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Living without ‘machines’

Living without ‘machines’

Quite early on in Mark Boyle’s book The Way Home, about living ‘off grid’, without what we might call modern technologies, he finds a dead pigeon by the road, recently killed. He takes it home, plucks it, guts it, and—concluding that it is less than one day dead—cooks it.

A page or so later, his partner says it would be nice to to have a hot tea in the morning without having to make up the fire, and he knocks up a rocket stove from an empty Guinness keg his neighbour has to hand and some lengths of pipe. (Rocket stove? Explained here).

He has, earlier, built from the ground up the cabin where they are both living.

As a reader, I’m not clear how he learned all of this, or remembers it, or whether it’s in one of the books he has.


Although the definition of ‘technologies’ is deliberately imprecise, it generally covers anything powered by electricity (so: no internet; no mobile phone; no television; no radio) and anything powered by petrol (no van).

When he wrote the book, in 2017, Boyle was in his late 30s, and had bought a smallholding in rural west Ireland. He’s had some practice in removing himself from our industrial complex, since he had previously lived for a year without money. The book about that paid for the smallholding.

(Small amounts of money do change hands in The Way Home. He makes something from a column in The Guardian, written in pencil and delivered by post; there are occasional pints drunk at local bars.)

Money and machines

It is worth piecing together his explanation of what constitutes technology, as well as what it is he is trying to escape from:

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The curse of Thomas Malthus

The curse of Thomas Malthus

Running through some notes from last year, I came across an article by Dietrich Vollrath published in 2017 that I’d printed out to give it proper consideration. It’s called, “Who are you calling Malthusian?”, and it addresses that interesting futures question of why calling someone “Malthusian” is such an effective form of ad hominem attack that it closes down any possible argument.

Poor old Malthus. He has had a bad reputation ever since he predicted, towards the end of the 18th century, that over-population would lead to famine and then to social collapse. It didn’t turn out like that, largely because we stumbled across a one-off supply of cheap energy, and because of the Industrial Revolution. And, because he turned out to be wrong, that means that if you mention Malthus these days you are instantly labelled as a crank.

So Vollrath does us a service in his long post in two ways. First, he tries to create Malthus’ argument in its original context, and second he goes back to the relationships that sit behind Malthus’ model of the world.

Malthusian relationships

The relationships are simple.

One: living standards are negatively related to the size of population. This is because at time of writing the major factor of production was land, whose supply is largely fixed. Vollrath shares a diagram, originally from Greg Clark’s work, which demonstrates this. Peter Turchin’s model in Secular Cycles effectively has this relationship at its core.

Clark UK population and real wages Malthus

Two: population growth is positively correlated with living standards. As Vollrath notes

“This may be because kids are a normal good, and so fertility rises when people have higher incomes. Or it may be because health is a normal good, so people take better care of themselves (and their kids) when they have higher income.”

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
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