Friday, January 31, 2020

Efficiency Is The Opposite, or, A Walk In The Woods


utilizing a particular commodity or product with the least waste of resources or effort (usually used in combination): a fuel-efficient engine.


Along with other dramatic life changes, I've been doing an inordinate amount of backpacking this past year. I've spent most of my time in the greater Klamath Mountain Ranges, trekking through the Marble Mountains, Trinity Alps, Siskiyous, Russian and a few others.

Anyway, on one of my solo hikes in the Trinity Alps, I ran into a couple brothers who had a mule team bring up their "80 pounds each of ultralight gear," as I gently chided them.

One was in finance and one was in Medical Technology, as the money guy. Smart, socially conscious, moderate Democrats interested in the debates, clearly solid family guys.

Anyway, we get to talking about politics and the economy, as you do when you see another human for the first time in a day and have time and a little whiskey with you.

The medical brother was discussing the efficiency of producing their products in Asia, and I made some reasonable rebuttal about the corrosive nature of wage arbitrage, but it wasn't quite right.

So as I walked silently through the wilderness for the next seven hours, I really pondered what bothered me about the efficiency argument.

It brought me back a memory of an old article from Cnu's Sewing Circle about money as an illusion, a literally not real thing we choose to collectively accept - with a long history of this acceptance failing when it stops matching reality.

Here's what the people who run the world mean when they talk about efficiency. They mean that we will burn the planet to the ground for a few extra pennies. I'm not being dramatic.

Let's say you have a WIDGET, made in America.  It costs $15 to make; $2 for overhead, $2 for materials, $3 for energy and shipping, $8 for labor. Sells for $20, $5 profit.

Here's the sick, universally accepted version of efficiency:

$2 for overhead, $2 for materials, $8 for energy and shipping, $2 for labor (non-US). Sells for $20, $6 profit.

What we have done is allow a 20% increase in profits for the owners, Elimination of jobs (and spending) in the US, and a 166% increase in literally burning up the atmosphere and our finite oil supply.

Except my example is unfortunately too generous. It's really done for fractions of these results, like this:

$2 for overhead, $2 for materials, $8.95 for energy and shipping, $2 for labor (non-US). Sells for $19.99, $5.04 profit.

This is considered a necessary "efficiency." We rely on tenuous supply lines, eliminate the vast majority of income and spending power at home, and triple our carbon footprint to enrich a minority of asset owners to make fractional gains. Since they are leveraging their money by many multiples, these 1% "efficiency" increases still have the desired 30% return.

Nice guys, but we were deep in the woods, and even I needed a few more hours of hiking to get there.

"efficiency" should revert to a more classical meaning in our thoughts and actions.


  1. In the past year I became a big Eric Weinstein fan. (thanks Joe Rogan) Weinstein has some amazing things to say about the stasis in hard materials science and deep scientific theory. Unsurprisingly, he has equally provocative insights about the living memory history of how this stagnation came to be, and, the specific policies aimed at squeezing out additional efficiencies (or squeezing out potential competitor humans - as the case may be) in the STEM and knowledge-intensive domains.

    Because of the strenuous network monitoring conditions at the new day job, I'm excessively constrained against blogospheric indulgence most hours of the day. I do manange, however, to slip in a wee bit of trolling on linkedin. Here is one such example of the same. Dunno if you'll recall Ed Hopkins.

    It bothers me A LOT that cats who DO know better than the trajectory we're on, actively accept and engage the terms and conditions of that trajectory as a means toward whatever end they've set their sights on. Going against that grain has cost me materially, but lord knows I sleep good with a perfectly clear conscience.

    Right now, probably the single greatest issue I'm wrestling with personally and politically is whether or not to intensify my tribal urges in the direction of american descendents of slaves, or, in the direction of global nerditry - the two leanings seem highly incompatible at this juncture.

    The former leaning has me going hard Bernie/Tulsi from here through November, the latter, something more republi-kochian and potentially in sync with some of the people who run the world though with a slight rebellious twist.

    1. Biggest tribe wins. You've got your own distasteful prejudices that amuse me,what with your irrational dislike of the chosen.

      It's class that's the only hope. As things break down, so do the groups. Racial and social division is inevitable, but it can be mitigated by class unity. Going forward, the leaders of the Race Units will be exactly what they are now, opportunistic hucksters. I feel like you leaned into this as a younger man and eventually recoiled. Why go there again when the stakes are higher?

      The rich will 100% have solidarity across races, the rest of us would be wise to stick together.

  2. Status seeking is in there, control of commerce is in there, identitarianism is in there..., isht is complicated.

  3. "distasteful", "irrational", sheeiiiiiittt.........,

    How I'ma vote for Bernie or Donald J. Kushner if I dislike the chosen?

    I'm laser-focused on particular elites, and I don't brook the tried and true practice of those selfsame elites playing the raceligionist card and try'na pull an ethnic figleaf over their serial perpetrations and crimes against humanity.

    1. OK that's fair. Must be a little of my own musty brain worms then.

      I think Bernie will win. I hope he wins. I'm going to keep donating and preaching it. I have been cynical my entire adult (professional operative)political life. But I'm genuinely excited for Bernie. Will be my first time voting D (or R) for President in over twenty years.