Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The Dawn of Scarcity Industrialism

Two bits of news circulating on the internet in the last week or so offer a useful glimpse at some of the currents of change that are setting the future into motion around us. One of them caused a modest flutter in the dovecotes of the internet and the mass media, and the other passed almost unnoticed. So far, though, the sweeping implications of both of these news items seem to have been missed by most observers.

The first bit of news was a report that the Chinese government is planning to ban the export of rare earth elements. Those of my readers who don’t track the latest fads in technology may not know that these have become crucial to many cutting edge technologies. Lanthanum, for example, is used in high-tech batteries, and neodymium goes into the permanent magnets used in electric motors and wind turbines. The innards of the Prius and other hybrids, to say nothing of the as-yet-imaginary electric cars being hyped by what’s left of the American auto industry, depend on rare earth elements, and China currently produces well over 90% of the world’s supply of most of them. The report thus sparked claims of an imminent shortage in these minerals and, predictably, a flurry of speculative interest in (and hype-ridden articles about) mines outside of China that can produce the same minerals

A couple of details of the proposed restrictions somehow failed to make it into most media and internet accounts, and they are by no means minor issues. The first is that there’s nothing that new about this news; in each of the last three years, the Chinese government has cut the export quotas for rare earth elements from China’s mines. More important is the fact that the Chinese are not preventing the export of products containing rare earth elements; they are simply moving to ban the export of the raw materials. In effect, what the Chinese are saying is that they are no longer willing to accept the Third World’s designated role as a source of raw materials and cheap labor to be exploited for the benefit of somebody else; if the future is going to run on technologies based on rare earth elements, those technologies are going to come out of Chinese factories, and the wealth produced by them is going to be concentrated in Chinese hands.

As this reality sinks in, we will doubtless hear more denunciations of “resource nationalism.” You’ll notice that nobody denounces “resource nationalism” when the United States imposes political controls on the control of its own strategic resources, as of course it does. The problem arises, as some wag or other put it, because a lot of our resources these days have unaccountably turned up underneath somebody else’s real estate.

Now to some extent the rise of “resource nationalism” is simply one of the consequences of the decline of America’s global empire. Page back a century or so to the time when Britain was the global superpower, with troops garrisoned around the globe, and the same debates took place in very nearly the same terms. Britain’s Parliament and press trumpeted the virtues of free trade, meaning by that comfortably vague phrase a system of unequal exchanges that concentrated the bulk of the world’s wealth in London, while other countries – among them, ironically, the United States – used politically imposed trade barriers and tariffs to nurture their emerging industrial economies at Britain’s expense. As the British Empire waned, so did the global economy of the late 19th century, until the First World War finally pushed it over the brink into oblivion.

We are arguably in a similar situation now, with America playing the role of declining empire and China, among other countries, imposing strategic trade barriers by political fiat as a means of building up its own industrial might at our expense. All other things being equal, we might reasonably expect a troubled transition lasting several decades and punctuated by a series of spectacular wars, not unlike the 1914-1945 transition period that saw Britain’s global empire replaced by America’s. Still, all other things are not equal, and the second bit of news I want to discuss here points up one of the differences.

This was the announcement a few days back that the world derivative market has now reached a total paper value in excess of one quadrillion dollars. The conventional wisdom has it that such sums are beyond the capacity of the human mind to grasp, and in this case, the conventional wisdom may well be right. (If you have the sort of fashionable lifestyle that costs you $2000 a day, for example, and you started spending it when multicellular life first evolved on Earth, you wouldn’t yet have spent one quadrillion dollars.) Still, it’s important to grapple with such figures if only to grasp the fantastic absurdities that have created them.

In thinking about this particular version of the unthinkable, two things should be obvious. The first is that there isn’t a quadrillion dollars worth of nonfinancial goods and services anywhere on our planet. The second, which derives necessarily from the first, is that those derivatives aren’t actually worth a quadrillion dollars in any meaningful sense, since it’s impossible to cash them in for anything other than more financial paper. In terms introduced in an earlier Archdruid Report post, derivatives exist solely in the tertiary economy, the economy of abstract numbers that started out as a representation of real wealth and has now gone spinning off into a hallucinatory Wonderland of its own.

As I am not sure how many of my readers understand derivatives, a few words on the subject might be useful. A derivative is essentially a bet regarding some asset, index, cash flow, or the like, which is called the “underlying.” In the early days of derivatives, cash changed hands when the bet was settled – for example, a derivatives contract might obligate me to buy a hundred carloads of steel next October at a price fixed in advance, and the price of steel when the contract came due determined who profited and who lost. More recently, though, derivative contracts themselves have become hot speculative properties, subject to all the usual vagaries of bubble economics. Since they can quite literally be conjured out of thin air when needed, with no cash down, they are in many ways the perfect speculative instrument.

It will be interesting to see just how long the current bubble in derivatives – for that is what it is, of course – can continue to run. Substantial gaps already exist between the speculative economy and that other, dowdier economy where nonfinancial goods and services are produced and consumed; nowadays the main connection between these two economies is credit, which is manufactured in the speculative economy but partly exported to the real economy. The late housing bubble and its aftermath offers a good demonstration of this; vast amounts of credit produced in the speculative economy flooded the real economy until 2007 or so, causing apparent prosperity; when the speculative economy crashed and all that credit dried up, so did the real economy’s prospects. Derivatives have less contact with the real economy than mortgage-backed securities did, and since nearly all the quadrillions of dollars in the derivatives bubble have been minted out of twinkle dust by processes even more arbitrary than those used by the US government to conjure the funds for its recent stimulus programs – and that is saying something – it’s not completely impossible that the bubble will go zooming off into a realm of pure abstraction full of quintillion-dollar deals as irrelevant to the real economy as the money traded in a game of Monopoly.

Yet there is another potential connection between the etherial realms of speculative finance and the gritty world of matter where goods and services are produced and consumed, and China’s tightening grip on its rare earth elements points toward that connection. Economics does not exist in a vacuum, and the power of high finance can find itself suddenly overmatched when it has to contend with the sort of power that grows out of the barrel of a gun.

This is the mostly unlearned lesson behind the collapse of Long Term Capital Management (LTCM), that poster child of 1990s speculative hubris. Founded by some of the brightest minds in the market, with two Nobel laureates on its staff, LTCM made money – for a while, lots of it – by a set of complex mathematical models that, according to one of its founders, could not fail within the lifetime of this universe or two more like it. The universe ended early; LTCM had been in business for all of five years when the Russian government unilaterally suspended payments on its foreign loans. LTCM had a lot of money in Russian loans, but the prospect of a default wasn’t included in the models, and by the time the rubble stopped bouncing LTCM was so deep in the red that a consortium of banks had to be strongarmed by US government officials into stumping up billions of dollars to prevent a run on securities markets.

The lesson the founders of LTCM learned the hard way is that politics trumps economics. It’s a lesson that has been repeated many times over the last century, but it’s one that very few people seem willing to notice. If I’m right, though, it may just be the key to understanding the next fifty years or so of history.

In previous posts here, I’ve suggested that the world is in the midst of a transformation between the kind of society and economy familiar to us over the last century or so, which I’ve called “abundance industrialism,” and a new kind that may as well be called “scarcity industrialism.” Where abundance industrialism was defined by the ready availability of cheap abundant natural resources, especially but not only fossil fuels, scarcity industrialism will be defined by the scarcity of such resources. One of the implications of this shift is that those nations and regions that control significant amounts of important resources will find those resources becoming a potent source of political leverage. The same sort of clout OPEC gained from its oil reserves in the Seventies, and may reclaim in the not too distant future, will become accessible to countries or cartels of countries with large amounts of any economically vital resource.

If this is correct, the Chinese are not just using trade barriers to build their industrial plant at America’s expense; they’re doing that, of course, but it’s not all they’re doing. They are also taking advantage of the opportunities opening up as the age of scarcity industrialism dawns. They may well have recognized that in a world that will increasingly be shaped by resource scarcities, those who act to secure their own resource bases can thrive while others falter. It’s a lesson that Russia has already learned – witness the successful efforts of the Russian government to seize Russia’s fossil fuel assets from the handful of American- and British-backed billionaires who walked off with them during the chaos and corruption of the Yeltsin years – and other nations are beginning to learn it as well.

The dawn of the age of scarcity industrialism thus promises to stand many of the assumptions of the recent past on their heads. It may not be out of place, therefore, to discuss some of the ways that societies might, if they were minded to do so, deal with some of these new realities, and next week’s post will try to peer ahead into this territory.

37 comments:

DIYer said...

All those tiny (grain-of-sand size) rectangular solids on any surface-mount board you care to examine -- many if not most of them have a pinch of tantalum. Not a rare earth but a transition metal. Nonetheless, a scarce resource. I think it's mined in Africa.

Here in the US, I think our future mines lie in the various landfills now operating as repositories.

mark said...

China will have the rare earth minerals, but we have the farmland. They don't have enough arable land to feed themselves. I wonder if some kind of trade will be worked out. Grain for minerals. Who knows.

PRiZM said...

Very deep and insightful. I really appreciate the comparison with past history to the future history, showing how things really have not changed except only in name. Looking forward to the next post. Thanks JMG :)

Elizabeth M Rimmer said...

Yup, I think you nailed that one!

Kevin said...

Speaking of scarcity industrialism, there's a real howler on the front page of Yahoo right now, which is touting the latest oil find as "the oil well that changed the world forever."

dnissley said...

I'm wondering what will happen in China. Will their new wealth will lead to political changes? I'm especially curious to see what the effect will be on their domestic policy... Their foreign policy on the other hand, well, I think we just need look at the models of empires past and present.

Gavin said...

John, what's your take on the latest claims of massive oil finds this week? The billions of barrels they claim could, for all I know, add up to a few days or a few weeks of pushing back the peak - do you have a view? I know these big finds are regularly touted as the scuppering of peak theory and they rarely do, but what of these latest reputed giants? I realise, of course, that oil ain't the only peak in town, with resource depletion generally the background for all this, but oil is pretty central and I'd value your view.

Berkshire said...

Accompanying the material nationalism is a skill and education nationalism. 25 years ago the CT machine tool industry – think arsenal of democracy - disappeared. As shops shut down in the great rush to globalism, the equipment was bought for near scrap and immediately shipped to India and China. As a result the industry has “retired” and trade schools no longer find students for a dying (or dead) vocation.

Futurists suggest that the salvage business is the US growth industry of the future. A relative has an interest in a small scrap yard and I surmise that nothing will be left for our kids to fight over. Asian middlemen are buying for cash every ounce of refined scrap metal that can be had and then shipping it by the boatload to the Far East. Think of the huge energy and cost advantage buying already refined metals in comparison with mining and processing it new. I believe the scrap exporting business might be one of the largest contributors to our export balance of trade. Good bye America.

John Bray said...

"The Mercury Market Minimization Act of 2008, a bill to prohibit the sale, distribution, and export of elemental mercury (S. 906), was signed by the (US) President. All exports of the substance will be banned as of January 1, 2013." (metalprices.com).

Though the USA doesn't have a right lot of mercury anyway.

John Bray said...

@DIYer:
"The United States does not have a tantalum mining industry because resources are of low grade, and the United States must import all of its tantalum source materials for processing. Australia, Brazil, and Canada are the major producers of tantalum mineral concentrates."
U.S. Geological Survey, Mineral Commodity Summaries, January 2009

Dale Asberry said...

Have you seen the report about China allowing state firms to default on commodities derivatives?

http://www.reuters.com/article/marketsNews/idUSPEK1183220090831?sp=true

John Michael Greer said...

DIYer, landfill salvage is likely to become one of the major growth industries of the next three or four centuries.

Mark, it won't be grain for minerals, it'll be grain and other raw materials for manufactured goods -- the same trade we used to impose on the Third World. You'll notice who gets the short end of that stick.

Prizm and Elizabeth, thank you.

Kevin, every time somebody finds an oil well these days it gets trumpeted as the end of peak oil. You can practically smell the desperation in the media.

Dnissley, I expect major changes, quite possibly including a change in government. It won't slow them down for long.

Gavin, they're very modest finds by the standards of twenty years ago, and since they have to take up the slack for rapidly depleting supergiant fields such as Cantarell, they won't push back peak oil at all. One of the things many people don't realize is that peak oil theory has already factored in the discovery of new oilfields on the downslope.

Berkshire, we're well on our way to becoming a Third World nation -- that is, one that sells raw materials on the world market and imports pretty much all its manufactured goods.

John, thank you! A nice data point.

Dale, thank you for another useful data point. I bet the big financial firms keep on selling derivatives to Chinese state firms, and then run to our government for handouts when the Chinese default on them. It's as though the business news these days was being written and performed by the Three Stooges.

John Bray said...

@Gavin:
A graphic from the UK Financial Times here puts the oil find in perspective rather well (no pun intended).

Curt Yost said...

The problem with that vast amount of farmland is as follows:
-Extremely centralized, as we stripped away local farming.
-Extremely energy dependent (long supply lines, lots of machines, fertilizer, pesticides and the like).
-Unsustainably propped by massive amounts of irrigation, when our water tables are depleting.

In an environment of resource scarcity, our farmlands will be harmed more than many other elements of our economic system.

clif said...

One interesting thought, is when scarcity industrialism and the drill, drill, drill, America ”uber alles” ideology clash. Downsizing the “American dream” in the political sphere isn’t going to be an easy or smooth task. The underpinnings of that dream, good middle class jobs, have been outsourced to Mexico and Asian countries. Given the current state of employment and economy, he only remaining task is to admit, the last 30 years of lassie faire free market style economics, and the resulting globalization have exported the ability of the dream remaining alive.

Politically the unwinding of the way we have been living beyond our ability to sustain our lifestyles, is the most explosive issue we will face in the future. Given a large segment of our population seems to accept the non-negotiable position of the American lifestyle. Unfortunately for them the laws of physics, chemistry and geology do not have to negotiate with us, because they impose their "will" upon us each and every day without our permission.

Each empire likes to think they are unique, however history begs to differ. The British were seen as the preeminent world power until after WW2 even though by the beginnings of the great depression they were essentially broke. Sort of the situation we are currently in, big army but having to finance its ops with other people’s money.

Our military prowess can last a couple more decades, because of the longevity of weapons systems, and the technological advantages we currently have. However just like the British after WW2, when the state of the art moves beyond what we currently have, the super power status and the ability to police the planet for the benefit of Wall Street and large corporations is going to vanish.

Economically the Asian countries, China specifically seem to be next in line. Militarily, the next contender for world cop remains up in the air. However every economic power in the past has also been a military power to protect their economic empires.

China is building the rudimentary elements of a regional military, but if they want to protect the resources they are currently buying and the shipping lanes to transport those resources to China, like the US has had since the beginning of the 20th century, they better get busy. Because without a military to enforce the contracts the Chinese are signing, they are gonna wake up with broken promises, and no resources flowing to their shores.

porge said...

Regarding the quadrillion derivative number.
If these side bets are fashioned like futures or option contracts then that mind bending number is mis-leading.
With a futures contract for example......you may control 100k of the underlying but the amount at risk is only 2-3k.
So instead of 1000 trillion at risk it is probably only a few trillion......which is still a huge problem that won't get solved!!

ariel55 said...

Thanks to you, JMG, for continuing to stimulate our survival instincts! I look forward to next week. Oh, I also noticed a tone change in the media last week as the U.S. ambassador warned Libya's Muammar al Gaddafi that the Lockerbie bomber handling has offended "all" Americans, and that Gaddafi is coming to New York soon to visit the U.N..

Danby said...

Mark,
China has been a net exporter of calories for many years now, since at least the early 1990s. They do have a trade deficit in foodstuffs, but that's due to their export of cheap commodities, mostly rice, soybeans and wheat, to south Asia and import of meats and exotic foreign food from the US and Europe.

The government keeps a very close watch on this particular statistic, as they view it as fundamental to political stability, that is to say, their continued hold on power. When the Chinese peasants decide the dynasty is no longer worth it's cost, the upper classes die in large numbers.

Don said...

Just how rare are these "rare earth" metals, anyway? I recall learning in high school chemistry--and I won't say how long ago that was--that the rare earths are 'twice misnamed'; e.g, they aren't really rare and they aren't 'earth'. But none of them are all that common, are they? I didn't study chemistry in college.

How much lanthanum and neodymium would we need for the wind-and-battery powered economy vs. how much exists on the planet, not just in China? Is this even feasible, or are we talking about simply another depleting resource? What environmental and fossil energy costs are involved in extracting and refining these metals?

gaias daughter said...

Gavin, to expand on JMG's response, the Hubbert curve *assumes* new oil discoveries even on the downward side of the peak. How much would be enough? Consider this quote from Fatih Birol, chief economist to the International Energy Agency (from Science/IEA: World oil crunch looming? Not if we can find six Saudi Arabias!)--

“We have found that if we want to stand still–that is, continue producing 85 million barrels per day–for the next 22 years, we need new production of 45 million barrels per day to compensate for the decline. That means four Saudi Arabias. Add on a demand increase of the sort seen the past couple of decades–equivalent to another two Saudi Arabias–and the world will have to work that much harder to meet rising demand.”

And even if we miraculously find the equivalent of another six Saudi Arabias, that oil is not likely to be as easily pumped and transported as current sources, i.e., no longer *cheap* oil.

And Mark, grain for minerals (or manufactured goods, for that matter) assumes a surplus, not a shortfall, which, as Curt implies, is a huge assumption!

Joel said...

Danby:

I guess, then, we'll be selling the steak, not the sisal.

nutty professor said...

Frightening, fascinating, inspiring stuff, this futurism. Thank you, Archdruid.

Dismal science, indeed!

Wilson said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Wilson

http://cardrawing.net

Andrew said...

Curt Yost's allusions to the oil dependence of industrial agriculture sparked this question for me: If the oil supply chain is sufficiently affected then what food [whether grain or high-energy-input derivatives such as meat] will be available for export in exchange for manufactured goods? The various scenarios presented lead to tit-for-tat resource nationalism in the best case, and resource wars in the worst case. If China overtightens raw material export, then black swans such as the resurgence of imperial Japan rear their head. If China won't supply neodymium, then the price of grain or oil could be used as 'compensation'. If China then restricted supplies of mf'd goods, such as hard drives or computer memory it would be doing itself out of food or useful foreign currency. I cannot see Scarcity leading to anything but War. Clif touches on this with his comment about China's inability to police its contracts and foreign owned resources. [Similar scenarios can be simulated for Russia, parts of Africa, South America, Australia] Apart from a few individuals scattered around the world, almost no one and especially no government is preparing for a 19th century lifestyle with antibiotics. I can only conclude that when the scarcity hits, it won't hit gradually, but suddenly..and the reactions will be necessarily shocking. There is unlikely to be concerted global trade cooperation with mutual benefit as its raison d'etre, because when push comes to shove, the people who can't control their reproduction will be at odds with those who can't control their consumption. Scarcity will beg the question of what an individual life is worth.

William said...

P.S.

I forgot to include my e-mail. It's pmacgillis@hotmail.com.

Thanks,

Pierre

Vesper said...

“To grasp the fantastic absurdities that have created them [derivatives]” we must remember the Pythagorean concept that “all things are numbers.” Graft onto this the modern concept of faith and we might begin to understand not only how the world derivative market was manifested, but also why many people believe magic is supernatural. It may also explain the disbelief some hold concerning peak oil. An appropriate blessing for citizens of this advanced civilization might be, “Upon the flesh and bones of the Earth may your feet be firmly planted.”

Don said...

It just came to me that the word lanthanum, when pronounced, sounds a bit like laudanum. I don't want to draw any kind of conclusion from that, but it makes me wonder whether the connection might be more than merely phonetic, given the way our society is so addicted to the notion that new technology will save us.

xhmko said...

DIYer,

Tantalum is mostly mined in two places, some place in Africa, and Greenbushes in South Western Australia. Just over the back fence from one of my best mates.

xhmko said...

Mark, having been to China and seen the way they have terraced the entire country and the rarity of anything that doesn't have "Made in PRC" printed on the package, I dare say that they will do alright even if Californian oranges and Australia beef stop entering their markets. They are also a fiercely national place as far as I can see, many politicians there wish to be calling the shots on how fair trade will be with them in the future.

xhmko said...

JMG, Thanks once again. I wish you and your wife success in your new experiment in the rust belt.

A little extra reading for you as though you could squeeze it in.

Jean Pain - Another kind of Garden

Actuall its written by his wife but details his methods of composting and self sufficiency. He's the real deal. Actually I'm sure you've heard of him anyway

Arabella said...

I want to echo Wilson's comment. I, too, have been following for several weeks and really appreciate the depth of thought and consideration you express here, JMG - thank you!

Andrew Butt said...

John - Thank you for this post. It has, more than many others I've read, crystallized the answers to many of the "whys" in my mind. You have pointed to purpose and meaning.

"Have you heard what Greer sang?
be courageous to build up the gifts now,
to give our children so they do not despair."

Thanks,
Andrew

secondera said...

China has been developing economic ties and securing supplies all over Africa for the past decade.

Also, in response to Clif, who said that China will need a military to enforce those contracts, this is a 20th century mindset. In the age of nuclear weapons, the homeland is secure from invasion even without a military while economic contracts are secure through economic influence. When it comes to power projection, China has been a very smart player. They didn't get caught up in a nuclear arms race. They're taking their time on issues like Taiwan while committing to brutal violence mostly on the domestic front to avoid Eastern Block style political reform or secession on the Tibetan Plateau.

Dave Johnson said...

I have been reading Mr. Greer's book, The Long Descent, and I find it interesting, but I have some doubt about one of the premises laid out in the first chapter. Namely, the assumption that a modern lifestyle is dependent upon current levels of energy consumption. In point of fact, there are huge inefficiencies in American energy use, and we could easily cut our energy use in half without even noticing the change. Europe uses about half the energy that we do, and no one would complain about their lifestyle, while Japan uses even less, although the impact of that is a bit more obvious. I myself use about a tenth of the energy consumed by my fellow citizens, and I still have all the modern conveniences. I just organize my life a little differently. The most obvious thing is that I use a bicycle for most of my transport, and I mostly work at home or very close to it. Another detail is my solar-powered shower. For less than a hundred dollars in simple parts, I get my hot water for bathing straight from the sun, so there is about one third of household energy consumption gone in one stroke. I also heat and cool only very small spaces that I actually occupy for things like reading, desk work, watching movies, etc. And even then I rely far more on insulation and clever design than on raw heating and cooling capacity. Mind you, I am not gritting my teeth either; I keep myself very comfortable, but I wouldn't waste a penny heating large, unoccupied spaces the way most people do. Thus, I have evidence that I find convincing that we can economize radically if we choose to do so, and civilization, in the sense of continued intellectual development of society, does not appear to be in any danger at all. Please notice also that, except for the solar shower (which I cobbled together in a few days of tinkering), I have done nothing unconventional. I just have a sharp eye for energy efficiency, and I decided firmly not to spend a penny on things I did not actually need. Rent, utilities, and a car add up to about $20,000 a year for the average family. Mine are under $2,000 a year. As I said, about a tenth of what most American spend. Enough said. You get the point.

gaias daughter said...

Dave, everything you said is true . . . but . . .

I've lived in Europe, so I know how much more frugal Europeans are. No European would think to get in a car to drive three houses down (as my neighbors do). No European would air condition a three story house to keep their cat comfortable while they are on vacation (as my neighbors do). No European would consider throwing newspapers in a recycling can 'too much trouble' (as my neighbors do). So the question is not 'could we get by with less energy?' but 'how do we get people to voluntarily cut their energy usage?' Personally, I don't see that happening until TSHTF.

And the fact is that our economy is based upon growth. Should we all become energy sippers instead of guzzlers, should we buy only that which we really need instead of every cheap 'made in China' item that hits the shelves of Wally World, our economy would contract and contraction is death to a growth-based economy. So it's damned if you do and damned if you don't.

That said, your example is one it would behoove us all to follow . . . and the economy be damned!

Dave Johnson said...

Thank-you for the kind feedback from Gaia's Daughter, but let me also clarify one point. By cutting down my personal requirements I am able to live each week on the income from one day of work at ten bucks an hour, give or take a bit. That is to say, the cause and effect is thrift leading to leisure, not underemployment leading to thrift. So, if everyone lived as frugally as I do it would certainly kill the "consumer economy" as we know it, but that is not the same as saying that everyone would starve for lack of work. Just the opposite would occur at a new equilibrium. People would still do their share of the work necessary to keep us all fed, clothed, housed, etc. And the economic output would still be apportioned to people in a manner that corresponded to their relative contribution to that production process. However, because less would need to be done, we could all have, say, a three day week, and we could live on that income. As things stand now, we all slave away making mostly junk, so that we can go to the mall and buy some of that self-same junk. That sounds to me like the very definition of "rat race", which is why I don't participate. In short, I buy much less, but I also work much less, so it evens right out. I'm out of the workplace and out of the consumer marketplace in about equal proportion, and that is generally true of anyone who does the same. Thus, I do not see myself as sabotaging anything, but just detaching myself from a game I don't happen to enjoy. Anyone is free to do the same - or not - as they choose. It is true that I don't have much sympathy for people who run themselves ragged to buy a lot of useless junk, and then complain that they cannot make ends meet. They clearly can, but they choose to do differently, for whatever reason. Thus, I see it as their problem, and not anyone else's, much less mine.

Liesl said...

Mark said "China will have the rare earth minerals, but we have the farmland."
Thats a fairly typical US-centric worldview
It may not be feasible to ship food vast distances, given how much energy that consumes. However, Asian countries are already buying up vast tracts of arable land in Australia and Africa. Here in Aus we don't even know how much, all we know is that it is happening faster than we are keeping track of.