Productivity: The Green Progress Doom and Gloomers choose to ignore

by Roger Bourke White Jr., copyright February 2013


"Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain." goes the famous line in the Wizard of Oz, but that man was quite important. There is a similar man-behind-the-curtain in the debate on how soon mankind will run out of resources. That man is the steady gain in productivity that those doing manufacturing and services who operate in competitive environments constantly experience.

This essay is about how important this steady productivity gain is, and the mystery of why "Peak" worriers routinely ignore it.


This essay was inspired by a 13 Feb 13 Forbes article, Bone-Based Software Improves How We Design, From Detergent To Tanks by
Alex Konrad, which describes a new software company devoted to improving how all kinds of stuff is made. The article is talking about something happening in one company today, but the dedication of all competitive companies to constantly make things faster, better and with less resource dates back to the beginning of the Industrial Age. A second anecdote: I remember my father, who ran a high tech manufacturing company, telling me how every company he visited on his sales calls was filled with people who were actively trying to make their products faster, better and cheaper, and he was there to help them do just that.

And this dedication is effective: in every decade there is improvement in the making of almost everything. And it is the ubiquitousness of this steady improvement which makes it such a powerful force for good in this question of whether we will face resource exhaustion, or not. But in spite of its power it is routinely ignored by the worriers. An example of this dates back to the beginning of the recycling awareness movement: Then VP Al Gore complained when companies touted their internal recycling as part of what they advertised on their packaging. "No, no, no! It must be consumer recycled to show up on the labeling." was his response. no attention to the man.

But... but... Malthus can't be wrong!

It is instinctive thinking to worry about running out of resource. When I was growing up the Club of Rome published an influential book about it, Limits to Growth (1972), that is still widely read and considered. I read it when it first came out, and I was impressed! I'm not much now. This alarm-sounding has gone on for five decades now, and I'm not seeing any impact from limits. One of the reasons is this "man" who keeps getting ignored by gloom and doomers: steadily increasing productivity.


--The End--