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Monday, December 7, 2015

high tech high cost


HIGH TECH HIGH COST

Last week The Arch Druid Report ( the Druid Dude ) had another installment of his latest fiction, an interesting take on the fantasy world of low-to-middlin-tech during the impossibly long and slow collapse, in which the main character is introduced to the local military ( and by the way, this series illustrates for me as a writer the difference between fiction and non-fiction.  The same length post in fiction is breezed through in say, five minutes or so.  His non-fiction must be savored and thought over and takes ten if not fifteen minutes.  In fiction, you need to write three times the amount to fill a readers time.  One of the reasons I don’t care for it as a producer.  As a consumer, that’s a different story ).  The Dude had a great alternate world construct, in that all males were serving in the local militia ( the Swiss model, not the US one which was a history of drunkenness and unprofessionalism followed by short intervals of Indigenous massacres ) and all defense measures were focused on producing proficient infantry accompanied with field artillery.  

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It was pointed out that by doing away with all high tech arms, not only was it in depth decentralized defense on the cheap, but that any invader didn’t need to be defeated but merely bankrupted.  First and foremost it must be reiterated that this is not a present day story but in the near future after a stair step collapse has whittled away a lot of today’s institutions, one presumes among them large nation states with surplus energy.  Remember, technology is going to entropy from lack of cheap and plentiful petroleum.  I think the underlying point being made is that in a energy contraction, high tech ramps up in cost.  Right now, high tech has unbelievable hidden costs, multiple vulnerable supply points, a history of needed legacy costs and is more dependent on oil ( not less, just because a computer chip now does more with less ).  The Druid is pointing out how vulnerable the military is to all this.  This weeks entry just touched the surface and it will be interesting to see how in depth it is taken.  For now, let’s ask ourselves how realistic this is.

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The Haber-Bosch chemical process of artificial nitrogen creation is at once extremely capital intensive, centralized and dependent on high tolerance designs.  It took decades of German investment in parallel and complimentary industry as well as civilian infrastructure ( widespread public education, for one ) to create the process ( the knowledge came first, only the means to implement later as high pressures were needed to reduce temperatures to an economic level.  At the time, the main competitor was Chilean mining of salts ).  The knowledge was easy.  The infrastructure was high tech ( at first, even Krupp cannon steel state of the art couldn’t design an adequate containment vessel ).  Economics of scale were critical, as was state investment.  Obviously the original invention process doesn’t need to be duplicated after a war with damage to these kinds of factories ( think petroleum refineries, but on steroids as it can’t be low-teched as can oil refining to a degree ), but all the assorted contributing industries must be running or have trade access to you if they are foreign. 

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Just gunpowder nitrates alone ( modern arms, case ammunition and explosive powders manufacturing all have similar issues logistically and energy speaking ) make defensive warfare problematic.  Aside from stockpiling the ammo prior, you are exposed to manufacturing bottlenecks due to bombing.  Long term, without a centralized industrialized military you can’t keep a centralized industrialized economy running.  The Swiss model relies on national self-sufficiency to re-arm itself, but it also includes the means to defeat the attempted bombing of its manufacturing.

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8 comments:

  1. A return to bow, sling, crossbow, sword, and spear is clearly in the cards for the multi generation future. Even now in 3rd world countries the use of the machete for warfare/defense is common- a poor mans sort of sword. But I expect governments will keep powder, explosives, and primer going for their soldiers guns and artillery as long as possible, it just wont be affordable for the average person. As that trend toward un-affordability picks up steam (probably during our grandkids lifetimes) expect to see conversions to black-powder picking up steam for firearms that can do so, and crossbows making a big comeback (how hard is it to mount a metal bow on a rifle stock?).

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    1. Weapons devolution is a tough event to forecast. To my knowledge it has never happened ( from Rome to Dark Ages was a strategy/tactics change, but those are normal, and not a weapons change )( Japan getting then giving up muzzleloaders doesn't count since it was a unilateral move ).

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  2. Yes, I like the Archdruid myself. Been reading him off and on for years. I haven't read the latest installment yet, but must agree with his assessment of what a future must look like with less petroleum available. Of course this is a slow crash, which I don't think will take place. I'm in the fast crash, lots of dead people camp. I don't want that, just what I think will happen. I can only pray for a slow crash.

    I think it was Rommel who told a subordinate that the Germans weren't fighting an Army, but a machine. The U.S. with a fully intact industry and being an industrial giant did the Germans in. Of course our soldiers did the fighting and I'm not trying to take anything away from their sacrifice, but the German army was better Army at the beginning of the war. We still had many more guys who as they graduated from High School to make more soldiers. Germany was running out of people near the end. We out resourced them.

    I told my son the other day that he was slave master and didn't realize it. He mumbled something about not trying to be and I let him off the hook pretty quickly, because I know he wasn't sure where I was coming from. I told him that every time he starts his car or turns on a light switch, he has slaves doing work for him. Not immoral at all, but slaves nonetheless. I also told him during a crash where energy was scarce, that chattel slavery would make a return. As a Libertarian type this disturbs me, because while Libertarian views are wildly different, most of us try to live by the "Non-Aggression Principal." It offends my sensibilities to force people to do what they don't want to do. I don't like to manage people or have people doing my bidding, but I realize that this is my Achilles heal. I am in the process of rethinking of how much of an ahole I'm going to have to be during a crash. I don't like it much, but that's the reality. NAP just isn't going to work period. The Rawlsian philosophy is very dangerous. He may be able to afford to do it, because he seems pretty set up, but the rest of us are living 'normal" lives in "normal" places.

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    1. It was amazing the material we were able to throw at the Germans, even to the point of helping out the Soviets quite a bit, plus everything else we did. What was it, something like 70,000 planes manufactured ( if not more-perhaps I should add a zero? )?

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    2. I think the NAP is doable - if you are scarce enough (far enough by HUNDREDS of miles) from population that you can reasonably claim that strangers trespassing unannounced on to your clearly marked property present an aggression against your family.
      Yes that means you have to clearly mark your property borders and keep them maintained - but if you are far enough from strangers you shouldn't need to worry about that, either they are looking for prey or to be neighbors, they will reveal which almost immediately in most cases.

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    3. Morality isn't based on what you have or don't have but in who you are. When the time comes I believe you will surprise yourself with human ingenuity.

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  3. Jim the Druid dude's story to me seems to be a country That Understands cost benefit . It doesn't allow for shifting cost from one party to another party. The last instalment is leading to the old adadje Bang for the Buck. Its an old tactic Look at Russia in Afghanistan or the U.S. in the same .Low cost low tech can work because it can be maintained longer. His storyline is about total cost to society. Industrial and technologies has to carry its own cost even if its taxes to cover job losses.

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    1. Economics was not my point, but strategy. Nitrogen production is 1900's tech, but so is arial bombing. Modern warfare ( WWI modern, as per this story ) needs modern infrastructure to include finance and taxes. I can't see it viable in a Libertarian-ish setting. Even the Afghans need modern ammo, which can be smuggled in from higher tech areas, but they have mountains to hide out in. An open area as in this story does not have that option of waiting for munitions.

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