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October 25, 2009


Jack is Back!

This just in on Golf Channel.

The 2010 Masters has been cancelled. The old white guys at Augusta National have already proclaimed Barack Obama the winner and awarded him a green jacket.


God, please send us another Julian Simon to humiliate the Hagens of the world back into irrelevancy.


Ignatz, I was just about to post something similar. Simon's website (LUN) is still a good resource. It's as if every 20 years a bunch of people start arguing that the earth is flat and if we travel too far we'll fall off the edge. And the NYT dutifully and respectfully reports on their concerns.

David Cohen

Since the beginning of the world to today, we've never run out of a single "non-renewable resource," despite digging, say, gold, out of the Earth as fast as we could.

We run out of renewable resources (e.g., buffalo, the dodo bird, etc.) on a regular basis.


"The old white guys at Augusta National have already proclaimed Barack Obama the winner and awarded him a green jacket."

Not only that but he was 15 under, shot the course record, and would have been bogey free if he hadn't missed a 3 foot putt because of a distraction: he looked up and saw someone from the press with a Fox News logo.


There needs to be a back-up plan. If the seas don't rise fast enough (and they might not since Obama campaigned against it), category 10 hurricanes don't materialize, the world doesn't turn into a dust bowl, etc. plan B could immediately be put into play.. the end of resources is upon us, we need an immediate treaty to curtail their use.

Oops, what do I know?

Somebody smart figured out that energy is the new labor.

Fred Beloit

Economists didn't see this recession coming??? When it cost $64 to make $1 of dividends in the stock market? When Bummy Frank and Crist[spelling intended] Dodd made it possible for houses in Florida that cost $280K in 2003 to sell for $650K in 2005?

Something is either wrong with the "science" or those who engage in it.


Do they think at all, at the Times, didn't 1929 and in a different way 2008, prove the
fallacy of such thinking. The supprime collateralized derivative, didn't any where close to it's real value. Hence the crash in asset values

Energy is important, which begs thequestion,
why are we doing to everything to slow it's development in this country

Charlie (Colorado)

Something is either wrong with the "science" or those who engage in it.

Or the idiots who report on it.

Charlie (Colorado)

Ever notice the consistent theme in this? "Horrible thing X is gonna happen; the only solution is to put me and my friends in charge of everything so we can prevent it."

After a while, it becomes clear that "put me and my friends in charge" is the only consistent part.


From the article:

Like Hall, many biophysical economic thinkers are trained in ecology and evolutionary biology, fields that do well at breaking down the natural world into a few fundamental laws and rules, just like physicists do. Though not all proponents of the new energy-centric academic study have been formally trained in economics, scholars coming in from other fields, especially ecology, say their skills allow them to see the global economy in a way that mainstream economists ignore.

"Neoclassical economics is inconsistent with the laws of thermodynamics."?

They are arguing that economics is wrong using physics, but they are neither economists or physicists. Yea, the post-modernists, done with the humanities disciplines, are moving on to more fertile ground in the hard sciences and economics.

Biophysical Economics primer.

From the primer: For starters, one question rarely asked in economics is the relation between energy and any economic activity. What? I would also suppose one might have to ask is energy (and say nuclear plant construction or oil drilling) an economic question or a political question or how much of each. And in the primer they include economics today (ie the Washington Consensus") is an ideology: "Although the
ideology that pervades economics today is sometimes associated with political ideology it is
more often related to its own self-contained but rarely tested ideology, such as “free markets
lead to efficiency” or “economic analysis is value-neutral” or “externalities can be internalized, resolving the original problem”
. Is this the beginning of a Popper-like argument?

I need some more coffee and obviously haven't read all the links. More later if anyone is interested.


No, Rich even Tequila straight, won't make that make any more sense


you gotta be kidding, right? Biophysical economists? How many fish are in the sea? The Keynesean theory of Red Snapper? We're back to that one again?

Differential Ozone equations?

How about electrons on the head of a pin while they're at it?

Hey, they can start a new Nobel Prize category and give one to Barry for econ as well.


Another headcratcher:

"Although conceptual economics divorced itself from biophysical reality this was not the case, at least in theory, in one respect, which is with respect to the development of the underlying mathematical theory. At the turn of the last century, economists chose physics (and, more explicitly, the analytic mathematical format of classical mechanics) as a model for capturing the essence of their discipline. This is reflected in the familiar graphs and equations of commodity value and cost vs. quantity, with price determined as the intersection of downward trending demand curves (derived from utility curves) and upward trending cost of supply curves. Although physics served as the model and its intellectual popularity as the motivation, the resulting economic model was physically unrealistic because it represented a dynamic, irreversible process with a static and reversible set of equations as the conservation principles that constrained the equations of physics were incompatible with capital accumulation and, indeed, growth or even production in the economists’ model (e.g. Mirowski, 1984)."

So physics the language of economics, but using physics is inappropriate because economics violates "thermodynamics"?

Some meat:

"There are many who, like us, believe that this choice is worse than arbitrary because it is only cheap energy that has allowed us to essentially ignore over the last century the biophysical world that was the focus of early economists. It is only through energy that is cheap in the market, but not at all otherwise, that we have been able to generate such enormous wealth at so little cost to our individual salaries or time."

"One can argue that if the present 3 percent of GDP energy cost is subtracted from the current economy, most of the other 97 percent of GDP will cease to exist. In other words, we are extremely lucky that we have to pay only the extraction costs, rather than the full-value production, value-to-society or replacement costs that Mother Nature might charge if there were mechanisms to do so. The full price would have to include the costs of natural capital depreciation, including both the fuel itself and the nature destroyed by its extraction, shipping and use, as well as the military costs of assuring resource availability. These we are hardly paying at present. If and when we run out of luck, and these costs come due, as will likely be the case, economics will become a whole new ball game in which the focus will return again to production and which will result in a new way of thinking about monetary and energy investments. Thus there are good reasons to examine economies from a biophysical and energy perspective as well as from a social- and market based perspective. This may be a difficult leap initially, but the shift in perspective should become obvious and desirable once the idea is broached."

Wasn't Stiglitz hailed for his "cost of the Iraq War" which included all manner of ridiculous assumptions about the long range cost of oil which he included as an Iraq War cost? Isn't energy production in the less safe regions of the world because the environmentalist lobby has made it impossible, through regulation, impact fees, lawsuits etc, to despoil Mother Nature in the West?

Very tough reading, seems like a nice day, think I'll stop here and enjoy it.


--Neoclassical economics is inconsistent with the laws of thermodynamics.--

F&*#in morons.
Presumably they are speaking of classical thermodynamics which relates to entities in equilibrium or closed loop systems. Obviously neoclassical and any other school of economics is incompatible with with such laws, as no economy, even the Soviet's, is a closed loop.
And the idea that the mathematics of macroeconomics is based on physics is itself unsupportable.
These guys must have flunked out of climate science.

Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.

Maybe they use superconfusers.

H/t PUK.


Very excellent post, Richard..As to this:"Isn't energy production in the less safe regions of the world because the environmentalist lobby has made it impossible, through regulation, impact fees, lawsuits etc, to despoil Mother Nature in the West?"

Rick Ballard

"F&*#in morons."

Ignatz, please - that's "F&*#in credentialed morons.". After all, the NYT is the Keeper of the Anals of Morony and the weak sophistry employed by these folks have certainly earned them a place.



They apply "thermodynamics" in a biological sense. Sunlight drives photosynthesis and the like (though they leave out that Mother Nature's flame has also created life at the bottom of the oceans, which derive their energy from hot water and chemical synthesis). pg. 9 of the primer gives a graph of their economics system (which is not concerned with money). I found it a bit funny that they talk of economics of the past (say prior to 1870) with a nearly Thoreauian sentimentality, without the realization that economics, say in the 1600's or 1700's, would have overwhelmingly pastoral sensibilities because so much of the economy would have been tied to agriculture. Then they introduce things to the argument that economists of the past would have had no knowledge of-DNA, photosynthesis wasn't understood at the level they discribe until the 30's, and thermodynamics wasn't understood as the describe until the later half of the 18th Century.

More from their paper: If in fact the grim results of the Limits to Growth do come to pass do we castigate those politicians who for “moral” reasons removed population from the agenda of the United States Government? How about those economists who argued foolishly against that model’s utility or, more generally, a biophysical approach to the Earth’s problems? Do we put them in jail for the lives lost and for encouraging us to make investments in the wrong places?

This is towards the end of the primer which boils down to a defense of "The Limits of Growth" and "The Population Bomb".

I might be off in a few places here and there because I'm only skimming but it seems that "peak oil" and "The Limits of Growth" needed a new vocabulary because they have been so discredited and the only place they could find it is in the neologism "biophysical economics". Not unlike what the post-modernists had to do as the post-fascist nature of their work was revealed.


The good thing about Malthusans who are consistent is that they don't reproduce.

Gregory Koster

Ther new aspirants for the Nobel Prize in Economics (who will be sadly disappointed as The Once has a lock on all future Nobels) need only consider how much more productive the new economics will be? How much energy does it take to send a campaign contribution to a Congressional? How much to endow an Ivy League concentration camp? How much to bail out the press? Energy? All you need is enough dough to buy your way into the new aristocracy. Then you can join the effort to slam the door to prevent anyone else from joining the controllers of the new Utopia of Mediocrity, Paul Krugman, Controller.

Nobel has been reviled for inventing dynamite and making war worse. The Prizes are a far worse plague on humanity.


How about a nice research paper about plagues and their effect on the production of wool in the Luddite interGorean economy (Those countries ascribing to Kyoto)of the future?

We can all leave modern invention and technology behind and luxuriate in our own miasma.

Economics does not in fact violate the laws of thermodynamics in that the consumption of energy is precisely balanced with the generation of hot air and manure.


Probably astroturfing or weather-ballooning for the Copenhagen Conference, and the dream that finally our better angels, whom we should have listened to 37 years ago with the publication of "The Limits to Growth", will be able to order this disorderly world to their own liking.

Kevin B
If in fact the grim results of the Limits to Growth do come to pass do we castigate those politicians who for “moral” reasons removed population from the agenda of the United States Government? How about those economists who argued foolishly against that model’s utility or, more generally, a biophysical approach to the Earth’s problems? Do we put them in jail for the lives lost and for encouraging us to make investments in the wrong places?

Or do we jail the anti-humanists who regularly argue that the only way to save the planet is to kill all the people?

Rick Ballard


It's definitely a heavy thumping on the prog's jungle drum but the EU looks to be opting out of the "leadership role" for Copenhagen. That leaves Prince Obamlet and he's looking a little shy.

I can't imagine why he would hesitate to squander additional billions tilting at windmills while unemployment continues to increase and his polling continues to fall.


Does "The Limits of Growth" explain the depopulation of Europe of Europeans?

Charlie (Colorado)

Okay, first thing: any area of science that claims its area doesn't follow the laws of thermodynamics, isn't one.


Some malicious part of me wants them to push the overreach just so there will be open rebellion against this climate nonsense. My reasoning is this. I believe they, and that includes all the greenies and those who are simply using it as a power or financial grab will continue to advance their agenda by regulatory fiat unless there is an uprising complete with metaphoric heads on pikes. Perhaps it is my competitive nature or maybe survival instinct but these guys need to lose and lose big if we are not going to return to the middle ages.


A whole field dedicated to "thermoeconomics" drawing on evolution, biology, and the second law of thermodynamics.


And never let a crisis go to waste: April op-ed with similiar themes.

An economy is often likened to a machine, though few economists follow the parallel to its logical conclusion: like any machine the economy must draw energy from outside itself. The first and second laws of thermodynamics forbid perpetual motion, schemes in which machines create energy out of nothing or recycle it forever. Soddy criticized the prevailing belief of the economy as a perpetual motion machine, capable of generating infinite wealth — a criticism echoed by his intellectual heirs in the now emergent field of ecological economics.

any area of science that claims its area doesn't follow the laws of thermodynamics, isn't one.

Agreed. The three laws of thermodynamics are not suggestions!

I'll add, though, that they can get pretty wild in irreversible thermodynamics and dissipative structures. Prigogine won a Nobel Prize in Chemistry (a real one!) for his work in the area, and in particular how they apply to biological systems.


DrJ and Chaco-

Sorry to go deep in the weeds, but isn't the underlying assumption that economics is a study of a living organism a bit problematic. It may offer some interesting insights (and the NYT link to an older op-ed is interesting) but "the economy" isn't a Rube Goldberg machine or some living, breathing Gaia needing a new priesthood to protect. If it were, an economy could be modeled with springs and gears (this has been tried and failed and I think one of the contraptions is in a British muesum) and there would be no bad policies or unexpected results. The same could be done with biological analogy using various chemical reactions (though I'm not sure if any mad scientist has tried to create an ABS using chemistry set, but I'd probably would want to steer clear of the lab).

In one of my links above, Windshutttle defends history as a science and I think that economics could be defended as a historical science.

More later.

Gregory Koster

Rich, that TIMES oped by Eric Zencey was interesting. Zencey wrote the excellent novel PANAMA, a gem or international conspiracy. Emboldened by this success, he's decided to apply conspiracy theories to present day economics. His notion that banks "should only lend real money by real depositors" has the same effect as a gold standard, with complete backing of the currency. But to suggest that would label him a crank. Hence the vague suggestion that bankers be "prevented" by nameless entities, oh hello Rahm, wanna job? Bah.

As for Soddy, he had a great friend in H.G. Wells. They had a tendency to cite the other's writings, which you can see in Wells's 1931 THE WORK WEALTH AND HAPPINESS OF MANKIND another of Wells's attempts to blueprint Utopia. Both these mid-Victorian Englishmen were appalled at the way interwar Britain was run, sure that they knew better ways, and miffed that more attention wasn't paid to their schemes.

As for Windschuttle, he's justifying his life's work. He might be right, but he's in the same as, say, a nineteenth century medico saying, we will too cure all diseases someday. When economics becomes as reliable as bridge building, economists will be worth listening to. Until then, they have their Nobel Prizes for spitting in the eyes of unpopular Presidents.


isn't the underlying assumption that economics is a study of a living organism a bit problematic.

I'd sure think so. It is decidedly *not* an organism, though as you say the insights might be interesting. You are just replacing one set of models and their assumptions with another. I don't think any of these rise to the level of thermodynamics, or Newtonian mechanics or whatnot.

I'll add the qualifier that I never really did look into the basis for econometrics either. I'm sure it is interesting but I've just not gone there.


It's intriguing that Zencey doesn't extend the logic of his own research on Panama, the
anarchists arose in part from the Canal scandal, as did the Boulangists. Now who hired the Congress and the Administration, those same corrupt interests, that caused
the collapse. I'm surprised I missed that
Op Ed at the time.



You sell Windshuttle's book short. He was defending History as a seperate discipline, with its own research methods (archival research) and report of results (narrative), and exposing the fashionable theories that are invading and displacing it in the academy. In the subject at hand, just as the post-modernists have broken down the disciplines of history and the social sciences to make a "Cultural Studies" super-discipline, environmentalists want to breakdown the disciplines of economics and biology (and other hard sciences) and create a "Biophysical Studies" super-discipline.


environmentalists want to breakdown the disciplines of economics and biology (and other hard sciences) and create a "Biophysical Studies" super-discipline.

Ugh -- what a mess. Universities already have difficulty deciding how to organize traditional biology, microbiology, molecular biology, biochemistry and plant biology into anything coherent. Many make a separate school of Life Sciences, but that is not all that clean either.

Now add this to the mix.

Rick Ballard

Lysenko would be so proud...



He would indeed-though the current crop are pikers in that they can't send dissidents to the gulags yet. And so disappointing that the Euros aren't putting a dollar (euro, yen...) figure on saving the planet. It's a crisis, I figured that it'd be a bidding war among the Europeans to do something for the environment.

Since oil prices need justification outside of supply and demand, we'll see quite a bit about "biophysical economics" and "ecological economics" as the new buzzwords as they climb once again.

His advisers about this are truly loony, Holdren, Browner, and Chu.  Chu may be the realist of the trio..

I think the Europeans, facing growing skepticism at home, finally figured out the naked shakedown the developing countries were attempting to put on them at Copenhagen by appealing to carbon guilt. It almost worked, and still may.

Obama's ducking it, though he'll be in Oslo for the Nobel just two days after the opening in Denmark. He smells the rat, too.

I'm also getting suspicious that this administration is starting to understand the usefulness of nuclear. That's good for us, but I've been in hopes that this administration would never come to its senses with respect to energy, the easier to dump them in 2012. It's a tough choice, my hopes.

His advisers about this are truly loony, Holdren, Browner, and Chu.  Chu may be the realist of the trio..

I believe the Europeans, facing growing domestic skepticism, have finally figured out the naked shakedown that the developing countries are trying to put on them for supposed 'carbon guilt' at Copenhagen. There will be much talk, but no binding agreements or much money changing hands. No one has it to give, now.

Obama is ducking Copenhagen even though he'll be in Oslo for the Nobel just two days after the opening in Denmark. He smells a rat, too.

I've become suspicious that the Obama administration is finally figuring out the utility of nuclear. That's good for us, but I've been of the hopes that this administration would never come to its senses about energy and climate, the better to dump them in 2012. Tough choice, my hopes.

But Chu thought tectonics brought petroleum to the North Slope.

Heh, you can see my opinion of Copenhagen evolve in seven minutes. It's changing that fast, I'm tellin' ya.

Rick Ballard


I'm just wondering what happens when Dimon, Blankfein &c turn off the Dow bubble machine. I noticed that Capmark filed BK this evening. I don't believe I'll tuck that one in my very slim 'green shoots' file.

Gregory Koster

Rick, what happens the green shoots that come up in October?

Rich, thinking about it some more, I was harsh on Windschuttle. I like him when he practices history, but his attempts to explain what he does don't work. He's bang right about the credentialed morons who are choking the life out of free inquiry, but that's akin to noting the sun came up in the east again today. The battle for the Academy waits to be fought. As with the press, I think it is too late. James Fallows had an article in the ATLANTIC on China. As a throwaway, he mentioned the possibility of CHina buying the Unviesity of California system from California. He was being satirical, but any California Grubenor should grab a Chinese offer, say a hundred billion, and start from scratch. Let the ivory tower mountebanks roar and bellow at their new Chinese masters, who will take them to Tianamen for a chat. The hard science folks will soon gravitate to the new system, leaving the Chinese stuck with William Ayers &Co.

E. Nigma

Will Mother Nature accept CDS's and CDO's? Otherwise, we are in a peck of trouble. :)

Seriously, we live in this incredible energy bath generated by the Sun. Someday we may learn how to tap into it efficiently (geosynchronous power satellites?). But there are still vast amounts of uranium and thorium in the accessible crust of the Earth that can be burned for centuries to generate electricity.
And the asteroids could be economically mined for the same when we develop sufficient spacefaring technologies.

Economies have a resemblance to complex ecologies or planetary weather, for that matter; a whole set of very complex inputs and outputs. Like the ecologies or weather, they can be studied, but probably not accurately modeled.
This sounds too much like the soft (silly) and dismal (economics) sciences trying to piggy back on the focused but limited intellectual successes of the hard sciences, part of which is Classical Thermodynamics. Maybe next year it will be Quantum Mechanics?

Look, money appearing and disappearing out of the economy like a discontinuous wave function! It's particle, it's a wave, it's a dessert topping! Get Krugman and his cat, stat!
(PS. David Friedman, Milton Friedman's son, was actually educated as a theoretical physicist.)

As Nelson on the Simpsons would say: Ha! Ha!


Heh Ha


Economics is a science in the same sense psychology is.
People observe human behavior, occasionally describe it fairly accurately, but usually pretty poorly, and then come up with various theories to explain the causes and effects based on what their predetermined political values are.
If their values are fairly sensible to begin with they come somewhere near the truth. If not, then not.


The whole thing sound suspiciously like
Futurama, with Professor Farnsworth speaking
of dreaming the impossible that's why they call it science


Understanding E= mc2
Einstein's equation applied to renewable energy sources like wind, solar, and hydro.
Yet because of the power of E = mc2, the metamorphosis of six ounces of matter will be enough to power the city of San Francisco for five years.

This is what people finds hard to grasp. It is almost beyond our comprehension. How can we run an entire city for five years on six ounces of matter with almost no environmental impact? It all seems so incomprehensible that we make up problems in order to make things seem normal again. A reactor is a bomb waiting to go off. The waste lasts forever, what will we ever do with it? There is something sinister about drawing power from the nucleus of the atom. The technology is beyond human capabilities.

But the technology is not beyond human capabilities. Nor is there anything sinister about nuclear power. It is just beyond anything we ever imagined before the beginning of the 20th century. In the opening years of the 21st century, it is time to start imagining it.

Mike G in Corvallis

You know what this stuff reminds me of? This:

Thus, general relativity forces upon us radically new and counterintuitive notions of space, time and causality; so it is not surprising that it has had a profound impact not only on the natural sciences but also on philosophy, literary criticism, and the human sciences. For example, in a celebrated symposium three decades ago on Les Langages Critiques et les Sciences de l'Homme, Jean Hyppolite raised an incisive question about Jacques Derrida's theory of structure and sign in scientific discourse:
When I take, for example, the structure of certain algebraic constructions [ensembles], where is the center? Is the center the knowledge of general rules which, after a fashion, allow us to understand the interplay of the elements? Or is the center certain elements which enjoy a particular privilege within the ensemble? ... With Einstein, for example, we see the end of a kind of privilege of empiric evidence. And in that connection we see a constant appear, a constant which is a combination of space-time, which does not belong to any of the experimenters who live the experience, but which, in a way, dominates the whole construct; and this notion of the constant -- is this the center?

Derrida's perceptive reply went to the heart of classical general relativity:

The Einsteinian constant is not a constant, is not a center. It is the very concept of variability -- it is, finally, the concept of the game. In other words, it is not the concept of something -- of a center starting from which an observer could master the field -- but the very concept of the game ...

In mathematical terms, Derrida's observation relates to the invariance of the Einstein field equation Gμν = 8πGTμν under nonlinear space-time diffeomorphisms (self-mappings of the space-time manifold which are infinitely differentiable but not necessarily analytic). The key point is that this invariance group "acts transitively": this means that any space-time point, if it exists at all, can be transformed into any other. In this way the infinite-dimensional invariance group erodes the distinction between observer and observed; the π of Euclid and the G of Newton, formerly thought to be constant and universal, are now perceived in their ineluctable historicity; and the putative observer becomes fatally de-centered, disconnected from any epistemic link to a space-time point that can no longer be defined by geometry alone.

You can read it all here ...

Better yet, you can read about it here.

comment #34.

It's funny, Sokal just came up yesterday at climateaudit.org where one commenter suggested that the new hockey stick article by Tingley and Huybers is so bad he wondered if it was a hoax on the paleoclimatology community. It probably isn't, but there it is.


Pseudo science.

Who'd you rather follow?

And thank you Tom, for mentioning Norman Borlaug. Why we have a sort of religion genuflecting to the ruminations of Ehrlich rather than a body of believers in Borlaug, I don't know, but about which I wonder.

Annoying Old Guy

Of course, Freeman Dyson thought about all of this decades ago, hence the Dyson Sphere which is what you get when your civilization needs all the energy your star generates.

Mitch H.

Oh, look, the post-modernists have re-invented Physiocracy, only with energy instead of agriculture. Just because one class of activity is essential to the economy, doesn't disallow the value of other activities. For those of you late to the party, the French Physiocrats held that only farming had economic value, and all other economic actors - nobles, clergy, merchants, manufacturers, traders - were parasites on the sole productive class, the farmer. Of course, in 1750s France, agriculture was just about the only large-scale energy-harvesting activity, neglecting such marginalia as windmills, watermills, and sailing vessels.

And the laws of Thermodynamics only truly apply to closed systems, ya chumps. There's tons of outside forces we can exploit, and make entropy work for us.

You got no idee.

Yeah, what'll that do to the planet?


This link is for Chaco;)

Annoying Old Guy

You have to disassemble all the planets for the mass to build the shell elements so the problem solves itself.

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