Carpe Diem

To understand the revolution in modern energy, we should first understand something about horsepower

In the AEI “Energy 101″ video above featuring Ken Green, we learn that the first energy breakthrough for humans after the discovery of fire was the harnessing of horsepower.  But horsepower is limited because 200 horses can’t gallop 60 mph in 10 seconds, and no amount of oats can get a horse to power a 747 jet plane.

As Steve Hayward explains on the Powerline blog:  “This particular script was mostly my idea; it came to me one day when I was behind a Ford Mustang at a stoplight, and my mind wandered to a meditation about how and why we still use “horsepower” as a measure of energy, even though no one really has the foggiest idea what a “horsepower” actually is (other than wanting a lot of them “under the hood”).”

Related: The photo below illustrates “horsepower” in the old days, and shows what farming in the U.S. was like without fossil fuels, when a combine harvester was pulled by 33 horses (from Wikimedia Commons).

And here’s the same farming operation today, using fossil fuels to generate “horsepower” a lot more efficiently at a much lower cost (from Wikimedia Commons).

48 thoughts on “To understand the revolution in modern energy, we should first understand something about horsepower

  1. I stated before:

    The potential speed of economic revolutions are constrained by resources, e.g. labor and capital.

    It’s unfortunate, government has slowed the U.S. economy to a speed more like Europe and we may eventually go into reverse like Greece.

    • When a society moves towards equality, economic growth slows. However, competition also increases.

      In a natural disaster, for example, the rich win and the poor lose competing for limited resources.

      Of course, there are also fewer resources to compete for with greater equality.

      However, that doesn’t matter when the poor’s chance of winning limited resources is zero.

        • What nonsense.

          Generally, when I read something like “the top 1 percent of households have secured a very large share of all of the gains in income” I know what follows will be mostly bullshit, but in this case I did skip down the meaningless chart provided.

          Where on that chart is the compensation for capital that made that higher productivity possible? Do you really believe labor alone has made that possible?

          Are workers really working 140% harder and faster than they did in 1973? Give me a break.

          And then there’s this:

          the economy could afford higher pay but it was not providing it.

          “the economy could afford”? Truly bizarre.

          Higher productivity means lower prices. As consumers, are workers better off now than they were in 1973?

          By the way, please address only the productivity issue, as I’m not interested in a rehash of that tired income inequality meme.

      • When a society moves towards equality, economic growth slows. However, competition also increases“…

        Hmmm, quite the 180 turn from the guy who was ranting on about how an increase in the mandated (unfunded mandate) minimum wage a good thing not that long ago…

        • Juandos, economic conditions aren’t always the same.

          When the economy is underproducing and below full employment, a rise in the minimum wage can facilitate growth and employment.

          I stated before:

          A rise in the minimum wage can increase real economic growth.

          The higher wage attracts better workers, with higher reservation wages, to increase productivity.

          Minimum wage workers have high marginal propensities to consume. So, a higher minimum wage increases consumption.

          Only a portion of the higher minimum wage may be passed along in higher prices, because portions will be absorbed by “excess” wages of other workers and “excess” profits.

          Weak or poorly managed firms will lose business or fail. However, stronger or better managed firms will gain their business, and also gain from the increased demand.

          Also, I may add, the combined increase in unemployment benefits and higher wages can facilitate a virtuous cycle of consumption-employment.

          I suspect, the income effect will be stronger than the employment effect (i.e. layoffs from the higher minimum wage) to have a net positive effect on growth and employment.

          • Juandos, economic conditions aren’t always the same. When the economy is underproducing and below full employment, a rise in the minimum wage can facilitate growth and employment“…

            Well pt since when did theft which is what you’re advocating by mandating higher minimum wages facilitate anything at all?

            Weak or poorly managed firms will lose business or fail. However, stronger or better managed firms will gain their business, and also gain from the increased demand“…

            Heck of a way to rationalize theft…

          • Juandos, regarding the increasing gap in real compensation and productivity over the past 40 years, would it be better to reduce productivity growth a little to raise real compensation for most workers a lot?

            There’s something wrong when someone works hard for $30,000, while someone else works twice as hard for $30 million, and the gap continues to grow.

          • There’s something wrong when someone works hard for $30,000, while someone else works twice as hard for $30 million, and the gap continues to grow“…

            Wrong pt, ever so wrong amigo…

            People’s job skills are subject to market forces just as other goods and services are…

          • It seems, that’s the trade-off most workers want, particularly the working poor and lower middle class.

          • pt says: “It seems, that’s the trade-off most workers want, particularly the working poor and lower middle class“…

            Screw ‘em…

          • I was just at ny daughter’s third grade play last night and a song they sang popeed into my head when I read your comments on the minimum wage increase. It refrain starts with:

            “He’s got hiiiigh hopes;
            He’s got hiiiigh hopes…”

            New businesses do not pop-up when the poorly managed ones go out of business, so what happens “When the economy is underproducing…” is that the existing firms move more towards full production, while the former employees of the weak or poorly managed firms go into the rolls of the unemployed.

            Furthermore those workers at the shuttered firms which are “the better workers” will now apply for jobs at the remaining firms, displace the “not better” workers and continue the cycle.

            This will happen in every sector of the economy. So we will wind up the recipients of increased inflation and higher unemployment.

            Additionally as an employer I do have another option and that is to cut my workforce and demand higher productivity for the now higher, unearned wages so that I do not have to raise the prices to my customers.

            The road to hell is paved with good intentions such as these.

          • There’s something wrong when someone works hard for $30,000, while someone else works twice as hard for $30 million, and the gap continues to grow.

            What is it that’s wrong?

            Should Bill gates work 1,000,000 times as hard as the rest of us, or does he not deserve the money we have eagerly forced into his hand?

            Do you suppose the work different people do might be valued differently by those who benefit from it?

            If your gardener made 1000 times what mine did, as in your example, I’d wonder why, but I’d also understand that you and other customers were obviously willing to pay that much more, or it wouldn’t be happening.

            Do you think people making $30M/yr are stealing it? I would prefer to think that someone was paying them willingly, and getting something in return they value at more than the $30M. That of course does not include public employees who may be paid by unwilling taxpayers.

          • “When the economy is underproducing and below full employment, a rise in the minimum wage can facilitate growth and employment.”

            Define “under-producing”. Who, exactly is doing this “under-producing”? What are their incentives/motivations? What are their alternatives? Does minimum wage increase their alternatives or reduce them?

            Minimum wage is only harmful. It moves the bottom rung of the career ladder out of reach, it distorts the supply-demand-price balance, and harms the poorest the most (i.e. those at the margin as regards the value which is to say productivity of their skills). We’ve seen this repeatedly. Minimum wage diktats discourage both economic productivity and employment, while shifting the economic equation in favor of more and better capital.

            It isn’t how hard you work that matters, but how much value you produce. Of value to whom and for what? Of value to purchasers in the market for whatever purposes they have in mind.

          • jgo says: “It isn’t how hard you work that matters, but how much value you produce. Of value to whom and for what? Of value to purchasers in the market for whatever purposes they have in mind“…

            Amen!

            Does that make sense to you pt?

      • Psycobabble
        The poor are the big winners with capitalism….just look around…the rich have always had it way better than the poor, these days the big difference is luxury goods only. All basic and advanced improvements that even the rich were without 100 years ago are readily available at all levels of our society….never has this been as true as the present. Enforced equality is tyrany!!!

        • The political reality, it seems, is “the masses” believe, rightly or wrongly, they’re not being compensated enough, while corporate profits reach new highs each year and the disparity between upper and lower income workers increase.

          You can ignore the trend over the past 40 years and wonder why the country is moving towards Marxism.

          • pt hiding his head in the sand says: “You can ignore the trend over the past 40 years and wonder why the country is moving towards Marxism“…

            The reality is that extorted tax dollars went to financing what is laughably called public education and what did we as nation get for that investment?

            The abysmally ignorant

          • The “poor” are better off even while the wealthy are better off. Their is no reality where the poor can be better off and the rich also not better off. Under Marx the rich are better off but the poor are worse off…..this is leading only fools to nowhere…..

  2. Actually today a horsepower is 746 watts. It is interesting to go back and 100 years ago electric generators were sized in horsepower, I suspect because they had been connected to reciprocating steam engines which were rated in horsepower since the time of watt. Note that one could (and the rational europeans using the international system of units do) express the power of a car in watts. It should be noted that there are several values of horsepower as well. It is a deprecated unit in SI in favor of watts.

      • The expression of power in watts is also used (even in Canada in terms of the output of HVAC systems in watts) Of course this makes calculating the efficiency of a system simple just divide electric watts in by heat moved out, no multiplying by a conversion factor at all.
        IMHO the SI (metric system as defined internationally) is far more rational that a system that includes the heat needed to raise 1 lb of water 1 deg F, has different units of weight for different things ( Avoirdupois, Troy and Apothecary weight systems) . Why should gold use Troy and and flour use Avoirdupois) Let alone why measure Oil in gallons and barrels, all be it the calculator with built in conversion factors does make it easy. The us is slowly but definitely moving in that direction, for example all medicines are now expressed in SI units.
        Of course I must admit that having a degree in Physics changes ones point of view on measurement systems.

    • Actually today a horsepower is 746 watts

      A horsepower has ALWAYS been 746 watts, Lyle.

      I’m teasing, in case there’s any doubt.

  3. Imagine the situation of humanity; If, all the potentates in high places; With all their JDs; Whom are increasingly usurping the decisions once made by those knowledgeable of the laws of Nature; Specifically, the laws of Physics; Were required to possess a couple of hours of BASIC Physics instruction in their C.V.s. Perhaps then, we would not be subjects to administrations of idiots which continues pushing insane ham-stringing legislation upon us; Pretending that THEY have the “power” to repeal Natural Laws as: The Laws of Motion; Conservation of Energy and Momentum; Gravity; Friction: The Laws of Thermodynamics.

  4. Long before global warming became an environmental concern, however, the move from the power provided by animals to that provided by gasoline had greatly improved the environment. The emissions that came out of the tailpipes of horses were much more lethal pollutants that those now coming out of the tailpipes of cars. Horse emissions did more than make our town and cities stink; they spread fly-borne diseases and polluted water supplies that killed people at a far greater rate than the pollution from cars and trucks ever have. Photochemical smog is clearly a health risk, but not nearly the health risk of cholera, diphtheria and tetanus that have been largely eliminated with the help of gasoline powered transportation. — JunkScience

  5. Nitrogen pumped into the environment by human activities such as driving cars and farming is fertilising tree growth and boosting the amount of carbon being stored in forests outside the tropics, say researchers. Their study provides a surprising example of how one type of human pollution is helping to counter another. — New Scientist

  6. I don’t have the actual numbers but this anecdote from Victor Davis Hanson in regards to his family farm is informative. We forget half the land cleared for was to feed the horses used to work the other half.

    “Before tractors, half the land was open pasture, to feed the horses who pulled the disc and harrow — both still rusting outside my barn — to work the other half of vineyards and orchards.”

    I wonder if a close relationship might be to indicate that the typical scooter has 3-6 horsepower. And can be tucked out of the way.

  7. It seems to me that peak trader is correct. Suppose i have tools and capital and a bussinesz that I run by myself. Now I hire someone to do the same work I am doing. For that work, we get the same pay, but I exoect to get additional compensation fof the use of my capital and tools and planning, etc.

    But all of that is also worth more because of my laborer. He increases the value of my capital more than I can alone. But if I freeze him out, take all the gains for myself, and pat myself on the back as a job creator, then his wages stagnate and i earn far more than I could alone.

    Pretty soon, he is going to vote for a better system than one that keeps his gains, and his participation in the wealth created by greater productivy at near zero.

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