The Theory of Moral Sentiments models a precusor to economic science

This is the blogger with his dog, taken with a nod to Philip Greenspun.
The glass in the picture holds fresh squeezed pear juice and the clutter in the background is
 solar water heater plumbing parts.

     The writing in The Theory of Moral Sentiments is 250 years old. The text was developed as a course for college undergraduates, and it includes many asides, anecdotes and hypothetical situations that are entertaining and defy casual reading.In some ways, the book is like a 250 page Socratic monologue. Adam Smith is definitely performing philosophy. And he also engages very respectably with one of the central questions of philosophy, namely "What is Virtue?

   I find it interesting to look at The Theory of Moral Sentiments as a kind of pre-economic thinking. The Moral Sentiments are scores of propositions developed and explored. Acts of generosity, acts of jealous husbands, thoughts and deeds are described and explored.

  For example, the Theory of Moral Sentiments dwells on propositions including wealth and life, but it does not focus on the specific entities of  time and money

   In contrast, the science of economics uses time and money  as units to study. So economics gains mathematical rigor and it abandons the huge colorful tapestry of the set of Moral Sentiments objects.

   So I look at Paradise Lost The Decline of the Auto-Industrial Age as a writing as a piece of writing that has a lot in common with The Theory of Moral Sentiments

    In my own analysis of problems with the public bus systems, I think you will recognize, the micro economic analysis of time and distance and money and distance propositions are quite dispiriting.

From The Decline of the Auto-Industrial Age to The Theory of Moral Sentiments

View of cars on the 280 Freeway.
Morning traffic hundreds of trips to all sorts of jobs from San Francisco to San Jose
     I read Emma Rothschild's Paradise Lost The Decline of the Auto Industrial Age with a mixed feeling of respect and disappointment.

     Her assertion that the institutions of the Auto Industrial age are in decline, that it is a problematic kind of work, that the cars manufactured have altered and degraded our natural world and human society is quality social criticisim.

    But I am disappointed that the social criticism has not engaged with the deeper layer of the auto industrial enterprise as a successor to the preceding coal, iron and steam dominated industrial era. 

    General Motors and all of the people who bought a 1972 Vega are riding a wave of natural resources and chemical energy that was released by the commercial production of oil and the development of cheap standardized steel alloys.

   I mean to emphasize the idea that the auto-industrial era itself was driven by the vast release of energy that is associated with operating a car. A 1972 Vega might weigh 2,700 lbs. but during a 100,000 mile product lifetime it burns 58,000 lbs of gasoline. 

   The car burns more than 20 times it's weight in gasoline.

[ Using, Vega mileage 19 mi/gallon and gasoline 11 lb/gallon. ]

   From this viewpoint, the manufacturers of cars have a relatively small role. In the hands of the owner, the automobile provides years and years of mastery of time and distance on  the suburban scale of things.

   The auto-industrial age was preceded by the age of steam power and coal extraction began accelerating due to the development of the relatively efficient external condenser steam engine by James Watt. This development began entering industrial use  around 1776. .


     From the description of Emma Rothschild's teaching activities from the biographic URL above I note that she teaches a course that uses The Theory of Moral Sentiments by Adam Smith.

   The Theory of Moral Sentiments was first published in 1759. As described by E.G. West, this book became a best seller of the time. It was reprinted several times and it established Adam Smith's reputation as a teacher and intellectual 20 years before the publication of The Wealth of Nations

    I checked out The Theory of Moral Sentiments to see how Adam Smith may have influenced the ideas developed in Paradise Lost.

   I remember a professor in an American Popular Culture course I took at Cal State LA in 1971 saying there was a very strong academic bias against scholarly writing getting too close to car culture or the technical side of car culture. 



Reviewing Paradise Lost The Decline of the Auto-Industrial Age by Emma Rothschild

Sixties vintage Chrysler Valiant seen on the back of a wrecking truck being towed up Highway 92.
It appears the car was parked in a field in the salty rain of the San Mateo coastside.

     Paradise Lost The Decline of the Auto-Industrial Age was published 36 years ago. 

     I am pretty sure I read it when I was writing my Busbook I essay in 1979 but the book did not make it in to my footnotes. 

   Paradise Lost is a description of the social problems raised by the operation of the American automobile manufacturing industry.

   Paradise Lost draws many specific observations from the General Motors Chevrolet Vega plant in Lordstown, Ohio. The Vega was General Motors' second major effort at making a small car to match the imported cars beginning to arrive in America. 

   The Vega production line introduced welding robots and a 36 second per car production rate. Ms. Rothschild characterizes this manufacturing scheme as the ultimate expression of what she calls "Fordism". 

    "Fordism" is a term to describe the process of optimizing a production line at the expense of the quality of the work of the workers on the production line. The Lordstown production line was structured with an extreme production pace, that was called "fastest in the world".

     In the Lordstown plant, some welding robots had signs saying "Take care of me and I will do good work". The workers occupied a subordinate status as part handlers.

     Henry Ford  pioneered the automobile production line. In the Lordstown plant the conditions of human labor became extremely difficult, emotionally degrading, menial and repetitive. 

    One of the meanings of the book title Paradise Lost... is the automotive industry produces huge numbers of unskilled, repetitive, boring jobs. The kind of work involved in making cars is the opposite of paradise.

   Another very interesting word (possibly coined by Ms. Rothschild) is "Sloanism". The word describes the selling strategy devised under the leadership of Alfred P. Sloan, the President of General Motors starting in 1923 and ending in 1956 when he retired from the position of Chairman.

   The process of "Sloanism" is the proliferation of makes, models, accessories, annual styling changes,  annual technical changes, and finance and trade-in arangements that facilitate huge volumes of automobile sales.

     So a second process that the book title "Paradise Lost" points to is the deterioration of cities and expansion of suburbs that accompanies 80 years of mass production of automibiles.

   A web link to Emma Rothschild's current writings and academic positions is here:

Buses with ultracapacitors, solar panels, wireless passenger tech

Public buses and the bus system offer several opportunities for low energy and low cost operation.

Use of electric drive and storage schemes. Use of autonomous vehicles.

  • Buses can be electrified and they can be repeatedly re-charged as they travel on their route. The battery or super-capacitor used on a bus only needs hold energy for 5 or 10 miles of operation. 
  • The bus stops can be equipped with solar panels and capacitor storage, so energy can be stored for re-charging the next bus. 
  • Buses can be made to operate as autonomous vehicles. The driver can secure carts, load and unload freight. The driver can resume operating the vehicle when error situations arise that the bus navigation software can not handle.
  • An autonomous vehicle without a driver would have a vandalism or passenger mischief problem. 
  • Electric, autonomous buses could be made by modifying existing buses. Remove the engine and fuel tank. Install an electric motor and storage devices. Perhaps provide a fuel cell for supplementing the storage devices if there is a failure of the charging scheme. Ultracapacitor Bus Recharges At Each Stop 

 Use of wireless computer technology for coordinating passenger and freight pickup and routing.

  • The bus and selected bus stops can operate cell phone base stations. All the phones calling through the bus or bus stop base station can have no-charge calls for organizing the pick up and drop off of riders and freight.
  • One of the ideas of putting carts on the bus is to push the load factor of the buses from below 20% (currently for El Granada traffic of mainly passengers) to above 80% by filling the bus with less time sensitive loads such as freight carts and unattended freight.
  • The cell phone communication can be used to link local electric taxi, local on-call ride-after-dark services to the bus service. The taxi can be guided to meet the bus. The bus can call a taxi. The bus can tell the taxi how many passengers and where each passenger desires to go.
  • The bus can call an autonomous driverless freight delivery truck. The truck can receive a load of carts and containers for local delivery. 
  • The local grocery store can schedule an early morning bus stop event to load 10 or 20 containers or carts for delivery.
Combine autonomous electric buses with 24 hour store and forward freight service. Use the freight revenue to facilitate 24 hour bus service, where present bus service is confined to busy hours with just a little night-owl service.

  • The present bus system struggles in a saddle of operating cost, labor cost and demands for service.
  • Move the operating cost down by selectively implementing autonomous vehicles. Experiment with ways for the "driver" to selectively leave the bus, or for the driver to lead a caravan of buses, with another driver rejoining the bus at a later station.
  • An euler path is the ideal way to structure an autonomous bus route. The path provides a very powerful simplification of freight routing.
  • A night time bus service might consist of one driver with three autonomous buses. The driver would load and unload the buses. He would sit in one bus and the other buses would follow the lead bus.

The Auto Industrial Society, Are we transforming yet?

Ms. Rothschild says:

 "One of the intended consequences of the free market ideology of the 1970s and 1980s was a loss of confidence in government, or at least in nonmilitary government. The environmental regulation of the automobile industry since 1975 has been a dismal case study in government failure, of which the rise of the SUV is only the most visible example."
 This is a very interesting way of describing the problem of moving toward a low CO2 future: Regulation of the automobile industry (as in requiring more low fuel consumption vehicles) has failed due to "a loss of confidence in government...".

 There is a very interesting thought embedded here that is certainly worth exploring. But I find the argument extremely difficult to articulate. 

My plan is to request Ms. Rotschild's book from the library. (She has published many academic papers on aspects of the auto industrial society that are not available from my local library). 

So I will revisit this review some time in the future. 

Reviewing: Can We Transform the Auto-Industrial Society? By Emma Rothschild

In the February 26, 2009 New York Review of Books is published

Can we transform the auto-industrial society? by Emma Rothchild 

Other writings by Emma Rothschild 

 To the question embedded in the title of Ms. Rothchild's article: There is still quite a bit of work to do to construct a framework of social requirements to give shape and specific implementations to the changes needed for moving to a low CO2 emission society.

But wait, there is much interesting history and analysis in this article.  

Ms. Rothschild was writing about the General Motors and Chrysler Bailout Loans issued by the outgoing Bush administration. The sale of Chrysler to Fiat and the bankruptcy reorganization of General Motors are  not discussed in this article.

Ms. Rothschild wrote a major study of General Motors in 1974 titled  Paradise Lost: Decline Of The Auto-industrial Age.  Around those years, General Motors was the largest industrial corporation in America. 

This New York Review of Books essay was written at about the time when the accounting value of General Motors had dropped to the bankruptcy point.

  • The loan to the auto companies was explicitly structured to assist the companies in getting back to "financial viability".

  • The loans were made short term, to allow the incoming Obama administration some time to perform an assessment of the entire American recession situation. 

  • A future aiming for 80% less CO2 emissions based on a linear extension of a model of a "hybrid future" with solar panels and electric cars and the same American use of suburban space and long solitary commutes has scaling problems when similar patterns are applied to China and India.