On Growth

On Growth

Growth is the basic underpinning of a capitalistic society. If you are dependent upon growth to survive, you have to continue growing to continue surviving. There is some controversy in this expectation, but I was once given the argument for the interdependcy by a very respected Math graduate student, which I have forgotten now, but I’ve always assumed it was one of the simple facts that we took for granted as mathematicians, but most people just didn’t understand, like  the exponential curve.
I recently heard a lecture by Dr. Albert Bartlett of the University of Colorado in bolder, in  which he tried to make his listeners understand the implications of the exponential curve for energy policy. He was a physicist who has died since giving the lecture. Maybe that’s a good thing. From his point of view, at least. In general he made me look like an optimist.

My brother and I differ on almost every issue that exits. Generally he thinks I am a left wing nut-case and I think he is equally far out on the other side. Probably the only issue on which we agree is that I think I am probably twice as smart as he is. Unfortunately we may also agree that I have routinely traveled in circles where that made me often seem a bit slow in comparison to my compatriots. As a child I often did not see things this way at all. I thought we all had about the same intelligence. Given all the relevant details on any topic, we would all come to the same conclusions.

As I grew older, though, it became clear that was not even close. For one thing it eventually  became obvious that the details, no matter how carefully spelled out, always depended as much on their perception as their spelling. Each of us perceives a detail differently depending on his/her experience. Nothing comes with all the same relevant details. For another, what is expected to be the system’s response to differing conclusions is just as dependent upon the concluder’s experience. There is no way to win here.

Take Trump, for instance. Is he like Hitler or not? And would that be such a bad thing in any case? If you are from a Jewish family, you probably think so. But if your interests are more concerned with the well-being of Germany, you may well think Hitler was not so bad. Very little needed to be different for Germany to have won the war, and that would have changed everything. Whether you think ”like Hitler” has a good or bad ring to it has a lot to do with how you think things would have been different if they had gone differently.

An interesting highlight of Dr. Bartlett’s talk was his emphasis on continued population growth  being incompatible with the continued existence of democracy. He used Boulder as a case in point to illustrate how his observation works. When first he moved to Boulder there were 20,000 residents and eight city-council members. While the population had nearly tripled during his life in Boulder, the council size remained the same. In so doing, democracy had been diluted thru an increase in the size of each council member’s constituency. It may not seem so obvious, but the eventual outcome of this trend is inevitably the loss of democracy. Continued growth must be accompanied by continued growth in the represenational body to avoid this dilution of democracy. Unfortunately, the option of expanding constituencies works the same way: eventually the only currency that matters is actual currency, which means those with money wind up with the only democracy there is. I.e., democracy no longer exists.

So who is to say Trump is so bad? At least something is apt to get done. Is it accurate to label as ironic the fact that republican refusal to support–no, to actually obstruct–anything that smelled of Obama has wound up with the potential total loss of a party that once operated for the advancement of democracy? I think not.

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6 Responses to On Growth

  1. Fred Drake says:

    Just to be clear. We agree you think you are twice as smart. We don’t agree that you are twice as smart. Lol

  2. Elfriede Henninger Smith says:

    Never underestimate the damage a low information voter can inflict on democracy when he/she steps into the voting booth. The ignorance and stupidity of the electorate is a much greater threat to democracy than the dilution of the constituency.
    I don’t understand why a Trump presidency may not be so bad because he is apt to get something done. It always depends on what gets done. He is a narcissist who thinks he can do anything to anybody at any time. Maybe he would start to care about global warming if his properties take on water from the rising sea levels.

  3. Hank Raymond says:

    George I think what you’re saying is that the natural evolution of a democracy due to population growth is an oligarchy? Am I understanding what you’re saying correctly?

  4. Hank Raymond says:

    At least something is apt to get done if Trump becomes president? Really? How are you imagining that might happen? All by executive order? Or are you also assuming both houses of congress would be republican and pass legislation he proposes?

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