Some pontificate that we are experiencing the “third industrial revolution”.

This erroneous naivety, rich in lessons, beholds a lack of measure, and a lack of history. As I explain why, I will introduce the INDUSTRIAL INDEX, which rests on the concept of energy and AWE, ABSOLUTE WORTH ENERGY, which rests on humanly effective energy usage.

Together both energy related concepts allow to found rigorously the notions such as industry, progress, even revolution, and the dismal science, economy.

Athena Parthenos: lots of energy to build, metal therein.

Athena Parthenos: lots of energy to build, metal therein.

Economy has been dismal, because it had no scientific foundation. Energy gives that foundation to economics. While generalizing… physics.

Verily, there have been many “industrial revolutions” before. Scholars of antiquity call them “ages”, instead of “revolutions”. A tradition.

Going from the Bronze Age to the age of (carbon reinforced) iron (steel) was a change of “age”. (Trojan War Greece fell to the iron equipped Dorians, launching the Greek Dark Ages.) To make bronze, one had to bring together copper and tin, sometimes from very far away. To make iron, one had to reach temperatures higher than any naturally occuring fire. Those new metals were all about new, and more intense, energy management.

One needs to define “industry” and one needs to define a measure for “revolution”. I will do both. Defining industry depends upon a measure of industry, and this is the same measure that defines revolution. So I will do the measure first. (See note on measure.)

A woman, with her bare hands, can do only that much. But if she drives a bus, she can do much more. Much more what? Much more work, in the exact physical sense of “work”. In physics, work is force time the distance along which said force acts. It’s equivalent to energy. (See work note)

An obvious question is how would industry be defined? Very simple: by work. A human, au naturel, can do only that much work. Industry does much more.

The concept of industry comes, through the French from the Latin “industria” “diligence, activity, zeal” itself from the old Indo-European roots “in”, or “indu” and struere (building, giving structure).

A measure of industry is how much work a human can do, or does, or depends upon,
or commands, in the average. To evaluate the industrial measure of a society, one sums up energy potential or realized, over the entire society.

To get an index, divide that generalized energy by the total population.

This is intuitively satisfying: the index equates the increased mastery of energy with increased industry. As energy is the most important notion in modern physics, this new economic theory fits smoothly with modern physics.

We need a name. I will use II, for Industrial Index.

How to measure the II varies according to societies. A herdsman will a flock of sheep brought in more calorie than his colleague running after wild mountain goats. In this case the relevant II springs from the difference of how much calories is produced (including by milking the goats) versus how much is expended (including training dogs, building fences, or making arrow heads…)

The Neolithic revolutions of herding and agriculture brought tremendous jumps in II. The first dams were built apparently in present day Yemen, then solidly connected to the rest of Middle Earth by a wetter climate, and Jawa in Jordan, 3000 BCE. By irrigating vast lands, a dam does automatically what would be a lot of work for people carrying the water by hand, so it brings lots of energy (jump in II), and in the service of mankind (thus an equal jump in II(AWE) see below).

An industrial revolution occurs when II jumps. II will jump when significantly more powerful science or technology is introduced or deployed (for example the science of breeding less dangerous almond trees or boars). It took 2,000 years to deploy the technology of the steam engine, from the ancient Egyptians and Greeks to the Frenchman Papin (who made a steam powered boat, outright!).

The size of revolutions can be compared across the ages, using the ratio: II(before revolution)/II (after revolution).

For example the steam engine allowed to jump from the maximal power of a dozen horses to ten times that, an II jump of ten. Advanced coal based steam power plants reached at most 100,000 horsepower (around 100 megawatts). A nuclear fission U235 reactor ten times that. So going from fossil fuel to nuclear represented another II jump of ten. (But that jump has mostly failed because the military based nuclear technology partly deployed was found to be insuffiencently safe enough.)

An objection could be that this first order definition of II does not take into account, waste. However neither does GDP. GDP is notorious to augment with waste, so some countries have higher GDPs, just because they are tremendously more wasteful (what the Swiss and the French do does not differ much from what Canadians, or Americans do, under the same latitude; however Canadians and Americans need three times more CO2 to do it, a tremendous waste).

I have an answer to the problem of waste too. To remedy this, a notion, AWE, Absolute Worth Energy, does NOT consider the energy spent, but only the energy of the effect one is looking for by the activity that this energy deplyment intents to serve.

This II(AWE) is computed otherwise just as the II. A measure of the efficiency of a civilization is the quotient:

Examples: a traffic jam has zero AWE, but a Light Emitting Diode has an AWE close to 100% (as close to 100% of the LED output is used… as long as there is someone to enjoy the light of its energy output).
When a plane’s flight’s AWE is the energy of transporting people and goods, on that flight, NOT the energy spent to transport them (pretty much equal to fossil fuel spent + cost of training, flying, repairing, etc.)
It becomes a bit delicate when one determines the AWE of a PhD (but it can be done, using modern computers).

The Mayan civilization rested upon a tremendous irrigation system with reservoirs and canals. The largest canal, about 100 meter wide and more than 100 kilometers long, can be seen from space. So there was such a thing as Mayan industry. However, the American civilizations were violently destroyed, and contributed even less than East Eurasian civilizations to the present One world Civilization (the east’s greatest contribution, besides its very existence, may have been Chinese black powder).

Ultimately, civilization has been mostly the work of the Middle Earth. It makes civilization pretty much in one locale. The successive revolutions that articulated the civilizational mainstream all happened there, knew about each other, and are thus easy to compare.

The first industrial revolution was the invention of cities, the second one that of herding (or the other way around), the third one was intensive agriculture of engineered crops, the fourth revolution was writing (6,000 years ago). The fifth the political system (Sumer, 5,500 years ago), arriving simultaneously with copper-tin alloys, that is bronze. As tin and copper were often not found in the same place, they had to be transported by massive shipping (Crete, 4,000 years ago). Shipping was crucial for Western Eurasia, which, by the time of Carthage, enjoyed a trade system, shipping enabled, extending from the British isles to India, and even Black Africa; for example tin was shipped from Britain, and salted fish, from Black Africa).

There is no doubt that Rome had industry. The first Roman fleet, 200 warships copied from Carthage, was constructed in a few months, while the crews were trained in the dirt to move oars and obey commands (Carthage promptly sank that first attempt.) Rome had an enormous industry and economy.
But did Rome see an industrial revolution? Well the Industrial Index jumped. Roman dams are still in use today. Yet, the Greco-Roman empire mostly cheated. It split the population in two: the free, and the slaves. The Industrial Index and the II(AWE) applied mostly to the free.

Extremely. There are, or ought to be, two industrial revolutions in full swing, one of intelligence, axed on II(AWE), the other of energy, axed on II. The first is still in infancy, the other, in trouble.

The present Artificial intelligence revolution is blossoming, but, like an infant learning to crawl, it is far from fully capable yet. Its potential to augment II(AWE) is very far from fulfilled. That will happen when all the tasks requiring NON CREATIVE and NON CONSCIOUS intelligence can be done by robots. No more driving; the car will do it for you. No more cooking; the kitchen will serve you what to eat. Etc.

What about the energy revolution? It’s somewhat in regress. Although so called “sustainable” energies are developed, they stay an epiphenomenon, and will stay so, as long as they cannot replace base energy. The USA has decided to go the other way, full blast, burning the planet for its own profit, encouraging China and India to do the same with coal.

The new energy source was, of course, nuclear energy which has energy density greater by a factor of one million. A succession of red herrings have mentally unbalanced civilization about nuclear energy, and this is having the disastrous consequence that the biosphere is in the process of quick irreversible destruction. Nuclear waste fades to nothing dangerous after a while. But not so for the poisoning by coal combustion, which permeates the biosphere with eternal contaminants such as arsenic and mercury. Or CO2, that will stick around for millennia.

The Industrial Index is actually in danger of collapse. How? Because the population is augmenting fast (II is obtained by dividing total energy commanded by the number of people), while the catastrophic consequences of fossil fuels burning have reached a tipping point. So energy production may have to shrink. Better AWE (such as more efficient planes, high speed electric trains, photovoltaic electricity) may compensate for this enough. Or not.

To get out of the deepening depression the world is entering, we need a jump in Industrial Index. Why? For the same reason as imperial Rome needed one: the resources accessible with deployed technology are getting exhausted (the case of Rome, and also our case). Solution: new technology, with a higher II, thus capable with greater energy to reach further resources (say bottom of the ocean nodules or Helium3 on the Moon).

Otherwise we can do like the Romans and wait until we don’t even have the resources to conduct war. By the way, India and China have understood this, and their policies are axed around augmenting the Industrial Index. Whereas, stupidly, in the West some have claimed we have reached the “post-industrial age”. Apparently that means that the factories are in China.

We are also experiencing a problem that Rome did not have, namely the collapse of the biosphere.

A greater II means a greater massive energy source. There is one, and only one. It’s energy intensity is a million times greater than fossil fuels.
So start a crash program to make high temperatures (hence high efficiency) thorium reactors (the radioactive waste of that energy type is neglectable). They would give massive amounts of clean base energy.
India and China have them, but the West has more capital and expertise at the ready. Maybe Japan can show the way? (Japan needs energy but not 1950 tech Uranium 235/Plutonium plants, which are too polluting and dangerous.)

By all means, pursue sustainable energy. But, as it is, for a huge variety of reasons, it stays a sideshow, or an invitation to disaster: watch Germany go coal crazy.

Already in 2008, and before, I explained that “Energy Is the Foundation Of Economy”, and I introduced AWE.

That the USA has chosen a catastrophic energy policy goes according to American historical know-how. War has been good to the American Anglo-Saxon colony. Four centuries of war have brought unending success. The bigger the war, the bigger the success.

India, China, Japan, Europe and even Iran know differently. They know that there are wars that bring extermination rather than satisfaction. The Mongols hesitated to destroy China, and replace it by a steppe (Genghis Khan’s generals had the souls of geoengineers!). Just like Sparta saved Athens at the last moment, so did Genghis with Northern China. Iran and Iraq were not that lucky.

The present leadership of USA believes it will always be lucky, and war is a friend, so the more CO2, mercury, arsenic, coal, oil, gas, and rising, acid, lifeless seas, the better. Well, the Greco-Romans went down that road before. All the way down. In the end, they licked obsequiously the toes of the Franks for the next 15 centuries. That was not so bad, but this time is different; the planet is at stake.

If the USA were truly wise, it would opt to increase the Industrial Index instead of military know-how. The former implies the latter, but not conversely.

This is so true that even the U.S. Navy got it, and tried to conduct war exercises in 2012, using algae fuel. That fuel augments the II, because it produces energy from sun and air. It also sucks the CO2 out of said air (so plants making algae fuel could be fossil fuel plants’ best friend! algae fuel is basically the only method of Carbon Capture that could work significantly). The U.S. Congress, more controlled by plutocracy than the U.S. Navy is, was furious, and tried to block the Navy’s efforts. Funny how everything connects.

The military has long been partial to a higher Industrial Index. The first ‘automobiles’, in the Eighteenth Century, were commissioned by the French military. Earlier than that Middle Ages gunners found that Aristotelitian ballistics were false (physicists abstracted that generations later).

Even earlier Constantinople was saved “Gregian Fire” a long range flame throwing system based on fossil fuels. Gregian Fire allowed the Greco-Romans to beat back Muslim fleets for three centuries, sometimes burning up to 2,000 ships in one battle below Constantinople’s fortifications.
Meanwhile in France three full scale Muslim Arab, Berber and Syrian invasions were beaten back in 30 years, because the Franks succeeded to establish a slight industrial edge, using a number of techniques, from better steel to gigantic war horses, to a nationalization of the Church (to pay for the largest and better trained army since the heydays of Rome).

Plutocracy does not like revolutions, industrial, economic or political: they are all related, all having to do with ideas. All what the plutocrats want is to rule. And the way for them to do that, 2,000 years ago, or now, is by paying no taxes. That the world needs an industrial revolution and a paradigm breaking jump in II(AWE) is of no use to them, just the opposite. What’s good for the world, is not good to those who find their call in other people’s misery.

Ultimately, the industrious disposition of a society depends upon the psychology of its leadership. In a real democracy, that should be that of the People, but “representative” “democracy” often represents the People in name only. And industry is not the call of plutocracy, quite the opposite.

Carnegie himself, the USA’s first billionaire, pointed that out, and advocated, in writing, 50% tax on the rich’s income. Carnegie said that it was so that the rich pay back the society that allowed them to become rich in the first place. Carnegie also advocated confiscatory taxes on inheriting wealth, because, he said, the children of the hyper rich, per their psychological upbringing, are adverse to industry.

So why can’t “democrats” in the USA at least preach the way Carnegie did? Because they are “democrats” in name only?

Patrice Ayme
Work Note: apparently more sophisticated definitions just integrate work, as defined as above exactly, but infinitesimally, along paths.

Measure Note: I am using the word measure in the mathematical analysis sense. So I have equipped civilization, progress, industry and even technology with two measures: II and the more sophisticated II(AWE).
(I chose Industrial Index II, and not Industrial Coefficient to avoid a confusion with IC, Integrated Circuits, a good example of jumping II; besides, II is indeed an index, not a coefficient.)


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  1. pshakkottai Says:

    Hi Patrice: A sketch showing II (and/or II AWE) on a log scale along y axis vs, year along x axis would help to visualize the jumps. “What’s good for the world, is not good to those who find their call in other people’s misery.” explains the present arguments in the Congress about the fiscal cliff too!

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Dear Partha: Not to boast, but the notions of Industrial Index and AWE need to be developed in thousands of OhD theses. So it was that Xenophon invented, and named, the notion of economics. And then went on to take care of his horses (he was, or became, wealthy). I have other general thoughts to propose, and, even if I got full time on II and II(AWE) nobody important in economics would read me, or, if it happened, would tell me about it. (I have seen how it happens in math & physics, at the highest research level!)

      What is important is for the notions to be accepted as foundational to economics. But great ideas do not a civilization make. Only their acceptance and implementation do.
      Happy New Year, and thanks for your comments in general (although I apparently shot down your latest idea, to have me work hard on II, I will think about it; a graph of energy usage should exist somewhere: that would not be perfect, but a first approach to what you suggest.)

  2. Roger Henry Says:

    May your New Year be bright and filled with new insights as is your imagination.
    Only when a society has come through dramatic crisis and somehow survived, when the humbling of the greats reintroduces them to the nobility of the lessers and a more level plane in society temporally exists,
    can the good of the civilization be seriously considered. At all other times plutocracy of one degree or another will deteremine what policies go forward to benefit who.
    As average vocabularies shrink, the tools of thought shrink with them. All of political talk by Democrats(?) is about creating jobs. As the comedian pointed out a few years ago ” Jobs? The slaves had jobs.” People need wealth to sustain them while training and transitioning between jobs and when health surprises overtake them.

    I believe your ideas on II are valid and interesting and as you say will be disregarded by the ego infected world of academic economic gurus that preach to each other and the world the “gospel” as defined by todays plutocrats.

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Dear Roger: I could not say it any better! Happy New Year to you to, and my imagination thanks you in advance! It’s important for my motivation to know that some people are interested by my ideas. Academia exploits, and is organized around, like most human institutions, the tribal instinct. what gives its strength to democracy is precisely the opposite.

  3. Andrej Dekleva Says:


    I want to second Roger’s wishes and look forward to more counter-instinctual imagination outpouring in the future…I’d like to thank your imagination in advance for its curious insights so as to stoke its fires of creative destruction, you dragon slayer!

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Dear Andrej! Your wishes are much appreciated, and let me in turn wish you a happy new year! I have noticed that dear Paul Krugman is deepening the depth of his posts, while broaching subjects, in economics, or politics not to say psychology (“Conceder In Chief”) not far from what I have long obsessed about.
      I have observed a similar evolution in physics (although I did not write the relevant essay there).

      In any case your comments are appreciated very much, and I also wish they will keep on coming! (This is true for other readers and commenters, let me mention in passing).
      Patrice, well fed Tyranosopher…

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