Energy…

As we near the end of the (Western/Gregorian/Post-Julian) year, and indeed of the first decade of a new (Western/Gregorian/Post-Julian) century, various and sundry chatterers have begun flavoring their “year in review” ruminations with additional of “decade in review” spice. It’s a lazy trope, a foolish and shallow and distracting bit of “holiday” crud meant, as is so much of what the chatterers produce, to distract people from real, thoughtful reminiscence buy offering them a quick, high-calorie, no-protein substitute: remember when Miley did that to Snookie and Bristol hit them both with an ipod plushie! Hahahaha…. and remember when Janine Pommy Vega/Steve Landesberg/ Mitch Miller/Pat Fanning died? I cried, oh time… Among politically-oriented chatterers, the idea that “austere” times lie ahead, that we all must become more frugal and hitch up our pants and put our noses to the grindstone and right the ship, has become gospelly, if not exactly gospel, but as per usual, no one explains adequately WHY this is so. There are charts a plenty, statistical indices and analyses by the bushelful, but no real discussion of any alternative plan that involves, say, the redistribution of wealth from them that fomented our economic “hard times” to the rest of us, or even that the wealthy should also be willing to put their nose to a dolce and gabbana lavender-scented Moravian soapstone.  

The problem with the economist mindset in terms of trade policy is that there’s been this primitive, textbook view of so-called free trade that for a long time hasn’t matched the world we’re living in. We don’t live in the perfectly competitive, full-employment, balanced-trade, no-externality world where neoclassical trade theory is really useful Thea M. Lee, “America 2012, Jobs and the Economy.”

It seems we don’t live in a post-ideological world after all, but that ideologues have a different style, laser-pointer and expensive shoes, rather than placards and manifestos, a religious belief in “the market” rather than in “The Party,” the sort of belief Ms. Lee outlines in the quote above. I just started reading Vasily Grossman’s Everything Flows , and was struck by this bit of dialogue, spoken on a train by various middling officials in the presence of Ivan, who was returning to Moscow after 30 years in a Siberian work camp:

On one occasion the conversation turned to the subject of collective farms. The young economist began criticizing “village loafers”: “I’ve seen it now with my own eyes. In the morning they just hang about outside the farm office and scratch their arses. The collective-farm chairman and the brigade leaders have to sweat blood to get them out onto the fields. And all they do is complain. They make out that under Stalin they didn’t get paid at all, and that they hardly get paid even now.”

The trade-union inspector, thoughtfully shuffling a pack of cards, agred with him: “And why should our dear friends be paid if they don’t keep up with their grain deliveries? They need to be taught a lesson–like this!” And he shook his white fist in the air–a strong fist of a peasant, though it had clearly not seen manual labor for many years.

The construction superintendent stroked his stout chest with its rows of greasy ribbons–he had evidently been awarded many orders and medals.

“There was bread enough for us in the army, on the front line. We were fed by the Russian people. And no one had to teach them how to do it.”

“You’re right there,” said the economist. “What matters is that we’re Russians. Yes, Russians–that’s quite something.”

The inspector smiled and winked at his companion. It was as if he were saying those well-known words: “The Russian is the elder brother, the first among equals.”

“That’s what makes one mad,” pronounced the young economist. “These peasants we’re talking about are Russians–not some national minority or other! One of them started haranguing me: ‘Five years we have lived on linden leaves… since 1947 we’ve been working without any pay…’ They just don’t want to work–and that’s all there is to it. They don’t want to understand that everything now depends on the people.

Ah yes, the people, the people. But anyone can criticize, and in the interest of being more than scold, I do have a modest proposal that might help the plight of future generations, and it has to do with renewable energy. Most of us have some inkling that our fossil fuels are not replaceable, and that we will soon run out of some of the most important ones. Most of the current ideas for renewable energy sources are problematic: biodiesel uses too much land, especially when the planet is likely to face a “peak food” situation  soon, and wind and solar are, at present, too expensive for large-scale production, (though that may change, given world enough and time). One underreported potential energy source is Lonnie Johnson’s Thermoelectric Generator, which converts waste heat in to electricity: your car’s engine could, in theory, generate enough waste heat to recharge it’s battery, and the difference in temperature between your armpit and chest is enough to power a pacemaker. Human body heat could, once the efficiency of the generator is refined, be sufficient to power a number of things, which brings me to my proposal. Economically speaking, human beings are natural resources, and to maximize the efficiency of the market, we must be able to extract the maximum amount of return from these resources. There are two sectors of this resource which produce little or no return: old people and infants. Both require a lot of attention and care, and both generate body heat, but old people are less reliable, less likely to sit still unless medicated (which could interfere with extraction), they die more often, and so forth. Infants, especially prior to being ambulatory, are a more perfect source of body heat, and would suffer less “quality of life” -related issues than old people if they were made to lie in a crib for 8 to 10 hours per day with small sensors attached to their bodies, thereby producing valuable body heat for the rest of us to use for our appliances, for heating our homes, and so forth. Additionally, using infants in power farms would free parents to be more productive during the time that infants require the most resource-squandering care. Also, infants could begin early training in a variety of useful ideas and concepts in a much more focused and orderly way, as “lessons” could be broadcast onto the ceiling of the power farms, thereby giving our children a leg up in the race to best other countries in standardized testing while also producing citizens with useful interests: in, say, engineering, finance, physics, and sports medicine. For too long babies have had a free ride, I say.

CDs from my collection listened to, as I listen to all of them, in order:

364) Joan Armatrading: Into the Blues; 365) Aimee Mann: @#%&*! Smilers; 366) Emmylou Harris: Stumble Into Grace; 367) Holly and the Italians: The Right to be Italian; 368) John Prine: In Spite of Ourselves (Prine plus Iris Dement, yes yes); 369) Willie Nelson: Teatro; 370) The Fire Marshalls of Bethlehem: Songs For Housework; 371) Sigur Ros: (); 372) Boris with Michio Kurihara: Rainbow (love this Boris u-turn); 373) Eleventh Dream Day: Zeroes and Ones; 374) Bessie Smith: The Complete Recordings, 1; 375) Tom Waits: The Mule Variations; 376) Talvin Singh Presents: Soundz of the Asian Underground