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”

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?

Read more…

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.

Read more…

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.

Read more…

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.

Read more…

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.

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With all the radical technology changes over the last few decades, have the essentials remained the same?

Unless you have gunpowder and a delivery system for it, I suggest you not mess with this guy and his buddies. Image courtesy of DollarPhotoClub.com

Unless you have lots of gunpowder or thousands of buddies , I suggest you not mess with this guy and his 6,000 buddies. Image courtesy of DollarPhotoClub.com

My friend John Bredehoft provides a different perspective on technology change. On 1/22 at his blog tymshft, he asked Do the essentials change?

He discusses a podcast comparing life today to about 35 years ago. For perspective, that puts us in 1981, or the range of the first year of the Reagan administration.

One of many points I draw from the discussion is related to Jon’s last comment:

But the speed of the processing chip in my smartphone is relatively meaningless.

Phrased differently, the smart phone in your hand may have an operating speed that is thousands or millions of times faster than 30 years ago but that increase doesn’t have an impact on your life in proportion to the increase in speed. Increased operating speed in the last decade probably hasn’t affected your life much at all.

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We ran out of oil in 2011. You didn’t know that? (Peak oil #42. Oops #44)

A prediction from 1976:

“We need to have, uh, a realization that we’ve got about 35 years worth of oil left in the whole world. We’re gonna run out of oil.”

That scientific certainty was from candidate Jimmy Carter during the 1976 Presidential Debate.

Check it out for yourself:

Here is some math: Read more…

Long distance travel times now and 100 years ago

Standard travel in 2016. Image courtesy of DollarPhotoClub.com

Boeing 747. Standard method of long distance travel in 2016. Image courtesy of DollarPhotoClub.com

Max Roser sent the following tweets on January 7:

Max Roser ‏@MaxCRoser [1 of 2] Travel times from London in 1914


State of the art travel in 1912. Image courtesy of DollarPhotoClub.com

H.M.S. Titanic. State of the art long distance travel in 1912. Image courtesy of DollarPhotoClub.com

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Why I am so optimistic – 2

200 years ago subsistence agriculture was the norm across the planet. Photo courtesy of DollarPhotoClub.com

200 years ago brutal poverty was the norm across the planet. Not so today. Photo courtesy of DollarPhotoClub.com

Previously mentioned when I look at long-term economic trends I am incredibly optimistic. When I look at the headlines this morning or news from the political world, I am very discouraged.

(Cross-post from my other blog, Nonprofit Update.)

To see one illustration of why I am so optimistic for the long-term, check out a column by Glenn Reynolds at USA Today: Actually, things are pretty good / Free markets and free inquiry have changed the historic ‘norms’ of poverty and violence.

Earlier post summarized in one paragraph what caused this radical improvement.

Here are a final two points from the article I’d like to highlight:

Second, it is possible for us collectively to turn back history.

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Intentional federal policies extended Great Depression by seven years

Hunger sculpture at FRR Memorial in Washington DC. How much earlier could hunger have ended with different policies? Photo courtesy of DollarPhotoClub.com.

Hunger sculpture at FDR Memorial in Washington DC. A monument to the man whose policies added extra years to the Depression yet who rarely gets credit for the unnecessary suffering. Photo courtesy of DollarPhotoClub.com.

An extra seven years.

That is the conclusion two economists published back in 2004: intentional policies from FDR added seven years of suffering for the country.

Yes, that analysis was published back in 2004. Sometimes it takes me a while to catch up on the news.

On 8/10/04 the UCLA Newsroom published FDR’s policies prolonged Depression by seven years, UCLA economists calculate.


The cause of extending the Great Depression, according to the economists, was the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) which protected industries from antitrust prosecution in return for adopting collective bargaining agreements. The result was unions drove up wages beyond where the market would have set them, companies were intentionally not prosecuted for collusion, thus companies cooperated in setting prices, which in turn drove up prices to consumers. As a result consumers had much more difficulty affording stuff and therefore actually bought less stuff, which further contracted the economy.

(cross-post from my other blog, Freedom is Moral.)

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Everyone everywhere has gotten far richer in the last 200 years. Hmm. I wonder how that happened?

After you celebrate that the average level of income has increased radically in the last 200 years, ponder how that happened.

10/18 – Max Roser – Economic World History in One Chart – Mr. Roser is superb with data visualization. Tweet from Max Roser ‏@MaxCRoser :


  • Economic world history:
  • 1800 Poor & equal
  • 1970 Unequal
  • 2000 Much richer & more equal again.

Click here to see the very cool graph. Keep in mind it is on a logarithm scale, roughly meaning that each marked increment on the horizontal axis is an increase of 50% or 100%.

Read more…

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