Wednesday, March 06, 2013

The Hard Road Ahead

The latest round of political theater in Washington DC over the automatic budget cuts enacted in the 2011 debt ceiling compromise—the so-called “sequester”—couldn’t have been better timed, at least as far as this blog is concerned. It’s hard to imagine better evidence, after all, that the American political process has finally lost its last fingernail grip on reality.
  
Let’s start with the basics. Despite all the bellowing on the part of politicians, pressure groups, and the media, the cuts in question total only 2.3% of the US federal budget.  They thus amount to a relatively modest fraction of the huge increases in federal spending that have taken place over the last decade or so. (I sincerely doubt that those of my readers who were in the US in 2003 noticed any striking lack of federal dollars being spent then.) In the same way, those who protested the “tax increases” at the beginning of this year by and large failed to mentioned that the increases in question were simply the expiration of some—by no means all—of the big tax cuts enacted a little over a decade ago in the second Bush administration.
  
At a time when the United States is spending hundreds of billions of dollars a year it doesn’t happen to have, and making up the difference by spinning the printing presses at ever-increasing speeds,  a strong case can be made that rolling back spending increases and giving up tax breaks are measures that deserve serious consideration.  Any such notion, though, is anathema to most Americans these days, at least to the extent that it might affect them. Straight across the convoluted landscape of contemporary American political opinion, to be sure, you can count on an enthusiastic hearing if you propose that budget cuts ought to be limited to whatever government payouts don’t happen to benefit your audience.  Make even the most timid suggestion that your audience might demand a little bit less for itself, though, and your chances of being tarred, feathered, and ridden out of town on a rail are by no means small.

The only consensus to be found about budget cuts in today’s America, in other words, is the belief that someone else ought to take the hit. As politicians in Washington DC try to sort out which of the many groups clamoring for handouts get how many federal dollars, that consensus isn’t exactly providing them useful guidance. I’ve wondered more than once if the whole sequestration business is a charade, crafted by the leadership of both parties and tacitly accepted by the rank and file in Congress, that permits them to impose roughly equivalent budget cuts on as many federal programs as they think they can get away with, while giving each party enough plausible deniability that they can still manage to keep blaming everything on the other side. If so, it’s an ingenious strategem; the real challenge will come when Congress runs out of gimmicks of this kind and has to admit to the crowd of needy, greedy pressure groups crowding close around the feeding trough that the gravy train has come to an end.

That latter detail is the one piece of news you won’t hear anywhere in the current uproar.  It’s also the one piece of news that has to be understood in order to make sense of the American politics in the present and the near future. When the economics of empire start running in reverse, as they do in the latter years of every empire, familiar habits of extravagance that emerged during the glory days of the empire turn into massive liabilities, and one of the most crucial tasks of every empire in decline is finding some way to cut its expenses down to size. There are always plenty of people who insist that this isn’t necessary, and plenty more who are fine with cutting all expenditures but those that put cash in their own pocket; the inertia such people generate is a potent force, but eventually it gives way, either to the demands of national survival, or to the even more unanswerable realities of political, economic, and military collapse.

Between the point when a nation moves into the penumbra of crisis, and the point when that crisis becomes an immediate threat to national survival, there’s normally an interval when pretense trumps pragmatism and everyone in the political sphere goes around insisting that everything’s all right, even though everything clearly is not all right. In each of the previous cycles of anacyclosis in American history, such an interval stands out: the years leading up to the Revolutionary War, when leaders in the American colonies insisted that they were loyal subjects of good King George and the little disagreements they had with London could certainly be worked out; the bitter decade of the 1850s, when one legislative compromise after another tried to bandage over the widening gulf between slave states and free states, and succeeded only in making America’s bloodiest war inevitable; the opening years of the Great Depression, when the American economy crashed and burned as politicians and pundits insisted that everything would fix itself shortly.

We’re in America’s fourth such interval.  Like the ones that preceded it, it’s a time when the only issues that really matter are the ones that nobody in the nation’s public life is willing to talk about, and when increasingly desperate attempts to postpone the inevitable crisis a little longer have taken over the place of any less futile pursuit. How long the interval will last is a good question. The first such interval ran from the end of the Seven Years War in 1763 to the first shots at Lexington in 1775; the second, from the Compromise of 1850 to the bombardment of Fort Sumter in 1861; the third, the shortest to date, from the stock market crash of 1929 to the onset of the New Deal in 1933.  How long this fourth interval will last is anyone’s guess at present; my sense, for what it’s worth, is that historians in the future will probably consider the crash of 2008 as its beginning, and I would be surprised to see it last out the present decade before crisis hits.

During the interval before the explosion, if history is any guide, the one thing nobody will be able to get out of the federal government is constructive action on any of the widening spiral of problems and predicaments facing the nation. That’s the cost of  trying to evade a looming crisis:  the effort that’s required to keep postponing the inevitable, and the increasing difficulty of patching together a coalition between ever more divergent and fractious power centers, puts any attempt to deal with anything else out of reach. The decade before the Civil War is as good an example as any; from 1850 until the final explosion, on any topic you care to name, there was a Northern agenda and a Southern agenda, and any attempt to get anything done in Washington DC ran headlong into ever more tautly polarized sectional rivalry. Replace the geographical labels with today’s political parties, and the scenery’s all too familiar.

If there’s going to be a meaningful response to the massive political, economic, and social impacts of the end of America’s age of empire, in other words, it’s not going to come from the federal government. It probably isn’t going to come from state governments, either.  There’s a chance that a state here and there may be able to buck the trend and do something helpful, but most US state governments are as beholden to pressure groups as the federal government, and are desperately short of discretionary funds as a result.  That leaves local governments, local community groups, families and individuals as the most likely sources of constructive change—if, that is, enough people are willing to make “acting locally” something more than a comforting slogan.

This is where the dysfunctional but highly popular form of protest politics critiqued in an earlier post in this sequence becomes a major obstacle to meaningful change, rather than a vehicle for achieving it. As that critique showed, protest is an effective political tool when it’s backed up by an independent grassroots organization, one that can effectively threaten elected officials—even those of the party its members normally support—with removal from office if said elected officials don’t pay attention to the protest.  When that threat isn’t there, protest is toothless, and can be ignored.

That distinction remains relevant, since very few of the groups gearing up to protest these days have taken the time and invested the resources to build the kind of grassroots support that gives a protest teeth.  Yet there’s another way that protest politics can become hopelessly dysfunctional, and that’s when what the protesters demand is something that neither the officials they hope to influence, nor anyone else in the world, can possibly give them.

If current attitudes are anything to judge by, we’re going to see a lot of that in the years immediately ahead. The vast majority of Americans are committed to the belief that the lavish wealth they enjoyed in the last half dozen decades is normal, that they ought to be able to continue to enjoy that wealth and all the perks and privileges it made possible, and that if the future looming up ahead of them doesn’t happen to contain those things, somebody’s to blame.  Try to tell them that they grew up during a period of absurd imperial extravagance, and that this and everything connected with it is going to go away forever in the near future, and you can count on getting a response somewhere on the spectrum that links blank incomprehension and blind rage.

The incomprehension and the rage will doubtless drive any number of large and vocal protest movements in the years immediately ahead, and it’s probably not safe to assume that those movements will limit themselves to the sort of ineffectual posturing that featured so largely in the Occupy protests a couple of years back. It’s all too easy, in fact, to imagine the steps by which armed insurgents, roadside bombs, military checkpoints, and martial law could become ordinary features of daily life here in America, and the easy insistence that everything that’s wrong with the country must be the fault of some currently fashionable scapegoat or other is to my mind one of the most important forces pushing in that direction.

Right now, the US government is one of those fashionable scapegoats.  The pornography of political fear that plays so large a role in American public discourse these days feeds into this habit. Those people who spent the eight years of the second Bush administration eagerly reading and circulating those meretricious claims that Bush was about to impose martial law and military tyranny on the US, and their exact equivalents on the other end of the political spectrum who are making equally dishonest claims about Obama right now, are helping to feed the crisis of legitimacy I’ve discussed in several posts here. The habit that Carl Jung described as “projecting the shadow”—insisting, that is, that all your own least pleasant traits actually belong to whoever you hate most—has a great deal to do with the spread of that mood. I’ve wondered more than once if there might be more to it than that, though.

It’s hard to think of anything that would give more delight America’s rivals on the world stage, or play out more to their advantage, than a popular insurgency against the US government on American soil. Even if it was crushed, as it likely would be, such a rising would shred what’s left of the American economy, cripple the ability of the US to intervene outside its borders, and yield a world-class propaganda coup to any nation tired of the US government’s repeated posturing over issues of human rights. Funding antigovernment propaganda here in the United States without getting caught would be easy enough to do, and plenty of hostile governments might find it a gamble worth taking. I find myself suspecting at times that this might be what’s behind the remarkable way that American public life has become saturated with propaganda insisting that the current US system of government is evil incarnate, and that any replacement whatsoever would necessarily be an improvement.

Now of course that latter is a common opinion in revolutionary eras; equally common, of course, is the discovery that as bad as the status quo might happen to be, its replacement can be much, much worse.  Those who witnessed the French and Russian revolutions, to name only two examples, got to find that out the hard way. It would be helpful, to use no stronger word, to avoid a repeat of that same unpleasant object lesson in the postimperial United States.  As long as Americans keep on trying to convince themselves that the limits to growth don’t matter, the profits of empire never came their way, and the reckless extravagance that American popular culture considers basic to an ordinary lifestyle is no more than their due, steering clear of some such outcome is going to be a very tricky proposition indeed.

It would be helpful, in other words, if more Americans were to come to terms with the  fact that deciding what kind of future they want, and then insisting at the top of their lungs that they ought to have it, is not a useful response.  Instead, it’s going to be necessary to start by thinking, hard, about the kind of futures a postimperial, postpetroleum America might be able to afford, and then trying to make the best possible choice among the available options. Making such a choice, in turn, will be made much easier once we have some practical experience of the way the various options work out in the real world—and this brings us back again to the question of local action.

Nobody knows what political, economic, and cultural forms will be best suited to thrive in the wake of America’s failed empire, or to deal with the broader consequences as the industrial world stumbles down the long, ragged slope toward the deindustrial world of the future.  Plenty of people think they know; there’s no shortage of abstract ideologies proclaiming the one true path to a supposedly better future; but betting the future on an untested theory or, worse, on a theory that’s failed every time it was put to the test, is not exactly a useful habit.

What’s needed  instead, as the United States stumbles toward its fourth great existential crisis, is the broadest possible selection of options that have been shown to work. This is where local communities and community groups can play a critical role, for it’s precisely on the local scale that options can be tested, problems identified and fixed, and possibilities explored most easily.  Furthermore, since the whole country isn’t committed to any one response, options tested in different places can be compared with one another, and the gaudy rhetoric of triumphalism that so often fills so much space online and off—how many projects, dear reader, have you seen hailed as the one and only definitive answer to the crisis of our time, without the least bit of evidence to show that it actually works?—can be set aside in favor of straightforward demonstrations that a given option can do what it’s supposed to do.

In an earlier post in this sequence, for example, I discussed some of the possibilities that might come out of a revival of traditional democratic process.  The simplest and most effective way to launch such a revival would be by way of existing community groups, which very often retain the remnants of democratic process in their organizational structure, or in newly founded groups using democratic principles.  These groups would then become training grounds from which people who had learned the necessary skills could proceed to such other venues as local government, the organization of new political parties, or what have you, and put those skills to good use.

The same principle applies to almost any other aspect of our collective predicament you care to name. Whether the issue that needs a meaningful response is the impending shortage of energy and other resources, the increasingly unstable climate, the disintegration of an economy in which accounting fraud is nearly the only growth industry left, and so on down the list, the scale of the problem is clear but the details are murky, and the best way to deal with it remains shrouded in blackest night. For that matter, there’s no way to be sure that the response that works best in one place will be equally well suited to conditions elsewhere. Tackle the issues locally, trying out various options and seeing how well they work, and the chances of hitting on something useful go up sharply.

It will doubtless be objected that we don’t have time for any such program of trial and error. Quite the contrary, we no longer have time for anything else. Spinning grand theoretical programs, waiting for the improbable circumstances that might possibly lead to their being adopted on a national or global scale, and hoping that they work as advertised if they ever do get put to the test, is a luxury best suited to those eras when crisis is still comfortably far off in the future.  We don’t live in such an era, in case you haven’t noticed.

Over the decades ahead, the people of the United States and the rest of the industrial world are going to have to deal with the unraveling of an already declining American global empire, the end of a global economic order dominated by the dollar and thus by America’s version of the imperial wealth pump, the accelerating depletion of a long list of nonrenewable resources, and the shattering impact of rapid climate change, just for starters. If history is any guide, the impact of those already inevitable crises will likely be compounded by wars, revolutions, economic crises, and all the other discontinuities that tend to crop up when one global order gives way to another.  It’s going to be a very rough road—quite probably at least as rough as the road the world had to travel between 1914 and 1954, when the end of Britain’s global empire brought the long peace of 19th century Europe to a messy end and unleashed a tidal wave of radical change and human blood.

Equally, the hard road ahead will likely be comparable in its scope and impacts to the harrowing times brought by America’s first three rounds of anacyclosis. To live through the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, or the Great Depression was not an easy thing; those of my readers who are curious about what might be ahead could probably do worse than to read a good history of one or more of those, or one of the many firsthand accounts penned by those who experienced them and lived to tell about it. The records of such times do not give any noticeable support to the claim that we can have whatever kind of future we want. The kinds of hope they do hold out is a point I plan on discussing next week.

141 comments:

Joel Caris said...

Hi JMG,

One of my pet peeves in my occasional visits to liberal political blogs is the commonality of seeing people who loudly proclaim the need to address climate change also proclaiming the need to get economic growth going again via their own preferred approach, which usually boils down to the sort of Keynesian, spend-and-grow policies espoused by Paul Krugman. They will, on one hand, speak of the need to lower consumption and then, a moment later, go on a rant about how Republican obstructionism is killing our ability to engage in a massive, government-backed stimulus program to kick start the economy.

Setting aside the myriad reasons that won't work in these early days of contraction, this complete inability to see the broader picture drives me nuts. If we're truly going to address climate change and live more sustainably, that's going to have to begin with scaling back our lives, and to a pretty dramatic degree. Sure, some think that we just need a massive renewable build out and all will be just fine--again, setting aside the reasons we can't easily, and won't, do that--but many even recognize the need for us to scale back and live more simply even as they're beating the economic growth drum. It's like they silo off the various issues and refuse to see the connections. Of course, I think it is indeed a refusal to see the connections, because that would then threaten their own comfort and desires.

Meanwhile, there's also massive amounts of scapegoating of Republicans, of religious people, of rural people, so on and so forth. And it comes just as eagerly from the conservative side. Then I'll see liberal groups--sometimes offshoots from the Occupy movement--who seem to get it a bit more, maybe talking about gardening and local food and reduced energy usage, transitioning from fossil fuels, and who distrust both political parties. But then they'll start talking of Tesla devices, vertical farms, Bucky Fuller at his most optimistic, and the coming consciousness shift that's going to provide us a shiny new world devoid of all these pesky problems.

Meanwhile, very rarely do I see people just fessing up to the personal need of scaling back their own life. That's one of the reasons I try to be so blatant and truthful on my blog about what I'm doing and not doing, what I've been successful at and the ways in which I've failed, because I keep coming back to the core idea that this is all about changing our own lives rather than waiting on someone else to take care of things. This is about getting down to the hard work at hand.

Anyway, I'm rambling on. My point is that I'm glad you continue to harp on this point, because I think it's one of the most important and most overlooked points of our time.

I've been meaning to pick up a good account of the Great Depression and this post is further motivation to do that--as well as a couple accounts of the other anacyclosis periods. (I'll do my own research, but if you have any particularly good suggestions, I'm all ears.) I'm also really looking forward to next week's discussion of hope. I remember writing a comment here maybe a year or so ago about icicles coming out of a garden hose on a cold morning, and how the knowledge that no matter how hard the future got, that sort of beauty would always be an available and abundant part of the world was a major source of hope for me. When you get right down to it, overabundance isn't much of a hope. It seems to lead more to distraction and degradation. Challenging as the future will be, the world will still be full of beauty, biophilia will always be available to us, the opportunity to help others will abound, and those are real and honest hopes.

Leo said...

The USA has given the world plenty of experience in regime change and causing uprisings. Only so long until someone returns the favour.

Guess entitlement stops collective action from being taken, can't give it up (well, not easily).

There is a reason Australia's government is designed to be as stable as possible. Radical change doesn't often work.

Thijs Goverde said...

Eeeeh! Methinks this:

the whole sequestration business is a charade, crafted by the leadership of both parties and tacitly accepted by the rank and file in Congress, that permits them to impose roughly equivalent budget cuts on as many federal programs as they think they can get away with, while giving each party enough plausible deniability that they can still manage to keep blaming everything on the other side


is probably meant as a mere pleasantry; a whimsical fancy.
But is it not a somwhat dangerous remark, in the light of the fact that


Right now, the US government is one of those fashionable scapegoats ?

GS said...

Two big hurdles which I see going ahead:
1) The United States is a very large country, both in terms of land area and population. Massive amounts of energy and money are needed to keeping the whole thing running in a way which is acceptable to everyone, and in which everyone can be acculturated enough so that they feel part of an organic whole.
If it can no longer function, then the first person, state, or group to exit wins. This is game theory at work and I expect serious secessionist movements to arise. They will of course be met by a heavy handed federal response.

2) The United States has always been an ethnically diverse place, but this has exploded since the 80s, with large scale immigration from around the world. We maintain birthright citizenship, so once somebody is born here there is no "sending them back" to where their people came from. As such, the prospect of even sending back illegal immigrants from Mexico is basically nil.
This has begun to demoralize many native Americans, mostly white and blacks but also Asians and Hispanics who were more early comers. And we seem committed to endless immigration and population growth! In a very weak economy and a world with 7 billion people all hungering for a better life.

This has to come to a head sooner or later. Particularly concerning is what's going to happen to black America. If they cannot get jobs or a sense of purpose, then all bets are off.

Jeffrey said...

There are many orgnizational models but any one will only be as good as the characters of the participants. And most participants will be weaning themselves from affluence with strong individual skills and a desire for community that will not be matched with the neccesarry life time of humility required.

We all need to begin already on a healty diet of humble pie.

John Michael Greer said...

Joel, the next sequence of posts will be aiming at the heart of that blanket unwillingness to face up to the implications of the end of abundance. It's time to talk about what comes after progress.

Leo, exactly. As the list of nations that would benefit from a US defeat grows, so does the likelihood that one or more of them are going to invest in regime change right here.

Thijs, if the politicians in DC are smart enough to come up with a gimmick to let them get away with a first round of cuts, bully for them. It's at least a step in the right direction.

GS, the secession movements are already taking shape. You might take a look at this website for starters.

Jeffrey, true enough -- and it is a healthy diet, by the way.

Robert Mathiesen said...

Back in the very early '60s, when I was about 20, I was studying Russian in college and taking additional lessons on the side from an elderly Russian lady, L. V. Glinchikova. Her late husband, when he was a young man, had been a banker in St. Petersburg in the days of the last Tsar. By chance, they happened to be in San Francisco (on his bank business) when the Russian Revolution of 1917 broke out in all its violence; and they were prudent enough not to return to Russia just then. Of course, they followed all the developing Russian state of affairs by all available means, including short-wave radio. It soon became obvious that they would die if they ever returned to Russia, so they stayed in California.

One evening she and I were talking about some American political issue or other, and I remarked that my parents hated and had feared FDR, and were certain that he would have become a dictator if he had not died in office. With some heat she told me that she and her husband had seen at first hand what led to the 1917 Revolution in Russia, and kept up with its aftermath there. They had also lived through the years of the Depression here and through all four terms of FDR's presidency. It was their carefully considered opinion that only FDR's high-handed measures and his careful spending of all his political capital had prevented a similar, even bloodier Revolution here. Had FDR not done what he did, she said, the United States would have descended into an all-around civil war by around 1940, and the end result of that bloodbath would have been someone as ruthless and determined as Stalin in power here.

I have been thinking ever since about what she said. If she was right, there you have the reason why the crisis of 1929-1933 was the only one of the three so far that lasted a mere 4 years, and also the only one that did not end with an open civil war throughout the land. (The 1776 Revolutionary War, of course, was the first civil war on the English-speaking part of North American landmass. Since it ended with the expulsion of the losing side from the new United States, it didn't have the same long-range political consequences that played out over the following hundred years.)

Whether our current crisis will find its own equivalent of FDR is an open question. What may not be an open question is how events will play out over the next ten years.

John Michael Greer said...

Robert, your Russian friend was quite correct. There were armed bands of farmers already taking the first steps toward guerrilla war in the Midwest when Roosevelt took office, and only the drastic reforms he pushed through convinced them to disband. I don't see anyone in American political life today with the kind of courage Roosevelt had, though, so we're probably going to see the next round straight through to the bitter end.

Robert Mathiesen said...

I don't see anyone either, JMG. But I'm not sure very many people anticipated just what FDR would do when they voted in 1932. That is grounds for some hope.

Leo said...

just thinking about the sequester, later budget cuts will probably the 40-50% of Americans who don't vote. After all, they don't matter to election chances.
Can't be done here (vote rates are normally 95%), so something else would have to be done.

J9 said...

Dear JMG and Readers,
This is a bit off-topic but i've been waiting for someone else to say it. Maybe they have and i missed it, so apologies if that's the case.
How much less? How much of a reduction?
That's what people eventually end up thinking and where it is easy to start negotiating or making deals.

Think in the realm of 80%.

The exact figure is impossible to say and actually really doesn't matter.
80% will give you a feel for an 'energy constrained future'. No it won't happen all at once and it will be different by region but getting your head around the scale ofit is valuable.

@Leo
I am not sure if you mean to be spruiking Aust political propaganda/myths but i wanted to let you know that i don't see our choices as being 'centerist' and i think the 'stability' you mention this week is very likely to turn out be be a historical outcome of our placid and cooperative status as a tribute ecomony to the USA for the past decades. The future is not so certain.

morenewyorknews said...

Thanks JMG,
you can delete my comment if you want.
As a non American,i don't have anything to say on political processes of a foreign country but US has too much influence on day today life of rest of the world(Non EU,Non American countries).
Since our lawmakers,judges,lawyers are just imitators and copy laws word by word from USA,UK,EU and Russia,we think decline of USA will set up cascade of events which won't be stopped for next 100 years.
You said"Nobody knows what political, economic, and cultural forms will be best suited to thrive in the wake of America’s failed empire, "
You were talking about cultural changes..I am going to talk about something which i never speak in real life except to my closest friends and never write on internet forums.This topic is such a taboo that i have been banned even for mentioning it.
again sorry for saying it here..
Everybody knows,western governments have implemented feminism in their societies by blatant manipulation of laws,applying threat of police force against male of the species and generally rescinding most of the constitutional rights given to male of species( i know what i am speaking about.Males don't have any rights in family courts).The two sides of govt i.e., social welfare state and police state are necessary to implement full scale feminism.Media,education,well developed financial system,constant job growth are necessity.All this lead to huge flow of wealth from males to females in western world from last 50 years.
So what will happen to this?What type of family structures will survive in future? The same old one or modern ultra liberal one?

Lizzy said...

Hello there, this was a very interesting post, as always. I see here in the UK the same things as in the US, especially the vilification of politicians from "the other side". Where will it all end? Or begin? There is an interesting blog I read that has views on the long-long term:http://theviewfrombrittany.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/cultural-diversity.html#comment-form
I'm half way through your latest book, and about to re-read the Technocentric Future. I wish more people, more Leaders and Politicians would read your thoughts.
Last weekend I visited an old, 15th Century manor house. As we walked through the magnificent kitchens, washing rooms and then ale house, my friend said - Even the rich people had hard lives in those days. Imagine. This cold!


Best wishes,
Lizzy

Odin's Raven said...

Good luck with re-arranging or re-purposing the pieces of Humpty Dumpty into more pleasing patterns or objects.

Eiskrystal said...

It will doubtless be objected that we don’t have time for any such program of trial and error. Quite the contrary, we no longer have time for anything else.

People who say this forget that there is a lot of low hanging fruit from the past. Anything that starts up with some sense behind it will probably get traction if only for the novelty. It also doesn't hurt that people building their own circuses and growing their own bread have neither the need nor time to play protester.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG,

Ha! I'd never heard of sequestration before this week and now your blog is about the third place the term has popped up (must be a new economic fad). Interestingly, the word also has a geological / energy definition (carbon sequestration) which I actually had heard of before. Yes, burying the dead indeed! Ere ‘e says he’s not dead yet!

I had a thought today about why the Dow Jones is going through the roof. Just speculating, but I believe it may be due to the printing of money. As more money is printed over a longer term, the value of the dollar doesn't remain static, but it actually devalues. The increase in the stock market is actually - I believe - an indicator of this devaluation. Investors may have more dollars, but they are worth less so you need more dollars to buy the same stuff that you previously were buying. It may not have occurred to those investors, but the paper wealth is suffering an unusual and perhaps unexpected form of inflation (you heard it here first!).

Interestingly too, I have come across anecdotal reports that house prices in the US and fuel prices have increased and this is also an indicator of a devaluing dollar. Historically, printing money has mostly always ended in hyper inflation.

People have trouble thinking in terms of an entire system. Poke or tweak one bit of a stressed system and you will get unexpected and unintended outcomes elsewhere.

Rising stock markets and house prices are certainly not cause for celebration - or the articles I see here saying a US recovery is underway.

Interesting times.

By the way, many thanks to whoever posted a link to the Automatic Earth article of the mass rollout of renewables. Strangely enough this article mirrors my own experience with renewables. The difference with small scale off grid renewables is that you have a battery with which to manage the peaks and troughs in demand and supply. On a national and international scale it must be a nightmare to manage.

Regards.

Chris

divelly said...

Secession is not going to happen.
How will they pay their bills without distributions from wealthy states through DC,after it takes its cut? For example, MS gets $2.02 from Dc for every $1 its sends there, and NJ gets only $.61!To simplify,NJ is supporting MS.

Phil Knight said...

Funding antigovernment propaganda here in the United States without getting caught would be easy enough to do, and plenty of hostile governments might find it a gamble worth taking.

It doesn't even have to be done on US soil. I suspect the Americans who have shows on the "Russia Today" channel, or appear on it regularly, aren't there in a neutral, objective capacity.

Unless, they're incredibly naive, which none of them strike me as being.

Not a few of these characters are also linked to fringe economic and peak oil blogs that are no doubt popular with many of the people who read this one.

(I say this as a non-American, who can hopefully stand back and look at this with at least moderate objectivity.)

Michelle said...

I have been thinking that 'sequestration' is the American answer to 'austerity measures,' but dressed up in plausibly deniable rhetoric.

And your image of shouting that everything is fine, just fine, takes me back to the movie Animal House (a favorite of mine!) where, at the end, when the frat boys are disrupting the town's parade, the Bad House's minion is run flat by a stampeding crowd while shouting, "All is well! Remain calm!"

YJV said...

Hi JMG,
On the issue of FDR and the New Deal, I can't help but think that the recovery of America from the Great Depression and its emergence as a world power didn't have something to do with the Second World War. After all, the Soviet Union entered the war a starving nation with huge infrastructure problems and emerged as the world's second largest economy.

With the numerous opportunities to extend their empires (America in Western Europe and the USSR in Eastern Europe), not to mention the morale boosting and unwarranted economy building (especially in armaments) and upskilling (for the war effort) I find it easy to see how (in some perverted way) WWII was beneficial in some way to both future superpowers.

The question is: will another event of equally horrific scale occur again? Probably not (as you have outlined) due to the nature of nuclear combat. However, this doesn't mean that future conflicts will be one of the few ways to keep struggling economies afloat (after all, a national war does put all other issues off the table).

What is true is that whoever loses the game of world war has to pay the cost of the victor's benefits, as was amply illustrated in 1918.

mistah charley, ph.d. said...

JMG, I write with friendly intent. I point to two comments of mine from three years ago, your post of Wednesday, April 14, 2010, "A Blindness to Systems" in the hope of establishing

a)a history of reading this blog

b)a generally simpatico attitude

c)evidence that I sometimes have useful information.

It is with friendly intent that I express my concern that your mental models with regard to current discussion topics seem to me incomplete and even erroneous, and ask you to give serious consideration to your readers who wish to point this out.

Yupped said...

It seems we are in a period of sorting out and attitude shift at the moment. On the one hand I know many people who are personally experiencing real limits to their current prosperity and future expectations, and who are loosing faith in the rising-tide-lifts-all-boats consensus of the last few decades; and on the other many people are doing very well with paper wealth in the age of liquidity. And in the middle there are still plenty of people who haven't yet noticed much of anything. This is just my gut feel, but it seems a reasonable supposition that more and more people in the middle will be getting hit with a tough reality while a decreasing but tight-knit bunch of high-rollers look to be more and more out for themselves. This is shifting our center of gravity and doesn't augur well for future cohesion. I really hope the leadership class wakes up, and soon. But if you're focusing all your attention on the rear-view mirror, it has to be difficult to see what's coming clearly.

In the meantime, spring is springing and the garden calls. We'll have more eggs, honey and produce to spread around the neighborhood this year. And my wife is now actually making some income as a herbalist. You were right about how many lessons there are that need to be learned, and I'm really glad we got started on this a few years ago now (thanks gain for the inspiration and encouragement!). I know I could get whacked by reality at any time, and doing all this in shoreline New England is probably not the smartest move, but the big picture is just so awe-inspiringly nutty that I'm really happy to have a practical day to day reality to work with.

Rita Narayanan said...

Rita from Mumbai, India

am curious about what happens in countries like India not quite in the China mould.

Also the oil rich states of the Middle East and parts of Central Asia. Thanks

Rita Narayanan said...

The Problem of Democracy: isn't modern democracy a kind of mass rights consumerist culture.....everyone wants this and that but less of duty, responsibility and obligation(in the bigger sense).

when people are freed from social strictures they hardly seem to want to lead a spiritual life of love and compassion.

Capitalism and Modern Democracy?

Robo said...

Seldom noted these days is the 'Business Plot' of 1933 that actively sought the overthrow of Roosevelt and was supposedly foiled after a loyal general decided not to go along with it.

The details are shrouded in denial. Maybe it was nothing more than a reactionary fantasy .. the sort of thing that we hear every hour on Fox News.

There's a fairly recent book that details life during the Great Depression .. "The Worst Hard Time" by Timothy Egan.

phil harris said...

JMG
You rightly stress the international position of the USA.

There are massive financial correlates for the flow of surplus goods & resources inwards into the USA. There is an odd seeming paradox for the USA, even after the global financial disruption triggered by an apparently domestic crisis in the USA – the sub-prime mortgage lending crisis.

(Just as a footnote; here in Britain our part of the 2007/8 financial disruption has been successfully pinned politically on the previous incumbent government. Such is the parochial nature of vision and understanding in the remaining 64M core of a previous global empire.)

One point could be that though the mechanisms involved revolve mainly round the central position of the USA, they are evident also generally within the trading network of advanced industrial economies.

The ‘paradox’ seems to be that USA, even after 5 years, remains, apparently ‘successfully’, very much out of balance in both trade and financial flows:

Quote: [T]he biggest [international] borrower of all, [is still] the United States, [yet the US] is viewed mainly as a safe haven by lenders.

Quote: [T]here is another, domestic dimension to the pileup of international obligations. Domestic debt rises too and could reach unsustainable levels that could lead to domestic financial crises.

I think I am gradually getting my head round this still continuing phase in industrial civilisation. It still seems worth a try to anchor thought in reality as best we can. The next phase after ‘this one’ could follow very rapidly, (‘breakpoints’), but I do not see much change yet in current trends: they are still trending. The landscape round us keeps changing for sure; but it has for a while now as you have pointed out, and we have kind of got used to these trends, however much they ought to offend our notions of ‘progress’.

Much of this is summed up usefully in the recent academic work of Michael Kumhof and colleagues; see quotes. (The IMF Research Department is not to be confused with IMF political leadership – Kumhof as a scientist and citizen feels it would be irresponsible to neglect study of issues such as, for example Peak Oil, as well as the relationship between inequality and debt, both international and domestic.)
My quotes above are from a paper by Kumhof & Ranciere titled; “unequal = indebted”; http://ineteconomics.org/sites/inet.civicactions.net/files/kumhof-micheal-berlin-paper-unequal%20indebted.pdf

He and his team have published a series, including an important review of the nature of money, which I am slowly taking on board. Just a quote from what is for me an extraordinary preamble discussion of the history of money. Discussion goes back a bit, since, well, at least the debt-forgiveness introduced by Solon in 599 BC:

Quote: “The earliest known example of such debt crises in Greek history are the 599 BC reforms of Solon, which were a response to a severe debt crisis of small farmers, brought on by the charging of interest on coinage by a wealthy oligarchy.”

Now isn’t that nice? A discussion of interest, and usury, and the role of both governments and plutocracies, not necessarily the same thing, carried out with modern mathematical tools at our very own IMF?
best
Phil

RPC said...

"I’ve wondered more than once if the whole sequestration business is a charade..." I remember hoping about a decade ago that the U.S. and France had agreed to play "good cop, bad cop" over the WMD issue to get some leverage against Saddam Hussein. It seemed to be working, too, but we all know how that turned out.

Andy Brown said...

Personally I gravitate to the local community building end of things, and I agree with you that it has tremendous potential to salvage something from decline. I'm not as willing to write off the mechanics of protest, however. Certainly the organized, bureaucratized institutions of "dissent" -- with their direct mail campaigns touting tax-dectible status are as useless as you say. And Occupy was never going to knock over Wall Street - partly because it declined to be an institution. And that is significant, because talking to people who take part in things like that, I don't see the selfish naivete that you ascribe. To the extent that there's a claim on material things, it is about distribution and justice rather than about claims to some particular level of prosperity. (And that is a protest worth having, I think, whatever size of the pie being carved up.) To go into detail would take a post as long as yours, but I think local organizations could benefit from hearing some of the shouts that are being crafted in angry protests.

Most people who protest the Keystone pipeline don't understand what it might mean for their internet connections -- but many do actually, and if there is going to be a public conversation about that it is as likely to emerge from such gatherings as anywhere else -- if only because so much of it is unmediated by media and "expert" opinion and occurs among people themselves and their networks.

Jason said...

To add a European note, the perils of giving up on a corrupt and deadlocked government to organise on people-level don't have to be limited to ineffectuality and over-violence.

This article makes a reasonably good case that the comedian Beppe Grillo, who by internet demagoguery holds the balance of non-power in the non-government of Italy at the present time, bears a more-than-passing resemblance to a certain previous Italian:

Beppe Grillo: Italy's new Mussolini

I don't prejudge the outcome but certainly they're playing with fire already.

It's more of a European disease, but we live in a globalised world, so I hope for Americans' sakes it isn't contagious.

blue sun said...

For anyone who took the media hype about "the Sequester" at face value, or perhaps was secretly hoping (like me) that actual spending cuts might be enacted, this bar chart shows otherwise:

http://danieljmitchell.wordpress.com/2013/02/05/exposing-the-absurdity-of-washingtons-anti-sequester-hysteria/

JMG, there was also some evidence this week to support the observation you've made that political parties tend to become their polar opposites. If I could travel back in time to anywhere in the vicinity of say, 1993 and convey the news to my (mostly liberal minded) friends and family that in 2013 a group of Republicans would stage a filibuster to protest the suggestion of drone strikes on US soil by White House Democrats, well, I would see quite a few heads explode.

Anywhere But Here Is Better said...

Hello John

Firstly, I am very grateful to read your writings, which are of great value in pointing the way towards how we might individually and locally cope with the contraction/decline/bottleneck event we are already immersed in.

Partly from acquired knowledge of what's happening and partly from my long distaste for chasing the money dragon, I have already scaled back emotionally and financially, and I scrape by day to day with as little participation as possible in the dollar-obsessed society "we" have built.

Now my specific question in regard to this week's post. There has been quite a lot of web talk about the expectation of increasing urban strife, uprisings, riots, secessionist pressure and so forth by "the masses", as a result of the galloping impoverishment of citizens, whether from resource depletion or outright theft of common assets by the cadre of corporate 'leaders'. But what about these wealth owners themselves?

When it finally dawns on them (as it must) that the Empire cannot persist, and that their pile of cash and commodities cannot be converted into much of real use in the post-imperial US and the West, or buy much servitude from the dispossessed, what mental and emotional forces will drive them then? And what will they do?

Yes, they will pull all the strings at their disposal to control order through military means, via what's left of government as their proxy, but will they turn on each other too, having lost their dollar-based comfort blanket of power? In other words, what happens when previously powerful sociopaths fall off their perches? I do wonder.

Thanks and regards, Oliver

DaShui said...

Greetings A.D.G!

Lately I have been working at a small bank analyzing loans, and I can see the ripple effect that increasing energy prices are having on all businesses.

I must warn everybody we are at "peak chicken"!
Tyson contacted their growers and told them corn costs are too high so instead of growing the chickens 6 weeks before slaughter, it will be only 4 weeks.
Also Tyson is reducing the number of chickens to increase the price.
So we will b paying more and getting less.

onething said...

I really don't think people are refusing the see the connection between climate change and the economic depression. The way in which use of oil undergirds our way of life is probably not that apparent. Since I found my way to the peak oil blogs a few months ago, I am asking myself, what was I thinking? What was my own awareness? I know I had heard things, I know that the phrase peak oil was not absolutely new to me. But unless you stumble across something that lays it out pretty clearly, it just gets thrown in the messy, overflowing closet of the brain in this age of information overload.

For example, I do recall that I had heard many years ago that people in the US use 25% of the worlds resources. But it did not occur to me that we had the thing called a wealth pump going. That the third world countries were being taken advantage of in a way that was directly related to our getting more than our share. For one thing, telephones, electricity and airplanes were all invented in this country. So it might seem natural that we self developed these things and other countries did not.

In the end, I think a major impediment is simply that our way of life seems normal, so the idea that economic growth equals more use of fossil fuels, even for those concerned about climate change, might not quite click without some help.

Then, too, while I take JMG's prescription to change our lives individually and locally seriously, there is nonetheless a sense of futility in being a drop in the bucket - speaking not so much of those with the awareness level spoken of in Joel's post, but people in general, I think that there is unfortunately a big impasse created when the major media don't admit to something's very existence. Even when people hear of things floating around in the infosphere, it might not really get concrete for them when it just doesn't appear to be a real concern as they go about their day and turn on the TV.

Speaking of incomprehension/rage, I really believe that if people were spoken to honestly, they would weather great changes fairly calmly.

As for the relation to climate change, I don't know what percentage of people are on board with that. I am not convinced, and I can't help but wonder if the mainstream media talk about climate change is a back door way of getting people motivated to cut back on our lifestyle. I think it is much more motivating for people to believe that they must make this sacrifice to save the planet, than simply because we are a profligate empire and acted like a fool who inherited money, the party is over and it ain't comin back.

Isis said...

Hi JMG,

Here's one thing to keep in mind: if Americans demand the amounts of energy that are quite extravagant compared to what the rest of the world enjoys, it's not simply a matter of them being spoiled, it's also a matter of Americans being stuck with the infrastructure that was built with the assumption that vast amounts of energy would be available to run and maintain it. If they had to settle for the amounts of energy that a typical Central European uses, Americans wouldn't have a Central European quality of life, but something vastly inferior to it, simply because they don't have the kind of infrastructure that Central Europe does.

I'm not American, but I currently live in one of the large-ish American cities with a less than stellar public transportation system, and so I've had a chance to experience this first hand. It so happens that I don't own a car, something exceedingly rare in this area. When I was moving here, I knew that the city was built for cars and not for people, and so I tried very hard to find an apartment that would allow me to get around without a car. Result? I found an apartment that allows me to walk to work in about 15 minutes and to the grocery store in about 50 minutes. I don't have much of a life beyond that: few things are accessible without a car. The apartment that I have is much bigger than anything I needed or wanted (and the wastefulness of heating that place does not escape me), but I couldn't find anything smaller within walking distance of work, and public transportation is rather unreliable. The point being... I spend a rather small amount of energy compared to the people around me, an extravagant amount compared to people in many other countries (think: large, poorly insulated apartment), and yet get a rather inferior quality of life for it.

As it so happens, I'm leaving in a few months. Moving overseas. What I'm saying is, I can see (sort of) why Americans feel entitled to such high amounts of energy: without it, they're basically [unpublishable word].

Unknown said...

Not to worry everyone. I read somewhere that 3D printing will save us all.

Lysander

Steve Morgan said...

So how is one-party rule likely to come about in this era of crisis, I wonder. In the 1930s and the 1860s the crisis was addressed by the absence of one of the quarreling parties from the national stage, and I have a hard time seeing the current impasse breached in a bipartisan manner.

Speaking of first-hand accounts living through the major crises of our national history, I found one that points up how long our national obsession with urban elites moving "back to the land" has been with us. Ten Acres Enough, published in 1864, is a first-person account of a Philadelphia businessman selling out to buy a small market farm in New Jersey, where he and his family rode out the Panic of 1857 and the Civil War in relative peace in humble, market farm style. It went through at least six printings in the first two years, according to the publishing notes in my copy.

I don't see myself becoming a small farmer, and I know that many people use an unattainable fantasy of buying a farm as an excuse to avoid doing anything useful in their own lives. Still, it was interesting to me to see that not all first-hand accounts of these eras of crises were downers. This one talks about a family with modest means and modest aims, working hard and living simply and getting by with relative stability in tumultuous times.

p.s. My copy of NTFWO just arrived, but I doubt I'll have time to read it for a couple of months. There's too much to do in the garden, orchard, and workshop between now and the heat of summer, but I'm looking forward to the read.

Liquid Paradigm said...

@Joel:

It's been 25 years since I last read it (pause for a furrowed brow as I consider the implication of being able to speak casually about such timeframes now), but I do recall Studs Terkel's oral history of the Depression, 'Hard Times,' as shocking my pampered, middle-class student sensibilities.

I kept my copy of it, and I plan to go rummaging for it as soon as I get home this evening.

jollyreaper said...

I never understood our budgeting process in the US of A. In the simplest of all situations, money ultimately comes from taxes on citizens and corporations. Local taxes should pay for local needs such as schools and police, state taxes should pay for state needs, federal taxes for federal needs. Our federal taxes should pay for the army, not the local cop. When the feds start subsidizing the states, control is ceded to the guy holding the purse-strings.

There are some cases where a public subsidy could make sense, where no private company or coalition of companies could be counted on to meet the need with their own financing. Sometimes the subsidy would fund something wholly owned by the goverment (schools, hospitals), other times would grant a monopoly to a business (utilities.)

Business cases are easy to make when things aren't subsidized. If the public doesn't want it, they won't pay for it. The accounting gets fuzzy on subsidies. Highways are seen as a boon, improving the economy for everyone. Government dollars spent on highways and infrastructure will be made back many times over with increased tax revenue on all the businesses spurred by the projects, right? Sure, we can make the numbers say that.

Chuck Marone has the numbers over at www.strongtowns.org, pointing out how the suburban build-out isn't sustainable even with a non-dire view of the future. It's not economically viable even if conditions remain exactly as they are. But centralized budgeting creates so many disincentives to reasonable development. Because cities are begging for money from state and fed, what they build has to mesh with centrally-planned goals. While standardization and systematization is a good thing, central planning can look really dumb when you come down from 35,000 feet and get in the weeds.

Steve in Colorado said...

Hi JMG,

"Now of course that latter is a common opinion in revolutionary eras; equally common, of course, is the discovery that as bad as the status quo might happen to be, its replacement can be much, much worse. Those who witnessed the French and Russian revolutions, to name only two examples, got to find that out the hard way."

I was wondering if you might expand on this-- on the dangers of revolutionary projects, and how to counter them-- either in the comments or in a future post. As someone who's spent a great deal of time on the radical Left, this frightens me. I see incipient Stalinism everywhere radical ideologies operate, including regular purges, constant internal policing and the constant shifting of the rules of acceptable behavior, and the universal denial that any of this is occurring. After being purged from a particular radical group I was part of some years ago, I spent (and continue to spend) a great deal of my time studying the history of the twentieth century socialist revolutions, especially the Russian, with an eye to the question, "What leads to Stalinism?" I think that there is something about the combination of a Manichaean concept of social life; a Millenarian historical outlook; and a Messianic belief in the rightness of one's views not only for oneself and one's community, but for everybody in the world. Combine these "3 Ms" with a rejection of any restraint on power (either through rejection of democracy, as in authoritarian socialist groups, or embracing pseudoconsensus, as in anarchist groups) and a will to violence, and you have a recipe for the next Terror.

Anyway, I'm afraid that we're likely to see this sort of thing, at least on the small scale, in the various iterations of Occupy and so forth that turn up over the next few decades. Actually, it's a fear born out of seeing the culture of Stalinism infiltrate and take over every activist group I've ever been a part of. I think, maybe, I'm posting this in the hope that you have some kind of incantation to keep the wolves at bay, or maybe some kind of secret formula from the democracies of yore. Anything?

Also, it occurs to me that many of the things I post here are rather negative in tone. Sorry if that's the case.

escapefromwisconsin said...

At a time when the United States is spending hundreds of billions of dollars a year it doesn’t happen to have, and making up the difference by spinning the printing presses at ever-increasing speeds

One quibble- this sentence is self-contradictory. How could the government not have money if it can print it (yes, in reality it's electronic, of course). Where else does money come from? The U.S. is a sovereign issuer of currency - it can have as many or few dollars as it wishes. Whether it should or not is a different argument.

Obligatory disclaimer: I don't necessarily agree with this opinion, but I should point out that the left in the U.S. believes that stimulus and dealing with climate change are not necessarily contradictory. In a perfect world, we would be spending it on what we really need - a more sustainable post-carbon economy and energy-efficiency measures for a post-peak world. Things like public transit, solar and wind power, insulation retrofitting and the like are investments we should be making now before they become harder as the peak oil slope begins to curve downward.

In reality, of course, it's a giveaway to entrenched interests, but I think many on the left holdout hope for something better. In fact, recent studies have shown that in an economic downturn, people care less, not more, about environmental issues. And the cancelled rail project from coast to coast, not to mention the smog enveloping Athens from cutting down all the trees for heat, belie the notion that austerity is necessarily good for the environment.

In periods such as the one we're in, centralized authority falls apart and individuals are left to their own devices. But as Nicole Foss has pointed out, centralized authorities are unlikely to simply sit back and let localization take its course with the requisite loss of power that entails. For example, several states are relaxing marijuana laws. I don't partake myself, but it seems like it's a natural booster for local economies from several different directions (potential tax revenue, reduced incarceration, increased economic activity, etc.) Yet the Federal government has always cracked down at the behest of the police/incarceration complex. And recent laws make it a felony to even take a photo of what goes on in feelot operations while raw milk and free-range pig producers are raided with SWAT teams. We can expect more of this as time goes on.

Jess G. Totten said...

"Those people who spent the eight years of the second Bush administration eagerly reading and circulating those meretricious claims that Bush was about to impose martial law and military tyranny on the US, and their exact equivalents on the other end of the political spectrum who are making equally dishonest claims about Obama right now, are helping to feed the crisis of legitimacy I’ve discussed in several posts here."

Wanted to say a couple of things about that. I voted for Obama in 2008, and generally am leftist in my views. I've had civil discussions with an in-law who believes that Mr. O is a socialist muslim who is working to overthrow the constitution. So I can definitely see what you're describing. But! Just this week AG Holder said publicly that the constitution prevents Congress from putting any limits on the ability of the Executive branch to execute American citizens deemed to be terrorist threats. So that's a genuinely frightening, tyrannical power that a nominally leftist government is claiming, so perhaps my crazy uncle has some basis for his beliefs. Any thoughts?

J Gav said...

Greetings JMG,
Good article, with which I’m more than basically in agreement. A lingering question re-appeared in my mind as I read it, though. Not that I want to drag the city vs country thing into the debate but, er, well, yes, I guess that’s exactly what I want to do …
You made it perfectly clear that community situations (and thus blueprints for community resilience experiments) will be different in respect of place. My question in essence is, can words such as “community” or “resilience” have the same meaning in a city of 10 million and say, an old mill-town of 10,000 inhabitants? One reason I ask is a recent report stating that 60 of the 80 million new souls on the planet each year will live in cities. Another is that, in the biggish metropolis where I live, neighborhood vegetable gardens have popped up in every district over the last few years. I don’t doubt they provide some ‘community’ experience for the handful of people who participate but they’re all postage-stamp size and none of them could feed even one family. It seems this situation could be the source of some of the messier aspects of the future “messiness” you refer to. What’s your take?
PS – I have read the “Urban-Ag” headliner on the resilience dot org web-site and noticed that, in his conclusion, the author recognized that, to achieve its “potential greatness,” the movement still needed to be “leveraged into something bigger.” But how do you leverage a postage-stamp?

mallow said...

Steve, not all anarchist groups work on consensus. That might be more of an American thing. I'm an anarchist and most anarchists I know are quite critical of consensus. We work by majority vote. There's no will to violence that I'm aware of either. Some anarchists are pacifists. I agree with you about many of the problems with such groups though. We've very consciously avoided the Stalinisation bit (and we've been around a couple of decades) but have plenty of other problems. I guess what I'm saying is that not all radical groups are potentially creators of the next Terror. Revolutionary changes don't need to be violent or chaotic. There's a role for radical ideas in any healthy political system I think. And it's possible to hold those ideas without being messianic or dogmatic about them.

Thomas Daulton said...

Howdy JMG and all,

Your reference (far from the first time) to the drying-up of imperial wealth, no more room at the feeding trough -- and some of the subsequent financial discussions in the comments -- sparked an idea that is a bit of a tangent, but fits well in JMG's overall opus.

It occurred to me that it's hard for US politicians to tell their interest groups that there's no more largesse, because the politicians can always print more money. There's no real hard, sharp line that says printing dollar #1-Quadrillion-578 is any worse than printing dollar #1-Quadrillion-577 which has already been printed.

There is of course a limit there somewhere. The past strength of the dollar was (in part) based on the assumption that the US wouldn't abuse the financial system the way it has. You can't print money forever. But there's no sharp dividing line that says dollar #578 is abuse while dollar #577 was not.

Climate abuse basically works the same way. There are all sorts of regenerative and feedback systems in nature, so it's virtually impossible to specify that dumping gallon #578 of ethidium bromide into your local stream is all that much worse than dumping gallon #577.

JMG is big on the power of limits and speaks and writes of them often. I remember your discourse about how our skeletons limit us from falling into a gelatinous puddle, and our chairs limit us from falling on the floor, and so on. But those are sharp, easily defined numerical limits.

Maybe JMG could discourse sometime about the differences between "hard" and "soft" limits, the kind of limits that you only see clearly after you've crossed over to the other side already. How do you anticipate them, how do you communicate them to others, what guides your strategies.

A discussion of "soft" limits could, of course, include the limitations of the scientific and numerical / mechanical model of the world itself -- in cases like printing dollars or disposing of waste, the philosophy or model that we can quantify the world exactly and numerically is apparently flawed, an illusion that deludes us into thinking we're in control of something we're not. While the mechanist philosophy has its uses of course, it seems to me that in many situations principle, fuzzy quality, conscience and belief is at least as important (if not moreso) than exactitude.

Apropos: a recent article about the proliferation of quantitative test scores in schools:

> As Yankelovich noted, "The first step is to measure whatever can be easily measured. This is O.K. as far as it goes. The second step is to disregard that which can't be measured or give it an arbitrary quantitative value. This is artificial and misleading. The third step is to presume that what can't be measured easily isn't very important. This is blindness. The fourth step is to say that what can't easily be measured doesn't really exist. This is suicide."

JMG, as a specialist in the unpopular subject of limits, I would love to hear you discourse on the differences between hard and soft limits.

oneotaBill said...

Hi John Michael
I appreciate this post, and last week's, and the one before. Here in the Midwest I see a serious current climate change threat to agriculture, especially big ag. Lower river levels threaten the ability to transport corn and beans out and fertilizer in. Drought, of course, is already increasing food prices. In addition, weather devastation (fires, hurricanes, floods, tornadoes) is increasingly difficult to repair with limited resources.

I agree with Joel's observation of the paradox of demanding action on climate change (too late, folks) and demanding resumed economic growth (not possible or healthy). Here in our small (10,000) town, we do have a continuing residue of organizations spontaneously forming to solve problems: food coop, energy district, soil& water conservation district, rural electric coop, and many others.

And there can always be beauty, and it doesn't require lots of man made stuff.

Helix said...

DaShui said... I must warn everybody we are at "peak chicken"!

Could be a good reason to try your hand at raising chickens. It's an educational experience, especially these two parts:

(1) What you need to do to keep them fed.

(2) What you need to do in order for them to keep you fed.

There are quite a few lessons in self-reliance in there. And I guarantee you that you'll never look at Chicken McNuggets the same way ever again.

oneotaBill said...

JMG,
I meant to mention earlier that Rand Paul's filibuster yesterday succeeded in dramatizing for me the sinister quality of the Attorney General's refusal to disallow the possibility of executing American citizens on American soil without any form of trial. Maybe he is looking ahead to something other than BAU.

Sighris said...

JMG,
Have you read "Abundance: The Future is Better than You Think" or been to the website: < http://www.abundancethebook.com >

What do you think of their ideas?

Best regards,
Cyris / Sighris

twobears said...

It seems that the sequester is just what the government wanted right now. It would be naive to think that the powers that be aren't aware of the precipice that we are on when it comes to cheap energy supplies. In the sequester there is now a way to cut funding across the board without it being anyones fault (I'm speaking in broad terms here). Now that the sequester has occurred, the government can move ahead with a new budget, cherry-picking the interests/programs that it wants (those lobbied for by the banks, big corporations and special interest groups), effectively by-passing the intent of the sequester. The puppet masters behind congress are not stupid. We had all better pay more attention to the man behind the curtain.

John Michael Greer said...

Robert, well, we can certainly hope.

Leo, half of Americans don't vote, and most of the other half always vote for the same party no matter what, so their votes are irrelevant. It's only those who can change their minds who matter.

J9, 80% is the figure I've been using here in the US, based on how much more than our share of the world's energy and resources we use. It's probably more generally applicable. BTW, I had to find a Strine-Murcan dictionary to look up "spruiking" -- my immediate thought, courtesy of Theodore Sturgeon, was "Gwik fardled, funted and fupped."

News, it's a complex question, and almost certainly doesn't have one uniform answer -- India's future is likely to be very different from the one we experience here in America. Beyond that, it's probably going to take an entire post to make sense of the issues involved.

Lizzy, I read Damien Perrotin's blog regularly -- well worth the time.

Raven, the pieces of the industrial Humpty Dumpty are all we'll have to work with, so we might as well look at repurposing them.

Eiskrystal, no argument there.

Cherokee, I think it's partly that, and partly the final blowoff of the shale bubble. The last time it was close to the current level was in 2007, just before the housing crash began in earnest.

Divelly, don't assume that decisions like that will be made rationally, or with an eye to purely financial goals.

Phil, it's an interesting question -- how many of the people who are busy churning out antigovernment propaganda are knowingly giving aid and comfort to the enemies of the United States, and how many are simply clueless about the way their work is being used?

Michelle, thank you! It's a great image.

YJV, of course -- until the Second World War, the US economy was still floundering, and it was the war and its immediate aftermath that made the great US economic boom that followed it. I expect to see significant warfare in the years immediately ahead, and it may have similar benefits for the winners, too.

Bill Pulliam said...

Re: the Vermont Republic site linked too... Their first paragraph makes it clear that they don;t get the big picture at all. They want to be another Austria, Finland, Sweden, or Switzerland. These are all nations that have abandoned their primary and much of their secondary economies to live almost entirely off the tertiary economy (i.e. finance). They would be jumping off one sinking ship onto another one that is destined to sink even faster!

John Michael Greer said...

Mistah Charley, you know, you could simply say "I disagree with you," and so long as your disagreement is expressed in civil terms, you can post it here. That said, please be aware that I'm not pulling the ideas discussed in these posts out of my backside; all of this is based on a good many years of study and reflection, and the fact that some people dislike the conclusions I've reached is hardly an incentive to change those conclusions.

Yupped, that seems like a good model for the near future. As for your preparations, excellent -- I'll have seeds in the ground as soon as this latest round of snow finishes melting off, too.

Rita, I don't claim to know what's going to happen to the rest of the world, largely because I've only lived in the US and don't have a good sense of what's going on elsewhere. I'd encourage you to do your own research and come to your own conclusions! As for democracy, don't assume the prostituted version of it standard in today's industrial country is the only form it can take.

Robo, a good point. There's actually quite a bit of detail on it -- Smedley Butler was the general who blew the whistle on it, and iirc he had quite a bit to say about the subject.

Phil, thanks for the link! That's an interesting study -- well, and of course any modern economist who's even heard of Solon's reforms is one up on the rest of the profession.

RPC, well, I didn't claim I was right, just that I'd had the suspicion.

Andy, you might want to reread my post. As I indicated, so long as a protest movement is willing to put in the time creating the necessary grassroots base for itself, and remains independent enough that it can hold politicians accountable come election day, it can still achieve something, especially at local and state levels. It's the current habit of thinking that protest will accomplish something, when none of the steps needed to give it teeth have been taken, that I criticized.

Jason, we're probably less than a decade from a major revival of European fascism. I'll be talking about that in an upcoming post.

Blue Sun, I saw that. I want to see the liberal Democrats who talked so glowingly of Obama's concern for human rights stand up now and tell us how much he cares.

Anywhere, that's an excellent question, and one that deserves more than a couple of sentences in answer. I'll consider a post on the subject; in the meantime, you might want to look into what happened to the wealthy and politically influential upper classes in other societies that slammed headfirst into crisis. In a great many cases, those who didn't flee into exile ended up in unmarked graves in short order.

DaShui, fascinating.

Phil Knight said...

how many of the people who are busy churning out antigovernment propaganda are knowingly giving aid and comfort to the enemies of the United States, and how many are simply clueless about the way their work is being used?

Purely as examples, I would say that Alex Jones is genuinely clueless, but that Max Keiser isn't.

OrwellianUK said...

Hi John

I suspect that one of the main reasons the rest of the world is tired of hearing the likes of Hilary Clinton posturing about human rights issues, is that they know very well that Hilary isn't the least bit interested in those issues. If she were, the US would be imposing sanctions and discussing 'interventions' in countries such as Bahrain and Saudi Arabia right now. That this isn't happening, is testament to the regularity in which the United States only dusts off the moral compass when dealing with Officially Designated Enemies.

As for the Bush Administration's much feared Martial Law non-appearance, it should nevertheless be observed that they used some particularly fortuitous circumstances to introduce the Patriot Act, the Dept of Homeland Security and further advance Continuity of Government plans, all of which are further and significant steps down the aforesaid path, albeit not actual Military Rule itself.

It's unlikely full scale Martial Law would be possible, but a limited form, protecting key infrastructure and assets certainly is.

Lance Michael Foster said...

My grandparents drilled their Great Depression experiences into my psychology and my attitude, so I'm ahead on the learning curve. I've been living in this condition since 2006, in a skid row apartment under poverty level, taking care of my ill shut-in wife with no health insurance. I only drive a beat-up old Toyota Corolla from the 80s to do chores, get groceries, go to work or take others to work. I scrounge a lot. Some health emergencies last year (kidney stones on both sides, etc.) and no health insurance and no money, has creditors threatening legal actions, along with the immense student loan I can never pay because I don't make enough money. I'm over 50, too old for people to hire and too young to retire. I stay off all public assistance, because this is a learning curve and it won't be available, so you gotta learn how to get by with no help. I scramble trying to keep the lights on and this computer working (I have to pay access because it's the only way I make my money, teaching online, and yeah, I know that will go away someday soon, as education is as much a fool bubble as housing was). I wildcraft a chunk of my food, and make a lot of bone soup (marrow is great). When I get bacon I use it for broth for my potatoes. Going to try some insect eating this summer. I gave up all pop, sugar and fast food. But I enjoy my work, I enjoy trying to figure this all out, and slowly improving my health (I hope). JMG, you Kunstler and Orlov keep me smiling too.

bcwoodcarver said...

JMG
for the vast majority of North Americans and Europeans your vision of the future will be all too true. But for those who take advantage of the incredible treasure trove of knowledge and the choices of ways to generate power and profit from the opportunities afforded, the future is very bright.

laughingbirdfarm said...

"I’ve wondered more than once if the whole sequestration business is a charade..."

I think you're right, and I also think that they'll use it to claim they cut the deficit when it becomes obvious none of the cuts actually mattered.

The reality, of course, is that the deficit is ballooning. I do a lot of medicare counseling in my job, and even the numbers projected by the GAO for the increase in medical costs (never mind Medicare's own numbers, which are sheer fantasy) are proving to be hopelessly underestimated.

Rita Narayanan said...

Thanks JMG it's just that I have lived in India and N Calif and been brought up on a steady diet of the virtues of Democracy and Gandhi.

But Gandhi's own movements and trusts were & are still funded by business and industrial class, whose money doesn't come from maize oil/red flags.Even though he is frequently cited by environmental grps as a role model.

Democracy and empowerment on the face of it seems to have done a lot but has resulted in a corrupt and ruthless society.

Many of the cultural, architectural and other institutions set up by the old feudal class & British are on the last leg.

I know the romance and reality and have lived it thus the question. Thanks for your time!

SMJ said...

Hello JMG

This has nothing to do with the post so it would make sense to not post this comment, but I can't think of any other way to share this with you:
http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/280/1754/20122845.full

In case you haven't already seen it - just for your interest / amusement, I'm fairly sure you'll disagree that civilisation will end quite so rapidly.

Regards,
Seb Tsakok

shiningwhiffle said...

I was discussing another topic online tonight when it dawned on me that the transitions between every major phase of history -- Roman Empire to feudalism, feudalism to capitalism, colonial America to continental America, antebellum America to Reconstruction Era America, to name a few I'm familiar with -- has involved massive acts of theft.

The transition from feudalism to industrial capitalism -- which modern American political vernacular makes sound like a transition from oppression to freedom -- was basically a process of the government throwing people out of their homes. The feudal contracts that gave rights to both lord and serf were negated in favor of the lords. The serfs were evicted without compensation and forced to move to the cities where they became cheap labor for the new industrial economy.

England carried this to the point of forcing accused criminals into press gangs sometimes even when they were found innocent.

There's no reason to expect the transition from industrial to deindustrial economy will be any different. Basically, what we need, and part of what you've been arguing for if I'm right, are new political (in the broadest sense of the word) associations to try to protect ourselves from getting thoroughly fleeced.

latheChuck said...

Not specific to this week's post, but relevant to the overall theme... it's about time to plan the vegetable garden, and put seeds into soil in the mid-Atlantic region. There's a 90% chance of having seen the last frost by May 04 (May 16, in Cumberland), and lettuce, broccoli, and cabbage (for example) should be sown no earlier than 8 weeks before last frost. Tomatoes: 6 wks, squash 4 (or less), according to my U of Maryland Master Gardener Handbook. If you want to gamble, or suspect that the planting table hasn't taken climate change into account, you can start earlier.

But do start.

Steve Morgan said...

@Cherokee and JMG:

Regarding the stock market and its rarefied heights, the current level is equivalent to ~12,900 in 2007 dollars, according to the BLS CPI adjustment. Of course real inflation is a bit more than that, so the Dow isn't really setting any records these days...

fyreflye said...

Another vote for "Hard Times:
An Oral History of the Great Depression," by Studs Terkel.
Terkel was a great interviewer and his book, unlike most academic histories, digs deep into what the experience of the GD meant for ordinary Americans, and in their own words.

John Michael Greer said...

Onething, that's a worthwhile point. I see so many claims that are pretty obviously dishonest -- people who should know better making statements about the future that contradict proven facts and basic laws of nature, for example -- that I may be underestimating the number of people who just plain haven't heard.

Isis, I've never owned a car; I've lived in one largish city and three small ones, and have never had a problem. Now of course I may have been lucky; still, my personal experience leads me to think that the infrastructure problems, though real, are not as unworkable as all that.

Unknown, very funny.

Steve, I'll have to scare up a copy of that! I've suspected for a long time now that the back to the land thing has very deep roots in the American psyche; it might be worth someday researching and writing a book on the subject.

Reaper, it's precisely control that's at issue, and the opportunities for graft that come by way of control. That's the reason so many functions reserved to the states and the people under the constitution have been illegally taken over by the federal government: easier to milk the system that way.

Steve, I'll consider that for a future post.

Escape, granted, but you understood instantly what I was talking about. I didn't want to insert a three-paragraph discussion of the dangers of inflating the currency to pay government debts when that wasn't the theme of the post.

Jess, the last two administrations have been pretty obviously preparing to fight a color revolution, probably Chinese-funded, on US soil. They'd be idiots not to -- we've done it often enough to other countries that payback is an obvious risk, and as I mentioned in the post, such a thing would be a massive coup for all America's rivals. This is simply one more step in that direction.

J Gav, we simply don't know what size of community will do best in the next stage of decline. Obviously I'm guessing that a small city in the middle of a rural zone full of small farms is the best bet, but the people who think that big cities will do well might be smarter or luckier than I am. Certainly different strategies are appropriate for different sizes of communities -- the postage stamp sized gardens, for example, are good as training grounds, from which people with a basic grasp of gardening methods can graduate to the truck farms that will spring up amid the dying suburbs. More on this in a future post.

John Michael Greer said...

Thomas, that's a very interesting point. There's also a distinction between visible and invisible limits; somewhere in that 578th quadrillion might well be the single dollar that's one too many, but there's no way to know which one! I'll look into it as time permits, and consider a post.

Bill, a town of modest size with local community institutions still working might well be a good place to be, unless the climate shift gets so bad it's impossible to make a living there. As long as small ag can get by, you may be in a very good place.

Helix, very true indeed!

Bill, as mentioned to an earlier poster, the last two administrations are pretty obviously getting ready to fight against an attempted color revolution here. They'll probably get it, too.

Sighris, I couldn't find any ideas at all on the website, just a bunch of vacuous cheerleading. I'll look for the book, but my initial take (via the website) is not favorable.

Twobears, never blame on conspiracy what can be more than adequately credited to stupidity.

Bill, I've just received a review copy of their book, Most Likely To Secede. I haven't had time to read it yet; it'll be interesting to see whether their plans take the future we're likely to get into account.

Phil, so noted. I don't read either of them, so aren't in a position to judge.

Orwellian, Hillary's far from the first to engage in that sort of selective thinking, though she's certainly been doing it with gusto.

Lance, sorry to hear about the kidney stones, etc.! Ouch.

Bcwoodcarver, whatever you've been smoking, you might want to lay off it a bit.

John Michael Greer said...

Laughing, everything I've seen suggests that every aspect of the US federal budget is completely out of control, so this doesn't surprise me.

Rita, democracy has to grow out of the collective experience of a people -- it can't simply be tacked in place as a set of institutions. It can also be lost if the people stop making the considerable effort to maintain it. I'd encourage you to consider blogging about your experience -- it would be good to hear more voices from outside the US and Europe on these subjects!

SMJ, Paul Ehrlich has been predicting the imminent overnight end of the world since I was in grade school. I don't know of any prophet of apocalypse who's been wrong so often, with the possible exception of Hal Lindsay.

Whiffle, good. You're paying attention.

Chuck, true enough! I'll have early seeds in the ground as soon as the last of the snow from this week's storm finishes melting. I'd encourage everyone else who has access to soil to get cracking, too.

Steve, that's an excellent point.

Fyreflye, thanks for the recommendation.

Leo said...

So, tag-teaming will probably become a viable option then. The democrats gain power and start cuts which the republicans let them do. They then blame the mean democrats, ride the backlash to power and do the same to the democrats, who blame the republicans. Rinse and repeat.

The problem is that young people and socially disadvantaged (mostly the poor and such) don't vote as often, so they'll be targeted, further disenfranchising them. And those sections of the population make the best revolutionaries, terrorists and fodder for demagogues. So, any domestic revolts/insurgencies/wars will be quite nasty and sustained.

Sighris said...

JMG,
You can down-load the first chapter on their web-site. I just did, and I hope to read it ASAP... BTW, did I ever tell you about my on-line friend Ramez Naam < https://plus.google.com/111027325565500271677/posts > ? He has written some essays with a similar vibe to the 3 minute video commercial on the Abundance website (see my previous post).

Isis said...

JMG said:

"Isis, I've never owned a car; I've lived in one largish city and three small ones, and have never had a problem. Now of course I may have been lucky; still, my personal experience leads me to think that the infrastructure problems, though real, are not as unworkable as all that."

I've never owned a car either; in fact, I can't drive. It was no problem at all when I lived in an East Coast city, and it was okay in an East Coast suburb, too. Then I moved to the Midwest. Now, it's been workable, but I'd say that it's only been workable because I made it a top priority. I looked for an apartment at a suitable location (and therefore ended up having to rent one that's much larger than what I needed). When I walk to work, I'm almost always the only pedestrian around (every once in a while, I'll encounter someone walking a dog). There's a crosswalk only once every kilometer or so, and I've had a few disturbingly close calls with drivers who quite simply do not expect a pedestrian, even at a crosswalk. The city is supposed to have a vibrant cultural life. I wouldn't know. Going to the theater (say) is out of the question: there's nothing within walking distance, and buses don't run late.

I'd still rather live like this than deal with car ownership (freedom from a car is one of my most cherished freedoms), but I'm most definitely looking forward to leaving the area.

Rita Narayanan said...


JMG said:
Rita, democracy has to grow out of the collective experience of a people -- it can't simply be tacked in place as a set of institutions. It can also be lost if the people stop making the considerable effort to maintain it. I'd encourage you to consider blogging about your experience -- it would be good to hear more voices from outside the US and Europe on these subjects!

Rita says: this is true, our society is as vast as Europe and the reality of it involves everything from metaphysics to Marxism. Our internal sociology is not Western Democracy which our leaders brought from the top.

anyway about my blogging...the truth is that political correctness makes it impossible to be honest about many realms of sociology. Our growth is superficial and revolutionary and not intense & evolutionary.

Thanks for your kind words!



Richard Larson said...

Every Federal Reserve bookkeeping entry created in bridging the gap between revenue and spending represents a few more joules of fossil energy burned. This only leads us to the end of the road at a faster pace.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG,

Yeah, undoubtedly you are also correct. I did mention that being a system, it is inherently large and complex. Manipulations in one variable will have many unintended and unexpected outcomes in other variables which may or may not be related.

Perhaps a good analogy of the US economy at present is the French invasion of Russia in 1812. Seriously overextended and facing food, men and supply shortages the retreating French armies were hammered and their allies left them. Prior to this time, Napoleon was considered to be an undefeated military genius who had access to a massive army, allies and resources. Defeat probably seemed unthinkable to the French when they set out on the invasion.

Which brings me to the next point. A number of commenters have indicated that in relation to printing money:

Quote: "The U.S. is a sovereign issuer of currency - it can have as many or few dollars as it wishes. Whether it should or not is a different argument."

Quote: "There's no real hard, sharp line that says printing dollar #1-Quadrillion-578 is any worse than printing dollar #1-Quadrillion-577 which has already been printed."

Those arguments are both correct and incorrect at the same time as they affect the very long supply lines that the US currently enjoys for its imperial wealth pump (which is why I mentioned Napoleon).

The reason being is that money is only worth what someone else will exchange it for, hopefully for an item of real value (or even another currency). The above two quotes represent a US centric point of view in relation to the printing of money.

However, outside of the US an alternative view is taken in that individuals and countries are being asked to accept these tokens in exchange for items of real value (such as Oil).

These individuals and countries are collectively not stupid and they know that the US is currently printing money faster than it generates real wealth. There will come a point in time when the value of exchange between US currency and real world assets is not as favourable as it presently is. This is a serious risk, which I get the impression has very little air time in the US media.

Which gets me back to Napoleon. Someone else mentioned the potential for war. Imagine for a moment that a country imports 50% of their daily energy supplies - particularly that used in transport - and also much in the way of manufactured goods, and then ask how can this same country wage a war to obtain additional resources? It starts looking like a logistical nightmare to me and also one that is doomed to fail.

Napoleon found out the limits of his army the hard way, why can we not learn from the past? I have no wish to find out what the limits of US economic chicanery will be, but sooner or later we will.

Regards

Chris

wiseman said...

@Rita
What happens is that different cultures in India part ways and live the way they have done for thousands of years, as close neighbors with deep relations but politically different entities. That means the end of the union.

It's possible but the existence of an Indian union in future has a low probability in the face of climate change and peak oil.

Kathy Johnson said...

Hi JMG,

I work for a social justice nonprofit. I used to work for another enterprise, one staffed almost entirely by far right, red state types. Let's just say that your ideas successfully predict the usual behavior of BOTH groups.

The social justice group has recently, as a way of inviting me to show I'm interested in a promotion, asked me to do more intellectually creative work -- research as opposed to bookkeeping -- and I find myself now afraid that I'm getting suckered into something I don't want to be a part of. I keep thinking of Orwell working as a BBC censor!

That is, the group I'm working for is either a. so stupid they can't see that their routine, even ritualized disrespect of the white straight male rural and Christian is hurting their chances for success -- that is, you don't HAVE to be a lefty so & so to be antiracist and the hatefulness is driving a lot of people out of the movement -- or b. they actively want and intend to be absolutely certain no straight white male Christians are on their side -- that is, they want and intend to further divide (and conquor) the population.

This is frankly the first career break I've had since 1993, and now my conscience is yelling at me that I should have quit yesterday. Back when I was vehemently protesting the Iraq War and the Afghan War and empire in general, the right called me a traitor, but the thing is that I love my country dearly. I don't want war here either!

What's an unexpected patriot to do?Advice? Helpful hints? Soothing words anyone?

Attica Blue said...

Straight across the convoluted landscape of contemporary American political opinion, to be sure, you can count on an enthusiastic hearing if you propose that budget cuts ought to be limited to whatever government payouts don’t happen to benefit your audience. Make even the most timid suggestion that your audience might demand a little bit less for itself, though, and your chances of being tarred, feathered, and ridden out of town on a rail are by no means small.

The problem I have with this construction is that it at least implicitly posits an equivalency between all government expenditures. Declaring that everyone simply wants to protect their own "handouts" is a description of the mechanics of the process, sure, but nothing more. What is at root here is that not all expenditures are created equal in the eyes of citizens and where in the pecking order we place them is a function of a variety of things, most basically our core moral beliefs.

Is there anyone among us who's going to argue that spending $1.1 trillion to develop and operate the F-35 fighter plane is "just like" spending $1.1 trillion on health care? Don't both have radically different outcomes despite having the same face value? It's the nature and quality of these differences in outcomes that make it at least inaccurate to describe the groups representing these expenditures as equally guilty of wanting handouts the government can no longer afford.

The fact is the government *can* afford some things. It may or may not be in the measure to which all parties want. Because of the decline in growth described well enough in all the blog posts here, what can be afforded is decreasing. Choices will have to be made. So what is actually at issue in society is how what is left of that shrinking pie is going to be distributed. And since it's there to be distributed (let's remember that much of it is in fact just spending tax dollars that everyone already paid into the system, in which case they are certainly entitled to it) it's going to, well, be distributed.

Intimating that "everyone" should take a cut in some equal measure just won't fly for the sort of reason illustrated by my example above. Society is already far too unequal for that to have any chance of working. People will quite reasonably say that if there is to be a come down, it must be done fairly. (It can't be that, for example, there are cuts to social security on one hand, but taxes for the already wealthy also go down.)

I guess the ultimate point I'm making here is that it's virtually impossible to have this discussion without referring to specifics. Such as when you say "pressure groups" and describe them as "needy and greedy," who are we talking about? The ones lobbying for more food assistance for school lunches or the ones lobbying for the maintenance of subsidies for banks? Abstracting it actually obscures more than it reveals by, IMO, unfairly throwing everyone into the same pot.

Stu from Rutherford said...

JMG,
Thanks for another great post.
Allow me to add a title to the Great Depression Bibliography taking shape on the comment board:
"A Secret Gift" by Ted Gup, tells the story of an anonymous small-time benefactor during the 1930's in Stark County, Ohio, and includes many stories of families in their own words. I grew up in that county and from the stories of my parents' generation know enough that the book rings true.

Adrian Skilling said...

John,

I wonder what your opinion is of the 5 Star Movement in Italy, led by Beppe Grillo?

It has a huge grassroots power base. It has a plan to counter corruption (Italian politics is very corrupt) and to sever the links between politicians, the media and banks. Each politician will dedicate 75% of the salary to a fund giving micro-loans to small businesses and farmers. It also plans more say and democratic involvement of citizens at all levels.

If nothing else its a massive opposition to the current establishment, such as Berlusconi who repeatedly dodges criminal convictions and has even changed the law in his favor. Grillo being smeared pretty badly by the mainstream media (one moment his Nazi and then a communist!) and conventional political parties but apparently the newly voted in representatives have performed pretty well so far.

I'm optimistic that the movement will at least open up debate (these a lot to be had), improve participation and reduce corruption but nothing I've heard yet tells me the movement is ready to face an energy and resource poor future.

Robert Martini said...

JMG and Readers,

I wonder if in purely objective terms, considering the plight and lifestyles of those around the world in the likes of guatemala, ethiopia and other third world countries, If this crisis in America is purely one of expectations? I am a college student who lives off around 600$ (part time Waiter) a month to pay for my apartment, food and utilities. I see many folks on the street or whom even work with me struggling and frustrated with life who would blame it on a lack of material wealth. Fortunately, due to my upbringing, I learned to value true knowledge much more than wealth. I learned how to learn, and over time taught myself how to stay in good physical health, which has led to good mental health, which has led to a more focused and rewarding existence. These "other folks" I speak of, are stubbornly holding onto the idea, that wealth and status are what is needed to be happy, where as happiness itself is a just a balance of neurotransmitters. Many folks with the right knowledge and health could and presently do live a rewarding fulfilling life, with a minimum wage job or some other economic function.

I would advise you and your readers to remember that wealth is not interchangeable with health nor happiness. Health is the core and pinnacle of a rewarding and enjoyable life, and in my opinion the first stepping stone to it. Much of the real and imagined "wealth" is going to disappear in the next decade. However, that should not discourage anyone in the slightest, because it is the choices we make with the knowledge we earn that make up the happiness, that many will need to "redefine" in the coming years. This crisis will be a crisis due to unfulfilled expectations, except for the true regional disasters that happen as a result of these "unrealistic expectations."

Truth is a dish many hunger for, however few ever develop a palette for its bitter taste.

For those who have a palette for such bitter taste, you might start your highly skeptical journey to better health, by sorting through information with a hefty serving of critical thinking. I arrived in the "ancestral" foods and "paleo" diet lifestyle, and these terms I use very loosely, because reality is always more complex than it appears. Don't let me bias you, but part of the critical thinking process is looking at information you disagree with, which is all to rare to do, as the "google search bar" has led to a psuedo-scientific era of extreme conformation bias.

Good luck!

Roger said...

I have a lot of trouble seeing America as an "empire". The country that I live in has a lot of experience of "empire" being a successor state to the British Empire.

"Empire" for this place was an expensive proposition having embroiled us in two world wars from day one of each, costing us hundreds of thousands of dead and wounded.

American forces did spare western Europe from being over-run by the Red Army. Aside from that, from my own perch, I have trouble over-estimating America's power.

IMO America is influential to a degree but mostly via "soft power". I don't think that the nomenklatura in Russia or China take orders from Americans. They have their own base of political support, their own military and economic resources.

Hillary goes here and there, Obama gives speeches, a jihadi here and a jihadi there gets greased. And so what? Nobody listens to Americans. American diplomats have been bending the ears of Israelis and Palestinians for decades. To what end? Israelis and Palestinians hate each other's guts and get depressed unless they're planning to kill one another. They can't wait to get to the next assassination. You got rid of Khadaffy. Big deal. Hosni is gone. Congrats. Is Morsi better?

Plus consider that the US has been defacto defeated in Afghanistan by illiterate farmers wielding rudimentary weapons. And left the Iraqi hall of mirrors with its tail between its legs unable to discern friend from foe. Vietnam was a disaster, Korea was a draw.

Some "empire". This is no "empire".

If the US was an empire worthy of the name the first thing it would have done is to conquer the country to the north given that it's militarily weak, disunited and sparsely populated. And bursting with resources. But the US didn't. Americans buy the resources, Americans don't steal them. Resource royalties don't go to American state capitols or Washington, the money goes to Canadian coffers.

From this vantage point America looks like a relative newcomer in the world. A world whose shape was determined by far older powers and civilizations.

Having said all this, there's no doubt that the US can no longer afford it's military (as ineffectual as it is) with it's dozen or so carrier battle groups and dozens of submarines cruising majestically hither and yon. Americans no longer have the economic or financial base to afford it having offshored manufacturing capacity to Chinese adversaries, effectively putting it under the control of the Chinese people's Liberation Army. Dumb move that was.

But it's no use crying over spilt milk. The millions of good paying American jobs with the income taxes they provided government treasuries are no more. They are in China. The dollar an hour Chinese laborer thanks you profusely.

So the jobs are gone and not coming back. The question is where do you go from here.

History rarely provides second chances. The USA will contract. Will it be an orderly settlement of debts? Will it be a calamitous bankruptcy? Will the crisis of 2008look like foreplay in comparison?

It looks like the powers in Washington are bound and determined to sustain the unsustainable with pedal to the metal money printing. This has been tried before with disastrous consequences. Never mind the examples of hyperinflation, look at what excess money printing accomplished since the 1990s: one asset bubble and bust after another, each more ruinous than the last.

Want some advice? Get Bernanke to cease and desist. The financial fog will lift and the way off the cliff will become clearer.

nettles said...

Hello.

I would like to extend the invitation to you to present at The Great Lakes Bioneers conference this coming November ... What is the best way to do that formally?

nance

Matt and Jess said...

JMG, thanks for the post as always. So far, we're experimenting with growing certain herbs in our kitchen window (and trying to keep some new houseplants alive indoors). We are trying to focus on planting in containers since our small amount of soil next to the patio is compromised with motor oil due to old, rude neighbors (which is giving us an opportunity to look into "myco-mediation"). Sounds like we need to get cracking on the brassica seeds in the outdoor containers since we live just slightly south of you...spring has taken me by surprise this year! We're new to the south, and it hasn't snowed yet here--I keep waiting for winter to arrive, but it's already time for planting.

Robert Mathiesen said...

AtticaBlue referenced "our core moral beliefs." Who is this "our" of who you speak? The citizens of the United States (or of many another country) do not possess a common core of moral beliefs.

Hidden Author said...

But there is a solution--triage. Civil servants who did everything moral, ethical and legal in pursuit of their duties get their contract with the government fulfilled; those who did not get the contract canceled. Those who paid their way into entitlement programs get a refund; those who have only taked and taked get cut off.

If there was an impartial commission with the power to do just that, do you really think that both parties would object equally? It seems that the Democrats are more eager to buy votes by awarding government money to anyone who breathes air.

SLClaire said...

My husband and I just returned home from a family visit. On the way home we stopped at Vicksburg, Mississippi. Our primary reason for stopping there was to look at the USS Cairo, a steam-powered ironclad gunboat that was sunk near Vicksburg during the Civil War. While we were in Vicksburg, we also stopped at the Old Depot Museum, and that's where this story becomes relevant to your post. Somehow I hadn't heard about the siege of Vicksburg during the civil war. The museum exhibit and video remedied that. All I can say is that no sane person would want to have a repeat of that experience or any of the others that occur during civil strife. Unfortunately, sanity may be in shorter supply than we would like, as your post points out.

It's not quite time to get seeds going in the open garden in St. Louis because we can still get lows in the single digits practically the entire month, but I have flats of onion and cabbage seedlings growing under glass and will soon be starting many more seedlings in flats to await planting in spring. In that vein, I just got a copy of Steve Solomon's new book The Intelligent Gardener: Growing Nutrient-Dense Food. I'll post a review at Green Wizards when I get more into it. I mention it in case other gardeners might want to check it out.

PioneerPreppy said...

Good post. I find myself usually in full agreement with your posts from a "back to the Land" aspect while totally disagreeing with a large part of your political conclusions.

A couple of things though. The US government does not print money. The Federal Reserve prints the money and then gives it to the US government at a price. To date as near as I can figure the FED is not taking full payment of the money it is owed. I figure this is because they can't and they know they can't, if they did everything would fall apart. They are taking as much as they can while also letting the few other investors in the game take what they are owed in full and letting the rest ride.

I honestly cannot tell you how long that charade can last. With the FED not taking everything it is theoretically owed as long as they are willing to take only what they can safely get it could go on a long time.

Also I noticed someone way up commenting on the ecological fallacy of rural states getting more federal dollars than urban ones. I believe they used Miss. and NJ as examples. That comment is confusing production wealth with income wealth and forgetting that the current government does not tax them equally. It also manipulates the data by allowing the middle man export states to keep more money at the state level with promises of matching funds. Much like the rope-a-dope the FedGov does with education spending.

Point in fact rural states produce far more tangible wealth than the middleman urban areas and therefore real value.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Attica,

Quote: "What is at root here is that not all expenditures are created equal in the eyes of citizens"

That is a value judgement and it supposes that those citizens are actively involved in the process of redistributing those funds. I would argue that they are not involved and as such any value judgement as to allocation is meaningless.

In addition, say for example your job relied on that $1.1tn spent on the F35 fighter. Wouldn't you be more concerned about retaining your job than providing health care services to someone you don't know, somewhere else? I suspect that for your statement to be true then people would have to be more altruistic than they actually are.

Also, framing a spending argument as a choice between military or health, forgets that other items are important to other people. What about tax concessions for the wealthy? What about spending on transport infrastructure? What about subsidies for energy? What about spending on foreign aid? It just goes on and on. The list of people lining up at the feed trough is long indeed.

Quote: "And since it's there to be distributed (let's remember that much of it is in fact just spending tax dollars that everyone already paid into the system, in which case they are certainly entitled to it) it's going to, well, be distributed."

This is incorrect. Paying taxes is no guarantee of a present entitlement to benefits from the expenditure of those taxes. Your taxes go towards paying for social security. Those people on social security may not paying any taxes, do you think that they are entitled to those funds?

Quote: "So what is actually at issue in society is how what is left of that shrinking pie is going to be distributed."

The problem isn't that the pie is shrinking, it is that the pie is being enlarged through accounting chicanery. The pie itself is still quite large.

Overall your comment suggests to me that you are passively expecting that the distributors of those tax dollars are going to act in a moral and ethical manner. There is no indication that this accords with reality.

Dunno, but would you be happy with access to only 20% of the stuff that you currently enjoy if that sacrifice benefited others? Think food, disposable income, energy, clothes, housing, transport. Dunno only you can answer that question.

Regards

Chris

John Michael Greer said...

Leo, very likely. One of the major themes behind the recent health care "reform" fiasco was to find a way to push more of the cost of treating the elderly and well-off onto the young and poor. Yes, that's going to blow up in the not too distant future.

Sighris, I'm not greatly interested in the first chapter; I want to see where they deal with the facts, if in fact they do so. I'll take a look at the book when I get the chance.

Isis, that's worth knowing. I've lived on the west coast and in the Appalachians, never in the midwest, and I'm aware things may be different in different regions.

Rita, I see no reason to worry about political correctness; certainly I've never found any need to give it lip service.

Richard, an elegant two-sentence summary!

Cherokee, that's the best extended metaphor for our situation I've encountered in a good long while. Thank you.

Kathy, it's a complicated issue, and one that may need a post to itself down the road a bit. The language of moral absolutism has become so pervasive in today's American politics -- see AtticaBlue's piece right below yours for a stellar example -- that very few people notice that this sort of talk only appeals to those who already agree with the viewpoint being addressed. Thus the incessant preaching to the choir that pervades every corner of the US political landscape these days. In your place, I don't know that I'd quit on the spot, but it might be good to see if you can leverage this break into something that will get you into another job with a group that isn't so deeply into scapegoating.

AtticaBlue, in other words, you're trying to use a language of moral absolutes to claim that the federal expenditures you support deserve funding, while those you don't support don't. That's certainly your right -- but I think you'll find, if you get out a bit more, that there are plenty of Americans who think that defense is a better use of federal funds than health care, and they have as much right to have their voices heard as you do.

I don't claim that all federal expenditures are morally equal, for what it's worth, though the places where I'd draw lines would likely upset you just as much as they'd upset my readers on the far right. The point I was trying to make, though, was that from the perspective of Congress, they are equal: each one is a demand for funds, backed by some constituency, with a certain amount of political clout. Whether or not it's right that they be treated that way, that's how they're being treated.

John Michael Greer said...

Stu, thanks for the recommendation!

Adrian, I don't have an opinion on him. Who Italians want to run their nation is their business, not mine.

Robert, at the moment it's one of expectations. Down the road, as I've argued in previous posts, a good many people in the US will be reduced to the sort of lifestyles people have in Guatemala and Ethiopia -- and at that point we're way past expectations.

Roger, now go back and read my posts about why it makes sense to talk about America's empire. I discussed the matter at quite some length in the first half of 2012, and I don't intend to rehash all of that here.

Nettles, send a comment marked "not for publication" with your email address, and I'll contact you.

Jess, get 'em planted! I'll be putting in early peas, lettuce, spinach, and the first round of carrots in the next few days; the garlic is already up, and the rhubarb is on its way.

Robert, nicely put.

Hidden, er, and how are you going to make that happen?

SLClaire, I'm a little startled that you never heard of the Battle of Vicksburg -- that and the Battle of Atlanta basically decided the US Civil War. Still, either one makes a good reality check!

Preppy, yes, I used a shorthand way of talking about the complicated system of legerdemain the US uses to keep itself supplied with currency. You still had no trouble figuring out what I was saying, I suspect.

John Michael Greer said...

Unknown (offlist), nice try. Now consider posting something that deals with what I actually said, rather than engaging in wild hyperbole and taking things out of context in order to score points.

Robert Martini said...

JMG,

"Robert, at the moment it's one of expectations. Down the road, as I've argued in previous posts, a good many people in the US will be reduced to the sort of lifestyles people have in Guatemala and Ethiopia -- and at that point we're way past expectations. "

This is something I have pondered for a while. It is easy enough to place the world as one large pie to understand the hard limits of energy depletion. However, we know in the real world there will be an immense amount of regional variability, with wealth, safety, food security and health, ect. So my question is, when the future US looks like a third world country, what will the third world countries look like in the future, damn near unrecognizable? Born back into the age of tribal groups of pastoralist, hunter-gathers and agriculturalist? Basic overshoot concept tell us, we may be hard pressed to return, even to that sort of lifestyle depending on our "waste" build up? What do you think John?

Grebulocities said...

I'm sorry if this is a little off topic but I've been thinking about this question lately and this seems to be the best place to ask:

Does anybody know what rigorous scientific studies have been conducted that have established or failed to establish the medical effect(s) of various herbal or fungal remedies?

I've taken a look through the literature and I can't seem to find much - almost everything I see is either by the medical establishment attempting to show that herbal remedies are ineffective, or by herbalists that attempt to show the opposite.

I'm a graduate student in biology, and I find it implausible that herbal remedies would be, categorically, ineffective - most organisms contain a bewildering array of compounds in various concentrations, some of which could be helpful to humans in the concentrations present in those particular species. Modern medicine is all about dosing one or a few molecules with shockingly little regard for the interactions between them and how evolution has produced workable solutions that work for the organisms that synthesize these compounds. It has even more disregard for the traditions built up through thousands of years by humans over the span of most of human history as to what organisms, in what doses, produce what effects for what human conditions.

I suspect that there is a spectrum of truth here: some of these herbalist traditions have significant amounts of truth to them that have been undiscovered by modern science, some are simply incorrect, and some are in between.

I do know that we need to solve this problem as soon as possible - organisms are easier to grow than pharmaceuticals that usually turn out to be creatively engineered petrochemicals, when oil is in short supply. Do you, JMG, or anyone else on this blog, know of good literature on this topic?

Leo said...

Is Cumberland going to get hit by that explosion or are you expecting trouble where you are?

Not a lot can be done, besides community building and support structures.

Australia is probably going to be relatively peaceful as overshoot runs its course.

phil harris said...

JMG
I sent this comment yesterday but I guess it was lost in the aether. Hope this is OK to repost. It is really to provide the link to, as you put it, "a modern economist who knows about Solon in 599 BC"
Thanks
Phil H

JMG
I appreciate many of the themes that have emerged in comments here – but refer to one in particular, the theme being ‘theft’, ‘fleeced’, ‘loss of customary rights’, ‘re-writing the rule book’ in favour of – you name it. The sort of thing observed during times of major shifts – e.g. at the end of [any] empire; transitions during the making of America; the emergence of industrial society in England; revolutions etc.

Nothing totally inevitable, perhaps it seems to me about these meta-results; Solon 599 BC re-wrote the rule book for a while and obtained a degree of resilience and social commonsense without resorting so much to expansion into other peoples’ space and social and physical resources? (Religions continued to write some of the lessons into their rule-books for a long while afterwards, to try to factor-in monetary stability when large scale social-theft, even more than the more personal kind, was recognised as having a pretty universal downside. And that was a long while before coal and oil.)

BTW, the link I provided earlier was to a paper by Kumhof (IMF Research Dept.); “unequal = indebted”.

I forgot to link to the paper that includes the reference to Solon reforms. For any here who are interested, scroll down a fair bit for the, to me, mind-boggling introduction to monetary history.
http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/wp/2012/wp12202.pdf
best
Phil H

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG,

Thank you. That was very kind of you to say so.

What twigged the analogy was that some of your essays and the comments to those essays are butting up against a certain sense of entitlement. However the entitlement is dependent on very long supply lines and these are always a structural weakness.

Long supply lines are also in the forefront of my mind because, being cut off from services here that most may take for granted, nature has rammed this lesson into me this summer.

Adelaide and Melbourne to get even hotter

Oh my, what's going on? We are way past a 2 degrees Celsius increase in average temperatures here and records have most certainly been broken. Six of the Ten hottest years since records began (about 1870) have been in the past decade.

Anyway, the long supply line here is water and because of the upcoming heat wave, I had to make the decision to put 2,000L (528 gallons) of water across the several hundred fruit trees. They won't grow much, but hopefully it should keep them alive. In the past few days, I've also been mulching heavily and adding mushroom compost so the mulch doesn’t starve the trees of nitrogen when they can least afford to be further stressed. Yesterday, I even had a bit of heat exhaustion from doing this work over a few days, "cooking your head" as I call it! I’m feeling better now though.

Anyway, it got me thinking about Napoleon's supply lines as he set out to defeat the Russians. Did you know that of the 615,000 French troops that headed out on that ill-fated expidition, only 110,000 returned and of those only 27,000 were still considered fit? Long supply lines are not good.

Regards

Chris

Coco said...

For stories of living through the Depression try the Ohio Dept. of Aging project from 2009.

http://www.aging.ohio.gov/news/storyprojects/

OrwellianUK said...

Hi John

Indeed Hilary isn't by any means the first to display this blatant hypocrisy. I should have written that the rest of the world knows the United States doesn't care about these issues. In a sane world, Barack Obamas recent speech at the United Nations during which he assured his government would continue to support human rights and democracy, would have received the derisive laughter it deserved. As it was, I'm sure there there was plenty of quiet sniggering later at dinner, if not during the speech.

Mind you, it's a tendency not openly acknowledged in diplomatic circles except perhaps by those officials from countries such as those led by Evo Morales and the late Hugo Chavez, who despite their imperfect record, have done their very best to protect their people from your well described Imperial Wealth Pump - which is exactly why they attract displays of contempt in Western Media and Punditry of the kind this week aimed at the late President Chavez. It's a case study of Chomsky's "Danger of setting a good example".

Naturally as the Wealth Pump weakens and the limits imposed by resources and climate tighten, we can expect more of this posturing about 'human rights' and R2P etc, while behind the scenes, the training and funding of the most extreme groups to be found will continue at an ever more rapid pace, in the targeted nations - whether they set a "Good Example" or not - in all those regions with some mineral wealth to be stolen, or who form part of the strategy to do so.

A prime recent example was Libya and the latest example is Syria, where Arabian Gulf State and US funded groups of what can only sincerely be described as Terrorists have fomented a brutal civil war, with the Civilians caught in the indiscriminate crossfire. The next target is of course Iran. The rest of the 'developed' world has by and large 'recognised' the puppet Syrians in Washington as the 'legitimate' government, mirroring Clinton's rhetoric, and it doesn't take much to realise that the reason for this is a jockeying for position in the queue for the Wealth Pump handouts to US 'Allies'.

This is the point at which the non-acknowledgement of the aforementioned phenomenon suddenly becomes clear, since those in the queue for Imperial Handouts use such "Noble" rhetoric to justify US supporting Foreign Policy stances amongst their own increasingly skeptical and restive populations.

I appreciate my going into detail about the Realpolitik here is slightly off the main topic, but I hope it will help some readers to understand the world in which we are living in and the world to be expected in the very near future. Although the policies I have just described have been going on in some form since the first human Empire rose to power, it should be observed that the behaviour that characterises these policies in our modern era is becoming increasingly more frequent and desperate in the post-peak world we live in.

Chad Brick said...

Hi JMG.

One point you might want to consider that is a large advantage of centralized governments is that they can and do prevent local governments from undercutting each other in races to the bottom.

For example, here in Japan where I reside, the prefectural and local taxes are set and collected by the central government, and then redispersed essentially on a per-capita basis. This makes it difficult or impossible for Tokyo, for example, to try to steal a factory from Osaka by offering a sweetheart tax deal. This kind of dealing is rampant in the US, with state and local governments tripping over each other in a fight to lavish bigger subsidies than the other guy. Any businessman with an ounce of common sense nowadays knows he can extort the local government out of a few million bucks every once in a while just by threatening to move his business down the road a few miles. If there is one over-riding positive feature of central governments (including the UN or its analogs), it is that they have the ability to short circuit this problem, essentially forcing sub-jurisdictions to cooperate in a prisoners' dilemma rather than repeatedly defecting.

dowsergirl said...

This year's tax forms was an eye-opener to me. I work in a public library, and we are now the only source of hard copy of tax forms. The feds no longer use the post office, and no longer send hard copy too you at home.

Online "free" sites now charge.

This year all of us on staff have noticed how frantic people are to get their money back from the feds. It's like a run on the bank. And angry about why we don't have all of the forms and have to print them off from the website. It's just a little disturbing.

On the other hand, we just got 16" of snow yesterday. I'm totally ready for spring!

hapibeli said...

http://blogs.reuters.com/anatole-kaletsky/2013/03/08/obamas-best-strategy-do-nothing/

Rocco said...

@Kathy Johnson
Your note here resounded with my own experience, and I appreciated seeing it, since I rarely see anyone address the concerns you refer to. I grew up in the Deep South, in a place the media are now pleased to characterize as "red". I moved away after high school, went to college and then lived and worked in big cities in two different states. In middle age, I returned home to help care for an aged parent, got a job teaching school, and stayed. Most of the people in this area are are likely the opposite of your co-workers in your social justice non-profit. For example, the small Baptist church I attended faithfully with my family as a child, as well as the county itself, is full of lockstep Republicans, which is to say that they dismiss anyone who expresses anything other than steadfast resistance to abortion rights, gay rights, total access to guns, etc. I have some experience of the opposite opinion as well, having lived in cities and having made friends with people who think of themselves as "progressive" and who think that most of the problems of our time can be properly laid at at the feet of George W. Bush. I have managed to live peacefully, however, because I have always had a certain skepticism about anyone, left or right, who claims that his or her ideology provides a direct line to universal truth. I try to avoid "political" arguments and instead try to keep things concrete. Thus, I have found that some of the more extreme right-wing types still can occasionally have insights and information that can be useful for anyone. And of course the same can be said of annoying leftist liberals as well. In short, I make it my business to be, if not a friend, at least a good neighbor. I want to be able to count on the people I live near, and I want them to know that I am someone they can count on too.

But, as to your specific situation, I would suggest that you look into teaching school as a way to get away from the problem you describe. Becoming a schoolteacher is not an ideal solution, of course. Far from it. I agree with opinions that have recently been expressed here by JMG and others that our education system is seriously, maybe hopelessly, flawed. Even so, as a public education teacher I have found a niche in which I can connect in some worthwhile way with kids who have no choice but to inherit whatever world we leave for them. So, I pay lip service to the system and all its foolishness, subverting it when it seems sensible, and thinking of my "real" job as doing whatever I can to help make meaningful the transition from child to adult for those human beings whose lives are entrusted to me for a few hours each day.

Everyone's life is different, and this suggestion for you may be impractical for any number of reasons, but I offer it, nevertheless, as a serious alternative to what you are currently doing. In any event, I offer you my best wishes and the knowledge that one person out here understands your dilemma.

Hidden Author said...

I have no plan for installing the impartial commission; only the libertarian Right would support such a commission.

Ruben said...

@Grebulocity,

While you are digging for studies on the effect of herbal medicines, take a look at the impact of chemical medicines. They are often no better than placebo.

My wife has been studying hypnotherapy, and so has spent a bunch of time looking at examples of mind-body connection.

I remember seeing a story on a video game given to kids with cancer--they had to blow up cancer cells to get points. And their own cancer diminished.

While watching one of JMG's talks on YouTube, I noted this important concept: The scientist sees placebo as something that screws up their study, while the mage sees it as the point, and wants to strengthen and direct its power.

@ Cherokee
Here is a link to what is often called the first infographic, which shows Napoleon's march on Moscow. It shows the route, size of the army and temperature all mapped together.

(As a pet peeve, I would note this is a true infographic, where the graphic conveys and clarifies information. Most of the junk called infographics is merely bad writing with accompanying illustrations.)

Unknown said...

JMG and Thomas Daulton

Thomas I enjoyed your comment and support your request of JMG to for more on limits. I recently finished a very readable book “Deep Simplicity” by John Gribbbin that I thoroughly enjoyed. Gribbin got into explaining how mathematics now clearly understands that even though simply equations can be used to deterministically explain things they cannot be used to predict results. Sometimes this is due to sensitivity to initial conditions but in other cases it is the nature of the math to produce results that come under the heading of chaos.

Further he got into discussing the problems with modeling and the reality that our reductionist science view based on simplified models can be problematic. I suspect that math is still taught in school as producing rigid absolute results when this is only true within tight limits. It is all much more complex and unpredictable than society wants to believe.

Tom A

Attica Blue said...

@RobertMathiesen

"Our" is used in the royal sense. I mean whatever group you hail from, you have core beliefs common to that group. The competition between those groups, and by extension their core moral beliefs, is what defines conflict. So I was certainly not saying that there is only a single set of beliefs. There are indeed many.

@Cherokee Organics

Well, people do elect other people to represent their interests. The degree to which that happens is of course debatable, but evidently those representatives must be representing *someone's* interests--unless we're arguing that they're representing some interest that literally isn't of this earth.

As regards the military vs. health spending argument, I don't think we disagree. My examples were just that. You can substitute anything you like such as the ones you mentioned. The dynamic of conflict and competition, and of there as a result necessarily being "winners and losers," still remains.

On the issue of taxes/spending I make no statements about guarantees. I only say that whatever money there is will be distributed. Naturally, there will be competition for that money.

I have to disagree with you on the pie comment. In fact, both a shrinking pie and accounting chicanery are happening at the same time--there's certainly no natural law that says it can only be one or the other. (The central point of this blog is that the pie is shrinking because of resource limits.)

@JMG

Again, let me clarify that I'm not referring to just *my* moral compass. I'm saying everyone has their own compass and these are in conflict. I was only taking the additional liberty of guessing that the typical (note I say typical, not "only") visitor to this blog--who likely thinks the ecological ideas discussed here are good ones, that we should live with a lot less stuff, that empire is a bad thing and so on--is almost certainly not the same person who thinks massive military expenditures are a good idea and so would not bother to pretend that they think the claims on resources made by the various sides are equal.

And while I take your point about how Congress sees it, do you think they really see these groups as equal? For example, is the National Chamber of Commerce no more or less equal than the Worker Rights Consortium in the eyes of Congress? Or isn't it true that the actual rules/operation of trade mandated by government reflect a power or influence differential--which is to say, an inequality--very much in favor of the former organization? So the groups and their claims *don't* actually get treated or seen equally by Congress.

Rachel said...

This is good stuff. I suppose that's a rather plain way of saying it, and not perhaps the most descriptive. But you are forcing me to think. That is sometimes difficult (not the thinking; the getting me to do it) but I usually benefit by it. Political discussions in general give me (metaphorical) headaches, because they so often seem to degenerate into "We think this and we're right so you must be wrong." What you've written here is much more balanced. Thank you!

Nigwil said...

The key difference between this crisis and those earlier ones is that in each of the earlier cases the world was able to find more and better energy sources to spur growth along, and hence lead to some sort of economic recovery. From whale oil to coal to crude oil each crisis found its way out lined with the ability to do more work - to replace slaves with coal and oil.

This crisis is occurring in an environment that is sliding down the back of the resource depletion curve. It is reliably predicted that in less than 20 years China and India alone will be demanding all the oil that will be available to be exported in the world.

So when we try and build a society out of the remains of this crisis the only materials and energy that we will have will come from commons that can be sustainably harvested by hand and provided by each days allotment of sun and wind.

No great nations will rise from the ashes, no super power will rule the world.

The After-crisis will be very different this time. Very different indeed.

John Michael Greer said...

Robert, you're forgetting that a great deal of America's current wealth is being extracted from the Third World by various systemic imbalances in trade and wealth flows. As the US crashes and burns, a good many people in the Third World may find themselves under less of a burden than they are today.

Grebulocities, the only book on the subject I know of is Stephen Harrod Buhner's Herbal Antibiotics, which references quite a number of studies. You might contact a good school of herbal medicine and see what they can tell you.

Leo, don't be too sure that Australia is safe. You're not that far by sea from some hugely overcrowded countries.

Phil, I got the earlier one and tried to put it through -- I think Blogger ate it. Thanks for reposting!

Cherokee, ouch! Maybe you could import some sandworms from Dune...

Coco, thanks for the link!

Orwellian, of course such things have been going on for millennia. The perceived need to wrap it in hypocritical mouthings about human rights et al., though, is fairly recent. Almost makes one long for the days when the head of state of a nation could just stand up and say, "We're going to invade because we want their land."

Chad, that's one application of a point I made earlier on, about the proper role of national governments as the guardian of the national commons.

Dowsergirl, fascinating. Thanks for passing that on!

Hapibeli, yes, I've seen quite a bit along the same lines. It'll be interesting to see how that story shifts as the shale bubble ends.

Hidden, in that case, why suggest it? If pigs had wings, we'd all catch our breakfast bacon with butterfly nets, too.

John Michael Greer said...

Unknown Tom, thanks for the recommendation.

Attica Blue, look at where the cuts are falling, and you'll see exactly how Congress weighs the importance of the various voting blocs and pressure groups that are pushing for their federal handouts.

Rachel, thank you!

Nigwil, er, have you read any of my previous posts? I've been talking for six years about the downslope of the industrial age and its impact on the future. That said, remember that Spain established a world empire at a time when the most advanced transportation technology in the world was the wooden sailing ship, and nobody was using fossil fuels for much of anything. We've got time for one, maybe two, more global empires before things become sufficiently fragmented that it's back to regional hegemonies.

Hidden Author said...

Even if we do not do the right thing, it is still enlightening to know what the right thing is and to know who is most against doing the right thing.

Nigwil said...

Hi JMG! Yes, I've read most of your posts and great stuff they are.

The great unravelling will be very interesting this time won't it, because we cannot just unravel time and say "Lets play at World was like in 1955 or 1832..." because all the resources that they had in 1955 or 1832 are cut down burned and gone, or are so deep underground that we cannot get to them any more.

It will be as if we have moved to another planet that is comparatively so resource poor that apart from scavenging on the rusting remains of today we will have just the sun and our bare hands and bare earth to work with.

So I admire your efforts at getting your hands dirty, as we are doing too, as a way of finding a viable way forwards and perhaps in so doing setting an example for others to follow.

Exciting times eh!?!?!

Kathy Johnson said...

Rocco, thank you. JMG, thank you. Maybe I'll leverage some research on Green Wizardry into a job as a home ec teacher ... IF I can find a school system that still teaches home economics?

Robert Mathiesen said...

@ AtticaBlue

Thank you for clarifying what you meant; I had misunderstood. My apologies!

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG,

Ha! I'd love to see that, from a respectable and safe distance of course.

Regards

Chris

streamfortyseven said...

Here are a few articles which cite clinical studies of the efficacy of herbal medicines:

http://www.hindawi.com/journals/ecam/2012/426215/

http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0100-879X2000000200004


http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3121585/



Most likely these studies will be done by researchers in countries like India and Brazil due to the fact that herbal medicines are unpatentable and thus unprofitable for major pharmaceutical companies in the US and other first world countries.

Stonymeadow said...

@Grebulocities & @JMG re: "rigorous scientific studies ... of various herbal or fungal remedies"

you might try herbalgram, from the american botanical council "your source for reliable herbal medicine information":
http://abc.herbalgram.org

altho not a subscriber, i know someone who is, who looked up a few items for me once. it was links to and summaries of scientific studies, not anecdotes.

you can search for free, and some articles are free, but to read all the articles is a subscription of $50/yr usa, $70 international.

phil harris said...

@ Cherokee
Water is your longest logistical line - nice point. Plodding on in your summer heat must be quite something. Tactics trump strategy just now, but I appreciated the insight coming as it did from under your sweating brow that ties the retreat from Moscow with the record heat of a record decade! Such strategic analysis singles out the weakest point in any campaign; wherever human organisation tries to project its power away from a self-sustaining base.

Stay hydrated under your wide-brimmed hat just now. As somebody said about another apparently opposite, but actually not dissimilar circumstance on the flood plain of a flooding river, and too far from higher ground; "there's only so much you can do, but you do it anyway".

As others already commented - ouch!

best
Phil H

OrwellianUK said...

Hi John

You're right about the need to dress up Realpolitik with Noble Rhetoric and that's exactly what I was implying about the behaviour that characterises the policies. It is pretty recent and the British Empire is a very recent example of the 'good old days' you speak of. It even had a name that you'll be familiar with: "Gun Boat Diplomacy"

kristofv said...

Dear JMG,

I am puzzled that on the hand FDR and his response to the Great Depression (in combination with massive government spending) are put forward as the proper response to an economic crisis (something I would not disagree with seeing how it played out), while on the other hand a similar solution is now considered just 'printing' more money and catering to interest groups.

If the answer is that then there were still plenty of supplies of fossil fuels, so spending more money and creating growth was possible then, but not any more, I can understand. However, most people now don't act as if limits matter, so not pursuing (at least verbally) the solutions that worked in the 30's-40's, is very odd to me.


The crisis is similar, a lack of demand, and the one thing that boosts demand is spending to employ people and use resources otherwise idle. That is basically what many people studying fiat currency advocate (link http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chartalism and http://www.forbes.com/sites/johntharvey/2013/02/26/suicide-by-sequestration/). Having the government work as an employer of last resort of sorts. A kind of next step after the New Deal. That and a return to the Glass-Steagall act seem policies people not accepting limits to growth would or should advocate as a response to the current economic crisis.

I suspect that there is more at work then just the different interest groups fighting for their share. What the proper response of the government could look like or in other words what could FDR have done in a time of limits, I have no idea.






dltrammel said...

Winter snows are turning to Spring rains. Everyone is thinking about what to plant. Why not plant a bit of knowledge and stop by the GreenWizard.org forum.

Some recent posts include:

- New member Repo posts a "Hello from Finland", and talks about what he's doing to be more sustainable.

- Learn about "Building a Strawberry Barrel Grower" and take container gardening to the next step.

- Get a glimpse at 50% unemployment and no job for two years AND a novel way of sharing jobs as "Spanish Turn to Bartering to Survive / TimeBanks".

- Read about a recent study that looked at over 11,000 years of climate data and the unpresedented global heat spike in just this last century in "One More Nail in the "It Ain't Us Doing It"!!!

- And take a preview as we start the Green Wizard course curriculum with "Food Resilience - GW Course Part 1.01"

As well as ongoing discussions in various threads. We can only grow and spread if YOU bother to post.

----

In a related note, I'm pleased to announce that the Green Wizard forum is now allowing you to post a link to your latest blog post on our forum.

Recognizing that it is the networking of many people who will help society cope with the Long Descent, we encourage people who blog on related subjects to share.

All we ask is a reciprocal link back to the GreenWizards.Org site, which most of you already do, AND that your blog relates to this area of interest.

If you would like to participate, please drop me a email with your blog url and your user name on the site to random surfer at yahoo dot com, or better, via the GreeenWizard.Org email system.

latheChuck said...

In today's Washington Post (March 10, 2013), section B, there is a review by Gordon M. Goldstein of a new book by Moises Naim: "The End of Power: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being in Charge Isn't What It Used to Be."

From the review: "Naim renders an original and ultimately well-substantiated conclusion: 'Power is decaying... battles for power are as intense as ever, but they are yielding diminishing returns.'"

None of this should sound terribly original to the readers of this blog, but it's interesting to see it in the Mainstream Media.

(Moises Naim, by the way, has been (or still is) the director of Venezuela's Central Bank, executive director of the World Bank, editor of Foreign Policy magazine, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and a professor of economics. Which is not to say that we should accept his conclusions "by his authority", but to emphasize that even someone with his experience in The Establishment can now proclaim the truth.)

latheChuck said...

Suppose that "The Sequester" is a sort of conspiracy that doesn't require actual face-to-face discussions and negotiations, or even leadership, but simply a preliminary stage that all parties in power recognize as necessary before the big entitlement cuts can be initiated. Think of it as a teaching tool to show the taxpayer what they enjoy getting from the executive branch (e.g. air traffic control, meat inspection, statistics on agriculture, weather, finance, etc.

To put it another way, "they came for the aircraft carrier, and I stood by quietly because I was not an aircraft carrier... by the time they came for Grandma, even I could tell there was nothing else left to cut." ;-)

Rudy Mann said...

America is back. A little more in debt, but better off than the rest of the stinking world: stinking because the environment is in bad shape. But business and technology will fix that too. If not, too bad, too late, therefore eat, drink and make merry for tomorrow is not guaranteed.
By YUVAL ROSENBERG, The Fiscal Times
March 10, 2013
Sring hasn’t officially arrived yet, but the economy sure seems to be in bloom. Housing prices are climbing. The $16 trillion in net worth lost by American households during the Great Recession has officially been regained. Increasingly confident consumers are spending, and borrowing, more. Business spending has picked up after a lackluster end to 2012, too. Blue-chip stocks have reached all-time highs – and then kept right on going, rising to even higher levels.
One after another, the data points have largely signaled improving economic health, with Friday’s jobs report for February among the strongest and most important signs. Private sector payrolls grew by 246,000 last month, bringing the average gain for the last four months to 205,000 – well above the pace of previous months. The unemployment rate fell from 7.9 percent to 7.7 percent, its lowest level since December 2008. And wages have finally started to edge higher. “The composition of job growth in February was more favorable – leaning toward the higher-paying industries,” says Ryan Sweet, senior economist at Moody’s Analytics. “Stronger wage gains will help cushion consumers over the next couple of months.”

Robert Mathiesen said...

@ kristovf

I wasn't old enough to pay attention at the time, but people older than me said that there was one thing FDR did that made all the difference. He persuaded Old Money, by and large, that either they could go along with his plans to redistribute a good part of their inherited wealth among the lower strata of society, or there would be massive violence against which the Federal Gov't would not protect them. (Note: "would not," not "could not.")

FDR himself was part of the old-wealth stratum of the East Coast of the USA, and moved in the same social circles, so he was well positioned to talk his peers into it. But even the ones who went along with it, often called FDR a traitor to his class.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Ruben,

Thanks for the link. It tells a sad tale. You can only assume that the original intent was that the forces would over winter in Russia? It is the strategy of a confident leader, albeit a highly risky strategy.

Hi Attica,

No worries, we're on common ground for sure. One minor interesting side note though for you to think about.

Quote: "Well, people do elect other people to represent their interests. The degree to which that happens is of course debatable, but evidently those representatives must be representing *someone's* interests--unless we're arguing that they're representing some interest that literally isn't of this earth."

I'd argue that companies and large trusts have more rights than individuals. If a company kills a person through negligence, does that company go to jail - or get wound up? Can an individual pay a fine to get out of similar legal predicament?

As they can also marshal larger resources too, they also have their interests represented better within the political system. It is debatable whether such lobbying should even be tax deductible. I would argue that there is insufficient nexus to their incomes for it to be tax deductible, but this is an unpopular view.

Many large trusts in the US have charity tax exempt status where they may have initially been setup by very wealthy people to avoid paying death duties. Have you noticed how often their children are employed by these entities? Is this equitable? Those trusts can then pursue their own agendas without reference to the greater good of society. It can also be argued that they do a lot of good too.

These are complex matters which have evolved without much community discussion as to its appropriateness.

Hi Phil,

Thank you. Yeah, the best way to find your weak spot is to cut off supplies and see what happens and then how you cope. Napoleon's army found that out the hard way.

The weather here today, Monday is going to be a max of 36 (96.8F), Tuesday 36 and Wednesday 33 (91.4F). It is now the longest run of days above 32 (89.6F) degrees since records began - and the previous record was in Summer too, not Autumn which is just weird.

Sorry to hear about the floods in the SW England and Wales. I hope you're OK.

Regards

Chris

Dwig said...

John Michael, Thomas, and others:

"There's also a distinction between visible and invisible limits; somewhere in that 578th quadrillion might well be the single dollar that's one too many, but there's no way to know which one!"

An alternate possibility: in a complex dynamic system, there is no fixed "tipping point". The nonlinear dynamics of the situation means that the "tip" depends on the entire state of the system. If this is so, we should be very careful about approaching what seem to be limits. (This reminds me of an interesting article on the concept of carrying capacity of an environment: http://dieoff.com/page74.htm).

Ana's Daughter said...

@Grebulocities: in addition to the suggestions above, you might look for the German Commission E monographs on specific herbs. Although not flawless --- the study of echinacea had to be scrapped when they found out retroactively that the "echinacea" they had studied was actually a shipment of turkey rhubarb root --- they do offer some definite information.

I also recommend the writings of herbalists Michael Moore and Stephen Harrod Buhner, both of whom have/had a background in biochemistry (and Buhner in medicine as well) and discuss the specific chemical mechanisms of many herbs as well as how those mechanisms affect various human health issues. For example, Moore in one of his books gives a detailed explanation of how a tincture of a specific herb which is considered to be a liver tonic affected the lipids in his bloodstream when he took a dose after consuming a meal rich in "bad" cholesterol and other fats; he took samples of his own blood at intervals and examined it to find what results the herb was having, and wrote it all up for the reader to follow.

Buhner also writes evocatively about the biochemistry of plants in a range of ways outside of herbalism, including how plants communicate with one another by way of chemical secretions. One of his examples is of how a healthy tree attacked by gypsy moths will secrete a chemical that triggers other healthy trees in the forest to produce chemicals in their bark which discourage the moth infestation from spreading. The breakdown of this process is what encourages gypsy moths to infest damaged or otherwise unhealthy trees and forests.

Grebulocities said...

Thanks for the recommendation, JMG - I've just ordered Buhner's book. I might be able to use it and the references it cites as a starting point for a Krampus paper.

Grebulocities said...

Sorry for the double post, but I just read further and noticed that a bunch of other people replied too. Thanks everybody - I'll definitely check those sources out too!

Jason said...

@JMG: Steve in Colorado's thoughts on activism reminded me -- you had planned to cover the role missionary work, overseas aid and charity, etc., in wealth pump dynamics. Is that still coming? I don't think I've missed it...

jollyreaper said...

Something I've mentioned in the past, the surprising penetration of the high-tech into low-tech areas.

http://mobile.slashdot.org/story/13/03/09/1722251/sxsw-how-mobile-devices-are-changing-africa

My suspicion is that even if we see the end of the 3,000 mile salad and everyone driving personal 2 ton death machines to get a latte, there will still be a serious use for judicious application of the high-tech.

The counter to that, of course, is the claim that we only see the super-cheap hardware as a byproduct of the existing manufacturing infrastructure for the expensive stuff. I'm nowhere near educated enough about all the factors to have a properly informed opinion on that, just suspicions. But if we just look at the performance vs. cost of operation:

http://www.frequencycast.co.uk/howmanywatts.html

On this site, a typical desktop PC has an average draw of 90W, an LCD monitor 75W, and at 8 hours of use per day an annual cost of £52.31. The iphone 3G has a 2W draw and an estimated yearly cost of £1.90. And that's the kind of demand you can meet without requiring a massive power grid.

The astounding thing is that the handheld devices have the power to replace a desktop for most computer tasks. Pretty much the only thing they're rubbish at is typing.

It's really hard to imagine what the future could hold but it doesn't strike me as implausible to imagine 21st century windjammers carrying cargoes of electronics, having a price to weight ratio as favorable as spices back in the day, even as it's no longer economical to build and ship automobiles.

Of course, a scenario like that is somewhat in the middle of the continuum of possible futures, ranging from one end with "Everything is fine with science marching on and abundance for all" and the other end at "All progress of the 20th century has been unwound and we are scratching at the dirt with sticks to grow our food while mourning the passing of the electric age."

Robert Martini said...

JMG,

You have commented a bit about the regional discontinuities that will be apparent in the coming economic dislocations. Some regions will be better off, most worse off. I am a college student, studying biochemistry, with a hope to learn the simpler practical aspects of it, rather than complex specialized process (inspired partly by your blog). I want to be as prepared for the future as possible, but I feel so lost an vulnerable. Where would be a good region to try and take root in? North vs South, East vs West, Suburban vs Rural? Is this process have too many unknowns with too many complexities to really make such personal and micro level decisions?

Ben Simon said...

Dear John;
After much thought, I decided to write to you and suggest that a concentrated effort should be started to try to educate the general public about a specific fallacy. This is the idea that technological advances can/will supply a solution to energy supply deficiencies.
The basis for this view has developed through my conversations with others about what can be done about “oil depletion”, etc. Time and again, I have heard “technology will come up with the answers needed”. This is coupled to the insanity that an answer will be forthcoming just because of the deep need for it (necessity is the mother of invention, don’t cha know). It is clear to me that this perception is centered on a conceptual error. Simply, that technical advance, almost, always follows greater availability and utilization of energy. This idea needs to be reinforced by obvious examples that everyone is familiar with.
1. The movement and utilization of oil, in vast quantities, is accomplished through very deep energy usage for the construction and operation of pipelines, refineries, super tankers and so on.
2. All alternative energy sources that utilize high levels of technology require significant initial energy input to be brought into operation such as dams, atomic reactors, solar cell factories and their processes, wind turbines etc. The energy input comes first and in many cases is greater than the ultimate total of energy obtained. But the most important point is to note the sequence.
3. The most classical demonstration of the issue is in the profoundly mistaken effort to gain control of an atomic energy source through hydrogen “fusion”. Here the potential energy return is enormous, but most of it needs to be fed back into the process, in order to have it operate at all (magnetic confinement of the reaction “plasma” requires unseemly levels of electrical power). I suspect that this is the biggest “boondoggle” of our times and that a valid and detailed energy utilization accounting of this effort will show that this is the case. Again, however, energy in, first.
These understandings have to become a major part of public discourse in as many ways as can be pursued, before real conservation and movement away from concentrated energy usage can be brought into being.

All the Best, Ben Simon

latheChuck said...

If "lack of demand" is The Problem, then to have interests, affections, and desires, rather than "demands", is to make the The Problem worse. No, the problem is not "lack of demand"; it's excessive supply. With excessive productivity, we need fewer workers to meet actual demands, and are reluctant to reduce work hours to distribute labor across the population. Putting government employees on a 4-day "furlough" work week might be a good start.

latheChuck said...

Off topic, just thinking out loud... Consider the current trajectory of college education vs. job prospects for many graduates. Is it becoming obvious that we can't expect colleges to teach "critical thinking" when their students must strive to suspend critical thinking just to stay enrolled?

Harry J. Lerwill said...

Rarely do I disagree with your posts, JMG, but this time I must take issue with the first few paragraphs this week. You point out that the 2.3% sequester and the roll-back of some tax breaks are but a small fraction of the increases in public spending over the last decade or so. You then go on to point out how the empires wealth pump behaves differently when an Empire is collapsing.

I would argue that the wealth pump is already running in reverse. Those tax cuts, particularly the 2% payroll tax reduction, helped hide this unpleasant reality from the majority of people. While the intent of the tax cuts was to get “people spending” the reality was it didn’t even cover the price inflation in necessities. Hence the stimulus programs had such a weak impact on overall economic activity – but a huge impact on the perception of business as usual. The impact of these expiring tax cuts is therefore magnified by the delayed impact of a decade of decline.

Federal stimulus dollars, not tax receipts, are paying to repair and maintain our roadways, to pay many public sector employees, to keep a lot of people that used to be paid from local taxes still in a job. Federal guarantees backstop the for-profit education industry that waves the illusion of a good paying job in the future, to pay off the non-dischargeable student loans. I believe the 2.3% cuts, applied to those programs that don’t have the strongest defenders at the trough, will also be greatly magnified.

The ground has fallen away under our modern industrial society. Government borrowing and tax cuts allowed people to hang on to the very rickety economic glider going over that energy cliff. The decade of stimulus behind us means those losing their grip today have a longer way to fall than those who let go and adjusted a decade ago.

Of course, it’s going to hurt even more the longer we hold on…

phil harris said...

Hi JMG
I hoped to catch Chris @ Cherokee before this week ended, but it looks as though my first posting yesterday got swallowed again.
Am looking forward to your next installment.
best
Phil H
---
@Cherokee
Thanks for your concern for UK floods.

Personally we are well above any flood although a few cottages and businesses near us are at risk. Farming round here was badly affected last year by both drought and floods. Without (very) big machines to snatch harvests and meet sowing-window deadlines, it would have been a disaster. Grain harvests in UK were well down and poor quality. Farming is a very small part of GDP these days, but our North Sea bonanza is winding down although any small new production is greeted as if it solved a problem. Coal is long gone. (Coal was a very big net exporter around the zenith of the British Empire, circa 1913.)

UK 2012 had 2nd wettest year on record, but as the scientists at the Met Office say: "There's evidence to say we are getting slightly more rain in total, but more importantly it may be falling in more intense bursts - which can increase the risk of flooding. ..." You can say that again! And there has been plenty of recent building on flood plains at risk - 1.3M people have signed up to get a personal electronic flood alert from the authority that looks after that bit of the 'commons'.

I guess we have seen nothing yet - the signals of climate change are only just beginning to appear out of the 'noise' of weather variation.
best wishes for autumn!

Phil H

hamsterdance said...

Love your blog JMG.

I read it and keep thinking how different your take on the future is from Physicist Michio Kaku's is. Have you seen his YouTube vid on Type 1,2 and 3 Civilizations?

http://youtu.be/tnmmnpj_pX8

skinnermichael said...

This remine me of what you've written about the salvage economy, it's great. http://vimeo.com/scoutvisual/adventure

skinnermichael said...

The 'd' key on my keyboard was stuck, the second word in my comment should have been 'reminded' not remine.

Rudy Mann said...

The new pope, Francis, supports contraception; at least he did as a Cardinal in Argentina.
If Catholics can be made to accept contraception, marvels will never cease and there may -- may but still unlikely -- be hope for humans and the planet.

Adrian Skilling said...

Dear JMG,

I'm genuinely sorry if my Beppe Grillo question appeared off topic. While not so familiar with the US situation I sometimes try and use your writing as a lens to view European politics - its not that different I think. The stunning rise of Beppe Grillo in Italy *might* be in foot in the door of the breaking up of gridlocked politics and stiffled debate for the following reasons:

- He is challenging the current gridlocked politics which says: The EU is the only option. Austerity is the only option.
- He wants to open the debate, on the EU, on the banks, on the debt.
- He has a mass of grass roots support
- The 5-star politicians are real people, not professional politicians
- He supports highly local governance
- He has pioneered new forms of democratic involvement, via the Internet
- If anywhere is facing collapse then Italy looks pretty close. Youth unemployment at 38% !! Its pretty desperate.

I really won't be offended if you still don't feel its justified response to your essay. I just wanted to try and explain.