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Which Pre-1500 Society Was the Richest in Terms of Energy Per Capita?
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I and other respondents offer numerous speculations and quibbles in the replies.

Remember, it’s per capita and it’s a society. But I don’t know Dr. Turchin’s own answer yet.

It will probably depend upon somewhat arbitrary decisions on how to measure things. For example, one fellow suggested that Middle Eastern societies used a lot of the sun’s energy making dried fruit, which is true, but still … trying to put a number to the sun sounds like it would open a big can of conceptual worms.

 
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  1. Coag says:

    Island hopping Polynesians using wind energy for their outrigger canoes?

    • Replies: @znon
    , @Stan d Mute
  2. Polynikes says:

    A completely random guess: a country like Holland. Seems like windmills or hydro powered mills would be a big source of energy.

    Or maybe it was transportation based and the Spanish fleets or Mongol equine hordes would be the power of an empire?

    • Agree: Je Suis Omar Mateen
  3. Charon says:

    The Great Zimbabwe, of course.

    Reason? Because you’re racist.

    • Agree: NickG
  4. nebulafox says:

    Modern societies are generally so unfathomably wealthy compared to the pre-modern age that comparisons are not really germane.

  5. the dutch? lot of windmills, gets that hydro power going. grind that grain. turn those wheels.

    • Replies: @Hamlet's Ghost
  6. newrouter says:

    Silly question.

    • Disagree: Abolish_public_education
    • Replies: @newrouter
  7. Nappu says:

    Finally this discussion is coming to UNZ Review.
    I recommend Tim Watkins and Gail Tverberg:

    https://consciousnessofsheep.co.uk/2019/09/18/the-net-energy-pincer/

    https://consciousnessofsheep.co.uk/2020/05/26/two-money-tricks/

    https://ourfiniteworld.com/2020/09/01/todays-energy-predicament-a-look-at-some-charts/

    https://ourfiniteworld.com/2020/07/17/why-a-great-reset-based-on-green-energy-isnt-possible/

    Answering the question:
    Anywhere with lots of combustible fuel (wood, charcoal, coal), strong labouring animals (big horses and cattle) and mills (wind and water).
    Which means, the Netherlands.

    • Thanks: Gabe Ruth
  8. Anonymous[375] • Disclaimer says:

    Water, wind, and animals were the main sources of energy besides human muscle power in pre-industrial times. Water was even a major source during the early part of the American industrial revolution. The early factories in Massachusetts during the American industrial revolution were built near and around rivers and waterfalls to power the machines.

    So probably an area with lots of small rivers and waterfalls per capita.

    • Replies: @Buffalo Joe
  9. songbird says:

    Going to guess China because I know that they used a lot of coal and coal is energy dense, which means high energy per capita, even with a large pop.

    • Replies: @Jack D
  10. Florence definitely had the best statues.

    Wait until the Florentines get woke and young rioters want to tear down priceless masterpieces!

    Venice had the most gold.

    • Replies: @Charon
    , @SFG
  11. I can’t see how you would measure ‘energy per capita’ in a pre-modern society.

    Do Plains Indians win because they set grass fires to drive bison over cliffs? Look at all the energy expended…

    Does using a flowing river to move downstream count? How about using a river to drive a mill?

    Windmills? Twelfth Century Western Europe leaps suddenly into the lead…

  12. newrouter says:

    lol

    “In 2010 Turchin published research using 40 combined social indicators to predict that there would be worldwide social unrest in the 2020s.[5][6] He subsequently cited the success of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign as evidence that “negative trends seem to be accelerating” and that there has been an “unprecedented collapse of social norms governing civilized discourse”.[7]”

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Turchin

    • Replies: @Charon
  13. @nebulafox

    Modern societies are generally so unfathomably wealthy compared to the pre-modern age that comparisons are not really germane.

    Haven’t verified this, but I’ve read that the ordinary singing greeting card in today’s dollar stores possesses more computing power than the entire world did in 1950.

  14. @nebulafox

    nebu, my Mom is now 103, born in 1917. Horse drawn street cars to bullet trains. Blimps to SpaceX. Amazing in one century.

    • Replies: @MBlanc46
    , @JMcG
  15. Mongolia?
    Like you said Steve depends on what you measure. I guess Mongolia because they had a small population (small denominator in the per capita calculation) and they had a ton of horses, which you could be considered a source of energy.

    • Agree: Je Suis Omar Mateen
    • Replies: @Hodag
  16. Depends how few controlled the energy flow, as to how that works out for a society at large.

    I imagine current USA is energy rich per capita, but the wealth derived from that energy is concentrated in very few hands.

  17. @Colin Wright

    Right, the grass and forest fire angle is difficult — e.g., Madeira Island burned for 7 years after the Portuguese arrived in the 1420s, leaving the trees gone and the soil well-fertilized for vineyards. Does that count?

  18. @nebulafox

    ‘Modern societies are generally so unfathomably wealthy compared to the pre-modern age that comparisons are not really germane.’

    Yeah — but it’s also a function of what you want to buy.

    For example, if you want to buy your basic blonde virgin slave girl, you might be better off in sixteenth-century Istanbul than where you are now.

    Conversely, if you want to install A/C…

    • Replies: @Not My Economy
  19. @Colin Wright

    Water mills and windmills certainly should count. Europe is full of people named Miller, so they had a lot of mills around 1300.

  20. @Colin Wright

    Water mills and windmills certainly should count. Europe is full of people named Miller, so they had a lot of mills around 1300.

    • Replies: @Reg Cæsar
  21. @Nappu

    Did fast flowing mountain streams like in Switzerland or Norway generate more power than slow-moving Lowland rivers in flat Holland? Or was slow good enough because you didn’t want to rip your mill apart?

  22. First thought was a Northern society burning wood to stay warm. Northern countries were traditionally less dense because of the difficulty of growing food year round.

    Then I thought Mongols. Horses, millions of square miles of grassland to feed them, and all that surplus available to conquer others.

    Only other thought is Egypt and the tremendous power of the Nile to periodically flood farmland and irrigate. But Egypt has always had a large population, so per-capita they are much closer to subsistence.

    Going with Mongolia.

    • Replies: @Elli
    , @Anon
  23. The Parthians on account of their horse to person ratio.

  24. Turchin used the example of the amount of energy consumed by the average person. Maybe the pre-industrial society with the most energy consumption is the one with the fattest population. Were there any pre-industrial societies with a fat population?

    • Replies: @Charon
  25. Charon says:
    @Morton's toes

    Italy is filling up with Africans. And, to a lesser extent, other third-worlders. If you haven’t been in recent years, don’t go. Don’t ever go again.

    • Replies: @MBlanc46
  26. Charon says:
    @newrouter

    He should familiarize himself with rap music. It’s only been popular for four decades now. Fortunately no one’s affected by it.

  27. Nappu says:
    @Steve Sailer

    No, it would be great actually. The ‘overpower’ issue could be easily fixed with pipes if needed.

    Why not them, then? I think it had to do with necessity, climate, commerce, flatlands trumping highlands and maybe even luck.

    I mean, the Netherlands had huge productive fields and mills for the job. Now, Switzerland? Norway? Most of their mills were used in for carpentry, instead of grains.

    • Replies: @Steve Sailer
  28. Anon[194] • Disclaimer says:

    In this case, milk based economies are likely to win. Milk is an extremely energy dense food that requires little effort to harvest. The Scythians were a nomadic culture in ancient history with a milk-based food economy, and they were described as overweight and frequently obese by the Greek author, Herodotus. Since they rode horses and lived in felt-covered wheeled carts, and didn’t practice heavy agriculture, they expended very little energy.

    The whole steppe horse culture-technology thing was created by the Scythians; only minimal refinements were made to it over the last 2500 years, like improvements in saddle quality and the use of stirrups.

    • Replies: @Nappu
    , @Bruce
  29. According to Angus Maddison in 1000 A.D. India and China had an estimated 50% of the World GDP

    https://www.livemint.com/Opinion/Nb7KkZ3yOVSNW3vHf9K1oM/World-history-by-per-capita-GDP.html

  30. unit472 says:

    Not really a meaningful question in terms of economic output. If you live ‘off grid’ in Alaska or Norway you will use a tremendous amount of energy for domestic heating and travel is difficult owing to large distances between towns.

    My guess as far as useful energy production would be a Mediterranean country like Italy. Reasonable population density, sailing ships able to move goods without having to cross open oceans and long growing seasons where draft animals could work more of the year.

    • Replies: @Steve Sailer
  31. @Nappu

    Ithaca, NY and similar Finger Lakes towns were tech centers 200 years ago because of the immense amount of cheap water power from all the waterfalls.

  32. Pestartz says:

    The answer seems like it should be somewhere in Europe right after a plague wrapped up, like coming out of the 1340s. The capita plummeted so individual wealth soared. As everyone above said, Netherlands seems as likely as anywhere for a specific place.
    On the other hand it probably turns out to some counterintuitive spot such as Greenland with like 2 dozen people sharing millions of calories of blubber.

  33. Charon says:
    @a Newsreader

    Turchin used the example of the amount of energy consumed by the average person.

    Well then. He could just measure their distance from the earth’s equator, and secondarily their elevation above sea level.

  34. To revert to solar, wind, wildfire, and hydro energy would precipitate social regress such as we have never known. We might as well face it we’re addicted to hydrocarbon energy and uranium isotopes. There ain’t no going back without going down. While it may interesting to speculate which society employed the most energy per capita, unless it informs our current situation, the answer is likely of little use. The critical measure is the product of product per unit of energy, and energy per capita, or product per capita.

    • Replies: @Redneck farmer
  35. @Colin Wright

    >if you want to buy your basic blonde virgin slave girl,

    BAP book out how long?

    • LOL: Roderick Spode
    • Replies: @Roderick Spode
  36. @Steve Sailer

    Dams and dikes. Make the head whatever you need, within reason. Obviously a mountainous place contains much more energy in the form of water up high, if it rains or snows..

    Hydro power is really solar power. It’s the sun that evaporates that water and the weather that deposits it up at 2 to 8,000 ft (for the most part) in the Cascade mountains, for example.

  37. picturing the completely insufferable neckbeard fedora who piped up with “well actually the middle east dried a lot of figs using the energy of the sun so technically they were the richest society”

  38. @Steve Sailer

    Speed is less important than discharge (Q) and fall (H). One cubic foot per second falling nine feet releases about one horsepower.

    1 cu ft/sec. * 62.4 lbs/cu ft * 9 feet = 560 ft-lbs/sec

    1 hp = 550 ft-lbs/sec

  39. Nappu says:
    @Anon

    The Indo-Europeans invented it, and the Scythians were one of their descendents.

    And yes, energy is key. Read some of the links I posted above.

    Also, one more:

    https://www.resilience.org/stories/2019-03-12/the-real-energy-return-of-crude-oil-smaller-than-you-would-have-imagined/

    But, invariably, we’re all doomed – so is China and so are the geopolitic follies of our times.
    Things will naturally return to a Wrath of Gnon state, but not without crashing amd burning before.

    • Replies: @Redneck farmer
    , @Anon
  40. Netherlands, windmills and sailboats.

  41. Nappu says:
    @Steve Sailer

    And that’s going to be the future once again.
    No renewable is worth a damn, and cheap oil is disappearing.
    By 2030, even China will have a 1970’s USA depression.
    All of this is irreversible.

    Small communities with their own source of power will be the best place to live in the coming of this age.

    • Agree: Sol
    • Replies: @68W58
    , @jsm
  42. @unit472

    Venice.

    But I suspect medieval Venice was more of a Work Smart rather than Work Hard economy.

  43. Mongols with all their literal horsepower and the Dutch with their water- and windmills. Or any place with watermills, which are basically free energy after building the mill.

    • Replies: @Buffalo Joe
    , @Muggles
  44. Nappu2 says:

    Venice’s great power came from its banking system, which advanced credit, being somewhat like ours today.
    Of course, it had to collapse due to unpayable debt, sooner or later.
    Then, the city’s decline came along with the ban of this banking scheme.

    Great books about that (and real economics in general):

    • Replies: @Redneck farmer
  45. songbird says:

    Does it count when you throw people into a volcano? I suppose not. (but I wonder about hot springs…)

    I was also going to make a joke regarding volcano explosions that caused tsunamis (ex: Minoans 1600 BC), but decided against it.

    • Replies: @Charon
  46. MBlanc46 says:
    @Buffalo Joe

    I hope that Mum gets a few more, Joe.

    • Thanks: Buffalo Joe
  47. znon says:
    @Coag

    How about the tiny population of ancient Hawaiian society, for using the massive raging geothermal power of an active volcano to roast virgins?

  48. MBlanc46 says:
    @Charon

    Italy was pretty bad when we were there in 2013. Africans everywhere peddling silly trinkets and fake designer handbags.

    • Replies: @Peter Akuleyev
  49. newrouter says:
    @newrouter

    A silly question because of measurement. Watt then Tesla destroyed concepts of energy production.

    https://babylonbee.com/news/california-to-replace-cars-with-new-greener-horse-drawn-carriages

  50. @Steve Sailer

    Did fast flowing mountain streams like in Switzerland or Norway generate more power than slow-moving Lowland rivers in flat Holland? Or was slow good enough because you didn’t want to rip your mill apart?

    This is a very strange question to ask. The water that actually powers the mill is not flowing directly through the streambed; it’s flowing through a sluice channel that is controlled by gates and dams. The whole point of mill construction is to modify the flow characteristics to get reliable, steady power and not just leave it up to the caprices of nature. In any case, the power of your mill will be defined by the mass of water per unit time that actually pushes against the wheel. Whether the stream is flowing fast or slow is not the issue; in either case, you take the amount of water you need to deliver the power you want.

    • Thanks: Buffalo Joe
    • Replies: @Steve Sailer
  51. Whitehall says:

    On a per capita basis, humans regress to the mean as Mathus noted. That is the carrying capacity of the ecology/economy.

    So I’d think the answer is the population that needed the most energy to keep an individual alive and reproducing had the most energy.

    That would be a cold climate like the Eskimos (or whatever they are called) or Norsemen.

  52. @Steve Sailer

    Europe is full of people named Miller…

    And Mueller, Mahler, Møller, Mlynar, Molinari, Moulin, Moleiro, Morar, Molnár, Μυλωνάς, מילנער, мельник…

    Ireland and Malta seem to be exceptions.

    • Replies: @prosa123
  53. prosa123 says:
    @Steve Sailer

    Ithaca, NY and similar Finger Lakes towns were tech centers 200 years ago because of the immense amount of cheap water power from all the waterfalls.

    Paterson, New Jersey’s silk mills became world-dominant because of waterpower. Its mills diverted water from the Passaic River upstream of the Great Falls.
    While the mills are long gone Paterson today generates a huge amount of thermal energy from all the buildings burning down. The city’s full of 100+ year old wooden apartment houses that are constantly catching fire, and when they do they burn ferociously.

    • Replies: @prosa123
  54. perhaps Iceland and its geysers with a small population.
    then wind energy trading with with Norway

    from wikipedia
    Due to the high rate of volcanic activity in Iceland, it is home to some famous geysers in the world. There are around 20–29 active geysers in the country as well as numerous formerly active geysers.[26] Icelandic geysers are distributed in the zone stretching from south-west to north-east, along the boundary between the Eurasian Plate and the North American Plate. Most of the Icelandic geysers are comparatively short-lived, it is also characteristic that many geysers here are reactivated or newly created after earthquakes, becoming dormant or extinct after some years or some decades.

    Two most prominent geysers of Iceland are located in Haukadalur. The Great Geysir, which first erupted in the 14th century, gave rise to the word geyser. By 1896, Geysir was almost dormant before an earthquake that year caused eruptions to begin again, occurring several times a day, but in 1916, eruptions all but ceased. Throughout much of the 20th century, eruptions did happen from time to time, usually following earthquakes. Some man-made improvements were made to the spring and eruptions were forced with soap on special occasions. Earthquakes in June 2000 subsequently reawakened the giant for a time but it is not currently erupting regularly. The nearby Strokkur geyser erupts every 5–8 minutes to a height of some 30 metres (98 ft).[18][27]

    Geysers are known to have existed in at least a dozen other areas on the island. Some former geysers have developed historical farms, which benefitted from the use of the hot water since medieval times.

    • Replies: @Charon
  55. @Steve Sailer

    Ithaca, NY and similar Finger Lakes towns were tech centers 200 years ago because of the immense amount of cheap water power from all the waterfalls.

    Seneca Falls claims to have once been the source of fully one quarter of the pumps manufactured in the world. Why is this, rather than some convocation of harridans or some soppy Christmas movie, not more celebrated?

    • Agree: Redneck farmer
  56. prosa123 says:
    @Reg Cæsar

    Bill Bryson (I think) once wrote that Miller was an uncommon surname in Britain because grain millers had a bad reputation for overcharging hardworking farmers. For some reason they did not have a similar reputation elsewhere in Europe. Most Millers in the English-speaking world are long-ago Anglicizations of Mueller.

    • Replies: @Graham
  57. perhaps it should be broken down into
    1) wind energy –Dutch
    2) energy from mining –perhaps the Cornish
    3) sun– equatorial areas growing and eating fruit
    4) wave energy–??
    5) river mill energy: Germans, Dutch? What is the Dutch equivalent to Miller?
    5) whale oil consumption: began …?
    6) timber : say Norway , Ireland?

    • Replies: @Jim Bob Lassiter
  58. MEH 0910 says:


    [MORE]

    • Replies: @Chrisnonymous
    , @AKAHorace
  59. How is he defining “society” here? Are we talking about cities? nations? empires? tribes? Broad cultural-political regions such as “Christendom” or “China”? What is the largest or the smallest group under consideration?

    It’s too vague to really come up with an answer.

  60. Elli says:
    @Chief Seattle

    Agreeing with Mongols. Not just the horses, but the conquered peoples paying tribute.

  61. Anon[280] • Disclaimer says:
    @Chief Seattle

    Then I thought Mongols. Horses, millions of square miles of grassland to feed them, and all that surplus available to conquer others.

    Going with Mongolia.

    It turned out to be Russians and Mongols:

    I recently read Raoul Mclalughlin’s The Roman Empire and the Silk Routes, and there were a bewildering number of horse-riding societies in central and southwest Asia that you and I have never heard of (and many of which historians know little of), so sorting out which Mongol-like civilization/society used the least energy per capita would be difficult. The Chinese historians repeatly report on this, that, or the other society crowding them to the north or overthrowing an ally country on the Silk Road, or infighting with each other. Some of these societies were very weird, having melded in part with Greek and Indian culture. I think a lot of the ignorance has to do with the fact that these kingdoms, or whatever you want to call them, happened in places still rather inaccessible to us in the west, like the weirder former Soviet republics.

  62. prosa123 says:
    @prosa123

    Just another hot evening in Paterson:

    • Replies: @Inquiring Mind
  63. MEH 0910 says:

    OT:


    [MORE]

    This 1888 cartoon in Puck attacks businessmen for welcoming large numbers of low-paid immigrants, leaving the American workingman unemployed

    • Replies: @Charon
  64. Elli says:

    Agreeing with Mongols. Not just the horses for food and transportation but the conquered peoples paying tribute.

  65. @Polynikes

    Iran had windmills in 9th century–Europe aroung 12th C

  66. This is the answer.

    • Replies: @JMcG
  67. SFG says:
    @Morton's toes

    Not sure about Florence, but from what I was reading Italy’s backwaters are full of minor Renaissance masterpieces they’re sick of having to maintain. UNESCO World Heritage Sites wind up costing a lot of money and the locals have to foot the bill.

  68. @Polynikes

    Dang! You stole mine! I was going to say Mongolian poo-fires…

    They burned dried manure for energy, there were abundant animals per capita among north Asian herders, and the animals had abundant grasslands in summer.

    I don’t know if Turchin’s definition of energy fits this. I t’s hard to define. Is energy (A) the ability to do work without applying human caloric output or (B) the total per capita caloric output possible in society? Something else? You must have to convert something, but what is your basic measure of energy?

  69. @MEH 0910

    Honestly, I didn’t read this before my answer above… although I guess Turchin’s reasoning is different from mine.

    I wonder though if Watts is better than Calories when talking about pre-industrial society…?

  70. Charon says:
    @MEH 0910

    This 1888 cartoon in Puck attacks businessmen for welcoming large numbers of low-paid immigrants, leaving the American workingman unemployed

    Good to know they nipped that one in the bud.

  71. @Intelligent Dasein

    FDR built the hydroelectric dams of the Tennessee Valley Authority rather than the Illinois Flatland Authority because a lot of water falls fast in Tennessee.

    • Replies: @Intelligent Dasein
  72. J.Ross says:

    Should “per capita” be understood to preclude slaves, or are slaves not a part of “a society”?

  73. Anybody who answers anything other than T’ang Dynasty China needs to return to retard school.

  74. @Steve Sailer

    There are other reasons for that, though. If you’re building a dam primarily for hydroelectric power, you’ll want to take advantage of as much relief as possible, because the power generated will be dependent on the distance the water falls, not on the volume of water behind the dam. Ideally, you would want to dam up the deepest, narrowest gorge you could find in order to save the most on building materials. If you chose an area with very low relief, you might need to build a dam that was dozens of miles long and which would impound a reservoir that would drown half the state, just to build up an equivalent head of water.

    That wouldn’t work in real life, of course. But in actual practice, reservoirs are often mixed use, with irrigation and recreation and power generation all coming into consideration; and the siting of dams has to take account not only of local geology but of a legal morass of water rights, land-use, and title claims. And then there’s the financing. It’s a big, complicated mess.

    They key point is that fast-flowing water is a function of high relief and it is the relief the dam builders are after, not the speed of the water per se.

  75. Charon says:
    @songbird

    Occurs to me, finally, that throwing virgins into hot springs is far more feasible than throwing them into volcanoes. Despite endless cartoons to the contrary.

  76. Charon says:
    @Houston 1992

    from wikipedia
    Due to the high rate of volcanic activity in Iceland, it is home to some famous geysers in the world.

    Yeah that sounds like Wikipedia. Most of the internet lately appears to be edited by Asians and/or ditsy-brained SJWs.

  77. Whitehall says:

    This ecologist back in the 1970s had a great methodology to understand energy flows in nature and in man.

    As a student in nuclear engineering I worked across from his office at the U. of Florida and applied his analysis to thermonuclear war under his tutelage. He was startled and staggered by the analysis and politely refused to talk to me afterwards.

  78. AKAHorace says:
    @MEH 0910

    The Mongols were limited (for this competition anyway, not for having a good life or being important) by the climate that they lived in. The growing season would only be half the year. Are there any African contenders here ? The Masai ?

  79. anon[932] • Disclaimer says:

    The answer is obvious.

    Atlantis!

  80. anon[286] • Disclaimer says:

    Hydraulic Civilizations move around a lot of water. Based on how you measure it, lots of watts per capita. They both collect and release water, where a mill only captures a small fraction of the energy of a stream or river. The closest thing I have seen to a classic hydraulic society is Ankor Watt, but it’s impressive. It was a thing, developed in this. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oriental_Despotism

    Meanwhile, let me rant on about how, after enormous difficulty and cost since the 1970, the US is energy independent. But we aren’t allowed to collect on the benefits. They are being frittered away on the carbonless/green grift. Bush (and Clinton) frittered away the post iron curtain peace dividend. And now semi senile Biden is obsessed with a climate change agenda. So enjoy your $2 gas while it lasts. In America victory means finding some other folly that can never be a success. In suppose they aren’t taking the chance of possibly winning any longer. The war on terror is, by definition endless. This global warming thing isn’t our fight (it’s global, for gods sake) , and it can’t be won by or for Americans.

  81. JMcG says:
    @Buffalo Joe

    I still can’t believe we went from the Wright Flyer to the X-15 in 56 years. It’s almost enough to make me believe that my entire life has been a dream and I’ll wake up to another day of rowing some Barbary pirate’s galley.

  82. ‘Which Pre-1500 Society Was the Richest in Terms of Energy Per Capita?’

    A further complexity is that as worded, the question is open to interpretation.

    Doesn’t ‘richest’ imply the energy is available to use or not as one sees fit?

    After all, if I live in a region with a bitterly cold winter, I may well burn vast quantities of firewood — but I have to, or I’ll die. Does that make me richer than — say — I actually am? I’ve only got a modest amount of firewood out back, but I don’t actually need it.

    Want to build a bonfire? Let’s go for it!

    Conversely, hypothetical Colin might not be able to afford that. If he burns up his (much larger) stockpile of wood like that, he’ll freeze to death next week. I’m the one with surplus energy, not he.

  83. as says:

    You’re not going to comment on Donald Trump’s taxes?!?

    In other news, I saw a YouTube ad about the crown act, which prohibits discrimination based on hairstyles.

    • Replies: @Steve Sailer
    , @D. K.
  84. Peter Turchin posted a link to these useful notes further down that Twitter thread, but I figured I’d repost the link and the text for convenience’s sake (with Mr. Sailer’s forbearance.) I found them to be useful.

    http://peterturchin.com/cliodynamica/question-which-preindustrial-society-was-the-most-energy-rich/

    Some years ago I had a discussion with Ian Morris about the approach he took to quantify the social development of East versus West in his book, The Measure of Civilization. So I asked him: Which pre-industrial society was the richest in terms of energy use per capita? I have an answer to this question, which could be quite controversial (and when I offered it to Ian, I had a feeling that I didn’t persuade him).

    So what’s your answer? (I have also posed this question on my Twitter)

    Let’s make this question precise, so that we all use the same units. We want to measure energy use per time per capita.

    Energy is measured in joules and calories (and some other more esoteric units). One calorie is the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 cubic centimeter of water by 1 degree Celsius (centigrade). 1 calorie is roughly 4.2 joules. Joules are a better unit for energy, compared to calories, because there is a confusion between 1 calorie and 1 kilo-calorie = 1000 calories. But here are the basics (taken from Box 1.3 of Vaclav Smil’s Energy and Civilization). A moderately active adult spends between 2 and 2.7 Mcal (1 million calories) per day which is roughly 10MJ (10 million joules) per day. The unit for measuring energy flow per time is called Watt = J/s (joules per second). The power of a human body, thus, works out to be roughly 100 Watts. Here’s the calculation: 10,000,000 J/(24 hours x 3600 seconds) = 115 W.

    So let’s take this number as the base. In a foraging population the main energy use is the human body burning food, but let’s not forget that additional energy is needed to cook food on campfire. Smil (Boxes 1.4 and 2.1) estimates that 1 kg of dry wood contains about 20 MJ and cooking requires less than 0.5 kg of wood per day. This works out to roughly another 100 W. We have just doubled human energy use!

    By 1500 CE various human societies around the globe would be using a number of additional energy sources:

    Burning fuel for cooking and heating houses
    Plowing with animal power (oxen and horses)
    Transportation, using animal power and wind power (sailing)
    Energy-demanding industries: metallurgy, pottery, glass-blowing
    Wind and water mills to mill grain, pump water, etc.

    Anything else I am missing?

    Now the trick is to convert all those energy-using activities so that we can express them in per capita terms. For example, let’s do a quick calculation of how much iron metallurgy would add to energy use per capita. A peasant needs a steel axe. Let’s say its head weighs 1 kg and needs to be replaced every 5 years. Consulting Box 1.8 in Smil’s book, we find that smelting iron from ore requires 12-20 MJ/kg, and converting it to steel needs further 20-25 MJ. Let’s round it up to 50 MJ per axe head (to account for iron losses during forging). Replacing an axe every 5 years, then, would require 50 MJ/(5 years x 365 days x 24 hours x 3600 seconds) = 0.3 Watts. Well, this doesn’t seem to add a lot (assuming I did the math right).

    So here’s the challenge. It’s not enough to name a particularly advanced society. Give me some numbers to show that its energy use was high.

  85. Bruce says:
    @Anon

    Milk is a high energy food, but ‘died of the milk-sick’ was why the French took that man Pasteur dead seriously .

  86. @as

    Wasn’t there a big whoop years ago about Trump’s 1996 taxes being leaked?

    • Replies: @D. K.
    , @Peter Akuleyev
  87. Lagertha says:

    The Hanseatic traders. Vikings started it all because they realized that money was more than stuff (their ingenuity) or their bodies. And, extracting “money” was not better when your best men were killed.

  88. Dave says:

    Discussing energy usage before electricity, which created a common currency for energy, is like discussing data bandwidth before the invention of digital computers, or household income prior to the invention of money.

  89. By 1492 Europeans must have had a extremely well developed sailing culture.

  90. @JMcG

    Orville Wright died in 1948. He may have seen jets.

  91. @Neil Templeton

    But that doesn’t make the US look bad.

  92. Hodag says:
    @NJ Transit Commuter

    If not the Mongols specifically any steppe nomad society because of the relatively small numbers of humans, lots of horses (and everyone rode horses) plus vast herds of sheep.

  93. @Nappu

    So the black underclass will have value as farm workers again!

  94. @Nappu2

    Well, the Portuguese figuring how to sail around Africa and destroying the traditional spice route had a lot to do with it.

  95. D. K. says:
    @as

    Like when the Trumps’ federal income-tax liability for 2005 was almost $38.5 million, as revealed, just over three and a half years ago, by Dr. Rachel Maddow?!?

  96. J says:

    If you limit the question to the Antiquity, Egypt seems the winner. They pumped water for irrigation on a large scale. Maybe Mesopotamia too, later. Ass power.

  97. @Not My Economy

    just need to change the spelling of the last word to “gril” and we’re in business

  98. @MBlanc46

    Africans are mostly visible in heavily touristed parts of Italy – like Pisa and Florence, or in the big cities – Rome and Milan. It is still actually fairly easy to have an enjoyable time in most of Italy and see almost no Africans. Of course the situation is only getting worse…

  99. @Steve Sailer

    The tax returns are kind of a blow because they show what an incompetent investor Trump actually is, and how deeply in debt he is. He doesn’t appeared to have committed illegal fraud to any greater extent than any other real estate developer. His income comes almost entirely from The Apprentice and licensing his brand. Trump is more like a Kardashian than he is like a Kroenke or a Donald Bren, and he is not a real billionaire. But most of us knew that already.

    • Agree: utu
  100. @Nappu

    Our Finite World is always interesting, Ms Tverberg (IIRC an actuary in meatspace) is a bright cookie.

    Another chap ploughing the same furrow is Tim Morgan, a former head of research at a UK broker.

    https://www.tullettprebon.com/pressrelease/files/1%20-%2021.01.2013%20perfect%20storm%20energy%20finance%20and%20the%20end%20of%20growth.pdf

    The unwinding of the ‘energy dynamic’ which makes growth possible is the most important of the four critical trends identified in the 84-page study. In 1990 it took one unit of energy to extract 40. Today the ratio is barely 17:1 and it is set to pass the critical 10:1 point in the coming decade. As our ability to substitute cheap energy for human effort declines, the foundations of the economy are undermined.

    This profound and irreversible trend combines with three superimposed effects. The first is the bursting of the ‘credit super-cycle’ a three-decades-long borrowing binge that created the biggest bubble in economic history. In 1980, total debts of American businesses, individuals and government were 168% of GDP, little higher than in 1945, the study shows. But by 2009 that had soared to 381%. The massive escalation in Western indebtedness is one amongst a host of indicators of “a state of mind which has elevated immediate consumption over prudence throughout much of the world,” says the study. Short-term thinking is blinding us to critical longer-term risks.

    As governments wrestle with the fall-out from the 2008 financial crisis “a dire chapter of recklessness is poised to end in money-printing, hyperinflation and collapse,” Dr Morgan predicts.
    Globalisation, meanwhile, has proven a “vast folly” for the West, the report argues. Outsourcing manufacturing to emerging countries enabled companies to boost profits but hollowed-out the Western economies. The process of globalization has distorted the normal relationships between production, consumption and debt beyond the point of sustainability,the report says. “The West is in deep (and perhaps irreversible) trouble because it has consumed more, just as it has produced less.”

    Meanwhile, data distortion obscures the scale of the crisis. Decades of methodological changes have clearly left US inflation understated, exaggerating economic growth and masking the scale of unemployment. Fiscal data is often distorted too, says the Tullett Prebon study, citing evidence from the International Monetary Fund and elsewhere to show that many governments have used accounting devices to understate their borrowings. In 2010, for example, though UK government debt was 69% of Gross Domestic Product, adding civil service pensions and other commitments took total liabilities to 173%, the report says.

    Will the economy really unravel and can we do anything about it? “Economies will lurch into hyper-inflation…while social strains will increase,” the report says. The ‘magic bullet’ would be the discovery of a new source of energy which can reverse the winding-down of the energy returns equation. But a technological miracle seems unlikely, it says. “In the absence of such a breakthrough, really promising energy sources (such as concentrated solar power) need to be pursued together…with social, political and cultural adaptation to ‘life after growth’.”

    The report is here

    https://ftalphaville-cdn.ft.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Perfect-Storm-LR.pdf

    Now it’s not all happened, probably because inflation in the west has been seemingly confined to housing, shares and land. But early days yet.

    PS – my bet would be on 11th century China, which was apparently producing more steel than the UK did until the early 19th century, if Paul Kennedy is to be believed – 125,000 tons a year.

    • Thanks: Gabe Ruth
    • Replies: @anon
  101. @JMcG

    “I still can’t believe we went from the Wright Flyer to the X-15 in 56 years”

    And in another 56 years it was 2015, and the US was sliding ever faster down the chute.

    When was Peak America I wonder? Male wages were highest in 1973. You used to see ordinary working Americans on holiday in London and Stratford.

    • Replies: @bomag
    , @Sam Malone
  102. David says:

    Do slaves count as capita or are they beasts of burden? Aristotle considered draft animals poor men’s slaves. If Rome loots Athens, does the human and animal energy that extracted the silver, copper and lead from the mines of Laurion become an addition to Rome’s energy use?

  103. bomag says:
    @YetAnotherAnon

    When was Peak America I wonder?

    Interesting question. 1776?

    1789? (Constitution)

    1814? (End of the War of 1812)

    1860? (Before the Civil War expanded federal power and ruined the race dialog)

    1900? (End of the frontier)

    1950? (Maximum acres under cultivation)

    Also: 1912 — last of the contiguous states added (Arizona); 1959 — last state added (Hawaii)

    • Replies: @Jack D
  104. JMcG says:
    @Clifford Brown

    That’s a fantastic song! Part of the soundtrack of many a road trip out west with mountaineering in mind. Thanks for the smile.

  105. 68W58 says:
    @Nappu

    Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors.

    • Agree: Travis
    • Replies: @Nappu2
  106. Putting aside Wakanda, because it might not have been real, I’d go with the Romans, based on the scale of their construction and the scope of their realm.

  107. Anon[194] • Disclaimer says:
    @Nappu

    Uh, no, Indo Europeans did not invent it. The early indo europeans did not ride horses or use them for warfare or use them to pull carts, and they didn’t have a milk economy either. That was invented by the Scythians (Indo Iranians).

    • Replies: @Nappu2
  108. jsm says:
    @Nappu

    Nonsense. Safe nuclear is there, just waiting for the fools to stop their foolishness.

  109. bored says:

    “… trying to put a number to the sun sounds like it would open a big can of conceptual worms.”

    This guy did a pretty good job at those kinds of measurements, modeling energy flow in ecological and economic systems with Ohm’s law as a kind of scaffolding.

  110. Jack D says:
    @songbird

    The Chinese also used natural gas starting in around the 2nd century AD. Until modern times, the deepest wells on earth (up to 3,000 ft) were Chinese wells for brine and natural gas. They would burn the gas to evaporate the brine and make salt (and despite having this cheap and abundant energy they really couldn’t think of too many other uses for it).

    In pre-industrial times, having the most energy wasn’t really that big a factor because there was no real use for abundant energy – no power looms, no blast furnaces, no railroads, no electrical generators, etc. (The Chinese brine wells were a rare exception). You needed enough energy to plow the fields and to grind the grain and to transport food from the countryside to the (not very populous after Roman times) cities and to heat a few fireplaces in cold climates. So for the most part, wood, animal power and a few water or wind mills were sufficient. It was a chicken and egg thing – without a lot of energy you couldn’t run a steel mill but without a steel mill you didn’t NEED a lot of energy.

    The places where the Industrial Revolution took place (e.g. the UK) had some energy resources (coal) but not notably more than the places that didn’t (e.g. Poland). Energy wasn’t really the constraining factor (nor was food production). Once you had your industrial revolution then the manufactured products had enough added value that you could afford to import the energy needed to make them and the food needed to feed your population and still have something left over. Manufacturing adds tremendous value – a few hundred $ worth of iron ore becomes a $30,000+ car. That added value can pay for lots of imported food, energy, etc. Ask Germany.

    • Agree: SIMP simp
  111. Jack D says:
    @bomag

    Relative to the rest of the world, Peak America was circa 1950 (right after WWII). Much of the rest of the world was bombed out rubble from the war while our entire industrial base (which had been beefed up during the war) was intact and had been re-converted to civilian production.

    In 1950, the US accounted for more than 80% of global automobile production:

    https://www.darrinqualman.com/global-automobile-production/

  112. Unzerker says:

    My guess would be the English with their vast numbers of water mills.

    The Dutch only started using windmills to drain water from their lands in the early 15th century. Around 1600 windmills started being used for other uses, like sawing planks or making oil and pigment.

    In the 17th century the Dutch would definitely be number one with their thousands of windmills and their heavy use of fossil fuels in the form of peat for their industry.

  113. Energy is a weird thing to be comparing pre-1500. I would guess whichever society had the most beasts of burden (horses, oxen etc) to do actual work instead of manpower. Certain cultures may be sitting on mountains of coal but pre-1500 they wouldn’t have gotten much use out of it apart from heating.

    Would heating count? If you live in a cold place full of coal, you can burn all the coal and count that as energy because it did work (heated up your house so you didn’t freeze to death). But if you didn’t live in a cold area you wouldn’t have to have heating anyway. So a warm place full of coal wouldn’t use as much. Should we be counting energy costs as energy profit? There is no profit generally because there is nothing to do with it, but I’m not sure counting societies with higher energy costs/needs as having more energy seems right. It should be profit and not cost. Otherwise the coldest areas generally used (and therefor produced) the most energy per capita because of the heating need. It’s not clear that it’s a benefit though. Profit is non-existent in that sense and the cost minus the production is a wash. So the most energy rich and the most energy poor would be the same, since need drives production. None of this form of heat energy from burning is a limiting factor, everyone got as much as they needed.

    So it makes more sense to give the pre-1500 question over to muscle power rather than heating fuel, and see it as who had the most beasts of burden per capita.

    I’m guessing maybe the Mongols or generally speaking rural steppe peoples like Cossacks and also gypsies would have the most per-capita energy that is not manpower to accomplish actual work. Probably the Mongols. The limiting factor to that is grazing land and the Mongols were actually capable of maxing out grazing land and depopulating neighbors land to get more, so they could have the most horses.

    The next biggest challenge to horses and oxen per capita I can think might be sailboats per capita, or shipping tons per capita. Using the wind to move loaded up ships uses a lot of energy.

  114. anon[286] • Disclaimer says:
    @YetAnotherAnon

    Interesting. That was the last gasp of Peak Oil I. Peak oil supply. Now oil and other energy sources are declining in price. Deflation is now a thing. The only things that are inflating rapidly are those whose supply is restricted by government, or those directly supplied by government. Education and housing, for example.

    • Replies: @YetAnotherAnon
  115. Wild, WILD guess: China?

  116. @PiltdownMan

    Pilt, I had the pleasure of erecting steel on the Cornell Campus. Three nearby State Parks all with waterfalls. Finish work and go for a jog. The Ithaca bumper sticker says…”Ithaca is Gorges.”

  117. @JMcG

    JMcG, I have a reference book “Fighting Aircraft of WWII.” The war starts in 1939 with some nations still flying bi-planes and ends with jet fighters and bombers, in limited numbers.

    • Replies: @Jack D
  118. @Anonymous

    ThreeSevenFive, and later some of those millstreams powered turbines as they transititioned to electric power.

  119. @nebulafox

    Yet their public architecture was vastly more beautiful and dignified than anything we create now.

    • Agree: BB753
  120. Let’s break it down a bit.

    Process energy – slash and burn, animal pulled ploughs, mills, metal working, tile production, ceramics.
    Transport energy = oxen/donkeys/horses, boats.
    Domestic heating – continental climates in winter. =wood, peat, sharing the longhouse with cattle.

    The basic function is food production. Slash & burn is a often 3 year cycle. As energy used, maybe the top but as energy equivalent to other options like an ox plough it is incredibly inefficient. Irrigation needs a means of lifting water, constantly. The Nile does not water Egypt by itself. So animals and water wheels to move water count. Central Asia had a lot of water wheels for irrigation. The plough team can be considered useful energy. Horse is best as such. Then the grain needs milling so water and wind mills. Metal, tiles, ceramics are trivial in comparison? Static sites unlike slash and burn. But textiles as #2 bulk materials for food after human existence do take energy to produce. Fulling mills for wool and so on. The Low Countries produced huge quantities of textiles.

    Most large population centres developed around a river or sea port even Kiev on the Dneipr. So low transport energy cost was population forming. It must have stayed that way to preserve the population. All early civilizations were riverine or coastal. In terms of raw energy a boat doesn’t consume much but as energy equivalent compared to alternative options it’s way ahead. I think the proxy measurement should be something like city forming ability to move goods. So the Yellow River, Yangtze, Ganges, Indus, Nile, Volga, Dneipr, Danube, Rhine, China Sea, Bay of Bengal, Persian Gulf, Mediterranen.Black, Baltic.

    Location for domestic heating must be more demanding going north/continental. So Kiev/Tver, Osaka, London, The Low Countries, Chang-an, Samarkhand. London and the Low Countries both burnt huge quantities of peat excavated by monks in East Anglia and transported by sea.

    My vote is Central Asia, specifically, Samarkhand, Bokhara and other irrigation using communities in the Fergana Valley. They didn’t use much water transport but horses, mules donkeys and camels instead to move equivalent, city forming quantities of goods. The Low Countries as a close second.

  121. @Coag

    The Vikings who scavenged wind energy to conquer England? Much later the English themselves in establishing a global empire on the back of wind energy?

  122. @anon

    “Now oil and other energy sources are declining in price. Deflation is now a thing.”

    How much of the shale boom has been made possible by ultra-low interest rates? Would oil be so cheap with rates at 6%?

    This mill in Derbyshire is worth a visit btw.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cromford_Mill

    Following the invention of the flying shuttle for weaving cotton in 1733, the demand for spun cotton increased enormously in England. Machines for carding and spinning had already been developed but were inefficient. Spun cotton was also produced by means of the spinning jenny but was insufficiently strong to form the warp of a fabric, for which it was the practice to use linen thread, producing a type of cloth known as fustian. In 1769, Richard Arkwright patented a water frame to use the extra power of a water mill after he had set up a horse-powered mill in Nottingham.[2]

    He chose the site at Cromford because it had year-round supply of warm water from the Cromford Sough which drained water from nearby Wirksworth lead mines, together with Bonsall Brook. Here he built a five-storey mill, with the backing of Jedediah Strutt (whom he met in a Nottingham bank via Ichabod Wright), Samuel Need and John Smalley. Starting from 1772, he ran the mills day and night with two twelve-hour shifts.[3]

    He started with 200 workers, more than the locality could provide, so he built housing for them nearby, one of the first manufacturers to do so.[4] Most of the employees were women and children, the youngest being only seven years old. Later, the minimum age was raised to ten and the children were given six hours of education a week, so that they could do the record-keeping that their illiterate parents could not.

    A large part of the village was built to house the mill workers. One source states that these are now considered to be “the first factory housing development in the world”.[5] Employees were provided with shops, pubs, chapels and a school.

  123. Jack D says:
    @Buffalo Joe

    “Some nations” included the United States. The Navy ordered the Grumman F3F biplane fighter in 1936 and was receiving new ones until 1939 but by 1941 it was obsolete and largely withdrawn from service. Luckily in those pre-war days the US had a tiny military budget so they only ordered 147 of them and the cost was an unimaginably low (today) $20,000 each. Nowadays $20,000 wouldn’t get you the joystick on a military jet let alone a whole airplane.

    This plane was faster and more powerful than say a Sopwith Camel of 20 years earlier but fundamentally not that different.

    • Replies: @Buffalo Joe
  124. @Je Suis Omar Mateen

    Je Suis, the windmills pre EPA and pre NIMBY.

  125. @Jack D

    Jack, thank you and note the retractable landing gear.

  126. Muggles says:
    @Je Suis Omar Mateen

    The problem with the Mongols answer is that while they had small, hardy horses (not like European ones) they didn’t really accomplish much.

    True, they conquered others far away, so they traveled, but they built virtually nothing that lasted.

    Genghis Khan’s “capital city” was a huge tent city and no trace of it remains. It vanished shortly after the Mongols lost their empire.

    Some roads of course, but nothing to compare to China or Europe. Even if they had one horsepower per person per day it wasn’t much actual energy per capita.

    Wind in sails is much more energy efficient and can carry huge loads. Yes, water power, which the Chinese also effectively harnessed.

    There were also a lot of livestock in Europe used for carts (oxen, horses, etc.) since most peasants had cows, mules, donkeys, etc. Even today the Middle East (Cairo for instance) is full of donkeys for transport.

    Conceptually it is a difficult calculation since “energy” is rather broad and vague. Mongols had few trees to burn compared to more forested places like Germany and the UK, Hence little “energy” available for cooking, pottery/brick making, etc. They built nothing because if they couldn’t steal it they didn’t use it. Building requires large energy output.

    So China, maybe dense countries in N. Europe with access to fuel. Germany?

    • Replies: @Pincher Martin
  127. @Muggles

    The problem with the Mongols answer is that while they had small, hardy horses (not like European ones) they didn’t really accomplish much.

    True, they conquered others far away, so they traveled, but they built virtually nothing that lasted.

    Genghis Khan’s “capital city” was a huge tent city and no trace of it remains. It vanished shortly after the Mongols lost their empire.

    But the Mongols were influential. The great European Age of Discovery was initiated by men eager to recreate over the water the land-based trade that had been so lucrative during the Pax Mongolica. Since the European Age of Discovery was the pivot during which Europe went from being a prosperous provincial backwater of little influence to the dominant power on the globe, it’s rather important.

    I also look forward the day they discover Genghis Khan’s secret burial chamber. Genghis had a palace (discovered in 2004) and his burial chamber likely contains incredible wealth.

  128. @prosa123

    Are they hosing down the houses that are not (yet) on fire?

    I thought fires spread like this only west of the Mississippi?

  129. @Houston 1992

    If we’re talking timber, I’d say look closely at England and Spain for pre fossil fuel age deforestation.

  130. Cato says:

    Please don’t be so naive as to believe that Peter Turchin has the definitive answer to his own rhetorical questions. I doubt if the Netherlands are even in his Seshat database. Not that I know, he has been very secretive about what it contains, and the fragments he releases (under pressure, because of the need to buttress a significant publication) have very few observations, and can not be used to answer sweeping questions such as he issued in this tweet.

    • Replies: @Steve Sailer
  131. @Cato

    But it was a fun question to debate, in part because it quickly devolved from the historical into the philosophical.

  132. LondonBob says:

    Not seen anyone mention coal. Carry to coals to Newcastle is an old expression going back hundreds of years, so I say England given Newcastle has been a centre of coal mining since the middle ages, 1000-1100. The original black gold and Britain was the Saudi Arabia of the coal age.

    • Replies: @Nappu2
  133. Graham says:
    @prosa123

    “Bill Bryson (I think) once wrote that Miller was an uncommon surname in Britain”. Well, what you think Bill Bryson wrote is a pretty scholarly approach, but we can do better. This web page (https://britishsurnames.co.uk/surname/miller) tells us that “There are approximately 124,146 people named Miller in the UK. That makes it the 53rd most common surname overall. Out of every million people in the UK, approximately 1,965 are named Miller.” Quite common really.

  134. Nappu2 says:
    @68W58

    Doesn’t have a good EROI (Energy Return on Investment), and therefore are not the future.
    Besides, nuclear material would end up blazing fast if the whole economy was powered by that, faster than the Coal and Oil eras.
    Also, there’s a problem with the burning in industrial processes (such as steel manufacturing), as it would only be capable of generating electricty.
    It is a dead end.
    Same for Nuclear Fusion, which has a negative EROI.

    People in this sphere have been studying this question a lot, there’s no answer and it’s as simple as that.

    Society will have to regress.

    The economic crisis you’re experiencing today are a result of that, and that’s why the elites want you dead or poor, because it’s impossible to keep the prosperity cicle.

  135. Nappu2 says:
    @Anon

    You’re just retarded. The lactase allele was first attested in Ukrayne, the IE had carts and domesticated the world’s first horses.
    Seek help.

  136. Nappu2 says:
    @LondonBob

    Learn what is EROI.
    19th Century Britain Coal had an EROI of 100 (Energy Return on Investment).
    Now all the easy stuff is gone and Coal’s EROI became close to 10.

    This makes it expensive, and many industries impossible to exist. Oil saved Europe (and the global industrial economy) after WW2, but now that’s ending as well.

    North Sea Oil peaked in the 90s as well, and its EROI is falling like a rock.

    • Replies: @res
  137. res says:
    @Nappu2

    Thanks. Much more on EROI.
    https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301421513003856

    Also Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_return_on_investment

    It is interesting how poorly biofuels and photovoltaics perform by this metric.

  138. Octavian says: • Website

    Venetian Republic may be a contender. Or one of the other small principalities. In certain periods, some of the more geographically concentrated Chinese regimes (perhaps the Song?) or perhaps the East Roman Empire at its zenith. The first Bulgarian Empire was quite affluent for its size. Trying to think of polities that were unusually wealthy for their size. Plenty of contenders to be weighed and discarded.

    It’s an interesting thought experiment to attempt to seriously quantify per-capita energy. Energy produced? Energy consumed? Net aggregate? As has been pointed out, this discussion rapidly develops an overarching philosophical dimension.

    Seeing the suggestions regarding the Dutch:

    Remember, that before 1500, the Low Countries were a patchwork of statelets integrated to varying degrees into the Holy Roman Empire – using a Dutch or Flemish example would need to have additional clarification to describe what constitutes a ‘society’ within that geographic context.

    The 80 years war, Dutch independence, and the ensuing golden age would all come decades after 1500. There is no question that Flanders was an influential and wealthy region but I don’t think that made it unusually exceptional in the context of all pre-1500 societies.

    Or course there is always King Solomon and his mines….

  139. @prime noticer

    It was my understanding that the Dutch wind mills were used to pump water to keep the polders from flooding, so really they got no advantage from their windmills, just used them to keep from drowning.

    • Replies: @J.Ross
  140. @YetAnotherAnon

    When was Peak America? The old question. As Jack D answers below, in material terms the obvious answer has to be circa 1950.

    But in a deeper and more important sense, I would say it must have been circa 1850, when we were a strong and growing nation, healthy and proud and full of immense promise, and when what I consider the foundational tragedy for our people here, the Civil War, could still have been averted.

    As others have noted many times before, the Civil War was a catastrophe we never recovered from partly because of the immense dysgenic effect it had in killing off so many of the best young men before they had children, and partly because it resulted in the blacks being freed but not removed from the continent. Worse, they were made voting citizens and the feeble fiction of “separate but equal” was invented, meaning we would no longer allow ourselves to acknowledge that the most obviously inferior race on the planet was inferior.

    Each feeble new defense we erected since 1865 against the rising tide of color has in short order been swept away because our people by then had already in its heart made the first and largest moral capitulation from which all other surrenders flowed.

  141. J.Ross says:
    @Hamlet's Ghost

    The Dutch had a continent-wide reputation as engineers (which survives in English phrases denoting clever arrangements “Dutch”) as a by-product of their dyking experience. You read about Dutchmen popping up abroad to plan a bridge or canal.

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