PRODUCTIVITY – THE BASIS OF HUMAN PROGRESS
by Masse Bloomfield
Whenever we look at the past or the future, we tend to see humans much as we are
today. We tend to think that change is part and parcel of human existence. But that is far from the case. Most of the time that Homo sapiens has a spent on earth has been in stable societies. And in those stable societies, men have lived for thousands and thousands of years without any change whatsoever in terms of technology, biology, sociology or culture. The changes that have come about, have come in short burst of transitions.
The dynamics of stability then instability then stability and so on, in the biological world was called punctuated equilibrium by Eldredge and Gould in 1972. It is my opinion that the cultural history of mankind follows the path of punctuated equilibrium. Mankind is in one of those periods of transition from a stable peasant society in a transitional industrial society becoming a stable automated society. There are two parameters that can be used to determine where a human society is in terms of change or stability. Those two are population and productivity. Both are tied to technological innovation.
Productivity can be defined by the amount of output created in terms of goods produced or services rendered, per unit input used. For instance, labor productivity is typically measured as output per worker or output per labor-hour. Increasing productivity reduces prices, and therefore goods become more widely available. Automobiles, for example, were initially hand made and only available to the wealthy. As productivity increased, and the price of automobiles fell, they became widely available to the general population.
Companies increase productivity in a variety of ways. The most obvious methods involve automation and computerization which minimize the tasks that must be performed by employees. Increases in productivity also can influence society more broadly, by improving living standards, and creating income. They are central to the process generating economic growth and capital accumulation.
My view of human history can be defined by food productivity. In 1973, I published a book “Man in Transition” which included a chart of the history of man, but that book made no mention of punctuated equilibrium. Then in 1993, I published the book “Mankind in Transition,” again with a chart of the history of man and this book does mention punctuated equilibrium. In the Preface of the 1993 book, I wrote;
History in this book, is based on an evolutionary progression as defined by
punctuated equilibrium. Punctuated equilibrium characterizes evolution as a
series of steps where there are long periods of stability interrupted with short
periods of transition to new and more complex species as the result.
The way I have defined history, it follows the patterns of punctuated
equilibrium. The pattern shown in this book has mankind now emerging from a
long period of stability in an agricultural society. It is engulfed presently in a
short period of transition when all human activities are going though enormous
and agonizing changes. These changes will result in a future stable society that
I have named the automated society.
It had been apparent to me that mankind’s cultural history can be shown as a series of steps, from stability, to instability and again to stability. The cultural history of man matches it biological history. It only makes sense that an evolutionary biological creature would reproduce its cultural progress as it did its biological progress. The two charts show graphically the stability and the instability.
Man started as an animal evolving biologically through several species to become Homo sapiens. These biological species changes and dates are subject to controversy. However that we have gone through a biological evolution is obvious.
In the biological progression of evolution as defined by Gould and Eldredge, they could find no transitional species. In one strata of rock, they found one species and in the next strata of rock, the next species. They did not find transitional species. When we investigate the transitions of human culture, only in our current transition can we document with certainty what the transitional cultural artifacts are. When it comes to tools for the tribal society, we know when rock tools gained handles. We can do a lot better in determining the cultural evolution of our artifacts than biologists can in finding the transitional animals of a species change. That difficulty of biological species can be seen when we talk about the missing link in man’s species changes.
In our cultural evolution, for man to have a tribal society, we needed tools, fire and language. Tools were used 2.5 million years ago, fire half a million years ago, but a date for language is impossible to calculate. I have assumed the tribal society started with the origins of Homo sapiens or about 200,000 years ago.
Food procurement can be used as the indicator of evolutionary status. Animal societies use their claws and teeth to procure food. In the stable human tribal societies, it was tools, fire and language that were used in procuring food. In the stable peasant societies, it was a man, a domesticated animal and dedicated farm land responsible for food production. In the industrial society, it has been the tractor which has been responsible for the huge increase in agricultural productivity. It was the tractor that forced farmers and/or peasants off the land and into the city where blue collar jobs waited for them.
Once the technology of the peasant society took hold, it spread over much of the world. It lasted for about 10,000 years. It only began to change 300 years ago with the introduction of the Newcomen steam engine, the first machine made of all metal moving parts. And since then there has been nothing but change. We continually predict change in our current world and are not disappointed. It was the tractor that brought about the most change in the life of the peasant. With the tractor, the number of agricultural workers has been reduced to about three percent of the total population. In a peasant society, ninety percent of the people have to be farmers or peasants. The technology of the industrial society has the machine attended to by workers. There are office workers needed to document what the other workers are doing.
I see the major activity of human progress as part of productivity, It is technology that drives productivity. And in the United States in the past, in the present and I anticipate in the future, it is economic competition pressing for gains in productivity. There are many companies that must watch their competition to make sure they can match them in costs which implies matching them in productivity. The companies with the best gains in productivity are the ones with the lowest costs. The American business culture and/or climate forces competition. One of the reasons I believe that America has the flexibility and the innovation is due to our meritocracy and democracy. There are few countries in the world with this unique American culture.
In my analysis of history, it is a series of steps with increasing complexity in each higher step. It is during periods of transition, the rises, that productivity increases dramatically. During periods of stasis or the steps, productivity is practically stagnant. We are currently in a period of transition and productivity increases every year. In stable periods, there is no such thing as yearly increases in productivity.
We have had three stable societies; the animal society, the tribal society and the peasant society. We are in a transitional industrial/information society.
Since 1700, the beginning of the industrial society, humanity has experienced nothing but change. It hasn’t stopped. Toffler does not see stable and transitional periods. If fact, I think most people living now, think that change is part of all human history.
A paper by Deevey in the 1960 Scientific American provides the same kind of data as I have in my chart. Although Deevey used a log-log scale and my chart is linear, both charts show a punctuated equilibrium cultural history. Deevey was interested in demographics but still showed the same kind of pattern as I have in my chart. Along with the cultural changes over the last 300,000 years, there has been a significant increase in population. This increase in population is directly related to the increase in technological capability or in other words, productivity. It has been the increasing productivity on the farm that has increased food production.
Deevey has a diagram which shows population growth over that last 15 thousand years. His diagram links population growth with technological advances. These advances are linked to productivity. He has 0.04 of a person supported per square kilometer in 8000 B. C. or in a tribal society; one person per square kilometer at the time of Jesus or in an agricultural society; and sixteen people per square kilometer in a 1950 industrial society. I have calculated that number to be 41 people per square kilometer for the year 2000. In my estimation, Deevey’s diagram although given on a log-log scale, parallels my figure. Deevey produced a chart that confirms punctuated equilibrium, long before Gould or I thought about the concept.
Each stable period has a sociology associated with a technology. There is a culture embedded in each period which is difficult to describe and is unique to the time and place. Beginning with primates, they have a society with a dominant male and everyone else. That society features a technology of hands and teeth. The tribal societies have a chief, shaman, warriors, collectors and everyone else featuring a technology of stone tools, fire and language. The peasant society has a complex social system with a food production category, a military category, a religious category plus tradesmen and craftsmen. The first three categories have three ranks and the fourth but two for a total of four categories and eleven ranks. The peasant food production category has nobility running the society, with overseers telling the peasants what to do. And peasants make up ninety percent of a peasant society. The military category has generals, officers and soldiers; the religious category has bishops, priests and laymen (peasants being the majority of the laymen); and then tradesmen and craftsmen with their apprentices. The technology of the peasant society is featured by a man, a domesticated animal and a plow on dedicated land. I describe the present transitional society with sixteen categories and forty-three ranks, a good deal more complex that the peasant sociology. Some of these categories include the production category, the university category, the religious category, the military category, the sports category, the legal category, the medical category, the school category, the entertainment category as well as seven more. Because our present sociology is so much more complex than a stable peasant society, I see no need for any further complexity in the future. The technology of the current transitional period is characterized by the tractor on the farm, machine tools in the factories plus the computer. With the tractor, there is no need for peasants and they have been forced out of farming.
The contrast in both the social and technical complexity between the peasant society and the industrial society is obvious. This contrast only tells us that we are far more complex now than what we were some three hundred years ago. The population reinforces this position. Three hundred years ago, there were about 500 million people on earth and now we have over six billion. It was the tractor on the land that allowed for the increase in food production to maintain the increase of population to our current six billion. It should be obvious that we are in a transition. The technology and the sociology has changed dramatically in the transition. I doubt if the transition will take more than 600 years. This would mean that the transition that started in 1700 will end on or before 2300.
Along with the cultural changes over the last 300,000 years, there has been a significant increase in population. This increase in population is directly related to the increase in technological capability or in other words, productivity. It has been the increasing productivity on the farm that has increased food production.
The automated society with a food factory, will have no need for any farm workers. The food factory will be automated. I envision one high rise food factory for every 10,000 people. The food factory will take in garbage, fertilizer and other waste, and with sunlight and artificial light, produce food. I prefer algae as the means to convert waste into products that can be either food for animals or fertilizer for plants. With a future food factory, solar satellite power stations and extensive space colonization, I see no limits to the number of humans possible. One of the possibilities is a species change for humans. I see that possibility occurring only in colonies around other stars.
The future stable automated society should be in place in the next 300 years. After that, I see the next thousand years, the next ten thousand years and the next hundred thousand years, with no significant change in production technology or in sociology. The automated society will be another stable society with few changes.
I do see an autocratic government for the automated society. I believe it is only with the chaos of a transition that a democracy is even possible. When societies become stable, the chances are great that the elite will control production as they did in the peasant society.
In the book “Limits to Growth”, the authors predict that the population will rise to twelve billion by 2050 and then fall to about six billion by 2100 due to lack of resources and the increase in pollution. I have proposed a solution to the food problem by bringing the food factory on line. At the present time, about all we have for the food factory is an Algal Turf Scrubber which is being use in a fish pond. The algae take out the pollution and at the same time provide food for the fish. It is also possible to take out pollution from electric power plant smokestacks using algae. There is a pilot plant in at the 1,040 megawatt Redhawk Power Plant in Arizona where algae are turning flue gas (CO2) into biodiesel fuel and ethanol.
The global warming problem can be handled by seeding the upper atmosphere with ice crystals. We know that when the airlines were grounded after 9/11, the temperature of the atmosphere rose. It rose because airplanes were no longer making contrails. We also know that large volcanic eruptions lead to enormous amounts of dust in the atmosphere and in 1816, the Tambora eruption resulted in a “Year without a Summer.” Thus it is possible for man to control not only the food supply but the climate as well.
The one place where man will have an open-ended future will be in space. We have yet to set a colony of men on the moon. I predict colonies of men on distant star systems. It is within these colonies where man will have the potential to evolve into a new species. It is doubtful that we are going to be able to get a biological change with six billion people who are interbreeding, without the effort to keep the races separate and pure. I believe that the same kind of interbreeding will occur within the solar system in the future. In order to get a biological change, we need to isolate communities so that they can diverge from the genetics of our current species. I believe that this will only occur for those colonies of men outside the solar system.
Even with cloning, DNA insertions and genetic tampering, I can see no way that a genetic change can occur in Homo sapiens if we are restricted to the solar system. There are just too many of us to have species change in the near future. We may be able to introduce a different gene or two into the species, but not a species change. To get a species change, we have to have complete isolation of the new organisms and I believe that is impossible within the solar system.
I feel there are five areas of human activity that spur our progress toward the automated society. They are:
computers (hardware and software)
Each of these five areas has shown enormous progress over the last seventy-five years. Seventy-five years is but a blink in a human history that started about two hundred thousand years ago. It is the innovations in computers and robots (machine tools) which are the areas where most of our productivity increases have occurred.
I expect our effort in space to be the source of future energy with solar satellite power stations. With cheap abundant energy, many of our other problems are easier to solve. Also space can be the outlet for any overpopulation problems. O’Neill in his 1977 book “The High Frontier,” outlines the potential resources available in space as well as sending enormous numbers of people to his space colonization sites.
But at this time, we humans do not put a very high priority on space activities. We currently need orbiting satellite solar power stations to provide us with the energy we will need to rid the world of most of the sources of pollution. And at the same time, provide mankind with the energy needed to build the food factories to feed almost unlimited numbers of humans while preserving the wilds for animals.
That time is coming. But our leaders are much too short sighted to even begin to have a vision which includes an automated society or space colonies. It is too bad that Gould, who had a national voice, did not lead the way to that future.
Most historians, instead of seeing the our present condition as a transition from a peasant society to an automated society, see history as a continuum of constant change as if it is a human attribute to experience constant change. There was almost no change in our stable societies. Few people I know, believe as I do that productivity is the one human activity that gives us an inkling of where we are on the road of human progress. We are on that road which will lead to the stable automated society.