Spokes 6

Spokes 6: The Fruits of Civilization     (Table of Contents)  {Notes}

Humanity shaped the world to its ends. Now, to our consternation, the world itself reacts to the fruits of civilization.

Spokes 6 surveys the development of crucial technologies which have shaped civilization. Then follows an exploration of economics, including its historical course, economic thought, and the situation now. Spokes 6 concludes with a review of the environmental impact humanity has had, thanks to technology and chosen way of life.

From the chapter on Technology:

Technology typically has externalities: consequences beyond intended purposes. Effects range from environmental to cerebral and societal.

Culture and technology form an entangled gyre. Just as a society may engender or discourage engineering, technological development drives the evolution of social norms and mores.

Some of this is intentional. Most is not.

From the section on Economic History:

Trade was the lubricant which invariably led to concentrations of economic and political power into a small minority of hands. Rulers came to rely up growth as a means to maintain, and augment, their supremacy.

When internal limits were hit, expansion created conflicts with neighbors. This trend was ubiquitous.

From the biography of Karl Marx:

Historically, Karl Marx was a counterpoint to Adam Smith. Yet both started from the same base, sharing the obvious observation that homo economicus is rapacious by nature.

But their conclusions as to what to do about it were diametric. Smith would do nothing, while Marx advocated an equitable society.

From the section on Corporations:

Shareholders own corporations, and managers typically run their corporation in pursuit of shareholder perspective. The problem is that shareholders don’t have a company’s best interest at heart. Shareholders often insist on strategies that maximize short-term profits. A manager who does not abide this short-termism is likely to be booted, especially during turbulent times, when foresight is most needed and least appreciated.

Shareholders are the most mobile of a company’s stakeholders: they may sell their shares at any time, disabusing their financial investment in the wink of a trade. In contrast, the other stakeholders – managers and employees – are vested with their livelihoods. Their interest is in the company’s abiding wellbeing, so that they may continue to earn a living, and do so decently.

From the chapter on Economics:

Conventional economists universally take growth and profit as laudable. The psychological and sociological costs of materialism are unconsidered asides.

Part of this owes to economic models ignoring time. Instead lays the assumption that everything occurs in equilibrium. But equilibrium is nothing more than a mathematical fiction that is never attained.

Instead, the dynamics ever in play are waste, unemployment, and other dislocations. These are brushed aside as “externalities.”

From this comes a conventional creed of balderdash softened into spurious sensibility: that capitalism is not perfect, but only tinkering at the edges need be applied. Incessant corruption and profiteering are relegated as coming from the proverbial “few bad apples,” or lapses in oversight. Blaming government for the inherent excesses of capitalism is a ubiquitous sport.

Economists commonly treat poverty under the maxim that “a rising tide lifts all boats.” Growth is always the recommended solution. This perspective has been properly termed “trickle-down economics.”

From the section on Environmental Impact:

From hunting megafauna in prehistory to deforestation to create arable acreage, humanity has had lasting impact. Indeed, from the tropics to the boreal, forests were never pristine, nor animal populations left untouched; all were attacked by man since his emergence.

Industrialization kicked environmental damage into overdrive. No land, sea, or sky remains unblemished by human activity.

Spokes 6 covers the consequences of human endeavors. Spokes 7 explains how governance allowed the fruits of civilization to ripen.