Fighting a Fire in Sub-Freezing Temperatures Shows how Global Warming is better than Global Cooling

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 25th, 2014

Week in Review

The left has been warning us about the global warming apocalypse since the Nineties.  And how the warming of the planet will kill us. But global warming is not high on the list of concerns for many these days.  Especially during brutally cold weather of late (see About 35 feared dead in Quebec senior citizens’ home fire by The Associated Press posted 1/24/2014 on The Washington Times).

Using steam to melt the ice, investigators searched the frozen-over ruins of a retirement home Friday for victims of a fire that left about 35 people feared dead and cast such a pall over the village of 1,500 that psychologists were sent door to door.

The spray from firefighters’ hoses left the senior citizens home resembling a macabre snow palace, the ruins encased in thick white ice dripping with icicles.

Search teams of police, firefighters and coroners slowly and methodically went through the ruins, working in shifts in the extreme cold about 140 miles (225 kilometers) northeast of Quebec City. The afternoon temperature was around 3 degrees F (minus 16 Celsius.)…

Hivon said the home was up to code and had a proper evacuation plan. A Quebec Health Department document indicates the home which has operated since 1997, had only a partial sprinkler system. The home expanded around 2002, and the sprinklers in the new part of the building triggered the alarm.

The cold caused fire equipment to freeze, and firefighters used so much water that they drained the town reservoir.

Warm is better than cold.  For we can survive in warm better than we can in cold.  Here’s a fire in northern Quebec that became a dangerous labyrinth of ice as they fought a fire.  Yet just another example of how dangerous cold can be.

The last of the great famines that weren’t manmade (like those resulting from the communism of Stalin or Mao or the current dictator in North Korea) were during the little ice age.  When global temperatures cooled slightly.  Shortening the growing season.  Thus diminishing the food supply.  And without sufficient food people die.  This is the danger of climate.  Cooling.  For we can handle global warming.  As long as it’s warm we can grow food.  If the soil is too dry we can irrigate.  If it doesn’t rain we can irrigate the land with desalinated seawater.  Of which there is a never ending supply of in the world’s oceans.  And we can turn seawater into fresh water with the energy from nuclear power plants that provide our electricity to drive our air conditioners during the greatest of heat waves.

If it’s warm there is no limit to what man can do.  If the world is covered in snow and ice, though, not even man can save the human race.  Unless, that is, manmade global warming is real.  If so then man could warm an ice age and grow the food to sustain the human race.

Global warming?  Pish tosh.  The great civilizations arose once man took control of his environment.  And if he’s warming it so much the better.  For that just means longer growing seasons and more food to sustain a growing world population.

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FT203: “People vacationing in warmer climes know global warming is better than global cooling.” —Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 3rd, 2014

Fundamental Truth

It is very rare for People to Vacation somewhere where they have to wear more Clothes

People love a white Christmas.  Looking out your front window as a gentle snow falls.  Christmas lights and reindeer on the lawn poking out from the fields of snow.  Coming in from the cold and shaking the snow off.  Then warming up with a cup of cocoa in front of the fireplace.  Feeling the warmth radiate out while listening to the pops of the burning wood.  The warm memories of Christmases past.  Then comes New Year’s Day.  And then you just hate that foul white stuff as you shovel it for the umpteenth time.

As you shovel and your back aches and you feel what may have been a hernia you now understand why people retire to someplace warm.  To get away from this.  Before they have a heart attack shoveling it.  Because you’re sick and tired of shoveling snow.  Cleaning the snow off your car.  Fearing for your life when cars ahead of you spinout.  Wondering how many times can you slip and fall before you start breaking something.  But most of all you just hate being cold.  All you can think about is the joy of last summer sitting in the shade with a cold beer.  Doing nothing.  And loving it.

Even young and healthy college kids hate the cold.  Which is why when they go on spring break they head south.  And between the boozing and the sex they spend time lying on the beach doing nothing.  And loving it.  With the ladies practically naked in tiny bikinis sunning themselves.  And the men looking at the practically naked ladies.  For it is very rare for any vacationer (other than those on a ski getaway) to vacation somewhere where they have to wear more clothes.  Because people just don’t like being cold.

The Fall Harvest feeds most People most of the Year

But we complain when it’s too hot, too.  During the dog days of summer.  When it’s the humidity, not the heat, that makes it so insufferable.  Until we step inside our air conditioned home.  Or sit in an air conditioned movie.  While enjoying a cool beverage.  And some delicious popcorn.  Or spend time in the pool.  Or at the beach.  Where the ladies are practically naked.  Or going out to eat.  Enjoying cool adult beverages and a nice meal at an outdoor cafe while wearing shorts.  Or dining inside an air conditioned restaurant.

You may sweat and stink when you get home.  But you won’t be tracking snow and salt into the house.  Soaking the rugs and carpets.  Or leaving puddles of water on the tiled floor.  No.  During the summer there’s no mess.  There are no wet socks in your shoes.  No frost bite.  No hypothermia. If you car breaks down in the summer you don’t have to worry about freezing to death before someone rescues you.  Whereas if you slip off the road and down the embankment on an expressway during a blizzard frostbite and hypothermia are real possibilities.  As is freezing to death.  Because being cold is dangerous.  And being cold when you’re stranded a long way from home or help can be lethal.

Another bad thing about cold is that things don’t grow in the cold.  Which is why farming is seasonal.  A problem throughout history.  As people’s need to eat is not seasonal.  So not only did farmers have to grow food to eat during the summer they had to grow enough during the summer to feed everyone throughout the winter.  With the fall harvest feeding most people most of the year.  Making a long growing season essential for survival.  Because if you ran out of food before the next harvest you went hungry.  Or died.

If we have another Little Ice Age we may suffer Recurring Famines once More

There were recurring famines during the Little Ice Age.  Which ran from approximately 1350 to about 1850.  The climate cooled enough to shorten the growing season.  Which were cooler and wetter than they are today.  And because of that they didn’t grow enough food to feed everyone.  With the occasional famine wiping out about 10% or more of a country’s population.  As masses of people starved to death because of global cooling during the Little Ice Age.

The United States suffered some droughts the past few growing seasons.  And food prices went up because of these droughts.  But there were no famines in the United States.  Or in the countries the United States exports food to.  No, today the only countries having recurring famines are hard-line communist or other such closed and oppressive states.  Such as North Korea.  Al Gore has been warning us about the perils of global warming since the Nineties.  We did nothing.  And a few decades later there are still no famines.  Because even in regions suffering from the worst drought farmers can still irrigate their land.  And grow food.  Food may be more costly but there will be food.  But no famine.

People who worry about global warming fret about these droughts.  And the lack of fresh water.  But about 70% of the earth is nothing but ocean.  And we can desalinize seawater.  It’ll make water more costly.  But there will always be water.  Even during the worst of droughts.  So even if global warming does its worst to us we will be all right.  No.  The real fear is global cooling.  Because global cooling will shorten our growing seasons.  Which will reduce our food supply.  And if you ever looked at an aerial view of our vast farmland you will understand the problem that is.  It’s just too big to bring indoors.  If we have another Little Ice Age we may suffer recurring famines once more.  And not just in North Korea.  But throughout the world.  Those people vacationing in warmer climes know it.  Global warming is better than global cooling.  For our personal comfort and safety.  And our food supply.

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Hunters and Gatherers Live at the Mercy of their Environment, Farmers Control their Environment

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 26th, 2013

History 101

(Originally published October 18th, 2011)

We can Ultimately Blame Neanderthal’s Demise on the Hunter and Gatherer System

We’re Homo sapiens.  Neanderthals were here before us.  By a few hundred thousand years.  Give or take.  We have fossil evidence of their existence.  And we’ve been able to put them into the historical timeline.  But we’re not sure what happened to them.  For they were stronger than us.  And they had a similar brain size as ours.  Stronger and just as smart, you’d have to give them the edge when Homo sapiens met Neanderthal.  Yet here we are.  Homo sapiens.  Wondering what happened to Neanderthal man.

There are theories.  Neanderthal was adapted to live in the cold.  And he hunted cold-adapted mammals.  But then an ice age came.  And the temperatures fell.  It became too cold even for the cold-adapted.  The climate change pushed the 4-legged mammals south.  In search of food ahead of the advancing glaciers.  And Neanderthal followed.  Moving into what were at one time warmer climes.  Bumping into warmer-clime Homo sapiens.

The climatic change was rather sudden during this period.  One theory says that this rapid changing changed the environment.  Creating different plant and animal species.  And Neanderthal was unable to adapt.  Another theory says that as the glaciers advanced they just forced more people into a smaller area.  And they fought over a smaller food supply.  When the glaciers retreated, Homo sapiens then followed Neanderthals north.  And expanded into their hunting grounds.  Until they displaced them from the historical timeline.

Whatever happened one thing is sure.  We can ultimately blame their demise on the hunter and gatherer system.  Because this system requires large hunting grounds for survival.  Advancing glaciers reduced those hunting grounds.  Putting more people together in a smaller area.  Competing for limited food resources.  And they ultimately lost that competition.

The Hunter and Gatherer Culture Continued to do things as they had During the Stone Age

We can see a more recent example of the demise of a hunter and gatherer people.  In North America.  During the European colonization of that continent.

The North American continent is huge.  Much of it remains uninhabited to this date.  But it wasn’t big enough for the North American Indians and the Europeans.  Why?  The Indians were hunters and gatherers.  They needed a lot of land.  Each tribe had ‘braves’.  ‘Warriors’.  Soldiers.  Because they were a fighting people.  They had a warring culture.  They followed food.  Taking land from other tribes.  And protecting land from other tribes.  So they needed large numbers of warriors.  Which required large amounts of food.  And great expanses of land to hunt that food.

The Europeans, on the other hand, were farmers.  They could grow a lot of food.  And grow large populations on very small tracts of land.  They had higher population densities on their land.  They were better fed.  And they had a middle class thanks to a healthy food surplus.  Which created new technologies.  And provided tools and equipment to advance their civilization.  While the hunter and gatherer culture continued to do things as they had during the Stone Age.

Food Surpluses Created a Middle Class which allowed Advanced Civilizations

Hunters and gatherers live at the mercy of their environment.  Whereas farmers have taken control of their environment.  Creating food surpluses.  Which led to a middle class.  And to advanced civilizations.  Which is why they became the dominant civilization.  And displaced hunter and gatherer people from the historical timeline.  Simply by being a much more survivable people.  Because they took control of their environment.

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Famine, Crop Yields, Food Surpluses, Irrigation, Plow, Crop Rotation, Cultivars, Fertilizers, Pesticides, Tractor, Railroad and Ships

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 5th, 2013

Technology 101

(Originally published May 23rd, 2012)

Because of Advances in Farming Fewer People could Grow more Food

Cold weather kills people.  A lot of people throughout history have died during winters as they exhausted their food supplies.  That’s why preparing for the winter was serious business.  You had to store enough food to carry you through the winter.  And if the fall harvests were poor it spelled big trouble.  And famine.  It’s hard to imagine what this was like.  A long winter ahead of you with an insufficient food supply.  It was scary.  For it meant some people would die before the spring came.  Hard to fathom this in a day where you can actually drive your car through a blizzard to your favorite greasy diner or fast food restaurant for a delicious hot meal to take off the chill of the coldest winter day.  It wasn’t always like this.

And it wasn’t only long winters that killed people.  Sometimes the long summers did.  Where there were insufficient rains.  And drought.  That destroyed crops and drastically reduced fall harvests.  You don’t hear much about famine these days in the U.S, Canada, Britain, France, Germany or other advanced nations.  But underdeveloped and impoverished nations suffer famine to this day.  Why?  Two primary reasons.  Improved crop yields.  And improved transportation.  The advanced nations have them.  The impoverished nations don’t.

Improved crop yields create food surpluses.  Key to civilization itself.  Food surpluses allowed a middle class to arise because everyone did not have to grow food.  Because of advances in farming fewer people could grow more food. Those who didn’t have to grow food could think about other things.  Including ways to further improve crop yields.  By creating better tools.  Better techniques.  Better food storage.  And when you do all of these things you not only have enough food for yourself and for your surplus you have enough to export.  To those who do not have enough food.  Even allowing people to live in areas that cannot produce food.  For they can trade for food.  Thanks to these surpluses available for export.

Food is so Plentiful and Inexpensive Today that the Problem in America is not Famine but Obesity

Early farms relied on the fertile soil of river banks.  The spring flooding of the rivers raised river levels.  When the water retreated it left behind fertile soil.  Eventually we learned how to take control of our water resources.  And used it to make fertile land away from river banks.  Using irrigation.  Bringing the water to the land.  Probably the next great development was the plow.  Which let us take control of the land.  We tilled the soil to aerate it.  To control weeds.  To mix in organic material.  Such as manure.  To prepare it for planting.  And we used irrigation to bring those crops to harvest.

We then developed crop rotation to replenish nitrogen in the soil.  And to control pests.  Certain pests attack certain crops.  By rotating crops pest infestation couldn’t spread and return year after year.  Families of crops need certain nutrients.  Rotation prevents the depletion of any single nutrient.  Then we took control of the plants we grew.  By creating new plants.  Cultivars.  Using selective breeding to increase grain size, the number of grains per plant, improve disease resistance, etc.

Then we turned to chemistry.  Creating fertilizers.  And pesticides.  These two advancements alone exploded crop yields.  Never before did so few grow so much with so little.  We maximized the agricultural potential of land year after year.  And then we mechanized the farm.  Introducing the tractor.  Allowing the same number of farmers to cultivate more land.  So not only did their existing lands yield more they added more high-yield lands to explode yields.  Creating huge food surpluses available for export.  And slashing the price of food across the board.  From the bread we make from wheat.  To corn-fed beef.  Food is so plentiful and inexpensive today that the problem in America is not famine but obesity.  Obesity is bad but it takes a lot longer to die from obesity than it does from famine.  And we enjoy all of those delicious things that are making us so fat.  While there’s nothing to enjoy when starving to death.

We were able to Raise Crop Yields to such High Levels we have Food Available for Everyone in this World

As crop yields increased more food entered the market.  Good for people.  But bad for farmers.  Because they depressed crop prices.  Large farms that cultivated more land could still make a profit.  But the small farmer who didn’t cultivate more land just saw his revenue fall.  Until his revenue fell below his costs.  Leaving him unable to service the debt he incurred to mechanize his farm.  Causing bankruptcy.  Which happened a lot in the Thirties.  Causing all those bank runs during the Great Depression.

To fight this free fall in crop prices countries enacted tariffs and import restrictions.  The British Corn Laws kept out the less expensive foreign food so the landowning aristocracy could maximize their profits.  And when the British repealed the Corn Laws and adopted free trade everything the landowning aristocracy feared happen.  Food became inexpensive and plentiful.  In large part because of the United States.  Who was maximizing their crop yields.  And then using the railroad to ship their surpluses to the great rivers.  The Ohio.  The Missouri.  The Mississippi.  Where they loaded these surpluses onto steamships.  Where it traveled down the Mississippi to the Port of New Orleans.  Where they transferred it to ocean-going sail ships and steamers.  Bound for Europe.  And Britain.  Where this food fed hungry people.  And cut into the profits of the wealthy landowners.

But it wasn’t only in the United States.  Soon other great agricultural countries produced food surpluses that they shipped all over the world.  Winters still happen.  Droughts still happen.  But they don’t happen everywhere at the same time.  And because we were able to raise crop yields to such high levels we have food available for everyone in the world.  And truck, rail and ships can move that food anywhere it is needed.  Which is why we can drive to our favorite greasy diner or fast food restaurant during a blizzard on the coldest day of winter and enjoy a fresh glass of orange juice, coffee, eggs, hash browns and sausage.  No matter where you live.  As long as you live in a country that supports free trade.

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Food Surplus, Artisan, Guilds, Industrial Revolution, Mechanized Looms and Luddites

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 14th, 2013

History 101

As the Middle Class grew Artisans joined Guilds to Restrict Entry into their Trade

For most of our existence on this planet we were hunters and gatherers.  Like the animals in the wild.  Dependent on our environment for our food.  Which was often scarce.  Leaving our distant relatives with a chronic gnawing hunger in their bellies.  Sometimes the environment provided so little food that there wasn’t enough for everyone.  So a great many went hungry.  And a great many eventually died from that hunger.  Such was life for hunters and gatherers dependent on their environment for food.  Then we started thinking.  And figured out how to farm.

As farmers we took control of our environment.  Instead of eating only what the environment gave us we grew what we needed.  And grew even more to have a food surplus.  To get us through times when the environment did not provide a good growing season.  Having control over our food turned that chronic gnawing hunger into a rare and infrequent occurrence.  Which established us at the top of the food chain.  And made us master of the planet.  Where we shaped it to serve our needs.  Instead of living at its mercy.

With a stable food supply we were able to do something else.  Something other than grow food.  We could build things.  And an artisan class grew.  Potters.  Shoemakers.  Blacksmiths.  As time passed the artisan class grew.  Creating a middle class.  Markets where people met to trade their goods grew into cities.  The economy grew more complex.  The cities grew more crowded.  And the artisans became protective of their trades.  Joining guilds that restricted entry into their trade.  By maintaining a maximum number of artisans in each trade.  For though there was more food than ever the fear of hunger never went away.

In Medieval Europe Cloth Production was Second only to Food Production

Artisans joined guilds for one reason.  So they wouldn’t starve to death.  Basically.  By restricting entry into their trade they limited competition.  This allowed them to charge higher prices for their goods or services.  And that healthy income allowed them to buy all the food they desired.  Whereas if other artisans were allowed to set up shop in town they could offer their goods or services for less.  Forcing other artisans to lower their prices.  Which is good for the masses.  Allowing them to pay less for the artisans’ goods or services.  Helping them to push off hunger themselves.  But not good for the limited few who saw their wages fall with more artisans entering their trade.  Hence the guilds.

But artisans had more to fear than just people trying to take food off of their tables.  There was something else that was a far greater risk.  Technology.  Which led to increases in productivity.  That is, producing more with fewer people.  Replacing some highly-skilled artisans with lower-skilled and lower-paid people operating machines.  And without a job it was difficult to put food on the table.  With the specter of hunger haunting them some artisans did something about that new technology putting them out of a job.  They fought back against the machines.

Besides food there was another basic necessity the people needed.  Especially in England.  Where it got pretty cold during the winter.  To live in the northern climes you needed to wear clothes.  Or die of exposure.  In Medieval Europe food production was the number one occupation.  The number two occupation was cloth production.  To make the clothing people needed to wear to keep from dying of exposure.  Highly skilled weavers filled factories as they manually worked their looms.  Making the cloth that others would turn into clothing.

The most Infamous Neo-Luddite was the Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski

Their meager production rate kept clothing prices high.  Then came the Industrial Revolution.  First they mechanized spinning.  Creating more thread than a weaver could ever use.  Then they mechanized weaving.  Turning that thread into cloth at an incredible rate.  Turning cloth-making from a skilled trade into an automated process.  Producing more with fewer people.  Lowering the price of clothing.  And reducing the need for skilled artisans.  Making the people happy.  For they could buy more clothing.  And still be able to afford enough food to ward off that gnawing hunger.  Everyone was happy except, of course, those artisans put out of a job thanks to those new machines.

Britain was at War with Napoleon’s France in 1811.  During war the home economy typically suffers.  And machines replacing people didn’t help.  Highly skilled weavers either lost their jobs.  Or had to take steep pay cuts to compete with other unskilled laborers working the new mechanized looms.  Lower incomes made it difficult to buy food when prices were rising.  As they typically do during war.  Pushing some people to the breaking point.  And some people rebelled against the machines.  Smashing them.  And burning them.  These people were Luddites.  Their rebellion against technology was so great that at times more British Red Coats were in England putting down their rebellion than were fighting Napoleon’s Grande Armée.

But in the end the Luddites loss their struggle.  By 1817 the British had put down the rebellion.  And the Industrial Revolution carried on.  Making life better for the masses.  The modern economy flooding us with new must-have products at reasonable prices.  And creating scores of new jobs the Luddites never could have imagined.  Still, their anti-technology philosophy lives on.  Perhaps the most infamous neo-Luddite being Theodore Kaczynski.  The Unabomber.  Who fought against technology by planting or mailing bombs.  Killing three.  And hurting 23 others.  Who they finally found holed up in a primitive cabin in the Montana wilderness.  Where he rejected all technology.  Living without any of the creature comforts technology gives us.  Like electricity, fresh water or personal hygiene.  Being a Luddite to the extreme.

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Farming, Food Surplus, Artisans, Trade, Barter, Search Costs, Money, Precious Metals, Pound, Dollar and Gold Standard

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 9th, 2012

History 101

Food Surpluses allowed Everything that followed in the Modern Age

Humans were hunters and gatherers first.  When the environment ruled supreme.  Then something happened.  Humans began to think more.  And started to push back against their environment.  First with tools.  Then with fire.  Bringing people closer together.  Eventually settling down in civilizations.  When the human race embarked on a new path.  A path that would eventually usher in the modern age we enjoy today.  We stopped hunting and gathering.  And began farming.

Throughout history life has been precarious.  Due to the uncertainty of the food supply.  Especially when the environment ruled our lives.  That changed with farming.  When we started taking control of our environment.  We domesticated animals.  And learned how to grow food.  Which lead to perhaps the most important human advancement.  The one thing that allowed everything that followed in the modern age.   Food surpluses.  Which made life less precarious.  And a whole lot more enjoyable.

Producing more food than we needed allowed us to store food to get us through long winters and seasons with poor harvests.  But more importantly it freed people.  Not everyone had to farm.  Some could do other things.  Think about other things.  And build other things.  Artisans arose.  They built things to make our lives easier.  More enjoyable.  And when these talented artisans and farmers met other talented artisans and farmers they traded the products of all their labors.  In markets.  That became cities.  Enriching each other’s lives.  By allowing them to trade for food.  For things that made life easier.  And for things that made life more enjoyable.

We settled on using Precious Metals (Gold and Silver) for Money for they were Everything Money Should Be

As civilizations advanced artisans made a wider variety of things.  Putting a lot of goods into the market place.  Unfortunately, it made trading more difficult.  Because while you saw what you wanted the person who had it may not want what you had to offer in trade.  So what do you do?  You look for someone else that has that same thing.  And will trade for what you have.  And when the second person doesn’t want to trade for what you have you look for a third person.  Then a fourth.  Then a fifth.  Until you find someone who wants to trade for what you have.

This is the barter system.  Trading goods for goods.  And as you can see it has high search costs to find someone to trade with.  Time that people could better spend making more things to trade.  What they needed was a temporary storage of value.  Something people could trade their things for.  And those people could then use that temporary storage they received in trade to later trade for something they wanted.   We call this ‘something’ money.

We have used many things for money.  Some things better than others.  In time we learned that the best things to use for money had to have a few characteristics.  It had to be scarce.  A rock didn’t make good money because why would anyone trade for it when you could just pick one up from the ground?  It had to be indestructible and hold its value.  A slab of bacon had value because bacon is delicious.  But if you held on to it too long it could grow rancid, losing all the value it once held.  Or you could eat it.  Which would also remove its value.  It had to be divisible.  A live pig removed the problem of bacon growing rancid.  However, it was hard making change with live pigs.  Which is why we settled on using precious metals (gold and silver) for money.  For they were everything money should be.

The Key to Economic Activity is People with Creative Talent to make Things to Trade

Money came first.  Then government monetary systems.  Traders were using gold and silver long before nations established their own money.  And when they did they based them on weights of these precious metals.  The British pound sterling represented one Saxon pound of silver.  The U.S. dollar came from the Spanish dollar.  Which traces back to 16th century Bohemia.  To the St. Joachim Valley.  Where they minted private silver coins.  The Joachimsthaler.  Where the ‘thaler’ (which translated to valley) in Joachimsthaler became dollar.  The German mark and the French franc came into being as weights of precious metals.  People either traded silver or gold coins.  Or paper notes that represented silver or gold.

We used silver first as the basis for national currencies.  Then with new gold discoveries in the United States, Australia and South Africa gold became the precious metal of choice.  Using precious metals simplified trade by providing sound money.  And it also made foreign exchange easy.  For when the British made their pound represent 1/4 of an ounce of gold and the Americans made their dollar represent 1/20 of an ounce of gold the exchange rate was easy to calculate.  The British pound had 5 times as much gold in it than the U.S. dollar.  So the exchange rate was simply 5 U.S. dollars for every British pound.  Which made international trade easy.  And fair.  Because everything was priced in weights of gold.

The pure gold standard, then, was part of the natural evolution of money.  The state did not create it.  It does not require an act of legislation.  Or political decree.  The pure gold standard existed before the state.  And states based their currencies on the monetary system that already existed.  Using weights of precious metals as money.  That is, a pure gold standard.  Central banks and fiat money are only recent inventions of the state.  And bad ones at that.  For the thousands of years that preceded the last hundred years or so there were only traders mutually agreeing to trade their goods for precious metals.  Using these precious metals as a temporary storage of wealth.  To temporarily hold the value of the things they made.  So the key to economic activity is people with creative talent to make things to trade.  And a sound money like gold and silver to facilitate that trade.  Not a central bank.  Or monetary policy.

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FT120: “Give a man a fish and he can eat for a day; give him a job and he can have an obesity problem.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 1st, 2012

Fundamental Truth

In Warfare Starvation and Famine are the most Potent of Weapons

Starvation and famine has plagued mankind since the dawn of time.  It was the driving force in evolution.  Those who took control of their food supply lived.  Those who didn’t disappeared from the evolutionary path.  Like Neanderthal.  And those who came before him.  Our earliest civilizations massed their populations to farm.  And the masses lived in cities.  Setting down roots and saying goodbye to their hunting and gathering ways.  In the Wei River valley.  In the Indus River valley.  The valleys of the Euphrates and Tigris.  In the Nile River valley.  Where modern life took root.  Produced our first food surpluses.  And gave birth to urban life.  And the middle class.

The rise of the middle class allowed civilization to flourish.  For every person that didn’t have to produce food could do something else.  Build better tools.  Create a better government.  Create art.  In general, think about other things.  Those other things that made humans different.  By giving us a more interesting life.  And more sophisticated ways to express ourselves.

But this growth was a double-edged sword.  For large urban populations that made life more enjoyable was also a great threat to the food supply.  A cool and wet summer could destroy crops.  Poor food storage could spoil the food surplus.  A war could see an enemy purposely destroy your crops and your food surplus.  Causing famine.  Where half or your city population could easily die before the next harvest.  Or more.  Especially if the famine resulted from an act of war.   As an act of genocide.  To clear people off land that others want to use for their own food needs.  Which was Hitler’s plan in Russia.  To take the food from the Ukraine.  Kill the indigenous population.  And replace them with Nazis.  Thus creating more living space for the Third Reich.  Or Lebensraum.    Because in warfare starvation and famine are the most potent of weapons.

History has shown that the most Food-Abundant Countries are the most Capitalistic

England led the way in agricultural advances.  Increasing crop yields such that small tracts of land could support greater populations.  As well as produce such huge food surpluses that they had food to export.  As the British Empire spread across the globe so did their advanced agricultural ways.  During the 19th century starvation and famine were becoming rarer in the technologically advanced West.  The 19th century Irish Potato Famine reduced Ireland’s population by up to 25%.  A tragedy of epic proportions.  But it was an exception to the rule.  For food was growing so abundant in the advanced Western World that rarely did people go hungry.  Or feared famine.  And when mechanization and chemistry hit the farm our crop yields exploded.

During the Twentieth Century the Western World produced so much food that food prices plummeted.  Causing the Great Depression.  There was so much food available that farmers couldn’t sell their food at a high enough price to service the debt that they incurred mechanizing their farms.  But not everyone was producing bumper crops in the Twentieth Century.  Both the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China set records for death by famine.  As they shunned the ways of the West.  And the state took over their agricultural sectors.  States that were so inept at good farming practices and things economic that crop yields plummeted.  North Korea to this day can’t even grow enough food for her own people.  And has recurring famines.  Because they hold on to the communist ways of Stalin and Mao.  While the Russians and the Chinese have long abandoned them. 

History has shown that the most food-abundant countries are the most capitalistic.  Countries whose agricultural sectors use the latest in technology.  And/or have a rich and vibrant economy that can buy all the food they need if they can’t produce their own.  Like Hong Kong.  Basically a rock off the Chinese mainland.  It has little arable land.  Few natural resources.  But what it does have is low taxation and free trade.  And laissez-faire capitalism.  The Chinese lost Hong Kong to the British Empire (who have since given it back).  And the British used laissez-faire capitalism to make Hong Kong the gem it is today.  Where people are free and in want of little.  And in this island nation that can’t grow enough food to feed their population famine is unheard of.  Why?  Because they have the wealth to trade for all the food they desire.  In fact, while Mao gave the people in the People’s Republic of China famine Hong Kong were doing just fine.  Because they were wealthy and could trade for what they needed.  And they had the Royal Navy protecting her.

In America our Food Supplies are so Abundant and so Cheap that Poor People are becoming Obese

Poverty is the biggest killer.  Famine is prevalent in poor countries.  Like Haiti.  North Korea.  And sub-Saharan Africa.  People suffer in these countries unlike they do in the West.  Despite the amount of aid the West pours into them.  And it’s not because Western nations were blessed with natural resources.  Hong Kong doesn’t have anything other than laissez-faire capitalism.  Protected by the Rule of Law and minimal government interference into the private sector economy.  The very things that are missing from Haiti, North Korea and sub-Saharan Africa.  Where corruption rules supreme.  There is little regard for human rights.  Or property rights.  And no one can protect their people from the abuses of government.  Or from warring neighbors.  Like the Royal Navy protected Hong Kong.  And pretty much the rest of the world during the 19th century.  Just like America’s military might made the world safe for capitalism in the Twentieth Century.

Third world nations are not a victim of first world nations.  They are a victim of themselves.  Where corrupt rulers collect Western aid and live well while their people suffer.  Especially the nations that eschew capitalism.  And embrace socialism.  Like the Soviet Union did.  Like the People’s Republic of China did (the current Chinese regime is enjoying economic growth by allowing some capitalism into their still communist country).  And like North Korea still does.  These socialist utopias were a living hell for their people.  Where they live in fear of their government.  And of famine.

Meanwhile in the Western capitalist nations what do they suffer from?  Especially the poor people in America?  Obesity.  In New York they’re passing laws restricting the size of sugary beverages because they are dangerous to your health.  While they pass out free condoms and birth control as sex is far less risky behavior than a delicious carbonated beverage.  Apparently.  Yes, in America our food supplies are so abundant and so cheap that poor people are becoming obese.  Because capitalism has made those food supplies abundant and cheap.  And capitalism gave people jobs where they could afford to buy so much food that they can give themselves an obesity problem.  A problem they just don’t have in Haiti, North Korea or sub-Saharan Africa.  Because they can’t grow enough food.  Or earn enough money to buy enough food.  For they don’t have an environment conducive to creating jobs.  Which is why these nations are still impoverished and/or suffering famine despite all the aid the West gives them.  Food aid will run out.  And then they’ll just be starving once again.  If they have jobs, though, they’ll be able to buy food whenever they’re hungry.  Because it’s like that old saying.  Give a man a fish and he can eat for a day; give him a job and he can have an obesity problem.

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Famine, Crop Yields, Food Surpluses, Irrigation, Plow, Crop Rotation, Cultivars, Fertilizers, Pesticides, Tractor, Railroad and Ships

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 23rd, 2012

Technology 101

Because of Advances in Farming Fewer People could Grow more Food

Cold weather kills people.  A lot of people throughout history have died during winters as they exhausted their food supplies.  That’s why preparing for the winter was serious business.  You had to store enough food to carry you through the winter.  And if the fall harvests were poor it spelled big trouble.  And famine.  It’s hard to imagine what this was like.  A long winter ahead of you with an insufficient food supply.  It was scary.  For it meant some people would die before the spring came.  Hard to fathom this in a day where you can actually drive your car through a blizzard to your favorite greasy diner or fast food restaurant for a delicious hot meal to take off the chill of the coldest winter day.  It wasn’t always like this.

And it wasn’t only long winters that killed people.  Sometimes the long summers did.  Where there were insufficient rains.  And drought.  That destroyed crops and drastically reduced fall harvests.  You don’t hear much about famine these days in the U.S, Canada, Britain, France, Germany or other advanced nations.  But underdeveloped and impoverished nations suffer famine to this day.  Why?  Two primary reasons.  Improved crop yields.  And improved transportation.  The advanced nations have them.  The impoverished nations don’t.

Improved crop yields create food surpluses.  Key to civilization itself.  Food surpluses allowed a middle class to arise because everyone did not have to grow food.  Because of advances in farming fewer people could grow more food. Those who didn’t have to grow food could think about other things.  Including ways to further improve crop yields.  By creating better tools.  Better techniques.  Better food storage.  And when you do all of these things you not only have enough food for yourself and for your surplus you have enough to export.  To those who do not have enough food.  Even allowing people to live in areas that cannot produce food.  For they can trade for food.  Thanks to these surpluses available for export.

Food is so Plentiful and Inexpensive Today that the Problem in America is not Famine but Obesity

Early farms relied on the fertile soil of river banks.  The spring flooding of the rivers raised river levels.  When the water retreated it left behind fertile soil.  Eventually we learned how to take control of our water resources.  And used it to make fertile land away from river banks.  Using irrigation.  Bringing the water to the land.  Probably the next great development was the plow.  Which let us take control of the land.  We tilled the soil to aerate it.  To control weeds.  To mix in organic material.  Such as manure.  To prepare it for planting.  And we used irrigation to bring those crops to harvest. 

We then developed crop rotation to replenish nitrogen in the soil.  And to control pests.  Certain pests attack certain crops.  By rotating crops pest infestation couldn’t spread and return year after year.  Families of crops need certain nutrients.  Rotation prevents the depletion of any single nutrient.  Then we took control of the plants we grew.  By creating new plants.  Cultivars.  Using selective breeding to increase grain size, the number of grains per plant, improve disease resistance, etc. 

Then we turned to chemistry.  Creating fertilizers.  And pesticides.  These two advancements alone exploded crop yields.  Never before did so few grow so much with so little.  We maximized the agricultural potential of land year after year.  And then we mechanized the farm.  Introducing the tractor.  Allowing the same number of farmers to cultivate more land.  So not only did their existing lands yield more they added more high-yield lands to explode yields.  Creating huge food surpluses available for export.  And slashing the price of food across the board.  From the bread we make from wheat.  To corn-fed beef.  Food is so plentiful and inexpensive today that the problem in America is not famine but obesity.  Obesity is bad but it takes a lot longer to die from obesity than it does from famine.  And we enjoy all of those delicious things that are making us so fat.  While there’s nothing to enjoy when starving to death. 

We were able to Raise Crop Yields to such High Levels we have Food Available for Everyone in this World

As crop yields increased more food entered the market.  Good for people.  But bad for farmers.  Because they depressed crop prices.  Large farms that cultivated more land could still make a profit.  But the small farmer who didn’t cultivate more land just saw his revenue fall.  Until his revenue fell below his costs.  Leaving him unable to service the debt he incurred to mechanize his farm.  Causing bankruptcy.  Which happened a lot in the Thirties.  Causing all those bank runs during the Great Depression.

To fight this free fall in crop prices countries enacted tariffs and import restrictions.  The British Corn Laws kept out the less expensive foreign food so the landowning aristocracy could maximize their profits.  And when the British repealed the Corn Laws and adopted free trade everything the landowning aristocracy feared happen.  Food became inexpensive and plentiful.  In large part because of the United States.  Who was maximizing their crop yields.  And then using the railroad to ship their surpluses to the great rivers.  The Ohio.  The Missouri.  The Mississippi.  Where they loaded these surpluses onto steamships.  Where it traveled down the Mississippi to the Port of New Orleans.  Where they transferred it to ocean-going sail ships and steamers.  Bound for Europe.  And Britain.  Where this food fed hungry people.  And cut into the profits of the wealthy landowners.

But it wasn’t only in the United States.  Soon other great agricultural countries produced food surpluses that they shipped all over the world.  Winters still happen.  Droughts still happen.  But they don’t happen everywhere at the same time.  And because we were able to raise crop yields to such high levels we have food available for everyone in the world.  And truck, rail and ships can move that food anywhere it is needed.  Which is why we can drive to our favorite greasy diner or fast food restaurant during a blizzard on the coldest day of winter and enjoy a fresh glass of orange juice, coffee, eggs, hash browns and sausage.  No matter where you live.  As long as you live in a country that supports free trade.

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Hunters and Gatherers Live at the Mercy of their Environment, Farmers Control their Environment

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 18th, 2011

History 101

We can Ultimately Blame Neanderthal’s Demise on the Hunter and Gatherer System

We’re Homo sapiens.  Neanderthals were here before us.  By a few hundred thousand years.  Give or take.  We have fossil evidence of their existence.  And we’ve been able to put them into the historical timeline.  But we’re not sure what happened to them.  For they were stronger than us.  And they had a similar brain size as ours.  Stronger and just as smart, you’d have to give them the edge when Homo sapiens met Neanderthal.  Yet here we are.  Homo sapiens.  Wondering what happened to Neanderthal man.

There are theories.  Neanderthal was adapted to live in the cold.  And he hunted cold-adapted mammals.  But then an ice age came.  And the temperatures fell.  It became too cold even for the cold-adapted.  The climate change pushed the 4-legged mammals south.  In search of food ahead of the advancing glaciers.  And Neanderthal followed.  Moving into what were at one time warmer climes.  Bumping into warmer-clime Homo sapiens.

The climatic change was rather sudden during this period.  One theory says that this rapid changing changed the environment.  Creating different plant and animal species.  And Neanderthal was unable to adapt.  Another theory says that as the glaciers advanced they just forced more people into a smaller area.  And they fought over a smaller food supply.  When the glaciers retreated, Homo sapiens then followed Neanderthals north.  And expanded into their hunting grounds.  Until they displaced them from the historical timeline.

Whatever happened one thing is sure.  We can ultimately blame their demise on the hunter and gatherer system.  Because this system requires large hunting grounds for survival.  Advancing glaciers reduced those hunting grounds.  Putting more people together in a smaller area.  Competing for limited food resources.  And they ultimately lost that competition.

The Hunter and Gatherer Culture Continued to do things as they had During the Stone Age

We can see a more recent example of the demise of a hunter and gatherer people.  In North America.  During the European colonization of that continent.

The North American continent is huge.  Much of it remains uninhabited to this date.  But it wasn’t big enough for the North American Indians and the Europeans.  Why?  The Indians were hunters and gatherers.  They needed a lot of land.  Each tribe had ‘braves’.  ‘Warriors’.  Soldiers.  Because they were a fighting people.  They had a warring culture.  They followed food.  Taking land from other tribes.  And protecting land from other tribes.  So they needed large numbers of warriors.  Which required large amounts of food.  And great expanses of land to hunt that food.

The Europeans, on the other hand, were farmers.  They could grow a lot of food.  And grow large populations on very small tracts of land.  They had higher population densities on their land.  They were better fed.  And they had a middle class thanks to a healthy food surplus.  Which created new technologies.  And provided tools and equipment to advance their civilization.  While the hunter and gatherer culture continued to do things as they had during the Stone Age.

Food Surpluses Created a Middle Class which allowed Advanced Civilizations

Hunters and gatherers live at the mercy of their environment.  Whereas farmers have taken control of their environment.  Creating food surpluses.  Which led to a middle class.  And to advanced civilizations.  Which is why they became the dominant civilization.  And displaced hunter and gatherer people from the historical timeline.  Simply by being a much more survivable people.  Because they took control of their environment.

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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #41: “The want of unearned money is the root of most evil.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 24th, 2010

Survival of the Fittest is not a Pleasant Way to Live

Whoever said that ‘money is the root of all evil’ got it wrong.  Money gives us peace.  It gives us safe societies to live in.  It’s money that has civilized us.  Differentiated us from the animals. 

Which kingdom is crueler to live in?  The animal kingdom?  Or the human kingdom?  Most will say the human kingdom.  They will point to the Nazis and World War II.  The death camps.  The horrors of the Eastern Front as the Soviets and the Germans waged perhaps the cruelest war of attrition known to history.  And then say check and mate.  Man is worse than animals when it comes to acts of cruelty.  As World War II so clearly demonstrates.

Well, yes, World War II is probably the greatest tragedy man has ever perpetrated against his fellow man.  But a lot of those who suffered and perished were doing so to end the tyranny of fanatical state socialism (Italy’s Fascists, Germany’s National Socialists and Japan’s militarists).  It was a struggle of good versus evil.  Where the evil were behaving like animals.  Using military power, ideology and cruelty in a pure Darwinian survival of the fittest.

Welcome to the Animal Kingdom where the Lame and Young are Eaten

Yeah, you didn’t see that coming, did you?  Only man sacrifices for the good of others.  Animals don’t do that.  That’s why they have so many babies.  Because animals prey on the most defenseless.  They don’t help them.  Babies are easy food.  So they have a lot of babies because so few make it to adulthood.  Because others eat them. 

When a soldier falls in combat, others will risk their own life to drag him to safety.  So many do this.  And the few we see we recognize for this extraordinary act of bravery that is above and beyond the call of duty.

Our nation recently awarded Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta the Medal of Honor.  Our highest decoration.  While serving in Afghanistan.  He is the first living recipient of the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War.  This is what men do.  Perform selfless acts of bravery to help others.  And people like Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta make the world a better place.

You know what a hurt animal is?  Easier food.  While the other animals run away, predators eat the slower and lame.  Another reason why animals have so many babies.  They’re still food as they grow up.  And they never stop being food.  This is the animal kingdom.

We Used our Brains more than our Brawn

Say what you want about the cruelty of man, but we don’t eat our babies.  Or our lame.  Most of us live out of the elements.  Many in a warm and cozy house.  The necessities of life come rather easy for most.  Whereas lots of animals perish from the lack of food and water, in America even the poor are obese.

So how did this happen?  How did life get so easy for man compared to the animals?  Yes, our opposable thumbs helped.  And our big brains.  But even with these we were still hunters and gatherers.  And when you hunt and gather, you need a lot of land to hunt and gather on.  Because food just isn’t that plentiful in convenient small areas.  So they traveled.  And came into contact with other hunter and gatherers.  Who they then fought for the limited food supply to survive.

This all changed when we used our brains more than our brawn.  Instead of gathering food, we farmed.  Instead of hunting, we raised cows, pigs, chickens, etc.  As our food supply became steadier, we could do other things besides tending to our food supply.  We thought.  We innovated.  We improved.  We created.

The Barter System was Good but Inefficient

Of course, we were able to do these other things why?  Because not everyone had to be farmers.  But these people still needed food.  So what did they do to get food?  Steal it at every opportunity like in the animal kingdom? 

No.  In the beginning, they traded for food.  A tool maker traded his tools to a farmer for some of his food.  We call this kind of trading the barter system.  It’s an improvement over stealing what you want but it has its problems.  What if the tool maker only makes one kind of tool?  And the farmer already has three?

This is the big downfall of the barter system.  Searching for someone that has something you want AND wants what you have.  The longer it took to find these people to trade with the more time you spent searching than making something.  These ‘search costs’ became costly and made barter inefficient. 

If only we could find something that would make this trading process more efficient.  Something that would allow me to spend less time searching and more time making things.  Something that could temporarily hold value that I can trade for.  That I then could trade with other people for what I wanted.

Money Made Trade Efficient.  And Allowed us to Live Together in Peace and Harmony

We call that ‘something’ money.  And it has exploded the efficiency of trade.  It made it very easy to buy the things you wanted by using the money you made selling the things you made.  Markets where all this buying and selling took place became cities.  Living standards increased.  We were able to live in peace and harmony with each other like never before.

It is our creativity and the things we make or do that allowed this to happen.  Money just made this ‘human capital’ more efficient.  And the more money we accumulated from our human capital, the better everyone lived.  Because we produced more things that people wanted.

But there are those without this human capital.  The lazy.  The shiftless.  Criminals.  Lawyers.  And politicians.  They don’t create anything.  They just want to profit from the human capital of others.  To steal, if you will.  And it is this want of unearned money that is the root of most evil.

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