Monday, December 1, 2014

Does The Peter Principle Apply To Mankind?

To all the people who think the world's surging population will not become a problem because of new energy sources I say, wake up! Anyone with even the slightest mechanical knowledge will tell you that solar panels, windmills, and such take a lot of energy to build and often are maintenance intense. Both these complicated systems have a short lifespan and require a great deal of energy to be expended in just keeping them up and running. This was one of my arguments that optimism concerning ethanol and its potential was being overhyped.

By energy expended in the day-to-day operation of the new systems, I'm talking about BTUs being burned in producing parts, constantly inspecting and replacing parts with short lifespans. At some point, you are not creating enough "net gain" in energy from the total energy produced minus energy expended to claim a major victory in resolving your energy problem. This means the energy we produce in the future will come at a much higher cost. That cost will slow economic growth and remove much of the plentiful bounty we have come to expect and have enjoyed during what I call man's "golden age" or roughly the last 200 years.

Carry no illusions the days of cheap energy are behind us and not only has the low-hanging fruit been picked it has been eaten. Sadly, if we look back we will see much of this energy was allowed to go to waste. America has adopted the same attitude towards its buildings. In our fast-changing world, we have made everything disposable.  A remove and replace mentality tends not to maximize gains or resources and creates a huge amount of waste. Often there is no way to reclaim much of this and even recycling is inefficient. This acceptable lifestyle and way of doing business has extended down to the point where most consumer goods have become non-repairable. With fast growth, we often see a lack of quality. I contend this is about to catch up with modern society.

Mankind Has Failed To Plan For Sustainability
Why should we think that we are immune to the rules governing the universe?  When we look at fast growing cities where we see buildings erected and ripped down and replaced after only two or three decades we should ask if this is sustainable or our best use of resources. The reasoning behind remove and replace is often that it is far less expensive to just rip it down than to repair or upgrade a structure with labor being the determining factor. Ironically, this is in a world where the number of people choosing to work is declining and those being supported by government programs has risen dramatically.

As the noose of reality and finite resources begins to tighten around the neck of mankind do not expect to hear those in charge to scream out warnings from the rooftops. The few mutterings we hear will be from people tagged as "gloom and doomers" who only see the glass half empty and are incapable of seeing it is really half full. When we approach the tipping point promises of easier, cheaper, and ever better ways of postponing the inevitable will prove to be an illusion. Problems will begin to materialize on a daily basis and reality will be both abrupt and harsh.

As I ponder our fate is it possible the collective human race is also governed by the "Peter principle" and if so, how will humanity escape this trap? The Peter Principle is based on the notion that employees will get promoted as long as they are competent, but at some point will fail to get promoted beyond a certain job because it has become too challenging for them. Employees rise to their level of incompetence and stay there. I'm not saying that we can stop going forward or that we should erect barriers to our progress, but it would be wise to give issues more thought. We should ask at what point have we gone as far as we can go before we have sowed the seeds for a less than compelling future?

 Footnote;  As always comments are welcome and encouraged. This article goes hand in hand with another article that focuses on planning and sustainability. You can find that article below.


  1. In a normal and natural world I do believe your "Peter Principal" would stop the madness or at least adjust as it goes along but today how many "employees" are really being judged or promoted because of their competence or lack there of?

    The cheap energy problem is coming around to bite us at the worst time imaginable. Not only have we shifted to the throw away society you mention but we have been infected by misguided liberal social engineers who absolutely require those cheap and plentiful energy inputs to even begin their failed experiments. Rising to the level of one's incompetence isn't even possible under their system unless you happen to be the right gender/race mix.

    We are heading into this world energy crisis shackled and hamstrung from the start.

  2. Very relevant article. Scary when you think of the long term consequences of our modern habits of material acquisition and quick disposal even when things are not broken (e.g. changing out cellphones every year just to have the latest model). This is the first time I've heard of the Peter Principle but permit me me propose an argument. The employee will continue to get promoted on the condition that his skill set and competence matches the job he's preparing for (in a perfect meritocracy at least). The next promotion therefore ought not to mean career developing moves (furthering education, diversifying skills etc.) come to a halt. To translate this to the sustainability issue, there is hope that technological advancements, innovation and improved understandings of our resources etc. can contribute towards better and more efficient use. Example: compare the efficiency of a gasoline engine 20 years ago to the efficiency of a modern gasoline engine. Additional innovations like KERS (kinetic energy recovery systems) etc are increasingly finding their way into consumer level cars. I agree, more than anything, changes in attitudes need to accompany these such advancements. If both of these (attitude changes and technological advancements/innovation) take place parallel to ongoing consumption I think that there is some hope left.

  3. was with you untill "this is in a world where the number of people choosing to work is declining and those being supported by govern". Yet another right winger BS spreading propaganda and mixing propaganda with his articles.
    People are NOT working because
    1 most jobs have been moved to CHina and
    2 because robotics are taking over.
    Otherwise good article.

    1. Yes, exactly. "people choosing to work" ... yes, when there *is* work. Construction has dramatically slowed down around where I live and since it's not a big city environment, the workers in that industry are left to do ... what exactly? Like the workers whose charcoal (or other) plant is closing, are they supposed to be re-trained as web masters and medical billing specialists? I think not.

  4. Thanks for the comment, but as someone who employees a few workers and has tried to get extra help I have found that many people find getting a job easier than keeping it because they lack the basic skills related to working, this includes showing up for work! I was not putting out "right wing BS," work is important and gives people direction.

    Unemployment is a growing world wide problem with bad tax policies and government interference that often favors large businesses adding to the problem. Unemployment tears at the fabric of society as many of the unemployed become disheartened. Overtime their skills tend to become "rusty" and obsolete. leading to debt and homelessness.

  5. I think that this was a great article and examines the true issues that mankind faces. We travel to the EU and build and replace is JUST beginning there, which is a "bleed over" from the way we do things here. I also want to add that WOOD and STUCCO as building materials make 1940's homes today completely DEPRECIATED (I know, we own one and the costs to mitigate the wood rot and asbestos is beyond us and thus we are taking those costs OUT of our asking price and praying no one cares)....

    I finally want to add that we have a moral/ethical issue as beings. Anyone can clearly understand that much of what we do as beings here are related to "commonly accepted principles" such as our Credit markets (Liar loans are back) so I think your thread could have emphasized that it is EXCESS profiteering, stemming from MORALITY issues versus what we SHOULD do to achieve energy independence, as the primary culprit. In other words, I am convinced that it is INTELLECT, PHILOSOPHY and ETHICS (lack thereof) that are the root causes and from the mind springs the issues that will face us until we die.

  6. In other words, I think we are fairly intelligent but it is easier to just do it the wrong way and then fabricate reasons for war-mongering the world over....Look at the divergence between LIGHT SWEET and GASOLINE price...down 50% in the crude, and 8-10% in the stuff we breathe and eat.