Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
Herman Daly seems quite confused here:

The economist's notion of infinite substitutability bears some resemblance to the old alchemists' dream of converting base metals into precious metals. All you have to do is rearrange atoms! But the potential for rearranging atoms is itself scarce, so the mere fact that everything is made up of the same homogeneous building blocks does not abolish scarcity. Only Maxwell's Sorting Demon could turn a pile of atoms into a resource, and the entropy law tells us that Maxwell's Demon does not exist.

Converting base metals into precious metals requires, of course, something far more difficult than rearranging atoms. The process must transmute atomic nuclei, which requires roughly a million times more energy.

Daly then states that the potential for rearranging atoms is scarce, which is true, but only because the required energy (that is, in the technical sense, "free energy") is scarce. It doesn't require Maxwell's Demon to do the job -- the impossible demon would decrease entropy by sorting atoms according to their thermal energies, which is quite different from moving them around and sorting them by their kinds.

Does anyone know whether Daly has been influenced by Rifkin? Referring to "the entropy law" and declaring that it prohibits unmixing atoms is an error that Rifkin first popularized.

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by technopolitical on Mon May 1st, 2006 at 11:59:48 PM EST

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