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About this blog
The Wellington region should be a powerhouse of wealth creation. It has plenty of under-used flat land in the Hutt Valley and the Kapiti Coast, and a well-educated and creative population. Technology Valley aims to catalyse the region’s economic development. There are two fundamental goals. We must increase per-capita income. This boosts the total amount of wealth in our economy. And, each individual must increase their personal contribution. In other words, we need to increase the size of our economic “pie”, and everyone must do what they can to get a piece of it.
As a manufacturing engineer in the electronics industry, I learned that business and free markets drive per-capita economic growth. Technology Valley is a business-led initiative. The role of central and local government is to support business. They can do this by removing barriers. There are probably some other things governments can do. However, government bureaucrats must not tell business what to do. New Zealand has already lost too many good companies because they listened to bureaucrats.
Most importantly, many people in New Zealand don't understand how technology works. Manufacturing is the means by which technologists put their products in the hands of their customers. Manufacturing adapts to changes in markets and products.Software manufacturing looks different from the process of building a niche-market car, which is radically different from how the Model T Ford was built. These differences are superficial. Under the hood, hardware and software manufacturing follows a basic pattern that has evolved over thousands of years.
Outsiders often fool themselves into thinking software manufacturing is fundamentally different from hardware manufacturing. Some bureaucrats talk about encouraging "high-tech" companies, oblivious to the existence of fully-robotic factories that make products like clothes-pegs and disposable pens out of materials that were invented sometime after the doom-gloomers told us we were all going to die when the world's computers went out in sympathy with the twentieth century.
Manufacturing IS high-tech.
Working with scientists has taught me a lot about science. Academic disciplines vary in their ability to create knowledge. Some disciplines yield practical tools that make accurate predictions about the future. Physics is the best example. Today’s structural models can very accurately predict how a structure will behave under specific conditions. These models are based on physics. If we could predict, for example, exactly how an earthquake will stress a particular building, then it is possible to predict whether the building will stand or fall.
Many academic disciplines can not make useful predictions. The so-called social sciences generally fall into this category. These disciplines are built upon hypothesis and rhetoric. They have no tools capable of establishing cause-and-effect. I have read many books and articles disputing this position. Their arguments rest on hypothesis and rhetoric. That is circular reasoning.
I draw inspiration from the work of economist Angus Maddison, who analysed global economic history in a series of books and articles. Maddison showed that per-capita economic growth in the past few centuries was driven by technological progress. Hypothesis and rhetoric: Yes. However, the argument rests on compelling data, and it is consistent with what we know about the origins of commerce. Humans create more than they destroy. We may never know exactly when we started doing that. We do know that as long as we continue to create more than we destroy, each generation will be, on average, wealthier than their parents. That is my definition of per-capita economic growth.
Maddison’s data very strongly suggests that rent-seeking bureaucracy can slow per capita growth to a crawl, as happened in China between the tenth and mid-nineteenth centuries. However, contemporary people are dramatically wealthier than ice-age cave-men.
There are at least five compelling reason why global economic growth must continue.
Future generations will have to adapt to changes caused by increased atmospheric carbon dioxide. We know that carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels will permanently increase the earth’s average temperature. This is one of the few facts climate scientists have established beyond any reasonable doubt. We don’t know how long the earth will take to adjust to the extra carbon dioxide, but we can be pretty sure things will keep changing for thousands of years after the total cessation of fossil carbon emissions. Economic growth will put more money in our descendants’ pockets. That will ensure they can afford to adapt.
Phasing out fossil carbon emissions costs money. Carbon-neutral fuels such as electricity, petrol, diesel, jet fuel, propane, LPG, and hydrogen, are more expensive than their fossil counterparts. Most of today’s electricity comes from coal. Most of today’s liquid fuels come from crude oil. Most of today’s hydrogen comes from natural gas. There are lots of other fossil carbon resources. Researching my book, From Smoke to Mirrors, I learned that engineers can convert anything that contains carbon into crude oil. Forget “peak oil” doomy-gloomers. They use social scientific methods that ignore technological potential and human creativity, and they misunderstand published data on fossil energy resources. Geological deposits (rocks) contain enough carbon to keep the world in fossil energy for about a thousand years. No-one knows if the earth’s climate system can tolerate that much extra carbon dioxide. Very bad things will probably happen. That’s why our descendants will be stuck with the extra cost of renewable petrol and diesel. Economic growth will make sure thy can afford to run their cars. I’m pretty sure that renewable fuel in the twenty-second century will be more affordable than conventional fuel is today.
Our descendants will eventually need to get into extra-planetary mining. Miners, like fossil fuel developers, exploit the cheapest resources first. At some point in the future, they’ll find it more economic to develop mines on asteroids, or the moon, or another planet. I suspect this is less urgent than climate change. All the doom-gloom stories I’ve seen draw heavily on techniques developed by the peak oilers. They dramatically overstate the urgency. Nevertheless, some individuals are talking up the economics of extra-planetary mining. It will happen. It’s a matter of when. Not if.
Some potential natural disasters could make this planet uninhabitable. The most obvious examples are a major asteroid strike and a supervolcano. Astronomers think they know where most of the potential planet-killing objects are, and where they're going. But what about the ones they haven't spotted? And if our descendants dodge that bullet, what about the threat from below? Geologists can point to evidence of massive volcanic eruptions in the earth's far-distant past that caused widespread extinctions. In both cases, we have evidence, hypothesis, rhetoric, and scientific opinion. Any assessment of the potential risk is guesswork at best. That's why it makes sense to colonise other objects in our solar system, and to built habitats in space. Spreading human civilisation throughout the solar system will improve its long-term prospects.
The fifth reason the world needs on-going per-capita growth comes from cosmology. Our knowledge of the life-cycle of stars tells us that billions of years in the future the sun will probably expand and swallow up the earth. Long before that happens the earth will become uninhabitable. We can be pretty sure that our descendants will eventually migrate into space. That will only be possible if economic growth continues indefinitely. Right now, we struggle to afford the cost of sending a handful of individuals to Mars.
Not everyone thinks economic growth should continue. There are many individuals in New Zealand society who think per-capita growth should stop. They think economic growth is destructive, or unethical, or whatever. They draw their inspiration from a range of viewpoints, but they share the same goal. Some of these people claim to support “economic development”. Don’t be fooled. This is not what most people mean by development. They are talking about a progressive reduction of economic activity. Their goal is to destroy the New Zealand economy.
A typical example of outright opposition to economic growth is clearly spelled out, repeatedly, in the charter of the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand. "Unlimited material growth is impossible," they say. How can they prove that? We have precious little direct evidence of anything beyond our own planet, and practically none from outside our solar system. Astronomy? It's probably right, but we must be honest with ourselves. It's highly educated, incessantly debated guesswork. There is no reason to believe per-capita economic growth can't go on for many billions of years. As far as I'm concerned, the Green Party's charter is founded on ignorance. But they go on: "Ecological sustainability is paramount." In plain English, they are saying that the "ecology" is more important than human civilisation.
People come first.
I am a life-long conservationist. But I am shocked and disgusted by the Green Party's attitude. The fundamental reason we must look after our environment is that we owe it to our children to leave them with the best possible future. Clean air costs money. Clean water costs money. Economic growth is paramount. My personal approach to the environment is based on an idea I stole from technology writer Annalee Newitz. Our goal should be to help human civilisation endure and thrive for at least the next million years.
As a grandfather, I will not stand idly by and allow economic saboteurs to derail New Zealand society. The enemies of growth know they have little chance of achieving world dominance. That won’t stop them trying to wreck the New Zealand economy. Some of them are foreign-born, and I strongly suspect they came here precisely to wreck our economy. That is not acceptable. My grandchildren have very right to a prosperous future and they should not be forced to move overseas to get it. New Zealand can, and should, rank among the wealthiest countries in the world.
Businesses in New Zealand can use several different strategies to boost per-capita growth. They can boost global per-capita growth, or they can increase New Zealand’s share of global GDP. These possibilities are complementary and mutually supportive. Diversification can help our economy weather the ups and downs of global business cycles. That’s why I support the on-going development of New Zealand’s primary sector, consistent with conserving a healthy environment.
However, this blog is about making and exporting technological products (including software). Its primary goal is to share practical ideas and stories about businesses and individuals who are actively creating wealth. Occasionally it will talk about road-blocks to economic growth, including political road-blocks. I am a liberal, which means I'm a leftie who thinks New Zealand has far too much government for its economic well-being. I'll try to make this blog as apolitical as possible. But I make no apology for refusing to work with the Greens. They are philosophically opposed to the goals of Technology Valley.
I am prepared to accept that some members of the Green Party don't understand the full implications of the charter. If they truly support our goals they'll resign from the Green Party.
This blog supports demographic equity because that makes sense, not because it is politically correct.
In fact, this blog will occasionally be politically incorrect. Manufacturing is an empirical discipline. Facts matter. It is vital to call a spade a spade. Comments will be moderated according to arbitrary rules, approximately consistent with the blog’s underlying philosophy.
This blog will present New Zealand as a place where technology comes from. I hope it will inspire New Zealand technologists. I want it to stimulate ideas and communication among Kiwi manufacturers and manufacturing professionals.