CO2; Work and Productivity; tariff, productivity and the future of work

Mail 812 Sunday, February 23, 2014


Subject : Seitz: CO2 absorption lines

Regarding Russell Seitz’ comment, "Mark Sanicola claiming that CO2 does not have an absorption band " between 9 and 13 microns is pure hogwash ." Sanicola is correct and Seitz is wrong. The two primary CO2 absorption lines in the atmosphere are at 15.0 microns and 4.26 microns. A CO2 laser operates by pumping the CO2 molecule ground state up to the 2349.3 /cm energy level (= 4.26 microns) and then making a transition to the excited state at 1388/cm. The energy difference between theses levels generates photons with a wavelength of 10.4 microns. For details see Fig. 3 of

The CO2 laser does present an interesting argument against the claims of the global warming alarmists. They know that the back radiation from CO2 in the atmosphere cannot raise the ground temperature much, ~ 1 C according to them. They then posit that the extra energy flux, ~ 1 W/m^2, at 15 micron will evaporate extra water into the atmosphere and water vapor’s much larger greenhouse effect will amplify the extra CO2 by about a factor of 4 to lead to catastrophic heating of the earth. [The obvious question is if H2O is such a powerful greenhouse gas, why doesn’t it just bootstrap the heating itself and cause runaway warming? There’s also an infinite reservoir of water called the oceans. But I digress.]

If you do a search for CO2 lasers you’ll come up with ads for lasers for plastic surgery where it’s used for scar removal and other cosmetic problems. The reason they work so well for that application is that 10.4 micron infrared barely penetrates the skin, which is mostly made of water. The surgeon can ablate the skin a few microns at a time because the penetration is so shallow, even with an energy flux of 10^6 W/m^2, a million times higher than the atmospheric flux. The same holds true for the 15 micron CO2 line in the atmosphere. It doesn’t penetrate the water more than a few microns and is consequently incapable of evaporating all that extra water into the air to cause more warming.

Paul S. Linsay–


Subject : Future of Work

Dear Dr. Pournelle;

To begin, allow me to thank you for the excellence of your site. I value the knowledgeable and insightful commentary from you and your readership. I would like to offer some comments of my own on the subject of the diminishing need for certain forms of labor.

One comment in particular, that technological changes are eliminating the need for those that fall on the ‘left side of the curve’ touches upon my own thoughts. I don’t disagree with the statement, but there seems to be an unstated assumption that only those on the left side of the curve are at risk. I believe that they are simply the first to feel the effects of the technological revolution we are undergoing.

The confluence of several technologies will, I firmly believe, eliminate the need for the vast majority of Human labor. It will do so in relatively short order, perhaps within 30-60 years were I so bold as to make a prediction.

The technologies I speak of are battery technology, robotics and ‘artificial intelligence’. I think a case could be made for adding 3D manufacturing to this list as well (and molecular manufacturing a few decades later).

Robotics that can manipulate their environment with greater precision and robustness than any Human, batteries that are energy dense enough to untether them from a wall socket and guiding software that will undoubtedly give them the ability to perform nearly any task a Human performs and do it with absolute consistency. These technologies in particular, as well as cheap, waste free and de-centralized manufacturing could eliminate the need for the majority of Human labor.

I know that predictions regarding artificial intelligence have promised much more than they have delivered so far, but there is little doubt that the coming years, possibly as few as 20, will see software that can replicate Human activities with ease, thus consuming much of the right side of the curve as well.

There is no Human endeavor with the possible exception of leadership roles that will not be more economically performed by intelligent, or at least expert/brilliant software: surgeons, lawyers, engineers, every-damn-thing you can think of. They can work 24 hours a day without fatigue, they don’t form unions or demand higher wages, they can be retrained by simply re-programming them (which will also be competently done by machines). And there is of course something else they cannot do: purchase the product of their work. In point of fact, if a new economic model is not developed in the very near future, when Human input on a grand scale is ‘surplus to requirements’ there won’t be anyone with two dimes to rub together.

This will occur quite naturally as a result of market forces. If firm ‘A’ and firm ‘B’ compete for the same market and firm ‘B’ fires it’s Human staff in favor of robotics and A.I. and can then deliver a service/product for a lower price firm ‘A’ will soon be out of business. Legislated incentives to retain Human staff can, I think, only slow the process, not stop it.

Obviously my position is stated as an extreme: Long before 90 percent of the Human race is without work, changes to our civilization will have been made or it will have collapsed. But just what is the answer to a civilization that no longer needs Human workers? When our tools and creations can do Humanity’s work cheaper and more efficiently, what will Humans do? Will we be served by our artificial minions, be saved from menial necessities so that we can turn our attention to bettering ourselves? Ah, Utopia! I rather think not. I seem to be incapable of taking such a future seriously. I simply don’t know what the future holds. The only thing I am quite certain of is that given the pace of technological advancement, we are rapidly reaching the point where a robot can be cheaply built and programmed to do any form of work. Personally I am a technophile and I see this as an opportunity to set our species free, not just from the drudgery that has defined much of Human life to present, but perhaps to fulfill the ideals set out nicely by Ayn Rand:

"Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage’s whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men."


Eric Gilmer

Marx wrote eloquently of a time when a man might be a worker in the morning, an artist in the afternoon, and revel in the evening. This was his picture of the end of history.

Of course he also wrote that capitalism tends to widen the gap between workers and capitalists, between rich and poor, and to concentrate more and more wealth into fewer and fewer hands. David McCord Wright thought that US trust busting – prevention of monopolies and promoting competition – made America different. Now the goal of most capitalist firms is to buy out their competition, and the government seems to allow or even encourage that. Note that ComCast wants to buy Time Warner and it appears to be on track for government approval; and many other “mergers” recently reduce competition and produce firms and banks that are too big to fail.

Science fiction has long generated stories of a time when work was pretty well uncoupled from actual productivity – recall George Jetson’s job which consisted of fighting traffic to get to “work” where he mostly did nothing. And Poul Anderson explored the theme more than once. None have been very satisfactory.

And our schools continue to send out students who don’t know how to do anything that someone would pay money to have done.


Online learning

A friend of mine discussing online learning replacing traditional universities. Pretty much what you have said but if you have a few minutes to kill…..

Neil Craig


Ford’s $5 / day

I’m surprised to see Ford’s own web site implying that Henry Ford raised wages so his employees could afford to buy Ford cars. I’ve searched a number of times, and never found anywhere he said such a thing. His goal was to increase sales by reducing prices, not by giving more money to his employees and hoping they would spend it on his cars; if Ferrari announced they were increasing wages for the guy who bolts the doors on so he could afford to buy a $250,000 Ferrari 458, people would rightly think they were mad.

What Ford did say, and the Ford site touched on, was "The payment of five dollars a day for an eight-hour day was one of the finest cost-cutting moves we ever made, and the six-dollar day wage is cheaper than the five. How far this will go, we do not know." (Henry Ford, My Life And Work). The economy was booming, and auto workers could easily quit and take another job elsewhere if they were offered a better deal; increasing wages allowed Ford to hire the best workers, encouraged them to work hard to keep their jobs, and cut annual employee turnover from nearly 400%(!) to nearly zero.

He certainly believed companies should pay good wages, but had solid financial reasons to do so. Paying his workers more money reduced costs, and increased productivity, which did allow more people to buy his cars.

Edward M. Grant

I would not try to argue that Mr. Ford was a particularly generous man, and having been at Boeing when part of the company personnel policy was to keep people from leaving Seattle for jobs elsewhere because it was in those days difficult to get people to move to Seattle and thus isolate themselves from the aerospace industry – remember, this was before jet airliners were common – I quite understand the notion that it was generally cheaper to pay a good man more to stay than to try to recruit someone from Southern California to come to Seattle.

The point was that part of the increased productivity of the new techniques did in fact go to the workers, not just the stockholders; while most of the recent increases in productivity have not done that. The stockholders get the money, and the displaced workers get whatever they can; while the workers who stay on may or may not get large raises, but most do not get anything like the increases the investors have got. I am trying to stay as emotionally neutral in describing that as possible: objectively it seems clear that the thesis that increases in productivity are not going to the increasingly productive workers seems clear, and of course the size of the work force generally is reduced. America produces more goods than it used to, but with a smaller work force – just as farms produce far more than they did when more than half the working population worked on farms.


Raising the minimum wage.

If the Chinese could be persuaded to raise (or establish) their minimum wage, it would be far more beneficial that raising

the minimum wage in the United States.

Charles Brumbelow

What a marvelous idea. Who bells cat?


Tariffs should level the playing field nicely. Impose a tariff on any imported goods, and we’ll build them here.

iPods. MADE IN THE USA. Who could complain?

Mike Lieman

People who buy iPods?


People who buy iPods can afford the extra marginal expense to support their friends and neighbors, can’t they? At the end of the day, we need to choose what’s important to us. PEOPLE ( labor ) or THINGS (capital ) . I know what side I’m on.

Mike Lieman

When I was younger in in sixth grade in the Old South, at a time when the South voted 99.44% Democrat, it was taught in the public schools that Democrats wanted “Tariff for revenue only” while Republicans wanted protective tariff to prevent industrialization of the South.  The South could afford to be customers for northern manufactured goods, and could pay for them by shipping cotton and other agricultural products to the north – but could not buy spinning mills and looms because there was a huge tariff on importing such equipment. We will leave out examining the truth of this assertion.  Now the Republicans are for Free Trade, or say they are. No tariff at all, not even for revenue.



Hi, Doc.

I’m so tired of hearing straw-man arguments about "conspiracy theories".

You don’t have to conspire with anybody to notice you can get grant money for lying.

You don’t have to conspire with anybody to notice which scifi horror flicks scare lots and lots of voters.

You don’t have to conspire with anybody to notice which candidate’s rhetoric will let you make more money for your overproduction of corn, either.

That’s all I have for now, as it is too chilly in this house for me to care about much else.

Matthew Joseph Harrington

e pur si muove (the motto of consensus deniers since 1633)


The SBI : A New Approach To Drone Warfare

Dear Jerry :

Here is a link to a recent piece of mine that may be considered an homage to Poul Anderson, whose work first inspired scientific analysis of the specific impulse of beer as a rocket propellant.

It may have strategic uses still:

Russell Seitz

Fellow of the Department of Physics Harvard University



Dr Pournelle

"It would be great if we could pick out which, among the bright kids, will be the future Steve Jobs, and which will be philosophers and statesmen, but we can’t do that."

If we picked out the future Steve Jobs in order to give him a university education, he would not be Steve Jobs. Jobs dropped out of college. So did Bill Gates. Albert Einstein never earned more than a bachelor’s degree.

The propaganda is that higher education correlates to higher achievement and higher earnings. I am not persuaded.

The only institution of higher learning in the United States that has a demonstrated record of turning out graduates who go on to become great men is the USMA at West Point. I doubt that has much to do with the academics they teach there.

Live long and prosper

h lynn keith




You might enjoy this paper:

I have cited the technological strategy book you coauthored more than once.



Dr Carlo Kopp, Fellow LSS, Associate Fellow AIAA




Freedom is not free. Free men are not equal. Equal men are not free.




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