textile workers

My highlights from a Wired interview with Vaclav Smil: This Is the Man Bill Gates Thinks You Absolutely Should Be Reading.

the demise of US manufacturing dooms the country not just intellectually but creatively, because innovation is tied to the process of making things. ... Innovation always starts with a product.

a country that stops doing mass manufacturing falls apart ... If you give up manufacturing, you end up with haves and have-nots and you get social polarization. The whole lower middle class sinks.

IT jobs ... are totally fungible jobs. [IT jobs cannot replace lost manufacturing jobs]

Restoring manufacturing would mean training Americans again to build things. Only two countries have done this well: Germany and Switzerland. They’ve both maintained strong manufacturing sectors and they share a key thing: Kids go into apprentice programs at age 14 or 15. You spend a few years, depending on the skill, and you can make BMWs. And because you started young and learned from the older people, your products can’t be matched in quality.

Apple! Boy, what a story. No taxes paid, everything made abroad—yet everyone worships them. This new iPhone, there’s nothing new in it. Just a golden color. ... When people start playing with color, you know they’re played out.

There’s an inherent inertia, a slowness in energy transitions [to renewables] ... Germany ... heavily subsidize[s] renewable energy. When there’s no wind or sun, they boost up their old coal-fired power plants. The result: ... German greenhouse gas emissions have been increasing [from] burning American coal.

the future of nuclear energy is now in the hands of North Korea, Pakistan, India, and Iran

Moore's curse ... if we’re innovative enough, everything can have yearly efficiency gains ... is a categorical mistake. ... you can’t quintuple [the efficiency of combustion engines], because that would be 100 percent efficient. ... You cannot increase the efficiency of photosynthesis. ... we cannot keep on doubling the yield every two years. Moore’s law doesn’t apply to plants.

Innovation is making products more energy-efficient — but then we consume so many more products that there’s been no absolute dematerialization of anything. We still consume more steel, more aluminum, more glass, and so on. As long as we’re on this endless material cycle, this merry-go-round, well, technical innovation cannot keep pace.

So all we’ve got left is reducing consumption. But who’s going to do that?

We pour all this energy into growing corn and soybeans, and then we put all that into rearing animals while feeding them antibiotics. And then we throw away 40 percent of the food we produce.

So the answers are not technological but political: better economic policies, better education, better trade policies.

Today, as you know, everything is “innovation.” We have problems, and people are looking for fairy-tale solutions—innovation like manna from heaven falling on the Israelites and saving them from the desert. It’s like, “Let’s not reform the education system, the tax system. Let’s not improve our dysfunctional government. Just wait for this innovation manna from a little group of people in Silicon Valley, preferably of Indian origin.”

Oh dear... I need chocolate now.

Image: Textile workers via Shutterstock.