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Tuesday, January 24, 2012 - 8:00pmSanction this postReply
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This is a great book. Here is really cool information adapted from page 21:
Or turn it round and ask how long you would have to work to earn an hour of reading light -- say, the light of an 18-watt compact fluorescent light bulb burning for an hour.
Check out the timeline below, which tracks lighting improvements on top of increases in one's real wage earned (at various times in our history):

Time you would have to spend working, in order to earn an hour's worth of reading light (and the ancillary benefits that reading brings to mankind)

--1750 BC (sesame oil lamp): over 50 hours
--1800 (tallow candle): over 6 hours
--1880 (kerosene lamp): 15 minutes
--1950 (incandescent light bulb): 8 seconds
--Today (compact fluorescent bulb): less than 0.5 seconds

Holy Kahmohlee! We went from spending over 50 hours of personal labor (in order to get the one hour of artificial light) to less than one-half of one second (to get the same thing)! Do you know how many half-seconds there are in 50 hours worth of time?

Neither do I, so let me calculate it. Hold on while I open my "on-computer" calculat ... heeeeyyyy, that's another improvement!. We've got virtual calculators packed inside of our home computers. Okay, I'm going to try to do this calculation while typing onto a board that allows me to instantaneously communicate with thousands of oth ... heeeeyyy, that's another improvement! Okay, alright. I have got to stop focusing on all these benefits that capitalism has brought mankind for just a second ... er, let me rephrase that: I have got to stop focusing on all these benefits that capitalism has brought mankind for just "2 hours worth of artificial lighting". Okay, here's the answer:

360,000

What that means is that, in order to obtain an hour's worth of artificial light, we had to work 360,000 times as long in 1750 BC as we do now (and over 40,000 times as long in 1800 as we do now). In a narrow respect, we are 360,000 times better off than humans were 4 millenia ago -- and still 40,000 times better off than humans were just 2 centuries ago!

Ed

p.s., Thanks for recommending the book, Joe.




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Tuesday, January 24, 2012 - 8:11pmSanction this postReply
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Great post Ed.
Consider too how many hours one had to work to procure food for the day and also the variety of foods available today as opposed to the amount and availability of food back then.
Refridgeration, clean running water(clean running water being the biggest contributor of health advances).

How many things do we take for granted today that most likely would never have been invented without capitalism is astounding.



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Wednesday, January 25, 2012 - 8:04pmSanction this postReply
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You guys are silly, it wasn't Capitalism that brought forth all of these amazing advancements and pulled civilization out of the swamps.

Technology is the real reason. Just look at the difference between now and then, as Ed noted. It wasn't Capitalism that allowed a person to have to have ample light (and lighting time and I-pods and personal computers and those convenient t.v. dinners) it was the technology.

Silly Ed and Jules thinks a light-bulb is Capitalism. No, it is technology.

But just imagine if we could control these amazing advancements in technology and direct them toward a superior social goal, rather than toward greedy selfishness, to which they are currently being put to use. What amazing prosperity that would bring!
(Edited by Kyle Jacob Biodrowski on 1/25, 8:07pm)

(Edited by Kyle Jacob Biodrowski on 1/25, 8:08pm)




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Post 3

Wednesday, January 25, 2012 - 8:29pmSanction this postReply
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Kyle you are a socialist idiot.
What brought on the rapid advancement of technology?
The industrial revolution, which started with the enlightenment and what socio-economic system nurtured the industrial revolution and indeed ultimately the founding of america? It sure wasn't socialism.
It was capitalism. Go live in north korea were if you look at an arial night photo its pretty much dark. They believe as you do so go try it out and then tell me how you like socialism...o wait you won't have internet.



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Post 4

Wednesday, January 25, 2012 - 11:20pmSanction this postReply
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...just imagine if we could control these amazing advancements in technology and direct them toward a superior social goal, rather than toward greedy selfishness, to which they are currently being put to use.
Kyle, what you would be controlling would not be the advancements... after all, they don't grow on trees. You would be controlling people. You would be controlling inventors, engineers, managers, factory workers, accountants, investors, and all the many, many people who work in supportive industries. Controling people is another way of saying people will not be free, that they must take directions from some elite, or some tyrant.

But there is yet another problem. History has tens of thousands of years without the growth of technolgy. And there is a reason for that. The reason is that without the institution of property rights as a kind of boundary for human behaviors, we would not form marketplaces, be able to raise capital, determine prices, mitigate risk, or any of the other many, many tasks that must happen before large scale technology becomes possible. Capitalism is really nothing more than the protection of property rights so that no one may steal from another. With that kind of freedom people will take risks, make trades, invest time and money, and a system grows in which technology is the natural outcome. I'm imagining this fellow who takes his knife and slices open the goose that was laying golden eggs. What great prosperity he envisioned once he was in charge of the golden eggs instead of waiting for that silly goose to lay them!

However, the worst problem with your approach is on a moral level. If one brings reason to attempting to determine what would be best for man, they don't end up with systems where some men are in charge and others become serfs. Reason tells us that a good morality is one where all men are treated equally. If one has a right, so do all. And man would be the measure of value. Crowds, mobs, populations... all of these are just collections of individuals, and just as no one man would have more or better rights than another, so no group of men would have more or better rights than any individual. I know that people are tempted to say that the individual must be sacrificed for the good of the group or collective, but that is the morality of the lynch mob, of the gang, of the tyrant.

If selfishness is contrained so that it may not include using force, or fraud, or theft, then it will not harm anyone but the person himself. And that is freedom. If he will benefit himself by making others happy enough to pay him for his product or service, that is a free trade, and if that is the system it is capitalism - the most moral system every invented and the only system that arises out of man's nature and the system that has lifted more of the worlds population out of poverty, disease, and starvation.

By what right does Kyle Jacob Biodrowski tell a nation what light bulb they can or cannot use? And if you don't have such a right, then no one else does either. We all have the right to oppose the initiation of force, or the use of fraud or theft, but no more.



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Thursday, January 26, 2012 - 12:43amSanction this postReply
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Steve that brought my huge sanction button out very well said!



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Thursday, January 26, 2012 - 2:43amSanction this postReply
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Thanks, Jules.



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Thursday, January 26, 2012 - 4:56amSanction this postReply
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I will get the book from my branch library this afternoon.  (We have many copies here in Austin.  Obviously, the librarians were enthusiastic.)  I will report back later.  We should really discuss the book itself.  From Ed's review it seems to be an upside to Virginia Postrel's The Future and Its Enemies, but let me read it first.

I sanctioned Steve's post, also.  Overall, it was nicely said, off the top of his head and with passion, apparently.  On that basis, this is not negative criticism, but emendment to highlight some easy glosses that bear closer inspection. 

It is true that in the 5 million years that we have been upright, there were long periods of stability.  Once invented and perfected hand tools did not change.  I believe that Neanderthal was stable like that for 100,000 years or more.  But "history" only begins when the rapid changes begin with the invention of writing.  Literally.  We have been over this before that tallying debts (about 8000 BCE at the very earliest)  led to the invention of number (about 5000 BCE), the first inventories, and then writing and literature (2000 BCE). We are still talking about 200 generations, pretty slow going, but rapid compared to the past. 

At this same time, the first codified laws appear - once writing was invented.  Steve provided citations to other codes, I believe antecedent to Hamurabi.  These lists did state expected rights and obligations under law. They were the birth of objective law and reflected understandings of property rights that must have existed before they were codified.  So, that much is true.  Whether or not this was "capitalism" is a matter of definition and perhaps not important.  But from that point forward, there was no period of stagnation.  Even the so-called "Dark Ages" (Greece 800 BCE; Roman Europe 500 CE) were local periods, other places relatively nearby were doing well; and these ages were "dark" mostly because we know less about them.  

It is easy (and acceptable to me) to define capitalism as cause of the fantastic acceleration in standard of living roughly from 1650-1700 forward.  The English Bill of Rights of 1689 stood on natural rights theory, explicitly limiting the government. 

At the same time, Blaise Pascal and Pierre Fermat (primarily) developed the mathematics of risk.  I have mentioned here before Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk by Peter L. Bernstein.  This was a significant feature of the Age of Reason, the understanding that outcomes are predictable, that uncertainty is not the same as risk.  A predictable future is necessarily benevolent: even if you predict bad outcomes that you can do so gives you control over them.  (When his clerks were bemoaning the loss of a vessel, insurance magnate Thomas Caldecott Chubb happily replied, "If there were no losses, there would be no premiums.")

Be all that as it may - and while it is easy to accept the premise of optimism - I am interested in the book also to check the facts asserted.  I own three ancient oil lamps.  These things are common and cheap, even as they are delicate.  We have too many of them for oil to have been so expensive as stated above.  And these are just little lamps.  Ships 100 feet long loaded with amphora jugs as big as a man and filled with oil are known at the bottom of the Mediterranean -- and those are the ones that sank...  I just question the easy numbers, even as I accept the premise of optimism.

(Edited by Michael E. Marotta on 1/26, 5:05am)




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Thursday, January 26, 2012 - 11:08amSanction this postReply
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Thank you, Michael.



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Thursday, January 26, 2012 - 3:33pmSanction this postReply
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Mike,

Are you telling me that you are in possession of lamps that are 4000 years old? I find that somewhat hard to believe.

Ed

(Edited by Ed Thompson on 1/26, 3:34pm)




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Thursday, January 26, 2012 - 5:29pmSanction this postReply
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Aladdin was selling them... ;-)



Post 11

Thursday, January 26, 2012 - 6:38pmSanction this postReply
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Rub itttttttt!



Post 12

Thursday, January 26, 2012 - 9:06pmSanction this postReply
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Ed, yes, 2500 to 2000 years old, give or take, one archaic Greek, two classical Roman.

I have written here before about numismatics and this is an offshoot of that. You can buy ancient Greek and Roman coins of nice quality for about the same as a collectible US 19th century Morgan Dollars or Bust Halves. Before I stopped collecting, I had about 25 small sliver coins, each worth a day's wages from the towns and times of philosophers from Thales through Hypatia. I got rid of most of it when I lost interest. I do still have two quinarius coins struck by Cato the Younger on his own authority from his own silver when he was at Utica, resisting Julius Caesar.

There are many sellers. I know many of them and still work with them on articles I write, so I hate to play favorites, but just to get you started:
FORVM
http://www.forumancientcoins.com/
Forum is so respected that other sellers compete to earn Forum Awards for their websites. See also the Discussion board at Forum.

VCOINS
http://www.vcoins.com/
This is a trusted ring. Many of them are members of the Professional Numismatists Guild, the International Association of Professional Numismatists, or (of course) the American Numismatic Society or the American Numismatic Association.

This is largely unregulated. There are no university degrees in numismatics. No government defines who can be a numismatist. Anyone can claim anything. Yet, it works quite well, based on trust and reputation in a competitive marketplace. "In numismatics knowledge is king."

Not surprising now, though, the academic archaeologists have teamed up with central governments in Egypt, Cyprus, Turkey, and other nations to declare all of this "cultural patrimony." New laws prohibit the import and export and demand "repatriation" of displays from museums in the USA. But that is another topic.






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Thursday, January 26, 2012 - 9:22pmSanction this postReply
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That is extremely fascinating Michael.
I have some canadian centennial "cougar" quarters. An indian head penny, and various canadian coins minted anywhere from 1905-1935 but nothing cool like that.

I also have this weird miss stamped penny, it has the border on it but the two faces are completely blank.



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Thursday, January 26, 2012 - 9:22pmSanction this postReply
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Perhaps I should explain that my post, post 2, was a joke. I didn't expect that it would be taken seriously, but I am to blame for that. After all, there are those people who do use that argument to undermine one of the major benefits of Capitalism (the improvements in living standards due to technology, which is due to Capitalism).

However, I am not dissatisfied with the unintended results. One being the excellent post by Steve in which he illustrated the dangers of centralized planning and the benefits of Capitalism (as gained from Capitalistic principles such as property rights, free trade, and the like). I also enjoyed how Steve established the connection between reason, morality, and Capitalism. This is extremely important since so many people consider Capitalism to be immoral (well, they're right if their morality is altruism )

I also got called a "socialist idiot" by Jules; I got a kick out of that, sorry Jules.

Additionally, while I'm laying the record straight, my post on Ed's quote was also a joke. I was poking fun at Michael.

Don't take me too seriously, folks.

Oh yeah, one more thing, I was also joking about that Keanu Reeves business. Don't tell Ed, though. I think he really thinks I'm Keanu Reeves! So hush about that. Oh, and by the way, Ed, don't read this, if you have, forget everything after the "Don't take me too seriously, folks." line.



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Thursday, January 26, 2012 - 9:49pmSanction this postReply
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Its all good kyle, based on your post I should not have called you a socialist idiot but rather as marx would coin the term "useful idiot".
However in light of more recent posts by you I can and do retract that statement and apologize.

As for myself I'm not even an american I'm born and raised in canada.
I do count myself as an american at heart though in the sense that I love the constitution and the fact that america is the only nation on earth founded on a moral philosophic ideal of man's inalienable rights.

It saddens me greatly seeing how individual rights are being eroded day by day.

I believe this is true of everyone who calls RoR Home.

Nice to meet you Kyle, welcome to RoR.



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Friday, January 27, 2012 - 6:39amSanction this postReply
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Kyle,

I figured you were joking. If you are not sure if someone is joking, then one-up them. Make a joke more outrageous and see if they go along and take the bait. Well, you took the bait, claimed to Keanu Reeves, and I figured you had been joking all along.

The other thing I could have done is ask directly -- "Are you joking?" -- but that's not as fun, as is evidenced by the ensuing debate.

Ed

p.s., For perspective:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E2y40U2LvKY&feature=related




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Saturday, January 28, 2012 - 8:34amSanction this postReply
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Great topic.   We've discussed a similar fact regarding gasoline elsewhere;  here is $5 of your time and effort.   You can easily buy a gallon of refined gasoline with that $5.

How much time and effort would it take for you or I to come up with a gallon of refined gasoline on our own?

Gasoline (a historically unavoidable waste byproduct of refining petroleum) is an incredible bargain even at $5/gallon-- except in the myths of some politics.

$5/gal for gasoline?   I'd take that bargain every day.

And at $2.79/gallon, we barely need to think about it all, which some regard as a political birthright.

OTOH, what are the alternatives?   Let's say you can travel 30 miles with that gallon of gasoline, and can even take 3 others with you, plus a large carton of National Geographic magazines.  You could also ride a bicycle those 30 miles, or walk those 30 miles, and carry the carton of National Geographics, which you are going to try and sell at a flea market, so that your wife stops yelling at you to clean out the garage.      

What is that $5/gallon of gasoline worth to you?    At some point, which you and I will determine, the bicycle seems like the less costly alternative.   As price rises, more and more of us are going to choose the bicycle, especially if it is one of those cool Swiss Army mountain bikes that can carry heavy loads,  like shown here.   But at $5/gallon,  I don't think we are there yet.

I saw the 'new' Swiss Army Bike at Eurosatory in '94, and it was a -way- cool mountain bike.   A veritable tank.

regards,
Fred

(Edited by Fred Bartlett on 1/28, 8:44am)




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Post 18

Saturday, January 28, 2012 - 11:15amSanction this postReply
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This is a book you deserve to read for your own enjoyment. As an Objectivist, you will find some passages arguable. The author distrusts capital markets and calls for their regulation. However, he does endorse open markets in goods and services; and he does caution against political power and political solutions. With that caveat, 99% of the book is just plain fun to read.

Life has gotten better and continues to get better for most people in most times and places because about 100,000 years ago, humans invented trade. (I would amend that to one person invented ritual exchange, but the fact remains: trade has made us all richer.) Again an Objectivist might chafe at Matt Ridley's use of the phrase "collective brain" but truly, we share ideas and the products of ideas as no other species.

It is not just the Ice Age versus the Information Age. Ridley contrasts life in 1900 with life in 1955... but then compares life 50 years ago to today: "... the middle class of 1955, luxuriating in their cars, comforts and gadgets would today be described as 'below the poverty line.' ... Today, of Americans officially designated as 'poor' 95% have a television ... and 70% air conditioning." Citing economist Don Bourdreaux (of Cafe Hayek), just taking a time machine back to 1967, the richest person would have do without Starbucks, Walmart, Google, and LEDs, a BlackBerry, and (facing the strain of life in the past) even Prozac.

Ridley even takes the Ponzi Scheme (South Seas Bubble, John Law, Bernard Madoff) and shows that the worst case is actually pretty good - Madoff paid over 1% per month for 30 years - because the economy must move forward or collapse, and we have largely moved forward very fast.

I have less than hour with the book. I am enthused. I cannot recommend this highly enough. It is a sense-of-life experience.






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Saturday, January 28, 2012 - 5:08pmSanction this postReply
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Glad to hear that you like it, Marotta.

It is a great book and a real pleasure to read. Ridley not only writes real well, but has an infectiously positive outlook, to boot. In my view, everyone with a working brain should read Throw Them All Out and then The Rational Optimist, in that order. The first book will make you mad as hell for change, the second will give you hope. That's hope and change that you can believe in.

:-)

What's funny is that in Obama's recent campaign speech, referred to -- in certain circles -- as a "State of the Union" speech, he called for everyone to play by the same rules. Apparently, he hasn't read Throw Them All Out -- in which he is one of the star players mentioned. The main gist of the book is that there is one set of rules for citizens, and another set of rules for the "government class." It's precisely the thing that, if enacted, would literally shut him down -- that he rants and raves about in his stump speech. Imagine if he got to the podium and said this:
My fellow Americans, I just want to get a few things off of my chest.

There ought to be a law that, if someone wants to be president, then they have to produce their birth certificate! We need presidents who can and will prove that they are indeed American citizens! There needs to be a vetting process! Presidential candidates going to churches for 20 years where their pastor says things like "God damn, America!" -- those folks need to be called out onto the carpet for that. Folks whose political careers started in the living room of an unrepentant terrorist need to be held accountable! We cannot afford to continue to overlook such rampant skullduggery! Are you with me, America?!

:-)


Ed

(Edited by Ed Thompson on 1/28, 5:11pm)




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