Painted into a corner:
An iconic image much beloved of cartoonists back when cartoons cast a longer shadow was the man who had painted most of a floor only to find that he was in a corner with all egress painted over and was forced to take a nap while the paint dried. 

It appears that evolution can do that.  (Tortoise and Hare Evolution SCIENCE vol. 331 no. 6023 March 18, 2011 reviewing Woods et al. p. 1433)  A kind of race was set up between clones of bacteria.  Those clones that initially evolved so as to reproduce faster were later outcompeted by clones that had initially been slower.  It recalls the story of the race between the tortoise and the hare.  The hare was faster off the mark but eventually the tortoise persisted and passed the hare.

The logic is reminiscent of what we have seen with infertility in large populations.  Those species that underwent speciation faster were able to evolve faster in the long run since this meant being able to exploit niches faster.  When a new niche opened, the faster speciating form could bud off a new species and not have to abandon the old niche.  By the time a slower speciating form had budded off a new species the niche was already being exploited by the first form to get there and which had already had ample time to evolve into a species optimized for the opportunity. 

The down size of course was that with faster speciation population sizes were limited because speciation effects began to intrude into a population even without isolation or any change in the overall environment.  It was thus necessary to evolve means to limit strictly the population, and the same means of limiting the population are what we are facing with such dire danger ahead.

I suppose one could apply the same logic to economic evolution.  We have now incorporated computers into a huge proportion of our economic and personal lives.  The computer is the hare of all hares, fast beyond imagination in its function and also exceedingly fast in application.  In other words the computer not only copies and pastes data fast, but when some new application is developed it spreads rapidly.  Were you to invent a musical instrument as good but as difficult to play as the violin, the technology would spread slowly since it would take years of practice for anybody to develop the skill.  But write a new and useful computer program and anyone can get it at outrageous price but still cheaper than a good violin and download and implement it after a single soul corroding hour of punching keys, waiting, offering up your first born, throwing hysterical fits and pretty much undergoing the same horrors as an hour of music practice.  But then it’s done.  Of course the day will come when that program will no longer run on available platforms, but that’s where the tortoise comes in.

So here we are committed body and soul to computers and any number of other time savers, many of which we are not aware of.  You kind of get the feeling we are painting ourselves into a corner again and some day growth will slow down a lot for that reason alone.

It’s only a feeling.  But the limits on population size are real and present.

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