1879, Volume XXXVI, pages 1-12. Medhurst (1796-1857), a proponent of gunboat diplomacy, had been the Chinese secretary to the British superintendent of trade in China and had retired two years before, in 1877, then been knighted. See also: Perceptions of China and the Chinese People in the British Periodical and Newspaper Press, 1860-1900, William M. Stegemeyer, Masters thesis, Paper 4575, Portland State University, 1992.

[3] Citing the Japan Herald 9 April 1881: “Whilst by no means of opinion that the natural resources of Japan, whether mineral or agricultural, are particularly or noticeably great, or that its population is especially hardworking or prudent, nevertheless it has the promise of a moderate future before it. Without expecting too much from its Government—for a government is seldom found to differ widely from the people whose affairs it administers—a condition of moderate affluence and tolerable content is before it. Wealthy we do not at all think it will ever become: the advantages conferred by nature, with the exception of climate, and the love of indolence and pleasure of the people themselves, forbid it. The Japanese are a happy race, and being content with little, are not likely to achieve much.” Western Enterprise in Far Eastern Economic Development, (Retitling of: Western Enterprise in Indonesia and Malaya: A Study in Economic Development,) G. C. Allen and Audrey G. Donnithorne, Routledge, 1954, reprinted 2003, 2013, page 225. See also: The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time, Jeffrey D. Sachs, Penguin, 2005, page 316. Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich and Some So Poor, David S. Landes, W. W. Norton, 1998, page 350.

[Germany industrialized rapidly]
For example: “Among the chief reasons for the decrease in the British iron industry must be placed the tendency to adhere to antiquated methods of production among English manufacturers. As opposed to this the German ironmasters have known how to avail themselves fully of modern improvements in the technical details of the metallurgy of iron and in the practical operation of the blast furnaces. In fact, though during 1905 there were fifty fewer blast furnaces in Germany than in Great Britain, the former country was able to produce no less than two million tons more of pig-iron than its rival, even with this great disadvantage in point of plant.” The Times April 7th, 1906.

For a much more comprehensive analysis, see Dawson, who was British, but who was educated in Germany. In a 1908 book, he noted that:

“[I]ndustrial Germany is largely the child of industrial England. We have created the rival of whose competition we now complain. Some time ago the Cologne Gazette reminded its readers that ‘It was Englishmen who in Germany first took in hand the construction of railways, gas works, tramways, and machine shops; who supplied to these enterprises the ample resources of British capital; and who thus acted as the pioneers of German material development.’ This is a generalisation which it would be possible to illustrate in all sorts of ways.

[In] 1838... Mr. Richard Cobden... foretold the day when the weapons which English enterprise and example were then placing in German hands would be turned against ourselves with fatal effect....

The process which to Cobden seventy years ago appeared so sinister was continued far into last century. Englishmen, their enterprise, intelligence, and capital were welcome so long as they were needed. Those were the days of Germany’s apprenticeship, and never was learner more patient and industrious. Directly the apprentice was out of his time, however, he began business on his own account, and his master was free to go, and go he did. We all know the rest. From manufacturing for their own use the Germans soon proceeded to supply other nations, and England lost control of markets in which it had for generations held an almost undisputed position....

But this plodding and persistent endeavour of the Germans to come to the front has been supported by a skilful and even masterly application of means to ends. While the average Englishman has been accustomed to regard commerce as a purely rule-of-thumb matter, the German has followed it as a science and an art, and in reality all the methods and measures which he has adopted in competing with his older rivals for the trade of the world may be reduced to one principle, characteristic of the Germans in so many ways, the application of a trained intelligence to the practical affairs of life.

Broadly speaking, where the German outrivals his competitors it will be found that his success is due to one or other of three reasons (1) the cheaper price of his goods, (2) their superior or at least more serviceable character, and (3) the more efficient arrangements which he makes for reaching and attracting purchasers.”

The Evolution of Modern Germany, William Harbutt Dawson, T. Fisher Unwin, 1908, pages 75-79.

See also: The Diplomatic Background of the War 1870 to 1914, Charles Seymour, Yale University Press, 1916, Chapter 4.

As with many British historians at the start of the 1900s prior to World War I, Dawson’s general Germanophilia contrasted with Barker’s general Germanophobia. Dawson was highly respected. See: “William Harbutt Dawson: The Career and Politics of an Historian of Germany,” S. Berger, The English Historical Review, 116(465):76-113, 2001.

[chemical industry in Germany versus Britain]
The first aniline dye was commercialized as mauveine. It was discovered accidentally by William Perkin in 1856. But leadership in organic chemistry soon passed from Britain to Germany. Mauve: How One Man Invented a Color that Changed the World, Simon Garfield, W. W. Norton, 2000. France also contributed strongly, since many early French scientists, like Lavoisier and Berthollet, built it up, but it was Germany that exploited those results to build actual industries on them.
[Germany strongly adopted applied science]
“The nations who entered the field first were not forced by competition to the development of scientific methods of production and distribution; their way being clear they proceeded in hit-or-miss fashion, and although they lost many opportunities of cheapening their goods without lessening their value, and neglected many prospective customers whom they might have secured, they still made their necessary profits. And as time went on, even with the advent of new trade rivals, they clung to their old-fashioned methods. But the Germans, if they were to overcome the start that had been gained by the older nations, were absolutely forced to the use of scientific methods both in the making of the goods and in selling them. This they realized definitely, with the result that the processes of manufacturing and selling developed by the Germans, have become models for the world. That which of late years has been so characteristic of German Kultur in general—‘the application of a trained intelligence to the practical affairs of life’—has been preëminently true of their industrial and commercial methods.

Science in method has been, perhaps, the greatest reason for Germany’s ability to produce goods more cheaply than her rivals. The development of mechanical labor-saving devices progressed further there than in any other country; and the Germans’ skill in the coordination of the various processes of production has also enabled them to cut their costs. Their application of the natural sciences, especially chemistry, was another factor making for economy in manufacturing methods. Every new discovery was at once investigated by the German manufacturers in the hope that it would lead to some improvement ia the technical details of production and thus allow them to undersell their competitors.”

The Diplomatic Background of the War 1870 to 1914, Charles Seymour, Yale University Press, 1916, pages 69-71.

[Germany versus Egypt—Germany has first-mover advantage]
“First Mover Advantages, Blockaded entry, and the Economics of Uneven Development,” J. R. Markusen, in: International Trade and Trade Policy, Elhanan Helpman and Assaf Razin (editors), The MIT Press, 1991, pages 245-269.
[Egypt and Germany—carpets and cars]
This is the standard factor-proportions model prediction based on the (modified) Heckscher-Ohlin theory of trade. It’s because of factor-price equalization. Trade between rich countries, (which have lots of capital and skilled labor) and poor countries (which have little capital and lots of unskilled labor) raises the wages of skilled workers and lowers the wages of less-skilled workers in the rich countries while in the poor countries, it lowers the wages of skilled workers and raises the wages of less-skilled workers International Economics: Theory & Policy, 11th Edition, Paul R. Krugman, Maurice Obstfeld, and Marc J. Melitz, Pearson Education, 2018, pages 128-143. “An Account of Global Factor Trade,” D. R. Davis, D. Weinstein, American Economic Review, 1423-1453, 2001. Note: some have put this forward as the chief explanation for wage inequality within rich countries, however that is much more open to debate. A point made by Paul Krugman (and others).
[East German depopulation after German reunification in 1990]
To help the reunification process, West Germany invested €2 trillion—$1.75 trillion U.S. in 2020—in East Germany. But East Germany towns were already seriously depopulated before reunification. “Had Dresden and Leipzig experienced the same growth as western Germany, they would now be twice as big — indeed, both cities would have over a million inhabitants.” From: “Die Wucht der deutschen Teilung wird völlig unterschätzt,” [The force of the German division is completely underestimated.] Felix Rösel, ifo Dresden berichtet 3, [Dresden Branch of the ifo Institute, Leibniz Association], 2019.

According to the report, before division, cities in what would become East Germany developed in parallel with those in what would become West Germany. Then came westward flight from 1949 to 1961 (Berlin Wall built). Then in the 1960’s and 1970’s came guest workers into West Germany. Then, on reunification, came westward flight.

However, the report doesn’t concern itself with the Marshall Plan, nor with the repayment of war reparations to Soviet Russia and Poland, which was mostly borne by East Germany. Also: although East Germany was poorer, it was also more equal (in income).

[from 1998 to 2000, around 15,000 doctors emigrated]
“Arguably, emigration of highly qualified Arabs to the West has been one of the most serious factors undermining knowledge acquisition in Arab countries. It is no exaggeration to characterise this outflow as a haemorrhage. The trend is large-scale and is steadily accelerating. Data to adequately document the extent of the phenomenon is not readily available, but some indications that point to the extent and gravity of the brain drain are given below.

It is estimated that by the year 1976, 23 percent of Arab engineers, 50 percent of Arab doctors, and 15 percent of Arab BSc holders had emigrated. Roughly 25 percent of 300,000 first degree graduates from Arab universities in 1995/96 emigrated. Between 1998 and 2000 more than 15,000 Arab doctors migrated.

Apart from the sheer scale of emigration and its growth over time, looking into the motives of emigrants reveals obstacles to building Arab knowledge societies that are perhaps more serious than the brain drain itself. Surveys of highly qualified Arabs living abroad indicate that their principal reasons for leaving relate to the absence of a positive societal environment and facilities that would allow them to play their role in the knowledge system and in the development of their countries. Ideally this role should be performed under conditions that permit individual fulfilment and a decent standard of living. The denial of livable conditions to a host of highly qualified Arabs drastically undermines any attempt to create knowledge societies in Arab countries. Their emigration perpetuates weaknesses in both the production of knowledge and the demand for it, since the activities and pursuits of such highly qualified personnel would have significantly increased both supply and demand had they remained in their countries.” Arab Human Development Report 2003: Building a Knowledge Society, United Nations Development Programme, 2003, pages 144-145.

[skill flow from poor to rich lands]
The term ‘brain drain’ is a loaded phrase, and one possibility currently being floated about might even be to replace the term with ‘brain gain,’ but some economists suggest ‘skill flow’ as a more encompassing and less loaded term. Some economists (see especially Gibson and McKenzie) think that there is no ‘brain drain,’ or if there is, that it isn’t important, or if it is, it works both ways. They tend to focus on the individual and not the country and cite things like remittances back to the sending country, trade, and so forth, or they do studies on low-skilled labor, or on remittance flows to small countries, or certain cases where catchup has already happened, as is the case in Taiwan, Israel, and certain parts of China or India. However, all that ignores the issue of the sending country trying to build a complete industrial network of its own. As a data point: In 2003, about 2.5 million of the 21.6 million scientists and engineers in the United States were born in poor countries. “Why Did They Come to the United States? A Profile of Immigrant Scientists and Engineers,” N. Kannankutty, J. Burrelli, Info Brief, National Science Foundation: Directorate for Social Behavioral and Economic Sciences, 2007. Global Economic Prospects 2008: Technology Diffusion in the Developing World, The World Bank, 2008, Chapter 3. See also: Brain Drain and Brain Gain: The Global Competition to Attract High-Skilled Migrants, Tito Boeri, Herbert Brücker, Fréedéric Docquier, and Hillel Rapoport (editors), Oxford University Press, 2012. “Economics and Emigration: Trillion-Dollar Bills on the Sidewalk?” M. Clemens, Journal of Economic Perspectives, 25(3):83-106, 2011. “Eight Questions about Brain Drain,” J. Gibson, D. McKenzie, Journal of Economic Perspectives, 25(3):107-128, 2011. “Report of the WPA Task Force on Brain Drain,” O. Gureje, S. Hollins, M. Botbol, A. Javed, M. Jorge, V. Okech, M. Riba, J. Trivedi, N. Sartorius, R. Jenkins, World Psychiatry, 8(2):115-118, 2009. “Brain Drain in Developing Countries,” F. Docquier, O. Lohest, A. Marfouk, The World Bank Economic Review, 21(2):193-218, 2007. “Arab Societies as Knowledge Societies,” A. B. Zahlan, Minerva, 44(1):103-112, 2006. “Engineering and Engineering Education in Egypt,” O. L. El-Sayed, J. Lucena, G. Downey, IEEE Technology and Society Magazine, 25(2):18-25, 2006. “How Extensive Is the Brain Drain?” W. J. Carrington, E. Detragiache, Finance and Development, International Monetary Fund, 36(2):46-49, 1999. “The Egyptian ‘Brain Drain’: A Multidimensional Problem,” N. Ayubi, International Journal of Middle East Studies, 15(4):431-450, 1983. “Motives for the Emigration of Egyptian Scientists,” S. Saleh, Social Problems, 25(1):40-51, 1977.
[Philippine doctors emigrating to become nurses in the United States]
Encyclopedia of Race, Ethnicity, and Society, Volume I, Richard T. Schaefer (editor), SAGE, 2008, page 199.
[capital flows to rich versus poor countries]
An issue articulated by Lucas, and often called the ‘Lucas paradox.’ An argument could be made that this is more about the inaccuracy of neoclassical economics as a model than it is about capital flows, as capital demonstrably doesn’t flow the way that (standard) neoclassical theory says it will.

Neoclassical economic theory traces back to John Stuart Mill, with additions from Alfred Marshall, then many more recent thinkers; it amounts to assuming perfect knowledge and perfect competition. A variant, Hecksher-Ohlin theory, brings factor endowment more to the fore. Neoclassical economics believes in equilibium. That’s right in the long run, just as thermodynamics is right in the long run—entropy always wins, so everything must even out and die, eventually—but wrong in the short run. All lands compete for skills, machines, brains, money, and trade. Who wins what when?

Lucas compared the United States and India in 1988 and showed that, if the neoclassical model were correct, the marginal product of capital in India should be about 58 times that of the United States. So all capital should flow from the United States to India. But it doesn’t. “Why Doesn’t Capital Flow from Rich to Poor Countries?” R. E. Lucas, Jr., American Economic Review, 80(2):92-96, 1990. In the 1950s, Nurkse had earlier observed that capital had flowed from 1860 to 1910 not because of neoclassical economic theory but because of special conditions, namely Europe was seeding and exploiting its transplants (including Russia), and that was unlikely to happen in future. “International Investment To-Day in the Light of Nineteenth-Century Experience,” R. Nurkse, Economic Journal, 64(256):744-758, 1954.

In the 2010s, this has grown into even more of a puzzle as oil prices have collapsed. The fastest growing economies tend to be those with the slowest growing productivity of labor and capital. Others have high savings rates. China is an example. Foreign investment flows in there even though the country has lots of money already saved to itself power industry. “Developments in the early 21st century made the international pattern of capital flows look even more paradoxical than before. Not only was capital failing to flow from rich to poor countries in appreciable amounts; it was actually flowing uphill, from poor to rich, and on a huge scale. Behind this pattern lay a number of specific developments: Asset booms in rich countries spurred consumption and housing investment, for example, causing big current account deficits, while rapid growth in rich countries and especially China boosted commodity prices, allowing more relatively poor exporters of raw materials to run surpluses. This pattern has abated recently as advanced economies and China have slowed and commodity prices have fallen. In the 2010s, non-oil producing developing countries as a group began to run deficits again, even as rich countries moved into surplus and oil exporters, facing a collapse in oil prices starting in 2014, moved sharply from surplus to deficit. The recent deficits of non-oil producing developing countries have, however, been small compared to the size of the world economy.” International Economics: Theory & Policy, 11th Edition, Paul R. Krugman, Maurice Obstfeld, and Marc J. Melitz, Pearson Education, 2018, page 756. “Capital flows to developing countries: The allocation puzzle,” P.-O. Gourinchas, O. Jeanne, Review of Economic Studies, 80(4):1484-1515, 2013. “The paradox of capital,” E. Prasad, R. Rajan, A. Subramanian, Finance and Development, 44(1):16-19, 2007.

“Has the Lucas Paradox been fully explained?” C. Azémara, R. Desbordes, Economics Letters, 121(2):183-187, 2013. “What drives international financial flows? Politics, institutions and other determinants,” E. Papaioannou, Journal of Development Economics, 88(2):269-281, 2009. “International Investment Patterns,” P. R. Lane, G. M. Milesi-Ferretti, The Review of Economics and Statistics, 90(3):538-549, 2008. “Why Doesn’t Capital Flow from Rich to Poor Countries? An Empirical Investigation,” L. Alfaro, S. Kalemli-Ozcan, V. Volosovych, The Review of Economics and Statistics, 90(2):347-368, 2008. “Banking on Democracy: The Political Economy of International Private Bank Lending in Emerging Markets,” J. Rodríguez, J. Santiso, International Political Science Review, 29(2):215-246, 2008. “International Capital Flows, Financial Stability and Growth,” G. L. Kaminsky, DESA Working Paper No. 10, ST/ESA/2005/DWP/10, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN/DESA), December 2005. “Channels from Globalization to Inequality: Productivity World versus Factor World,” W. Easterly, in: Brookings Trade Forum 2004: Globalization, Poverty, and Inequality, Susan M. Collins and Carol Graham (editors), Brookings Institution Press, 2004, pages 39-71. “Winners and Losers Over Two Centuries of Globalization,” J. Williamson, NBER Working Paper No. 9161, 2002.

[capital flow from rich to poor in the 1800s and 1900s]
That has indeed happened—in the 1800s—when industry was first spreading, mostly within Europe and its transplants. Then, after the 1930s there was a long lull. It started again when inflation spiked in the 1970s and making money abroad seemed easier than at home. But by the 1980s, many speculators took one haircut after another. With domestic inflation under control, money more often stayed home.

In the 1800s, newly rich Britain, then France, then Germany, and elsewhere, went looking for poor lands to invest in—so money flowed to the United States, Russia, Turkey, also Canada, Australia, Argentina, and elsewhere, to build railroads and steel mills and factories and such. Growth of the International Economy 1820-2000: An Introductory Text, A. G. Kenwood and A. L. Lougheed, Routledge, Fourth Edition, 1999, Chapter 2, pages 26-44.

“The past 130 years have seen at least four major surges in private capital flows to emerging markets. The first, from about 1870 to the outbreak of World War I, was a boom in bond finance, largely to labor-scarce and resource-abundant economies of recent European settlement. The second was the post-World War I recovery, lasting until the Great Depression, of bond lending to finance public sector deficits. The third was the surge in international bank lending to developing country governments from the 1973 oil price shock until the 1982 Mexican crisis. The most recent surge was the 1990s boom in private-to-private portfolio flows and foreign direct investment in emerging market economies. All four episodes were accompanied by solid growth in world trade and investment, were punctuated by currency and financial instability in the capital receiving countries, and eventually ended in global political or economic crisis. [...]

Capital surges to emerging markets have typically been part of a larger, periodic process of rapid expansion of the global economy. They occur when the worldwide diffusion of technological changes improves communications and transport, growth is buoyant, world trade is expanding, financial innovation is rapid, and the political climate is supportive.” Global Development Finance, 2000, Analysis and Summary Tables, The World Bank, 2000, page 119.

[foreign direct investment in Angola, Equatorial Guinea, and Sudan]
“Many LDCs host small amounts of FDI. At the regional level, for example, in the case of Africa’s 34 LDCs, although 29 countries recorded higher FDI in 2004 than in 2003, all but the three oil-producing countries (Angola, Equatorial Guinea and Sudan) received less than $1 billion; and 21 received no more than $100 million. A similar situation applied to Asia and Oceania, where 12 of the 15 LDCs received less than $100 million in flows in 2004. The only LDC in Latin America and the Caribbean, Haiti, continued to record a modest amount of FDI.” FDI in Least Developed Countries at a Glance: 2005/2006, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, 2006, page 2.
[textile exports of Bangladesh and others from 1999 to 2001]
Developing Countries in the World Trading System: The Uruguay Round and Beyond, Premachandra Athukoralge, Edward Elgar Publishing, 2002, page 75. “Market Access for Developing Countries,” H. P. Lankes, Finance and Development, International Monetary Fund, 39(3):8-13, 2002.
[number of tariffs in the European Union in 2000]
The number 10,794 is just the number of EU tariffs. In Defence of Global Capitalism, Johan Norberg, translated by Roger Tanner and Julian Sanchez, Academic Foundation, 2005, page 145. In 2004, the European Union grew from 15 to 25 countries (and to 27 in 2007, adding Bulgaria and Romania). It accounts for about 15-20 percent of world agricultural exports and imports, and when it comes to food is one of the most important trading partners and competitors of the United States.

The United States emphasizes different policies, but is otherwise similar. “The two countries also differ in their reliance on border measures, including tariffs and tariff-rate quotas, to provide support for domestic agriculture. Although both maintain tariffs, the European Union’s are higher, on average, and there are a greater number of tariffs over 100 percent. The European Union also makes heavier use of export subsidies across a wider range of commodities.

Overall, while both countries provide moderately high support to their agricultural sectors relative to other developed countries, the European Union maintains a higher overall support level, has higher budget outlays for agricultural support, and provides more support that is coupled or partially coupled to production than the United States.”

“U.S. and EU Farm Policy—How Similar?” M. A. Normile, A. B. W. Effland, C. E. Young, in: U.S.-EU Food and Agriculture Comparisons, Mary Anne Normile and Susan Leetmaa (editors), United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, Agriculture and Trade Reports, Outlook No. (WRS-0404), 2004, pages 14-27, especially pages 19 and 21.

Since 2000, and due to bilateral and multilateral trade agreements, tariffs have been declining. But that has failed to open markets as much as expected. Also, as tariffs have fallen, non-tariff barriers have risen. “Non-Tariff Measures to Trade: Economic and Policy Issues for Developing Countries,” United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, 2013.

[effective European ban on Mauritanian cheese]
“Even after fighting Brussels for 13 years, British-born Nancy Abeiderrahmane is convinced she will one day penetrate ‘fortress Europe’ to sell her Mauritanian camel’s cheese in the European Union.” From: “British-Mauritanian camel’s cheese maker banging on EU’s door,” Sydney Morning Herald, April 10th, 2007. “Scaling Up: The Challenge of Monterrey,” N. Stern, in: Annual World Bank Conference on Development Economics—Europe 2003: Toward Pro-Poor Policies: Aid, Institutions, and Globalization, Bertil Tungodden, Nicholas Stern, and Ivar Kolstad (editors), World Bank and Oxford University Press, 2004, pages 13-42. “Standards, Regulation, and Trade: WTO Rules and Developing Country Concerns,” J. S. Wilson, in: Development, Trade, and the WTO: A Handbook, Bernard M. Hoekman, Philip English, and Aaditya Mattoo (editors), World Bank, 2002.
[trade barriers in poor countries about twice high as those in as rich ones]
A briefly stated yet comprehensive comparison is hard since there are many ways for a country to protect itself—including subsidies, quotas, tariffs, duties, and so on. Also, there are many ways to define who is rich and who is poor.

However, at least in terms of tariffs, Lankes notes that: “Developing countries themselves have high tariffs that limit trade among them. The average tariff in developing countries is 14 percent, and in the least developed countries, 17.9 percent, compared with 5.2 percent in the industrial countries.” From: “Market Access for Developing Countries,” H. P. Lankes, Finance and Development, International Monetary Fund, 39(3):8-13, 2002.

Similarly, the World Bank states that: “Developing countries themselves are part of the problem. Although South-South trade is a much smaller share of total trade, average tariffs in manufactures are three times higher for trade among developing countries than for exports to high-income countries. Taken together and because of high protection for labor-intensive products around the globe, the world’s poor face tariffs that are, on average, roughly twice as high as those imposed on the nonpoor.” Global Economic Prospects 2002: Making Trade Work for the World’s Poor, The World Bank, 2002, page 37.

[Brazil tried to grow its computer industry in 1977]
As Britain discovered in the 1970s, nationalizing an industry might save it for a while, but that can easily turn into an indirect dole. “Latin America in the Rearview Mirror,” H. L. Cole, L. E. Ohanian, A. Riascos, J. A. Schmitz, Jr. Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis Research Department Staff Report 351, 2004. “Trade, Growth, and Poverty—A Selective Survey,” A. Berg, A. Krueger, in: Annual World Bank Conference on Development Economics 2003: The New Reform Agenda, Boris Pleskovic and Nicholas Stern (editors), World Bank and Oxford University Press, 2003, pages 47-90. The Microcomputer Industry in Brazil: The Case of a Protected High-Technology Industry, Eduardo Luzio, Praeger, 1996. “Measuring the Performance of a Protected Infant Industry: E. Luzio, S. Greenstein, The Case of Brazilian Microcomputers,” Review of Economics and Statistics, 77(4):622-633, 1995.

However, for a good argument that protectionism was widely used in the past among today’s rich nations, see: Kicking Away the Ladder: Development Strategy in Historical Perspective, Ha-Joon Chang, Anthem Press, 2002.

[what led to India’s turnaround?]
The abbreviated story in the text might give the impression that India’s economic turnaround began only in the 1990s, but that may not be correct. A recent UNDESA working paper points out that its economic development rates from 1980 to 1990 were about the same as from 1990 to 2000, with real takeoff happening only after 2000. However, the paper offers no explanation for that. “The Scorecard on Development, 1960-2010: Closing the Gap?” M. Weisbrot, R. Ray, DESA Working Paper No. 106 United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2011, especially pages 13-14.
[India and China rising fast—but from a low level]
Today, many foreheads in rich countries crease over talk of a ‘loss of competitiveness’ or even of a ‘flat world.’ It’s hard to know why. India and China, in particular, are indeed growing fast now. For instance, from 1978 and 2007, rural poverty in China fell from 30.7 percent to 1.6 percent. But both India and China also started from far behind the world’s rich countries. From 1990 to 2003, per person income in China leapt 196 percent. In rich nations it went up only 24 percent. Yet today, income in rich lands is still over five times larger than income in China. China today is about where Japan was in the 1970s. Similarly, India’s economy is now surging at 9.4 percent a year—yet even were its torrid growth to persist, it would still take many decades to catch up with our rich countries. It has huge problems. Its adult literacy rate is lower than Rwanda’s. Its percentage of children in school is smaller than Vietnam’s. Its per person income is lower than Nicaragua’s. More than a fourth of the very poorest of us live in India. India in 2005 had a life expectancy of 63.7 years, an adult literacy rate of 61.0 percent, a combined gross enrollment ratio for primary, secondary, and tertiary education of 63.8 percent, and a per-person GDP (PPP) of $3,452. “Getting the Numbers Right: International Engineering Education in the United States, China, and India,” G. Gereffi, V. Wadhwa, B. Rissing, R. Ong, Journal of Engineering Education, 97(1):13-25, 2008. Human Development Report 2007/2008: Fighting climate change: Human solidarity in a divided world, United Nations Development Programme, 2007, page 231, Table I. Access for All: Basic public services for 1.3 billion people, China Human Development Report 2007/2008, United Nations Development Programme, page 10. Human Development Report, 2005: International cooperation at a crossroads: aid, trade and security in an unequal world, United Nations Development Programme, 2006, page 37.

[China has come far but still has far to go]
“Economic growth has been spectacular in some developing countries. Between 1970 and 2010, China’s per capita income rose twenty-one-fold, Botswana’s more than ninefold and Malaysia’s and Thailand’s more than fivefold. But these countries have far to go before they cross the divide: China’s per capita income is only a fifth the average for developed countries. Botswana, Malaysia and Thailand are also far from this mark.

Will these countries continue to grow until they cross the threshold to developed countries? History suggests that growth cannot be taken for granted. Many countries grew impressively over long periods only to stagnate. For example, between 1950 and 1980 Brazil’s per capita economic growth was almost 5 percent a year—similar to recent growth in Botswana, Singapore and Thailand—but its economy collapsed in the 1980s and has only recently started to recover. Argentina’s collapse was even more dramatic, from a per capita GDP in 1913 that exceeded the European average, to one in 2007 that was just a fifth of Western Europe’s.

These cases illustrate how hard it is to cross the great income divide. Of the 108 countries with incomes below $7,000 per capita in 1970, only 4 moved up to the World Bank’s high-income classification in 2010. Three are small island economies (Antigua and Barbuda, Equatorial Guinea and Malta), one with abundant oil. The fourth—South Korea—remains an important exception. Estonia and Slovakia did not exist as independent countries in 1970, but both achieved growth that moved them up into the high-income group.”

Human Development Report, 2010, United Nations Development Programme, 2010, page 42.

[demographic change in China]
For example, in China we’re now growing richer, but we’re also growing older, thanks to the Wan Xi Shao (Later, Longer, Fewer) family planning policy started in the 1970s. The same policy had the unexpected effect of making us somewhat more male, too; by 2020 we may be missing perhaps 18 million females (either aborted or born unreported). That imbalance will likely peak by 2025-2030. Further, by 2030 a smaller working-age cohort will have to shoulder more of the burden of caring for elders. By then, we’ll be 20 percent over-60, doubling our percentage in 2000. Thus, tomorrow’s China will be a giant version of today’s Japan. Finally, in China our working-age numbers will peak in 2020, then fall. Our young might then have to work harder and harder to give our old the lives that they will by then have grown used to. Driving cars and eating meat more than once a week will be hard to give up.

“China faces growing gender imbalance,” BBC News, January 11th, 2010. World Population Prospects: The 2006 Revision, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2007. “The Contribution of Population Health and Demographic Change to Economic Growth in China and India,” D. E. Bloom, D. Canning, L. Hu, Y. Liu, A. Mahal, W. Yip, PGDA Working Paper Number 2807, Program on the Global Demography of Aging, 2007. “China’s Growth to 2030: The Roles of Demographic Change and Investment Premia,” R. Tyers, J. Golley, PGDA Working Paper Number 1206, Program on the Global Demography of Aging, 2006. “China’s Growth to 2030: Demographic Change and the Labour Supply Constraint,” J. Golley, R. Tyers, PGDA Working Paper Number 1106, Program on the Global Demography of Aging, 2006.

[China and currency and import control]
In China, we had suffered hard blows—among others, perhaps 30 million had starved to death in the 1960s—so since the late 1970s, just as in Japan then South Korea, we focused on exports. So we want to keep our exportable goods and services cheap. To do that, we want to keep our currency cheap. To do so, we use it to buy dollars and pounds and euros and yen—but not to use to then buy foreign stuff (that is, not to consume, but to keep in our sock draw, earning very little interest). Plus, to keep down our imports, and thus keep our currency weak, we want to keep our wages low. We can do so by making stuff or developing services at low cost as long as we can pay our workforce little—and we can keep doing so as long as yet ever more of us show up in the exploding cities ever year. The result? Low interest rates around the globe—for decades. So even if the United States and Britain and Japan and elsewhere are still deep in debt, it’s still cheap to borrow money, so those of us there keep borrowing.
[Egypt and geopolitics]
Of course, Egypt, because of location, and religion, and thus geopolitics, is between a rock and a very hard place. The