3 min read

The third leg of the growth stool

Energy failures could cripple future growth; Charles' climate paradoxes; China's property addiction; and how AI might be helping people cheat at chess.
Image showing renewables and batteries powering a city.
This is the goal, but is it achievable at scale? Source.

1—The third leg of the growth stool

"Ideas matter. They are what enable us to improve the value of output. Institutions matter. A culture and political system that supports markets and the profit-and-loss system will unleash growth. A culture and political system that resents markets and represses capitalism will retard growth. I think that abundant energy is the third leg of the growth stool. With sufficient energy, we can overcome scarcity of other resources. Because we can transport agricultural products, we can allocate land more efficiently. Locally-grown produce may be hip, but it is environmentally wasteful. We have lots of wilderness today because we have gotten away from locally-grown produce."

That's according to Arnold Kling, who worries that if we don't find an adequate substitute for fossil fuels, "Later this century, the energy leg of the growth stool could turn out to be wobbly."

Renewables such as solar panels and windmills require a lot of land, so you need batteries to get the energy they generate "to where it's useful when it's useful". The kind of battery technology needed to replace fossil fuels just isn't there yet, "not for lack of trying":

"It seems doubtful that it is practical to scale existing battery technology. So I think we need radically different battery technology. But just because we need something does not mean we will get it. We have known for decades that a cure for cancer or a cure for obesity would be great to have, but such cures remain elusive."

There's plenty more in Kling's full post here (~5 minute read).


2—The climate king's paradoxes

What kind of king will Charles be? According to Shannon Osaka, "some commentators were quick to point out that the septuagenarian could be the nation's first 'climate king'." But they may be jumping the gun:

"Charles's environmental views are complex: He is both a classic environmentalist who loves nature, trees and wild animals, and a traditionalist who has battled against wind energy on his estate, flown around the world in a private jet and once critiqued the growth of population in the developing world. He represents some of the paradoxes of a world coming to grips with climate change: a man with extreme wealth and a significant carbon footprint speaking out against global warming; a political figurehead with very little real political clout."

Osaka goes on to note that as a "traditional environmentalist", Charles doesn't necessarily "support the changes necessary to combat climate change":

"In some cases, organic farming can be more carbon- and resource-intensive than conventional farming. Zeroing out carbon emissions will require a vast amount of land for solar, wind and geothermal energy; it will also require advanced technologies — better batteries, machines that suck carbon dioxide out of the sky — that Charles has historically critiqued as being forms of 'mechanistic thinking'."

You can read Osaka's full article here (~6 minute read).


3—China's property addiction


4—They don't search everywhere

"The chess world has been abuzz ever since, egged on by Elon Musk, whose tweets considered the possibility that you could cheat in chess with vibrating anal beads. In theory the beads would transmit messages from an accomplice, watching the live games online and consulting computer programs to transmit nearly impeccable advice."

That's from Tyler Cowen writing about the ongoing controversy in chess, which saw world champ Magnus Carlsen withdraw from a major tournament following a defeat to an up-and-comer with a history of cheating.

You can read Cowen's full article here (~4 minute read), which goes into how "AI assistance, or cheating as the case may be, will drive a lot of progress in human-machine interfaces".


5—Further reading...

⛓️ Ethereum successfully merged from 'proof-of-work' to 'proof-of-stake', cutting its energy usage by 99%.

🤯 "Are We The Baddies?... Even the most war-happy Putin loyalists on Russian TV are now pushing for the recognition of 'serious defeats' Russia has suffered in Ukraine: 'Where was our damn reconnaissance? All of their heads should be laying on Putin's desk, hacked off at the base.'"

👩‍💻 "The Biden administration plans next month to broaden curbs on US shipments to China of semiconductors used for artificial intelligence and chipmaking tools."

📖 Peiter Zatko, Twitter's former head of security, told Congress "that the FBI once warned the major social media platform it had unwittingly hired a Chinese spy as an employee, alongside similar incidents with both Indian and Saudi Arabian agents".

💸 "From 2019 to 2021, 183 current senators or representatives reported a trade of a stock or another financial asset by themselves or an immediate family member. More than half of them sat on congressional committees that potentially gave them insight into the companies whose shares they reported buying or selling."

🕵️‍♀️ To maintain its access, "China's surveillance state requires that data in the country not be very secure... [helping] those seeking to understand the opaque regime better".