Energy and Institution Size

This week was a first for me. I participated in an academic conference that was entirely online. The conference — called Thermodynamics 2.0 — was designed to connect the natural and social sciences. It was a fitting place to discuss my research, and there were many interesting (virtual) talks.

I’ve posted here a recording of my presentation, called Energy and Institution Size. In it, I discuss how firms and governments tend to get larger as energy use increases. And I tell you why I think this happens. (Spoilers … I think it has to do with hierarchy.)

If you’re a regular reader, you’ll have seen much of this material before (here, here, here, and here). But perhaps you’ll enjoy an audiovisual presentation of it. If you’re a new reader, this talk is a good introduction to my work.

You can download the slides here. If you want to dive into the methods, you can read about them over at PLOS ONE. For a more recent article about the same evidence, check out Economic Development and the Death of the Free Market.

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  1. I think your presentation is very interesting and well done. I like the quote from Leslie White. Here’s another from his book The Evolution of Culture, following the thinking of Wilhelm Ostwald, “culture advances as the amount of energy harnessed per capita per year increases, or as the efficiency or economy or the means of controlling energy is increased, or both.”

    White was an early analyst of energy’s place in cultural history, but he was not a cultural relativist at all. He thought more energy meant more ‘progress’, something that many would dispute, including me. Another early surveyor of the relationship between energy and society was Fred Cottrell, who wrote Energy and Society in 1955.

    I was very impressed by the sophistication of the charts in your presentation. What software did you use to create them?


    • Hi Joe,

      I use R ggplot for all of my plots.

      And I agree that more energy is not necessarily a sign of progress.


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