lunes, 11 de octubre de 2010

Matt Ridley: ¡es la energía barata!

I would argue forcefully that the record shows quite clearly that the thing that always causes innovation is trade, because it encourages specialization. When networks of exchanging human beings grow dense enough, technology advances… I am saying that there have always been liberals, who want to be free to trade in ideas as well as things, and there have always been predators, who want to extract rents by force if necessary. The grand theme of history is how the crushing dominance of the latter has repeatedly stifled the former. As Joel Mokyr puts it: “Prosperity and success led to the emergence of predators and parasites in various forms and guises who eventually slaughtered the geese that laid the golden eggs.” The wonder of the last 200 years is not the outbreak of liberalism, but the fact that it has so far fought off the rent-seeking predators by the skin of its teeth: the continuing triumph of the Bourgeoisie.
the more I study the Industrial Revolution’s failure to peter out, the more convinced I become that energy is crucial. Hear me out. Or rather, hear out Robert Allen, professor of economic history at Oxford, whose new book The British Industrial Revolution in Global Perspective, is a tour de force… The point is that fossil fuels were the only power source that did not show diminishing returns. In sharp contrast to wood, water and wind, the more you mined them the cheaper they became. Energy amplifies human work, and Britain found itself able to amplify the productivity of its labor long after its population and its technology would have exhausted all other sources of power. Fossil fuels therefore kept the innovation machine running so that profits from commerce just kept ahead of profits from piracy
Britain’s success in the 1700s was caused by London, and London’s success was caused by trade. Like Tyre, Athens, Venice and Amsterdam, London did exchange and specialization with the world, got rich and — thanks to the Reformation and the Glorious Revolution — kept the pirates (chiefs, priests, and thieves) at bay. That drove up its wages, which spurred on labor-saving innovation in machinery. “The coal trade took off,” says Allen, “when London got big enough to drive the price of wood fuel high enough to make it profitable to mine coal in Northumberland and ship it to London.” That mining then created abundant cheap energy in northern districts, which rewarded inventors of steam engines…
Not only did this coal get cheaper and cheaper the more that was mined, but machines grew more and more effective at turning its heat into work. “The cheap energy economy,” says Allen, “was the foundation of Britain’s economic success.” As Gregory Clark has reminded us, it was only in the nineteenth century, when fossil fuels amplified human labor, that wages really began to rise. The rest of the world then borrowed this innovation — fossil energy — and its ability to produce increasing returns through new technology. Today the average citizen of planet earth uses fossil energy equivalent to having 150 slaves working continuous eight-hour shifts on his or her behalf. That is why we are all so rich and that is why per capita economic growth turned upwards so sharply after 1800
O la regla de que siempre es la demanda la que determina la oferta. Me encanta eso de que fue el hecho de que Londres se convirtiera en una gran ciudad comercial que había que calentar e iluminar la que tiró de los precios del carbón vegetal para arriba e hizo rentable traer el carbón mineral desde lejos. España se ha convertido en el paraíso de los comilones porque la gente – los españoles – se gastan su dinero en buenos restaurantes (al margen de que la naturaleza produzca en España buenas y variadas materias primas). La posibilidad de ganarse muy bien la vida dedicándose a dar de comer, incrementa y mejora la oferta etc etc. Y lo propio cabe decir de las copas o los hoteles. Y, lo contrario, de muchas otras cosas.

No hay comentarios:

Archivo del blog