Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Dark Age America: The End of the Old Order

Lately I’ve been rereading some of the tales of H.P. Lovecraft. He’s nearly unique among the writers of American horror stories, in that his sense of the terrible was founded squarely on the worldview of modern science. He was a steadfast atheist and materialist, but unlike so many believers in that creed, his attitude toward the cosmos revealed by science was not smug satisfaction but shuddering horror. The first paragraph of his most famous story, “The Call of Cthulhu,” is typical:

“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.”

It’s entirely possible that this insight of Lovecraft’s will turn out to be prophetic, and that a passionate popular revolt against the implications—and even more, the applications—of contemporary science will be one of the forces that propel us into the dark age ahead. Still, that’s a subject for a later post in this series. The point I want to make here is that Lovecraft’s image of people eagerly seeking such peace and safety as a dark age may provide them is not as ironic as it sounds. Outside the elites, which have a different and considerably more gruesome destiny than the other inhabitants of a falling civilization, it’s surprisingly rare for people to have to be forced to trade civilization for barbarism, either by human action or by the pressure of events.  By and large, by the time that choice arrives, the great majority are more than ready to make the exchange, and for good reason.

Let’s start by reviewing some basics. As I pointed out in a paper published online back in 2005—a PDF is available here—the process that drives the collapse of civilizations has a surprisingly simple basis: the mismatch between the maintenance costs of capital and the resources that are available to meet those costs. Capital here is meant in the broadest sense of the word, and includes everything in which a civilizations invests its wealth: buildings, roads, imperial expansion, urban infrastructure, information resources, trained personnel, or what have you. Capital of every kind has to be maintained, and as a civilization adds to its stock of capital, the costs of maintenance rise steadily, until the burden they place on the civilization’s available resources can’t be supported any longer.

The only way to resolve that conflict is to allow some of the capital to be converted to waste, so that its maintenance costs drop to zero and any useful resources locked up in the capital can be put to other uses. Human beings being what they are, the conversion of capital to waste generally isn’t carried out in a calm, rational manner; instead, kingdoms fall, cities get sacked, ruling elites are torn to pieces by howling mobs, and the like. If a civilization depends on renewable resources, each round of capital destruction is followed by a return to relative stability and the cycle begins all over again; the history of imperial China is a good example of how that works out in practice.

If a civilization depends on nonrenewable resources for essential functions, though, destroying some of its capital yields only a brief reprieve from the crisis of maintenance costs. Once the nonrenewable resource base tips over into depletion, there’s less and less available each year thereafter to meet the remaining maintenance costs, and the result is the stairstep pattern of decline and fall so familiar from history:  each crisis leads to a round of capital destruction, which leads to renewed stability, which gives way to crisis as the resource base drops further. Here again, human beings being what they are, this process isn’t carried out in a calm, rational manner; the difference here is simply that kingdoms keep falling, cities keep getting sacked, ruling elites are slaughtered one after another in ever more inventive and colorful ways, until finally contraction has proceeded far enough that the remaining capital can be supported on the available stock of renewable resources.

That’s a thumbnail sketch of the theory of catabolic collapse, the basic model of the decline and fall of civilizations that underlies the overall project of this blog. I’d encourage those who have questions about the details of the theory to go ahead and read the published version linked above; down the road a ways, I hope to publish a much more thoroughly developed version of the theory, but that project is still in the earliest stages just now. What I want to do here is to go a little more deeply into the social implications of the theory.

It’s common these days to hear people insist that our society is divided into two and only two classes, an elite class that receives all the benefits of the system, and everyone else, who bears all the burdens. The reality, in ours as in every other human society, is a great deal more nuanced. It’s true, of course, that the benefits move toward the top of the ladder of wealth and privilege and the burdens get shoved toward the bottom, but in most cases—ours very much included—you have to go a good long way down the ladder before you find people who receive no benefits at all.

There have admittedly been a few human societies in which most people receive only such benefits from the system as will enable them to keep working until they drop. The early days of plantation slavery in the United States and the Caribbean islands, when the average lifespan of a slave from purchase to death was under ten years, fell into that category, and so do a few others—for example, Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge. These are exceptional cases; they emerge when the cost of unskilled labor drops close to zero and either abundant profits or ideological considerations make the fate of the laborers a matter of complete indifference to their masters.

Under any other set of conditions, such arrangements are uneconomical. It’s more profitable, by and large, to allow such additional benefits to the laboring class as will permit them to survive and raise families, and to motivate them to do more than the bare minimum that will evade the overseer’s lash. That’s what generates the standard peasant economy, for example, in which the rural poor pay landowners in labor and a share of agricultural production for access to arable land.

There are any number of similar arrangements, in which the laboring classes do the work, the ruling classes allow them access to productive capital, and the results are divided between the two classes in a proportion that allows the ruling classes to get rich and the laboring classes to get by. If that sounds familiar, it should.  In terms of the distribution of labor, capital, and production, the latest offerings of today’s job market are indistinguishable from the arrangements between an ancient Egyptian landowner and the peasants who planted and harvested his fields.

The more complex a society becomes, the more intricate the caste system that divides it, and the more diverse the changes that are played on this basic scheme. A relatively simple medieval society might get by with four castes—the feudal Japanese model, which divided society into aristocrats, warriors, farmers, and a catchall category of traders, craftspeople, entertainers, and the like, is as good an example as any. A stable society near the end of a long age of expansion, by contrast, might have hundreds or even thousands of distinct castes, each with its own niche in the social and economic ecology of that society. In every case, each caste represents a particular balance between benefits received and burdens exacted, and given a stable economy entirely dependent on renewable resources, such a system can continue intact for a very long time.

Factor in the process of catabolic collapse, though, and an otherwise stable system turns into a fount of cascading instabilities. The point that needs to be grasped here is that social hierarchies are a form of capital, in the broad sense mentioned above. Like the other forms of capital included in the catabolic collapse model, social hierarchies facilitate the production and distribution of goods and services, and they have maintenance costs that have to be met. If the maintenance costs aren’t met, as with any other form of capital, social hierarchies are converted to waste; they stop fulfilling their economic function, and become available for salvage.

That sounds very straightforward. Here as so often, though, it’s the human factor that transforms it from a simple equation to the raw material of history.  As the maintenance costs of a civilization’s capital begin to mount up toward the point of crisis, corners get cut and malign neglect becomes the order of the day. Among the various forms of capital, though, some benefit people at one point on the ladder of social hierarchy more than people at other levels. As the maintenance budget runs short, people normally try to shield the forms of capital that benefit them directly, and push the cutbacks off onto forms of capital that benefit others instead. Since the ability of any given person to influence where resources go corresponds very precisely to that person’s position in the social hierarchy, this means that the forms of capital that benefit the people at the bottom of the ladder get cut first.

Now of course this isn’t what you hear from Americans today, and it’s not what you hear from people in any society approaching catabolic collapse. When contraction sets in, as I noted here in a post two weeks ago, people tend to pay much more attention to whatever they’re losing than to the even greater losses suffered by others. The middle-class Americans who denounce welfare for the poor at the top of their lungs while demanding that funding for Medicare and Social Security remain intact are par for the course; so, for that matter, are the other middle-class Americans who denounce the admittedly absurd excesses of the so-called 1% while carefully neglecting to note the immense differentials of wealth and privilege that separate them from those still further down the ladder.

This sort of thing is inevitable in a fight over slices of a shrinking pie. Set aside the inevitable partisan rhetoric, though, and a society moving into the penumbra of catabolic collapse is a society in which more and more people are receiving less and less benefit from the existing order of society, while being expected to shoulder an ever-increasing share of the costs of a faltering system. To those who receive little or no benefits in return, the maintenance costs of social capital rapidly become an intolerable burden, and as the supply of benefits still available from a faltering system becomes more and more a perquisite of the upper reaches of the social hierarchy, that burden becomes an explosive political fact.

Every society depends for its survival on the passive acquiescence of the majority of the population and the active support of a large minority. That minority—call them the overseer class—are the people who operate the mechanisms of social hierarchy: the bureaucrats, media personnel, police, soldiers, and other functionaries who are responsible for maintaining social order. They are not drawn from the ruling elite; by and large, they come from the same classes they are expected to control; and if their share of the benefits of the existing order falters, if their share of the burdens increases too noticeably, or if they find other reasons to make common cause with those outside the overseer class against the ruling elite, then the ruling elite can expect to face the brutal choice between flight into exile and a messy death. The mismatch between maintenance costs and available resources, in turn, makes some such turn of events extremely difficult to avoid.

A ruling elite facing a crisis of this kind has at least three available options. The first, and by far the easiest, is to ignore the situation. In the short term, this is actually the most economical option; it requires the least investment of scarce resources and doesn’t require potentially dangerous tinkering with fragile social and political systems. The only drawback is that once the short term runs out, it pretty much guarantees a horrific fate for the members of the ruling elite, and in many cases, this is a less convincing argument than one might think. It’s always easy to find an ideology that insists that things will turn out otherwise, and since members of a ruling elite are generally well insulated from the unpleasant realities of life in the society over which they preside, it’s usually just as easy for them to convince themselves of the validity of whatever ideology they happen to choose. The behavior of the French aristocracy in the years leading up to the French Revolution is worth consulting in this context.

The second option is to try to remedy the situation by increased repression. This is the most expensive option, and it’s generally even less effective than the first, but ruling elites with a taste for jackboots tend to fall into the repression trap fairly often. What makes repression a bad choice is that it does nothing to address the sources of the problems it attempts to suppress. Furthermore, it increases the maintenance costs of social hierarchy drastically—secret police, surveillance gear, prison camps, and the like don’t come cheap—and it enforces the lowest common denominator of passive obedience while doing much to discourage active engagement of people outside the elite in the project of saving the society.  A survey of the fate of the Communist dictatorships of Eastern Europe is a good antidote to the delusion that an elite with enough spies and soldiers can stay in power indefinitely.

That leaves the third option, which requires the ruling elite to sacrifice some of its privileges and perquisites so that those further down the social ladder still have good reason to support the existing order of society. That isn’t common, but it does happen; it happened in the United States as recently as the 1930s, when Franklin Roosevelt spearheaded changes that spared the United States the sort of fascist takeover or civil war that occurred in so many other failed democracies in the same era. Roosevelt and his allies among the very rich realized that fairly modest reforms would be enough to comvince most Americans that they had more to gain from supporting the system than they would gain by overthrowing it.  A few job-creation projects and debt-relief measures, a few welfare programs, and a few perp walks by the most blatant of the con artists of the preceding era of high finance, were enough to stop the unraveling of the social hierarchy, and restore a sense of collective unity strong enough to see the United States through a global war in the following decade.

Now of course Roosevelt and his allies had huge advantages that any comparable project would not be able to duplicate today. In 1933, though it was hamstrung by a collapsed financial system and a steep decline in international trade, the economy of the United States still had the world’s largest and most productive industrial plant and some of the world’s richest deposits of petroleum, coal, and many other natural resources. Eighty years later, the industrial plant was abandoned decades ago in an orgy of offshoring motivated by short-term profit-seeking, and nearly every resource the American land once offered in abundance has been mined and pumped right down to the dregs. That means that an attempt to imitate Roosevelt’s feat under current conditions would face much steeper obstacles, and it would also require the ruling elite to relinquish a much greater share of its current perquisites and privileges than they did in Roosevelt’s day.

I could be mistaken, but I don’t think it will even be tried this time around. Just at the moment, the squabbling coterie of competing power centers that constitutes the ruling elite of the United States seems committed to an approach halfway between the first two options I’ve outlined. The militarization of US domestic police forces and the rising spiral of civil rights violations carried out with equal enthusiasm by both mainstream political parties fall on the repressive side of the scale.  At the same time, for all these gestures in the direction of repression, the overall attitude of American politicians and financiers seems to be that nothing really that bad can actually happen to them or the system that provides them with their power and their wealth.

They’re wrong, and at this point it’s probably a safe bet that a great many of them will die because of that mistake. Already, a large fraction of Americans—probably a majority—accept the continuation of the existing order of society in the United States only because a viable alternative has yet to emerge. As the United States moves closer to catabolic collapse, and the burden of propping up an increasingly dysfunctional status quo bears down ever more intolerably on more and more people outside the narrowing circle of wealth and privilege, the bar that any alternative has to leap will be set lower and lower. Sooner or later, something will make that leap and convince enough people that there’s a workable alternative to the status quo, and the passive acquiescence on which the system depends for its survival will no longer be something that can be taken for granted.

It’s not necessary for such an alternative to be more democratic or more humane than the order that it attempts to replace. It can be considerably less so, so long as it imposes fewer costs on the majority of people and distributes benefits more widely than the existing order does. That’s why, in the last years of Rome, so many people of the collapsing empire so readily accepted the rule of barbarian warlords in place of the imperial government. That government had become hopelessly dysfunctional by the time of the barbarian invasions, centralizing authority in distant bureaucratic centers out of touch with current realities and imposing tax burdens on the poor so crushing that many people were forced to sell themselves into slavery or flee to depopulated regions of the countryside to take up the uncertain life of Bacaudae, half guerrilla and half bandit, hunted by imperial troops whenever those had time to spare from the defense of the frontiers.

By contrast, the local barbarian warlord might be brutal and capricious, but he was there on the scene, and thus unlikely to exhibit the serene detachment from reality so common in centralized bureaucratic states at the end of their lives. What’s more, the warlord had good reason to protect the peasants who put bread and meat on his table, and the cost of supporting him and his retinue in the relatively modest style of barbarian kingship was considerably less expensive than the burden of helping to prop up the baroque complexities of the late Roman imperial bureaucracy. That’s why the peasants and agricultural slaves of the late Roman world acquiesced so calmly in the implosion of Rome and its replacement by a patchwork of petty kingdoms. It wasn’t just that it was merely a change of masters; it was that in a great many cases, the new masters were considerably less of a burden than the old ones had been.

We can expect much the same process to unfold in North America as the United States passes through its own trajectory of decline and fall. Before tracing the ways that process might work out, though, it’s going to be necessary to sort through some common misconceptions, and that requires us to examine the ways that ruling elites destroy themselves. We’ll cover that next week.


Villager said...

I wouldn't point this out to most because it wouldn't be worth the effort. You, on the other hand, seem to value the correctness of word expressions you use.

"Lowest common denominator" is just flat out wrong. It should be "least common denominator" or "highest common denominator." Think about it.

What is the "lowest common denominator" of 200 and 100? 2. What is the "least common denominator" of 200 and 100? 100.

Most people don't know the difference between the words "least" and "lowest" but I suspect you do - or should.

Petty? Perhaps. But you talk about large topics and you seldom, in my reading, speak in cliches.

Tom Hopkins said...

First the bread(monsanto)the people dont want gets shoved down their throats, and now the circuses(nfl)are being rejected en masse....add that with more war the peasants(working joes/janes) will be expected to sacrifice their children for....the tearing assunder is getting very close isnt it Mr. Greer?

Tom Hopkins said...

When you mentioned Roosevelt and untapped resources, it reminded me of julius caesar invading gaul for the gold mines located, iraq was and is our gaul i suppose

Repent said...

The long term decent of society, while important, is still not my primary concern. How to I protect the kids and keep them away from the militarized police, unnecessary wars, and prison camps?

I am increasingly less partial to what ends up happening to me, I've made my peace with the Universe. As you've said before 'collapse now before the rush', still this seems hard. What can be in the short run during the transition?

The elites are not all necessarily evil. Bob Barker of the 'Price is right' Hollywood fame is a billionaire. He is an active supporter to this day of animal rights groups such as the Sea Shepherd society and other causes. He personally made major changes in protecting animals from the ruthless fur trade. Seeing all the elites go is not a necessity, they also could use a way out.

What do you suggest?

Tom Bannister said...

Just a possible example of the third option not working: Empress Catherine of Russia? She did try to bring about greater fairer reforms for the populace, only the population were far too used to neglect or violent oppression to appreciate what she was doing. As a result there were mass revolts and She ended up retrenching into the traditional oppressive russian autocracy frame of mind (option 2 in other words and yes i know im probably massively oversimplifying Russian history). America still has some memory of what a fairer society is looks like so by comparison there is some hope. Although as you say, its not looking likely the third option will be taken by Americas elites.

GuRan said...

Chilling stuff. It seems right on the money to me.
The HANDY work from Motteshari et al. (the "NASA study" that has been mentioned a few times in comments here) sheds light on this too, sans the ugly practical realitities. Their model is basically right I think, though their concepts of some of the variables not quite so. But I quibble.
Best to move down the food chain and keep some powder dry for emergencies. "Collapse now and avoid the rush", as you put it.

Cherokee Organics said...


Capital costs. I hear you as it is on my mind with every project that I install here. How to do it cheaper and longer lasting is most of the considerations, in addition to: Is this project really necessary in the first place.

Your bombshell about the laboring classes should get some interesting responses! It seems pretty obvious to both me and Blind Freddy that that is the case here too.

It is interesting, but your comment "corners get cut and malign neglect becomes the order of the day" happens within industries too. One classic example of this is in the aircraft industry where aircraft maintenance can be off shored or later neglected as the particular company in question has costs exceeding their income. I'm not suggesting anything at all along these lines, but it is interesting to note that both the national carriers here Qantas and Virgin - I believe and am happy to be corrected - announced losses recently.

Yes, "The middle-class Americans who denounce welfare for the poor at the top of their lungs" this rubbish goes on here too. Dole bludgers is the common term here and what fascinates me is that the amount spent on unemployment welfare is only about one sixth or one seventh that of pensions. At the same time it might be worth mentioning that baby boomers have control of the largest chunk of the wealth in this country. It is not a good look.

They also are some of the biggest recipients of welfare in the form of tax free superannuation and also negative gearing on property benefits. Oh yeah, once you get a glimpse of just how stacked against you the system is as a younger person, the best response is to take your bat and ball and refuse to play. Oh yeah, I'm grumpy about those two issues and outside of a few economics articles no one is mentioning them. But some poor soul who lost their job because the minor amount of subsidies the car manufacturing industry here received (which pales in comparison to the above two examples) is somehow a dole bludger. Oh yeah, it's not going to end well.

Wasn't there some issue recently in the US regarding reneging on promises for veterans health care costs or am I imagining that?

The other metric that I've noticing in recent times is that surveillance of domestic populations by governments seems to be on the increase. Truly the Internet is 99.999999% dull stuff. Good luck to them, but it is worth mentioning that such systems don't come cheap. Silly waste of time anyway as all nefarious people will do is simply send a letter or meet up face to face to discuss matters.



Pinku-Sensei said...

That's a very interesting model that you devised nine years ago and the most rigorous one I've seen of how an economy works using the assumptions of ecological economics. You made the issues of resource depletion and pollution central to your analysis, exactly what I tell my students is the distinguishing feature of ecological economics. In particular, I found the inclusion of waste into your model very interesting. Other models of the economy ignore waste or don't treat it the way you do. It's either theoretically impossible (the supposed efficiency of the invisible hand of the market), an externality ("not my problem"), or an evil inefficiency to be deplored and eliminated. It's not treated as an integral part of the system, even if any environmentally based analysis of an economy as a system includes waste in the form of trash and pollution as an inevitable output of an industrial process.

The one aspect of the model that I found puzzling is that while you made the cessation of maintenance of capital in order to convert it into waste for the purpose of "balancing the books" an essential part of collapse, I couldn't find the extension of the ecological metaphor that would entail converting the waste from physical capital into resources that I expected from your writings about a salvage economy. Is that something you hadn't considered a decade ago? If so, do you plan on adding to an updated version of the model?

@Tom Hopkins: We wish Iraq were Gaul. That's a territory conquered when Rome was on the upswing. Instead, I want to point out that the last major addition to the Roman Empire was Mespotamia, almost exactly the same territory as modern Iraq. It was also one of the first territories lost during the contraction of the empire. Ponder that coincidence, if you dare.

blue sun said...

Then again, the local barbarian warlord might NOT be brutal and capricious.

But what is more important is that he's from YOUR PEOPLE. Let's say you're a Puerto Rican living in the Bronx (this is just an example--I'm not trying to pick on Puerto Ricans). When times get tough, almost anything "Whitey" does is going to be seen as more brutal and capricious than anything done by one of your local leaders. This would apply even to gestures that Whitey thinks are olive branches, or even attempts to help ("humanitarian efforts"). Just ask the people of Iraq whether they perceive Whitey's bungled attempts to "help" as brutal or capricious.

If the US bureaucracy can bungle things that badly in Iraq now, I can only imagine what they'll be churning out after a few rounds of crisis and collapse.

Now, as far as my example, lest I be misinterpreted as stating that people will automatically behave like racists (of course some will, but not all), my only point was that people get very tribal, especially in times of stress. It's just human nature. Any other ethnic groups could have been substituted in my example, I just thought "Bronx vs. Whitey" paints a clear picture in our modern American context and thus makes an easy to grasp example.

What I think is far more likely, in light of the discussion a few posts back regarding the emergence of new ethnic groups, is that when warlords finally do come to the Bronx, the definition of MY PEOPLE will be much more inclusive. I expect that anybody--white, black or brown--who walks around dressed like the "external proletariat" (that saggy garb so despised by Kunstler) and talks like one too will be just fine. In that day it might be a bad idea to walk around in a three-piece suit. Probably just as dangerous as it once was to walk around the barbarian lands speaking perfect Latin in whatever garb the Roman senators wore back then.

Cherokee Organics said...


The housing bubble is getting some serious media time here too: Reserve Bank warns of housing bubble risks as treasurer Joe Hockey dismisses fears

Was that noise a pop noise? Dunno, but the powers that be are throwing everything they have at this one. Apparently it is being reported that Foreign Investment Review Board is apparently failing to examine overseas investors property investments in the Australian property market (i.e. usually the big end of town).

This one caught my eye too: Ray White Real Estate Agents move into financial planning advice.

Wow, meanwhile I was standing in line at the bank this morning and overhearing the discussions of a well dressed eldery lady requesting a loan from the bank - whilst also at the same time having a mortgage. I spent some considerable brain energy on trying to work out how that one was possible?

My gut feel looking into my crystal ball for the future - and this is pure speculation - but eventually I reckon that the nations superannuation (i.e. retirement) funds will be allowed to be redirected into the private residential property market. Just sayin, but it is one of the big last pools of available funds outside of the future fund and additional government debt (i.e. printing). Not saying it will happen, but just speculating out loud.



GuRan said...

The Islamic State appears to be illustrating exactly this sort of alternative for the population of Syria as we speak, at least according to this wikipedia article.

Dornier Pfeil said...

John Michael Greer: Roosevelt and his allies among the very rich realized that fairly modest reforms would be enough to comvince most Americans that they had more to gain from supporting the system than they would gain by overthrowing it.

Words uttered by the patriarch of the Kennedy clan (whose name escapes me just now) in the 1930's.

"...I'd gladly give up half my wealth in order to keep the other half..." (or at least a close paraphrase.)

Kutamun said...

Species within Species , with the older perhaps "creating" or patterning the younger ...spaceships , Engineers everywhere ...
Here is the order of seniority of the planet

7 million years

Dogs ( wolves )
11 million years

Cats 8-10 million

Cows 20 million

Aussie Diprotodons
23-28 million

25-30 million yrs

50 million

Bats ( flying mice )
52 milion

Dolphins / Whales / porpoises
( descendents of terrestial mammals)
55 million yrs

100 million plus yrs

Gardener Green said...

Another thought provoking post. Thanks. While reading it I was reminded of a piece I copied from a favorite author some years ago which seems appropriate to this weeks post:

Kennaston searched his pockets. After a moment he produced a dollar bill, and showed her the Eagle on it.
“There,” he said gravely, “is the original of the Woods Eagle, Do you remember what shakespeare observes as to this very Eagle?”
Miss Hugonin shook her small head till it glittered in the sunlight like a topaz. She cared no more for Shakespeare than does the average woman, and she was never quite comfortable when he was alluded to.
“He says,” Mr. Kennaston quoted, solemnly:
“The Eagle suffers little birds to sing,
And is not careful what they mean thereby,
Knowing that with the shadow of his wing
He can at pleasure still their melody.”

“That’s nonsense,” said Margaret. “I haven’t the least idea what your talking about, and I don’t believe you have either.”
He waved the dollar bill with a heroical gesture.
“Here,” he asserted, “is the Eagle. And by the little birds, I have not a doubt that Shakespeare meant charity and independence and kindliness and truth, and the rest of the standard virtues. That is, anyhow, as plausible as the interpretation of the average commentator. the presence of money chills these little birds, - ah, it’s lamentable, no doubt, but it is true.”
“I don’t believe it,” said Margaret, again, because, of course, that fact had always appeared to her quite to establish the worthlessness of any possible contention.
But now his hobby, rowelled by opposition, was spurred to Pegasean, flights.
“We cringe to the Eagle!” said he. “Eh, well, why not? The Eagle is very powerful and very cruel. In the Far South yonder, the Eagle has penned over a million children in his factories, where day by day he drains youth and health and life itself out of their tired bodies; in sweat shops, men and women are toiling for the Eagle, giving their lives for the pittance that he grudges them; in countless mines and mills, the Eagle is trading human lives for coal and flour; in Wall street yonder, the Eagle is juggling as he elects with all of life’s necessaries. Look whither you may, men die that the Eagle may grow fat. So the Eagle thrives, and daily the rich grow richer and more powerful, and the end ---”
Kennaston paused, staring into vacancy:
“Eh, well,” said he, with a smile and a snap of his fingers, “the end rest upon the knees of the gods. But there must be and end some day, with a quite glorious smash up all around, and such heroic havoc as will find me , I hope, already snugly tucked into a comfortable coffin. My faith in this revolution’s inevitability, you see, is qualified by my sense of being just the sort of person that revolutionist kill first of all. Yes, very certainly the day will come when every big bank balance will be the owner’s death warrant, and when the Eagle, as the populace elliptically phrase it, will get his. But the day is not yet, and meanwhile, you cannot blame us if we cringe to the Eagle that is master of the world. It is human nature to cringe to its master: And while human nature is not always an admirable thing, it is, I believe, rather widely distributed.”

“The Eagles Shadow”
James Branch Cabell

k-dog said...

As it was so shall it be again.

In Lovecrafts words,

"Terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.”

The peace and safety of a new dark age seems attractive when things are falling apart. New arrangement will be sought. And as we live "on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity". No hesitation will be exercised in destroying what no longer works.

We seem to be caught in doldrums now. Nobody knows what to do or what is coming next. Individually we live our lives and some prepare. But prepare for what? That's the question of the day. For "loathsomeness waits and dreams in the deep, and decay spreads over the tottering cities of men."

Redneck Girl said...

Goodness! JMG if you haven't hit the NSA's radar before this post I'm sure you've hit it this time! There's a reason why I want a place in the middle of nowhere in particular although once I lose power I'm sure I'll miss it but by that time I'd be pretty small potatoes to them! I think they'd be too busy putting down brush fires in places that support them directly.


Purple Tortoise said...

I'm still trying to figure out why the American elite seem to be doubling down on current benefit-the-top policy by increasing immigration against the clear preference of the majority. Why bring in foreign low-skill (and low-capital) workers when means more native low-skill workers are displaced out of jobs and onto the dole? Sure, the immigrants may be initially happy because they are better off in America than they were in their home countries, but I can't see how it will be good for the country in the long run to increase the number of people at the bottom at an even faster rate, many of whom have little cultural affinity to the natives.

Ray Wharton said...

How brittle does this have to be? I know there are some parts of the country that are basically under barbarian rule already "the police don't answer calls".

I can't picture what it would mean for a huge swath of the dominant minority to be toppled. Would it be piece meal? "First they sacked the bankers, but I said nothing, than they sacked the lawyers..."


Here is the first section of the first proto-type of my decline based RPG. I would love to see some character sheets posted there while I work on the next section about how to actually play them!

Purple Tortoise said...

Two gravely concerning aspects of the financial crisis several years back is how quickly and thoroughly the political system acted to bail out the top at the cost to the bottom and how no one at the top went to jail. Both were justified on the grounds that to do otherwise would destabilize the system and bring everything down. Yet in the 1980s S&L crisis, the top lost money, many people went to jail, and the banking world did not end.

Given the widespread obvious discontent, I have been surprised to see that no mainstream politician has really gone for grabbing the populist center and run on reining in the banks, restricting offshoring and immigration, and ceasing involvment in foreign wars. It seems like it would have been a great vote-getter to me. What am I missing?

John Michael Greer said...

Villager, interesting. Unless my memory is at fault, the phrase used in my school days was indeed "lowest" rather than "least;" still, I'll look into it.

Tom, the tearing asunder is already happening, and our Gaul was a long time ago -- it's called California these days.

Repent, I'll be talking about the options available to the elites next week. It still might be possible for them to avoid a destiny as lamppost decor, but they're going to have to get a move on.

Tom, yes, the third option can also fail. It's just more likely to succeed in a situation like the present than most of the alternatives.

GuRan, it's exactly the ugly realities that have to be addressed. Collapsing now is definitely a better option!

Cherokee, you weren't imagining it. Can you think of a policy more stupid than training tens of thousands of young people in all the details of insurgency and warfare, then shipping them back home and cheating them of the benefits they were promised? No, neither can I.

Pinku-sensei, that was a detail I missed in the original paper. You'll have noticed that it's been included in subsequent discussions here, and yes, it'll be factored into the new essay when the time comes to create that.

Blue Sun, exactly -- and you're right, as I pointed out a couple of weeks ago, that ethnic lines will be very important early on and of no importance at all once the dissolution of ethnic communities gets under way.

Cherokee, there have been several attempts to raid Social Security (superannuation) funds here and put them into the stock market, so I don't doubt that something that harebrained will be proposed on your side of the planet, too.

GuRan, exactly. Welcome to the wave of the future, coming soon to a shore near you.

Dornier, well, that's one of the reasons why Joe Kennedy got enough of his money through the Depression intact to buy the presidency for JFK in 1960: he understood that the rich are uttery dependent for their survival on the forbearance of everyone else. Most of today's rich don't seem to have gotten that message.

Kutamun, nah, bats aren't flying mice -- they're closely related to primates, not closely at all to rodents. Don't forget to include blue-green algae in there!

John Michael Greer said...

Gardener, excellent. Quoting Cabell to good effect earns you tonight's gold star.

K-dog, exactly. One of the reasons I enjoy Lovecraft is that he understood, right down to his bones, just how silly our fantasies of entitlement are when put in the context of our real place in the cosmos.

Wadulisi, I've been saying this for years. I'm not particularly in favor of the collapse of our civilization into a new dark age; I just see it as inevitable, given the idiotic choices of the recent past.

Tortoise, it's a stupid, self-defeating move, and it's one that elites have made over and over again in history. We'll talk next week about why that sort of stupidity becomes pandemic at the uppermost levels of a failing society.

Ray, that's par for the course -- no empire falls all at once; its control slips in economically peripheral zones first, and spreads from there toward the center. BTW, there wasn't a link for your game -- you may have to type out the URL for it, or something.

Tortoise, there again, we'll talk about that next week.

Kylie said...

Cherokee, that day has already come. Less than two years ago, the rules on self-managed superannuation in Australia were changed to allow people to use (AND BORROW AGAINST) their superannuation savings to purchase real estate. Now you can see real estate ads with exhortations to 'Purchase this property using your super!'

That was what finally convinced me that our goverment would do anything, ANYTHING to keep the party going.

Rita Narayanan said...

This from a person who is from *India* and has lived in Northern California:

The subject of a government subsidizing services always makes me think about how lucky people are in Western countries......your roads,24 hours running hot water/electricity,roads, public services from roads to libraries, security to the humble toilet(and in Europe first class public transport) are aspects of convenience that even the elite in many countries don't live with.

Personal growth for people not passing out of elite schools is entirely possible with the level of educational tools available in public spaces.

I have no doubt that like the Majesty of the Indian Maharajas....we shall never see such a spectacular age again.

PS just as a comment for reference:while rich Middle Eastern oil has produced money it has not given citizens the kind of largesse that Western countries have.

Thanks to JMG as ever for a thought provoking essay.

adamatari said...

It seems to me like the "more repression" thing is already running it's course - distrust and dislike of the police and authorities on both the left and right is extremely high, whether it be the Bundy thing or left-wing opposition to the drug war. The general consensus seems to be that we're already at unacceptable levels of militarization and criminalization. I remember Rodney King, and it was divisive (for white people at least) at that time. Nowadays, it seems to me that even most white people think the Ferguson shooting was insane (either that or my circle is more homogenous). Though I must say that "more repression" can work well for a long time IF you have true believers and keep it insulated from the larger world, like North Korea. The USA does not have that, so not gonna happen.

That said, I think we'd have to have another turn of the wheel for things to get desperate enough for revolution. Another 2008 style drop, in other words. I do think the ground is much more fertile than I ever expected to see it - the references to the guillotine just haven't stopped online. It's in the vein of a dark joke, but 10 years ago it would have been considered tasteless at best to call for their heads, and these jokes tend to get serious when things get rough.

P.S. I do appreciate that you've pointed out that most jobs are basically peasant jobs. I realized I was a peasant about a year ago. One thing you haven't touched on explicitly that I have noticed - it's not that "wages haven't kept up with productivity", which is the usual news headline (a rather vague complaint, really). It's very specific - RENT. In many places across the US, rent is the worst issue. Medical costs, education costs (great way to cut out the rungs of the ladder, or alternately bind people to bad jobs), those are serious, deep issues. But I think housing costs are THE most serious issue for the lower classes (at least the urban lower class).

The Primitive said...

I'm curious what are the top or most successful merchant class jobs/industries are during catabolic collapse? Who finds the most benefit, the least loss?

On the concept of collapsing now, I have found that it's imperative to move at the speed and in the way the universe allows. There are many aspects I have been successful on (compost, garden, raising meat, humanure, wood heat, etc), and many more I am working to transition to (no car, live off a skill or set of skills, established stable community, etc). Each transition seems to happen as it needs to, regardless of my desires (who knew?).

Chic Noir said...

I would just like to add that I enjoy your blog very much. Thanks for writing.

I think the current cultural obsession with zombies is a subconiuous sign that many of know we are facing end times. The truth is too painful to face head on.

Mean Mr Mustard said...

Cherokee, Kylie,

The same ominous relaxation of pension rules has just happened in the UK. Previously a new retiree was locked into an annuity at whatever poor returns prevailed. Now, they can place their entire savings on property to rent to the working poor on benefits, or whatever they wish - perhaps a long-odds nag running in the 3.30 at Newmarket would be a wiser choice. Not that I'm qualified to dispense sage financial advice, mind...

Paul Milne said...

I'm kind of surprised you haven't mentioned what's happing in the UK at the moment.

This morning I cast my vote to do exactly what you described, hastening along this particular stage of the catabolic collapse of what's left of the British Empire.

Hopefully a majority of my fellow countryman can see the wisdom in distributing our national wealth amongst a smaller population.

Marcello said...

"The elites are not all necessarily evil. Bob Barker of the 'Price is right' Hollywood fame is a billionaire. He is an active supporter to this day of animal rights groups such as the Sea Shepherd society and other causes."

Effective PR. You can rack up megabucks, enjoy the luxurious lifestyle that come with them and be as much as part of the so called "1%" as any other billionaire but if you save a couple of dolphins from the hands of those dastardly sushi eating orientals or a few guinea pigs from the clutches of the eeevil sadic scientists a lot of people who would normally make silly talks about guillotine start to swoon over you as if you were "Friend of the People".
I do not know this particular dude but I can't help being cynical about these showbiz people, like politicians they derive their livelihood from playing a part.

For that matter one might point out that Marie Antoinette likely did not utter the famous phrase usually attributed to her and devoted quite a bit to charity. Was the system she propped up any less rotten because of that?
Not every member of the èlite enjoys drowning kittens as pastime and besides if we really think about it most people here are part of the èlite on a global basis of comparison. Food for thought.

ed boyle said...

nasty here-. It appears propaganda is not enough. If Donbass separatists are terrorists then support. even on internetz will lead to jail terms in Germany soon.

thecrowandsheep said...

I feel the archdruid quite often underestimates the enormous social progress our society has made. Let us take, for example, conditions in the former East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall, and let me tell you, some of things that went on back then would make you ill if that were ever to occur today. This includes
* An incompetent, ingrained and corrupt elite
* Oversized prison population mostly serving draconiously long sentences
* rampant environmental degradation including lax regulation
* shady government organisations terrorizing and monitoring and recording communications of the entire population
* rigged voting system resulting in zero in the way of political change

At least we have managed to reproduce some of the better aspects of the GDR, all at a fraction of the cost:
* High quality technical education for all
* Basic housing for the entire population
* Wide-spread public transportation at cost
* Free universal health care
* Equal pay for men and women
* ...
Ok ok, maybe not all of that has been achieved but at least women are paid a solid 75% of what men get, which is way more than 50%.

What in the gods' names do you disgusting people want? We have glorious freedom of speech, that I can say for sure. If you want to protest anywhere, anytime, you can, provided you fill out the paperwork beforehand and carry the proper identification on you at all times. And most importantly, you can write whatever you want online, including lengthy self-indulgent rants on druidical websites without the future risk of anything being monitored, logged and used against you in a darkened interrogation room in between being slogged in the head by a phone book for the simple reason that phone books are no longer distributed. Progress!

Sofia Moreno said...

Couldn't be said clearer or more pedagogical. But Mr. Greer, colud you spare few lines comenting what about those satelite countries (like Spain) during the D&F of the Empire?
Thanks you

Odin's Raven said...

Surely some members of the elite have at least one more option, particularly as they dis-identify from the people they rule?

They may choose to hasten the decay and attempt to lead the successor regime. This is a favourite ploy of rich lefties.(Phillip Egalite, Caesar etc.)

Others may take the parasitical view that 'when we've sucked it dry, America can shrivel up and blow away', because they intend to establish their parasitism among other hosts, and probably to buy and bully their way to prominence in new regimes everywhere.

latefall said...

re job creation in the 30s:
IF you have time to burn, have a look at pictures of the state of things 1935-45 in your US neighborhood:
"From 1935-1944, the Farm Security Administration — Office of War Information undertook the largest photography project ever sponsored by the federal government."
"After a series of setbacks in the courts that repealed many of the First New Deal’s program, President Roosevelt pursued a new set of initiatives including the Resettlement Administration in 1935. It was charged with aiding the poorest third of farmers displaced by the depression and particularly focused on resettlement on viable lands and providing low-interest loans."

Pretty impressive.

Imiszkusz said...


I've been reading your blog for some time now, a few months, and I find it refreshing. Refreshing to the mind:) Mostly because I feel the topics discussed here are really the ones that need to be talked about.

Just a little addition to today's post:
I don't know how much you are familiar with the present and past of Hungary (I'm Hungarian), but for me there really seems to be a similarity between the move of Roosevelt and that of Kádár János, former socialist-communist leader in Hungary - until the collapse of the Soviet Union. He too conciliated the masses and even gained their sympathy by ensuring a relatively good quality of life for the majority of the population - by accumulating a huge debt -, by giving a stop, or considerably lowering the number of prosecutions, executions and any kind of elimination of unwanted people, and maybe even by setting his own 'moderate' lifestyle as an example for other politicians. Of course, he did all that after suppressing the revolution of '56. And it was enough for the people. His slogan was: 'Who's not against us, is with us' Well, this maybe doesn't seem to be a very strong one at first glance, but if we know that the slogan of Rákosi Mátyás, communist leader of the '40s, it sounds rather appealing: 'Who's with us, is against us.'
That's why the Hungary of 70s-80's was considered as the 'most liveable barracks of the Soviet camp'

What I want to point out now, is that many people nowadays feel that... to put it simply, life was better at that time. But to be more precise, the 'democracy' of today is far more tyrannic than the 'communism' of that era, and if there were any (public) executions, or imprisonments, or work camps, it would be quite equivalent to the most nightmarish times of dictatorships. Of course it's not the case (for the moment) and maybe I'm exaggerating, but I myself feel and see that tendency in everyday life.

Ok, thanks for reading this.
Lovecraft otherwise is among my favorites too. His short stories are so much built up on the same structure and written in the same style that it bores me after a while, but his imagination and the pure expression of how small and meaningless the whole humanity is catches me from time to time. I can say it's even tranquilizing.

Looking forward to your other posts

latefall said...

After doing some surfing I found a couple of of people had converted a Lister engine to to wood-gas. This strikes me as a really nice arrangement in terms of maintenance. If corrosion (hydrogen) is not an issue I could imagine it lasts as long or longer than the original ones. What do you think? And when it breaks you have a lot of metal to salvage.
I am tempted to see if I can park an engine or two at a friends place. He can use it till I need it (when I'll be running from the barbarians, bacaudae, law enforcement).

latefall said...

There were a few Swedes looking for advice here recently.
For the people up north there is an initiative called Nord-Star. It looks good at first glance. Note "Sustainable Cities and Military Installations" as well. The detailed risk map of Norwegian communities is nifty.

Farther south for the Germans there's the Schutzkommission which gets far, far, far too few views on wiki (btw does anyone know how I can get the page view stats for the ENG? doesn't seem to work with tor on)?
I am currently going through some of the related publications - which aren't half bad so far. Much of it consistent with JMG assessment. However, I note that of the perhaps 40 members of the group 6 hold a PhD title only, and the rest are Profs. I am perhaps not alone in thinking that there may be a serious detachment potential there...
The situation is actually not sooo bad as the probability of serious catastrophe was on many peoples minds before the 90s. So there was some investment in resilience. The decision to switch to digital broadcasting in such scenarios (with up-time reduced from 4-8 h to 2 h) looks like a step in direction of path 2 though. Renewable tech should help locally though.

I'd be really interested what France has in this regard. Does anyone have pointers?

Ronald Langereis said...

Coincidentally, the latest post of the Irish economist David McWilliams nicely mirrors the gist of your post.
He makes the observation that the dream Americans (still) believe in has been created by Hollywood screenwriters. Advertisement and gov. propaganda are still feeding this illusion, which makes me think you'll have something to say on the role of propaganda, specifically, in one of your future posts.

latefall said...

Carry-over from last week:
@Guillermo Fernandez thanks for doing the hand-to-hand on this! I tend to agree on most points. (Though I believe apart from Krauss, MIT has little to do with this. Also quite a few of their "top guns" in the making are running on fumes already - and know it. On one level or another)

When I read the list of authors I couldn't help but think that this would have to be a mixed bag. I think Cory's narrative has a chance to catch on (esp. given his background). But I need to see more EROI considerations getting prominent there at the very least. And then there's the "tribe growth" problem which is a little more challenging with 1.5 kids compared to 3-6 kids per female, and no oil to bribe with...

blue sun said...

I expect this phenomenon is playing out right now in Iraq and Syria. After years of bungled meddling by the US military-bureaucracy, it's not hard for me to see how, if I were an Iraqi citizen, I would welcome ISIS over the US military. I expect I wouldn't feel threatened by beheadings, because I would know they would never be done to me or my family. Those are reserved for "evil" Americans and Westerners, who "deserve it" anyway.

Lest we feel that we Westerners are not that tribal, to the point of evil, I think it's obvious that we are. Yet we don't notice how ripe our hypocrisy is. By and large, Americans don't care that Obama is killing children with drones (image flashes through mind- Obama playing pick-up basketball: warm and fuzzy).

He'd never do that to his OWN PEOPLE. It's the bad guys who do that, not us (image flashes through mind- black-garbed swordsman beheading American journalist: cold and prickly). These images are so emotionally potent, its nearly impossible to reverse them. But if I can reverse them, I think then I'd know how the average Iraqi citizen feels about Westerners and ISIS, from within their own shoes.

And what are we to make of the fact that Obama's Nobel peace prize is still on the books, and the even stranger fact that Westerners are joining ISIS? I think to me, it says that an unrecognized hypocrisy abounds among the Western elite and that this hypocrisy is quite well recognized among the Western lower classes.

* * *
And on another note, getting back to the example in my previous comment, I think "localism" is going to play a much larger role in our future dark age. I think that's almost impossible for us to conceive of as we live in today's hyper-mobile America where nobody is "from" anywhere. Today, the culture of Dallas is indistinguishable from that of Orlando. There was a time, and I think there will be again, when finding out where somebody is from will play a much larger role in sizing them up. We only rely on race so much today because it is plastered on our faces and its historical association with locality.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

I have an afterthought about Project Hieroglyph. At one time I read a lot of science fiction, classics from the Forties and Fifties in library editions, and more current stories and novels in magazines and paperbacks. I gradually got out of the habit because so much of it was grim. A few hours of reading SF usually left me feeling mentally stretched but depressed.

I remember a lot of nuclear war survivor stories, metaphysical tales about the heat death of the universe, encounters with alien species that went horribly wrong, and various dystopias. Most of this was written before the Vietnam War. The Martian Chronicles is not a barrel of laughs, and it was published in 1950.

I'm not sure where the idea that science fiction used to be optimistic comes from, unless they are going all the way back to the pulps.

Myriad said...

Re Villager's point: as I learned it, the greatest common factor of 100 and 200 is 100. The GCF of 12 and 18 is 6.

This is useful in reducing fractions to their simplest form, e.g. 12/18 is reduced to 2/3 by dividing both numerator and denominator by their GCF.

The lowest common multiple of 100 and 200 is 200. The LCM of 12 and 18 is 36.

The lowest or least common denominator is the LCM, as applied to denominators of fractions. For example, to add 1/12 + 1/18, convert both into fractions with the LCM of 12 and 18, or 36, as denominator. So, 3/36 + 2/36 = 5/36.

Of course, "lowest common denominator" (rarely phrased with "least") is also an idiomatic expression meaning, roughly, the most inclusive possible (and often, by implication, the most lowbrow) common interest.

Ray Wharton said...

Seeds on the Pavement.

Patrick Brehon said...


I like your work here but you omit another option that is more common than any of the above: destruction and replacement of current elites from within the society, Regeneration. Rome which seems to be endlessly invoked in our daily prayers did exactly that many times, from inception to Sabine method reproduction to throwing down the Tarquins [anyone believe 1 rape was the sole motive?] and establishing the Republic, overthrowing the ruined Republic with the Imperator [Commander of Military Forces is meaning of the word], to many weak Emperors being thrown down by coup or less often other methods [Nero was thrown out by Senate].

Rome and so many societies throughout history regenerate themselves but with new elites, drawn from anywhere in society, usually military background. For futurists: Starship Troopers.

Our shortest path to sanity and decency lies in destroying the power of our predatory and insane Ruling Class.

The First Duty in any case is to destroy rule by the insane and evil, the next duty to replace them.

PS - it also helps that the actual legitimate if mostly powerless government of the Republic is sitting at it's desks.

PPS - destroy the New Deal administrative state and the legal caste overseers who are the true actual 2d class you mention and replace w/The Republic who's desks still extant under Jeffersonian system is shortest and least cost path to survival, sanity, decency.

A final word: option 2 isn't going to work for them, for they have lost their military, veterans, law enforcement and the armed citizen.

Kyoto Motors said...

I do recall resding this article, thanks to your reference:
Memo: From Nick Hanauer
To: My Fellow Zillionaires
Not exactly the New Deal 2.0, but at least the seed is flying around in the wind...
No I'm not holding my breath, but I just thought is was worth recalling here.

Ares Olympus said...

Wow, the quote from Lovecraft contains a deep psychological truths.

Expanding knowledge brings new power but also awareness of vulnerability even as we're actually more secure than ever at least day to day. The monkey trap has us by the fist, even when we know the trap, and think we can escape one more time.

Going for a walk yesterday, on a warm late summer evening, in the same park I knew as a child, something reminded me of my childhood, whether lighting or smells, and I imagined suddenly being back in the 1970s or early 80s, and what that world would be like.

I didn't worry about much then. Maybe my parents did, but we owned our modest home mortgage free and there was no debt. As a paperboy, I still collected fees door-to-door, and felt very rich with my $12-20/week, and I remember my mom would check off every item on the grocery bill as she put food away, to make sure it was correct.

So on my walk, I imagined going back to that world, before everyone was in debt, and poor just meant having little money, rather than having affordable credit card minimum payments.

But really it would feel like an impoverishment, to lose access to so much knowledge online. I have no interest in a smart phone, but Wikipedia for facts, and Facebook and blogs for politics, I'm sure I wouldn't want to give that up, to go back to the dark ages of pre-electronic communication.

As bad as much nonsense there is on the internet now, 95% can be fact checked in a google search, or at least given some context. How did people survive without being able to check facts on their own?

Yes, libraries could be, and can be again, the source of knowledge, and maybe someday when the internet's stability starts failing, a 100 million copies of the last version of Wikipedia will be downloaded to local libraries? Certainly it'll never be printed. I wonder what subset will be most useful to readers of the future? And maybe local intranets and Wiki software will continue to document local history?

I like the idea of honest dishonesty, that is to say, I know our path is dishonest (unsustainable), but the problem isn't the dishonesty, only forgetting about it. Like credit card minimum payments makes for a dishonest budgeting, but only if you pretend its not.

Mike said...

@Villager & JMG

I can confirm that, mathematically, "lowest common denominator" is a meaningless term. The correct mathematical term is "greatest common divisor", usually abbreviated GCD. "Least" is no more correct than "lowest" in this context.

As the proud bearer of a math degree, I have grown used to the population at large misusing mathematical terms and concepts, but it still grates at times. The everyday use of "exponential" to describing anything growing quickly is particularly bothersome of late. It has robbed the term of much of its impact. Recent reports of the exponential growth of ebola cases, a rare instance of its accurate use, have thus failed to arouse the appropriate level of alarm.

Keep an eye on this one folks. It's on course to become a major calamity.

Twilight said...

A more thoroughly developed version of the theory of catabolic collapse would be great, but actually your "thumbnail sketch" here is very good - it's compact and accessible, and I might be able to get some people to read it.

I've been watching for some sign that any group of the elite might have some sense of self preservation in the model of Roosevelt, but I see none. Remember that many of the elite never forgave Roosevelt and his allies for taking away some of their gains. The premise that the New Deal was ineffective and that WW2 was the real thing that brought us out of the Great Depression is common, and this seems to be the preferred model.

Similarly, I've also been watching to see if the core of the empire will make any attempt to prevent various groups from selling needed, limited resourced such as oil and gas (with required new pipelines to get it to ports) overseas for maximum personal profit. So far I see no sign that any remaining imperial core has enough power or interest to preserve the thing. It is as if the elite have also abandoned the structure that holds their place and are busy stripping the thing too.

sbanbury said...

Reading How Civilizations Fall: A Theory of Catabolic Collapse made me think of a bit of a song...

High green chilly winds and windy vines in loops around the
twining shafts of lavender, they're crawling to the sun

Underfoot the ground is patched with climbing arms of ivy
wrapped around the manzanita, stark and shiny in the breeze

Wonder who will water all the children of the garden when they
sigh about the barren lack of rain and droop so hungry 'neath the

William Tell has stretched his bow till it won't stretch no
furthermore and/or it may require a change that hasn't come


Manzanita being a shrub that has the good sense to retract it's cambium back along it's woody stems in seasons of drought.

Helix said...

Actually, the concepts that make the most sense mathematically are "least common multiple" and "greatest common denominator". "Lowest common denominator" has limited usefulness mathematically. But although it's wording is a bit implausible, it's a great idiom as it brings a compelling image to mind.

John Michael Greer said...

Rita, India in 1600 was one of the richest countries in the world; by 1900 it was one of the poorest -- which is how Britain got a great deal of its infrastructure and its standard of living. The US has run the same "wealth pump" operation on a good fraction of the world, thus the benefits you've noted. They won't last.

Adamatari, exactly -- the US is too fractious, too fractured, and too heavily armed for repression to work well; thus the way that it's mostly focusing on the bottom of the ladder, when several rungs up is where the real challenge is taking shape.

Primitive, that's an interesting question that I need to research. At a guess, if you can provide necessary goods and services to people under the table, i.e., without the system taking a cut, you'll do fairly well. Still, I'll look into it, and see about a post later on.

Chic Noir, thank you! Agreed about the zombies -- I suspect one of the reasons I find the whole zombie phenomenon so dreary is that I'm used to grappling with the future we're actually facing.

Paul, when people in another country are making an important decision about the future, I think it's a great idea for Americans to shut up and let them make that decision themselves. I may not be able to stuff a sock in the collective mouth of my overopinionated countrymen, and I'll be very interested to see how the referendum comes out, but it's up to the people of Scotland to make up their own minds on the matter.

Ed, what did you expect? This is war, you know.

Crowandsheep, very funny indeed. Gallows humor is far from inappropriate just now!

Sofia, I've never lived outside the US and I have only secondhand information about conditions elsewhere -- that's why I speak about what I know. I encourage people in other parts of the world to start their own blogs and discuss these things from their own perspective!

Raven, and what happened to Philip-Egalite, Caesar, etc.? It's actually not a very successful ploy in most cases, except in the very short term.

Latefall, exactly. This is something that today's pseudoconservatives love to pretend never happened.

Imiszkusz, I've heard the same thing from a lot of people in the former Eastern bloc. The Soviet Union has fallen, and now you'refree -- free, that is, to starve in the streets while your country's wealth is pumped dry to keep other countries' economies afloat. That sort of thing very easily gives democracy a bad name.

John Michael Greer said...

Ronald, thanks for the link! I'll consider a post on that, though it would have to cover more than just propaganda to put things in a meaningful context.

Bue Sun, exactly. Even when drones do start vaporizing insurgents here in the US -- and we're not actually that far from such events -- people will insist that it's just those awful (insert ethnic, political, or religious label here) -- not "real" Americans. As for localism, bingo -- and that's where existing ethnic lines break down, too.

Unknown Deborah, and the pulps weren't noticeably optimistic, either. Lovecraft was a very popular pulp writer, and there were plenty of others no more sanguine about the human prospect than he was.

Myriad, well, yes, that's what I thought, too.

Ray, thank you! I'll check it out.

Patrick, we're way too far along the curve for that. Replacement and renewal presupposes a resource base and economy capable of maintaining stability; we don't have that any more. It's not just that we have a corrupt and incompetent ruling elite, though admittedly that doesn't help; our predicament is rooted in the basic mismatch between resources and maintenance costs, and slaughtering the current elite won't change that.

Kyoto, yes, and if that sentiment starts to spread it might accomplish something. Still, we'll see.

Ares, that's the myth of progress speaking. Sure, we're poor and in debt, our infrastructure is collapsing around us, the last shreds of democracy have gone missing in action, etc., etc., etc. -- but hey, we can look up ten billion bits of disconnected misinformation any time we want to! How could people have lived without that?

I'll give you a hint: I wrote and researched books without that, and never noticed any particular lack. The internet is a toy, on the one hand, and a modest timesaver on the other. I still look things up in a print encyclopedia, rather than online, when I want detailed accurate information about a subject that isn't fashionable.

John Michael Greer said...

Mike, duly noted. As for Ebola, though, no argument there.

Twilight, it's fairly common for elites to saw off the branch they're sitting on. I'll talk about that in more detail next week.

Sbanbury, thank you.

Helix, and of course this is not a math paper, so the common meaning is in fact what I had in mind...

Ed-M said...

Interesting article, JMG, but you left out one thing: the corporate advertising / propaganda / entertainment / disinformation machine based on Bernaysean principles is still going nonstop 24-7-365. As long as this thing is operational giving people false hopes and delusions, nothing is ever going to change and the gradual decay that set in in the 1970s and was papered over in the 1980s by Thatcherism-Reaganism will continue at its slow, slow pace.

Otherwise a policy course by the elites between the Options 1 and 2 that you stated cannot end well, for them.

Wizzrobes said...

"he understood that the rich are uttery dependent for their survival on the forbearance of everyone else. Most of today's rich don't seem to have gotten that message. "

Quite right! While there's multiple reasons to explain this factor obviously, one in particular I've been pondering lately is the idea increasing amounts of computerization and automation will more or less make labor defunct. It's something I touched on in the last comment thread, but I believe it's increasingly on the mindsets of the rich. It's in fact an increasing obsession with all quarters of life, including a lot of the "liberal" publications I subscribe to who are earnestly talking about the "end of labor" and what we must do to cope with it. You may have noticed the new threat from the business owners is that if you dare take collective action to "raise the price of your labor", they'll just automate your jobs away if it can't be outsourced. This is especially true during the recent fast food strikes/walk outs that hit the nation about a week ago. Perhaps they think in the long run, they don't need the "masses" as computers will be able to generate all the wealth for them without having to give any of it to the pesky poor masses. There's some who take it so far that they think drones, robotic soldiers/cops, etc. will make revolts by the masses impossible. Here is a good example of that type of thinking. Perhaps the rich also believe this as well!

patriciaormsby said...

"A relatively simple medieval society might get by with four castes—the feudal Japanese model, which divided society into aristocrats, warriors, farmers, and a catchall category of traders, craftspeople, entertainers, and the like..."
The Tokugawas, on unifying Japan, ordained four classes, as you noted, but the warrior/aristocrats were at the "top," followed by the farmers, then the craftsmen, then the merchants at the bottom, with an additional outcast group that they did not count among them. I think the entertainers fit into various classes. I recall, however, a story of a handicapped girl who was sent out to the people living by the river (probably the burakumin outcasts), who wandered around and performed as entertainers, like the Roma are known to do. Many forms of entertainment are seen as low-class here, and with notable exceptions, the movies are rather chintzy.
(Please forgive my nitpicking! I'm in awe of the information you put together, and I keep visiting your site because I always gain new insights here.)
The Tokugawa rule was a very sophisticated attempt to circumvent corruption by accumulation of capital. It produced a long-lasting peaceful society in which the arts flourished, and it was admirably sustainable. But there were problems. This was a tyrannical, top-down society, and some of the later rulers were downright insane. I recall a story about one who loved dogs so much that anyone who harmed a dog, even to save a child, would be put to death. These kinds of episodes wear down your support base. Moreover, money did accumulate with the merchants at the bottom, and its influence seeped through society in its insidious way. The samurai at the top were poor. They received a stipend of rice, but in the prosperous peaceful era, rice production increased and the price plummeted, and the samurai, who were allowed the privilege of swaggering around with two swords, might have to sell those swords to survive. They found ways to marry merchants into the family to attain the prosperity that eluded them in that system.
The hard-working farmers of the second class were pretty well off regarding basic needs, but a trip up Mt. Fuji with a guide, for example, would take one year's worth of their earnings.
Apparently, a great deal of frustration built up throughout the society. I don't know the details of the final years of the Tokugawa rule, but it was outside pressure from America to open up to capitalism that seems to have been what caused it to collapse. The Tokugawas had been associated with Buddhism, so during the collapse, a lot of pent-up rage was displayed in lopping off the heads of stone Buddhas. (I was atop Mt. Fuji the other day, and there were a number of stone Buddhas, all headless, but still gathering coins around their feet.) Then they declared the Emperor to be Japan's ruler and Shinto to be supreme over Buddhism.
(Thus began the age of State Shinto, in which the ruling elites used it as justification for their actions, but as a Shinto priestess, I must note that as a folk religion, Shinto is much broader and deeper than that.)

patriciaormsby said...

"The internet is a toy, on the one hand, and a modest timesaver on the other. I still look things up in a print encyclopedia, rather than online, when I want detailed accurate information about a subject that isn't fashionable."
Thank you for reminding me, JMG! One day this ephemeral fountain will dry up, and my only source of English-language information will be a smattering of books in the local libraries, and whatever I manage to accumulate and preserve on my own.

Eric S. said...

It seems from history that the first scenario often leads to the second scenario once the revolution is over, and repressive regimes may not last forever or even very long, but they can certainly last a lifetime, and responding to a lifetime in that sort of world brings it's own concerns with it.

In a world torn by revolutions or ruled by repressive regimes where my beliefs and values are put to the test in such a way that merely having them could mean imprisonment or death, how much would I be willing to compromise in the name of survival?

John Naylor said...

What I find myself wondering about now is the order of events: Does a domestic insurgency embolden USA's enemies to give the empire a final push into the dumpster, or does loss of empire cause such economic calamity as to finally lead to insurgency?

Moshe Braner said...

I'd love to see an update to the Catabolic Collapse paper. Perhaps add some dynamics (a mathematical model of the RATES of the processes), as is common in systems-theory models, and see if that supports things such as a stairstep decline.

Regarding "propaganda", I am thinking that a more useful analysis would be of "advertisement" in all its forms. It is such a huge portion of the American "economy" at the moment. It's said that 40% of what we pay in retail prices goes to the banksters in the form of interest somewhere along the line. Perhaps another 40% goes for advertising? Certainly if you buy brand-name "cereal"!

Think about it: about a half-million people in the USA work for the Postal Service, and 90% of what it does is deliver "junk mail". And that's just mail delivery, not counting the designing and printing of said junk, and all the advertising junk that's broadcast or posted onto web pages. Advertising revenue is what funds both the print media and the interwebs, including the bandwidth and the search engines and the "cloud".

If, in a contracting economy, businesses cut deeply into advertisement, thinking that it costs more than the benefits it brings them, that could precipitate quite a "stair step".

Finally, the advertising push during the growth years has been a major force in destroying the civic space ambiance, serious journalism, the nature of childhood, and on and on.

Rita Narayanan said...

"Rita, India in 1600 was one of the richest countries in the world; by 1900 it was one of the poorest --"

this is probably true in elite terms of rulers/landowners (some Mughal/other Hindu-Sikh) even families at the top rung of the caste system(Brahmins) were never rich.Brahmins like my family were considered elite because of knowledge and spiritual the caste system is actually quite complex.They actually had very rigorous and tough lives.

Thanks to everyone!

Roger said...

JMG, my parents went through some of what you talk about in their home country in the post WW2 era. The place was organized along feudal lines, that is, a peasantry that scraped by and that was ruled by oppressive bureaucrats, land-owners and clergy.

Post 1945 was a time of widespread hunger and deprivation. Most people were suffering but not, as you might guess, the upper crust and church. Combine that with day-to-day indignities and outrages inflicted on the lower rungs (like routine sexual harrassment of peasant wives and girls by the clergy) and you had a highly combustible situation.

Abandoned military weapons and ammunition were thick on the ground and so the country folk helped themselves. But informants among them did what informants do. So farms were subject to police inspection, farmers to interrogation and intimidation.

Predictably, you might say, mayhem wasn't far behind. People had had their fill, they took to the streets and town squares, howling mobs ransacked warehouses and government offices.

I suppose that the elites had a healthy sense of self preservation because reforms were made, the abuses inflicted by the clergy declined, and all in all, things improved. But it was close.

Because in the mix there was a flourishing leftist movement. As you might say, an alternative to the status quo had presented itself, taking real risks with police and bully-boys in the employ of the boss-class.

But I'll bet that if I recounted any of this to any modern business and political leader as a lesson for today, they would scoff. Why? Because they think they're invulnerable. Because that was then, this is now and history is bunk. Because, you know, it's different this time.

I agree that options for the modern boss-class are more limited than they were three or four generations ago. The clock ticks and time is running out. I would urge the bosses to be smart. But, having seen them in action, I'm pretty sure they won't be.

william fairchild said...


Thanks for another good essay. You do make a feller think.

"It’s common these days to hear people insist that our society is divided into two and only two classes..."

The 1 % and the 99% much? Is it useful to apply the Marxian terms: lumpenproletariat, proletariat, petite bourgeoisie, and bourgeoisie? I know they are not fashionable, and push hot-buttons, but they do seem to peg American society fairly well on one level.

Of course, this ignores the complex mash-up of religious, racial, and geographic factors, which further complicates our caste system. You can have two members of the same "caste" (petite bourgeoisie) a farmer in downstate IL and a small business owner in Chicago come to complete loggerheads, each accusing the other of being an "elite" trying to dominate them. We see it all the time in the General Assembly in Springfield. These folks live in alternate universes. Each is "the other".

Dmitri Orlov points out that Russia (despite its diverse make-up) has a common heritage. The US, perhaps not so much. E. Pluribus Unum may be a myth.

"The early days of plantation slavery in the United States and the Caribbean islands, when the average lifespan of a slave from purchase to death was under ten years, fell into that category..."

If you have not read it, check out "If the South won Gettysburg." My Dad was a middle school teacher for 30 years. He gave that book to me. He always posited that slavery would have disappeared of its own accord, due to economics. Owning a slave was much like owing an ox. (Social Justice Bloggers- just chill. No, people are NOT animals) You had to feed it, treat its illnesses, shelter it, deal with its offspring. Buying labor was just far more economically efficient, especially with the influx of immigrants, and there were no social responsibilities.

" happened in the United States as recently as the 1930s, when Franklin Roosevelt spearheaded changes that spared the United States the sort of fascist takeover or civil war that occurred in so many other failed democracies in the same era."

They say FDR saved Capitalism from itself. I think the greatest threat, domestically, to the old order was not fascism, per se, but socialism. FDR stemmed that impulse. But a repeat, on the downside of the Hubbert curve, seems unlikely, even setting aside the gridlock in Congress (FDR had a compliant House and Senate).

"Already, a large fraction of Americans—probably a majority—accept the continuation of the existing order of society in the United States only because a viable alternative has yet to emerge."

The Tea Party was accepted, because it could be co-opted by TPTB, and because it did not upset the apple-cart of what the American Project was supposed to be about. Occupy was repressed because it picked the scab off the unresolved question of the concentration of wealth and power.

A Tea-Partier was likely to question the power of illegitimate "union bosses" in securing public pensions, for example. The Occupier would defend those. But who did the po-po tear-gas and pepper spray? Not those nice, baby boomers in their silly tri-point hats. It was the dirty hippies. Yes, repression is, and will be, in full force.

You have rightly criticized Occupy's lack of direction and structure. But I think, some day in the future, an alternative from the left may emerge to compete with the Ayn Randian right. There will be no FDR, nor the resources, to chart a middle course, and then "Katie, bar the door!" as we say.

I look forward to your forthcoming detailed work on the catabolic collapse theory.

Will said...


I admire your immense learning and productivity. however, in your 2005 article, for which you give a pdf today, you conclude near the end that to "achieve a high degree of predictive value, careful quantitative analysis" is needed. exactly! have you now done that? because the problem with your projected future is that you do not provide any sort of hard numbers about resource depletion, still less about potential savings. you assert (but never show) that it is now too late to adjust. I suggest to you that, when resource depletion becomes a more serious problem (and it will, you are correct on that), the US and other nations can and likely will take steps to wring a vast amount of waste out of our societies, while also prioritizing the investment of remaining resources and capital into areas most necessary for survival. If that means we roll back our personal consumption to 1950's levels, that will be a lot short of catabolic collapse. based on projections I have read, there is ample margin for such action even now. Bill

Andrew Bacalakis said...


First off, I have to apologize, as my concise comment ballooned a bit into a 2 part comment. Sorry!

In my line of work, local organic agriculture, I can definitely see the burdens of the current system weighing down on farmers and the various young people (woofers, apprentices) who are looking to continue in this field.

There are various reasons why so many of the new, small local farms that are popping up now focus on veggies. Veggies don't need much land, and depending on scale, not much equipment, etc. But there is also one other big reason: vegetables are pretty much completely unregulated by the government.

Get into the domain of animal husbandry, and you're in a whole other world that is drowning in red tape. You want to raise ruminants in a grass fed system, then sell the meat to your neighbors? Nope, sorry, you have to send the animals to a USDA slaughterhouse, (which in many cases, might be more than dozens to even a hundred miles away) and pay steep processing fees to support the staff of that facility and the various government inspectors it employs. The end result is the small farmer has to sell his steak for $16 to $20 a pound just to break even and recoup processing costs. Never mind the sustainability of shipping animals around on highways.

I myself like dairying a lot. In my part of the world (rainy northeast), it can very ecologically sound, and a very small scale dairy can be a pretty sweet thing. Again though, the problem is the same. There is no scale in the regulations; a 300 cow dairy or a 6 cow dairy have to play by the same rules. I want to hand milk 2 to 6 cows into a bucket, sell some milk or some butter or cream or something? Nope, have to build an inspected milk house/parlor (with equipment, prolly cost somewhere between $12,000 to $20,000), and that would allow me just to sell raw milk, and only from the farm. I want to do value adding with the milk? Ha, forget it, more expensive equipment and a separate creamery room/building. Oh, and all of this fancy equipment sucks up huge amounts of electricity. Great. I could try doing something black market style, selling raw milk and dairy illegally for a bit of cash and keeping it hush hush, but when you're a landless, wandering youngin like me that can be awful hard to setup.

Andrew Bacalakis said...

Some farmers get over these regs by just scaling up a bit so enough income is made to deal with all of these hassles. Problem is, once you scale up sustainability goes out the window, the workload becomes insane, and in general I've learned its just not worth it. Everyone in this line of work is frustrated by all this stuff, and is eager for some change in the system. It really highlights how the system is rigged to work against particular groups. I also find it very interesting the effect it has on the all of the various young people that woof or apprentice on farms; a lot of them come from the liberal/progressive mindset, but after they are exposed to this stuff it rather sours their opinion of the government and current system.

As for myself, I'm at a crossroads. I finish my apprenticeship at the current dairy I'm at toward the end of this year and I'm faced with an interesting choice; there are various postings for positions on middling sized organic dairies, 20 to 40 cows usually. Even at that scale though, the energy and material inputs needed are great, as is the need for diesel tractors and their various implements. Location is also worrying for a lot of these places are located out in the middle of nowhere and are completely car dependent. Its just not going to end well. Meanwhile, right now I live near a small, walkable city that has a thriving farmers market as well as lots of agriculture going on all around it. I have the skills now, so should I just hunker down there, ditch the car, get whatever work I can, and just wait for something to give? I imagine we are not to far from the point when a lot of the current food regulations regarding small farmers will have to be ignored or discarded out of sheer necessity.

I guess I could commute from there to a farm job in the countryside, but that doesn't sit well with my conscious, and its bad for the Earth and the future. My goodness, decisions decisions....

escapefromwisconsin said...

You're not alone in pointing this out, here's the bank of Sweden Prize winning economist Robert Schiller on Project Syndicate pointing out that economic contraction is accompanied by rising political instability:

"The current world situation is not nearly so dire, but there are parallels, particularly to 1937. Now, as then, people have been disappointed for a long time, and many are despairing. They are becoming more fearful for their long-term economic future. And such fears can have severe consequences."

"There is a name for the despair that has been driving discontent – and not only in Russia and Ukraine – since the financial crisis. That name is the 'new normal,' referring to long-term diminished prospects for economic growth, a term popularized by Bill Gross, a founder of bond giant PIMCO."

"The despair felt after 1937 led to the emergence of similar new terms then, too. “Secular stagnation,” referring to long-term economic malaise, is one example. The word secular comes from the Latin saeculum, meaning a generation or a century. The word stagnation suggests a swamp, implying a breeding ground for virulent dangers. In the late 1930s, people were also worrying about discontent in Europe, which had already powered the rise of Adolph Hitler and Benito Mussolini."

"Some will doubt the importance of economic growth. Maybe, many say, we are too ambitious and ought to enjoy a higher quality of life with more leisure. Maybe they are right."

"But the real issue is self-esteem and the social-comparison processes that psychologist Leon Festinger observed as a universal human trait. Though many will deny it, we are always comparing ourselves with others, and hoping to climb the social ladder. People will never be happy with newfound opportunities for leisure if it seems to signal their failure relative to others."

Also, in regards to catabolism, it seems that the hoarding of income by the rich has caused local tax revenues to plummet, no doubt leading to the furloughed workers and dilapidated infrastructure seen around the country (not to mention the police seizures of property that's been getting so much attention). As I recall, this was a problem in the late Roman Empire as well:

The widening gap between the wealthiest Americans and everyone else has been matched by a slowdown in state tax revenue, according to a report being released Monday by Standard & Poor’s.

Even as income has accelerated for the affluent, it has barely kept pace with inflation for most other people. That trend can mean a double whammy for states: The wealthy often manage to shield much of their income from taxes. And they tend to spend less of it than others do, thereby limiting sales tax revenue

mr_geronimo said...

An excellent post, congratulations!

And maybe it is time to make a book compling them and the best comments? Maybe when the dark age series is over?

DeAnander said...

Just dropping by w/o enough time to say much cogent, but here's a recommended read...

Leopold Kohr, 'The Breakdown of Nations'

a good exploration of the costs of large scale, i.e. the nation-state, the superstate, etc., its benefits, its dysfunctions. unsurprisingly Kohr concludes that oversized human aggregations impose excessive costs on their (lower echelon) members, deliver a lower quality of life, and don't last. I haven't read it for years and years but am about to re-read with a whole new worldview of my own -- I suspect it will mean even more and I will agree even more strongly than I did way back when.

a stray thought: surely fossil/industrial technology among other effects vastly expanded the speed w/which a centrally managed polity could grow (longer and faster supply lines and communications etc). so it goosed the imperial expansion process into overdrive, thus (afaict) hastening the Kohr effects (resource depletion, dysfunction, mismanagement, irresponsible and detached elites etc)...

Dammerung said...

I wonder what you think of gold and silver as money, JMG.

As a reasonably young person with a college degree, there's not enough wealth in the system at the lower level going around. I have a white collar clerical type job, and the idea of ever being able to buy a house in this country is frankly risible. 3/4 of a million for a fixer upper and rents are pushing against the stratosphere. Since I didn't have the baby boom period to build wealth and I was a kid during the 80s, I missed the opportunities to amass the kind of money the older generations took for granted.

So since I can't reasonably invest in property or anything like that, I've thrown everything I might have spent on health insurance, retirement, vacations, and many of the other accoutrements of a middle class lifestyle into precious metals. They're something I can drop a couple extra k on every now and then; they outlast governments and monetary systems; they are a representation of the real energy and man labor that went into sifting 200 tons of hard rock to acquire them; and they're useful in all kinds of industrial applications.

Maybe it'd be nice to follow the investment strategies of some of your older readers in the form of real estate and food production equipment, but that's simply not affordable to me.

Jan Wareus said...

Love your writings, JMG! And you like cassical SF. I remember a certain Alfred Elton van Vogt and
"The Monster" (Astounding Science Fiction" (1948). At the time (I was 11 yrs) I didn't understand much. Later, I realized my magazine was run by a good freak and his wife-to-be. She was Gaelic and not good in either English or Swedish but the magazine's translator. Met him and her later in life and had a good laugh. Well, you don't have that problem but others have - keep going JMG!

Brent Ragsdale said...


Another great post, thanks again for writing The Archdruid Report.
In case you missed it, here is an article by a ruling elite who senses the danger:

Jim Hightower's commentary on Tuesday was about this article. He's always railing for justice for the common man, but it does seem to me that more people are taking notice of the gathering storm.

I thought your recent interview on the Extraenviromentalist podcast was excellent.

If you're looking for an historic figure to lead-off next week's post, you might consider Andrew Myrick.

Auriel Ragmon said...

Anyone notice that libraries don't have card catalogues any more? All on a computer. Our local system is attached to the internet. If that goes, no catalogue at all. Ah, 'progress'!
Jim of Olym

Cherokee Organics said...


It is certainly right up there. People tend to get very annoyed when they undertake risky activities only to have the arrangements changed after the fact. As a strange side - but related - issue, during Melbourne's notorious underworld war when I believe up to 40 crims were shot dead in short order, that was one of the primary drivers.

Who would have thought that crims would cheat each other? Unfortunately for them it had real world consequences.

For anyone that is interested in such things it was chronicled by the crime author and journalist John Silvester in his Underbelly books.

Oh yeah, superannuation funds are already in the stock market - up to their eyeballs.

What is interesting about it is that the fees being charged are apparently in the order of 1.5 to 2% of the asset value of the fund every year. Many people are witnessing negative returns, but because it so far off in the future, it hasn't dawned on most what is going on.

Incidentally if I were 60, I could retire today with pension benefits and tax free income (or lump sum) from my superannuation fund. Now because I'm younger than that, they've lifted the retirement age to 70. Me thinks that there won't be any pension or tax free income by then either, but that is just speculation.

Hi Kylie,

Yeah, many thanks for the comment. I'm aware of the instalment warrants that they use to achieve gearing in superannuation funds. I can't honestly say that I understand what these are or how they work, but the fees for setting them up are meaty.

You are quite correct too as I felt the exact same thing when that change happened. Super funds were never meant to have gearing, that was one of the main selling points.

I probably wasn't very clear in my original comment. I was actually speculating about the possibility of directing those retirement funds into people’s primary residence to prop up the property market. This is not possible under current rules as investment by super funds in property must relate to an arm’s length rental or business real property. Chilling stuff, huh?

Last recession in the early 1990's - yeah, I copped it in the neck during that one - holiday houses were the first to go. I'm noticing a trend towards the more expensive of these turning over right now. It is also worth pointing out that foreign investment in the property market is rarely outside the CBD or inner urban areas and maybe the occasional middle area like Box Hill in Victoria.



Kaitain said...

JMG said:

“Imiszkusz, I've heard the same thing from a lot of people in the former Eastern bloc. The Soviet Union has fallen, and now you're free -- free, that is, to starve in the streets while your country's wealth is pumped dry to keep other countries' economies afloat. That sort of thing very easily gives democracy a bad name.

I am reminded of a great quote from the Saker:

“I will never forget the words of a Pakistani Ambassador to the UN Conference on Disarmament in Geneva in 1992 who, addressing an assembly of smug western diplomats, said the following words: ‘you seem to believe that you won the Cold War, but did you ever consider the possibility that what has really happened is that the internal contradictions of communism caught up with communism before the internal contradictions of capitalism could catch up with capitalism?’.

Needless to say, these prophetic words were greeted by a stunned silence and soon forgotten. But the man was, I believe, absolutely right: capitalism has now reached a crisis as deep as the one affecting the Soviet Union in the late 1980s and there is zero chance to reform or otherwise change it. Regime change is the only possible outcome.”

The Archdruid’s observation also reminds me of how the failed experiment in plutocracy, crony capitalism and IMF sponsored looting misnomered as democracy during the Yeltsin years has soured the Russian people on democracy, to the point where Russians often refer to democracy (demokratiya in Russian) as dermokratiya (polite translation: “rule by excrement”). One could hear similar sentiments frequently and openly expressed in Weimar Germany, which is one of the reasons why the National Socialists were able to come to power. The incompetent and clueless political establishment of the Weimar Republic, which was already viewed with suspicion because many people believed it had been imposed by hostile foreign powers in the wake of the Great War, had already discredited itself by the late 1920’s. By the early 1930’s, it was merely a question of which totalitarian political movement would win the struggle for power: the Nazis or the Communists, both of which were evil and destructive by their very nature.

I believe it is only a matter of time before we see the pitchforks come out in earnest, especially since as been pointed out on this blog, the US government has made the appalling stupid mistake of training hundreds of thousands of young men in the latest guerilla warfare and counter-insurgency techniques, then cut them loose while denying them the health care and other benefits they were promised. I personally know several veterans who served in Iraq and/or Afghanistan and who are either homeless or barely making it in low-wage dead end jobs, and many of them are bitter about the way they got screwed over and treated like garbage by the very government that sent them to fight. I suspect that it won’t be too long before we see a great many politicians, bureaucrats and plutocrats serving as hanging decorations from various trees and lampposts…

Janet D said...

JMG said "....the latest offerings of today’s job market are indistinguishable from the arrangements between an ancient Egyptian landowner and the peasants who planted and harvested his fields."
I've been saying for years that corporations are the new overlords and the rest of us are glorified serfs. You might be able to change overlords (thus giving you the illusion of change), but your status as a glorified serf doesn't really change (do what you're told and make us money or else.....). What's the difference, only that one has the illusion of freedom in our current system.
As for rent (for whomever mentioned that above), I do. not. know. how working people live in any city anymore. I cannot believe what rents are - and I'm not talking New York here - I'm talking places that are an hour (or more) outside of a major city. $850 for a crappy 2-bedroom apartment is what a friend of the family is paying - and she is a ferry ride and a 40-minute drive (in no traffic) from Seattle.
Finally, I'm glad, JMG, that you mentioned the middle-class who screams about welfare, et al. One of my pet peeves is looking at photos of Tea Party gatherings, of all the white, grey-haired people there (like, 80% or more), and I just want to scream "Let's talk about Social Security and Medicare!" According to the Urban Institute, a non-partisan research institute, a two-earner couple receiving an average wage — $44,600 per spouse in 2012 dollars — and turning 65 in 2010 would have paid $722,000 into Social Security and Medicare and can be expected to take out $966,000 in benefits. So, this couple will be paid about one-third more in benefits than they paid in taxes. The payout on Medicare is estimated to be three times what has been paid in. (The resulting article/summary can be viewed at I just wish the Tea Party would be honest about these facts when discussing "cutting government spending". ("OK, let's start with you!")
My friend teaches at a high school with a very high poverty rate. They can't give homework at her school because 80% of the students have outside jobs that they work (at an average of 20 hours a week) to help their families pay rent and buy food. Yes, there are poor people who scam the system. There are also a lot of middle-class people who get more in benefits than they will ever put in (and I say that as a white, middle-class person).

Steve W. said...

Hi, JMG!

I was just thinking this last week about the state of social and economic class in society in the USA. Have you (or any of you other JMG fans) heard of Paul Fussell's 1983 book "Class"? Fussell divides Americans into 9 different socio-economic classes. He considers the top 0.1 percent, or maybe even the top 0.01 percent, the "Top Out of Sight" -- they're so wealthy that the general public hardly ever comes face to face with them. They're not busy spending summers in the Hamptons -- they have other, more secretive, even more exclusive places to vacation.

I'm wondering if maybe we're going in the direction of something like this in our society: a sizable underclass that is mostly dependent on government assistance in order to survive. I think we're beginning to see the emergence of a new category, what I call the "Subsistence Class" -- they won't be affluent, but they'll have more education, social connections, and "know-how" than the underclass, maybe even becoming good practitioners of "green wizardry" habits. I still think you will have an affluent "middle-class", though it will likely be much smaller than it was for much of the last 50 years.

Kaitain said...

One reason why I agree the American political system is probably incapable of self-reform is because there are a sizable number of pseudoconservatives, such as the Teabaggers, the Randroids and the Rapture Right, who can be counted on to scream bloody murder if anyone proposes to reign in the plutocrats, the corporate looters and the Wall Street crooks. This is a classic Astroturf movement created by right wing media personalities and corporate funded think tanks and bankrolled by the usual suspects (Koch brothers, Grover Norquist, etc). These people have hijacked much of the Republican Party and many Republican politicians who might otherwise disagree with them are nonetheless compelled to kiss up to them if they want to get elected. This helps fuel a pseudoconservative echo chamber on the Right which makes it nearly impossible to reform the Republican Party from within. Sadly, there are many on the pseudoliberal Left who aren’t much better.

Matt Taibbi did a great expose on the Tea Party movement and its handlers in Rolling Stone magazine a while back that is well worth reading.

While I have no doubt that many people involved in the Tea Party movement have sincere and legitimate concerns, these people have been manipulated from day one by some of the worst, most scrofulous and most unscrupulous politicians and plutocrats in the country.

PS This post's CAPTCHA: 1488. Sign of the times?

Random Man said...

The elites in America certainly have gotten some things right: subsidized food products, endless sports and movies for entertainment, that sure keeps the plebs in line.

Other things are so counterintuitive that you really have to wonder, as many have pointed out. Endless immigration, financialization and asset bubbles, military escapades. Why American elites subject their population to this is a mystery. There is no other place on the planet...not one! with such a combination of wrong headed policies.

The latter only makes sense if you conclude that America has a hostile elite that's out of control and has itself lost faith in the country. If you conclude that, then you can also conclude that it's not long before the system implodes.

Interesting times.

Nastarana said...

Purple Tortoise, I believe the upper class favors continuing high rates of immigration to keep housing and rent prices elevated, rents being their principle source of income.

adamentari, Thank you for bringing up the importance of housing costs in general and rents in particular. I am amazed by how many commentators cannot grasp that simple point. Civilized life becomes virtually impossible when you are paying out 60% or more of your income for rents. Does not do me a durn bit of good to be making $15 per hour if the rent and utility costs take $14 of those $15.

Atilio Baroni Filho said...

Hello JMG!

A little bit off-topic, but since it's a historical analysis of Wahhabism in the Middle East, particularly in Saudi Arabia, and explains a lot regarding IS, I thought it would be interesting to post :)

"You Can't Understand ISIS If You Don't Know the History of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia" by Alastair Crooke

Part 1:

Part 2:


James Mishler said...

The claim has been made that the United States is an Empire not unlike the Roman Empire. However, the mistake is that the US is not, in fact, Rome; rather, the US is Byzantium, playing the part of Byzantium to the British Empire as Byzantium was to Rome. Washington is not Rome; London is the modern Rome, and Washington is Constantinople.

We are in the early third century of the American Empire; the US is and always has been an Empire from day one. Some date the origins of our Empire to the Louisiana Purchase, or the Mexican Cession, or the Spanish-American War… but in truth, we have been an Empire since the very first. As with Constantinople, the New Rome built from scratch, so too was Washington a New London (though the financial elements of The City remain in New York).

To cut to the chase, we are potentially in our End Game. As our Phocas, Obama, has sought to be a populist, and sought to brought aid to the groaning masses oppressed by the aristocracy, so the counter-revolution against him, now as then Christian and yet Aristocratic, will bring in our own Heraclius, who will in the end seek to lay the ancient enemy – Russia, our own Persian Empire – low. And in so doing shall bleed both nations dry, leaving us all wide open for the victories of the Arabs, as they had at Yarmouk in 636. Will wee witness Washington being besieged by Arab forces 40 years thereafter? Doubtful, but stranger things have happened. After all, history does not repeat, but it does rhyme.

I expect the Republicans to hold the House and take the Senate in 2014, and then hold both and go on to take the Presidency in 2016, with their Heraclius, an Aristocratic Christian boldly taking office with his modern Christian icons at the fore, as Heraclius sailed to Constantinople with an icon at the prow.

I expect the Republicans thereafter will undo everything that Phocas/Obama sought to do to help the Plebes against the Patricians, and their Elite Corporatist allies will be able to run roughshod over the masses. Expect massive social and economic dislocations, with ever widening gap between the haves and the have-nots and the final destruction of a functional middle class.

War against and the final conquest of Russia will be at the forefront of the Republican movement. The War will of course be used as an excuse to further militarize police forces, and events like Ferguson will become commonplace, as the dispossessed and desperate turn into modern-day bacaudae. The Internet, due to “Russian” interference, will be limited to military, government, and corporate use, with more controls and censorship than today’s China; this is to ensure that social media remains outside of the hands of rebels and malcontents.

Victory over Russia is a given, provided they do not go for the nuclear option, in which case everyone loses. Operations could take anywhere from four to eight years, depending on how low-grade, brushfire, and proxy level the war is kept. But it will drain all the last wealth of both nations, and the Russians, ever experienced at fighting a hard retreat, will ensure that there is no loot to use, burning and destroying their own factories and fields even as the Americans move forward. Russia may survive in the East, as a rump state, with the West occupied by American and allied forces.

America will then again be the seeming Unipower the Hawks always hoped to be, but it will be a hollow victory. Financially ruined, with all the remaining treasure held in the hands of an elite corporatist aristocracy beholden to no laws and liable to pay no taxes, the masses of the citizenry beggared and either reduced to wage slavery or banditry, the Empire will be as a vast and once great tree, rotted within to the bark and ready to fall with the least blow.

And then the Empire will reap the whirlwind it fed in the creation of the Mujahedeen and Al-Qaeda and ISIS… of course, by that time the modern American Heraclius will have retired to some island to enjoy his ill-gotten gains…

DaShui said...

Here's an example of sawing off the limb the are sitting on, by someone who actually saws off limbs....
Yesterday I was having lunch with my cousin who is a general surgeon. He was complaining that more and more doctors refuse to take Medicare / Medicade. My cousin takes Medicare even though he loses money on some Medicare procedures. He is perceptive enough to realize that if enough doctors quit taking Medicare, the government will eventually force american doctors into a single payer system.

John Michael Greer said...

Ed-M, there I think you're mistaken. Slow decline is not a given in a world full of fast instabilities, and when propaganda conflicts too sharply with everyday experience, it becomes a matter for bad jokes.

Wizzrobes, I wonder how many of these clowns remember that this same claim has been being made since the 1950s? Like fusion power, the replacement of all human labor by robots is always twenty years in the future, and always will be.

Patricia, thanks for the correction -- of course you're quite right. By all means get a library put together!

Eric, that's a question each of us is going to have to answer.

John, good! Which comes first, the allosaur or the egg?

Moshe, I'd have to get a coauthor who has some background in quantitative modeling. I'm a historian of ideas, not a mathematician.

Rita, and Britain in 1900 -- when it was the richest nation on the planet -- also had a very large, desperately impoverished underclass. I was simply referring to the total national wealth, of course.

Roger, exactly. The arrogance and cluelessness that so often afflicts ruling classes in their last years is an immense factor, not to be neglected.

William, I agree that we could see some new life from the left, but only after the left no longer represents the interests of the privileged middle class. That latter is one of the main things that has reduced the Left to its current state of weakness.

Will, if a society depends on nonrenewable resources, it doesn't matter how much waste you cut, sooner or later -- as depletion continues -- it won't be enough.

Andrew, of course. That's one of the ways that the existing system is trying to maintain its monopoly over the food supply; it'll be interesting to see how long that continues.

John Michael Greer said...

Escape, thanks for the reference!

Mr. Geronimo, most of my peak oil books are based on posts here. I have some very popular posts that haven't gone into my books, though; I'll see if I can come up with something.

DeAnander, thanks for the recommendation!

Dammerung, gold and silver make things very convenient for thieves and armed bandits. If you want wealth that can't be taken away, learning useful skills is a better bet.

Jan, why, yes, I remember van Vogt's books very well!

Brent, I'll certainy consider him.

Auriel, yes, it's been discussed here -- libraries, like many other systems, have become fatally dependent on computer technology. Card files are much more resilient.

Cherokee, if people are already being encouraged to gamble with their pensions, I hope not too many people mind having nothing to retire on. Oog...

Katain, exactly. Democracy is perfectly capable of discrediting itself, and that process is well under way here and elsewhere.

Janet, bingo. I'd like to see more people talking about middle-class welfare queens.

Steve, I read it when it first came out. It's not a bad starting place.

Kaitain, true -- but Taibbi has his own agenda, of course.

John Michael Greer said...

Random, nah, I've been told by Canadian and Australian readers that they're getting equally stupid policies handed down to them. The US is competing hard in the Stupidity Olympics, but it's not assured of victory quite yet.

Atilio, thanks for the links!

James, America isn't Rome, but it's not Byzantium either. It's simply one more civilization sliding down the arc of catabolic collapse, and that arc can be usefully illustrated by comparable events in other, similar cases. Whether we've got Phocas on the throne or Honorius is an interesting question...

DaShui, oh, granted. And it's also relevant that a growing fraction of Americans are abandoning mainstream health care altogether because it's too expensive, too corrupt, and too likely to maim or kill the patient.

Dammerung said...

JMG:Dammerung, gold and silver make things very convenient for thieves and armed bandits. If you want wealth that can't be taken away, learning useful skills is a better bet.

To be fair, this at least implies that you believe they have intrinsic value - value that makes them worth stealing no matter what the political situation. :-P

DeAnander said...

Speaking of Canadian stupidity, it's following the same trajectory :-) Harper tries harder and harder to promote war-consciousness, jingoism 'military glory' (an oxymoron which I almost can't bear to type)... things previously alien to mainstream Canadian culture. This article

details some of the Harper-Conservative focus on selective historical memory -- particularly the use of the war of 1812 as a Patriotism incantation (thaumaturgy anyone?).

Meanwhile the same regime is cutting research funds and intimidating scientists who publish the "wrong" results (particularly about climate change, but any other work that in any way highlights or documents the "externalities" of resource exploitation).

Couple this with deregulation of just about every industry and an overt scramble to liquidate the country's natural assets (mostly for sale to foreign buyers) and you have pretty much a classic comprador elite doing what it does best: hastening the collapse. The stupidity may not be as egregious, or as entertaining, as the American variety -- but it's a closely related species.

Ray Wharton said...

@Dammerung - Have you considered hiring servants instead of propping up the price of heavy shiny stuff?

Seriously, if "an extra couple k" is part of your vocabulary you could afford to pay some kid to do some green wizardry project, some 'home economics', or gardening, or do about anything.

Ideally we should all be developing these skills ourselves, but that's the sick and twisted thing isn't it? With out money life is survivalist whack-a-mole. But to make money one has to put so much energy into it that it can be hard to focus on a skill or two.

You get services now, and if you have the sense to be a good boss you might just help out a few people with a few skills get a few odd jobs. This plan will cause you to get burned by a few folks too, but we all need to get burned every once in a while, or we get fuzzy.

Dwig said...


'...down the road a ways, I hope to publish a much more thoroughly developed version of the theory, but that project is still in the earliest stages just now."

"Moshe, I'd have to get a coauthor who has some background in quantitative modeling. I'm a historian of ideas, not a mathematician. "

I'm looking forward to your development of the theory. Conveniently, the tools for quantitative modeling are becoming more accessible. In particular, take a look at Beyond Connecting the Dots. (I've only gotten a short way into it, but it looks like a well paced inroduction to system dynamics.)

In fact, I'm interested enough that I might be able to carve out some time to assist on the project, if that would be helpful (I wouldn't want coauthor status; just the joy of the project). No promises, but it's an enticing prospect.

Rita Narayanan said...

"Rita, and Britain in 1900 -- when it was the richest nation on the planet -- also had a very large, desperately impoverished underclass. I was simply referring to the total national wealth, of course."

Very True.. I just made the point on the blog because in today's world particularly Western most people have no real relationship with the poverty of the third world :)

Ruben said...

I am looking forward to an expansion of catabolic collapse.

For those who are interested, the pdf is—academic. However, JMG has written a very readable and useful section on catabolic collapse in The Long Descent.

The Long Descent remains, in my opinion, one of the most important books for our time, and is usually the first book I suggest to people.

Redneck Girl said...

Sitting here reading the posts while at the back of my mind I was ruminating on how to fund a future government here in Cascadia. I 'clicked' on the Incan Empire. I don't believe they had money in the form most civilizations have had but they still collected taxes from the populous in the form of a combination of goods and services. Dried foods, fabrics, in the form of blankets and other goods were collected in positioned warehouses against need such as a natural disaster. The services were an annual term of labor, working on the empire's roads or replacing rope suspension bridges, even working on public buildings, religious or the practically mundane like the warehouses. A common exhortation / greeting was something to the effect of "Don't be lazy!" for the industrious Incans.

Curiously enough the catholic priests that accompanied the conquistadors thought such foresight was a sin since it alleviated the suffering of the populace preventing them from an appreciation of Christ's suffering.

Can't say I care much for such Christian idiocy. Leaving it aside such a method of tax collection would be ideal here in a future Cascadia!

Hmmm. Japanese style buildings, homegrown ninjitsu, elementary democracy, a dash of cowboy types, looks to be adding up to a unique Cascadian nation! I've got the background for my after oil story, now I need the thrice cursed outline!


Violet Cabra said...

Recently I read your Not the Future We Ordered and am in the middle of Kunstler's The Geography of Nowhere. Both contain the points that suburbs are bad for community and mental health, with Kunstler's book going into great detail about the ugliness and spiritual degradation of sprawl development. Reading it struck me as high parody of Faustian civilization, everyone alone with their infinite space ie their car and big screen television.

Of course, these grotesque settlement patterns are mandated by zoning laws that forbid anything else.

As a culture ages it seems to build up more and more inertia, which is more and more tinged by the madness that seems to infect all late period civilization.

How easy it is to imagine people finding a dark age not only financial easier than a dysfunctional centralized state but how more spiritually rewarding.

Barbarian warlords bring with them drastic re-zoning ordinances - many tiny cottages surrounded by a defensive wall. Sure, there would be more disease, more hunger, more open violence etc, but still I imagine, though, that living in such a village would actually be, on an emotional level, an improvement over living isolated in ranch house separated by the neighbors by a two lane highway, alone at night eating a tv dinner watching a reality tv show.

Cherokee Organics said...


Yeah, I truly suspect that they haven't yet considered that consequence. Time will tell, I'm certainly not considering relying on such things.

Now, it would be a fair thing to say that I'm a consequentialist at heart. However:

Years back I mentioned that I used to work at the top end of town. I should probably write about my experiences there one day. However, one significant experience I had there was when it dawned on me one day that above all else, the people at the top were driven by self interest.

Sometimes, it makes laugh when I read peoples comments saying there is this elite group working against the greater good of society.

I certainly never came across puppy torturing, Dr Evil wannabes that most people think exist in that strata. No they were actually reasonably pleasant to work for, it is just that they had a level of self interest that could possibly lead them to neglect the consequences of basic social contracts. Yeah, it is that simple and I seriously doubt that pursuing self interest and working as a cabal en masse are compatible strategies.

Incidentally, I read long ago someone describing a person in their family that had mental illness in that: "they were like a black hole that could absorb energy, and no matter how much energy you put into that black hole it was never enough". The parallels are very similar and the personal insight into that world made me more worried than anything I'd ever previously witnessed.

Goal congruence is certainly a stronger long term survival technique than self interest, but I can see which of the two strategies that is celebrated in our society.



PS: I forgot to mention that there is a new weekly blog up: On top of the world. It has a photo of cheeky baby wombat ambling up the driveway late last week.

Rebecca Brown said...

JMG, please write that detailed book length version of the theory of catabolic collapse. I want it on the bookshelf next to Tainter, Spengler, et al.

As for those who want quantitative analysis, pick up a copy of the old Limits to Growth or any of the updates. That was the first book that convinced me that something was deeply wrong with our society.

It's getting harder to find real data in amongst the noise, but it's possible. Yesterday the news was talking about the latest census figure and how the 'average' American makes well over $50k a year.

Um, not quite. First, that's an average, not a median. Secondly, it's self-reported. If you look at figures from the Social Security Administration, which uses actual paycheck numbers, the median income of all working age people (ages 16-65) in the U.S. is down to about $27k.

But everything is just hunky dory. Don't look behind the curtain!

The for sale sign goes up here soon. I have to say goodbye to my chickens next week. I'm not looking forward to it, but I hope to have some again one day.

Kyoto Motors said...

One issue here is in Quebec is that of current Bill 3, which essentially breaks the promise of reliable pensions for a certain sector of public servants: Police, firefighters, bus drivers, to name a few. They are being asked to sacrifice the benefits they’ve worked toward, but will likely never see. Interestingly these groups are working together with “pressure tactics” including stickering their vehicles with slogans (police cars, buses, fire trucks are all plastered with them). Coincidentally these signs use a red square design, which ironically recalls the widespread student protest movement of a few years back (les carrés rouges). The students were at considerable odds with the cops at the time; some incidents of mass arrest are still being resolved in the courts today… Now, are the cops possibly fishing for solidarity with the counter-culture 99% types? (sounds like a stretch, I know, but…) It’s an interesting development if the government here truly succeeds in alienating one of their major police forces.

Kyoto Motors said...

@Cherokee (and all)
As for the airlines, well it was clear once the early stages of peak oil began to drive fuel prices up that the industry was in for some turbulence. One thing we’ve witnessed in Canada has been the decimation of the labour unions involved. Strikes were rendered illegal, whole companies allowed to fail, replaced by at least one with less union presence. Clearly the strategy has been to cut labour costs in an attempt to counter the rising operating costs, keeping in mind that fuel is just one of many stress points. Security has also become far more complex than it used to be. And still, so many people I know, from the point of view of entitlement to abundance, complain with indignation about how expensive it is to fly. So there is the market pressure to “remain competitive” as well.

Kyoto Motors said...

History is full of examples of gangsters and thugs with their local powers, “armies” and networks, who manage to align themselves with more legitimate powers, and the next thing you know, they’re legitimised somehow too (the birth of the modern state of Israel comes to mind, according to Robert Fisk, and others). Here in my town, through judicial inquiries, we are officially acknowledging what many had come to know already, namely that the lines between legitimate political power (municipal or provincial government) and organised crime (in the guise of legitimate business) are indeed quite blurry. It’s not too far fetched to imagine a criminal element becoming a regional power with the very real force of armed henchmen. Not that I’m paranoid, or worried for the immediate future, but who knows, really?

Ugo Bardi said...

Hello, JMG. Excellent post, as usual. I took the liberty of reproducing a few paragraphs from it on my blog and commenting them.

Mister Roboto said...

I'm going to jump the gun a bit and spell out what I think is ultimately going to destroy the American elite and those members of the middle class that identify with them: The ideology that The Only Thing That Matters Is Money. The problem with that, putting aside entirely the stomach-turning moral and spiritual bankruptcy of such a belief, is that our money is entirely a creature of the system that created it. Back in ancient Rome, at least the coinage was actually made from precious metals, however debased as time went on, that would still have some face value once the system collapsed. Our money's value is rather less substantial and entirely dependent on an energy-intensive system that must expand in order to properly maintain the standard of living. Even a very anemic growth-rate between .5-1% per annum is poison to the health of the system.

So what happens to the money when the economy actually starts actively contracting? While the individual units of currency themselves become more potent, it is only on account of its every-growing scarcity that it becomes so. And why does this happen? Because way too much of our hyper-expanded precious money-supply was pure credit with no real value backing it up. The sheer amount of vapor-money created rose dramatically in order to prevent the crash of six years ago from becoming a system-consuming contagion. But ultimately that only makes the system more unstable because each unit of precious money has even less real material value backing it up.

So when the system contracts and its time to render accounts, all that vapor-money just goes away into the nothingness from which it emerged. And this is nothing to anticipate with any sort of glee, because when a society based on nothing but money has that money vanish like a phantom in the night, all that's left is...nothing. And it is ghastly to even attempt imagining how a population with nothing in their heads and hearts as a result of a lifetime of worshiping this insubstantial phantom, is going to deal with there suddenly being nothing but...nothing.

thrig said...

Speaking of old orders, the new bread tastes different since switching to a proper wheat grinder from the old spice mill (same wheat berries; however, that sourdough does otherwise lack proper control groups and double-blind tests and whatnot). Preliminary excavations on the Spengler Volume Two complex have alas been abandoned for the "Art of Fermentation" (Sandor Katz, 2012) and now there's a proliferation of bottles (mostly borrowed from work due to a coworker who as a service converts Costco food into free bottles), one with a "mead?" label, several with obviously beets in them, and an overflowing sauerkraut jar (the label though says olives) I had the foresight to place above the sink but not to overfill. Okay, two now with "mead?" this second one using the coffee filter plus string trick instead of the screw top on the first jar and I have no idea what I'm doing la la la

Moshe Braner said...

More signs that things are coming to a head in the USA?

"Angry with Washington, 1 in 4 Americans open to secession"

"The urge to sever ties with Washington cuts across party lines and regions, though Republicans and residents of rural Western states are generally warmer to the idea ...

Anger with President Barack Obama's handling of issues ranging from healthcare reform to the rise of Islamic State militants drives some of the feeling...

But others said long-running Washington gridlock had prompted them to wonder if their states would be better off striking out on their own...

"I don't think it makes a whole lot of difference anymore which political party is running things. Nothing gets done," said Roy Gustafson, 61, of Camden, South Carolina..."

Kelly said...

Hi Mr. Greer,
Great post, as usual. A bit off topic, but this article caught my eye:

Not news to you or anyone following this blog, but interesting that it's the leading headline at HuffPost.

Cheers, Kelly

Imiszkusz said...

JMG and Kaitlain:

"Imiszkusz, I've heard the same thing from a lot of people in the former Eastern bloc. The Soviet Union has fallen, and now you'refree -- free, that is, to starve in the streets while your country's wealth is pumped dry to keep other countries' economies afloat. That sort of thing very easily gives democracy a bad name. "

hmm.. this wasn't exactly what I wanted to emphasize, but as far as I see, it fits well enough to the view of many people here.
Still, the word 'communism' leaves a bad taste in the mouth of many-many people too and as I feel, the general mood is changing between despair, indecision, indifference or worse here when it comes to the future of the country.
What I wanted to say is, that during the last 4-8 years, the governement of Viktor Orbán has come up with some kind of vision that filled many peoples' empty minds and hearts and this whole thing makes me think a bit of the 'strange bright banners' that you wrote of in 'The Blood of The Earth'.

here's a link:

I'm not a very erudite person in politics, I was just curious about what you think about this.

Ed-M said...


I hope you're right! But I don't see a great and general collapse, ie, the biggest stairstep in the long descent, until about 2030 or so, which would be toward or after the end of my lifetime (I'm 53 now). So long as that Bernsysean machine is in place, and there is not yet a critical mass of people disconnected from the receiving end, political instability will not come nigh here.

Mike, regarding the Ebola virus: I can see it spreading like wildfire through the urban homeless population at places where they congregate: shelters, soup kitchens, day-shelters, etc. We already have a few cases here in Louisiana with Tulane researchers and some other cases up in Baton Rouge. But no homeless cases yet.

Wizzrobe, yes, the automation of jobs! Looks to me the bourgeoisie just wants to make the masses all redundant, from the lumpenproletariat at the bottom to the petty bourgeoisie just underneath them. I have heard an interview on NPR where the one interviewed said artificial intelligence will make *half* of all jobs redundant, and not just unskilled laborers, but doctors and lawyers, too. And this will happen before 2030 if progress in AI occurs as predicted, just in time for rapid depletion of resources as predicted in The Limits to Growth. Which means they not only don't get to complete their project, but the masses get to dispose of them!

Kyoto Motors said...

I have spent a fair bit of time objecting to content heard on our (Canadaian) national radio, here as elsewhere. As a matter of fact, however, it would be unfair to say it’s all that bad. So as to underscore this point, I thought I’d post a link here to an excellent radio show called “Ideas” with host Paul Kennedy (tho’ not the same Paul Kennedy you cited here recently – I had to check!). The topic? American Empire! It includes a very good interview with the late Chalmers Johnston: [scroll down the list to “The Sorrows of Empire”]

Diana Haugh said...

A question was raised about Rome's periphery post collapse. Spain had provided many of Rome's preeminent generals and emperors but was let go without much of a fuss when Ataulfo the Visigoth was named a foederati of Rome and allowed to marry his captive Gala Placidia, the emperor's daughter. Spain's very civilized Roman population didn't raise much of a fuss about it either and were relieved when the Visigoths adopted Roman law and maintained the infrastructure as best they could. Visigoth and Iberian Roman together resisted the imposition of the authority of the successor of the Roman Empire, the Catholic Church, as long as they could, in some places well into the seventh century. (As late as the tenth century, a fight between bulls was arranged to settle the issue with one bull representing Rome and one bull the native population. The bull named Rome lost but Rome still triumphed)(Of course, the far older cult of the sacred bull never was extinguished and is celebrated on Sundays even today in Spain when the populace roars Ole' (oh God) with each pass of the sacrificial bull) The ferocity of the Inquisition was in no small part directed at the resistance of the local population to external control.
You might say that although the Roman imperium fell, Roman culture did not. Spain retained all the traditional aspects of Roman family structure,culture and philosophy and Roman city grids can be found in evey town throughout Latin America, just as tertullias are still held in upper class Spanish speaking homes.

Goats And Roses said...

Somewhere in here, JMG has a suggested reading list. I can't find it. Thanks for any help in locating it.

Ray Wharton said...

"The point that needs to be grasped here is that social hierarchies are a form of capital, in the broad sense mentioned above. Like the other forms of capital included in the catabolic collapse model, social hierarchies facilitate the production and distribution of goods and services, and they have maintenance costs that have to be met. If the maintenance costs aren’t met, as with any other form of capital, social hierarchies are converted to waste; they stop fulfilling their economic function, and become available for salvage."

What is the maintenance costs?

For a hierarchy to function people in it need to either accept a roll passively, actively, or actively be looking for a roll in the hierarchy; people that are doing none of those things are not in the hierarchy. Without participants there is no hierarchy at all. Also, at least a portion of the participants need to be active, a purely passive hierarchy cannot respond creatively to changes in external conditions, and will rapidly be swept away by entropy; even aged hierarchies long past their creative phase need an ember of active participation to function at all.

What portion needs to be active depends on many factors, including the conditions the hierarchy must be able to respond to, the prowess of the active members, the weight of the passive members, the work load of maintaining the hierarchies.

To survive a hierarchy first needs to be able to do somethings that motivates at least some people to actively participate in it; and if those people cannot do those things alone then the hierarchy needs passive participants sufficient to do those things, which means it also needs to do somethings to motivate sufficient passive people to participate...

This could go on for a while, but basically a hierarchy needs to be able to motivate behavior. The easiest motivators to double down on are the motivators that build up as a hierarchy ages. Fancy toys are the preferred motivator of our culture.

If a critical motivator is in short supply, alternative motivators can be found (video games for example are more resource efficient fancy toys than yachts, but still adequately effective). Introducing a new motivator requires a new story, but a culture faces the 'germ resistance' problem using this approach (video games don't work on people who don't accept a couple of simple narrative hooks). Violence is a very effective and seemingly cheap motivator, but it isn't because motivating people to exercise violence is not cheap, not by a long shot.

If alternative motivators cannot be found, portions of the hierarchy will be insufficiently motivated to play out their rolls and the scope of the hierarchy will have to shrink, including the hierarchy's ability to do things, including (if they are not fortunate) continue providing motivators for remaining participants, until the hierarchy
has reduced down to a size that a stable source of motivation exists for.

Of course the shed members don't (all) just sit around reminiscing about the good old days. Their cost of being motivated by "anyone but those jerks" has dropped into the basement.

Add a touch of spices to the mix and I think the crazy bubbling pot of contending new born hierarchies that define a dark age is ready to serve.

LewisLucanBooks said...

Have you heard of Lt. General Sir John Glubb and his essay "Fate of Empires and Search for Survival?" Worth a look? Lew

Bogatyr said...

It may be that someone's posted this but, if so, I've missed it.

Angry with Washington, 1 in 4 Americans open to secession.

rapier said...

The American Security State in all its guises and the abandonment of the bottom are being undertaken by our elites with I believe only partial knowledge that decline is inevitable. So I think these things are not what we might call an evil plan to maintain their position but practical ones in their minds with supported by ready made ideologies, neo liberalism and neo conservatism etc., which allow them to think they are acting ethically and morally.

Americans more than all are enamored with being on the moral high ground. Real politic is rare here.

My basic position is that due to geographic, resource, and cultural factors the US is set to decline last and least on a relative basis in the 21st century or some portion of it. Included in this and related to the unknowing actions of our elites now embracing chaos in the rest of the world with its 'foreign policy'. I am pretty sure Obama never thought that his signing on to regime change in Syria or Ukraine was a way to bring chaos to those places. The end results are driving capital to our shores.

The US is as Lee Adler says the last Ponzi standing. It might be silly to extrapolate a short term market trend to a secular turn but I am guessing the huge dollar rally since July 1 is the start of something big. With capital flowing away from uncertainty a lot of friction in the system can be overcome.

Varun Bhaskar said...


I look forward to next weeks posts, I'm always interested in the solutions to the problems we currently face. Not that I'm under any illusion that they'll be adopted by the elite, but I'm hoping to make those ideas heard by the common man. You are right when you say that the elite just don't get what’s going on. Just this week there have been announcements of how the economy is recovering and blah blah blah. Seriously nothing worth repeating here. I do want to draw everyone's attention to one really important piece of news.

China's Gambit to End the Petrodollar.

Yeah, we're at end game for the U.S. empire.

In order news VotG is mapping the neo-pagan movement in the US. Anyone interested in helping please e-mail me at viewontheground at


Varun Bhaskar

Moshe Braner said...

This one's a howler:

"We have more oil and natural gas than we will ever need" in the United States, Hofmeister, who ran the Houston-based Shell Oil Company from 2005 to 2008, said in an interview with Reuters on Thursday. "The question is, What is the price of that oil? If oil is too expensive for everyday people ... it depresses the economy overall."

This quote is in an article on a new film that came out:

"The movie, "PUMP," blames oil companies, and what is described as their obstructive tactics, as well as political inertia for preventing the widespread adoption of cheaper and cleaner fuels based on natural gas and alcohol in the United States...

... the infrastructure for producing alcohol-based fuels for mass consumption simply does not exist, something Hofmeister blames on onerous federal regulations. "It's a huge economic stimulus growth opportunity because we don't have the infrastructure for the alternative fuels," Hofmeister said."

I wonder who is behind this film and what motivates them. The economically-failing ethanol and fracking companies looking for a financial boost?

onething said...

James Mishner,

I wonder why you think victory over Russia would be a given. I have always thought that if America ever fought a real war with Russia, especially on their land, we would lose. They're smarter, they're healthier, they've got more tenacity, and besides, America is already rather exhausted from war.


I think more Americans would abandon mainstream healthcare if they could afford it. Of course it is a lot cheaper, but still it can run into quite a bit. It's sad to me that my insurance pays for such expensive stuff, but if I want to do something that costs a tenth as much, I'm on my own.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Mustard,

Yeah, it could be fair thing to say that the share and property market are both propped up here by retirement savings. Over here employers are required to put 9.5% of a person’s pre-tax income into these funds every quarter. Mate, I'll tell ya, the sharks are swimming around in that pool for sure.

Incidentally the system penalises low income earners, because if you earn less than $450 at a specific work place during the month the employer is under no obligation to pay any amounts at all on your behalf. This has consequences for people who may work in many different work places: i.e. the under employed who are overly represented by Gen Y's.

Also all of those 9.5% employer amounts going into those funds are taxed at a flat 15%. So, if you are an older high income earner you may be able to contribute more of your salary into that fund thus lowering the amount of tax you pay on that salary to the 15% tax. Then, those people may be also able to pull out those earnings tax free because of their age.

Low income earners on the other hand who for obvious reasons shouldn't really be paying much tax at all, get slugged 15% tax on their retirement savings with no consideration that they are a low income earner.

It is a grossly unfair system weighted to advantage older and wealthier recipients and they announced recently that I have to work until I'm 70 as the retirement age will be lifted.

It was originally setup as a fair system, but, bit by bit successive governments have gamed it to provide advantages to their support base. I think the term is called pork barrelling. Shame is we can no longer pay for such antics.

Round and round the wealth pump goes and where it stops, nobody knows.



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi latefall,

The lister engines are used a lot here by the off grid solar people as backup generators.

I have no practical experience with them, but given just how long they've been around, they are probably not a bad idea for a stationery engine (pumping and generator). Car and truck altenators are a good thing.

Incidentally, many of them are sourced here from India, where they are still produced to this day. Check out listeroids.

They burn biodiesel, vegetable oil, so the wood gassifier may be a bit of overkill, but again I have no experience in such matters.

Thanks for mentioning them as they are a true work horse and have very long life spans.



YJV said...

You might this to be interesting:

Along with this fantastic fiction piece by Jon Davis on Quora on what happens after the events in your recent novel:


Kaitain said...

Speaking of H.P. Lovecraft, here is a good documentary and introduction to his work I found on YouTube:

Lovecraft is a perennial favorite of mine, along with other pulp writers like Robert E Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Clark Ashton Smith and Michael Moorcock.

John Michael Greer said...

Dammerung, not at all. Gold and silver have no intrinsic value at all; they're valuable purely because of the currently widespread, fetishistic conviction that they're valuable. I should probably do a post on the role treasure plays in literature from dark ages -- it's illuminating, to say the least.

DeAnander, thanks for the update from north of the border. That's about what I thought.

Dwig, thank you. When I have time to devote to the project, we may just talk.

Rita, no argument there.

Ruben, thank you!

Wadulisi, whatever comes out the other end of the current historical process will probably be at least that weird, yes.

Violet, excellent! Yes, one of the advantages of replacing bureaucrats with barbarian warlords is that zoning ordinances stop being quite so stupid.

Cherokee, the very well-to-do people I've met have been more clueless than anything else -- to the extent that they have an exaggerated fixation on self-interest, it's because it's never occurred to them that anything else might matter, and they've been carefully shielded from the consequences of their actions all their lives. More on this soon.

Rebecca, best of luck with the move!

Kyoto, the rift between government and its own security forces is a standard event in this sort of process, and it's interesting to see it playing out so soon. As for organized crime as a protofeudal power, well, yes -- thing is, a well-run mafia is usually a more effective and responsive government than what most cities have these days.

Ugo, thank you! Much appreciated.

Mister R., good. I wonder if there's any way to track the rise and fall of actual wealth, as distinct from money, in our society; that might be a very revealing curve just now.

John Michael Greer said...

Thrig, I let this one through, but stream of consciousness posts on green living really aren't on topic, you know.

Moshe and Kelly, yes, I saw that!

Imiszkusz, it's part of the same thing. Orban is capitalizing on the hard fact that democracy hasn't lived up to its promises, and that a great many people in Hungary are worse off now than they were before the Iron Curtain went away. Yes, he's the sort of thing I was talking about in that post.

Ed-M, I disagree. I expect to see the next major crisis under way within a decade.

Kyoto, glad to hear it.

Diana, true enough -- and that's a good model for the way that some elements of a fallen civilization can endure.

Goats, try this post.

Ray, excellent! A solid analysis.

Lew, I have indeed. An interesting book, worth reading.

Bogatyr, good. You're #3 to catch that.

Rapier, there I think you're wrong. The vagaries of the dollar are no measure of the accelerating collapse of broader measures of US economic and political power; I expect us to collapse ahead of most other industrial nations, for reasons I've explained in previous posts.

Varun, one of the main things I'll be discussing in next week's post is why ruling elites become so clueless in the last years of their power. Stay tuned...

John Michael Greer said...

Moshe, a howler indeed. As I noted in a previous post, all this reminds me forcefully of the propaganda broadcasts from Berlin in the last years of the Third Reich, drifting further and further from reality as the endgame tightened.

Onething, of course they would -- and as the price of conventional medicine keeps skyrocketing and that of alternative medicine remains low, the money's going to be less and less of an incentive -- thus the attempt to force people to pay for conventional medicine whether they have the money or not, i.e., Obamacare.

YJV, you're #4 on the secession article -- thank you. The other is fascinating; you can tell that it's written by a US military officer, because he ignores the role that insurgency would play in his scenario. In reality, once California conquered Washington and Oregon, New York conquered New England, Texas conquered Colorado, etc., the conquerors would be unable to make use of the military resources of the conquered states, and their own forces would be pinned down in an unwinnable stalemate, by ongoing insurgencies in the conquered regions. It astonishes me that a nation that won its independence in large part because of insurgency -- Yorktown is just the local spelling of Dienbienphu -- has a military that so consistently leaves that out of the picture!

Kaitain, I never got much into Burroughs, but the rest are old favorites.

Wizzrobes said...


Well just for the record I don't believe these predictions will come about, I've always been deeply skeptical of the prospect of a "post labor" future. I was just pointing out a current modern obsession which seems to be increasingly embraced with great enthusiasm by the wealthy (along with a lot of naive techno optimist millennials). I'll admit some ignorance on how far back these claims go, it's something I should probably read up on!


Well, do they really think such a system would be sustainable? I guess they're really betting on the effectiveness of drones and other robotic warfare once the masses come with the assault rifles. Not that such a system would even get that far.

Matthew Casey Smallwood said...

The elites that will be in danger are not the ones who step out of the way, gracefully : everyone knows they are no different than themselves, in that respect. It's the ones who hang on, who order the troops to fire, who sign repressive legislation, etc., who are risking their necks. If you have to live behind barb wire to feel safe, maybe you should get out more. On the other hand, there is a possibility of a "lesser magistrate" class coming up that is self-consciously waiting for its hour. It would have to deliberately eschew power until the right moment, ie., when power has already collapsed.

peacegarden said...

@ The Primitive
“…to move at the pace the universe allows.” Who knew, indeed! You have discovered a foundational truth…good on you!

We seem to have an expectation of being in charge and “getting her done”, even when, or perhaps especially when, we are collapsing now to avoid the rush…it is virtuous you see, so deserves to happen on our time table. HAH! We must submit to “the pace the universe allows”. Love that!



William Church said...

I noticed that Krugman's newest article asserts that converting to renewable energy would actually result in no negative consequences to the economy. NONE.

Who says economists are worthless? They're always good for a laugh.

Nice of him to provide such a timely example of an out of touch elite for you John.


peacegarden said...

@ thrig

You go, guy! Fermentation rules! If you ever want to make the top more permanent than a coffee filter, there are “flour sack towels” out there, fairly inexpensive, that can be cut to pickle jar top size, or any size you need. Garden twine can be used to tie one on (pun intended).

I am going to check out the green wizards site…wondering if there is a fermentation thread…if not, we could start one.



Ed-M said...


I am in full agreement with you on James Mishner's idea that we can fight a war with Russia without losing, or worse, resorting to and then going all-out with nukes (the latter if cooler heads stateside cannot prevail). All-out with nukes means, of course, humanity will probably go extinct from nuclear winter / instant ice age.


Within the next decade? Well Rome had a century of crises before it internally economically collapsed in the early 4th Century CE, then went on another 150 years before the Western Empire collapsed, utterly.

So far we in the US haven't had any real crises after the Great Depression and Second World War, just a lot of problems.

Nastarana said...

Dear Ray Wharton,

About domestic help: I should begin by saying I come from a family and cultural background in which it was considered disgraceful to employ domestic help. Any adult can pick up after him or herself was the attitude.

While I am quite willing to pay well for services--I strongly believe in good money for good work--such as tool maintaince which we discussed a few weeks ago, I balk at the idea of having my yard invaded by a pack of mow and blow guys who think that a "weed" is any green and growing thing they have never seen at Walmart, and who ain't about to listen to some blank, blank old so-and-so female telling them what to do. I am not interested in having rare and unusual plants blow dried into extinction.

I do, in a small way, participate in the ongoing effort to preserve heritage plants. I can say that, among the gardeners to whom I talk, none, to a person, want anything to do with the M&B contingent. Some might say that heritage plants are an elitist, or wannabe elitist in my case, affectation in the face of the more serious problems facing us all. I would argue that such minutiae as my heirloom roses or someone else's bird watching or another person's quilting are the warp and woof of civilized life.

Roger said...

Talking about failure to maintain: Toronto Community Housing owns dozens of apartment buildings in the city with rent geared to income for use by the poorer segments of the citizenry. Recently it came out that there is a maintenance backlog for these buildings that's in the billions of dollars. The dwellings are rotten, falling apart. The Toronto subway system is also falling apart with decades old facilities and and never upgraded technology.

This maintenance problem has been many years in the making. That's because a housing repair bill that massive takes a long time to rack up. Didn't start with Rob Ford. The lousy hypocrites that run the show, under whose watch this mess happened, and that deride Ford and his supporters (that is lower income people), have a great deal to account for.

How does this neglect happen? Easy. The city's elites, for all their pious and politically correct posturing, don't give a damn about the poor or the middle class. Especially the poor. The elite (left-wing or right-wing) looks after the elite. They rub shoulders in private schools as youngsters and in private clubs and in corporate offices when they're older.

This is just one example of how a failure to maintain a society's capital base first hits the poor. Nothing surprising really. This place has been on a long-term downward trajectory. It used to have a burgeoning industrial base which is where today's poor used to work and make decent money in years past. But no more. Never mind the absurd condo boom. Those shining towers are ticking financial time-bombs and the city's future high rise slums.

Why all this? Because this industrial base, courtesy of our oligarch class, is long gone to China and Mexico. What's left? Financial and real estate scams run by that same oligarch class, sponsored by our central bank via artificially suppressed interest rates. Their touts dangle the prospect of easy money, suckers like you and me place their bets, meanwhile, in the counting rooms, like gangsters of old, the oligarchs pocket the skim. Skim? You know, investment management fees, trading commissions, executive bonuses. Year by year they get richer, year by year you get poorer.

. josé . said...

By the time you approve this comment, it will be the fourth one with this link :)

This author's formulation of a "lame duck nation" uses the conventional characterization of Obama's current role as the metaphor. But his analysis is quite similar to the ones you've posted here. I don't know if (1) your influence is being felt throughout the "thinking" part of society or (2) you were just one of the first to clearly articulate something everyone will eventually recognize.

But it's clear that the zeitgeist is evolving.

Marcello said...

"Victory over Russia is a given, provided they do not go for the nuclear option, in which case everyone loses. Operations could take anywhere from four to eight years, depending on how low-grade, brushfire, and proxy level the war is kept. But it will drain all the last wealth of both nations, and the Russians, ever experienced at fighting a hard retreat, will ensure that there is no loot to use, burning and destroying their own factories and fields even as the Americans move forward. Russia may survive in the East, as a rump state, with the West occupied by American and allied forces."

Allow me to quote russian military doctrine (year 2000 but I doubt substance has changed much)on this specific point:

"The Russian Federation reserves the right to utilize nuclear weapons in response to the utilization of nuclear and other types of weapons of mass destruction against it and (or) its allies, and also in the event of aggression against the Russian Federation involving the use of conventional weapons when the very existence of the state is under threat."

From what I understand the define tactical nuclear strike against invading conventional forces as:

"De-escalation of military actions"

Which I take is russian military lingo for "nuke the invader amerikanski until glow in the dark".

DeAnander said...

" to the extent that they have an exaggerated fixation on self-interest, it's because it's never occurred to them that anything else might matter, and they've been carefully shielded from the consequences of their actions all their lives."

my buddy Stan Goff sums this up as the axiom "Privilege is infantilising." I dunno if he invented it -- it seems pretty obvious when you think about it. after all, being shielded from the full consequence of one's actions is one of the features of a (happy) childhood -- it practically defines childhood; the iron law of consequences is something that caring parents try to introduce slowly as the child matures.

privilege shields people from the full consequences of their actions (maybe as a member of the privileged industrial core dwellers I should say *our* actions!) and hence keeps them (us) childish in thought and behaviour, clueless, silly, shallow, self-interested.

if you have enough wealth everything you do is "play" in the sense that failure or success make little difference except to your ego. you have a safety net that can absorb all errors of judgment. not much different from having loving parents who will take care of things for you, eh. so choices can be made frivolously.

one of the hardest things I think for us as a culture, collectively, to come to grips with is the iron law of environmental consequences -- we no longer have that cushion of wealth, as a culture, as a civilisation, to absorb the shock of our massive and persistent errors of perception, thinking, and behaviour. our choices and decisions are having consequences and will continue to do so, and there is no shield and no "elsewhere" for the bad stuff to happen in.

sigh. Childhood's End.

ps captcha presents me with a housefront where the number is cut off (less than 25% of it w/in frame). a mean trick!

Steven said...


The following (overly long) article explores a topic relevant to your recent posts: why we don't yet have colonies on Mars, flying cars, and moonbeams in jars.

Short answer: unrealistic expectations, profit motive, and bureaucracy. 

No need to reply. I just though it an interesting counterpoint to your views on the subject. Oh, and have you heard of the Mars One project? 


Random Man said...

JMG, silver has great value as an industrial metal. Even if industry declines, its practical uses are many.

Gold has value as a store of wealth. This is not a mere fetish; it is a result of natural properties. Gold is stable, divisible, and fungible, which is why it is has been used as money for millenia. Aside from platinum which is difficult to find and process, no other substance on this planet has these properties, that we know of.

I find your dismissal of gold and silver to be contrary to the spirit of this and other blogs which support the idea that we are returning to a more natural world.

Brian Weber said...

This story of the history of the region post-collapse is so distorted it's hard to know where to begin. First, the Visigoths were Arian (at least for the first 100 years) and ignored the popes, while the population they ruled were Catholic (or Nicean I guess). This caused friction between ruler and ruled, and was one reason among others that the Visigoths, despite wanting to rule like Romans, were actually very bad at it. They actively suppressed the remnant Roman elite, who did carry on their traditions despite this.... though eventually there was detente. But something took place between the nice Visigoths and the top - down inquisition that wasn't mentioned... too minor? The Umayyad caliphate had some centuries-long activities there. Islamization and subsequent rechristianization would have had some effects on cultural continuity. Or one would think. Also the Catholic Church was hardly a "successor empire" or anything close at this point in time; one reason among others that it was successful was that it spiraled into poverty with the rest of W Europe, and didn't pose a serious challenge to the age's rather brutal new power structures. The age when popes could change out rulers or tax Europe was far in the future (and it never did became powerful enough to make Christendom-wide political decisions at will, despite its ambitions).

dltrammel said...

Have you heard of Lt. General Sir John Glubb and his essay "Fate of Empires and Search for Survival?" Worth a look? Lew

That's an amazing essay, I could match every metric he mentions into the current rise and soon fall of the US Empire. Thanks.

dltrammel said...

The fraking bubble is about to pop.

Oil and Gas Company Debt Soars

Cherokee Organics said...


I agree and look forward to your future post.

It is interesting that as a culture we do seem to be somewhat fixated on shiedling people from the consequences of their actions. I assume that this is an expression of the available surplus energy, or a fixation on personal safety, but I just really don't know and it baffles me. I feel it is somehow linked to escalation too, but don't quite see how the jigsaw fits together.



John Roth said...

I just did a read-through of your catabolic collapse paper, and it occurs to me that a classic econometric model is exactly the wrong way to go about it. This looks more like one of Sid Meyers' Civilization games. While the basis of econometric modeling has expanded in the last few decades, it's still mostly 19th century partial differential equations that oversimplify everything to be able to cram it into a tractable model.

This looks more like a modern weather or climate model to me: split the territory of interest into small sections (squares are usual), give each one starting values of resources, write a transition function that takes the status at time t and creates the status at time t+1, hit the start button, sit back and see what happens.

The nice thing about this approach is that, with a bit of infrastructure support (displays, etc.) any teenage computer whiz can work on it without the post-graduate degree in economic modeling.

While I'm not a gamer, I think I've seen some similar games whizzing by.

Gloucon X said...

“The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.”

Lovecraft wrote that in 1926. I guess the science that created poison gas and other horrors of WW1 didn’t impress him. Then came the events WW2 and the invention of atomic weapons. It’s hard to top that in the terrifying vista dept. Amazing isn't it? If there was ever a time for people eagerly seek the peace and safety of a new dark age, this was the time. But what happened was not a fleeing by the masses into a dark age, but rather a passive acceptance and thoughtless obedience. When the elites told them everything would be fine, all they had to do was “duck and cover”, that’s exactly what they did. When the elites told them to forget the horrors of science and focus instead of the wonders of consumerism, they again obeyed, and have been obeying ever since.

Dagnarus said...

Tying this week in to last weeks post. Part of the mythology of technology (at least upon the left) is that technology has defeated scarcity. If you believe technology has defeated scarcity, your privileges can be sustained, if they are not sustainable at the current time it must be the responsibility of some other human entity. I.E. the elite are artificially imposing scarcity in order to maintain control, or the welfare queens are syphoning of all the wealth to pay for their Lamborghinis. In either case the solution is not to try and come up with a managed decrease of everyones privilege, but rather to defeat whatever human agency is preventing prosperity for all, (but most importantly for yourself).

Were there similar thoughts during the fall of the Roman Empire? After all, Jove has smashed the titans right, how come things seem to be turning pear shaped?

wiseman said...

Gold and silver have no intrinsic value at all; they're valuable purely because of the currently widespread, fetishistic conviction that they're valuable.

My dead grandparents would take an exception to this statement, it was our family heirloom that saved us from begging on the streets when we had to flee our homes overnight during the partition of India.

Some realities are local and some are global, as far as gold and silver are concerned you are right that it doesn't have any intrinsic value but our lives are most of the times defined by what society thinks is valuable.

It may be so that gold doesn't hold much value in western civilization but in most Oriental civilizations gold has been a valuable commodity for thousands of years.

Ruben said...

@ Thrig

If youare starting to ferment things, please read this page on fermenting, then buy some Fido jars, and do not look back.



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Violet,

hehe! Your quote: "Barbarian warlords bring with them drastic re-zoning ordinances". Too funny! I'm still giggling to myself about that one.

Of course, they'd provide less onerous costs, that's how they'd get popular support.



James Mishler said...

RE: My belief that the US would win a war against Russia is predicated upon the modern US ideals of "winning" a war, or rather, declaring "Mission Accomplished."

The US military primarily excels at one thing -- pressing buttons and blowing things up. A US attack on Russia would not involve "boots on the ground" for most of the first couple months; it would be a stand-off and loose conventional weapons or use EMP weapons to take out Russian command and control, as well as leadership targets and air superiority.

This would not be done until the US is able to sever Russian ties to all its major allies, notably China (which, if the Chinese are smart, won't happen, as they would be next on the list). But if they can do it, then Russia has no shield... this is one of the reasons the US sponsored the coup in Ukraine, and is desperate to hold on to its gains. Once the Us has been able to both encircle and demonize Russia, it can begin its operations.

SOP would be to take out the C&C and leadership, then wait for local non-Russian ethnic groups to rise behind the lines while the Russian core is dis-articulated. As witness in Iraq and Afghanistan, this is what we considered a winning end-game, with, ideally, the ability to hold on to certain strategic locations for our own use.

Of course, by the time we start the attack, as mentioned, Russia would likely respond with nuclear strikes. They have been very directly warning us of this lately, testing our response to the placement of their bombers in international air-space near the US and UK, as well as other testing of the readiness of their nuclear capabilities.

I think the damnfools in Washington believe either that the threat of nukes is not great enough (a "winnable, limited" nuclear war) or that our various defenses will be able to hold off any shots at the US mainland... with losses in Europe and among other allies being merely collateral damage.

If they are able to pull it off, the reduction of Russia to a post-war failed state would be considered a "win" by the US hawks... even if our allies glow in the dark.

william fairchild said...

Kyoto, Cherokee, and anyone else-

Airlines. I can speak to the vagaries of the airlines industry very specifically, as it is where I work, at least for the moment. I am desperately looking for an escape hatch.

Actually, the airline industry is a great metaphor for our current predicaments. The first mistake was de-regulation. Where in the past the airlines were considered a public good, the magic of the market came into fashion, and the airlines were free to compete directly. Maximum profit is the main consideration. With the glut of oil in the 90s, they way over-expanded and undercut each other at every opportunity. We lost half our legacy carriers during this period. (Eastern, Frontier, Western, Piedmont, Ozark, Pam Am, etc) as well as startups (Western Pacific).

Then came a double whammy. 9/11 and all its necessary security regulations AND Peak Oil. The security costs and complexity rose exponentially as did fuel. We lost America West (US Airways merger) TWA (American) Northwest (Delta) Continental (United) and now US Airways (American). There are now three legacy carriers left.

Even this has not been enough to staunch the bleeding. United lost something like 400 million last quarter.

They deployed technology (winglets, scimitar winglets -737s-, lithium batteries -787s-, check in kiosks, online check-in, etc.). They attached fees to everything under the sun (snacks, forward coach seats, ticketing fees for the privilege of interacting with a live human, and of course bag fees).

The hubs we lost: PIT, CLE, STL, MEM, CVG to name a few.

Then after UAs last big bankruptcy, they split the "flying side" from "groundhandling". Routes are now bid out the the lowest cost option and traditional short-hauls (ORD-DSM, ORD-DTW) are now flown by regionals. Even longer haul flights are (STL-IAD). The routes are rebid every few years to find the lowest bidder among the regionals. Groundhandling at the stations is bid out as well, about every few years. So your agent may wear a Delta or UA uniform, but they may work for DGS, Skywest, Eagle, Swissport, or any number of companies, for about 9/hr. part-time, no bennies. Once a location has been around for several years, and seniority has begun to climb (say 10-15/hr) they are replaced with a new handler and wages are reset to starting levels.

This bid process has pulled the teeth of Labor and set various work groups against each other. It broke apart any solidarity.

All the profits of the majors are dependent on fees. They can no longer make money off fares.

A rational societal response would be to restore the passenger rail system (as JHK promotes), but the public looks on the ability to get from ORD to LAX in a few hours, at $300 round trip, all as a god-given right.

The airlines are in the final descent, I think. Sorry this was too long- :(

Ed-M said...


"Do they really think such a system would be sustainable?"

Hahaha, they probably do!

Of course, we know better. ;^)

dltrammel said...

Add another nail in the coffin, how about we build most of our energy infrastructure within a flood plain?

Oil Refineries Threatened by Rising Sea Levels

Is that a flock of black swans I see sitting on the nearby rooftop?

John Michael Greer said...

Wizzrobes, glad to hear it. It's almost embarrassing to watch the media trotting out failed tropes from forty and fifty years ago; it's becoming painfully clear that they've run out of other gambits.

Matthew, granted, but I see no reason to think that most of the current elite has the capacity to step aside gracefully.

Will, yes, that one made my day.

Ed-M, as I've pointed out repeatedly, the decline and fall of industrial society will likely take one to three centuries. The event I expect to see within a decade is the next big lurch downward, which will leave none of our lives untouched. Does that clarify things a little?

Roger, a classic example of a society caught in maintenance crisis.

Jose, nah, you got it here first. Thank you; it's good to see that kind of clarity getting some circulation.

DeAnander, please thank Stan Goff for me. That's an elegant and very apropos summary.

Steven, that's a very sound article -- thank you -- and by no means too long. (Remember that a lot of people online think of my posts as well into teal deer territory!) As for Mars One, yes, I've heard of it. I hope they manage to get their colonists to Mars; the ghastly scenes beamed back here as the colony meets its inevitable fate will do a lot to remind people of the difference between a living planet and a dead one.

Random, the entire notion of a store of abstract value is a cultural construct; lacking that notion, gold is just a pretty metal of no particular use. The frantic attempt to turn the predicament of our time into another excuse to go shopping -- in this case, for precious metals -- does not impress me.

Dltrammel, yep. I'd recommend assuming crash positions...

Cherokee, it's a common phenomenon in the last years of civilizations. More on this soon.

John, I have no more background in computer games than I do in mathematical modeling, so either way it'll have to be someone else's job to construct the model.

LewisLucanBooks said...

@ dltrammel - I discovered the essay, as it was mentioned in a DVD I picked up at the library last week. "Four Horsemen." (2014). I watched the darn thing, twice.

Amazon has it for $25 bucks. But, I also notice it's up over at YouTube.

I can't even begin to describe this documentary. It's so dense and covers so many topics. Check out the description and reviews over at Amazon. Lew

Bruno Bolzon said...

JMG, I shudder a bit every time you say the next round of crisis will hit in ten years. Ten years! 2004 seem like yesterday to me, it is chilling to think that by 2024 the world will look like a very, very different place. I just wonder how different: will I still be able to use my car by then? Fly frequently? Will The internet still be free? Smartphones? Scary stuff, not the future that has been promised.

Marcello said...

"A US attack on Russia would not involve "boots on the ground" for most of the first couple months; it would be a stand-off and loose conventional weapons or use EMP weapons to take out Russian command and control, as well as leadership targets and air superiority."

The little problem with such a scenario is that nuclear warheads would be raining on the US within a couple of hours. Yeltsin had basically the finger on the nuclear trigger in 1995 over a norwegian test rocket whose paperwork had been mismanaged. The notion of Putin letting the americans bomb for weeks Russia

I dare say that even most neocons know better than this. There are some talks of US nuclear primacy, basically the notion that a combo of US first strike and a missile shield could win the nuclear war. It is a different thing however and I am not sure if even a McCain off his meds would like to try it out for real.

Frankly I would not be surprise if no contingency planning for occupying the USSR was done after Dropshot in 1949. Maybe some stuff like sending some marines to the Kola peninsula. Even that was wishful thinking.

jean-vivien said...

Hi everyone,
I daily browse through, in spite of - or because of - the news involving mostly the US. Just found this :

Even universities... At least it is realistic in the short-term. Problem is, out of all institutions among all people, they should stand for the longer view just like you guys do. Well, being part of an academic institution still leaves you run by humans but not necessarily for the better I guess...

"Addressing calls to divest from fossil fuels, Bachher said: "It is clear to me...that these actions will have financial consequences on all of us and on our portfolios."

Leaves me speechless.

"Harvard University, which has the largest endowment of any U.S. university at $32 billion, has rejected calls from students, faculty and outside groups to divest from fossil fuel stocks.

This year, Harvard adopted a set of environmental and social investment principles backed by the United Nations that encourage signatories to urge more transparency by companies about their carbon emissions."

This reinforces the cliché of the typical USA mindset, that is money-worshipping under a cover of blatant crass hypocrisy.

And the students would like to take a different path, but staying in an university means you are in a way financing it, and indirectly financing fossil fuels.

The first cracks between conflicting worldviews about your future are already visible, but they will mostly disfavour institutions that would have to play a key part in the preservation of knowledge.

SLClaire said...

Since we're talking about elites, it might be a good time to tell the story about the time I got to eat lunch with the CEO of the Fortune 500 company I worked for. Background: every month the CEO would invite a number of employees at various levels to eat lunch with him in one of the rooms reserved by the upper execs for business luncheons. You didn't get to submit your own name for this. I think it was the division manager who had to recommend you - mine was three levels above me. Getting an invite was understood as a privilege, an atta-boy or atta-girl, supposed to motivate you to do more for the company. In my case I'd already made the decision to quit but hadn't told anyone, so I figured it was a good opportunity to observe him and how he interacted with us.

While we were being served the various courses he went around the table, asking each of us a pertinent question about our work. Overall he struck me as competent enough, willing to do what was necessary for the company, such as eating with the plebes and taking the time to memorize a good question to ask each of us. But what I noticed most is that he didn't eat all the same food as the rest of us. In particular he got his own bowl of the breads and crackers that were the first course instead of sharing from common bowls as the rest of us were doing, and he dressed his salad from separate bottles of dressing placed in front of him rather than from the common bowls that the rest of us spooned salad dressing from. This was in the early 1990s. Was he concerned about poisoning? Did he just want to assert his superiority in that petty way? I don't know ... it just seemed odd and noteworthy to me then and still does in light of what we're discussing.

Something else I learned at the same employer ... the folks in our department were once each given a copy of some then-current management book that department management wanted us to read. I tried but it was painfully boring and in my mind poorly written. I complained about it to my boss, the group leader. He told me that books pitched to upper management were written at a ninth grade level. That explained a lot ...

onething said...

It always surprises me when people dismiss gold and silver utterly. We all have our priorities and preferences, so it might not be everyone's cup of tea but silver and more so gold have been considered valuable by humans around most of the globe for thousands of years. Humans like decorations and art, and both gold and silver make beautiful things.

When it comes to preparing for the future, there is more than one possibility, and more than one time frame to prepare for. For a short and sharp catastrophe it would be good to have some cash on hand, some water and so on. A time might come though, when the currency crashes, or there's hyperinflation, or political chaos such that one is not sure what currency will be recognized tomorrow, and who is to say that some coinage might not enable you to purchase something you need?

Some say you can't eat gold and silver. Good point. I wouldn't put it ahead of storing some dry goods. Some say don't store anything, but that seems a bit nuts to me. It's pretty easy to put aside some rice and beans. Everyone has a different situation financially and geographically. The ideal would be to have some land to garden, maybe more land for livestock, water that doesn't come from the city, some stored food, and some cash and/or coins. You try to achieve the above as best you can, but all are smart and none are foolish. As to skills, I don't see them as conflicting with the above, rather as a separate line of endeavor.

Ellen He said...

@JMG: I need help on a peak oil debate. Someone has stated this:"
Sorry, but I'm not seeing any evidence for much of what you're saying here, certainly not from the link to the Hirsch report you cite. They talk about some potential for societal disruption and shortfalls measured in decades. That 's a big jump to go from there to 'centuries-long societal collapse and its accompanying dark age'.

Frankly, this reminds me a lot of the Limits to Growth report that came out decades ago and predicted that society would have fallen into a centuries long dark ago some decades ago. Notably, it didn't.

Dealing with peak oil and energy and environmental issues is certainly a serious issue and one that may involve some societal pain along the way. But it seems to me that you're being more than a little melodramatic here.

You seem to be operating on the theory that the only possible response to societal stress is for society to fall apart. Historically, that isn't want happens. Society changes, it adapts, and it also innovates and looks for ways to meet the problem. While it certainly isn't a given that this will happen, neither is it a given that the only possible response is to just throw our hands up in the air and wait for civilization to die." What should I say?

John Michael Greer said...

Gloucon, Lovecraft wasn't talking about poison gas and the like. He was talking about the way that science dissolves humanity's sense of meaning and value.

Dagnarus, there were indeed similar thoughts -- think about the way that Christians used "God is angry because of our sins" as an explanation for the catastrophic unraveling of Roman society. Different narrative, same purpose.

Wiseman, of course having some gold can be practically useful, under certain circumstances. That doesn't give gold an intrinsic value; it simply means that as long as the fetishism holds, you can manipulate people using it. At the current price of gold, there are better options.

James, I think it's fair to assume that the Russians are perfectly aware of this, and that they know the necessity of seizing the initiative in wartime rather than remaining on the defensive. I can think of any number of nastily asymmetrical responses the Russians could use in response to this approach that have nothing to do with nukes. Just to mention one possibility: how much damage do you think a thousand well-trained Spetznaz operatives could do to our electricity grid, oil and natural gas pipelines, and other essential infrastructure in such a situation -- and just how much would be left of the US when they were finished?

William, fascinating. I've been expecting to see jet travel once again a privilege of "the jet set" within my lifetime, for whatever that's worth.

Dltrammel, why, yes, those do indeed appear to be black swans. More generally, the sky is black with birds coming home to roost...

Bruno, we could see a messy economic collapse as early as this autumn. Hang on to your hat.

Jean-Vivien, yes, that does take the cake, doesn't it?

SLClaire, it reminds me of stories of minor European royalty from the years right before the First World War -- and you know what happened to most of them.

Onething, if a small stash of precious metals seems sensible to you, by all means. What I find implausible is the insistence that gold will serve as a meaningful store of value, when the entire concept of abstract value detached from actual goods and services is one of the things that will most likely come to bits in the years immediately ahead.

Ellen, I don't engage in such debates; it's a waste of time. Your opponent has clearly never read The Limits to Growth, and is claiming that it says things that it doesn't say; if you point that out to him, though, he'll just change the subject and come up with some other reason why infinite growth on a finite planet is something other than a prescription for disaster. It's rather reminiscent of a favorite scene from Erik the Viking...

Somewhatstunned said...

to Ellen He:

The thing that strikes me about the quote you give from your interlocutor (and about so much internettery) is the *tone*.

The *content* of what s/he says is pretty skimpy. The discussions about the future that Limits to Growth present come with some solid argumentative and evidential backup - in short they are intellectually respectable. (Same goes for JMG - though he's a bit more of an ol' hippy ;)

As JMG says, s/he clearly hasn't read LTG. Yet their rhetorical tone postures and struts as if they are a lauded senior academic with PHds in both social and physical sciences!

The internet facilitates such strutting and display of false colours - I frequently have to remind myself not to be taken in by it - sounds to me as if you've been a bit jostled by it yourself.

Perhaps a starting reply to this person might be a mildly concerned: "ummmm ... have you actually *read* LTG?"

jean-vivien said...

Speaking of video games (cf John), a pretty good game is Planescape Torment, based on a really interesting ADD universe where people's beliefs are more important to your success than just fighting loads of kobolds.
And what you propose, @John, is none other than a cellular automata/multiagent model. It has been done in the past for simulating urban growth.

Changing the topic...
One thing that strikes us Europeans when we watch Hollywood comedies is how strong is the power of social convention played out to create the comical elements. As outside observers we tend to think this evolved as a counterweight to balance the ethos of individual freedom (which is almost a fact, because USA citizens live in a country with a lot more physical space for everything). It seems that industrial civilization worships gods of order and control.

Maybe we all should start worshipping different gods, like the Trickster, or the gods of the unexpected. Courting the unexpected is going to become a social norm once it has established as a practical attitude.
Is there an iconic figure for individual responsibility as well ? Something we need to learn here...

Cherokee Organics said...


Many thanks. It felt to me that those issues were connected, but I'm unsure how yet. I eagerly wait to hear your thoughts.

PS: Did you get any quince fruit this year? Hope the fall is pleasant up your way.



Hi William,

Thanks for an excellent inside story. I believe - and heard this via insider hearsay - that the carrier here which collapsed a few decades ago (Ansett) began skipping maintenance before its final demise. Interestingly too, I've read in the business papers that Qantas management which owns both domestic carriers Qantas and Jet Star are favouring Jet Star as it has the lower cost base.

PS: If anyone is interested or curious about the farm here, drop by and check out the weekly blog. This week a couple of naughty parrots interrupted the blog post. Lots of cool photos Rock and Roll

August Johnson said...

@JMG - this is being presented as a responsible move because of climate change, but I suspect a somewhat different motive based on the recent reports about the financial (non) health of the fossil fuel industries.

"For 140 years, the Rockefellers were the oil industry’s first family, scions of a business empire that spawned companies called Exxon, Mobil, Amoco and Chevron. So it was no trivial matter when a group of Rockefeller heirs decided recently to begin severing financial ties to fossil fuels."

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

@Roger: Thanks for highlighting the maintenance problems here in the Toronto conurbation. As JMG says in response to you, the affairs of our conurbation help illustrate the catabolic-collapse model.

Readers farther afield might be interested in something apparent to those who use the subway here, namely, that a big part of Toronto's underground train signaling system has been allowed to sit in place, without an upgrade, since at least the 1960s. Only in the last year or so have the engineers started a new installation.

Toronto-area surface rail is for its part on something of an upswing, with the huge 1920s Union Station now getting its first-ever sweeping upgrade. But here there is something again illustrative of catabolic collapse: the upgrade is proving oddly expensive, coming it at something like 800,000,000 Canadian dollars. (How can a refit of a single big-city railway station come to 800,000,000 CAD? This bill is more than ten times the price of a single new subway station.)

And when the Catherine Riggall, the "Vice President for Business Affairs" at the University of Toronto (UofT) gave me 25 minutes of her time in 2008, at the start of our ongoing David Dunlap Observatory (DDO) heritage-conservation crisis, she made one good point amid her otherwise unhelpful discourse - namely, that UofT was anxious to sell the DDO to a real-estate developer because UofT had some gigantic deferred-maintenance bill, on its various vast campuses. I now forget the number she gave me, but I am 55% sure that it was either 200 million or 200-and-something million.

As Roger says, those gleaming new Toronto condo towers are liable to become high-rise slums. I guess the towers (Donald Trump built one of them) will remain standing for quite a while. Eventually,I speculate, it will not be easy to keep their lifts in good working order, and people will get used to climbing twenty or thirty flights of stairs, eventually carrying even their drinking water with them. I imagine that by the year 2150, it will be the strongest and youngest of the poor who will be residing, or at any rate camping, on the higher floors.

Anyone in the Toronto area who wants to get in touch, do please slip me an e-mail: Toomas dot Karmo at gmail dot com.

Tom = Toomas Karmo (former DDO employee)
www dot metascientia dot com

The DDO story - itself an illustration of much that JMG has been discussing over the years, being a case study in the cultural decline of Toronto - can be followed by Googling on "dunlap observatory". Or, if you like grassroots politics, you can Google on "toomas karmo karen cilevitz public debate". I am also more than happy to take e-mail queries on DDO, from anyone anywhere, as our battles with Metrus Development Inc and local developer-tolerant politicians continue.

Ed-M said...


Yes it does. It looks like we've been talking past each other again! Because for me, the very word, "collapse", connotes an instantaneous breaking and falling down, and falling apart, thanks to Dimitri Orlov, and before him, the events of 9-11 in NYC. The Tower collapses especially.


"I dare say that even most Neocons know better than this."

Of course, over the next ten years or so, the Neocons could very well be replaced by Christ-psychotics (insane End of Times Born Again Christians of the Dominionist stripe) who would see such a move as precipitating the Second Coming of Christ. On the other hand, maybe the Neocons *are* crazy enough to try the maneuver.

peacegarden said...

This post spoke to me of the possibility of embracing the changes ahead, as the power and control now held by the “masters” slowly erodes. I may not be around when the realization becomes evident that, as JMG wrote,
“It wasn’t just that it was merely a change of masters; it was that in a great many cases, the new masters were considerably less of a burden than the old ones had been”

As this autumnal equinox unfolds, I am gratified by small rites and rituals, planting Lacinto Kale and parsley in the hoop house, watering the little plants with rain water from the nearest barrel, and thinking of what I am willing to let go of tonight when we light our equinox fire.

I grieve about the state of the planet that often seems too dire or overwhelming to tackle. I grieve for the losses ahead, especially for those who follow. I grieve for all I have done and continue to do that is selfish, thoughtless or wasteful.

Tonight I will let that grief go, as much as I am able, and watch the flames burn brightly. I am grateful for this blog, and the community of commenters here. I believe that grief is a community event and that no one is meant to carry the sadness from loss alone. Here at the Archdruid Report, I feel less alone.

May you honor your year and your efforts to let go of the old with the grace of falling leaves,
And when I rise, let me rise
Like a bird, joyfully
And when I fall, let me fall
Like a leaf, gracefully, without regrets. -Wendell Berry



peacegarden said...

@william fairchild

The airlines are in far worse shape than I thought…thanks for the inside view. It was sobering.



Avery said...

@Ellen: The Limits of Growth actually has a great track record -- the best scientific studies show that one of the models has proven spot-on so far. (Check Wikipedia.) People forget that its worst model did not predict collapse for 1970, but for the period 2015-2025. Or they were never given proper information in the first place.

@All: The Post Carbon Institute just linked me to Paul Krugman's prognostication for infinite future growth, showing how the pronouncers of officially approved wisdom still refuse to acknowledge the world of limits. But the oil companies seem to be much more aware of the immediate problem facing us. Shell just ran an ad in several major magazines with the headline, "Let's Keep The Lights On When She's Your Age".

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@SLClaire--Evidently your CEO was used to being seated above the salt.

Perhaps he or someone in his immediate family had an impaired immune system and he didn't want it known. In that case, he could have avoided a breach of etiquette by serving nothing that needed to be passed around, and having small portions of crackers and condiments set at each place. If anyone else at the table was germ-phobic, that would have been a kindness to them.

The fact that he was indifferent or unaware that he was committing a breach of etiquette, and that no one in his circle dared to suggest another way of behaving, speaks volumes.

August Johnson said...

@JMG - Now I realize my post about the Rockefellers is just the $860 million charity arm, but it's already got every Green organization screaming with glee. This sets up the perfect excuse for more "glee" when they move more $ out of fossil fuels. No panic required!

Kaitain said...

Speaking of the terminal, brain dead stupidity of the American establishment, have you yet read Jim Kunstler’s latest post? I thought the title “Barbarism (the rampaging psychopaths and throat cutting fanatics of the Islamic State) vs Stupidism” (the clueless incompetence of the Obama administration and the rest of the US establishment) was particularly apt.

Kaitain said...

SL Claire said: “the folks in our department were once each given a copy of some then-current management book that department management wanted us to read. I tried but it was painfully boring and in my mind poorly written. I complained about it to my boss, the group leader. He told me that books pitched to upper management were written at a ninth grade level. That explained a lot ...”

I am not really surprised. There was a study published back in the 1990’s showing how public school textbooks have been steadily dumbed down since the 1930’s, by roughly a grade level per decade. So a typical 12th grade textbook from the 1990’s would be roughly equivalent in reading level to a 6th grade textbook from the 1930’s. Since the educational system in America has been steadily dumbed down over the last several decades, it’s not surprising that the reading level of books intended for the public, including business managers, have followed suit. Nor is it surprising that the level of public discourse and awareness has declined at a corresponding rate.

My mother is a retired high school teacher who still has a lot of her old textbooks, including textbooks from when she was a high school and then university student. It’s quite sobering to go back and look at the reading and intellectual level of textbooks from the 1950’s and 60’s and compare them to the textbooks that are used in present day high schools and colleges. I have also looked through reprints of the old McGuffey Readers, which are still quite popular with Christian homeschoolers, and again there is no comparison. Why is it that elementary school students in the 19th and early 20th centuries were expected to master material that most high school graduates and many college students of today are incapable of dealing with? There’s no comparison between the two, and no doubt that there has been a huge decline in standards and expectations. My great grandfather only got an 8th grade education and had a part time job working in a sawmill during his last two years in school (he started working part time when he was 12 years old as a steam whistle operator or “whistle punk” as they called it and was working full time as a logger by the age of 14), which was normal for those days, but he was far better educated and probably more intelligent than most high school graduates are these days. George W. Bush once spoke of the “soft bigotry of low expectations” as a cause for the poor performance of many students in the public school system and while I disagreed with him on many fronts, he was spot on with that observation.

So much for the popular view (the “Flynn Effect” and all that sort of cheerleading) that people are more intelligent today than they were in the past. It’s just another iteration of the Religion of Progress and a form of self-flattery. If anything, people seem to be getting dumber and dumber these days.

DeAnander said...


isn't it more or less a game of Rich Barbarians VS Poor Barbarians?

My $0.02: I am as digusted as the average N American by the infamous YT footage of decapitations and so on from ultra-hardline Islamists. Nasty stuff, no debate. What bothers me is that a lot of those same N Americans were glued to their TVs watching the "Shock and Awe" assault on Baghdad, and more than a few were cheering. People were being killed in that video too -- we just didn't see their faces. But the barbarism was about equivalent and the death toll far higher (what is it now, 1.5 mio or something, the overall butcher's bill for over a decade of American military blundering in Mesopotamia?)

Anyway, yeah, I loathe and despise the kind of people who make theatre out of decapitations and hangings and the like; and I don't feel too good about people who make theatre (and political capital, and literal business profits) out of bombing, reducing a city's infrastructure to rubble, and so on... either.

Kaitain said...

Speaking of the blood-drenched insanity that is the Islamic State, I thought this was particularly apt...

wiseman said...

That's the point I wanted to convey, this fetishism is thousands of years old and has survived multiple collapses. It's not going to go away.

charlie sheldon said...

JMG: I have just come upon your blog and am impressed, mightily. Thoughtful, detailed, knowledgeable, it is all of these. I would offer two points, one general and one specific. First, generally, it is clear to me that what we have done to ourselves since industrialization is no different than what we have done to ourselves since we became human. It just seems today that with big machines our power is greater and thus the damages perhaps worse. I would imagine though that the misery and pain within any collapsing order, whether the 21st century or thousands of years ago as the water left or the plants died off, is the same.
Second, I happen to be someone who believes that we will be faced with cold, not heat, in the next few decades. This places me in what many call the lunatic wingnut climate denier fringe, but I believe the broad rules for glaciation rule, here, not smokestacks, and today we are at the end of the interglacial, the sun's pattern promises cold times ahead, and despite the "consensus" I think it more likely that one year soon the snow won't melt in the northern hemisphere and then watch out. It's one thing, to get a little hotter each year, over decades. It's another to suddenly have two or three years without snow melting. Instant worldwide starvation, people fleeing, mass migrations, battle. Everyone north of 40 degrees north heading south.
Yet, think, for at the same time it seems everyone from the tropics will be heading north, to escape Ebola.
We are not prepared for Ebola. We are also not prepared, at all, for the cold. The good Lord has a wicked sense of humor and while everyone's in a foaming panic about global warming we'll see it become cold instead, and in the course of weeks and months as food supplies will dwindle the dance will really begin.That's what scares me - not the heating, which will be slow and incremental, but the cold, which will be sudden and deadly.
One year, a frigid summer, some will starve. People will wonder. The "alarmists" will talk about how this proves the Polar Vortex promises the heatwaves to come. The next summer will be normally hot and everyone will forget, but the fall will start early and the winter will be cold and then the next two summers after that it will be chilly and the snows will not melt.
I guess the good news about this is then we'll be too engaged in survival to be spending time worrying about the Kardashians or ISIS or Ukraine or Alaskan family brawls....

John Michael Greer said...

Jean-Vivien, there are gods of personal responsibility, but you know what happens when you invoke them? You get to deal with the consequences of your actions. This is generally not very popular, and explains why the gods in question aren't very popular either.

Cherokee, no quince yet; the bush has grown very slowly. Still, it's shaping up to be a lovely autumn, and one of our recently planted apple trees has given us apples a second year in a row.

August, excellent. You get tonight's gold star for appropriate suspiciousness. I'm quite sure that the decision in question has a lot more to do with backing away from the impending crash of the fracking bubble than from any sense of responsibility to future generations!

Ed-M, one of the core themes of this blog is that that model of collapse is a fantasy with no basis in historical reality, and that the Long Descent -- a fractal process of greater and smaller crises and collapses on various scales extending over one to three centuries -- is both the normal way that civilizations go down and the way ours is going down right now. I should probably post that somewhere for the benefit of new readers, admittedly.

Gail, thank you. Blessings of the autumn equinox on you and your kale plants!

Avery, did you notice that Krugman openly assailed Post Carbon? That's the sign I was waiting for, as mentioned a few posts back. The collapse of the fracking bubble is imminent.

Wiseman, in a dark age, that fetishism can also be your death warrant, which is the point I was trying to make. More on this as we proceed.

Charlie, yes, I remember the old "snowblitz" theory from the late 1970s. In your place I'd be very slow to fixate on that claim; it was way out there even by the standards of the time, and there are even better reasons to doubt it at a time when freighters are sailing from Europe to Asia via the Arctic Ocean and the climate shifts now visibly under way parallel paleoclimatic shifts toward warm periods, not toward cold ones.

latefall said...

Re precious metals:
A little late to the party, but here's my two cents:

"gold and silver make things very convenient for thieves and armed bandits. If you want wealth that can't be taken away, learning useful skills is a better bet"

Correct, but half life may be longer than that of skills. Return on investment? Hard to say in general, but probably lower than skills once it is a little more clear which skills are in demand.

"they are a representation of the real energy and man labor that went into sifting 200 tons of hard rock to acquire them; and they're useful in all kinds of industrial applications"

It is questionable that sitting in the dirt with some mercury will be appreciated significantly more than a collection of dried four leaved clovers - barring dental use.

With regard to the latter I'd like to throw a couple of ideas into the thread (please comment/correct & add if you like).
Gold: there's the 10% recommendation floating around on the nets - I would rather diversify some of that into other metals. Gold is probably very useful to buy you transportation out of a crises, but it has many drawbacks compared to other (precious) metals. Not the least being on peoples radar. Have a look at Heraeus (especially their history) for alternatives.

Silver: has loads of applications - mirrors, photography, electric stuff(PV), some bio/desinfect stuff as well - but does not travel well.
Platinum: For the scientifically inclined - lots of technical applications, high temperature tools, catalyst, electrochemistry, etc. including some at small scale.
Palladium: The little brother of platinum. Does a lot of things just as good at platinum but is lighter and cheaper, also plays well with hydrogen, and as alloy in hard dental fillings
Iridium: Has some uses especially with platinum for wear resistant tools (fiber extrusion), as crucible for high purity silicon - if your future has a place for those. Else it'll make a tip for your pen. But careful - prices are crazy.
Rhodium: Alloying element, glass manufacture
Ruthenium: meh.

Other useful metals (mostly for alloying) are: nickle, chrome, molybdenum, thungsten (look at for your needs). Cobalt is also useful in a wide range of issues. I believe molybdenum is relatively rare, but should be especially useful as it allows pieces to be welded (fixed/modified) better.

latefall said...


Wood-gas lister is overkill? Today maybe.
But I think in a few decades it makes a lot of sense in some locations. It would be a very low/local maintenance CHP unit. Vegetable oil is too valuable for stationary jobs (and I think it stores not so well, unless you turn it into plastic). Apart from that the oil mill would need some special attention from time to time that may or may not be available where you are. Wood needs an axe and that's pretty much it.
Of course the opportunities an oil mill would give you are quite impressive in itself...

latefall said...

re old order:

I'll try to put my take on the old order in a nutshell.

You can live off the land: by the pouch, the bow, the plough, or the drilling rig.
(You can live off refining the products: currently mostly refining fossil fuels into stuff.)
Or you can live off the people (sheeple?) that live off the land: by the sword, the whip, or the ad.

As long as you're perceived as aristo (excellent) you pick and carefully empower people that make you even more aristo. All is well. You become very adapt at handling a certain section of people who are your primary tool. Usually the handlers/enforcers/heirs. Unfortunately this insulates you from a life in which the things that matter are not open to debate, bribe or intimidation - but there are hard limits and very few real externalities. Unfortunately in your circle there are precious few people who know this as society is polarized by the necessity of juking the stats, and making entropy roll down the hill.
And eventually, when you are perceived as a plutocracy, your ship has sailed. This is when the sheep make a pact with the wolves and cease to be livestock (human resources) and become (if you want: social) entrepreneurs. You can pick paths 1-3, and lose.

When the Occupy got pushed off the streets I shed half a tear because I thought: This largely peaceful and constructive (compared to industrial sabotage) protest is a gift to the elite - and they are not only ungrateful but they feel threatened?! By this? Blessed are the ignorant! I should not be surprised if many of the occupiers end up protecting many of the "per millians" as things equilibrate to pear shape.

On this note if someone in the SF (or Raleigh, NC) area could nudge these people ( in the ribs I'd be glad. Being approachable is good but being unnecessarily exposed (including communications) is not.
My impression is that they were heading down (towards) path number 3...

donalfagan said...

I read your Ignore/Repress/Sacrifice the other day, and thought of using propaganda or creating enemies as a fourth approach, but then decided the rulers always try to control the narrative anyway.

Then an MIT Tech Review article about Peter Thiel 'Innovation Stalled in 1970' led me to revisit a 2011 keynote by Tainter that I had blogged about.

Tainter asserts Roman leaders like Diocletian tried to make the right, ethical decisions, without which collapse would have happened sooner, but even so, the empire couldn't absorb the ultimate cost of those solutions.

It seems to me that we are seeing attempts at good decisions, media ignorance and obfuscation, and increased surveillance leading to repression. Very little sacrifice, though.

Ed-M said...


Yes, exactly. And it would be a good idea to post the reality-based definition of civilizational collapse somewhere for the new readers. Thank you! :^)

Toomas, Roger and all,

Toronto is not the only problem with deferred maintenance backlogs mounting into the billions. Here in New Orleans, the local paper reported on the sorry state of the city's infrastructure (water, sewer, streetlights, drains including underground culverts called "canals", streets, sidewalks and buildings) and the reported amount to repair it all is USD 9.9 billion.

Ed-M said...

Well, one of the sheet piling walls for a cofferdam for the construction of a new flood-control / storm surge barrier gate and pump house fell down yesterday September 22nd. Of course, it's not part of any permanent construction, but it's just one more thing...

I'm doing this on an iphone, I hope the URL is correct!

Candace said...


I've been trying to get an idea of what might happen when the fracking bubble bursts and what that means economically to me and mine. I've been looking at stats from the most recent "Great" recession and the "Great Depression". Can you hazzard a guess as to whether the effects will be more like the recent recession or will the effects be closer to the experience that most people had during the Great Depression? (One article noted that the top 40% of households didn't really experience much of an impact during the GD.).
I know I'm basically just borrowing trouble in worring about something over which I have little control. I can live without the cell phone and internet, but being homeless isn't going to help what little I've managed to do in developing my green wizzard skills. For me the difference in the scale of the jog down is likely to be the differece in those outcomes for me.


CrispCrit said...

Greer said "I wonder how many of these clowns remember that this same claim has been being made since the 1950s?"

They may have just been off by a a number of decades. Automation is increasing at amazing speed. Looks like human driving will be a thing in the past soon.

Bring on the robot revolution!

Pinku-Sensei said...

Purple Tortoise wrote:

"Given the widespread obvious discontent, I have been surprised to see that no mainstream politician has really gone for grabbing the populist center and run on reining in the banks, restricting offshoring and immigration, and ceasing involvement in foreign wars. It seems like it would have been a great vote-getter to me. What am I missing?"

What you're missing is that none of the top four parties in this country will support that combination of positions. Each party will support some or even most of them, but will find at least one of them anathema, so there is no home for that platform among them.

The Republican Party won't considering reining in the banks or ceasing intervention in foreign wars; the closest one got to those positions in the GOP was Ron Paul, who was interested in "Ending the Fed," but I don't know what he thinks about other big banks. I don't recall his son Rand continuing that policy. Both are still anti-interventionist, and both make the mainstream power brokers in their party furious. Note that Ron Paul didn't even get as far as either Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich in the 2012 primaries. Ron is going to have an uphill fight getting through them in 2016 as well.

The Democratic Party won't support strong restrictions on immigration; they're having enough trouble on illegal immigration. Restrictions on immigration would be considered an expression of racism, and the Democrats include racial and ethnic minorities in the coalitions, some of whom would be most displeased by an anti-immigrant stance.

The Libertarians would find restrictions on the banks, outsourcing, and immigration against their principles. The party actually advocates for open borders for both money and people.

The Greens might go for restricting immigration except that they don't want to be seen as racist, either. Since being pro-redistribution and anti-racist are both Left positions, it's hard to be anti-immigrant and be seen as Left in the U.S. these days.

The largest party in the U.S. who might be for all those things is the Constitution Party. Any politician in that group who can wrap those ideas in a flag while carrying a cross will get away with them. Pity the party is the personification of amateur hour in politics.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

I'm not sure whether this is on topic or off topic.

You Can't Make This Stuff Up (because people would groan and ask if you expected them to believe it).

Okay, not Pres. Obama's fault the Nobel committee got a crush on him and awarded him a Peace Prize. He gets major oil producing countries to bless a bombing campaign to begin as he is on the way to the UN to give a speech about climate change. That's an ideal audience, since one requirement for representing one's nation at the UN is being able to listen to the most outrageous statements with a straight face.

The main group allegedly targeted has declared death to Saudi Arabia and everybody else in the world except themselves. Saudi Arabia has an impressive air force, purchased from the USA. "Let's you and him fight" sounds like just the plan for my country.

When I think about how this will turn out, the first thing that comes to mind is a quotation from Steinbeck's The Moon Is Down--"The flies have conquered the flypaper."

sgage said...

@ CrispCrit,

"Automation is increasing at amazing speed."

Every automation is an amputation.

What's the end game here? Brains in a vat?

Raymond Duckling said...

About Automation:

Excuse me if the argument is overly Marxist, but I think that the crush elites have in the modern world with automation has most to do with defanging Labor.

Capital is useless per-se without Labor to make it move. The big deal with automation is that you can replace skilled labor with unskilled one. The more automation you add to you economy, the larger the share of value-added you can claim that comes from Capital, and therefore the elite can keep a bigger share of the profits for themselves.

What we are seeing right now is that the process of diminishing returns have worked on automation for so long that this proposition do not pay for itself anymore.

Now we have a subset of the elite and their associated professional squires (such as myself, IT worker) that engages in the creation of automation. This subset preys not only on the lower classes, but primarily on the rest of the elite that consume automation for their own economic activities. In this way, we capture a disproportionate amount of value from the economic activities that actually create goods and services useful for the population.

Why do the rest of the elite does not get rid of us and keep the bounty for themselves. I am sure they will in due time, but for the time being, they are terrorized by the idea of having to share their profits with those pesky, dirty laborers. Of course, they would not verbalize their feelings that way, but rather in terms such as "efficiency", "return of investment" and "risk". They love to see themselves as the visionaries that go out for adventures and reap the benefits. Pretty much the Mono-myth rehearsed in economic terms.

Raymond Duckling said...

About gold/silver/etc.

I find it useful to keep an small, strategic store of precious metals. That will allow you to do stuff that you cannot do otherwise, but in very specific and dire situations only.

If you think that you can buy your way out of troubles in a collapsing society, think again. What is going to happen to you and your family once the word spreads that you are buying stuff with gold? Most likely, you will receive some unwelcome, unsavory visitors that might decide on the spot to take much more than your mere material possessions.

If you have to have your stash of bright thingies, I recommend you not to buy bullion but jewelery (second hand if possible). That way, if you end up having to trade with it, you will not be perceived as a hoarder with a sweet, sweet stash somewhere to be taken, but as a downward mobile has-been that is scrapping the bottom of the pot to keep the lights on. You will still be taken advantage of, but probably in a more civilized way.

Personally, I have taken a page out of Dmitri Orlov writtings and keep a modest stash of liquor. You can use it to barter in more day to day types of transactions. You can consume it yourself. You can even use it to make tinctures (if you happen have the skills and know herbal lore). Though I am aware that if the word gets around that I am the booze-man, I better know how to make my own in order to keep the drunkards happy. But this is a low priority project as of now.

donalfagan said...


One of the anecdotes I read about Argentina's collapse was that merchants tended to not believe that one's gold was high carat, so it was better to have jewelry grade anyway. I'd forgotten about the liquor.

Bob Wise said...

John, I have a question about an earlier post, but am posing it here to make sure you see it. In A Bitter Legacy, you mentioned soil erosion, and projected that topsoils in North America would be more or less gone by 2075. Could you tell me the source of that estimate? I'm writing a post for about soil erosion, initially inspired by that statement. I believe it may be true for a lot of the world, but wide of the mark in the US. There was a similar projection made by an Australian soil scientist in 2012. I'm not writing to "refute" or start an internet fuss, but to develop a better understanding of what could be in store for the US midwest. It would be good to know the source of the 2075 projection and how it was developed.
Thanks -- Bob Wise

Gloucon X said...

If you really believe that society will break down to the point where you think it’s necessary to have gold to survive, then what’s to prevent Warlord Central from sending a posse to your door to just take it from you? The same goes for skills. That posse will simply kidnap you and force you to provide your services for free. A good example of this is shown in the film Doctor Zhivago when he is kidnaped by one of the roving army units during the Russian revolution and forced to provide his services at gunpoint. That’s why if you really believe the worst is coming, then you need to forget all this army of one, rugged individualist stuff, and start working on forming some kind of community. Individuals, alone, will be picked off by warlords, one by one.

DeAnander said...

Agreeing with Gloucon X here, though I have to admit sadly that communities can also be picked off by warlords, one by one ("The Last Valley" anyone?). Obscurity may help; if your community is someplace not very exciting, with no spectacular wealth to loot, it may be overlooked in favour of more tempting targets.

The island of Nauru had rich phosphate deposits and is now a wasteland; the Gilbert Islanders had rich phosphate deposits and had to buy themselves a new home when their island was laid waste by phosphate mining. But Tikopia as far as I know had no big deposits of anything the whitefellas wanted, so as far as I know Tikopia's fields are still green and their orchards fruitful.

[Let it be said though that Tikopians also had to make some tough choices. When times were tough, the chiefly clan used to instruct each of the other clans as to how many of them could stay. Only as many people could stay as the reduced food supplies would support. The others had to take a canoe and leave -- for good -- which meant basically "I am just going outside and may be some time..." suicide for the collective good.]

CrispCrit said...


Actually a future where we shed our bodies and get to live in virtual reality wouldn't be such a bad future! Of course realistically the end goal is a humanity free from dead end jobs (which are all jobs really) and get to focus on science, art, philosophy and space travel. Automation is not amputation. It produces a higher quality of life for *all* humans.

@Raymond Duckling

Of course it's about weakening labor in general. This is a good thing (in the long run) as it reduces the amount that humanity has to work. I don't get what you mean that it isn't paying for itself? A business that doesn't need to pay employees wages, health costs, vacation time, etc. is way more profitable than employing inefficient humans. That's why 47% of all jobs will be gone in 20 years and never coming back. The good news is big business will share some of that wealth with the rest of us because it makes sense to keep markets going (which need money to spend). It'll all work itself out in the long run.

Here's a good article on this subject. Embrace the End of Work

You can't fight progress. Adapt or die.

Wizzrobes said...


I got bored and decided to read the link you provided. Other than a few laughs, I didn't find it particularly convincing.

A few things stand out about it.

"An optimistic thought frequently offered at this point in the argument is that, even if machines can do everything better than humans, humans will still prefer some things to be done by other humans rather than machines. But I think the growth in the percentage of American meals provided through highly automated fast food franchises puts the lie to this idea. Apparently many people find fast food more appealing on the grounds of at least convenience and cost, and perhaps also quality, compared to meals they could make themselves in the kitchen or consume in a more traditional, labor-intensive restaurant."

Notice he never actually discusses *why* Americans are preferring fast food (could it be because they're increasingly broke and can't afford better food?) and doesn't actually touch on whether that's good for the country (given it's a major cause for our obesity isn't). I can tell you the quality is always higher at locally owned more labor intensive restaurants. Yes I'm even including the dinky local diners in that statement. The experience is just always better too. I can guarantee if Americans had more money they'd prefer that experience over some dirty McDonalds with those horrible plastic chairs (or the soulless drive through).

Then the real whopper

"In the end, business would rather invest first in people in the developing world and then infotech and robots rather than expensive human workers in the developed world. Because of this, wages in the developed countries will fall in competition with the lowest wage human competitors around the world, and then in competition with the increasingly inexpensive robots and expert systems. Jobs will disappear, wages will fall and we will face three choices: Luddism, barbarism or basic income.

The Luddites might win a temporary battle here and there, delaying one or the other labor-saving device or innovation. But in the end they will lose, and the technologies will come. Then the question will be what happens to the displaced, and to the economy."

He presents three choices, and simply hand waves away the first one. "In the end they will lose". But why? He never actually details his reasoning behind it, he just expects you to take it as a given. It seems he just dismisses it in favor of the dichotomy he's trying to build so you'll accept his "solution" to the problem.

Not exactly a convincing argument.

DeAnander said...

CrispCrit's link evokes one memory for me... "too cheap to meter." Those prognostications were written in exactly the same dogmatic, bullying, anyone-who-doubts-me-is-an-ignoramus-on-the-wrong-side-of-history prose style. 60 years later... well, let's just say it has become an ironic catchphrase for very good reasons.

rapier said...

I am thinking ISIS and the assorted Salfi Jihadis might be the best examples of warbands.

In the US the warbands now seem to be the police and the various mercenaries the government employs. That is misapplying the concept I suppose but I just think it will take more ratcheting up in the numbers of non participants in the political economy before anarchistic or anti elite sorts of warbands arrive. Until them those youth with the inclination to militarized authority and violence seem most likely to be in the employ of the powerful.

A scattershot addendum being that the police are obviously motivated to enforce racial divisions.