Quantifying Arrighi

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Quantifying Arrighi

Postby blairfix » Tue Jul 22, 2014 9:06 pm

In The Long 20th Century, Giovanni Arrighi sets out an ambitious theory of the cyclical rise and decline of hegemony. Unfortunately, he provides relatively little quantitative evidence to back up his claims.

Energy consumption provides a window into these cycles. Energy consumption per capita is a good proxy for industrial development. If we plot the degree to which hegemonic powers exceed world energy consumption per capita, we get a good idea of their status.

When we do this for Britain, the US, Japan, and China, we do see cycles. Despite the attention paid to China, it's per capita consumption is still very small. Interesting, the US, UK, and Japan are now all in a free fall.

Also, the fact that US energy consumption exceeds UK consumption in the early 19th century should be treated with skepticism, as all data this far back are very rough estimates.

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Re: Quantifying Arrighi

Postby dtcochrane » Thu Jul 24, 2014 7:54 am

How is energy consumption measured?

The idea of substituting fossil fuels for labour power came up on my recent blog post and your subsequent comment. Earlier regimes would've been making more use of labour power, which was fueled by agriculture.
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Re: Quantifying Arrighi

Postby blairfix » Thu Jul 24, 2014 10:45 am

This graph shows primary energy consumption: the main categories are fossil fuels, biomass, hydro, nuclear, and renewable.

Human labor would be a form of end-use work (conversion of biomass into movement). But note that it is impossible to increase per capita energy consumption by increasing the use of human labor. Adding labor will increase the use of total biomass (agriculture), but since caloric intake per person is essentially unchanging, per capita consumption will remain unaffected.

The main shortcoming of this graph is that statistics are captive to the nation-state. While the 19th century US was basically a closed-system, 19th century Britain was the center of a huge empire, meaning it was able to centralize commodities from around the world. It is hard to capture this in statistics.


However, it was the first nation to industrialize and this is what shows up in the statistics.
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Re: Quantifying Arrighi

Postby joefrancis » Thu Jul 24, 2014 1:18 pm

A couple of comments:

(1) Energy consumption might not be a good proxy for industrial production because much energy is expended in other sectors. For example, North America's inefficient mass transportation system might explain its high per capita energy use.

(2) There are historical statistics for industrial production. In the figure below I've used Paul Bairoch's data plus those of the World Bank for industrial production for China, Japan, the United Kingdom ('England'?!), and the United States since 1750. Pre-1900 (at least), these are very much Mickey Mouse numbers, but they are possibly less inaccurate than the historical energy statistics you're using.

Figure 1: Industrial Production Per Capita, 1750-2010
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Sources: 1750-1980: P. Bairoch, ‘International Industrialization Levels from 1750 to 1980’, Journal of European Economic History, 11:1&2, 1982, pp. 269-333. 1998-2010: World Development Indicators.

The story the graph tells is that Britain was the first to take off, followed by the United States; Japan caught up dramatically post-WWII; while China first experienced two centuries of (relative) deindustrialization, but then began to recover after the communist revolution – Andre Gunder Frank's process of reOrientation...

If what you're interested in is historical industrial production, I personally would prefer these data.
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Re: Quantifying Arrighi

Postby wayburn » Fri Jul 25, 2014 11:08 am

dtcochrane wrote:How is energy consumption measured?

The idea of substituting fossil fuels for labour power came up on my recent blog post and your subsequent comment. Earlier regimes would've been making more use of labour power, which was fueled by agriculture.


To D. T. Cochrane:

I have modified the original scheme of Howard T. Odum but retained the term "eMergy" with an M to represent the embodied energy in all things. This is a physical measure and is the very best one can do, I believe, because energy (corrected for entropy (as in H-TS)) is the life's blood of every economy. Be it human energy or fossil-fuel energy - or even geothermal energy, all energy comes from the sun. I flatter myself by imagining that my development at http://www.dematerialism.net/emergyunit.htm is as good or better than any other development. As far as converting the four-vector (land, water, time, eMergy) to a one-dimensional currency, I have forgotten where I posted my thoughts along those lines; however, one could start with http://eroei.net/cc2.htm, move on to http://eroei.blogspot.com/2013/07/we-ne ... te_11.html and, for your consideration, I had better add a few words in this space:

Since land can be rented but not owned, we could assign the eMergy of the mean insolation over the period in question. We could assign the energy cost of desalinating and transporting sea water to the desired location for the place dependent eMergy of all water. That is, the cost of fresh water should be no less than what the cost would be of desalinated sea water at that place and time. Given that the time of their lives is of equal value to all people, we may take that as given and merely compute the eMergy expended acquiring the skills appropriately distributed over the most probable period of their application. I do not see any way to escape the employment of probability to solve this problem. Do you?

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Re: Quantifying Arrighi

Postby DT Cochrane » Sat Jul 26, 2014 10:22 am

blairfix wrote:note that it is impossible to increase per capita energy consumption by increasing the use of human labor. Adding labor will increase the use of total biomass (agriculture), but since caloric intake per person is essentially unchanging, per capita consumption will remain unaffected.


If we measured the total human labour energy expended and divided that by the total population then increased work hours or increased enrollment into the workforce would increase the population's per capital energy consumption going into the industrial system.
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Re: Quantifying Arrighi

Postby blairfix » Sat Jul 26, 2014 1:16 pm

Good point. However, this is true only if we assume that those outside the workforce are not engaged in industrious activity (in the Veblen sense). I would argue that entering the workforce mostly means a monetization of time, not the transformation of human activity from leisure to "work".
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Re: Quantifying Arrighi

Postby DT Cochrane » Sat Jul 26, 2014 3:27 pm

blairfix wrote:Good point. However, this is true only if we assume that those outside the workforce are not engaged in industrious activity (in the Veblen sense). I would argue that entering the workforce mostly means a monetization of time, not the transformation of human activity from leisure to "work".


Yes, it was a mistake to refer to industrial work. You are correct to refer to the monetization and therefore the 'economic' measurement of energy expenditure.
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