Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Free Trade Fallacy

As longtime readers of this blog know, it’s not uncommon for the essays I post here to go veering off on an assortment of tangents, and this week’s post is going to be an addition to that already well-stocked list. Late last week, as the aftermath of the recent election was still spewing all over the media,  I was mulling over one likely consequence of the way things turned out—the end of at least some of the free trade agreements that have played so large and dubious a role in recent economic history

One of the major currents underlying 2016’s political turmoil in Europe and the United States, in fact, has been a sharp disagreement about the value of free trade. The political establishment throughout the modern industrial world insists that free trade policies, backed up by an ever-increasing network of trade agreements, are both inevitable and inevitably good. The movements that have risen up against the status quo—the Brexit campaign in Britain, the populist surge that just made Donald Trump the next US president, and an assortment of similar movements elsewhere—reject both these claims, and argue that free trade is an unwise policy that has a cascade of negative consequences.

It’s important to be clear about what’s under discussion here, since conversations about free trade very often get wrapped up in warm but vague generalities about open borders and the like. Under a system of free trade, goods and capital can pass freely across national borders; there are no tariffs to pay, no quotas to satisfy, no capital restrictions to keep money in one country or out of another. The so-called global economy, in which the consumer goods sold in a nation might be manufactured anywhere on the planet, with funds flowing freely to build a factory here and funnel profits back there, depends on free trade, and the promoters of free trade theory like to insist that this is always a good thing: abolishing trade barriers of all kinds, and allowing the free movement of goods and capital across national boundaries, is supposed to create prosperity for everyone.

That’s the theory, at least. In practice?  Well, not so much. It’s not always remembered that there have been two great eras of free trade in modern history—the first from the 1860s to the beginning of the Great Depression, in which the United States never fully participated; the second from the 1980s to the present, with the United States at dead center—and neither one of them has ushered in a world of universal prosperity. Quite the contrary, both of them have yielded identical results: staggering profits for the rich, impoverishment and immiseration for the working classes, and cascading economic crises. The first such era ended in the Great Depression; the second, just at the moment, looks as though it could end the same way.

Economists—more precisely, the minority of economists who compare their theories to the evidence provided by the real world—like to insist that these unwelcome outcomes aren’t the fault of free trade. As I hope to show, they’re quite mistaken. An important factor has been left out of their analysis, and once that factor has been included, it becomes clear that free trade is bad policy that inevitably produces poverty and economic instability, not prosperity.

To see how this works, let’s imagine a continent with many independent nations, all of which trade with one another. Some of the nations are richer than others; some have valuable natural resources, while others don’t; standards of living and prevailing wages differ from country to country. Under normal conditions, trade barriers of various kinds limit the flow of goods and capital from one nation to another.  Each nation adjusts its trade policy to further its own economic interests.  One nation that’s trying to build up a domestic steel industry, say, may use tariffs, quotas, and the like to shelter that industry from foreign competition.  Another nation with an agricultural surplus may find it necessary to lower tariffs on other products to get neighboring countries to buy its grain.

Outside the two eras of free trade mentioned above, this has been the normal state of affairs, and it has had two reliable results. The first is that the movement of goods and capital between the nations tends toward a rough balance, because every nation uses its trade barriers to police hostile trade policy on the part of its neighbors. Imagine, for example, a nation that tries to monopolize steel production by “dumping”—that is, selling steel on the international market at rock-bottom prices to try to force all other nations’ steel mills into bankruptcy. The other nations respond by slapping tariffs, quotas, or outright bans on imported steel from the dumping country, bringing the project to a screeching halt. Thus trade barriers tend to produce a relative equilibrium between national economies.

Notice that this is an equilibrium, not an equality. When trade barriers exist, it’s usual for some nations to be rich and others to be poor, for a galaxy of reasons having nothing to do with international trade. At the same time, the difficulties this imposes on poor nations are balanced by a relative equilibrium, within nations, between wages and prices.

When the movement of goods and capital across national borders is restricted, the prices of consumer products in each nation will be linked via the law of supply and demand to the purchasing power of consumers in that nation, and thus to the wages paid by employers in that nation. Of course the usual cautions apply; wages and prices fluctuate for a galaxy of reasons, many of which have nothing to do with international trade. Even so, since the wages paid out by employers form the principal income stream that allows consumers to buy the employers’ products, and consumers can have recourse to the political sphere if employers’ attempts to drive down wages get out of hand, there’s a significant pressure toward balance.

Given trade barriers, as a result, people who live in countries that pay low wages generally pay low prices for goods and services, while people who live in countries with high wages face correspondingly high prices when they go shopping. The low prices make life considerably easier for working people in poor countries, just as the tendency of wages to match prices makes life easier for working people in rich countries. Does this always work? Of course not—again, wages and prices fluctuate for countless reasons, and national economies are inherently unstable things—but the factors just enumerated push the economy in the direction of a rough balance between the needs and wants of consumers, on the one hand, and their ability to pay, on the other.

Now let’s imagine that all of the nations we’ve imagined are convinced by a gaggle of neoliberal economists to enact a free trade zone, in which there are no barriers at all to the free movement of goods and capital. What happens?

When there are no trade barriers, the nation that can produce a given good or service at the lowest price will end up with the lion’s share of the market for that good or service. Since labor costs make up so large a portion of the cost of producing goods, those nations with low wages will outbid those with high wages, resulting in high unemployment and decreasing wages in the formerly high-wage countries. The result is a race to the bottom in which wages everywhere decline toward those of the worst-paid labor force in the free trade zone.

When this happens in a single country, as already noted, the labor force can often respond to the economic downdraft by turning to the political sphere. In a free trade zone, though, employers faced with a political challenge to falling wages in one country can simply move elsewhere. It’s the mismatch between economic union and political division that makes free trade unbalanced, and leads to problems we’ll discuss shortly.

Now of course free trade advocates like to insist that jobs lost by wealthier nations to poorer ones will inevitably be replaced by new jobs. History doesn’t support that claim—quite the contrary—and there are good reasons why the jobs that disappear will never be replaced. In a free trade system, it’s more economical for startups in any labor-intensive industry to go straight to one of the countries with low wages; only those industries that are capital-intensive and thus employ comparatively few people have any reason to get under way in the high-wage countries. The computer industry is a classic example—and you’ll notice, I trust, that just as soon as that industry started to become labor-intensive, it moved offshore. Still, there’s another factor at work.

Since wages are a very large fraction of the cost of producing goods, the overall decrease in wages brings about an increase in profits. Thus one result of free trade is a transfer of wealth from the laboring majority, whose income comes from wages, to the affluent minority, whose income comes directly or indirectly from profits. That’s the factor that’s been left out of the picture by the proponents of free trade—its effect on income distribution. Free trade makes the rich richer and the poor poorer, by increasing profits while driving wages down. This no doubt explains why free trade is so popular among the affluent these days, just as it was in the Victorian era. 

There’s a worm in the bud, though, because a skewed income distribution imposes costs of its own, and those costs mount up over time in painfully familiar ways. The difficulty with making the rich richer and the poor poorer, as Henry Ford pointed out a long time ago, is that the wages you pay your employees are also the income stream they use to buy your products. As wages decline, purchasing power declines, and begins to exert downward pressure on returns on investment in every industry that relies on consumer purchases for its income.

Doesn’t the increasing wealth of investors counterbalance the declining wealth of the wage-earning masses? No, because the rich spend a smaller proportion of their incomes on consumer goods than the poor, and divert the rest to investments. Divide a million dollars between a thousand working class family, and the money’s going to be spent to improve the families’ standard of living: better food, a bigger apartment, an extra toy or two around the Christmas tree, and so on. Give the same million to one rich family and it’s a safe bet that much of it’s going to be invested.

This, incidentally, is why the trickle-down economics beloved of Republican politicians of an earlier era simply doesn’t work, and why the Obama administration’s massive handouts of government money to banks in the wake of the 2008-9 financial panic did so little to improve the financial condition of most of the country. When it comes to consumption, the rich simply aren’t as efficient as the poor. If you want to kickstart an economy with consumer expenditures, as a result, you need to make sure that poor and working class people have plenty of money to spend.

There’s a broader principle here as well.  Consumer expenditures and capital for investment are to an economy what sunlight and water are to a plant: you can’t substitute one for the other. You need both. Since free trade policies funnel money away from expenditure toward investment by skewing the income distribution, it causes a shortage of the one and a surplus of the other. As the imbalance builds, it becomes harder for businesses to make a profit because consumers don’t have the cash to buy their products; meanwhile the amount of money available for investment increases steadily. The result is a steady erosion in return on investment, as more and more money chases fewer and fewer worthwhile investment vehicles.

The history of free-trade eras is thus marked by frantic attempts to prop up returns on investment by any means necessary. The offshoring fad that stripped the United States of its manufacturing economy in the 1970s had its exact equivalent in the offshoring of fabric mills from Britain to India in the late Victorian era; in both cases, the move capitalized on remaining disparities in wages and prices between rich and poor areas in a free trade zone. In both cases, offshoring worsened the problem it was meant to fix, by increasing the downward pressure on wages in the richer countries and further decreasing returns on investment across the entire spectrum of consumer industries—then as now, the largest single share of the economy.

A gambit that as far as I know wasn’t tried in the first era of free trade was the attempt to turn capital into ersatz income by convincing consumers to make purchases with borrowed money. That’s been the keystone of economic policy in the United States for most of two decades now.  The housing bubble was only the most exorbitant manifestation of a frantic attempt to get people to spend money they don’t have, and then find some way to pay it all back with interest. It hasn’t worked well, not least because all those interest payments put an additional downward pressure on consumer expenditures.

A variety of other, mostly self-defeating gimmicks have been put in play in both of the modern free trade eras to try to keep consumer expenditures high while wages decline. None of them work, because they don’t address the actual problem—the fact that under free trade, the downward pressure on wages means that consumers can’t afford to spend enough to keep the economy running at a level that will absorb the available investment capital—and so the final solution to the problem of declining returns on investment arrives on schedule: the diversion of capital from productive investment into speculation.

Any of my readers who don’t know how this story ends should get up right now, and go find a copy of John Kenneth Galbraith’s classic The Great Crash 1929. Speculative bubbles, while they last, produce abundant returns; when free trade has driven down wages, forced the consumer economy into stagnation or contraction, and decreased the returns on investment in productive industries to the point of “why bother,” a speculative bubble is very often the only profitable game in town. What’s more, since there are so few investments with decent returns in the late stages of a free trade scheme, there’s a vast amount of money ready to flow into any investment vehicle that can show a decent return, and that’s exactly the environment in which speculative bubbles breed most readily.

So the great free trade era that began tentatively with the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846, and came into full flower with Gladstone’s abolition of tariffs in 1869, ended in the stock market debacle of 1929 and the Great Depression. The road there was littered with plenty of other crises, too. The economic history of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is a cratered moonscape of speculative busts and stock market crashes, culminating in the Big One in 1929. It resembles, in fact, nothing so much as the economic history of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, which have had their own sequence of busts and crashes: the stock market crash of 1987, the emerging markets crash of 1994, the tech-stock debacle of 2000, the housing bust of 2008, and the beat goes on.

Thus free trade causes the impoverishment and immiseration of the labor force, and a cascading series of economic busts driven by the mismatch between insufficent consumption and excess investment. Those problems aren’t accidental—they’re hardwired into any free trade system—and the only way to stop them in their tracks is to abandon free trade as bad policy, and replace it with sensible trade barriers that ensure that most of the products consumed in each nation are made there.

It’s probably necessary to stop here and point out a couple of things. First of all, the fact that free trade is bad policy doesn’t mean that every kind of trade barrier is good policy.  The habit of insisting that the only possible points along a spectrum are its two ends, common as it is, is an effective way to make really bad decisions; as in most things, there’s a middle ground that yields better results than either of the two extremes. Finding that middle ground isn’t necessarily easy, but the same thing’s true of most economic and political issues.

Second, free trade isn’t the only cause of economic dysfunction, nor is it the only thing that can cause skewed income distribution and the attendant problems that this brings with it. Plenty of factors can cause a national or global economy to run off the rails. What history shows with painful clarity is that free trade inevitably makes this happen. Getting rid of free trade and returning to a normal state of affairs, in which nations provide most of their own needs from within their own borders and trade with other nations to exchange surpluses or get products that aren’t available at home readily, or at all, gets rid of one reliable cause of serious economic dysfunction. That’s all, but arguably it’s enough to make a movement away from free trade a good idea.

Finally, the points I’ve just made suggest that there may be unexpected benefits, even today, to a nation that extracts itself from free trade agreements and puts a well-planned set of trade restrictions in place. There are plenty of factors putting downward pressure on prosperity just now, but the reasoning I’ve just sketched out suggests that the destitution and immiseration so common in the world right now may have been made considerably worse than they would otherwise be by the mania for free trade that’s been so pervasive in recent decades. A country that withdraws from free trade agreements and reorients its economy for the production of goods for domestic consumption might thus expect to see some improvement, not only in the prosperity of its working people, but in rates of return on investment.

That’s the theory I propose. Given the stated policies of the incoming US administration, it’s about to be put to the test—and the results should be apparent over the next few years.

****************
On a different and less theoretical note, I’m delighted to report that the third issue of Into The Ruinsthe quarterly magazine of deindustrial science fiction, is on its way to subscribers and available for sale to everyone else. The Fall 2016 issue includes stories by regular authors and newcomers alike, including a Matthew Griffiths tale set in the universe of my novel Star’s Reach, along with book reviews, essays, and a letter to the editors column that is turning into one of the liveliest forums in print. If you’re not subscribing yet, you’re missing a treat.

On a less cheery note, it’s been a while now since I proposed a contest, asking readers to write stories about futures that went outside the conventional binary of progress or decline. I think it was a worthwhile project, and some of the stories I received in response were absolutely first-rate—but, I’m sorry to say, there weren’t enough of them to make an anthology. I want to thank everyone who wrote a story in response to my challenge, and since a good many of the stories in question deserve publication, I’m forwarding them to Joel Caris, the editor of Into The Ruins, for his consideration.

282 comments:

«Oldest   ‹Older   201 – 282 of 282
Brian Chadwick said...

free trade was-- constructed to avoid paying taxes.
-- to bust unions
-- to allow money to cross borders efficiently but not people.
-- to give the elite access to cheap resources
-- to avoid environmental regulations.

Shane W said...

Sigh, the whole election season on here we had people singing the praises of Dr. Jill Stein as THE 3rd party candidate to vote for, and now she's pimping for Hillary and doing her dirty work, and trying to undermine Trump's legitimacy. If she was truly concerned about vote counting or ballot access, why focus on just the handful of states that Trump carried by small margins?

onething said...

M,

I think your idea that business people and/or the wealthy owe nothing to the community at large, need not "give back" because they have taken nothing, is quite false. It merits a bit of discussion.

In addition, why should profits be the first and only priority? Why would not all values be embedded within a system of values in which money might not always come out first? Is it possible to take individualism too far? Are not all people invested in a healthy culture that they live inside of?

An example might be the privatization of public amenities, such as letting education become some corporation's business run for profit. Is nothing sacred? That it was used to be without question. Has our culture deteriorated? If so, what role has the desacralization of pretty much everything played?

Barry Wilson said...

I'm late to the comment party, but need to point out that it was the Bush administration that agreed to TARP(Troubled Asset Reallocation Program). Then Senator Obama did vote in favor of the plan, but as president signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a much fairer Keynesian attempt to shore up the economy.

Peter VE said...

@ Jose – not only did the Zumwalt break down, the ammunition for its NEW IMPROVED 155 mm gun system is too expensive to use at $800,000 per shell https://news.usni.org/2016/11/07/navy-planning-not-buying-lrlap-rounds. $800,000 to fire 24# of explosive 70 miles.
@ baba free: the fly in the ointment in Ecuador is the dollar currency. I know it was done as a fix to the horrendous inflation of the late '90s, but countries giving up control of the currency rarely ends up well (see Greece today; Argentina 2002).
Several people have made the comment that countries which trade with one another are less likely to go to war. I think the Great War pretty much put paid to that notion, which was seconded by the delivery of several trainloads of Soviet wheat to Germany on June 20, 1941. Thomas Friedman's later “McDonalds” corollary has pretty much decisively buried since he published it in 1999.
JMG, the crapification of our technology continues apace: our first microwave with two analog dials lasted over 25 years. About 1/5 of the digital touchpad controls of the two year old replacement are already dead. Meanwhile, my 40 year old straight razor delivers a clean shave daily, with a daily stropping and a resharpening every 4 months.

Bill Pulliam said...

Re: Stein -- I don't think she is doing this for Hillary. If she has an ulterior motive it is probably to increase her own media profile and that of the Green Party, maybe win back some of the people who still blame them and Nader for the outcome in 2000. Please note, not trying to reopen debate about 2000, just acknowledging that it left many people angry at the Greens. Third parties often try to conjur an image as islands of ethics amidst a sea of major-party crookedness.

Doctor Westchester said...

Wizzrobes,

(From the previous post's comments) I've been a member of the Lions Club for more than a decade and a half. If you wish you can contact me at doctorwestchester42 at google mail.

Mark In Mayenne said...

Hi John, I'm not sure I buy your answer. I suspect that bigger inequality arises if free trade is not accompanied by fiscal integration to ensure distribution of profits.

M Smith said...

Candace:

"You've received nothing from your community? So you paid for all of your employees educations, the roads, the sewers, the legal enforcement of contracts, the public safety that allows you to do business?"

I should have said I have not taken more than I've given. I am a net asset, not a net liability. "So" yes, thank you for noticing, I paid for all that with my tax money, along with MY "community" of productive taxpayers. The St. Singlemoms, if they file, probably get a bigger "refund" than they paid, in the form of EIC. Has that ever occurred to you?


"Has it ever occurred to you that a jobs program for single moms..." Stop right there.

First, I'm not going to hire St. Singlemom because she brought that child into the world alone deliberately, which in my culture is an evil and selfish act that condemns an innocent person to poverty. Oh, she's been taught to claim that the entire process was beyond her control. Her excuse, handed to her by people who want to keep others poor because their lucrative jobs depend on it, is that she was "denied access" to a pack of rubbers because she'd have had to pay for them. (See, there's another of those phony "rights" that SJWs feed the ignorant - that they "deserve" "free" birth control, and if they don't have it, it's because of the color of my skin.) Until she gets out of the thrall of the very wealthy and very cynical "leaders" at Big Poverty (NAACP, La Raza, Southern Poverty Law Center, etc.), she's a lost cause. I don't pay lost causes, except again with my taxes under threat of incarceration.

Second, I'm not in the Jobs for the Marginally Employable business, I'm in the farming business. But there's a niche for you to fill, using your own time and money. Why aren't you already created a few such programs, BTW?

Third, along with the sewers, I pay for "jobs programs", many of them redundant, most of them ineffective, with my tax money. Since I do not avail myself of those "programs" (which in turn are jobs programs for those whose livelihood depends on a big supply of poor people - has that ever occurred to you?), why, doesn't that mean I give more than those who don't pay taxes?


"...maybe you you are suffering from some sort of confirmation bias when you say that the problem employees are black or female."

Maybe you are suffering from some sort of confirmation bias when I say that the problem employees are black or female. I do know, thanks, after 35 years in the workforce, that there are problem employees of all types. But black people and single mothers can, and do, and HAVE, pulled the race/sex/children out of wedlock
card and gotten away with it, while I, a white woman with no kids, work weekends and nights. Did you even read my post?

How curious that you expect me to accept one anecdote as proof about all single "moms", but for you, my 35 years of experience is suspect.

In the USA, a household of 4 typically receives $60,000 in tax-free benefits. That's about $85k taxable. Never in my life did I earn that high a salary. Come to think of it, when I factor in the hours every day and at night and on weekends,
I made about $13/hour after taxes. That's less than the "living wage" the SJWs howl for.

M Smith said...

zach bender:

1. No, I didn't assume. I did my research.
2. And I have paid for same, so your statement is flatly not true.
3. I assume you insist on earning only what you need. You won't sell your house for a penny more than you paid for it. You have not a penny of savings, because you're not a bad person who rips others off. Who did you cheat in order to profit enough to buy yourself a computer that you don't need?

Thought experiment? No, it seems more like a simple question to me. I do not own employees and am not responsible for their wellbeing or household expenses. (Yes, I'm just that heartless.) I own machines and factor in maintenance for my capital assets.

Ed-M said...

Hi JMG!

204 comments now! When I first read this last night there were only 131.

Let me add my $0.02 to this post, at the risk of repeating something already said. One problem about free trade is that when you let the means of production escape to another country, the research and development, and engineering and tooling functions soon enough go with it for the exact same cost "saving" reasons. Eventually, of course, even the corporate headquarters and financing entities will go to where the factories are, lest they find that they can't compete... or in the case of the financing entities, find nothing to invest in at a rate of decent return and turn aside into speculation instead. That's why we've had so many g.d. boom and bust bubbles since Ole Tremble Chin (Reagan) got elected.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG,

I am also curious as to whether you are aware - or have considered - that the current experiment in our societies version of extreme debt serfdom has ever been attempted before in history? I realise that a difference in size is not a difference in kind, but still the current levels of debt held by the population, entities and governments seems a bit alarming to me. To my perspective it looks like a house built of cards waiting for a slightly breezy day to blow it all over. Maybe, I'm just old school in my aversion of this experiment? Dunno. Time will tell, I guess.

Cheers

Chris

M Smith said...

onething,

Thanks for a thoughtful post, much of which I agree with. IMO insurance is the problem, but also the weird notion that your employer is somehow obligated to pay that for you. All that was needed was some high-profile slavemasters at Big Poverty to tell "the community" that employer-paid health insurance was their "right", and here we are. I'd love to go back to the days of catastrophic insurance for big illnesses and paying out of pocket for the routine things. I agree that everything's overpriced and that that's precisely because of insurance. If I'm paying for it, I'm going to refuse a pricy test that may or may not identify problems. But hey, if it's "free...."

What you need for "free" health care is doctors, truckers, nurses, techs, suppliers, builders, contractors, IT staff, dock loaders, manufacturers, and myriad others to work for no compensation. In turn, the ones who are normally paid by the myriad, like utilities, landlords, mortgage holders, grocers, teachers, and all the staff at all those govt agencies that people throw in my face when I say I haven't been a net taker from "the community" to work for free too. Why should medical professionals be singled out for enslavement - which is defined as forcing one to work for the benefit of another for "free"? No one has the RIGHT to enslave another.

Those "free" clinics were not free, they were paid for with tax money. And 0bama had no room to talk about costs, after he gave the insurers the obscene gift that is 0bamacare.

M Smith said...

onething, 2:

Didn't see this post earlier. Please try to read what I have written. I do not use the term "giving back" when I have not been a net taker because that is the falsehood. I can't return what I didn't take. I also did not say that the evil rich should not give anything.

But since you feel that's very false, you'll see the inherent truth in my demand that you to give me "back" $50,000.00. I want a nicer farm and since you believe in giving "back" what you never took, how 'bout it?

Profits at my business come first for me. But by all means, run your business at a loss if it helps you sleep at night. It's fine, because when you go broke (and just see how many of those single moms keep reporting to work after you tell them the payroll account is empty), you can go on the dole and have a "right" to the evil profits of all those evil rich.

But profits for the business owner are bad. Hmm. Suddenly I have the urge to shrug.

Candace said...

@ Barry Wilson
Neil Barofsky's book Bailout might give you a different perspective. In that arena the Obama administration was not an improvement.

Stu from New Jersey said...

JMG: Yes, you point out the logically obvious in a way that even a delusional world should understand. (Thank you for that!) Hopefully it is being read by an increasing number.
Maybe someone else mentioned this, but another side-effect of globalization is increased 'invasive species', such as travel in the ballast tanks of tankers. Of course, we've had these even with protectionism, but an increase of intercontinental travel and trade will also lead to an increase in invasive species.
I thought of this because I'm reading "The Sixth Extinction", a book that was recommended to me by a commenter on this board. Half of my reading material in the past 10 years has come from this board and I thank you for that, too.

zach bender said...

@tripp, thanks. of course literal slavery is one extreme, the company town is somewhere in the middle, and then we have the present reality -- which does include many people on part time swing shifts with no benefits at all, etc. the argument might also be made that forcing people to "work" to keep food on the table and the table under a roof itself imposes burdens on the health of the animal.

additional thought experiments might include whether "we" might consider providing people with a subsistence and basic health care without requiring them to punch a clock at all.

@shane, i do not think you are being fair to stein and the greens.
http://www.jill2016.com/why_isn_t_the_campaign_doing_a_recount_in_any_other_state_besides_michigan_pennsylvania_and_wisconsin

Shane W said...

@Zach,
how convenient is that(Stein)? Sigh, still not convinced...

John Michael Greer said...

Olivier, well, that's disappointing. I'll have to talk to Boris Badenov and see if I can get moved higher up the list of sinister subversives!

Varun, okay, gotcha. Thanks for the clarification.

Malcolm, thank you. That's a good one.

Shane, er, I've been saying that over and over again on this blog since the second post, you know!

LatheChuck, an excellent plan. A helpful addition to that plan might be learning to knit, so that you can amplify the effect of those nice warm slippers with a nice warm vest or what have you!

Shane, it's rather heartening to hear that you're aware of the effect your personality sometimes has on others. I know this is utterly unfashionable these days, but have you considered changing the way you relate to other people so you're less likely to become a casualty? As for California, though, I won't argue; I've lived in two states that received significant immigration from California, and in both of them, the word "Californian" is used as an obscenity. Apologies to my readers in the Golden State, but there it is; go to a neighboring state, pretend to be from somewhere other than California, and get the locals talking, and you'll hear a lot of really ugly stories about the behavior of your fellow Californians.

Adrynian, I'll consider it, but your insistence that it's all the fault of the 1% doesn't convince me. The affluent 20% bears a share of the blame, too.

Wendy, I'd encourage you and other people who got sold predatory loans by the corrupt academic industry to consider organizing and putting pressure on the government. A bill allowing student loan debt to be discharged by bankruptcy is long overdue, but it won't happen until people organize and put effective pressure on the political system to make it happen.

Kevin, I won't argue about free trade as a wealth pump -- that's how it works. I simply wanted to challenge the official story in a straightforward way. As for the Space Bats challenge, I know -- I'd have been at a loss if I'd tried to come up with something. It was way out there; circumstances permitting, another challenge will choose a less difficult theme.

Cherokee, delighted to hear that the Green Wizards visit went well! Congrats also on the magnum opus, which is a trip to watch.

Daelach, that's a classic. As for chess, no, I've never studied chess enough to be able to follow it.

SMJ, because products seek the highest paying market, just as jobs move to the lowest wage market. That keeps prices high as wages decline; of course that in turn feeds into the inability of businesses to make a profit on consumer sales, since many products are effectively priced out of reach of much of the consuming public, and worsens the flight to speculation.

John Michael Greer said...

Renaissance, those are good examples; the Hanseatic League and the various Italian mercantile city states weren't quite doing free trade, but it was close enough to cause some of the same problems, while the Ottomans had a good grasp of history and so were able to avoid most of those problems.

Iuval, it's easier for the people to put pressure on politicians within a single country. That doesn't always work, but it provides some counterbalance.

Onething, yep. The difference is that he's not using talk about abstract values as a stalking horse for his interests, the way US politicians constantly do.

Avery, yes, I saw that, and it's far from the first time. (The distinction I drew, way back in the early days of this blog, between problems and predicaments has been quoted without acknowledgment all over the place.) May I ask a favor of you and other readers? If you see something in the media that's obviously cribbed from a past post of mine, could you consider posting a comment to the story saying something like, "Nice to see that you're reading The Archdruid Report," with a link to my post? That would be very welcome.

Lordberia3, the Eurozone is a wealth pump on the grand scale, bringing prosperity to Germany and a few other northern European nations at the expense of most of the rest of Europe. I don't know exactly how soon it's going to fall apart, but the writing's on the wall.

Steve, thanks for this! That'll go into the file next to the US nuclear launch codes for Minuteman missiles, which are on 8 inch floppy disks...

Kevin, Trump's lead in Wisconsin is larger than the largest lead that has ever been overturned by a recount, and recounts would have to reverse the outcome in several other states as well. Statistically, it's not going to happen.

Shane, I'm hoping.

Troy, Merigan Tales is in editing right now; I've seen the cover art, which is really good; I expect it out very early in the new year, and yes, it's got a stellar collection of stories.

Chris, I see no reason to believe that jobs lost to globalization will ever be replaced, as the same structural imbalances will keep on sending jobs to wherever wages are lowest. If you take the figures on your charts and break them out in more detail by income level within countries, free trade consistently benefits the affluent and hurts the poor -- and that includes the poor in rich countries as well as in poor ones.

Kieran, well, we'll just have to see, won't we? My take is that in two critical areas -- free trade and neoconservative foreign policy -- Trump and his advisers have grasped that business as usual is leading this country straight to disaster, and they plan on changing the country's course. The first steps toward rapprochement with Russia and the death of the TPP are both promising signs.

Shane, hadn't you figured that out yet? The left by and large wants to protest things, not to change them. Of course Sanders and Stein are falling in line, the way that Howard Dean did before them.

Nastarana said...

Mr. Greer, a company named Cone Denim is making what is described as a very high end product at its White Oak plant in one of the Carolinas, still at its century old plant and still using a lot of mid 20thC and possibly older equipment.

There is an article about the company, and its vintage machinery, on p. 14 of the Vogue Pattern Magazine, 10-11-2013, Yes, that Vogue, but this is not the infamous fashion mag., but another publication which promotes the pattern company. The entire issue was devoted to denim, and it was the best issue of that mag I have seen. www.conedenim.com has a link to a website about the plant, with pix of the vintage equipment.

John Michael Greer said...

Inohuri, thank you! Those are highly useful.

Zach, I figured as much. I hate to break it to you, but "the species as a whole" isn't listening. It's a common social habit of idealists of certain stripes to convince themselves otherwise, but I'd encourage you to look up the story of the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928 as an antidote to that sort of thinking. As for the prospects of feeding and housing 8 or 9 billion human beings, are you familiar with the concept of carrying capacity? The best estimates I've seen for the carrying capacity of the Earth -- its maximum permanently sustainable population of human beings -- max out around 2 billion. Here's a basic rule of ecology: when a population rises significantly above carrying capacity, the result is overshoot followed by steep population decline. Given the way that rates of population increase have dropped off in recent years in the Third World, we're following the usual curve. (Recommended reading: Overshoot by William R. Catton, the most important book on human ecology I know of.)

Jeanne, thank you!

Patricia, understood.

Shane, it wasn't stolen for Trump at all. The bipartisan establishment is just demonstrating that they're really sore losers. I admit to a certain amount of schadenfreude when I consider the possibility that the recount may uncover cheating in Clinton's favor...

Inohuri, thank you.

Nancy, fair enough -- and "War is a Racket" should be required reading, no question. Can you point me to a discussion of the Hawley-Smoot tariff act that raises the points you've made? I'd like to be able to cite it.

David, that will certainly work. Thank you!

John Michael Greer said...

Brian, would you care to offer some argument or evidence in favor of those claims? Blanket statements expecting readers to take you at your word aren't particularly convincing, you know.

Barry, ARRA wasn't the only thing the Obama administration did. It also used Treasury policy to toss huge amounts of money into the "too big to fail" banks, and went out of its way not to bring charges against even the most egregious examples of financial fraud. Thus I think my charge remains valid.

Peter, yep. I just made two attempts to purchase an electronic device from a local store, and both were defective to the point of not working when I opened the boxes. (Note to my American readers: don't by household electronics from Rite-Aid. If your experience is anything like mine, you'll just have to return it for a refund.)

Mark, can you cite a historical example where that's worked?

Ed-M, yes, that would follow, wouldn't it?

Cherokee, to my knowledge, a debt bubble on the scale currently under way has never before happened in human history. There were a lot of problems with debt in previous eras, but nothing so Brobdingnagian!

Stu, you're welcome and thank you.

Bob said...

re. the "right" to health care

If someone in your country requires medical treatment but are unable to pay, are they denied treatment?

If the answer is no, then health care is a de facto "right" guaranteed to American citizens. It also means that a portion of health care in the US is not delivered as a commodity.

In Canada, it is considered unethical to deny health care on the basis of one's ability to pay. Hence, we have instituted a single payer system to cover everyone.

inohuri said...

Thanks Lathe Chuck.
A nice clear 152 meg version is here:

"Computing Mechanisms and Linkages", by Antonin Svoboda, pdf

https://ia801306.us.archive.org/20/items/bluejersey112_mechanisms_Svoboda/Full.pdf

Not for me now but I will save it. Lifelong severe memory problems that caused me to give up and drop out of high school. In the military (USCG) I was treated as a grown up, a big improvement but I was still unable to remember what I had learned in Radar School even though I graduated third in the class.
I went on welfare in 1992 when the overall illness had become Toxic Encephalopathy. I mostly self diagnosed and found remedies, doctors found nothing or made me worse. After too many years of cleansing the detoxication weakness and the resulting toxics in storage might soon finally repair. If I do I just might gobble up the math.

Shane W said...

Well, I must be a a slow learner, JMG, but the recurring theme this year does seem to be "never trust a progressive"...

Shane W said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
onething said...

SMJ,

It seems to me the simplest answer to your question is that life is much more expensive in a first world country whereas products you buy cheaper are only a relatively small part of the budget.

onething said...

M,

I think you see things a little simplistically. There are many ways to benefit or be held back, often in ways that a person is unaware of. I'd say anyone that is doing well "ought" to be thinking of giving back, simply as a good thing to do. Many people over the years have felt that way, and built public works, churches, hospitals, funded charities and so on. But I object to the current trend of monetizing and privatizing everything.

If you're not in a position to give back, then don't.
I was a single mom once, though, and I even was on welfare for about 6 months. And my kids got some free or reduced summer camp after I went back to work. There were some programs that helped me go to school. I've long since paid back way more than all of that in my higher tax bracket than I would have without that help.

Of course the free clinics weren't free. But they are the sort of thing I am speaking about. I think the doctors donated their time, an evening a month or something like that. My point about that was that we have generally had ways for the poor to get medical attention.


Moshe Braner said...

Talking about old and new tech, and newfangled electronic gizmos sold in places like Rite Aid: Some years back here in Vermont they had a program to collect old mercury-based medical thermometers, to keep mercury from being spilled into the environment when they break. (Has anybody here ever broken one? Most of the spillage is from mercury switches in thermostats and automobiles...) In return, they offered "free" digital electronic thermometers. I (thankfully) kept one old unit, and exchanged a second one. The first time I used the electronic one, it seemed to work. Then I carefully washed only the part that goes into the mouth in lukewarm water. It never worked again.

I've also held on to some old-fashioned thermostats with mercury switches, although I mostly use electronic ones as long as they last because their programmability does save some energy.

I've fixed several old microwave ovens, but my current one is an "inverter" type, which does not have the big heavy transformer, instead it has a transistorized high-frequency circuit with a lightweight transformer. I chose this model for other reasons, despite some pessimism on the longevity of this high-tech version which would be harder to fix. We'll see. It's 3 or 4 years old now.

team10tim said...

Not necessarily for posting,

Hey hey JMG,

Grains would go under the heading of commodities not locally available. If memory serves the Romans in Rome got grain by ship from the Iberian peninsula and the north African coast because it was cheaper to send it by ship than it was over land in Italy. Rome couldn't grow enough to feed itself, like most metropolises, and had to import food.

Thanks,
Tim

Chris Larkin said...

JMG-
I agree that jobs won’t cycle back just because they “should.” That’s not what happened when there are mass losses of jobs / lifestyles as was the case with Enclosurement in the UK, the Industrial Revolution, the first era of globalization, or the demise of the small farm in the US. In those cases, things changed and people adapted to new ways of living after a generation or two was ground (sometimes literally) in poverty. You can argue that the descendants were better or worse off than their ancestors since the ways of life were different, but they were certainly better off than the intermediate generations. We’re seeing one of those intermediate generations now and the resulting misery.

I don’t know how things will resolve itself with globalization though I can come up with several ways it could. I referenced and discussed Keynes’s quote as a criticism to the common refrain that the jobs will return since it was critical of that pat response. The structural imbalances against jobs you discuss will change, the question is when and how. I’m hopeful it’s merely reform of free trade and a rediscovery of the high productivity of the American worker. I’m worried that things will have to get much worse before it can get better.

As for the graph, my point is while there are problems with how things are now, it’s also doing a lot of good. Half of the world especially the global poor and lower class has benefited and not just the rich. I don’t see how the 10-70 percentile of the world in income (i.e. those making roughly $2-10 a day) can be just the rich of their respective countries. However, this has caused stagnation in the developed world except among the very rich. As pointed out by others in the comments, China has gained a great deal in the current arrangement within a pro-trade but not free trade framework. This is both a source of ideas for the US and also a source of conflict if China sees its interests challenged.

Candace said...

@ m smith

So I take it that women who have lost their spouses due to death, disertion, or divorce are not single parents in your book. I have been working as many years as you have. Race and gender were not predictors for a lack of work ethic in my working life. It usually just had more to do with people doing jobs they hated. Clearly your mileage has varied.

I'm sorry you cannot make a better living in agriculture. I understand it is difficult for small farms to compete.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG,

Nice one! A definite tea spitter! I was quite partial to the manga cartoon Gigantor as a kid. ;-)! It had an annoyingly catchy and very cheesy theme tune too.

I’m chuffed to read that you watched the video. It has been enormously popular in its many iterations. I can never quite tell what will resonate with an audience and sometimes it outright surprises me.

Oh yeah, it is big, but don't you wonder sometimes about the utter lack of concern about the whole debt issue? It is almost as if people consider it to be not real on so many different levels. And there is no desire from anyone to want to talk about it in anything other than purely abstract terms. You have to admit that it is very strange?

Your status as a seriously bad influence has gone up a notch! That was a compliment by the way. Anyway, you influenced me to read William Catton Jr's book Overshoot which was loaned to me by a lovely person. I began reading it today and it is engrossing. It never would have occurred to me that our machines are also our competitors from an ecological perspective. So obvious when it is pointed out. Of course, I see now that Retrotopia is a middle ground narrative. Incidentally do you have any idea when the book will be released?

Cheers

Chris

Mountain said...

Hi JMG,

I don't see the response I posted, not sure if it were rejected or I didn't follow through properly. If you are still in need of hosting, I recommend this based on your page views. I gave more details with the previous post, but if you need help, I'd be willing to provide it after the holidays.

https://www.bluehost.com/managed-wordpress-hosting

n=ro said...

Hey John Michael,

Because I'm reading your comment on the debt bubble just now, have you ever explored the likely consequences of that in an earlier post? If not, I'd be very keen!

greetings,
nero

Ben Johnson said...

JMG - I think you asked for published accounts of old tech working better than the new. Here's an article written by a computer science PHD advocating for using paper ballots because the new computerized voting machines are easy to hack.

https://medium.com/@jhalderm/want-to-know-if-the-election-was-hacked-look-at-the-ballots-c61a6113b0ba#.2c97kivb2

Erick Lavoie said...

"Shane, it makes perfect sense to me, I was just hoping for something I could cite. I should probably ask my readers generally: can anyone find some good colorful stories in online or print media that show older technologies working steadily while the latest, hottest, newest ubergimmick breaks down all the time or otherwise doesn't do the job? Many thanks in advance!"

Robin Wood makes wooden bowls without any electricity:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GLpNNf4V5lU

Link to China woodworkers from his blog:

http://www.robin-wood.co.uk/wood-craft-blog/2015/09/30/fantastic-video-of-foot-powered-bowl-turning-in-china/

I remember reading a post back then in which he was competing in a friendly competition against an electric lathe. I believe it is this one:

http://www.robin-wood.co.uk/wood-craft-blog/2008/10/13/foot-powered-bowl-lathe-vs-electric-lathe-and-a-spooncarving-course/

Unfortunately, there are no links to a youtube video anymore. I guess that also highlights the ephemeral nature of the current Web technologies and the need for more permanent solutions like IPFS (https://ipfs.io/).

Eric S. said...

One bit of news I found interesting was that China is apparently already stepping in to push their own version of the TPP in the absence of US involvement. It looks to me like a major re-balancing of global power that has been under way for a while now has been fully realized. It also looks like between the cracks showing in the EU, Trump's trade policies and China taking the lead on a major free trade agreement without any US involvement, that 2016 is the year that is going to go down in history as the beginning of the end for the American Empire. The future of America's internal politics, and whether the US can survive the next few decades in tact as a nation at all has yet to be written, but would it be safe to say that the chapter of US foreign policy that made up the bulk of "Decline and Fall" has pretty much been written now, much sooner than expected and through ordinary politics and trade agreements, rather than through a Twilight's Last Gleaming style military crisis?

HalFiore said...

Maybe, but I don't see the tax code affecting things like driverless autos. Whether the investment counts as a capital investment or not, the cost of it just promises to get cheaper and cheaper. Meanwhile, it's hard to imagine how the tax code could be changed in a business-friendly climate like we're headed into that would incentivize hiring. Oh, and stuff like those cordless tools and air tools? They're so cheap that the workers buy them themselves.

M Smith said...

Candace, that's correct in my book, and it's an important distinction. No one expects to be widowed or abandoned, and I don't fault them at all. At least they tried to plan for security and love as opposed to voluntarily choosing a life of poverty.





Blanket response in lieu of further responses, so the blog doesn't get hijacked:

I will not deny my experience just because someone calls me a racist delusional liar, nor will I agree to loathe myself for my abilities, skills, work and PROFIT. I'm proud of all I've done.
But if you prefer failure and loss, go for it. If my success hurts "the community", then your failure should help it. Right?

zach bender said...

pretty sure my initial comment presented feeding and sheltering the existing load and bringing that load down as alternatives. let's say the carrying capacity is two billion. how do we get there from here, apart from the four horsemen. maybe it is not possible, but it seems to me we have not tried. "we" again.

certainly it does appear "the species is not listening," but i would suggest you would not be writing books and posting to blogs if you thought there was zero opportunity to persuade whoever might listen. and to what end? so we can say "just as i thought" as it all goes down? or so some number of people can begin to do things differently than they otherwise would have?

"the species" is in a different set of mental spaces now than it was a few hundred years ago, and it will be in yet others in whatever future. to a great extent these shifts seem to have occurred "accidentally," that is, we are not all consumer capitalists today because some magus in the fourteen hundreds set a plan. unless we are.

but it does seem "the species" is susceptible to persuasion, whether planned or otherwise. propaganda and advertising are not completely ineffectual. creating even the rudiments of a welfare state does lay the groundwork for people taking for granted the safety nets will be there. etc.

so if "we" wanted to map out a future in which two billion humans were fed and sheltered in a somewhat stabilized ecosystem, how would we go about it?

or is your argument we should not even try?

LewisLucanBooks said...

Dear Mr. Greer (Archdruid, ret.) - I think you were looking for hard articles (not anecdotes) for a project about how old tech or ways are better than new. Here's some grist for the mill. If you do a search for "old tech that works better than new tech" or, "old ways that are better," several useful articles appear. Lew (Old Library Clerical Guy, ret.)

inohuri said...

For those who don't know how to search within a website. This does keep coming up here. Use this to see if a subject has been covered in The Archdruid Report.

How to deep search a website with Google.
For those who can't find a link or subject on a website.
Also good for shopping on poorly organized websites.

This is especially useful on websites that have restructured and dropped links or hidden them in a chronological archive. The pages are often still there forgotten and neglected.

On Google search enter:
site:[the base address for the website][space][search term]

site:http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/ pulliam

https://www.google.com/search?q=site%3Ahttp%3A%2F%2Fthearchdruidreport.blogspot.com%2F+inohuri&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8#q=site:http:%2F%2Fthearchdruidreport.blogspot.com%2F+pulliam

Put the search term in quotes "[term]" to search for the exact phrase.

This lags behind depending on when Google scans.

Shane W said...

Sigh, Bill, you do Grumpy Grandpa, stuck in late 20th century activism, unable to change w/the times, very well...

Shane W said...

Off topic, but what to make of the speculation that Barron Trump is on the autistic spectrum? Certainly seems possible. He seems adorable, and I feel for him...

Nastarana said...

Dear M. Smith,

I hope you do understand that a hardnosed attitude can cut two ways. Profits might come first for you, but don't forget that from my point of view as someone spending money in the marketplace, supporting someone's else's profits or employment is no part of my responsibility. While I am more than happy to pay premium prices for premium products, if I don't like the product, I don't buy. Period. No matter whose ox gets gored. Since I have not had any health insurance and scant access to health care for about two decades--not complaining, it is what it is--the cleanliness and quality of the food I buy is a matter of urgent concern. If I prepare my own meals, I control what does, or more importantly does not, go into the meal. Now, I have no idea what your product line is or to whom you sell, but if you are selling to a processing plant, I for one am almost certainly not buying the finished product.

No, I do not expect anyone else to pay for my health care, but, by the same token, I think I have every right to resent having to help subsidize the immigrant agricultural labor force. Yes, I think I do have to subsidize it, through increased rents and utility costs, drain on social services, schools having to devote extra resources to non-English speaking students, and so on.

Justin said...

JMG, not much to say about this week's post other than "I agree".

I recently re-read your Adam's Story posts, and respectfully suggest that you flesh it out into a short novel. It's a great story, and is something I seem to end up re-reading every year or two since discovering The Archdruid Report in 2009 or so.

Phil Harris said...

Bill said...
“canon fodder

True, the US is a free trade zone in itself. One of the things that makes that work is that the Federal government sends money to poor states, such as Alabama and Mississippi. Being red states, they disapprove, OC. ;)”

Good point: the EU of course does not redistribute enough to fulfil this vital function especially in the single currency zone. Nor does EU have a vast military industry spend in poorer states, nor does it have a morning pledge in most schools. German private money invested in ‘sun-belt’ housing in Spain for example was not a sufficient substitute and unravelled after the financial crash.

Curiously UK always retained its own currency. And the idea of some kind of EU pledge would have been unthinkable, and the EU flag never got raised much above an occasional bumper sticker. Anyway, the poorer areas of Britain despite receiving largest of the EU moneys voted Brexit, except in Northern Ireland where enough Catholic Irish voted remain. In Scotland poorest areas in de-industrialised Glasgow and the west voted Brexit but were heavily outvoted in the rest of Scotland. Political settlements and economy can be fragile combinations!

best
Phil H

Bill Pulliam said...

OK, that's it. The President Elect just tweeted that flag burners should be punished and possibly have their citizenship revoked. No this is not another fake news story it is right there on his verified twitter feed, the same one he uses to complain about Hamilton. This man has no understanding of nor concern with the US Constitution, which he is supposed to uphold, protect, and defend. JMG, Shane, etc., y'all can continue with all your excuses and rationalizations, but the man is fundamentally unfit for the office and I am just plain done with it.

Matt Heins said...

To Bill Pulliam:

The *Office* is unfit for the Office, and has been for quite some time. I encourage you and everyone else to use Trump's overt unfitness as way to realize this truth and not a method of masking it. The majority of the Founders and the Revolutionary Generation would have been in open revolt against the American Empire long ago.

To JMG:

Basically agree.

But I do think that in our particular situation, New Deal style stimulus through public works and cuts to the bloated military budget - along with sensibly less globalist trade agreements- would alleviate the problems for workers for a generation or more.

Raymond Duckling said...

@ All M.Smith detractors,

Please be reminded that people do not respond to abstract ideas of what they ought to do, never have and never will. This is particularily true if the abstract ideas happen to come from an external 3rd party.

@ M.Smith.

Agreed, free loaders are a problem and to ignore that is naive and self defeating. Turning completely self-centered because of free loaders is also naive and self defeating.

Instead, may I interest you in a system of values based on loyalty and mutual obligation? You cannot fix society in general, but you can fix stuff in your own venture: sack free loaders with extreme perjudice. And then, when you are surrounded with people that is willing and able to pull their own weight, be generous with your people, and more generous with those that are more valuable to you.

There, it is that simple! Big corporations cannot do it because they cannot know who works for them. But people working alongside each other can. Don't let your difficult life experiences drag you into Ayn Rand camp.

Jason B said...

I was tooling through the comments section and about to say almost exactly what Bill says: Trump is unfit. He's unfit because he's mealy mouthed (case in point: sucking up to the NY Times editorial board after and before hiding behind his phalanx of security AND the internet to troll them non-stop) and he is a coward. No doubt in my mind. I was open to giving him a chance, but the signs are all pointing in a very frightening direction. First, he's tweeting about something an actor said after a performance of the Broadway hit Hamilton, next he's tweeting that the democrats shouldn't do a recount because the election was rigged (huh?!). Now he tweets that he would strip citizens of their rights for burning the flag. Dude is completely unhinged AND, I repeat, a total coward. To quote Mr Pulliam, "JMG, Shane, etc., y'all can continue with all your excuses and rationalizations, but the man is fundamentally unfit for the office and I am just plain done with it." And, another quote, from a close friend of mine who lives in fly over country and in poverty with a college degree and has twenty years of serving the disabled and emotionally crippled (i.e. 20 years working in alt ed), "I hope the president elect has a plan to rectify the blatant divisiveness of his campaign." It looks like he does not at all.

Shane W said...

@Bill,
I'm not necessarily a Trump apologist, and I won't and never would, defend everything the man does. The fundamental difference, though, is that I think we're further along the curve of decline than you do, so much so that he's better than the alternatives. In a perfect world, the US would have embraced conservation and appropriate technology, reelected Carter in '80 and turned back Reagan, but that never happened, the die was cast, and now, here we are, 30+ neoliberal, neoconservative years later, and this is what we're faced with. I turned five in Oct. 1980, and there's a whole generation or two that wasn't even born in 1980, so we didn't have much choice in the matter. Trump was really the only viable chance we've had since 1980 to turn back the tide of neoliberalism and neoconservatism, and the jury is still out on whether he actually will or not, but I'm willing to at least wait until he takes office to judge.

Tyler August said...

JMG,

For your project The Retro Future :

https://www.wired.com/2015/02/new-high-tech-farm-equipment-nightmare-farmers/

If Wired, of all publications, is calling out the use of high technology, it must be really, really worthless tech.

Serendipitously, LowTechMagazine.com has just put up a couple new articles that fit what you're looking for as well. (And their archives have quite a such tidbits -- but I assume you're aware, as I have seen the site linked here before.)

Tyler August said...

JMG,

For your project The Retro Future :

https://www.wired.com/2015/02/new-high-tech-farm-equipment-nightmare-farmers/

in case you didn't catch it upon publication. If Wired, of all places, is calling out technology, you know it must be some pretty bad tech.

I believe you're aware, but LowTechMagazine.com also has quite a few articles along those lines -- indeed, the latest one fits what you're looking for quite nicely.

Anecdotally, blogger lost the first version of this comment because I had to log in to post ; it did not always do that. Another glorious upgrade, no doubt. All hail progress.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG,

As a curious side question that I'll pose to you - it is more of a thought bubble rather than expecting a solid answer / reply: Given this weeks essay topic is a discussion of economics, do you wonder that people can't seem to come to grips with the concept that the economics, political, and cultural plays are just a reflection of the realities of the ecology and the environment that we live in? I certainly wonder about that.

Cheers

Chris

inohuri said...

Relax BP. The Trump Flag tweet has other intentions such as to upset the likes of you and put your attention on that outrageous issue that can't happen.

<<<>>>>

Trump Is Trying To Divert Us From - What?

The Supreme Court had ruled in 1989 that the burning of the U.S. flag, or any other flag, is free speech covered by the first amendment. It is settled law and there is little to no chance that it will change. The issue is a political gimmick that is used every once a while to set up certain conservative groups against certain free speech defenders.

http://www.moonofalabama.org/2016/11/trump-is-trying-to-divert-us-from-what.html

August Johnson said...

JMG, sorry but I am going to have to agree wholeheartedly with Bill Pulliam here. I've kept quiet, trying to understand the motivations of a Trump voter, but no matter what the voter's motivation, it remains that Trump himself is totally unfit to hold the office of President. This latest tweet was the last straw. He has no concept of the necessity of the Freedom of the Press either, chewing out almost all news organization just because they won't print only favorable things about him. Calling for increased control over what they can print shows he has no clue about the constitution.

To be very honest, Trump increasingly is sounding like my late father-in-law, who suffered from dementia. We'd hear these screeds from him about "terrorists setting the forest fires in Oregon", communists in the city council, etc. He became increasingly unable to know when it was appropriate to keep his mouth shut and would go off on people in restaurants, in church and other public places. He'd tell complete strangers that this person or that was a crook and threaten them if they didn't believe him.

Both my wife and I dealt with this for several years and we both say this crap from Trump is all too familiar. It eventually got so that he'd give sermons in restaurants, telling how God had taken him to the moon and showed him the trillions of people living in apartments there. How long before Trump goes down a similar road?

The "interesting times" that are approaching are going to be a lot worse than you think!

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG,

Well Mr Catton Jr. is an accomplished wordsmith for he provides the answer: "Had anyone conceived such implausible seeming questions in the Age of Exuberance, the answer might have seemed equally incredible: post-exuberant nations and individuals would have a compulsive need to deny the facts so as to deny their own redundancy."

As a lot of rap musicians would say: "BAM!" ;-)!

Isn't he a clever bloke?

A lot of people seem to get quite depressed when they consider the future, others get angry - and I've seen, or heard about, both of those reactions in the past week. I've never really felt either of those feelings when I consider the future. To me it is more like confirming what I've long suspected and also putting events into a larger context. Of course, those many events which I refer too, were a bit of a drama to personally face, but I'm now wondering whether the comfortable nature of many peoples lives is actually a problem for them - and the future? That isn't suggesting that they don't have their own share of dramas, but I've personally faced being chucked on the scrap heap by an uncaring society and individuals a few times in my life and that has sort of steeled me to the most likely future that we are facing - and can't avoid. Dunno. It is a complex matter. I realise that you wrote a book about that matter (which I have not read) and so don't really expect a reply from you to the above stream of consciousness comment. I thought that you may be interested? Dunno.

Cheers

Chris

donalfagan said...

@Barron Trump

My instinct is to leave the kid alone.

August Johnson said...

Oh, and Trump taking credit for things he hasn't done is also eerily similar to my experience, my father-in-law started taking taking credit for more and more things he hadn't done. He'd been responsible for ending WWII, etc. I mean it, Trump is sounding more and more familiar, and not in a good way.

I have to say that you have helped me understand why so many people voted for Trump, however their choice is a total disaster. How many wars are his un-restrained tweets going to start? How many people are going to be killed because he can't keep his big mouth shut? Reagan may have had dementia at the end of his time in office, but to my wife and I, Trump has it going into office.

August Johnson said...

Yes, my father-in-law could have a coherent conversation, those times were enjoyable. However he increasingly lapsed into the same kind of word salad that Trump does.

August Johnson said...

And don't anyone take this as an attack on someone who voted for Trump, I understand your motivation completely. My complaint is with Trump himself.

Varun Bhaskar said...

Bill, Shane, Archdruid, and etc...

I've been content to keep my peace about the elections, because it is an emotional minefield that I don't want to navigate. However, I want to point out that this discussion is fruitless. Whomever was going to take the white house wouldn't make it better for those of us at the bottom rung of the economy. We're in very stormy waters for the rest of our lives, stop looking to the pilots house and make for the life boats. Seriously, anyone who has an ounce of hope in what those know nothings in the white house, or whereever rich folk hang out, will do is out of their bloomin' minds. We're on are own, and yes there are probably going to be a fair number of war-bands, warlords, and wanna-be tyrants to deal with. Best get dig in and get ready if you're young or have young, and if you don't then kick back and watch the show.

Regards,

Varun

Armata said...

More signs of what a miserable failure the Clintdubyobama administration's Middle Eastern policy has been and how America's strategic position in that benighted part of the world is rapidly imploding.

https://4threvolutionarywar.wordpress.com/2016/11/29/north-aleppo-is-completely-liberated-colonel-cassad/

http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2016-11-28/assad-verge-biggest-victory-start-syrian-war-imminent-capture-aleppo

Now there are reports of Egyptian combat pilots and troops fighting alongside the Syrians, Russians and Iranians.

http://www.moonofalabama.org/2016/11/syria-roundup-jihadi-fronts-fall-apart-egypt-enters-the-fight.html#more

It looks more and more like Egypt, a long-standing American client state, is slipping back into the Russian camp, a move accelerated by Obama's support for the Muslim Brotherhood during their attempted takeover of Egypt during the Arab Spring. That was a jaw-dropping act of stupidity which the Egyptians have neither forgotten nor forgiven. In addition to reports the Egyptians have offered Russia use of an air base in northwestern Egypt, there are reports the Libyans and Turks are also offering basing rights to the Russian Aerospace Force.

The hippogriffs occupying Eastern Aleppo are getting squashed by the renewed Russo-Syrian offensive. The Clintdubyobama administration predictably threw a fit but is helpless to stop the kesselschlacht as it draws to a close. The Clintdubyobama administration is threatening new sanctions on Russia over the liberation of 80,000 civilians who were being used as human shields by American-backed mercenaries and "moderate" throat cutters.

http://russia-insider.com/en/politics/defense-ministry-west-threatens-russia-sanctions-liberating-aleppo-residents/ri17876

At least one leading Russian military analyst and blogger is on record as saying he thinks the last hippogriff forces in Aleppo will be defeated within the next ten days. At the rate the hippogriff defenses are collapsing, he's probably right. That will be a devastating blow to the hippogriffs and their foreign sponsors. I expect that other rebel held pockets in western Syria will fall in the weeks and months ahead.

I think its pretty safe to say that America's position and reputation in the Middle East are in free fall and that we have a new kingmaker in that part of the world. We are seeing the decline and fall of the American Empire as Russia lays the groundwork for a return to superpower status, something the American political and foreign policy establishment made possible thanks to its imperial hubris and a truly appalling level of incompetence.

inohuri said...

Does anyone think that the "giving back" that Bill Gates and George Soros are doing is beneficial? Speak up, now this is your chance.
Color Revolutions and making bad schooling worse don't strike me as helpful.
The charities I know of seem to exist mostly for the sake of executive income.
The American Red Cross just might be corrupt. Be sure to donate.

I don't see anything wrong with what M. Smith has said. There are many small businesses that are in similar straits. Small business is what founded the USA, perhaps the majority of people were in business. Over regulation makes small business difficult. Small banks that loan money locally are being forced out of business by the Federal reporting overhead.

Farmers have it especially hard because of corporations such as Archer Daniels Midland and Monsanto. Is NPR still advertising for Archer Daniels Midland?

Some organic farmers are doing OK but others are surviving on volunteers and unpaid interns. The big corporations are buying out the successful ones like Cascadian Farms.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Mills#Organic_food

Matt Heins said...

Another thought about Trump's unfitness:

Let's get relative for a moment. If Trump is unfit because of the truly horrible neofacist and bigoted things he says and tweets (I think just that he tweets so much and so personally is bad enough to disqualify him), then wouldn't Clinton have been even more unfit considering that she is an untried war criminal whose violations of the UN Charter while Secretary of State rise to the level treason, and who openly advocated committing more war crimes as President, crimes that threatened the planet Earth with thermonuclear war, a war in which she would not rule out first strike?

The answer to this binary conundrum for the citizen as voter is of course to vote for neither of these horror story candidates - even if that means not voting for President this year.

But for the citizen in our general role, doesn't it make more sense to do as our host does and attempt to understand the Trump voters or as I and others have suggested and take President Trump as a final indictment of the imperial presidency, of the empire as a whole and then ignore the evil clown to the extent one can, than to watch his every word and deed, getting riled up by them?

Troy Jones said...

I will take Trump's crazy tweets over Hillary's threats to shoot down Russian planes over Syria any day. I freely grant that Trump is a horrible person in many ways, but World War III would be far worse than the worst thing anyone in this thread could possibly imagine. Certainly it would be a great deal worse than ill-considered social media rants.

I am pretty close to a one-issue voter when it comes to candidates promising to start a war if elected. Promising to start WW3 is an automatic vote for the other guy from me, pretty much regardless of any other factor. And so I am not embarrassed to say I voted against the pro-WW3 candidate.

I am-- let's say-- 85% sure Trump isn't serious about the flag-burning thing anyway. He isn't serious about very much, actually, IMHO; it seems he just enjoys watching and laughing at people spending weeks analyzing and agonizing over something it took him 15 seconds to write. That is not an admirable quality in anyone, especially a President, but again, it beats the alternative.

Bob said...

Well if Trump does land in cuckoo land, there is a solid vice president ready to take the reins of office.

Steve Morgan said...

Hi JMG,

A bit off topic, but I thought you'd appreciate this piece as well. From this week's NY Times book review, the new "scariest word" is "upgrade"

<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/25/books/review/calvin-trillin-on-the-scariest-word.html?_r=0>http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/25/books/review/calvin-trillin-on-the-scariest-word.html?_r=0</a>

I don't recall exactly when, but if memory serves you mentioned that this word would come to be viewed as something like "frack."

latefall said...

The flag issue, for me is once again an indication that
a) Left vs Right labels don't seem to work very well.
b) The battle was lost already for a lot of people when the respective commanders were appointed.
c) Fact checking and doing your homework are two separate things.

H Clinton for punishment of flag burning:
https://www.congress.gov/bill/109th-congress/senate-bill/1911/cosponsors
https://www.congress.gov/bill/109th-congress/senate-bill/1911/text

One person's Koran is another person's flag I guess.

3) abuse of the flag of the United States causes more than pain and distress to the overwhelming majority of the American people and may amount to fighting words or a direct threat to the physical and emotional well-being of individuals at whom the threat is targeted; and

(4) destruction of the flag of the United States can be intended to incite a violent response rather than make a political statement and such conduct is outside the protections afforded by the first amendment to the Constitution.

Unknown said...

To all those who are debating Trump's suitability for office.

With the greatest of respect, I think you are missing the point. That point is not that he is unsuitable, no argument there. The point is that there was nobody else in the running who was considered more suitable by those making the decisions that matter. A nation the size of the USA should not have had that problem.

Pondering on why that was will prove a far more productive exercise, I suspect.


Cheers

eagle eye

Shane W said...

Oh, and part of the reason for voting for a loose cannon like Trump is making it explicit to the rest of the world that we're a banana republic now, NOT "the world's only superpower" and the "indispensable nation". It gets tiresome hearing our client states shriek about "our responsibilities", perhaps a President Trump can put paid to that?

Stretching My Comfort Zone said...

Re: flag burning

"The Flag Protection Act of 2005 was a proposed United States federal law introduced in the United States Senate at the 109th United States Congress on October 24, 2005, by Senator Bob Bennett (R-Utah) and co-sponsored by Senator Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.). Later co-sponsors included Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Thomas Carper (D-Del.).[1]

The law would have prohibited burning or otherwise destroying and damaging the US flag with the primary purpose of intimidation or inciting immediate violence or for the act of terrorism. It called for a punishment of no more than one year in prison and a fine of no more than $100,000; unless that flag was property of the United States Government, in which case the penalty would be a fine of not more than $250,000, not more than two years in prison, or both."

Seems like neither Trump nor Clinton have a strong constitutional grounding on this issue.

onething said...

"To be very honest, Trump increasingly is sounding like my late father-in-law, who suffered from dementia."

Maybe it's the statin. I don't think anyone who takes a statin should qualify for high office.

Unknown said...

Well huh: http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-1509515313.html
Looks like you have some competition for the term "Retrotopia."
Jonathan.

Jason B said...

Ok, I want to back off from my earlier statements about The Donald and those who apologize for him. My apologies if I come off as someone who cannot see a brighter future. I still think he's a cowardly liar (lion?), but it's a good thing that the war in Syria will wind down; and if he can pass an infrastructure bill that isn't merely a handout to corporate-business interests and doesn't privatize (i.e. make our roads into toll) roads, and if he can keep some of the better parts of obamacare in place, and keep his promise not to privatize medicare and social security, he will have my respect. However, the idea that any of this might go down IS, in my humble opinion (reading the tea leaves so to speak), looking more and more dubious, based on his cabinet picks (cabinet picks, I would argue, ARE policy decisions). Instead, I think, we are heading into a nationalistic version of a Paul Ryan America. Oy vey. Please, at least keep the neocons at bay. The internet is such a fun place to let off steam.

Postkey said...

Chris.

"It’s directly about how the loss of jobs will eventually be replaced, . . . "

This is W. Mosley's approach to this 'problem':
Deadly Innocent Fraud #5:
"The trade deficit is an unsustainable imbalance
that takes away jobs and output.
Facts:
Imports are real benefits and exports are real
costs. Trade deficits directly improve our standard of
living. Jobs are lost because taxes are too high for a
given level of government spending, not because of
imports."
P59
http://moslereconomics.com/wp-content/powerpoints/7DIF.pdf


"The current era of globalization and free trade has done a lot of good as well. Most of the world besides the very rich have greatly benefited. I don’t think this is entirely just increased resource consumption. The problem is that it’s been at the expense of the middle and poor of developed nations. This chart does a pretty good job of showing the winners and losers:

https://www.creditwritedowns.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Income-inequality.png"

I think this is usually ignored or it is said that China biases the results?

Martin B said...

I wouldn't say the Dutch-style windmill Mostert's Mill is better than current tech, but it's probably longer-lasting at over 200 years old and still grinding wheat. The unbleached wholemeal it produces makes a fabulous bread.

It was built by a farmer in 1796 using timber from a shipwreck. Restoration was by a couple of artisans who made the parts themselves. No need to order parts online from China.

Standing in the upper section with the gears and millstones during a stiff south-east breeze is quite scary. The whole building thrums with energy as the sails spin at top speed of 15 r.p.m. It's quite sophisticated too. You can turn it to face the wind, furl and unfurl the sails, it has a huge brake, you can raise and lower the millstones to adjust the fineness of grind, and a mechanical shaker system feeds grain faster as the revolutions increase.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mostert's_Mill

n=ro said...

Hello JMG,

Here is an update to my inquiry to the resilience.org situation, in case your interested. This is actually from a few weeks back:

"Thanks for getting in touch. We haven't stopped publishing John. You can find a recent post here: http://www.resilience.org/stories/2016-11-10/reflections-on-a-democracy-in-crisis. We don't publish every posts he ever writes, but he is certainly still a regular author for us."

As in, we won't publish all the uncomfortable things he says, but as long as he sticks to what our crowd wants to hear, it's fine! :)

regards,
nero

uriel alexis said...

JMG,

I just wrote a post responding to your argument: https://antinomiaimediata.wordpress.com/2016/12/29/on-free-trade/. If it is of interest, I'd be very glad to keep the exchange.

Best Regards,
Uriel

«Oldest ‹Older   201 – 282 of 282   Newer› Newest»