When dealing with the 1632 universe we are dealing with a point source in advancing technology. It is not, when it comes right down to it, analogous to much of anything in our history. When the Wright brothers flew at Kitty Hawk they arguably beat all the other guys to the punch. (I say arguably because just about every country in the developed world claims that they have somebody who did it first. Not to mention a bunch in the less developed world.) But even if Orville and Wilber got there first, it was not by much. When the first steam engines were built in our timeline there were hundreds, even thousands, of places where they could be built at a similar rate. While there have been times in our history that had point sources for specific technology and areas that excelled in technology in general, there has never in our history been anything really analogous to the Ring of Fire.
What is the effect that this point source going to have? The most common assumption is that it’s going to slow things down. There are only so many machine shops and only so many up-timers. Most of the up-timers have no particular skill training or talent. The few, the select few, who can actually do anything useful are going to be snowed under doing the essential things. They are not going to have time to mess around with reinventing steam engines, stamp presses, transistors, amplifiers, and all the rest of that stuff. In my view the problem with that assumption is that it carries with it a couple of hidden assumptions. The first of those hidden assumptions is the Atlas Shrugged view of the world. The notion, to put it bluntly, that most people are drones incapable of truly useful or original work and only the few—the elite, the superior—are qualified to create and, naturally, to run things. The second mostly unstated assumption is you have to have an up-timer running things. This is a slightly less offensive version of the same deal because while it still relegates most of the world to the servants quarters, it does so on the basis of environment rather than innate nature. “After they’ve been sufficiently acculturated, we’ll let the down-timers play too.”
Okay, I’m overstating the case and rather a lot. Even if you count every drunken bum and two year old in the Ring of Fire as the next Lincoln, Carnegie, or Edison there still ain’t enough of them to go around. And it’s true that someone who can read and comprehend modern English is pretty necessary to the process. And physically there are only five machine shops: three job shops, the one at the high school, and the one at the power plant. And while there were more computers, books, heavy machinery and infrastructure in Mannington than we estimated, it’s still not enough to go around.
That’s a serious question, by the way, not a denial of the issue. How will those issues affect productivity and for how long?
When the hardware store runs out of six-penny nails, it runs out of six-penny nails and that’s it? Well, no. There’s that guy who has turned his car dealership into a nail-making shop. The thing is, when you go into a hardware shop in the early twenty first-century—or the middle twentieth for that matter—there are more than a few kinds of nails. Not just millions of nails, hundreds of kinds of nails from little bitty staples and tacks to great big heavy spikes.
When the hardware store runs out of up-time made nails it will restock with down-time made nails and while there will likely be just as many nails, there will be two things different. One, there won’t be as many kinds of nails, four or five sizes maybe. Two, they will be more expensive. The machines that they can get at the transformed car dealership simply won’t, can’t be, as efficient as the up-time factories that had machines that turned out hundreds of nails a minute. And the iron or steel wire they use will be more expensive to get. And to get a six-penny nail and a twelve-penny nail takes two nail making lines. So if you can make three lines and cover most of your market by running them harder or make six lines and a few more kinds of nails, you want to make three lines. Those early days are not going to be the time for niche marketing. The nail factory, the nut factory, the hammer factory, these all have ready-made investors in the people whose businesses need nails, hammers, nuts and bolts. At the same time, they are going to have to work things out so that they can get by with only a few sizes of nails, nuts, bolts, hammers, tongs, and so on.
Fredric is starting a distillery. He knows what sizes of nuts and bolts are available in Grantville from the new nut and bolt factory that is just starting up. He knows because the newspapers and radio, even the TV, have carried the news, complete with specifications. So he makes the holes to fit the sort of nuts and bolts that are available. He does it that way because his distillery won’t support a special size of nut and bolt. And he doesn’t want to pay blacksmith prices for handmade nuts and bolts. Gustav, who is making wagon wheels with up-time style bearings, does the same thing. He attaches his bearings to his wheels with standard nuts and bolts. Kelly Construction had input into the sizes that the nail factory produces; they had to figure in advance what basic sizes they could get by with and lobby for those sizes.
The machine shops are busy turning out computer-free machine tools so that the good stuff can be saved for important jobs, while they are also turning out the specialized machines that are needed for industries. The steel wire puller that will turn a bar of heated steel into steel wire so that it can be run through a nail maker which will snip off lengths of steel wire, sharpen one end and blunt the other into a nail head to make nails. In the middle of which, they are being interrupted with orders for cannons for Gustav Adolph and plate armor for the APCs and other emergencies.
It’s not like our world where there are a dozen manufacturers competing for every niche market in tiny tacks. Instead, it’s an extreme case of the old Ford motto of “They come in any color you want as long as it’s black.” You can have cheap nails—very cheap nails by down-time standards—if you’re willing to have the standard sizes that they make. If not, go see a blacksmith and spend twenty or more times as much per nail.
There is a natural corollary to that. When the nail guy is deciding what size nails he’s going to make, he spends some time looking for the size that can be used by the largest market. And that is going to be the guiding principle of the early industry in and around Grantville and in and around Magdeburg: “What’s the most useful design/size for the largest market?”
Not everyone is going to follow that philosophy. There’s the guy who built a hovercraft and he did pretty well with it. Not real well, because it was a niche market and a niche that was going to shrink as the railroads and the steamboats came more and more on line. But the niche was never going to go away entirely, so he could have made a go of it if he wasn’t a horse’s hind end. But he never would have become a really rich guy, not like the Stone family—or the guy who did the nails, for that matter. Nor like the Schmidt family or the Higgins family. They make three models of sewing machine because when you’re dealing with leather, sail cloth and stuff people wear, three is about the minimum number you can get away with. Plenty will begin pouring out of the golden horn of Grantville almost immediately. Variety will take a little longer. A lot longer. A whole lot longer.
Of course, pouring in this case is a relative term. In terms of the size of the USE, its closest relative is dribbling. Take, for example, the steam engines that Adolph Schmidt starts producing in late 1633. Assume that his production rate gets up to ten cylinders of steam engine per day, 365 days a year. That means that by late fall 1634 there will be a grand total of . . . wait for it . . . 3650 cylinders of engines. They will be put together into engines of various sizes, one-cylinder engines all the way up to a few forty-cylinder engines. (Remember my comment about “What’s the most useful design/size for the largest market?” this is an example of what I meant by it. Not necessarily the fewest parts per engine but the fewest kinds of parts for the largest number of engine types they can manage.) Call it an average of three cylinders per engine, that’s 1217 engines or thereabouts. At the end of 1634, in all of the USE, there are fewer Schmidt steam engines than there were internal combustion engines in Grantville on the day of the Ring of Fire. In terms of horsepower, there’s less than there was in the school parking lot. On the other hand, the USE is, just from that one plant in Magdeburg, 14,600 horses richer in motive power. Motive power that is several times as efficient in terms of usage cost as the horses it replaces.
All in all, it’s better than nothing but not a lot better than nothing. Where are those 1217 steam engines in the fall of 1634? Well, here’s where they might be:
637 might be in moderately prosperous villages, where around plowing time they are put into a tractor frame and used to plow the field. After harvest time they run a thresher or a mill wheel. The rest of the time they run other appliances of one sort or another, depending on the village.
317 might be running small to medium boats up and down the Elbe River, mostly privately owned and more than a few built in the Magdeburg ship yard. Those boats, in turn, are shipping goods upriver as far as Prague and often enough out onto the North Sea to Amsterdam or even London. A couple of those are using forty-cylinder one-ton 160hp engines in support of sails. That is, they are on single- or double-masted sailing ships and they start up the engines when the wind isn’t blowing the way they want it to.
178 might be running small generators which are providing electrical power to wealthy households and palaces from Hamburg to Prague, or the needed electricity to this or that factory.
39 might be running steam wagons for wealthy industrialists to ride to the theater in, thereby proving how wealthy they are, or carrying goods over good roads. Not all of those steam wagons would be in Magdeburg. There will be some in Prague, Hamburg, other places. Heck, Louis of France might have one. Ferdinand III might have one. He likes cars, it’s said.
26 might be busted by someone who didn’t read the instructions, and been replaced by Schmidt Steam.
20 might be in factories running fans or water pumps or other equipment, including one that is providing power for thirty-four sewing machines in the readymade garment industry.
Or, of course, they might be in any number of other places. The only thing that is certain is that, in the fall of 1634 assuming Adolph and co. are putting out ten cylinders worth or twenty cylinders worth of steam engines a day, it’s not enough. Not nearly enough. They come flooding out of the Magdeburg factory and disappear as though eaten by a Boojum.
All of which brings us to the Boojum, which is central Germany—the USE to central Europe. Eleven million people in the USE, twenty-five million in France, millions more in Poland, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and even England and Russia. Millions and millions of people, most of whom are desperately poor. Haiti poor. Bangladesh poor. And yet, relatively well off compared to the rest of the world. For most people in the seventeenth century, life sucked great big lemons and less savory things.
They were not poor, even then, because of a lack of productive capacity. It was more the reverse. The Mercantilists, as they would be named in another century and a half by a Scottish economist with his own axes to grind, were stuck in a zero sum game. Money was gold and silver and there wasn’t enough of it to support the economy they had. There are economists out there who, like Adam Smith, have their own political axes to grind and will tell you that the market will adjust, that Adam’s invisible guiding hand will put things right. Ah, no! In fact, it doesn’t and the Thirty Years’ War is one of the better examples of what actually does happen. Prices do go down some, but even more, productivity shrinks to fit the money supply. Now the theory can be saved by changing the definition of “right” to “really sucks to be you” and proclaiming that everything has been put right. And the very early money theorists had no real concept of money that wasn’t gold or silver. They used checks, bills of lading, money of account, but it all represented gold and silver. It always had, right back to the dark ages. They had the pieces to get away from gold and silver, but ingrained belief tends to be ingrained and unthinking assumptions tend to be unthinking. Even Adam, in The Wealth of Nations, couldn’t really get away from it and he knew it was wrong. Knew it. Said so right out. Several times. In print. To the economic thinkers of the seventeenth century, the goal of all commerce was to have the biggest pot of gold you could get and for everyone else to have littler ones.
That was it: For you to have more, they had to have less. Gold and silver were the only way to count who had what. All right, it wasn’t really that simple. Nothing is ever that simple and pure, but it was pretty close. If the Ring of Fire had arrived without the knowledge of economics that came with them, the disaster they would have caused all unknowing would have been worse than a hundred Magdeburg sacks. A sudden increase in productivity and no way to adjust the money supply equals economic collapse. Of course, the economy of the Germanies was already pretty well collapsed. It couldn’t have fallen much further, right? Wrong! At no time during the Irish potato famine did the island fail to produce more food than was necessary to feed every man, woman and child on the island. The food was exported mostly to France by their fellow Irishmen. Grantville wasn’t going to run out of money. If they had gone with gold and silver currency, they would have, at worst, had a short term credit crunch slightly more severe than they did have. But the wealth they brought with them and the wealth they could produce would have bought them the gold and silver they needed to operate. It’s others who would have starved because there wasn’t enough money to hire them after it had all flowed into Grantville.
I will now step down off the soap box for a minute. Have a sip of coffee.
Anyway, the Grantvillers brought the vital concepts and made a pretty valid guess about how much wealth they were introducing, while not giving a lot of consideration to the sorry state of the economy surrounding them. So Grantville became an island of prosperity without too badly damaging the economy, what there was of it, around them. Their money gained credence because of their prosperity. Well, that and the fact that they and their money were clearly stamped “Special Delivery from God.” That “Special Delivery from God” was pretty important when it came to the question of “what’s behind this paper.”
Now, it’s important to remember that the economy of Europe, and especially that of central Germany, was in a state of collapse. There was considerable unused productive capacity in the system, which is demonstrated by the early results of Kipper and Wipper. Central Germany needed cash, more than wealth. When the up-timers added both, the cash spread out and was swallowed up by the same Boojum that swallowed up the Schmidt steam engines in 33-34 and came back with “please, sir, can we have some more.” We got food, we got linen, we got wool, we got beer, and we’re willing to work. As that money flowed out of Grantville in 1631-1634, it hit like rain on parched but well-seeded ground. There was never enough of it, but everywhere it touched wealth sprouted.
In the process, it made first the New US, then the SoTF, and to an extent the CPE and then the USE richer. The output of the Ring of Fire and all the goods and services they could come up with in four years of seven-day work weeks and eighteen-hour work days would not have been enough to raise the GDP of central Germany more than a percentage point or two. This far, the “it’s too fast” people are right. It was the synergistic effect between the already present unused capacity and low cost, high return additions of the up-timers, like the cheaper nails and nuts and bolts. Also booklets, cheat sheets, whatever you want to call them that allow the down-timers to use what they already have to create new products and better, less expensive, ways of creating a product they already had that will add most of all to the GDP of the USE and the rest of Europe. Sewing machines, Adolph’s steam engines, though they will add less to the GDP than the ad booklet will, do add to the growth but comparatively little by 1635 and probably not all that much by 1640. Though it’s growing every year and even tiny percentages amount to pot loads of money when you’re talking about a nation of eleven million people.
Schmidt steam is less than a percentage point of Magdeburg’s growth and HSMC is less than a percentage point of the growth around the Ring of Fire. Because for every Schmidt Steam or HSMC that gets a story written about them, there are dozens or hundreds of businesses that never make it into print. The paper makers who have gone into gasket making, the bicycle chain maker and so on, all add to the growth rate. Not to mention the souvenir rocks that are mined along the Ring wall and sold to the tourists. And which are often used as good luck charms or the stones in wedding rings. And all of them, put together, are the smaller part of the overall growth.
These businesses make the people and places that own them considerably richer and, indirectly, even the people and places that don’t own them a little bit richer. The plows and sewing machines, the nails and nuts and bolts, the booklets describing how to make crystal sets and wood and leather steam engines, flood out of the point source and make the economy of the USE and even other countries richer. But most of all it’s the information. By 1634 the overall economy of the USE is growing at a rate of 10% a year and that of Western Europe at a rate of 2% to 3%. But that's as a whole. The area right around the Ring of Fire is doing 50% or more annual growth and has been doing so since early 1632. Magdeburg is doing 25% or more and has been since early 1633. Cities like Hamburg are inching up to around 15% and on the down side great big chunks on the USE are having negative growth. Not that that’s anything new. The best I have been able to tell, with the exception of the Netherlands, all of Western Europe was having negative growth in 1630.
All of which leads us back to where?
Remember that assumption I mentioned early on. “The most common assumption is that it’s going to slow things down.” It being the lack of up-timers and especially the lack of college-egimacated up-timers. It assumes that most of the up-timers aren't going to step up to the plate and that those that do are mostly going to strike out. But the seventeenth century is tossing soft balls. And the down-timers are setting up ball stands like for peewee league. One other thing, and this I must admit is a personal belief. I believe in people. I think that the average person does step up when given the chance and seeing the need. No, not everyone is a J.P. Morgan or Mother Teresa but there are a lot of them out there that simply through circumstances never had the chance or the need to turn into heroes. What do I think would happen if Atlas Shrugged, if the ten thousand or hundred thousand of the best, most successful, industrialists were to disappear and leave the world to struggle on without them? The next Atlas would step up to the plate and mostly the world would never notice. It would go in different directions, but in the butterfly wings way not the killer asteroid way and the good changes would be as likely as bad. And in the 1632 universe even if their inclinations aren’t to step up to the plate, there’s probably a down-timer pushing them to it.
Down-timer: “Look, you can tell me. How did you guys get so rich?”
Up-timer: “We’re not rich.”
Down-timer thinking: This one’s really dumb.
Down-timer: “I mean how did you get so much stuff?”
Up-timer shrugs: “Made in factories mostly.”
Down-timer: “We have factories!”
Up-timer thinking: This one’s really dumb.
Up-timer: “Not like ours. We had assembly lines and stuff.”
After a few more beers our intrepid entrepreneurs wobble out of the Thuringen Gardens and in the direction of the National Library. Where they are promptly turned away for being drunk in public. I’d name the up-timer Ron White but somebody already took it. Maybe I’ll call him Mashed Tater and make up some incident from his teenage years involving potato mash white lightning.
The next day, somewhat closer to sober and with the monstrous hangover—two monstrous hangovers—they almost give it up as a bad job. They didn’t get into the National Library, they hadn’t had the library usage course. On the other hand, their question was a common one. One that had already been researched several times and the National Library had a booklet on how up-time industrial practices had evolved and how they worked in the latter half of the twentieth century. The booklet was about thirty pages and cost ten bucks, which the Tater thought was outrageous, and Gunther thought quite reasonable. Tater, grumbling, put up his five and Guns put up his with no noticeable hesitation, then they went off to the Gardens to read it over a little hair of the dog.
Guns, whose nickname came in part because it was short for Gunther and partly because he just really liked guns, had apprenticed for a while as a gunsmith. The striking thing to Guns was how much of the process described in the booklet was just refinements of the sort of stuff you would see in a large gunsmith shop, or a lot of other shops, for that matter. The specifics were different, sure enough, just as they were different if you were making pots and mugs or knives. One of the examples in the booklet was how wheels were made in the early Ford plants. The Ford assembly lines were, after all, the quintessential example of industrialization. It wasn’t exactly the same as you’d see in a wheelwright’s shop where they made a lot of wagon wheels but it had that familiarity of something that related to what you know. “It’s weird how much this stuff is like what we already do.”
“Really?” Tater asked.
“Uh huh. Oh, there’s some neat tricks in there and some of the machines they use are really big suckers, but it’s not anything we couldn't do.” Then Guns got a thoughtful look on his face—which look was thoroughly out of place on that face. “Why didn’t we have this stuff in this century?”
And having Mashed Tater and Guns asking that question was the whole point of this little vignette. Sneaky, ain’t I? Remember the soap box about the economic situation of the seventeenth century? Sure you do, I just stepped off it a minute ago. And that’s why in our time line they didn’t have a Ford in the seventeenth century. They didn’t have the economy to support a market for that level of productivity. They didn’t even have an economy that would support the level of productivity they already had.
As I think has been mentioned by another author in the 1632 universe once or twice, we aren't dealing with the Middle Ages here, not even the Renaissance. This is the Early Modern period, the starting lap to the Modern period, almost everything needed for the modern industrial world. Just few bits missing. It is my belief that the most important of those missing bits was an economic system that could adapt to changes in productivity. Absent such a system, major advances in productive development are more likely to cause an economic collapse than an improvement in standard of living. With it, the slack in the system becomes an immediate or almost immediate benefit to the economy.
Most of the concepts of mass production were not new to the down-timers anymore than they are new to you and me. We can know about them if we have a need or interest, but mostly ignore them. Because how the comb or nail file got made isn’t important. It’s there in the store at a reasonable price. Who cares about the rest?
So the point source is going to act more like a salt crystal dropped into supersaturated salt water or a point source of fire into a keg of gunpowder than like a water faucet that everything must flow through. In two ways this explosion of innovation is going to be different than a number of people seem to see it. First they don’t need the up-timers for everything. Not even for most things a visit to the national library later the state Library of Thuringia Franconia will get you most of the way there and some clever craftsmen or scholars will take you the rest of the way. And when up-timers are involved they aren’t going to be dealing with people that must be introduced to industrialization as a totally new concept. All they will be doing is showing new tweaks to guys that already get it. And that is a whole different ball game.