Angus Maddison gave a presentation to the UK House of Lords in 2005 that looked at the world economy, the leading economies and the most successful follower countries from 1820 to 2001 with projections to 2030.
Notice that nuclear energy adoption was following the scaling path of natural gas 30 years prior but then stalled in 1980. Yet other fuels can have events like the London Fog (1952) for coal, Banqiao dam for hydro or the BP oil spill or other spills and not have their adoption and use affected. The Nixon administration had plans to develop 2000 nuclear reactors in the USA by 2000 but high interest rates and new regulations blocked that off in the 1970s and have not gotten back on track in the USA. France developed nuclear in the 1980s and now China is developing it now and will begin serious scaling after the Chinese hydroelectric buildout is winding down.
The world energy per capita figures hide the fact that the US and Canada use about three to four times the World average and Europe has people a little above the world average to about double. This is shown by country with 2011 figures next. Also, one gigajoule is equal to 23.9 kilograms of oil equivalent. 1 Gigajoule is equal to 277.8 kilowatt hours.
The biofuel of the 1800s was mainly wood, peat and dung.
The abundance of cheap energy from natural gas and oil from 1945 to 1970 was very helpful in helping to drive industrial and economic development. Between 1945 and 1970 there were major infrastructure development projects like the Eisenhower Interstate System and substantial improvements to the electrical transmission system. There was also the rebuilding of Europe.
There were also improvements in health. The mass production of antibiotics–Penicillin (1942), Streptomycin (1943), and Tetracycline (1955). Use of energy to upgrade water and sewer services, and to sterilize milk and to refrigerate meat, made a difference as well.
Maddison also has analysis with a view over 2000 years.
Western Europe has a pdf error in 2006 and should show 22,332
Peter Thiel talks about the Technological Innovation that should be happening
Peter Thiel says there are all these areas where there could be enormous innovation. We could be finding cures to cancer or Alzheimer’s. Peter is quite interested in enabling people to live much longer. There’s an information technology approach, where we optimize your nutrition and give instant feedback using mobile device technology. But he suspects that there are entire new classes of drugs or processes that could rejuvenate body parts. He also think that tenfold improvements might be possible in nuclear power. There are miniaturization technologies where you have much smaller containment structures, and technologies for disposing of and reprocessing fuel that have been underexplored.
There will continue to be innovation in information technology in the decades ahead. About two-thirds of our work is there.
Tesla is a really interesting example. Most of the components didn’t involve really great breakthroughs, but there was this ability to combine them. I think we’re generally too drawn to incremental point solutions and very scared of complex operational problems like that.
Companies like Microsoft or Oracle or Hewlett-Packard as fundamentally bets against technology. They keep throwing off profits as long as nothing changes. Microsoft was a technology company in the ’80s and ’90s; in this decade you invest because you’re betting on the world not changing. Pharma companies are bets against innovation because they’re mostly just figuring out ways to extend the lifetime of patents and block small companies. All these companies that start as technological companies become antitechnological in character. Whether the world changes or not might vary from company to company, but if it turns out that these antitechnology companies are going to be good investments, that’s quite bad for our society.
There is an argument that there should be state funding to help things get started where there are not many profits that could be captured. It’s in the public interest. But the way the U.S. government today is dominated by lawyers rather than scientists or engineers suggests that it is very poorly suited for evaluating these kinds of projects. For example, you probably could not restart nuclear power in the U.S. without the role of government. But because our government does not believe in complex coördination and planning, it will not restart the nuclear industry.
The way some pessimists put it is that all the low-hanging fruit has been picked. I would argue that there was never any low-hanging fruit; it was always of intermediate height and the question was, were people reaching for it or not? I’m frustrated because I think technology is progressing slowly, but I’m optimistic because I think it could be going a lot better.
When we think about the future, we hope for a future of progress. That progress can take one of two forms. Horizontal or extensive progress means copying things that work—going from 1 to n. Horizontal progress is easy to imagine because we already know what it looks like. Vertical or intensive progress means doing new things—going from 0 to 1. Vertical progress is harder to imagine because it requires doing something nobody else has ever done. If you take one typewriter and build 100, you have made horizontal progress. If you have a typewriter and build a word processor, you have made vertical progress.
At the macro level, the single word for horizontal progress is globalization—taking things that work somewhere and making them work everywhere. China is the paradigmatic example of globalization; its 20-year plan is to become like the United States is today.
Most people think the future of the world will be defined by globalization, but the truth is that technology matters more. Without technological change, if China doubles its energy production over the next two decades, it will also double its air pollution.
The smartphones that distract us from our surroundings also distract us from the fact that our surroundings are strangely old: Only computers and communications have improved dramatically since midcentury. That doesn’t mean our parents were wrong to imagine a better future—they were only wrong to expect it as something automatic.
Back on track to 1950 to 1973 growth for the USA
If 11.5 tons of oil equivalent energy was available in a clean and sustainable form for every person in the developed world by 2038 that would be the progress from 1950 to 1973. This would be about 41000 kwh of power.
There would need to be breakthroughs in energy, transportation, manufacturing, construction, medicine and productivity.
Part of the limitations are that the best available technologies have not been horizontally scaled.
Molten salt nuclear reactors
Modular factory mass production of nuclear reactors
Large scale factory mass production of skyscrapers
Superconducting magnetic wire
Ultra high performance batteries
More modularization and mass production of other products
Additive manufacturing aka 3D printing is still only about $3-4 billion per year
Complex movement of goods via magnetic or other tubes or via drones on city or national or international scales
Cheaper and faster production of transportation or production of goods
and many more
Bad centralized planning was clearly a failure but good planning with simulation and rapid crowdsourced input and with overall plans to achieve sustainably higher levels of wealth and production are possible.
In 2020, everyone should have access to advanced Techshops, additive manufacturing and robotic manufacturing facilities
Production and creation of products and businesses needs to be what everyone is doing. Everyone is worried about losing a job. Jobs that have to be given to them. Education is incomplete or needs to be augmented to be involved in seeing and adapting to change and creating and driving change.