“For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled.”

Richard Feynman


The Foulest of them All by Jay Hanson

By Jay Hanson,First Quarter 1999 Issue

The human species may be seen as having evolved in the service of entropy, and it cannot be expected to outlast the dense accumulations of energy that have helped define its niche. Human beings like to believe they are in control of their destiny, but when the history of life on Earth is seen in perspective, the evolution of Homo sapiens is merely a transient episode that acts to redress the planet’s energy balance.
— David Price [1]

Energy has always been the basis of cultural complexity and it always will be. the past clarifies potential paths to the future. One often-discussed path is cultural and economic simplicity and lower energy costs. This could come about through the “crash” that many fear — a genuine collapse over a period of one or two generations, with much violence, starvation, and loss of population. The alternative is the “soft landing” that many people hope for – a voluntary change to solar energy and green fuels, energy-conserving technologies, and less overall consumption. This is a utopian alternative that, as suggested above, will come about only if severe, prolonged hardship in industrial nations makes it attractive, and if economic growth and consumerism can be removed from the realm of ideology.
— Joseph A. Tainter [2]

When I use “politics” or “political” in this paper, I simply mean “one coercing another” in the broadest sense. To “coerce” is to compel one to act in a certain way — either by reward or punishment.

In 1997, the Chinese lobbyist Johnny Chung observed: “I see the White House is like a subway — you have to put in coins to open the gates.” [3] Millions of Americans have made the same observation: American politics is based on money — one dollar, one vote. Why is American politics based on money? The surprising answer is because the Founding Fathers intended it that way.

We have all heard economists recite endless economic arguments for laissez-faire (“let things alone”) policy — which are essentially arguments for “money-based politics”. But in this paper, I will point out the hidden political arguments for money-based politics, highlight capitalism’s inherent “limits to growth”, anticipate global social collapse within the first few decades of the coming century, and propose a new society to mitigate the coming nightmare.


In numerous treatises on the passions that appeared in the seventeenth century, no change whatever can be found in the assessment of avarice as the “foulest of them all” or in its position as the deadliest Deadly Sin that it had come to occupy toward the end of the Middle Ages.
— Albert O. Hirschman [4]

As all those who write about civic matters show and as all history proves by a multitude of examples, whoever organizes a state and establishes its laws must assume that all men are wicked and will act wickedly whenever they have the chance to do so. He must also assume that whenever their wicknedess remains hidden for a time there is a hidden reason for it which remains unknown for want of occasion to make it manifest. But time, which is called the father of all truth. uncovers it.
— Niccolò Machiavelli, Discourses

Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527) may be considered the founder of modern money-based politics. Machiavelli wrote The Prince as Italy was emerging from a state of rampant anarchy. His masterpiece was designed as a guidebook for a single, forceful leader who would eventually unify the country.

Machiavelli called for rational “interest” (calculation) [5] instead of irrational “passion” (e.g., love, hate or honesty) in matters involving public policy:

Nor did a prince ever lack legitimate reasons by which to color his bad faith. One could cite a host of modern examples and list the many peace treaties, the many promises that were made null and void by princes who broke faith, with the advantage going to the one who best knew how to play the fox. But one must know how to mask this nature skillfully and be a great dissembler. Men are so simple and so much inclined to obey immediate needs that a deceiver will never lack victims for his deceptions. [The Prince]

It’s not surprising that practical men are still driven to his ideas during social crisis because Machiavelli believed “the ends justify the means”:

A corrupt and disorderly multitude can be spoken to by some worthy person and can easily be brought around to the right way, but a bad prince can not be spoken to by anyone, and the only remedy for his case is cold steel. [Discourses]

A feeling arose in the Renaissance — and crystallized by the seventeenth century — that moralizing and preaching religious doctrine could no longer be trusted to restrain the destructive passions of men. [6] A new means of control had to be found.

The most obvious solution was repression and coercion. Repression had been the choice of St. Augustine as early as the fifth century and of Calvin in the sixteenth century. But the repressive solution was beset by a seemingly insurmountable problem: quis custodiet ipsos custodes (who will guard the guards)? Suppose the sovereign turned out to be excessively lenient, cruel, or had some other failing? What then?

Bernard Mandeville (1670?-1733) rejected repression and suggested that a society based on the deadliest of the seven deadly sins [7] — “avarice” — would create common Machiavellian interests and suppress irrational passions. Mandeville’s ideal society was one where the unwitting cooperation of individuals, each working for his or her own interest would result in the greatest benefit to society at large. Mandeville anticipated laissez-faire economic theory, which promoted self-interest, competition, and little government interference in the workings of the economy.

“Democracy” is defined as “government by the people”. But our Founding Fathers never intended for “the people” to govern themselves — governance was reserved for the moneyed class. Two political theorists had great influence on the framers and creation of the Constitution. John Locke (1632-1704) made the greatest impact through his Second Treatise of Government. Locke pioneered the ideas of natural rights and private property, as well as the concept of “separation of powers” to keep any one segment of government from gaining too much power. The French writer Baron de Montesquieu (1689-1755), the second major intellectual influence on the Constitution, further developed the concept of a separation of powers and taught that “invisible wealth which could be sent everywhere” would force governments to govern with greater “wisdom”. In other words, here we find the political argument for free trade:

and through this means commerce could elude violence, and maintain itself everywhere; for the richest trader had only invisible wealth which could be sent everywhere without leaving any trace In this manner we owe.., to the avarice of rulers the establishment of a contrivance which somehow lifts commerce right out of their grip.

Since that time, the rulers have been compelled to govern with greater wisdom than they themselves might have intended; for, owing to these events, the great and sudden arbitrary actions of the sovereign (les grands coups d’autorité) have been proven to be ineffective and … only good government brings prosperity [to the prince]. [8]

Adam Smith (1723-1790), like so many others in his time, believed that free trade and commerce led to good government and peace. In his Wealth of Nations, Smith established powerful economic arguments for laissez-faire, but the attentive reader can find the hidden political arguments here as well:

commerce and manufactures gradually introduced order and good government, and with them, the liberty and security of individuals, among the inhabitants of the country, who had before lived in almost in a continual state of war with their neighbors, and of servile dependency upon their superiors. [9]

James Madison (1751-1836) — “the father of the U.S. Constitution” [10] — was born into a community of self-made Lockean Virginians to whom property rights were both natural and civil. Madison studied Smith carefully, hoping to discover “the true principles of political economy [which] are everywhere needed more so in our young country than in some old ones.” [11]

Madison’s primary political concern centered on the maintenance of social stability by the political and social control of competing factions; control by government itself was a secondary consideration. The framers crafted an elaborate political system:

  • Where “first object of government” (highest priority) was “the faculties” of acquiring property. [12]
  • Where the struggle of classes and passions (e.g., religious conflict) was replaced with the struggle of interests in the economic sphere.
  • Where the political system was extremely resistant to change.
  • Where political power was reserved for a white male minority while projecting the illusion of self-government to the majority. Madison scholar Richard K. Matthews explains:

By consciously denying virtually all but a handful of citizens any role in a governmental structure that, by design, was to be run by an elite of superior ability (who nonetheless would have to check and balance each other), Madison left [economic struggle] as the prime avenue for humanity to search for meaning. [13]

Madison even went so far as to boast that “the true distinction” between ancient regimes and the proposed experiment in government “lies in the total exclusion of the people in their collective capacity.” [14] Matthews continues:

These passages all too neatly anticipate Madison’s conception of citizenship: do not give “the people” any power when they are assembled; allow some of the white males, acting in isolation, the fleeting participation of voting for their representatives and restrict the right for as long as politically possible to one branch of the legislature. Beyond this minimalist approach to politics, ask little else of the people, except under extraordinary conditions. [15]

That’s the theory, here is how it works:

In 1884, one of the wealthiest men of his time, Henry B. Payne, wanted to become the next United States senator from Ohio. Payne’s son Oliver, the treasurer of Standard Oil, did his best to help. Just before the election for Ohio’s seat, son Oliver “sat at a desk in a Columbus hotel with a stack of bills in front of him, paying for the votes of the state legislators,” who then elected U.S. senators. [16]

Americans have never had democracy, and politicians are nothing but elaborate decoys. Like the great Wizard of Oz pulling the levers behind the curtain, secrecy and anonymity are critical to maintaining power. No matter how hard Joe Six-pack tries to influence the elected government, the government behind the curtain — the moneyed class — will always pull the levers of power: one dollar, one vote.

Our overall social structure is something like this (this is not a “model”, it’s a “heuristic”):

The rich minority determine the “logic of profit”:
America’s laws and trade agreements regulate the overall workings of society at a highly aggregate level.  (The rich rule the poor by virtue of the First and Fifth Amendments.)
Large corporations:
Large corporations are autonomous technical structures (machines) that follow the “logic of profit” inherent in their design. Those that don’t, are cancelled by bankruptcy.
Corporations hire media to program the “consumers”.
Consumers do as they have been programmed: consume their own life-support system and elect the “traitors”.
Elected traitors:
Traitors do what they were elected to do: sell the commons to corporations for personal gain. Those who don’t, are cancelled by campaign advertising.

As we have seen, America’s government was designed to be corrupt because the moneyed class was thought to be more rational (calculating) than either elected officials or the general public! Thus, the “Society of Avarice” was conceived as a means to keep governments and men “self-interested” (rational). Capital would flow towards governments and men who embraced Machiavellian “self-interest” (rational, calculating) and away from those who were “passionate” (irrational).

Why didn’t the Founding Fathers choose democracy?  Because they knew it was inherently unstable.  Modern evolutionary scientists can now explain why democracy is unstable:  Natural selection and genetic development created a human tendency for dominance, submission, hierarchy, and obedience, as opposed to equality and democracy. As one political scientist recently put it:

[ Evolutionary scientists ] Somit and Peterson provide an informative account of the evolutionary basis for our historical (and current) opposition to democracy. For many, this will be an unwelcome message — like being told that one’s fly is unzipped. But after a brief bout of anger, we tend to thank the messenger for sparing us further embarrassment. [17]


His mind slid away into the labyrinthine world of doublethink. To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which canceled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget, whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again, and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself — that was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word “doublethink” involved the use of doublethink.
— George Orwell, 1984

Once one gets the scorecard straight, then it will become apparent that twentieth-century neoclassical theory resembles nothing so much as the child’s game of Mr. Potatohead — the fun comes in mixing and matching components with little or no concern for the coherence of the final profile.
— Philip Mirowski [18]

Modern neoclassical economic theory has nothing to do with science — it’s politics in disguise. [19] Economic students are programmed (using modern “doublethink” techniques) to believe that there are no “limits to growth”. [20] Once they graduate, economists serve as robotic broadcasting devices repeating elaborate lies designed to hide the political nature of the economy from “the people”. Their mission is simply to protect the moneyed class from public scrutiny.

Much of what doublethinking economists believe is just plain stupid. For example, economists believe that capitalism is powered by money. But scientists pointed out over a hundred years ago that capitalism is powered by energy:

It is, in fact, the fate of all kinds of energy of position to be ultimately converted into energy of motion. The former may be compared to money in a bank, or capital, the latter to money which we are in the act of spending … If we pursue the analogy a step further, we shall see that the great capitalist is respected because he has the disposal of a great quantity of energy; and that whether he be nobleman or sovereign, or a general in command, he is powerful only from having something which enables him to make use of the services of others. When a man of wealth pays a labouring man to work for him, he is in truth converting so much of his energy of position into actual energy…

The world of mechanism is not a manufactory, in which energy is created, but rather a mart, into which we may bring energy of one kind and change or barter it for an equivalent of another kind, that suits us better – but if we come with nothing in hand, with nothing we will most assuredly return. [Balfour Stewart, 1883, pp. 26-7; 34] [21]

Economists, please note the date and the profound shift of metaphor from production to circulation. Stewart’s book was in its sixth edition by 1883! But over one hundred years later, Noble Prize-winning economists like Milton Friedman still believe that available energy is a function of money price. Here is part of an interview with the Nobel Laureate (worth quoting at length because of his colossal stupidity):

Ravaioli: But there are many other environmental problems …

Nobel Laureate Friedman: Of course. Take oil, for example. Everyone says it’s a limited resource: physically it may be, but economically we don’t know. Economically there is more oil today than there was a hundred years ago. When it was still under the ground and no one knew it was there, it wasn’t economically available. When resources are really limited prices go up, but the price of oil has gone down and down. Suppose oil became scarce: the price would go up, and people would start using other energy sources. In a proper price system the market can take care of the problem.

Ravaioli: But we know that it takes millions of years to create an oil well, and we can’t reproduce it. Relying on oil means living on our capital and not on the interest, which would be the sensible course. Don’t you agree?

Nobel Laureate Friedman: If we were living on the capital, the market price would go up. The price of truly limited resources will rise over time. The price of oil has not been rising, so we’re not living on the capital. When that is no longer true, the price system will give a signal and the price of oil will go up. As always happens with a truly limited resource.

Ravaioli: Of course the discovery of new oil wells has given the illusion of unlimited oil

Nobel Laureate Friedman: Why an illusion?

Ravaioli: Because we know it’s a limited resource.

Nobel Laureate Friedman: Excuse me, it’s not limited from an economic point of view. You have to separate the economic from the physical point of view. Many of the mistakes people make come from this. Like the stupid projections of the Club of Rome: they used a purely physical approach, without taking prices into account. There are many different sources of energy, some of which are too expensive to be exploited now. But if oil becomes scarce they will be exploited. But the market, which is fortunately capable of registering and using widely scattered knowledge and information from people all over the world, will take account of those changes. [22]

(Note! None of the Club of Rome’s predictions have failed. I suspect Friedman didn’t bother to do his own research and simply relied on Libertarian disinformation.)

Even economists, like the world renown Professor Adelman, who make energy their lifelong work are wrong about energy:

Oil is a renewable resource, with no intrinsic value over and above its marginal cost… There is no original stock or store of wealth to be doled out on any special criterion… Capital markets are equipped to handle [oil depletion]. [23]

Although modern economic texts ignore the laws of thermodynamics, [24] all matter and energy in the universe are subject to these laws. The First Law (the conservation law) says there can be no creation of matter/energy, only transformations of matter/energy from one form into another. The Second Law (the entropy law) says that spontaneous processes will increase the disorder (or entropy) of a system; concentrations of matter tend to disperse, structure tends to disappear, and order becomes disorder. Moreover, all physical processes reduce the total available energy.

Billions of years of solar energy inputs created low-entropy (concentrated) matter here on Earth. Low-entropy matter is the pre-requisite for human life. Humans use energy to feed on low-entropy matter (and excrete high-entropy matter as waste). When humans run out of energy, they die.

The human evolutionary line has existed for about 5,000,000 years, biologically modern humans appeared sometime in the last 120,000 years, and behaviorally modern humans probably appeared sometime between 120,000 and 40,000 years ago. Over millions of years, humans evolved to “fit” their billions-of-years-old environment.

The key to understanding energy issues is to look at the “energy price” of energy. By definition, energy “sources” must produce more energy than they consume; otherwise they are called “sinks”. This thermodynamic law applies no matter how high the “money price” of energy goes.

We use up or “waste” energy in systems that supply energy — such as oil-fired power plants. Energy is wasted when exploring for oil, building the machinery to mine the oil, mining the oil, building and operating the power plant, building power lines to transmit the energy, decommissioning the plant, and so on. The difference between the amount of energy generated and the amount of energy wasted is known as the “net energy”.

Capitalism burns “net energy” to make money — there is no substitute for energy. Although economists are trained to treat energy just like any other resource, it is not like any other resource. Net energy is the pre-condition for all other resources.

One of the most important aspects of energy is its “quality”. Different kinds of fuel have different qualities. For example, coal contains more energy per pound than wood, which makes coal more efficient to store and transport than wood. Oil has a higher energy content per unit weight and burns at a higher temperature than coal; it is easier to transport, and can be used in internal combustion engines. A diesel locomotive uses only one-fifth the energy of a coal-powered steam engine to pull the same train. Oil’s many advantages provide 1.3 to 2.45 times more economic value per kilocalorie than coal. [25]

Oil is the highest quality energy we use, making up about 38 percent of the world energy supply. No other energy source equals oil’s intrinsic qualities of extractablility, transportability, versatility and cost. The qualities that enabled oil to take over from coal as the front-line energy source in the industrialized world in the middle of this century are as relevant today as they were then.

This coming century, the net energy of fossil fuel plants (oil, gas, and coal) will become negative as natural resources are depleted (global oil production is expected to “peak” around 2005 [26]). It is fundamentally impossible to provide a constant level of net energy while aggregate energy quality drops. Keeping the production of goods and services at current levels will require more energy than we now generate. To have more energy in the future means that energy must be diverted now from non-energy generation sectors of the economy into energy generation.

Economists are trained to believe that whatever is theoretically, economically possible, is also physically possible. But they have it backwards; something must be physically possible before it can be economically possible. It is physically impossible (thus, economically impossible) to maintain net energy (thus, non-energy economic growth) once global oil production peaks. [27]


What becomes of the surplus of human life? It is either, 1st. destroyed by infanticide, as among the Chinese and Lacedemonians; or 2d. it is stifled or starved, as among other nations whose population is commensurate to its food; or 3d. it is consumed by wars and endemic diseases; or 4th. it overflows, by emigration, to places where a surplus of food is attainable.
— James Madison [28]

Today, infectious diseases cause approximately 37% of all deaths worldwide. Moreover, we have calculated that an estimated 40% of world deaths can be attributed to various environmental factors, especially organic and chemical pollutants. In addition, more than 3 billion humans suffer from malnutrition, and 4 million infants and children die each year from diarrhea, which is caused largely by contaminated water and food.
— David Pimentel, et al.[29]

Capitalism can be seen as an organized process to ingest natural, living systems (including people) in one end, and excrete unnatural, dead garbage and waste (including wasted people) out the other. Major changes in our natural environment make it unsuitable for us — we no longer “fit”. Thus, avarice carried to its logical conclusion lives up to its reputation as the deadliest of the Deadly Sins and billions of people will die horrible deaths this coming century:

Finally investment cannot keep up with depreciation (this is physical investment and depreciation, not monetary). The economy cannot stop putting its capital into the agriculture and resource sectors; if it did the scarcity of food, materials, and fuels would restrict production still more. So the industrial capital plant begins to decline, taking with it the service and agricultural sectors, which have become dependent upon industrial inputs. For a short time the situation is especially serious, because the population keeps rising, due to the lags inherent in the age structure and in the process of social adjustment. Finally population too begins to decrease, as the death rate is driven upward by lack of food and health services. [30]


You see things; and you say “Why?” But I dream things that never were; and I say “Why not?”
— George Bernard Shaw

“Collapse” is defined as the rapid transformation to a lower degree of complexity, typically involving significantly less energy consumption. [31] Societies “collapse” when they become too complex for their energy base. Thus, the collapse of capitalism is inevitable because capitalism must grow to survive — must become more-and-more complex and consume more-and-more energy.

But a “planned collapse” — a planned simplification — would not only mitigate much of the human suffering, it could also usher in a new golden age of leisure, music, arts and crafts — a simpler, more humane, more spiritual society. It’s more-than-obvious that Mr. Potatohead has no answers, so we must see “planned collapse” as a “systems engineering” problem — not as an “economic” problem (“getting the prices right”).

Think of it this way, if the only tool one has is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail. What other possible solution can an economist recommend to the problem of too much economic growth, except more economic growth? So send the economists into retirement and call out the scientists, engineers, and systems people!

Since true democracy is inherently unstable, the most obvious means to “engineer” our new simple society is repression and coercion. But what about the seemingly insurmountable quis custodiet ipsos custodes problem?

In the seventeenth century, men could not imagine a deus ex machina (god from machine) authority. Four hundred years later, we have the digital computer. Computers would watch people and other computers would watch those computers. A fail-safe deus ex machina system of checks and balances could be designed to insure integrity — in fact, orders-of-magnitude more integrity than can be attained with humans.

What can be done to mitigate the coming nightmare? I propose that we retire “avarice” as our central organizing principle and replace it with a less deadly Deadly Sin: “sloth”. I believe the “Society of Sloth” would be a splendid 21st century replacement for the Society of Avarice.


In order then that the social compact may not be an empty formula, it tacitly includes the undertaking, which alone can give force to the rest, that whoever refuses to obey the general will shall be compelled to do so by the whole body. This means nothing less than that he will be forced to be free; for this is the condition which, by giving each citizen to his country, secures him against all personal dependence. In this lies the key to the working of the political machine; this alone legitimises civil undertakings, which, without it, would be absurd, tyrannical, and liable to the most frightful abuses.
— Jean Jacques Rousseau, 1762

(What follows is not meant to be a comprehensive description of a new society, but only presents some conceptual ideas for consideration.)


  • GLOBAL PROBLEMATIC (after The Club of Rome, 1972): Global tragedy of the commons because people are genetically programmed to more-than-reproduce themselves and make the best use of their environments.
  • COMMONS: “A commons is any resource treated as though it belongs to all. When anyone can claim a resource simply on the grounds that he wants or needs to use it, one has a commons.” [32]
  • NEEDS: Human “needs” have a scientific basis which is defined by human biology. 35,000 years ago, three million hunter-gatherers “needed” community, shelter, health care, clean water, clean air, and about 3,000 calories a day of nutritious food. Today, people still “need” the same things that hunter-gatherers “needed” then (except fewer calories).
  • eMergy: [33] eMergy (with an “M”) is the solar energy used directly and indirectly to make a service or product. In other words, eMergy is the “cost” of a service or a product in units of solar energy.
        Why eMergy? In reality, the economy is nothing but a monstrous, energy-gulping Rube Goldberg machine to deliver “needs” to people. But each of those three million hunter-gatherers was the energy-using counterpart of a common dolphin, whereas each of today’s 280 million Americans matches the energy use of a sperm whale. Obviously, the “economy” is incredibly inefficient at delivering “needs” to people.
        No doubt my statement will stick in the economist’s craw, because after all, isn’t “efficiency” what economics is all about? The problem with “economic efficiency” is that “money” is not a measure of anything in the real world (like, say, BTUs). Money is power because money “empowers” people to buy and do the things they want — including buying and doing other people (politics). Thus, “economic efficiency” is properly seen as a “political” concept that was designed to preserve political power for those who have it.
        For over a century, theorists have sought ways of integrating economics and environmental accounting, often using energy as a common measure. But these efforts met with limited success because different kinds of available energy are not equivalent. The measure of “eMergy” allows us to compare commodities, services and environmental work of different types. “Transformity” – the eMergy per unit energy – allows us to compare different kinds of available of energy.
        So we need to totally junk the present economic system and replace it with a new one that minimizes eMergy costs (not money costs ) and delivers basic needs (not Cadillacs) to everyone in a sustainable way.
  • SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT: Sustainable development both improves quality of life and retains continuity with physical conditions; it requires that social systems be equitable and physical systems circular (industrial outputs become industrial inputs).
  • AUTHORITY: Goals (or ideals) are not produced by a consensus of the governed, rather a qualified authority determines goals. For example, physical goals for sustainable development must come from “scientific” authority — because no one else knows what they must be. All contemporary political systems are “authoritarian” with the moneyed class ruling the pseudo democracies.
  • COERCION (politics): To “coerce” is to compel one to act in a certain way — either by promise of reward or threat of punishment. Two obvious examples of coercion are our system of laws and paychecks.
  • THE ONE-AND-ONLY HUMANE SOLUTION: “Mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon.” [34] A global system of coercion — laws, police, punishments and rewards. In principle, the global commons can only be managed at the global level by people who understand the physical systems involved: scientists. Global coercion can be seen in the worldwide reactions to ozone depletion and global warming. Remarkably, even economists find that authoritarian coercion can make them “better off”:

A group of economists had gathered at my house for dinner. While we were waiting for the food in the oven to finish cooking, I brought a large bowl of cashew nuts into the living room where people were having cocktails. In a few minutes, half the bowl of nuts was gone, and I could see that our appetites were in danger. Quickly, I seized the bowl of nuts and put it back in the kitchen (eating a few more nuts along the way, of course). When I returned, my fellow economists generally applauded my quick action, but then we followed our natural inclinations which was to try to analyze the situation to death. The burning question was: how could removing an option possibly have made us better off? After all, if we wanted to stop eating cashews, we could have done that at any time. [35]

Besides laws and paychecks, coercion can take many forms:

It is not necessary to construct a theory of intentional cultural control. In truth, the strength of the control process rests in its apparent absence. The desired systemic result is achieved ordinarily by a loose though effective institutional process. It utilizes the education of journalists and other media professionals, built-in penalties and rewards for doing what is expected, norms presented as objective rules, and the occasional but telling direct intrusion from above. The main lever is the internalization of values. [36]

Step one would be to establish a global government of some sort with the authority to protect the global commons — our life-support system — as well as protecting universal human rights. This government would also oversee the “clean” manufacturing of “repairable” and “reusable” energy-efficient appliances and transportation systems. It would also insure the sustainable production of staples like wheat, rice, oats, and fish.

Does this new global government sound repressive or restrictive? Not at all. A great deal of freedom is possible — in fact, far more than we have now.

Step two would be to replace the organizing principle of “avarice” with the principle of “sloth”; break out of the money-market-advertising-consumption death trap. The Society of Sloth would not be based on money because that would be inherently unsustainable. Instead, it would be based on “eMergy Certificates”. [37]

Global government would determine the “needs” of the public, set industrial production accordingly, and calculate the amount of eMergy used to meet these needs. Government would then distribute purchasing power in the form of eMergy certificates, the amount issued to each person being equivalent to his pro rata share of the eMergy cost of the consumer goods and services.

eMergy certificates bear the identification of the person to whom issued and are non-negotiable. They resemble a bank check in that they bear no face denomination, this being entered at the time of spending. They are surrendered upon the purchase of goods or services at any center of distribution and are permanently canceled, becoming entries in a uniform accounting system. Being non-negotiable they cannot be lost, stolen, gambled, or given away because they are invalid in the hands of any person other than the one to whom issued.

Lost eMergy certificates would be easily replaced. Certificates can not be saved because they become void at the termination of the two-year period for which they are issued. They can only be spent.

Insecurity of old age is abolished and both saving and insurance become unnecessary and impossible. eMergy Certificates would put absolute limits on consumption and provide people with a guaranteed stream of “needs” for life.

With modern technology, probably less than 5% of the population could produce all the goods we really “need”. A certain number of “producers” could be drafted and trained by society to produce for two years. The rest can stay home and sleep, sing, dance, paint, read, write, pray, play, do minor repairs, work in the garden, and practice birth control.

Any number of cultural, ethnic or religious communities could be established by popular vote. Religious communities could have public prayer in their schools, prohibit booze, allow no television to corrupt their kids, wear uniforms, whatever. Communities of writers or painters could be established in which bad taste would be against the law. Ethnic communities could be established to preserve language and customs. If someone didn’t like the rules in a particular community, they could move to another religious, cultural, or ethnic community of their choosing.

In short, the one big freedom that individuals would have to give up would be the freedom to destroy the commons (in its broadest sense) — the freedom to kill. And in return, they would be given a guaranteed income for life and the freedom to live almost any way they choose.


Dostoevsky’s parable is set in sixteenth-century Seville — at the height of the Inquisition. On the day after a magnificent bonfire, in which nearly one hundred heretics were burned alive, Jesus descends and is immediately recognized. The cardinal — the Grand Inquisitor — has Him promptly arrested and thrown in prison. That evening, the door of Jesus’ cell opens and the old, ascetic Inquisitor enters to confront Him. For a few minutes there is silence, then the Inquisitor delivers the most profound and terrible attack against Christianity.

The Inquisitor charges Jesus with betrayal of mankind, for deliberately rejecting the only ways in which men might have been happy. This singular moment occurred when “the wise and dread spirit, the spirit of self-destruction and non-existence,” tempted Jesus in the wilderness by asking Him three questions.

First, the spirit asked Jesus to turn stones into bread. Jesus refused because He wanted mankind free, and what would obedience be worth if it were bought with bread? Thus, He denied men their deepest craving — to find someone who would take away the awesome burden of freedom.

Then, the spirit asked Jesus to throw Himself from the pinnacle of the temple, “for it is written the angels shall hold Him up lest he fall”. Again Jesus refused, rejecting miracles because He wanted faith given freely. But the Inquisitor explains that man cannot live without miracles, for if he is deprived of them, he immediately creates new ones. Man is weaker and baser by nature than Jesus thought. “By showing him so much respect, Thou didst … cease to feel for him…”

Jesus’ last temptation was to rule the world, to unite all mankind “in one unanimous and harmonious ant-heap, for the craving for universal unity is the third and last anguish of men…” He refused once again, and thereby rejected the only ways in which men might have been made happy.

The Inquisitor explains “We are not working with Thee but with him [the spirit]… We have taken the sword of Caesar, and in taking it, of course, have rejected Thee and followed him. Oh, ages are yet to come of the confusion of free thought, of their science and cannibalism… [But] we have corrected Thy work and have founded it upon miracle, mystery and authority. And men rejoiced that they were again led like sheep, and that the terrible gift that had brought them such suffering, was, at last, lifted from their hearts… And all will be happy, all the millions of creatures except the hundred thousand who rule over them. For only we, who guard the mystery, shall be unhappy… Peacefully they will die, peacefully they will expire in Thy name, and beyond the grave they will find nothing but death.”

“And we alone shall feed them…” the Inquisitor continues, “Oh, never, never can they feed themselves without us! No science will give them bread so long as they remain free. In the end they will lay their freedom at our feet, and say to us, ‘Make us your slaves, but feed us.'”

Happy Y2K-1,

[1] ENERGY AND HUMAN EVOLUTION, by David Price, 1995
[4] p. 41, THE PASSIONS AND THE INTERESTS, Albert O. Hirschman & Amartya Sen; Princeton, 1997
[5] p. 33, Hirschman, 1997.
[6] pp. 14-15, Hirschman, 1997. Also see Huppert:

Peasant rebellions were not exceptional events. They erupted so frequently in the course of these four centuries that they may be said to have been as common in this agrarian society as factory strikes would be in the industrial world. In southwestern France alone, some 450 rebellions occurred between 1590 and 1715. No region of Western Europe was exempted from this pattern of chronic violence. The fear of sedition was always present in the minds of those who ruled. It was a corrective, a salutary fear — since only the threat of insurrection could act as a check against unlimited exactions.  p 80, AFTER THE BLACK DEATH, George Huppert; Indiana Univ. Pr., 1998

[7] The Seven Deadly Sins were pride, avarice, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth. These seven sins are not singled out because they are all grievous sins or because of their severity, but because they are the inevitable source of other sins.
[8] Montesquieu quoted in p. 72, Hirschman, 1997.
[9] Smith quoted in p. 100, Hirschman, 1997.
[10] James Madison was the fourth President of the United States (1809-1817). A member of the Continental Congress (1780-1783) and the Constitutional Convention (1787), he strongly supported ratification of the Constitution and was a contributor to The Federalist Papers (1787-1788), which argued the effectiveness of the proposed constitution. Madison has been described by political historian Richard K. Matthews as the “ideal Machiavellian Prince”, the “father of the Constitution”, the “father of the Bill of Rights”, the “father of political parties”, and the “father of preferred freedoms”.
[11] Madison quoted in p. 86, IF MEN WERE ANGELS: James Madison & the Heartless Empire of Reason, Richard K. Matthews; Kansas, 1995
[12] p. 79, Matthews, 1995.
[13] p. 84, Matthews, 1995.
[14] Madison quoted in p. 67, Matthews, 1995.
[15] Ibid.
[16] p. 12, THE MAXIMUM WAGE, Sam Pizzigati; Apex, 1992
[17] Robert E. Lane, Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Yale University, and Past President, American Political Science Association, commenting on DARWINISM, DOMINANCE, AND DEMOCRACY: The Biological Bases of Authoritarianism, by Albert Somit and Steven A. Peterson
*Note! Anthropologists use the terms hierarchy, dominance, etc., differently than evolutionary psychologists, and make a strong case for egalitarianism, cooperation, and sharing. So one has to read the material to find out exactly what these terms mean. This great web site will help to sort it out: http://mitpress.mit.edu/MITECS/culture.html
[18] p. 294, MORE HEAT THAN LIGHT, Philip Mirowski; Cambridge, 1989
[19] See, for example, my LUNATIC POLITICS. For the last word on neoclassical methodology, read Keita:

The bulk of this text was taken up with examining the claims of neoclassical economic theory to scientific status. Given contemporary views on the nature of scientific theory, I examined neoclassical economic theory in terms of both its historical and contemporary phases. I demonstrated that the cardinal theory of utility that formed the foundation for early neoclassical theory foundered on account of its inability to measure utility in any acceptable scientific way. Its substitute, the ordinal theory of utility, was shown to be equally unacceptable. The scientific pretensions of ordinal utility theory and its correlate, revealed preference theory, were shown compromised by the normative structure of the foundational postulate of rationality. The unscientific nature of ordinal utility theory was further shown to be reinforced by the insulating role played by the ceteris paribus proviso.

This general critique was extended not only to the neoclassical theory of individual agent choice but also to general equilibrium theory and positive neoclassical welfare economic theory. Given the general dissatisfaction with neoclassical theory, a number of alternative theories have been proposed, but the problem with the latter is that, with few exceptions, they are founded on the premise that an objective science of economics is still possible despite its present failings. I pointed out the shortcomings of those theories and argued that on account of the nature of human decision making, no analysis of it could be scientific in the way in which the natural sciences are scientific. Mental states that must be invoked to explain behavior are just not subject to empirical analysis. The attempts by theorists to establish explanatory theories by appeal to heuristic concepts such as rationality were shown to be unsuccessful. The point is that “rationality” plays a normative role similar to that of “goodness” in ethical theory.

The sociologist can indeed record the behavior of individuals in terms of cultural norms of “goodness,” “badness,” “deviancy,” and so on, but he or she must recognize that theories of behavior founded on such concepts are necessarily normative. Similarly, the neoclassical theorist who embraces a particular notion of rationality and grounds his or her theories on such a notion is certainly formulating a normative theory. My analysis showed that the neoclassical theorist of economic behavior is confronted with the dilemma of restricting his or her analysis to a case-by-case taxonomy of individual agent choice, given the inaccessibility to mental states, or grounding his or her explanatory theories on the normative heuristic of rational choice. Neither alternative yields scientific results. [ pp. 150-151, SCIENCE, RATIONALITY, AND NEOCLASSICAL ECONOMICS, L.D. Keita; Delaware, 1992

[20] It seems that even (or especially) high-powered economists like William Nordhaus, Robert Solow, Milton Friedman, and M. A. Adelman can’t even understand what the debate is about! For the background, here is a snip from LIMITS TO GROWTH:

Our world model* was built specifically to investigate five major trends of global concern — accelerating industrialization, rapid population growth, widespread malnutrition, depletion of nonrenewable resources, and a deteriorating environment. These trends are all interconnected in many ways, and their development is measured in decades or centuries, rather than in months or years. With the model we are seeking to understand the causes of these trends, their interrelationships, and their implications as much as one hundred years in the future.

The model we have constructed is, like every other model, imperfect, oversimplified, and unfinished. We are well aware of its shortcomings, but we believe that it is the most useful model now available for dealing with problems far out on the space-time graph. To our knowledge it is the only formal model in existence that is truly global in scope, that has a time horizon longer than thirty years, and that includes important variables such as population, food production, and pollution, not as independent entities, but as dynamically interacting elements, as they are in the real world.

Since ours is a formal, or mathematical, model it also has two important advantages over mental models. First, every assumption we make is written in a precise form so that it is open to inspection and criticism by all. Second, after the assumptions have been scrutinized, discussed, and revised to agree with our best current knowledge, their implications for the future behavior of the world system can be traced without error by a computer, no matter how complicated they become.

We feel that the advantages listed above make this model unique among all mathematical and mental world models available to us today. But there is no reason to be satisfied with it in its present form. We intend to alter, expand, and improve it as our own knowledge and the world data base gradually improve.

In spite of the preliminary state of our work, we believe it is important to publish the model and our findings now. Decisions are being made every day, in every part of the world, that will affect the physical, economic, and social conditions of the world system for decades to come. These decisions cannot wait for perfect models and total understanding. They will be made on the basis of some model, mental or written, in any case. We feel that the model described here is already sufficiently developed to be of some use to decision-makers. Furthermore, the basic behavior modes we have already observed in this model appear to be so fundamental and general that we do not expect our broad conclusions to be substantially altered by further revisions. It is not the purpose of this book to give a complete, scientific description of all the data and mathematical equations included in the world model. Such a description can be found in the final technical report of our project. Rather, in The Limits to Growth we summarize the main features of the model and our findings in a brief, nontechnical way. The emphasis is meant to be not on the equations or the intricacies of the model, but on what it tells us about the world. We have used a computer as a tool to aid our own understanding of the causes and consequences of the accelerating trends that characterize the modern world, but familiarity with computers is by no means necessary to comprehend or to discuss our conclusions. The implications of those accelerating trends raise issues that go far beyond the proper domain of a purely scientific document. They must be debated by a wider community than that of scientists alone. Our purpose here is to open that debate.

The following conclusions have emerged from our work so far. We are by no means the first group to have stated them. For the past several decades, people who have looked at the world with a global, long-term perspective have reached similar conclusions. Nevertheless, the vast majority of policy-makers seems to be actively pursuing goals that are inconsistent with these results.

Our conclusions are:

1. If the present growth trends in world population, industrialization, pollution, food production, and resource depletion continue unchanged, the limits to growth on this planet will be reached sometime within the next one hundred years. The most probable result will be a rather sudden and uncontrollable decline in both population and industrial capacity.

2. It is possible to alter these growth trends and to establish a condition of ecological and economic stability that is sustainable far into the future. The state of global equilibrium could be designed so that the basic material needs of each person on earth are satisfied and each person has an equal opportunity to realize his individual human potential.

3. If the world’s people decide to strive for this second outcome rather than the first, the sooner they begin working to attain it, the greater will be their chances of success.

These conclusions are so far-reaching and raise so many questions for further study that we are quite frankly overwhelmed by the enormity of the job that must be done. We hope that this book will serve to interest other people, in many fields of study and in many countries of the world, to raise the space and time horizons of their concerns and to join us in understanding and preparing for a period of great transition — the transition from growth to global equilibrium. [pp. 21-24, LIMITS TO GROWTH, by Meadows et. al, Universe, 1972]

* The prototype model on which we have based our work was designed by Professor Jay W. Forrester of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A description of that model has been published in his book World Dynamics (Cambridge, Mass.: Wright-Allen Press, 1971).

In LETHAL MODEL 2: The Limits to Growth Revisited, [ ECONOMIC ACTIVITY #2, Brookings, 1992] William Nordhaus misunderstood the subject matter of “Limits to Growth”. Although the LTG models projected “accelerating industrialization, rapid population growth, widespread malnutrition, depletion of nonrenewable resources, and a deteriorating environment”, [see above] Nordhaus thought the book was about “economic growth”:

Two decades ago, a ferocious debate erupted about the feasibility and desirability of future economic growth. The popular imagination was captured by a study of the world economy known as The Limits to Growth. This work, sponsored by the mysterious-sounding Club of Rome, convinced many that unfettered economic growth had come to an end and that the world was entering the “era of limits.”

The emergence of the anti-growth school was the latest peak in a long intellectual cycle of pessimism about economic growth that originated with Reverend T.R. Malthus in the early 1800s. But such concerns receded from the public consciousness in the 1970s and early 1980s as the immediacy of skyrocketing oil prices, a growing international debt crisis, mounting fiscal imbalances, and slowing productivity and real wage growth displaced vaguer long-term anxieties about declining resources and growing entropy.” [p. 1]

Having misunderstood both Malthus and the entire LTG debate, Nordhaus finds no “theoretical” limits to economic growth and looks to past economic growth for empirical evidence:

Ultimately, then, the debate about future of economic growth is an empirical one, and resolving the debate will require analysts to examine fundamental structural parameters of the economy. Several critical issues must be examined. How large are the drags from natural resources and land? What is the quantitative relationship between technological change and the resource-land drag? How does human population growth behave as incomes rise? How much substitution is possible between labor and capital on the one hand, and scarce natural resources, land, and pollution abatement on the other? These are empirical questions that cannot be settled solely by theorizing. [p. 16]

Nordhaus believes if there are any “limits to growth”, we should find them in declining “productivity and living standards”. Indeed, he finds that there are limits and they amount to a decline of “one-quarter percentage point a year” in labor productivity.

The period since 1973 has not been a happy one for most advanced industrial countries. Estimates by Angus Maddison suggest that output per capita has grown by 1.6 percent a year during the “capitalist” epoch from 1820 to the present. But, as is well known, the growth of productivity and living standards has slowed down substantially in all major industrial countries in the last two decades. Table 1 shows data on labor productivity growth in the private economy, the private nonfarm economy, and in manufacturing going back to the 1870s and ending at the last business cycle peak in 1989. The performance over the last two decades has been well below that of any major subperiod for both the total private economy and the private nonfarm economy. In manufacturing, recent performance has been close to par, although the data for the last decade are partially buoyed by the use of hedonic indexes (particularly for computers) that were not applied to similar major product-quality improvements in earlier years?

Are these the early warning signs of a resource-limited growth slow-down? Estimates of the sources of the productivity slowdown in the United States attribute some of the slowdown to generalized “depletion.” In surveys of the productivity slowdown, two specific sources of the slowdown seem to relate to LTG-type resource exhaustion. First is the literal exhaustion of high-grade oil, gas, and other natural resources (although this exhaustion is sometimes offset by new discoveries and technological change). As countries are forced to move to higher-cost sources of energy or to substitute other inputs for low-cost fuels, the net output of the economy will decline. A second source of the slowdown is the need to divert some of the productive capacity of the economy to reduce pollution or to clean up wastes from past pollution.

Along with Edward Denison, John Kendrick, Martin Neil Baily, Robert J. Gordon, Charles L. Schultze, and other economists, I have attempted to estimate the source of the productivity slowdown in the United States. Currently, economists believe that a wide variety of sources are involved. Studies suggest that ‘depletion’ is responsible for around one-quarter percentage point a year of the 1.5 percentage point slowdown in labor productivity from 1948- 73 to 1973- 80. No estimate’s exist for the most recent period, but the role of depletion is likely to be considerably smaller, given the decline in energy prices and the lower growth in pollution control expenditures. [pp. 20-22]

… an efficiently managed economy need not fear shipwreck on the reefs of resource exhaustion or environmental collapse, this places the responsibility for wisely steering our economy in our own hands. The peril lies not in the stars but in ourselves. [p. 43]

Indeed!! Consider the deliberate disinformation printed by The Economist in PLENTY OF GLOOM,12/20/97
[21] p. 132, Mirowski, 1989.
[22] Milton Friedman quoted in p. 33, ECONOMISTS AND THE ENVIRONMENT, Carla Ravaioli; Zed, 1995
[23] p. 34, 328, THE GENIE OUT OF THE BOTTLE: World Oil Since 1970, M. A. Adelman; MIT, 1995
Professor of Economics, Emeritus. Professor Adelman has long been one of the world’s foremost energy and resource economists and a leading analyst of international oil and gas markets. He has served as North American Editor of the Journal of Industrial Economics and on the editorial boards of The Energy Journal, Energy Economics, Energy Policy, and Resources and Energy. Professor Adelman has also served on the American Petroleum Institute’s Coordinating Committee for Statistics and Economics, the Federal Power Commission’s Executive Advisory Committee, the Gas Research Institute’s Advisory Council, the American Economic Association’s Advisory Committee to the Bureau of the Census, and the National Academy of Science’s Panel on Natural Gas Statistics. He has received awards from the American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical and Petroleum Engineers and the International Association of Energy Economists (IAEE), and he has served as President of the IAEE. But he is wrong about energy!
[24] Physics incorporated thermodynamics — moved from “production” to “circulation” — over 100 years ago. But modern economic texts such as McConnell & Brue, 1999, and Samuelson & Nordhaus, 1998 still do not discuss thermodynamics or entropy!

An answer might lie in the fact that economics is no more than a mechanistic belief (though defended with fanatical vigour) that by exchanging goods for money, countries can make themselves better off. It is true that by buying from another country we can avoid resource depletion and environmental degradation here, but that degradation is transferred to the supplying country. If the country that sells us those goods buys its materials from us, it avoids its own resource depletion and environmental destruction and transfers the impact back to us. So while we are all at it (and use each other’s best economic advantage), we cannot avoid environmental damage by trading with each other and thus get perpetual environmental benefits like perpetual motion. Indeed, if that worked, we could achieve absolute environmental integrity by just selling our products to another country and then buying them back. That proposition is clearly absurd. We shall see that globally no environmental advantage can be gained from international trade and much environmental capital is lost while amenity assets are destroyed in the process.

Unfortunately there is a physical law, the entropy law, that will not permit perpetual motion to take place, and a technical law, the Carnot limit of maximum efficiency, that will not allow any material and energy to be used without generating some waste. That means it is impossible to convert energy and material 100% into useful product. [ Heat engines] in the real world cannot exceed a theoretical efficiency of around 60%, while most production processes take place with efficiencies of between 25% and 0%. The latter being all modes of transport, which are a total loss in terms of physics. Transport adds nothing to the actual value of a product. Only in economic valuation, something may have a higher value in one place than another, but the product itself can only deteriorate in the process.

Thus, no economic process is possible without some degradation of the planet. [ pp. 59-60, TOES Proceedings 1995, Gerhard Weissmann ]

[25] p. 87, BEYOND OIL, Gever et al., Univ. Pr of Colorado, 1991
[26] THE END OF CHEAP OIL, by Campbell and Jean H. Laherrère; Scientific American, March, 1998
[27] Titanic Sinks by Jay Hanson
[28] Madison quoted in p. 44, Matthews, 1995.
[29] POPULATION GROWTH AND ENVIRONMENTAL DEGRADATION; Bioscience Vol. 48 No. 10, October, 1998; David Pimentel, Maria Tort, Linda D’Anna, Anne Krawic, Joshua Berger, Jessica Rossman, Fridah Mugo, Nancy Doon, Michael Shriberg, Erica Howard, Susan Lee, and Jonathan Talbot; See Ecology of Increasing Disease by David Pimentel Oct. 1998
[30] p. 134, BEYOND THE LIMITS, Meadows et. al; Chelsea Green, 1992
[31] Tainter, 1996.
[32] Virginia Abernethy, POPULATION AND ENVIRONMENT, Vol. 18, No. 1, Sept 1996. cited in CCN’s FOCUS, Vol. 2, No.2, p. 20.

VALUE, 1992 Em$
World infrastructure**1009.44 E266.3 E14
Freshwaters2001.89 E271.26 E15
Terrestrial ecosystems5004.7 E273.1 E15
Cultural & technical information1 E49.44 E286.3 E16
Atmosphere1 E69.44 E306.3 E18
Ocean2 E71.89 E321.25 E20
Continents1 E99.44 E336.3 E21
Genetic information of species3 E92.8 E341.86 E22

* Product of annual solar eMergy flux, 9.44 E 24 sej/yr and order of magnitude replacement times in column 1.
**Highways, bridges, pipelines, etc. [p.p. 201-203, INVESTING IN NATURAL CAPITAL

[34] THE TRAGEDY OF THE COMMONS, Garrett Hardin, 1968
[35] p. xv, QUASI RATIONAL ECONOMICS, Richard H. Thaler; Russell Sage, 1994
[36] p. 8, Herbert I. Schiller, CULTURE INC; Oxford, 1989
[37] My idea of “eMergy Certificates” is from Hubbert’s “Energy Certificates”: It’s The Money Stupid