Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Twilight of Money

I’ve commented before in these essays that one of the least constructive habits of contemporary thought is its insistence on the uniqueness of the modern experience. It’s true, of course, that fossil fuels have allowed the world’s industrial societies to pursue their follies on a more grandiose scale than any past empire has managed, but the follies themselves closely parallel those of previous societies, and tracking the trajectories of these past examples is one of our few useful sources of guidance if we want to know where the current versions are headed.

The metastasis of money through every aspect of life in the modern industrial world is a good example. While no past society, as far as we know, took this process as far as we have, the replacement of wealth with its own abstract representations is no new thing. As Giambattista Vico pointed out back in the 18th century, complex societies move from the concrete to the abstract over their life cycles, and this influences economic life as much as anything else. Just as political power begins with raw violence and evolves toward progressively more subtle means of suasion, economic activity begins with the direct exchange of real wealth and evolves through a similar process of abstraction: first, one prized commodity becomes the standard measure for all other kinds of wealth; then, receipts that can be exchanged for some fixed sum of that commodity become a unit of exchange; finally, promises to pay some amount of these receipts on demand, or at a fixed point in the future, enter into circulation, and these may end up largely replacing the receipts themselves.

This movement toward abstraction has important advantages for complex societies, because abstractions can be deployed with a much smaller investment of resources than it takes to mobilize the concrete realities that back them up. We could have resolved last year’s debate about who should rule the United States the old-fashioned way, by having McCain and Obama call their supporters to arms, march to war, and settle the matter in battle amid a hail of bullets and cannon shot on a fine September day on some Iowa prairie. Still, the cost in lives, money, and collateral damage would have been far in excess of those involved in an election. In much the same way, the complexities involved in paying office workers in kind, or even in cash, make an economy of abstractions much less cumbersome for all concerned.

At the same time, there’s a trap hidden in the convenience of abstractions: the further you get from the concrete realities, the larger the chance becomes that the concrete realities may not actually be there when needed. History is littered with the corpses of regimes that let their power become so abstract that they could no longer counter a challenge on the fundamental level of raw violence; it’s been said of Chinese history, and could be said of any other civilization, that its basic rhythm is the tramp of hobnailed boots going up stairs, followed by the whisper of silk slippers going back down. In the same way, economic abstractions keep functioning only so long as actual goods and services exist to be bought and sold, and it’s only in the pipe dreams of economists that the abstractions guarantee the presence of the goods and services. Vico argued that this trap is a central driving force behind the decline and fall of civilizations; the movement toward abstraction goes so far that the concrete realities are neglected. In the end the realities trickle away unnoticed, until a shock of some kind strikes the tower of abstractions built atop the void the realities once filled, and the whole structure tumbles to the ground.

We are uncomfortably close to such a possibility just now, especially in our economic affairs. Over the last century, with the assistance of the economic hypercomplexity made possible by fossil fuels, the world’s industrial nations have taken the process of economic abstraction further than any previous civilization. On top of the usual levels of abstraction – a commodity used to measure value (gold), receipts that could be exchanged for that commodity (paper money), and promises to pay the receipts (checks and other financial paper) – contemporary societies have built an extraordinary pyramid of additional abstractions. Unlike the pyramids of Egypt, furthermore, this one has its narrow end on the ground, in the realm of actual goods and services, and widens as it goes up.

The consequence of all this pyramid building is that there are not enough goods and services on Earth to equal, at current prices, more than a small percentage of the face value of stocks, bonds, derivatives, and other fiscal exotica now in circulation. The vast majority of economic activity in today’s world consists purely of exchanges among these representations of representations of representations of wealth. This is why the real economy of goods and services can go into a freefall like the one now under way, without having more than a modest impact so far on an increasingly hallucinatory economy of fiscal abstractions.

Yet an impact it will have, if the freefall proceeds far enough. This is Vico’s point, and it’s a possibility that has been taken far too lightly both by the political classes of today’s industrial societies and by their critics on either end of the political spectrum. An economy of hallucinated wealth depends utterly on the willingness of all participants to pretend that the hallucinations have real value. When that willingness slackens, the pretense can evaporate in record time. This is how financial bubbles turn into financial panics: the collective fantasy of value that surrounds tulip bulbs, or stocks, or suburban tract housing, or any other speculative vehicle, dissolves into a mad rush for the exits. That rush has been peaceful to date; but it need not always be.

I’ve argued in previous posts here that the industrial age is in some sense the ultimate speculative bubble, a three-century-long binge driven by the fantasy of infinite economic growth on a finite planet with even more finite supplies of cheap abundant energy. Still, I am coming to think that this megabubble has spawned a second bubble on nearly the same scale. The vehicle for this secondary megabubble is money – meaning here the entire contents of what I’ve called the tertiary economy, the profusion of abstract representations of wealth that dominate our economic life and have all but smothered the real economy of goods and services, to say nothing of the primary economy of natural systems that keeps all of us alive.

Speculative bubbles are defined in various ways, but classic examples – the 1929 stock binge, say, or the late housing bubble – have certain standard features in common. First, the value of whatever item is at the center of the bubble shows a sustained rise in price not justified by changes in the wider economy, or in any concrete value the item might have. A speculative bubble in money functions a bit differently than other bubbles, because the speculative vehicle is also the measure of value; instead of one dollar increasing in value until it’s worth two, one dollar becomes two. Where stocks or tract houses go zooming up in price when a bubble focuses on them, then, what climbs in a money bubble is the total amount of paper wealth in circulation. That’s certainly happened in recent decades.

A second standard feature of speculative bubbles is that they absorb most of the fictive value they create, rather than spilling it back into the rest of the economy. In a stock bubble, for example, a majority of the money that comes from stock sales goes right back into the market; without this feedback loop, a bubble can’t sustain itself for long. In a money bubble, this same rule holds good; most of the paper earnings generated by the bubble end up being reinvested in some other form of paper wealth. Here again, this has certainly happened; the only reason we haven’t see thousand-percent inflation as a result of the vast manufacture of paper wealth in recent decades is that most of it has been used solely to buy even more newly manufactured paper wealth.

A third standard feature of speculative bubbles is that the number of people involved in them climbs steadily as the bubble proceeds. In 1929, the stock market was deluged by amateur investors who had never before bought a share of anything; in 2006, hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of people who previously thought of houses only as something to live in came to think of them as a ticket to overnight wealth, and sank their net worth in real estate as a result. The metastasis of the money economy discussed in previous posts here is another example of the same process at work.

Finally, of course, bubbles always pop. When that happens, the speculative vehicle du jour comes crashing back to earth, losing the great majority of its assumed value, and the mass of amateur investors, having lost anything they made and usually a great deal more, trickle away from the market. This has not yet happened to the current money bubble. It might be a good idea to start thinking about what might happen if it does so.

The effects of a money panic would be focused uncomfortably close to home, I suspect, because the bulk of the hyperexpansion of money in recent decades has focused on a single currency, the US dollar. That bomb might have been defused if last year’s collapse of the housing bubble had been allowed to run its course, because this would have eliminated no small amount of the dollar-denominated abstractions generated by the excesses of recent years. Unfortunately the US government chose instead to try to reinflate the bubble economy by spending money it doesn’t have through an orgy of borrowing and some very dubious fiscal gimmickry. A great many foreign governments are accordingly becoming reluctant to lend the US more money, and at least one rising power – China – has been quietly cashing in its dollar reserves for commodities and other forms of far less abstract wealth.

Up until now, it has been in the best interests of other industrial nations to prop up the United States with a steady stream of credit, so that it can bankrupt itself filling its self-imposed role as global policeman. It’s been a very comfortable arrangement, since other nations haven’t had to shoulder more than a tiny fraction of the costs of dealing with rogue states, keeping the Middle East divided against itself, or maintaining economic hegemony over an increasingly restive Third World, while receiving the benefits of all these policies. The end of the age of cheap fossil fuel, however, has thrown a wild card into the game. As world petroleum production falters, it must have occurred to the leaders of other nations that if the United States no longer consumed roughly a quarter of the world’s fossil fuel supply, there would be a great deal more for everyone else to share out. The possibility that other nations might decide that this potential gain outweighs the advantages of keeping the United States solvent may make the next decade or so interesting, in the sense of the famous Chinese curse.

Over the longer term, on the other hand, it’s safe to assume that the vast majority of paper assets now in circulation, whatever the currency in which they’re denominated, will lose essentially all their value. This might happen quickly, or it might unfold over decades, but the world’s supply of abstract representations of wealth is so much vaster than its supply of concrete wealth that something has to give sooner or later. Future economic growth won’t make up the difference; the end of the age of cheap fossil fuel makes growth in the real economy of goods and services a thing of the past, outside of rare and self-limiting situations. As the limits to growth tighten, and become first barriers to growth and then drivers of contraction, shrinkage in the real economy will become the rule, heightening the mismatch between money and wealth and increasing the pressure toward depreciation of the real value of paper assets.

Once again, though, all this has happened before. Just as increasing economic abstraction is a common feature of the history of complex societies, the unraveling of that abstraction is a common feature of their decline and fall. The desperate expedients now being pursued to expand the American money supply in a rapidly contracting economy have exact equivalents in, say, the equally desperate measures taken by the Roman Empire in its last years to expand its own money supply by debasing its coinage. The Roman economy achieved very high levels of complexity and an international reach; its moneylenders – we would call them financiers today – were a major economic force, and credit played a sizeable role in everyday economic life. In the decline and fall of the empire, all this went away. The farmers who pastured their sheep in the ruins of Rome’s forum during the Dark Ages lived in an economy of barter and feudal custom, in which coins were rare items more often used as jewelry than as a medium of exchange.

A similar trajectory almost certainly waits in the future of our own economic system, though what use the shepherds who pasture their flocks on the Mall in the ruins of a future Washington DC will find for vast stacks of Treasury bills is not exactly clear. How the trajectory will unfold is anyone’s guess, but the possibility that we may soon see sharp declines in the value of the dollar, and of dollar-denominated paper assets, probably should not be ignored, and cashing in abstract representations of wealth for things of more enduring value might well belong high on the list of sensible preparations for the future.

50 comments:

Yarra said...

"the only reason we haven’t see thousand-percent inflation as a result of the vast manufacture of paper wealth in recent decades is that most of it has been used solely to buy even more newly manufactured paper wealth."

Amen, Brother.

Tracey said...

Another excellent post! The main reason the housing bubble was not allowed to completely burst stemmed from the derivative bets,the credit default swaps bought by large institutions and the mortgage backed securities, that were bought by foreign governments and pension plans alike.

Ares Olympus said...

The all reminds me of a poem I wrote 13 years ago, partly a metaphor against unsustainable "hydrocarbon man", having only one chance to get it right, the wrecklessness of the opportunity, and yet, no clear "safe road" to judge success before the end. The movement down can feel like progress for a quite a long while! YET, doubt itself can guarantee failure too.

We need VISION to imagine its possible to fly as much as we need realism that we can fail!

Money represents REALITY in the amount of power collectively we have now, but it's more like "velocity" than "energy" - it evaporates as soon as we stop falling!

****************
The Freefall of Life, 7/19/96

High upon a tree stands a nest,
where a baby bird once stood.

Now that baby plunges down,
pushed from the nest by its mother.

There's no going back to that nest,
only flying or dying.

The longer it falls, the faster.
And its wings flap wildly,
yet finding new grace with each stroke.

The baby does not see the ground;
each feather only knows the wind.

Flying and falling feel the same to the young;
How will it learn the difference?
****************

spottedwolf said...

Fuel to roast former politicos during those cold nights on the Potomac John....those stacks burn as good as anything else when it comes to roast beast....

Jasmine said...

I must admit that I don't really understand the finer workings of economic and political systems. I operate much more on the emotional plains finding justice and injustice igniting my passions.

I do like your writing style and found your use of language producing visual images in my mind that helped me keep track.

'political power begins with raw violence and evolves toward progressively more subtle means of suasion' - perfectly phrased.

I studied some Russian Economics as part of a Russian and Soviet Studies Degree several years ago. As I read through your article I found visualizing large queues of people lining up to buy rationed goods with wheel barrows of money that held no value in a similar fashion to the depressions of post war Europe in the 1940's (Especially Germany). I also visualized one giant screw. 5 year Gosplan's which dictated that contracts be fulfilled without ironing out the practicalities...

And now, I find myself offering housing advice in a law centre in the wake of the housing crash and your words resonate on a different level again. All these clients that lost their homes due to the housing crash. Let me make it clear, they could afford the original mortgages but could not afford the doubling and at times tripling of the mortgage repayments within a two year period of taking out the mortgage. All of which were interest repayments on sub prime lending, which in my opinion is the ugliest manifestation of corporate greed.

On a localized level, and this is where I return to the emotional observations, entering into an economic 'depression' people seem less tolerant of others and think only of themselves. This is also true on an environmental level. Until the people of the world can see themselves as a global community and help and accept each other as part of a bigger picture (I am not referring to religion here) then I'm afraid the uglier side of human nature will always preside leaving the minority prospering at the expense of the majority.

The economic impact of the crashes' has had a devastating impact upon the charity sector here in the UK. Charities now chase government contracts, jumping through government hoops changing the very ethos and mission statements that originally drove the charities and meaning that those that were originally intended to benefit from the work of the charities find themselves no longer eligible for assistance.

I've spent the last decade in the charity sector and have never before felt like I am working for a large corporate company so much as I have in the past couple of years. Such a shame.

I've probably drifted off the point now, sorry...

denisaf said...

It is fascinating that this knowledgeable comment on what is happening to industrial civilization has two major failings. Firstly, it does not recognize that the basic problem is that the systems of civilization irreversibly uses the limited natural capital. Use of the fossil fuels is mentioned but there are many other components of natural capital that have been used up or devastated. Natural forces invariably determine what happens. Secondly,it conveys the common delusion that growth is the primary problem. The real problem is that the systems of civilization is using natural capital at a high rate even as it becomes scarce. Growth just increase that rate. Natural capital will continue to decline even when growth inevitably ceases.

lagedargent said...

Dear Mr. Greer,
If you carry on in this vein for some more years, I see no reason why you'd fail to be nominated for the first Nobel Prize of Economics due after the economy's next leg down.
Only, I wonder in which commodity that prize may be paid, a free lunch for the rest of your life? Smorgasbord to be collected at the service entrance of the Nobel Institute in Stockholm, daily at noon?

John Michael Greer said...

Yarra, thank you.

Tracey, exactly. The big financial houses were at least as far over their heads as individual speculators; they just have a bit more political clout.

Ares, thank you for the poem.

Wolf, and here I was thinking of toilet tissue.

Jasmine, you're not off-topic. The corporatization of charity is yet another way in which the metastasis of money has distorted every aspect of contemporary life, and feeds the very problems charities originally set out to solve.

Denisaf, I take it you haven't read any of the other posts on this blog or, for that matter, in this series of posts. I've discussed the role of resource depletion at quite a bit of length already.

Lagedargent, I'd be happy with the smorgasbord but Stockholm's a bit far to walk!

nutty professor said...

This is disturbing, but completely consistent with what you have been writing about for years now. What kinds of things will have "value" in the future, both locally (where it seems to count most) and in the broader economy? Are you referring mainly to services or concrete commodities?
We are very grateful for your voice. Very helpful to us.

gaias daughter said...

Great post, as always, JMG. I would, however, be interested in your reaction to the following thoughts. In your piece, you wrote: "I’ve commented before in these essays that one of the least constructive habits of contemporary thought is its insistence on the uniqueness of the modern experience."

As I see it, while history repeats itself in terms of patterns, *each* chapter is unique, including and especially our own. Never before has the world been so heavily populated. Never before have our non-renewable resources (including, but not limited to, fossil fuels) been so depleted. Never before has climate change played such a widespread role. Never before have the nations of the world been so heavily armed with weapons of mass destruction. Never before has the world been so interconnected -- through the interdependence of our industries and supply lines, through the complexity and abstraction of global economic structures, through the availability of rapid transportation from one side of the globe to the other, through widespread, instantaneous means of communication.

Whereas the collapses of civilizations in the past were primarily local events, this collapse, which appears inevitable, is likely to be more global and more decisive than any before it. So it seems to me that the coming years may play out in a rather unique fashion. This doesn't mean that historical precedence is irrelevant but that its relevance may be only marginal.

Sorry I've strayed so far from the real point of your post, but you brought it up and I've been curious to know your reactions.

Yours, LS

lagedargent said...

>> Lagedargent, I'd be happy with the smorgasbord but Stockholm's a bit far to walk! <<
Exactly! That's why I think the value of a Nobel Prize in the penniless and travel challenged society of the future may be chiefly expressed in units of honor.
By the way, I learnt the Nobel Institute has its domicile in Oslo, instead of Stockholm. I apologize for the slip.
As to the Nobel Prize commitee's somewhat premature choice to honor Obama with the Peace Prize, they rebalanced their act by awarding Miss Ostrom e.a. with the Prize for Economics. I understand she's an adherent of Schumacher's ideas of 'Small is beautiful'. And as I gather from Dmitry Orlov's blog, when Gorbachev received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990, the then foreign ministry spokesman of the USSR said: "We must remember, this certainly was not the prize for economics..."

mobiaxis said...

you close by saying that it may be better to trade in paper wealth for tangible assets, but in previous essays I recall you writing that hoarding was not a viable survival strategy. I know there is some truth to both statements - where is the middle ground?

Riddley W. said...

Terry Eagleton has a comic chapter in his Literary Theory called"The Rise of English" which traces the scientification of English Departments in response to post-Sputnik NSF grants. In this case, one abstraction, teaching literature, was replaced by another,the design of grant-worthy numerical studies about, among other things, teaching literature.

It's tempting to see this process as a decline, but gold and multiple derivatives of derivatives have the same abstract value when they're used as money. Only the amount of faith they inspire determines their value. For the moment, glitter and heft are inspiring more faith than zeroes on a T-bill, but these things go up and down.

I've noticed occasional references to Jacques Ellul's The Technological Society in your work, and reading that book left me with the impression that there is something new under the sun: the algorithms that three centuries of fossil-fueled technology has left us. They won't go away simply because our civilization ceases to function.

Instead, our collapse might look like a sudden realignment to a new religion, its bible Thomas J. Glover's Pocket Ref. A look at that wonderful book is enough to call into question the example of Rome as a paradigm for 21st Century America. It's also a handy guide for salvage personnel, even at this stage of our devolution toward the concrete.

One worrisome subtext of Ellul's work is that technology itself contains a death-wish. I don't think I'm reading it into Ellul, and it has implications for your eco-technic future. Is there any safe level of technology? Ellul seems to imply there isn't.

JMG, your work sparks many ideas, brings up many books, and represents a sane look at an insane world. It's much appreciated.

Ponter said...

I suspect the reason we haven't seen hyperinflation from all the QE is that the recipient banksters have themselves been exchanging these abstractions for more tangible items (e.g. vast amounts of land, gold bullion, foreign factories, whatever). Some of it is exiting the system as real stuff.

I can't help but wonder, too, how the computer has accelerated the hyperabstraction. Not that other empires haven't become too abstract prior to the computer age, but it seems that the computer has accelerated the the compounding effect of our current schemes of abstraction.

Finally, I find a lot of your discussion, well, abstract. Yes, we should be converting our cash (if we have any) into more concrete and useful things; but that begs a world of questions. For the young, it might mean good farmland (if they can afford it -- one of the crises of agriculture is that too many young people who want to can't get into farming because land and taxes are just too much). For the elderly ... what? spare oxygen tanks? For a lot of older people I know, it's much too late for them to get back into shape and farm, chop wood, or whatever -- and there's no place for "elders" (in the anthropological sense) in our culture -- and most older Americans are just as stupid as the rest of us anyway. Those in the middle have similar dilemmas. Each of us has to figure this out on our own -- or better yet, in concert with family, friends and neighbors. But it's going to be a lot more painful in reality than the abstraction makes it sound.

Not to belabor this, but you seem the practical sort, and I keep waiting for the practical punchline in your essays. Maybe some insight into your own thought processes as you converted your own abstractions for your new life in Maryland might be illuminating.

John Michael Greer said...

Professor, my advice remains what it's always been -- concentrate on acquiring skills, and the basic tools needed to put them to work.

Gaia's Daughter, I can easily imagine the Romans looking back at the collapse of Mycenaean civilization, say, and deciding that the lessons from that collapse couldn't be applied to the future of Rome because the difference in scale was so great. They would have been wrong. A difference in scale is not a difference in kind. The same dynamics of decline and fall have functioned over every previously tested scale of civilizations, from little local examples to those that sprawled over much of a continent; why should they stop working when the scale is one step larger -- especially when they seem to be following the same patterns so far?

Lagedargent, Obama's surreal award (how often have they given a peace prize to somebody who's busy fighting two wars?) won't be the prize for economics, either.

Mobiaxis, see my response to Nutty Professor above. My point is simply that hoarding cash, or other forms of paper wealth, may well become even less useful than hoarding concrete things.

Riddley, I've long felt that Ellul put the cart and the horse in the wrong order; in particular, his sense of technique as an independent force strikes me as unproductive. In a society that doesn't have the option of having most of its work done by machines powered by fossil fuels, using the machine as a model for human activities -- which is what the cult of efficiency amounts to -- rapidly becomes inefficient, because people reject it and rebel.

Ponter, of course you're right -- these reflections are abstract. Partly that's because I'm pursuing a specific set of ideas that I think need to be developed to provide a basis for practical action; partly it's because I have real doubts about the relevance of my own distinctly idiosyncratic choices to those of other people; and partly it's because I'm an intellectual by trade and ideas are my strong suit. There are plenty of people offering excellent practical advice these days; I'd point you to Sharon Astyk's blog for starters.

denisaf said...

John
Resources depletion is only one component of using natural capital. Look at the devastation of the environment by the operations of civilization. I am not aware of you mentioning that natural forces always control what happens, yet that is the stark reality. We have a society that believes that technology will provide solutions when the only thing it can do is make better use of natural capital, including the depleting natural resources. You do foster the belief that it is growth causing the major problem when it is the consumption of the limited natural capital at a high rate that is the main materialistic problem, which society will inevitably have to face as this capital becomes scarcer.

Danby said...

About hyperinflation;
We haven't seen hyperinflation yet in this panic (to use the 19th century term) is because all of the money printed up to bailout the richest .2% of the populace has been invested in the stock market. How else can one explain the completely unrealistic valuation of stocks? Not to mention their more than doubling in price in the worst economy since WWII? The average price/earnings ration in the NYSE is now over 100. That means you could buy the average company for 100x it's gross profit for the year. In exceptional circumstances that sort of valuation may be justified for an individual stock, but never for the entire market.

Sometime, I think soon, the "sucker's rally" will be over. Stock prices will start to normalize. Once that happens, well, there's an old Wall Street saying. "In a stock crash, the first one out the door gets to keep most of his money." After the 1929 collapse, the stock market recovered almost 80% of it's 1928 level. It wasn't until after the 1931 crash that the Depression started.

When the winners have extracted the money available in the stock market, that is when inflation will really set in. I doubt it will reach hyperinflation levels, because hyperinflation requires a mechanism for increasing prices to force incomes higher. Without the see-saw effect of rising incomes and prices, such as we had in the 1970s, you do not end up with hyperinflation, just massive poverty.

A monetary collapse, such as we are just starting (see the rise in gold prices last week) behaves more like an intentional currency devaluation, such as Mexico perpetrated in 1984. The net effect of that is to force prices of imports higher, and to force export prices lower. If it can be done in a controlled fashion, this can be a short-term net benefit, as it encourages the production of goods for export, discourages purchase of imported goods, and will definitely force the trade deficit lower. In the medium term, however, by forcing up the price of petroleum, it will serve as a damper on economic activity. In the long term, we will all be local and broke anyway.

So no, hyperinflation is not really on the horizon. Serious 1978-style inflation quite likely is. Massive price increases in imported goods is almost certain.

J Gav said...

Thank you for another fine addition to the series on money, where we've been and where we are. After giving their due to historical parallels (and Vico!), I particularly appreciated the points you made distinguishing those situations from the present one. "Bingeing" may be an ancient and recurrent habit but bingeing on fossil fuels is not!

A system which does so over an extended period of time lays itself open to some interesting twists in behavioral deviation. Such as devouring its own flesh (see Bear Stearns, Lehman Bros, etc).

In psychiatry, when a patient reaches the stage of autophagia it is never an encouraging sign ... nevertheless, one might have hoped that the Banksters and Co. would continue and do the job that either open rebellion or collapse must now do regarding the 'money power.' If only their cannibalism were confined to Wall Street and selected corporate boardrooms. Alas,instead, I expect the munching noises to grow louder as the beast stalks the land in search of further sustenance. As they'll be running out of fellow fraudsters to chew on soon, the victims are increasingly likely to be 'the people,' probably even more than has been the case up to now. And this will all be spun in a desperate effort to maintain the mirage that what IT wants is in our best interests.

You are a sagacious Changer, Archdruid, when you indicate that people would be well-advised to make other arrangements.

I also value your restraint in making over-precise prophesies, even if some general conclusions may be pretty much foregone.

Thardiust said...

This blogger is Chaucer's reincarnate.

Patz said...

Your post brought up an image for me of two young people setting out to master economics.

One goes to all the best schools, Harvard? and after many arduous years of work achieves a Ph.D and several post-docs.

The other reads the series you've just written, especially the latest; studies some history; reads some Jared Diamond; some William Catton et voila, becomes the better economist. Bravo!

Tom said...

Nutty Professor asks what sorts of things will be valuable in the future, so I offer him my mantra that I use in trying to get this right. Chant these words until they are part of your fiber:

Tools, Skills, Land, Water, Tools, Skills, Land, Water, Tools, Skills, Land, Water.

John Michael Greer said...

Denisaf, I've discussed all of this at length here and elsewhere. The reason it's not part of this post is that I'm trying to focus on a different piece of the puzzle -- the internal dynamics of the tertiary economy of money -- which is also relevant to the wider project of this blog.

Danby, a currency collapse could get a good deal hairier than the Mexican model suggests, not least since there's nobody in a position to bail out the US the way Mexico was bailed out in 1984. I could see things going so far that people stopped taking dollars for anything at all, and trade limped along for a year or two on foreign currencies, local scrip, and barter until a change of government, not necessarily constitutional in nature, brings in a new currency.

Gav, your crystal ball is in working order, I see -- among the things I want to talk about next week are the political implications of the current mess, not least the embarrassingly self-defeating way the finance industry is ignoring the political consequences of its own self-indulgence. The pre-1789 French aristocracy had nothing on these guys.

Thardiust, thank you! But in that case I'd probably write:
"Whan that Druide, wyth hys postes soote,
Hath gyven ye cornucopyan saps ye boote..."

Patz, thank you. Your second student should start out with Catton, though -- or better still, with a good general textbook of ecology, and then Catton. Mind you, I'm half convinced that somebody who studied nothing but the collected comics of Walt Kelly would end up with a better grasp of economics than somebody with a Harvard Ph.D. in the subject.

Kevin said...

Never before have I encountered a critique of the money system which both beautifully covers the ground, so far as I can tell at any rate, and is a smooth pleasurable read (except of course for the terrifying subject matter) rather than a tormenting tangle of twisted syntax and agonizingly verbose and undecipherable jargon. All that you say sorts well with my perception of the system we have, as observed over the past thirty years or so.

When you say -

...it’s safe to assume that the vast majority of paper assets now in circulation, whatever the currency in which they’re denominated, will lose essentially all their value...

- it makes me wonder what the effect will be upon people who depend on fixed incomes like pensions and social security. You seem to be describing hyperinflation such as that which (so I have read) ruinously impoverished pensioned French veterans of World War I over half a century ago, people who thought themselves financially secure until economic reality in the form of inflation caught up with them. For people in our present time who are just barely getting by on such incomes and have no spare assets to invest, what tangible wealth could they possibly acquire to help them survive the stormy seas ahead?

I also wonder if you mean paper assets in the United States particularly, or throughout the world..?

...what use the shepherds who pasture their flocks on the Mall in the ruins of a future Washington DC will find for vast stacks of Treasury bills is not exactly clear.

They should be good for starting fires, if not allowed to become too damp.

Ken said...

This painful but real ‘Fall of the American Empire' is overstated. The entire financial concept the West lives by is dying. Iran, China and other nations are not playing with the concept of money except to position themselves to real economic activity. Fossil fuels are doomed and not because they are running out or becoming harder to find, extract etc. Alternative fuels and energy systems will prevail.
Study History well, everything is cyclical. The demise of Western financial concepts, energy systems and central control of all kinds are what is in real trouble.
In other words the "uber rich" have everything to loose, the rest of us will go back to legitimate business and trade.
Case in point, most propaganda relies on central controlled schemes. Alternative energy does not have to be in a government or central controlled system like a utility. Edidson’s Menlo Park, his laboratory, was burned down by his competitors and Edison realized he was up against powerful money and turned towards other inventions and pursuits. Edison was developing a ‘Personal Power Plant’ for your home! Big powers ruled then but Alternative energy systems will revive Edison’s dream in many more ways than he contemplated. 'Central Control' is loosing control and that is good for small business.
One thing that is apparent in our modern age that no other age has ever witnessed is the Internet, this neural net of communications adds a new dynamic, a new consensus of scientific knowledge allowing the small inventor to revolutionize the world.
A brief study of history again shows the ingenuity of human beings to live in a sustainable and healthy environment, of all types and kinds. In the Midwest settlers made mud houses, which in many ways out perform and last modern homes. They used the materials at hand and for a lot less money, even adjusting for inflation. People will go back to many ancient ways peppered with new age technologies to have enough for all. Then maybe we can let those dreaming of 'Central Control' to head into space exploration. It is only natural to Mans wanderlust and a Star Trek adventure might keep planet Earth viable for eons to come!

PRiZM said...

I've really enjoyed the way this thought has been developed over the past few weeks. It's further been enhanced with my reading of "The Druidry Handbook." Perhaps my one and main beef with it all has been the way things are grouped together or labeled, much as the way modern science, modern economics, and just modern life in general, tend to do. There's no doubt that things contain many similarities with the past, none at all. However, and I take a page from nature, whenever things have changed in the past, there are drastic changes to the surviving life, or they don't survive at all. Some call this evolution, but whatever, I don't care. The point is, yes, the thing may be the same, yet it's not, it has forever been changed. Our current economic conditions certainly have certainly been encountered before, however they were approached in a manner fitting to the time period. Each approach is somewhat different, but the one thing we have always wanted for is survival. That means for survival has been summed up best ... "survival of the fittest" which equates to survival of the most powerful.

Danby said...

J Gav said:
As they'll be running out of fellow fraudsters to chew on soon, the victims are increasingly likely to be 'the people,'

Hate to differ, but the cannibalism of the financial classes didn't start until they had locked every home owner they could into a deal that would extract every possible dollar, destroy their credit, and leave the bankster holding title to their home. OptionARM, zero-down, super-jumbo and other exotic mortgages are guaranteed to fail over time. They then invented Mortgage Backed Securities to leverage these fraudulent mortgages into a tool to shove their losses onto the investor class. And then they used the financial panic they caused with the fraudulent mortgages to strongarm over $3,000,000,000,000 in direct bailouts, loan guarantees and negative interest loans out of the US government.

You usually can get away with just about anything in this country, if you're rich, but when the same tactics we see today looted the savings of working-class Americans in 1873, the ensuing riots left 68 banksters dead, hanging from NYC lampposts.

JMG,
It could easily be that bad. I referenced the Mexican devaluation as a relatively recent event of the same type that some of your audience might remember. I was working as a janitor at an airport when it happened, and it was amazing just how many thousands of pesos were just left lying in piles around the arrival gates of Alaska and United airlines. I cleaned up over 100,000 pesos, which had gone from a value of 5 to the dollar to a value of used tissue paper, some 5000 to the dollar. Travellers from Mexico simply dumped them on the floor rather than bother exchanging them. Their monetary value was probably less than the cost of the materials they were printed on.

This is exactly what will happen if we have a currency collapse. I don't believe dollars will go completely worthless, unless we do go into full-fledged revolution mode. They will likely be useless for buying anything not made in this country though. If this happens, and that is an if, not a when, it would be a good idea to have some silver coins to hand. The belief in metals as "real" money is very entrenched in our culture.

Tom Dennen said...

A look at the Basque Mondragon co-operatives is a good starting point to approaching monetary reform.

flute said...

Let's just get things straight with regards to the Nobel Prize.
The Nobel Foundation resides in Stockholm, Sweden. They take care of the money. They have delegated the selection of the winners to various other institutions.
The peace prize winner is selected by a committee selected by the Norwegian parliament in Oslo. For historical reasons - Sweden and Norway were in a union until 1905.
The winners in litterature, physics, etc are all selected by various academies of science etc in Sweden.
The economics prize was not part of Alfred Nobel's original testament, but was instituted later by the Swedish central bank, yet the money is handled by the Nobel Foundation, but the winners are selected by a committee at the Riksbank.
So welcome to Stockholm in 2020, Archdruid, to collect your prize! The boat trip might be long, but it will be worth it!

Tom Dennen said...

All wealth is derived from tools, skills ...

tony said...

half-serious question:
Do you think that within a few years you (or I) can get a job with this kind of ecological view on how things work?

Patz said...

John you discussed entropy a few posts ago and I think you could relate what you've been saying about money to that as well.

Systems require energy inputs to maintain cohesion. As they become more complex they need more energy to forestall entropy.

I think our system now is moving towards higher degrees of entropy and the people trying to fix it are using money, mostly digital, 111s and 000s, hallucinated currency.

But as you've so persuasively pointed out this no longer represents real production or energy. Therefore the effect of the inputs will be illusory at best and entropy will proceed apace.

It also suggests that arguments as to where the money is or should be going, to the people or to the banksters is somewhat beside the point (functionally that is, not morally).

tristan said...

I see a lot of comments about flesh eating. Are we back to Zombies again? Do you notice how they keep popping up in the cultural zeitgeist?

hmmmmm......

John Michael Greer said...

Kevin, I'm mostly speaking of the United States in the short term, since the current money bubble is primarily in dollar-denominated assets. Still, it applies more broadly. As for people on pensions and other fixed incomes, to put matters bluntly, they're screwed. That's unfortunate, but at this point it's unavoidable.

Ken, it's not just the "uber-rich" who benefit from the current state of affairs. The American middle class -- the source of most current protest against the present system -- benefits hugely from that system. Remember that with the end of American empire, all of us are going to experience the equivalent of an 80% pay cut -- and while it's quite possible to lead a meaningful life under those circumstances, it will require preparations very few people are making now, and sacrifices even fewer are willing to accept.

Prizm, history also shows that such drastic changes happen when civilizations fall -- think of the economic specialties that vanished utterly when Rome fell. Still, it's not always the strong that survive; it's not the descendants of the tyrannosaurs who repopulated the earth after the K/T transition, after all.

Danby, I tend to think that practical skills will be more useful than coins, not least because nobody can rob you of your skills.

Tom, monetary reform is all very pleasant to imagine, but I see no likelihood that any such scheme will be put into effect on a large scale in our lifetime or that of our species. Real social phenomena evolve; they aren't invented.

Flute, thanks for the clarification. I'm sure the letter announcing the prize will give directions. ;-)

Tom, wrong order. Skills first, then tools.

Tony, I'd be very surprised if that happened.

Patz, excellent! Yes, this is exactly the problem I mentioned earlier about economists (and others) treating the tertiary economy of money as the real economy. Money is just a means of measurement; trying to solve problems in the real economy by shoving money around is like trying to make yourself taller by buying more yardsticks.

Tristan, yes, I'd noticed. I don't get the whole zombie and vampire thing -- why this endlessly stereotyped fixation on dead things? It doubtless means something, though I'll leave figuring out what it means to those who find it interesting.

Riddley W. said...

As I read it, Ellul’s Technological Society is a conscious religious challenge to technological pragmatism. History provides plenty of examples of how that turns out. Ellul may have had Rome in mind as historical paradigm, but his was the Rome of Innocent III and the Albigensian Crusade.

If you look at Lao-Tzu, Innocent III, and Machiavelli as inventors of technique, Ellul’s horse gets back in front of his cart.

The discussion this week had me rereading an essay I first read in high school, Walter Prescott Webb’s “Ended: 400 Year Boom,” first published in Harper’s in October of 1951. Lots of ironies that I missed the first time, lots of relevance to peak-anything discussions, and an interesting take on money supply and population. And all of it two decades before The Limits of Growth.

OJ said...

"[I]t’s been said of Chinese history, and could be said of any other civilization, that its basic rhythm is the tramp of hobnailed boots going up stairs, followed by the whisper of silk slippers going back down."

I'm excited by the idea of a warrior poet as a leader. Exploring this quote has greatly lifted my respect for this often romanticized idea.

Sxxxxxx said...

...representations of representations of representations of wealth, eh?.......reminds me of my old soup recipe......Alan Greenspan seems the archetypal personification of "the economy of fiscal abstractions".......how about GOATS??? GOATS might like to graze DC & munch FRN's, but...without the sheep...enough fleece???

vegan_satori said...

Without surplus beyond immediate need, money has no purpose. Indeed, it is comprehensively more efficient to procure real daily survival goods (like food) and consume on the spot than to invest energy and materials to manufacture -and then engage in the exchange of- some ticket for it. No other form of life on this planet uses money - it doesn't make bio-energetic sense. Birds don't waste metabolic energy flying around with heavy wallets. Squirrels don't squirrel away nuts on credit. Professional money handlers and other abstract workers don't produce or find food, they consume from a surplus gathered by others. Only where there is surplus does the 'need' for money arise. But the very notion of maintaining a sustainable surplus within a closed loop finite eco-system is ludicrous. In a closed biomass system, a 'surplus' of anything can only appear by reducing a volume of some other thing somewhere else, pushed 'uphill' against the natural equilibrium by inputting additional energy; - usually by applying and releasing the ancient sunlight and carbon accumulated in fossil fuels with attendant undesirable toxic side effects. Thus the decline and destruction of our global ecosystems as they are forced off balance by our creation and harvesting of concentrated 'surpluses'. Any surplus in nature indicates an unhealthy imbalance - whether it be algae or humans. The short sighted -only apparent- advantage of surplus (and then money) results in destructive imbalances to our life-supporting ecosystem. While it is often argued that surplus enables the diversification of human endeavor -the luxury of philosophical and spiritual pursuits- the exciting playful 'wealth' of surplus is killing us.

Jason said...

For me, the situation also suggests a weakness in the ideas of Thomas Kuhn. Paradigm shifts in economics can be prevented (I mean realization staved off) by fossil drawdown.

Fossil fuels give humanity the feeling that he determines what is natural, and economics then proceeds on that basis. Kuhn proposes an overturn of a given paradigm when the pile of evidence to its contrary is too hight to miss -- but it has been that high for a long time now, and still the paradigm remains in place.

There's a split in the psyche between "it's ok" and "it's all coming to an end" which is now reaching huge proportions in the culture. JMG's insistence on not being drawn in by apocalyptic fantasy is well noted. I can't think what would be worse -- for economists not to realize they are wrong, or for them to realize they are.

hapibeli said...

Dang! I guess my dreams of finishing out my life on this U.S. Postal Retirement is just that! Why oh why did I spend those 30 years listening to the crap from those Postal supervisors! Dang! I mean DANG!!! Does this mean I'll have to resurrect my currently aging and infirming body? Oh have mercy on me! LOL ! LOL! LOL!

Part said...

I thought this table might put the issue of hallucinated wealth (in US) in perspective.

http://www.stateofworkingamerica.org/tabfig/05/SWA06_Fig5G.jpg

Around 80% of stock market wealth (and I guess the proportion of other financial assets will be comparable) in US before the crisis was owned by roughly 10% of population, and top 1 % owns between 30 and 40%. These people (and the latter in particular) have no reason to deploy most of their paper money in real economy, as they, obviously, have real comfortable lives already, with a tiny proportion of their overall wealth. But they do try to keep or increase the value of the rest of their "savings" through financial markets. That's why their (up to recent times increasing wealth) stayed safely out of the real economy.

Danby said...

vegan_satori,

Swallows do not sow, nor do they reap, eh? And they also live only a few years, frequently dying of starvation or exposure, or torn to shreds in the talons of hawks and owls.

Agricultural surplus is the only way we can have anything more than the barest and most tenuous survival. Surplus alone allows us to weather the droughts and storms of cruel nature. Surplus alone gives us the capacity to help our fellows in a spirit of charity and gratitude.

Surplus alone gives us the capacity to organize and produce goods and tools that extend beyond the pathetic pseudo-claws ad the ends of our fingers. Some examples? Stone knives, computers, chilled iron plows, the germ theory of disease, domesticated animals, and neo-primitivist philosophy. All of these came about only because of the freedom afforded by surplus.

All our works of art and beauty, all out knowledge of the world, all our understanding of the cosmos and our place in it, all of these have no place in the world of the sparrow.

You are free to live as a sparrow, hiding naked in the bushes and shivering in the cold. I prefer to live like a man.

Weaseldog said...

After past collapses, other empires filled the vacuum, and 'progress' marched on. What followed was a bigger boom, with more sophisticated technology and larger populations.

The trend of these cycles has been toward more and more growth.

Should we assume that this will be the case again?

Or should we discount this aspect of the previous cycles?

Or is it simply irrelevant in the context of this argument?

This seems to be an important consideration in my view. I'd like to hear your arguments on it.

Henri said...

What is your position on local money systems for example the ones set up by the transition towns network?

http://www.thelewespound.org/
http://transitionculture.org/

Thanks for a insightful story and the Chaucer reference ...

Patz said...

Weaseldog said: "After past collapses, other empires filled the vacuum, and 'progress' marched on. What followed was a bigger boom, with more sophisticated technology and larger populations.

The trend of these cycles has been toward more and more growth.

Should we assume that this will be the case again?"

I think that would be highly unlikely. The U.S. has not collapsed to the point that it has withdrawn its military from the 750 odd bases it has around the world, not yet anyway.

Who could fill the role of the New Empire? Russia? Not very likely; they can't even successfully hang on to their former satellites. China? Maybe they could but they are not historically very territorial (Tibet has been 'theirs' since the 1300s.) And they have serious internal problems of dissension--not conducive to empire building. India? Culturally unlikely.

But the biggest reason we've probably seen the last empire is that we're running out of the resources to run empires. It is the single biggest reason the U.S. is hanging on so hard in the Middle East.

hapibeli said...

Regarding the USA's role in the Middle East, I wonder who will be Israel's patron as China and India fight over the last petroleum spoils?

Theo said...

Great post.

I also think we are currently seeing "the twilight of money" in many Western nations.

Your post has a very Spenglerian tone to it -- have you been (re)reading Spengler's DECLINE OF THE WEST lately?

In that book, Spengler states that all great cultures go through a similar process as the one we are currently living through; check it out:

"Spengler states that in the final phase of the winter cycle there arises a reaction against the rule of money. Money marches on reaching its peak then exhausts its possibilities:

'It thrust into the life of the yeoman’s countryside and set the earth moving; its thought transformed every son of handicraft: today it presses victoriously upon industry, to make the productive work of entrepreneur and engineer and labourer alike, its spoil. The machine with its human retinue. The real queen of this century is in danger of succumbing to a stronger power. Money, also. Is beginning to lose its authority, and the last conflict is at hand in which civilization receives its conclusive form–the conflict between money and blood.'

The rule of money will be overcome by new “Caesars,” strong leaders not harnessed to the plutocrats and their parliaments and media. In Spengler’s last book, The Hour of Decision, he sees the Fascist legions in Italy as heralds of the “new Caesarism.” Mussolini was much impressed with both Nietzsche and Spengler.

Spengler resumes:

'The sword is victorious over money, the master-will subdues again the plunderer-will . . . Money is overthrown and abolished by blood. Life is alpha and omega, the cosmic stream in microcosmic form . . . And so the drama of a high culture–that wondrous world of deities, arts, thoughts, battles, cities–closes with the return of the pristine facts of blood eternal that is one and the same as the ever-circling cosmic flow.'

- http://www.toqonline.com/2009/06/nietzsche-and-spengler/

Theo said...

Also:

"The “civilization” phase witnesses drastic social upheavals, mass movements of peoples, continual wars and constant crises. All this takes place along with the growth of the great “megalopolis” — huge urban and suburban centers that sap the surrounding countrysides of their vitality, intellect, strength, and soul. The inhabitants of these urban conglomerations — now the bulk of the populace — are a rootless, soulless, godless, and materialistic mass, who love nothing more than their panem et circenses. From these come the subhuman “fellaheen” — fitting participants in the dying-out of a culture.

With the civilization phase comes the rule of Money and its twin tools, Democracy and the Press. Money rules over the chaos, and only Money profits by it. But the true bearers of the culture — the men whose souls are still one with the culture-soul — are disgusted and repelled by the Money-power and its fellaheen, and act to break it, as they are compelled to do so — and as the mass culture-soul compels finally the end of the dictatorship of money. Thus the civilization phase concludes with the Age of Caesarism, in which great power come into the hands of great men, helped in this by the chaos of late Money-rule. The advent of the Caesars marks the return of Authority and Duty, of Honor and “Blood,” and the end of democracy.

With this arrives the “imperialistic” stage of civilization, in which the Caesars with their bands of followers battle each other for control of the earth. The great masses are uncomprehending and uncaring; the megalopoli slowly depopulate, and the masses gradually “return to the land,” to busy themselves there with the same soil-tasks as their ancestors centuries before. The turmoil of events goes on above their heads. Now, amidst all the chaos of the times, there comes a “second religiosity”; a longing return to the old symbols of the faith of the culture. Fortified thus, the masses in a kind of resigned contentment bury their souls and their efforts into the soil from which they and their culture sprang, and against this background the dying of the Culture and the civilization it created is played out."

- http://www.toqonline.com/2009/06/spengler-an-introduction/

Chieftan said...

I've only recently been introduced to your work and I love it - 'The long descent' already graces my book collection.

I feel a bit inadequate to comment here as I'm not particularly intellectual. However, I feel so strongly about some of the subject matter in this post that I have to write something and I have to ask something.

Rightly or wrongly I am completely obsessed by the way my government here in the UK is giving my country away to an unelected body (The EU) without giving my fellow countrymen and I any say whatsoever. They have blatantly lied to us about the Lisbon Treaty (read EU Constitution) and, if Vaclav Klaus capitulates, they will practically hand over our Sovereignty and our freedom.

A few years ago this wouldn't have bothered me particularly - I consider myself Human before English so I didn't see a problem with being European / English. But I've been looking at the history of the EU and certain things have made me sit up and start to take notice.

The involvement of IG Farben in the election and subsequent war effort of Hitler puts into perspective how powerful and evil industry can be. I think you play this down in your post but the fact that Duisburg, Ter Meer and other senior management of this organisation were jailed for Genocide etc during the Nuremburg Trials should make it clear that characters in the background can be as insane as those on show.

In one of our Newspapers (The Daily Mail) recently we were told of the discovery of 'The Red House Report' within the FBI archives. I've not seen evidence that validates this document but I would'nt be surprised by its existence or the reported contents.

Indeed, my understanding is that the first president of the European Commission was one Walter Hallstein who I believe was a Nazi Lawyer!?! And it doesn't stop there does it? We know that Fritz Ter Meer was released from jail early and, within a few short years, became the Chairman of Bayer! Yes, a genocidal maniac becomes Chairman of one of the biggest Pharmaceutical companies on the planet - what would you imagine will come from that situation!?! Well, I'm led to believe that the Codex Alimentarius came from that situation - deep joy!

There are many more examples of these sinister individuals resuming positions of great influence following the Second World War, too many to go into here. If you're interested then a visit to the 'EU-Facts.org' or 'Profit-over-Life.org' websites will enlighten you further.

So, my question is this - Though neither you or I currently live in Facist states, how likely is it that we will in the near future? If you delve into the Lisbon Treaty I'm sure that you will come to the conclusion that the unelected are proposing to give themselves evermore 'Un-opposable' power and that the EU will become a dictatorship very, very soon.

Personally, I think it's laughable that we Brits concern ourselves so much with the activities of the BNP while we sit here and let the biggest fascist based regime in history take over our land and our lives. Your wisdom on this would be greatly appreciated.

J Gav said...

JMG,

You alway manage to surprise with keen observations skillfully weaving past and present and this piece is no exception. I appreciated your brief but trenchant critique of Korten, whose acceptance among a considerable swath of "progressives" is indeed scandalous. Equally convincing to me was your well-argued rejection of many aspects of wisdoms both conventional and unconventional while remaining careful not to casually sweep aside certain historically sounder foundations which, at least in part and en principe, underpin both.

Further, I can only concur with your judgement that recklessly bandying about political F-words is a road to nowhere when historical perspective and understanding is absent.

Here in Europe, where I live, this has been common fare since World War II and is not only tiresome but unconstructive and a contributing factor to polarization and to the EU's own current 'predicament,' however unacknowledged it may be, at least officially.

Meanwhile, as you have clearly mentioned in several posts, corporate-political revolving-doors, insider deals etc (essentially the FIRE sectors ie finance, insurance and real estate) may have already extended to the point where they have become a serious threat to the welfare of the society they are ostensibly meant to be protecting. Mussolini and Hitler come to mind as you indicate but the tenacity of their historical opponents can also be considered: Sinclair Lewis in his 1935 novel "It Can't Happen Here," or FDR wartime Vice-President Henry Wallace's April 9, 1944 article in the New York Times suggesting that, yes, it can happen here: "The American fascist would prefer not to use violence. His method is to poison the channels of public information. With a fascist the problem is never how best to present the truth to the public but how best to use the news to deceive the public into giving the fascist and his group more money and power."

Spengler was a compelling and influential thinker continuing on from Nietschian considerations among others. His prolonged flirt with Mussolinian 'Caesarism,' for example, seems to indicate his belief in a tendential drift toward the Father figure. In a word, Patriarchy. In order to thwart a creeping "brown-shirting of social discourse requires public awareness of what is at stake and what social forms create the dangers and you do much to bring that to light. As it is to be hoped that AK-47s will not be the preferred mode of expression, you are certainly not wrong to suggest massively writing to Congress-critters. But we do know that lobbies have other arguments ...

The French writer Paul Valéry may have taken a page from Spengler's book when he famously stated just after WWII: We now know that our civilizations are not immortal."

What comes through in your conclusion goes a step further. It was brilliant to keep it so low-key and matter-of-fact despite the implications of its meaning. I refer to your giving the last word to the retired Navy man. No metaphysics there, just a demonstration that it is increasingly accepted as a 'given' today that "They'll never have what we had." That isn't the way it was supposed to be but that's the way it is and that realization is now becoming part of the landscape. How people in their numbers will react to this change of scenery is another matter and it remains to be seen just how many of us will be carrying those banners and how many will be doing something else.

walkingman said...

JMG,

I'm not very familiar with this medium but I'll try it as I need to reach you.

On July 2, 2008 you posted to this blog an article titled Lessons form Amateur Radio in which you said you had just gotten your ham license and was very excited about it. That is an accomplisment to be proud of and congradulations.

Since you posted that info a new amateur radio net has started. Its called the American Preppers Radio Net or APRN. APRN began in July and we've discussed topics such as emergency power, water sources, emergency power and many others. A Prepper is just that, someone who is interested in preparing for emergencies large or small.

The frequencies at present are 1.860 mhz at 9p eastern time or 0200Z on Sunday night. We've starting a new net tomorrow nite, Tues Dec 1, on 7.198 mhz or thereabouts at 5pm eastern or 2200Z. We've tried 3.961 mhz but its very crowded and we don't have someone with power to be net control. We are a work in progress but have had some very useful discussions already. I'd like to invite you and any other interested hams or shortwave listeners to checkin with us.