Outrun Change

We need to learn quickly to keep up with the massive change around us so we don't get run over. We need to outrun change.

Archive for the category “Change in the past”

Radical drop in cost of lighting as indicator of how much better our lives are today

From really expensive candles to cheap electricity for brighter light bulbs. What luxury we now have!  “Trip the Lights Fantastic” by Anne Worner is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

One measure of how radically life has improved over the centuries is how much nighttime illumination can be purchased from a certain amount of labor.

For example, George Washington calculated that it cost him £5 a year to provide himself five hours of reading light every evening. That is the equivalent of about $1,000 today.

Imagine spending $83 a month to light only one lamp in your entire house.

We are amazingly rich today.

This insight provided by Human Progress on 2/15/17:  How the cost of light has fallen by a factor of 500,000.

Here are some reference points provided by the article:

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Rapid economic growth of the American colonies before the revolution.

Take a look at how rapidly the colonies developed over the many years in advance of the successful American revolution. Comments are from An Empire of Wealth: The Epic History of American Economic Power by John Steel Gordon.

One part that is astounding to me is certain geographies were very conducive to a certain type of crop. That is why tobacco, or corn, or cotton, or fishing for cod thrived in certain areas.

Consider: export of tobacco from Virginia to England:

  • 1618 – 20,000#
  • 1622 – 60,000#
  • 1627 – 500,000 #
  • 1629 – 1,500,000#
  • 1638 – 3,000,000#

let’s look at the annual increase and compound rate of growth:

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Why has there been such astounding economic success in the United States?

How to illustrate the super-abundance produced in the U.S.? Perhaps this view of a corn field, knowing there are huge fields of corn for a hundred miles in every direction. “An Iowa Summer Carpet” by cwwycoff1 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Why these is so much economic output in the U.S. is a valuable question because once you can explain why the U.S. has seen such powerful growth for such a long time, there is a possibility, remote though it may be, for others to have the same prosperity.

Each of us has to search for the answer by yourself. I suggest you seriously consider the first chapter of An Empire of Wealth: The Epic History of American Economic Power by John Steel Gordon if you want to get your arms around the answer.

It is not just that the US is a large country that goes from coast to coast.

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Technology changes overtake the iconic Boeing 747

Boeing 747” by allenthepostman is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

United will make a big deal of its final flight of a 747 on November 7 with retro uniforms for flight attendants, a stylized ‘70s menu, and entertainment fitting the era.  Forbes reports on  9/19/17:  The Boeing 747 Came In With a Bang And Now It Will Go Out With One.

Delta’s final international flight of a 747 was on September 7. Their final two domestic flights of the 747 were for evacuation of people in advance of Hurricane Irma.

Article describes the launch of the 747:

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Drop in cross-country travel time using a DC-3

Another post has a comment on how much the DC-3 shrank travel time to cross the country. Here is a description of how much that beautiful bird cut the time:

7/24- Popular Mechanics – Why the First True Spaceliner Will Change Everything – The beautiful DC-3 reduced the time for coast-to-coast travel.

Before the DC-3, it took 25 hours and 15 stops for fuel and repairs to cross the country. With the DC-3, there were only 3 stops for fuel.

(A video of DC-3s in a 2013 flyby follows, if you are interested.)

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Drop in transportation costs from Erie canal

Erie Canal, Newark. Date: circa 1910. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Infrastructure such as canals, interstate freeways, and the internet provide a foundation that enables the economy to boom.

This is one of many ideas I’m enjoying as I look at John Steel Gordon’s explanation of An Empire of Wealth: The Epic History of American Economic Power.

In the 1790s, the road system in the US was so poor that farmers in western Pennsylvania could not afford to ship their grain to the east coast. To make a living they had to distill their grain into whiskey so they could afford the shipping costs. A new thing I learned is how to describe that situation: value-to-weight ratio.

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Announcing “Ancient Finances”, my newest blog

Silver Roman denarius. Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Ancient Finances will explore finances and money during the Viking age and Roman Empire. Lots of posts on other blogs addressing those topics have been cross-posted to the new blog. This includes lots of discussion of the loot Alexander the Great lifted during his rampaging world tour.

I’ve been having loads of fun reading about the Viking age and am intrigued by finances and money during the Roman Empire.

Why a new blog?

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Surprise! Ancient humans were violent.

Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

There seems to be a vague consensus in our society that ancient peoples were peaceful and contented in their gathering and hunting.  Only in recent times have humans become greedy, war-like, and violent.

Some recent articles have challenged that assumption. That these reports are noteworthy demonstrates the bias that exists claiming only in relatively recent times have we humans become mean and hateful.

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Travel time from New York to California and back in the 1850s

State of the art travel in the 1860s. Star of India sailing ship in San Diego harbor. Photo by James Ulvog.

State of the art travel in the 1860s. Star of India sailing ship in San Diego harbor. Photo by James Ulvog.

The time it took to travel from the east coast to west coast in the mid-1850s is described in American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant, by Ronald C. White.

The book is fantastic, by the way.

The time for transit from New York to Washington and back home is described. For comparison, I’ll repeat the timing for a trip by William Sherman described in another book, which I mentioned a while back.

Here are the transit times:

  • 43 days – New York to San Francisco via Isthmus of Panama – 1852
  • 51 days – San Francisco to New York via Panama – 1854
  • 198 days – New York to Monterey, California sailing around Cape Horn – 1847

West-bound trip

Lieutenant Grant’s unit was transferred from Michigan to the Washington territory.

At the time, there were three options for the trip. First was overland via the Oregon Trail. Second, sailing around Cape Horn at the tip of South America. Third, portage across the Isthmus of Panama.

His unit went the Panama route.

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“Currency and the Collapse of the Roman Empire” infographic

Silver Roman denarius. Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Silver Roman denarius. Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Telling the tale of the collapse of the Roman Empire is a challenge even in a full length book. Presenting one slice of the story in an easily read and understood infographic is even more of a challenge.

The Money Project is a blog run by Visual Capitalist which focuses on illustrating complex ideas. Their infographic Currency and the Collapse of the Roman Empire does a great job of describing how debasement of the currency and the resulting inflation made trade more difficult which in turn contributed to the collapse.

Oh, used with permission of Visual Capitalist.

A great story with many lessons to be learned for anyone willing to think for a while:

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Government decisions helped take down the Roman economy

Roman Colosseum. Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Roman Colosseum. Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock.

I’ll have two posts describing how bad decisions by Roman Emperors contributed to the economic deterioration in the Empire by their intentional decisions.

First, check out Richard Ebeling on 10/5/16 at Foundation for Economic Freedom – How Roman Central Planners Destroyed Their Economy.

In 58 B.C. (yes, I know that was shortly before the move from a republic to an empire), the Roman government started giving wheat to citizens of Rome for free. As expected, this resulted in masters letting their slaves go free so the government was responsible for their subsistence. In 45 B.C. Julius Caesar figured out that one-third of Roman citizens were getting their food from the government.

Farmers fled to the city to get food for free instead of breaking their back all year long in order to barely have enough to eat. Slave owners turned their slaves free so the central government could feed them instead.

Move forward a few hundred years to see the destruction from debasing the currency along with price controls.

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Astounding new technology has arrived. Astounding old technology is fading away.

Image courtesy of DollarPhotoClub.com

Production line for that world-changing plane could possibly close in a few years. Image courtesy of DollarPhotoClub.com

Ponder the remarkable contrast. We see phenomenal breakthroughs in space exploration almost weekly. On the other hand, the production line for the 747, the plane that opened up world travel to the masses, is slowing down and could be shuttered in a couple of years.

7/26 – Satellite Today – Sky and Space Global Details Vision for 200 Satellite LEO Network – The company, Sky and Space Global, plans to put 200 nanosatellites, or cubesats, into a low Earth orbit to provide a worldwide communications network. It is categorized as narrowband, providing only voice and messaging along with data forwarding.

Company estimates the cost for constellation of 200 satellites will be somewhere in the range of $120M up to $160M.

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The long, deadly, anti-human shadow of Malthusian thinking. A 200 year trail of evil.

In my reading and thinking over the years, I have learned anytime Malthusian ideas surface in a discussion those ideas will inevitably be wrong. More often than not, they are immoral as well.

After considering Matt Ridley’s discussion of The Long Shadow of Malthus, I now realize that Malthusian ideas are often evil as well.

This post is a review of Prof. Ridley’s published article. If you want a longer version that shows in more detail the suffering, misery, and needless deaths caused by followers of Malthus, check out chapter 11 of his book, The Evolution of Everything.

The core of this school of thought holds that the planet will not be able to sustain whatever growth in population is taking place at the moment. As a result, it is mandatory that us bright people (that’s you and me) limit the increasing population of those people. As the professor says:

It centres on the question of how to control human population growth and it answers that question by saying we must be cruel to be kind, that ends justify means. It is still around today; and it could not be more wrong.

Thomas Malthus wrote An Essay on the Principle of Population in 1798.

The consequences of his ideas were extended until they

…inadvertently gave birth to a series of heartless policies — the poor laws, the British government’s approach to famine in Ireland and India, social Darwinism, eugenics, the Holocaust, India’s forced sterilisations and China’s one-child policy.

Check out the article for the long shadow.

Here are a few shameful examples of the harm and suffering intentionally created by Malthusian disciples: Read more…

Are you richer today than John D. Rockefeller was in 1916? The answer is, um, yes.

Would you trade your place in life today for life occupying the Gould-Guggenheim mansion when it was completed in 1912? Even if a billion dollars was tossed into the trade? Photo by Adobe Stock.

Would you trade your place in life today for life occupying the Gould-Guggenheim mansion when it was completed in 1912? Even if a billion dollars was tossed into the deal? I would not make the trade.  Photo by Adobe Stock.

I suggest you are in fact richer today than John Rockefeller was 100 years ago. If it were possible for Prof. Don Boudreaux to switch places with John Rockefeller’s life and even if he could have a billion dollars after he arrived back in 1916, he would not make the switch. He would rather live as a comfortable professor today than be a billionaire 100 years ago.

I agree.

Here are three posts to explain this strange idea: first, what life was like 100 years ago, why Prof Boudreaux would not make the switch, and then why Coyote Blog wouldn’t either.

(Cross-post from Attestation Update. This post supports my conversation on ancient finances at that blog and also fits the discussion of how much life has improved over the last 200 years here.)

An article in The Atlantic on 2/11/16 describes America in 1915: Long Hours, Crowded Houses, Death by Trolley. The article is drawn from a report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics: The life of American workers in 1915If you enjoy this brief discussion, I heartily recommend you read the full BLS report. It is a fun read, but then, I am an accountant.

I will update a few of the stats in the Atlantic article where the author took a shortcut. When I browsed through the BLS report, I noticed some sentences which were repeated nearly verbatim in the article, which is okay since the report is a public document.

A few highlights:

Workers in factories averaged 55 hours a week. The fatality rate across the economy was 61 deaths per 100,000 compared to about 3.3 per 100,000 today.

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How much has our economic wellbeing improved from that our of distant ancestors?

A view of economic progress. Ponder the productivity improvement and resulting increase in wealth to go from this:

Image courtesy of DollarPhotoClub.com

Image courtesy of DollarPhotoClub.com

To this:

Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

The overall standard of living has increased by a factor of somewhere between 30 and 100 in the last 200 years.

The little side trip in this post and the next will lead me back to my discussion of ancient finances in general and Alexander’s haul from his military campaigns in particular.

(This is a cross-post from my other blog, Attestation Update. It is part of a series of posts discussing ancient finances, with a focus on the loot taken by Alexander the Great during his military campaign.  This particular post is pertinent to this blog, so I will bring it here. The remaining conversation on Alexander’s haul will remain at the other blog, since that is where I talk about finance.  You can find the discussion here.)

Writing in Bourgeios Equality: How Ideas, Not Capital or Institutions, Enriched the World, Professor Deirdre McCloskey says it this way:

..in the two centuries after 1800 the trade-tested goods and services available to the average person in Sweden or Taiwan rose by a factor of 30 or 100. Not 100 percent, understand— a mere doubling— but in its highest estimate a factor of 100, nearly 10,000 percent, and at least a factor of 30, or 2,900 percent. The Great Enrichment of the past two centuries has dwarfed any of the previous and temporary enrichments.

Let me phrase that another way. The value of what is enjoyed today by an average person is roughly equal to what 30 or 100 people had two centuries ago. That means the constant dollar value of what is consumed and enjoyed has grown by a factor of somewhere between 30 and 100.

Read more…

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