The Consequences of Exponential Growth

Great series of video lectures by Dr. Albert A. Bartlett’s about the maths of exponential growth by a maths professor starting at: 

Thanks Nigel for this link

This is Albert:




About creativeconflictwisdom

I spent 32 years in a Fortune Five company working on conflict: organizational, labor relations and senior management. I have consulted in a dozen different business sectors and the US Military. I work with a local environmental non profit. I have written a book on the neuroscience of conflict, and its implications for conflict handling called Creative Conflict Wisdom (forthcoming).
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12 Responses to The Consequences of Exponential Growth

  1. tony Gee says:

    So much to be said, growth is needed no doubt but greed in local government and those who are employed by them is evident. I have talked to our Board of Supervisors who over see growth in my community about a modal that needs to be in place that will be sustainable in good times as well in bad.

    We need Business, Industry and businesses in the Service industry for the tax revenue and that must be in concert with housing. What is the percentage that must be maintained in each of these categories is the question. If there is to much housing property tax will be high to support the needs of schools and safety and infrastructure. To much Industry you’ll have grate tax revenue but possible un desirable housing areas. Good schools brings in high tech company’s with good paying jobs needing less heavy industry jobs.

    The problem local governments get greedy with growth because the love the tax revenue which gives them more money to keep flowing back into programs, building of beautiful schools, parks, bike paths and higher pay for city work force (who demand it and understandably) all is good till the revenue takes a hit by real state values, company’s sales drop and or fold. Then the politicians (and those who love the game of politics) show their true color in the blame game which just sickens me. That is poor leadership.

    We have in place immigration rules and laws. There is such a desirer to come to the United States for the freedom and opportunities that many countries do not provide their citizens it has created illegal immigrations from all points of entry. Our northern boarder as well as the southern, one that gets very little news coverage, expired visas that are from the European counties as well as the other continents.

    Greece has negative growth they can’t give away entitlement (whether paid for or not) without growth and that is were a balance is needed as I stated above.

    About paid for entitlements I have this to say, Has anyone ever bought a product or service and the company closed do to bankruptcy (failed management/leadership) and you lost out? It sucks but we have to deal with it. Has anyone worked for a company and lost their job was not your job a form of entitlement? Sucks don’t it! But you pick up and move on unless you have issues that prevent you from working like disabilities and or the lack of growth.

    We must have a balance of growth to sustain the needs of us all and real leadership to manage from the business of companies to local, state and federal governments.

    • Tony, I think in the long term growth will have to end. That doesn’t mean we don’t improve things, and there is huge scope to reduce waste, public, private, corporate, so what we do have goes further. And we can improve the quality without growing the quantity. That would mean for instance better teaching in schools not more money. Better insulated, nice to live in houses, not more or bigger houses. Better educated, healthier, happier people not more people. Healthier life styles not more spending on healthcare. And above all more happiness without needing more and more unnecessary stuff. I have been getting rid of stuff steadily the last year or so, only the non-essentials and it is amazing how much better life is. Less clutter, less moving stuff around or having trouble finding what you need. Indeed I try to throw out anything I haven’t used in a year or so, except books, which I have too many but even there I have managed to give away a 100 or so….

      Most people these days come to the US to improve their living standards, but of course as you say there are push factors in some countries like Somalia where the state has collapsed. We need to strike a balance on how many people we let in, but as we have found in Alabama, and I know from farmers in South Dakota, no Mexican labor, no crops harvested. It’s a tough one. So many rural Americans are on meth amphetamine to cope. It’s an epidemic that I saw first hand a few years ago in rural California. And my dairy farmer friends in South Dakota are forced by law to drug test their employees and only Mexicans pass the test….and work damn hard too.

  2. tony Gee says:

    I know what you mean I have managed a restaurant many years ago which had Mexican dishwashers and all I had to do was put the names on the schedule and they would manage who showed up I had no problems, you are correct these gentlemen were hard workers and I paid them accordingly 50% more then average why not !! Instead of deadbeat Americans were I would need three or four compared to the work ethic of a two Mexicans. I will add legal emigrant I never employed illegal workers.

    I can agree with you about less people needed and we can become more productive in schools, better not bigger houses ect…and reduce waste and recycle what we can.

    The problem is some of these folks I call (Grown Children 18-36) I have working for me are clueless when it comes to “family” their understanding is a court ordered visitation with their children and child support to the “baby’s momma” that is having to be removed from their paycheck to be compensated to the state which pays “the mamma.” That to me is not being financial responsible as a man and or father. I get really upset (keep it to my self) but one guy said he wanted a family like mine and wants to have a second child with the woman he is with now(not married) yet has a 10 yr. old with another woman(whome he never married) I did tell him your family will not be like mine I am still learning and have made big mistakes (hoping he would understand or ask me what I meant) it‘s been 6 months and still has not asked me and I have not heard of an another child on the way…. here’s hoping not. I have another guy who wants to have a second child with the woman he had his first child with but it was a girl and he wants a boy, this woman is not a motherly woman in my standard and I would not think yours either! Hay I hope I am wrong!! But she lives with her mom and he lives with his mom…..??????

    I can agree again our education system would need to teach WHO and WHAT IT TAKES TO BE A FATHER AND WHO and WHAT IT TAKES TO BE A MOTHER!!

    These folks are not…………wait who am I to say what they are or not???? I will say this about the above guys (questionable if men) I referenced, one is a white guy and the other is a African American guy. Just needing to state facts, some might want to know….

    Will your idea really work???/…… I sure hope so…….I think is sure is better then what we have now.

    • Tony, I agree with your insights and feel the education system fails people by failing to teach self discipline, which as you and I know from life experience is the real difference between success and failure, happiness and misery. The immigrants we are taking in are often the most get up and go folk in their country (not all of course), and we need some way to match work permits, with the labor we need and the folk available, so farmers etc don’t have to employ illegals, but help their best workers come in legally and help the best, crime free ones here already find a way to legality. The stories coming out of Alabama are heart breaking.

      But we have to fix the under class of our own nationals too. It may be unfashionable, but I guess I think some form of military school with strict discipline, but which also teaches kids to think (a hard combo) and take initiative should be set up in areas with lots of poor families. It is all very well for families with educated wealthy parents to go for low discipline schools, as the families provide the structure. But in the chaos of the sort of families you describe, school needs to be a haven of order and structure. I grew up on the edge of a mining area and there was a high school there that took miner’s sons (it was an all male school) and ran them hard, with very strict discipline (and of course miners families were very ordered too, not like the ones you describe, though a lot of drink problems) and got many of them into elite schools on scholarships. The school was too successful and the elite made sure it ended, as it was unbearable to have so many miners’ sons beating their kids to places at elite universities.

      • Kyrie Eleison says:

        I remember reading another one of your postings about avoiding the placement of blame … the philosophy of Taoism and the principle behind “the Golden Rule”. This all sounds great, provided that we are all on the same page. Many of us are not.

        If you would allow me to interject a couple quotations … yes, one is a bit silly but it also provides ample “food” for thought:

        “For if you suffer your people to be ill-educated, and their manners to be corrupted from their infancy, and then punish them for those crimes to which their first education disposed them, what else is to be concluded from this, but that you first make thieves and then punish them.”
        – Sir Thomas More, “Utopia”.

        “Who do you blame when your kid is a brat?
        Pampered and spoiled like a Siamese cat.
        Blaming the kids is a lie and a shame.
        You know exactly who’s to blame:
        The mother and the father.”
        – Warner Bros./Paramount Pictures “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” (1971).

      • @Kyrie Eleison. The Taoist no blame suggests we unpick the real causes of things and I think your two quotes do that but also include some blame. The point of unpicking the causes of things in parental behavior for example is to understand the causes enough to prevent recurrence. Beating up on parents for raising indulgent children doesn’t actually help the children much. Far better that the next generation learn to behave differently with their own children breaking the cycle of indulgence for example. And the Golden Rule is at the heart of tit for tat which is the most successful strategy in iternative Prisoner’s Dilemma in the work of Robert Axelrod in the Evolution of Cooperation. We treat others as we would be treated to begin with, but punish bad behavior by retaliation, but have reasonably high forgiveness if behavior improves. The successful world economies are based on trust around this principle I suspect. The founder of Taoism Lao Tse author of the Tao Te Ching had a profound understanding of how the world works that has always helped me see such angles.

      • Kyrie Eleison says:

        I suppose my point regarding Taoism was that it works better if everyone involved were practitioners. The root of the Golden Rule does indeed trace back to the retributive “eye for an eye”, however some more modern extensions of it have developed in different ways, such as “Avoid doing what you would blame others for doing.” from Thales of Miletus.

        Beating up on parents may not help the damage that has already been done but it helps everyone involved to understand it better and prevent it from happening again. I think it is instrumental to understand the why of a problem before postulating an effective remedy to it.

        I know it’s a huge leap of faith here, but maybe if said parents accepted responsibility then the correction of the problem they caused would be facilitated by their help and understanding. It’s got to be easier than direct intervention with the child by someone who is not a parent, or even a family member for that matter.

        At this point I will concede to your wisdom, as you are the expert here on matters on conflict. On the rare occasions where someone (friend or family) would constantly vent to me about how spoiled and disrespectful their child has become, and there was no evidence of something like mental illness to explain that maybe they were just born that way, the conversation would immediately turn to one of extreme defensiveness, that in fact their child is actually a perfect little angel and how dare I attempt to probe or imply criticism of their awesome parental skills…

      • @Kyrie Eleison. I suspect all conflict handling is an extension of our family experience as children in some form. And I don’t honestly think there are any real experts on that as our parents seem so all powerful that it is hard for an outsider to get inside what happens there, and that ripples out for the rest of our lives. I think that acceptance of responsibility is a key part of the process of change; but that is different from blame, which as you note results in defensive or denial behavior. I guess I have learned to see my parents as ‘good enough’ and I suppose forgive them what I think they got wrong. They are both dead now and so not much point in holding on to any blame anyway. The moving forward and helping the next generation do better is interesting and one of the reasons for this blog.

        I think on the Golden Rule it does work best if everyone is on board, but we can probably spread its use. I have always liked the British parents I know who say to one sibling who is being nasty to another: ‘how would you like it if I did that to you?’ . Parents who think they have done a perfect job are a bit scary….indeed one child psychologist I read had an interesting idea: that parents should progressively fail their children to allow them room to become their own person….Too many parents today seem to think there role is as friend, coach, chauffeur and time manager of their kids. After the age of five I mostly hung out with a gang of kids in the fields and woods behind our homes and came home for meals only. We had no adults telling us what to do, and learned a lot about right and wrong, and running our own lives. I suspect I had more independence at 10 years old than some 30 year olds today. 🙂

      • Kyrie Eleison says:

        I’ll agree that helicopter parents are bad. When not at school or work, I was driven out of the house to find something constructive to do lest I be given some suggestions. It always amazed me when I was out playing and having a good time, my parents and grandparents were nowhere to be found. However, the instant that I was about to get badly hurt or get into mischief they were right behind me breathing down my neck. It seems like a lot of parents today are either way too overbearing, or they expect everyone else to take care of their kids for them. Some of the best life lessons I learned while growing up were based on a clear demonstration of cause and effect, not some theoretical discussion about what is good or what is bad performed in a safe environment. If I fell out of a tree (and I fell out of a lot of trees) I learned to be more careful, but I was not banned from climbing trees. Stuff like that.

      • Kyrie, absolutely. I guess the media and legal systems don’t help: telling scare stories that only affect one in a million and threatening legal action for neglect. What is missed is that we are neglecting our children’s need to develop independence in stages and to learn from their mistakes. When I interview children of privileged backgrounds for jobs, I have this sense that they have never done anything for themselves. I feel sorry for them actually, as they ‘built their resume’ not their character. Give me someone who has made something of themselves any day. They can actually run assembly lines or make stuff, have new ideas, and deal with the unexpected, what is not in the book….. 🙂 Education should be about dealing with the unexpected not avoiding it and learning to admit mistakes, take some risks etc.

  3. Kyrie Eleison says:

    When I was a young child, my grandfather (also an engineer and a source of inspiration in my life) taught me all I needed to know about the exponential function on a hot summer day. Keep in mind that my grandparents had a sizable yard, complete with several gardens and a very hilly orchard.

    During summer vacations from grade school, it was customary for me to stay with my grandparents. It was also customary for me to have to mow the lawn, pull weeds, all those activities that build character. After a short while, it began to occur to me that maybe doing all of this work was a raw deal, so as a solution my grandfather put forth a proposition:

    If I was intent on compensation for mowing the lawn, he would start by paying me one penny for the first mowing. Each subsequent mowing, my wages would be doubled.

    As I went to argue over how fair he thought it was to pay someone only a few cents to do all of that work, he stopped me dead in my tracks and insisted that I think about it for a while before coming back with an answer.

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