Readers of the FM website asked these questions. Here are some answers.

We get many good questions from readers using the FM website comment form.  Here are some of them, with answers.  Today we have questions about peak oil, education, and health care.

(1)  Question asked about Could a new “Manhattan Project” produce radically new energy sources?

I am fully aware of peak oil, but fail to see why there is any need for change.  The argument is simple. We are now almost at peak oil (in terms of conventional oil).  Work out the worth of the oil humanity has extracted to date. Now repeat the calculation for the remaining half. Remember that, in scarcity, the oil will have much higher market value. Where is the argument for change? It can and will never happen, until the very last barrel of oil is extracted and sold.

Do not think that this is not realised, do not think this situation is an accident.   Addiction is in place; it is at this time the pusher stands to make the most money. Why should they stop?  Given that these interests control much of the market, why would they smile on someone attempting to break their monopoly?  It is my quiet expectation that energy substitute technologies exist (and have long done so) – held and suppressed by the oilmen (?). The intent is to constrain options and thus retain market. 
 
I expect similar logics prevailed on Easter Island as the last trees were being felled.

Answer:

  • Look at the curve of oil production over time for any field. It’s not symmetric. The right half, after peak production, goes into a long decline. Typically 3-7% (percent, not absolute volume) per year. We might be pumping oil for another century or two.  As that point approaches (i.e., growth in global oil production slows), oil prices increase — at an increasing rate. We saw this in 2008. This will drive the shift to alternative forms of energy. Those societies that have best prepared — and most rapidly adapt — will have a large competitive advantage.   At peak global production oil becomes a limiting factor for economic growth. The law of the minimum — growth is limited by the essential input whose supply is most scarce.
  • Are “oilmen” keeping secret new energy technology?  Highly unlikely.  First, they do not command a global secret police.  Second, a secret energy tech could be sold to other nations (i.e., China, Japan) for a vast fortune. 
  • As for the last tree cut, for the actual story about this see More propaganda: the eco-fable of Easter Island.

(2)   Question:  Do you think a nationalized curriculum like Japan’s could work for educating Americans on their role in governing?

Answer:   I am sceptical of structural solutions, esp those that involve centralizing functions that have no economy of scale.  Like education.   Our last big experiment like this was the opposite:  breaking up the telephone system, a plan designed by attorneys (not engineers).  So we have a telecom system with key parts (cell and broadband) quite inferior to our peers. 

(3)  Question about “Americans Are Treated, And Overtreated, To Death“, AP, 28 June 2010 — posted on the FM newswire of 2 July.

So you’re for national health care. And it seems you think rationing is inevitable and necessary. I don’t think its particularly horrid, but what about old poor versus old rich? Will this disparity in treatment be ignored?   Do you believe rationing is possible in this day and age?  … And isn’t that magic wand you say doesn’t exist, isn’t that the invisible hand? In many respects our health care is awesome. It takes a lot to die nowadays. AIDS can’t even kill you in America anymore. 

Answer:

  • The US has a mixed public-private system just like most developed nations (only a few have fully nationalized systems).  From memory, the US government (all levels) pays almost half of all medical expenses (though Medicare, Medicaid, TRICARE, Veterans, and for federal/state/local employees, etc). 
  • There is no need to speculate about the design of better systems, or how they’ll work.  Go to Germany, France, or Switzerland.  They have had mixed public-private systems for generations.  No comparative study that I’ve seen finds our system other than grossly inferior to their by almost every metric.  
  • Our inability to learn from the best practices of other nations — as in the health care debate — demonstrates the ossification of American society.  We’re like a cat with a can opener.  Such rigidity might prove lethal amidst the rapidly changes that lie ahead in the 21st century.
  • For more information see these posts about our health care system.

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