Peak Prosperity and the Peter Principle...

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OldManOnFire's picture
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Peak Prosperity and the Peter Principle...

Just registered after seeing article in PD so would like to offer my philosophical comments on how things are going...or not going.


IMO Americans have kind of reached the Peter Principle.  Briefly defined, the Peter Principle was about employees who are promoted and/or adjusted to work positions in which at some point they become ineffective or incompetent. For example, Bill's a hell of a hard worker on that assembly line so let's promote him into management, assuming that Bill's eventual management successes will equal his assembly line successes...however Bill might be pushed into roles in which he eventually becomes ineffective...rises to a level of incompetence. 


Seems to me this same principle applies to Americans.  For myriad reasons, Americans seems to have risen in society and politics to a point at which most Americans are not trained for this level of complexity, this level of problem solving, this level of open-minded thinking, so we become incapable of building consensus and incapable of solving our critical issues/ other words we are becoming incompetent as citizens and as a nation.


Of particular detriment to society, IMO, is Americans clinging to groups, such as religion, politics, unions, special interests, etc. in which we become very polarized to single points of view, and closed-minded to other points of view, and certainly avoid any challenges to our biased positions.  This 'heard' mentality when heavily biased with closed minds prevents us from working together, opening our minds to all ideas.  Instead of the 'all for one and one for all' philosophy we seem to have evolved to 'all for one and one for one' philosophy...self-serving.


If I'm close to correct, then sadly I do not see any appreciable improvement well into the distant future...





HughK's picture
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Joined: Mar 6 2012
Posts: 760
Dwarves standing on the shoulders of giants and complexity

I love the post, OldManonFire, although I am optimistic about our ability to be happy even if things get harder in terms of material comfort and stability.

Are we dwarves standing on the shoulders of giants?

Bernard of Chartres used to say that we are like dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, so that we can see more than they, and things at a greater distance, not by virtue of any sharpness of sight on our part, or any physical distinction, but because we are carried high and raised up by their giant size.

Will we make as far as the sedentary space-station-resort dwelling humans in Wall-E before we come back to Earth?

Or, is Joseph Tainter's example of a voluntary simplification in the face of collapse, as the Byzantine Empire undertook,(p.25-29) our best possible future?

It was apparently at this time that [Emperor] Constans halved military pay, for he now expected the troops to provide their own livelihood through farming (with a small monetary supplement).  Correspondingly, the Byzantine fiscal administration was greatly simplified.

The transformation ramified throughout Byzantine society, as any fundamental economic change must.  Both central and provincial government were simplified, and the transaction costs of government were reduced.  In the provinces, the civil administration was merged into the military [aside: God forbid the IRS in the uniform of military contractor].  Cities across Anatolia contracted to fortified hilltops...There was little eductation beyond basic literacy and numeracy, and literature itself consisted of little more than lives of saints...

The results of the simplification were evident almost immediately.  The system of themes (the military units described above) rejuvenated Byzantium.  A class of peasant-soldiers was formed across the empire.  The new farmer-soldiers had obligations to no landowners, only to the state.  They became producers rather than consumers of the empire's wealth....From this new [hereditary] class of farmers came the force that sustained the empire.  By lowering the cost of military defense the Byzantines secured a better return on their most important investment.

....In two centuries the Byzantines had gone from near disintegration to being the premier power in Europe and the Near East, an accomplishment won by decreasing the complexity and costliness of problem solving.



OldManOnFire's picture
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Joined: Sep 9 2013
Posts: 5
The masses, population growth, and low skills...

Regarding the US economy, IMO we can’t consume ourselves into economic prosperity like we did since WWII.  The few decades following 1950 was filled with innovation, research & development, invention, rampant technology growth...society was on a fast-track to provide stuff for consumers.  Not that I don’t believe we won’t continue our innovation and technology, we will, however instead of fast-track we’re now on a slow-track.  Most American consumers possess the technology which has been presented to us and now we’re stocked up with stuff, and we’re not innovating the next big thing that consumers cannot do without. so consumption slows.  Apple and iPhone is experiencing this right now in which they’ve been on the ‘fast-track’ and suddenly they find themselves on the ‘slow-track’

Now couple this with partial and complete outsourcing to off-shore companies.  It’s no surprise to me whatsoever why we have millions unemployed Americans which means they’re not building stuff we can consume and they don’t have money to be consumers.

It would be great if we could double US exports where there remains billions of consumers but the cost of doing business in the US prevents us from competing in the global marketplace.  Here we are clinging to a recessionary economy yet workers all over the US are demanding higher wages and unions are striking, etc.

Lastly, and this certainly does not work for everyone, but I wish the US government would figure out how to create 1-5 million new farmers, primarily from our unskilled and lower-skilled workers who remain in the high unemployment group.  Fresh produce in the US on average travels 1500 miles...a goal should be to reduce this to 50 miles.  And why can’t the US be the major exporter of farmed products? 

We’ve outsourced much of our technology manufacturing and we’re outsourcing much of our farmed products so what is left in the US for the tens of millions of unskilled and lower-skilled workers...

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