I thought I read this here some time ago, but I couldn't find it.


This article came up in personal correspondence.

    Where, in short, are the flying cars?

    Where are the force fields, tractor beams, teleportation pods, antigravity sleds, tricorders, immortality drugs, colonies on Mars, and all the other technological wonders any child growing up in the mid-to-late twentieth century assumed would exist by now?

Is he serious? Eradicating disease and laparoscopic surgery don't count, GPS and Facebook Live don't count, we need to violate the laws of physics to show progress?

    While many of the historical trends Toffler describes are accurate, the book appeared when most of these exponential trends halted. It was right around 1970 when the increase in the number of scientific papers published in the world—a figure that had doubled every fifteen years since, roughly, 1685—began leveling off. The same was true of books and patents.

Graeber isn't very good about citing sources. Doesn't your gut tell you these assertions are dubious? You can fact-check these in less time than it takes to type a few sentences of praise for Graeber.

scientific papers: http://blogs.nature.com/news/2014/05/global-scientific-output-doubles-every-nine-years.html (Relying on the URL here; the article took too long to load for me to pull a quote. They can put a man on the moon but they can't deliver an article to my desktop in less than 30 seconds!)

books: PDF report "China alone, by now the second largest publishing market worldwide, accounts for more than half of the BRIC countries’ global market share (to be exact, over 12% of global publishing). The Chinese publishing industry is expected to grow further..."

patents: Total Patent Grants 1970 67,964; 1980 66,170; 1990 99,077; 2000 175,979; 2010 244,341; 2015 325,979

    Defenders of capitalism make three broad historical claims: first, that it has fostered rapid scientific and technological growth;

Only an idiot would deny this.

    second, that however much it may throw enormous wealth to a small minority, it does so in such a way as to increase overall prosperity;

"Overall prosperity" depends on definitions. I can't think of a definition by which the trend is not upward.

Total wealth divided by total population? Obviously long on the rise with no end in sight.

Wealth of the wealthiest? Skyrocketing.

Prosperity of the "middle" class? Despite all the talk of stagnation, I think they're doing well. The worst reports I see say inflation-adjusted income is stagnant. That means they are doing as well as 1992, or whenever the flat trend began, no worse. Inflation is hard to score, and I doubt many would be willing to give up Netflix and iPhones and go back to 1992.

Wealth of the poor? This is the best news, in my view the only really important news. Poverty has not been eliminated, but the number of poor (both absolute and as a percentage of population) has long been declining. The places where poverty has stubbornly remained are often those where markets are repressed and dysfunctional: Venezuela, North Korea, much of Africa.

    third, that in doing so, it creates a more secure and democratic world for everyone.

"Secure" is also a judgment call, but if it means you can afford locks on your doors (indeed, a house with doors at all), and reliable transportation and your neighbors are also less poor and so more inclined to trade with you than rob you, this looks like progress. One of the greatest counters to war is the mutual benefit of good trade relationships.

I don't know what he means by "democratic."

    It is clear that capitalism is not doing any of these things any longer.

Still looking for those citations, Graeber.

posted by veen: 18 days ago