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    I find this all to be irritatingly naive. To (re)quote just one bit:

    Degrowth in software means that it’s okay for your software to be finished and not receive new features. ‘Growth’ is just a capitalist euphemism for ‘bloat’. Nothing in nature grows endlessly, things reach a level of maturity and they stop there. Same should be true for software.

    Wrong analogy. A piece of software isn’t like one living thing, it’s like a species (a genome, almost literally.) So a better analogy is with evolution, which does in fact proceed endlessly. A species is never “finished” unless all its members die off, rather it keeps evolving and changing. It might change in only tiny ways, making it seem static (coelocanths come to mind, or sharks) but that depends on how well suited it is to its environment. Any species can change quickly if it needs to, to adapt to a changing environment.

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      I think the example here would be Photoshop. You’re have a software that does everything a digital photo manipulator needs, but Adobe has to justify the need to release new versions every year, so it can keep billing people and paying engineering, marketing, legal, management teams, so you end up with new features that are not really needed by anyone…

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        Photoshop is certainly an extreme example. And I’m not an artist or pro photographer so I can’t even judge the claim that Photoshop has too many features. But there are a pretty small number of programs of this nature. Are they actively harming the world?

        (By comparison I’m in a slightly better place to judge audio/music software like Ableton Live or Apple’s Logic, both of which are mature but continue to add important, valuable features.)

        I think this specific paragraph is using a straw-man: who would claim it isn’t ok for a piece of software to be “finished” and stop growing? The argument seems to be pointing farther, saying software should stop growing at a certain point. I disagree.

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          Do people use those features though? Maybe they’re not needed, but people want them anyway.

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          Can’t agree more. In a future where computing power growth stops or stalls (either because we reach the limits of Moore’s law, or degradation of global supply chains forcing us to do more with less) software has a critical place in coping with a diminished computing ecosystem.

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            One could argue a user may need to change ‘species’ of software in order to continue using older hardware - such as switching from Macos/windows on an older machine that’s no longer getting updates to Linux.

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              I don’t think it’s the wrong analogy. I think it’s spot on and we are very much at a the stage described in that quote. From a pure science point of view, life itself is a mysterious challenge of the universal entropy variation principle. A self ordering system.

              It has been 20 years since the launch of windows XP and, in all fairness, it did everything a desktop user wanta from a desktop operative system today. Appart from window snapping, development of desktop operative systems has been dominated by trends and opinionated changes. Not by addition of features that add really practical obvious advantages.

              The same applies to iOS and android. These operative systems offer essentially the same bulk of functionality they did a decade ago.

              Chrome, vscode, git, SSH, grep, a terminal emulator, jq and curl account for probably 99% of what I use my computer for. Of course, some.of these include their own root and client certificates. But such things could be decoupled from them. Other tha. That, if I was given 5 year old versions of all this software, I wouldn’t even notice the difference.

              I think it is time to bring back the old mindset of leaving a problem solved and focus on things we need, rather than things that are successful marketing wise.

              Do you know or cafe which version of core utils you run? What about your shell? What about grep, curl, your editor, etc..?

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              an immediate halt to the production of new computing devices

              I’ll reproduce here an HN comment that I posted a few months ago:

              On the one hand, if this happened, it could be good for putting an end to the routine obsolescence of electronics. Then maybe we could get to the future that bunnie predicted roughly 10 years ago, complete with heirloom laptops.

              On the other hand, ongoing advances in semiconductor technology let us solve real problems – not just in automation that makes the rich richer, enables mass surveillance, and possibly takes away jobs, but in areas that actually make people’s lives better, such as accessibility. If Moore’s Law had stopped before the SoC in the iPhone 3GS had been introduced, would we have smartphones with built-in screen readers for blind people? If it had stopped before the Apple A12 in 2018, would the iOS VoiceOver screen reader be able to use on-device machine learning to provide access to apps that weren’t designed to be accessible? (Edit: A9-based devices could run iOS 14, but not with this feature.) What new problems will be solved by further advances in semiconductors? I don’t know, but I know I shouldn’t wish for an end to those advances. I just wish we could have them without ever-increasing software bloat that leads to obsolete hardware.

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                automation that makes the rich richer

                The rich have money to invest, to bring new ideas and technologies to market.

                What sort of society could invent without further enriching the rich? Automation is just a special case of a general property of our society.

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                  Tools that make a person more productive can make the person using those tools richer. Tools that eliminate the need for a person entirely make whoever can afford to buy the tools and fire the person richer.

                  This was the big shift in the original industrial revolution. Prior to that, improvements in looms or spinning wheels made the self-employed cottage workers more productive and meant that they could make more money from selling more cloth. Large-scale industrial automation meant that you could replace a hundred cottage workers with ten factory workers and some machines but only people who were already wealthy could afford to build the factories.

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                    And yet, centuries after that revolution, we’re collectively and individually far richer.

                    I think the buying and firing example is an argument for a (voluntary!) social safety net, not an argument against automation or wealth disparity.

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                      The difficulty with any social science research is that we don’t have an alternate universe for A/B testing. You can imagine an alternate history where the government made business loans available to weavers that allowed groups of 100 of them to jointly finance a factory, work shorter hours, and increase both their income and their net productivity, rather than a single rich person putting 100 of them out of work and hiring 10 of them in abusive conditions. Would we now enjoy the same standard of living, something better, or something worse? I don’t have any data to support an argument either way, but I am reasonably confident that it would have at least been better in the short term for the 100 workers.

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                        Taxpayer-funded “enterprises” aren’t a good idea [1], regardless of whether the money goes to the workers or shareholders[2].

                        Having worked for a company where 50% of the surplus was distributed between staff, we ran open financials and salaries, & so forth I can confidently say that there are definitely better models than the norm, though :)

                        [1] Coming from an Austrian perspective, though. I’m aware that’s disputed by other schools of economics.

                        [2] A particularly egregious example is the Australian automotive industry - propped up by countless taxpayers over the years, until the owning companies finally closed up shop. I can’t off-hand think of a more blatant example of robbing Peter to pay Paul.

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                Degrowth is economic pseudoscience.

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                  Written by Leigh Phillips, haha

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                  Much of this is just… theorizing. I’d be a lot more appreciative if the author had worked an example.

                  I get crabby about theorists without practice.

                  There are a variety of confusions the author is sharing, but I won’t bother.

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                    It might look like prolonged human misery throughout the world.


                    Bluntly: capitalism, growth, wealth, technology - these are the drivers of human progress and flourishing.

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                      I agree except that the poverty reduction shown in East Asia is from socialist China.

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                        China’s “socialism” revolves around state-owned enterprises in a market economy. They’re pretty capitalist, even Chinese schools teach the Chinese system of government as a Hegelian derivation of socialism and capitalism.

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                          What distinguishes capitalism as a system is that profit is the decisive and ultimate factor around which economic activity is organized. China’s system makes use of markets and private enterprise, but it is ultimately planned and organized around social ends (see: the aforementioned poverty alleviation).

                          In China they describe their current system as the lower stage of socialism, but yes they’ve developed it in part based on insights into the contradictions of earlier socialist projects.

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                            Another, less charitable, way of looking at it: the Chinese Government is unwilling to relinquish power, but discovered through the starvation and murder of 45 million of their own people that mixed economies are less bad than planned economies.

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                              Yeah, I used to believe all that too. But eventually I got curious about what people on the other side of the argument could possibly have to say, and much to my surprise I found they had stronger arguments and a more serious commitment to truth. Then I realized that the people pushing those lines I believed were aligned with the people pushing all sorts of anti-human ideologies like degrowth.

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                                “Government willing to relinquish power” is a sufficiently low-half-life, unstable-state-of-being that the average number in existence at any given time is zero. What information does referencing it add?

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                                  I disagree. Any government participating in open, free, elections is clearly willing to relinquish power.

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                                    In Australia, 78 senate seats and 151 house seats change occupants at an election; the remaining 140,000 government employees largely remain the same.

                                    Is replacing 0.1% of the people really ‘replacing the government’?

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                                      Ah, fair - I was referring to the politicians (theoretically) in charge of the civil service. I’m intrigued by where you’re going with this, though … are you concerned about the efficacy of changing the 0.1% even in the case of democratically elected Governments?

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                                        To my mind, long-term stability is the key practical advantage of constitutional democracies as a form of government.

                                        Dictatorships change less frequently, and churn far more of the government when they do. Single-party rule is subject to sudden, massive policy reversals.

                                        Stability (knowing how the rules can change over time, and how they can’t) is what makes them desirable places for the wealthy to live and invest, which makes larger capital works possible.

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                                          Right so to paraphrase - you don’t see the replacement of politicians by democratic means as likely to effect significant change, but also, you see that as a feature not a bug?

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                                            Essentially, yes. Significant changes would imply that the voters have drastically changed their minds in a short time, which essentially never happens. The set of changes is also restricted (eg no retrospective crimes, restrictions on asset seizure).

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                          Some starting criticism: https://issforum.org/essays/PDF/CR1.pdf

                          Encourage taking “our world in data” charts with a grain of salt when considering fossil fuel dependence (and our future), planetary boundaries framework losses (notably biodiversity), etc.

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                            Hunter-gatherer societies also ran up against the limitations of their mode of relating to the environment. A paradigm shift in this relationship opened up new horizons for growth and development.

                            If we’ve reached similar environmental limits then the solution is a similar advancement to a higher mode, not “degrowth” (an ideology whose most severe ramifications will inevitably fall upon the people who are struggling the most already).

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                              This is a book review. What does it do to suggest the data that the number of people in extreme poverty is decreasing are false?

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                                Okay, go back to the linked chart, which references Poverty and Shared Prosperity, (World Bank, 2018) - here’s some reflection around the metrics - 12 Things We Can Agree On about Global Poverty (Hickel & Kenny, 2018) - notably the words of caution about such data:

                                “10. Income and consumption does not tell us the whole story about poverty. Poverty is multi-dimensional, and some aspects of human well-being can be obscured by consumption figures.”

                                “11. The present rate of poverty reduction is too slow for us to end $1.90/day poverty by 2030, or $7.40/day poverty in our lifetimes. To achieve this goal, we would need to change economic policy to make it fairer for the world’s majority. We will also need to respond to the growing crisis of climate change and ecological breakdown, which threatens the gains we have made.”

                                “12. Ultimately, the more morally relevant metric is not proportions or absolute numbers, but rather the extent of poverty vis-a-vis our capacity to end it. By this metric, the world has much to do—perhaps more than ever before.”

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                            See also https://www.conservationmagazine.org/2012/12/heirloom-technology/ (Saul Griffith, 2012) for a perspective from roughly a decade ago.

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                              That’s a good read! Unfortunate to see that not a whole lot has changed on this subject after a decade; things are still “progress[ing] in a piecemeal manner” and “still largely conceptual in nature”.

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                              For a while now I’ve been trying to buy used equipment from a few generations back. Unfortunately used is generally mutually exclusive from energy efficient, as most of the gains in efficiency are still actively being made in the newest devices.

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                                I think if you include embodied emissions, the energy use of older equipment doesn’t look so bad.

                                That said, there are two straightforward reasons for even the most eco-conscious to care about energy use of old hardware, aside from the embodied emissions:

                                • If you need a certain amount of processing power to do a task, newer hardware will spend less energy to provide that. (Is there some other way to do that task without that specific amount of processing?)
                                • If you’re trying to minimize your energy use to stay within a hard constraint, e.g. you’re living off the grid and your solar panel is only so big.
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                                  If you need a certain amount of processing power to do a task, newer hardware will spend less energy to provide that. (Is there some other way to do that task without that specific amount of processing?)

                                  Not as an opposition to your argument, I think there are plenty of cases when that makes sense as the task requires a base amount of processing power. But the more processing power we have the more the tasks expand to match the processing power available when we could do with less, so there’s a tradeoff there.

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                                    If you need a certain amount of processing power to do a task, newer hardware will spend less energy to provide that. (Is there some other way to do that task without that specific amount of processing?)

                                    I see that there needs to be alternatives though, you could delegate it to another older machine to do the task (e.g. a local fileserver) or depending on connectivity rent a machine in the cloud.

                                    I was thinking about the former for a while in regards to video editing where there’s so much evangelism around owning the latest hardware when for many needs one could do fine with use of proxy files and some tooling to facilitate batch processing (to create proxy files or compress) & final rendering elsewhere.

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                                      Thanks, I completely agree with all this.

                                      A harder question to answer is what is my ownership of the embodied emissions as the buyer of a used piece of equipment. Does a valuable resale market on its own drive more purchases of new equipment? If it does, how much debt do I owe to the emissions used to create it.

                                      Unfortunately it’s difficult or impossible to quantify what is better in real world decisions, so everyone has to make a judgement call.

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                                        Does a valuable resale market on its own drive more purchases of new equipment? If it does, how much debt do I owe to the emissions used to create it.

                                        This is a good point, I do know some people buy the latest Macbook Pro like every year and resell their old one. I’ve heard similar anecdotes about the relationship between fast fashion and secondhand clothing stores.

                                        That said, I think any such effect increasing sales of new equipment/merch is probably offset by strengthening the resale market (and most likely the repair industry as well). A society that doesn’t insist on everything being new, that values maintenance, would be a better society. It would be nice to get some numbers on this though… someone must have studied this.

                                        Unfortunately it’s difficult or impossible to quantify what is better in real world decisions, so everyone has to make a judgement call.

                                        Difficult for individuals, certainly, but I don’t see why this should be more difficult to quantify than any other aspect of emissions (for professional researchers).