Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Artillery Shells : Entropy for Economists

Politically and economically, entropy simply means that today's concentrated, useful, work-able, matter and energy invariably  becomes tomorrow's "useless-to-humans because too-finely dispersed" matter and energy. All we can hope to do, is slow the process as best we can.

(Note that microbes like bacteria can often make useful, work-able materials out of atoms and molecules too finely dispersed for humans to make economic use of them : in fact long dead bacteria  created many of the highly concentrated ore bodies we humans use to create our industrial world.)

Politically and economically, concentrated matter and energy is useful and dispersed matter and energy is not : despite the fact that neither total mass or energy has changed one iota in the process.

It takes much energy and matter to assemble an ordinary 105 mm High Explosive artillery shell, the kind that are fired off in the millions and millions in every war for the last century.

A chunk of high grade of steel is carefully bored to the microscopically exact dimensions before an artful blend of chemical explosives is poured into it. This is then attached to a carefully made brass cartridge also filled with a different blend of explosive chemicals.

Warfare is entropy at its purest....

Each shell and cartridge is made by highly skilled machinists with a careful inspection process weeding out any one a little imperfect.

Even with a hundred years of world wide experience in making these shells, and their mass production economy of scales, each shell costs at least a thousand dollars, when all the disguised development costs are factored in.

Now it is fired, hitting a human soldier , a civilian and a civilian building and destroying all three in the process of blowing itself to pieces.

(The brass cartridge is recyclable, by the army that fired it or by the other side, depending on how the course of the war goes.)

How does conventional economics (versus physical economics) explain the economics of this process int terms of equilibrium theory ?

Taxes, some of them from the people in the armament plant and the men firing the gun, will pay to make the shell  and pay the pensions of the soon-to-be veterans who fired it.

Since the shell was blown into tiny pieces, along with its explosive solids which were turned into heat and kinetic energy and lots of very rapidly expanding gases, none of this will ever be recycled, in fact can't be recycled.

For hundreds of metres around the shell blast, the earth will hold tiny rusting pieces of metal hardly visible to the eye.

Soon they will rust back into the soil around them.

 The winds will carry the rapidly expanding explosives' gases into the air for miles around.

On the other side, the side actually hit by the shell's force, economic activities will also be generated.

(Just listen and read how Wall Street sees an economic upside to Hurricane Sandy's death and destruction.)

 A pension will go to the soldier's family, government assistance will help pay carpenters to rebuild the building - the loss of the car will probably never be recovered by its owner from the government or the enemy, but another car will be built to replace it, employing people at a car plant.

The GDP on both sides sees an "upside" from the explosion of that 105 mm shell.

But physical economists say a shell is not like a tractor : the tractor consumes resources in being built but then helps harvest resources and at the end of its life is melted down and recycled in new metal products.

But a fired shell, like a ship filled with warplanes sunk by a sub in deep waters, is pure entropy : concentrated useful matter and energy is blown (dispersed) to the winds and the waters and is totally useless to mankind from then on.

 Rather like the valuable metals, from scarce concentrated ore bodies, that we build into thin food container foils and then wastefully disperse into huge landfills : the exact civilian equivalent of blowing up metal shells to the high winds....

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