Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Dark Age America: The Hoard of the Nibelungs

Of all the differences that separate the feudal economy sketched out in last week’s post from the market economy most of us inhabit today, the one that tends to throw people for a loop most effectively is the near-total absence of money in everyday medieval life. Money is so central to current notions of economics that getting by without it is all but unthinkable these days.  The fact—and of course it is a fact—that the vast majority of human societies, complex civilizations among them, have gotten by just fine without money of any kind barely registers in our collective imagination.

One source of this curious blindness, I’ve come to think, is the way that the logic of money is presented to students in school. Those of my readers who sat through an Economics 101 class will no doubt recall the sort of narrative that inevitably pops up in textbooks when this point is raised. You have, let’s say, a pig farmer who has bad teeth, but the only dentist in the village is Jewish, so the pig farmer can’t simply swap pork chops and bacon for dental work. Barter might be an option, but according to the usual textbook narrative, that would end up requiring some sort of complicated multiparty deal whereby the pig farmer gives pork to the carpenter, who builds a garage for the auto repairman, who fixes the hairdresser’s car, and eventually things get back around to the dentist. Once money enters the picture, by contrast, the pig farmer sells bacon and pork chops to all and sundry, uses the proceeds to pay the dentist, and everyone’s happy. Right?

Well, maybe. Let’s stop right there for a moment, and take a look at the presuppositions hardwired into this little story. First of all, the narrative assumes that participants have a single rigidly defined economic role: the pig farmer can only raise pigs, the dentist can only fix teeth, and so on. Furthermore, it assumes that participants can’t anticipate needs and adapt to them: even though he knows the only dentist in town is Jewish, the pig farmer can’t do the logical thing and start raising lambs for Passover on the side, or what have you. Finally, the narrative assumes that participants can only interact economically through market exchanges: there are no other options for meeting needs for goods and services, no other way to arrange exchanges between people other than market transactions driven by the law of supply and demand.

Even in modern industrial societies, these three presuppositions are rarely true. I happen to know several pig farmers, for example, and none of them are so hyperspecialized that their contributions to economic exchanges are limited to pork products; garden truck, fresh eggs, venison, moonshine, and a good many other things could come into the equation as well. For that matter, outside the bizarre feedlot landscape of industrial agriculture, mixed farms raising a variety of crops and livestock are far more resilient than single-crop farms, and thus considerably more common in societies that haven’t shoved every economic activity into the procrustean bed of the money economy.

As for the second point raised above, the law of supply and demand works just as effectively in a barter economy as in a money economy, and successful participants are always on the lookout for a good or service that’s in short supply relative to potential demand, and so can be bartered with advantage. It’s no accident that traditional village economies tend to be exquisitely adapted to produce exactly that mix of goods and services the inhabitants of the village need and want.

Finally, of course, there are many ways of handling the production and distribution of goods and services without engaging in market exchanges. The household economy, in which members of each household produce goods and services that they themselves consume, is the foundation of economic activity in most human societies, and still accounted for the majority of economic value produced in the United States until not much more than a century ago. The gift economy, in which members of a community give their excess production to other members of the same community in the expectation that the gift will be reciprocated, is immensely common; so is the feudal economy delineated in last week’s post, with its systematic exclusion of market forces from the economic sphere. There are others, plenty of them, and none of them require money at all.

Thus the logic behind money pretty clearly isn’t what the textbook story claims it is. That doesn’t mean that there’s no logic to it at all; what it means is that nobody wants to talk about what it is that money is actually meant to do. Fortunately, we’ve discussed the relevant issues in last week’s post, so I can sum up the matter here in a single sentence: the point of money is that it makes intermediation easy.

Intermediation, for those of my readers who weren’t paying attention last week, is the process by which other people insert themselves between the producer and the consumer of any good or service, and take a cut of the proceeds of the transaction. That’s very easy to do in a money economy, because—as we all know from personal experience—the intermediaries can simply charge fees for whatever service they claim to provide, and then cash in those fees for whatever goods and services they happen to want.

Imagine, by way of contrast, the predicament of an intermediary who wanted to insert himself into, and take a cut out of, a money-free transaction between the pig farmer and the dentist. We’ll suppose that the arrangement the two of them have worked out is that the pig farmer raises enough lambs each year that all the Jewish families in town can have a proper Passover seder, the dentist takes care of the dental needs of the pig farmer and his family, and the other families in the Jewish community work things out with the dentist in exchange for their lambs—a type of arrangement, half barter and half gift economy, that’s tolerably common in close-knit communities.

Intermediation works by taking a cut from each transaction. The cut may be described as a tax, a fee, an interest payment, a service charge, or what have you, but it amounts to the same thing: whenever money changes hands, part of it gets siphoned off for the benefit of the intermediaries involved in the transaction. The same thing can be done in some money-free transactions, but not all. Our intermediary might be able to demand a certain amount of meat from each Passover lamb, or require the pig farmer to raise one lamb for the intermediary per six lambs raised for the local Jewish families, though this assumes that he either likes lamb chops or can swap the lamb to someone else for something he wants.

What on earth, though, is he going to do to take a cut from the dentist’s side of the transaction?  There wouldn’t be much point in demanding one tooth out of every six the dentist extracts, for example, and requiring the dentist to fill one of the intermediary’s teeth for every twenty other teeth he fills would be awkward at best—what if the intermediary doesn’t happen to need any teeth filled this year? What’s more, once intermediation is reduced to such crassly physical terms, it’s hard to pretend that it’s anything but a parasitic relationship that benefits the intermediary at everyone else’s expense.

What makes intermediation seem to make sense in a money economy is that money is the primary intermediation. Money is a system of arbitrary tokens used to facilitate exchange, but it’s also a good deal more than that. It’s the framework of laws, institutions, and power relationships that creates the tokens, defines their official value, and mandates that they be used for certain classes of economic exchange. Once the use of money is required for any purpose, the people who control the framework—whether those people are government officials, bankers, or what have you—get to decide the terms on which everyone else gets access to money, which amounts to effective control over everyone else. That is to say, they become the primary intermediaries, and every other intermediation depends on them and the money system they control.

This is why, to cite only one example, British colonial administrators in Africa imposed a house tax on the native population, even though the cost of administering and collecting the tax was more than the revenue the tax brought in. By requiring the tax to be paid in money rather than in kind, the colonial government forced the natives to participate in the money economy, on terms that were of course set by the colonial administration and British business interests. The money economy is the basis on which nearly all other forms of intermediation rest, and forcing the native peoples to work for money instead of allowing them to meet their economic needs in some less easily exploited fashion was an essential part of the mechanism that pumped wealth out of the colonies for Britain’s benefit.

Watch the way that the money economy has insinuated itself into every dimension of modern life in an industrial society and you’ve got a ringside seat from which to observe the metastasis of intermediation in recent decades. Where money goes, intermediation follows:  that’s one of the unmentionable realities of political economy, the science that Adam Smith actually founded, but was gutted, stuffed, and mounted on the wall—turned, that is, into the contemporary pseudoscience of economics—once it became painfully clear just what kind of trouble got stirred up when people got to talking about the implications of the links between political power and economic wealth.

There’s another side to the metastasis just mentioned, though, and it has to do with the habits of thought that the money economy both requires and reinforces. At the heart of the entire system of money is the concept of abstract value, the idea that goods and services share a common, objective attribute called “value” that can be gauged according to the one-dimensional measurement of price.

It’s an astonishingly complex concept, and so needs unpacking here. Philosophers generally recognize a crucial distinction between facts and values; there are various ways of distinguishing them, but the one that matters for our present purposes is that facts are collective and values are individual. Consider the statement “it rained here last night.” Given agreed-upon definitions of “here” and “last night,” that’s a factual statement; all those who stood outside last night in the town where I live and looked up at the sky got raindrops on their faces. In the strict sense of the word, facts are objective—that is, they deal with the properties of objects of perception, such as raindrops and nights.

Values, by contrast, are subjective—that is, they deal with the properties of perceiving subjects, such as people who look up at the sky and notice wetness on their faces. One person is annoyed by the rain, another is pleased, another is completely indifferent to it, and these value judgments are irreducibly personal; it’s not that the rain is annoying, pleasant, or indifferent, it’s the individuals who are affected in these ways. Nor are these personal valuations easy to sort out along a linear scale without drastic distortion. The human experience of value is a richly multidimensional thing; even in a language as poorly furnished with descriptive terms for emotion as English is, there are countless shades of meaning available for talking about positive valuations, and at least as many more for negative ones.

From that vast universe of human experience, the concept of abstract value extracts a single variable—“how much will you give for it?”—and reduces the answer to a numerical scale denominated in dollars and cents or the local equivalent. Like any other act of reductive abstraction, it has its uses, but the benefits of any such act always have to be measured against the blind spots generated by reductive modes of thinking, and the consequences of that induced blindness must either be guarded against or paid in full. The latter is far and away the more common of the two, and it’s certainly the option that modern industrial society has enthusiastically chosen.

Those of my readers who want to see the blindness just mentioned in full spate need only turn to any of the popular cornucopian economic theorists of our time. The fond and fatuous insistence that resource depletion can’t possibly be a problem, because investing additional capital will inevitably turn up new supplies—precisely the same logic, by the way, that appears in the legendary utterance “I can’t be overdrawn, I still have checks left!”—unfolds precisely from the flattening out of qualitative value into quantitative price just discussed.  The habit of reducing every kind of value to bare price is profitable in a money economy, since it facilitates ignoring every variable that might get in the way of making money off  transactions; unfortunately it misses a minor but crucial fact, which is that the laws of physics and ecology trump the laws of economics, and can neither be bribed nor bought.

The contemporary fixation on abstract value isn’t limited to economists and those who believe them, nor is its potential for catastrophic consequences. I’m thinking here specifically of those people who have grasped the fact that industrial civilization is picking up speed on the downslope of its decline, but whose main response to it consists of trying to find some way to stash away as much abstract value as possible now, so that it will be available to them in some prospective postcollapse society. Far more often than not, gold plays a central role in that strategy, though there are a variety of less popular vehicles that play starring roles the same sort of plan.

Now of course it was probably inevitable in a consumer society like ours that even the downfall of industrial civilization would be turned promptly into yet another reason to go shopping. Still, there’s another difficulty here, and that’s that the same strategy has been tried before, many times, in the last years of other civilizations. There’s an ample body of historical evidence that can be used to see just how well it works. The short form? Don’t go there.

It so happens, for example, that in there among the sagas and songs of early medieval Europe are a handful that deal with historical events in the years right after the fall of Rome: the Nibelungenlied, Beowulf, the oldest strata of Norse saga, and some others. Now of course all these started out as oral traditions, and finally found their way into written form centuries after the events they chronicle, when their compilers had no way to check their facts; they also include plenty of folktale and myth, as oral traditions generally do. Still, they describe events and social customs that have been confirmed by surviving records and archeological evidence, and offer one of the best glimpses we’ve got into the lived experience of descent into a dark age.

Precious metals played an important part in the political economy of that age—no surprises there, as the Roman world had a precious-metal currency, and since banks had not been invented yet, portable objects of gold and silver were the most common way that the Roman world’s well-off classes stashed their personal wealth. As the western empire foundered in the fifth century CE and its market economy came apart, hoarding precious metals became standard practice, and rural villas, the doomsteads of the day, popped up all over. When archeologists excavate those villas, they routinely find evidence that they were looted and burnt when the empire fell, and tolerably often the archeologists or a hobbyist with a metal detector has located the buried stash of precious metals somewhere nearby, an expressive reminder of just how much benefit that store of abstract wealth actually provided to its owner.

That’s the same story you get from all the old legends: when treasure turns up, a lot of people are about to die. The Volsunga saga and the Nibelungenlied, for example, are versions of the same story, based on dim memories of events in the Rhine valley in the century or so after Rome’s fall. The primary plot engine of those events is a hoard of the usual late Roman kind,  which passes from hand to hand by way of murder, torture, treachery, vengeance, and the extermination of entire dynasties. For that matter, when Beowulf dies after slaying his dragon, and his people discover that the dragon was guarding a treasure, do they rejoice? Not at all; they take it for granted that the kings and warriors of every neighboring kingdom are going to come and slaughter them to get it—and in fact that’s what happens. That’s business as usual in a dark age society.

The problem with stockpiling gold on the brink of a dark age is thus simply another dimension, if a more extreme one, of the broader problem with intermediation. It bears remembering that gold is not wealth; it’s simply a durable form of money, and thus, like every other form of money, an arbitrary token embodying a claim to real wealth—that is, goods and services—that other people produce. If the goods and services aren’t available, a basement safe full of gold coins won’t change that fact, and if the people who have the goods and services need them more than they want gold, the same is true. Even if the goods and services are to be had, if everyone with gold is bidding for the same diminished supply, that gold isn’t going to buy anything close to what it does today. What’s more, tokens of abstract value have another disadvantage in a society where the rule of law has broken down: they attract violence the way a dead rat draws flies.

The fetish for stockpiling gold has always struck me, in fact, as the best possible proof that most of the people who think they are preparing for total social collapse haven’t actually thought the matter through, and considered the conditions that will obtain after the rubble stops bouncing. Let’s say industrial civilization comes apart, quickly or slowly, and you have gold.  In that case, either you spend it to purchase goods and services after the collapse, or you don’t. If you do, everyone in your vicinity will soon know that you have gold, the rule of law no longer discourages people from killing you and taking it in the best Nibelungenlied fashion, and sooner or later you’ll run out of ammo. If you don’t, what good will the gold do you?

The era when Nibelungenlied conditions apply—when, for example, armed gangs move from one doomstead to another, annihilating the people holed up there, living for a while on what they find, and then moving on to the next, or when local governments round up the families of those believed to have gold and torture them to death, starting with the children, until someone breaks—is a common stage of dark ages. It’s a self-terminating one, since sooner or later the available supply of precious metals or other carriers of abstract wealth are spread thin across the available supply of warlords. This can take anything up to a century or two before we reach the stage commemorated in the Anglo-Saxon poem “The Seafarer:” Nearon nú cyningas ne cáseras, ne goldgiefan swylce iú wáeron (No more are there kings or caesars or gold-givers as once there were).

That’s when things begin settling down and the sort of feudal arrangement sketched out in last week’s post begins to emerge, when money and the market play little role in most people’s lives and labor and land become the foundation of a new, impoverished, but relatively stable society where the rule of law again becomes a reality. None of us living today will see that period arrive, but it’s good to know where the process is headed. We’ll discuss the practical implications of that knowledge in a future post.


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Gary Shannon said...

I've followed your posts for a couple of years now, and let me say how refreshing it is to read such a consistently level-headed and realistic view of the future meltdown of global civilization.

Of course this civilization can't last. It's pretty clear to anyone who is paying attention that our way of life is not sustainable, and is beginning to crumble. However, those who run around with their hair on fire shouting that we are about to collapse instantly just haven't paid attention to history.

Tomorrow will almost always be exactly like today, except when, once in a while, it's not. It has always been "punctuated equilibrium", with the emphasis on "equilibrium" even in the midst of collapse.

mr_geronimo said...

JMG, can you put some bibiliography? I would like to go deeper in this subject and while i really like and respect the knowledge that you share, those with whom i will debate won't appreciate a archdruid: in Brazil titles matter and with all due respect, nobody respects a druid here.

Please, it's not an offense, it's just to counter cheap fallacies that WILL be used against anyone that speaks ill of the Market God.

Andy Brown said...

I build my garden and a few colonies of bees. When I have money I buy tools at quadruple price that will last close enough to forever. I spend much of my money on schools for my sons that rise above the usual stultifying ignorance-fostering. And if worse comes to worse, I know how to do some things - since when currency and property fails, that's what you're left with.

Ventriloquist said...

There's no money, honey
He said
But, I got twelve eggs
for the two cabbages.
Well, she sighed,
we will eat tonight.

Marinhomelander said...

When the people that control the money also control values you have problems.

I’m thinking of the six, or is it now five?, major media conglomerates and their various sideshows that keep people distracted. i.e. Pro sports.

Too many American men worship at the Temple of Ball. Too few practice common sense observation and preparation in their lives. There isn't really enough time or residual mental energy to do both.

Wonder what the ratio of pig farmers becoming bankers to dentists becoming bankers is?

dfr2010 said...

I couldn't afford gold anyway ... but I *can* afford fabric, yarn, notions and tools to use them, along with a patch of dirt, seeds, garden tools, and chickens. My current multi-month project is sock knitting since it seems quicker than finding decent good-wearing socks from a commercial source anymore.

Violet Cabra said...

If money is only useful for acquiring goods and services, and there are other ways of acquiring goods and services rather than money, money and other abstract tokens of wealth are of mere symbolic value.

What is of actual value, however, in the production of both goods and services are skills. Money can only afford you the skills of another. That is all it can do. Learn those same skills yourself and the whole world of finance suddenly starts to like a rigged game, an unlevel playing field. Provide for yourself, provide for others, and the playing field slants to your advantage.

Andy Brown said...

Money does another thing besides lubricate intermediation. It removes the need for a social relationship between the two actors. The rich social relationships that interweave normal material circulation among human beings has been stripped away by money. To me one of the great open questions of our unraveling empire (or civilization) is whether we'll have the leisure to reinvent some semblance of those relationships (as between your dentist and farmer) or whether money's facade of sociality collapses too fast and we have to face things as atomized, disoriented individuals. In which case - warlords and rapine.

Tom Bannister said...

I remember back in my first year of uni when I tried to do an economics 101 paper. I lasted about 3 days. My immediate impression was that the paper was simply an exercise is dumbing down. Like, lets take this widely complicated situation of an economy with many many factors and arbitrary shove everything into these tiny boxes of 'rational economic actors' or perfectly linear supply and demand graphs resulting in perfect equilibrium. I'm sure you're well familiar with all this of course. tbh, I vaguely thought of it as like walking into a bible study class full of fundamentalist Christians (or a paranormal phenomena 'skeptics' seminar...)

Interesting points you make too about gold staches (or staches in general in the decline of civilizations). Its unfortunately a fairly common response I hear by people when talking about the downfall of industrial civilization. 'hauling myself up in the woods somewhere'- "untill the mobs with flaming torches show up on your doorstep" I then point out. usually i just get a shrug in response, or a Copernican response about technology saving us etc etc etc...

Even in more prosperous economic times with less threat from barbarian hordes gold does not save dieing empires. Witness the collapse of the Spanish empire for example (granted though the raids on their gold supply by Caribbean pirates and the British). All the large influx of gold to Spain did was raise prices around Europe, due to expanded money supply for the same amount of good- aka inflation.

Anyways, just my musings. cheers for the post. Like I said last week I love this topic!!!

EntropicDoom said...

Your recent posts including this one are gems. They are clearly written and concise. Thank you for the wonderful exposition on the circumstance of our decline as the oil is burned off in a final spate of happy motoring. I am reminded of Ulysses Grant posted to Fort Vancouver in the Oregon Territory, before the Civil War, as a Junior Officer and recent graduate of West Point. This was after the Mexican War. In order to supplement his paltry salary he farmed potatoes in his off hours because in his first winter, food was dear. He planned on exchanging the potatoes for other food stuffs or goods. Manufactured goods were expensive and rare due to the long sea journey from the East Coast. That coming harvest he was confronted with a bounty of potatoes from his tillage and all from the other beginning farmers who also planted potatoes. And so Grant plowed his now surplus spuds back into the earth and sought relocation to the East in earnest. It was a mix of barter economy occurring spontaneously to met immediate needs or when the potato crop was ready for harvest. The framework of the market economy, with money cementing economic relationships, was not fully in place. People went back to what they could do with nature's materials and a shovel. In the future, we may all become potato farmers again.

JimK said...

Here's some investment advice that should be applicable in changing times:

Michael McG said...

Complex systems require intermediation to function properly. No one or thing has yet been shown to know it all and know where it has been and will be. This is why life is grand.

Cherokee Organics said...


Thus we work our way back yet again to that pesky abstraction: value.

I thought you might like this quote from Galbraith (I'm thoroughly enjoying the read too): "We saw earlier that, as often as not, the intelligent man is not sought out. Rather, he is excluded as a threat. Keynes's (John Maynard Keynes) exclusion was his good fortune. The curse of the public man is that he first accommodates his tongue and eventually his thoughts to his public position. Presently saying nothing but saying it nicely becomes a habit. On the outside one can at least have the pleasure of inflicting the truth."

It is my take that money cannot of itself solve the underlying problems of our economic systems. The bubbles are accelerating, the carcass is being increasingly inflated and the scary thing is that no one really knows at what point the elastic limit will be reached? The only thing for certain is that based on the results of bubbles in the past they will pop at some stage - that is guaranteed.

The funny thing is that since Industrial countries produce less and less real goods and services as the years roll on somehow the powers that be have unwittingly, but mostly with us lot cheering them on, inserted us - as the population - into the roles of the intermediaries on a global stage. It is a precarious place to be.



PS: There is a new blog entry up where I've somehow managed to work together the usually unrelated topics of demons and gardening: Children of the corn.

Fun stuff, plus all of the usual photos, shed building, and other cool stuff.

Thomas Daulton said...

I can't possibly be the first one to point out that the initial part of your column is a very concise and effective restatement of David Graeber's excellent book, "Debt: The First 5,000 Years". He hits all your points, and makes the testable assertion that _no_ anthropological evidence exists for any society anywhere in the world where money arose according to the "Econ 101" timeline, which you (JMG) present and then disprove. According to Graeber, the type of numerical barter system taught in Econ 101 only arises in places where money used to exist and then was taken away by societal collapse; places such as Dark Age Britain and so forth. Societies which never had money do not tend to equate physical goods with abstract numbers.

So how then did money ever arise in the first place? A very interesting question, which Graeber answers. SPOILER: Money was invented solely to pay taxes and tributes. So, to those neo-conservatives who think society can run with zero taxes: you'll have to get rid of money itself, first!

Graeber notes that selling cows and buying chickens in exchange for abstract money is essentially the same thing as denaturing both animals and all their particular uses and distinctive features. He goes on to note that this is essentially doing violence to people and to the things traded, and links the advent of money to increasing violence.

Although you've written a very useful and readable recap of Graeber's book, I would encourage everyone to read the full book. It's written in a clever and personable style, a fair bit like JMG's writing style, and he presents numerous other philosophical problems with the concept of money, and explores various other systems for settling debts which humans have employed throughout history and throughout the globe. One is left with the impression that our current system of electronic totems representing paper bills with a nominal connection to gold is very, very unimaginative indeed.

Also, separate topic, I note the following article in Quartz online magazine hits quite a few of JMG's points about economic collapse, complexity, and intermediation: The decline and fall of helicopter parenting.

Quote: "A 'helicopter parent' micromanages every aspect of his child’s routine and behavior... The rise of the helicopter was the product of two social shifts. The first was the comparatively booming economy of the 1990s, with low unemployment and higher disposable income. The second was the public perception of increased child endangerment... Despite media campaigns ...children are safer from crime than in prior decades. What they are not safe from are the diminishing prospects of their parents."

Thomas Daulton said...

Oh, addendum to my post just now: check out this interview with that author from the "Unwelcome Guests" podcast... Unwelcome Guests 664: David Graeber Interview. The podcaster read huge chunks of the book in earlier episodes, so if you want to "cheat", you can download the vast bulk of the book from his podcast archives for free.

Pinku-Sensei said...

I recognized your central story about buried gold as an expanded version of one I'd read on Ugo Bardi's blog a few years back. He described how the wealthy from the terminal (pun intended) Roman Empire had buried gold coins in hopes that they would recover their value some day and then compared it to people who held rental properties but boarded them up instead of renting them, holding them off the market until rents increased again. Bardi did mention that the "some day" eventually returned for the value of gold--about a thousand years too late. He didn't expand on how those hoards of gold would bring hordes of bandits, causing more misfortune than good fortune for the would-be survivalists of the Fifth Century C.E.

On the subject of pointing out the counterproductive nature of gold and the nature of money as shared belief instead of something objectively real, I wonder how many angry comments you're going to read (and probably not pass through moderation because of swearing) from goldbugs who believe that money is real and that gold is the most dependable and natural form of real money. Or will it be like my musings about gifts of pink lingerie to fairies a couple of weeks ago, where it was just you and me?

@Marinhomelander "[T]heir various sideshows that keep people distracted. i.e. Pro sports. Too many American men worship at the Temple of Ball. Too few practice common sense observation and preparation in their lives. There isn't really enough time or residual mental energy to do both."

Stop the circuses, and people might notice that they're running out of bread. However, I suspect that they'll want their circuses back first. I've been observing for years that, if one interrupts their entertainment for long enough, Americans and others in the industrialized world will clamor to stop whatever is in the way of their amusement, unless it is itself sufficiently diverting, and have their fun back. That's why Detroit, in the middle of bankruptcy, had their summer fireworks show and holiday parade continue. As for the cessation of entertainment, including sports, resulting in an awakening, don't count on it. It's too easy to keep the show going right now. That's why both our entertainment and what passes for our news consists of zombies, gangsters, and sideshows.

pyrrhus said...

While agreed that in a total collapse situation, gold is a dubious asset, consider that many today believe that there will be a point at which fiat currencies will collapse and China/Russia/Germany/India will institute a gold backed currency. They have been buying a lot of gold.

Kaitain said...

Your discussion of the futility of hoarding precious metals and how hoards tend to attract those bent on separating the hoard from its current owner via the sword reminded me greatly of the Battle of the Five Armies from The Hobbit…

anothershamus said...

One of the things I see missing from this post is the evolution of the medieval model to the corporate model; wherein the middlemen come from outside the community and take the value (wealth) from the community by brokering the goods or by bringing in cheaper goods from afar and taking all the value (wealth) back to the corporate headquarters.

deborah harvey said...

looking forward to next post.
this is subject of wide discussion; gold or silver, beans or bullets, or meds?
all could be useless depending upon circumstances. what to do?
tell us, o sage!
many thanks.
deb harvey

Tim said...

I'd like to make an addendum or corollary to mr_geronimo's request for a bibliography, above. I've been a follower of this blog for a couple of years now, and never cease to be amazed at both the breadth and depth of your erudition. I'd love to see a posting sometime of your "intellectual biography." What have you done in your life to become so widely knowledgable on so many topics? And how to you keep up now with all that's going on in our world.

I'm guessing I'm not alone in this wish to learn more about your intellectual underpinnings; I hope you might be willing to share some of your self with us this way.

Greg Belvedere said...

I'm very curious to hear you go into more detail on what a breakdown in the rule of law might look like. You have written previously that while many people fear roving mobs pouring out of the cities, this has never happened. Yet recently you have talked a bit about modern warbands engaging in similar behavior. I'm not sure how to square the two, though I have some thoughts. Did you mean that cites would simply not be the source of this? Or is there something I'm missing?

In any case, I certainly agree that having stockpiles of wealth, abstract or otherwise, in a lawless society will make someone a target. As someone looking to put my stock more in food I would worry more about someone harvesting a field at night, or raiding my cellar. Not to mention the violence that can come along with such acts. This topic interests me greatly. I think most people fear home invasion style attacks on their family, but despite media depictions these are incredibly uncommon. I wonder how common they are in more lawless societies.

Dave Z said...

John Nichols' The Magic Journey engagingly illustrates the subversion of a moneyless economy (Navajo and Hispanic subsistence farmers) to the cash economy.

An American version of the British home tax you describe.

Thanks for another great post!

Dave Z

anonymous said...

I appreciate your measured approach to predicting. We certainly have severe issues with regard to resource depletion. At the same time, we (USA) are facing a problem with job losses due to offshoring combined with automation (but the global economy is another picture). You also point to disintermediation causing unemployment. I'd imagine that as an economy was put under pressure, there would be a move away from leisure and toward full employment; not happening. Such a trend presupposes a populace with the right skills, which suggest we go out and get.

Yupped said...

There are some interesting psychological aspects to money as well, that make it attractive to participants in a market economy. Making lots of it suggests that we are successful; hoarding it gives the sense that we are somehow safe; spending it ostentatiously displays that we are better than others, etc. Of course you can do get the same ego boost from having the most pigs or storing away the most grain, but money seems to lend itself to new levels of status differentiation.

I think that some of these factors are wrapped into why a certain type of prepper favors storing gold. It seems fairly clear that the best strategy for preparing for difficult times is to invest in skills, community relationships and reliable shelter on a small patch of productive land, while also trying to not stand out too much from the (generally struggling) crowd. Hoarding gold (or for that matter buying and equipping an elaborate farmstead in the country) seems to be an indication that you want to hang on to your industrial age stored wealth and perhaps that you want to demonstrate how much smarter you were than those fiat sheep who didn't see the big investment picture. But, if we are indeed moving into volatile times, that does not seem like a winning strategy.

Candace said...

I know that several other readers have mentioned the book, "Debt, The First 5,000 Years" by David Graeber. He talks about social debt and gift economies. It might be a good discussion starter for some folks.

From the perspective I got from that book, the exchange might not even be an exchange. The dentist does the dental work because the pig farmer needs it. The pig farmer is now "indebted" to the dentist. The "debt" may or may mot be paid any time soon. The things that Deborah Bender mentioned at the end of the comments in the last post will come into play (the collection of grudes and favors that will accrue to families and groups).

The greatest difficulty I see for many of us at this time is the problem of being caught between two worlds. Working towards skills that may be useful in the future while still being able to pay off the intermediaries in the present.

Redneck Girl said...

Well JMG, it looks like my mention of the Incan Empire's version of taxation (goods and services) a few weeks back could come to pass in a feudal situation! That certainly bypasses intermediation!

wiseman said...

I don't understand one part of this narrative against gold which sounds like either you are a gold bug or you develop skills. It's a very unrealistic either or scenario.

Why can't one do both as in develop skills which will provide you with your actual livelihood and then store a little gold for emergencies.

War bands don't just pillage for gold, they pillage for women and children as well, shouldn't anybody marry or have a family in that case ?

Brian Bundy said...

JMG - Well I agree with your view on gold, I wonder if you would advise complete abstinence or just limited participation. Could it be that having small holdings (an ounce or less) could ease the early phases of a transition by providing a easily recognizable barter tool?

Kutamun said...

Looking around my own community two hours from a major city , many of the older locals seem to have a lot of cachet in the local farming community , though in the context of industrial farming , which is heavily politicised and seeks to exploit the local natural resources to the maximum extent possible . Many of these farmers have been foumg slowly broke over the last thirty years , ravaged by the proliferation of intermediation in global commodity markets ( the price they receive from the corporations has stagnated since the early nineties ) , ravaged by drought and many of their offspring have moved to the cities . I feel these people to be largely propagandised and institutionalised , and they may not be psycho spiritually fitted to prevail in a neo feudal setup . Depression , obesity and suicide is already rampant among them .

Despite this , there are horse breakers , specialist butchers , organic gardeners , bakers , brewers builders and plumbers , livestock husbanders etc. i often muse that the psychology of those present will be what determines the future shape of the community , and like in wartime it may be surprising who rises to the challenge and who doesnt . Not all the escaping urban green elite are guaranteed to thrive , either .As you have hammered home in many a post , the ability to identify currents and cleavages in the local individual and collective psyche , combined with an innate sense of spiritual purpose and psychological balance will be the key to thriving here . Far from being a new age " inclusive and collaborative i love you all " mindset ; this may entail decision making such as recognising someone who is targeting you or about to target you to relieve you of your possessions and getting in first to shoot them in the leg with a show of force to indicate you are not to be trifled with , sending a message to many others in the process . This in addition to cultivating the ability to connnect , befriend and nurture a network .

Whatis common to both yours and kunstlers peak oil novels is that the characters that thrive seem to have a degree of ruthlessness balanced with compassion and good intuition and psychological awareness in their characters ; they are keen observers .

I agree that having a large hoard without the intuition or skills to make it work for you makes you a prime target . Learning how to butcher a sheep would be a much better currency . Of course there are many variables and externals to be accounted for and we have a long bumpy road to travel before we get to that point . A local insurgency against a corrupt local government would not be too far fetched if they used Land Tax to drain the populace dry on the way down. .
At present in Victoria , Australia , i have noticed a lot of aerial helicopter traffic surrveilling the back blocks , and the power grids are attempting to install smart meters on most properties , which will monitor and transmit how many people are on the premises , what type of appliances they use in what rooms etc , as well as the ability to disconnect individual appliances on the promises under the guise of " load shedding " . A number of us have avoided this by locking meter boxes and utilising common law to prevent trespass , and have had to withstand all manner of legal threats and agressive tactics . So this is the stage we are at as the old system is very much still active .

Carl said...

Dear JMG ,
You've giving me motivation to sell the last of some gold and silver coins I acquired in the fast collapse stage of my life. Plus prices of all commodities are declining rapidly. Too bad banks aren't paying any interest and inflation eats up your savings, but if the economy crashes your in the same boat ad everyone else and not a target with a bag of silver coins.

Stuart said...

I've thought for some time that the idea of fairy money being cursed was, partly, an orally preserved memory of feudal and pre-feudal reality. Gold was evil for most who found it, whether because of lawless robbers or because of the legal order that edged out the lawless robbers by making it clear who was capable of owning what. (Imagine what would befall you today if you found a genuine $500M bearer bond and didn't bury it at once!)

This makes all kinds of sense if we keep in mind David Graeber's observation (probably not original) that coinage was mostly invented as an instrument to mobilise troops. Gold and silver coins could be paid to soldiers from all over, wherever their campaigns took them; taxes payable in coins forced populations to provide soldiers with services, as in your British colonial example. So not only is gold currency a means to facilitate intermediation, but it is specifically tied to violence and the stable, organised capacity to inflict violence.

Of course you still have lots of gold around when the rubble stops bouncing. The Dark Age solution? Melt the gold into useless art objects and let it collect and sit in the hands of an organisation everyone everywhere agrees is necessary, where it can again play an economic role (via prestige) in legally sanctioned and less chaotically violent ways.

Jim R said...

Of course, by the time the Roman Empire crumpled, their coinage had moved from gold and silver, to bronze and pewter.

Approximate mintage dates can be determined from the alloy, even when it's hard to make out whose portrait is on the obverse.

Even with the debasement, and the bands of roving thieves, the old Roman coins were used as currency far into the dark ages. There may not have been enough intermediation to build empires and construct monuments, but a currency was still occasionally useful in trade.

From your essay this week, JMG, my conclusion is that you need to clan-up and form communities. Whether you're part of a roving band, or a more stationary one, the obvious advantage is in numbers.

Chris G said...

JMG - Apologies for the long comment here. I've been synthesizing a lot of the material, so to speak, hope it can be useful. So this is Part I of II.

I've been a reader now about eighteen months.  As a reader I have gone through two transitions thus far. The first is like an AA meeting: "I acknowledge the reality of peak oil, and accept my personal responsibility to adapt to the change."

The second I suppose is in process for me. It's a recognition of the total futility of any effort for victory for the side of ecology, conservation, or Gaia, on this civilization's terms. I'll start with an example.  The change over from Carter to Reagan.  A lot of the folks in the peak oil community know what those names mean contextually.  For the initiated, they resound like incantations.

But those two individuals meant little really to the processes they represent.  We imagine presidents as figureheads of power, but they really don't have the kind of power we attribute to them. That is, even very powerful people don't have really much power over what's happening. JMG you've examined this in some of the older blog entries.  How empire becomes a self-perpetuating metastatic process that traps the empire, where the grounds that made it possible actively contribute to its dissolution.  The empire has a prisoner's dilemma – that if we don't do it, they will.  Another angle is the way Keynesian economics becomes a trap - as the populace is never willing to suffer the hard times of debt repayment after the big influx of new money. (Strange, I've read Keynes was a sometime-compatriot of Aleister Crowley?) They (we, the people) just want more new talismans of "wanting more." And not at all maliciously. Heck, people want to have babies. (In fact, a great many in mainstream political economy have come to the conclusion that the problem now is just a demand-creation problem: put more money in the economy, and it will be there signal a need to dig up more of that fracking oil and gas. Heck, it worked before!)

Further, Jevon's paradox (damn all these paradoxes) can be generalized.  If I decide no longer to participate; if I decide to grow my own food as much as possible; not to drive; not to pay taxes; not to put money in banks - or simply to withdraw somewhat from “the market economy” - for the practical reason that it is unsustainable, destructive; for the spiritual reason that “every man for himself” is totally averse to the continuation of the species - my actions simply let the price of oil (or ng or coal) go cheaper and thus allow others to take my place in that market.  It is true I am gaining skills and knowledge that can hopefully be passed through the gap in historical epochs, or soften the descent, in the process of collapsing now and avoiding the rush. But practically speaking... yeah, right.

No matter how hard global warming makes things in the short term, people will still use fossil fuels to deal with its effects. And it would be much, much harder without using the fossil fuels – and how can we do that to the pregnant mother, and the little granny, and the millions in the third world? Contracting energy consumption is contracting life. Not to mention that there are people with power who will continue to scramble to suck more power out of the earth, and the people without power will be powerless to stop them.

It's the same kind of paradox for the USAs choice in the Carter to Reagan transition: if we didn't use the Middle East oil for our military and economic empire, doubling down on our bet, moving from US Peak Oil to World Peak Oil (largely under our dominion and for our benefit), USSR, or some other, would have.  We would not have ever been able to trust them that they wouldn't take advantage of that opportunity. And how would we have been to able to compel them to stop? The genie was already out of the bottle.

Chris G said...

Part II of II
On top of this trap, the industrial age has produced marvels and beauties. Seven billion souls and climbing out to count for something. In the major religions, it is the most fundamental value of all. And some of those souls have achieved genius, excellence.  As Goethe described in his Faust, what humans desire is meaningful experiences, not just power.  Now I grant being wealthy and powerful is not the only way to meaningful experiences - and other ways are perhaps even better.  But it's hard to deny its, well, POWER as a means, and the way these energy sources facilitate meaningful experiences. And it has been achieved, at least by a few, during the industrial age, and in truly spectacular fashion.  It can be seen among the splendid athletes, performers, writers, musicians and artists of our time.  There is epic human greatness in our time, the full flowering of epic amounts of energy put to conscious direction. I'll give one example (which can be viewed on another example of costly but marvelous artworks of industrial civilization – the Youtube): his name is Danny McAskill. He does simply astounding mountain bike tricks. It's impossible to describe, has to be seen. That's not likely possible without industrial civilization. It still might drift by in the current of time, as we will be unable to remember it as we do now. Not the less splendid for being brief, though. (

And further on to the paradox that withdrawal is not resistance, but something else - those who reject this cultural form can not even truly challenge the hegemony, which appears less of a strictly American thing and more like the manifestation of the colossus of the energy of the dead. If we stepped away how would we resist some other in their pursuit? With what tools would we fight? Hammers and sickles? Ak-47's?  And the path of Gandhi, peaceful resistance, is challenging because it required EVEN MORE bravery, self-sacrifice, willingness to die en masse, than Americans can muster in our materially stultified consciousness. And it's a seriously large question whether those in power would really even care.

We have again the challenge of brainwashing, which is formidable.  For some incomprehensible reason, peak oil - which is actually more certain than anthroprogenic global warming - can almost completely be ignored in any politicians' agenda - maybe addressed here and there in coded language, never directly except in a brief dismissal.  How can this be possible without some mind-bogglingly huge blind spot built into how our civilization thinks? How can something so obvious be missed?

It's impossible to beat the demon that we're up against - we just have to wait for it die.  But that's the weak spot of this culture: it can't really deal with long time periods.  During the reign of Christian theology the world was the universe and it was only 6000 years old! (Curiously about as old as record keeping...) and the whole spiritual conception in the West is built on that foundation - even if we do know otherwise now, it's still somewhere down in the subconscious. It comes out in the catchy, new agey, almost-spiritual phrase, “You Only Live Once!”

I think that's this civilization's big blind spot. It can't deal with a look to the long future, because it diminishes us right now. I think that's wrong because we do live on in the long memory. It ought to be known by future generations that some few persisted in what is certainly a hopeless battle.

That's about all we can do now.  It seems pretty little right now. It's actually a lot - the stuff of legends.

DeAnander said...

JMG... if I'm crazy enough to take on an intermittent radio show on our nonprofit community station (broadcast range less than 30 mi radius!) may I have your permission to read one or two of your fine blog entries on the air now and then, as discussion-starters? with full attribution and a hearty recommend to read the blog of course.

onething said...

What a lovely post. It makes more sense now the low esteem in which you seem to hold money. I'm thinking about this anyway, all as part of my scale-down process, but the role of money in intermediation, for example, has me slapping my forehead and saying, "Why of course!"

What example(s) can you give of complex civilizations that did not use money?

John Michael Greer said...

Gary, nicely phrased. Thank you.

Mr. Geronimo, you'll find much of the bibliography in my book The Wealth of Nature, and a good deal more in the book by David Graeber cited by several commenters here.

Andy, exactly.

Ventriloquist, and in hard times, knowing that you'll eat tonight trumps most other concerns.

Homelander, and you can make all their efforts fail, at least in terms of your mind and decisions, by unplugging the TV and dropping it in the nearest dumpster. I recommend it!

Dfr2010, good for you -- over and above the fact that hand-knitted socks are much sturdier and more comfortable than the crap you get from the stores these days, every time you stop using money to meet a need and do it yourself instead, you free part of yourself from a dying system. (Do you spin your own yarn? With a drop spindle, it's easy and fun.)

Violet, a fine summary of the message I've been trying to communicate. Thank you.

Andy, it's usually some of each. Staying out of the way of the warlords helps focus on the other option.

Tom, I've had the same feeling when dealing with mainstream economists -- they remind me of members of one of the more cerebral religious cults. As for your friends talking about holing up in the woods, I'd be willing to bet that few of them are making any concrete preparations to do so -- it's just a verbal noise, a way to distract their (and your) attention from the imminent mess.

Doom, if Grant had simply had some Russian neighbors, they'd have taught him how to make vodka from the potatoes, and he'd have been set. This is why skills are so important! ;-)

Jim, excellent advice indeed. Thanks for the link!

Michael, nah, intermediation requires complex systems, not the other way around. Too much complexity is not an advantage, you know.

John Michael Greer said...

Cherokee, one of my regular readers mentioned recently that when he was taking a class in economics with a neoclassical economist, and happened to cite something by Galbraith, the professor said, "You do know he's the enemy, don't you?" Given the mess the neoclassical economists have made, that's very nearly the highest praise I can imagine giving Galbraith -- well, other than the fact that he was a brilliant thinker and a truly gifted writer, and every reader of this blog who hasn't already done so should run right out and pick up a copy of The Great Crash 1929 just for starters.

Thomas, yes, you're the first, though not the only! I'm embarrassed to say I haven't read Graeber yet, though clearly I need to. Thanks also for the links!

Pinku-sensei, oh, I expect the gold bugs to show up in force. I remember what kind of a ruckus got stirred up a while back when I pointed out that the price curve of gold over the last fifteen years shows a classic bubble-and-bust pattern.

Pyrrhus, the countries in question would be crazy to do so, as it would lock them into long-term deflation as it did with the US economy in the late 19th century. It's not "fiat money" in the abstract that faces a crash, but the US dollar and a handful of specific currencies dependent on it -- at least that's my take.

Kaitain, excellent! Yes, and that earns you tonight's gold star. Tolkien knew European dark age literature better than anyone else in his generation -- the guy could write extempore in Gothic, for heaven's sake -- and so it was only natural that he put that detail into The Hobbit.

Anothershamus, there were a lot of details I could have put in if I were writing a book rather than a weekly blog post, and that's one of them: relevant, certainly, but not to the specific point I'm making here. (BTW, you don't have to put your post through three times; I got all three.)

Deborah, the answer is simple: skills. If all you have is stuff, there will be plenty of people who want to take it from you, and your well-being will not be of interest to them. If you have skills, by contrast, there will be plenty of people who want you to be able to practice your skills for their benefit, and your well-being does play a part in that. In the most lawless societies of the past -- the pirate colonies of the Caribbean come to mind -- physicians, shipwrights, blacksmiths, and other skilled tradespeople lived charmed lives; casual murder among the pirates themselves was commonplace, but nobody hassled a craftsman, because his skills kept everyone alive and able to pursue their trade.

Tim, I'll consider that.

Greg, exactly -- it's not the cities that are the source of the problem. I should probably do a post on that sometime soon. The very short form is that those cities that aren't too big to survive can very often defend themselves, because they have the resource and the work force to maintain a local militia. It's in the rural areas that brigandage becomes universal, and things quickly degenerate to dark age conditions. Very often in a dark age, surviving towns and cities are islands of relative peace and security, with the agricultural hinterlands close to the city under some degree of protection, while further out you get raw anarchy and roving warbands. More on this soon!

Dave, thanks for the recommendation -- I'll put it on the to-read list.

Anonymous, it's not just a matter of insufficient skills, though that doesn't help. As the money economy becomes more and more dysfunctional, it stops being able to organize and motivate economic activity at all -- there's plenty of work to be done and plenty of people willing to do it for a living wage, but the economy is so riddled with parasites that hiring the people to do the work can't be done at a profit, so it doesn't get done.

Bob Patterson said...

JMG - Just finished Decline and Fall - GREAT! A few quibbles -
1. Some historians claim post WW1 reparations were never paid by Germany, 2. Was watching a youtube vid re: F-22 fighter. Cost with armaments and support $100 mill. per, armament 6 missles and 100 rounds of ammo. So I go build 50 fighters $1/2 mill each with simple missles and machine guns. F-22 fires all mu nitions and has to run. Air superiority? 3. $4 bill. aircraft carriers were literally sunk by $2,700. Exocet missles in 1970'2.

Thomas Daulton said...

Your post also got me thinking how much my age/cohorts and I - speaking as a male in the age range of late 40 to 50 - have a distorted view of medieval history, anthropology, and sociology... stemming from Dungeons and Dragons: and dare I even say, the Tolkien upon which D&D was based. I believe JMG has mentioned that he dabbled in D&D so pardon my self indulgent meditation here. I wonder how much the rest of American society has been "contaminated" by the D&D view of medieval economies - secondhand through us.

Tolkien was a rigorous scholar of many things, especially languages, but he doesn't appear to be a cultural economist. The Shire, for example, functions like a mercantile economy - I think I remember the clinking of coins in the Prancing Pony - and one would presume it trades peaceably with neighboring city-states. But it was never an Empire of the sort where a money system would have arisen on its own. (Perhaps its money system is a leftover from the days of Numenor.) The hobbits have cosmopolitan tastes in consumables, yet it's never clear which nations they are trading _with_. For example, Rohan is a nomadic moneyless economy in a state of tribal primitivism, where money would seem never to have arisen in the past.  Meanwhile Gondor appears to be strictly feudal, which would imply a money system arose there and then fell. The Elves would seem to be too noble to bother using money for anything. Although fallen from the First Age, the Elves still seem to pursue life only for the purposes of artistic or martial achievement; not monetary wealth. Somehow all these disparate economies live right next to each other.

Then those of us in my generation took that less-than-rigorous melange of social economics from Tolkien and other fantasy writers, and bastardized it still further with D&D. Every D&D character starts out "scrambling for coppers" and then accumulates gold; when apparently in a more "realistic" D&D campaign, the characters would need to craft personalized interactions for each and every supply item they wish to purchase.  Whereas their coins of precious metal would be unusable, un-trade-able. At some level all the D&D players I've met know intellectually that real medieval peasants didn't even have a pair of coppers to rub together. Yet somehow we just assume they participated in some kind of market/barter economy anyway.

Also at some level we know that our player characters... whom we usually think of as "heroes" and defenders of life, liberty and civilization... probably fit better in the role of Viking raiders (indiscriminately slaying anybody who has the misfortune of sitting near any rumored horde of treasure).  It makes me want to write up a moneyless D&D campaign where all player characters are viewed by NPCs only as thuggish invaders who can't earn their living the natural way... With neighbourly exchanges of debt.

And then of course our contaminated view of medieval cultural economy is bastardized further in the minds of anyone younger, who grew up playing the video game successors of D&D. In a computer game you don't even bother lugging coins around, let alone creating personalized economic interactions, you just have a numerical total "Gold" in one corner of your screen, and you need only click "Buy".  An abstraction of an abstraction.

John Michael Greer said...

Yupped, exactly. Certainly those who tried that strategy in previous eras of decline and fall ended up in shallow graves far more often than not.

Candace, yes, exactly -- the challenge of living in two worlds is the major problem we face as individuals right now. That's one of the things my proposed strategy of "collapse now and avoid the rush" is meant to help resolve.

Wadulisi, most civilizations got by just fine with taxation in kind, so if that does come back in, it'll have lots of precedent.

Wiseman, with gold, it's not just warbands you have to worry about. Your next door neighbor, your local police department, an organized gang who hacked the records of the company that sold you those Krugerrands and is going from one address to another, kicking down the door in the middle of the night, offing everyone there, finding the gold and going onto the next house...if you're known to have gold, any of those, and many others as well, will be thinking about whether a bullet through your brain is the best investment strategy for them just now. If your wife is pretty enough to get even a small fraction of the same sort of hostile attention aimed at you, you're a very lucky man.

Brian, there are plenty of other things to barter that don't attract the same kind of hostile intentions. Better still, learn how to brew good beer, and everyone you know will be your friend for life.

Kutamun, the right balance between ruthlessness and compassion is a common feature of people who thrive in troubled times. For that matter, it's worth pursuing even in less difficult ages.

Carl, the more of your life you can get outside of the money economy altogether -- the more things you can do for yourself, swap with friends, or simply do without -- the less you have to worry about when the economy turns south. That's the key to being comfortable here and now!

Stuart, that's very likely -- "fairy gold," when it was real and not dried leaves under a glamour, was very often somebody's buried hoard from previous generations (as of course was dragon-gold). If you have it, somebody or other is going to want to cut your throat to get it -- best to leave it in the ground.

Jim, instead of trying to form a community, with all the problems that entails, why not settle in one that already exists -- say, a small city or large town with some social institutions more or less intact, in an area with a lot of small farms? That's what I did, and I recommend it as an option.

Chris, excellent. The one quibble I have is that I don't think you're considering the full implications of what you've suggested: "It's a recognition of the total futility of any effort for victory for the side of ecology, conservation, or Gaia, on this civilization's terms." The last four words -- on this civilization's terms -- are to my mind the crucial ones, because even now, in the belly of the beast, those terms are not universally applicable. They don't define the whole universe of possibility available to us -- and as this civilization crumbles, the number and magnitude of the spaces outside this civilization's reach will multiply steadily. Thus it's not simply a matter of waiting for this civilization to die -- it's possible to identify spaces (physical, cognitive, and other) where it's already lost its grip, and leveraging your ability to shape those spaces in order to begin building the future amid the disintegrating carcass of the present.

There, I've just given away the central strategy of this blog. Don't tell anyone! ;-)

beneaththesurface said...

I agree with all your reasons why investing in gold is not a good idea. There are additional reasons though for why I have no interest in buying gold. During my college years, I did a great amount of research on contemporary gold mining and its environmental consequences. Gold mining is incredibly environmentally destructive, including such costs as: Pollution of water, soil, and air with mercury, cyanide, and sulfuric acid; destruction of rain forests and other ecosystems; lots of waste creation; displacement of indigenous communities; slave labor working conditions; poor health conditions for workers (who I doubt could afford to invest in the very gold they're mining); harmful child labor; the list can go on...

I strive to think of wealth in terms of ecosystem health. Whatever wealth gold might give me in abstract value in a moneyed economy, it reduces wealth in an ecological sense. I find it ironic whenever I hear peak oilers, especially those who supposedly have an ecological awareness, talking so positively about gold.

Oregon Farmer said...

Well done, sir. I'd add one aspect about gold specifically. It explained for me why men risk all for that metal. Face death, endure great suffering, murder, cheat and lie for it. The reason: women adore it.

Redneck Girl said...

A thought I've had on the dark age and our feudal future, for those who feel a head start is the best start the architect of earth bag buildings, Owen Geiger had plans for a castle! Several of his independent designs were combined into the layout and surrounded by a castle wall. The moat was a by-product of the design since the dirt for the whole layout had to come from somewhere!

I highly recommend any of the related web sites if you yearn to put down long term roots that will last for generations. And the best part is the dwellings are easy (and cheap) to heat and cool and have a low carbon foot print with no out gassing of toxic fumes. And in the near term, they're bullet proof.

Get your friends and your relatives together, instead of a barn raising, you'd have a castle raising! LOL!


John Michael Greer said...

DeAnander, by all means! As long as proper attribution and a reference to this blog are given, these posts can be reprinted or broadcast freely.

Onething, ancient Egypt didn't use money, neither did any of the civilizations of Mesopotamia, neither did the first few millennia of civilization in India and China, any of the early civilizations of Africa or any of the native civilizations of the Americas. Money was invented by the Lydians (in what's now western Turkey) around 650 BC, and spread from there; all things considered, it's quite a recent invention!

Bob, no argument about the F-22 or the carriers -- one of the points of my novel Twilight's Last Gleaming is that the US military is preparing to fight the Second World War over again where other nations aren't making that mistake. I'll have to check into the point on German reparations -- which historians are you referencing? At any rate, glad you liked the book!

Thomas, good. Very good. You're right that Tolkien wasn't an economist, or a cultural anthropologist, or a lot of other things -- don't get me started about the ecological improbabilities of Middle-Earth -- and D&D is a good deal worse, with a worldview straight out of the pulp fantasy of the Weird Tales era. A roleplaying game set in an actual dark age or medieval setting would be a very different thing!

Beneath, those are all very good points. Most peak oilers I've met, btw, don't actually have that much of a grasp of ecology -- there are noble exceptions, to be sure, but it's still rather more often true than not that the average peak oiler is a aging white guy with an engineering degree who's better at crunching numbers than much of anything else.

Farmer, yes, that's also an issue!

Wadulisi, and cattle lifting, of the kind practiced by my Scots highland ancestors, not too much further down the road. Earthworks, btw, will withstand cannon fire, where stone battlements won't; there's a whole science of early modern fortification that will probably either be reinvented or recovered in the deindustrial future. I'll be talking about that when it's time to discuss how wars are likely to be fought.

team10tim said...

Hey hey JMG,

Nice work. I liked this one a lot. A couple of disorganized thoughts (because I am too busy with work lately to organize them properly) on money.

Economists give money three functions: a store of value, a unit of account, and a means of exchange. And, unlike large swaths of modern neoclassical economics, this framework is not irrelevant, useless, or counterproductive, but merely derivative. As far as I can tell money is two things.

One, a way to store work; pretty much any economic activity requires work, collecting, harvesting, shaping, baking, carving, oxidizing, reducing, warehousing, wholesaling, retailing, transporting, etc, etc... All of those activities share three common elements. They work on a material of some kind, they require energy (from hydrocarbons or carbohydrates), and they take time. This is work in the economic sense and the physical sense. Work gets things made or done. When one works one gets money. When one spends money then things (things made through work) get acquired or work gets done. So the three things economists think about money all derive from this. A store of value comes from the way of storing work; doing something now gets one tokens that can get things done later. A unit of account measures the amount of work done and the complicated social value of that work. The means of exchange is a market system of valuing work for work. Although, as JMG pointed out, other systems exist for this function.

Two, a way to pay taxes. Living in a stable social arrangement has overhead costs and those costs have to be paid or one doesn't get a stable social arrangement. Whatever pays those dues is money. In a market economy the taxes are paid in money. In a feudal system those dues are paid in reciprocal agreements, working so many day on the lords fields or whatever. Alternative currencies, Bitcoin, colonial scripts, or whatever are only really valid if they can pay taxes. Paying taxes is what makes them valid. To be clear, the 'system' legitimises them through taxes. Money systems that fail this test are shut down by the system. Whether those overhead costs are just and in line with the needs of the society not relevant. The overhead costs have to be paid and any system that circumvents those dues is not legitimate. (although what is legit changes. As with most things timing is delicate and tricky)

Part one, continued...

Jerrica Benton said...

I sometimes look at Goldbug websites for amusement value. The behaviours I commonly see remind me of the gold madness you see in Dwarves from various fantasy stories and games. Try telling a goldbug that what they have is a shiny rock, rather pretty, but no more "real" than another resource, and not nearly the magic answer that they believe it is. Of course, if what they own is a piece of paper that says they own gold, well, that paper has one use that physical gold does not.

LewisLucanBooks said...

Are intermediaries the same as "middle men" or "wholesalers?"

As I mentioned last week, I gift some of the eggs my hens lay to friends that have skills I don't. Also, any extra produce I have. I guess I "cast eggs upon the waters." :-). Lew

team10tim said...

part two, errata and misunderstandings.

Gold, it's just a shiny metal. Really shiny, but still just a metal. It's fancy and it doesn't rust or corrode so it keeps well. But the only thing that gold really does is look good. It's fancy, and fancy is only a marketable commodity in stable societies of sufficient complexity. Gold doesn't 'do' anything of innate worth, it's just pretty and rare. And that combination has been valuable in complex societies often enough to give the impression that it has innate value. But the gap between this complex society and the next is large enough that hoarding it won't do one any good. Profiting off the market is about timing and the timeframes on gold are so long that everyone that one could have a meaningful connection to will be pushing up daisies before before there is a profit. And let's be clear, a profit in this sense is purely about gaming the system, getting something for nothing because you were smart enough to see it coming.

Lastly, capital. In our system capital refers to money or equipment, land or facilities, things that cost money in the pursuit of making money. What I find interesting about this is that 'capital' comes from 'heading off' or 'heading up' some project. Not from actual heads... Because pretty much all the money that I've ever seen, bills and coins, domestic and foreign, contemporary and ancient, has heads on it. The portraits of founders and luminaries, of tyrants and cultural icons, of heads is on all money, pretty much everywhere, pretty much always. My take away from this is that money is a social phenomena. The people and the framework, the legitimacy and the buy in make it valid.


Ares Olympus said...

I've seen and felt the reduction of all value to money, especially feelings of security or insecurity, although my conclusion is beyond having cash for any sort of transition process, no value is "safe", and if things turned dark, the best value for money beyond what you need in the moment is to help others you need or trust gain their own temporary security from immediate want.

I continue to think E.F. Schumacher's Guide for the Perplexed as a central "reminder" of more subtle things.
His 4 fields of knowledge:
Schumacher identifies four fields of knowledge for the individual:
1. I → inner
2. I → other persons (inner)
3. other persons → I
4. I → the world
These four fields arise from combining two pairs: Myself and the World; and Outer Appearance and Inner Experience. He notes that humans only have direct access to fields one and four.

I see this as helpful because it challenges us to think outside of the purely objective or purely subjective world views, and see the intersections.

Anyway, that's where I'd go with thinking about the dark age America. What are we when our money wealth is gone?

Ervino Cus said...

Dear JMG,

all considered (the amount of weapons - personal and of MD - around today; the population numbers; the

environmental pollution; the level of lawlessness we are about to face; the difficulty to have a secure form of

life in the coming years; etc.) plus the "low" technical level of possible developemnt of the future societies (I

mean: no more space flight? no more scientific discovery about the ultimate structure of the Universe? no genetic

engeneering to modify the human genome?) the question I ask to myself is: why bother?

Seriously: why one should wish to plan for his/her long term survival in the future that await us? Why, when all

goes belly up, don't join the first warlord band available and go off with a bang, pillaging and raping till one

drops dead?

If the possibilities for a new stable civilization are very low, and it's very probable that such a civilization,

even if created, will NEVER be able to reach even the technical level of today, not to mention to surpass it,
why one should want to try to survive some more years in a situation that becomes every day less bright, without

ANY possibilities to get better in his/her lifetime, and with, as the best objective, only some low-tech

rural/feudal state waaay along the way?

Dunno you, but for me the idea that this is the last stop for the technological civilization, that things as a

syncrothron or a manned space flight are doomed and never to repeat, and that the max at which we, as a species

and as individuals, can aspire from now on is to have a good harvest and to "enjoy" the same level of knowledge

of the structure of the Universe of our flock of sheeps, doesen't makes for a good enough incentive to want to

live more, or to give a darn if anybody other lives on.

Apologies if my word could seem blunt (and for my far than good English: I'm Italian), but, as Dante said:

"Considerate la vostra semenza:
fatti non foste a viver come bruti,
ma per seguir virtute e canoscenza."
(Inferno - Canto XXVI - vv. 112-120)

If our future is not this (and unfortunately I too agree with you that at this point the things seems irreversibles) I, for one, don't see any reason to be anymore compelled by any moral imperative... :-(

PS: Yes, I know, I pose some absolutes: that a high-tech/scientific civilization is the only kind of civilization

that enpowers us to gain any form of "real" knowledge of the Universe, that this knoledge is a "plus" and that a

life made only of "birth-reproduction-death" is a life of no more "meaning" than the one of an a plant.


Kutamun said...

@ Wiseman i think you are living up to your handle ... It is not an either / or situation , it depends how you handle your gold and what your expectations are . Lobbing up as an outsider at the eleventh hour to a place you know no- one ( to a fully kitted out doomstead ) is obviously not a stroke of genius . Already in my area we have absentee land bankers , ( usually the most prime stuff) who are generating their fair share of local resentment .
The other phenomena here is new arrivals becoming politically active and attempting to impose a leftist agenda ( particularly regarding environment ) onto the predominantly conservative locals using the apparatus of still functioning state and federal political machinery . I cant help but feel this particular chicken may come home to roost some day around the time the helicopters overhead grow scarcer.
This is the problem with the greens activists in australia ; they are mostly centrist statists ( a lot are ex communists ) , though there are some green wizards around here who mostly keep a very low profile .
It is also possible that money has become a time machine of sorts , as its abstracted proliferation today seems to be setting in motion complex chains of cause and effects , effectively sucking the future into the present , perhaps that was one of its functions all along .
Did anyone notice today the global hoo- ha surrounding some scientists who have managed to land a probe on some comet . The corporate media were in an absolute tizzy , as though we had just received news that the Nietzschiean Kubrickian Uber- Mensch ( who has been sstrangely absent or unwell lately ) has been sighted , millions of miles from anyone else , thriving in his vacuum while offering us the faint possibility of joining him soon once we have finished trashing our orb ! Pheewww, thats a relief

DASK said...

Lovely article once again JMG, and captures a sentiment that I have unsuccessfully tried to comunicate to others: that the little bit of gold that I do have stashed away is a bullish hedge bet on humanity, not preparation for decline. In the worst case scenario, that stash is buried and forgotten, deliberately. For decline, other skill sets urgently need development. As you rightly point out, the less you need to trade the better, but when you do need to trade there are a few goods that stand out, both because of barter qualities and because of the degree of intermediation currently present. One such skill that I have now spent years developing is brewing and alcohol manufacture.. now there is a barter good! Ranks up with other goods such as tools, honey and vegetable oil in the 'moneyness' aspect, but has advantages now because of how many have their fingers in that pie. Many farmers will trade some free grain for a homebrew return on investment, and stronger spirits such as herb wines and spirits both keep and are happily received in trade. Plus potatos are among the easier home grown crops in my experience and are a wonderful feedstock. The exorbitant taxes on these goods where I find myself at present mean that developing trade networks now is super easy: one can give a very good deal (and comparable or superior product) compared to purchased alcohol while still capturing a large surplus in trade or currying a hell of a lot of favour (try supplying a farmer's wedding with draft and shnapps as a gift ;)). Your message to prepare these skills is spot on IMHO, and I would only stress that people should hasten to develop their networks now while it is easier than it would be 'after the fact'. Networks are pure capital for leveraging skills.

MawKernewek said...

There are a number of finds of collections of small bronze axes from the 1st millenium BC, many which appear not to have been used as tools at any point. For example

It has been suggested that these axes were used as a form of money at the time and has sometimes been speculatively described as an economic bubble and a recession link.

Hypnos said...

First google result for "Roman gold hoard"

"Experts say the treasure, some of which appears Eastern European in style, was buried around 1,500 years ago about the time when Germanic Teutons were plundering and pillaging their way through the crumbling Roman empire.

In the chaos, the so-called barbarians were looting valuables from Romans and each other. Either a Roman ruler buried the treasure as they fled the area or it was hidden by a barbarian and never recovered."

For somebody who was asking for references. Doesn't look like this treasure was of particular use to the fleeing Roman patrician in question. But it has come straight through a Dark Age and out the other side where money has value again. So I guess hoard gold if you feel particularly generous towards circa 30th century people.

Marc L Bernstein said...

A few years ago I participated in a facebook thread started by Guy McPherson, some time before he postulated his dubious near term extinction idea.

McPherson is quite intelligent and has a number of good ideas to go along with some questionable ones. I asked him what he thought
was a good investment today in anticipation of economic collapse or the collapse of industrial civilization.

His response was that an investment in "durable goods" is the right way to go.

By "durable goods" he presumably meant items such as clothing, tools, cutlery, receptacles for food storage, food items that can be stored for a long time, etc.

What he didn't include was gold, silver, money, stocks, bonds or miscellaneous luxury items.

A collapse of the economy means the elimination of a whole lot of intermediation and the collapse of the money economy itself. Of course this won't happen overnight but that is the likely trajectory.

The subject of land and property did not come up in McPherson's facebook thread, but I have concluded that the value of land and property is dependent to some extent on the safety, harmony and social cohesion of the community residing on that land.

So whenever advice is requested about "what to do" these days in anticipation of economic, political and social decay, my inclination is to point people in the direction of agrarian communities with an adequate, clean fresh water supply, an active and diverse range
of farming products and a healthy relationship to the greater community in their vicinity. Such communities are relatively resilient with respect to shocks caused by economic and political calamities in the greater community or nation.

Also, such communities are less
dependent on money because intermediation is less of a factor in the daily operation of such communities than in those which depend so heavily on imported essential resources to survive.

This leads to the subject of ecovillages, something you might end up discussing at some point.

Not very many people live in ecovillages, nor can it be expected that ecovillages will become more common in the near future. They serve as an example of responsible, socially cohesive, resilient and relatively sustainable communities that pay close attention to ecological
factors. They serve as methodological examples for other communities to follow.

Frankly I don't know anything better to suggest to young people than that they acquire skills that would be useful in such communities, and that they learn about communities that are moving in the general direction of ecovillages.

Many so-called "transition towns" don't really qualify. Their residents still depend heavily on automobiles, industrial agriculture and a variety of electrical appliances connected to the electrical grid. I know because I live in one.

Most of the people go to Transition Towns meetings in automobiles. The best that can be said about Transition Laguna Beach is that most of the people make some sort of effort at learning about organic farming and gardening, and many travel by bicycle if they are able to do so.

Odin's Raven said...

Feudal dentistry? At village level? American feudalism will indeed be exceptional!

Elsewhere I can only imagine that as industrial society and its pharmaceutical industry disappear, anesthetics will become rare and while they last, only be available to a few at the very top of the heap. Dentistry and surgery may revert to their very painful roots. Practitioners may be strong men in bloodstained aprons with burly assistants to hold down the patient, while bystanders become connoisseurs of screams and groans. Where almost everyone has to grow his own food and become a jack-of-all-trades there can't be many specialists.

In the unlikely event that Higg son of Hogg obtained his Lord's permission to make the journey, perhaps he might find such a person at the fabled town of Norbury, probably passing through from fair to fair. Maybe he would be found at the sign of the Red Shield bearing a Pincers rampant.

Of course, were Tom Bombadil to lead him east of the sun and west of the moon, he might come to the real town of that name, where he would find many dentists - Muslims, who would prefer gold to pigs.

Although Higg and his ilk are unlikely to ever see a gold coin, yet they might dream of how much more pleasant, affluent and comfortable life was in the bygone Golden Age of legend.

ARSinNH said...

@mr_geronimo re bibliography
I have referred many people over the years to JMG's post of February 4, 2009, available in his archives. It can probably be read as an annotated overview of the bibliographies in his books.

Don Plummer said...

So the curse on Andvari's treasure was actually an external one and not the result of the imprecation Andvari uttered to Loki? Of course, claiming that the gold itself was cursed (by Andvari himself) makes the story much more interesting as we read (or hear) how that "curse" manifests itself over time.

KidCharlemagne said...

I myself am stockpiling books not gold! My kids eyes widen when I ask them why would Amazon call their ebook reader a kindle? Is it the first whiff of a symbolic burning of the books? The cloud will not rain down your electronically stored information when the plug goes cold. Books will sustain the human spirit even as potatoes will sustain the body.
I would urge another book on this forum that brilliantly encapsulates many of the topics discussed here: The Law of Civilization and Decay by Brooks Adams, Henry Adams brother. It was published in 1896 so it anticipates some of Spengler and his cyclical themes. Once you grasp his reductive formula gleaned from the annals of history, you see the inevitability of it all as the wheel groans toward its long descent.

Phil Harris said...

Powerful stuff JMG.

Gold, I am told, was not used as money in Burma, which is why temples are still covered in it. Long ago I was told a story of European sacking of civilisation in South America where ‘gardens’ of facsimile plants / flowers in precious metals were broken and melted down to be shipped to Europe.

As Europe emerged from Dark Ages, so ‘ownership’ and land and labour management changed. For those interested in getting a feel for village life in 15thC England in a productive cropping area in Suffolk, I recommend this item –from the records. search for author Amor and click on pdf file on ‘enclosures’ from 1400 AD

Money had been there at higher social levels and appears more strongly 'lower down' as the century advances – check out the fines administered in the Manorial jurisdiction. - Obligations to enter the 'money economy'? The manorial system survived longer than feudalism.

I found another source contains a lot of significant information on the social structures of Europe as the Manorial System emerged and this is relevant to later ‘enclosures’. To a certain extent the balance of powers is negotiable. One nugget, quote: “… the form of peasant-organised village agriculture known as Open Field farming, which, in fact, evolved to protect the peasants from manorial interference.” Prof. John H. Munro, Department of Economics, University of Toronto, “The Economic History of Later Medieval and Early Modern Europe”
Phil H

Jeff said...

You might find FOA's take on gold in antiquity interesting jmg:

Phil Harris said...

Post Script to my links to ‘Open Field’ mediaeval system – I witnessed in 1997 the whole town of Prilep in Macedonia turn out one day to plant tobacco in a huge area of adjacent personal plots. The field system was intact and flourishing from I assume way-back including a good while under the Ottomans. Prilep residents had a jokey reputation among the rest of the population – err… a bit different.
Phil H

DaShui said...

Hey ADJMG! I'm taking your advice and leaving the money economy, so I'm mailing you two pigs feet and an ear for your latest book.

RPC said...

"...the average peak oiler is a aging white guy with an engineering degree who's better at crunching numbers than much of anything else." Hey! (grin)
More seriously, one of the reasons I became an engineer is that I have a natural affinity for machines in general and electronics in particular. I seem to have a particular knack (as my spouse will attest with some exasperation) for keeping machines of all sorts running long after most people would have consigned them to their graves. I've thought this a useful skill to have in the early stages of descent (which are the only ones I'm likely to see). What's your opinion?
One aspect of the feudal system that bears on this week's discussion is that all taxation was in kind: you gave the lord a tithe of your actual produce and labor. No tokens were involved!

peacegarden said...

I love it!



Random Man said...

I do agree that hoarding for the collapse is pretty useless. However, hoarding for the here and now can actually have benefits, depending on what you hoard.

As for gold, back in 1999/2000 you could acquire one ounce of gold for around $250. You can still trade that gold back into currency, and it will get you $1150 today. That is even after the big drop in 2013, and gold got as high as $1900 in 2011 and is still near highs in many other currencies.

What does this show? It shows that as of now, gold is still playing its role as a protector of wealth against the debasement of currencies.

Will it forever, or will it actually purchase much forever? No. But somebody who anticipated everything we are talking about, and acquired gold in 2000, is sitting pretty right now. They have the ability to acquire more real, useful stuff than others.

Mark Rice said...

" the average peak oiler is a aging white guy with an engineering degree who's better at crunching numbers than much of anything else. "

Wait a minute. That is me! :)

jonathan said...

a couple of observations: the banditry scenario with respect to gold in a post collapse situation can apply equally to any valuable commodities. warlords would no doubt seek out sources of food, weapons, fuel etc. hoards of "beans, bullets and bandaids" fulfill another of the functions of money, a store of value. i'm not so sure that people who are stocking up on mre's and ammunition are going to fare any better than those who are hoarding gold and silver.

there is an intermediate stage between barter and a money economy that has been characteristic of many societies-commodity money. the use of some widely desired commodity as a medium of exchange can be found as far back as the neolithic. trade using cattle, specified amounts of grain, shells etc.can facilitate exchange while largely excluding the possibility of intermediation.

David said...


It strikes me, too, that one of the key underlying societal differences between the industrial civilization (particularly of the last hundred years or so) and the barter/gift economies of the future "dark age" (a biased term, in my mind...perhaps "Reformation"?) is a marked reduction in geospatial mobility. You've mentioned in the previous post how the free peasant of your narrative would not have travelled much beyond his village during the course of his life. Andy Brown mentioned in the comments above that *relationships* are key investments in this future economy. All this requires significantly more stability (ie, less mobility) in terms of the make-up of the communities. A gift economy pre-supposes, for example, that the people receiving the gifts from you today will remain in the community to reciprocate in the future. Relationship investment takes p[lace over time and rather precludes the high mobility that the last several generations have enjoyed (in the US, in any event).

And as always, thanks for the post. Really gets me thinking.

Jeff Snyder said...

@Greg Belvedere,
Your concerns point to the superiority of the medieval farming structure - namely a small village more or less in the center of a large commons in which the villagers farmed and pastured livestock, near a forest for wood, game, etc. - over the American form of land ownership - individually owned parcels formed by developers for sale based on ideas of prestige and/or privacy without regard to usefulness or productive capacity strung seriatim or in small clusters along a highway. The former provides a means for some form of collective defense and shared goods and services as well as having enough people to field a night watch and raise an alarm. The latter, well - easy pickings, right?

The legal structure of individually owned titles to land, and the psychological attachments we have to the idea that private ownership = security, are going to present a huge barrier to forming the kinds of social arrangements we need in the future. At least in England and Europe there are still a lot of places that embody the old structures, albeit more or less compromised by the new developments and shopping malls, etc. In the New World, we are more screwed. It's hard not to look at American history as one long real estate development scheme; coming of age during the industrial era we organized without regard to fundamentals of localized life support and community, and there is going to be a steep price to pay for this.

As long as we have the current legal structure, apart from the relatively few places in America where there is some semblance to the old medieval structure, e.g., a small town surrounded by farms, the closest approximations we can probably achieve in the short run are land trusts, religious "compounds" and family "compounds." Or an "intentional community," if that can be sustained.

Btw, the novel, Lorna Doone, in addition to being one of the trippiest novels I have ever read, provides some information and insight into rural brigandage in 17th century England. While perhaps not the "war bands" that came into their own for a time following the collapse of the Western Roman empire, rural brigandage appears to be a fact of life well beyond the end of the medieval era. It seems to really disappear only once people are into the industrial age.

JMG, this week's essay and last week's are just fantastic. Thank you.

Mister Roboto said...

One of the major downsides of a money economy is that the way its crass valuations end up pushing aside every other kind of value, and once this process is well underway, very few people question if that's a good thing; those who do are derided as fools and losers. Indeed, in the USA, "loser" is perhaps the most stinging of all the common insults, especially now that "gay" has a lot less visceral cultural venom packed into it.

This profanity-packed harangue from the movie Glengarry Glen Ross is a good example of what happens to a society where money and its attendant layers of intermediation become the be-all and end-all. The communal ties that bind human beings are rent asunder in favor of the fleeting bond of the commercial transaction, and this destructive development is widely feted as something that makes us better people. (!?!)

It doesn't take very much imagination to visualize what happens to such a society when it has pushed how much the natural world can be exploited way past the point of diminishing returns and starts experiencing advanced economic collapse.

Neo Tuxedo said...

William S. Burroughs took a similarly jaundiced view of money. In 1964's Nova Express, he has a scientist say, "What is known as Uranium [...] is actually a form of excrement". A few years later, in one of his interviews with Swiss author Daniel Odier (collectively published in 1969 as The Job), he makes a similar statement about money in three words, one of which is an Anglo-Saxon word of the sort that will get this comment disallowed.

"And what does the money machine eat to [excrete it]? It eats youth, spontaneity, life, beauty[,] and above all it eats creativity. It eats quality and [excretes] quantity. There was a time when the machine ate in moderation from a plentiful larder and what it ate was replaced. Now the machine is eating faster[,] much faster than what it eats can be replaced."

In this geometrically-increasing appetite, he saw the endgame, the monetary system falling

apart through the inexorable consumption by the machine of life[,] art[,] flavor[,] beauty[,] to make more and more [excrement] which buys less and less life[,] art[,] flavor[,] beauty[,] because there is less and less to buy. The machine is eating it all. The time must come when money will buy nothing because there will be nothing left for money to buy. Money will eliminate itself.

"If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world." -- Thorin Oakenshield

patriciaormsby said...

I'll finally have a chance to put my chemical engineering degree to work (went into linguistics in grad school). I've got the two-stage fermentation for vinegar down. I'm the only one in town attempting to make soy sauce. I'll have to get out and experiment with lye production from hardwood ashes and work on saponification, but at least I've got references on it, and biodiesel.
Vodka from potatoes! Thank you for bringing that up! We've got bunches of wild roses out here and the hips are good. I wonder if I can concentrate the vitamin C in those somehow. It's my primary medicine for colds.
Oh, and what do the roving warlords do to elderly farmers living in hovels? Maybe I should consider living in a larger community and shielding the house from electropollutants until those suddenly get switched off.

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Thanks, JMG and others, for directing a spotlight onto skills, in the context of an economy running into trouble with banknotes and gold.

I would like to repeat what a couple of people have already said on this blog, in some recent previous week or weeks: there is a new Internet library, as meaty as the old Soil-and-Health library at which some of us have for some years been eyeing, but distinctively relevant to the nitty-gritty of skilled manual labour. This new library is available at

I have found it worthwhile subscribing to the compiler's newsletter list, via his homepage "Registration" link.

I would also like to make a manual-skills-relevant point potentially helpful for those of us living near Toronto and hoping to work in leather.

I am myself gravitating toward leather bookbinding, in the Hobbit-friendly, ribbed-spine, cords-not-tapes, style documented at

My point is the following: it turns out that the people at Perfect Leather Goods, at 555 King St West, in downtown Toronto, with Web presence at, sell skins, and even already have one or more customers who bind books. The firm sold me a black English goatskin, with very little fuss, for 12.00 CAD a few days ago.

This morning's ADR remark regarding Perfect Leather I herewith make without having any commercial tie to the firm, beyond being a happy one-time customer.

My hope in the short term is to use the purchased goatskin to rebind my heavily used, disintegrating copy of a reference book, Kennedy's Latin Primer.

One does additionally dream, perhaps in vain, of binding a Google Books PDF printout for that 1858 monument to philology, G.J. Adler's A Practical Grammar of the Latin Language; with Perpetual Exercises in Speaking and Writing.

I suppose one attraction of bookbinding, as a skill to be possibly acquired, is that if one can bind books in a situation of comparative social calm, one may be able to extend the binder's skill into areas useful during social chaos. Should times get really bad, there would be some call for people capable of stitching sandals and pouches, using city-dump materials such as jacket cloth, upholstery cloth, and car-tyre rubber.

having to turn later this morning
to the development
of more recondite skills,
in survival-radio-relevant calculus
rather than in handicrafts,

Toomas (Tom) Karmo

www dot metascientia dot com
Toomas dot Karmo at gmail dot com

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Today's reader-contributed ADR remarks on role-playing games induce me to reproduce herewith, somewhat wickedly, my own tangentially relevant suggestion on games. This material I recycle from my philosophy-of-GNU/Linux essay at

A Web designer and I once had a really good chat about games. We thought we should develop a novel one, to be marketed as 'Civilization'. Our envisaged game, unlike its competitors, would address civilization in depth. Nothing whatever, of course, would happen. The players would take interminable cyberwalks between impeccably pruned hedgerows in rolling green English cyber countryside, or else would doff their virtual tweeds and sip cyber-Darjeeling or cybersherry in oak-panelled rooms. Players could lose points for such solecisms as picking up the wrong cyberfork. (I gather forks work like this, that they give you a teeny-weeny outer one for the opening filet-of-sole and an approximately equal teeny-weeny inner one for the concluding crepes. Isabella Beeton, born 1836, departed this life 1865, remarked that whereas the beasts of the wild eat, people dine. In playing 'Civilization', it might be handy to consult her Book of Household Management: Comprising Information for the Mistress, Housekeeper, Cook, Kitchen-Maid, Butler, Footman, Coachman, Valet, Upper and Under House-Maids, Ladys-Maid, Maid-of-All-Work, Laundry-Maid, Nurse and Nurse-Maid, Monthly, Wet, and Sick Nurses, etc. etc.: Also, Sanitary, Medical, and Legal Memoranda; With a History of the Origin, Properties, and Uses of All Things Connected with Home Life and Comfort.) We thought this game might secure a cult following, say in the tough and mean New York punk scene.

realizing that
we must not
make excessive fun
of computer gaming,
and therefore stopping now,

Toomas (Tom) Karmo

Strovenovus said...

JMG, thank you again! I greatly appreciate the thoughts that your articles spark, and the resulting steps, however small and tentative, or large and bold (mine tend toward the former so far), that follow.

Do you agree that intermediation is not just universal but potentially beneficial in human relations? I trust that the hypothetical intermediary that you discuss, apparently a broker of sorts, could work out an arrangement with the dentist so that services would be provided when needed. A relationship of sorts could be forged, if it benefited all.

To me, that "if" is the key. It is frequently observed how our modern monetary and economic system has abraded the bonds of mutual dependence and community. It saddens me the way that economists treat goods and services as fungible, and the way that our economy is geared toward making human relations more interchangeable, more anonymous. Standing alone as individuals

And so the Enlightenment study of Political Economy has been subverted and morphed into our Dismal Science.

Goldmund said...

JMG, this week's essay reminds me of a discussion I had a few years back with a few friends which was about the best way to invest one's money in a time of impending doom. There was talk of hoarding silver and gold, which seemed absurd to me, for all the reasons that you give. I couldn't articulate my thoughts at the time (so thank you for doing so) but I knew that a much better investment would center, as you say, on values over things. For example, wouldn't we all rather live in a society that was cooperative, generous and compassionate- where everyone looked out for each other- than one that was greedy, fearful and back-stabbing (like the one we currently have?) Then the question becomes how do we, as a society, "invest" in the one and "disinvest" from the other? That seems to get to the heart of all the current social and political struggles...

Richard Larson said...

Most people don't own real Gold because they have no surplus after participating in the money, including buying stocks and bonds, economy.

What to do then with discretionary income if withdrawing fiat from the modern economy? One idea, better to plant food bearing trees with the surplus than buy Gold. Sure. But I still believe Gold is going to play a role before the thugs come knocking. The right timing to transfer Gold into methods will be important.

eldriwolf said...

Dfr2010 Great idea! home made stockings are wonderful!
Darning is another useful skill, makes those stockings Really last!
You can use it on other things as well

willow said...

Two more interesting books on society after collapse are "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy and "The Bone Clocks" by David Mitchell. Both hint at the hazard posed by living next to a road, and the wisdom of living perhaps a bit off the beaten track. On another tack, there might be fringe communities where the young are learning valuable skills, but in my neck of the woods (North Texas) the depression-era crowd of do-ers and savers will all be underground about the time the rest of the community figures out their skills are needed--the last horseman, the last hardscrabble householder I know are in their eighties. For the past twenty years I have tried to convince my own family members of the deep-down wisdom in the soil and growing things. Now I am in my sixties, and what I have tried to save in my own sphere is vanishing from want of care. My children laugh at me and call me a hoarder of wire and buckets and old canning jars. Just the other day my husband took a whole barrel full of washed and ready canning jars to the dump because they were in the way. Sad how glass crashes. I am tired. Perhaps that is a blessing, as the torment of desire for beauty, for congeniality, for a hospitable and well-favored community, is giving way to acceptance of what is. Acceptance of what is is always such a sad end.

Renaissance Man said...

I looked at some old economics textbooks, at the section on money, and read the 14 to 18 things (it varies by textbook) money is supposed to be for; I can prove in about 5 seconds that all but 2 are false, viz., a fungible medium of exchange and a tool for relatively easy valuation. That's it.
The former is best used in the exchange of, say, English wool for Flemish tapestries, or Egyptian cotton for Venetian glassware,, i.e. remote trade beyond the local circle of barter & mutual obligation. It makes it much easier, but still not necessary. The intermediation charges for such trade were, originally, the risk and cost of transportation of goods from one place to another, which are, I think, quite legitimate.
Moreover, the basic system of barter for goods and services breaks down as the population grows beyond a very small village and as skills become specialized & difficult to gain. Both money and intermediation become very useful. You might need a service, but it may be outside your village & circle of barter & obligation. What then? Time and effort required making such arrangements becomes a sufficient burden that a buyer becomes willing to pay an intermediary for time invested and knowledge gained to find and make arrangements with a seller.
The latter functions only if everyone is using the same standard to denote the value everywhere. Gold and silver are useful and we know that dark-age Saxons and Norse used money (chunks of silver by weight) for trade in their cities and towns, and coinage never completely disappeared. Why else would roving bands be seeking it out? Beyond a point, of course, the marginal returns of monetized intermediation become parasitic drains. We are currently past that point by a hop, skip, & a gold-medal-winning leap. Buckminster Fuller, in the preface to Critical Path, suggested an international currency denoted in ergs of energy would balance pay across the world since a machinist in Tijuana uses the same amount of energy to produce a widget as one in San Diego. Since the U.S. in 1971 removed the international gold standard & created an artificial value imbalance, hence the export of manufacturing to "cheap" foreign lands.
I must note that last week, even as you described Higg and his obligations & rights, I saw intermediation at work. One of those obligations was labour in the Baron's fields, which is, of course, a form of intermediation: Higg must give up some of his time to the Baron, so the Baron is effectively taking a cut out of Higg's ability to produce food or other goods. One could argue that the Baron is charging for a service, i.e. providing protection to and direction for the village, but that becomes exactly the parasitic drain that eventually prompted western society to set about replacing aristocracies with elected governments and to attempt free markets.
(Also, minor point, the dentist you describe is not a good example: too skilled. Better to have used a smith or a woodworker. Suppose we wish to produce a dentist or doctor for the village or town, something beyond the simple yanking out of rotten teeth, which is relatively unskilled and easy enough to do, as Caravaggio illustrated so wonderfully. If people wish to have decent dental care, they need to produce enough to support a dental school for training, plus skilled labour for tools and materials, and, of course, the dentist who will do little else but see to teeth. Perhaps the local Baron keeps one on staff and covers the cost for the town, but such people are rarely that generous.)
I expect to see my putative wealth in my mandatory retirement savings evaporate, but I'm OK with that: my stash of "gold" is a collection of tools, books, and a plan to improve or gain skills in metal-working, wood-work, leather-work (harness-making), glass-work, and horse training & husbandry.

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Willow, I'm so sorry to hear of your mishap with the canning jars. We are not going to miss glass jars until they start becoming scarce, and then will we ever miss them. Eventually people find themselves bartering glass jars for things as expensive, in today's money-governed market, as eggs and cabbages.

Toomas (Tom) Karmo

PS: Remarks which might help others:

(1) I find it useful to standardize on what relatively little factory food I buy, getting always two basic factory foods (among a few others), and always in jars of the same kind - "Ragu" brand spaghetti sauce, and Dollarama pimento-stuffed olives. Over the years, these give one a big stock of jars in two standardized sizes, making one's mass of jars look rather attractive. Jars prove useful for keeping electronic components sorted. I find it additionally useful, and time-efficient, to keep track of jar contents by attaching a label to the lid, with a permanent magnet. (One can buy lots of such magnets, rather cheaply, from Active Surplus in Toronto.) Also helpful for labelling is half of a standard-sized business card blank. Those blanks can be bought in a box of 500 or so from a printing house.

(2) Having for years removed jar labels with groans and sweat, applying isopropyl from the local pharmacy, I have now learned that things go a little better with peanut butter. Somehow the fats or oils in peanut butter dissolve label glues better than pharmaceutical isopropyl does.

PPS: Willow, do please show this post to your dumb husband, and tell him, firmly, to get a better grip on himself. We don't in this present economy throw out savings bonds and promissory notes: why, then, should we throw out glass jars?

RPC said...


"the Nietzschiean Kubrickian Uber- Mensch ( who has been strangely absent or unwell lately )": Nice turn of phrase, that! Unfortunately, things are not well with the Uebermensch...

Clay Dennis said...

There is definetly A side to the whole peak civilization movement that is about selling ways for people to shelter their wealth from the coming collapse. This type of thinking seems to start with the idea that the abstract wealth that most people collect is real. Gold is just a gimmick to prop up this notion. Just turn the money you made trading derivatives or brokering health insurance in to gold and you will be saved the hucksters say. This seems like a kind of alchemy for modern times to me.

escapefromwisconsin said...

Relevant: By complete coincidence I just stumbled across this site: The Observatory of Economic Complexity

Note that in Theoclassical economics, this is not a bad thing.

Jerrica Benton said...

@Ervino Cus:

Seriously? If there is no more spaceflight or high-energy physics, then you might as well join a rape gang? If you aren't currently training to crew the ISS, then why not start raping and pilllaging on this very day, then?

Truthfully, there are days when the extinction of humanity sounds like a good thing. All you boys that are planning to live out a bad fantasy novel of raping, pillaging, and swordplay, well, you won't be missed. Gee, not one thought for preserving knowledge, learning skills, or protecting the weak?

MindfulEcologist said...

@Chris G - "I think that's this civilization's big blind spot. It can't deal with a look to the long future, because it diminishes us right now."

Your comments struck me deeply, thank you. A fine example of the integrity of many of this blog's readers I mentioned last week. Your observation seems to me to be spot on. How else could those currently alive so blithely steal from the future?

John's response - is that not in fact what makes it so exciting to wake up every morning in these troubled times? Exploring the spaces outside the grey world. There are cracks everywhere, it is how the light and magic gets in.

Don't give up on Gaia or ecology. As American's it is easy to see life as a short sit-com; we are taught it's all about me. Isn't the human story more like an epic unfolding in deep time and all about us? Sure it can make one feel small to recognize the long future or the long past but only from one perspective. From another it provides a dignity all the ignorance of history's sound and fury cannot touch. It seems to me to be a question about where one puts one's ultimate allegiance.

If we can get this right we have accomplished something important and should recognize that.

dfr2010 said...

eldriwolf, re: darning. I have already needed to darn one of my handknit socks due to an ambush by the young, playful cat. I was not amused and something quite stronger than "darn!"

JMG, re: spinning ... not yet although I would like to. Something about building a "yarn barn" first to put it into.

I had forgotten to mention an investment we did within the first week of moving here: planting fruit trees. The other ongoing investment is the compost piles.

Marcello said...

"So I go build 50 fighters $1/2 mill each with simple missles and machine guns. F-22 fires all mu nitions and has to run."

Small problem is that the F-22 will see the "$1/2 mill" fighter (probably nothing better than a Mig-19 and I am not sure the money would be enough for even that) long before the latter can see it, it will shoot it down from a safe distance and then it will go back to the base, refuel/rearm and then get back to the turkey shoot. For 50 bargain fighters you also need to train 50 pilots, which cost quite a bit of money.
The only Air Force that is planning something remotely similar is the DPRKAF and that because they have no choice. Still even they have a better thought out doctrine.
Really, I strongly suggest that people should take a look at what the Chinese or the Russian are actually doing. Small hint: building zillions of cheap fighters or other such clever solutions are usually the exact opposite of what they are doing.
One might do well to remember that some considered battleships obsolete even before WW1, yet the costly and "obsolete" british surface fleets cut off Germany from much needed international trade in two wars, while the innovative german submarine campaigns were beaten twice.

Neo Tuxedo said...

@Jerrica: "Gee, not one thought for preserving knowledge, learning skills, or protecting the weak?"

As it happens, that's exactly the nature of Ervino's complaint with JMG. If he'd quoted Dante in English translation, that might have come through better. Here, I turn you over to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:

"Consider ye the seed from which ye sprang;
Ye were not made to live like unto brutes,
But for pursuit of virtue and of knowledge."

When Ervino asks "why one should want to try to survive some more years in a situation that becomes every day less bright, without ANY possibilities to get better in his/her lifetime", I submit that he is engaging in a misreading of "there is no brighter future ahead" similar to the one that led Michael Varian "Nebris" Daly to call JMG "a vest pocket version of Sauron."

At least, I assume it's a misreading, because I have to assume that. If I seriously thought JMG meant even "nothing will ever be this good again", let alone "everything will just continue to get worse forever and ever", then I'd have to agree with Neb that TINBFA "is a f[ra]cking Evil Meme at the very least and pure Black Majick at the very worst", unless I decided that he was being too fracking nice to the Archdruid.

As it happens, I do agree with Neb that the problem is not technology qua, but its use and misuse by a civilization so choked with the testosterone poisoning of Masculine Ego that it sees everything as destroy-or-be-destroyed. JMG seems to have intuited this in the ending of Star's Reach, when the patrilineal order as embodied by Jennel Cobey is defeated and a tween-ruled Meriga begins, but like all of us who have grown up in a dominator society, he lacks a vocabulary to describe this.

MawKernewek said...

I suppose many of the goldbugs think they would know what the right time would be to exit the market, but the group psychology of speculative bubbles works against that.

If the prophesied currency crisis really gets underway and the gold price zooms off into the sky, I would imagine there would be many who would say "hold on because even higher prices are coming", rather than "cash out and do something productive with it".

I've seen it said that there are several phases to a speculative bubble, going from pessimism, optimism and finally to mania. So the goldbugs would say that the falls in the last few years are just corrections before the mania phase begins, in which as well as people advertising "cash for gold", there will be people marketing gold as an investment to the masses.

Gold-mining is environmentally damaging because in modern-day gold mining the usual process is to remove vast quantities of rock from the ground, then grind it up and separate out the gold with various chemicals.
Back in the 19th century, the miners in Australian goldfields like Bendigo would often suffer nasty effects in their lungs due to the mining drills and quartz dust, the gold being found as a small impurity in the quartz.

Leo Knight said...

This essay reminds me of two encounters. I used to be active in community theater. A coworker at my day job once asked me if I got paid for my acting, and I replied no, it was almost all volunteer. He seemed amazed and said, "Why would anyone do anything if they didn't get paid for it?" I was equally amazed, and explained that people did all sorts of things just for love and pleasure. I gave the example of clergy, whereupon my coworker boasted, "MY pastor drives a Mercedes!" I pointed out where the money for that Mercedes came from, and suggested looking for another church.

Another time I did a show with a young lady whose boyfriend was an economist. He had just completed a research project which he said proved that population growth was not a problem, because such growth ALWAYS increased the standard of living. Both his girlfriend and I expressed doubts, especially regarding scarce resources. I rudely mentioned Easter Island. No, he said, ALWAYS! His girlfriend and I rolled our eyes, and didn't press the matter. He seemed upset.

Kaitain said...

JMG said “Earthworks, btw, will withstand cannon fire, where stone battlements won't; there's a whole science of early modern fortification that will probably either be reinvented or recovered in the deindustrial future.”

I’m thinking star forts, which were common from the Renaissance up till the 19th century. At a lower end, even something like the old moat and bailey style castles from the Dark Ages would be much better when dealing with artillery then a medieval style castle. Another possibility might be a revival of the Vietnam War era firebases, which consisted of earthworks, sandbag bunkers and obstacles such as moats, barbed wire, punji stakes and landmines surrounding an artillery battery and were usually sited on hilltops and ridgelines. They were quite capable of surviving both artillery bombardments and infantry assaults.

Leo Knight said...

@ Mister Roboto, the clip from "Glengarry Glen Ross" made me think of the spate of workplace TV shows like "Hell's Kitchen" and "The Apprentice." Even the talent shows like "American Idol" have the obligatory snarky judge. I strongly suspect their main purpose is to condition potential employees to accept abuse from employers. They have a single job opening. The contestants much fight, scheme and scramble, and stoically withstand abuse from the judges/ employers.

John Michael Greer said...

Tim, and since work can't actually be stored, what "a store of labor" actually amounts to is a way to induce people to labor for you at whatever time you happen to want to make them do so -- thus an equivalent, in another form, of taxation. I hadn't thought about the heads on money as "capital," though!

Jerrica, I recall a National Geographic article from way back that noted that a solid gold skillet is apparently better than anything else for frying eggs. I suppose that's one use for all those Krugerrands, if you have the hardware to melt it down and cast a skillet from it... ;-)

Lewis, middlemen are only a small fraction of the whole range of intermediaries. Last week's post goes through a wider list of them.

Ares, excellent. Citing Schumacher in this context gets you this afternoon's gold star.

Ervino, you're asking a question that will take an entire post to answer. I do have an answer for it, though -- as I'm sure you can guess -- part of that answer involves challenging your presuppositions. Are you willing to have me reprint your comment in full in next week's blog post here?

DASK, gold as a bullish hedge? I admit that's a new one for me. How do you see that?

MawKernewek, most interesting! There are quite a few cultures that use some item as a prestige trade good that fills a few of the economic niches as money -- wampum among the First Nations of the east coast and huge stone rings on the island of Yap come to mind. If those bronze axes were more than that, that'll involve no small revision to economic history.

Hypnos, excellent! It might be interesting to compile a rough list of just how many Roman gold hoards have turned up in the former Roman world over the years...

Mark, by and large I'm not impressed with the ecovillage projects I've seen proposed -- the communities I know that seem most likely to make it in the long run are existing small cities and towns, not intentional communities. As for storing things, I'd argue that unlike any kind of stash, skills can't be stolen and give other people a motive to keep you alive.

Raven, the dentist was from the economics textbook originally. Will there be dentistry in a deindustrial society? Quite probably, and it needn't be without anesthetics -- one of the consequences of current herbal knowledge is that plant-based anesthetics are fairly easy to come by if you know where to look.

Don, do you remember the post I did a while back about how curses work? This is an example of the same thing. Andvari's curse is a statement of the logical consequences of a given action; that's how all the best curses function.

KidC, good for you. I'll be talking in a future series of posts about ways to parlay a stash of books into a tool for building a better future. Stay tuned!

Andy Brown said...

Your response to KidC about book stashes piqued my interest. A few years ago, I picked up a 54 volume set of Britannica's Great Books of the Western World from the local library - from Homer to William James. I'm sure it could all fit on a thumb drive, but I have it here in paper - and my grandmother's complete 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica is holding down a shelf. But maybe you have in mind things of more direct and useful application, like how to maintain an orchard or build a cob house. I'll be curious to hear what you have to say on that.

Nick said...

Chris G. gave an excellent summation of the logic traps that humans have put themselves in. Can't say enough about how well he put it.

In terms of storing precious metals specifically gold, I'd think that gold will act as a stop gap for the current monetary system. Central banks are accumulating it, several billion people in eastern cultures never stopped accumulating it, so it has momentum. The market economy will go away at some point, but probably not in the next several decades. That said, diversifying a portion of savings into gold sounds like a prudent move at this point in time.

Bob Patterson said...

JMG - RE: Gemany's non-payment of post WW1 reparations. In my recent book reading bender I cannot place that claim exactly, but I think it was in Jim Rickards bood "Death of Money".

Dammerung said...

You're wrong on many counts today, and I don't see that often.

1. Money is a much more efficient way of dividing labor than barter is. Must the pig farmer also keep chickens, be able to do accounting, know the Dewey decimal system, and a thousand other skills in order to meet the needs of anybody he encounters? Certainly not. Money is best because money is always in demand, the other options are hit and miss.

2. Gold is intrinsically valuable. It's always been valued by humans and its physical properties as a material in the physical world have always been sought after. Additionally, gold and silver are GOOD at being money, because they meet the criteria for money much better than the other available options. Again, because of their very physical properties. Bamboo is bad at being railroad ties, and paper is bad at being money.

3. You're certainly right in that holding metal is no absolute guarantee; anyone can catch a stray bullet. But I'd sure rather have money than not have any money, and I think in most cases you'll find people - even rich people - simply failed to flee their obvious and predictable doom. I trust an ounce of gold to get me passage on a ship than I trust a chicken or worse, government paper, to accomplish the same.

I think you've gone too far TBH. Money is a TECHNOLOGY for dividing labor, accumulating capital, and exchanging values, and I think it's a technology with considerable staying power. It's a technology that doesn't require a university education to understand and utilize. It doesn't demand any further expenditure of scarce energy. And best of all, we've already got a lot of the stuff lying around, just waiting to assist us in building a post-industrial economy.

Bob Patterson said...

JMG - Your phrse "serene indifference to failure"(Decline and Fall) certainly belongs in the famous quote Hall of Fame

Bruce The Druid said...

Three things come to mind when reading this post: 1) Mr. Howell on Gilligan's Island continuously trying to buy favors with his worthless money, in the event of the always hopeful "rescue". 2) The movie "The Way of The Gun" which concerns two ex-soldiers using their martial skills to extort money from a mobster. It makes me think about all those soldiers our military machine keeps cranking out who know how to handle a gun and understand small unit infantry tactics. Very useful skills when Law and Order begin to degrade. 3) My research into the origin of money suggested an addition use of money in terms of trade. A dominant trade partner issues a peculiar gold coin (with a unique stamp) for trade items, and only accepts those gold coins in return for purchasing items. Thus it binds the smaller economies to the 800 pound gorilla, since a trader would want to "redeem" his gold tokens. Otherwise a trader might take his goods to the neighbor the 800 pound gorilla is in competition with. Its essentially the system the USA is using to bind economies and states to the "mother" economy, since most countries want to "redeem" their dollars they keep accumulating. But of course you knew that!

John Michael Greer said...

Phil, thanks for the references! A lot of cultures treated precious metals as sacred rather than as money, and seem to have done fairly well by that habit.

Jeff, hmm. I'll put it on the get-to list.

DaShui, nah, the opening move in the barter game is "what'll you take for one of those books?"

RPC, my guess is that you've got a good shot at a successful deindustrial career. Are you at all comfortable with guns? Learn basic gunsmithing and gun repair and a lot of people will be very eager to keep you alive, happy, and supplied with whatever barter you happen to fancy.

Random Man, equally, somebody who bought real estate in 2000 and sold it off in 2006 did fairly well. Of course you can make money off other people's bubble psychology, if you're lucky and smart, and don't get caught up in the same psychology yourself; my point is that there are other things you can do that will be a lot more useful on the downslope of the industrial age.

Mark, if I were to buy a beer for every middle-aged white guy good at crunching numbers I've met in the peak oil scene, I'd be flat broke in no time. For that matter, the only thing that differentiates me from that description is that I crunch words rather than numbers!

Jonathan, again, that's why you want to concentrate on learning skills, which don't attract thieves and do attract people who want to give you things to benefit from your skills.

David, of course -- but then, as petroleum prices itself out of most people's lives, you're going to see a dramatic decrease in geospatial mobility anyway.

Jeff, thank you!

Mister R., no imagination at all. There are plenty of accounts of what Vico calls "the barbarism of reflection," the incredible savagery of a decadent society in its final years.

Neo, Burroughs was a strange duck indeed, but an insightful one now and then. He was of course quite correct about money -- except I'd never degrade good honest manure by comparing it with money...

Patricia, by and large, roving warlords ignore elderly farmers in hovels. Once the warlords stop roving, in turn, if they have the brains the gods gave Genseric, they tend to encourage farmers in hovels to farm, and even provide them with some degree of protection, since that's how rice, sake, etc. get onto the warlord's dinner table.

DASK said...


Let's see if I can summarize my train of thought re: gold as a bullish hedge adequately. Let me begin with an assumed axiom that there has to be surplus of necessities for saving/hoarding 'abstract tokens' to make sense at all. I am agnostic on this. I for a very long time have taken to heart the very real possibility (probability) that we shall live in a world where there is little and diminishing societal surplus; in such a world (and in almost all variants that I can forsee, as well as at present) one indeed wants to be in minimally intermediated control, so far as it is possible, of the physical necessities of life. If they are short, no money will buy them. The capacity to e.g. grow food and retain skills relevant to the local community is thus paramount over all forms of monetary 'saving'. Minimize the need for trade, first by expanding the household and family economy, then by providing for the local economy, etc. I am young (early 30s), but this has been my goal for almost 15 years. In the dim case, this is all that is left. What are the steps that lead to a bullish for gold case in my head? 1) The current (IMF$) monetary system underpinning international trade will not persist because there are not enough real resources for debt (read 'savings') to be repaid in currently perceived value; somebody will defect. 2) That after this failure, there will not be immediate total catastrophe, but that the credibility of debt as a savings mechanism will be critically impaired, leading to 3) Debt (thus currency) revalued downwards against all physical goods. 4) Storage of surplus (if existing) and belief in future surplus will need a focal point aprés USD that will be 5) decided by surplus producers of necessary goods, e.g. food, energy.., for a number of reasons gold is on the short list. 6) This would result in a step revaluation of gold, even against other physical goods if used as a storage asset for trade. Thus the bullish case for me is not total collapse but a regression to smaller trade with gold considered a first tier barter asset (never again a currency) that floats against whatever currencies exist. Not one ounce more needs be dug up to fulfill this. Worth a small allocation as far as I can reckon. Perhaps I'm wrong, but then not much is lost and I have fine organic ale to comfort myself.

Laylah said...

Dammerung - gold is intrinsically valuable? For what, exactly?

The list of things that strike me as meeting the "intrinsically valuable" standard is pretty short -- food, clean water, safety from inclement weather and hostile creatures (including other humans).... Things that are desirable to anyone who lacks them and wants to keep living. Gold's value seems much more conditional.

jean-vivien said...

Hi John, it is amazing that talking as you are doing about different economical arrangements would cause so much emotional reaction. I did hold the USA for a nation of pragmatic people... now I am left wondering ! The territories between your two blogs do overlap quite a bit.

Since we are discussing books, I personally deem Shakespeare's tragedies as great examples of tools to embody political sciences into mythical forms of expressions. Kind of like how Medieval lore was developed through images.
The politics of my country feel a little bit like a bloodless version of Macbeth... In general Shakespeare's works are packed with deep tirades about a lot of essential subjects (meaning, destiny).

Redneck Girl said...

@JMG if cattle lifting was all my ancestors did it would be pretty tame compared to what some of them actually did! But those are tales best left out of this blog!

With the talk of war bands and Bogatyr asking me about Ninja families I'm thinking that Geiger's castles would be a good idea in the hills and mountains around the valleys. I know for a fact that quite a bit of that terrain is as rugged as the mountains of Japan that gave birth to the Ninja Clans. The area around Shasta Lake would be prime for such defenses as well as the coastal mountain ranges on the west and the Cascades east of the Sacramento Valley and up the Pacific Crest. Since what isn't steep and covered with rotten shale or with volcanic boulders it would be best to offer guide services through the mountains, up the Siskyous and into the valley over the old Interstate 5 route. It's drier than Japan but human beings are adaptable and instead of rice paddies tucked here and there nut trees like oak or hazel nuts could provide some flour along with the occasional irrigated small field of wheat or oats. Combining farming, hunting and foraging life would be acceptable there. I can see small houses with a stable and walled yards could provide some defense from raiders. The castles would be spaced along the route for mutual defense and as rest stops for travelers and caravans.

For travelers it would be relatively easy going in the valleys but a hard pull in the mountains baring nasty weather.

As I recall some time back Glen said those mountains would be a huge headache much like Afghanistan for anyone trying to fight an insurgency!


SLClaire said...

JMG, thank you for your response to Chris G, above: "... it's not simply a matter of waiting for this civilization to die -- it's possible to identify spaces (physical, cognitive, and other) where it's already lost its grip, and leveraging your ability to shape those spaces in order to begin building the future amid the disintegrating carcass of the present." It makes so much sense already and I suspect meditation on it will reveal more treasure of the best kind.

Also, thank you for your response to me a few weeks back: "It's when we wake up to the fact that life is a process of ripening toward death, that death is not the opposite of life but its fulfillment, that actual maturity finally arrives." That yielded many fruits when I meditated on it. It strikes me as relevant to Ervino's comment as well.

Regarding community, I don't think living in a large metro area is a barrier to developing community, if one works at it. In fact, anyone can develop community at any time, wherever one lives. We all have neighbors - get to know them. We have gotten to know some of ours (who have also gotten to know each other) and we have all gained from that. The ties vary in closeness quite a bit but this doesn't seem to matter much. Just knowing each other well enough to share excess, borrow tools, and so forth makes this place richer, in all the right ways, for all of us.

Here's a story about social ties in a large metro area (St. Louis). Yesterday our new wood stove was installed. Since my husband and I are both retired we were at home during the installation and had opportunity to converse with the two men who installed the stove. As often happens in such conversational situations, the men asked us where we'd worked, and we told them. Both men live in exurbia, over an hour's drive from our inner-suburb community. Yet it turned out that one of the best friends of one of the men knew my husband from a factory they both worked at in another inner suburb! This isn't an isolated case; more often than not, when we meet someone for the first time, we find out that we know at least one person in common with the person we meet. In fact, I'd only been in St. Louis for four years when I met Mike, yet we knew at least 6 people in common. Dense social ties like these will help to cushion some aspects of decline; making them strikes me as one of the better ways to use my time.

Don Plummer said...

Yes, I do now remember your discussion of the nature of curses. Thanks!

Interestingly, and since Tolkien has been mentioned here, I just read Tolkien's famous essay/lecture on Beowulf. Among other things, he mentions that there really were only two notable dragons in the literature of Northern Europe. One, of course, was the dragon slain by Beowulf at the cost of his own life. The other was Fafnir, who, as you know, was one of the sons of Hreidmar and who fatally turned himself into a dragon to guard Andvari's treasure. The curse at work.

It's hardly a secret where Tolkien got his ideas for Smaug.

Redneck Girl said...

Ervino Cus said

?) the question I ask to myself is: why bother?

Blake said something along the lines of 'seeing the world in a gain of sand and eternity in an hour.' Where is your intellect Ervino? Do you only look out instead of down or inward? How well do you know yourself?

I'm 62 but the oldest individual I know is my mother the Earth. I could spend ten life times learning everything I can about the earth and not come close to the entirety of earth knowledge.

I think you asked the wrong question from incomplete knowledge. Think about it and ask another question, a little closer to home.


Jerrica Benton said...

@Neo Tuxedo:

if the gentleman in question had said something like "then why should i ever get out of bed again?", I'd have a great deal more sympathy for his position. As it stands, there seem to be a great deal of Men's Right's Activists that are slavering at the idea of a new Dark Age finally giving them a chance at rapine and slaughter, and I respectfully submit that men that do *not* feel that way should *not* speak in those terms.

Kyoto Motors said...

I can imagine a scenario where, say, an artisan who has a number of goods and services, but nothing the dentist is interested in... But I am not looking for a debate on the matter. I agree that money is probably as temporary as the petroleum it mirrors in human industrial affairs...
One question I have is whether you know of the historic roll of auctions as a perhaps intermediary mode of a market economy? Can auctions be merged with bartering, for example?

buho62 said...

This is a great, concise set of posts on non-market economics. I would probably making them required reading for my college anthropology classes....if I was still following that precarious career path.

The bit about the British in Africa forcing populations to pay tax, even for no financial gain to the government, is key to understanding centralization, empires, and economics. Apparently, the Inca would force even the poorest conquered groups to pay tax in anything possible, even collected lice! The first and foremost goal was to create a parasitic relationship (no pun intended). Wealth came later.

Eric said...

Every time you bring up intermediation I think of "Bonfire of the Vanities" by Tom Wolfe. What a great book by the way. I think it is time to read it again. That being said, here is the quote:

“Just imagine that a bond is a slice of cake, and you didn’t bake the cake, but every time you hand somebody a slice of the cake a tiny little bit comes off, like a little crumb, and you can keep that. […] If you pass around enough slices of cake, then pretty soon you have enough crumbs to make a gigantic cake.
Chapter 10, page 229

This is the way Judy describes Sherman’s job as bond salesman to their daughter, Campbell. The quotation reveals the essential meaninglessness to society of Sherman’s job and the jobs of all the traders on Wall Street. They really create nothing of their own and contribute nothing; they just collect the commissions off the bonds they sell, like crumbs that fall off each slice of golden cake.

Maybe we can rename intermediation as crumb collecting!


Rita Narayanan said...

Indian relationship with Gold

It might seem the strangest thing in the world for a lot of people to think that in a poor country like India even poor women wear some gold.

traditionally tribal and some lower castes( more cultural since metal is woven to many metaphysical & mythological elements) wore only silver but with caste breaking down even they prefer to wear gold.

It would take volumes to discuss the subcontinental relationship with gold and silver.....thus despite everything it has always been a good place for *loot*.Even the Met in New York gets their *real Gold* Greek and Roman jewellery replicas from Jaipur in India.

The blog is getting better and better :)

Varun Bhaskar said...


Gold is the one point I've been able to generate some level of consensus among the people I'm wizarding (I would say shepherding but I am not a pastor.) The moment you break out the phrase "you can't eat gold," the idea sinks in that maybe seeds would be better to carry. How about hoarding some good steel? That worth anything?

I also want to draw your attention to this little organization:

Yeah, they're effectively printing banknotes without calling them such. Intermediaries for muscle power.


Varun Bhaskar

John Michael Greer said...

Toomas, excellent! Bookbinding is one of the crafts that really ought to be considered a fine art, and knowing how to make a sturdy binding that will last for centuries has obvious applicability to the content of this blog. Thanks also for the links, and the game -- which to my mind seems about as interesting as the rest of online gaming.

Strovenovus, intermediation is by no means inevitable -- there's very little of it in a hunter-gatherer's life, and not much more among tribal horticulturalists. It can be an advantage in certain restricted applications, but far more often than not it's parasitic rather than productive. Very few people actually need a broker -- most can figure out something on their own.

Goldmund, we could have a loving, peaceful, generous society if everyone in that society were to agree not to pursue their own interest at other people's expense. This has been tried, and it generally lasts about fifteen minutes before somebody breaks the agreement, and decides that getting what they want right now trumps having a loving, peaceful, generous society. If you want to pursue the same project, may I encourage you to study how previous attempts at the same thing have failed? It might be useful.

Richard, how about use the money to get training so you have the skills you need? It fascinates me that I can say this over and over again and so many people, even on this blog, act as though it's never been mentioned.

Willow, understood -- it's a hard row to hoe. May I ask a favor, though? You have skills that a lot of younger people don't have right now. You might consider, if you haven't already, going to and posting some essays about what you know, because I know a lot of people in their twenties who would be eager to learn from you.

Renaissance, oh, granted, it was a reach to bring in a dentist. I was just remembering the specific high school economics textbook from which I originally got the usual party line.

Clay, ah, but alchemists actually produced something of value -- who do you think invented distilled alcohol? I'm less convinced that, say, bankers, landlords, or municipal officials these days do so.

gwizard43 said...

Haven't read or posted in comments for some time now, but with this latest series of posts, I thought I'd ask:

How many of the regular readers like myself are not only looking for better positioned relocation opportunities here in the US (e.g. Rust Belt), but also giving serious consideration to expatriation?

wiseman said...

You've got it wrong. I have lived in areas where both cops and war bands collect protection money from you and from each other. It's as close to collapse as you can get, (barring Africa or the druglands of Mexico) and even there people store precious metals because you never know when you have to migrate. It's something books can't teach you.

Precious metals are a portable store of wealth, always have been. It need not be only PM's, it can be anything (depending on your culture) that is easy to carry and of great value to others.

As far as skills go, they can also become useless if you are at the wrong place at the wrong time, the greatest skill during bad times is the skill to pack up and leave.

If you are advising people to just skill up and not store some money for bad times then it's a very dangerous advice to give, one which will get them killed.

John Michael Greer said...

Escape, thanks for the link. BTW, "theoclassical economics" is a keeper!

Dfr2010, most of the people I know who need a yarn barn are the ones who buy yarn rather than spinning it! Still, duly noted. ;-)

MawKernewek, exactly -- everybody thinks they can time the bubble, and by the time they decide to get out, everyone else is getting out, too...and splat goes the investment. It happens every time.

Leo, many thanks for the stories. One scoundrel for every true believer -- yes, that's probably close to the normal distribution.

Kaitain, star forts are what I was thinking of -- Sebastien de Vauban was the inventor of the system, and his works might be worth preserving, as a fort to his specifications is safe against a very broad range of assaults. We had a primitive version here in Cumberland back in the French and Indian Wars.

Andy, I have a set of the same collection, as well as my wife's family set of the Harvard Classics and an early Encyclopedia Americana. Yes, we'll be talking about that in great detail.

Nick, the fact that so many people assume in advance, and state so loudly, that gold is where to go makes me sure that that's not where the smart money is going.

Bob, thanks. I'll check it out.

Dammerung, obviously I disagree. Your first point merely states that if you have the kind of economy that needs money, why, yes, you probably need money to run it. Most kinds of economy don't, because they don't foster the kind of hyperspecialization and mediation that requires it. Your second point is quite simply nonsense -- there is no such thing as "intrinsic value;" all value is imputed to objects by human beings as a part of cultural habits, and as I noted in my post, the concept of abstract ("intrinsic") value is a very poor way to talk about the complex human experience of valuing things.

Your third point assumes that there will be somewhere you can go, by ship or otherwise, to get away from what's coming: a common supposition, but to my mind, a mistaken one. Finally, money is a technology, but it's one that has serious problems, and in previous dark ages, it's a technology that's been discarded for very good reasons, and there are equally good reasons (as already noted) why I expect it to be discarded this time around, too. When that happens, history suggests that being too attached to shiny metals can get you very thoroughly dead in a hurry, while those who don't have such an attachment are at less risk of that unwelcome experience.

Bob, thank you. Please use it as often as possible!

Kutamun said...

On the subject of money , check out these posts by a bloke named Greer in Sept / Oct 2009
" the metaphysics of money "
"The metastasis of money "
Heres a sample
"In an ironic way, this process of revision may be fostered by the antics of the world’s industrial nations as they try to forestall the Great Recession by spending money they don’t have. The economic crisis that gripped the world in 2008 was primarily driven by a drastic mismatch between money and wealth. When the price of a rundown suburban house zoomed from $75,000 to $575,000, for example, the change marked a distortion in the yardstick rather than any actual increase in the wealth being measured. That distortion caused every economic decision based on it – for example, a buyer’s willingness to go over his head into debt to buy the house, or a bank’s willingness to lend money on the basis of imaginary equity – to suffer similar distortions. Now that the yardsticks have snapped back to something like their proper length, the results of the distortion have to be cleared out of the economy if the amount of money in the system is once again to reflect the actual amount of wealth."

Toro Loki said...

Thanks to my three years of volunteering with the Master Gardeners and working on their seed saving project, I am now humble to offer for barter: 12 varieties of open pollinated peas, another 12 varieties of beans, 15 cultivars of heritage tomato plants, 9 types of peppers and a potpourri of miscellaneous seeds which do not fit into any of the above categories... Will trade for ...?

John Michael Greer said...

Bruce, three good points. The mass production of trained soldiers who then get discarded by the US government has long struck me as one of the stupidest of the many stupid things our government is doing -- not least because these days, those soldiers know every detail of US counterinsurgency doctrine.

DASK, interesting. I admit I'm far from sure that you're right in assuming that all fiat currencies will be discarded at once in favor of gold -- that seems implausible, to use no stronger word. Still, if that's the gamble you want to take, by all means.

Jean-Vivien, Americans are the opposite of pragmatic. Remember that for a couple of centuries, Europe shipped most of its religious fanatics, visionaries, and wild-eyed social reformers over the Atlantic to us. The fixation on gold is just one example of what happens when a nation descended mostly from crackpots tries to think about economic matters!

Wadulisi, my ancestors did a lot more than cattle lifting, too -- Clan MacGregor was sufficiently active in those other activities that the entire clan got outlawed by the Scots government in 1603 -- the last name I inherited is one of the aliases that resulted.

SLClaire, I suspect that at least some of the larger cities in the middle of the country, especially those on important trade routes and rivers, will get by more or less in one piece -- with sharp decreases in population, to be sure, but with the same kind of continuity that many of the Roman cities of Italy and southern Gaul had. Saint Louis is one of those -- there's a reason that Sanloo was an important city in the fictional 25th-century setting of my novel Star's Reach!

Don, curiously enough, I also just read "Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics." I was wallowing in Tolkien's Beowulf scholarship, having just read his translation and commentary, which has recently been published. No, there's no question where a lot of Tolkien's imagery comes from!

Kyoto, I don't happen to know much of anything about the history of auctions. It might make an interesting research project.

Buho, thank you.

Eric, good, but I'd prefer some even less complimentary term.

Rita, I'd gathered that Indian culture had a very strong love affair with gold, and assumed that it had deep religious and symbolic dimensions. Thanks for confirming that!

Varun, glad that you're having some success with that. As for the time bank, yes, I'm familiar with those. It'll be interesting to see how well they do as the economy becomes less flush with surpluses.

Wiseman, no, that's not as close to collapse as you can get; it's business as usual in very large parts of the world, including many areas in the US, and so part of the existing money economy. As I noted to Dammerung above, it's far from likely that you'll be able to go somewhere away from the impending mess; most people in the US, certainly, are going to have to adapt in place, and gold isn't an advantage for that, for reasons I've already noted. Remember that the same logic that makes you eager to stash gold makes plenty of other people eager to take it from your cold stiff hands...

John Michael Greer said...

Kutamun, true enough -- and all that went into my book The Wealth of Nature, too.

Toro, post that on the Green Wizards site and you may just get some takers!

John Michael Greer said...

DeAnander (offlist), that's not what I meant and you know it. Please don't engage in concern trolling on my blog; it won't be well received.

Rita Narayanan said...

JMG said *Rita, I'd gathered that Indian culture had a very strong love affair with gold, and assumed that it had deep religious and symbolic dimensions. Thanks for confirming that!

our goddesses are bathed in Gold :) not just the Crown jewels in the Tower of London and our Maharajahs....from the famed emeralds in Iranian treasury to the Smithsonian and the Collections of the Oil rich Middle Eastern royalties Indian Gold/Gems everywhere.

Gold is both material and metaphysical to Hindus as the metal is embodied by Goddess will never see any very rich Hindu use Gold to adorn a toilet as some noveau riche do.

A Western Christian Bride no matter how expensive a gown or Tiara embodies simplicity in this part of the world the aspiration and sensibilities the opposite....colour/ornamentation.

Both a Virtue and liability!

DASK said...

Hi JMG, last comment so not to clutter this up too much, but I haven't been clear. I don't think fiat currencies are going anywhere. Just that after the bond market fails to deliver value, there is a chance that gold will regain a higher place in barter and trade settlement as a savings medium. Fiat currencies will be used everywhere but will be more like medieval scrip. Play, trade, cash out when you want to save. Like third world countries do with USD now. Anyway, thank you for all your tireless efforts!

Bike Trog said...

Old televisions contain toxic heavy metals in the glass. If they're left next to instead of in dumpsters, then scrappers (ruinmen) can see them and take them away without climbing into the garbage, and whoever is seeking freedom from television avoids the back pain of lifting it over the wall.

A side note I've been thinking about is nomadic education, since I've read about migrant workers having little or none.

Gloucon X said...

Chris G said... It's a recognition of the total futility of any effort for victory for the side of ecology, conservation, or Gaia, on this civilization's terms.

MindfulEcologist said...Don't give up on Gaia or ecology.

Thanks for the insightful comments, Chris G and MindfulEcologist. As you can see from the above history, the ecology movement is something that has grown side by side with industrialization over the last two centuries. It’s role has been to alert people to the worst offences, but it has never effectively proposed an alternative or replacement for industrial society. It never really sought victory, and so, there’s no reason for disappointment. We simply have to wait for the fossil fuels to run out (which may take longer than many of us hope), as people have been doing for more than two centuries. So while we wait, we might just as well relax and dream of a future of warlords and barter from eras long past. It’s as good a use of our time as any.

Salus Populi said...

I was excited that you mentioned the fact-value distinction. I wonder if you've read William James or any of the other philosophers who rejected the distinction. The idea is that values come before facts, to some extent, our values determine what facts we'll see or what we consider facts to be.

I often think about that in relation to the issues you discuss on your blog. Many people can't or won't see the facts that you point out because their values won't allow it. For instance people who have more of a faith-based value system, like economists, aren't going to be concerned with empirical facts that might show limits to growth.

I don't know if it's helpful, but I have found that seeing values as being primary makes it a lot easier to understand why people won't just accept certain facts.

russell1200 said...

Druid Sir: Per your comment aside: I hope in a lawless world, were 40mm HEDP (2" steel penetration) and RPG rounds are likely to become like candy, that it will be a good idea to hide behind rammed earth or entrenched fortifications.

Even by the Napoleonic Wars, the smarter set were starting to hide on the reverse slope of hills to avoid the direct fire (solid shot!) cannon.

If, after you have discussed how enthusiastically people will come after you if you have good stuff, you are only worried about rifle rounds, STP 21-1-SMCT (Soldier's Manual of Common Tasks) requires you to have 18" of earth between you and the enemy when constructing a fighting position.

Trevor N. Dupey noted some time ago that going back to the sword fighting days up to the modern, casualties per combatant have dropped dramatically as combatants dug in AND dispersed AND concealed.

For an individual, the best defense against modern weapons is concealment. If you are going to fortify, it is best to hide your defenses extremely well. Packed earth defenses tend to be big and bulky and hard to defend. I would rather be in a slit trench hidden under a building crawl space if I couldn't be miles away.

Richard Larson said...

I think I have more skills than you when it comes to growing food. Ultimately, that is the only trade that brings everything else. Besides that, you are assuming my time is not already filled with learning. I have surplus beyond. So, instead of participating in the money economy, I as before mentioned, am investing in trees and also planting systems mostly. I have one ounce of Gold reserved to buy 40 acres of land, after the collapse, and another ounce to plant it up.

Kyoto Motors said...

As for money as a technology, as I pointed out last week, there is an obvious connection between our present use/concept of money and our present use of fossil fuels. Consequently, the insistence that money is here to stay because we like it is equivalent to the same insistence about petroleum.
This theme, however, carries different weight depending on the time scale your considering. As you say, knowing the broader trend and where the decline will take us in the long run is important. But for someone living with urban employment and little hope for land ownership, well, what else is one to do but deal with money, pay rent, and stay plugged into the neighborhood? That's my situation, at any rate. It certainly makes sense to keep earning an income for the foreseeable future.

donalfagan said...

I noticed a while ago that a lot of energy depletion articles show up on gold bug sites, and that a lot of gold bug adverts show up on bona fide energy depletion sites. And you have to go and piss off the gold bugs ...

I have suspected that it won't be just roving bandits after your stash. As is now being widely reported, the police are only to happy to exercise civil forfeiture on any cash at hand - after they shoot your dog, of course. I fully expect that some localities will increase taxation to onerous levels and will send the police out to seize property from those that can't pay. There is also the old protection racket - "Nice lookin' solar panels there ... be a shame if somethin' was to happen to 'em."

Nastarana said...

Toro, Allow me to refer you to the Grassroots Seed Network, which was started to help protect the legendary seed collection of Maine farmer Will Bonsall, formerly of SSE. (Don't ask what I think of SSE, as the response would not be allowed on this forum) but there are gardeners from all over the USA involved. Congratulations on learning how to save seeds. That is farther than I have gotten with gardening skills.

There is a very good short post from James Kunstler this week. When he decides to get serious, he is still very good.

Wadalusi, I love your planning. I remember how inaccessible those Southern Oregon mountains are. I would caution you, however, that any successor stat in the PNW must control the mouth of the Colunbia River, and major dams at all costs, and don't forget that Seattle and Vancouver are now and will continue to be entry points for Asian migrants. It may become necessary for a future Republic of the Pacific govt. to deal with an Asian naval invasion by withholding and then a sudden release of water from Bonneville Dam. Those turbines were made back when things were made well, and might keep spinning for a few centuries to come. In my private version of the Archdruid's story about post collapse Oregon, the new President Gonzales sent his militia to meet Japanese migrants at the beach, with food and clothing, and sent them on where they might be needed--young men into military training and others to work on farms, or teach or practice medicine according to skill sets the migrants might have. Under no circumstance should a govt. allow migrants to set up ethnic enclaves in the forests.

DaShui said...

We don't have to go to far back in history for gold stories. I ran into my chinese friend one day and he had a long face. It seems he was reading a chinese newspaper where a stash of gold, his grandfathers gold was found hidden in the walls of his ancestral home. His grandfather was the richest man in fujian province, trading in rice. When the communists came most of the family fled to Thailand, but his grandfather was stoned to death by a mob.

Wolfgang Brinck said...

An interesting thing that Graeber pointed out in Debt is that post collapse, goods can still be priced in the currency of the collapsed empire without anyone actually having Roman coins or American Dollars for instance. In a small community, people can keep accounts denominated in the former currency. Periodically, they get together and reconcile accounts where in a pretty balanced and unstratified community things tend to even out. If A owes a dollar to B and B owes a dollar to C and C owes a dollar to A those debts can be erased with nobody owning anybody anything. It's no different from paying with a check or credit card, except in the current economy the bank is keeping accounts. No physical currency needs to change hands. 5629

Matthew Casey Smallwood said...

Apparently, Clan MacGregor (from what I've read lately), JMG, preserved a lot of Pictish DNA and essentially was a Pictish clan, a holdover from the Dark Ages and earlier.

Wolfgang Brinck said...

Re the British in Africa. The British wanted to set up coffee plantations in Kenya but could not find any British overseers (intermediaries) for the plantations unless they could guarantee a labor force. The local natives had no interest in working on plantations because they could make a living by subsistence farming. Hence, a tax on the natives and the only source of money to pay the tax, working on the British coffee plantations. Problem solved. Happy intermediaries.
So anyplace that the government collects taxes payable in money, true subsistence on your own plot of land is not possible because you have to sell something to get money to pay your taxes at which point you are no longer exclusively a member of the subsistence economy or self-sufficient.

Eric S. said...

In one comment you said: “As this civilization crumbles, the number and magnitude of the spaces outside this civilization's reach will multiply steadily. Thus it's not simply a matter of waiting for this civilization to die -- it's possible to identify spaces (physical, cognitive, and other) where it's already lost its grip, and leveraging your ability to shape those spaces in order to begin building the future amid the disintegrating carcass of the present.”

I’ve never thought about things in quite those terms before. That really does give a different shape to everything we’ve discussing here. That’s an extremely challenging approach to take to the world, especially as monolithic as our society can seem at times. I know you’ve been talking about this the whole time in various ways, but it leaves me wondering… where are those spaces, and what power can we have to shape them in any meaningful way? It kind of ties into Ervino’s question… I don’t care all that much about technological progress, or metastasizing into outer space. The ecotechnic future you outlined is fine with me. But if that’s going to come about at all, it’s millennia in the future, it’s a distant fantasy… It doesn’t belong to us, and the ancestors of the people who are going to shape that future life far away, come from different cultures, speak different languages. You’ve outlined how we can survive and find meaning even in the hardest of times, and that’s enough. Are we meant to survive, keep our heads down, cut our waste, and brace ourselves for a hard life and a young death, work on finding meaning in life as it is, free our minds and work on our spirituality? Or is there some deeper calling? But you’ve talked about being cultural conservers, gathering the gifts of our culture that they might be of use for the people on the other side. The gap between us and them seems just too far for that to be a meaningful goal. Those people will find their own way, build their own legacies… We won’t be participating in their economies, and we won’t be the ones creating them either. Why think about them at all if they’re so distant and we have so little power to touch them?

Eric S. said...

One other question more relevant to this week's post. During the early middle ages in Britain, there was only a brief time in the 5th century during which no coins were being produced. Until then, denarii were still being minted, and by the 6th century the Shilling was in circulation. Who was using them, how, and where? That’s probably more of an academic question than anything, since well money wasn’t all that important at the time. But I'm a little curious about that role, was it used among the mercantile class and nobility? Was it something mostly confined to urban centers? And why would it arise at all if there was still a functioning feudal economy that hadn't started to undergo intermediation yet? Or had it already, which would mean in Britain true feudalism only lasted about 100 years or so?

Neo Tuxedo said...

Your second point is quite simply nonsense -- there is no such thing as "intrinsic value;" all value is imputed to objects by human beings as a part of cultural habits, and as I noted in my post, the concept of abstract ("intrinsic") value is a very poor way to talk about the complex human experience of valuing things.

All value is ultimately abstract, and our perception of what others value is similarly abstract. In a post taking the Archdruid's side against Nebris, Themon the Bard laments that "the idea of the sanctity of individual life[...] is all around us, like fleas or a bad smell." The post-libertarian blogger Arthur Silber takes exactly the opposite view, that our society doesn't value individual life or at least individual autonomy. Obviously, at least one of them is at least partly wrong.

And to Jerrica, I submit that this confusion over abstractions may lie at the heart of Ervino Cus' wondering "why bother?" If, as JMG often seems to be saying, the problem with our civilization is its over-valuation of abstract thought, and if (as it seems to me) all thought is to some degree abstract, it's an easy if mistaken leap of logic to conclude that thought itself is the problem. ("He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man." -- Samuel Johnson)

But, of course, joining a rape gang isn't truly making a beast of oneself; it's just letting Masculine Ego (TM Nebris) run riot unrestrained by intellect. Abandoning intellect and Masculine Ego both, you get Walt Whitman thinking he could turn and live with animals, or all those anarcho-primitivists that JMG depicts as fleeing the Collapse only to wander into the woods and stupidly starve to death.

Keeping Intellect and Masculine Ego, you get civilization as we know it in general and Faustian civilization in particular. Keeping Intellect while abandoning or at least curbing Masculine Ego... what do you get from that? Is it even possible? Nebris seems to think so, and so did Jesus, Hillel, Buddha, Aleister Crowley, and all those other illuminated souls who together form the embodiment of the Teacher.

Your third point assumes that there will be somewhere you can go, by ship or otherwise, to get away from what's coming: a common supposition, but to my mind, a mistaken one.

To mine as well. And, in fact, I submit that this is why so many people think the Collapse will be an extinction-level event. Previously, the level of global devastation ahead was the cause of civilizations falling, not the result of it. Faustian civilization now has the ability to create natural disasters; it's just not as deliberate as the conspiracy theorists believe.

Having said that, I think we can and probably will get through this. Human population is likely to hit a Toba-level bottleneck; whether we come out the other side this time remains to be seen.

Eric S. said...

One last comment. The ongoing conversation I’ve been having with a friend about our culture’s fetishization of the future yielded up this quote from Wendell Berry, which I think has a lot to contribute to the discussion going on here about the place we, living today have in bridging the gap to future generations. There are some nuggets here worth meditating on. I think it helps provide the beginnings of an answer to my earlier question as well:

“The higher aims of 'technological progress' are money and ease. And this exalted greed for money and ease is disguised and justified by an obscure, cultish faith in 'the future.' We do as we do, we say, 'for the sake of the future' or 'to make a better future for our children.' How we can hope to make a good future by doing badly in the pres...ent, we do not say. We cannot think about the future, of course, for the future does not exist: the existence of the future is an article of faith. We can be assured only that, if there is to be a future, the good of it is already implicit in the good things of the present. We do not need to plan or devise a 'world of the future'; if we take care of the world of the present, the future will have received full justice from us. A good future is implicit in the soils, forests, grasslands, marshes, deserts, mountains, rivers, lakes, and oceans that we have now, and in the good things of human culture that we have now; the only valid 'futurology' available to us is to take care of those things. We have no need to contrive and dabble at 'the future of the human race'; we have the same pressing need that we have always had—to love, care for, and teach our children.”

RPC said...

This article is apropos to this discussion. He makes the point that money serves as a claim on goods and services. As such, it is based on trust: you trust the entity giving you money for your goods and services and the entity issuing the money that you will in turn be able to exchange the money for goods and services. This brings to mind a quote from Pope Benedict XVI: "If the market is governed solely by the principle of the equivalence in value of exchanged goods,
it cannot produce the social cohesion that it requires in order to function." So the more important money becomes to a society the more likely it will liquidate its own utility!

Mettrodome said...

In response to your comment to Jean-Vivien, I have the beginnings of a theory along the same lines; culture is genetic.

When training to become a teacher, at some point you realize that pretty much everyone has some sort of "mental disorder" hard wired into them. Most of us just self treat and therefore go undiagnosed, but if you really talk to Americans about their thought process and/or learning process you will see that most people go about it in different ways. Most of the time these processes are totally fine, sometimes they are even better than what we typically teach. The term "disorder" is apt because the process itself is not judged on its effectiveness, but on how well it conforms to the order that we have constructed.
If it differs too greatly, then we use special education to either change the student's process or change the teaching methods. Also when getting your education licence, you also have to learn about "cultural sensitivity", which ends up covering a lot of the same ground. Some examples have to do with eye contact, touching, tone and volume of voice, concept of time, gender roles, etc. For example, you are not supposed to look autistic children in the eye, same goes for Arab students, you're supposed to flexible with deadlines for kids with ADHD, same with American Indian kids. Understand, I'm not suggesting there is a perfect one to one ration of what we call disorders and different cultures, but there are definate aspects that one can find similarities in treatment if not cause.
If you throw in some natural selection into the mix, you can see how it could come to be that personal traits could become a cultural norm. For example Bob Farmer, has OCD. It is not so harmful a way of thinking that he cannot run his farm and have a large family, so he does. The kids now have a genetic predisposition to this way of thinking, and have been raised in such a way as to think of this as "normal". If the Farmer children are in turn successful and each settle more land, then their farming methods and way of thinking will spread to their own farms. Eventually they will look to have their own families and will find spouses who are at least accepting of their traits. As they look for spouses, farm hands and trading partners they will look for people who have similar mindset or at least can cope with their traits. Thus, a feedback loop is created and perpetuated. Eventually their behavior and way of thinking is known as customs, and religion; genetics are never considered.
Why do you suppose that we are willing to accept that physical characteristics can occur in this manner, but not mental characteristics?

Bob Patterson said...

Descline? This from AOL -
Hagel to Order Overhaul of U.S. Nuclear Force

To illustrate the degree of decay in the intercontinental ballistic missile force, the reviews found that maintenance crews had access to only one tool set required to tighten bolts on the warhead end of the Minuteman 3 missile, and that this single tool set was being used by crews at all three ICBM bases in North Dakota, Wyoming and Montana. They had to share it via Federal Express delivery, the defense officials said. The crews now have one at each of the three bases.

Andropos Nebulus said...

JMG said "Pyrrhus, the countries in question would be crazy to do so, as it would lock them into long-term deflation as it did with the US economy in the late 19th century."

I would like to challenge you on something here. For all the guff the late 1800's gets about inequalities and the boom/bust economy, in reality the 50 years between the Civil War and WWI saw, when averaged out, the greatest growth in per-capita living standard in US history----the 50 years leading up to 2014 isn't even close. Now we don't actually have good numbers on unemployment and GDP (the federal government didn't start collecting such data until 1930 under Hoover), but we have clear data on international trade, gross production of food and raw materials, and wages and prices (this last can be reconstructed with high accuracy just by looking at period newspapers).

The thing is, deflation is not bad for an economy; it is bad for a debt-based economy. Deflation is marginally beneficial to wage-earners and savers, and marginally bad for producers, though the historical experience says that production and investment will continue nevertheless (except in periods of chaotic deflation such as 1929-33 or 1873-75). However deflation is very bad if debt loads are very high. And that is the problem: in our current system money=debt, and therefore monetary deflation is suicide. If money were an asset, deflation would simply be a condition, beneficial to some (mostly wage-earneres and savers) and harmful to others (debtors and producers).

I am continually shocked that the meme deflation=PURE EVIL is so widespread. In a mainstream newspaper article, say on the situation in Japan, the word "deflation" is almost never used unless accompanied by the word "destructive" or by a small editorialization on why it is bad. Consider that the past year of price-inflation in Japan has resulted in an 11% reduction in purchasing power of the this is regarded, on whole, as an unabashed positive by most main-stream observers...the REAL problem, they'll say, is Japan's lingering "deflation mentality".

On a more human level, in spite of all the turmoil, consider the change in circumstances of a common person in 1865 (who would have lived in the countryside, at least a day's travel to a population center) and a common person in 1914, who would have lived in a city, with running water, trolleys, and, in most urban areas, electricity. Communication was instantaneous in 1914 compared to 1865, life-expectancies were decades longer (in the Civil War, the germ theory of disease wasn't accepted yet!). Life in 1914 would be almost unrecognizable to the 1860's person.

In comparison, the lives of people in 1965 compared to today are only incrementally different. We have the Internet (our one big difference) and better TV's, but also less disposable income, and longer working hours per household.

Bogatyr said...

As an indicator of the collapse of complex societies, this would seem to be right up there: Pentagon Review Says America's Nukes Are FUBAR.

Some of the comments here are kind of reassuring to me. A number of people have mentioned a) warbands b) the police acting as a law unto themselves, and c) the government taking coercive and predatory action to keep people taxable. Individuals are helpless here, hence my interest in building communities that can intimidate and/or infiltrate. I hope to get a blog post of my own out soon about this!

onething said...

Ervino @11/13/14, 1:33 AM

I must say you speak as an atheist...and as one who has not internalized morality. Only internalized morality is real. If you see no reason not to rape and pillage without an organized society to give you rewards and keep you under control, then I can assume you would just as soon rape and pillage as go to work tomorrow. And when I say atheist, I am not speaking of the common idea of God but rather you seem to think that this life we have right now is all there is. If that is so, it doesn't really matter what it consists of anyway. If you have no soul you might think that life has no meaning but you prefer a life of high tech. There are so many meanings in life and so many different ways and opportunities to grow and become...hardship is often such an opportunity for it is only during hardship that one finds out what oneself and others are really made of. Are you telling us that your civilized mode is only a veneer?

I am not indifferent to your lament, but have you thought about the philosophical implications of what you are saying?
As to your lament, I wonder about this too -- what kind of scientific progress is possible in a lower energy world? I personally find the pursuit of knowledge about how the universe functions very rewarding and fascinating, and I follow certain topics such as big bang theory versus its debunking, the electric universe theory for example, and have hoped that in my lifetime some of these questions will be revisited and even settled.

Marcello said...

"Kaitain, star forts are what I was thinking of -- Sebastien de Vauban was the inventor of the system, and his works might be worth preserving, as a fort to his specifications is safe against a very broad range of assaults. We had a primitive version here in Cumberland back in the French and Indian Wars."

Small nitpick, Vauban did not invent star forts, it was a case of collective invention by way of incremental improvements, they had actually reached a relatively mature form by the mid 16th century or a about a hundred years before he got in business.
What he did was building or modifying a lot of them, making some improvements in construction and above all else he developed efficient attack techniques that could reduce the length of a siege from months to weeks.

While earthworks are relatively resistant to artilley they are maintenance intensive and less of an obstacle against infantry, so most permanent star forts were at least partially revetted with stone/bricks at considerable cost.
How defenses would play out in a feudal style setting with firearms it is hard to guess. A castle could be built by a local community and be defended by a modest garrison of even just few tens of knights and men at arms.
Star forts by contrast were usually pretty expensive affairs reserved for cities or strategic positions. Garrisons numbering in the thousands with several tens of heavy guns were required for a determined defense. They required the backing of centralized state, or at least the efforts of a reasonably wealthy city state.
One could always throw up a breastwork with some abatis, palisades and such around a village, that should fend off the occasional raiders. If somebody shows up with artillery and a sizable body of infantry it is game over however. Possibly something like a Martello Tower could offer reasonable resistance against smoothbore artillery yet still be defended by relatively few men. Even 1850s style rifled artillery will chew up such structures however.
Context also matters, the Japanese developed musketry but did not get around to make decent artillery until the 19th century, so castles remained viable even after the introduction of firearms.

Atilio Baroni Filho said...

Hello JMG!

I'm delighted by the quality of the last string of posts and of the commentary here. Congratulations! :)

The topic at hand reminded me of an also particularly inspired quote:

"It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society."
-Jiddu Krishnamurti

Good tidings from beneath the mango trees!


Brian Weber said...

In addition to buried stashes and radically changed social systems, I would like to point out another reason money disappeared from European medieval societies: the money literally left and went to other parts of the world. To wit, production of surplus tradable goods went almost to zero in W. Europe, but not elsewhere. Still, people in W. Europe wanted stuff, so they paid for it with whatever "tokens" of value they still possessed (elsewhere gold, for use as money, was in demand and would certainly be accepted regardless of what funny head was on it). Of course there was always *some* trade, including overseas shipping, even in the depth of the Dark Ages. Thus Europe got some "consumer goods," and in return sent its coinage elsewhere. But it didn't have much to sell, so there was no way for coinage to return. It doesn't take long for the money to be drained out like this, and replaced by mostly perishable "consumer" goods (fine clothing, grain, weapons, pots, etc) which themselves ultimately vanish or wear out over time.

Anyway, this process easily explains a drainage of precious metals, which is indeed observed in the historical record. If you want a source for my claims here, you could read the fantastic book "The Great Wave: Price Revolutions and the Rhythm of History".

However, I agree that this doesn't explain why other kinds of tokens (like iron bars a la Sparta) didn't take their place----for that you certainly do have to look at social systems.

As an aside, ancient Rome actually did have banks, though they seem not to have invented scrip money. Still, they loaned at interest, and practiced fractional reserve lending. The first record of a liquidity crisis comes from the reign of Tiberius, when, to wrest Rome's finances from financiers, he withdrew state funds from the day's financial institutions (similar to what Andrew Jackson did in 1836 with the Deposit and Distribution Act). The result was a scramble to liquidate real assets (farmland, ships, etc), which caused a crash in commodity prices---an actual depression! The crisis abated when Tiberius himself supplied liquidity from imperial coffers, bailing out the bankers. Read about it: financial crisis of 33AD.

avalterra said...

So, assuming there are bandits who are willing to risk their lives to steal gold - what are they doing with it? They can't eat it. If they carry it around it will just be stolen by other bandits. I guess they could bury it but then why steal it in the first place?

If gold has no intrinsic value and in the future most trade is conducted in some form of barter then why steal gold?

Unless, of course, there is a transition phase in which gold has value and is used as means of exchange until such time that things become so unlawful that storing value in any portable form is a high risk.

Am I completely off base?


Val said...

JMG, I've greatly enjoyed your take-downs of intermediation, the "science" of economics, and now money itself. I feel somehow vindicated, armed with powerful critique, and particularly appreciate your mention of landlords as non-contributors to anything like productive economic activity - very un-PC, likely to ruffle a lot of feathers, and generally not permitted to be said in polite company. Yet there it is, an unpalatable fact.

Speaking of useless occupations, as an artist I find it difficult to know what sort of dispensation to wish for. An incipient proto-feudal dark age does not seem a very promising career prospect. But then a late-phase decaying industrial empire founded on corporate socialism hasn't proven so fruitful either. Perhaps painters like me would've been better off in the good old theocratic days, when the church (reputedly) provided substantial patronage.

Too bad I don't have time to wait around for some Greek-style city states to develop. It may be all one can do to try to preserve a tiny facet of the tradition, with no economic benefit at all to your humble servant. Alas! Such is life in a senescent empire.

Rita said...

Many years ago I had a discussion with a gold standard advocate. He believed that Egyptian scarabs were used as money and the fact that some are made of gold and some are made of glass meant that the Pharaohs had devalued the money to pay the laborers who built the pyramids. Wow. First I broke it to him that scarabs were religious symbols that people of all classes used; so rich people would have golds ones and poor people would have to settle for glass ones, just as rich Catholics have gold and crystal rosaries and poor Catholics have glass and sliver plate. Then I pointed out that the pyramids were built during the Old Kingdom, which was over 1000 years earlier than the invention of currency by Croesus of Lydia. He was sort of gob-stopped by this quick destruction of his tale of early currency evil by oppressive government.

I'm trying to figure out how to change my ID to distinguish myself from the Rita in India--for now, just my initials

Rita R.

James Mishler said...

Patrick Geary's Before France and Germany: The Creation and Transformation of the Merovingian World covers the decline and fall of gold and silver coin (i.e., money) in western Europe detail. Essentially, gold and silver remain valuable among the Merovingians and other German realms for trade with the remaining merchant class -- mostly foreigners, especially Levantine traders -- and continued to be used to buy luxury goods from as far away as China. The source of the coin? Usually raiding, whether raiding other German realms or, among the Merovingians, raiding the lands of one's brother, father, or son. As they looted the remaining gold and silver (in coin and plate and goods, most of these last often donated to the Church), they also enslaved the residents of other neighboring realms, to fill their need for laborers and servants.

Eventually, most of the old, remaining coin hoards were traded away to the East, and plate and other metal goods ended up in the collections of the Church. By the time of Charlemagne, the loss of all the remaining loot led in part to the development of proper feudalism... as the only remaining wealth was land...

Jerrica Benton said...

@Neo Tuxedo

Let me be plain, then. While I think JMG's theories are sound, they remain theory.

When men talk openly about "why not commit rape and slaughter", you are hurting people in the real world, right now. Now for myself, I'm a big ugly girl, and I'm ready and willing to do whatever it takes to remain safe in my person. Many women are not, and I say that if the veneer of civilization is this thin, if not getting the toy of the moment is reason enough to act like an animal, then there is no reason to hope that humanity survives at all.

I'm really very sorry that we wont be getting starships, space colonies, and all the answers of creation. Really, I'd like nothing better than to be a starship Captain right out of Star Trek. But - if the options are "give me my tech toys now, or I'll rape and pillage", then you were never men at all.

Candace said...

Because what you are talking about frequently gets morphed into justifications of Eugenics. "This cultural group X exhibits these common traits, which are not accepted by the dominant group, therefore we should keep group X from reproducing so we can remove the undesireable traits from our community."

I don't think that's the discussion you are wanting, but it tends to get to that place in pretty short order. It's also useful to remember that differences that exist between groups are very often not useful markers when you look at the overall differences that exist within a group.

The most useful thing I've learned in dealing with different groups is that you can't assume anything. Quite frankly, in my opinion that's all you can really take away from either learning about different learning styles to cultural sensitivity.

Some people will fit into the neatly defined categories and some will completely defy and undermine those categories. Even children born in a paricular family will exhibt a markedly uniform set of traits or a markedly diverse set of traits and you can also see those trait ranges change throughout their life times.

At any rate beware the generalizations you encounter in class and be prepared to chuck them when you actually work with individuals.

jonathan said...

@andropos neb:
re: deflation. you are exactly right. deflation is only a problem in a debt based economy. in the current environment, with debt at all levels astronomical, any prolonged period of price deflation will be fatal. with debt approaching 300% of gdp, japan is likely to show the effects first.

onething said...


Since SLClaire so appreciated your phrase from a week or two back --
"It's when we wake up to the fact that life is a process of ripening toward death, that death is not the opposite of life but its fulfillment,"

I think I should let you know that a couple of weeks ago, on my very last day of work (I'll get to that a bit later) I happened to be handing over a patient who was probably going to die in an hour or so to a very new nurse who had not yet seen death, and I used that phrase to bolster her.

While we're praising phrases, kudos to whomever said upthread that the the history of the United States could be seen as one long real estate development project. That really gave me a chuckle.

John Naylor said...

To my mind, it's common sense that hoarding wealth attracts robbers, and you don't even have to look to history to find it. All you need is a couple conversations with a police officer or a former criminal to invalidate assumptions that a middle-aged number cruncher might hold dear.

One of the most attractive targets for armed robbery in modern America are drug dealers. This is especially true for at the low levels, where the connections required for laundering money through "the system" are not available. In contrast to the average person, who carries credit cards and a few bills, a drug dealer carries lots of cash and for obvious reasons is loathe to report robberies to the police. Being part of a gang is a strategy to keep safe from this, but then there are rival gangs...

The illicit world also offers examples of bartering. When police raid a dealer's house, they often find items of barter that a desperate addict gave up for one more hit: Leather jackets, knives, guns, jewellery, etc. The dealer doesn't need any more of these things, but can be convinced to accept them by customers they know, especially if they have long-standing relationships.

Neo Tuxedo said...

Andropos Nebulus skrev:

the 50 years between the Civil War and WWI saw, when averaged out, the greatest growth in per-capita living standard in US history

Speaking as one of the people who give the late 1800's, and for that matter the period since 1980, "all the guff", I feel a Great Need (TM) to point out that, when averaged out, the period since 1980 has also seen great per-capita growth; it's just that, as William Gibson said of the future that he considers to be already here, it's not evenly distributed. Kind of like how, the poorer you were before the 2008 election, the less benefit you've gotten from the alleged economic recovery since then. Or like the joke about "Bill Gates walks into a bar. Averaged out per capita, everyone in the room is now a millionaire."

Ahavah said...

@Eric S

You may be underestimating your ability to affect future generations. When I was a young girl, my great grandparents home did not yet have running water. I remember some of the things the women used to do when my grandparents would take my sister and I there every summer when it was time for my grandfather to help his father on the farm. Later when I was older, my grandmother did things in her more modern home that I remember vaguely now and those have actually been a useful basis for my own experimenting, even though my mother certainly was not interested in living that way and at the time it never crossed my mind I would ever need any such knowledge.

Today I do what I can, and lately have begun saving seeds. My kids, not yet married, may think this is somnething they will not need to know, that and lots of other things, but I make sure I talk to them and explain what I am doing anyway. Years from now, they may not remember exactly how, but at least they will know there is a process, and have a vague idea of it that they can build on.

Even if you don't persdonally have kids, you can learn something and pass it on to someone: A demonstration at a neighborhood center, a religious community, or even volunteer for a local nonprofit. This way you are planting seeds, so to speak. Very few may grow, somne may lie dormant for a long while, some may die.

But one thing is certain, none can grow if you never plant any.

And it is not entirely altruistic. Comments to the effect of why try or why not just rape and pillage instead of trying are emotionally and spiritually unhealthy for your own life. Hopelessness isn't going to help anyone, either, least of all yourself. So don't think of it as being for some kid decades from now. It is for your own good, even if nothing else ever comes of it. But don't discount your own efforts so much. You never know what might happen when you're not looking.

Chris G said...

Some further reflections pertaining to money, gold, and its meaning and epoch in history:
Mining was very important to the Romans.  The worst slave jobs were mining jobs by far.  Mining is also the beginning of the end for sustainable human ecology.  But why gold?  Besides its practical utility - fungible, durable, imprintable - more importantly, it was scarce - like the things it would be traded for - and most importantly, it looked like light, and life comes from light.  It looks like a solidified drop of light-life.  It seems a stop-over on the long slow entropic death of the universe (the One Great Person.) Gold is solid, heavy, earthy, like our bodies; but shines and gives joy to those who behold it, like the sun.

 But in Imperial terms, gold facilitates trade, and that makes the whole imperial wealth pump do its pumping. . That's the real key about money - although I'm delighted by the recognition of money as the primary intermediary and I love how you've approached the subject in connection with the last two blog entries.  The facilitation of international trade, as well as intermediation, are what makes money averse to a sustainable human ecology.  It facilitates trade between cities or states or nations, and the development of unsustainable over-production or over-consumption bubbles.  It facilitates incredible exploitation of resources, including whole communities of people and it is founded upon incessant warfare - hardly something conducive to the long-lasting seres of human ecology.

Now there's something about Light, the source of all life, as well as the presence of Death in all time periods, and mankind's struggle against death; and then gold's facilitation of trade - as well as facilitation of intermediation, including philosophers! - and the flowering of limitless desires in a limited world...  Gold for silks, spices, teas, artworks, slaves, women, the leisure to conduct the barbarism of reflection... what have you...

Then there's a whole 'nother level of metaphysics when we came to find a new source of light deep under the ground - and it doesn't just look like light, it acts like light too... and it's black as empty space, not solid (though durable), and not imprintable with any names - and as apparently plentiful (at first, when bad habits were being trained) as the black African slaves whom it helped to "free" worldwide ... er, that is, help to raise to wage slave status, along with nearly all of the whites.

Gold's rarity and sunlight appearance fits well the imperial hierarchy.  The concept of a king's closer participation in the divine persisted into feudal times - and may have even supported the rise out of the darkest times, as Charlemagne and Arthur and others indicate. Then, in the big break from the feudal age into the modern age - the French Revolution - in the crowning achievement of rationalism (ahem), all were let loose to be as Kings and Queens... and one of the first things that happened was a huge bank grab by the Rothschilds after the English beat Napoleon at Waterloo – not in the form of gold, which isn't rational, but in the form of war bonds.  Essentially, Rothschild was simultaneously buying up people's war bonds on the cheap while people expected the English to lose, and relaying messages about the status of the conflict. An old example of insider trading – probably not possible with gold.

I think gold is a token of the first flowering of consciousness.  These are very primal, very deep-rooted habits of thought going on subconsciously.  I think only something like a worldwide calamity and the kind of memory it would imprint on the collective subconscious would be able to break the attraction of gold, of ideas of empire building, and the limitlessness of desires to transcend death.

It's a whole 'nother matter again to find a way to get people to worship compost. :)  In terms of longevity, durability of human cultures, a much superior object of worship than either gold or oil.

John Michael Greer said...

Rita, most interesting. That was also the case in Europe before the modern period -- gold had a massive metaphysical dimension. Brides didn't wear white back then, either!

DASK, thanks for the clarification.

Trog, that's true -- I was simply recalling, with some pleasure, the fate of the last TV I ever owned. It was a portable, thus easy to haul out onto the fire escape and drop straight into the dumpster.

Salus Populi, I have indeed read James -- glad to hear from someone else who has. Of course values are primary and provide the frame within which facts take their meaning; to my mind, though, the distinction still matters, since drawing the distinction can make it easier for people who disagree on values to come to agreement over facts as facts.

Russell, oh, granted, not being there is the best defense. Still, not everyone will have that option.

Richard, er, one ounce of gold is currently worth less than $1200. Even if it doubles or triples in price -- and it's purely an act of faith that it'll do even that much -- that won't get you one acre, much less forty. I hope you have a plan B!

Kyoto, of course it's necessary to participate to some extent in the money economy now -- the system is set up to make a refusal to participate all but impossible. What I'm suggesting is that downshifting that involvement as much as you can, and meeting as many of your own needs as possible via non-money exchanges or your own labor, is a way to start extracting yourself from a system that's rigged to rip you off.

Donalfagan, that's basically already happening in the US -- a lot of municipalities are trying to balance their budgets by having the police seize property and impose random fines on those who don't have the political clout to stir up trouble. Expect more of that as we proceed.

DaShui, that doesn't surprise me at all.

Wolfgang, interesting. That was done well into the Middle Ages in Europe; there was very little money, but people kept track of certain exchanges in terms of a notional currency, and when an imbalance built up, it could be settled by an exchange in kind that was valued at the right amount according to just price theory.

Matthew, fascinating. Can you point me to a source for that, while I break out my old volume of Bran Mak Morn stories>? ;-)

Wolfgang, thanks for the details!

John Michael Greer said...

Eric, I'll be addressing all those issues next week. As for shillings, there were very few of them actually in circulation -- as I noted to Wolfgang Brinck above, when people in the Middle Ages did in-kind exchanges, the notional value in currency according to just price theory was used as a convenient measure of value, even though it was very rare for currency to change hands.

Neo, the thought of Aleister Crowley as a model for curbing one's ego ("masculine" or otherwise) makes my head spin.

Eric, that's an excellent quote -- well, almost anything from Berry is worth a few sessions of meditation at least.

RPC, nicely summarized. Thanks for the link!

Mettrodome, mostly because a lot of people want to use the idea of inheritance of mental characteristics in a pejorative sense, in the service of our culture's pervasive fantasies of ethnic superiority. Whatever your physical inheritance might be, you can usually improve your strength, stamina, dexterity, etc. by appropriate training and practice, to the extent that the original physical endowment is less important than what you do with it. The same is emphatically true with one's mental endowment -- what you're born with is far less important than how you develop it.

Bob, I saw that. Yes, it's a very helpful measure of decline. We might call it the "Only One Wrench" measurement...

Andropos, sure, when leveled out -- that's because it was an economic moonscape of soaring bubbles and catastrophic crashes, which saw the longest single depression in American history. Now of course you're right that deflation is no more inherently evil than inflation -- it simply distributes the pain differently -- but it's by no means Utopian, either, not least because wages tend to fall faster than prices. Marx had some useful comments on deflationary economics, which might be worth considering in this context.

The point that I was making, though, is that many of the countries who might be interested in imposing a new currency regime have their own national, corporate, and private debts to service, and going on a gold standard (with the resulting deflation) would make that all but impossible, pitching them into economic crisis. That's why I said they'd be crazy to launch a gold-backed currency; in their current economic situation, they need the printing press to maintain social stability, though not as much as the US does.

Bogatyr, thanks for the link.

Marcello, thanks for the correction. Here in the US, star forts were reworked in various ways to handle infantry assaults and the like, and they were also done very cheaply -- the fort here in Cumberland, for example, combined earthworks and timber palisades; here's a couple of images. My guess is that something like that might be the early form, with new patterns emerging over time as deindustrial warfare evolves.

Atilio, good. Krishnamurti's usually spot on.

Brian, thanks for the details!

John Michael Greer said...

Avalterra, expectations are usually a generation or so behind realities. That's why people are still going to universities in the US today, even though they'll never recover financially from the economic burden of paying inflated tuition prices and interest. In the same way, warlords seize gold because everything they've ever learned says that gold is really, really valuable -- it's only in retrospect that the idea that treasure really ought to be left in the ground, or on the bottom of the Rhine, sinks in.

Val, you're right that a dark age isn't actually that much worse than a decaying imperial civilization. One way or another, the arts take a beating -- though there can be exceptions. If you don't fancy a monastic lifestyle, you may want to make sure to add some practical crafts to your skill set.

Rita not from India, I've seen the same thing repeatedly -- I once had a libertarian insist to me that Attila the Hun was a socialist, for example. It's a sign of just how little of a historical sense survives the pressures of dogmatic ideology.

James, thanks for the tip! I'll put it on the to-read list.

Onething, glad to be of help. I used to work in nursing homes, and have had the experience of taking someone's vital signs as those dropped to zero, so I can empathize both with you and with your coworker.

John, thanks for the data! That makes perfect sense.

Chris, I wonder what'll happen in the deindustrial future, when the accessible gold mines are played out and what veins of ore remain are so far beneath the surface and/or so poor in quality that, lacking fossil fuels and the technology that depends on them, it no longer makes any economic sense to mine and smelt them. When the gold we have is all the gold that humanity will ever get to play with, what then?

Rita Narayanan said...

Dear JMG it boggles my mind as to how much time and care you take to read all our messages and answer with such care...including the *two Rita's* :),so thank you very much for your efforts/knowledge and wisdom.

Bill Pulliam said...

Just a little tidbit about money, from the now-classic 1982 ZBS radio drama "Ruby: The Adventures of a Galactic Gumshoe." The Android Sisters explain money:!/s/The+Android+Sisters+Money/

If that link does not work for you, just google "android sisters money" and you should find something that does.

Wow, was that really 32 years ago???

"Do YOU exist, Ruby?"

Bogatyr said...

As always, the conversation in the comments is fascinating. So many intelligent, diverse voices, coming from so many different places (both geographically and intellectually).

If I ever get time, I'm going to have to re-read the comment thred from the start to remember why the topic of star forts is getting so much mileage, though. It seems to me that these are purely military, and not really useful for the defence of civilian communities. I simply can't see artillery being a problem except in a few rare cases: it's just too dependent on complex systems to manufacture, maintain, and move - and that's true of artillery of any era.

For defensive purposes, I think far more appropriate systems are European-style walled towns, Hakka tulou, or Chechen auls, all of which were successfully used defensively well into the era of firearms.

To my mind, Jim R. has it right: "my conclusion is that you need to clan-up and form communities. Whether you're part of a roving band, or a more stationary one, the obvious advantage is in numbers." And start building walls, perhaps!

Totara said...


You rightly raise the matter that owning gold can make one a target of the hungry hordes. But I am not sure that archaeological evidence of burned villas is necessarily a reliable indication that gold ownership was an overall disadvantage to the lives of the wealthy few who held coins.

Ian Morris raises the point in his book War! What is it Good For that anthopologists estimate the rate of violent death amongst ancient people to be 10-20%, compared with only 1-2% during the 20th century (and that includes two World Wars amongst many other horrors). A smaller version of his thinking can be found in his article The Evolution of War. Yes, I realise that he concludes that over the long term mankind is on a road to progress, but his insight into the violent nature of ancient life is worth considering.

So how would gold ownership have changed the odds of violent death? Certainly gold ownership offered no guarantees in ancient times; and it is well worth bearing in mind that only recently when both the Libyan and Ukrainian governments were overthrown, that one of the first acts of the new regimes was to remove the former central banks' gold from the vanquished countries to a new home with the vanquishers.

But for most gold owners of more modest means, I imagine that having a highly tradeable wealth asset would have offered a very real survival advantage.

That note about The Gold of Troy was certainly thought-provoking. Thanks Jeff.

And finally, to anybody who has prevaricated about taking the time to read Debt: The First 5,000 Years it is well worth the trip to your library.

KL Cooke said...

"Truthfully, there are days when the extinction of humanity sounds like a good thing."

I'm noticing more and more of them.

KL Cooke said...

"The fixation on gold is just one example of what happens when a nation descended mostly from crackpots tries to think about economic matters!"

Now that's a classic.

Cherokee Organics said...


Thought that you might like the quote. I wonder whether the Merlin's fate was for similar reasons?

I've got another quote lined up for you tomorrow too which is a fascinating insight in politics. Mate, he's good.

I tell you a really weird story. A few days ago, I went out for dinner and at the same restaurant there was a bikie gang. Now, I'm not sure what this says about either myself or the places I eat, but this was an unusual circumstance and very out of the ordinary for me.

Anyway, what I noticed that was really interesting about the encounter apart from the fact that the gang was really more interested in having some good food and drinks, was that they were in the moment. Not one single person at those tables had their heads buried in a digital device whilst having dinner (not something I'd tolerate either). They were all simply enjoying each others company and having a good time.

They've retained the ability to communicate as a group. Interesting. I reckon that is what binds them.



wiseman said...

And why is it that people cannot migrate ? I think migration will actually go up ten fold when border police disappears.

People have migrated in the worst of times and this time as you yourself say is no different.

And about money let's just agree to disagree. It's been around for thousands of years and I am not about to bet against that.

Tell me about it. I find environmentalists nauseating, telling everyone about the need to 'save the earth'. Most of them (the guys) are actually there for the girls and nothing else.

Last week someone told me about the need to celebrate Earth Hour by turning off the lights. I told him that I celebrate it twice a day everyday (we have scheduled power cuts).

About the gold thing yes you got my hint, it doesn't have to be an either or scenario, would it kill someone to invest 5% of savings into buying a little bit of that or silver or any other precious metal ?

Bruno Bolzon said...

JMG, here's something you might now be aware of: when people hear you refer to the "dark ages", they immediately think that you are referring to the whole middle ages. That is not the case, though: in your view, the "dark ages" are a very specific and recurrent societal condition that happened during a certain part of the middle ages (and not during the whole of it) and also during the collapse of the bronze age, circa 1200bce.
I'm saying this because people might have ran away from "cursed money" during the dark age period of the middle ages, but during the late middle ages money trade became way more common.

Crow Hill said...

life made only of "birth-reproduction-death" is a life of no more "meaning" than the one of an a plant.
I sympathize with your search for meaning. If you feel the life of a plant has no meaning I encourage you to look into the biology of the plant (high-tech stuff ) to see how sophisticated it is. The plant may not have the same form of consciousness but remember that it has an essential function on Earth in that it provides the primary source of fuel animals like us need to exist: oxygen

A quote to feel ok about our fleeting individual livesfrom the trailer of the film Interstellar: We must reach beyond our own lifespans. We must think not as individuals, but as species. We must confront the reality of interstellar travel (replace "interstellar travel" with "life on Earth".)

Sleisz Ádám said...

Thanks for this post, Archdruid!

About two years ago, the employer office of my mother ceased to exist. She could not find another job. Our family bought two goats then, we look after them and milk them regularly. My mother makes dairy products, cheese, yoghurt, sour cream and the like. Very nice and healthy food.

The problem is that other members of the family - even myself - make much more money than her this way. She insists on selling the surplus products for money because of the prestige. I really think that her job is more important than mine but if one only sees the measurement of money, then it becomes embarrassing... It is not easy for her to leave this kind of habits behind. The "solution" will probably arrive when the others leave the money economy, too.

trippticket said...

Been reading every week but not commenting lately, mostly because the existing dialogue here is always so top shelf without my 2 cents. This week's post, however, hits so close to home that I think I'll chime in!

We've lived a very primitive life for the last 3 years, mostly to see first-hand and personally what we could live without full-time, and what technologies we really want to have back in our domestic arsenal. (In a nutshell, electric light, more fans, a small fridge, and a way to charge our batteries at home - 250 watts of PV solar should be ample).

The part of my comment that's germane to this week's post, though, is that, in the process of adopting the 12 watt life we've lead since spring '12, we've arguably joined a different social class than our middle class friends, ESPECIALLY MENTALLY, even the ones who claim to be dedicated to "sustainability." In general, they believe that they can keep their current lifestyle as long as they substitute "green" technologies for "brown" ones, and we don't. We field a lot of questions along the lines of "how does having propane service fit your ethic?" Well, because we understand that using high quality energy directly, and sparingly, in your 480 s.f. cottage built of recycled components is a more adaptive response to the future than installing a 5kW solar array on the roof of your 2000 s.f. SIP "green" house. The latter approach is hoarding richly imperialist tidbits for the future, and the prior is adapting to the emerging realities of human ecology. One requires guns and deadbolts and the other doesn't.

Having books to loan out and organic gardening knowledge to share doesn't usually incite violence in times of decline. Having gold and ammunition does. Gold and guns are a lot easier to steal than fruit trees and compost. Both approaches initiate positive feedback loops, but one sure seems a lot more positive than the other to me! ;)

But rest assured that most of your friends will not understand! Weirdo.

Thanks for everything you do, JMG.
Tripp out.

peacegarden said...

@ dfr2010

Thank you for my first belly laugh this morning! The spinning can be done on a hand held device…I believe that is what our Archdruid was suggesting.

I like your early investments…food and the means to encourage fertility.



peacegarden said...

@ Dammerung

Hope you at least use some of your money to buy a good garden cart…just in case we go Argentinian! That will possibly carry enough to buy a loaf of bread.



anton mett said...

Yes, I agree the idea does lend itself to putting negative connotations on a group. In fact I was nervous about even putting in examples as it may seem racist. And I fully agree that at least in my experience, it has been easier to change my mind than my body, but I fear that most of the people who have done research into the matter are in the same boat as you and I. This may be a case of "victors write history," or more to the point, get research grants and write in medical and education journals. There aren't many scholarly articles written by people with disorders that haven't been able to cope.
The reason I think genetics as a contributor to culture may be an important idea is what you allude to in your comment. We are a nation built out of immigrants who could not fit in with their own culture. This misanthropic tendency has been set into our genetics. The other reason this may be important is that we are a land without a common DNA. While this has allowed for great innovation, it has also led to a land where we find it difficult to relate to one another and create common culture. I think this may be a factor in why we have the largest prison population in the world.

Marcello said...

"Descline? This from AOL -
Hagel to Order Overhaul of U.S. Nuclear Force"

The most important part of American nuclear deterrent are the Ohio class submarines. The land based ICBM have their uses but one of them is providing sacrificial tokens for arms control treaties. So that they would alredy be receiving less than perfect care is not surprising.

peacegarden said...

@ Eric S.

Thank you for the Wendell Berry quote…he is one of my favorite writers. So inspiring, yet down to earth.



David said...

The transition to a gift economy will take some getting used to. I just had an experience earlier today while out on a walk through town. I happened by the house of a couple I had met in late summer and with whom I'd had an extended conversation re in-town homesteading (sparked in part by the chicken coop he was building at the time). I had given them two pints of homebrew on a later occasion. So today as I walked up, he said "we were just talking about you...let me get you some eggs" and I found myself with a dozen fresh eggs quite out of the blue. My first thought was that I had nothing to give in return, but I was told that I had given them beer before, so it was all fine. Not having a direct exchange of immediate value was strange. Instead you give gifts as you can and receive gifts as they are given, asynchronously. Quite jolting to one who is otherwise immersed in a market economy.

Crow Hill said...

A propos gold, rich people and hoarding in Thomas More’s Utopia (translation Paul Turner).

Gold: Nor can they (the Utopians) understand why a totally useless substance like gold should now, all over the world, be considered far more important than human beings…

Rich people: But what puzzles and disgusts the Utopians even more is the idiotic way some people have of practically worshipping a rich man, not because they owe him money or are otherwise in his power, but simply because he’s rich – although they know perfectly well that he’s far too mean to let a single penny come their way, so long as he’s alive to stop it.

Hoarding: (There’s a type of psychopath who) buries his gold, so that he’ll never be able to use it, and may never even see it again. …But suppose the money is stolen, and ten years later he dies without ever knowing it has gone. Then for a whole ten years he has managed to survive his loss, and during that period what difference has it made to him whether the money was there or not?

Marcello said...

"Bogatyr said...

I simply can't see artillery being a problem except in a few rare cases: it's just too dependent on complex systems to manufacture, maintain, and move - and that's true of artillery of any era.[...]For defensive purposes, I think far more appropriate systems are European-style walled towns, Hakka tulou, or Chechen auls, all of which were successfully used defensively well into the era of firearms."

Well it is fairly likely that no band of small thieves will show up at your farm door with a twenty four pounder. You will however end up paying your tribute to whatever big, titled thief that can deploy some of them.
While there is no guarantee that the technology will survive casting a small-medium smoothbore piece is not quite landing on the moon and it is going to pay big dividend for anybody in the war business. Medieval style walled towns and castles can be brought down quickly and efficiently compared to pre-gunpowder methods.
Nor the benefits stop here.
The Caucasus tribes were brought down to heel from 1817 onwards in no small part because of Russian artillery. Likewise the locals were able to win some battles thanks to captured guns, deserters and locally manufactured ammunition. Note also that artillery pieces, including rifled muzzle loaders, were manufactured in Afghanistan in the 19th century, which was not, shall we say, one of the wealthiest or most sophisticated states of the era.

jean-vivien said...

Hi John,
as we were discussing last week, there is an increasing numbers of rationalizing articles on Reuters lately... This one is casually talking about Google Glass in terms of a forelorn religious cult :

This may just be a gimmick, but seeing it casually used by Reuters is quite a sign to me that mentalities are changing. Even if it leads to no particular course of action, at least lucidity is starting to creep back in.

Ray Wharton said...

Being able to store wealth is one of the tricky problems for life in general. The more useful what you are storing is, the less its is inclined to stay stored away. Hiding calories in our fat layers, food our of reach of bears, all the way up the stairs of sophistication to cyber security protecting hedge funds.

Finding things where you left them is one of those little luxuries that we are very accustomed to, if something has stayed where we left it consistently enough it begins to take part in our life and understanding of the world itself.

Storing wealth is completely predicated on some level of this process, and the vast majority of what make it possible is purely social in nature, technology can really only help a little bit, and even then generally in the context of a society.

As more people are no longer participating in what even social systems of ownership you belong to the cost of storing wealth becomes onerous. That's what it all boils down to is that it becomes to costly to store wealth, treasury bonds, gold, grandpas tools its all harder to keep hold of in times of disruption.

So prioritize well what you hold onto.

@ JMG & Thomas Daulton

Not that long ago I mentioned working on a post petroleum dark age RPG. It on going but slowly, too few play testers in my FoCo circle. But, researching I have found a few games that handle economics a little better than the old D&D I present Sage of the Icelanders for consideration. (ha the capcha is 'dice')

Phil Harris said...

You wrote: "Avalterra, expectations are usually a generation or so behind realities. That's why people are still going to universities in the US today, even though they'll never recover financially from the economic burden of paying inflated tuition prices and interest."

I can just about imagine a future local seigneur being awarded 'Degrees', robes and caps and all, in intricate ceremonies originally designed for photography, but of course by then no photos. :)

Scottish (sorry, Pictish) DNA: I think Mathew could have been reading the 'Scotsman'


Janet D said...

JMG, who said, " I wonder what'll happen in the deindustrial future, when the accessible gold mines are played out and..... it no longer makes any economic sense to mine and smelt them. When the gold we have is all the gold that humanity will ever get to play with, what then?"

Funny you mention that. I have been watching the PBS Nova "Elements with David Pogue" show with my kids. We just watched the one on gold mining. Holy snot! There is so little gold left that they no longer are able to see if there is gold in the rocks/earth they are mining. It is microscopic. They move 4 tons of earth at a time (into one truck...yes, the truck holds all 4 tons) and, after an UNBELIEVABLE amount of energy-consuming processes, they are able to produce approx. 4 ounces for each 4 tons of earth processed. Yes, it takes one ton of earth (now completely destroyed) to produce one ounce of gold. That is where we are at today, yet you never hear about it.

Makes me wonder what other resources are at that same level of "net return" that we also never hear about.

Neo Tuxedo said...

Crow Hill quotes a line from the album of the soundtrack of the trailer of the film of Christopher Nolan's Interstellar, executive version:

"We must reach beyond our own lifespans. We must think not as individuals, but as [a] species."

As it happens, I just got back from seeing Interstellar, and I recommend it, though I'm not certain I recommend that attitude. As practiced by the characters who practice it in the film, it reminds me of a line from the 1990s Brit-pack incarnation of Steve Ditko's Shade the Changing Man comic, about people who spend so much time looking at the big picture that they forget it's made of a lot of little pictures.

(I also picked up volume 13 of the translated manga Attack on Titan, in which Eren and the Survey Corps begin to face the big question: "Do we continue this endless, futile struggle against unthinking monsters in human shape who will tear us limb from limb, for no reason, with smiles on their faces ...or do we go over the Wall and take our chances with the Titans?")

SLClaire said...

"...there's a reason that Sanloo was an important city in the fictional 25th-century setting of my novel Star's Reach!"

I haven't read the book yet so I didn't know about the future Sanloo's role in it. The book is now on my to-read list.

JML said...

Another excellent analysis of political economy, JMG. Do you really believe that feudal political systems will emerge in most countries after the fall? I think that the democratic revolutions of the late modern period will likely influence the political systems of many societies after the fall. Political science, political philosophy and political economy have shed much light on matters that were previously in the dark.

Chris G said...

@MindfulEcologist - It can be so heartening to know there are others out there working on the same (still indeterminate) process. I'm reminded of some of Goethe's observations about plant growth: the plant puts out roots and stems, leaves and flowers in chaotic directions, in some vain hope that something takes hold. Yes, I think among the best metaphors we can use to shape our consciousness and our actions in this world come from the natural world - not what we make, but what is already actually there. That gives me much hope! Such deep meaning and significance in what is simply a "Given."

@Eric S. said: "It kind of ties into Ervino’s question… I don’t care all that much about technological progress, or metastasizing into outer space. The ecotechnic future you outlined is fine with me. But if that’s going to come about at all, it’s millennia in the future, it’s a distant fantasy… It doesn’t belong to us, and the ancestors of the people who are going to shape that future life far away, come from different cultures, speak different languages.... Those people will find their own way, build their own legacies… We won’t be participating in their economies, and we won’t be the ones creating them either. Why think about them at all if they’re so distant and we have so little power to touch them?"
No matter what, even if we do nothing - enjoy the spectacle (it will be enjoyable or despicable or both, which depends on our perspective) we still must choose. So why not choose to help make the ground of the future sere of human ecology, the future way of human being in the Earth? The one that steps lightly with technology, is grounded in deep understanding of nature's modes of being, metamorphosis, and cycles? I would hazard to guess that at least *something* - just one part per million of what we're doing now - will make it through the gap - and if nothing will, then was it such a big loss to take a shot? I'm reminded of the Wayne Gretzky quote...
I really appreciate Ervino's comment too... sometimes hope opens up behind colossal despair. (There was that scene in Tolkein's trilogy when Frodo was in Shelob's lair (the most ancient darkness).. a darkest moment in the story: he was aided by a very ancient light. I think we have to seek and carry that light.)

JMG - Regarding the exhausted gold mines of the deindustrial future: We might suspect that on the economic terms of the deindustrial future, these massive piles of gold will have passed the mark of diminishing returns and diminishing marginal utility several thousand-fold. You're on to something there: gold may very well then appear to be a mark of the callous disregard for the Earth, a symbol of imperial hubris, a symbol of the stark raving mad fear of death, and of a childish, tempestuous and destructive age of ignorant men.

Thus we may contemplate the future ecotechnic world as both deinsdustrial and significantly progressive.

Redneck Girl said...

@ russel l1200,

I was reserving a thought that RPG rounds might be a concern or any HE for that matter, might be used but that would be while it's available! And I don't believe they'd want to waste expensive ammunition in a nickel and dime fashion on any little farms in the hills and mountains. Besides it makes a lot of noise! (If I were inclined to raid a place I'd want to be as quiet as possible!) Hooded lanterns could be used on high hill tops at night or mirrors during the day to signal neighbors of raiders and the raiders not knowing the area all that well would pay heavily for any deaths or damages. They'd have to travel the road to get anywhere fast and might have no idea about the back trails that could be used to trap them. HE can just as easily be used against them! Or even home made black powder grenades made of baked clay with sharp stone chips or shards of glass baked in or inside with the powder!

As far as 18" of dirt between you and what they can throw at you, short of HE those feed sacks are about that thick or better with the plastering added. Try hefting some of those feed sacks some time! Walls built out of them to housing specifications are really stout! There is an example in the book on earthbag building by Kifmeyer and Hunter where a car hit a wall about 6 to 7 feet tall going 35 mph and it just knocked the plaster off the wall at the impact point! The front end of the car was done! It couldn't be driven away. With the cheap barbed wire between the layers the walls flex a lot but don't come down. I wouldn't be worried about the walls coming down in all but a really big quake, the roof would be more of a concern!

I would conclude by saying that if you 'have stuff' and someone is determined to take it, its counter productive to blow it up trying to take it. An all out assault is more likely!

Love your cat picture btw, I have a very large, flesh and blood one much like it, behind me snoozing away!


Avery said...

@Janet D:

If you want to get the inside scoop (pun intended?) in how we're getting stuff out of the earth to keep our incredibly complex manufacturing going, check this out: Peak mining & implications for natural resource management

This is a real eye-opener -- the Roman ruina montinum was nothing compared to what we are doing to find the last stores of valuable minerals on the entire planet.

Bogatyr said...

Marcello, I said that artillery is "just too dependent on complex systems to manufacture, maintain, and move - and that's true of artillery of any era". It may well be that Afghan tribesmen hand-crafted artillery, but I suspect few people outside contemporary Afghanistan know how to do it today - and those few are likely to have more pressing concerns.

Even then, that only addresses the first of my three points. Take a few minutes to watch this: King's Troop Royal Horse Artillery move into Woolwich Garrison.

It's an impressive sight - until you count the actual number of guns, and consider the number of horses that are needed, the amount of harness and other equipment those horses require, the years of training and constant stabling and feeding that's in the background, and the training and supply of armed men needed to defend the guns in action. Then you need the vast supply of replacement horses, men and material needed to replace losses...

The Russian army in the Caucasus in 1817 had all those things. I don't think anyone is likely to be able to develop systems of this complexity during a time of collapse.

As you say, "it is fairly likely that no band of small thieves will show up at your farm door with a twenty four pounder". It would be a waste of time and effort to build star forts on the off chance that an army will turn up. Walls, tulous or auls are much better investments, given the more realistic problems.

Phil Harris said...

@Janet D
You wrote: "
Makes me wonder what other resources are at that same level of "net return" that we also never hear about."

The short answer is "quite a few".

As you suggest, running harder just to stay where we are gets harder and harder. Ugo Bardi along with some good contributors has a recent good book : Extracted".


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