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It's not all fossil fuels.  There were huge gains to efficiency to be made in international transportation to be gained by the shift from overland caravans to long-distance sailing ships in the 1500's.  That's what killed the silk road - buying directly from the producer, and selling directly to the consumer, while cutting out the middlemen.  Then the Dutch went a step further, and vertically integrated the producer by setting up slave-run spice plantations.

Energy consumption is one way to compensate for man-hours, and thus create "efficiency," but there's another sort of efficiency to be had by squeezing people out of the trade.  Middlemen who formerly had a cut of a particular enterprise are squeezed out, and their profits accrue to one side or the other.  That's all fine and good for the end producer and the end consumer, but in the end whole societies are wiped out as inefficiencies, un-necessary to the transaction.

by Zwackus on Sun Nov 7th, 2010 at 10:55:49 PM EST
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