Jevon’s Paradox

Jevon’s paradox is the proposition that,

any technology that increases the efficiency of utilization of a resource, eventually results in increasing the rate of consumption of the resource.

Countries and their governments are in a mad rush to increase the output of everything from paddy to cows to pigs and stop at nothing to jack up the efficiency of production. Will higher production and more goods solve all our problems?Can poverty be eliminated through greater exploitation of our resources? How can a society that has to first boost demand to provide the impetus for increased production which in turn is supposed to employ more people which again boosts up demand and keep going in this vicious cycle ever hope for ultimate sustainability? Is our penchant for solving current problems by introducing momentary imbalances that result in boom-bust cycles that eventually result in exponentially bigger problems later, ultimately going to help us?

When Gandhiji said that the only way for India to become truly independent is by restoring the lost strength of our villages, people dismissed it away as  Luddism. Modern technology and science has it’s role. But, as Manmohan Singh recently pointed out, the western model of consumption driven growth and prosperity might never work out for India and it will become harder and harder to sustain it, even in places where it has brought temporary prosperity at great cost to nature and society.

The more one thinks about sustainability and our ability to adapt to natural constraints the more confused one becomes.  Articles by Robert Wolffle, Daniel Quinn, etc. explain the problems that might be caused by modern civilization with surprising force.

One thing is abundantly clear anyway, unless we find out some way to balance our use of resources with it’s rate of production our kind is in for a very rough ride.


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