Is Copper entering crisis mode?

Under current exponential exploitation, copper supplies will peak by mid 21st century.

A recent study indicates that we may run out of economical copper by mid century.  This detailed analysis, using a painstakingly gathered database, has been discussed in the news lately.  Despite the fact that production is still currently exponential, analysis indicates we should not expect such growth beyond another 30 or 40 years; expect readily available copper to peak around the middle of this century.

The 2014 Feb 14 issue of the journal Science has a discussion of copper resource projections in its News Focus section, written by Richard Kerr, Science News editor.   The report (the full report is behind Science’s pay-wall) discusses results by Dr. Steve Mohr of the Institute for Sustainable Futures at UTS (University of Technology – Sidney, Australia).

Dr Mohr has developed a modeling program that uses current and past data, per country,  giving demand, supply and resource estimates to project probable future trends.  His program has been used to develop projections for a number of minerals.  The point is that the model aggregates many factors from individual countries into an over all projection of world resource availability.

Dr Steve Mohr - UTS 150x200Dr Damien Guirco, UTSDr Garvin Mudd - Monash Univ 150x200

Here is the abstract and handout at the October Geological Society of America meeting in Denver were by Damien Giurco – UTS, Steve Mohr – UTS, and Gavin Mudd – Monash Univ, all Australian researchers.  Dr Mudd and his workers aggregated the data a couple years ago. At the time, reports claimed these data proved we had no worries for the foreseeable future!   This same data set was analyzed by Mohr’s code, the Geologic Resource Supply-Demand Model (GeRS-DeMo), and produced drastically different projections.

Results from the Mohr & Company detailed model.

Results from Cu Production models

Fig 1:  Usage model projects copper production to peak mid century

This is the core graphical projection for copper, presented at the meeting, and published this month.  The label table is read left to right, top to bottom to identify the countries sequentially, from the top band on graph to the bottom.    The black dashed line is the World Demand curve.

G vs BillioniThey use several assumptions with the per-country data:  World population will grow from the 7 G person size of today to a bit over 10 G persons by 2100 (following a UN medium medium growth curve).  They also assume total the world economically recoverable copper reserve as  2.096 G tonnes.

Their data show that we are still following an exponential production growth curve today.  But new copper will become increasingly hard to obtain.

  • With high probability,  production will peak about 2040.
  • If the copper reserve value is raised by 50%, the peak would be delayed to 2045.
  • If the copper reserve value is doubled, the peak  is shifted to “about” 2050.
    (Value given in the Science report.)
  • When Science magazine had them run the projection with a 4× increase in reserves,
    the peak shifted to 2075.

Comparison with estimates by LastTechAge

This is delightful data for LastTechAge.  Several of our posts have derived and used a simple exponential growth model for world averaged data and we have not had opportunity to compare it to a rigorous model before.  The Mohr model aggregates detailed logistic data from each copper producing country to form planet-wide trends.   The LTA model is a 2 parameter calculation and can be done in a couple of seconds.  It uses …

  • Resource lifetime, YO, if usage were constant. Measured in years. This is the estimated size (in M tonnes) of the current world resource pool divided by last year’s usage (M tonnes/year)
  • Annual rate of growth in resource production… last year’s M tonnes minus the previous year’s M tonne useage.

LTA ModelWe assume unvarying exponential growth right up to point when the world has depleted the fraction f of its resource pool ( f = 0 … none used; f = 0.8 …80% used).  The resulting model is a simple logarithmic formula,  robust against errors in the size estimates –  A factor of 2 change in the reserve estimates does not change the outcome much.

The real question is:  when will the break in the curve happen? Or, when does utilization growth change from exponential to something else?  We looked at this question in detail in our Patterns in World Oil Production.pdf.   The Hubbert-Peak model uses f = 1/2 (reservoir half depleted)  as the approximate time when extraction become difficult and expensive; this is when the production curve gets a net negative slope.  We have found, that for world oil production, a better estimate of the end of exp. growth closer to 1/3.

Semilog Cu

Fig 3:  Semi-log plot, Cu production

Cu Production Linear graph

Fig 2:  Linear plot, copper production

There appear to be some issues with the Mohr team’s report.  A regresson to the world copper utilization data shows that growth rate as been about 3%/year.  The Mohr work here reports 1.6% growth rate for essentially the same data.  There must be a misprint somewhere.

Fig 2 is production data in a linear plot that displays the characteristic sweep of an exponential curve.   Fig 3 is a semi-log graph of the same data to display exponential growth as a straight line.  Click graphs to enlarge.

Model predictions tbl

Fig 4  Comparison of Models

Fig 4 shows results from the superficial LTA depletion model. The bottom row shows results from Mohr’s detailed logistics analysis.

We use our measurement of 3% growth rate, not the Australian team’s reported 1.6%.

There is a third parameter that must be selected with little to guide the choice, the fraction f of the reservoir that has been depleted between time t=0 and t=T.

The dates are surprisingly close together.  The LTA formula assumes exponential depletion right up to the f value’s time, but Mohr et al adds basically non-exponential  curves from each producing country and projects an overall exponential usage to very nearly peak production time.  Maybe the differences should not be so surprising.  It is gratifying to be able to make this comparison.

End Notes

Make no mistake, the model of importance is that of Mohr and his associates.  This is the hard-fact model, the one to to accept, applaud or question (if you have denialist tendencies).  It may be fun to make estimates with our formula, but the heavy lifting that leads to solid results is done by these Australian researchers.

There is a University of Michigan study of 2008 that says we can find copper in the upper 30 km of the Earth’s crust, and this would give us 5,000 years of use at 2008 rates.  This would grant us 130 more years of exponential growth (LTA model).  But picture the Earth stripped of its top 30 km cover, just for the last dregs of metal – a nightmare vision of Hell.

The image reminds me of the 1974 Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle  novel,  Mote In God’s Eye, which is fascinating in the horrid way that leaves you chilled (review with spoiler here).  An earlier Sci Fi story about destroying the Earth for its mineral wealth is Planet for Plunder (Satellite Science Fiction Magzaine, Feb 1957) by Hal Clement and Sam Merwin.  Young teenagers of the time (me, and the girl who later became my wife) found this a stunning concept.  Magazine copies are offered on the web, as are hard- and soft- backed book forms.  Plundering the world for its resources is not a new concept, probably has been around long before these examples.

Gail Tverberg has the answer to Infinite Resourcer arguments.  Simplified summary:  Long before we actually hit the wall on resource extraction, the economics will kill the payback from heroic extraction efforts.  We will never reach the end of the reservoir, just the end of affordable resources.  She argues that this may come sooner than resource estimates might suggest.

The good (?) part that is we may have a 3 or 4 decades prior to the sudden drop in copper supplies.  The bad part is that all will look wonderful during this time; corporations will claim that nearly infinite resources mean – no need to start now in preparing for problems. But within a few years after the exponential growth ends, the world will face copper starvation.

Copper and petroleum.  Their models have believable timelines, and we have been warned, though the actual production curves will be controlled by the politics of the time.  With copper, we are about where we were with oil in the mid 1980s.  See, doesn’t that make you feel much better?  Here is why LastTechAge is concerned.
Charles J. Armentrout, Ann Arbor
2014 Mar 03
This is listed under Natural Resources, and is in the Resource Management thread.
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Do you follow Our Finite World?

Our Finite World is an outstanding blog that studies issues related to resource depletion from a financial actuary’ view.

Gail Tverberg writes Our Finite World.   It is a blog strongly engaged in the problems we are and will be facing as our energy costs move into the stratosphere. Costs rise because resource scarcity forces continually rising cost-of-extraction, which drives prices through the ceiling.

Ms. Tverberg’s view is that this huge rise of costs will financially exceed our ability to maintain a stable society long before we run out of raw material.  LastTechAge has pointed out several times that we will probably never hear that sucking sound from our oil wells as you hear when a straw sucks the last drops Coca Cola from a bottle.

Ms. Tverberg work is a data and graph driven analysis and I can find no fault in anything she has said.   These are  issues that LastTechAge also follows and  our views are nearly identical.  Tverberg’s commentaries are outstanding and are on the Must-Read list, if you follow the issue (even if you do not).


Gail Tverberg – Our Finite World

Her current post, Ten Reasons Intermittent Renewables  (Wind and Solar PV) are a Problem is a succinct analysis probing the issues behind current arguments in our technical society. How we decide to resolve these problems is crucial to our life will be like on the the other side of the social branch point called resource management.

Ms. Tverberg makes good sense.  It is always well worth my time to read her posts. If you have not read them yet, you should become acquainted.
Charles J. Armentrout, Ann Arbor
2014 Jan 25
This is listed under Natural Resources, and is part of our Oil thread.
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David Brooks and The Inequality Problem problem

Brooks: Minimum Wage – not a problem, Income Inequality – what a sham! The Poor just gotta try harder!

David Brooks published the Op Ed essay “The Inequality Problem” in the New York Times (Jan 17, 2014).  His views are a stunning spin on the crisis in believability that has come up since a number of blogs have been discussing the furor raised by Saez and Piketty’s original studies (updated every year since 1999).   I am proud to say that LastTechAge has been one of those blogs, pounding this issue since 2011.

David Brooks NYT OpEd commentator

David Brooks NYT OpEd commentator

We go through Brooks’ argument here.  Since Mr. Brooks has an amazing tendency to soften his story by changing the on-line version of columns published in newsprint, we are obliged to refer to his print edition effort.  Brooks’ strong views represent a lot of the Republican rhetoric heard around, nowadays.  These are his own; probably they’re too moderate for the far right.

The full, original print text is in the LastTechAge PDF here.
In the following paragraphs, click any box  to see a larger image.

David Brooks’ First Issue

DB DebateThe essay start with saying that inequality is being misconceived.  Those less enlightened mistakenly conflate two different and unrelated issues.

This is unhelpful, in Mr. Brooks opinion. But to help what?  No definition ever of what the “issue” is that is the topic of the essay!  The issue seems to be income inequality (title of essay) but, uh, framing this issue as income inequality is to a bad thing.  How can we know what Mr. Brooks actually wants to discuss?

DB 1 bottom end people He says: You guys match the growing wealth of the top end 5% with the bottom end growth of people stuck at the margins.  The top end is a mix of huge compensations at Wall Street, the fact that superior people tend to marry each other, and then there is the superstar effect – superior people who achieve global gains.   His reasons why more and more people are getting stuck at the bottom is as shown.  But he contends these two are not related except through an income inequality misconception.

DB 1 zero summrsPoint 1 ends with a speech to all us primitive zero sum-ers.  We’re pretty stupid to assume that the income growth by our swells and loss by our moochers are related.

Comments on issue 1.
There several basic issues that must be dealt with. First and foremost is what Saez and Piketty were showing.   Has Brooks even looked at their stuff?

Bullies In The Pool A brief review –   S&P work with the full income that flows through the US population.  100% of income is always present, irrespective of the ups and downs of GNP, stocks,  et cetera.  Now, picture a large pool filled with 100% of its water (income) with a full 100% of swimming children (workers) splashing about.

We must keep track of various fractions of both the water and the swimmers – 2 different percentages.

Bottom Quintile +top10% vs time

Dark – Bottom quintile (20%) of earners, Light – Saez plot of top 10% for reference

The graph shows the Saez data for the top earning 10% of the population (pale blue) and the bottom quintile of incomes from the U.S. Census Bureau.   Note the break in both trendings around 1980.

This is what Inequality really means –    The income flowing around the ‘swimmers’ has been diverted to those at the deep end where swimming was already pretty fine.  The ‘kids’ at the low end of the pool get successively less almost every year.

Brooks focuses on that 5% of all swimmers who have the most per person space in the pool.  It is also true that the 10% of the swimmers with the largest share of the pool (top 10% of the earners) actually possess about 50% of the pool (50% of the annual income), up from about 37% in 1980.  But these are misleading data.   He is wrong that all those are actively grabbing ever greater share – nowadays all but the top 1% are either being pushed into shallow end or are treading water.

Earners vs Income shareThe table here shows our situation in 2011.  1980 was a key date.  The top 0.01% of all earners take in more than the bottom group that has 2,000 times more workers.

Zero Sum Game –  Actual income has nothing to do with it. There will always be a 100% income made in the economy. If somebody’s fractional share increases, someone else feels a drop; indeed, a zero sum game.

The inequality part is from the fact that people earning median income and less have, today, lost the financial wherewithal to compete effectively.  The ability for self improvement diminishes as income share drops.  We who complain that decreased access in opportunity follows decreased in income share are not saying “They get more than I do,” we say “They have ever more income to make contacts,  form useful alliances,  get recommendations and better jobs.”

And we though LastTechAge was the first  “primitive” to apply Zero Sum Game verbiage to our growing inequality!  David, if we are primitive are you stupid?  Check the estimated annual costs to attend (2nd tier) University of Michigan.  How could a family with median $50,0000 income send their children here?  How could a family making over $1,000,000 not afford it?

David Brooks’ Second Issue

Min wage AHaving established that inequality is not the cause of it (whatever it is), he makes the point that raising the minimum wage from $7.25/hr to $10/hr (a full time job would pay $20,000/yr) is not the wrong target for the solution (to…?).  This would make sense only if the Minimum wage were meant to shift the family out of poverty.

MW bad policyBut this is not why the MW is on the books.  It is to give some security as a minimum income.  I say: it is to keep people from starving to death.  From the “get-go,” MW was to provide survival level support, not change economic status – not raise people out of poverty.  The change would be to 85% of what a family of 4 need to live at poverty level. Single parents with children need this.  Especially if they only find part time work.

Is it really ineffective policy to allow food for children to develop into fully functional humans? (…to mention one use of minimal economic security.)

David Brooks’ Third Issue

Issue 3Paraphase the paragraph: The Lefties who say that our problems entered the severe stage when the income pump started up in 1980 just simplify complex issues.

Brooks is partially right.  There has never been a time in human history when every person had the same income.  The modern US income pump is not just responsible for income  disparity.  It has slowed maybe killed traditional American upwards mobility.

David Brooks’ Fourth Issue

Fourth IssueIf we say that the American ultras have stopped upwards movement and killed aspirations of the lower class, we”needlessly polarizes the debate.”  Okay! The Koch brothers did not help found the Heritage Society and Cato Institute in the 1970s so that our very active income pump could be switched on in 1980. Of course not!!  Saying this is so disruptive.  Why, even Republicans are signing on to doing something or other to enhance mobility, even as they offshore more industries, outsource more jobs.  And none may call it treason.

Please no secondary issuesSo… we must stay away from divisive class structure topics.  No secondary issues / statistical byproducts like class inequality.  We are going to fix a list of broad-based societal problems by not addressing root causes.

Don’t ask:

  • How do you fix bad schools without taxes?
  • How do you get jobs when they are being shipped away?
  • How do you give despairing young men hope for their future?
  • How do you keep families together when lack of support and income are one of the main reasons for split ups?

If you really do not ask these, then David Brooks wins by getting you to ignore one of the fundamental causative agents for his list of broad societal ills.

Class warfare is always claimed by the uppers when they detect the lower moochers complaining too much.
It is never mentioned when evidence appears that the very top economic levels in our society is busy structurally changing life to establish unprecedented hereditary domination.

I wish this kind of post felt better to do.  Are we perhaps facing the closing stages of a stagnitization that has been building for 35 years?  When someone like David Brooks writes this way, does it indicate we probably are in our Last Technical Age?  Okay, maybe not for the human race, but for America?
Charles J. Armentrout, Ann Arbor
2014 Jan 18
This is listed under Economics  in our Inequality thread.
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Minimum Wage – Poverty Level Wage – Unemployment – inequality

The Minimum Wage, Poverty Level Wage, and Unemployment Employment rates are part of the complex of forces driving American inequality.

Minimum wage is in the news because in many localities the current $7.25 seems too low.  Should there be a uniform minimum wage or a patchwork of rules throughout the country?  What seems to be emerging is an increase in the basic allowed minimum value, with local option to raise that minimum for their locality.  Why do this?  LTA argues that it is relieve advancement blockages that have appeared over the past  30 years.

MW  – U.S. Minimum Wage
PLW – U.S. Poverty Level Wage


Fig 1:  Minimum wage in then-current face value and in inflation-adjusted values

Fig 1 shows the federally mandated MW since the law began.  The lower (blue) line with circle markers is the value of the MW.

An interesting discussion of the minimum wage can be found at this Oregon State University website.

The MW in constant buying power is shown in the upper jagged (red) curve with diamond markers.  This adjusts the MW dollar amount for inflation, to always be the value in 2012 dollars.  At 2012 the two curves join.

US-MinWage_txtThis adjusted curve is really interesting if you pick at it.  The purchasing power of the MW jumps when Congress sets new values, then decays as inflation reduces the value.

The current MW was frequently raised between 1938 through the Nixon election of 1968.

Pres Nixon coined the phrase “benign neglect;” evident policy until he abdicated. Ford and Carter kept the PLW pretty constant during a really high inflation period.  Reagan – or his advisers – took the benign out of Nixon’s phrase.

PLW_txtThe PLW was defined in the late 1950s as an average across the nation. Its 2012 value is the flat dotted (green) line (top of Fig 1). Click here for current values.

PLW is the income for a worker who supports a family of the size shown in the table. A single person with a full time MW job will make a bit more than the PLW.  Although grim, the table understates the situation.  A significant number of earners can not get a full time job, only part time MW jobs and earn less than the 2000 full time hours.

But for a family of 4, a full time single worker at MW makes significantly less than the PLW; such a worker was never meant to be the sole income provider for a family of 4.  Even so, MW=PLW was almost achieved during Pres Johnson’s years (1963-1968), though the pushback on the massive social changes of the day proved to be too strong.

Nowadays, MW has drifted into the role as the only income for a sizable segment of our population (think single women with children).  The discussion on raising it to match the PLW is not unreasonable.

Inequality and the Minimum Wage


Fig 2:  Fraction of US total income Lowest 20% of earners

Fig 2 shows how the bottom of the wage pool has fared against the even smaller top of the pool. Heavy (dark blue) line is Census data (recorded since 1968) on the income share of bottom 20% households in US shows systematic decline since 1981

The background income graph (light blue) is from Atkinson, Piketty and Saez as discussed in the wage-pool link. The solid A-P-S research on old tax data started the current atmosphere of concern over inequality.

Several attitudes underlie the broad discussion-argumentation over the minimum wage.

  • The MW problem is an issue of our current time.  It would have no other meaning than what it means in the 21st century’s teens-decade. We are at the bottom of an inevitable economic cycle.  Good jobs will be back after our full recovery.  (Simplification of a comment from a Cato Institute spin-meister.)
  • The MW is an out of date hold-over from the 20th century, part of the archaic historic record.  The people on the bottom do not have what it takes for success, should be left alone to pull themselves up.  The bottom 20% should take sub-minimum wage jobs, work well, get promoted up the income chain. (Neo-libertarian view, in the manner of Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney, Charles and David Koch.)
  • The MW is a vital part of survival because Figs 1 and 2 are closely linked.  The drop in low income wage share is inexorably entwined in the documented rise of self-righteous American aristocracy. Support structures, such as a mandated minimum wage, are under attack. The working poor cannot feed their children well, nor offer enrichment experiences.  But these children must compete with children of inherited wealth. Economic success has been clawed out of the grasp of the lowest earners.

The data speak for the third point.  “What it takes” to succeed today is insider contacts, special recommendations and the trust that allows success even when inevitable problems occur.  Go to the right schools to meet the right clique in your age cohort.  You use your personal network to acquire a good position,  though choice of parents is important.  Who would Mitt be if George had not been truly successful as a business creator?  Why would Charles and David matter if Fred C. had not made his fortune?

Employment vs Unemployment

News this month is that finally (!) we are seeing true recovery from our 2008 economic excursion. Unemployment has followed a steady drop and reached 7% last month.


Fig 3:  Unemployment and Employment rates 2007-2013

Great! A return to 20th Century normalcy! But, let’s look under the carpet before dancing in the streets.

Click on Fig 3 to see a larger image.  Certain commentators say that the unemployment rate might be deceptive.  We tweeted a link to a site that showed charts with Bureau of Labor Statistics data; fig 3 present our graphs, probably the same data. BLS has seasonally adjusted its tables to smooth early winter drops; we added lines to both graphs to help focus on the trends.

The top curve is positive. This nation-wide average shows that the percentage of people looking for a job has followed a steady (linear) decline since late 2009, from about 10% to the announced 7% for last month.

The bottom curve is shocking.  The number of people currently employed has been a nearly constant 58.5%  since it reached bottom in 2009.  If the number of unemployed has dropped 3 percentage points, why did it not show up in the Employment rate? Unless the NSA is disappearing our unemployed, these people (who could work and wanted to work) have dropped out – fallen below the BLS radar. Discouraged, disillusioned?

Picture this –  put yourself as the student in one of my classes – one of those who told me that, at 28,  he was back living with Mother and Dad, and entering college. He has not been able to find a work position for 4 years. Are Bill Clinton and Barack Obama right, will he find a great job at the end?  But employment is not rising, and I truly fear that many are trapped.  The longer they lack employment, the less likely they are to find a job without  insider  contact.  Media likes to classify generations – GenX, Millenials, etc.  Is this to be the Lost and the Discarded generation?


Congress and talking heads are arguing about what to do with the minimum wage, unemployment benefits, and other social support programs. The undeniable trend of wealth-grabbing by the elite aristocrats (Fig 2) are correlated to the decline in the ability for those at the bottom to work their way upwards to economic success.  There are many more facets to this inequality issue – it is a complex of co-interacting forces that affect each other and drag our system downwards.

Here is one emerging image for a conclusion to our generations-long change in access to jobs and adequate incomes, coupled to increasing expenses due to inexorably increasing resource costs

  • Our lowest economic quintile lose access to what have been basic amenities of American life, and the opportunity to swim toward to top of our economic pool. They and their children are trapped in poverty.
  • Our ultra rich top 0.01% continue accumulating additional income share and live in gated – and guarded – communities with access to their deserved amenities  – insider contacts, the newest electronic tools and toys, lifesaving medical procedures, to name a few.  Reminds me of a bad movie, like Zardoz but without Sean Connery.

Maybe such an image will not become reality.  Local ordinances are being studied to raise the MW to the PLW level, even higher.  This is a start.  Then we must bring manufacturing back to the homeland to secure good full time jobs for everyone. Then rationalize our international trade procedures. Then re-establish tax codes to keep the fraction of the income pool constant for each economic segment.  Then …

Charles J. Armentrout, Ann Arbor
2013 Dec 19
This is listed under Economics  and is part of our Inequality thread
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People are changing the world climate

Could write ten thousand words supporting the stand for anthropologically caused climate change. (LastTechAge  is  something of a science blog.)

But that’s been done.  Here is a good recent one: Why Reddit Banned Climate Denialist Comments, by Nathan Allen, editor of the blog and a respected chemist.  How could we top this outstanding discussion about the kind of people who comment on climate blogs?

Here is another – a top blog that covers the issues and engages denialists directly:  Skeptical Science.   LastTechAge has fusion energy and our retreat from technology, Skeptical Science has climate change and the abuse of the environment.

Global Temperatures through 2012. data

Global Temperatures through 2012. data

Arctic Sea Ice through 2012

These graphs are from Skeptical Science. If you do not know these sites, you ought to.

LastTechAge is concerned with the confluence of many trends that have put us (Americans) into social decay – energy, meteorology, aerospace, politics, economics, entertainment, more. All these trends converge for the conviction that the future will be significantly more difficult for the young men and women today than it was even 20 years ago.  If we are living in a complexity-based world, we must be closing in on a change to our equilibrium state, a jump from one quasi-equilibrium attractor point to an unpredictably different one.
Charles J. Armentrout, Ann Arbor
2013 Dec 16
This is listed under Natural Resources
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Can we stop using slave labor?

Bangladesh disasters highlight – humans should not be treated as throwaway machines.  Can we do something about this?

Reports say that U.S. retail companies who traffic in cheap commodities from Bangladesh have refused to help the families of the nearly 3000 garment workers who died or were injured in two major disasters during the last year.

The Tazreen fire (2012 Nov 24,  Dhakar Bangladesh) was the one with the locked emergency exit doors, apparently so that workers could not relieve calls from nature during their long work day. The Rana Plaza building collapse (2013 Apr 24, also Dhakar region) was of a factory using a in a building -built for light shopping and offices- as its work site for heavy vibrating equipment.  Help for those damaged in these disasters are our immediate topic, but the issues extend throughout the garment industry, from China to Bangladesh and farther.


Steven Greenhouse, NYT business reporter

The New York Times’ business reporter Steven Greenhouse reports that Primark (Irish) and C&A (Dutch-German) are engaged in making a long-term fund operational.  There are other customer firms negotiating to join the help (names not given in Wikipeida).  But, Walmart, Sears, Children’s place and most other US companies (clients of factories) refuse to come on board; but all claim they have important changes they are right now making – for the past year.  This topic makes for interesting reading.

Let’s not be naive.  If Walmark or Penny’s were to agree to support these families, would it not be an admission that they were complicit in exploiting people who are nearly slaves?  We should not expect to see any such voluntary statement.

Slave Labor – harsh words


Dov Charney, Founder of American Apparel, Inc.

Such words arise when discussing modern garment manufacturing strategies.

In an interview with Vice.comDov Charney, founder and CEO of American Apparel, calls the people slave labor and their factories death-trap manufacturing.

AmApp sells clothing made by his factories in this country.  They provide pay checks 65% more than the minimum wage one gets with most menial labor jobs in America.

AmericanApparel_txtThis LastTechAge discussion is not to condone American Apparel sales strategy nor Mr Charney.  Nowadays,  we are not even sure what “over-the-top” might mean.

But Charney’s products are made in the USA under to U.S. regulatory standards. American Apparel pays a wage above what we pay line workers in the Michigan Tier-2 Automotive supplier industry.  Charney is proud of his patriotic actions.

He has a good point.  U.S. EPA and OSHA regulations, along with better than minimum wages make our factories safer, better than any in Bangladesh, Indonesia, India, and certainly much better than the slave dorms in China filled with political prisoners.  (How can anyone compete in price against Chinese interests that use throw-away workers and ignore even customer product safety?)

But US companies purchase goods and exploit this pool of discardable labor.  Should they not pay the damaged workers some kind of compensation since their patronage surely propagates if not enhances problems.

Unpleasant reality.

Modern “first world” consumer society has become dependent on the ultra-cheap labor used to make its commodities.  We have closed down our own  resources in favor of cheap goods based on nearly unpaid workers.

Homeruns_textTo accept these cheap prices, American citizens have had to keep their eyes tightly shut. The alternative would have been The only alternative would have been storming the boardrooms between 1980 and 2000 when they used the ‘home run’ business strategy to make offshoring decisions.  We discussed home runs in other posts, too.

So, here in America, we all live the good life on the backs of working slaves.  This is so much counter to our self image that I plead – before criticizing, take the Disrobing Challenge given at the link site shown in previous paragraph.  <…back from the challenge…>  The Bangladeshi make $38/month = $456/year.    Apple iPhones are no cheaper there than here and those people do not live like 3rd world kings.  Real slaves would make $0, but makers of our garment are really close to this.

There is a spin on the economic events of the last 30 years:

We close manufacturing so that all the intellectual development work can be focused here.  Since this is true, everyone must take an advanced degree to survive.  That way we all will stay at the top.

Stagecraft_txtStatements like this are a kind of stagecraft manipulation. Too bad the manufacturing support legs of our economy can not magically pop back in place.

See our [Index] tab under the banner, go to Economy for a list of our posts on offshoring and the advanced degree requirement for everyone.

The college degree solution is, right now, too expensive for most families with incomes under $100,000 and/or several children.  Here in my home city, an undergraduate degree at the University of Michigan costs about $27,000 per semester (if you are from Michigan).  This assumes you live in some the older dorms and eat on the  basic UofM plan; it prices a B.S. at over $200,000. Out of state students expect twice that.   It is not really comfortable even for a family in the uppermost 10% of all earners (incomes > $130,000). Compare this with median income, less than half that $130k.

ATreeGrowsInBrooklyn_txtThis is not 1943, anymore, Toto.  It seems the UofM is now where scions of the elite can mix and meet with the other real people, avoid mingling with their lowers.

Bill Clinton still talks of rosy futures where our 320M citizens obtain university degrees like him and move to the intellectual work foreigners cannot not understand.  His thinking is wrong is so many ways.

Suppose we want to meet Clinton’s goals. How would we go about educating?

    • Community Colleges?  The are 2 year teaching institutions. I started my career teaching and, in retirement, am teaching as an adjunct.  CCs are good places for pre-apprentice training, assuming more jobs are not closed. Also good for courses required by the universities.
    • For-profit schools? They are a growing movement, yes, and they would love to take the money and issue diplomas.  Great investor home run, maybe, but education…?
    • Distance learning? You get on the internet and log into your class.  My teaching experience is that students with poor high school training will not learn this way. (“Really, prof, I would have done so much better if our tests were multiple choice!”). I avoid involvement in DL – fun as teacher, but what educational quality do graduates get?

But maybe I am just an old frowny-face.  Maybe Alan Blinder really is right and we all can and will become brain surgeons. But I think this whole thing is about removing money from our majority median income population. Home run thinking by … whom?

Right-tariff trade to avoid supporting Slave Labor barons

Proposal: Free trade access might really be a valid solution, it could produce the environment needed to keep our lead companies in continued competition, out of monopoly formation.  But unfettered access to our market place should only go to those companies that prove they meet all the workplace safety, product quality assurance, manufacturing standards, and employee management practices that we require of US based industries.

Restate:  Right-tariffing should be required of all companies who ship saleable goods into the United States.  Each company should

    • meet U.S. EPA and OSHA standards at its manufacturing sites
    • pay its minimum wage at least to US levels
    • provide health and retirement benefits at least to US levels.

If the manufacturer can not pass required on-site inspection tests, then tariffs should be levied to balance cost driven prices with those that do meet our internal work-place standards.  The EU, UK,  Canada, etc., would have no problem getting free access to US markets, provided our products could have reciprocity. Unclear what it would do to NAFTA.  Reciprocity on 3rd point might make it difficult for American goods to freely enter European markets, though.

I am no ideologue, and I do not think this is the sure way to a  rosy future. It would actually lead to politicking, negotiation, anger, pain.  But such a rule would have kept our “American companies” from bulldozing their own factories into rubble and re-siting facilities where people can be used like equipment, used until they are worn out, then scrapped.


At this moment (Thanksgiving, 2013), can you see how to end our role as slave users?  I do not.  But until we stop using cheap production by people living short brutal and enslaved lives, the practice will continue, with little modification.  Bangladesh and the other 3rd world countries will continue on with recurring disasters.  Our companies will continue to disavow engagement in the practices, no real help will come, and certainly no change.

Update: 2013 Nov 28: Added in final proof:  Paul Krugman hit our problem squarely in his 2012 Jul 06 article that we covered here.  He makes the point that consumers accept the sub human environments of factory workers so long as it is far enough removed that it is not visible.The orginal article disappeared from the NYT website last year, the original can be found at the link, though.  

Charles J. Armentrout, Ann Arbor
2013 Nov 28
This is listed under Economics  in our Inequality thread
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When NIF went viral

Internet joy – laser fusion at breakeven!  um…NOT.  BBC reported, copycats ignited. Smoke only, no flame.

Big buzz in Technology news is the rumor that the NIF (National Ignition Facility) laboratory in California made a spectacular step forward.  Did they generate as much fusion energy out as was supplied by the laser light? Or, what?   LastTechAge became aware of the noise via an email … Isn’t this  great? Aren’t we on our way to fusion energy?  Would that we were.

Daniel Clery is a knowledgeable science reporter for the journal Science. According to his post on the ScienceInsider blog, somehow the BBC News got hold of an NIF internal report.

NIF-130-low_txt“The BBC understands that during an experiment in late September, the amount of energy released through the fusion reaction exceeded the amount of energy being absorbed by the fuel – the first time this had been achieved at any fusion facility in the world.”

The internal report was dated 2013-Sep29 and was a discussion of the preliminary data from a shot performed late the previous evening. Reality: if the full 1.82 MJ of laser energy were used, input was 130 times more than output.  The box (right) use the values reported to have been in the NIF memo;  oops.

Their own interest seems so have been the early estimate that the shot emitted about 5×1015   neutrons (n0)  [US: 5 quadrillion n0, metric: 5 peta n0]  75% more than any other shot to date, indicating a higher level of fusion activity than usual.   Accurate measurements require days of checking error modes and cross comparing diagnostic sets.  These numbers must be the preliminary “back of the envelope” projections always sent to managers to keep them happy.

Why the buzz? Somehow BBC ran with the NIF rumor and it caught the public imagination.  Even LastTechAge has comments by people who dream fusion dreams.

Comments on this  Great Puppy-Tail Chase

NIF was born in strife.  As is typical with achievements by any powerful group,  less connected labs were closed to justify centralizing laser experiments. Fast forward to Now.  21st Century America has few world leadership fusion efforts except NIF, assuming NIF is one. We whittled our magnetic fusion leader-labs down to 3, and – although it took a real effort – finally eliminated one of those, the  Alcator C-Mod at MIT that does/did modern plasma fusion studies and trains leadership-level student scientists.

NIF is missing several key requirements for successful laser fusion.

1.  Low power facility laser.  NIF yields 1.8 MJ onto target, not the 10 MJ originally proposed.  Part of this was clumsy burning of its funds by poor planning and failure mode analysis, part the historic loss of fusion support by Washington. Nothing at NIF seemed to work right the first time, for example NIF guys started with impure glass optics that cracked and exploded in the 1990s when tested with high power beams. Used up the money, this way.  If I had been so negligent with my own experiment on the General Atomic tokamak, ignored so many known issues, did not probe for unforeseen gotchas, my boss would have fired me.

2.  192 different laser beams.  Although the key to success is driver uniformity (known since the beginning) each beam has its own slightly different start time and ramp-up profile to full power on target.  The result is 192 different sledgehammers separately whacking at the target.  It has to split into many sub-knots as it implodes.  Guess what!  New calculations show we need highly symmetrical target illumination.  New discovery?  Maybe in the 1960s.


NIF Hohlraum

3.  Incomplete hohlraum technique.  This is a “radiation room” that encapsulates the target in the uniform bath of x-rays that drives the implosion. A German lab director once told me Planck radiation (what we call blackbody radiation) is the success key.   We should see an enclosed chamber, but NIF’s is more like a cylinder with open ends. When does a short open cylinder cease to model an enclosed chamber?

So NIF shines its 1.8 MJ of laser light through the end gaps and onto the inner walls to generate the x-rays which hammer the target.  Will the x-ray wave front hit the target as a solid hammer, or will it arrive irregularly over a period of time?

Assuming of course laser light makes it into the chamber.  If a small bit shines on the entrance opening, the generated plasma might well self-shield the interior from the laser.

Fusion-That-NIF-Built_txt4.  Low energy IR primary beams. It has been understood for 3+ decades that IR causes fuel preheating and will not work. NIF down-converts to efficient UV but with a huge waste of power, see box (right).

Inefficient.  Any other reason for this choice other than that is what they knew?  Why did Livermore advocate closing the high intensity Los Alamos Aurora KrF laser? (KrF’s emit high intensity UV, directly.)  To my understanding, only Naval Research Labs are still working with a small KrF.  This was a very poor success strategy.

BeamProfilie_txt5.  Constant power beam pulse.  By the early 1980s, physicists understood that neither strategy in the box would lead to success. The innovative engineers at KMS demonstrated the first ramped laser beam in the late ’80s, then used them to demonstrate improvement with shots.  How could the LLNL crew have ignored this?  Guess what!  New calculations have shown the way! ICF needs a ramped turn-on for the beam (adiabatic beam growth) and much shorter pulses to force the compression in times very short compared to disassembly times.

What about the targets, themselves?  Somehow the PR does not include discussions of them.  I do not have access to current publications, but cryogenic fuel inside lightweight shells are/were the way to success.  This is what we were doing when KMS closed.  I would have expected huge improvements in the shell strategies during the pasts 2 decades.

NIF-news_txtThe cause of this latest round of excitement is suggested in the box.   Your choice.  Based on my past contact with control efforts by LLNL management, my personal favorite is (B).

LTA discussed the national funding history behind our loss of fusion world-leadership by discussing the sad story of MFTF-B at LLNL.  We plan a backgrounder post on what ICF needs for success and will review the sad history of KMS Fusion.
Charles J. Armentrout, Ann Arbor
2013 Oct 15
Listed under  Technology > Fusion       -a post in the  ICF/IFE  thread
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