Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

15 November 2014

Size Matters

Introduction: Godzilla’s modern message
Size in population
Size in territory
Size of leaders
How Long Might Reaching Equilibrium Take?

Introduction: Godzilla’s modern message

The title of this essay is an advertising slogan. Yankee movie makers used it to promote their recent American remake of the classic 1954 Japanese horror movie “Godzilla.”

As you may recall, Godzilla was a very, very big mutant lizard. He stomped through human cities, crushing cars and buses, knocking over skyscrapers, and batting down fighter jets with his huge but (to him) relatively small front paws. It took a lot to bring him down.

The chief threat to our species (and others) today is not mutants, let alone imaginary ones. It’s self-caused climate change. Not only is global warming increasing freakish and destructive weather, causing drought and floods, and decreasing our planet’s usable land area, potentially causing yet more conflict within our species, to add to the gratuitous tribal conflict that we already have. Climate change will also cause massive extinction of our fellow species.

How massive? Well, the extinction will rival—but we hope not surpass—that caused by the asteroid collision 65 million years ago that wiped out the dinosaurs and gave us mammals a chance. Scientists estimate that a third of all species might die from our human craving for easy and reckless energy. And we haven’t even reached the inflection point of climate change yet.

Not even Godzilla could do that! Yet the advertising slogan used to promote his remake retains some important lessons. Size does matter, in powerful but as yet under-appreciated ways. The size of nations and people could influence, if not determine, our species’ future.

Thus does Godzilla work in mysterious ways. Let’s take a look.

Size in population

About a week ago, Bloomberg.com published a story noting how China—now the world’s second largest economy—had surpassed Japan not just in GDP, but in several important quantitative measures of economic success. The story drew no conclusions; it just reported “news.” But it had an air of surprise about it, as if the old postwar order of things was about to change irrevocably.

That it will. Three short-term implications of China’s rapid rise have been obvious for some time. First, China’s huge population will give its economic rise and its policies—including energy, environmental and military policies—global effect. It’s a major power experiencing an unprecedented rise from an historic two-century-long slump.

Second, China’s rise is now at its inflection point. It’s cutting itself loose from foreign investment and exports as the chief drivers of its economy. In fact, its current economic policies are directed consciously toward that end: passing the cusp quickly, without sacrificing hard-won peace or stability and so backsliding.

Third, China’s meteoric rise makes others nervous, especially its neighbors. Japan is no exception. China’s relationship with Japan is especially fraught because of Japan’s wartime atrocities in China and its repeated attempts to downplay them.

Because of that unfortunate history, the US’ effort to mediate between the two countries is not going to be easy. Perhaps our most important diplomatic goal is keeping Japan from engaging in a pointless conflict that ultimately it can’t win. Achieving that goal may take supreme diplomatic and leadership effort, worthy of President Obama’s sustained attention during his last two years in office.

But Bloomberg.com’s numbers also got me thinking beyond the short term, to what both economists and physicists call “equilibrium.” When a system—any system—makes a transition from one relatively stable or “steady” state to another, there is a period of turmoil or chaos. After that, a new steady state called “equilibrium” sets in. The job of science, including economics, is to predict how long and unstable the transition period will be, and what the following equilibrium will look like.

The particular transition we humans are now enduring is globalization. It’s a slow and sporadic process, much like the rest of our social and biological evolution. But it appears to be irreversible, and it appears to be reaching its own inflection point.

As I pointed out nearly a decade ago, Anglo-American culture is largely responsible for the process. But that culture’s loss of influence, due both to China’s rise and other factors, is an inevitable part of globalization. As economic power—and with it, the rise of Science, Industry and Reason—become more widely distributed globally, the extraordinary influence of English-speaking culture, which amounts to about 6% of our species (not counting India), cannot last forever.

The whole thrust of globalization points in the other direction. Already it has lifted nearly a billion people worldwide out of extreme poverty, mostly in China and Africa. Even West Africa’s ebola crisis could have a positive long-term outcome. If the rest of the world makes all the ebola-motivated investments it has promised, West Africa might emerge from the crisis shaken but on a firm path toward economic parity with the rest of Africa and ultimately the world.

There are risks and dangers, to be sure, some noted below. But what will happen if present trends continue? What will happen if the non-English-speaking world, with China in the lead, manages to stay on a stable and productive course, avoid the very real pitfalls of tribalism, empire, war and revolution, and drive the process of globalization to its logical conclusion?

One thing is clear. Globalization tends toward global parity of economic achievement, technology and power. Since people, i.e., individuals, are the ultimate sources of all those things, a probable consequence of complete or nearly complete globalization is something close to parity of those measures on a per-capita basis.

In other words, post-globalization humanity will trend toward parity of economic measures, such as GDP, on a per-capita basis. If that happens, what will be the result?

Here’s where Godzilla and his advertising slogan come in. Size does matter. And it will matter more as globalization proceeds toward global equilibrium.

The following table compares China’s population with that of other leading nations and blocs (including the EU and the Former Soviet Union). Since China is the largest in population, the first and second columns show, in absolute numbers and percentages, how much larger China is in population.

The third column compares the current aggregate GDP figures of the same nations and blocs, as a fraction of the figure for the US, which is, at the moment, the leading nation in GDP. The final column shows how that fraction of the leader’s GDP will change for each nation or block when globalization reaches equilibrium, per-capita GDPs reach parity, and China, not the US, is the leader in aggregate GDP.

Projected Consequences of Post-Globalization Equilibrium for GDP,
on Assumption of Eventual Per-Capita GDP Parity

or Bloc
Present PopulationPresent Population
as Fraction of China’s
Present GDP, as Fraction of US’ (2013)Projected GDP,
as Fraction of China’s
China1.36 billion100%55%100%
India1.24 billion91%11%91%
EU511 million38%107%38%
US319 million23%100%23%
Former Soviet Union287 million21%17%21%
Indonesia254 million19%5%19%
Russia142 million10.5%1%10.5%
Japan127 million9%29%9%
Germany81 million6%22%6%

    Table Notes: The dollar GDP figure for the EU, and hence its percentage of US GDP, uses this estimated 2013 EU GDP, 13 trillion Euros, multiplied by the 2013 year-end exchange rate, or 1/0.7260. Although the EU’s aggregate GDP exceeds the US’ even now, I use the US figure as the standard of comparison because the US is still the leading single nation, and most current statistics refer to it as such.

    Easily available online GDP figures for the Former Soviet Union are wildly discrepant. This graph’s 2010 per-capita GDP figure, about 4.43 2005 US dollars, when multiplied by the 2006 total population summed from this table, yields a total GDP of 1.272 trillion 2005 dollars, or 1.55 trillion dollars inflated up to 2014 per this inflation calculator. In contrast, the former-Soviet-states GDP table from this report, which purports to recite numbers from the CIA’s World Factbook, sums to $2.905 trillion in 2013 US dollars, for the year 2013. I have taken the higher number as more accurate.

    Note that, on the assumption of per-capita GDP parity, the projected GDPs in the last (right) column are the same percentages of China’s GDP as the respective populations are of China’s population (both at present). No adjustment has been made for the exponential character of population growth, so the table probably exaggerates the percentage-of-leader’s-GDP figures for nations or blocs with smaller populations.

What will it take to reach this sort of equilibrium? First and foremost, our species will have to avoid the perils of tribalism, empire, war and revolution. In other words, we will all have to emulate China in seeking stability as our overriding goal, even while suffering a difficult transition.

Second, we must work together to retard global warming and ameliorate its adverse effects and their centrifugal forces on globalization. Specifically, we must do our best to avert conflicts over land and resources as the globe’s land area decreases under rising seas, and as fossil fuels run out.

Perhaps the most critical challenge will come with declining production and rising prices for oil and gas, probably within the lifetimes of students now in university. Declining supply and rising prices will promote hoarding, incite nationalism, encourage backsliding on phasing out coal, and cause tremendous further backsliding on globalization through isolationism and protectionism.

That’s why we need to cooperate globally, and soon, on a rapid transition to renewables and safe nuclear energy. The recent agreement in principle between China and the US is a good start, but only a start. And peace in the South China Sea is a necessary precondition to completing globalization. Nothing could stop it dead in its tracks more quickly than a war in Asia.

Finally, we have to take to heart the notion that we are all 98% genetically identical and that our chief evolutionary advantage is our ability to cooperate. If we can do that, we can make our little planet a globalized Paradise, in maybe two generations. If we can’t, we might extinguish ourselves, or a large part of our population, and make our world a Hell in the process.

Size in territory

The size of a nation’s territory doesn’t matter as much as the size of its population. After all, land by itself doesn’t produce anything, let alone think. It takes people to make land productive for people, whether by farming, mining, drilling for fossil fuels, or building solar farms and windmills to take free energy from the sun and wind.

So as long as a nation is big enough to support its population, the size of its territory has what scientists call a “second-order,” or secondary, effect. Yet that second-order effect works on human imagination and culture in strange and wonderful ways. It could be among the wild cards of human advancement.

Why has our Yankee culture so captured the world’s imagination during the near century and a half since our Civil War? Sure, we Yanks are now rich and powerful, far beyond our numbers. Sure, we are productive, and we have been both clever and practical, at least until our present infatuation with dogmatic ideology began.

But except for their one-generation psychotic break of Nazism, the Germans, too, have been all these things. Redact the Nazi era, and Germany is a strong rival of America, England and France for world-historical leadership in human culture and thinking.

Before the two great wars, Germany was a global leader in science, math, music and literature. One of the four greatest scientists in human history—Albert Einstein—was a German Jew. He wrote his Nobel-Prize-winning paper on the photoelectric effect—which powers my solar array—in 1905. Germans and German-speaking composers like Mozart dominated classical music and still do.

Today’s Germany, quietly and without fuss, has created what may be the most egalitarian society on our planet. It’s per-capita productivity is among the highest in non-petro-states; yet the ratio of its CEOs’ pay to that of its average workers is ten. Ours is 400. At the same time, on a per-capita basis Germany has gone farther than any other nation to wean itself from fossil fuels and the dangers of unsafe nuclear power.

So why are we Yanks, and not Germans, the focus of human imagination worldwide? Why have our movies and our native music—hardly a match for Bach, Brahms, Beethoven or Mozart—taken the world by storm, and not Germany’s?

Part of the answer, of course, is the simplicity and brevity of the English alphabet and language (apart from spelling!). When everybody’s favorite second language is your own native tongue, you garner a lot of influence, if only by cultural osmosis. People worldwide read your newspapers and watch your movies and television just to learn your language.

But there are other reasons as well. An important one I discovered quite accidentally, while taking a bicycle trip near the former East-German town of Warnemunde.

As we pedaled along a country path between German farms on one side and the distant Baltic shoreline on the other, something surprised me. The farms were huge. Unlike our small family farms in say, New England, they went on for miles.

There was no sign that these farms were outposts of agribusiness. There were no giant combines or commercial-style buildings with metal roofs. They looked like ordinary family farms. So I asked our English-speaking German guide to explain, and she did.

Nineteenth-century Germans in this area followed a strict rule of primogeniture. Farming families never split up their land; they left it all to their eldest son. The siblings had to work for the eldest, leave farming, or emigrate.

As it happened, most of the siblings from the area of our bicycle trip left Germany. They emigrated to Pennsylvania, where they got their own land, founded a thriving German farming community, and abandoned the custom of primogeniture.

Even back then, land, as much as freedom, captured these Germans’ imagination. Our new nation had land that stretched as far as the eye could see, with no one claiming ownership but a few inconvenient natives lacking firearms. That vast land engendered feelings of freedom and possibility.

Empty land available for the taking was a dominant part of the “liberty” that our nascent Yankee culture provided and projected worldwide. Our various Homestead Acts in the mid-nineteenth century explicitly recognized and formalized that fact.

This was something the “Old World” of Europe never could have done, with its centuries of feudal land tenure. Its stern and non-egalitarian rules of land ownership were written in the great estates and literally graven in stone, in gates, fences and markers of granite.

If today you live in a tenement, a large apartment building, or an endless sea of nearly identical tract homes, it’s hard to see beyond your immediate neighbors. Your dreary surroundings confine your dreams to getting out and getting up in the world. Money and riches become ends in themselves, at first for survival and comfort, and later just by habit.

Land beyond what’s needed to live and farm frees the human spirit and imagination. It’s a blank slate on which human creativity and industry can write their stories. The United States has had more of it—a whole unexplored and sparsely populated continent!—and has used it more liberally than any other society in human history. You might say that our largely unsettled “new” continent helped form our unique Yankee personality.

Yet if the truth be told, we Yanks also have a dirty little secret. It’s a secret that few foreigners know, and not even every Yank. We have not just one culture, but several.

Today, not quite two and a half centuries after our Founding, our Eastern Seaboard is beginning to look much like “Old Europe.” It’s crowded, congested, and filled with as much or more history than future.

Recently I’ve spent some time in Virginia, a key Founding state in which I never spent time before. Every city and small town has its historical buildings and monuments. Some date from our Founding, and a lot more from our Civil War. The tourism industry, including charming bed-and-breakfast hotels in eighteenth- and nineteenth century houses, thrives on this history.

In such a state, where ever-present trees keep you from seeing anything more than fifty meters from the highway, grand vistas of land or possibility are hard to see. No wonder so many Virginians are still fighting our long-ago-decided Civil War in the twenty-first century! They live among its ruins and its ghosts, confined by the same forests that once hid Union and Confederate snipers.

My native West is as different from Virginia as Argentina is from Spain. I live on fifteen acres in the country. From my windows I can see Sandia Mountain fifty miles away. To the northwest and southwest, I can see other mountain ranges over twenty miles away. My solar array, which gives me more energy than my home needs, seems small compared to the land and the sky. No matter what the profit, I wouldn’t even think of drilling for fossil fuels, for fear of spoiling the land, the vistas, and the possibilities.

The state of my birth and youth, California, is also different. When I was born in 1945, it was still part of the West, and not only geographically. Its population then was roughly 8.75 million people. That’s only about twice today’s population of New Zealand, which, with about the same total land area as California, is the most beautiful and pristine country that I’ve ever seen.

Today California is much changed. Its population has more than quadrupled, to over 37 million as of 2010. Its congested and smoggy cities and highways, wholly dependent on oil, are reminiscent of the East Coast.

But California, like all the West, is still as much desert as forest. Most of the trees in the cities were imported. The grand vistas and the welcoming Western culture remain, even after most of the best land has been spoken for. Immigrants still come from Asia and all over the world, including Mexico and points south, and they find refuge and welcome in California. The state prepares official voter materials in seven languages: English, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Tagalog (Filipino) and Vietnamese.

And so it was when I grew up there, a fourth-generation assimilated Jew, never a bar mitzvah, seeing myself as a human being and an American, not a hyphenated being. And so it was that California today is not just the American State with the highest population and GDP, but the state with the creativity and innovation of Hollywood and Silicon Valley, and one of the strongest centers of twenty-first-century biology and medicine. It is no accident that one of the three small biotech firms collaborating on the ebola drug Zmapp is in San Diego.

California today may be crowded, expensive and smoggy. But its Gold-Rush culture of broad vistas, a hearty welcome for strangers, and openness to new possibilities remains. In a cultural sense, it is still part of the West. You can sense the difference in atmosphere from the Midwest and East Coast not long after you step off the plane.

Land—lots of it and free for the taking—helped create and define these cultural differences. The size of a culture’s territory does matter.

There was, and still is, land in the South, too. But there human culture took a different turn, with large plantations and slavery more reminiscent of “Old Europe” than the American West, or even Midwest. We Yanks are a multi-cultural nation divided by a common language, an original but still dominant Great Compromise, and an outmoded government structure that cements minority rule and gridlock. As we use up our land and space, especially what remains in the West, our vistas and possibilities will diminish accordingly.

At this very moment of our history, as these truths become self-evident, a Yankophile Englishman named Ray Mears reminds us of them. He produced a wonderful television series about the American “wild” West. In it, he showed how the land—our continent’s vast wild and open spaces—shaped the history and culture of our people, and especially our West.

Mears’ original reporting and this analysis support the view that the size of territory matters. Man does not live by bread alone. Enough land to grow bread and sleep at night is not enough to nurture a hopeful and vibrant culture. Members of our species need more land and space to dream and grow, lest the heavy hand of history and tradition, not to mention corruption of the rich and powerful, weigh them down.

If you credit this analysis, then your next question might be: where’s the free land today? The most obvious answer is in the Southern Hemisphere. There is almost as much free and potentially useful land in South America as there was in the United States at the end of our Civil War, i.e., at the beginning of our own big China-like growth spurt. And, as I have noted, Australia’s vast, unpopulated Outback is a perfect place for wind and solar farms, which could supply all of humanity’s energy needs many, many times over.

Well over a century ago, Horace Greeley advised us Yanks to “Go West, young man!” Today’s similar advice, at least in our Hemisphere, should be to go South. If I were in my twenties or thirties and knew what I know today, I would almost certainly do so. That’s where the vistas and the possibilities of our young twenty-first century still lie. There’s even some land still available in the American West.

Paradoxically, global warming will create more free land elsewhere, by melting permafrost and making the frozen north more habitable. The chief beneficiaries of climate change in this regard will include, among others, Canada and Russia.

Already Russia is preparing to exploit fossil-fuel and mineral resources made accessible by retreating ice in the Arctic Sea. And what about the vast reaches of empty Siberia? Make a vaccine against the endemic viral encephalitis there—or exterminate the mosquitos that carry it, as we Yanks did over a century ago in sanitizing our Mississippi Valley—and you have a large fraction of a continent of undeveloped land. Wouldn’t it be nice if Russia embarked on that project, rather than making trouble, and possibly a nasty war, in Eastern Ukraine?

Size of leaders

And so we come to the last of our “size matters” topics. An individual leader’s size—especially a male’s—can make a difference in his personality and his modus operandi.

Those who study literature or psychology know the phenomenon through reading. One evening long ago, I met it up close and personal. It was the first and only Harvard Law Review annual banquet that I’ve attended.

The main room was at least a hundred feet in each dimension. There were several hundred people present. All were current (student) members of the Law Review, alumni who had served on it, or their spouses. At one point a friend standing nearby exclaimed, “Look how short they all are!”

We did, and my small group started laughing. At that time (I’ve shrunk in my geezerhood) I was 5 feet 10 inches. I looked down on the vast majority of those present. We could have been standing in a convocation of midgets, rather than a banquet of law students, lawyers, law professors and jurists who were serving or had served on the Harvard Law Review.

A moment’s thought revealed the evolutionary reason. Short people—especially short men—fear conflict, for they have little or no ability to win a physical one, and no intrinsic ability to intimidate or influence others with their size. Is it any wonder that they came to excel at reading, interpreting, arguing about, and ultimately making rules? It was and is an obvious social-evolutionary adaptation, whose reality was visibly present in the banquet room around us that night.

And so we come to Vladimir Putin, the quintessential short man. Has anyone else noticed his resemblance to Napoleon? Napoleon, too, was especially short. He compensated for small stature with legendary people skills and nonstop work. He subsisted on three or four hours of sleep a night. He worked, planned and plotted the rest of the time, about twenty hours a day. He was skilled at motivating and, when necessary, manipulating others to do his bidding. He was a classic emperor.

Napoleon was also, in large measure, a practical and egalitarian man. In part beause he worked so hard, he was an accomplished and excellent administrator. Although he became Emperor of France (and much else), he never lost sight of or sympathy for ordinary people. That was an open secret of his personal power. According to my college history professor, many European peasant and working families kept portraits of Napoleon on display in their homes well into the twentieth century.

But after consolidating his Western European Empire and bringing stability and relative prosperity to many an ordinary family, Napoleon could not rest. He turned East and invaded Russia twice. Both forays were catastrophic for Russia and for France.

What irony! One short man invades Russia twice to prove his manhood, causing human catastrophies that Lev Tolstoi—one of the greatest writers in human history—laid bare in his magnum opus War and Peace. The short invader does so willy nilly, after working and fighting hard for years to improve ordinary people’s lives on a turbulent continent, and succeeding so well that their families remembered him for well over a century.

Then, two centuries later, another short man comes to rule Russia, ostensibly democratically but actually almost like a Tsar. This man helps alleviate the worst poverty in Russia and brings his nation back into the global economic order. Then, to prove his manhood, he drives West, toward Europe, just as Napoleon drove East. He threatens to disturb, if not destroy, the global economic order, just as Napoleon lost his Empire(and his freedom) by overextension.

And lest you think that short-man risks are confined to Eurasia, consider Dubya. Only a short man with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove could think, let alone say publicly, things like “We make our own reality,” or “Bring it on!” That’s especially true of the leader of the free world, who (one would hope) might be selected for some sense of decorum and diplomacy. And only a short man could actually consider, let alone start, unnecessary invasions of two whole (and innocent) sovereign nations to avenge and avoid a recurrence of a terrorist attack that killed less than 3,000 Americans.

We can thank our lucky stars, and hope for a better future, that Obama and Xi are both tall. We can also appreciate Angela Merkel, who, being a woman, lacks the excess testosterone that makes short men dangerous.


Do these three themes of size—population, territory, and personal stature—have anything in common? I think so.

Our species is now at an inflection point in tribalism. We are at or nearing a cusp. We must soon decide, collectively, whether we want to continue and enhance our species’ chief evolutionary and biological advantage: our ability to cooperate. In short, we are going to have to grow up or reach our sad Peter Principle as a species.

If we decide to grow up, we must and will complete the process of globalization, with all that doing so implies. For that process is both the instrument and the result of our species’ trans-tribal, transnational and trans-cultural cooperation.

If we finish the project, per-capita GDPs will equalize, if only roughly. We are all 98% genetically identical. Patents and other intellectual property will slow the transfer of technology but will not stop it. Nations like China that bend the rules by spying and hacking will hasten it. As various cultures smell the scent of hope and success, they will work as hard as have the Japanese and Chinese. The only thing that might hold nations back is the awkwardness of their writing systems. (See 1 and 2) But expatriates can learn more efficient writing systems and bring them back to the homeland.

For all these reasons, China will, sooner or later, become the world’s leading economic power. Its pragmatism and low susceptibility to either muscular, proselytizing religion or simplistic ideology (apart from its brief “Communist” era) certaintly won’t hurt. India will follow, more slowly because of its present lag and religious troubles, but probably more quickly than forecasters think. India’s common use of the efficient English language and alphabet won’t hurt.

As global per-capita GDPs slowly equalize, those whose absolute GDP rankings now lead will fall, including us Yanks and the Japanese and Germans. But their people need not suffer. Standards of living will roughly equalize along with per-capita GDPs, and so will salaries and environmental benefits. So good jobs will remain where all people live. No one will have to emigrate to find economic opportunity, although many young people will do so for the excitement, the adventure and the challenge.

The most likely alternative to this benign and hopeful scenario is to reconfigure the world as conceived by Orwell in his masterpiece of dark prophecy, the novel 1984. Our species might divide into three great blocs: China, Russia, and the US and the EU together, with India and Japan as likely fellow travelers. Each bloc might try to be self-sufficient, as China did so disastrously in its Great Leap Forward, and as Short-Man Putin, the Napoleon of the East, is pushing Russia to do today.

The result might be as Orwell conceived—perpetual enmity and a cold or warm war among three or four great blocs of humanity. (Orwell didn’t foresee the rise of the EU but otherwise envisaged such a world.) Life would likely get miserable in most or all of them, as each spent far too much on spying and “defense,” and as each used the external “threat” of perpetual conflict as an excuse to justify greater and greater intrusions on the lives and personal liberty of its citizens. All that, too, Orwell envisioned.

Then all it might take to set off the spark of species self-extinction might be another aging short man, much like Putin, seeking to press a transient tactical advantage in an endless, never-winnable conflict.

So our first and last “size matters” themes coalesce. We have to finish globalization and let China (and eventually India) assume the prominence that their big populations portend. The alternatives are human and evolutionary nonsense and a big risk. To do otherwise, we would have to abandon our chief evolutionary advantage for a world in which a few great-power blocs perpetually seek self-sufficiency and supremacy through perpetual enmity and war, ultimately risking a nuclear coup de grace for our species.

The size-of-territory meme has a more optimistic aspect. It’s true, as Will Rogers quipped, that “They ain’t makin’ any more land.” And global warming will slowly reduce the amount of existing land area available for easy productive use. Whatever happens, the Northern Hemisphere, by and large, likely will remain as it is: overpopulated and over polluted. Global warming will only darken the picture.

But China has shown and is showing our species the way to effective population control, and there are still pockets of useful land available in the Northern Hemisphere. Global warming, which we can slow down but never stop or reverse, may reveal other northern pockets, especially in or near the Arctic. (It can’t near Antarctica because a huge ocean surrounds that continent.)

Even if we fail to exploit these resources, the Southern Hemisphere will still beckon explorers, immigrants and dreamers for a century or more. Whatever happens elsewhere, short of nuclear war, it will still provide vistas and possibilities to excite the imagination of youth of our exploring, probing, and creative species.

At least it should do so for another century or so. By then, we may have advanced enough technologically and socially to be ready to move on to the other planets and, eventually, the stars. Those projects will take far greater energy and a much stronger cooperative spirit than our species has yet been able to muster.

Footnote 1: Like most landowners in New Mexico and Texas (and several other states), I don’t own the rights to subsurface minerals or fossil fuels under my land. But I carefully researched their absence before buying, so that no multinational would start mining or drilling on my land. Here in text I’m referring to the influence of land on culture and my personal response, not to the legal regime.

Footnote 2: As I wrote these words, I couldn’t help but recall a lecture I attended while working as a Fulbright Fellow in Moscow in 1993.

The speaker was the widow of a Russian writer and refusenik, who had died shortly after having been released from long years in one of the Soviet Union’s gulags. The widow was a tall, elegant, well-educated, and supremely cultured woman. She spoke Russian the way the Queen speaks English. That is, she spoke it perfectly, giving her words almost supernatural grace and power.

Without a trace of bitterness or irony, she told us about her late husband’s and her experiences during the Soviet Union’s Stalinist Terror. Toward the end of her lecture, she read a poem that I think her husband had written while in a gulag.

Unfortunately, I no longer recall her name or her husband’s, or the entire poem. But I do recall one gripping line: “На восток! На восток! На восток!” (“To the East! To the East! To the East!”). If memory serves, the reference was to Nazi troops penetrating Mother Russia during her Great Patriotic War.

It’s ironic and tragic in the extreme that Putin, a twenty-first-century reincarnation of Napoleon, cannot see his own drive into Eastern Ukraine as precisely the same phenomenon, but “To the West! To the West! To the West!” No doubt he conceives it as some sort of bizarre payback for past wrongs against Russia from the West, of which there were many. He thinks he is fighting encirclement by NATO and us Yanks. But what he really is fighting is the yearning of formerly subject peoples to be free of empire and set their own destinies—things that every people on this planet desires.

How Long Might Reaching Equilibrium Take?

Reaching the equilibrium levels of GDP estimate above will not happen overnight. We can estimate, for example, how long it might take for the GDPs of the US and China to reach their relative equilibrium levels on various assumptions of the growth rates for each.

In the table above, the US aggregate GDP falls relatively from 1/0.55 = 182% of China’s to 23% of China’s. That’s a relative reduction by a factor of 182/23 = 7.91.

The following table shows how long it would take to reach that relative reduction ratio at various currently realistic growth-rate levels for the United States and China, rounded to the nearest whole year:

US Growth Rate (%)China Growth Rate (%)Years
to Equilibrium

Of course it’s highly speculative to project the growth rates of two nations out so far, let alone the two leading nations in GDP. But this uncertain estimate suggests that it will take between two and three generations to reach equilibrium. That should be ample time for global society to adjust, barring a global cataclysm from climate change or war.



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