Brink Lindsey has a sequence of Substack posts on the Nice Stagnation. The primary two
are superb critiques and summaries of the place we stand. The third discusses what Brink calls The Anti-Promethean Backlash
…the anti-Promethean backlash — the broad-based cultural flip away from these types of technological progress that reach and amplify human mastery over the bodily world. The hunt to construct larger, go farther and sooner and better, and harness ever better sources of energy was, if not deserted, then enormously deprioritized in the US and different wealthy democracies beginning within the Sixties and 70s. We made it to the moon, after which stopped going. We pioneered industrial supersonic air journey, after which discontinued it. We developed nuclear energy, after which stopped constructing new crops. There’s actually no precedent for this sort of abdication of powers in Western modernity; one historic parallel that involves thoughts is the Ming dynasty’s abandonment of its expeditionary treasure fleet after the voyages of Zheng He.
…And that is what occurred because of this:
It is a chart of U.S. vitality consumption per capita, which till round 1970 confirmed regular exponential development of round 2 % a yr. The writer calls this the “Henry Adams curve,” because the historian was an early observer of this phenomenon. However round 1970, the Henry Adams curve met the anti-Promethean backlash — and the backlash gained.
The chart comes from The place Is My Flying Automobile? by J. Storrs Corridor. It’s a bizarre, wacky guide that rambles far and wide; it’s additionally sensible, and it modified my thoughts a couple of matter of nice significance.
Earlier than studying Corridor, if I had seen this chart — and possibly I did see one thing prefer it earlier than, I’m unsure — I might have had a totally completely different response. My response would have been alongside the traces of: “Wow, have a look at capitalism’s ever-increasing vitality effectivity. We’re getting extra GDP per kilowatt-hour than ever earlier than, due to data expertise and the regular dematerialization of financial life. All hail postmaterialist capitalism!”
However Corridor argues convincingly that the plateauing of the Henry Adams curve didn’t symbolize the pure evolution of capitalism within the Info Age. The bending of that curve, he claims, constituted self-inflicted damage. Our midcentury desires of future progress — flying automobiles, nuclear energy too low-cost to meter, moon bases and underwater cities — didn’t fail to materialize just because we have been awful at guessing how expertise would truly develop. They did not materialize as a result of the anti-Promethean backlash, aided by with loss-averse apathy, left them strangled of their cribs.
He’s particularly convincing on nuclear energy. My prior impression was that nuclear energy had at all times been a high-cost white elephant propped up solely by subsidies, however Corridor paperwork that again within the Fifties and 60s, the price of new crops was falling about 25 % for each doubling of complete capability — a basic learning-curve trajectory that was abruptly halted within the Seventies by suffocating regulation. In 1974 the Atomic Power Fee was abolished and the brand new Nuclear Regulatory Fee was established. Within the virtually half-century since then, there has not been a single new nuclear energy plant accredited after which subsequently constructed.