Introduction Category Explained:

Improved efficiency ruins everything.

What we value most is inefficient, like love, art, learning, spirituality, humor, democracy, dialog and justice.

Efficiency turns these into mere sex, cheating, destruction, prejudice, consecration, tyranny, war, martyrdom, corruption and lawlessness. They all provide greater benefit with less input.

I have chosen articles for this section from writers who agree with me, such as:

“Scratch below the surface of the term, “efficiency,” and it turns out to be a very murky, ambiguous idea that is thrown about with such reckless abandon that it can mean virtually anything anyone wants it to mean; getting more work done; cost-cutting; rooting out waste; cost-effectiveness; a favorable ratio of benefits to costs; output productivity; distribution and even rationing; and perhaps more. This not what science and rationality are made of.”

Thomas Princen, The Logic of Sufficiency
MIT Press, 2005
ISBN 0262162326

Page 88

The problem with efficiency as a numerical ratio is that there is no formula, no rule, no general principle for choosing. The choice of a ratio can be quite arbitrary - or, as we will see, strategic. Consequently, the very act of choosing a ratio determines value and the distribution of value.

I may claim my farm is efficient because I get more bushels per acre. But my neighbor claims she is more efficient because she spends less on machines per acre. I’m highlighting the value of production volume; she’s highlighting the value of minimizing capital costs.

Haber, Samuel   Efficiency and Uplift: Scientific Management in the Progressive Era 1890-1920
University of Chicago, 1964,

From the introduction and Page 74

We are often told that Americans love efficiency. In fact, we are told this so often that some serious students of American character have come to see such statements as commonplaces deadening our understanding of America and Americans rather than enlivening it. Yet if we give these commonplaces specificity, if we look closely at Americans professing the love of efficiency (and to a lesser extent acting upon it), we may come away from such study with a better understanding of our country and our ways.

The progressive era is almost made to order for the study of Americans in love with efficiency. For the progressive era gave rise to an efficiency craze—a secular Great Awakening, an outpouring of ideas and emotions in which a gospel of efficiency was preached without embarrassment to businessmen, workers, doctors, housewives, and teachers, and yes, preached even to preachers. Men as disparate as William Jennings Bryan and Walter Lippmann discoursed enthusiastically on efficiency. Efficient and good came closer to meaning the same thing in these years than in any other period of American history.

Pruger, Robert.  Efficiency and the Social Services
New York: 1991
ISBN 1560241136

Page 176

Scratch below the surface of the term, “efficiency,” and it turns out to be a very murky, ambiguous idea that is thrown about with such reckless abandon that it can mean virtually anything anyone wants it to mean; getting more work done; cost-cutting; rooting out waste; cost-effectiveness; a favorable ratio of benefits to costs; output productivity; distribution and even rationing; and perhaps more. This not what science and rationality are made of.

Rizzo, Mario J.  Time, Uncertainty, and Disequilibrium
New York: 1979
ISBN 0699026980,

Page 72

Efficiency is a concept that has no meaning apart from the model that happens to be in use. Efficiency is always relative to the objectives and subject to the constraints specified in a theoretical framework.

Safe Energy Communication Council’s, Myth #6, Busters Fall 1990,
Page 1

Energy efficiency is the fastest-growing, most abundant, least polluting and lowest-cost energy resource available in the United States today. In fact, the Department of Energy calculates that energy efficiency and conservation now supply more of our energy services than any other single source, at a lower cost than building new power plants or extracting more fossil fuels. Improving energy efficiency means instituting methods or technologies that use less energy to achieve the same results. For instance, an efficient light bulb; a house designed for efficiency is warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer than a drafty, inefficient one; an efficient automobile can travel the same distance using less gasoline; and an efficient motor can run equipment with less energy and do the same job. While energy efficiency has saved us enormously on energy and money over the past two decades, further improvements can do much more. According to independent analyses, America can reduce its total energy consumption by 20 to more than 50 percent.

President Bill Clinton, October 6, 1997 White House Conference on Climate Change
Georgetown University

We’ve worked far too hard to revitalize the American Dream to jeopardize our progress now. Therefore, we must emphasize flexible market-based approaches. We must work with business and industry to find the right ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We must promote technologies that make energy production and consumption more efficient.

Emerson, Harrington.  The Twelve Principles Of Efficiency
The Engineering Magazine Co.
New York, 1919

Page 82

It is not either the right or the privilege of the Efficiency Engineer to set up ideals of morality, goodness, or beauty, or to assume that his ideal of purpose is superior; but he as a right to expect that some definite and tangible ideal will be set up so that at the start its possible incompatibility with one or more of the efficiency principles may be pointed out.

Schmidt, A. Allan, and James D. Shaffer.  “Marketing in Social Perspective”
Agricultural Marketing Analysis
edited by Vernon L. Sorenon.
East Lansing
Michigan State University

Page 29

Economic theory provides a method of calculation positions of maximum efficiency or optimum advantage…. These calculations are valid, however, only within any given set of exchange system rules which defines the qualitative makeup of the inputs and outputs to be included.

Berry, Wendell.  “Back to the Land.”
The Amicus Journal
Winter 1999

Page 37

In fact, the industrial economy’s most marketed commodity is satisfaction, and this commodity, which is repeatedly promised, bought, and paid for, is never delivered.

Veblen, Thorstein.  The Theory of Business Enterprise
New Brunswick, N.J.
Transaction Books, 1978
ISBN 087855690,

Pages 8 and 18 cited in Knoedler, Janet T., “Veblen and technical efficiency.”
Journal of Economic Issues, Dec97, Vol. 31 Issue 4
, p1011, 16p

Veblen’s definition of technical efficiency was itself an engineering definition. It derived from his view of modern industry as a “[comprehensive] machine process” [Veblen 1988, 5] that was organized by means of pecuniary transactions to allow for careful management of the many interstitial adjustments that coordinated the various related branches of industry…. For Veblen, technical efficiency existed when interdependent mechanized production processes throughout the economy worked together “in an efficient manner, without idleness, waste, and hardship” to produce the maximum possible amount of output, using the most technologically sophisticated industrial techniques available.

Patten, Simon N. The New Basis of Civilization
New York: 1968

Page 207

The men in whom energy is sapped, or who have been the victims of misfortune, are a class in which the normal race stimuli are failing to act. The loaf of bread, the cigar, the theatre ticket held before men as regards to work remain inducements only until they have been consumed. Zeal wanes as they are used up, and will not steadily flow again except from a fund of surplus energy that in its exit sharpens imagination and revives the drooping faculties. Give rain and crops grow; give surplus energy and men become spontaneously efficient.

Vaclav Smil,  Energy at the Crossroads: Global Perspectives and Uncertainties
Cambridge, MA
MIT Press, 2003
ISBN 0262194929
Chapter 6,

Page 336

Given the fact that efficiency has become a mantra of modern, globally competitive business whose goal is to make and sell more, the quest for better performance can be then seen, in Rudin’s (1999, “How Improved Efficiency Harms the Environment” at, p.1) disdainful view, as a justification “to consume our resources efficiently without limit.” And he points out the distinction between relative and absolute savings noting that “our environment does not respond to miles per gallon; it responds to gallons” (Rudin 1999, p. 2). So if we are to see any actual reductions in overall energy use we need to go beyond increased efficiency of energy conversions….

Page 337

Given the complexity of modern societies regulation would always have a role in energy conservation but the bulk of such savings should be preferably delivered by an enlightened public that chooses to change its behavior and modify its lifestyle. Appeals for this shift have been made by many devoted conservationists.

Clive Ponting,  A New Green History of the World.
Penguin Books, 2007
ISBN 9780143038986

Page 11

There are many types of ecosystem such as a tropical forest, a grassland prairie or a coral reef but the foundation of all them, and therefore the basis for life on earth, is photosynthesis - the process by which the energy of sunlight is used by plants and certain types of bacteria to create chemical compounds essential for life. Apart from the exotic life forms that get live on the sulfur produced in deep ocean volcanic vents it is the only way that energy is introduced into the system. Very little of the sun's energy is, in fact, converted into matter and there is no way in which this efficiency can be improved since it depends on the amount of light falling on the earth, the laws of physics and the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. (Selective breeding of plants does not increase the efficiency of photosynthesis, it simply makes the plants put more of their effort into producing those parts that humans find useful at the cost of other parts.)

Page 12

The higher the animal is in the food chain, the rarer it will be. Each step up the food chain is further removed from the primary production of the photosynthesizers, is less energy-efficient and consequently the numbers that can be supported gets smaller. This is why a very small number of carnivores can exist within an ecosystem compared with a number of primary producers. In the case of a deciduous wood in southern England, almost 90% of the primary production by the photosynthesizers (in this case trees, plants and grasses) eventually falls to the ground and decomposes on the woodland floor and another 8% is stored as deadwood which eventually decomposes. Less than 3% is available for the herbivores to eat and even less for the carnivores who have to live off the herbivores.

Page 101

A medieval cow in Europe produced one-sixth of the milk and one-quarter of the meat of the modern animal.In China all but 2% of the calorific value of the diet came from vegetables, primarily rice. In Europe most people survived on a monotonous diet of vegetable and grain gruels and bread; meat and fish were rarer items except for the upper classes. As late as 1870, 70% of the French diet consisted of bread and potatoes and in 1900 only about a fifth of the calories came from animal products.

David Owen,  The Conundrum
New York
Riverhead Books, 2011
ISBN 9781594485619

Page 100

Efficiency has been called “an invisible powerhouse” and “a fifth fuel.”

Pages 106-108

In a paper published in 1998, the Yale economist William D. Nordhaus estimated the cost of lighting throughout human history. An ancient Babylonian, he calculated, needed to work more than 41 hours to acquire enough lamp oil to provide a thousand lumen-hours of light -- the equivalent of the standard 75-watt incandescent lamp burning for a little less than an hour. Thirty-five hundred years later, a contemporary of Thomas Jefferson's could buy the same amount of illumination, in the form of tallow candles, by working for about five hours and 20 minutes. By 1992, an average American with access to compact fluorescents, could do the same is less than half a second.

In other words, increasing the energy efficiency of illumination is nothing new; improved lighting has been "a lunch you’re paid to eat" ever since humans upgraded from cave fires (58 hours of labor for our early Stone Age ancestors, according to Nordhaus.) Furthermore, the effect is even larger than it seems, because our ever-growing ability to inexpensively illuminate our activities has transformed our lives in ways that go far beyond our expenditures on lighting. Increasingly inexpensive, efficient illumination has lengthened the workday, increased our opportunities for energy-hungry leisure, and given us access to luxuries that would otherwise be inconceivable.