Sunday, December 26, 2010

Carry on, Jevons

"Carry on, Jevons" sounds like the beginning of a British comedy of manners. To the manor born (not "manner," as people erroneously write), that sort of bit. Square jaw. Clenched. Smoking jacket. Leather-bound volumes. A glass of sherry (but none for abstinent moi).

But Jevons here refers to the Jevons Paradox. As David Owen (if you like smart contrarians, always look for him in The New Yorker) put it in "The Efficiency Dilemma," in the December 20, 2010, issue of The New Yorker magazine:

In 1865, a twenty-nine-year-old Englishman named William Stanley Jevons published a book, “The Coal Question,” in which he argued that the bonanza couldn’t last. Britain’s affluence and global hegemony, he wrote, depended on its endowment of coal, which the country was rapidly depleting. He added that such an outcome could not be delayed through increased “economy” in the use of coal—what we refer to today as energy efficiency. He concluded, in italics, “It is wholly a confusion of ideas to suppose that the economical use of fuel is equivalent to a diminished consumption. The very contrary is the truth.

Some, if not most, economists and environmentalists assert that the Jevons Paradox has little effect in the modern world. But, as Owen notes, no one has ever really studied all the variables that go into a macro-study. And it would be impossible to calculate. Owen says the Jevons effect is essentially the history of civilization. It happens all the time, in many ways.

It's only common sense, isn't it? Cheap gas? Hummers galore. Expensive gas? Less driving, smaller cars.

Let's extend the Jevons principle into more metaphorical realms, if you will:

  • More talk equals less thought.
  • Less thought equals more talk.
  • More blogging equals less originality.
  • More sex equals less pleasure.
  • More channels adds up to less entertainment.
  • More money results in more poverty.
  • More faith means more science.
  • One leap of faith begets a dance of doubt.
  • Two Kierkegaards tie one Buster Posey.
  • Three pas de deux surprise a guillotine of guilt.
  • Seventy-seven haiku hijack a hiatus of hilarity.
It is possible these are skewed conclusions, not proportionally propositioned or logically legislated.

That's okay. It's my venue.

In veritas veritate.

Age quod agis.

Or something like that.

As you were, Jevons.

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