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[RD] Identifying Problems in the United States

The Civs 6

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First of all, there are two premises to this thread: 1) we are all in this together, and we have to find ways to cooperate (which includes respecting that others are serving the public good or at least are self-interested and try to avoid unnecessary harm to others within the limits of bounded rationality); 2) reasoned discourse, even among those who you think have evil beliefs, is the basis of any public solution in a democracy.

As we know from the preliminary discussions, there is at least some disagreement about methods. For example, we might all agree that it is bad for coconut producers to employ forced monkey labor. But we disagree about what to do to solve this problem, and the role of the state in that solution. I think a productive first step to healing the political breach is just to settle on identification of key problems.

I don't pretend to offer a comprehensive list, but I think there are two key tranches:

The environment and the economy:
If global warming is as bad as scientist's currently think it will be (and we trust scientists all the time, such as when we ride a roller coaster, so why not suppose they are right?), this is our world's most serious problem. Environmental disaster will reduce the size of the pie for everyone in the world and lead to more fighting over the pie. A second issue here is dependence on finite resources. This isn't a new issue, as evinced by late antiquity deforestation in Europe. But it is a catastrophic issue. We can't have our lifestyle without using non-muscle energy. One time I did the math, and the maximum possible KJ you can generate with muscle power is several magnitudes less than what we are running on. Therefore, a second environmental issue is the need to transition to sources of energy that are not finite.

Equality:

I'm going to frame this a little differently than you might figure. There has been recent research suggesting an increase in despair in the United States, despite the fact that this country has continued as by far the wealthiest in the world. You can't quite pin the problem on economics, or something tangible. In fact, by many measures, violence, early pregnancies and some types of drug use - the standard indicators of social despair - are down. More people are taking serious drugs, that often result in death, and that is just a symptom of something really bad that is happening. A somewhat related issue is race. Again, I don't think any one statistic captures what happens here. Minorities get trapped into an authoritarian and impersonal legal system that primarily serves the needs of those with money and influence. This system doesn't "temper mercy with justice", as it we as a country are morally obligated to do. Moreover, unwittingly, our nation has created a structure that reserves privilege, honor and material comfort to a limited few. This system doesn't exclude minorities, but it caters to the majority, and minorities fall out of the system early and often. Not only is this bad for the long-term health of the economy, but it is fundamentally unjust. And it results in minorities disproportionately falling into the "despair zone" of US society. And in that despair zone, they are more likely to encounter real and unfortunately still extant racism.

I hope you don't jump on me for how I framed the problems. I tried to do so in a nuanced way based on research and scholarship, rather than relying on more common notions. I also think that a lot of discussion pre-supposes some ideas that probably need to be justified before they are included. And of course, feel free to add other problems you think are worth discussing.
 
Nice.
 
I think you have the 2 big ones, but they are so tightly bound they could be considered as 1. Also, I think you are a bit limited when you say in the title "Identifying Problems in the United States", what you say could equally apply to the whole world. As you say "we are all in this together" I shall answer it that way.

For equality my belief is that the primary equality issue between the haves and the have nots. That is not to say that other issues not part of this, but they seem to be superimposed on the wealth issue rather than divorced from it.

I am not quite sure what americans mean by "minorities", but I do not think it is a very useful term. There are more women in the US than men, but that does not make them the better off group. 52% of Indians are of "Other Backward Class", but that is most definitely a discriminated group. Most starkly, there are 99 times as many people in the 99% than the 1%, but it is the 1% that is the dominant group.
 
I think you have the 2 big ones, but they are so tightly bound they could be considered as 1. Also, I think you are a bit limited when you say in the title "Identifying Problems in the United States", what you say could equally apply to the whole world. As you say "we are all in this together" I shall answer it that way.

For equality my belief is that the primary equality issue between the haves and the have nots. That is not to say that other issues not part of this, but they seem to be superimposed on the wealth issue rather than divorced from it.

I am not quite sure what americans mean by "minorities", but I do not think it is a very useful term. There are more women in the US than men, but that does not make them the better off group. 52% of Indians are of "Other Backward Class", but that is most definitely a discriminated group. Most starkly, there are 99 times as many people in the 99% than the 1%, but it is the 1% that is the dominant group.

Thank you for making that point - I'm just not sure how applicable these things are outside of my own country, and I don't want to overgeneralize.
 
By the way, here is my math for human power versus power from stuff like oil, nuclear etc.:

According to Wikipedia, “[o]ver an 8-hour work shift, an average, healthy, well-fed and motivated manual laborer may sustain an output of around 75 watts of power.” But if we are going to power our society by humanity, we are surely going to go all the way. So my starting point is another quote from the same article, “[d]uring a bicycle race, an elite cyclist can produce close to 400 watts of mechanical power.”

That’s 400 watts of power an hour, and for a second let’s ignore that we have to put it through some system (hey isn’t there a rule of thermodynamics or something about that?). Let’s just say we have rethought our society so instead of pumping out Tiktok stars, we are pumping out finely chiseled men and women who Michelangelo would be proud to use as a model for a statue. No, not every American will be able to perform their 8 hours in the cavernous human power mills of the future. But instead, let’s say about 300 million can (a very large number). So doing the math, that leads to a potential of 350,400,000,000,000 watts a year of watt production. Let’s convert that to kilowatts: that’s 350,400,000,000 kilowatts - 350 billion kilowatts.

The United States economy in 2018 used 3,986 billion kilowatts. In other words, even if we convert the American population to a bunch of power bike riders with the athleticism of Tour de France cyclists, we wouldn’t even be in the same magnitude of electricity generation as we use.

We are utterly dependent on modern technological ways of utilizing energy to power our society.

I'm no STEM major so I'm not sure if everything is right, but it is an interesting thought exercise. And excuse the tongue-in-cheek writing, I intended it for a humorous blog and repurposed it for this discussion.
 
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By the way, here is my math for human power versus power from stuff like oil, nuclear etc.:

According to Wikipedia, “[o]ver an 8-hour work shift, an average, healthy, well-fed and motivated manual laborer may sustain an output of around 75 watts of power.” But if we are going to power our society by humanity, we are surely going to go all the way. So my starting point is another quote from the same article, “[d]uring a bicycle race, an elite cyclist can produce close to 400 watts of mechanical power.”

That’s 400 watts of power an hour, and for a second let’s ignore that we have to put it through some system (hey isn’t there a rule of thermodynamics or something about that?). Let’s just say we have rethought our society so instead of pumping out Tiktok stars, we are pumping out finely chiseled men and women who Michelangelo would be proud to use as a model for a statue. No, not every American will be able to perform their 8 hours in the cavernous human power mills of the future. But instead, let’s say about 300 million can (a very large number). So doing the math, that leads to a potential of 350,400,000,000,000 watts a year of watt production. Let’s convert that to kilowatts: that’s 350,400,000,000 kilowatts - 350 billion kilowatts.

The United States economy in 2018 used 3,986 billion kilowatts. In other words, even if we convert the American population to a bunch of power bike riders with the athleticism of Tour de France cyclists, we wouldn’t even be in the same magnitude of electricity generation as we use.

We are utterly dependent on modern technological ways of utilizing energy to power our society.

I'm no STEM major so I'm not sure if everything is right, but it is an interesting thought exercise.
Your conclusion is right, but I am not sure about your working. A watt is a measure of power, so is a point measure. So 400 watts for an hour is 400 watt hours. The world uses 140,000 terawatt hours, or 1.4 * 10^17. This is 3.5 * 10^14 hours cycling, or 40 billion of your cyclists going 24 hours a day.

We need another solution, and unless it is "magic" (fusion would probably count) then we also need to reduce consumption. You have a good start though, if instead of generating electricity with the cyclists, you replace cars with cycles.

 
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Thank you for making that point - I'm just not sure how applicable these things are outside of my own country, and I don't want to overgeneralize.
What is your country?

As I see it diversity (of all types) and lack of social integration among those diverse elements is the root of our problems that manifest as social injustice, poverty, bigotry, ignorance, and political antagonism. That same diversity is our current and future strength. At least one more generation needs to die off to reduce the worst of the racial and social antagonism. We need more globalization, race mixing, culture mixing, language mixing and people getting out of their neighborhoods and seeing places they haven't seen before. At a minimum the top 1% needs to be expanded to be the top 10% and all that excess wealth directed to benefit the bottom 30%. There is no way to check greed, notoriety, or power seeking, but government can make it more difficult for those to get out of hand.

The problems have to worked on at a tactical level: fix gerrymandering; fix police exemption; tax the very rich; pay teachers enough to attract better ones; etc. the the goal being a better life for more people.
 
then we also need to reduce consumption.

By how much?

you replace cars with cycles.

Not practical unless you live in a city and your job is within a few blocks away.

Also certain handicapped people who can't use a bicycle. What about them?

people getting out of their neighborhoods and seeing places they haven't seen before.

Too expensive. How do you expect people to travel more when travel costs money?

What about having to work? People can't travel all the time, limited vacation days.

We need more globalization

What about people losing their jobs overseas? How would unionized labor be protected from this?
 
Also certain handicapped people who can't use a bicycle. What about them?
Depending on the disability, the same applies to cars. Please don't cherry-pick examples of disabled people just because you're predisposed to disliking bikes for some reason. There's nothing wrong with replacing cars with bikes. It's an iterative process, you can't just click your fingers and make it happen. It's not going to happen overnight. The aim is to reduce emissions.

Also, bikes work on a lot longer routes than "a few blocks". Sure, they don't have the range of cars, but if you need to commute however many miles each way, daily, well, that's when we get to public transportation. And again, instead of a car ;)
 
that's when we get to public transportation. And again, instead of a car

Okay, and who's gonna pay for all that public transportation? Cause it would have to be increased substantially if it's to make up for all the people who commute by car.

Also can it really be realistically rolled out fast enough by any state government in the U.S.? Or will it just be another California highspeed rail boondoggle?
 
despite the fact that this country has continued as by far the wealthiest in the world

tbh I think this is a statistical quirk more than simple fact
 
Your conclusion is right, but I am not sure about your working. A watt is a measure of power, so is a point measure. So 400 watts for an hour is 400 watt hours. The world uses 140,000 terawatt hours, or 1.4 * 10^17. This is 3.5 * 10^14 hours cycling, or 40 billion of your cyclists going 24 hours a day.

We need another solution, and unless it is "magic" (fusion would probably count) then we also need to reduce consumption. You have a good start though, if instead of generating electricity with the cyclists, you replace cars with cycles.


So primary energy is a bit misleading here since it generally gets replaced at a rate of about 3 to 1 if a combustion use like fossil fuel electricity generation is replaced with non-combustion renewable electricity. Not to understate the magnitude of the energy transition challenge, just noting that it's a bit exaggerated by that measure.

Here's how electricity looks globally:

upload_2021-2-4_12-41-7.png


Currently a third of electricity is from non-combustive sources, that is rising but needs to like double fairly quickly.

Another good measure is renewables share of final energy consumption, which accounts for the fact that if you replace combustion with non-combustion for the same end purpose, you're reducing total energy use. That figure is currently around 17%. All the renewables are growing very quickly, but still have to contend with growing demand as well.

You're fully correct about the importance of managing consumption though. The most optimistic 2050 energy scenarios (ie net zero emissions by then) have improved energy efficiency and behaviour change pulling around half the weight, while energy transition accounts for the other half. Behaviour and efficiency are essential buffers even under the circumstances of the most rapid crash transition, there's no infinite energy cornucopia.
 
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By the way, here is my math for human power versus power from stuff like oil, nuclear etc.:

According to Wikipedia, “[o]ver an 8-hour work shift, an average, healthy, well-fed and motivated manual laborer may sustain an output of around 75 watts of power.” But if we are going to power our society by humanity, we are surely going to go all the way. So my starting point is another quote from the same article, “[d]uring a bicycle race, an elite cyclist can produce close to 400 watts of mechanical power.”

That’s 400 watts of power an hour, and for a second let’s ignore that we have to put it through some system (hey isn’t there a rule of thermodynamics or something about that?). Let’s just say we have rethought our society so instead of pumping out Tiktok stars, we are pumping out finely chiseled men and women who Michelangelo would be proud to use as a model for a statue. No, not every American will be able to perform their 8 hours in the cavernous human power mills of the future. But instead, let’s say about 300 million can (a very large number). So doing the math, that leads to a potential of 350,400,000,000,000 watts a year of watt production. Let’s convert that to kilowatts: that’s 350,400,000,000 kilowatts - 350 billion kilowatts.

The United States economy in 2018 used 3,986 billion kilowatts. In other words, even if we convert the American population to a bunch of power bike riders with the athleticism of Tour de France cyclists, we wouldn’t even be in the same magnitude of electricity generation as we use.

We are utterly dependent on modern technological ways of utilizing energy to power our society.

I'm no STEM major so I'm not sure if everything is right, but it is an interesting thought exercise. And excuse the tongue-in-cheek writing, I intended it for a humorous blog and repurposed it for this discussion.

I haven't checked the maths here but you need to be certain you're distinguishing between watts and watt-hours. The former is an instant point-in-time measure of power, watt-hours are how much energy over a period of time. One watt, over a year, going 24 hours a day, will be about 8.7 kWh. A typical 5 kilowatt residential solar panel system with a 16% capacity factor (reasonable in a moderate climate) will supply about 7 megawatt hours which will cover most or all of a typical household's electricity use.
 
Okay, and who's gonna pay for all that public transportation? Cause it would have to be increased substantially if it's to make up for all the people who commute by car.

Also can it really be realistically rolled out fast enough by any state government in the U.S.? Or will it just be another California highspeed rail boondoggle?
None of this is an argument against bikes though, you're just moving the goalposts on. Yes, public transportation would need more investment. Yes, this would need to be paid for "somehow" (money happens whenever government wants it to happen, this is at this point evidenced fact, but hey, why not shave off some of the dumbassery that is the US defense budget while you're at it).

It's not a point of "realistically". It's a "this needs to happen and the sooner you get on it the better". Sure, mistakes might be made. Heck, will be made. But if everyone sits around and makes devil's advocacy and "I am very smart" gotchas about why it might not work, you're going to end up getting nowhere. Good luck with that.
 
tbh I think this is a statistical quirk more than simple fact

Yeah just quietly I think Australia is one of the richest countries now.

Throw in Norway as well.
Excluding microstates and some petro countries.

How wealth is distributed is important as well.
 
By how much?
Good question. Arwon above quote a figure of half, and that sounds reasonable. The difficult bit is when you add in the equality point. At the moment we probably have less than 1 billion people who would consider a private car as a transport option. If in 2050 we have 10 billion, and they all have access to personal transport that cannot be an IC car.

I found this paper, that tries to answer how much, but it is pretty radical:

Distribution of energy consumption and the 2000 W/capita target


Energy use per time and capita in various countries and within countries (average consumption as well as consumption of highest and lowest decile of users).

The energy consumption window. The upper, ecological boundary refers to the global average and is drawn between 2 and 4 kW/capita depending carbon content of the total primary energy used in 2050. The lower boundary is chosen at 600 W/capita and refers to the poorest decile of the global society in 2050. The distribution ‘‘World tomorrow without social boundaries’’ is calculated assuming the average to increase to 3 kW/capita and the proportional distance between the average and the lowest and top decile to remain constant. Solidarity is the principle idea of the 2000 W/capita society. The social boundaries and the energy distribution in the 2000W society are drawn in an exemplary way. More conventional stabilisation scenarios possibly over-step social boundaries to a not sustainable degree.
Not practical unless you live in a city and your job is within a few blocks away.

Also certain handicapped people who can't use a bicycle. What about them?
Bicycles do not solve all future transport needs. However it has to include lifestyle changes, which are likely to involve living closer to work or working closer to where you live. The covid has shown us the teleworking is possible at a scale not appreciated before.
Okay, and who's gonna pay for all that public transportation? Cause it would have to be increased substantially if it's to make up for all the people who commute by car.
This is another very good question. We do need to spend loads of money on this transition, and everyone will have to contribute. Remember though, especially when it comes to public transport, that this spending really means paying people to do stuff, which creates jobs in the area where the public transport is being built.
Also can it really be realistically rolled out fast enough by any state government in the U.S.? Or will it just be another California highspeed rail boondoggle?
If we can go to the moon an a decade, we can roll out public transport at the speed / scale we want. We just have to have the political will.
 
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Re disabled people (motor functions-related), isn't the norm by now to use self-moving wheelchairs? At least here they are ubiquitous; you don't see old-fashioned wheelchairs needing a helper.
Of course you won't be able to board a bus (unless two or three people help you; very few local buses have ramps and even those that have are rather suboptimal), but why use a bus when you have your own car-like vehicle?
 
Re disabled people (motor functions-related), isn't the norm by now to use self-moving wheelchairs? At least here they are ubiquitous; you don't see old-fashioned wheelchairs needing a helper.
Of course you won't be able to board a bus (unless two or three people help you; very few local buses have ramps and even those that have are rather suboptimal), but why use a bus when you have your own car-like vehicle?

Also disability scooters, although they are too big for a bus, ramp or not.
Public transport can be made more accessible to the disabled as existing vehicles are replaced.
Stations and public buildings can also be adapted to make them more accessible.
 
In many cities; the roads are not safe for cyclists, and one
can only do so much by partitioning roads into cycle lanes.

There comes a point when a comprehensive redesign is required
to produce overlaid networks that can safely enable pedestrians,
cyclists, cars and larger motor vehicles to travel to their destinations.

But city space is limited, and such re-designs and re-builds may often only
work if there is a substantive drop in the number of private cars on the roads.

Sme European cities have managed this, but getting concensus in
the USA where the right to drive a car is seen as often more important
than owning a gun, almost a human right; may prove quite difficult.
 
In many cities; the roads are not safe for cyclists, and one
can only do so much by partitioning roads into cycle lanes.
The dutch have proven that it is possible to make them safe.
But city space is limited, and such re-designs and re-builds may often only
work if there is a substantive drop in the number of private cars on the roads.
That is the point.
 
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