Pigs on the Wing

Off the keyboard of Jason Heppenstall

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Published on 22 Billion Energy Slaves on Jan 3, 2014

Will the FTSE reach new heights in 2014?

Will the FTSE reach new heights in 2014?

Discuss this article at the Kitchen Sink inside the Diner

Another year dawns and it’s with some wry amusement that I note almost everyone in the peak energy/collapse blogosphere has been throwing out predictions as to what the coming year has in store for us. It seems to me a bit of a fool’s errand to try and predict what will happen over the coming twelve months because, as the Danish physicist Niels Bohr noted, it’s hard to make predictions, especially when they are in the future. But then Mr Bohr was pretty bad at making predictions himself, failing to foresee that inventing the atomic bomb might lead to a few problems in the future.

Mind you, if one considers oneself as having something even vaguely worthwhile to say about the future of our energy supplies and thereby our industrial civilisation it’s perhaps not too hard to see why people might expect some kind of periodic prediction with a timeframe attached to it. I mean, is it too much to ask? So here’s my prediction about what will happen in the year to come:

I don’t know.

There it is – you have it. I have no clue about gold or silver prices, and still fail to understand why these should be considered important to so many people in this corner of the internet. Neither do I have a clue about the price of oil, subject as it is to a baker’s dozen vagaries ranging from supply and demand, to geopolitics and corruption. I do know that the supply of oil is slowly but steadily dwindling, especially so when you take into account the quality of said oil, but what turn that will take in 2014 is anyone’s guess. Those who have spent far more time analysing these factors seem to be saying that it could be as low as $20 a barrel, or perhaps as high as $200 – or somewhere in the middle, and bouncing around quite a bit. Let’s face it: nobody knows. What we do know is that high prices and volatility cause economic damage, and that low prices mean it isn’t profitable to produce it in the first place. These are both good and bad depending on your perspective.

Speaking of geopolitics, what is to happen on the international stage? Will China and Japan have a war? Will Saudi Arabia have an Arab Spring? Will the European Union bust apart at the seams with Greeks fighting Germans? Will Syria’s bloody conflict spread beyond its borders and engulf surrounding lands?

In each case I could say ‘possibly’, but I’d also have to admit that anything else could happen, and probably will. Going from past experience it’s equally as likely that some new previously overlooked regional flashpoint escalates in a way nobody expected it to. China might attack its own Uighurs. North Korea might throw a fit. Israel or Russia might have a nuclear ‘whoops’ moment. Anything could happen.

Here at home, what is to happen in ‘Great’ Britain? Scotland might or might not decide to turn its back on Sassenach rule. The best of luck to them but either way it won’t make much difference to the fortunes of these increasingly damp and dispirited isles. Will we be invaded by legions of Romanians and Bulgarians – all of whom are thieving, benefit cheating, swarthy ‘others’ as the press keeps telling us? Again, I don’t know, but I doubt it (Romania’s economy is doing better than the British one). If they do arrive en masse, perhaps they could teach us a few of the skills we have so willingly forgotten.

Will Fukushima kill us all? Will the US government launch a war against its own people? Will the world economy crash and we will all have to revert to making transaction with pigs’ teeth? I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know.

I’m not much use am I?

Well, okay, if we have to play this game then I’ll make a few predictions that are close enough to home that I feel confident enough to call. Here they are, in no particular order of importance:

  • The government and press will continue to confuse asset price inflation with economic recovery. The fact that the FTSE has inflated like a giant floating pig at a Pink Floyd gig will continue to be heralded as proof that an economic recovery is underway. If further proof were needed, house price rises will continue to such an extent that home ownership will slip even further from the outstretched grasp of Mr and Mrs Average, while multi million pound mansions in London will continue to be snatched up like hotcakes by Chinese, Russian and Arab buyers.
  • At the same time, the number of families who rely on food banks will continue to climb. As will the number of children turning up hungry to school and unable to afford school uniforms. Austerity will continue to bite deeper and harder and more people will end up living on the streets. More families will break down and the number of people with a decent job that allows them a good standard of living and a chance to put some aside for the future will continue to fall.
  • The public will become increasingly fed up. British people don’t get angry, they just get miffed. There will be more peeved letters written to The Times, and mostly they will be about the price of petrol and food, and the fact that energy bills and train fares are going up almost as fast as savings rates and pensions are going down.
  • There will be a growing realisation among people that the retirement age is accelerating away from them as they age, like a mechanical rabbit at a greyhound track.
  • The government will continue to enact policies that may have made sense ten or twenty years ago before energy supplies had plateaued but which now make no sense whatsoever unless interpreted through the lens of cargo cult behaviour. They will promise more housing development on protected land, more nuclear power stations, more ‘golden age of energy’ fracking, more high speed train lines that nobody needs or can afford, more airports and more road building to promote GROWTH!
  • More people will see through this increasingly desperate tissue of lies and start wondering why they hadn’t seen through it all a few years earlier when they had more cash. They will start reading books on peak oil and searching the internet for somewhere ‘safe’ to go and live. Their friends will think they are weird and have ‘lost the plot’.
  • Usury will continue to be the most profitable business in the country. More and more people will consider it to be normal behaviour to turn to companies like Wonga.com that feature cute animated ‘normal people’ characters on prime time adverts and take out loans at 5,853% interest.
  • The weather will be awful, again. Floods, torrential rain and storms will continue to turn this once green and pleasant isle into something from a dystopian sci-fi B movie where it never stops raining. As a result, more homes built on flood plains, beside rivers or a bit too close to the sea, will become uninsurable. And when it does occasionally stop raining it will turn into a scorching drought that gives old people heat stroke and dries up all the rivers.
  • More and more councils and local authorities will slip into the red and have to cut the services they offer. At the same time, the ongoing wholesale privatisation of council services will massively drive up costs as inefficient and bloated corporate behemoths stuffed with thousands of salaried middle managers attempt to make money out of vital public services – and succeed – at the expense of the public.
  • Ditto with public health services.
  • More public assets will be sold off at fire sale prices to overseas ‘investors’ and this will be spun as a ‘good thing’ and positive for the economy.
  • The number of road miles driven will continue to fall (it has already fallen by 18% since its peak in 2008) and this will again be put down to increased haulier efficiency and better SatNavs.
  • The number of street lights switched off will continue to climb and safety campaigners will continue to insist that we we are going ‘back to the dark ages’.
  • I will finish writing my book entitled “When the Lights Go Out: A Survival Guide for Energy Descent” and a handful of people will place orders for it through this blog.

These are the things we can look forward to in 2014. There are a whole load of other predictions that one could wager upon in the realm of economics, but I’m not going to make any because for the time being at least that realm is controlled by fantasists and mental herds.

One thing that I have observed that should worry anyone with the sense to be worried by it is that the abstract notion of the ‘economy’ as we know it is showing alarming signs of becoming something similar to the state-controlled Soviet communism of yore. It’s ironic, to put it mildly, that as China becomes ever more capitalist in nature (and increasingly hardline attempts to control its shadow banking system are something to look out for this year) the West becomes increasingly monolithic. Because that’s what quantitative easing seems to be all about, namely taking wealth from the population and delivering it to a tiny elite who increasingly control the means of production and are able to successfully lobby governments and enact regulatory capture. But all this is more or less hidden from view, or at least rarely mentioned, and won’t really come apparent until we are looking in the rear view mirror and asking what went wrong.

And I’m not even going to mention the so-called taper.

Or the US fracking bubble.

So there it is. A bunch of predictions and non-predictions. The only one I feel I can make with cast iron certainty is that our over-loaded techno-economic-infrastructure will continue to be worn thinner by the physical constraints that underpin it and that a great many people will proclaim that this isn’t so while simultaneously becoming poorer in any metric that you care to measure except, perhaps, the availability of credit.

And then maybe credit will die too. But maybe that’ll be next year. Or the year after.

Knarf plays the Doomer Blues

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