Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Era of Response

The third stage of the process of collapse, following what I’ve called the eras of pretense and impact, is the era of response. It’s easy to misunderstand what this involves, because both of the previous eras have their own kinds of response to whatever is driving the collapse; it’s just that those kinds of response are more precisely nonresponses, attempts to make the crisis go away without addressing any of the things that are making it happen.

If you want a first-rate example of the standard nonresponse of the era of pretense, you’ll find one in the sunny streets of Miami, Florida right now. As a result of global climate change, sea level has gone up and the Gulf Stream has slowed down. One consequence is that these days, whenever Miami gets a high tide combined with a stiff onshore wind, salt water comes boiling up through the storm sewers of the city all over the low-lying parts of town. The response of the Florida state government has been to ssue an order to all state employees that they’re not allowed to utter the phrase “climate change.”

That sort of thing is standard practice in an astonishing range of subjects in America these days. Consider the roles that the essentially nonexistent recovery from the housing-bubble crash of 2008-9 has played in political rhetoric since that time. The current inmate of the White House has been insisting through most of two turns that happy days are here again, and the usual reams of doctored statistics have been churned out in an effort to convince people who know better that they’re just imagining that something is wrong with the economy. We can expect to hear that same claim made in increasingly loud and confident tones right up until the day the bottom finally drops out. 

With the end of the era of pretense and the arrival of the era of impact comes a distinct shift in the standard mode of nonresponse, which can be used quite neatly to time the transition from one era to another. Where the nonresponses of the era of pretense insist that there’s nothing wrong and nobody has to do anything outside the realm of business as usual, the nonresponses of the era of impact claim just as forcefully that whatever’s gone wrong is a temporary difficulty and everything will be fine if we all unite to do even more of whatever activity defines business as usual. That this normally amounts to doing more of whatever made the crisis happen in the first place, and thus reliably makes things worse is just one of the little ironies history has to offer.

What unites the era of pretense with the era of impact is the unshaken belief that in the final analysis, there’s nothing essentially wrong with the existing order of things. Whatever little difficulties may show up from time to time may be ignored as irrelevant or talked out of existence, or they may have to be shoved aside by some concerted effort, but it’s inconceivable to most people in these two eras that the existing order of things is itself the source of society’s problems, and has to be changed in some way that goes beyond the cosmetic dimension. When the inconceivable becomes inescapable, in turn, the second phase gives way to the third, and the era of response has arrived.

This doesn’t mean that everyone comes to grips with the real issues, and buckles down to the hard work that will be needed to rebuild society on a sounder footing. Winston Churchill once noted with his customary wry humor that the American people can be counted on to do the right thing, once they have exhausted every other possibility. He was of course quite correct, but the same rule can be applied with equal validity to every other nation this side of Utopia, too. The era of response, in practice, generally consists of a desperate attempt to find something that will solve the crisis du jour, other than the one thing that everyone knows will solve the crisis du jour but nobody wants to do.

Let’s return to the two examples we’ve been following so far, the outbreak of the Great Depression and the coming of the French Revolution. In the aftermath of the 1929 stock market crash, once the initial impact was over and the “sucker’s rally” of early 1930 had come and gone, the federal government and the various power centers and pressure groups that struggled for influence within its capacious frame were united in pursuit of a single goal: finding a way to restore prosperity without doing either of the things that had to be done in order to restore prosperity.  That task occupied the best minds in the US elite from the summer of 1930 straight through until April of 1933, and the mere fact that their attempts to accomplish this impossibility proved to be a wretched failure shouldn’t blind anyone to the Herculean efforts that were involved in the attempt.

The first of the two things that had to be tackled in order to restore prosperity was to do something about the drastic imbalance in the distribution of income in the United States. As noted in previous posts, an economy dependent on consumer expenditures can’t thrive unless consumers have plenty of money to spend, and in the United States in the late 1920s, they didn’t—well, except for the very modest number of those who belonged to the narrow circles of the well-to-do. It’s not often recalled these days just how ghastly the slums of urban America were in 1929, or how many rural Americans lived in squalid one-room shacks of the sort you pretty much have to travel to the Third World to see these days. Labor unions and strikes were illegal in 1920s America; concepts such as a minimum wage, sick pay, and health benefits didn’t exist, and the legal system was slanted savagely against the poor.

You can’t build prosperity in a consumer society when a good half of your citizenry can’t afford more than the basic necessities of life. That’s the predicament that America found clamped to the tender parts of its economic anatomy at the end of the 1920s. In that decade, as in our time, the temporary solution was to inflate a vast speculative bubble, under the endearing delusion that this would flood the economy with enough unearned cash to make the lack of earned income moot. That worked over the short term and then blew up spectacularly, since a speculative bubble is simply a Ponzi scheme that the legal authorities refuse to prosecute as such, and inevitably ends the same way.

There were, of course, effective solutions to the problem of inadequate consumer income. They were exactly those measures that were taken once the era of response gave way to the era of breakdown; everyone knew what they were, and nobody with access to political or economic power was willing to see them put into effect, because those measures would require a modest decline in the relative wealth and political dominance of the rich as compared to everyone else. Thus, as usually happens, they were postponed until the arrival of the era of breakdown made it impossible to avoid them any longer.

The second thing that had to be changed in order to restore prosperity was even more explosive, and I’m quite certain that some of my readers will screech like banshees the moment I mention it. The United States in 1929 had a precious metal-backed currency in the most literal sense of the term. Paper bills in those days were quite literally receipts for a certain quantity of gold—1.5 grams, for much of the time the US spent on the gold standard. That sort of arrangement was standard in most of the world’s industrial nations; it was backed by a dogmatic orthodoxy all but universal among respectable economists; and it was strangling the US economy.

It’s fashionable among certain sects on the economic fringes these days to look back on the era of the gold standard as a kind of economic Utopia in which there were no booms and busts, just a warm sunny landscape of stability and prosperity until the wicked witches of the Federal Reserve came along and spoiled it all. That claim flies in the face of economic history. During the entire period that the United States was on the gold standard, from 1873 to 1933, the US economy was a moonscape cratered by more than a dozen significant depressions. There’s a reason for that, and it’s relevant to our current situation—in a backhanded manner, admittedly.

Money, let us please remember, is not wealth. It’s a system of arbitrary tokens that represent real wealth—that is, actual, nonfinancial goods and services. Every society produces a certain amount of real wealth each year, and those societies that use money thus need to have enough money in circulation to more or less correspond to the annual supply of real wealth. That sounds simple; in practice, though, it’s anything but. Nowadays, for example, the amount of real wealth being produced in the United States each year is contracting steadily as more and more of the nation’s economic output has to be diverted into the task of keeping it supplied with fossil fuels. That’s happening, in turn, because of the limits to growth—the awkward but inescapable reality that you can’t extract infinite resources, or dump limitless wastes, on a finite planet.

The gimmick currently being used to keep fossil fuel extraction funded and cover the costs of the rising impact of environmental disruptions, without cutting into a culture of extravagance that only cheap abundant fossil fuel and a mostly intact biosphere can support, is to increase the money supply ad infinitum. That’s become the bedrock of US economic policy since the 2008-9 crash. It’s not a gimmick with a long shelf life; as the mismatch between real wealth and the money supply balloons, distortions and discontinuities are surging out through the crawlspaces of our economic life, and crisis is the most likely outcome.

In the United States in the first half or so of the twentieth century, by contrast, the amount of real wealth being produced each year soared, largely because of the steady increases in fossil fuel energy being applied to every sphere of life. While the nation was on the gold standard, though, the total supply of money could only grow as fast as gold could be mined out of the ground, which wasn’t even close to fast enough. So you had more goods and services being produced than there was money to pay for them; people who wanted goods and services couldn’t buy them because there wasn’t enough money to go around; business that wanted to expand and hire workers were unable to do so for the same reason. The result was that moonscape of economic disasters I mentioned a moment ago.

The necessary response at that time was to go off the gold standard. Nobody in power wanted to do this, partly because of the dogmatic economic orthodoxy noted earlier, and partly because a money shortage paid substantial benefits to those who had guaranteed access to money. The rentier class—those people who lived off income from their investments—could count on stable or falling prices as long as the gold standard stayed in place, and the mere fact that the same stable or falling prices meant low wages, massive unemployment, and widespread destitution troubled them not at all. Since the rentier class included the vast majority of the US economic and political elite, in turn, going off the gold standard was unthinkable until it became unavoidable.

The period of the French revolution from the fall of the Bastille in 1789 to the election of the National Convention in 1792 was a period of the same kind, though driven by different forces. Here the great problem was how to replace the Old Regime—not just the French monarchy, but the entire lumbering mass of political, economic, and social laws, customs, forms, and institutions that France had inherited from the Middle Ages and never quite gotten around to adapting to drastically changed conditions—with something that would actually work. It’s among the more interesting features of the resulting era of response that nearly every detail differed from the American example just outlined, and yet the results were remarkably similar.

Thus the leaders of the National Assembly who suddenly became the new rulers of France in the summer of 1789 had no desire whatsoever to retain the traditional economic arrangements that gave France’s former elites their stranglehold on an oversized share of the nation’s wealth. The abolition of manorial rights that summer, together with the explosive rural uprisingsagainst feudal landlords and their chateaux in the wake of the Bastille’s fall, gutted the feudal system and left most of its former beneficiaries the choice between fleeing into exile and trying to find some way to make ends meet in a society that had no particular market for used aristocrats. The problem faced by the National Assembly wasn’t that of prying the dead fingers of a failed system off the nation’s throat; it was that of trying to find some other basis for national unity and effective government.

It’s a surprisingly difficult challenge. Those of my readers who know their way around current events will already have guessed that an attempt was made to establish a copy of whatever system was most fashionable among liberals at the time, and that this attempt turned out to be an abject failure. What’s more, they’ll have been quite correct. The National Assembly moved to establish a constitutional monarchy along British lines, bring in British economic institutions, and the like; it was all very popular among liberal circles in France and, naturally, in Britain as well, and it flopped. Those who recall the outcome of the attempt to turn Iraq into a nice pseudo-American democracy in the wake of the US invasion will have a tolerably good sense of how the project unraveled.

One of the unwelcome but reliable facts of history is that democracy doesn’t transplant well. It thrives only where it grows up naturally, out of the civil institutions and social habits of a people; when liberal intellectuals try to impose it on a nation that hasn’t evolved the necessary foundations for it, the results are pretty much always a disaster. That latter was the situation in France at the time of the Revolution. What happened thereafter  is what almost always happens to a failed democratic experiment: a period of chaos, followed by the rise of a talented despot who’s smart and ruthless enough to impose order on a chaotic situation and allow new, pragmatic institutions to emerge to replace those destroyed by clueless democratic idealists. In many cases, though by no means all, those pragmatic institutions have ended up providing a bridge to a future democracy, but that’s another matter.

Here again, those of my readers who have been paying attention to current events already know this; the collapse of the Soviet Union was followed in classic form by a failed democracy, a period of chaos, and the rise of a talented despot. It’s a curious detail of history that the despots in question are often rather short. Russia has had the great good fortune to find, as its despot du jour, a canny realist who has successfully brought it back from the brink of collapse and reestablished it as a major power with a body count considerably smaller than usual.. France was rather less fortunate; the despot it found, Napoleon Bonaparte, turned out to be a megalomaniac with an Alexander the Great complex who proceeded to plunge Europe into a quarter century of cataclysmic war. Mind you, things could have been even worse; when Germany ended up in a similar situation, what it got was Adolf Hitler.

Charismatic strongmen are a standard endpoint for the era of response, but they properly belong to the era that follows, the era of breakdown, which will be discussed next week. What I want to explore here is how an era of response might work out in the future immediately before us, as the United States topples from its increasingly unsteady imperial perch and industrial civilization as a whole slams facefirst into the limits to growth. The examples just cited outline the two most common patterns by which the era of response works itself out. In the first pattern, the old elite retains its grip on power, and fumbles around with increasing desperation for a response to the crisis. In the second, the old elite is shoved aside, and the new holders of power are left floundering in a political vacuum.

We could see either pattern in the United States. For what it’s worth, I suspect the latter is the more likely option; the spreading crisis of legitimacy that grips the country these days is exactly the sort of thing you saw in France before the Revolution, and in any number of other countries in the few decades just prior to revolutionary political and social change. Every time a government tries to cope with a crisis by claiming that it doesn’t exist, every time some member of the well-to-do tries to dismiss the collective burdens its culture of executive kleptocracy imposes on the country by flinging abuse at critics, every time institutions that claim to uphold the rule of law defend the rule of entrenched privilege instead, the United States takes another step closer to the revolutionary abyss.

I use that last word advisedly. It’s a common superstition in every troubled age that any change must be for the better—that the overthrow of a bad system must by definition lead to the establishment of a better one. This simply isn’t true. The vast majority of revolutions have established governments that were far more abusive than the ones they replaced. The exceptions have generally been those that brought about a social upheaval without wrecking the political system: where, for example, an election rather than a coup d’etat or a mass rising put the revolutionaries in power, and the political institutions of an earlier time remained in place with only such reshaping as new necessities required.

We could still see that sort of transformation as the United States sees the end of its age of empire and has to find its way back to a less arrogant and extravagant way of functioning in the world. I don’t think it’s likely, but I think it’s possible, and it would probably be a good deal less destructive than the other alternative. It’s worth remembering, though, that history is under no obligation to give us the future we think we want.


Pinku-Sensei said...

"[T]he spreading crisis of legitimacy that grips the country these days is exactly the sort of thing you saw in France before the Revolution, and in any number of other countries in the few decades just prior to revolutionary political and social change. Every time a government tries to cope with a crisis by claiming that it doesn’t exist, every time some member of the well-to-do tries to dismiss the collective burdens its culture of executive kleptocracy imposes on the country by flinging abuse at critics, every time institutions that claim to uphold the rule of law defend the rule of entrenched privilege instead, the United States takes another step closer to the revolutionary abyss."

You aren't alone in thinking that. Intelligence expert Robert Steele had the following to say in a post yesterday on The Public Intelligence Blog: "From the perspective of a long-time intelligence professional – a former spy who helped create the Marine Corps Intelligence Center and spent 20 years as a CEO pioneering commercial intelligence – not only do most of the preconditions for revolution exist in America right now, but the federal government seems determined to ignore realities across the board."

He then referred to a graph listing the preconditions for revolution; the ones that currently prevail in the U.S. were printed in red. Of the 45 cells in the table, 33 were completely red and five were half red, leaving only seven that did not completely or partly signal impending revolution.

On another topic you raised, the nature of money in relation to the U.S. going off the gold standard, I have two links to share with you, both of them about money as a legal institution, which includes the idea that money doesn't really exist without taxation or its equivalent. The first, a scholarly paper, also addresses fiat money as a solution to money creation under circumstances where commodity money, such as the gold or silver standard, fails.

The second is a blog post that summarizes and comments on the paper.

Happy reading and don't let the goldbugs bite!

Andy Brown said...

Another fascinating installment. One thing I've found interesting recently in the interviewing that I've been doing - is that the crisis of legitimacy - which is, as you say, in full swing - is in important ways directed at the elites rather than to the institution of representational democracy. There is a persistent and well-defined belief among Americans that they ought to have a government of the people, by the people and for the people. (This is always brought up as an ideal being atrociously violated in practice, of course.) An underlying accompaniment to this article of faith is still rare but has been coming up more often - namely that this form of governance was created through revolution and defended through civil war. There's a script that could play out in any number of interesting ways.

In a related vein, JMG, I picked up a copy of Adbusters for my ride home from a research trip to Kansas City, and was pleased to find your work taking up some of the pages inside. Kudos for that. I think you reach an interesting readership there.

That magazine has always been pretty vehemently anti-consumer-capitalism, but I don't recall it being quite so doomerish in the past.

winingwizzard said...

I am inclined to agree that the 'feeling' among us is one of massive distrust, which is fueled by the incessant lies pouring from TV and MSM. It is possible that the lies will simply get too convoluted and grandiose (approaching that now, perhaps...) until they burst, just like financial bubbles. A media bubble bursting? I don't know, but this seems to be part of what is required for the breakdown.

Another point is that our country was begun as a loosely grouped bunch of confederated zones/states. Outside of a short-lived common heritage, we are a nation of immigrants and have been taught to celebrate diversity of late. There is no one tribe or group that is the center of this country any longer; no one religion, no one deity, no 'one thing' to unite us as a people. In point of fact, the only thing that seems to serve as a focal point is the attainment of the "American Dream", which is based solely on money and is receding towards 'elsewhere' rapidly.

I also see the various groupings of people (urban vs rural, white collar vs blue collar, etc.) only united by reason of common geography. In cities, that is the only unifying factor - common utilities and roads and such. Rural areas have similar points of unity, but seem to be based more on commerce and products - many rural folks have only electricity as a utility.

If we examine the country as a whole, we wind up with the south, the northeast (corridor of power), the Great Lakes area, the central plains, the desert southwest and the west coast - Texas might even be enough to stand on its own, considering they still retain a large group with state pride and identification.

I think that the country as a whole has taxation without representation solely based on population vs congressional headcount. The "corridor of power" stretching from VA to NYC also encompasses the military and financial seats of power. This is so very obvious when one watches the morning news shows, where everything is about the corridor and its goings on, with anecdotal stories about the rest of the planet. It is rare to see anything make the national news, outside of a crises, that is not in their immediate geography.

I think it possible that we might devolve over time into a more manageable grouping of states or even countries, similar to Europe. Fuel costs will limit globalism and thus similarly limit nationalism, in a country currently based on highways in lieu of anything resembling a rail system.

Further, there are ideological divides between north and south and east and west that seem to be exacerbated by the MSM. I know my Texas accent isn't visible on the screen, but when I travel to the northeast or the west coast, I hear the derogatory mutterings in the background quite often. And it is often assumed I am very ignorant and unsophisticated just by virtue of the lilts in my speech.

I think a breakup along lines of mutual comfort and advantage is very possible due to the size of this country, once it is obvious that there is no longer any business as usual. I think this type of evolution might stave off or roll back any "national figure" here in the US - it is hard to maintain unity as it exists today without the meme of Rep/Dem or other artificial means. And more people are awakening to the truth of our existence each year - many of us are simply ignoring things and moving on.

Cherokee Organics said...


Hehe! Yes, a classic nonresponse would be: the meeting to discuss no business at all but merely to be a display of power. What a time waster... I'm pretty certain John Kenneth Galbraith wrote about those wretched things, where much and nothing at all was discussed.

The gold standard was as much an illusion as the current token based system in place. The expansion of the money supply right now at a time of decline in real world wealth is strangling the economic system and producing some very unusual results... Down Under, the government regulator for the banking industry during the past fortnight has told the banks to up the interest rates for housing investor loans by shock, horror 0.1%pa. When I was a wee lad, investor loans regularly fielded a 1% premium over owner occupied mortgages. The property market has gone feral here.

The whole economic thing of today reminds me of nothing more than the equivalent problems faced by a large scale money laundering operation. I've never been involved in such an enterprise and would run a mile from that particular beast because once you are in the jaws of that beast there is no escape. However, the mechanics are fairly simple to understand. Spare a thought for the poor people involved in such a mess:

As a thought exercise imagine having access to mad quantities of cash. What do you do with it? You have to get rid of it without being noticed or making waves, otherwise you get noticed by the authorities or become a target for other unscrupulous individuals and entities. It would be a nightmare of a problem.

The government has the same problem and as they are busy spinning the printing presses to pay for their day to day existence and public largesse. It is worthwhile mentioning that historically this has resulted in hyper-inflation.

If that government pours money into real world goods and services then the outcome will be an escalation of ever rising prices as the money supply rises ahead of the supply of those real world goods and services - this is the reverse problem of the gold standard.

Of course, the easy thing to do in such a situation is to direct a portion of that money into the speculative end of the market. It isn't inflation at all when the price of stocks, bonds, derivatives rise because that is a capital gain. If a person is in the housing market and prices go up, they're winning, but if they're young and out of the housing market then it's inflation pure and simple.


Cherokee Organics said...

That process inflates economic bubbles, one after the other, and the big end of town do really nicely in rising paper wealth during those times. And if it pops, oh well, too bad, so sad as another speculative bubble can get inflated right away because something has to take the heat off the ever expanding money supply.

In fact, you could argue that the popping of the progressive speculative bubbles is a form of check against the expansion of the money supply. Unfortunately the pop also does a whole lot of damage in the real world, to real people, and real bits of infrastructure. Unfortunate that. The real problem is that people are acting as if it doesn’t matter.

I wonder what the next bubble will be?

Oh, by the way did anyone happen to notice the China moves weapons on to artificial islands in South China Sea. Looks like a strategic airfield to me, but what do I know...

It'd all be funny if it wasn't really happening.



PS: I've got a new blog entry up: Predictive text. The discussions in the comment section of the previous week’s entry about trees falling ended up with a very near miss by a very large branch on the new water tank. What is the likelihood of that, honestly? hehe! Toothy the dachshund decided to run off into the forest for the night on an adventure and the tail (sic) is told in full. Proper retaining walls are built. Materials are sourced for the new chicken house and run project. And plants confused by the climate are shown in their spring glory – in late autumn!

Allan Stromfeldt Christensen said...

Very illuminating, thank you.

One question. Although you used the word "banshees" in reference to some possible readers of the post, you also used "wicked witches" in reference to how some people (you didn't imply yourself) see those who run/ran the Federal Reserve. Is that a possible reference to the idea some make to The Wizard of Oz being a monetary allegory?

Supposing that the Wizard of Oz was in fact written in such a manner, I don't think I agree with it. Dorothy's silver slippers (as they were in the book, as opposed to the red color they were switched to for the just-introduced technicolor movie era) imply the replacing the gold standard with a silver standard. Essentially the same thing, just delaying the inevitable with a more plentiful metal, if I'm not mistaken.



fudoshindotcom said...

Clearly this type of societal decline has occurred many times throughout history, it's not something new. Even though almost everyone will perceive it as a crisis, or series of crises, it's really just a normal part of a natural cycle isn't it?
Maybe not one offering much to look forward to in the near term, but not unprecedented or out of the ordinary in a longer time-frame. If that's the case then won't most of the actual suffering be inflicted by the "Those who don't learn from history" folks? You've pointed out many times that anything unsustainable will not be sustained and aren't they the people who'll fritter away scarce resources trying to do exactly that?

HalFiore said...

I know from reading ancient history that revolution simply means the overthrow of one government by another would-be claimant to governing. In the latter phase of the Roman Empire it happened a lot, and usually not much really changed unless you happened to be in the camp of the old emperor.

But in my time, I have learned to view revolution the model of a modern post-Enlightenment revolution such as the American, French, or Soviet examples. In other words, as a clash between competing ideologies. I'm sure many of the preconditions you talk about were present on all of those cases, but it seems like it also took someone or a group coming up with a model, based on an ideology, and convincing a sizable segment of the population to support it.

Now I know there are ideologies stumping for support right now that can claim to offer an alternative to the "BAU" that people these forums like to talk about. Certainly the Left could make that claim, and there has never been a shortage of organizers on that side claiming that all of our problems are due to the inherent unfairness of Capitalism. But enough to make a revolution happen? Sure didn't work very well when tried in the late 60s/early 70s.

On the far Right, I'm not sure what it would look like, we don't really have a monarchy to restore. Maybe a reaction to an attempt by the Left, imposing a strongman.

I guess what all of this rambling is getting at is that I just don't see what the ideological basis would be for a revolution in our time. What is the model, what is the believable story that a would-be revolutionary would use to win over a, by that time, no doubt very desperate and frightened population?

I do have the very uneasy feeling that it probably wouldn't be very friendly to the concerns of people who care about such niceties as human rights and environmental protection.

Steve Morgan said...

"The era of response, in practice, generally consists of a desperate attempt to find something that will solve the crisis du jour, other than the one thing that everyone knows will solve the crisis du jour but nobody wants to do. "

That sounds a whole lot like the bargaining stage of grief, at least to me. It also reminds me of all the things people talk themselves into doing (or, more often, buying) to avoid changing behaviors we know are destructive. The parallels between the individual and the mass psyche are fascinating. What are the odds that the Era of Breakdown looks an awful lot like mass depression?

Steve Morgan said...

There's going to be a meetup for folks in the Colorado Front Range this coming Saturday (5/30) in Longmont. Interested folks can find the details on the green wizard forum:

Yupped said...

I'm enjoying this series of posts, and this framework for describing how change works. One of the great temptations of studying history is to get caught up in the big dates, and the major political or military events that happen on big dates, by dividing eras up into neat units of time, based one either side of these dates. But applying the fractal model, it seems that major change happens as a series of cycles of pretense/impact/response/breakdown - working at all levels of society - rather than just one big cycle that neatly divides the timeline up around the important dates?

For example in pre-revolutionary Russia there were clear pressures mounting on the Romanov's, each with their own response, from well before 1905 through the early years of WWI. And then of course there were two revolutions in 1917, including several reorganizations of the provisional government. And then the ongoing evolution of the Bolshevik's responses and internal changes for years afterwards, culminating ultimately in Soviet dissolution. It's tempting to see 1917 as the impact date, with the Bolsheviks as the response and Stalin as the strongman. But really weren't there several cycles of pretense/impact/response, etc, that ran from 1905 through to, say, 1922?

Zoroaster Extropius said...

Hello JMG,

I'm probably not the first to point this out, but have you noticed that your eras of collapse map more or less accurately to the Kubler-Ross model of the five stages of grief? The era of pretense corresponds to denial, the era of impact to anger, the era of response to bargaining, the era of breakdown to depression, and the era of dissoluton to acceptance. Thought it would be useful to point that out.

If you don't mind answering a question, you mentioned the establishment of a 'system far more abusive than the one it replaces' following revolutionary social or political change. Is this the case only when 'the old elite is shoved aside, and the new holders of power and left floundering in a political vacuum', or does it also happen when 'the old elite retains its grip on power, and fumbles around with increasing desperation for a response to the crisis'?

John Michael Greer said...

Pinku-sensei, thanks for the links! Steele's analysis is very close to mine; I hope someone in the corridors of power is listening.

Andy, one of the few things that I think could help the US get through its current mess in better shape than it's otherwise likely to do is a major push by those of us on the fringes to haul the skills of representative democracy out of the dumpster and put them into as many hands as possible. I've put some effort into that from time to time, but a bigger push is probably needed.

Wizzard, no argument at all. In most of my guesses as to the future of North America, btw, an independent Texas (possibly including a few other neighboring states) is a pretty consistent feature.

Cherokee, he did indeed -- the discussion of no-business meetings is in the latter part of The Great Crash 1929. As for the next bubble, if I knew I'd invest in it now, then sell out right about the time that it's proclaimed as the salvation of the global economy.

Allan, good! There's a lot in The Wizard of Oz -- L. Frank Baum was in the thick of the cultural controversies of his time, and you'll find large chunks of Theosophy and turn-of-the-century feminism in Oz, too -- but yes, bimetallism was part of the mix. The idea was that the rate of silver mining was high enough to permit a much faster expansion of the currency, and thus counteract the gold standard's tendency to force deflation.

Fudoshin, dead on the money.

HalFiore, ideology is overrated as a basis for revolution. What's needed is a conviction, on the part of a majority of the population, that the existing order is not only bad but vulnerable, and that overthrowing it is a live option. Once you have that, an ideology can usually be cobbled together to justify the seizure of power pretty easily.

Steve, as previously noted, I didn't have the Kubler-Ross stages in mind while coming up with this, but you have a point!

Yupped, exactly! Revolution has a fractal structure, and the more complex the collapse of the old order, the more self-similarity you'll get on different scales.

Zoroaster, you're not quite the first person to point it out -- see Steve Morgan's comment two notches above yours. As for your question, the more of the old institutional framework remains in place, the less the likelihood of ending up with really drastic abusive behavior on the part of the post-revolutionary government. Every post-revolutionary situation sees abuses, as the new government has to establish its power vis-a-vis competing power centers, but when the old elite hangs on long enough to transfer the institutional forms of power to its successors, old limits to abuse tend to restrict the body count somewhat.

Blueback said...

While we are on the subject of Russia, have you seen the latest news about the new Russian stealth fighter, the T-50 PAK FA? The Russians have just released a whole bunch of new info about the T-50, claiming it can outfight not only the F-35 Lardbucket (love that nickname, BTW) but the F-22 Raptor as well. They say it not only has better aerodynamic performance than the F-22 and F-35 but is stealthier and has a more advanced sensor and electronic warfare suite. What’s even more stunning, American generals and military analysts have essentially admitted in recent days these claims are probably true. Moreover, the F-35 won’t be ready for combat until at least 2020, while the T-50 is scheduled to begin entering service next year. The end of the American Empire could be a lot sooner than anyone expected…

Also, did you notice that the US Army pushed back the start of its next upgrade program for the M-1 Abrams from 2017 to 2020? The announcement came not long after the Russian Army unveiled its new T-14 Armata tank, which even the US Army has admitted outguns and outclasses every other tank in the world. My guess is that since the new M-1 variant, the M-1A3 has comparatively modest upgrades over the existing models, the Army decided it probably doesn’t make much sense to put it into production when the Russians have a much better tank that will be going into full scale production next year.

Jose Alvarado said...

I have to say this is the only blog I read where I look forward to the comments as much as I do reading your blog. Great job JMG on your moderation here and commentators on keeping discussion elevated and respectful.

I attended a speech by a prominent business professional whose phrase "myth of scarcity" caught my attention. That part of the speech was about how everyone can achieve success and reminded me how some people disavow "limits" as if the idea was itself responsible for any lack of professional success. It's part of the whole "thinking outside of the box" ideology that does not acknowledge the initial utility, much less the reality of the box.

I am saddened by the lack of any real meaningful discourse in the business world about the big picture themes frequently discussed here. I spoke up at a leadership seminar about my concerns regarding climate change and our carbon budget and immediately regretted it. No one followed up to my comments....only a suggestion that I might be in the wrong business.

The thought of the kind of world my 8 year old daughter will inhabit keeps me awake at night thinking of how I might be able to help....if at all. For the sake of privacy I will keep the nature of the business to myself for now.

Thanks for the content, the space to rant and express sober ideas with other conscientious adults and for lessening that nagging feeling that I might just be a little crazy to worry about all this stuff.

Unknown said...

Excellent series of posts, as usual. I do have one question, which is saying that the gold standard had to go as a response. No, I'm not promoting the gold standard; it's just that the Federal Reserve was created in 1913, nearly 16 years before the Crash, and was freely applying monetary policy right into the Crash, including what Benjamin Strong referred to as a "little coup de whiskey" for the stock market in 1927. And the dollar didn't stop being pegged to gold after the Crash; Roosevelt changed the peg to inflate the dollar, but the peg itself persisted until Nixon closed the gold window in 1971. So I'm curious why you consider going off the gold standard to have been a response in this case.

Andrew said...

Mr. Greer,
Chris Hedges had an interesting topic this week for his weekly article on Truthdig. He has a slightly different take on the myth of progress than you but it still makes for an interesting read.

Thank you,

valekeeperx said...


Excellent stuff. Very much enjoying this series of posts.

I know that we are focusing on the French Revolution and the Crash/Depression, but I’m wondering how the American Revolution and the American Civil War fit into your framework. In previous posts, you’ve indicated that these crises were similar to the Crash/Depression, and that we are due for another such crisis. So, I expect they probably fit rather well. But, Did you consider these other American crises as examples for illustration of your framework, and decided for simplicity sake to limit the number of examples? Or perhaps, they do not fit the framework or aren’t the best examples for your analysis?

Sorry, if this is rather heedless, but, I haven’t gotten to Catton’s writings just yet (they are in my enormous “to read” pile), and I wouldn’t even know where to begin for worthwhile reading on the American Revolution.

Best Regards

fudoshindotcom said...

So, being part of a natural cycle, it's pretty much inevitable. Through practicing Druidry I've come to understand that Nature always balances. The decline then is an expression of that.

No different than any other Druid, I want to help. The hare-brained plan I've landed on by dead-reckoning is to upscale my medicinal herb garden so that I have enough to share, make enough home-brew to share or barter, and offer leatherworking. All of these can be easily done by lamplight without power tools.

If you don't mind, go ahead and point out all the things I've managed to overlook, forget, and ignore that make this endeavor unworkable.

John Michael Greer said...

Blueback, I'd be slow to take Russia's propaganda at any closer to face value than I'd take the equivalent product of the US propaganda mill. I'll want to see an objective assessment of the PAK-FA's performance before jumping to conclusions; it can hardly help being better than the Lardbucket, granted, but we'll see about how it compares to other fighters. Ditto with the Armata -- clearly a state-of-the-art design, but Russia's had its share of brilliant designs that flopped in practicr, like every other producer of armaments.

Jose, you're welcome and thank you. I wish more people in the business world took the time to think about the world their actions are making for their children and grandchildren.

Unknown, Roosevelt unilaterally changed the terms on Federal debt from "payable in gold" to "payable in Federal Reserve notes, which we can choose whether or not to let you exchange for gold." He also made private ownership of gold, in any quantity beyond jewelry, illegal for US citizens, thus making it impossible for the latter to cash their dollars in for gold in what had been the usual manner. A gold standard where the gold sits in a vault at Fort Knox and is valued at an arbitrary price defined by government fiat, rather than being freely exchanged for currency by all participants, is a gold standard in name only.

Andrew, thanks for the link!

Repent said...

You have a very valid point this week about the distribution of income. I studied economics in University in the 80's and the distribution of income was a taboo topic. Market outcomes were assumed to be rational, and as such fair. This fantasy is clearly past it's pull date. People need to talk about anathema topics before any solution can be attempted; however we are still far from that occurring.

I heard today the upwards of 400 million chickens in North America will be experiencing a sudden death shortly this year because of an outbreak of the avian flu:

It is predicted that actual shortages are expected by October for eggs and fryer chickens. I can't remember a time in my life when there has been a shortage of eggs. Most of these revolutions, including 1789, were partially in fact food or resource crises, whatever other excuses history ends up assigning the crises and events to.

I've found that despite my best efforts I have two brown thumbs and my gardening skills are nowhere near adequate to feed myself or my family. Still I'm working through the learning curve that you've told your readers to embark upon. I'll have some small gardening results, even if they are inadequate, I'm learning. This is a step above those who are totally unprepared for the changes which are coming.

I'm not a own a AK-47 to kill the neighbors sort of prepper, as is fashionable these days. Someone will have use for my garden even if it's not me. I'm pretty much done if collapse occurs too suddenly.

Kutamun said...

Been watching "House of Cards " and marvelling at the so called democrat leader trying to unilaterally ram neocon agendas down the congress throat , as i imagine the other side try to do with their upper class communist programs . All in all , it seems to be the pursuit of power for powers sake in the decaying cathedrals of the religion of progress , and the scene of total political breakdown in most if not all western democracies . Think scrambling for the lifeboats as the bow settles , the stokers evacuate the powered down boiler rooms as steam hisses through the vents ; meanwhile the porticoes to the below decks are padlocked , and the command team stumbles around the ship in various stages of psychological decay while dainty ladies step gingerly into sturdy life boats atop icy dark seas .

Perhaps the revolution will result from people consciously decoupling from the system , though that will only signal the start of the fun as while it is one thing to voluntarily decouple , it is another altogether to change ones mindset and ethos internally after a lifetime of indoctrination and practice of the religion of tech enhanced progress and corporate culture . Will the various localities reconstitute democracy in a refashioned manner , or will they simply fall into corporate competitiveness , tribal hierarchy and the pursuit of power in myriad unconscious ways propelled by their long conditioning ? ..I get wary when i see black 4wd SuVs parked next to adobe mud huts with tibetan prayer flags out the front . When Cale shakes and organic smoothies are trumpeted as the beverages de jour . Strident anti vaxxer and anti consumer sentiments reverberating around the valleys as the Steiner and Montessori schools overflow with little green cappos and baby frappos , tricycle undercarriage baby strollers adorned with rainbows lined up on the tarmacs of pseudo alternative delusion like the neat little rows of grumman hellcats in pearl harbour before the start of the great raid .

Time will tell if Ragnar will arrive with his mates by ute horseback or foot to disrupt such bucolic splendour to launch the counterrevolution of the church of darwinistic reality as the realisation that not all chimps are born equal , especially when there are few bananas to be handed out . Will Raggy and his mates get a rude shock if they encounter well organised , democratic and sane militias with strong institutions who are well able and equipped to repel any barbarian incursions from north of the metaphorical Danube ?

Steve in Colorado said...


I'm not sure I can screech like a banshee, but I would like to take issue with your financial analysis of '29. Not because I am blindly in love with the gold standard (which I am not), but because I think it misses some significant financial "forces" which were in play back then (as well as today).

What FDR did was not to take the US off the gold standard (that waited for Nixon's in the 1970's), rather he did a simple (for that era) devaluation of the currency. He called in all the gold currency (made it illegal for private citizens to keep gold coins), then when he had it all out of the hands of the citizenry, he devalued the currency, from about $20 to $35 per oz of gold. He had to get the gold coins out of circulation otherwise they would be hoarded as the currency went down in value [Ignoring of course that the well to do somehow found out about this plan in time to move their gold overseas where it they could keep it.] At that point he could have issued new gold coins at the new rate, as was typically done in these devaluations, but didn't. Likely I suspect because he wanted to keep the option of further devaluations open; things were pretty bad and it wasn't clear this devaluation was enough to fix things.

What he did may seem draconian today, but it was just the way gov'ts had to do a currency devaluation back then, with fixed, gold-based exchange rates and gold coins in circulation. When countries did not follow that plan, there was usually a run on their gold (as the French were doing to the US when Nixon closed the gold window in the 70's, and as Britain saw in the 30's). If you just print more currency without adjusting your official rate of that currency to gold, then your gold goes on sale in your currency, and lots of folks will want to trade whatever of your currency they have for your gold.

The underlying approach which FDR took, increasing the money supply, is ironically the same basic strategy which the FED (Federal Reserve) has taken since the ongoing crisis of 2000. The main difference is that FDR also put in place various work and other programs designed to funnel that "new money" into the hands of the poor and unemployed. That did not restart prosperity, but it did keep many families alive and build some useful infrastructure. Historians/economists will argue whether FDR's program really would have pulled the US out of the depression, without WW2. If it was doing so, it was at a glacially slow pace up until the war started. If WW2 has not happened, FDR would likely have needed another round of currency devaluation.

The main difference with today is that the "new money" which is being created is not funneled into the hands of the average citizen, with a very few exceptions. Rather it is channeled into the banking system, where surprise, surprise it finds it way into financial assets. Probably the ideal solution from the POV of the elite, all this new money is going to them not some poor person. What could be wrong with that, other than it does not fix the problem at hand either...

Steve in Colorado said...


What both these financial "fixes" should be telling us is that something much different than the run of the mill 19th century recession is wrong with our economy. An underlying assumption of the Keynesian approach, is that the slow down is a temporary anomaly, caused by a hiccup in the financial sector. Greasing the financial skids by tossing in new money allows the economy to regain its momentum and get through the temporary financial hiccup. But what if what ails the economy is not a temporary financial thing, but a serious "illness" at the heart of the economy itself. Then throwing more money at the economy, whether as FDR did or as is being done now, can't fix it. [and BTW, neither can a return to a gold standard] All that you get from it, is more debt, devalued currencies, and a stagnating economy. Hmmm, now where have we seen this before ;)

I wonder if your stages of a societal collapse can be equally applied to an economy (as a subset of a society). If so, I would venture a guess that the economy is still firmly in the stage of Pretense. No recognition that there is something wrong, that the steps which are being taken to fix it are not working. And that those steps have not worked anytime in the last 80 years when they were tried...

Derv said...

Interesting essay, JMG. I especially appreciate the incorporation of multiple similar historical circumstances to help define the general thrust of such events. As you've noted before, in the US at least, talks about troubled history and collapse inevitably focus on the last one for us, Depression/WW2-era events. It's useful, but a sample size of one isn't sufficient for analysis.

As for the gold standard, I'd suspect I'm one of those who you expected to screech. :) I will not, though, and feel you have a point, though I'd disagree on some details. For instance, I'd argue that while fiat money may have been a possible solution, the system we adapted (money as debt, thus requiring growth for interest payments) is one of the major sources of our present difficulties, such that it was just another example of dumping one's problems upon a future generation. A gold standard, moreover, could be more adaptable than the system that was in place at the time, to accommodate growth. But yes, the system as it was obviously created numerous difficulties.

The response against fiat in conservative or libertarian circles is primarily a moral and ideological one, which then claims (for reasons never quite clear to me beyond rhetoric) that a gold standard must improve life in all ways, always, in all circumstances. Which is silly, of course. The moral-ideological argument is, to my mind, a sound one, and we are now seeing the consequences of not heeding it.

Simply put, an institution given unlimited power to print and control money will eventually be stupid enough to use it, which then self-destructs. It also leads to economic inequality through inflation and other means. Even if the gold standard is sub-optimal economically, it at least can (in the right circumstances) provide a hard limit against such abuses.

As for the lack of a unifying idea to prompt revolution mentioned by another comment, I'd heartily disagree. We have two, in fact, at least. Both are prominent among the young, who will after all be the vanguard of any revolution and need not be anywhere near a majority to be big enough (see the Bolsheviks, for instance). The first is the original American model of limited government and states' rights (Ron Paul-style libertarianism), which millions of Americans believe is the sole true interpretation of the Constitution.

The second is what might be called "Communism 2.0" or new socialism; a huge swath of the country believes Communism/Socialism is a good idea that's merely impractical, and that it has never honestly been tried. The "Stalin argument" doesn't work on them, because they take the Trotskyist view that he betrayed the revolution, as did many others. The USSR doesn't disillusion them like it did the old left, much like how the KKK doesn't shake my faith in Christianity, because I view it as a perversion of the system. Their hatred of capitalism, moreover, is palpable. Give them the right leader, the right manifesto, the right political environment, and they'll instantly mobilize by the millions as well.

And that right there is grounds enough for a revolution/civil war ala 1917 Russia. The old system collapses under pressure from all sides via a crisis of legitimacy. Some defend the old order, but most fall into a variety of ideological camps who think the right way to run the nation is something either very new or very old. Californian Reds (or maybe Pinks) demand revolutionary change in DC, while Iowan Whites (or Red/White/Blues, sure) demand it be abolished altogether and left a smoldering ruin. Either swathes of the country break away into independent nations, or there is war. I think it's virtually inevitable.

Sorry for the long post; it's an interesting thought exercise! Also, I got my copy of After Oil 3!

Bike Trog said...

There's a "weapon" in The Martian Chronicles. It looks like a rifle and erases targets. A shooter may think it's the ultimate weapon, or solution to trash disposal, until he realizes the target is not destroyed, just invisible, so using it to shoot something dangerous is not recommended.

kristofv said...

I find it hard to understand why the solutions of the '30s weren't tried again after the last financial crisis of 2007-2008. Direct employment programs and meaningful banking reforms. You say that everybody knows what has to be done, but those with access to power don't want to implement those reforms. But almost nobody I know, and they don't have access to power, remembers anything from the response to the great depression and supports initiatives like that.
Maybe those solutions would be harder because of the limits to growth, but not even trying them seems so much worse and illogical. Illogical from a historical perspective.

Ben said...

@wizzard - I'm from Oklahoma, and can certainly attest to the borderline derision by place of birth drew from east coasters. Living on the east coast, apparently I brought tome east coast drawl back west. Among other things, I don't pronounce 'y'all' correctly anymore. Go figure....
I also agree w/ your assessment that the US west of the Mississippi will not remain tethered to Washington. If that turns out to be a good thing remains to be seen...

JMG - I have to say, I enjoy your narrative style that compares the past with the present. That said, it would have been nice for you to spell out more how you see the era of response playing out here in the US. I've read "Twilight's Last Gleaming" and passed it on to a friend. My feeling is that until inherent contradictions of the system have impoverished enough Americans, bringing down the system as a whole won't seem a good idea. We'll end up with a 1930s analogue and a populist President who can browbeat Congress into some real changes after the 2016 or 2020 elections.
If that fails, and the system truly crashes at a scale and pace on par with 1933 or 1789, then we do have a real chance for a shiny new dictatorship.
All that aside, my area of OK has avoided the worst of the rain and the plants in my community garden and my family garden now reap the benefits. The chicks are growing fast as well. The last batch of black lager turned out better than expected. I like to end on a positive note. Best to you and Sara!

Christophe said...

Wow! That post really put a lot of puzzle pieces in place. History looks less like a wildly inconsistent series of human failures and accomplishments, and more like directions for an easily replicable lab experiment.

Consider the befuddled elite of imperial Russia wondering why the populace was no longer overjoyed to keep them living in the style to which they were accustomed. Or the giddy revolutionary intelligentsia steamrolling over all the old state institutions with nothing but Marx's blurry Utopian fantasies to replace them. Or the long lineage of despotic dictators who stamped a new order upon the resulting chaos.

Then there's the whole of the Netherlands who just could not imagine that the Indonesian populace did not want to support the Dutch standard of living. Or the giddy revolutionary intelligentsia steamrolling over all the old state institutions with nothing but Sukarno and Hatta's blurry Utopian fantasies to replace them. Or Suharto's authoritarian rule, standardizing the formularies for bribery of state officials so that his dystopian empire could function.

Then there's China's cultural revolution, and South Africa's Apartheid regime, and Algeria's revolution. Now why didn't they teach it like this in high-school history? Hmmmm? I guess it just didn't jibe with the "democracy as ultimate goal of history" mythology they were trying to wash into our brains.

Liam Jackson said...

I fear that the Age of Response will be protracted, as every charlatan gets his/her turn at conning a public all to willing to be fooled. So, in between walking the talk myself, I'm trying to enjoy the farce.

Can Mr Druid or anyone point me to comedians making comedy out of the shortage of flying cars and electricity too cheap to meter? Kunstler is too bitter and hyperbolic for my taste, and Oz's great satirists of BAU John Clark & Rod Quantock are aging rapidly. Wheres the new blood finding the laughs in the end of the world?

Odin's Raven said...

The 17th century is ending in Ireland, the 19th century in Britain ended some time ago. Now in America the 18th century is coming to a close.

All that stuff about constitutions, citizens, representation, republics, democracy is passing away. When the dust settles, might the survivors find themselves living in the 7th century, concerning themselves with the precise orientation of their prayer niche towards Mecca?

Gabriela Augusto said...

The way I see it, the economic crisis of the 30'ies was sorted out at the expense of the other living creatures of the planet, and in the 70'ies the future generations were called to pay for it.
Now we are finally confronted with the ‘hard limits’ of the resources upon which economy is built. Therefore any attempt to amend our economy (with employment and production of stuff) bringing the money to main street, will also bring the hyperinflation to the main street. Just check the financial markets, the art and antiquity markets, luxury real estate to see where hyperinflation is).
The question is if war, to distract the masses and to gain control of the last resources, is part of the response strategy?

Rebecca said...

I was talking to a young cousin-in-law at a family wedding and the topic turned to food. She is a California native and while we have never before discussed the topic of collapse, what she saw on her last trip home worried her. Her mom is a conscientious woman who has ripped up her front yard and planted a xeriscape but Young Cousin couldn't get the thought out of her head that that might not be enough. She described a drive through the Central Valley: green, green, green against a knife-edge of desert. "I wonder if you would put in some extra tomatoes for me,"she laughed nervously.

I stopped in at my local, natural-foods store just as the boxes of produce were being unloaded from the supplier's truck. Lots and lots of CA vegetables. Organic, of course. The denial inherent in this gesture took my breath away. It's full-on garden season here in the east and it rained yesterday.

Denys said...

My grandparents told me that FDR's government raided the safety deposit boxes at banks for gold and silver after hours when the banks were closed? That hard currency was then put back into circulation. thus their affinity for hiding money through out their house rather than keep it in the bank.

M said...

In the comments, JMG wrote:
" of the few things that I think could help the US get through its current mess in better shape than it's otherwise likely to do is a major push by those of us on the fringes to haul the skills of representative democracy out of the dumpster and put them into as many hands as possible."

Last week I mentioned trying to work with my city council, planning board, and my local blog to try to steer our little city from its current fixation on developing hundreds of "units" to increase the tax base, (along with hundreds of new parking spaces and promoting tourism as the largest piece of our local economy. I'm trying to redirect focus on some of the more sensible projects, such as turning a local decommissioned prison property into a farm and food production center.

When I asked if I should bring up the subject of peak oil and limits to growth while trying to persuade people to join the fight against the growth model (even if it is the "smartgrowth" model, which seems an oxymoron) you told me to leave that to the archdruids on the fringe. I'm hoping you were being a touch facetious or kidding a bit because of the way I worded my question last week. But if not, how do I avoid falling into being labeled "anti-development?" And on what to I base my arguments against Business As Usual development?

And a related question regarding your statement above, since in the post you mention most will carry the denial through most of the stages, do you have an idea of roughly what percentage of the population I can hope to reach by speaking out and continuing to take action? (Sorry this is a bit jumbled, off to work.) Thanks once again for providing a little island of sanity amid the swirling waters of indutrial civilization headed down the drain!

Odin's Raven said...

Is this another Californian non-response to 'green' concerns? Green Tesla?

donalfagan said...

Here in Baltimore, even though the city is trying to figure out how to pay for the riots of last month, and presumably want no more riots, the Board of Public Works quietly resurrected the "youth jail" that had been shouted down years ago. So we had another protest, though a fairly quiet one.

Meanwhile, the police are "confused." They see the DA that indicted the six officers accused of mishandling Freddie Gray to death as an enemy of the police - even though she comes from a family of police officers. Lawyers for the indicted six want a change of venue. I'm thinking that another not guilty verdict will almost certainly lead to more riots, and worse riots, and I'm betting that dedicated revolutionaries are licking their chops. Andy mentioned Adbusters - they are associated with the anarchists that ran the Occupy movement - even though it supposedly ran itself. Some of them still show up at protests here.

But a guilty verdict will send shock waves through police forces throughout the US. Retired NYPD officers with POPPA have been sympathetically counseling Baltimore's cops who feel that the public is against them. I wouldn't be surprised if the police do more than the work slowdowns we've seen so far.

Andy Brown said...

JMG, I wanted to echo your response to HalFiore about ideology's limited use as a motivator for insurrection. The more crucial tipping point is when people see an alternative to BAU. The media and the public culture of the US certainly have one overriding purpose from which they never deviate - to make consumer capitalism and its hierarchies appear inevitable and to render alternatives unthinkable. At the moment, Americans are stymied because they are unhappy with the status quo, but see no "realistic alternative". And the powers that be dearly want to keep it that way.

If they lose their grip - and at the moment they seem to be moving toward the classic mistake of prepping for outright oppression - then "ideology" will be like one of those spinning wheels on a game show that ticks down to a particular prize. I can imagine a dozen different formulations, any of which would enable political entrepreneurs to take a whack at the power structure.

Lawfish1964 said...

Excellent post, as usual.

As I see it, though, there is a major difference between the depression/French Revolution and the coming collapse. During the depression, fossil fuels were still abundant, as were other natural resources. The confluence of crises we face will all be against a backdrop of a depleting fossil fuel resource base, water shortages and climate change. Responses which may have worked in days of abundance will clearly not work as the oil runs out.

What I envision is a cycle of return to the era of pretense as a response itself. As we deplete our resource base, the powers that be (or the despot du jour) will proclaim that if we follow his plan, a return to prosperity is right around the corner. But we will have reached peak prosperity, so unless someone proposes a response which actually acknowledges that economic contraction and resource depletion are the new normal, we will have more of the era of pretense.

Once the inhabitants of Easter Island finally faced the fact that they had destroyed their environment beyond recovery, the responses were ugly and predictable - anarchy, violence and cannibalism. How does any government respond to the stark realization that we have about 6 billion more people than the planet can sustain?

mr_geronimo said...

More food for your thougths: Brazil is passing thru a similar process. Lost legitimacy, alienated dominant classes, crumbling economy, the need to choose between the State and survival and the irreversible moral decay of the nobility. There are rumors that the last round of tax hikes instead of raising revenues, diminished them. If that's true the endgame is approaching.
If Brazil implodes, the shockwaves will hit american economy: the american elites have too much wealth invested here and it will be lost either to a hardened socialist elite, to conservative-revolutionary uprising (maybe something like the islamic revolution in Persia) or to artillery shells and looters in the war.

Shawn Aune said...

Which way will it break?

I think the senile elite will, in a brief moment of clarity, attempt to re-balance the economy.

I think their attempts will fail (though, perhaps not on paper) and those failures will provide fuel for rebellion.

I personally believe that the stumpy ball of charisma will come from the Libertarian camp and his or her rhetoric will resemble that of Brandon Smith of

Then you'll see things that make the Bundy Ranch Stand Off look like a crepitation contest.

bigsky generation said...


Hedges current book "Wages of Revolution" addresses many of the "red" boxes denoting prerequisite conditions to revolution. Half way through it now.

If we are smart/lucky, the nation state may simply break up into smaller groups and pack up and go home like the end of a church picnic. Highly skeptical of this outcome given the entrenched military industrial complex that will try to keep the whole nation together regardless of the cost. After all, how can one defend a nation if there is no nation?

Or, it all just blows up. I think some States' National Guards have more weaponry than most nations - Canada included.

Raging Bull said...

I find it very difficult to imagine revolution in America. The populace is so depoliticized, decentralized, and lacking the social solidarity that a revolutionary moment would seem to require. And then, the instruments of state - from the police departments' armories to the propaganda engines of the mainstream news networks - are overwhelming.

Much easier to imagine an authoritarian government advancing on Americans' dwindling democratic freedoms one by one. Because another lesson of history is surely that tyranny of one kind or another is the natural order of government. Democracy is just a flower which grows up in rare moments of peace and prosperity - a luxury we can no longer afford.

Mister Roboto said...

I can imagine the crises of the Era of Impact being intense enough that it probably won't be as long-lived as the seemingly interminable Era of Pretense. To continue my timeline from my comment last week, I think the Era of Response will already be in its embryonic stage as the Era of Impact is in it's full flower during the first half of the 2020s. During the second half of the next decade, we will see the newborn Era of Response eclipsing the fading-away Age of Impact. Thanks to my diabetes, I don't imagine I will see the Age of Response except perhaps from the vantage-point of whatever hereafter there may be.

winingwizzard said...

I feel the need to elaborate on what I meant by "ignoring things and moving on".

This is a conscious decision abetted by location and the current setup. It involves active civil disobedience of nonsensical mandates. As an example, recently those 'in control' decided that rainwater and well water should be within their jurisdiction.

You are faced with a choice - comply (admit complicity to what has recently been made illegal), pay a fee, permit, registration, inspection, etc or just ignore those howling for your money and for you to do things as they wish. When private groups do this, it is termed criminal activity. When the majority of a governing group does this, it is termed a law or ordnance or other such non-descriptive nebulous term. In counties and cities, the vote on these things is rarely even announced or is often done in 'private session' of the authority.

My grandfather told me the only votes that count are those made by your silver or your feet. Truth is, he was very right in the scheme of things. These are the votes that count, because all those in control rely on us accepting their authority. At the same time, there are myriad more of us than there are of them - in short, they rely on compliance by edict. If people do not simply comply or if they loudly illustrate their non-compliance, then the 'authority' will pick and make an example. This increases their compliance to acceptable levels by using fear of similar hassles for others not in compliance.

But, when faced with massive non-compliance, the authority will reconsider its overreach - as has been seen in many times (littering is a great example). And this non-compliance should consist of leaving for an area free of these silly mandates - voting with your feet. We were all hunter-gatherers and embracing this is a sort of freedom. Alternatively, simply not abiding by the rules and doing as you wish and keeping your mouth shut negates their authority as well.

It is just that most people want to brag and love to talk, and authorities rely on this too, especially with respect to today's internet generation. Many cannot help but brag and crow in their search for anonymous validation - the exact behavior the authority relies on for policing.

One reaches a point where so much of what goes on is just silly or feels like junior high politics - because it actually is - that it needs to simply be ignored as background noise as you live your life. My meaning in using "ignoring things and moving on" is to move past being overly concerned with what those in authority decree, as most of it simply cannot be enforced on an unwilling populace. And we all know where things are headed at this point, so abetting a broken system feels like a supreme waste of time.

Mr. Bystander said...

Mr. Greer.

Another most excellent piece of writing as per usual.

I see a missing piece to this description of the Era of Response that I feel might be helpful to look at. I think it would be a huge mistake to assume the United States remains united. It would seem more plausible to me that some kind of a breakup would be in order with almost certainty. Take the Lonestar State of Texas for example. In recent years there have been many elected leaders and others talking about cessation. California has talked quite seriously about splitting up into more than one state. Why would that even be happening if things were going well? In the Era of Response I would think it highly likely for more autonomous regions to take the place of one single unified country leading to a whole host of other possible outcomes. Living in New England I could see how this might be attractive to to some more affluent states wanting to further distance themselves from the problems of others.

Interested to hear your thoughts on this.


winingwizzard said...

@ Steve in Colorado
I think it's simply that the world has rung up too much debt for it to ever work out. As an example, the recent shale oil bubble was created by hot low interest money (from those with lots of credit/debt/connections) looking for high ROI. The oil business gave them that, and it turned into a bubble. Not really any different from the old Tulip bubble or the housing bubble. Basically caused by those with money trying to make more - not to make an item or thing, but to simply make more money.

The quadrillion bucks of world debt floating around can never be worked out without a crash/war/collapse. I got bogged down in the details years ago, but even then, it was a cul-de-sac - the way out was always implosions or explosions of one form or another. Depression was lack of money but we are simply swimming in debt and too much money as we crunch against the wall of diminishing resources. We can get at the resources, but the price to do so does not fit with the current cost structure unless there is slavery.

And they are trying their level best to get slavery legalized in all but name. They being those with all of this free money whose end game is just having more of the free money.

Sometimes the only way to win IS not to play...

Renaissance Man said...

You've made the observation before that what comes after a revolution is oftentimes worse than what comes before, unless it generally preserves the forms and institutions.
Burke frequently referred, in his 'Reflections', to the Glorious Revolution that did preserve the institutions and thereby did not lead to the chaos that characterized the French Revolution.
I am minded of the upheavals of post WWI, which overthrew or discarded no fewer than four empires (almost 1000 years old), a dozen monarchies and created a dozen new republics and which were, for the most part, exemplars of the need to preserve existing institutions, or modify existing systems to result in peaceful transitions.
Austria, Hungary, Romania, Turkey, Poland all had relatively smooth transitions from monarchies to republics because they changed leadership and style of governance, but not the institutions of government or society.
Italy managed the transition relatively peaceably, until Mussolini turned out to be a very charismatic Bad Choice.
Russia was chaotic and violent, for exactly the reasons you outline: they overthrew all of the existing order and everything to replace it was untested theory.
The vindictive Treaty of Versailles followed by the chaos of the crash of 1929 crushed the nascent Wiemar Republic; outside forces, as the U.S. in Iraq, can cause or maintain a state of chaos, as they did to the French after their revolution.
Napoleon, internally, reconstructed France by repairing the older institutions, but his series of wars were caused as much by external attempts to drive him out by the ancient aristocracies as his own megalomania, being as he was the first non-hereditary and therefore illegitimate occupant of a major throne in 500 years and, therefore, a threat to everyone else's survival.

winingwizzard said...

@ Jose Alvarado -

You have thinkers and followers everywhere. You have those who allow themselves to peer into the future and those who are too busy with themselves and the present to think of it. But there are allies and hope...

My business (oil & gas) absolutely disavows Peak anything, and requires the status quo. This does not mean we do not understand what is happening, but that there are those who can see the potential future(s) and those who refuse to look. In my circle, there are many who see (after all, we visualize 3D reservoirs and use 4D analysis) but many more who will not look out of fear.

Vote with your feet and your actions - not to be vindicated and pound your chest as the world burns but for your children. MAKE a place they can live with the money you earn in the system. Set them up in things that will be necessary as things fall apart. Visualize your potential future(s) and adjust your objectives. Be open with your children - they see things differently than you and it is their world rolling into being.

I did this years ago and have zero regrets - it has bound my family tighter and made life more fun. It is not the easy path, but it is the better path and there is a lot of benefit once you start doing rather than thinking and talking.

Just a suggestion based on my experiences - not trying to compel or assume I know it all. The world and people are too vast after all...

Professor Diabolical said...

@Kristov, because 10 years of heavy "solutions" from FDR's Brain Trust had no effect whatsoever on the Depression (and Hoover's equally large programs, not to be forgotten).

"We have tried spending money. We are spending more than we have ever spent before and it does not work. And I have just one interest, and if I am wrong…somebody else can have my job. I want to see this country prosperous. I want to see people get a job. I want to see people get enough to eat. We have never made good on our promises…I say after eight years of this administration we have just as much unemployment as when we started…And an enormous debt to boot!” Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau,1939

Malcom Kyeyune said...

JMG, regarding the PAK-FA: independent western analysis more or less seems to confirm that this airplane is at least as potent as the F-22, which itself is miles ahead of the F-35.

Air Power Australia has compiled a pretty good overview of the project, complete with links to more indepth analysis on specific subsystems.

This quote in particular is pretty telling:

"While the basic shaping observed on this first prototype of the PAK-FA will deny it the critical all-aspect stealth performance of the F-22 in BVR air combat and deep penetration, its extreme manoeuvrability/controllability design features, which result in extreme agility, give it the potential to become the most lethal and survivable fighter ever built for air combat engagements."

That said, the PAK-FA is hardly some sort of technical miracle. The russians simply looked at what the americans did, cut out all the state socialism and red tape (quite ironic, isn't it?), and budgeted something like 10 billion dollars for the development of their new fighter, where they simply took what worked in the american design, threw out everything else, and then added a few russian tricks on top for good measures.

In one of the articles on the site i linked the author is actually lamenting the fact that you can clearly see how the russians forced Sukhoi to stay within budget and only add features to their prototypes that were useful for testing (so no billing uncle ivan millions to add expensive stealth coating to an engine design prototype), wishing that this sort of common sense was still possible in the american military-industrial complex.

Clay Dennis said...

I think it will take more than a crisis of political legitimacy to replace or overthrow the existing order in the U.S. As has been discussed here in the past, we have an imperial wealth pump that works to extract resources from around the world and distribute them to various stakeholders at home in the empire. As compared to any other time in our history we have a very large percentage of the the population dependent on this distribution, from the snap cards on the bottom of the wealth pyramid to the social security and pension crowd in the center and the financial and government contracting elite at the top. No matter how ridiculous or illigitimate the existing elites are, they will not be seriously challanged until the wealth pump stops. The denial and of the elites may of course play in to this as the wealth pump could be kept running a tad longer if they were more realistic. But I think the spectre of the masses without thier tribute is truly scary to those in power, and motivates nearly every decision no matter how clueless the outcome. They will keep the money spigot on as long as they can, even when it passes the point of no return and makes the inevitable crash down the next stair rung of collapse much further and harder than it would have otherwise been.

So though even though politics are important, the pathway to the age of impact and beyond will be paved by financial and currency collapse.

Dammerung said...

Oh my, you knew this was coming so here we go.

First, yes, there were speculative bubbles and booms and busts under the gold standard. But they were less severe and the resulting recessions only lasted for a period of a year or two at most, while the Great Depression went on and on and on and on because the effort the government expended to try to cure it were continually making it worse. Treating the patient with leeches, as it were.

And you go on to make one of the silliest errors in all economic reasoning - THE ACTUAL QUANTITY OF MONEY IN THE MONEY SUPPLY IS IRRELEVANT. If the entire US economy had $1 as its total supply, everything would still be fine! There would be the issuance of $.0000000000000000001 coins; $.000000000000000001 coins, and so on. Obviously these numbers are awkward for human reasoning, which is why 1 ounce of gold being worth $20 was a reasonable supply of currency when people were still using 1/2 and 1/4 cent pieces.

If capital increases while the money supply stays the same - or increases at a slower pace - then prices go down! This is a GOOD thing! Prices are SUPPOSED to go down! When prices go down, wages purchase more goods and services! When prices go down, investments and savings rise in purchasing power. This is SUPPOSED to happen in a healthy economy. Find me a Keynesian terrified of deflation and I'll find you somebody still using a $500 modem to transfer data 2600 baud... right?

The reason that gold needs to be money is because it's good at BEING money. Steel is good at being railroad track; bamboo is bad at being railroad track. The actual physical properties of the metal itself are what makes it good substrate for being money. It's fungible; divisible down to the atom; and remains chemically stable even at the bottom of the ocean. It's rare but not so rare that we have to deal with the uncomfortably large numbers mentioned above in order to make daily transactions. How much can be extracted from Earth's crust and refined is statistically predictable and we won't see wild shifts in the overall supply. And, first and foremost of importance - the government and banks can't print it and hand it to themselves.

Money is a technology, and like all technologies it must have a material basis. As a technology, it supports a very specific purpose in human ecology - it allows for a more efficient division of labor than any other technology invented to date. And the quantity needed to effectively be money has already been raised out of the ground, refined, and carefully stored for future generations. Precious metals are money, and that's a technology that no economic shenanigans (gold price rigging is worse than LIBOR according to Germany's retired finance minister) or government has been able to entirely suppress.

Sven Eriksen said...

It’s starting to dawn on me that pretty much every aspect of contemporary culture that we have had under discussion here over the years, in the final analysis, always amounts to some kind of denial mechanism. I must admit that I find it really hard to hold that firmly in awareness without succumbing to the urge to panic. It’s a horror show.

As for Rob Steele’s analysis, it’s a good piece of work, but I can’t help rolling my eyes when his solution to the problem is to insist that an enormous amount of people should get together behind a team of well-established pundits and work in unison following a scheme of logical steps laid out in advance. I’ll take my dissensus, thank you very much.

Professor Diabolical said...

The gold standard absolutely has ups and downs, winners and losers, but the characterization of it concerning the Depression is afield. Setting the scene: prices for standard goods under the gold standard were roughly the same in 1798 as in 1929, showing vacillations but also stability of value. Stability of value leads to tension between the creditors (hard money) and debtors (easy money). At that time-- as per Wizard of Oz--easy money people believed in silver. No one believed in paper, as the rules were believed to change with political winds or the courts bought off by the rich. What silly imaginations, I know!

Here's the thing: the gold standard doesn't really contain anything. Fantastic, nation-ending credit booms happen with great regularity on the gold standard, France being one example, but the land boom of the US frontier in 1830s being another. Didn't stop the Tulip Mania or the 1920's Florida land boom. Why? Because speculation runs on CREDIT. Credit runs on BELIEF. Sure, there's a little salt in the vault to fall back on, but credit, in 1770, in 1920, in 1999, and now, runs the whole thing. Almost all “money” is credit and always has been. So lack of gold cannot be the problem if they had booms and cured booms for 500 years until then.

So what gives? In 1922 there was a similar reckless credit boom in the stock market which similarly popped. Coolidge did nothing despite his Treasury Commerce--none other than Herbert Hoover--had billionaires up and down his office looking for favors and bailouts from the taxpayers. Coolidge told them they got themselves into the mess, they could get themselves out. (And for you foreigners, note there is no legal foundation for the US to ever interfere in the economy, prohibited by Amendment 10, and/or in free contracts per Article 1,Sec 10). Now that was a different season in the economy and market from 1929, but Coolidge was right and Hoover was wrong. The Billionaires liquidated, the bad debts were eaten and written off, and the economy restabilized—in a YEAR. On a gold standard. So...discuss?

Back to 1930, the billionaires did not want to see the debts--that is, what they were owed, that is, their paper wealth-- go down. Sure the people would take a hit in Depressions as happens, but guess what? While the poor get a little poorer, the rich get a LOT poorer. Income disparity levels out, the debt level drops, and the economy restarts. Rogoff and Rinehart have a whole book on how economies never recover with high debt loads. But how to write off the debts of the rich without getting poorer? One way, tried to disaster in many nations, was to water down the currency. This is what FDR did by devaluing gold from $20.67 to $35/oz --illegally since the dollar is tied to silver (not gold) in the Constitution by weight not value, and illegally because he cancelled all the "gold-deliver" clauses private individuals had made between themselves.

Upshot? The debts that would have never been paid to the wealthy but defaulted and written off--making the rich FAR poorer, were instead pooled and paid by EVERY CITIZEN via a devaluation of the currency. So the people, of course, got to pay the losses of the wealthy in what you might call a creditor bailout. Sound familiar?

But even 10 years later the economy did NOT recover, ever. Sound familiar? In 1939, Morganthau admitted nothing they tried--no project, no printing, nothing, had worked. The rich did not write off their debts, the debt load still crippled the economy, and the income disparity did not decline so the poor still had no money to buy with. Even in 1949 and the 1950's they expected and feared the US would fall back and continue the Depression. They didn't--but only because they had blown up every other factory on planet earth, leaving the US as the only viable workshop.

Professor Diabolical said...


So: problems. One, gold doesn't limit bubbles or growth. Creditability (or gullibility) does. Two, re-setting the gold price did nothing to fix the economy. It started inflation again, but without wages increasing it was the worst of all worlds for the poor. Three, the issue of gold (and silver) is really an issue of the struggle between creditors and debtors, hard money people and easy money people--or today, hard money austerity types and easy money inflation types. When we realize debts will never be paid, who takes the loss? The debtor who already can't pay and therefore can't pay?(see Greece) The creditor? (a professional lender who knew the risks and set the collateral and contract terms themselves) Or the whole society? (who had nothing to gain and nothing to do with the wins and losses of private contracts between the creditor and lender).

More important question: what do we do this time? Make the professional lenders take their losses and clear the debt burden, or pay it for them and keep the burden on the economy until there's another world war?

MindfulEcologist said...

I cannot agree more about the importance of raising awareness about the choice American's are facing between the two possible outcomes your post sketched out. There is a dramatic difference in the amount of suffering among people that can be expected depending on which direction tomorrow takes us.

I admit to expecting the crisis of legitimacy to run its course and sadly bring about the more revolutionary outcomes, complete with all the 'meet the new boss, same as the old boss' - or worse - history has taught us to expect. It seems to me that what will decide the outcome are simply the choices we each make in our daily lives. As Americans there is an added weight to the choices we make. Choosing to walk and talk alternatives to greedy consumerism and shoddy lowest common denominator entertainments remains the path. If in fact we are closing in on a time of consequences, as many of us sense, it is all the more important that we do not throw in the towel and give up on working for the lesser of the two evils. It is not much but it is real and it is worth pursuing.

I took up a small part of what this might look like in Tomorrow in our Land. It includes this wonderful quote from Cathy McGuire, “our hero culture has convinced most people that if we can only be heroic enough, we can end suffering.” Cathy, a sincere and heartfelt thank you for the courage and clarity of your comment. Thank you.

Roger said...

JMG, I'm in the middle of reading Trollope's The Way We Live Now, which he finished I think around the year 1875. And, oh my, how the world hasn't changed.

One of the central characters is Augustus Melmotte. And does Melmotte ever remind me of Bernie Madoff, that is, a financier of great wealth and experience and acumen, who lives in the world financial capital of the time (London).

Though there are rumours that Melmotte is a low-down swindler that left people on the mainland high and dry, and though some in England see his true nature clearly enough, in Victorian London there seems no end of credulous people willing to give Melmotte money.

Just don't ask Melmotte any questions. NO questions. Don't ask about documentation because you see, nowadays, in these modern 19th century times, transactions aren't done with cheques and receipts and pen-strokes but rather merely with the exchange of a few words and a nod. Don't ask about your duties as the director of a rail company start-up, don't ask about company operations and transactions, what's the problem, what's your concern, Melmotte is the great man of affairs, Melmotte will handle it.

And DON'T ask him about your money. Melmotte flies at too high an altitude, he has no time.

Don't ask because, like Madoff, Melmotte demands unquestioning trust and if you dare, he would say to you, who knows more about these matters, you or him? And, if you persist in questioning, you would be invited to get gone. Sound familiar?

Our modern day CEOs, these great men of affairs, these men of action, have no patience for history, history being the province of absent minded professors that don't deal in down to earth reality.

But our great men are wrong, surely, that's exactly what the professors of history deal in. And if academics do the work honestly and provide fair-minded depictions, even if not a complete picture, we get pictures complete enough to be useful and instructive in the real world.

And so, history being ignored by our great men, history being considered by most of us ordinary folk to be boring and irrelevant, history inevitably repeats, if not exactly, at least close enough.

If Trollope hadn't seen men like Madoff walking around the London of his time then he must have gotten into steam-punk time machine and visited our own era. Given the realism of Trollope's depiction and the unlikelihood of time machines...

JMG, the point of the foregoing of course, is that your discussion of what happened in the past would be met with give-me-strength sighs especially in the offices of the high and mighty. You see, they'll say they don't have time to waste on nonsense.

So, especially because the high and mighty don't listen, because those who have the most ability to change the course of events are oblivious to what history tells us is the likely shape of the future, what went before will come again.

Michael McG said...

fudoshindotcom said...

“it's really just a normal part of a natural cycle isn't it”?

Having established a framework for the cycle and calling out numerous historical examples I think our Arch Druid is saying such. What is unique about it this time is that it: is OUR cycle, (those people living now and soon to come). We are left to live through and manage them assuming they may be managed.

I’m not hopeful that the view of Humanity going through a natural cycle could be communicated to enough people to make a difference this time but think there is a small chance enough awareness could be achieved to expend energies in what I think are more productive than; whacking a load of heads off, toasting competitors, wasting on excessive blame. Unfortunately political systems have not evolved to enable a whole systems view.

In concert with our host I view a certain Russian leader as doing a pretty decent job of handling a collapse situation. As far as I can tell the dog of “it's really just a normal part of a natural cycle isn't it”? has not been called out and communicated by him to the people. Perhaps given Russian history there is no need for such as it is part of the psyche.

Such is a rare attitude in the USA today, that there may be normal cycles for peoples to go through, nothing too extraordinary you know, we have a problem, let’s get to work, do our best.

People who came out of the Great Depression or survived World War II in the USA had “The Attitude”. Most of them are gone now but I expect fresh reinforcements soon by way of people who make it through the next couple hundred years and am hopeful this time around we may acquire longer memories, better ability to recognize long term natural patterns and how to play with them more joyfully to our individual and collective benefit.

Thank you and JMG for helping me to understand and process our times.

Ivan Lukic said...

Having lived approximately half of my life in "single party dictatorship" and half in the so called democracy, I must say that modern democracy seems to me like some too expensive toy: you get one day of joy, in which you fool yourself that you are important, and after that you get four years of misery.

elf said...

kristofv, one of the reasons the New Deal direct employment programs won't work today, is that they were built on a different social system. They assumed 1 breadwinner per family, usually the adult male. They also assumed that kids over the age of about 10 could be trusted to more-or-less manage themselves during the day. Of course, those weren't universally true--but they were common enough that the program could be built with those assumptions, and allow for tweaking for rare exceptions.

Today, the issue of childcare clashes hard with any attempt to provide jobs to the poorest Americans. Single parents, mostly women, don't have the network of family and neighbors that commonly existed in the 30's, who would tend children while someone worked. Also, as the wealthy have fewer children and communities have fractured, acceptable standards for childcare have changed--leaving a 12-year-old in charge of two toddlers is no longer acceptable, and parents can be arrested for simply letting their preteen children walk to a local park alone.

These are not insurmountable problems, but addressing it would require giving up the notion that single parents, especially mothers, are shameful leeches on society's valuable resources, which stymies any attempt to fix widespread unemployment and poverty problems.

The other Tom said...

I think there have always been angry Americans who are delusional about what revolution really means, the actual vast misery that would ensue. Perhaps this is because the Revolution of 1776 was so unusual, as far as revolutions go. It was led by an extraordinary group of people who eventually coalesced around clear goals for the revolution. Even more important, in my opinion, it wasn't a complete revolution in the sense that the colonial legislatures had already existed for almost 150 years and continued as functional authority. It wasn't overthrowing an ancient way of life like the French Revolution.
I think this is an important conversation to have with hot headed people who want a revolution first and ask questions later. When I read or hear some of the reckless things they say on talk radio, for instance, I want to make this distinction. I want to say to them, "If you really want this, be aware of how lucky we were the first time."

"The vast majority of revolutions have established governments that were far more abusive than the ones they replaced. The exceptions have generally been those that brought about a social upheaval without wrecking the political system.."

I'm pulling for Plan B, keeping the political system intact.

In the book "American Nations," by Colin Woodard, he describes North America as eleven regional "nations" based on history, culture, and geography. The most interesting point, I think, is the persistence of these regional cultures even in a time when so much of the population is itinerant. He explains that once the imprint of a culture is in place, the incoming people tend to absorb it, either consciously or unconsciously, because they want to fit in. I can see this process even on a town by town basis, the way towns and cities can retain certain attitudes long after the original citizens are replaced.
As energy becomes more expensive and the idea of a "small world" becomes obsolete, this regional view of North America gets more interesting. Perhaps there is hope for a new map 100 years from now, a sort of velvet revolution and then a confederation of regions?

Alexander Leong said...

Thanks for another good post, JMG. I've been enjoying this series so far. It is a mordantly humorous thing to observe that at the time I'm writing this, President Obama is taking and responding on Twitter to questions about climate change. Let's hope he still has some semblance of respect for the truth. Keeping Florida in mind, I wonder how long people can keep their fingers in their ears and pretend to not hear the truth when climate change has ceased to knock politely on America's collective door, and is in the process of huffing and puffing. Historically unprecedented flooding in Texas? Check. Devastating drought in California? Check. Timid stirrings of recognition of global weirding in the mainstream media? Sometimes check. I believe that the nonresponses that have gotten people through so far are now being strained to the utmost limits of credulity. Strap in, ladies and gentlemen. We are in for an interesting ride.

Paulo said...

regarding statement: "I find it hard to understand why the solutions of the '30s weren't tried again after the last financial crisis of 2007-2008. Direct employment programs and meaningful banking reforms."

Kris, (and JMG)

I used to also feel that way but no longer do. I think that by the time politicians get into a position of being able to make positive changes, they are either already corrupted and/or controlled by their 'supporters'. Most likely they were sorted out long before and never made that final leap. When Obama refers to people as 'folks', I wince, because I think he is all about helping the Warren Buffets and Jamie Dimon's of the world. Is he evil? Probably not, but by now he simply does not know any better. Deliberate change is either not possible due to the influence of the powerful, or else by this stage he no longer 'groks' much of anything. We have watched him turn grey and irrelevent. He appears incompetent. His apparent succesors are even worse.

I grew up on stories of The Great Depression. My Dad, long since gone, grew up in rural Minnesota. As he would often say, "we always had lots to eat, we just didn't have any money". They lived on a 1/2 acre in a town of 700, and did just fine by growing a huge garden, raising a couple of pigs, chickens, and always had fish to eat. They bred racoons for their pelts and made cash that way. He and my Grampa got work in the Twin Cities in a slaughter house. They got by and then WW2 broke out and the kids were up and away.

Those stories had a profound effect on me. I always paid my modest homes off as soon as I could, kept years of fire wood on hand, and when my own periods of recession caused unemployment hit we too had chickens, a huge garden, and for a few years I even raised rabbits for food. This summer I turn 60, firmly entrenched in a very rural byway on Vancouver Island. I spent the morning doing a few chores, and hand watered my 146 hills of different potato varieties. This year we will choose the stock we like best....probably fingerlings and russets. We are processing our years supply of broilers next week, and will start filling the freezer with salmon in July, deer or elk in the fall, and veggies until October. The eggs pay for feed and the chores keep us fit and outside. My kids are working and doing well, so this is the autumn of my life. The fall has always been my favourite season.

What I have learned is that the rich and powerful do not live better than my family. It would be impossible to do so. When they start losing their fortunes I will be pleased enough. Now, back outside to finish roofing a shed.

Adrienne Adams said...

"[T]he nonresponses of the era of impact claim just as forcefully that whatever’s gone wrong is a temporary difficulty and everything will be fine if we all unite to do even more of whatever activity defines business as usual. That this normally amounts to doing more of whatever made the crisis happen in the first place, and thus reliably makes things worse is just one of the little ironies history has to offer."

@Cherokee Organics asks, "I wonder what the next bubble will be?"

A particular area of interest of mine is the large-scale "renewable" energy projects being lavishly promoted as a "solution" to the problem of fossil fuels. Proposals are regularly published in which we ”replace” fossil fuels with mega renewables (particularly solar and wind), and this transition to "clean" energy will make moot our dual problems of carbon pollution and fossil fuel depletion. (I use quotes liberally here to announce the questionable veracity of the terms being used.)

Large scale solar and wind power plants look really, really good on paper: zero cost of fuel, zero carbon pollution, and oh yes they are pretty, especially if you show them in fields full of daisies and/or cows. Various hypothetical, complex, yet vague-on-the-details schemes claim to show that we can power industrial civilization 100% with these guilt-free sources of energy.

Problem is, building an entirely new energy infrastructure based on intermittent, distributed energy sources is an enormously complex, expensive, and energy-intensive prospect. These proposals amount to "doing more of whatever made the crisis happen in the first place" as you say. The pursuit of a "clean energy revolution" that will enable millions in North America, Western Europe, Japan, South Korea, etc. to maintain a highly energy-intensive standard of living is an unrealistic task that will likely result in using up lots and lots of increasingly scarce high-quality fossil fuels, and producing copious amounts of carbon and other pollution in the process.

No matter, this "renewable" energy fantasy is extremely attractive to liberal elites and environmentalists, and it also promises to keep the rabble silent about the real issue—which is that the imperative for growth in a capitalist system makes that system utterly unsustainable.

But this "clean energy revolution" must be funded somehow, and preferably not via the public purse. Investors big and small must be convinced that "clean energy" is the Next Big Thing and so is the best place for the Smart Money to be. The fossil fuel divestment campaign is a visible strategy to redirect investors from fossil fuels to "renewable" development. There are other examples just a googling away.

So here's my prediction for the next bubble: investing in schemes for large-scale renewable energy, from solar and wind farms to battery and liquid fuels vaporware. Massive amounts of non-money will be channeled towards building increasingly ambitious and complex systems that we hope and pray will keep the party going for a few more years.

But most of this "money" will be wasted in pursuit of the equivalent of perpetual motion machines, and we will have squandered a decade or two and trillions which could have been spent transitioning humanity to low-energy lifeways.

Erik Buitenhuis said...

My sense is that the gold standard is seen in a rosy light because fractional reserve money creation by private banks does the same thing you (rightly I think) say leads to disaster: it transfers money from the poor to the rich. Would some third way of creating money be preferable where the money supply somehow inherently matches the production of real wealth? I have no economic intuition or particularly thorough knowledge of the history of economic arrangements, but wasn't it a Keynesian idea to have fiat money created by governments and spent on infrastructure?

Lawfish1964 said...

WiningWizzard, well said -

"Vote with your feet and your actions - not to be vindicated and pound your chest as the world burns but for your children. MAKE a place they can live with the money you earn in the system. Set them up in things that will be necessary as things fall apart. Visualize your potential future(s) and adjust your objectives. Be open with your children - they see things differently than you and it is their world rolling into being."

That is precisely the approach I am taking. I am not stockpiling wealth in stocks or other securities, but eliminating debt and creating a sustainable homestead. When I am gone, it will be there for my children. 30 years of carefully cared-for soil, chicken coop, pig pen, rainwater-collection irrigation, fruit trees, a usable and used basement for storing roots and preserves, etc., etc.

I recall seeing a rant by a young fellow on here not too long ago about how it was not possible for him to "collapse now and avoid the rush" because there is no economic opportunity for his generation, so he can't just "buy 60 acres" and set up a homestead. While I agree that his generation's level of economic opportunity is far below mine, I disagree that that means he can't start the collapse process now. I wonder if his parents have a home with some land and no debt (or if they're partying up in the era of pretense like so many others). Regardless, when I am gone (and even while I'm living if necessary), my homestead will be available to my kin, as long as they're willing to work it with me.

sgage said...

@ Mr. Bystander said...

I see a missing piece to this description of the Era of Response that I feel might be helpful to look at. I think it would be a huge mistake to assume the United States remains united. It would seem more plausible to me that some kind of a breakup would be in order with almost certainty.

This has been discussed here repeatedly over the weeks/months/years, including in today's comments.

Eric S. said...

These last few weeks have been on fire, and have done a really good job of putting some of the actions of governments, media, and culture in recent years into perspective. It’s a shame my life hasn’t given me as much opportunity to participate in these conversations recently, but I definitely wanted to contribute before this brief series had concluded. You’ve pointed out a few times the attempts by states like Florida, North Carolina, and Kansas to silence the discussion on climate change and actually pass through legislation that prevents constructive action. However, there are elements to the climate change discussion and its interplay with American politics that still confuse me. Yes, on a local level there are a few governments that are doing exactly what you’re describing, but overall large scale political, corporate, and academic institutions have at least in theory embraced climate change and are claiming to be responding to it. Most of that includes things like the president spending 2 minutes discussing the gravity of climate change and the necessity of constructive responses to it and 20 minutes cheerleading the economy and singing the praises of the petroleum industry (as happened in the most recent State of the Union address). The attitude and behavior of the elites regarding climate change is mostly a classic “age of response” style scramble, with the federal government and international think tanks pouring resources and effort into mitigating the effects of climate change in every conceivable manner except for the ones that would actually put a dent in the problem. Climate change denial exists, and in some regions they still have political sway, but for the most part they’ve been relegated to the fringes of society.

On the other end of the spectrum, I’m seeing a completely opposite response to the equally dire issues posed by the industrial agriculture system. Discussing soil ecology and organic agriculture, opposing industrial pesticides, pointing out collapses in insect and wild plant biodiversity, questioning the ethics of engineering plants that can withstand more potent weedkillers, or talking about the pitfalls of large scale industrial monoculture and agriculture ill-suited to local ecosystems is something politicians and academics have taken the exact opposite stance on. Professors of Ecology and sustainable development I discussed these issues what to do about them in college as recently as five years ago have in less than five years taken a full swing in the opposite direction, prominent environmental activists and journals and media sources that focused dominantly on these problems and even the Quaker meeting I used to attend (and they were among the most environmentally proactive groups I ever participated in) have begun to shame and ridicule anyone who takes issue with industrial agriculture or who supports alternatives to it, and big name scientists and popular science newsletters have begun to shove critics of the industrial food system and supporters of organic growing, local food, permaculture and the like into the same fringe as climate change deniers and creationists. And with many friends who have been avid environmentalists as long as I’ve known them, climate change has become the only problem acceptable to discuss. The claim is usually that the science has changed, but reading the articles I find in peer reviewed journals, it looks like those these issues still have at least as much scientific backing as climate change (unless an issue at stake has gone completely unstudied due to lack of funding).

What shoved these issues into such different ends of the cycle of response you’ve been discussing here? Keeping up on the news, I don’t see one impact hitting faster or harder than the other. In fact they seem to be hitting at about the same pace and often working in tandem with each other. So why would governments and institutions be doing their best to “look busy” when it comes to one issue, while participating in the large scale shaming of anyone concerned about the other issue?

John Michael Greer said...

Valekeeper, I chose just two examples because each of these posts needs to remain within manageable lengths. If I had the spare time and a book contract, it would be entertaining, and possibly useful, to take two dozen or so examples -- including the two you mentioned -- and show how those fit the same pattern.

Fudoshin, that sounds like a good start. Are you making connections with neighbors, friends, community groups, etc. that will make it easier for you to market your skills once that needs to happen locally?

Repent, how long have you been working on your gardening skills? As I've mentioned in previous posts, it takes a good five years of hard work to get good at it. If you have friends who are further along the curve, btw, their advice can help.

Kutamun, good. As long as the privileged classes continue using green this and eco-that as status symbols, nothing but one-upsmanship will come of their antics -- certainly nothing that will keep Ragnar at bay.

Steve, no, as I noted in response to an earlier comment, Roosevelt took the US off an actual gold standard -- one in which currency could be exchanged for gold at any time by anyone -- and put it on a notional gold standard, in which US citizens weren't allowed to own gold at all, gold coins and gold certificates were removed from circulation, and the ability of foreign nationals to cash in their US holdings for gold was subject to government whim. That wasn't just a devaluation, it was a complete redefinition of the meaning of money, and freed up the US government to run up huge debts in the war years, in perfect confidence that the sort of balance-of-payments run on gold that had kept government debt in check up to that time would not happen to the US.

Derv, oddly enough, I'm not arguing either -- I agree that the current system of unlimited fiat money expansion is a cause of massive problems now. I'd suggest that it was the right move at a time when problems with the money supply were a major hindrance to what would otherwise have been a rapid expansion in the real economy of goods and services; it's just that we no longer live in a time when that's a possibility, because the fossil fuel and other resources that made that possible in the early 20th century aren't there any more. Thus finding a way to let the money supply contract at roughly the same pace as the real economy is one of the major needs of our time. More on this as we proceed!

Trog, hmm! It's been too long since I've read Bradbury, clearly; I don't remember that at all. It's a good metaphor, though.

Kristofv, they weren't tried in 2008 for the same reason that the establishment fought so hard against trying them in 1929: limits on the banking industry require limiting the earnings of bank CEOs and financial swindlers generally, and direct employment programs push up wages by decreasing what used to be called the reserve army of the unemployed. We'll probably see them again, but it'll be a few years yet.

Ben, I hope you're right. My read is that unless we do get a populist in office in the next election or two, it's going to be crash-and-burn time.

Christophe, excellent! You get this afternoon's gold star for getting the point of this post.

Liam, I don't follow comedy much, so someone else will have to help you. Have you considered giving it a try yourself?

Raven, I'm by no means certain Europe will escape that fate.

Shawn Aune said...


You said: "THE ACTUAL QUANTITY OF MONEY IN THE MONEY SUPPLY IS IRRELEVANT. If the entire US economy had $1 as its total supply, everything would still be fine! There would be the issuance of $.0000000000000000001 coins; $.000000000000000001 coins, and so on."

It would be irrelevant if and only if each citizen's holdings and income automatically adjusted so that the Real (as opposed to Nominal) value always remained constant.

If I earn $1 per day and this arrangement doesn't adjust as described above then it is VERY relevant to me if the value of my daily earnings goes down in Real terms while remains constant in Nominal terms.

John Michael Greer said...

Gabriela, the wars are already happening. It's just that, because of nuclear weapons, they're being carried out by proxy wars, manufactured revolutions, economic and political warfare, sabotage, and the like, rather than by massed armies and navies going into battle. Expect the pace of conflict to increase steadily as we proceed.

Rebecca, I know. I hope farmers in the eastern half of the country, where it still rains regularly, are beginning to expand their range of vegetable crops.

Denys, your grandparents are quite correct, except that the gold didn't go back into circulation -- it went to Fort Knox, where it became a notional backing for the US dollar for publicity purposes. Definitely don't trust safe deposit boxes!

M, the place that the rebuilding of democracy has to begin isn't in existing governmental institutions on any level. It's on the level of citizen groups, starting on a local level, who are willing to discard the failed "consensus" gimmicks that have crippled political activism since the 1980s and go back to the old, robust, and effective methods of democratic organization. You won't get your local government to listen until and unless you can show them organized citizens who back your viewpoint and can make trouble in the next election, and you can't do that until and unless you help citizens empower themselves with the tools of the trade of representative democracy. A tall order? You bet, but the longest journey begins with a single step.

Odin, by and large, if it's from California you can assume it's a nonresponse.

Donalfagan, good. Just offhand, can you think of a situation that would be more advantageous to hostile foreign powers than having the American people and US police and security forces at each other's throats?

Andy, exactly. Coming up with a plausible ideology is the easiest thing in the world -- consider the mush that passes for political thought in Washington DC these days. A chimpanzee on bad acid tossing together random words from one of those magnetized poetry sets onto a refrigerator could do better.

Lawfish, I think we'll move from the same pretense to different pretenses. A lot depends on the forms taken by the inevitable population contraction.

Mr. G, thanks for the update! I suspect a good many nations are facing one form or another of the same predicament just now.

Shawn, I really have to have somebody start running a betting pool. Yes, it might break that way, or it might break in any of a hundred other ways.

Bigsky, what the military-industrial complex does depends, not so much on the decisions made in Pentagon offices and corporate boardrooms, but on what the individual grunt in uniform decides. In past revolutions, as often as not, it's the guys who actually shoulder the rifles who make the choice that counts.

Raging Bull, now go compare your description of the American people with any good description of attitudes in Eastern Bloc nations before the Iron Curtain crashed into ruin. The situations immediately before the French and Russian Revolutions also make a useful comparison.

John Michael Greer said...

Mister R., that's plausible, but timing a collapse is no easier than timing the stock market!

Wizzard, as long as you can avoid being turned into an example by the guys with the guns, that's a good approach.

Mr. B, you might find this link and this one worth a look, for starters.

Renaissance, good. A detailed study of Europe between the wars would be a good starting place for a taxonomy of how revolutions fail and how they succeed.

Malcom, thanks for this! At first glance, it looks as though the PAK-FA is a good solid up-to-date fighter -- the sort of thing the US military is supposed to have, in other words, and doesn't.

Clay, did I say the crisis of legitimacy is the only game in town? Of course not. As previously noted, the thing that makes predicting what will bring down the US so challenging just now is that it's such a target-rich environment.

Ed-M said...

JMG, excellent post!

One thing that you didn't describe when you described two kinds of social upheaval was that Russia, its Near Abroad and most of its satellites (except Yugoslavia) had somewhat a middling social upheaval. Yes, the Soviet Union did collapse and disappear, but it left behind fifteen republics and six client states that, with the exception of Romania had fairly or entirely nonviolent political change. Most are now doing quite well; Ukraine is the present exception thanks to USA meddling.

And speaking of the USA, I don't see any sort of revolution occur until the Bernaysen sorcery that is ubiquitous in this country stops, or at least becomes impossible to get at most people (ex: recent North Arizona Internet blackout). In the meantime I expect to see the Democrats disappear -- they've been going the way of the Whigs for 30-something years now --, and the Republicans achieve their dream of one-party rule, only to blow up and split into two separate parties: Republicans and Tea-Partiers.

Steve in Colorado said...


I'd agree 100%. Much/most of the debt out there can't be paid back so it won't.

And it's not just the fracking bubble, but the housing bubble before that, and the dot com bubble before that. All the economy seems capable of over the last 20-30 years is bubble after bubble. Each one eventually collapses, its bad debt gets swept under the rug (or bought by the FED), and then the playing field is swept clean ready for the next bubble to start. Meanwhile the basic health measures of the economy ratchet down a few notches with each bubble.

One has to wonder how many times the same solution will be tried for the same problem expecting a different result. You would think that smart minds would eventually come to the conclusion that this solution doesn't work. And perhaps take a look at what is really wrong with that old economy of ours. But I expect admitting that throwing money at the problem isn't going to fix things is the real boogeyman, because once you say that then you might have to look and find out what really is wrong. Things like we've talked about here: resource depletion, overpopulation, too much greed, unsustainable systems, etc, etc.

No we will continue to get distracting sideshows about the economy instead of real analysis and change. Ideologues from all wings will come out and preach that all would be well if only [fill in the blank]. So we will flip flop between the various "fill in the blank" solutions, giving each a chance to fail in turn, until something more serious breaks, and we can no longer play make believe anymore.

I'd agree, sometimes not playing is the only way to win, but that is hard unless you separate yourself from society (and its money).

Robert Mathiesen said...

Paulo, about that freezer full of meat:

Do you know, or can you find out, how to preserve that meat by smoking and/or salting and/or pickling it, against the day when you won't have electricity to run a freezer ever again? Smoking seems to me to be the easiest of the three means, simply because it's been a world-wide folk-tech for so long, but I'm no expert. Eggs need something else again, such as large crocks full of water-glass to sink them in.

Cherokee Organics said...


I was wondering whether you have ever had to sit through any no-business meetings? I'd be very interested to hear your take on that matter as it has been on my mind of late.

It is a good question because there certainly has to be another bubble once the fracking bubble pops. My guess for what it is worth is that despite the recent memories of the very unpleasant pop of the housing bubble, housing will be the next big thing. One of the interesting side effects if that is the case, is that the level of dissonance will rise in the population.

There really is no winning strategy in the policies that are being pursued - it's a mess. Now that I believe that I've finally grasped the final pieces of the economic picture and can form a coherent viewpoint that covers the entire system whilst fitting the facts on the ground, I must say that I'm quite staggered at the implications and from hindsight I now wonder why I couldn't see it before. It is quite a majestic system really, but it has such a short shelf life.

For what it is worth, I don't believe that the economic arrangements in place were engineered to function in the way that they currently do. I reckon that many chunks of the puzzle were put in place with good intentions and then subverted to provide band aids for other parts of the system that were failing. And also band aids were deliberately placed on systems that were both subversive and subverted.

The real problem is that the US is applying the same sorts of arrangements to your military which is the real source of US power because the same type of people are pulling on the levers, using the tools that they are familiar with.

I'll tell you a little story and for obvious reasons I can't mention names, but when I was at the big end of town I had to regularly report to the Board. One memorable Board was comprised of directors from entirely sales backgrounds. So every month they'd raise spurious invoices to customers because bonuses were paid to the sales guys and directors based on sales targets (not on collections as per my ignored advice). Credits were raised the following month to cover those invoices. So every month the fiction would get slightly larger, as of course it had to. To their credit, every now and then they'd suffer a correction for a month. At the Board meeting I'd raise this engaging practice as an issue and was told firmly that, no the sales were real - and the belief in the directors eyes was complete. It was pretty awesome to witness. And whilst I don't believe that such a situation is entirely true of your governance over in the US a strong case could be made... On a positive note, the structures in place are quite good, in fact they are very good, it is just unfortunate that the hard choices are being put off in favour of games and those games are slowly consuming your social, political, military and physical capital.


Cherokee Organics said...

I've spent years pondering that conundrum as to how hyperinflation is being avoided in the situation that the US is currently in and I really don't have anything more to add other than... run for your lives, zombie money ahead! I'm joking around people, but it's not good either.

PS: The whole thing makes me feel a bit sad simply because it doesn't need to be that way, but then I have a different outlook entirely on such matters and don't mind manning up and facing the challenge that needs to be faced - I sounded a bit Conan then, so let's keep in character and have a laugh at the following choice Conan quote: "Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph." Unfortunately my voice isn't quite deep enough to pull that one off well. ;-)!

PPS: Let's forget about all of the above rubbish above and get to the important matters: Did your quince tree produce any flowers this season? You know I reckon you chose well with that fruit tree because a few years back I saw a specimen that is in a much hotter and drier area than here and the owner reckons it was well over 100 years old. I've also recently discovered that when you poach the fruit, you can turn the left overs into a very tasty country wine or jam. That is cutting edge stuff that is.



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Adrienne,

That is a good choice too. You should be interested to see how this stuff works in the real world. I run a 4.2kW PV off grid system here and as we're almost 3 weeks out from the winter solstice on the next blog entry I'll start including some real world data. When you start comparing what I get here and admittedly conditions could be slightly more optimal, but not greatly so, you can compare that to how your household would go. Renewables are great, but they're definitely not a replacement for either coal or gas. Nuclear to my mind should not be on the table because the waste issue has not ever been resolved in the real world.

For what it is worth, the additional funds more or less have to be poured into financial assets - or increase the value of existing infrastructure assets. This feeds into the growth statistics. Putting the funds into real world goods and/or services will increase inflation.



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Steve in Colorado,

I'm not really interested in discussing the gold standard because gold is as much a token as paper money so the problem literally eats itself and is not worth considering.

However, you are getting close about the current expansion of the money supply. Ask yourself the question: What would happen if that money was channelled into the general population? What would they do with it in a system where real wealth is declining? And what would the impact of that be?

Then ask yourself the question: What methods are currently in use by governments to channel individuals incomes into the financial sector? And why would that be beneficial in a system where real wealth is declining?

You're not quite there yet, but you are getting closer to the big picture.



Matthew Casey Smallwood said...

I wonder if the next transitions in government won't be from monarchy to republic (in which the masses reap the benefits sowed from earlier days) but from demobcracy to monarchies, in which warlords and tyrants and (if we are very lucky) kings reap the whirlwind, tame it, & put us back into the Polybian cycle? Since there is a lag of cause & effect, everyone wants to chalk up Progress to democracy (or at least, chalk up good conditions to democracy), but I begin to think that the local, direct, democracy everyone says they miss (which existed in antique Europe) is only possible under a form of sovereign hierarchy?

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Liam,

I used to live not far from Rod Quantock at all and used to see him all the time around at the nearby local cafes. I didn't find him to be that funny though. Someone once told me - and I don't know whether this is true - but he used to wear red socks as a protest at the system. Wearing red socks in an authoritarian dictatorship when they're banned and will send you to a gulag for 20 years - now that is a protest. I always very skeptical about that protest here because no one would care one way or the other - still the person who told me that story may have made it up too.

There are plenty of people that "get it" though that are much younger than him. Seth Sentry the Oz rap phenomenon tells entertaining stories about urban decline. His song "Dear Science" which is a reference to feeling cheated that the future promised for the year 2015 in the classic films Back to the Future wasn't delivered at all.

Gotta bounce, work to do!



Robert Mathiesen said...

About Obama, who has grown gray in office and is surprisingly inept at times. This shouldn't surprise anyone too much. Obama began as a Chicago machine politician with a gift of inspiring speech, he married a awesomely brilliant wife, and the two of them figured out how to crowd-source their political campaign and what rhetoric would best enhance all that. The rsst, as they say, follows naturally ...

Also, I have wondered (as a writer of fiction wonders) through quite a few terms of inept presidents now, whether every new president, early on in his first term, gets a visitor escorted into the Oval Office by his Secret Service detail. I imagine the Secret Service saying something like this: "Mr. President, let us introduce you to Mr. Smith, the Messenger. Remember his face and voice, so you can always recognize him. You are the most powerful person on the planet, but now and then we will escort Mr. Smith into your office and leave you alone with him. He works for the same people for whom we, your entire Secret Service, actually work. When he shows up, heed his words. If you do not, there will be trouble for you. The first time you do not heed his words, your wife and children will become seriously ill, but will recover in precisely seventeen days. The second time, they will not ever recover fully. The third time it will be you who will not ever recover fully. -- Also, do not try to discover who sends the Messenger to you. He does not come from one person, or even from one group of persons who share the same agenda. That would be too simple. -- If you ever do come close to discovering this, it is we, your own Secret Service, who will kill you, and your wife and children with you."

This is the stuff of fiction, I have no doubt. It makes fictional characters out of nodes in a system, and it simplifies that system enormously. But if The Messenger is a fiction and the people he works for are a fiction, the system is real. (Much the same system constrained the actions of the later Roman Emperors.) And a system like that would be enough to give any president gray hair, and to render him oddly inept at times.

It is even imaginable that a highly effective system of this sort would eventually give a sitting president, so severely constrained in office, a sop for his own sense of limited manhood by providing him with effective means and sufficient reasons to kill as many far-away people as he needed in order to feel better about himself. Or am I spinning a tale too nightmarish to be believed?

Cathy McGuire said...

Nice description of the various responses to crisis - and also of the difference between non-response and response! It's helpful to me to clarify your different stages. I can see we're somewhere between pretense and impact still... "Response" stage might be when the NYC Battery and/or Miami is semi-permanently under water, or when voter turnout drops below 30%... then no one can pretend that is a democratically elected government.

At least it seems like some of the impact is being felt now in the MSM:
…“Our bridges and roads are old, crumbling and getting worse every day,” Mr. Fox told state lawmakers in April. “We can no longer kick the can down the road.”
The transportation trust fund is financed through next summer with about $1.1 billion planned for project costs, according to the state treasurer. Mr. Fox said the fund would be broke after that.
…New Jersey Transit has become more dependent on fares: They currently cover 47 percent of the budget, up from 40 percent a decade ago, said Nancy Snyder, a spokeswoman for the agency.

If not even half of costs is paid for by fares, how will transit manage when subsidies are gone?? That is mind-boggling...

@Michael McG: I mentioned on last week's comments but you probably didn't see it - I don't mind your using the sentence - I consider it a writer's "perk" to be able to use eavedropped bits of conversation, as long as they don't ID the speaker. :-)
@mindful ecology: Thanks for the link to your site – very nice essay! I really agree with your statement Real violence is not sexy. It inevitably includes an aspect of pathos, an element of the pathetic. Having worked on psych units for almost a decade, I can tell you stories – violence is NOT sexy!

Ian Stewart said...

I find a lot to concur with in this week's post, as well as in the sentiments earlier expressed by Kutamun and Rebecca. The counterculture, those trying to "collapse early and avoid the rush," are earnestly trying to initiate an era of response already... but rational questioning of the aspects of society that obviously aren't working is often accompanied by dogmatic belief in all sorts of dubious propositions, many of which have been covered here before. I've found myself fielding quite a bit of this lately, out here in California. For instance, a wall-mounted Tesla battery pack is no panacea, but if one believes that somebody's ginned-up perpetual motion machine is a superior alternative, then one is sailing in quite shallow waters! Just last night, I also received a somewhat unwelcome invitation to a UFO conference in the desert. The assumption was, I suppose, that since I was a rather ardent Star Trek fan as a youth, then I must naturally believe that our space brothers are going to descend from on high with all the answers!

An exodus from California would surely put a psychological dent in these movements, but I can't help but think that the state has a few tricks left to keep the dream alive for another business cycle or two. For instance, if marijuana is legalized here next year, I expect even more flim-flammers and funny money to be sloshing around that industry. The pot bubble will likely succeed the Web 2.0 bubble. There's also the matter of the influx of wealthy Asian expatriates here, and it's too soon to tell what role they will play. California is already essentially a one-party state, so I do worry about the Democrats becoming too cozy with the Chinese Communist party. On the other hand, much of this state was built on the backs of exploited Chinese labor, so it is thoroughly unwise to be xenophobic.

All in all, I feel that being able to communicate earnestly with all kinds of people will be an important survival skill, and this leads me to avoid committing to any of the strange, strident dogmas that seem to be arising in the early stages of attempted response to crisis. I know that you, JMG, have advised me to leave California before, but my immmediate ancestors helped turn this place into what it is, so I feel somewhat duty-bound to see it through. At the very least, it'll give me something interesting to write about.

Adrienne Adams said...


"For what it is worth, the additional funds more or less have to be poured into financial assets - or increase the value of existing infrastructure assets. This feeds into the growth statistics. Putting the funds into real world goods and/or services will increase inflation."

Lots of ways to invest in renewables without making any real goods or services. Just look at the many failed cellulosic biofuel projects: $millions down the crapper with nothing to show for it. Plenty of battery ideas in the hopper as well which will never pan out, so there's no lack of "investments" for the gullible. Expect much more of this in the next few years.

Robert Rapier does good reporting & analysis on biofuels. Here are a couple of his latest critiques:

"Is Audi’s Carbon-Neutral Diesel a Game-Changer?"

"Where are the Unicorns?"

Re housing: I'm not sure that housing can be bubbled up again soon... it's wildly, insanely overvalued right now in all the palces that people want to live.

John Michael Greer said...

Dammerung, a good thumping banshee screech! Still, it won't wash. You've got your economic history wrong -- if you think depressions under the gold standard were short and mild, I'd encourage you just for starters to look up the Long Depression of 1873-1879 -- a good book on the social history of Gilded Age America will give you some sense of just how brutal that was. If you're going to accuse me of making a simplistic mistake, it would help if you bothered to take the time to notice what I was actually saying -- not the mere size of the money supply, but the rate of change of the money supply relative to changes in the production of nonfinancial goods and services, is the thing that drives inflation, recession, or relative stability, as I pointed out. Finally, shouting "Gold is good for money!" is simply handwaving; a gold-based currency, like every other kind of currency, benefits some people at the expense of others, and under some circumstances can cause serious economic disruptions.

Sven, I certainly don't agree with Steele's proposed solution, but I thought it was interesting that his diagnosis was so familiar.

Professor D., you're conflating several different factors here. Again, what Roosevelt did wasn't simply a devaluation -- he changed US currency from an actual gold standard, in which currency could be converted to gold on demand, to a purely notional gold currency, where US citizens couldn't own gold at all and foreign investors could be prevented by government order from taking their holdings home in gold. That stopped the credit crisis that had very nearly driven the US to collapse in 1932 and 1933. That his actions didn't put an end to structural unemployment is another matter; structural unemployment is inherent in industrial economies, due to the effects of automation, and the only situations in which it hasn't been a massive problem have been when a permanent war economy could be used to employ vast numbers of people in economically unproductive roles. It's a source of wry amusement to me that opponents of Roosevelt always want to talk about 1938 and never, but never, want to talk about 1933...

Ecologist, nicely phrased.

Roger, excellent! A good reason to read Trollope, along with all the other good reasons to do so.

Blueback said...

JMG Said:

“Ideology is overrated as a basis for revolution. What's needed is a conviction, on the part of a majority of the population, that the existing order is not only bad but vulnerable, and that overthrowing it is a live option.”

That reminds me a lot of one of Eric Hoffer’s more memorable quotes from The True Believer:

“The persuasiveness of the intellectual demagogue consists not so much in convicting people of the vileness of the established order as in demonstrating its helpless incompetence”

The phrase “helpless incompetence” readily comes to mind when I think of the George W Bush and Obama administrations. They certainly provided a great many examples of a senile and incompetent elite in action, from Iraq and Hurricane Katrina to the Gulf oil spill, the rollout of Obamacare and Benghazi to the ongoing fiascoes in Ukraine and Mesopotamia.

PS I found a couple of articles about the PAK FA and Armata from American analysts that are worth looking at.

jonathan said...

the gold standard may be an anachronistic, even fetishistic remnant of the past. but the chinese, russians and indians have been amassing staggering quantities. european countries, most recently austria, have been repatriating their gold from the u.k. and the u.s. clearly, some knowledgeable people believe that gold is worth holding and worth holding close to home.
what is it these countries expect to occur that ownership of gold can mitigate? i submit that the obvious answer is a complete loss of confidence in fiat currencies, most especially the dollar. money, whether paper, gold, wampum or yap island stones has no inherent value (aside from the use of gold in jewelry and electronics). it's value is purely notional. the argument that money exists only in relation to taxation and derives its value from government acceptance is widely regarded as off the mark. cowrie shells, beads, and large stones have been used as money in contexts where there was no government to impose taxes. the value of money rests entirely on a shared tacit agreement that it has value. when that agreement breaks down money loses its value.
the accumulation of gold by governments suggests that this is exactly what some governments expect. i know gold has no inherent value. so do many others. but if enough people believe, even irrationally, that gold is money, then it will be money. their belief will make it so. this loss of confidence in fiat currencies is quite likely to be the development that accelerates social and political unrest.

Dammerung said...

Inflation and deflation are monetary phenomenea, not price phenomenea. Price fluctuations and even recessions are good things - they represent a system of dynamic chaos trying to reassert equilibrium. We see this process take place in nature all the time. The same ecology holds true for human economies, which are constantly seeing disruptive innovations, or resource-exploitation driven pullbacks. And this chaotic system simply can't be managed by well-meaning betters fumbling with the money supply.

The great recession you mention was a consequence of America's first imperial state trying to claw its way back from a massively expensive (in both life and capital) rebellion that nearly toppled the entire project.

rakesprogress said...

The recycling of famous quotes is irresistible but a notoriously treacherous business. The quip you attribute to Churchill—which I've heard and accepted a face value many times befoe—was apparently coined by an Israeli policitian, not Churchill. And he was referring to men and nations, which makes your subsequent point nicely. Alas, the rational guidance of public policy is one of our greatest sacred cows.

John Michael Greer said...

Ivan, that's a common experience in an age when democracy has been largely transformed into an excuse for corporate kleptocracy. It's one of the ways that democratic eras come to an end.

Other Tom, I've been discussing for some time the likelihood that the US could come apart more or less peacefully, probably by way of a constitutional convention that passed an amendment either dissolving the constitution entirely or giving states the right to opt out. I'm not cheerleading the idea, mind you, but I think it's going to appeal to a lot of people.

Alexander, true enough -- it's going to be a heck of wild ride.

Erik, yes, it's a standard Keynsian fix. Ultimately, the problems with money will be solved by the abandonment of money that's standard in dark age societies.

Eric, interesting that you're seeing that. I suspect that a lot of it is that there are a great many people whose love for the environment stops short of changing their own lifestyles, and the thought of actually having to let go of strawberries in December and coffee from halfway around the planet is too much for them to bear. Climate change is a great way to cling to the mantle of Green-ness while still remaining a faithful believer in the Church of Consumerism, after all.

Ed-M, don't assume that the Bernays of the world are the only people practicing malefic magic in the current situation -- or that the others are practicing it for the benefit of the existing order. That is to say, I think you're quite wrong, and that events may surprise the stuffing out of you.

Cherokee, I've been to a few no-business meetings, and I'd rather have dental surgery with a brace and bit and no anesthetic. These days I avoid them as one need not mere plague. As for your example, quite the contrary, such a situation is entirely true of governance here in the US.

Matthew, we don't have a monarchy yet, so how on earth would we get from there to a republic? First we have to get the charismatic demagogues and warband leaders, then the collapse into dissolution from which a feudal order emerges, then the transition to monarchy, then the republic, which turns into a kleptocracy and the wheel spins again...

Robert, colorful, but utterly unnecessary. Imagine instead that as people rise through the political sphere, from local to state to national, different power centers within the broad US elite class choose to support them, or not. Those who further one or another power center's agenda get tapped for funding and organized support, those who don't remain on the outside looking in. By the time you get within reach of the presidency, everyone who might conceivably be a threat to the system has long since been filtered out, and we get a succession of smiling sock puppets whose policies differ from one another so little that a microscope can barely find the gaps.

Cathy, oh, I think that if there was a 5% electoral turnout, they'd still make sweeping claims about democracy -- not least because vote fraud is as American as apple pie, and a good many of the absent 95% would have ballots cast in their names anyway.

John Michael Greer said...

Ian, if California is home for you, then it's home, and you'll certainly have no lack of entertainment. I'd encourage you to consider learning Chinese, and if you can invest in the pot bubble before it gets going, and cash out all your holdings the moment you see the first article babbling about limitless upside opportunities in the California pot industry, you might end up quite comfortable as well!

Blueback, an Eric Hoffer quote is always legal tender here, and as usual, he's right -- it's not the evilly evil evilness of a system that makes people rise against it, it's the sudden realization that the people on top are unable to wipe their noses without help that summons the mobs and hurls them against the Bastille. Thanks for the links; I'd read the National Interest one already -- I'm not always a fan of their politics, but NI has good analyses.

Jonathan, it's entirely possible that they have a gold-backed currency, at least in the notional Rooseveltian sense, in mind. The thing I don't think my more gold-buggish readers get is that saying that going off the gold standard was necessary in 1933 does not mean that going onto it again would be a bad idea in 2020. The economic situation is entirely different -- the capacity for the production of real wealth was soaring in 1933, and nowadays it's sinking fast as the last of the world's easily accessible fossil fuel reserves are drawn down.

Dammerung, of course inflation and recession are monetary phenomena -- did you read my comment above, where I noted that they're a product of the relationship between changes in the money supply and changes in the production of real wealth? As for recessions being good, there again, they're good for some people and very bad for others. While I tend to agree about the impossibility of managing an economy by central banks, abdicating management to a lump of metal doesn't produce noticeably better results for most people, though it's very profitable for the rentier class -- the class that always favors deflationary measures such as a gold standard.

Progress, whoever said it, it was a good quote!

Greg Burton said...


You're far enough along now that it should be possible to model the process you're describing with Insight Maker ( While I would agree that we can't rely on the Internet and modern tech for any great length of time, it provides useful modeling tools *now* that can be used to create rather simple process diagrams - certainly useful as teaching aids in multiple discourses.

As far as gold goes mercury, as the alchemists knew. It is curious that FDR took us off the gold standard - it's not like he created the US electronics industry as assistant Secretary of the Navy, or anything.. (o hai, RCA) Once you need to make connectors, gold is really really useful. Too valuable to be money, actually.

Probably just a coincidence. Just like it's coincidental that if you read "turning lead into gold" as "extracting gold from galena", you've got a solid understanding of mining chemistry - and could have predicted the ecological destruction of huge swaths of land and the contamination of the marine biosphere.

John Michael Greer said...

BTW, as expected, I've received a flurry of screeds from goldbugs, packed with the same sort of cherrypicked factoids, straw-man arguments, revisionist historical narratives, and raw handwaving that I got from creationists back when I ran some posts talking favorably about the theory of evolution. Give it a break, guys (and gals) -- you have plenty of other websites where you can post multiscreen rants about how wrongly wrongfully wrongetty wrong-wrong wrong I am.

عبد المنعم المشايخي said...

Thank you for a good assessment of the process of decline, It seem history walk in cycles and the calamity of people is that they do not learn and keep making the same mistakes, my question is, who moves history or are we living in a blind, deaf and dumb universe and all sages and prophets are bunch of liars that there is a patient divine power that leaves nothing without account,my last note is that are you kidding when you say that america wanted democracy for Iraq.

Steve in Colorado said...

@Cherokee Organics

I'd agree about the Gold Standard being a diversion to what is really going on. Problem with gold is it is in the same category as discussing religion or politics. People have strong opinions, both pro and con, and once you bump into them they usurp the discussion...

To answer your questions to me, if the "new" money was channeled into the general populations, you'd see significant inflation; since the general pop spends most of their money rather than hoarding it. And the reason to move individual's money into the financial sector is several fold: the financial sector can be manipulated and made to appear to be expanding, and it is easier to confiscate/control too (if you believe our leaders would contemplate such a move). Although I am not clear where you are leading. Perhaps you could spell it out for those of us (myself included) who can't see where your path is heading.

My point in my first post to JMG wasn't about gold really (I only mention gold because it was a factor in foreign exchange settlements of that day and had to be taken into account). But gold really is a "four letter word" it seems, once you mention it, that is all some people hear.

The more important point is that FDR's solution was not all that different than the solutions used in the dot com bubble and the RE bubble which followed. Slight differences as to who and how the new money was distributed, but none of them produced the desired results. If anything they are becoming less and less effective at producing any results which can be dressed up and sold as a successful outcome.

Perhaps not earth-shaking news, but if correct it means the underlying problem has been with us for quite a bit longer than many people believe. And that what passes for "the good old days" when we did not have this problem (the 20's, 50's, 60's, or later) really were not examples of an economy which worked. In fact, there is probably no one alive today who has experienced an economy which did not have the current problem, in some form or another.

Just something to ponder when thinking about how one would like the economy to work. Is the model one is using really free of the problem we are seeing today, or was it already lurking?

YCS said...

Thank you for your excellent analysis. I've always been wondering why some revolutions work and some don't, and you hit the nail on the head.

I'm also very thankful that my grandparents and their generation in the jewel of the British Empire decided to do away with their masters but not the stability of their institutions. People may complain that we still have the rigidity and inertia of the old days, but that's a hell of a lot better than Stalin and Mao.


patriciaormsby said...

JMG, I love your words of wisdom to the goldbug guys and gals. You do a wonderful job of moderating this blog.

I see that Russia is part of the this week's discussion again, though somewhat tangential. Last week I was too busy to jump in, but when you said Russia was likely to be giving a subtle shove to America toward its date with reality, I agreed that it would not be surprising. And others noted that the shove was quite public, which surprised me, but the authorities might have some reason for letting that happen, such as discrediting Russia.

I love Russia, but it would be foolish to underestimate them. I suspect the tactics they will employ to the best effect are those our authorities cannot bring to light without uncovering damning evidence of their own crimes. One case of this we have already seen was the microwaving of the Moscow Embassy, which the authorities could not protest without jeopardizing the uses they were already making, with plans for more, of those same frequencies and field strengths. It was an extremely hostile maneuver, as anyone would have been aware if they'd been following Russia's research on microwaves.

In any case, I wonder if such tactics could be why we hear so much bitterness from certain quarters against an "aggressive Russia," while Russia just sits there smiling. Something about "rope" comes to mind. (The USSR just didn't appreciate that it would be applied to themselves first, and then the capitalists would go about stringing themselves up in turn.)

Brian Cady said...

These stages, Pretense, Impact and Response, remind me of Kubler-Ross's five stages of grief. I'll write them as much for myself as for you, dear readers: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. Reportedly there's no inherent sequence in the experience of these.
While grieving accompanies accepting real limits, perhaps the only way to test whether encountered limits are real or imagined is to proceed through the grief stages.
Personally, I'm bargaining on OTEC, enhanced photosynthesis in GEed plants and such, and on ocean iron fertilization; but I'm also considering accepting the loss of ?modernity?/industrialism, by perusing rural land ads. Am I thus fleeing responsibility or finally getting some sense?
JMG, you keep rubbing my nose in what's either smelling salts or poopoo, and you do it so artfully I can hardly wait for more each Wednesday. (But I think OTEC could anchor a steampunk future, and, and, and... (etc.)) Thanks for getting us thinking.

fudoshindotcom said...

This weeks conversation seems a particularly appropriate place to take a moment and thank the Author. Unlike many others, JMG doesn't compose insulting, vitriolic responses to folks who disagree with His views, as a professional writer He no doubt is eminently capable of doing so. Rather He takes the time to explain why He's come to the conclusions He has, holding Himself to the same standard of polite discourse He imposes on commenters. In my experience that is a rare, and noteworthy, Blue Heron indeed. Speaking only for myself, I've learned a great deal more from giving consideration to the opinions I didn't agree with than from those I did. So, Thank you JMG, and thanks to all the commenters who make this blog worth reading!

Yossarian said...

@ Cathy McGuire

In a world without subsidies, I think transit won't need subsidies. The only reason transit requires subsidies today is because road subsidies (car subsidies) have distorted land use patterns to make transit extremely impractical.

I agree with Charles Marohn that our cities will likely "Detroit-ify", potentially quite soon, where hundreds of millions of dollars of un-maintainable asphalt will be reverted to dirt/gravel roads.

A sort of urban triage will make transit feasible again, run at a profit, but it will take a lot of time and a lot of people will really hate the messy urban triage or won't want to admit it's happening. But once people relocate to places where transit is possible, transit will be possible without subsidies.

I'm not sure about gigantic cities like NYC though. The subways might require subsidies even with high ridership because building underground tunnels is so expensive.

winingwizzard said...

@ Lawfish 1964...

It IS VERY hard to separate from society, but that should be an accepting yet internal separation. We need a society - we are communal, mostly. What I did was to view money purely as a requirement, a necessary evil. What you DO with the money is what differentiates (IMHO). For me and mine, it goes to said farm where much of what we use is cast-off (old tin, old lumber, pallet lumber, tires, etc.) from cities. It doesn't have to be pretty - it has to work with gravity or minimal energy inputs. You have to think lots smaller for the future(s).

We got 22 telephone poles and several thousand feet of netting for free - by hauling it off for free when they replaced a driving range. This was several thousand dollars of 'junk' that turns into a hawk-proof 2-acre chicken pen...

Yes - it takes money, but by choosing carefully, we have 40 very rural acres for $x0,000 and it got paid for fast since many cars sell for that much and we quit buying new cars... The goal is now to lower energy inputs by choosing systems of doing things that require less. Some fail and others work - the fun is in the doing.

The end result is that the need for cash drops, allowing you to collapse somewhat. Once farm income rises enough, you are there... or you collapse more, requiring less inputs... What's my downside? Well, I spend years with my kids doing stuff and I have a farm in the country... still looking for that downside.

If you continue to put your money into suburbia or other things that cannot 'give back', then it just vanishes. Like buying a new car - it is just a waste of money and resources. This eternal suburban 'money pit' is the root cause of a lot of poverty and misery. This is all voting with my feet and my wallet.

It is not for everyone, but my kids are in their 20's and they are all-in and support us, even the 2 that live in the city (they want to build micro-house on our creek). The fact is we cannot take all this 'stuff' with us on our final journey, so if you accumulate 'stuff', it shouldn't be for you anyway. Not against a little hedonism on occasion though!

If it was easy to do, then everyone would be doing it. You have to BELIEVE that your vision of the far future (or one of them) is probably right. Then you have to choose to believe in yourself in order to let go of where you are. That you and I are even conversing is most indicative...and sorry if I come off preachy, but I do feel passionately and believe in my visions. I have read a lot of stuff and switched the TV off a decade or so ago (well, mostly TBH) so my mind would be clear and my own.

Yes - some folks think me crazy, but I have learned to be a quite proud member of the tinfoil hat club. It's just more fun than being a drone, and you meet so many people who say, "I wish I could do that.." - never realizing they CAN. Soapbox away - please forgive me all...

@JMG re 'guys with guns'

Well, if they come, then they come. We can only control what we, each of us, do. My hope is they leave me alone and opt for some of our most exceptional wines, deciding to leave us in place as a 'resource' maybe? Who knows how far it will go? But honestly, we are very much deep within West Malofia, so getting there has to be intended - location, location, location, right? We do what we can and enjoy each season for what it brings us. It has ever been so...

@ Steve in Colorado

What is that famous definition of insanity again? Same thing over and over - I long for a hereditary memory for our species at times. But the truth of it is that greed drives it all, and greed is often fear driven. Living each day as it unfolds negates a lot of fear. Realizing we only leave this plane the way we entered - naked - negates even more. A lot of our problems can be traced back to some pretty silly belief systems...

Denys said...

I wish I had more faith that our democracy could be revitalized. I've commented before about being around parents melting down and losing it. Again last night, a grandmother, maybe 60, totally screaming at other adults about signing in their children. Not screaming to get people's attention - which is unnecessary and childish on its own - no screaming with insulting comments to all present, children and parents alike. This was a volunteer who asked for this role to be "in charge".

If we can't manage the simple things in working together without loosing our mind, let's say in keeping track of who is present for an activity, then having a rational discussion on the merits of policy decision? Yeah not a chance.

Dammerung said...

Deflation is the means by which the working class enjoys the benefits of capital expansion. It's easy to drop prices to undercut competitors but it's a lot harder to cut the established wages of an employee, most especially in a healthy labor market. You deride gold as an inert lump of metal, which, ironically, is exactly the reason why it's good for being money.

As a thought experiment let's say we go back to a gold standard tomorrow, let's be conservative and call it 20,000 / oz. Doing this isn't going to create more oil or get pulverized plastic out of the oceanic food chain. But it will blow up every bank, hedge fund, and the deficit spending embiggened government - the real rentier class. I find it odd that you accuse the gold standard of enriching rentiers, when they're currently in the business of printing money and handing it to themselves directly.

This discussion is more than academic and it's directly relevant to the topic at hand. In the era of response, it's going to be taken for granted that the old economic order has failed and can't be forced back onto the rails with any amount of state violence. When fiat currencies blow up people are going to turn to precious metals as stores of value, and I very much expect a money economy to be able to survive any convulsion in human affairs. The capital base may grow or shrink depending on external circumstances but money - gold - will remain valuable in all situations.

Ed-M said...

JMG, I wasn't talking about the whole planet, just what is most widespread in the USA. And as far as politics goes, I can see the GOP get its one-party republic only to divide in two. Methinks this is because we don't have our charismatic demagogue yet and aren't likely to prior to the USA being overwhelmed by events like those in your five-post series that became Twilight's Last Gleaming. After all there is no requirement that the two parties squabbling over US government debt therein be the same two parties as today's.

Ed-M said...

Professor D, you make a very compelling argument about letting all those banks fail would lead to shorter recessions/depressions... until JMG reminded me in his response to you of the 1932-33 credit crisis caused initially by the Collapse of Credit Anhalt in Austria. Problem is, if FDR said to the wealthy, "I'm letting all those debts default and you guys can go suck on some rotten eggs" (the kind hens lay) I am quite certain that the US would not only have gone through Financial Collapse, but also Commercial Collapse (which was happening already) and even Governmental Collapse. Which probably means the USA would have broken up into several countries: some fascist, some communist, and perhaps one remaining free-enterprise.

Varun Bhaskar said...


Yeah, I expect to use the term "that's just gonna make things worse" alot in the years ahead.

Out here in WI many of us are already in the era of response. We are slowly pulling things together. Some six of my friends are now gardening or getting ready to start gardens. I've made contact with the resilience community, and gotten a scholarship from the permaculture guild to do their certification course next month. Full ride.

The paper is moving to print in July, if all goes according to plan. Let's see what happens when the economy pops.

Good read again, as always.



Bruce Turton said...

Not being a systems thinker, I have found that putting together individual, seemingly disparate instances that are occurring around us helps to put together your theses with reality. For instance, the fact that most of the monies of the QE programmes of the past and present (Europe and Japan and China currently) have been used by corporate entities to inflate their asset prices by stock buy-backs, dividends to stock holders, and rather large remuneration to corporate executives, rather than any investment in plant and infrastructure pursuant to new production; the fact that there is now a net decline in small business survival, never mind creation, in the U.S.A. for the first time in the history of the nation; the fact that corporate earnings of entities listed on the S&P 500 have fallen by something like 13% year over year in April, but that stock prices continue to climb higher; the fact that "fracking" has a very short shelf-life for production, especially amid the reality of the majority of those involved never having positive cash flow. These and other facts need to be "connected" (as an older BBC TV production proclaimed), but are not by any MSM or political entity.
Even in the relative revolutionary environment of Alberta, Canada, with the election of a seemingly "leftist" government after 80 years of 'conservative' rule, the expectations are for change that will allow for 'growth' and thus prosperity - from the public and the new political class. (Shades of 2008 south of the border!)
Maybe some of your readers as well as you could direct me to others who do make the connections.
I don't mean to suggest that what you offer weekly has not been put together thoughtfully and thoroughly with these "connections" in mind. I just need to hear more of the 'facts' (being of analytic bent, not attuned to systems) to be able to pursue my understanding of the demise of our current realities. My grandchildren need to at least hear of this probability, even if all around them proclaim the continuity, somehow, of prosperity.

Bill Man said...

I have seen the ideological basis for revolution in the US, and it resembles what ISIS is doing. I have been to a right wing mega church whose pastor ordered his thousands of worshippers to buy guns, that the time to go to declare war against liberals, who he said were agents of Satan, is coming soon. The thousands in attendance were growling and cackling like evil scientists, I kid you not, with some people there saying "the only good liberal is a dead liberal". The pastor, who stood on a stage bathed in blood red light with scarred shields and painted blood-tipped spears encircling the stage, said he is in contact with other churches across the country to coordinate the final war to rid America of liberalism. There were cops, even the county sheriff go to this church and they weren't there undercover, they were there shaking their fists red-faced with rage.

It's not about religion as much as making a violent and infinitely morally relative ideology holy by misuse of religion. This church said that liberal Christians are just as much as infidels as atheist liberals, and apparently just as deserving of being murdered en masse.

When the US collapses, the ISIS -like religious fanatics will make an attempt at armed insurrection. As surely as ISIS talks about its caliphate, the Christian Right is talking of their God given entitlement to hold Dominion over all the people's on Earth by any means necessary. They may fail or get swept up in some other revolution, but if this church and its thousands of members had their way today, hundreds of millions of Americans would be in death camps and all the victims' assets would be divided up as spoils of the holy war, giving another temporary reprieve from the full collapse of the US.

Remember that (R) Inhoffe demanded that Hurricane Sandy victims receive no federal help at all, but then demanded a short time later that OK constituents hit by tornadoes receive full help, that there is a difference, he wouldn't elaborate, but the difference is, Inhoffe hates blue states to the point of trying to deny help in a life or death situation for hundreds of thousands just because their state voted blue, but his good religious Right folk deserve everyone's help whether they want to or not, so Help Him God.

Shawn Sincoski said...

Great series, as usual. Where would you place one of my favorite quotes (from another observer of a failing empire) in your current schema?

We have been brought into the present condition in which we are unable neither to tolerate the evils from which we suffer, nor the remedies we need to cure them. - Livy

Not sure if the version is entirely correct, but it captures the essence.

fudoshindotcom said...

Thanks. Honestly no, I haven't done any networking yet other than to share gardening advice. Although I have good relationships with my neighbors they generally don't express interest in that sort of thing. By and large they are completely engaged in making a living.

I can't help but wonder if the need to expend such large amounts of time and energy, at least among the working class, to do that has been deliberately fostered to draw attention away from bigger issues. Of course it could just as well be that people intent on paying the electric bill each month choose to disregard things like global warming entirely of their own volition. I, by no means, possess the sociological education to formulate a hypothesis regarding this.

For the moment I'll continue to work through the learning curve myself and offer what help I can give whenever it's requested.

Lawfish1964 said...

@WiningWizzard -

I didn't take your comments as preachy. You and I are on the same wavelength. I only woke up to the situation we're in in the past couple years. Since then, my life has changed considerably. My mid-life crisis, I guess. I started with a garden. Four boxes terraced nicely, surrounded by railroad ties. Had great success with potatoes and tomatoes the first year, but everything else was hit or miss. I started composting. I added 2 small raised beds beside my entrance trellis to grow climbing beans, then 2 apple trees and a blood orange. We got a Vietnamese potbellied pig, who makes the best fertilizer you've ever seen.

Beginning of this year, we got 4 chickens. I have since built a very nice coop (I had a lot of experience in construction before going to law school). It sits in the pen I fenced off for the pig, which contains the little house I built for him. Then I converted another small portion of our yard outside the kitchen window into another planting bed. It's loaded with potatoes and getting ready for harvest. Then we added 4 more chickens and off-loaded one of the original 4 who turned out to be a rooster.

The past 2 weekends, I've been fencing off my main garden to keep the pig out. It's all good. We live in an 84 year old house in mid-town in a smallish college town. In the absence of a commute, I could live without a car. We have a great local produce shop within walking distance and I get grass-fed beef from a local producer, as well as venison which I get in trade for fish.

One other thing I did was buy 30 acres of hardwoods north of a river near here. That was to be my "doomstead" property and ultimately a place to hunt deer. I haven't done much with it due to my desire to get my main home fully "collapsed." Did I mention that last weekend, I put up an old-fashioned clothesline? Took maybe 90 minutes. The clothes dry in less time than it takes in the dryer!

The final cog in my plan is a family cottage we have on a beach an hour south of here. Been in the family since 1966 and now jointly owned by me and my sister and our spouses. I have a large legal seine net and I know how to use it. When I tell you we catch fish, I mean we CATCH fish. The whole family gets involved. Shrimp, mullet, flounder, trout, sheepshead, we get it all. And what we don't eat right away, I pressure-can and use those jars for lunch here at the office for the next month. All of this will be here for my kids after I'm gone.

In short, I'm doing as you are. Setting up a sustainable homestead step by step by step and loving every minute of it.

Purple Tortoise said...

I don't know if anyone has mentioned this, but the U.S. House of Representatives has just passed a bill for funding the National Science Foundation that cuts out money for research on climate change and increases money for research on deep ocean drilling and finding new fossil fuel energy sources. Talk about doubling down on the current approach.

FiftyNiner said...

@ Dammerung
The problem with gold as a medium of exchange, post collapse, is the establishment of value and then coming up with the very small amounts needed for the relatively small transactions that constitute day to day expenses. If you have a bag of South African gold Kruggerands and they may be worth thousands of dollars each, good luck buying the few staples you may need to tide you over. The issue is purely one of human psychology. We seek to park long term value in anything that we deem secure in a particular situation. This can often work very well, but in the collapse that I envision for the US, there will be no accessible border that we can easily cross to convert the gold to practical, usable denominations.
At the time that Nixon "took us off the gold standard" I was an undergraduate. There were heated discussions among students and some profs about the prudence of what Nixon had done. I made what I still consider a mature decision: "Money" is whatever a particular society decides that it is at any given time. It is, in all instances, an abstraction and is proved to be so when a complete "monetary" collapse occurs. But when the collapse does come, we as individuals and as a society, have to immediately begin work on the remedy and are essentially all in the same boat.
I have a friend and neighbor across the river who is a beekeeper and produces some beautiful amber honey. I will try to trade some of my freshly dug potatoes and garden produce for a pint of her honey. Barter will keep you fed. You cannot digest gold.
The last thing that will be fiddled with by any revolutionaries is private ownership of real estate; but whereas Scarlet O'Hara could have paid the taxes on Tara with gold, we probably won't have that option.

Gabriela Augusto said...

Dear JMG,

From this side of the Atlantic the wars don't seem so 'proxy'. It may be the geographic proximity, it may be the ingrained memory of so many wars in our lands. Anyway, war consumes and destroys unbelievable amounts of resources: the descent may well be a lot more bumpy and step than most of us anticipate...
Thank you!

nuku said...

@ Bruce Turton: In fact, if you read the comments to each blog post, you will often find many of the “facts” you are looking for, sometimes called “data points” by the commentators.
If you want to expose your grandkids to the “bigger picture” not available in mainstream media, why not them read the Archdurid’s posts and then have a discussion time with them so they can ask questions?

nuku said...

@ Bill Man: A short covertly filmed video of the goings-on in the mega church you mentioned would be interesting to see on YouTube...

nuku said...

@Steve In Colorado
Re your response to Cherokee Organics: it seems to me the “underlying problem” with modern economies you mention is that, after all the handwaving and shouting, these economies are non-sustainable, not working, because they are based on exploitation of 1)finite resources (especially oil/coal), and 2)humans themselves who are turned into mere “commodities” to be used and thrown away.
For examples of economies that “work” (and here I have to assume that you mean something like are relatively long lasting and benefit the majority of the population without destroying the environment), methinks one has to go back to times before the oil/coal based industrial revolution.
And even there one has to pick and choose carefully: pre-industrial empire-style economies based on slave labor and the “wealth-pump” JMG described in previous blogs, collapsed because they were based on unsustainable exploitation of resources, both human and environmental. One might look to some long-lasting aboriginal societies as models for sustainable economies.

llamawalker said...


This is a general comment I believe relative to what you've been saying in your blog for some time and relates to energy. I work for a large national utility and we had a meeting today with our VP that was opened for questions. I asked about the future of the industry as a whole, and his answer surprised me. He admitted resoundingly that the future IS distributed generation, NOT large, centralized power plants. But also in keeping with things you've said, he assured me that that future was a long way off! We shall see!

avalterra said...

Wait, wait, wait... I think I get it. In an economy that has very little, slow growth a gold backed currency can function just fine as the gold is pulled out of the ground about as fast as the economy expands, thus the money supply and economy expand roughly at the same pace.

But once we entered into the age of oil and our economy wanted to zoom ahead then the gold standard (at least as it was constructed at the time with a fixed weight to a dollar) became a burden. The current system of basing the currency on debt has its problems as well but it does expand as rapidly as people are wanting to grow the economy (with the occasional disconnect).

The problem is that we are now entering an era of contraction and the powers that be are trying to *fix* that problem by creating more debt (thus expanding the currency when, rightfully, it should be contracting).

We might go back to the gold standard (or some version of it) as a solution in the future and that might even help temporarily. But what we really need is a system of currency that reflects the ongoing contraction that we will be facing for decades, perhaps centuries to come.

Am I close?

John Michael Greer said...

Greg, I'll leave modeling software to those who find it useful, thanks. As for lead into gold, good -- but that's actually based on late medieval and early modern misunderstandings of the alchemical tradition. European alchemists generally claimed to be able to turn mercury, not lead, into gold.

(Name I can't read), to understand what I meant when I referenced US claims about installing democracy in Iraq, you have to remember that since the beginning of our age of empire in 1898, Americans have had this persistent delusion that we could invade other countries, set up pseudo-American institutions there, and have the people of the country we've just flattened suddenly start thinking and acting like Americans and, not coincidentally, support whatever the US agenda happens to be. That's the "democracy" the US thinks it can export: not actual democracy (we don't have much of that left in the US these days), but the delusional simulacrum that's stuck in the heads of our senile elite.

As for sages and prophets, well, I suspect the sages and prophets you have in mind are rather different from the ones I tend to read and study, so we should probably leave that question alone for now.

YCS, no argument there. Given the way the British stripped India to the bare walls before walking away, it's done remarkably well since independence.

Patricia, "never underestimate Russia" is one of those basic maxims that needs to be brutally burned with a branding iron into the backsides of every politician with the least interest in global affairs. As far as I can see, the Russians are playing a very skilled game, and the US response has been embarrassingly clumsy. Talleyrand's famous quote comes to mind: "It is worse than a crime, it is a stupidity."

Brian, check out the net energy on OTEC sometime; it's negligible -- powering a society by OTEC is like trying to get rich by extracting gold from sea water. Sorry!

Fudoshin, thank you. I like an interesting forum where there's a diversity of opinion but no trolls and no fist-pounding single-issue fanatics, and so try to produce one here.

Lawfish, good. As long as you approach the thing with that in mind, you may well squeak by.

Denys, no question, it's got to start at an incredibly basic level -- by teaching and enforcing basic standards of behavior for group discussions. Old-fashioned deliberative bodies used to have one or more sergeants-at-arms, whose job was to pick up anyone who got disruptive, by the scruff of their neck if need be, and toss them out of the assembly. That needs to return -- and with it, the recognition that participation in a discussion is a privilege, not a right, and depends on maintaining a basic standard of courtesy and reasonable behavior.

John Michael Greer said...

Dammerung, this claim that deflation benefits the working classes may sound great on paper but it flies in the face of centuries of actual experience. Again, you need to go get some good books on 19th century US social history and pay attention to the real world. In the second half of the 19th century, under the gold standard, wages were forced down brutally to starvation levels, erasing any benefit gained from falling prices -- but the major factor in the mass impoverishment driven by the gold standard was the thing you don't mention, which is debt.

When a currency deflates, the people who owe money still have to pay back the same face value as before. If their wages go down -- and again, in the late 19th century, wages for the lower 2/3 or so did -- they get hammered, while the people who lent money prosper at their expense because they get the same face value when it's worth more. Thus deflation is an effective way to transfer wealth from borrowers to creditors. Of course there are other ways -- the fact that it's being done by other means doesn't make gold any less effective as a tool for the same purpose. And of course, as I pointed out in an earlier post, the notion that having a stash of gold will keep you safe and prosperous in a time of economic crisis is also something that's been tested by history, and the results are not in your favor.

Ed-M, oh, granted. I'm still far from certain that the whole shebang couldn't blow sky high in a hurry over some apparently minor little event, but we'll see.

Varun, glad to hear it. Enjoy the ride... ;-)

Bruce, there are hundreds of blogs out there in the doomosphere carrying various mixtures of analysis and data. Two I read regularly these days are Naked Capitalism and Rice Farmer -- but your mileage may vary.

Bill, fortunately for the rest of us, the fundamentalists increasingly lack the one thing necessary for an effective jihad -- enough young men. Middle-aged guys are great at preaching holy wars and lousy at actually conducting one; for the latter, you need lots of 16 to 21-year-olds, the eternal cannon fodder of our species, who can be talked into throwing their lives away for whatever politico-religious agenda you have in mind. That's a problem for the Christian fundamentalists, because American youth is bailing out on established religious groups at an unprecedented pace, and the Christian mainstream is getting hit by this proportionally harder than other groups.

Shawn, good! A Livy quote is always welcome here. That's the classic attitude of the era of response, when everyone agrees that something has to be done but no one wants to do the things that would actually fix what's wrong.

Fudoshin, fair enough.

Tortoise, a classic example of the era of pretense in its last and most desperate phase.

Gabriela, remember that I have no idea where you or any of my other readers are unless you happen to mention that fact. Proxy wars are no easier to live through than any other kind -- it's just that they tend to be localized. The fighting currently under way in Ukraine and Syria, for example, is at the moment the extent of actual military conflict between the US and Russia; lacking nuclear weapons, in all probability we'd have something approximating the Second World War under way right now, with all of Europe, the Middle East, and various other parts of the planet being pounded by bombs and fought over by huge armies.

John Michael Greer said...

Llamawalker, if they've actually gotten to the point of thinking about distributed generation, that's a step in the right direction. The next question is whether they grasp the fact that there's going to be a lot less electricity per capita.

Avalterra, excellent! Yes, that's exactly the point that I've been trying to make. Thank you for stating it more concisely than I did!

patriciaormsby said...

Here's something for everyone's amusement: Data will replace oil as source of energy

Crow Hill said...

Eric S: About the U-turn concerning the problems with industrial agriculture. Could this be a result of propaganda from the agro-industrial complex? After all the most powerful multinational corporations are those that control world food.

Strange though—if this is true—that they should feel it necessary to campaign against alternative forms of agriculture, especially that there is unanimous agreement (even among promoters of alternative agriculture) that only industrial agriculture can provide food for the human population today and in the decades to come.

dltrammel said...

Pinku Sensei said:

You aren't alone in thinking that. Intelligence expert Robert Steele had the following to say in a post yesterday on The Public Intelligence Blog: "From the perspective of a long-time intelligence professional – a former spy who helped create the Marine Corps Intelligence Center and spent 20 years as a CEO pioneering commercial intelligence – not only do most of the preconditions for revolution exist in America right now, but the federal government seems determined to ignore realities across the board."

Thanks for the link but I would recommend people go past the first page and read the follow on article at the Guardian The open source revolution is coming and it will conquer the 1% - ex CIA spy.

Robert Steele seems to have some great insight into what is coming:

He points me to his tremendous collection of reviews of books on climate change, disease, environmental degradation, peak oil, and water scarcity. "I see five major overlapping threats on the immediate horizon," he continues. "They are all related: the collapse of complex societies, the acceleration of the Earth's demise with changes that used to take 10,000 years now taking three or less, predatory or shock capitalism and financial crime out of the City of London and Wall Street, and political corruption at scale, to include the west supporting 42 of 44 dictators. We are close to multiple mass catastrophes."

What about the claim that the US is on the brink of revolution? "Revolution is overthrow – the complete reversal of the status quo ante. We are at the end of centuries of what Lionel Tiger calls 'The Manufacture of Evil,' in which merchant banks led by the City of London have conspired with captive governments to concentrate wealth and commoditise everything including humans. What revolution means in practical terms is that balance has been lost and the status quo ante is unsustainable. There are two 'stops' on greed to the nth degree: the first is the carrying capacity of Earth, and the second is human sensibility. We are now at a point where both stops are activating."

peakfuture said...

Robert Mathiesen mentioned a Mr. Smith- Bill Hicks has an excellent bit about this; when a president wins the election, they see a film... of the Kennedy assassination... from a different angle (a not so subtle hint):

This was also a great bit in Tim Scott Bennett's (the same guy who did the movie 'What A Way To Go - Life At The End of Empire') _All Of The Above_, of a president who pretty much gets the same message.

RoseRedLoon said...

Hello everyone!

@Pinkusensei, thanks for the link. The JMG quote you included in the first posted comment stopped me in my tracks when I first read it. I always read this column very slowly and consider it carefully. When I started reading the comments it was the very first thing I saw! Here it is again:

"Every time a government tries to cope with a crisis by claiming that it doesn’t exist, every time some member of the well-to-do tries to dismiss the collective burdens its culture of executive kleptocracy imposes on the country by flinging abuse at critics, every time institutions that claim to uphold the rule of law defend the rule of entrenched privilege instead, the United States takes another step closer to the revolutionary abyss.”

I actually had a brief fantasy of someone reading those words to a squirmy board meeting of bureaucrats (or “journalists”) with inspiring theatre music welling in the background. “At long last, have you left no sense of decency?” It has punch, it’s clear, it’s not esoteric. I love it.

As for the crisis of legitimacy, I have noticed an interesting shift in my professional life that may simply be a product of age and experience, rather than a broader shift. While I have always spoken truth to power and been completely ignored, management is beginning to listen to me. In the past, there was such complete rejection of the idea that the status quo had serious problems, and there was enough money, connections, and power sloshing around to safely ignore such problems, that there was no benefit to listening to the likes of me. As resources become tighter, as reality knocks the swagger from their stride, as bravado falters, I find myself suddenly having an audience.

It’s weird. It’s a micro-example of how I hope the small efforts of today will pay off later. The years I have spent speaking my mind may have been about as effective as practicing a speech in the mirror, but someday may come in handy. It won’t directly put food on the table or provide warmth, but perhaps indirectly it will be a useful skill, if only to influence the organization of cooperative effort. My imagined future role will be as some sort of project manager - anything from organizing a market to planning an inventory system. My husband and I also have specific practical skills, though I would love to have more.

With regards to gold, I have a dangerous plan myself. I expect it to skyrocket at some point, if only briefly, before it eventually settles into some other unpredictable role in an exchange system. I’m rolling the dice by acquiring a few of those coins and I plan to time the price explosion to a purchase of real material wealth in the form of a small homestead with some horses and loads of food-producing trees. Of course that may never materialize, and It’s certainly not my only plan, but perhaps the bet will pay off. Here is the southeast United States, you can still buy a 10-acre rural property with access to water and a great growing climate for a modest price.

Thanks as usual for your awesomefullly-awesomeletty-awesome column, and the best peanut gallery on the web.

p.s. I finally went shopping for your books intending to read about collapse, energy, etc… and found myself distracted by your occult collection. Monsters! UFOs! A gigantic guilty pleasure for me and I had to order those books first. I can’t wait to read what your brilliant mind has to say on those subjects.

CSAFarmer said...

JMG, (and the many cogent commenters on this blog)

Aside from the many practical and prophetic ideas found here, I find I am benefiting most from the sense I am not alone in my 'delusion' that BAU will soon become SHTF. Most in my small circle of acquaintance get that idea, but a much smaller circle is actually behaving as if it were true (even my wife gets tired of me talking about it).

I live on a small farm, and am currently walking the tightrope of making it productive (economically) now while preparing for a very different set of circumstances in the future. It can be a daunting task when there is so much to do, especially when you are thinking about how to plan a personal 'catabolic collapse' out to the 7th generation.

So it's particulary heartening to see comments like those of WiningWizard, Lawfish, Cherokee Chris, who are leading by example, as is the esteemed Archdruid. All you can do is all you can do, and doing anything is better than doing nothing.

Thanks to all for creating this space.

Sven Eriksen said...

No, I didn't expect you to be very impressed by his proposed solution, either ;) I don't suppose any workable approach to any problem you'd care to name has ever followed the words “Now if everybody would just...”

Ed-M said...

JMG, yes it could all go up sky-high. Possibly over race: James Howard Kunstler in The World Made by Hand painted a former USA convulsed by race wars and general lawlessness; Elaine Meinel Supkis in a recent post on her blog stated that if the urban poor blacks don't get their act together but keep on rioting then White Supremacist gangs, egged on by the Repiblicans, could very well go into those neighborhoods and exterminate the lot of them. Hope it doesn't come to that, but I do see the United States descending sooner or later into a destruction of civil peace much like the former Yugoslavia did.

Ed-M said...

@ nuku, Bill Man: where's the link? Cause if they're all fat, pasty white middle aged guys descending into this sort of Christ-Psychosis, then we have nothing to fear from them, methinks for the same reason our Archdruid stated.

whomever said...

Dammerung: I hesitate to even bother posting this because I think we are going down a rathole, but I echo the Archdruid: Please, please, please, read some actual history. When you say things like "it's a lot harder to cut the established wages of an employee, most especially in a healthy labor market", may I respectfully suggest you read the long, long list of examples from the late 19th century that disprove this. You might want to start with the Pullman strike of 1894, a big cause of which was across the board wage cuts. In general reading late 19th century economic history is interesting for a couple of reasons, not least of which you realize that actually the US has always been pretty corrupt.

latheChuck said...

Shortly after I finished strolling about the yard gathering herbs and kale for my breakfast omelet, the power went out to my house (Washington DC suburb). Hmmm; I wonder what happened? Fortunately, I just grabbed my LED headlamp (always on the nightstand), dug the Sterno stove out of the "camping" equipment in the basement, and went on with breakfast preparations. The phone still worked, so we called the power company to report the outage. A battery-powered radio revealed no dramatic news. An hour or so later, a bucket truck showed up and a worker replaced a blown fuse between the high-voltage distribution line and the transformer that supplies our cluster of houses. "It was just a squirrel," he said. "The fifth one I've repaired today."

It was a quick reminder of how nature can surprise us, and how much dependent we are on complex systems.

Ahavah said...

No Bluegrass area ADR readers or Green Wizards out there? If you are interested in the scheduled Sunday June 14th bbq/pot luck, let me know by email to missgayle55 by way of that google email service. Sad to say no RSVPs so far. Come and discuss how we can collapse now and avoid the rush.

nuku said...

@JMG Here's a data point for the Age of Pretense in New Zealand: For 10 years John Campbell has hosted NZ's only serious investigative journalism TV show. He's known for taking on contentious social and political issues with personal passion.
Last week a record 1 million people watched his final show after he was forced to resign by the channel's owner Media Works, who claimed his show wasn't economically viable. The host of another so-called "news/current events" show commented that, unlike Campbell, his show is dedicated to giving the public what it wants, a "happy sunny positive" spin the news and current events. Campbell will be replaced by one of those Punch and Judy co-hosted we’re-so-cool-and-isn't-the-news-funny-in-5-second-sound-byte shows.
At the same time, the most expensive locally produced TV program in NZ history will premier soon on the boob tube; its name...Filthy Rich.
Meanwhile the housing bubble is in full-blown mode with the price of a small 2 bedroom 50’s house on the outskits of Auckland fetching $800,000 at auction.

pyrrhus said...

"Strange though—if this is true—that they should feel it necessary to campaign against alternative forms of agriculture, especially that there is unanimous agreement (even among promoters of alternative agriculture) that only industrial agriculture can provide food for the human population today and in the decades to come."
News to me. The only sustainable form of agriculture is organic,multi-crop, with strong provisions for soil conservation. Anything else leads to the eventual, often rapid loss of topsoil and eventual barren land....There are numerous works on agriculture that spell this out, along with the consequences of "Industrial" agriculture.

Thomas Prentice said...

This is your best "Go-To" column. I was posting sentences and then whole paragraphs along with the link and your photo on my Facebook page. Hope you got some traffic.

I did like the note of potential possible optimism at the end but I am not sanguine about the most brutal and conscience-free, genocidal empire in human history accomodating itself to say, Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren.

The outside of Washington-state Big Bank money pouring into the campaign to defeat Socialist City Council member Kshama Sawant is an indication of that harsh reality as is the demonization of Rand Paul who seems to be the only US Senator fighting the NSA, Patriot Act and other assorted police state laws and institituions of the American Reich.

My guess is the last gasp of the power and wealth elite would be to resort to a constitutional convention called by the states.

In any case, it seems that the slightest dissent or oppo to the Wall Street and Pentagon/CIa ruling class and its courtiers and courtesans -- like the surly, conspiratorisal, and outright wicked, dangerous, and heavily armed Occupy protesters in 2011 -- is simply not toelerable. We have already seen the elite resort to severe, brutal repression such as routine lynching/assassinations of young Black and Latino men. And now even some WhiteFolk are getting in the line of law enforcement fire.

The panic over the Rand Paul filibuster of the NSA/Patriot Act due for a vote TORMORROW (Sunday, 31 May -- meeting on a SUNDAY?) -- shows the elites are awfully nervous which means their hired trigger fingers are getting kinda itchy.

As you point out, if history is a guide to anything, what comes next in 2015, 2016 and beyond (and THEN Climate Disruption) -- well it ain't agonna be very pretty.

Doctor Westchester said...

Here is my entry for the Great Squirrel Case Challenge of 2015: Data will replace oil as source of energy: Alibaba's Jack Ma

Wait - what do you mean that the contest is over? This is first rate stuff, capable of powering humanity forever....

John Michael Greer said...

Patricia, I saw that, and wondered if there was some kind of translation foulup or something. It's hard to believe that Ma could be that much of an idiot.

Loon, you're welcome and thank you! I hope you enjoy the UFO book; it's been huffily ignored by both sides of the controversy -- an amusing irony, all things considered.

CSAFarmer, you're welcome. The denial's going to get very strident, to the point of hysteria, before it breaks; it should be something to watch.

Sven, bingo. Of course all the world's problems could be solved if human beings just stopped acting like human beings!

Ed-M, if it came to a firefight between white supremacists and urban gangs, I'd put my money on the gangs.

LatheChuck, we should probably alert the nation to the terrifying threat of squirrel terrorism! ;-)

Nuku, I'm impressed that the show survived as long as it did. I hope that Campbell regroups, starts a weekly video podcast supported by advertising and readers, and becomes even more of a thorn in the side of the status quo than he was.

Thomas, er, thank you, but referring to the US as "the most brutal and conscience-free, genocidal empire in human history" is exactly the kind of hyperbole that guarantees you'll only be heard by the people who already agree with you; among other things, it simply isn't true, as a glance back along the history of other empires will show readily enough. Getting stuck in a binary between "the US is the best nation there ever was" and "the US is the worst nation there ever was" is among the least helpful options I can think of just now.

Doctor W., some days I wonder how people who write satire for a living can keep up with the drooling stupidity that passes for news...

Crow Hill said...

Pyrhhus: Agree with you about the sustainable forms of agriculture you mention.

But what I understood and was trying to express is that to feed the present world population there is a need for the more intensive non-sustainable forms of agriculture which made population increases possible in the first place. Catton in Overshoot compares this to increasing the withdrawal rate from saving deposits (the Earth’s regenerative capacity)which is of course not sustainable in the long run.

Ed-M said...

Hi JMG! Yes, and having no money to bet, I'd be rooting for the gangs, too.

@Nuku Punch and Judy! Never heard of that term before in reference to the fluff that passes for news and airbrushed models who pass for news readers here in the US. And the news itself? Two or three actual hard news with zero discussions of the root causes (peak oil, clumsy US imperialism, climate change) followed by a whole slew of human interest stories.

@Thomas, oh I think the Spanish Empire, Napoleon's France, the Nazis and the Soviets, and even the British Empire have us beat in spades.

Dave Zoom said...
Hey JMG one very poor result of a dying empire .

JML said...

I think that future revolutionaries shouldn't fight to put a strongman or a vanguard party in power. Future revolutionaries should fight for grassroots democracy and the decentralization of economic and political power. Preserving the union should not be a priority.

Scotlyn said...

Re gold and its allure in certain quarters, I'm inclined to consider the advice hidden in plain view by some auld wives telling tales (some taller than others).
1) Midas - greed for gold may cost you your family & everything you value.
2) Leprechaun gold - greed for gold may cost you your gold.
3) Pizarro - greed for gold may cost you your life in an ironic way.
4) California Goldrush - greed for gold can unbalance the values of things so that a dollar can't buy you an egg.
5) Silas Marner - Midas, mark two.
6) Treasure Island - gold steps in, trust steps out...
7) Huckleberry Finn - to give the gold away brings safety...

and I could go on... But, I won't. I think I can hear the voice of reason when it speaks so loudly across the ages...

John Michael Greer said...

Ed-M, I'm far from sure that I'd be rooting for either side, because whoever wins is going to take a big step toward becoming the warbands of our decline and fall; I'm just pretty sure the gangs would wipe up the streets with the supremacists.

Dave, just one more milestone on our way to the next round of dark ages...

JML, er, so? I doubt the revolutionaries are going to ask for your opinion in the matter.

Scotlyn, nice. That gets you today's gold star, for noticing that, ahem, literature has something to offer other than entertainment.

John Michael Greer said...

Raymonde (offlist), when someone starts an attempted comment by telling me that they stopped reading my post at (insert your disagreement here), I stop reading their comment. Have a nice day.

pygmycory said...

Bill Mann, that church service sounds horrific. They sound more like the Christian Wrong than the Christian Right.

That type of bent always frightens me when I see traces of it, but that is massively worse than anything I've seen personally. The intense verbal attack on liberal christians as well as atheists is new to me, as is the charge to buy guns and suggestion of a violent physical war rather than a spiritual (metaphorical war). Not saying the other stuff isn't plenty disturbing, it's just that is what jumped out to me as being new.

Though I did have one weird encounter with a couple of people that seemed to be mostly cultural lack of understanding by me of what they meant by the term 'born again'. It's not used like that in the Anglican Church or the Salvation Army, at least here in Canada.

There's a lot of divisions even within protestant Christianity in North America, and I am worried to hear that the congregation you described is using them to feed hatred.

buddhabythelake said...

While I don:t agree w/ Rand Paul on many things, I do appreciate his oppo to that Act
Feingold, hopefully returning to the Senate, was the lone vote against it originally. I've begun to accept the long-term ineffectuality of our fed gov, however.

MawKernewek said...

There ia a paper from the Proceedings of the IEEE: Does Information have mass? which discusses how much mass information has. If you assume that 1 bit of information = 1 electron, that has 1.6 * 10^-19 J of energy. The reference suggested 40,000 electrons are used to charge a capacitor in computer memory, and therefore estimated the total mass of the internet at about 10^-5 gram.

jonathan said...

@jmg: do you get more than your fair share of trolls and other unfortunate internet denizens, or is the internet just getting uglier along with everything else in modern society? i would think your policy of approval before posting would deter all but the most determined of the breed but perhaps not so.
@scotlyn: and don't forget "treasure of the sierra madre" and "the rip van winkle caper" from the old twilight zone series.
btw-i read an interesting series of articles about the future of space travel and the colonization of mars. as you might expect, it was the usual mash up of techno-optimism and golly gee whiz cheerleading, but i did extract one interesting nugget from it. space travel, like so much else, has been privatized and is now in the hands of elon musk etal who are selling tickets to space for enormous sums to the grotesquely wealthy. how different from the original space program when john glenn, alan shepard, gus grissom and the others went into space as the representatives of their country and all of it's aspirations. when astronauts died as in the challenger disaster it was like we'd lost a relative. if one of musk's rockets blows up with a crew of investment bankers and reality tv stars will anyone care or even notice?

JML said...

So? I doubt you're that cynical. I obviously do not have any influence or control over hypothetical revolutionaries of the future. I'm just stating the principles for which I would like revolutionaries to stand. I want to network with some proto-revolutionary groups in the near future.

Snotra Prudentia said...

expecting some hope, some concern and some calls for action every thursday morning, thank you for that!
Not that I haven't read any similar suggestions before, but everytime I read it again, and most certainly when the writing is from your pen (or, rather, keyboard) nevertheless it sends chills down my spine.

You wrote:

When a currency deflates, the people who owe money still have to pay back the same face value as before. If their wages go down -- and again, in the late 19th century, wages for the lower 2/3 or so did -- they get hammered ...

We are currently renting a house in a city (in Sweden), but just looking to buy a property with a somewhat run down house and 2-3 acres of land in a small town of a few thousand people one hour drive from here. The monthly cost will become much lower, renovation costs included and even if the interest goes up from 2 % to, say, 7 %, than the cost for renting. The most important feature is the land which I intend to cultivate intensely and creatively, for family and small business needs first, but also to serve as an inspiration and help to others in the years ahead. That means though, that we have to take on some debt, even if it is half or less than people in the city are lending to buy houses, without any land, today. Do you think it is too risky to take on any debt at all, or is it a better idea to escape the city, start growing food and take on some comparatively modest debt to make it? The option to stay put seems ... rather depressing (and scary).

Another thing that was somewhat disturbing to read, was your response to Odin's Raven, about where we will be when the dust settles:
Raven, I'm by no means certain Europe will escape that fate. (i.e. possibly we will all have been forced to convert to a Middle Eastern religion)

How do you see that play out? I know your focus is on North America, but I would really appreciate any thoughts you might have on the subject. By the way, I'm not much troubled by anyones religion or beliefs, since it should always be a personal choice, but the thought of brute force and limited freedom (especially for women) is not easily digestible, even if it is decades or centuries away.

winingwizzard said...

@ Nuku

I think NZ just may make the Aussies look tame when it comes to going full retard. Adopting the USA media style guarantees that in a decade or so your children will have the attention span of fruit flies and critical thinking limited to fashion decisions. They are much better at the propaganda now than 30 years back, and completely unencumbered. My suggestion is to switch your tele off and choose another form of edutainment or hobby. The only way they will cease is when they cannot make enough money. Feeding the kitty simply does not help - kitty gets fatter and lazier. We all need to starve the beasts of Sauron.

John Michael Greer said...

Jonathan, I get far fewer trolls and the like than most bloggers with my level of readership. Partly that's because I moderate comments and delete trolls without mercy, partly it's because I'm male -- female bloggers on controversial subjects get much worse treatment online, including a constant barrage of death and rape threats -- and otherwise on the privileged side of most of the standard binary divisions. That's just one of those things.

JML, there's an infinite supply of people who are eager to tell the revolutionaries of the future, or some other group of people who are expected to do something, what they ought to do. All such chatter is wasted breath. If you want to have an influence on the decisions that will be made as the US comes apart, get out there and start organizing people around your ideas.

Snotra, debt is a tool. If you know how to use it, it can work for you, but it you assume that it'll do the work without skillful management, it'll cut you. As for the possibility of Europe falling under radical Muslim rule, as water shortages and economic collapse cause the Middle East to come apart, I expect tens or hundreds of millions of armed refugees to spill north into Europe, and they won't be interested in settling down peaceably next to the current residents; a great many of them are already radicalized, and it's pretty much guaranteed that they'll define their migration in the language of jihad. If you want your daughters to have anything approaching basic human rights, I'm not at all sure Europe's current policy toward mass migration from the Muslim world is something you'll want to support -- but of course that's Europe's choice to make, not mine.

Tidlösa said...


Perhaps this question has been dealt with already?

You wrote a couple of days ago that although going off the gold standard was a good idea during the 1930´s (at least for a consumer-driven economy), the problem today is the opposite: to shrink the money supply. Does this mean that you would support a gold standard today? Or do you have some other method in mind?

Also, you wrote that you would like to see – at least as the lesser evil – a “populist” as president. Could you elaborate? Is “populist” something like Ralph Nader, or perhaps Ross Perot? (Nader sounds less traditionally leftist than many, well, leftists…)

Thank you. ;-)

HalFiore said...

JMG and Kutamon, re: the arrival of Ragnar and the gang:

It's always occurred to me that the more successful we are at creating viable, productive post-collapse communities, and the better they are at creating a surplus of food and energy, and therefore the more likely to reproduce beyond replacement rate, the more likely that Ragnar will be home-grown.

Or, to put it another way, how're you gonna keep 3rd son down on the farm once he's seen the really cool stuff Ragnar brought back from last year's raids?

I suppose that's just part of the homo wiring, and will be someone else's problem.

Cathy McGuire said...

This is more proof of the previous stage(s) but this video piece on "whatever happened to the population bomb" is some of the most shrill denial and hopium I have heard in a while:

Unrealized Horrors of Population Explosion

In 1968, a book by Paul R. Ehrlich, a Stanford biologist, predicted doom for the planet in coming decades. Whatever became of the population bomb?

They bring on Ehrlich, who courageously says just because the end didn't happen in 2000 doesn't mean population is not gonna crash us, and Steve Brand (ex of Whole Earth - now of Whole BAU?)who totally makes fun of his mentor and says that we've "solved" the population explosion and in fact soon we're gonna say "we're running out of people" (!?!) Two others speak, both bringing out the old cliche's about eugenics and racism and saying things are better now - even though they slip in little nuggets like, "even though 3 million children still die of starvation each year..."! Sigh... it's a classic bit of shrill denial - worth looking at even to be horrified by.

onething said...

I red the jack Ma article and could not make heads or tails of it.

Tony f. whelKs said...

I'm a little surprised at how heated people can get over their attitudes towards gold - there again, maybe surprised isn't the word. Perplexed, perhaps? People seem to invest more in the topic, emotionally, than it warrants.

I hope I steer more of a middle course, or as someone once said of me 'you don't just see both sides of the argument, you see both sides of both sides...' I'm not sure it was meant as a compliment, but I'm happy to claim it as such. Gold is neither panacea nor total anathema, as with so many things; it's a tool to be used with all due respect for which way the pointy end is pointing. And like any other tool, if it's the only one in your toolkit, then you're stuffed; equally, if it's missing from your toolkit you're just stuffed in a different situation.

Sure, its 'value' is an abstraction based solely on the beliefs of people. Yet that is a belief that has persisted for thousands of years in many cultures, through all kinds of upheavals. It does have wonderful physical properties that make it useful as a means of exchange - its divisibility, chemical inertness, physical scarcity etc. You can't eat it of course, but neither can you eat cowry shells, wampum, dollar bills or share certificates. The same caveats apply in the marketplace whatever mode of exchange is postulated - coin, fairy dust or barter: anything is only ever worth what someone else is willing to exchange for it. Sometimes the exchange rates may become extreme, but that is not the fault of the medium, but of circumstance. We can all find examples from real life to support either end of the spectrum of attitudes. On the one hand there are cases when a gold coin can't even buy you a rotten potato; on the other hand, there are some Jewish families alive today because one or more Nazis put aside their ideology and their orders and allowed a gold coin to purchase freedom.

The love of gold has rightly been hedged about with morality tales probably for as long as it has been used as a marker for wealth - Midas et al - but to think the morality applies only to gold is also to miss part of the warning. Surely the moral issue lies in putting trust in the impersonal, valuing 'wealth' above relationship. That gold is the literary metaphor for 'wealth' is not intrinsic to the gold itself.

Which brings me in a roundabout way back to the major point I've learnt here, about history. Despite all the particulars, all the 'it's different this time', all the 'but that was then, this is now' rhetoric, history keeps rhyming - because its always people that are involved, and people, individually and in the mass, tend to keep behaving in similar ways. That's why history is a good guide to the future when compared to absract theories of the future. That's why some way down the line, people will still be exchanging little pieces of shiny metal for things they need, or on occasion refusing to accept little pieces of shiny metal in exchange for what they have.

One parting historical rhyme: some commenters have been asking whether Europe could ever be overtaken by a militant Middle Eastern personality cult that is totally alien to the existing social order. Why not? It has been before ;-))

Scotlyn said...

Oh, thank you! my very first gold star!

Given the circumstances, though, I feel I must ask for it to be only a gold-ish one... I believe that auripyrexia is horribly contagious!

nuku said...

I’m a 70 year old ex-yank guy with no kids (by choice) who has a TV with no antenna. I just use it to watch interesting thought provoking movies like V for Vendetta, All Quiet On The western Front, Odd Man Out, Captalism, etc. I haven’t watched any broadcast TV in the last 55 years; why waste my precious time with drivel? I get snippets of info from the internet and the ad-free govt-funded National Radio (something like National Public Radio in the USA).
I bailed out the USA 35 years ago with a real feeling of sadness at what I saw as a culture entering its death throes.
I sailed the Pacific on my 40ft ketch for 17 years, then emigrated to NZ, which I saw as a kind of big ”lifeboat“. 25 years ago NZ was still way behind the USA in the cultural insanity sweepstakes; people still thought of themselves as mostly an egalitarian society. Sadly the country that first gave women the vote, and put in place a decent mostly-free health system, is now going headlong down the same black hole as the USA. The one thing we don’t have, so far, is religious crazies seriously influencing the political process.
I’ve got a ¼ acre near a small town by the sea with 25 fruit trees and a big garden, a simple house with wood heat and solar hot water, etc. After living on a sailboat for 17 years, being in collapse-now mode is pretty much 2nd nature.
One of my several “hobbies“ is watching, with mixed emotions and some compassionate detachment, the human world self-destruct. I do what I can on a very local and personal level to help the less aware and less fortunate, but I don’t waste my energy trying to push shit uphill. I definitely don’t feed the monster...
A big thank you for both blogs, your clear thoughts, and depth of understanding. I sometimes print out your posts and leave them laying around various cafes in Nelson as “random acts of kindness”. Who knows what thoughts/feelings they may provoke?

winingwizzard said...

I was listening to my 'boys' (30, 24, 25, 20) this weekend. It was immediately after a family reunion, where the eldest of 93 years and I spoke about the future. Our eldest, to nutshell our conversation, thinks the internet a waste of time and finds it puts her life "out of focus". I asked for explanation, and for her it distracts from the things she has power to influence or change. Quote: "Nobody can change the world alone, but each of us has a shot at changing minds around us. Besides, I can't drive anymore!"

While digging to repair a field line with pickax and shovels (otw home after reunion), the boys were talking about civil disobedience and how everybody does it unconsciously. They think this will simply broaden as things get less reliable and morph into sporadic 'movements' in the cities. Their feeling is that we are past the point where following rules and regulations makes any sense at all other than to avoid trouble with the 'idiocracy'<--- their word choice, btw.

They realize that the government has insufficient folks to enforce anything without consent, and they like being in deep West Malofia where government cannot afford much and there is little concentrated wealth to loot. No county inspectors (too poor), thin LE (poor and low population), only post office and forest service as federal presence, minimal state presence, etc. They are recognizing that population centers are wealth centers and thus "harvesting centers" for those producing nothing - and said as much between usual BS verbal horseplay.

I think things will unravel in slow, fitful jerks and starts where much of the populace reels from one sinking assumption to another. I see people viewing the house of cards around us for the first time, and it frightens them. Here in West Malofia, where the oilfield is collapsing, we are being inundated by RV caravans of upwardly poor, foreigners without papers and recently, Californians and Arizonians even. I think this will cease when the banking system finally collapses under its own corruption or the dollar poops its pants - repos will stop then. But that is a few years off.

I see changes downward all around, and people returning to things that matter. I hear conversations along those lines too.

The thing everyone ought to keep in mind is that helping others helps you - but judge them by their actions and not their words. Some people are just bad - as everyone knows but PC diseaes makes uttering it anathema. Everyone does it instinctively, but does not vocalize - so nobody learns. Mine are beginning to vocalize to insure they deal with honest folks to protect their work.

I'm excited to see this normality reasserting itself. Here's hoping Aquarius ascendant is a little better...

Thomas Prentice said...

JMG, here are two Monday morning reads for you:

Chris Hedges: Karl Marx Was Right

EXCERPT: The final stages of capitalism, Marx wrote, would be marked by developments that are intimately familiar to most of us.

Unable to expand and generate profits at past levels, the capitalist system would begin to consume the structures that sustained it. It would prey upon,

in the name of austerity, the working class and the poor, driving them ever deeper into debt and poverty and diminishing the capacity of the state to serve the needs of ordinary citizens.

It would, as it has, increasingly relocate jobs, including both manufacturing and professional positions, to countries with cheap pools of laborers.

Industries would mechanize their workplaces. This would trigger an economic assault on not only the working class but the middle class—the bulwark of a capitalist system—that would be disguised by the imposition of massive personal debt as incomes declined or remained stagnant.

Politics would in the late stages of capitalism become subordinate to economics, leading to political parties hollowed out of any real political content and abjectly subservient to the dictates and money of global capitalism.

-- AND --

CAPITALISM? NOT! Easy Access to Money Keeps U.S. Oil Pumping [A free market? Guess again.] – wsj

Dammerung said...

So.... don't burden yourself down with unpayable debts? Gold is money, but that's in no way making a utopian assertion about human nature, limitless energy, or anything else. It's a simple observation of fact; gold and silver are the only things that meet the criteria for being money.

As for the case offered by history, I think the case offered is really that people won't flee the oncoming Mongol hordes even when they've destroyed three villages in succession on the road to your house. People get entrenched in their ways and I think in some ways choose death rather than massive disruption in life as the way they've known it. A gold coin will buy you more ship passage than no gold coins. Having money is necessary but not sufficient for leading a good life; progressing up the socioeconomic ladder; or helping to support a community. You also have to know when and how to use it.

Denis Landry said...

Another point in the graph
the 2008 recovery is looking more like a suckers rally...
As JMG is fond of pointing out:
Brace for the impact.

i know life is an adventure but i am getting sick of it

Ed-M said...

Another point on the corrosion of legitimacy, Charles F Murray of The Bell Curve infamy has come out with a new manifesto why the oligarchs here in the USA should fund a legal foundation to basically tie down all level of government in knots, except when it benefits THEM.

Title of the article: Jeb Bush's Favorite Author Despises Democracy, Says the Hyper-Rich Should Seize Power.
(Can't get the rest of the link on my iPhone, sorry!)

This strategy should definitely throw a monkey wrench in the legitimacy of the rule of law in this country, methinks.

pygmycory said...

You mentioned the impending mass migration of middle easterners into Europe, and that you don't think the current policy is a good idea. What policy would you choose, if you could write Europe's foreign and immigration policy?

Also, for the USA with regards to people from Mexico and Central America?

Is there something that can be done to make the situation more liveable with for the people in the landing zone, and that doesn't involve letting thousands of people drown?

jean-vivien said...

Maybe Greece will yield to economical pressure by getting under Russian influence...
@JMG, SNotra, the most defining agenda on immigration may be Russia's, not Europe's.

Denys said...

Quick questions - which Spengler book do you recommend first - Decline of the West, Vol 1 or Vol 2, or both? Or Man or Technics?

And your opinion of the Will Durant Story of Civilization series for history? We've been enjoying it in our homeschool and I love the way it is organized, but I have not read as much history as you and would appreciate the input.

Ed-M said...

I have another point -- the Economist has published an article showing how the loss of working class jobs in this country and in the UK. At the end they offer the usual pablum from the Era of Pretense (get educated, add skills, etc), oblivious to the fact that middle class jobs are now disappearing, too.

Links to full article.

pg said...

You can get the full link address by emailing yourself from the desired site. Then, copy that into your comment here.

pg said...

PS. Ian Millhiser's review of the Charles Murray book is so savage (demagoging?) that I'm now thinking I should read Murray myself to see whether the allegations are justified. I'd avoided Murray so far....

Avery said...

@Denys: Are you familiar with Kenneth Clark's BBC series Civilisation? It's worth a look. And I'd recommend starting with vol. 1 of Decline of the West.

Cathy McGuire said...

I guess the transformation of Mother Earth News is complete. :-\ From a local paper:
ALBANY — Being self-sufficient doesn’t mean sacrificing the good life. It can translate into living better with bountiful gardens, energy-efficient technology, and nutritious foraged meals.
You can find it all at the Mother Earth News Fair June 6-7 at the Linn County Fair & Expo Center, 3700 Knox Butte Road, Albany.
Hours are 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.
Weekend wristband passes cost $25 in advance, or $30 at the gate. Children 17 and under get in free. The event also offers a limited number of VIP tickets. VIPs receive priority seating at workshops, catered meals and other perks.

ie: We'll tell you anything you want to hear - just give us the money. :-{

Greg Belvedere said...

Speaking of Russian propaganda, this is an interesting piece about a Russian troll army spreading misinformation and propaganda.

Brian Takita said...


I'm reading through "Decline & Fall". I also have "Green Wizardry".

I work as a programmer & am more comfortable with models than practical physical work.

My MTBI is INFP/INTP. What would you recommend to people like me as a strategy for thriving in this expected reality?

Moshe Braner said...

Off-topic (perhaps), but JMG: you promised to write about libraries some day. Here's a recent book review that might be handy to refer to, whether to agree or to dispute:

Michael McG said...

RE: Population Projections in the USA.

Doing some research for my story last evening on USA population trends per US Census data “Projections of the Population and Components of Change for the United States: 2015 to 2060” a couple interesting things are in play per projections.

1. In 2023 Immigration outpaces birth death cycle for new people added and continues as the major way population grows in the USA through 2060.
2. 2023 – From here the rate of population growth (births – deaths + immigration) declines until 2057 when it starts rising again.
3. From now until 2060 the US population is projected to grow by about 30% from 321 million to about 417 million people.

Doctor Westchester said...


It's late in the week, but I hope you might still be able to give a response.

I was alerted, via Zero Hedge, to a recent piece in the Wall Street Journal entitled "Grand Central: A Letter to Stingy American Consumers" by Jon Hilsenrath. It is outside the pay wall. If Zero Hedge is correct about the author, a piece like this would require clearance by the Federal Reserve to be published.

I find this piece disquieting, in the same way the Krugman piece of last year that dissed the Post Carbon Institute was. Is it signaling that something is incoming? Perhaps Bernanke helicopter drops (the idea is suddenly being discussed in important places) or something worse? Don't know, but we will see.

latheChuck said...

News of the world: England decided that burning coal was bad (because it produces CO2, of course). Instead, they promote burning "biomass", which was originally envisioned as forest industry waste products: bark, branches, short & twisted trees, etc. But it turns out that a popular form of biomass fuel (which can go right into the old coal-fired power plants) is mature North American trees which happen to have no greater economic value. So they clear-cut forests, grind the trees to sawdust, press the sawdust into pellets, dry the pellets, pack them on trains to ships to England. Just add diesel at the logging and shipping phases, probably natural gas at the processing plant. And then wait 50 years for the equivalent mass of trees to pull that CO2 back out of the air. (The story in today's Washington Post questions the habitat loss and regrowth issues, but ignores the process and transportation energy inputs.) I wonder whether I can find facts on Energy Return on Energy Invested? Under the influence of regulations, this could go negative, and yet go on.

In a sense, we're evading the bans on oil and gas export by hiding them in wood pellets.

Janet D said...

@Cathy (& others),

I have to respectfully disagree on the Mother EArth News Fair. Hubby, kids & I attend all together; this will be our 4th year. IMHO, it's one of the best venues for aspiring Green Wizards, with about 150 workshops on gardening, herbalism, animal husbandry, solar energy, permaculture, etc. offered during the Fair. $25 for the two-full-day access to the workshops and speakers is a bargain. Yes, the hippy-dippy "let's all live fabulously and sustainably" attitude is a little much at times, and the speakers make their money off of book sales, so there is an undercurrent of book-hawking, but I have learned more by attending the classes and doing Q&A with the speakers/authors than I ever did from reading books.

Mother Earth News Fairs are offered in several places throughout the United States - I think PA, WI, NC, etc. Google if interested.

Karl said...

Reading the comments on this WSJ article (you can read the comments for free) makes me think that the general mood is turning even uglier.

"Dear American Consumer,

This is The Wall Street Journal. We’re writing to ask if something is bothering you.

The sun shined in April and you didn’t spend much money. The Commerce Department here in Washington says your spending didn’t increase at all adjusted for inflation last month compared to March. You appear to have mostly stayed home and watched television in December, January and February as well. We thought you would be out of your winter doldrums by now, but we don’t see much evidence that this is the case."

gjh42 said...

Re the census projection: At least they have the integrity to state at the beginning that their projections are only as good as their assumptions, and cannot account for future policy changes. It will be "interesting" to see what other changes in domestic health and social conditions plus foreign migration conditions do to the projections.

Ahavah said...

Dr Westchester,

Did you read the comments section of that article? People slammed this guy. I wish I could upvote many of the responses!

winingwizzard said...

@ Nuku
I lived in Hawera and New Plymouth for couple years in the 1990's - loved the country, even seeing the cheese factory glinting in the sun was fun. But when I went back in 2008, Auckland was weird. It was sort of like 'kiwi-amerika' until I got out into the countryside again. Lots of Amerikan crap had hit the TV by then. Glad you are somewhere that has minimal health care and a lot less environmental mess though. And anyone who can't feed themself on 1/4 acre in NZ, then you are seriously cursed with a black thumb...LOL (ok, south island excepted)

winingwizzard said...

@ Lathechuck

We have a pelletizing plant in the little town near the farm, right next to a railhead. Sawdust from nearby saw mills is used by these guys rather than just harvesting pine trees. Clear-cutting is no longer practiced on the whole in most southern forests. There may be several acres (20-30) clear-cut, but rarely adjacent large parcels. The following spring, these clear-cuts are replanted or left fallow to allow hardwoods to grow in some cases - depends on the landowner. But the litter and detritus leftover from the clear cutting is usually graded into rows to hold topsoil until the trees are replanted - no topsoil and removing the harvest remnants removes nutrients. Timber farmers are only idiots when they work in large corporations, and even then, they are becoming more rare, as it does NOT pay to lose your farmland to erosion or stupid management.

Just what I know from down this way (timber exemption also btw). I cannot attest to what others do outside Texas..

winingwizzard said...

@ Cathy McGuire

EVERYTHING is a business model - but like you, this is sad to see happening. Before, somebody donated a locale and the workshops were run by ardent enthusiasts. I think the same thing happens when many people take their hobbies to the internet or their expertise trying to help. And then also, people urge you to "make money!" when they see you volunteering. I think monetizing everything is epidemic today but has always been normal to survival - just to a lesser degree.

There is hope, though. Down here, there is more action in the parking lots of local, er, (3 letter word) shows than inside the facilities!

latheChuck said...

Another story of positive feedback, not necessarily in the news.

Background: The "Middle-east Respiratory Syndrome", MERS, was quietly perking in Saudi Arabia and the UAE for many months, logging a case or two each week. However, the coronavirus agent is similar to the one which caused the SARS outbreak a decade ago, and the case-fatality rate has been around 40%. Then a traveler carried MERS to Korea, and we've gone to 35 cases, primary, secondary, and a few tertiary. One of these went to Hong Kong before being diagnosed, so the Chinese now have hundreds of contacts traced and quarantined.

An editorial in Yonhap News compares the failure of response to the MERS outbreak as similar to the Sewol ferry disaster. "Adding to mounting public concerns was a lack of information ― the exact area affected, the list of hospitals, the first patient and those infected by him ― leading to the spread of groundless rumors and swelling unfounded fears in a vicious circle. At the root of the popular fear and confusion is a distrust of the government, its incompetence and undue secrecy."

But it's not just a psychological crisis. "The epidemic crisis can also throw the already sluggish recovery into a deeper pit." I suggest that economic crisis leads to distracted and weakened government resources, which leads to fear, which leads to economic turmoil. An economy which depends on entertainment and tourism is hit hard when people hunker down.

mallow said...


I’m an INTP too and I struggle with this all the time. But, apparently people like that American president, I think it’s Jefferson, were able and expected to combine doing their intellectual thing with practical hands-on work. Part of why it’s hard for us might be because in a more complex economy it’s expected now that we all specialize in what we’re best at. But an economy that’s de-complexifying must mean we need to de-specialize too.

I think the general principles of the strategy have to be the same for everyone because they’re based on the real material limits – so using LESS and collapse now and avoid the rush. But within that I think there’s lots of room for people to do it their way.
What has worked for me is treating is like a modelling project. Create an overarching concept and structure for how you’re going to do it. Like the whole systems examples at the end of Green Wizardry. So to do that you get to have lots of fun analysing your current situation and where you are and deciding which model would work best for you – or of course inventing new models.

Then you kind of have to accept that no one else is going to implement your brilliant model because there’s a shortage of willing minions ;-) so if you want to test it to get feedback so you can continue to tinker with it, you’re going to have to do it yourself. You can break it down into sub-projects then and conduct experiments to work out, say, whether you like gardening or sewing better or how long baking bread takes. Then you can adjust the model constantly according to your outcomes.

You do need to be kind of patient with yourself I think because if you’re like me you’ll burn half what you cook, spill water all over yourself in the garden and stick needles into yourself constantly while sewing etc. But just because we’re a bit, well, more rubbish, than others at physically doing things, doesn’t mean that we can’t learn to do them competently. It’ll just take longer and probably involve more injuries!. And that’s all your need to aim for. If you find something that you happen to love doing and get really good at I see that as a bonus.

Another thing I find really important is to recognize when you’re spending a disproportionate amount of time just accumulating information and pondering it, especially on the internet. I’ve managed to convince myself that I’m saving significant electricity by turning off the computer in the evenings so that I can’t go on it. Then you can spend the evening working on things.

Also, it might help to create a model in your head of you as the type of person who would be great at implementing the strategy you’ve chosen. So I treat it as a retro project and ask myself what a 1940’s housewife would do next. Then you get to create a whole model of someone else’s worldview and play in that. You might like different kinds of models so use them instead maybe – like a clever computer model of the project that tracks your progress and has databases of useful information or something?

I should add a caveat that my progress (regress?!) has coincided with starting magical practices. This might be a stretch too far for you but I have a feeling it might be related. Good luck!

عبد المنعم المشايخي said...

When the truth is covered or denied and society is built on dysfunctional moral base, all type of ills are liable to sprout. worship of analysis is a disease, not a solution when dishonesty reins. to avoid the void we are facing we need to stop lying. Commodity worship, money worship, gadget worship etc etc are amok. What we need is to change our idol. Do you think the collapse in the world is disconnected. Self-centersim does not help in the global village. Your brilliance should benefit all the globe not only America.

Bob Patterson said...

My view is that the reisitance to change involves cultural inertia (we have always done it this way. Why? I don't know),and the resistance of various groups of power elites (the situation now. Oil, pesticides,banking, law, retailing have things almost just the way they want them (of course GM has not been able to pass the law banning working on your own car)). So real change is stymied until the power elites are convinced that change may benefit them. This frustrationj of being stymied, especially at the local level exacurated by the centralization of the economy), leads to the amusing example you protray.