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October 20, 1998

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Subject: Eternal Growth & The Replication Bomb
Author: GiantPeach

Hello All Fools!
(and you must be a Fool if you're going to read all this!)

First of all, I ought to tell you this will be long and secondly nothing to do with JJB - well, maybe a little bit about JJB. So what am I posting here for? Read the previous thread 'Come on Mem' to see why I am being so Foolish...

MT (MaverickTrader) mentioned that JJB cannot grow at a compound rate of 700% over the next 20 years because there wouldn't be enough room for people in the stores. His future vision was rather amusing (thanks MT). He's right. He's also right that JJB can't start opening stores on another planet in some lovely little utopian space colony. But his essential question is this: how can companies keep on growing (ie forever) if the earth's resources are fintite - hence, he put the question of how can the Earth as a whole sustain Eternal Growth?

Well, if you want the long answer, may I refer you to an excellent book: The Replication Bomb by err...uhm...honestly it was a good read, interesting writer...Richard Leaky maybe? (I'll check and get back to you on that).

For the short answer, read on...

Basically, MT is right. The earth is finite. Doh! Therefore growth that depends on it is also finite. Therefore the growth of the human race is also finite (hence, so is the growth of JJB!). Oh, but wait�pyad kindly pointed out that we have the universe available to 'grow' into, which is true.

  "So, therefore it is conceivably possible that growth can continue forever (well, almost, because it would seem that despite it's enormous size, the universe is also finite. Bummer! Have to sell those JJB shares before we grow that far!)"

But (there's always one) MT argued that if we colonized other planets to gain resources, earth's history shows that those colonies will want (and need) those resources for themselves. Also true. But (there's always another one) what happens when those colonies need further resources? Or need particular resources that they don't have or cannot readily obtain? Two options present themselves, also evidenced by earth's history: war or trade. Probably both will occur (as usual) because both provide means for advancement and therefore growth. In the long term, which is what us fools are about, trade is likely to be the preferred option (as evidenced by the majority of the civilized-ish world).

So, therefore it is conceivably possible that growth can continue forever (well, almost, because it would seem that despite it's enormous size, the universe is also finite. Bummer! Have to sell those JJB shares before we grow that far!)

Now, of course, you've been thinking the obvious along: all this future growth depends on our ability to successfully utilize the resources of the rest of the universe, doesn't it? Which means we have to find some way of getting off this planet. Well of course it does. And THAT is the crux of the problem! Richard Leaky (if it was him) likens the spread of the human race to a bomb. It detonates and the blast spreads as far and wide as possible, and there is virtually no stopping it. The human race must replicate throughout the universe to survive. Otherwise we'll end up just like the inhabitants of Easter Island�oh no, some history/archaeology now�

The most popular theory on Easter Island (the island with the big head-like stone statues) is that this problem was exactly the one its inhabitants failed to solve. Apparetnly the island used to be heavily forested. But as the population grew they used more and more of the forest and didn't replant. It would seem they also used far too many trees as construction equipment for their religion - building the statues. It did not take long before the soil started to lose minerals, animals started to die, the humans could not catch any more fish (the only food supply left) because they had eaten them all (and the intelligent ones knew to stay away from the island shores). They turned to cannibalism and I presume the last chap/chapess ate themselves alive or committed suicide. Maybe they tried to swim for it (wherever 'it' was). Sorry, I digress�

Now, the following seems almost inconceivable, but just imagine if humans had never managed to invent ships and hence bigger and better transport (eg planes). We would now exist as isolated population centres all over the earth, even though extremely large. Eventually, unless we managed to maintain a stable existence, each 'colony' would die off, no matter how big the land mass the colony occupied. Remember that the US was only colonised a few centuries ago so it's still early days yet! But picture it now with several million Indians having it all to themselves - Indians and Europeans never meeting because we had no way to do it. If the two groups continued GROWING, we would eventually meet the same fate of the inhabitants of Easter Island. But as the nature of the human race is TOO GROW we would meet this fate. We cannot 'stabilize' - that's why Easter Island is a dead island.

So the argument goes: we have to get off this planet and replicate ourselves across the universe, else we will simply cease to exist. Poof! (Ouch, that sounds bad for my portfolio! Definitely got to sell those JJB shares before THAT happens.)

  "So the argument goes: we have to get off this planet and replicate ourselves across the universe, else we will simply cease to exist. Poof! (Ouch, that sounds bad for my portfolio! Definitely got to sell those JJB shares before THAT happens.)"

So, there's the debate. Will we succeed? An eminent ex-boss of mine (who did research for NATO and Shell and the like, with PhD's in several subjects) once said that he was glad to be living in the 20th Century (and hopefully into the 21st). When I asked why he said something like this: "Because, simply put" - affect arrogance here - "THIS is it. The human race is growing at such a rate that we cannot possibly sustain it. And neither can we stabilise at a level that would allow us to continue to survive - stabilisation is against our fundamental drive. We therefore have only two options. Expand into the rest of the universe or become extinct. I find it extremely difficult to believe that the former is possible - it has such a low chance of success that it will simply fail. We are indeed close but we have such little time. I am therefore glad to be living in a time which represents the pinnacle of achievement for our species."

Wow, talk about pessimistic (and he was only 50 at the time!). I disagreed with him, naturally, because I am a Fool who believes in LONG TERM GROWTH, even in the likes of JJB. Which brings me to my final (finally) point, which is really a suggestion:

Why don't we have POLL on this very matter? Eternal Growth - agree or disagree? Are you a TRUE fool and do you believe in the long term growth of the human race, not just the likes of JJB? Do you look forward to the day when you great (x 100) grandchildren can buy a pair of Nike space-boots on Alpha Centauri?

Fool on to the ends of the stars!


PS Got some NiCe space-boots for sale�anyone? Anyone? Good quality clones�

PPS The author of The Replication Bomb is Richard Dawkins (thanks to - he's a British author, wow!). For more info on his easy-to-read books, surf here: He doesn't cover everything I've written above - I've mixed and matched, just like I do with my portfolio.

PPS I forgot three counter argumets:

1. We're not destined for the stars. A God created us and he's got other plans - like eternity with him. Okay, so that's a kind of growth I suppose - the spiritual kind - but it's not what us Fools are about now, is it?

2. We're stuck on this planet but it has an Alternate Reality. We don't need to go to the stars. We just need to find a way of tapping into other dimensions and go (ie grow) into them. Funky, I kind of like that idea, but usually when I'm drunk or stoned. Anyone want to buy shares in my new company,

3. Time travel. We go back in time and populate prehistory (ie. before the Dinosaurs). We all know that everything got wiped out by a comet at some stage so it won't impact the future (ie. the present). Cool idea, but I'll join the back of the queue at the time machine, thanks. Not much growth opportunity there methinks. For those of you who are interested though, check out the SF novels by Julian May: Saga of The Exiles. Makes it almost seem possible. Oh no, I've admitted it�I read SF�but truthfully, I'm not a Trekkie�please, please believe me�honest, I'm not! (I'm really a Trainspotter). ;-)

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