Economy

Worst Jobs Report in 6 Years

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Published on The Economic Collapse on June 3, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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102 Million Working Age Americans Do Not Have Jobs

 

xThis is exactly what we have been expecting to happen.  On Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that the U.S. economy only added 38,000 jobs in May.  This was way below the 158,000 jobs that analysts were projecting, and it is also way below what is needed just to keep up with population growth.  In addition, the number of jobs created in April was revised down by 37,000 and the number of jobs created in March was revised down by 22,000.  This was the worst jobs report in almost six years, and the consensus on Wall Street is that it was an unmitigated disaster.

The funny thing is that the Obama administration says that the unemployment rate actually went down last month.  Almost every month since Obama has been in the White House, large numbers of Americans that have been unemployed for a very long time are shifted from the “unemployment” category to the “not in the labor force” category.  This has resulted in a steadily falling “unemployment rate” even though the percentage of the population that is actually working has not changed very much at all since the depths of the last recession.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics claims that the number of Americans “not in the labor force” increased by 664,000 from April to May.  If you believe that, I have a giant bridge on the west coast that I would like to sell you.  The labor force participation rate is now down to 62.6, and it is hovering just above a 38 year low.

When you add the number of working age Americans that are “officially unemployed” (7.4 million) to the number of working age Americans that are considered to be “not in the labor force” (an all-time record high of 94.7 million), you get a grand total of 102.1 million working age Americans that do not have a job right now.

This is not a game.

So far in 2016, three members of my own extended family have lost their jobs.

According to Challenger, Gray & Christmas, layoffs at major firms are running 24 percent higher up to this point in 2016 than they were during the same time period in 2015.

It was only a matter of time before those layoffs started showing up in the official employment numbers, and I fully expect that this trend will accelerate in the months ahead.

And here are some other brand new numbers for you to consider…

-Since Barack Obama entered the White House, 14,179,000 Americans have “left the labor force” according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

-The quality of our jobs continues to deteriorate.  In May, 59,000 full-time jobs were lost, but 118,000 part-time jobs were gained.

-Since September 2014, 207,000 mining jobs have been lost.

-We just learned that U.S. factory orders have declined once again.  This marks the 18th month in a row that this has taken place, and we have never seen such an extended decline outside of a major recession.

-JPMorgan’s “recession indicators” have just soared to the highest level that we have seen since the last recession.

Needless to say, the financial community is pretty horrified by all of this news.  They were expecting a much better jobs report, and many of them are not hiding their disappointment.  Here is one example from the Wall Street Journal

This was an unqualified dud of a jobs report,” said Curt Long, chief economist at the National Association of Federal Credit Unions, noting “the unemployment rate fell, but for the wrong reason as labor force participation declined for the second consecutive month.”

And here is another example that comes from David Donabedian, the chief investment officer at Atlantic Trust Wealth Management…

We can’t find a positive nugget in today’s job report. If we were looking for signs of strength in this report, there is nothing to hang onto here.”

But of course the mainstream media is doing their best to put a positive spin on these numbers.  For instance, CNN just published a laughable article entitled “America’s economy is stronger than weak jobs report“.

And the White House insists that this new employment report really isn’t that big of a deal

The White House doesn’t get “too disappointed” over the number of unemployed and underemployed Americans.

“I’ve been reacting to jobs numbers here at the White House for more than seven years, and what is true today has been true in the past, which is, we don’t get too excited when jobs numbers are better than expected and we don’t get too disappointed when jobs numbers one-month are lower than expected,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told CNBC.

But of course the truth is that it is a really big deal.  We just received major confirmation that the U.S. economy has slipped into recession mode.

For months, I have been writing about how virtually every other indicator has been screaming that a new economic crisis had already begun.

But the employment numbers had remained fairly decent up until now.  Employment is typically considered to be a “lagging indicator”, which means that it isn’t one of the first places we would expect to see signs of a recession show up.  However, it is inevitable that the official unemployment numbers will reflect an economic downturn eventually, and that is what we are starting to see now.

What this means is that you probably have even less time to get prepared for what is ahead than you may have originally thought.

The U.S. economy has already entered the early chapters of the next great economic crisis, and most of the population is going to be caught totally off guard and will suffer tremendously.

If our leaders had made better decisions since the last crisis, things could have turned out differently.  But instead, they continued to conduct business as usual, and now we will reap what they have sown

 

 

Steady State Economies

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Published on Cassandra's Legacy on April 17, 2016

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What is it like to live in a steady state economy? Miss Hokusai in Edo Japan

 

 

"Miss Hokusai" is a delicate and beautiful movie set during the late Edo period in Japan. It may give us a feeling of what it is like to live in a steady-state economy. In the picture from the movie, you can see O-Ei (Miss Hokusai) together with her father, the painter Tetsuzo, better known by his pen name of Hokusai.

We owe to Kennet Boulding the concept that “Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.” And we call the end of this impossible growth a condition of "no growth", "zero growth" or "stable state." Many people argue that such a condition is not only necessary because of physical reasons, but it is also a good condition to be in.

In practice, we don't know what a true "zero-growth" society could be, simply because it has never existed in the modern Western World. The only hint we can find on how such a society could be is from history. Probably the best example of such a society, close in time and very well known, is Japan during the Edo Period, that historians place between 1603 and 1868.

We have no data about Edo Japan that we could compare to our modern concept of "Gross Domestic Product," which is at the basis of our idea of "economic growth". However, we have good data about the population of that time and there is no doubt that it remained nearly stable during the whole period. We also know that the extent of cultivated land in Japan didn't vary over almost one century and a half, from 1720 to 1874 (source). The large cities, such as Edo (the modern Tokyo) grew during this period, but that can only be the result of people moving away from smaller cities or from the countryside. Overall, I think we can say that, for some two centuries, Edo Japan was as close to a "zero-growth" society as we can imagine one.

So how was life in a zero-growth society? Clearly, Edo Japan very different than our society. The large majority of the people (around 90% of the population) were peasants living in country villages. On the other side of the social spectrum, there was the elite, the warrior class who ruled the country with an iron hand and meted harsh punishment to the smallest sign of disobedience. There was no such a thing as "democracy", to say nothing about concepts such as "personal freedom", "human rights," or "social security."

But it would be wrong to dismiss Edo Japan as a harsh dictatorship of no interest for us. In between the peasants and the warriors, there were people whom we could identify as close to our concept of "middle class:" craftsmen and merchants. These people were not rich, but they seem to have been reasonably free of worries about near-term survival. And they seem to have been thriving. Basically, as long as they didn't attempt to rebel against the ruling class, they were left in peace by the government. This sector of the Japanese society was lively and innovative. Edo Japan was a country of artists and of master craftsmen in all fields: the Japanese were very advanced in technologies from metallurgy to paper-making, and they created a culture that we still know and admire today: from poets such as Matsuo Basho to painters such as Hokusai and Hiroshige.

Today, we have a large number of fiction works, from Manga to Samurai movies, that try to convey something of a period that, evidently, modern Japanese still remember very well and, probably, with a certain degree of nostalgy. From all these works, we can have a visual impression of what it could have been to live in Edo Japan as a member of the craftsmen or merchant class. And the impression is that, yes, so many things were different but, maybe, not so much. Everywhere and at all times, people face the same troubles, challenges, and opportunities. So, the "middle class" of Edo Japan lived in a simple world, dressed in simple but elegant cotton kimonos, their only drink was sake, and wherever they wanted to go, they had to walk there on their own feet. But they seemed to be able to live a fulfilling life. They enjoyed nature, poetry, literature, music, and each other's company. Not even their oppressive government could take that away from them.

The movie "Miss Hokusai" is an especially good portrait of life in Edo Japan, showing a great attention to the details of everyday life. It is a delicate and beautiful movie, centered on the life of O-Ei, the daughter of the famous painter Hokusai. It has no great dramas nor scenes of battles or fights (although it does have quite a bit of supernatural hints). But it is an unforgettable portrait of human life that transcends its historical setting and tells us something of what it means to be human anywhere in the world.

We cannot say if in the future we will be able to attain a global "zero-growth" society as Japan did during the Edo Period. Maybe empires will continue to grow and fall as they have done during the past millennia. Or, maybe, we will be able to create a worldwide stable society that might look like ancient Japan. Will it have to be a harsh dictatorship as it was then? We cannot say for sure, although is at least possible that, in order to maintain stability, it is necessary to block social mobility and to suppress every attempt of rebellion. But, in any case, nothing can stop human beings from being human. The future remains open and it will be what we will want it to be.

 
 

 

 

 

Fires Rage, Words Fail

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Published on The Daily Impact on February 5, 2016


The Daily Impact has been a quiet place lately, and I will tell you why: words fail me. The scale of the global crash now enveloping us, and the fecklessness of the leaders pretending to protect and defend us, exceed the vocabulary of this wretched scribe. If one manages, however briefly, to comprehend the enormity of the multiple disasters bearing down on us, then one accidentally sees part of a presidential-candidate debate and has to pick up  pieces of one’s skull all over the room again.

How bad it is in the United States:

  • One verse that has been sung for years now by the “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” Chorus is that we are converting to a service economy, in which half of us will serve meals, keep house and otherwise cater to the other half, and that will work fine. But now — just now — the malaise that has been eating at all the other economic enterprises of the country has attacked the restaurant industry. “If services stumble too,” observes a writer on David Stockman’s website, “there truly is nothing left.”
  • Another verse from the aforementioned Chorus: We may not make much anymore, but we sure move stuff around, and that employs a lot of people and keeps the economy chugging along. Not so much anymore. “The Transportation Recession Spreads,” says Wolf Richter of WolfStreet, with the subhead “Hope came unglued all over again.” Orders for new 18-wheeler trucks have been falling since September of 2015, because of declining freight volumes, and after a slight recovery in December (hence the hope), plummeted nearly 50% (year-to-year) in January. Rail freight is experiencing a similar, vertigo-inducing slump.
  • American jobs of all kinds are being vaporized at a rate not seen since the Great Recession got traction in 2009. Just in January, layoffs quadrupled.  See this partial list of job cuts so far this yearand an assessment of the mass layoffs just ahead. Every month the government issues, and the “Happy” Chorus extols, monthly reports lauding robust job-creation and the continued low (seasonally adjusted, statistically weighted, seasoned-to-taste) unemployment rate, while ignoring the gut-wrenching disappearance of hundreds of thousands of people from the job market. These people, six million or so of them now, are not unemployed. They are vanished.
  • The U.S. oil industry, which was promoting itself just a few months ago as the progenitor of a new American Revolution, of a return to American energy independence, and on, and on — is a smoking ruin. Shale drillers are in the process of reporting losses of about $15 billion for 2015; reductions of 25 per cent and more in their balance sheets because of devalued oil; and levels of debt that  forced 42 oil companies into bankruptcy last year and will drive under many more than that this year. Nor is the carnage limited to the shale patch; from Exxon down, Big Oil is experiencing shrinking profits, tumbling stock prices and credit ratings.   

As glum as the situation and the prospects are nationally, they are even worse abroad — for China, Russia, Brazil, Venezuela, Canada and much of Europe and Asia. (Please, valued commenters, find me a country that is doing well, with rising employment and wages, a stable currency, manageable debt, decent health care and security for its citizens. Let’s write about it and then move there. Assuming it’s on this planet.)

Failing that, as I survey the tides of misery rising everywhere, the Horsemen of the Apocalypse riding everywhere, the hopes and dreams and people dying everywhere — words fail me.

All of this confirms me once again as an Age Optimist — a person who, despite everything, maintains a sunny unshaken faith that before these events play themselves out, he will be dead.

 


Thomas Lewis is a nationally recognized and reviewed author of six books, a broadcaster, public speaker and advocate of sustainable living. He also is Editor of The Daily Impact website, and former artist-in-residence at Frostburg State University. He has written several books about collapse issues, including Brace for Impact and Tribulation. Learn more about them here.

Pretend to the Bitter End

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Originally Published on Clusterfuck Nation January 4, 2016
 

Forecast 2016

There’s really one supreme element of this story that you must keep in view at all times: a society (i.e. an economy + a polity = a political economy) based on debt that will never be paid back is certain to crack up. Its institutions will stop functioning. Its business activities will seize up. Its leaders will be demoralized. Its denizens will act up and act out. Its wealth will evaporate.

Given where we are in human history — the moment of techno-industrial over-reach — this crackup will not be easy to recover from; not like, say, the rapid recoveries of Japan and Germany after the brutal fiasco of World War Two. Things have gone too far in too many ways. The coming crackup will re-set the terms of civilized life to levels largely pre-techno-industrial. How far backward remains to be seen.

Those terms might be somewhat negotiable if we could accept the reality of this re-set and prepare for it. But, alas, most of the people capable of thought these days prefer wishful techno-narcissistic woolgathering to a reality-based assessment of where things stand — passively awaiting technological rescue remedies (“they” will “come up with something”) that will enable all the current rackets to continue. Thus, electric cars will allow suburban sprawl to function as the preferred everyday environment; molecular medicine will eliminate the role of death in human affairs; as-yet-undiscovered energy modalities will keep all the familiar comforts and conveniences running; and financial legerdemain will marshal the capital to make it all happen.

Oh, by the way, here’s a second element of the story to stay alert to: that most of the activities on-going in the USA today have taken on the qualities of rackets, that is, dishonest schemes for money-grubbing. This is most vividly and nauseatingly on display lately in the fields of medicine and education — two realms of action that formerly embodied in their basic operating systems the most sacred virtues developed in the fairly short history of civilized human endeavor: duty, diligence, etc.

I’ve offered predictions for many a year that this consortium of rackets would enter failure mode, and so far that has seemed to not have happened, at least not to the catastrophic degree, yet. I’ve also maintained that of all the complex systems we depend on for contemporary life, finance is the most abstracted from reality and therefore the one most likely to show the earliest strains of crackup. The outstanding feature of recent times has been the ability of the banking hierarchies to employ accounting fraud to forestall any reckoning over the majestic sums of unpayable debt. The lesson for those who cheerlead the triumph of fraud is that lying works and that it can continue indefinitely — or at least until they are clear of culpability for it, either retired, dead, or safe beyond the statute of limitations for their particular crime.

Of course it says something about the kind of society we’ve become that such racketeering has become so normative and pervasive, and that evading responsibility for its consequences has been elevated to a sort of enviable skill-set. In fact, the art of evasion has taken the place of what used to be called honor. We live in a low time that honors only low men. Ironically, we affect to admire only “superheroes” because it has become impossible to imagine mere humans showing courage, fortitude, and respect for truth. All conduct is provisional and equivocal. Every law can be parsed to serve what it was created to oppose. Anything goes and nothing matters.

In this year’s go-round, I’ll try to describe what happened so far, where we stand, and where I think things are going. My method is emergent and heuristic. I’m allergic to charts and graphs, which are among the prime tools of the racketeers and the wishful thinking impresarios for bending the truth. Sadly, also, statistical analysis plays into the fantasy that if you can measure enough things you can control them. (And if you mis-measure things on purpose, you can pretend to be in control.) This illusion of control is the weakest ingredient in the financial system. When it does finally reach failure mode, it tends to produce calamity.

I’m more interested in the longer view than the moment-at-hand. The swirl of events generally includes more vectors and factors than any calculus can manage. Outcomes easily slip away from the linear. Ultimately this is a exercise that might be called a history of the future — that is, just a story.

Banking and Markets

The big event of the year past was the Federal Reserve’s Waiting for Godot act concerning the fed funds rate. When Godot finally showed up two weeks before year’s end, it was in the expected-but-pitiful form of a 25-50 basis point hike — which gives the impression of a possible 50 point rise, but with the way more likely probability of actually sticking to the lowest end of the gradient (and actual overnight lending rates were already a few basis points above zero, so the net was really less than 25 basis points.)

The background of this charade was pretty clear to anyone not brain damaged from the rigors of playing Candy Crush on their phone: the Fed was hiking rates into a wobbling global economy; they were forced to act at year’s end or surrender the last shreds of their credibility (i.e. being taken to mean what they say); and they left the door open to retreat in 2016 if necessary. But the damage to the Fed had already been done. They were unmasked as a propaganda machine powerless against the real tides of economy, creating only mischief and misunderstanding, and ultimately undermining all soundness in the relationship between money and real human activity. Anything they do in the election year ahead will be viewed with suspicion, specifically of pimping for Hillary Clinton’s coronation. And her relationship with the biggest banks is well-understood. So they had to make their grand gesture in December.

The stock markets skidded a little below sideways this year (except for the Nasdaq) which glided up more than 5 percent (techno-grandiosity rules!) — with one upchuck at the end of the summer that was remedied by China bailing out its own janky stock markets and playing games with its currency.

Gold and silver continued their four-year swoon thanks to repeated massive wee hour dumps of futures contracts before the traders in New York even got out of bed. The charts conclusively show this shady activity, raising the question: why would any seller want to hugely undercut the price of what he seeks to sell by selling into a market where no buyers are present… or even awake? The answer seems to be: to make the dollar appear more firm than it really is.

The many years of ZIRP (zero interest rate policy), combined with the previous accumulation of debt unlikely to be paid back has made it ever more difficult to issue new debt with any likelihood of being paid back. But ZIRP has also nullified the relationship between interest rates and risk. In a system unencumbered by central bank interventions, interest rates would have to go a whole lot higher on instruments with such poor prospects. Of course, higher interest rates would only make new bonds that much less likely to be serviced by their issuers, especially governments laboring under Himalayan-scale debt loads. The tension in this equation has been provisionally papered over by the use of interest rate swaps, reverse repos, and other abstruse machinations and derivatives aimed at suppressing true price discovery.

The corporate stock buyback fiesta of 2015 was the perfect example of an anything goes and nothing matters ethos. It happened in full view of everyone, and it happened solely to assure corporate executives that they would enjoy their bonuses and fringe benefits and nobody complained about it. Even so, it barely accomplished anything index-wise. The markets went sideways even with all that insider action because the fundamentals suck and the global economy was obviously sinking into a deflationary contraction.

My auditors derive no end of mirth from my attempts to predict the stock markets each year. So, to add to their enjoyment, I’ll be even more precise this time around. I predict that the S & P will top on January 15, 2016, at 2142, and then crumple below 1000 by June. Carnage at the margins of the bond market — high yield paper — will spread to the center and we’ll finally see the re-pricing of risk back in the European sovereign market. French, Spanish, UK, and Italian 10-year paper below 2.0 percent? What a colossal joke that’s been! Fasten your seat belts and check your pension funds.

Oil and Deflation

The oil picture has bamboozled both the broad public and the smaller cohort of supposedly sentient observers. I maintain that the deflationary contraction underway worldwide is largely due to the fact that the world has run out of a particular form of oil: affordable oil. Turns out the peak oil story is still true, just playing out differently than a lot folks predicted. We’re at the mercy of a pretty basic equation: oil over $75-a-barrel destroys industrial economies; oil under $75-a-barrel destroys oil companies. There is no “just right” Goldilocks place on the gradient.

The public got bamboozled by the Ponzi scheme of shale oil. It seemed like a fabulous techno-rescue: the “fracking miracle!” It operated by converting mountains of cheap leveraged capital into a very rapid bump-up in US oil production. It got full traction after a couple of years of $100 oil squashed economic activity — and then squashed demand for oil. Whoops. The problem was that shale oil was very expensive to produce even if reduced demand drove the market price very low. Back at $100-plus a barrel, hardly anyone made any profit on shale. At $40 a barrel shale was a laughable loser. So, in 2015, the shale oil companies laid off thousands of workers, idled the drilling rigs, and kicked back to pray that the price would go back up. Which it didn’t. Incidentally, all kinds of associated ventures went bust with that. The landscape of North Dakota is littered with unfinished garden apartment complexes that may never be completed, and the discharged construction carpenters and roofers drove back to Minnesota ahead of the re-po men coming for their Ford F-110s. Sad, I know….

The rapid ramp-up in shale oil production from 2010 to 2014 was intended as a demonstration project to convince Wall Street to stuff ever more investment capital into oil companies. It was also part of an enormous PR campaign to allow the people running things in business and government to pretend that America’s oil problems were behind us. The “shale miracle” was going to make us “Saudi America,” It was going to boost us into “energy independence.” It played into the Master Wish beneath all the wishful thinking in America: Please, God, let us be able to drive to WalMart forever. It wasn’t so much an evil conspiracy as a feckless collective effort in denial and self-delusion

It happened that a lot of that Wall Street finance came in the form of high-yield (junk) bonds issued by the oil companies — with fat commissions for the big banks to cream off in creating the bonds. So when the price of oil crashed below $50, a lot of oil companies — especially the smaller ones with no cash flow — couldn’t service the interest payments. What lies ahead in 2016 is a debacle of bond defaults and corporate bankruptcies in the US oil patches. What’s more, because of the peculiar geology of shale oil and the rapid depletion of the fracked wells, it is necessary to incessantly drill and frack new wells to keep production even level, let alone rising. That calls for evermore rounds of new financing. But since the current financial obligations can’t be serviced, new financing will not be not forthcoming. And so neither will additional production. All of which means that shale oil production is going to crash in 2016 when the backlog of previously-drilled but untapped wells runs out. I’ll predict that US oil production will go down a million barrels a day before 2017. That includes the roughly 5 percent annual decline of conventional oil.

Some might suppose that such a crash would drive prices back up again as the supply necks down. There are a couple of problems with that supposition. One is that the previous round of $100-plus oil did a lot of permanent damage to the economy, in particular to small businesses and households (i.e. middle-class workers). That damage looks more and more permanent, meaning a smaller aggregate economy and still-shrinking demand base as businesses and citizens go broke and stay broke. If oil prices do return to a level that would justify exploration and production of expensive, hard-to-get oil, (probably north of $110) it will only crash industrial economies again — and there are only so many times this can happen before the system is so damaged recovery is no longer possible. Another problem is that the oil price crash has done significant damage to the oil industry itself, including its credibility as a viable target for investment. Contrary to hopes and expectations, current low oil prices are doing nothing to re-stimulate economic activity. It all has the look of a self-reinforcing feedback loop, a downward spiral in a global complex networked system getting clobbered by the diminishing returns of its principal activities.

Hence I would predict that the price of oil will fall further in 2016, below the $30 mark, and that it will lead to more carnage in the oil industry, in banking and debt defaults, and to new manifestations of geopolitical trouble that could lead to profound oil scarcities and rationing. We can’t seem to face the fact that our techno-industrial paradigm was designed to run on cheap oil, which is just no longer available.

Geopolitics

People are getting very nervous. They can’t help harking back a hundred years to the mysterious lead-up of the First World War, which brought an end to the first iteration of globalism with a bang. The great nations of 1914 just seemed to get haplessly drawn into a debacle that no one had bargained for — the slaughter of the trenches, bankrupted national treasuries, the fall of three dynasties, the rise of the fascists and Bolsheviks… ugh!

Many people with more than half a brain are seeing similar motifs today — a general movement toward major war by way of sheer fecklessness. For instance, the ongoing effort led by the USA to antagonize Russia for no apparent good reason, dragging the dupes of NATO along with it. I won’t rehash our stupid operation to destabilize Ukraine. David Stockman covered that so nicely last week in his blog. Anyway, that Ukraine action was all back in 2013-14. Ukraine is now a failed state. I predict that in 2016 Ukraine will beg Russia to take it back into the Russian sovereign fold, to become once again a province of greater Russia. However, Russia will demur. Russia actually can’t afford such a woebegone, unreliable, and expensive ward. So Ukraine will then go begging back to the US and NATO to dole out financial life-support. By that time, the US and western Europe will be so economically distressed that they will only pretend to bail out Ukraine, just as they pretend to bolster their own economies via smoke-and-mirrors central bank shenanigans. Ukraine will sink into a World Made By Hand level of neo-medievalism, blazing the trail for everybody else in the world. Think: lawlessness, banditry, gangster autarky, neo-serfdom. Sounds harsh, I know, but it is what it is.

In 2015 the action between the US and Russia shifted to Syria. Our monumental blunderings in the Middle East, which included enabling the creation of ISIS, left us bereft of any coherent way to counter the barbarism and animus of radical Islam. So, our “adversary” Mr. Putin stepped in, on the premise that destabilizing what remains of the Syrian government under Mr. Assad was not such a good idea — as he explained very clearly to the UN General Assembly. It remains to be seen whether Russia will be able to pacify Syria, much of which lies in ruins now. But unlike the USA, Russia doesn’t have ambivalent intentions where ISIS is concerned. We’ve pretended that any old freelance gang opposing Assad is our friend. Russia’s aims are pretty straightforward: prop up Assad, rescue whatever governing institutions remain in Syria, and smash ISIS. In exchange they get a warm-water naval base on the Mediterranean. That’s supposed to be an existential threat to the USA.

The basic regional beef there, anyway, is between the Sunni and the Shi’ite, which is to say Arabian-sponsored Islamic maniacs versus Persian-sponsored Islamic maniacs. Unfortunately, that translates into the Saudi Arabia / USA and Iran / Russia contest of wills. Throw in some league wild-card players like Hezbollah and Israel and you have a pretty yeasty mix for rising animosities. Sadly, the US can’t seem to formulate a strategy that doesn’t make things worse for people in the region or for the US homeland (or for our allies in Europe, plagued by refugees they cannot comfortably absorb and the awful threat of terror events).

I expect in 2016 that Obama’s policy will be to just get out of the way of Putin and see what happens. He doesn’t have much left in the kit-bag for now. The worst thing to come out of this for Obama, really, is if Putin can succeed in pacifying Syria, America’s leaders will look bad — incompetent and foolish — which is the actual case, of course. Maybe sometimes you just have suck up your mistakes. Much as Obama dislikes Hillary, I doubt he wants to upend the whole groaning Democratic Party Washington DC patronage pyramid, so he might be careful to not start World War Three during the election year. He can leave that to Hillary, should her coronation actually occur on Jan 20, 2017.

Anything might happen across the Islamic world in 2016. Every Islamic nation is grossly overpopulated, given the poor quality of the terrain. Most of them occupy territory that has been horribly degraded during the population explosion of the past hundred years, and stand to suffer hugely from climate and weather abnormalities ahead. Governments will fall and may not be replaced by anything resembling a coherent polity. Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Iraq (fuggeddabowdit), Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia are all only marginally stable for now. Afghanistan is hopeless. We will never control the terrain or the people who live there. But we will continue to maintain a garrison to defend Kabul, pretending that control of the capital city is enough.

And then there is the Big Kahuna: Saudi Arabia, with its dwindling oil income and growing multitude of dependant layabouts. King Salman’s misadventure in Yemen’s civil war has birthed another failed state and dented Saudi Arabia’s resources. If the other clans of Arabia, whoever they turn out to be, overthrow Salman, they will also create an opening for ISIS-flavored non-royals to incite a multi-dimensional civil war. An upheaval in KSA would surely produce profound disorder in the oil markets. The USA would get suckered into this tar-pit wrestling match. The attempt to stabilize our old “ally” with troops on the ground would probably work out about as well as our adventure next door in Iraq did. The further result will be more conflict in this broad swathe of the world over remaining scarce resources, especially water, along with hot war at various scales, and ever more massive movements of populations fleeing the turmoil. If they journey to Europe, they will be turned away. The Camp of the Saints becomes a reality show.

Turkey, with the second-largest military in NATO, could have been a force for stability in the Middle East, but strongman President Recep Tayyip Erdo?an can’t get out of his own way. He can’t decide whether he’s on the side of the Islamists or the West and his attempts to play footsie with both, while piling up private booty, have left him suspect among both camps. Lately he has ventured into such misadventures as shooting down a Russian warplane and receiving stolen goods in the form of ISIS oil shipments from Syrian and Iraqi wells. He was unable to enlist NATO into joining the argument over Turkish airspace and has fatally alienated his western auditors by his actions. He’s lucky that Putin didn’t turn Ankara into an ashtray. The Kurds on Turkey’s southern border threaten to start a civil war by asserting their own nationhood, now just de facto. Meanwhile, the Turkish economy is faltering again, reinforcing its longtime status as “the sick man of Europe.”

Europe’s decades as the West’s delightful tourist theme park are over. The continent is back to being a dangerous free-for-all of nations, tribes, and factions, with the overlay of alien Islamic intruders making things worse. Who knows who or what will blow up next over there. When it becomes obvious in 2016 that the 2015 refugee influx was not a one-off that the Eurozone could comfortably absorb, the individual nations will commence the deportations. Getting to that has been a difficult road, with the headwind of the memory of the Holocaust. But then, unlike the Jews of the 1930s, the Islamists are slaughtering concert-goers, booby-trapping subways, shooting civilians in restaurants, beheading journalists, and explicitly threatening the existence of European society. This business with Islam is different and we are now four generations past Auschwitz. Europeans may just have to get real about defending their respective and collective cultures.

2016 will be the lead-up to the French presidential election of 2017. François Hollande has the whole of the coming year to demonstrate his weakness. But can the French stomach Marine Le Pen’s demi-fascist National Front. The French right wing is not for reduced government, just for pushing people around differently. As 2016 goes on, look for good ole Sarko (Nicolas Sarkozy) to flank them both. Sarko is a bit crooked, but as strong-willed as Le Pen, and not as crazy. French voters will be fed up Hollande-style squishiness, but unready for a female Hitler. Sarko is the Devil they know and they will want him back.

The same election time-line goes for Germany. Voters there will increasingly revolt against what Mutti Merkel represents: how she jammed a million Islamic refugees down Europe’s craw. They’re not shopping for another Hitler, either, but they will be looking for a strong-willed someone to protect the volk against the foreign hordes, of whom they are getting good and goddam sick. There is also the matter of Germany baby-sitting all the bankrupt nations to the south.

As 2016 unfurls, the PIIGS will spin back into financial intensive care. Spain, Italy, Portugal, Greece will eventually have to face the absence of buyers for their bonds and the falsity of their low interest rates. Spain, for one, is not finished with the Catalonian secession problem. Portugal needs to return to the 18th century. The clowns in Brussels have no plan to repair the finances of Euroland beyond massive QE that cannot be endless. Whoever replaces Merkel as chancellor may be the one who senses that Germany ought to lead the way out of the Euro currency fantasy and all the awful liabilities it entails.

Great Britain is a basketcase in search of a basket to land in. It has no economy left besides the swindlers of “the City,” its version of Wall Street, and that janky establishment is losing its grip as a desirable financial capital after years of sharp practice, with much of its action moving to Shanghai. Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron is a catamite for the big banks. The Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn is an old-school romantic unionist Leftie in a nation with little remaining industrial workforce. Unlike France or Germany, Britain’s parliamentary system can route a government on short notice. The debt implosion of 2016 and rescheduled Great Depression 2.0 will thrust UK Independence Party’s Nigel Farage into the spotlight to salvage what remains of Old Blighty.

The big question around Asia is whether China can navigate its way out of the blind alley it’s trapped in: a banking system steeped in crony corruption, bad debt everywhere, and malinvestment like unto nothing the world has ever seen before. The country is choking on excess industrial capacity just as the world enters its epic Peak Everything contraction. Can they keep on pumping out salad shooters and Han Solo dolls to a world drowning in plastic crap and too broke to buy more of it? They still have $3.4 trillion in foreign exchange reserves to theoretically bail themselves out. But that starts affecting the value of their pegged currency, and their main trading partner (us) can play endless currency war games with them to dissuade them from dumping the rest of their accumulated US treasury paper, which, of course, only pisses them off more and makes them look for surreptitious ways to fight back — which is what currency war is all about. Which is also exactly why China (with Russia and others) has started up its own Asian version of the IMF, the BRICs Development Bank, and an alternative to the SWIFT international clearing system.

Chinese economic and financial statistics are even less reliable than the overcooked sludge offered up by the US agencies, but the tanking of commodity prices worldwide tells enough of a story: China is sure not expanding as much as the good old days, if at all. It’s been a great ride, but it was super-quick, and it happened just prior to the world reaching the bona fide limits to growth. China’s contraction may be as quick as its rise, and if that is the case, it will be rough ride into the same vortex of contraction that everybody else is entering.

My one wild-hair prediction about China for 2016: after Kim Jong-Un pulls some bonehead move against his neighbor to the south, China invades North Korea and installs a more rational management regime there. Kim Jong-Un ends up as a lounge singer in Macao. Lucky boy.

Homeland Frolics

            Be very afraid. Donald Trump isn’t funny anymore. He’s Hitler without the brains and the charm. But he’s gotten where he is for a reason. He expresses perfectly the depravity of the culture he springs from: narcissistic, morally rudderless, vulgar, shameless, lost in fantasy, and sadistic. Hillary (last name unnecessary) is not much better, but she’s not nearly as dumb, only more thoroughly corrupt. These are the avatars of our two major political parties. Be very afraid and weep!

The good news is that political parties do occasionally blow up and vanish from the scene, and that would be an interesting possible outcome of the 2016 national elections. Trump could accomplish this much more briskly with the Republicans. He’s made it clear already that he feels zero loyalty to the Red Team, and noises offstage can be heard that the party faithful would find some way to either expel or end-run the Donald Creature. Given our litigious society, one outcome of this would be an election held hostage by the courts. Oy vey is mir. Another possibility is that a message would be transmitted to the Trump Team from some combination of rogue elements in the NSA and the US Military that he’d better drop out or else. It would be done in such a way that Trump would not be able to use it for further narcissistic grandstanding. Were that not to happen, and were Trump somehow able to get elected, I predict there will be a coup d’état against him inside of April 2017. Hello constitutional crisis. Where it might go from there, no one can say.

Of Trump’s opponents for the Republican nomination, the only one I can grudge up any interest for is Rand Paul, who is a truly disruptive figure without being a maniac. In fact, I think he would make a good president, sober, thoughtful, unencumbered by obligation to the forces of racketeering. But he appears to have a near-zero chance of winning the party’s nomination.

Hillary is the opposite of a disrupter; she is the racketeer Godmother. As things proceed, however, she would merely preside over Great Depression 2.0. Unlike FDR in GD 1.0, Hillary would inspire no trust among a fractious population out for revenge against the very enablers of Hillary’s election, namely the Wall Street bankers. The nation would fall into factional fighting and possibly even regional breakup under Miz It’s-My-Turn. But I get ahead of myself…. The question at hand for 2016 is: Can Hillary be stopped. At this point, I don’t see how, given all the weight of the party machinery calibrated in her favor by the equally odious National Party Chairperson, Congressperson Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Bernie Sanders mounted a noble opposition campaign, and perhaps it is too early to write him off here before the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. Perhaps something can happen and he can at least slay the candidacy of Rodan the Flying Reptile – my other nickname for the Hillary Creature. Apart from that is my basic aversion to Bernie’s political philosophy as a self-proclaimed “socialist.” I know it sounds like a glib dismissal of a cartoonish political label, but Bernie’s self-applied label implies ever more intrusion by ever bigger government into the life of this nation. History wants to take us in another direction now, away from so much hyper-centralized control, and we go against the flow at our peril. While I admire Bernie’s presence as a vocal opposition to Hillary, I’m not keen on what he’s actually selling.

I know that Martin O’Malley is still “out there,” but he appears to be a blank cartridge, or a six-pack in search of worldview, and I don’t believe as some observers have averred that this is the fault of the media. In the few Democratic “debates” held last fall he offered next to nothing outside a conventional punch-list of shopworn center-left ideology — that is, no recognition of the extraordinary problems this country faces in the climax of the techno-industrial idyll, and the long emergency that is following it.

And that’s all you get on the Democratic side for the moment: a powerful sense that the fix is in. Yet there is the very real problem of Hillary’s loathsomeness and how that would go down at the polls. There’s even a pretty good chance that many women would vote against her. So my provisional conclusion / prediction for the November contest is that Hillary runs and loses against some as-yet-unknown un-Trump person. President Cruz? Ach! Rubio? Back in the playpen! Christie? Leave the body, take the canoli…! Jeb? El pendejo supremo! To be continued….

Race Relations and the Cowardice of the Thinking Classes

2015 was sure a bad year for different groups of Americans trying (or not) to get along, especially black people and white people. American society is feeling the full force of the identity ideologies cooked up on the college campuses over the past several decades, now boiling over into an orgy of victim-pleading, identity grandstanding, sexual hysteria, scapegoating, intellectual despotism, juridical blackmail, and (let’s not forget) careerist posturing. The more irrelevant higher education gets, the more strenuously the social justice inquisitors mount their persecutions against those who don’t buy the race-gender-privilege party line. In 2015 it has morphed into a campaign against free speech and free inquiry. The “diversity” deans multiply like fruit flies.

I made the “error” last year of suggesting that black Americans would benefit if the teaching of spoken English were made a high priority of primary and secondary schooling — and I was vilified for saying that. My opponents have not offered any useful counter-ideas beyond name-calling. I suspect that many people of good intentions are running out patience with this racket — and it is a racket for extorting preferential treatment and money from guilt-tripped white people.

In the arena of crime and policing, the situation is especially bad. Black lives matter, but not so much for black people themselves, who are ardently slaughtering each other in places like Baltimore, St. Louis, Detroit, Milwaukee, and “Chi-raq” at a rate proportionately much greater than other ethnic groups in the land. The martyrs of the movement act in ways likely to get them in trouble, for instance the hapless 12-year-old Tamir Rice, shot brandishing a BB gun designed to look exactly like the US Army 1911 issue .45 caliber ACP, Michael Brown thugging out on officer Darren Wilson, Trayvon Martin beating down George Zimmerman. The cops present at several notorious incidents include black officers; a black female sergeant who was supervising the action on the sidewalk in Staten Island when her colleagues choked Eric Garner. (she did nothing to intervene); the several black policemen in Baltimore who took Freddy Gray on his fatal ride in the paddy wagon. It’s a scene fraught with ambiguity, to be generous.

Where are we going with race relations in this country? For now, not in a favorable direction. The trend will be for police to regard certain neighborhoods as “no-go” areas — if only to avoid the gigantic multi-million dollar litigations that grow out of these ambiguous confrontations. Some may view that as a good thing, but it will only play into the decadent ethos that anything goes and nothing matters in this country. The larger question going forward is whether Black America will continue to insist on being an oppositional culture. That is what it has become, though the cowed thinking classes will not acknowledge it. They also will not recognize the need for a common culture in this nation, a set of truly shared values and standards of conduct.

Climate Change

This is the underlayment of despair that reflective persons cannot avoid thinking about when all the other petty issues of human relations and the project of civilization are disposed of. Weird weather? Biblical Floods? Melting icecaps? Sea level creep? It was 70 degrees on Christmas Eve here in upstate New York, dandelions blooming in the yard, just a week or so ago. Some people I know can’t stop thinking about climate change. Somehow I manage to put it out of mind and ruminate on other things, or even feel good about something that is happening in the present — a good meal, a gathering of friends, an evening of live music…. but it’s always lurking there in the background like some hooded reaper in a New Yorker cartoon.

Despite the hoopla of the Paris climate change talks, I’m not persuaded that national governments will really do anything, or even that anything they might do would avail to make things better. I’m not even so concerned about whether climate change is man-made or not. I just accept that something is up and that as things change, we will have to adjust. It seems to me that the adjustment will not be easy and five hundred years from now there will be far fewer human beings, if any, around. From the point of view of the planet’s well-being, that is probably a good thing.

In the mean time, let’s do the best we can to carry on and be as kind as possible to one another. Good luck in 2016!

 

James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency, and Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology and the Fate of the Nation. His novels include World Made By Hand, The Witch of Hebron, Maggie Darling — A Modern Romance, The Halloween Ball, an Embarrassment of Riches, and many others. He has published three novellas with Water Street Press: Manhattan Gothic, A Christmas Orphan, and The Flight of Mehetabel.

How Economic Growth Fails

Off the keyboard of Gail Tverberg

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Published on Our Finite World on August 10, 2015

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oilwell

Discuss this article at the Economics Table inside the Diner

We all know generally how today’s economy works:

Figure 1

 

 

 

Figure 1

Our economy is a networked system. I have illustrated it as being similar to a child’s building toy. Ever-larger structures can be built by adding more businesses and consumers, and by using resources of various kinds to produce an increasing quantity of goods and services.

Figure 2. Dome constructed using Leonardo Sticks

 

 

 

Figure 2. Dome constructed using Leonardo Sticks

There is no overall direction to the system, so the system is said to be “self-organizing.”

The economy operates within a finite world, so at some point, a problem of diminishing returns develops. In other words, it takes more and more effort (human labor and use of resources) to produce a given quantity of oil or food, or fresh water, or other desirable products. The problem of slowing economic growth is very closely related to the question: How can the limits we are reaching be expected to play out in a finite world? Many people imagine that we will “run out” of some necessary resource, such as oil, but I see the situation differently. Let me explain a few issues that may not be obvious.

1. Our economy is like a pump that works increasingly slowly over time, as diminishing returns and other adverse influences affect its operation. Eventually, it is likely to stop.

As nearly as I can tell, the way economic growth occurs (and stops taking place) is as summarized in Figure 3.

Figure 3. Overview of our economic predicament

 

 

 

Figure 3. Overview of our economic predicament

As long as (a) energy and other resources are cheap, (2) debt is readily available, and (3) “overhead” in the form of payments for government services, business overhead, and interest payments on debt are low, the pump can continue working as normal. As various parts of the pump “gum up,” the economic growth pump slows down. It is likely to eventually stop, once it becomes too difficult to repay debt with interest with the meager level of economic growth achieved.

Commodity prices are also likely to drop too low. This happens because the wages of workers drop so low that they cannot afford to buy expensive products such as cars and new homes. Growing purchases of products such as these are a big part of what keep the economic pump operating.

Let me explain some of the pieces of the problem that give rise to the slowing economic growth pump, and the difficulties it encounters as it slows down.

2. “Promises,” such as government pension programs for the elderly, and promises to repair existing roads, tend to get bigger and bigger over time.

We can understand how promises tend to grow by looking at an example I constructed:

Figure 4

 

 

 

Figure 4

Suppose a pension program begins in 2010 and gradually adds more retirees. Or suppose a road repair program starts out in 2010 with more roads gradually being added.

The payments made each calendar year, whether for the pensions or the road repairs, are the totals at the bottom of the column. These totals keep growing, even if each retiree gets the same amount each year, and even if each road costs the same amount to repair each year. Admittedly, using 100 for all amounts is unrealistic–this is done to keep the math simple–but regardless of what numbers are used, the sum of the payments each calendar year tends to rise.

If we look at US government expenditures as a percentage of wages, the pattern is as we might expect: government spending rises significantly faster than wages.

Figure 5

 

 

 

Figure 5

3. At least partly because of growing “promises,” it is very difficult for an economy to shrink in size without collapsing.

We can think of many kinds of promises in addition to pensions and road repairs. One such promise is the promise by banks that they will allow depositors to withdraw funds held on deposit in the bank. Another kind of promise is the promise of debtors to repay debt with interest. All of these promises tend to grow in total quantity over time, at least in part because population grows.

If an economy shrinks, all of these promises become very difficult to fulfill. This is the problem that Greece and other countries in financial difficulty are encountering. There is a need to reduce some program or to sell something so that the calendar year payments are not too high, relative to revenue for the year. These payments really represent a flow of goods and services to the individuals to whom the promises were made. “Printing money” does not really substitute for goods and services: pensioners expect that they will be able to buy food, medicine and housing with their pensions; those withdrawing money from a bank expect that the money will actually buy goods and services needed to live on.

If there is a major problem with “making good” on promises, it is difficult to have an economy. It is hard to operate an economy without functioning bank accounts. Even cutting off pensions or road repairs becomes a problem.

4. The over-arching problem as we reach diminishing returns is that workers become less and less efficient at producing desired end products.

When an economy starts hitting diminishing returns, we find that the economy produces goods less and less efficiently. It takes more worker-hours and more resources of various kinds (for example, fracking sand and deep sea drilling equipment) to produce a barrel of oil, causing the cost of producing a barrel of oil to rise. Usually this trend is expressed as a rising cost of oil production:

Figure 6

 

 

 

Figure 6

Looked at a different way, the number of barrels of oil produced per worker starts decreasing (Figure 7). It is as if the worker is becoming less efficient. His wages should be reduced, based on his new lack of productivity.

Figure 7. Wages per worker in units of oil produced, corresponding to amounts shown in Figure 6.

 

 

 

Figure 7. Wages per worker in units of oil produced, corresponding to amounts shown in Figure 6.

There are many types of diminishing returns. They tend to lead to a smaller quantity of  end product per worker. For example, if the population of a country increases, but arable land stays the same, adding more and more farmers to a plot of arable land eventually leads to less food produced on average per farmer. (Some might say that each additional farmer adds less marginal production.) Similarly, mining ores of lower and lower concentration leads to a need to separate more and more waste material from the desired mineral, leading to less mineral production per worker.

As another example, if a community finds itself short of fresh water, it may need to begin using desalination to produce water, instead of simply using relatively inexpensive wells. The result is a steep rise in the cost of water produced, not too different from the steep rise in the cost of oil in Figure 6. Viewed in terms of the amount of fresh water produced by each worker, the return per worker falls, as happens in Figure 7.

If workers get paid for their work, the logical result of diminishing returns is that after a point, workers should get paid less, because what they are producing as an end product is diminishing in quantity. Workers may be making more intermediate products (such as desalination plants or fracking sand), but these are not the end products people want (such as fresh water, electricity, or oil).

In some sense, fighting pollution leads to another form of diminishing returns with respect to human labor. In this case, increasing human effort and other resources are used to produce pollution control equipment and to produce workarounds, such as alternative higher-priced fuels. Again, wages per worker are expected to decline. This happens because, on average, each worker produces less of the desired end product, such as electricity.

Admittedly, less pollution, such as less smog, is desired as well. However, if it is necessary to pay extra for this service, the effect is recessionary because workers must cut back on purchasing discretionary goods and services in order to have sufficient funds available to purchase the higher-priced electricity. Thus, fighting pollution using approaches that raise the price of end products is part of what slows the world’s economic growth pump.

5. When civilizations collapsed in the past, a major cause was diminishing returns leading to declining wages for non-elite workers.

We know how diminishing returns played out in a number of past civilizations based on the analysis conducted by Peter Turchin and Surgey Nefedov for their book Secular Cycles. They found that typically a period of rapid population growth took place after some change occurred that increased the total amount of food an economy could provide. Perhaps trees were cut down on a large plot of land, or irrigation was introduced, or a war led to the availability of land previously farmed by others. When the original small population encountered the newly available arable land, rapid growth became possible for a while–very often, for well over 100 years.

At some point, the carrying capacity of the land was reached. Then the familiar problem of diminishing returns on human labor occurred: adding more farmers to the plot of land didn’t increase food production proportionately. Instead, the arable land needed to be subdivided into smaller plots to accommodate more farmers. Or the new farmers could only be “assistants,” without ownership of land, and received much lower wages, or went to work for the church, again at low wages. The net result was that at least part of the workers started receiving much lower wages.

One contributing factor to collapses was the fact that required tax levels tended to grow over time. Some reasons for this growth in tax levels are described in Items (2) and (3) above. Furthermore, the pressure of growing population meant that groups needed access to more arable land–a problem that might be overcome by a larger army. Paying for such an army would require higher taxes. Joseph Tainter in The Collapse of Complex Societies writes about the problem of “growing complexity,” with rising population. This, too, might give rise to the need for more government services.

Raising taxes became a problem when wages for much of the population were stagnating or falling because of diminishing returns. If taxes were raised too much, low-paid workers found themselves unable to buy enough food. In their weakened condition, they tended to succumb to epidemics. If taxes couldn’t be raised enough, governments had different problems, such as not being able to support a large enough army to fend off attacks by neighboring armies.

6. The United States now has a problem with declining wages of non-elite workers, not too different from the problem experienced by civilizations that collapsed in the past.

Figure 8 shows that on an inflation-adjusted basis, US Median Family Income has been falling in recent years. In fact, the latest value is between the 1996 and 1997 value. In a sense, this represents diminishing returns on human labor, just as has occurred with agricultural civilizations that collapsed.

Figure 8

 

 

 

Figure 8

Wages have been falling to a much greater extent among young people in the United States. Figure 9 from a report by Dettling and Hsu in the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis Review shows that median wages have dropped dramatically since 1989, both for young people living with parents and for young people living independently. To make matters worse, the report also indicates that the share of young people living with parents has risen during the same period.

Figure 9

 

 

 

Figure 9

In some sense, the loss of efficiency of the economy (or diminishing returns) outlined in Item 4 is making its way through to wages. The wages of young people are especially affected.

7. Demand for goods and services comes from what workers can afford. If their wages are low, demand for goods of many kinds, including commodities, is likely to fall.

There are many rich people in the world, but most of their wealth sits around in bank accounts, or in ownership of shares of stock, or in ownership of land, or in other kinds of investments. They use only a small share of their wealth to buy food, cars, and homes. Their wealth has relatively little impact on commodity prices. In contrast, the many non-elite workers in the world tend to spend a much larger share of their incomes on food, homes, and cars. When non-elite workers cut back on major purchases, it is likely to affect total purchases of goods like homes and cars. Other related goods, such as gasoline, home heating fuel, and the building of new roads, are likely to be affected as well.

When the demand for finished goods falls, the demand for the commodities to produce these finished goods falls. Because of these issues, when the wages of non-elite workers fall, we should expect downward pressure on commodity prices. Commodity prices may fall back to a more affordable range, after they have spent several years at higher levels, as has happened recently.

There is a common belief that as we approach limits, the price of oil and other commodities will spike. I doubt that this can happen for any extended period. Instead, the low wages of non-elite workers will tend to hold commodity prices down. Because of this issue, we should expect predominately low oil prices ahead, despite the continuing pressure of rising costs of production because of diminishing returns.

The mismatch between the rising cost of commodity production and continued low commodity prices is likely to lead to a sharp drop in the supply of many types of commodities. Thus, the slowing operation of our economic growth “pump” is likely to lead to a situation where the production of commodities, including oil, falls because of low prices, not high prices. 

8. What is needed to raise the productivity of workers is a rising quantity of energy to leverage human labor. Such energy supplies are affordable only if the price of energy products is very low.

The amount a person can produce reflects a combination of his own labor and the resource he has to work with. If energy products are available, they act like energy slaves. With their assistance, humans can do things that they could not do otherwise–move goods long distances, quickly; operate machines (including computers) that can help a worker do tasks better and more quickly; and communicate long distance by means of the telephone or Internet. While technology plays a major role in making energy products useful, the ultimate benefit comes from the energy products themselves.

We have been using a rising amount of energy products since our hunter-gatherer days (Figure 10). In fact, the use of energy products seems to distinguish humans from other animals.

Figure 10

 

 

 

Figure 10

Clearly, cheaper is better when it comes to the affordability of energy products since available money goes further. If gasoline costs $5 per gallon, a worker with $100 can buy 20 gallons. If gasoline costs $2 per gallon, a worker with $100 can buy 50 gallons.

In recent years, with the high prices of energy products, world growth in energy consumption has lagged. It should not be surprising that world economic growth seems to be lagging during the same period.

Figure 11. Three year average growth rate in world energy consumption and in GDP. World energy consumption based on BP Review of World Energy, 2015 data; real GDP from USDA in 2010$.

 

 

 

Figure 11. Three year average growth rate in world energy consumption and in GDP. World energy consumption based on BP Review of World Energy, 2015 data; real GDP from USDA in 2010$.

In fact, Figure 11 seems to indicate that changes in energy consumption precede changes in world economic growth, strongly suggesting that growth in energy consumption is instrumental in raising economic growth. The recent steep drop in energy consumption suggests that the world is approaching another major recession, but this has not yet been recognized in international data.

9. One way of describing our current problem is by saying that the economy cannot live with the high commodity prices we have been experiencing in recent years and is resetting to a lower level that is affordable. This reset is related to low net energy production. 

If oil and other commodities could be produced more cheaply, they would be more affordable. We would not have the economic problems we have today. Energy use in Figure 11 could be rising more quickly, and that would help GDP grow faster. If GDP were growing faster, we would have more funds available for many purposes, including funding government programs, repaying debt with interest, and paying the wages of non-elite workers. We perhaps would not have the problem of falling wages of non-elite workers.

The current “fad” for solving our energy problem is to mandate the use of intermittent renewables, such as wind and solar PV. A major problem with this approach is that such renewables make the cost of electricity production rise even faster, exacerbating our problems, instead of making them better.

Figure 12 by Euan Mearns

 

 

 

Figure 12 by Euan Means. Installed capacity is in Watts (W) per capita.

To make matters worse:

  1. The way our economy works, energy flows in a given year (not on a net present value basis) are what are important, because this is the way we use energy to make goods such as foods, metals, and homes. The energy flows of renewables are very much front ended. Thus, the disparity in energy use on an energy flow basis is likely to be greater than reflected in Figure 12.
  2. What we really need from energy products is the ability to stimulate the economy in a way that adds tax revenue. Either the energy products must produce high tax revenue directly, or they must indirectly produce high tax revenue by stimulating demand for new cheaper goods, produced with the new inexpensive form of energy. This is what I think of as “adding net energy”. Wind and solar PV clearly do the opposite. Thus, they behave like “energy sinks,” rather than as products that add net energy.
  3. Modern renewables that are connected to the grid can be expected to stop working when the grid stops working. This may not be too far in the future because we need oil to operate the trucks and helicopters that maintain the electric grid. If this problem were considered in the pricing of electricity from wind and solar PV, their required prices would be higher.

As I see it, one of the major roles of energy products is to support the growing overhead of our economy; this is what the discussion about the need for “net energy” is about. Thus, we need energy products that are cheap enough that they can be taxed heavily now, and still produce an adequate profit for those producing the energy products. If we find ourselves mostly with energy products that are producing cash flow losses for their producers, as seems to be the case today, this is an indication that we have a problem. We don’t have enough “net energy” to run our current economy.

10. Debt and other paper assets are likely to “have a problem” as the economic growth pump falters and stops.

Debt is absolutely essential to making an economy work because it allows businesses to “bring forward” future profits, so that they don’t have to accumulate a high level of savings prior to building a new factory or opening a new mine. Debt also allows potential buyers of expensive products such as homes, cars, and factories to pay for them on an affordable monthly payment plan. Because more buyers can afford finished goods with the use of debt, debt raises the demand for goods, and indirectly raises the prices of commodities. With these higher prices, a greater quantity of commodity extraction is encouraged.

At some point, it becomes very difficult to support the very large amount of debt outstanding. In part, this happens because of the large accumulated amount of debt. Falling inflation-adjusted wages of rank and file workers add to the problem. In such a situation, interest rates need to be kept very low, or it becomes impossible to repay debt with interest. Even with continued low rates, defaults can eventually be expected.

Once debt defaults begin, commodity prices are likely to drop even further. Such a drop is likely to lead to even more loan defaults, especially by commodity producers (such as oil companies) and commodity exporters. Prices of equities can be expected to drop as well, because the problems of the debt system will affect businesses of all kinds.

Once debtors start defaulting, it will become very difficult to keep financial institutions from collapsing. International trade is likely to become a problem because financial institutions are needed to provide debt-based financial guarantees for long-distance transactions.

Other Information on this Subject

I have written previously and talked about some of the issues raised in this post.

An academic article I wrote that is directly related is Oil Supply Limits and the Continuing Financial Crisis. It was published in the journal Energy in 2012. Scopus shows 30 articles citing this paper.

A series of talks and videos that I conducted in China are now available on this website. These are some links to my presentations:

1. Overview of Energy Modeling Problem

2 Importance of Energy

3 Overview of a Networked Economy

4 Economic Growth – Diminishing Returns

5 Government costs and debt

6. Competition and Resource Exhaustion

7. Twelve Principles of Energy and the Economy

8. Renewable Energy

Videos of these presentations are also available on my Presentations/Podcasts page.

Peak Tourism in Florence

Off the keyboard of Ugo Bardi

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Published on Resource Crisis on August 10, 2015

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One of the many shops in downtown Florence whose owners hastily installed an air conditioner to save themselves from the heat wave engulfing the city. Note how the exhaust blows hot air directly onto the tourists walking in the narrow street where this shop is located. Florence is clearly unprepared to the "new normal" of hot weather created by climate change. But the main problem may be the concentration of hundreds of thousands of tourists in about one square km. And the administrators of the town want more of them! (photo by the author, August 2015)

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Good tourist is one more tourist: Florence's fragile tourism industry.

 

If you have been visiting Florence during this hot and humid August, it is likely that you'll remember your experience not so much in terms of the art pieces you saw. Rather, you'll probably remember a place that looks more than all like one of Tokyo's busiest subway stations during rush hour.

I took a small trip to downtown Florence this week, and I have seen tourists marching in crowds, waiting for hours under the scorching sun to have access to the main tourist attractions, carrying bottled water with them as if they were crossing the Sahara desert in an adventure movie. Florence, as a city, is simply not prepared to the "new normal" of temperatures that climate change is creating. And one can only wonder how the situation will evolve as climate change runs its course with higher and higher temperatures.
 

 

Tourists in Florence carrying umbrellas to defend themselves from the scorching sun.  (photo by the author, Aug 2015)


Heat is only one of the problems that tourists have to face in Florence. An even worse one is overcrowding. Let me pass you some data. In 2014, we had some 13 million overnight stays of tourists in Florence or in the nearby area. To this number we have to add all those who come by bus or by car just to spend a day in Florence and then go back or move on to another destination. I think we have to add at least a couple million of them per year. So, a conservative estimate of the total would some 15 million "tourist-days". That makes an average of more than 40,000 tourists in town every day.

But that is only an average. Clearly, tourists tend to come during high season, especially in summer, and then the density is much larger than the average. So how many of them are in town every day this August? A hundred thousand? Two hundred thousand? Or more than that?

 

Tourists in Florence on their rented Segway vehicles. Given the density of people in town, it is not much more useful than trying to use it in your living room. (photo by the author, Aug 2015)
 


In principle, there is nothing wrong in cramming the city with so many tourists; at least as long as the people in the crowd don't panic and stampede, generating a large number of casualties. It is just that when the historical Florence that tourists see nowadays was built, there were perhaps 100.000 inhabitants in the town. Today so many visitors are a disaster for the structures of the city (and note that they tend to concentrate more and more in the same, restricted, areas). Some people speak of the need of "saving Florence" from this calamity. They are well intentioned, but arrive too late. Florence, intended as a "normal" town, doesn't exist any more. What exists is a huge theme park surrounded by an expanse of suburbs. And, as in any theme park in the world, the people whom you see walking in the street are not residents; they are either visitors or employees of the park.

As everything in this world, if something happens, it means it had to happen. Under many respects, it was unavoidable that Florence would be transformed into a major worldwide tourist attraction; and it was unavoidable that more and more people would want to visit the town every year. What surprises me in this story is not the transformation that Florence underwent, but how the city authorities and the representatives of the tourism industry are totally oblivious to the problems brought by this huge mass of people dumped into the city center. Not only they are blind to that, but they want more! When the data for 2014 came out, everyone was delighted, actually ravished, that the number of tourists in Florence had increased of about 3% with respect to the previous year. If there was some regret about that result, it was that it was "only" of 3%! The rule seems to be simple: good tourist is one more tourist.

Everyone is so completely convinced that more is always better that the city authorities are planning a substantial expansion of the city airport that should perhaps double the number of passengers landing in Florence. The only criticism I heard about this idea is that the new airport should be built somewhere else, not that more people are not a good thing.

But can anyone remember that in 2005, 10 years ago, the tourists arriving in Florence were less than seven million, that is about half as many than today? How long do you think you can keep doubling the number of tourists every ten years and still report it as a good thing? And how long do you think that the tourists will put up with being crowded, herded, goaded, trapped, pushed, overcharged and mistreated in various ways, before they decide that they can find a less crowded theme park – say – in Anaheim?

This great tourist boom is so fragile that it is incredible that nobody realizes it. Some 75% percent of the people visiting Florence come from abroad, and many from overseas. An economic crisis or a major geopolitical instability could easily stop the tourist flow and destroy the economy of a city that, by now, depends on the two billion dollars or so that the tourists bring in every year. If you want to have some idea of what might happen, you could do well by re-read "Babylon Revisited", by Scott Fitzgerald, that describes Paris as a ghost town after that the great crash of 1929 had sent away the American tourists.

So, does anyone in this world understand the concept of "resilience"? Apparently not, and I can't blame too much the city authorities of Florence for pushing so hard for their new toy, the airport. After all, the mining industry keeps operating on the assumption that resources are infinite and always abundant. And then, what's the difference? Humans just seem to be made to overexploit resources and, be the resources crude oil or tourists, it is about the same. So, it had to happen, and it is happening.

____________________________________

I don't want you to think that I am trying to prevent you from visiting Florence. Despite the ongoing disaster, it is still worth coming here if you avoid the overcrowded areas of the center and if you take a little more time than the average tourist. If you do this, you may discover that such a thing that I would call "city spirit," survives in Florence (for now, at least)

BRICS/SCO sow panic in Exceptionalistan

Off the keyboard of Pepe Escobar
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Originally published in RT on July 13, 2015

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As austerity-ravaged Europe watches its undemocratic “institutions” grapple with the Greek tragedy, and the US backtracks on a fair nuclear deal with Iran, geopolitical tectonic plates are shifting in the Urals.

Can you feel an inchoate multipolar world? Well, just look right here at the BRICS 2015 Ufa declaration. The EU is hardly featured in the BRICS declaration and not by accident.

Forget about the dead on arrival G7. This – the joint BRICS/SCO summit – is the real deal in 2015. Russia’s diplomatic masterstroke was to merge two summits – BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) – with a third, informal meeting of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). 

After all, some nations with leaders present in Ufa are members of at least one of these organizations. But the absolute key point is that getting BRICS, SCO and EEU leaders in one place packs a graphic punch about the emergence of a coordinated, Eurasia-wide, and in some aspects worldwide drive towards a more equitable world order not dictated by exceptionalists.

And then there’s Iran. President Rouhani met President Putin in Ufa to discuss a formidable range of topics. Not least the coming acceptance of Iran as a member of the SCO, assuming there is a deal in Vienna and after UN sanctions are lifted. 
Right on cue, and also not by accident, US President Barack Obama issued marching orders to Secretary of State John Kerry to backtrack from some positions the entire Iran/P5+1 diplomatic corps was already taking for granted – as a top Iranian negotiator confirmed to me in Vienna.

So here’s the not-so-veiled message to Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif: Iran will be “punished” for getting too close to Moscow.

Have strategy, will travel


Only Russia is a member of all three organizations – BRICS, SCO and EEU. Russia and China are key members of two – BRICS and SCO. The Russia-driven EEU is slowly but surely merging with the China-driven New Silk Roads. The key structural framework is the ever-solidifying Russia-China strategic partnership.

As the Pentagon remains self-absorbed in its 2002-concocted Full Spectrum Dominance doctrine, Russia and China counterpunch with full spectrum cooperation on politics, economics, finance, diplomacy and defense.

The endgame – which will be the apex of the current New Great Game in Eurasia – is a new global geopolitical structure anchored on Eurasian integration. Thus the importance of Iran: no matter what happens in Vienna, Iran is the vital hub/node in Eurasia.

The road has been long for the SCO. I remember when Euro-bureaucrats only a few years ago dismissed it as a mere talk shop. What started as a security forum to integrate the Central Asian “stans” so they would not be ravaged by terrorism and extremism evolved into a serious economic/political organization.

So now the SCO is starting to add to, and draw upon, the BRICS’s ever expanding economic cooperation, which features two essential pillars: the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the BRICS’s New Development Bank (NDB). As for the EEU, it is also indirectly linked to China, as part of the Russia-China strategic partnership.

This will all translate in the next few years into a complex maze of economic and trade/commerce networks traversing Eurasia. Call it the road map of the myriad New Silk Road(s).

Faster! Dust up our war plans!

Here’s just a sample of what has been decided in Ufa: Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping actively discussed, face-to-face, interlinks in the New Silk Road(s); India will become a full member of the SCO next year; Russia’s Finance Minister Anton Siluanov was appointed chairman of the BRICS New Development Bank (NDB), which will finance infrastructure projects not only in the five BRICS countries, but in other developing nations as well. And all that based in their own currencies, bypassing the US dollar.

The NDB has the potential to accumulate as much as $400 billion in capital, according to bank head KV Kamath. The parent capital is $100 billion.

Currency swaps are the way to go. It already applies to Russia and China on trade in futures, and Putin has dubbed its expansion to other nations as “interesting.”

A strategy for BRICS economic partnership has been devised that “touches upon the responsibility of different ministers and requires high-level coordination,” according to Russia’s Economic Development Minister Aleksey Ulyukaev, which means in essence easier trade between BRICS nations.

Both the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the NDB are headquartered in China. However, they won’t compete with each other; they will add to and complement one another.

Russia’s Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) signed a memorandum of understanding with the other BRICS. Significantly, China’s Silk Road Fund and India’s IDFC (Infrastructure Development Finance Company) are key partners.

Russia will lift restrictions on Chinese banks working in Russia, accelerating Beijing’s drive to invest in all sectors of the Russian economy.

Russia proposed a roadmap for investment cooperation. Crucially, that includes the possibility of an energy association, according to Putin, as well as an international energy research center.

The subject of energy brings us to Greece. Russia’s Turkish Stream pipeline – yet another diplomatic/energy counterpunch after the EU scored a proverbial own goal by scotching the South Stream – will be linked to Greece.

No wonder that elicited panic in Exceptionalistan. What if Syriza’s “flirting with Moscow” becomes a strategic shift, thus causing NATO’s eastern flank to fall to pieces?

It doesn’t matter that Russia wants a strong EU – and the EU won’t be strong without Greece, as Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov emphasized in Ufa.

So what does NATO propose to seduce anyone across Eurasia away from all the frantic BRICS, SCO and EEU politico/economic activity? Nothing less than an obsession with a “strategy rethink.” In other words, detailed “secret” scenarios for a war on European soil.

That’s all one needs to know about who wants what in the new, emerging geopolitical order.


Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

Detailing the Causes of Overshoot

Off the keyboard of Ugo Bardi

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Published on Resource Limits on June 26, 2015

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The causes of overshoot finally explained in detail

– The more I cut, the more the GdP goes up.

– I say: jobs, not branches!!

 – I can't stop cutting, but I can capture sawdust and sequester it into the tree hollow.

 – Do you really believe in this story of 'gravity'? I am not convinced at all.

 – Such a small cut in this big branch, why should I be worried?

– I am not a woodsman, but I can say that, if this branch was supposed to fall, why do we see so many branches, up there?

– I have been cutting this branch for quite a while and nothing has happened. Why should anything happen?

– Branches fall all the time; it is a natural phenomenon.

– It is just an engineering problem. They'll find something to keep the branch up.

– If we stop cutting. it will cost us more than the hospital bill for the fractures caused by the fall.

The Uber Disguise of Industrialism’s Collapse

Off the keyboard of Allan Stromfeldt Christensen

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Published on From Filmers to Farmers on June 9, 2015

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Uber-tastic!
 
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If you're a bit more up with the times that I am then you're probably aware of Uber, the new taxi service that's apparently been gaining an increasing foothold in major cities around the world. But predominantly being a user of my feet, bicycles and public transit, and not even having a smartphone until recently (and without a SIM card to boot), it wasn't until news of a few protests going on in my former homecity of Toronto a few weeks ago that I became familiar with the nascent taxi operation.

Uber, as you may or may not know, is an intermediary that allows for people with the Uber app installed on their smartphone to connect with people who have signed up to be drivers for the service — pseudo taxi drivers if you will. With the service and its drivers skirting many regulatory hurdles, this has meant that the "cabbies" can drive with less overhead costs than regulated cab drivers, while clients are sometimes able to secure cheaper cab fares than normal (although "surge pricing"/"gouging" does happen).

The ensuing protests that occurred were of the expected sort, with 300 airport limo drivers protesting over lost business to Uber, while another slew of drivers and their cabs blocked up traffic in the downtown Toronto area with calls that "UberX… [is] killing our business." Conversely, while the city's new mayor stated that he "won’t have the Wild West" (unregulated Uber "taxis"), he was also adamant to point out that "I won't have us stuck in the 1970s either."

To be sure, this is by no means a case of Luddites fighting back against their entrepreneurial oppressors. First off, and contrary to the popular misconception, a Luddite is not somebody who is simply against technology. Properly speaking, a Luddite — including the machine smashers of early-19th century England — is someone who places more value on community than on a piece of technology. However, what the Toronto cab drivers are (understandably) fighting for isn't their communities and/or way of life, but rather for the survival of their wage paying jobs (what the Luddites actually lost out to a couple of centuries ago).

Similarly, Toronto's mayor isn't simply the acquiescent politician of yore, transforming the system from one that (to a certain extent) stood up for the common man to one that virulently stood up for big business (for a while there it was a capital offence to smash a machine, many Luddites losing their lives to the noose). That being said, although Toronto's latest mayor presumably doesn't smoke crack, he is nonetheless a political hack. For in this oil-drenched, modern, industrial civilization of ours, it's pretty near impossible to occupy a position of high political stature and not be a shill for the technological deterministic trope. "You can't turn back the clock!"

But regardless of today's overwhelming shilling-for-stature political atmosphere, the closest argument I've come across that elucidates the underlying issue behind all this Uber hubbub is an article in Slate, although even it unfortunately remains significantly off the mark. In it, author Reihan Salam states that

What critics of Uber need to understand is that their real gripe is not with Uber. It's with larger forces that are making it extremely hard for service workers to make a good living, whether they're driving cabs, washing dishes, mowing lawns, keeping offices and homes neat and clean, or doing clerical work.

Fair enough. With economic conditions the way they are, many people are in the position of having to do whatever they can to scrape by, if even that. As Salam then further elucidates, twice,

Is it Uber's fault that wage growth is sluggish and that legions of workers are looking to boost their incomes?

Good point. Growth is sluggish, and some people are justifiably jumping at nearly any opportunity they can find to pay the bills (as superfluous as they may or may not be). But the million dollar question here is, Why is it that growth is so sluggish, and what are those "larger forces" that Salam speaks of?

Salam unfortunately pulls out what we might as well call a UCOBAU (usual-critique-of-business-as-usual) by conveying that "policy makers should invest in education and infrastructure." That, however, has nothing do with the underlying issue here (supposing that the investments Salam speaks of are even feasible).

For the fact of the matter is, the underlying issue here (of which Uber is but a symptom) is that voraciously energy-consuming industrial civilization is butting up against the limits to growth and the effects of encroaching peak oil. In short, what is unfolding as we speak, and under many guises, is the collapse of industrial civilization.

The inevitable Uber collapse?

 

As a result, some people, in a desperate attempt to maintain their profligate ways of life, are doing whatever they can to earn an extra buck (by driving for Uber) and to save an extra buck (by riding with Uber).

 

In other words, Uber is not simply the result of clever, 21st century business acumen, but is rather, almost by default, the shrewd adaptation of industrialism and its technological "progress" to the resource shortages of tighter times. Call it an unintentional disguise of industrial civilization's collapse if you'd like.

A recent article by Business Insider, rather misleadingly titled "Millennials Don't Care About Owning Anything and it's Destroying Traditional Retail," could hardly make the situation any more glaringly obvious. The piece itself isn't really all that interesting, until you notice that it's trying to pull off that same wonky argument of "we haven't reached peak oil, we've actually reached peak demand" (which are actually one and the same).

As is stated in the article, "the trend [of sharing, bartering and trading] is extending into clothing." But if you think this means that we've reached some kind of peak clothing demand, think again. For as the article also states,

Battered by student loan debt and the Great Recession, Millennials place less emphasis on owning and more on sharing, bartering and trading to access coveted goods. These behaviours have propelled businesses such as car rental service Zipcar, taxi service Uber and home rental site Airbnb.

But to say that "these behaviours have propelled [these] businesses" is to slap on the blinders as tight as possible. For just a sentence earlier, and apparently quickly shuttered out of mind, was it stated that so-called "millennials" are "battered by student loan debt and the Great Recession."

In other words, it is not some supposed "behaviours" that have propelled these types of businesses, but rather it is the ongoing effects of the Great Recession (and more) that is inciting, if not forcing, people to patronize such businesses.

So, like, we're all going to happily follow the trends and end up wearing smelly bowling shoes?
 

What is going on here is actually precisely what is to be expected from advertisers, marketers, and the rest of the obedient lapdogs who are determined to keep the industrial fantasy looking all rosy and shiny. With people having less and less money to afford the customary amenities they're used to and/or expect to become theirs, they're nonetheless being congratulated for "increasingly living in small, urban apartments rather than sprawling suburban houses," are noted to "see sharing and re-using as a way to promote environmental benefits such as reducing landfill waste," and are then told that "the allure of 'no ownership' is moving beyond housing and cars." That is all, however, complete nonsense.

In short, the amenities that people have gotten used to are becoming less accessible due to the economic effects of peak oil, are being triaged from right under people's noses, all of which is then clouded over with downsized replacements that are gleefully hyped as innovation and supposed evidence of emerging eco-nirvana.

This being the case, perhaps we should think twice about nodding our heads in obeisance when we hear marketing professors at the esteemed Schulich School of Business of York University telling us that Uber has been fully embraced by "millennials" and that "what you are seeing is a clash of cultures." For not only is that a poor usage of the term "culture" (see here for a bit of why), but you really have to wonder how many of our learning institutions have much of a clue as to what's going on in the world when what many of them are essentially doing is naïvely hyping the adaptation of re-envisaged consumerism to the collapse of industrial civilization, with little more than the added shtick of Madison Avenue-styled eco-chic claptrap.

As a final note, it would be nice if I could say that we've reached some kind of peak obfuscation, but I don't think that that seems to be the case. For as far as I can tell, and using Toronto as the stand-in, the prevailing evidence seems to be indicating that crack pipes continue to reign supreme.

 

p.s. Uber's most recent valuation estimated its worth at $50 billion. As was quoted in a CNN article, "Uber is priced for a scenario where everything is going right."

Shhhh. Nobody tell Wall Street about peak oil.

It ain't over till the bubble girl blows
 
 

HEADING FOR DISASTER

Off the keyboard of John Ward

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Published on The Slog on May 18, 2015

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slogging-through-mud

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HEADING FOR DISASTER: A FAILING BRITISH ECONOMY, AN UNREPAYABLE DEBT, & AN UNREPENTANT POLITICAL CLASS

GEORGE, THERE ARE GOING TO BE TEARS WELL BEFORE BEDTIME

oscuntPrecisely as the right-wing Institute for Fiscal studies predicted before the Election, George Osborne is now under pressure (from the Institute of Directors) to “slash spending”. The IoD has gone one on from “cut”: perhaps next time the verb will be “decimate”. And then “obliterate”.

Note that few if any of the IoD’s members will suffer a jot from the cuts. Also note that the IoD is specifically ruling out tax rises….which would, of course, hit most of their members very hard indeed.

The Chancellor has promised yet another budget in the summer (we might just as well make them quarterly and have done with it) and has said it will be “a budget for working people”. This is another little weasel phrase invented by the Aussie spin doctor Lynton Crosby; what it means is “people in a full-time contractual private sector job”. As only 22% of us are these days, it isn’t going to be terribly good news for the unemployed, the State retired, or indeed the NHS: get out of that, Jeremy Hunt.

I think a few more people need to take time out here and study what exactly is going on rather more fully. In a nutshell, it is this: because the ConDem coalition spectacularly failed over the last five years to (a) wipe out the UK deficit (b) diversify the UK economy out of financial services and (c) gain new export contracts beyond the EU, those people out of jobs as a result of that failure, or on benefits, or ill will be asked to cough up. The business organisation members who aided in this abject failure, however, won’t be asked to cough up. They’ll just see their salaries and bonuses continuing to go up.

So, Government screws up and business acts as its accomplice; labour force, the ill and the poor foot the bill.

Sorry to repeat the question for the 50th time, but you see so far I haven’t had an answer. As a neoliberal economy is based on eternal consumption and a ready supply of credit, how are lower incomes and dried-up banks going to produce more consumption?

They can’t, period. But still the financial press calls the UK’s Q1 slowdown ‘disappointing’ (to whom – idiots?) and still the talk of China being ‘back on course’ gets blown off course every time data emerges from Beijing….a deceleration rate of 5.2% YOY being the latest one last Friday.

Look around at the overall situation and think: until very recently we had a situation where people were paying governments to borrow money off them. Banks are still offering ‘savers’ virtually no interest on their savings. There isn’t a Western economy booming anywhere: not one. But not a single Western bourse is reflecting that fact: not one. Every week another lunatic (usually German) insists that the eurozone is turning the corner. No it isn’t: it’s in the ER room with severe brain damage being kept alive by experimental drugs.

A 2% rise in interest rates – just 2% people – would move US debt management expenditure from 2 in 5 of all tax dollars to $2.50. In 1976, the UK’s deficit to gdp ratio was 6%…but we had to call in the IMF to avoid insolvency – because interest rates were a staggering 14.25% average during the year.

The latest UK projected deficit in 2015 is 4.8%. BUT that’s with near-zero interest rates. Just a rise of 1.5% would would take our deficit higher than it was when we nearly went bust under Labour. An even remotely normal level at 4% would double it. At that point, bond yields would go into orbit around Saturn.

When the Conservatives came to power in 2010, the national debt was £900bn. It’s closer to £1.6trillion today…80% higher in five years.

No matter what any politician tries to tell you, our current woefully negative trading account means that the UK National Debt is as unrepayable as that of Greece. The big difference being that we have far, far more to lose than they do.

There is no way further spending cuts can have any effect on that, because the welfare and health bills for government aren’t the real problem. The real problem is an unreformed economy ludicrously overdependent on financial services, and a Conservative administration with almost no commercial experience in its ranks to switch to high-margin manufacturing and retraining of the workforce to make stuff.

The money saved by Osborne was a minute part of even the deficit reduction. In relation to the debt, the best analogy I can offer you is that more expenditure cuts now would be like putting one pipette into the Pacific in an effort to stem rising sea levels. The idea that austerity on the one hand is part of the cure for long-term British commercial and business failure is obscenely infantile.

The Conservatives know this, but don’t know what to do except take away our right to resist. The Labour Party doesn’t even understand it in the first place. Nigel Farage probably gave up on this piece after paragraph six. And Nicola Sturgeon cares not for any of it just so long as she gets independence for the Scots.

That is the depth of our political crisis in 2015. Only a drastic change in socio-economic culture, education and our Constitutional processes can even begin to change it.

The German question

Off the keyboard of Pepe Escobar
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question.si

Originally published in Ron May 8, 2015

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Seventy years after the end of World War II, and twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Germany is once again under the grip of ‘sturm und drang’, but this time barely registered in either East or West.

Without a serious attempt at myth busting, it’s impossible to discern what could be interpreted as a new, discreet German attempt at hegemony.

Contrary to a myth currently propagated by US ‘Think Tankland’, political Berlin under Chancellor Merkel is not a mediator between a still hegemonic US and an “aggressive” Russia.

The reality is Berlin, at least for the moment, would rather give the impression of singing Washington’s tune – with minor variations – while chastising Russia. That’s the case even when we consider the solid energy/trade/business ties with Moscow, as in Germany importing a third of its natural gas, and German industry/companies/corporations hugely invested in Russia.

Contrary to a second myth, political Berlin does not seek “stability” in Europe’s eastern borderlands, but rather outright vassalage. The relentless Eastern European integration to the EU, led by Berlin, was as much a strategy to open new markets for German exports as to erect a buffer between Germany and Russia. As for the Baltic States, they are already vassals; Germany is the largest trading partner for all three.

Yet another myth is that Berlin cannot lift – counterproductive – sanctions against Moscow as long as “security” of Central and Eastern Europe is not assured. The reality is that Germany would rather exert total political/economic control over the periphery of the former USSR.

As for the EU itself, now mired in a post-democratic, un-egalitarian, austerity-ravaged toxic environment, with no discernible way out, Germany already rules, politically and economically.

Deutschland under control?
Amidst the current EU intellectual quagmire where, to quote Yeats, “the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity” – think puny neoliberal ideologues scurrying under their sinecures in that Kafkaesque temple of mediocrity, Brussels – a modern Diogenes would be hard pressed to find an informed observer capable of seizing up Germany’s game.

Thus the glaring exception of historian and anthropologist Emmanuel Todd, author of the seminal 2002 essay After the Empire which showed no mercy in its cartography of American decline. In a long 2014 www.les-crises.fr interview, centered on Germany, Todd hits the geopolitical ball out of the park.

Todd deeply worries about the West’s dysfunction – manifested at its prime in Europe being “virtually at war with Russia”. He sees the anxious, sick West’s “fixation” on Russia as the search for a scapegoat, or better, “the creation of an enemy, necessary to maintain a minimal coherence of the West. The European Union was created against the USSR; it cannot do without Russia as an adversary.”

And yet, behind the EU, there’s the real deal; the German project, which Todd identifies as a project of power, driven “to compress demand in Germany, to enslave the debt-ridden countries of the South, to put to work the Eastern Europeans, to throw some peanuts to the French banking system.” And that project of power could not but open the ominous door to Germany’s “immense potential for political irrationality” – a theme very much prominent now with all those rehashes of the fall of the Reich.

Todd identifies what Lacan would dub the great European non-dit (“not enunciated”); “The key to the control of Europe by the United States, which is the inheritance of the victory of 1945, is the control of Germany.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (Reuters/Hannibal Hanschke)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yet now the control is dissolving, albeit chaotically, and that means “the beginning of the dissolution of the American imperium.” And imperial decline – visible in myriad declinations – leads Todd to a bombshell; the real threat to the US, much more dangerous than Russia – “which is external to the empire” – is Germany.

And what about the threat to Russia from Germany? Todd strongly implies the populations of Russian language, culture and identity are being attacked in Eastern Ukraine with "the approval and support" of the European Union – which is a fact. At the same time, he interprets the Russian "silence" about it not "as in the French and the American case, a refusal to see reality,” but as good diplomacy; "They need time. Their self-control, their professionalism, compels admiration." Try finding this kind of analysis in CIA-infested European corporate media.

“Europe” out, Germany in
So what Todd is essentially gaming here is “the emergence of a new face-to-face between two great systems: the American continent-nation, and this new German empire, a political-economic empire which people continue to call ‘Europe’ out of habit.” And yes, he’s got a compelling case.

Using a political science concept coined by Belgian anthropologist Pierre van den Berghe, Todd qualifies the German system as “un-egalitarian domination”; whatever equality is left concerns only the dominant, as in German citizens. Welcome, then, to Herrenvolk democracy – the “democracy of the master people.”

Todd bolsters his case by pointing to the dynamism of the German economy as based in the former USSR satellites; “Part of the success of our German neighbors stems from the fact that the communists were much interested in education. They left behind them, not only obsolete industrial systems, but also populations that were remarkably well educated.”

So “annexing” the populations of Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, etc, meant Germany reorganizing its industrial base using low-cost labor. But then there’s a major “if”; Todd believes Germany might also “annex” an active population of 45 million in Ukraine, “with its good level of training inherited from the Soviet period.”

Not only that’s extremely unlikely; Moscow has been explicit this is a red line. Moreover, “Ukraine” is a failed state in terminal disintegration, now a lowly, de facto, IMF colony, whose only interest for the “West” is rich agricultural land to be plundered by Monsanto and cohorts.

“He hasn’t seen Germany coming”
The fun really starts when Todd examines the mess “classical American geopoliticians of the ‘European’ tradition,” are in. He had to be talking mostly about notorious Dr. Zbig “Grand Chessboard” Brzezinski; “Obsessed by Russia, he hasn’t seen Germany coming.”

Todd correctly notes how Dr. Zbig “has not seen that the American military might, by extending NATO all the way to the Baltic States, to Poland… was in fact cutting out an empire for Germany, at first economic, but at present already political.” And in parallel to what I have been examining for years now, he hints that “the extension of NATO to the East could in the end bring about a version B of Brzezinski’s nightmare: a reunification of Eurasia independently of the United States.”

The clincher is to be savored like the best Armagnac; “Faithful to his Polish origins, he feared a Eurasia under Russian control. He is now running the risk to go down in History as another one of these absurd Poles who, out of hatred of Russia, have insured the greatness of Germany.”

For the moment, political Germany – but not its industrialists – has chosen to continue to be subjugated to the US/NATO as Chancellor Merkel appears to be enforcing the encircling of Russia.

The Reichstag building, the seat of the German lower house of parliament Bundestag (Reuters/Fabrizio Bensch)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As Todd nailed it, Germany painstakingly organized its EU hegemony on the basis this disparate basket of nations would provide Berlin with the economy of scale to win against its main industrial competitor, the US. Yet Germany lacks energy – oil and gas. Supply from Africa and the Middle East is inherently unstable.

So this is how we come to another scenario circulating among what Bauman called “nomad elites of liquid modernity”; not think tanks or Western intel agencies.

According to this scenario, instead of a EU trying to work with Russia, we have Berlin trying to undermine Moscow to ultimately seize financial control of Russia’s immense resources; back to those good old disaster capitalism Yeltsin days, when everything was collapsing other than Russia’s natural resource production.

After all the ‘New Great Game’ is mostly about control of the natural gas, oil and resources of Russia and Central Asia. Will they be controlled by oligarch fronts supervised by their masters in London and New York, or by the Russian state? And once Russia had been subdued, then the Central Asian “stans”, especially gas republic Turkmenistan, would also be free to do Germany’s bidding.

But for the moment, it’s all shadow play. Merkel utters platitudes about the Minsk ceasefire – when every serious player knows Kiev breaks it on an everyday basis. Berlin works backstage to keep the proverbial “reluctant players” – Italy, Greece, Hungary – on board with sanctions on Russia while spinning it’s doing its best to contain hysterical Poland and Lithuania.

Merkel is very much aware the US prosecutes much of its drone war out of Germany while the BND – German intel – spies for the NSA on the French, the European Commission (EC) and even German industry.

So she will never directly antagonize Washington – as she in fact mostly fears German Atlanticists, while posing about Putin and the Kremlin living “in a different world.” Berlin and Moscow continue to talk diplomatically, but the mood tends to the tone deaf.

The new exceptionalism
Todd is one of the few who at least are setting alarm bells ringing. As in this formulation: “German culture is un-egalitarian: it makes difficult the acceptance of a world of equals. When they are feeling that they are the strongest, the Germans will take very badly the refusal of the weaker to obey, a refusal which they perceive as unnatural, unreasonable.”

Once again, we’re in the realm of exceptionalism, but now with the added, historically troubling German penchant for political irrationality. The new, remixed lebensraum may revolve around an ever-expanding export powerhouse – adding on global trade by using educated, low-cost labor. While the Reich disintegrated in a larger than life folly seventy years ago, the new deal accomplished a dream; as Todd characterizes it, there are two great “developed industrial worlds” today, America and “this new German empire.”

He sees Russia as a “secondary question” and he has not examined China’s long game; thus he’s not focused – as in my own case – on myriad moves toward Eurasia integration. But what he’s concentrating on is no less than a thriller for the ages, a “completely different future for the twenty years to come, other than the East-West conflict;” Germany rising – and the US and Germany inevitably clashing, all over again. History may yet repeat itself as (lethal) farce after all.


Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

Putting the Real Story of Energy and the Economy Together

Off the keyboard of Gail Tverberg

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Published on Our Finite World on April 15, 2015

oilwell

Discuss this article at the Energy Table inside the Diner

What is the real story of energy and the economy? We hear two predominant energy stories. One is the story economists tell: The economy can grow forever; energy shortages will have no impact on the economy. We can simply substitute other forms of energy, or do without.

Another version of the energy and the economy story is the view of many who believe in the “Peak Oil” theory. According to this view, oil supply can decrease with only a minor impact on the economy. The economy will continue along as before, except with higher prices. These higher prices encourage the production of alternatives, such wind and solar. At this point, it is not just peak oilers who endorse this view, but many others as well.

In my view, the real story of energy and the economy is much less favorable than either of these views. It is a story of oil limits that will make themselves known as financial limits, quite possibly in the near term—perhaps in as little time as a few months or years. Our underlying problem is diminishing returns—it takes more and more effort (hours of workers’ time and quantities of resources), to produce essentially the same goods and services.

We don’t measure our investment results with respect to the quantity of end product produced (barrels of oil produced, liters of fresh water produced, kilos of copper produced, or number of workers provided with sufficient education to work in high tech industries), so we don’t realize that we are becoming increasingly inefficient at producing desired end products. See my post “How increased inefficiency explains falling oil prices.”

Figure 2. The way we would expect the cost of the extraction of energy supplies to rise, as finite supplies deplete.

Wages, viewed in terms of the product produced–oil in this case–can be expected to decrease as well. This change isn’t evident in usual efficiency statistics, because some of the workers are providing new kinds of services, such as fracking services, that weren’t required before.

Figure 3. Wages per worker in units of oil produced, corresponding to amounts shown in Figure 2.

Even investment is becoming increasingly inefficient. It takes more and more investment to extract a given quantity of oil or other energy product. This investment needs to stay in place longer as well. The ultra-low interest rates we have been experiencing reflect the poor returns investments are now making.

The myth exists that prices of all of the scarce goods and services will rise high and higher, as the economy encounters scarcity. The real story, though, is that the inflation-adjusted purchasing power of common workers is falling lower and lower, especially in the United States, Europe, and Japan. Not only can these workers afford to buy less, but they can also afford to borrow less. This means that their ability to purchase expensive goods created from commodities is falling.

At some point, this lack of purchasing power can be expected to affect the financial markets, and the prices of many commodities can be expected to fall. In fact, this already seems to be happening.

The likely impact of such a fall in commodity prices is not good. If low oil prices cannot be “turned around,” they will lead to debt defaults, and these debt defaults are likely to lead to failing financial institutions. Failing financial institutions have the potential to bring down the system, because it becomes very difficult for businesses to continue if they are not supported by a banking system that allows a company to pay its employees. Workers also need the banking system to pay for goods and to save for a “rainy day.”

A big part of what has allowed the economy to grow to the size it is today is increasing debt levels. These rising debt levels play many roles:

  • They make high-priced goods more affordable to consumers.
  • They create greater demand for goods, allowing more end-product goods to be produced.
  • They create more demand for commodities required to make end-product goods, allowing the price of these commodities to rise, so that more businesses have more incentive to create/extract these commodities.

At some point, debt levels stop rising as fast as they have in the past (because of a lack of growth in purchasing power because of diminishing returns in investment), and the whole system tends to fall toward collapse. We seem to have reached this point in the middle of 2014. China was raising its total debt level rapidly up until the early part of 2014, then suddenly moderated its growth in debt level in mid 2014. At about the same time, the US scaled back and eliminated it program of quantitative easing (QE). Oil prices dropped starting in mid-2014, at the time debt levels started moderating. Other commodity prices started falling as early as 2011, indicating likely affordability problems.

We are now in the period when many people still believe everything is going well. Oil prices and other commodity prices are low—what is “not to like”? The answer is that the system in not at all sustainable—profits of oil companies and other commodity businesses are down, just as wages of common workers in developed countries are down in inflation-adjusted terms. Companies are cutting back in investment in oil production. Soon oil production will drop. With lower oil supply, the economy will face huge challenges.

Many people believe that oil prices can bounce back up again, but this really isn’t the case, because of growing inefficiency related to limits we are reaching–the need to use more advanced techniques to produce oil; the need for desalination for water in some places; the need for more pollution control equipment that doesn’t really increase the finished goods and services we are producing but instead makes goods more expensive to produce.

Each worker is, on average, producing less and less of the finished goods we really need. Whether we like it or not, standards of living will have to fall. The amount of debt workers can afford decreases rather than increases. This new reality can be expected to manifest itself in debt defaults and increasing financial system problems.

Even if oil prices bounce back up again, it is doubtful that shale oil drillers will be able to again borrow at a sufficiently high rate to increase their production again—what lender will believe that oil prices will remain high indefinitely?

The China Connection

I have been trying to put the real story of energy and the economy together over a period of years. Prof. Lianyong Feng of Petroleum University of China, Beijing, hired me to put together a short course (eight sessions, each lasting about 1.5 hours) on the nature of our current problems for students majoring in “Energy Economics and Management.” The course would be open to everyone choosing this major, including freshman, so I needed to assume a fairly low level of background knowledge. Actual attendees included a number of graduate students and faculty, attending the course without credit.

I put together a series of lectures, which I gave during the second half of March 2015. PDFs of my lectures are also now available on my Presentations/Podcasts page.

These lectures were videotaped by Prof. Feng’s staff, and I am in the process of making You Tube Videos from them, in addition to the original MP4 format. (YouTube videos cannot be seen in China.) My current plan is to give a brief discussion of these lectures, in future posts.

Following the lecture series, I visited several places in China, to see how the economic slowdown is playing out in China. This included visits to Northwest China (Hohhot and Hardin), Northeast China (Daqing and Harbin), and Southeast China (Wenzhou area). In Wenzhou, I visited three different companies attempting to sell electrical equipment on the world market.

From these visits, we could see how the world economic slowdown is affecting China, and how China’s own slowdown in debt growth is adding to the world slowdown. We could also see that the slowdown has not yet run its course China–growth in housing continues, even as the need for it seems to be slowing. College students are finding it difficult to find high-paying jobs in oil and other commodity sectors. The lack of growth in high-paying jobs will provide downward pressure on housing prices as well.

I plan to write a post about this situation as well.

Do it for Denmark

logopodcastOff the microphone of RE

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Aired on the Doomstead Diner on March 10, 2015

http://blog.joins.com/usr/t/on/tony4328/1206/4fd9db96f255c.jpg

Discuss this article at the Podcast Table inside the Diner

http://th05.deviantart.net/fs70/PRE/f/2012/160/1/c/great_feelings_with_nina_agdal_by_massivegts-d52v49r.jpghttps://chivethebrigade.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/nina-agdal-danish-girl-920-94.jpghttp://rocknrollpeople.com/magazine/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/536946_210346879110561_1182020640_n.jpg

Tune in to the full list of Diner Rants & Interviews on the Diner Soundcloud Channel!

Featuring interviews with Steve Ludlum, Gail Tverberg, Ugo Bardi, Nicole Foss, David Korowicz, George Mobus, John David Hughes, Albert Bates and many more….

Snippet:

…In the last rant, I went ballistic on the Economista Clowns & Jokers who must be Smoking Crack to come up with the numbskull ideas of impoverishing people to stimulate growth and lending more money to already bankrupt borrowers as a solution for economic collapse. This was inspired by the FACT that one of the World Class Economistas currently making policy on the global level, one Douglas McWilliams of CEBR was documented on camera really smoking crack in a London Crack house, wasted to beat the band.

http://profile-pics-cdn.xvideos.com/videos/profiles/profthumb/79/ed/11/beezbone--ym/profile_1_big.jpgFor today, the latest in hilarity is the Danish Ad Campaign, “Do it for Denmark”, designed to encourage Danish girls to start getting PREGNANT! They are supposed to go out on Vacation and find willing foreigners to inseminate them and then return to Denmark to bring new Great Danes into the world, so that they can pay taxes to support the current crop of aging Great Danes! LoL.

Charitable folks that Diners are, several have already stepped up to the Plate as Volunteers here to keep Danish social security programs solvent. Given our aging demographic, we also will purchase our own Viagra to make this possible! It’s a gift to the Danish People, and hopefully the cost of the Viagra can be deducted from the income tax as a Charitable Contribution to needy Danish Girls. LoL…

For the rest, LISTEN TO THE RANT!!!

Here’s the last rant on Crack Smoking Economistas, in case you missed it…

Surviving Hard Times Together

Off the keyboard of  Jaded Prole
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no way like the american way

First Published in Veer Magazine, February, 2015.

 

February has been a very hard time for me and my wife. The snow and ice made it much worse. Our car, after much investment in repairs, clunked out in the crowded frenzy of a pre-storm grocery parking lot, its transmission giving in to entropy and poor design. As I approach 60 with aching knees and worn-out joints I’m feeling some sympathy with it as it sits under a shroud of snow, finally at rest.

Economically, I have been on a downhill slide reflecting national trends not often talked about when the delusion of economic recovery is more politically useful. It is true that corporations are reaping record profits and even that hiring may be up a few percentage points but the jobs are mostly part-time low-paying service jobs and wages remain stagnant if not decreasing in relation to actual living costs. The truth is that those being left behind are older workers. People like me.

My last job ended as the economy collapsed back in 2008. In spite of my experience, record of dependability and good work, being unemployed and over 50 made me automatically less desirable to employers. A survey by the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University found that nearly two-thirds of unemployed workers age 55 and older say they have been actively searching for a job for more than a year, compared to just one-third of younger workers. Economists Dean Baker and Kevin Hassett noted in a New York Times op-ed,

A worker between ages 50 and 61 who has been unemployed for 17 months has only about a 9 percent chance of finding a new job in the next three months. A worker who is 62 or older and in the same situation has only about a 6 percent chance. As unemployment increases in duration, these slim chances drop steadily.”

I can attest to the reality of this. Though I have remained productive as a writer and publisher and have continued to apply for jobs I know I’m qualified for, I rarely, if ever, get a response. The dehumanization of on-line applications adds to the difficulty as we are all reduced to data in competing for fewer positions like a blood-sport version of musical chairs. It is worse than depressing. As that Times op-ed goes on to report,

Economists Daniel Sullivan and Till von Wachter estimate a 50 to 100 percent increase in death rates for older male workers in the years immediately following a job loss. There are various reasons for this rise in mortality. One is suicide. A recent study found that a 10 percent increase in the unemployment rate (say from 8 to 8.8 percent) would increase the suicide rate for males by 1.47 percent. This is not a small effect. Assuming a link of that scale, the increase in unemployment would lead to an additional 128 suicides per month in the United States. The picture for the long-term unemployed is especially disturbing. The duration of unemployment is the dominant force in the relationship between joblessness and the risk of suicide.

A more recent study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that one of the primary causes of mortality in people between the ages of 40 and 64 since the recession began in 2007 is suicide directly related to job and economic losses. I am fortunate to have my publishing, writing and activism which give me a sense of personal identity and purpose, as well as the loving support of my wife Beverly and my community of friends. Without these, I might well be another statistic.

Those of us who spent decades in the workforce before the economy crashed under the weight of rampant corruption and record greed, are paying the penalty for the crimes of others who made a killing on Wall Street, in real estate, and in supplying materials for wars begun by the Bush administration.

The same folks responsible for crashing our economy, exporting productive jobs, undermining the quality and security of the jobs we are left with, and slashing the social safety net are continuing to attack your security and mine. Particularly despicable are the continuing attacks on Social Security given the aging population and the high, seemingly permanent unemployment of older workers. I’ll bet you have heard repeatedly that “Social Security is broke.” There is a good chance you believe this. It is a lie which has been repeated like a mantra for decades by those who would like to hand your Social Security over to the same Wall Street financiers who “broke” our national economy to enrich themselves. Social Security is anything but “broke.”

Nancy J. Altman, co-founder of the group Social Security Works writes,

Social Security, in pension jargon, is current-funded. About 75 percent of its revenue comes from insurance contributions withheld from workers’ wages, matched dollar-for-dollar by their employers. This is a permanent and ongoing source of revenue. As long as there are Americans working, Social Security will have this steady, reliable source of income. It would take an Act of Congress to end this source of revenue. And if no Americans were working, our troubles would be a lot greater than Social Security’s financing!

She adds,

“Social Security is conservatively managed. Every year, its income and benefits are projected out not just five, 10, or 15 years, but 75 years. It is unsurprising that projections out that far into the future may sometimes show a deficit. And current projections do show a deficit, manageable in size and over two decades away. That should be addressed, but it is nothing to be alarmed about, certainly nothing that calls for the loaded, misleading, emotionally charged cry of bankruptcy! In fact, our Social Security system is a creditor of the United States. Whenever Social Security runs a surplus, it invests that surplus. Congress requires that those funds be invested in the safest investment on Earth – government bonds backed by the full faith and credit of the Unites States. The United States currently owes around $18 trillion to its creditors; $2.8 trillion of that $18 trillion is owed to Social Security. The bonds held by Social Security in trust for America’s working families have the same legal status as the bonds held by private pension plans, foreign governments and other institutions.

It is true that in about 25 years Social Security could face a shortfall but that could be easily fixed by simply raising the cap in income deductions. Under the current system, any wages over the first $106,800 are exempt from Social Security withholding. People in the highest income brackets, about 6% of us, have finished contributing by March of this year. Raising that cap would keep Social Security solvent well into the next century and beyond.

Part of the undermining of Social Security and for that matter of our real security – yours and mine, is the raising of the retirement age even while employment for older workers disappears. The justification is that we are living longer but the reality is that, except for the wealthiest, we are not. Altman writes,

Under current law, Social Security’s statutory retirement age is already increasing from 65 to 67. Though hard to understand without being thoroughly familiar with the way Social Security benefits are calculated, raising Social Security’s statutory retirement age is indistinguishable from an across-the-board benefit cut. For every year that the statutory retirement age is increased, all retiree benefits are reduced by around 6 percent.

If anything, rather than cuts and higher retirement ages, Social Security should be expanded. The average age of pension eligibility in most developed countries is 60.

Attacks on Social Security are not just aimed at those of us who funded it for decades through paycheck deductions. The latest attack is on the disabled. Those suffering debilitating workplace injuries and those with handicaps. Funding for Social Security’s benefit package are held in two different trust funds, the disability trust fund and the old age and survivors trust fund. Every few years Congress authorizes a transfer of funds from the old age and survivors fund to the disability trust. Republicans in Congress see this as an opening to attack Social Security by holding this transfer up, calling for cuts of up to 20% on the meager benefits to our most disabled citizens and raising the retirement age to 70.

Republicans argue that transferring money from the broader program to the disability program weakens the program for seniors. A recent analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities concluded that such transfers are routine, have happened 11 times in the past, and that another one right now would be easy to do concluding that

Another reallocation to replenish the DI trust fund wouldn’t threaten seniors, contrary to the rule’s implicit attempt to pit retirement and disability beneficiaries against each other.

Back to you and I. There is no justification in the wealthiest country on earth for young people to be stuck living at home, struggling to find work and feeling they have no future. There is no excuse for the discarding of older workers and the ill. Half of our population is now at the poverty line, in debt and a shaky paycheck away from destitution. Corporate corruption of our government is degrading our economy to third world conditions. Our real economic security is eroding as the disparity between desperate poverty and obscene wealth reaches levels never before seen. We are cynically divided against ourselves with partisan politics by the corporate interests that impoverish us. We do not have to settle for this. What has kept me from giving up is community. Community is really about people looking out for each other whether as good neighbors, church communities or civic and political organizations. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of building community. Community is our strength and in it there is real power. The recognition of our united strength is why so much is spent to keep us divided.

It is easy to be crippled by cynicism, hopelessness and despair. But the reality is that citizen activism has a good record of creating change. Citizen activism created Social Security, better working conditions and Civil Rights legislation. It recently stopped the XL Pipeline, saved the open internet and won Norfolk an elected school board. We have to keep in mind that just as decisions made in back rooms affect each and every one of us, together we can advocate powerfully for ourselves affecting those decisions. From local Virginia issues like off-shore drilling, zoning, and local government accountability, to national issues like electoral reform, climate policy and defending Social Security, we can work with others in groups like the Sierra Club, or other regional and state organizing groups to make a real difference. I have found that doing so has been spiritually empowering and even fun. I have made many friends along the way, friends who have in fact pulled me and my wife through this difficult time with both emotional and material support. Not electing Republicans is important but Democrats aren’t much better. We cannot blindly trust any elected politicians to represent our interests. As the poet and playwright Bertolt Brecht pointed out, no one but ourselves will act for us, it must be all of us or none.


Jaded Prole is the nom-de-plume of a freelance writer and poet as well as a publisher, and philosopher living in Virginia. His blog is hereHe also publishes The Blue Collar Review, a quarterly whose purpose is to expand and promote a progressive working class vision of culture.

http://partisanpress.org/

From Minsk to Brussels, it’s all about Germany

Off the keyboard of Pepe Escobar
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Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel (L) talks to France's President Francois Hollande during a meeting with the media after peace talks on resolving the Ukrainian crisis in Minsk, February 12, 2015. (Reuters / Grigory Dukor)

Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel (L) talks to France’s President Francois Hollande during a meeting with the media after peace talks on resolving the Ukrainian crisis in Minsk, February 12, 2015. (Reuters / Grigory Dukor)

Originally published in RT on February 13, 2015

Germany holds the key to where Europe goes next. A fragile deal may have been reached on Ukraine, but there’s still no deal with Greece. In both cases, there’s much more than meets the eye.

Let’s start with the grueling Eurogroup negotiation in Brussels over the Greek debt.

Greek officials swear they never received a draft of a possible agreement leaked by Eurogroup bureaucrats to the Financial Times. This draft, crucially, referred to an agreement “amending and extending and successfully concluding,” the current austerity-heavy bailout.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble cut off “amending”. This is the draft that was leaked. But then Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis called Prime Minister Tsipras – and the statement, still not signed, was rejected. So this was a top Tsipras decision.

Tsipras could not possibly balk – not after previously raising the stakes – as in promising to boost the Greek minimum wage and halt privatizations. He’s still betting the house that the Troika won’t allow a ‘Grexit’. Yet he may be wrong; the possibility of ‘Grexit’ is hovering around 35 percent to 40 percent, and it will be much higher if no deal is reached on the next crunch meeting, Monday.

Tsipras and Eurogroup President Jeroen Dijsselbloem at least agreed that Greek officials and the Troika (EC, ECB, IMF) should start talking “at a technical level.” Translation: they will be comparing the current austerity nightmare with new Greek proposals.

Athens essentially has only two choices. Either the Troika accedes to some form of debt repudiation – real or as a sleight of hand (that’s Syriza’s proposal – an arrangement that fosters growth); or ‘Grexit’ ensues, with Athens creating its own central bank and currency as an independent nation. There’s no third choice; a debt of 175 percent of Greece’s GDP is totally unpayable.

As much as the Troika and its institutional derivatives spin ‘Grexit’ won’t be a big deal, the fact is a Greek debt default could have a more devastating effect than the Lehman Brothers case. It was not the fundamentals at Lehman that caused widespread panic when it went down; but the fear that their derivative exposures would bring down the system.

And cutting through all the spin, what remains, essentially, is what European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told Le Figaro a few days ago; it’s out of the question to suppress the Greek debt and, most of all, “there can be no democratic option against European treaties.” There it is, crystal clear: EU institutions work against democracy.

Plan B remains a distinct possibility. Moscow has already invited Tsipras to meet with Putin. And Beijing has invited Tsipras to meet with Prime Minister Li Keqiang. These are the “R” and the “C” in BRICS in action.

It’s worth remembering Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos when he articulated if not a majority view, at least a substantial perception among Greek public opinion; “We want a deal. But if there is no deal, and if we see that Germany remains rigid and wants to blow Europe apart, then we will have to go to Plan B… We have other ways of finding money. It could be the United States at best, it could be Russia, it could be China or other countries.”

Alea jacta est. Troika or RC?

And it’s all about NATO

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras addresses a news conference after a European Union leaders summit in Brussels February 12, 2015. (Reuters / Francois Lenoir)

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras addresses a news conference after a European Union leaders summit in Brussels February 12, 2015. (Reuters / Francois Lenoir)

Then there’s Minsk. What was achieved after nearly 17 hours of a grueling marathon is not exactly, in French President Francois Hollande’s words, a “global” agreement and a “global ceasefire” in Ukraine.

There’s every possibility the ceasefire will be nullified only a few minutes after its implementation at midnight this Saturday – irony of ironies, at the end of Valentine’s Day. Significantly, the final statement bears no important signatures: Putin, Merkel, Hollande and Poroshenko.

German Foreign Minister Steinmeier was cautious, warning Minsk 2.0 is not exactly a breakthrough, but at least de-escalates matters. Merkel preferred to spin that Putin had to pressure the Eastern Ukraine federalists of the DNR and the LNR to agree to the ceasefire.

Predictably, like clockwork, even before the ceasefire, the IMF – under Washington’s orders – suddenly announced it would continue to rape, sorry, help bailout bankrupt, failed state Ukraine with a tranche of$17.5 billion, part of a large $40 billion, four-year “rescue” package. Translation: Kiev’s goons now have fresh cash to throw at a war they don’t want to give up on.

Poroshenko himself took no time to torpedo the ceasefire – spinning there’s no autonomy granted to the areas controlled by the federalists, and refusing to confirm Putin’s assertion that Kiev has agreed to terminate the vicious economic blockade of Donbass.

The precise contours of the demilitarized zone – bordering one frontline in September and a very different frontline five months later – remain a mystery. And Washington immediately turned the “withdrawal of foreign forces” clause into a joke. The Pentagon has already announced it will begin training Ukraine’s National Guard next month.

Minsk 2.0 hardly qualifies as a band-aid. Ukraine is unredeemable. It would only come back from the dead if a tsunami of cash – almost equivalent to the cost of German reunification – were poured in. Needless to add, no one in Europe wants to dish out even a few devalued euro.

This was, remains, and will continue to be, essentially about NATO expansion. Washington and the Kiev marionettes will never allow any constitutional reform that lets the Donbass block NATO embedded in Ukraine. So the ‘Empire of Chaos’, in a nutshell, won’t cease from using Ukraine to bully Russia. The ‘Empire of Chaos’ is not exactly in the business of nation building – quite the contrary.

Crossing the German bridge

And that brings us to the crucial role played by Germany – with France as sidekick.

Chancellor Merkel had to go to Moscow to negotiate with Putin because she saw which way the wind was blowing – counterproductive sanctions; Ukrainian economy in free fall; Kiev’s goons defeated on the battlefield. That was as much an imperative as a crucial demarcation away from the imperial NATO expansion obsession.

As Immanuel Wallerstein has observed Moscow is pursuing “a careful policy. Not totally in control of the Donetsk-Lugansk autonomists, Russia is nonetheless making sure that the autonomists cannot be eliminated militarily. The Russian price for real peace is a commitment by NATO that Ukraine is not a potential member.”

So Merkel may have defused the Obama administration’s drive to weaponize Kiev – but only for a moment. There’s no evidence – yet – that the Obama administration and its embedded neo-con cells have admitted that the self-proclaimed People’s Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk (DPR and LPR) are essentially “lost” to Kiev’s influence.

Hollande provided the perfect cover for Merkel. It was Hollande who publicly supported autonomy – as in federalization – for the DPR and the LPR. At the same time, both Merkel and Hollande know that Kiev will never de facto accept it (and even a substantial portion of the Donbass only accepts federalization as a stepping stone to eventual secession and union with Russia.)

Merkel – at least in terms of German public opinion – did manage to achieve her goal, emerging as a victor (“The world chancellor,” as the tabloid Bild coined it) after her frequent-flyer marathon. Putin also emerged a victor of sorts – as Merkel essentially rehashed proposals he made months ago. So yes, whichever angle we look at it, this was in fact a Moscow-Berlin deal.It’s easy to see who is extremely disgruntled and will do everything to bomb it; Washington, Kiev, London, Warsaw and the hysterical “Russia is invading” Baltic states.

Last but not least, let’s call attention to the monumental white elephant in the room. Minsk 2.0 was conducted in the total absence of the ‘Empire of Chaos’ and the (increasingly irrelevant) “special relationship” British minions.

Slowly but surely, public opinion across Europe – and especially Germany – is experiencing a tectonic shift. The obsession by the ‘Empire of Chaos’ to further weaponize Kiev has horrified millions – resurrecting the specter of a war in Europe’s eastern borderlands. Not only in Germany but also in France, Italy, Spain, there is a growing continental consensus against NATO.

Even at the height of a vicious Russia demonization campaign unleashed by virtually the whole German corporate media, a Deutschland Trend survey revealed that most Germans are against NATO troops in Eastern Europe. And no less than 49 percent would rather see Germany position itself as a bridge between East and West. The leadership in Beijing definitely took note.

So it’s tempting to hop on the Merkel/Hollande peace train as the heart of Europe finally exercising their sovereignty and frontally defying the ‘Empire of Chaos’. Perhaps that could be the embryo of a German-French partnership for peace in Europe and even beyond, from the Middle East to Africa.

That would frontally antagonize NATO’s screenplay – which implies the ’Empire of Chaos’ ruling uncontested over Europe, the Middle East and even across Eurasia, with continental European powers, especially Germany, France and yes, Russia, at the margins.

Sooner or later European politicians will have to wake up and smell the coffee; the notion of a German-French-Russian pan-European peace/trade partnership is way more popular than reflected in failed corporate media.

Now it’s up to Germany to clean up its act on Greece. The choice is stark. The EU may embark on a quadruple-dip recession as the ECB further destroys what is left of the European middle class. Or Germany, reflecting the thinking among its captains of industry, may tell the EU – Troika included – that the way to go is to shift the strategic, trade and political focus from West to the East. That would start by stuffing the corporate US-devised TTIP treaty – that’s NATO on trade. After all, this is going to be the Eurasian century – and this train has already left the station.

 

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

It’s About to Get Ugly

Off the keyboard of Michael Snyder

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Published on The Economic Collapse on February 4, 2015

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It Is About To Get Ugly: Oil Is Crashing And So Is Greece

The price of oil collapsed by more than 8 percent on Wednesday, and a decision by the European Central Bank has Greece at the precipice of a complete and total financial meltdown.  What a difference 24 hours can make.  On Tuesday, things really seemed like they were actually starting to get better.  The price of oil had rallied by more than 20 percent since last Thursday, things in Europe seemed like they were settling down, and there appeared to be a good deal of optimism about how global financial markets would perform this month.  But now fear is back in a big way.  Of course nobody should get too caught up in how the markets behave on any single day.  The key is to take a longer term point of view.  And the fact that the markets have been on such a roller coaster ride over the past few months is a really, really bad sign.  When things are calm, markets tend to steadily go up.  But when the waters start really getting choppy, that is usually a sign that a big move down in on the horizon.  So the huge ups and the huge downs that we have witnessed in recent days are likely an indicator that rough seas are ahead.

A stunning decision that the European Central Bank has just made has set the stage for a major showdown in Europe.  The ECB has decided that it will no longer accept Greek government bonds as collateral from Greek banks.  This gives the European Union a tremendous amount of leverage in negotiations with the new Greek government.  But in the short-term, this could mean some significant pain for the Greek financial system.  The following is how a CNBC article described what just happened…

“The European Central Bank is telling the Greek banking system that it will no longer accept Greek bonds as collateral for any repurchase agreement the Greek banks want to conduct,” said Peter Boockvar, chief market analyst at The Lindsey Group, said in a note.

“This is because the ECB only accepts investment grade paper and up until today gave Greece a waiver to this clause. That waiver has now been taken away and Greek banks now have to go to the Greek Central Bank and tap their Emergency Liquidity Assistance facility for funding,” he said.

And it certainly didn’t take long for global financial markets to respond to this news

The Greek stock market closed hours ago, but the exchange-traded fund that tracks Greek stocks, GREK, crashed during the final minutes of trading in the US markets.

The euro is also getting walloped, falling 1.3% against the US dollar.

The EUR/USD, which had recovered to almost 1.15, fell to nearly 1.13 on news of the action taken by the ECB.

But this is just the beginning.

In coming months, I fully expect the euro to head toward parity with the U.S. dollar.

And if the new Greek government will not submit to the demands of the EU, and Greece ultimately ends up leaving the common currency, it could potentially mean the end of the eurozone in the configuration that we see it today.

Meanwhile, the oil crash has taken a dangerous new turn.

Over the past week, we have seen the price of oil go from $43.58 to $54.24 to less than 48 dollars before rebounding just a bit at the end of the day on Wednesday.

This kind of erratic behavior is the exact opposite of what a healthy market would look like.

What we really need is a slow, steady climb which would take the price of oil back to at least the $80 level.  In the current range in which it has been fluctuating, the price of oil is going to be absolutely catastrophic for the global economy, and the longer it stays in this current range the more damage that it is going to do.

But of course the problems that we are facing are not just limited to the oil price crash and the crisis in Greece.  The truth is that there are birth pangs of the next great financial collapse all over the place.  We just have to be honest with ourselves and realize what all of these signs are telling us.

And it isn’t just in the western world where people are sounding the alarm.  All over the world, highly educated professionals are warning that a great storm is on the horizon.  The other day, I had an economist in Germany write to me with his concerns.  And in China, the head of the Dagong Rating Agency is declaring that we are going to have to face “a new world financial crisis in the next few years”

The world economy may slip into a new global financial crisis in the next few years, China’s Dagong Rating Agency Head Guan Jianzhong said in an interview with TASS news agency on Wednesday.

“I believe we’ll have to face a new world financial crisis in the next few years. It is difficult to give the exact time but all the signs are present, such as the growing volume of debts and the unsteady development of the economies of the US, the EU, China and some other developing countries,” he said, adding the situation is even worse than ahead of 2008.

For a long time, I have been pointing at the year 2015.  But this year is not going to be the end of anything.  Rather, it is just going to be the beginning of the end.

During the past few years, we have experienced a temporary bubble of false stability fueled by reckless money printing and an unprecedented accumulation of debt.  But instead of fixing anything, those measures have just made the eventual crash even worse.

Now a day of reckoning is fast approaching.

Life as we know it is about to change dramatically, and most people are completely and totally unprepared for it.

The GDP-Energy Tie

Off the keyboard of Gail Tverberg

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Published on Our Finite World on February 5, 2015

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Charts showing the long-term GDP-energy tie (Part 2 – A New Theory of Energy and the Economy)

In Part 1 of this series, I talked about why cheap fuels act to create economic growth. In this post, we will look at some supporting data showing how this connection works. The data is over a very long time period–some of it going back to the Year 1 C. E.

We know that there is a close connection between energy use (and in fact oil use) and economic growth in recent years.

Figure 1. Comparison of three-year average growth in world real GDP (based on USDA values in 2005$), oil supply and energy supply. Oil and energy supply are from BP Statistical Review of World Energy, 2014.

Figure 1. Comparison of three-year average growth in world real GDP (based on USDA values in 2005$), oil supply and energy supply. Oil and energy supply are from BP Statistical Review of World Energy, 2014.

In this post, we will see how close the connection has been, going back to the Year 1 CE. We will also see that economies that can leverage their human energy with inexpensive supplemental energy gain an advantage over other economies. If this energy becomes high cost, we will see that countries lose their advantage over other countries, and their economic growth rate slows.

A brief summary of my view discussed in Part 1 regarding how inexpensive energy acts to create economic growth is as follows:

The economy is a networked system. With cheap fuels, it is possible to leverage the expensive energy that humans can create from eating foods (examples: ability to dig ditches, do math problems), so as to produce more goods and services with the same number of workers. Workers find that their wages go farther, allowing them to buy more goods, in addition to the ones that they otherwise would have purchased.

The growth in the economy comes from what I would call increasing affordability of goods. Economists would refer to this increasing affordability as increasing demand. The situation might also be considered increasing productivity of workers, because the normal abilities of workers are leveraged through the additional tools made possible by cheap energy products.

Thus, if we want to keep the economy functioning, we need an ever-rising supply of cheap energy products of the appropriate types for our built infrastructure. The problem we are encountering now is that this isn’t happening–more energy supply may be available, but it is expensive-to-produce supply. Our networked economy sends back strange signals–namely inadequate demand and low prices–when the cost of energy products is too high relative to wages. These low prices are also a signal that we are reaching other limits of a networked economy, such as too much debt and taxes that are too high for workers to pay.

Looking at very old data – Year 1 C. E. onward

Some very old data is available. The British Economist Angus Maddison made GDP and population estimates for a number of dates between 1 C. E. and 2008, for selected countries and the world in total. Canadian Energy Researcher Vaclav Smil gives historical energy consumption estimates back to 1800 in his book Energy Transitions – History, Requirements and Prospects.

If we look at the average annual increase in GDP going back to the Year 1 C. E., it appears that the annual growth rate in inflation-adjusted GDP peaked in the 1940 to 1970 period, and has been falling ever since. So the long-term downward trend in world GDP growth has lasted at least 44 years at this point.

Figure 2. Average annual increase in GDP per capita, based on work of Angus Maddison through 2000; USDA population/real GDP figures used for 2000 to 2014.

Figure 2. Average annual increase in inflation-adjusted GDP, based on work of Angus Maddison through 2000; USDA population/real GDP figures used for 2000 to 2014.

A brief synopsis of what happened in the above periods is as follows:

  • 1 to 1000 – Collapse of several major civilizations, including the Roman Empire. Metal was made using charcoal from wood, but this led to deforestation and soil erosion. Egypt and the Middle East had extensive irrigation of crops using river water. Some trade by ship. Most of the population were farmers.
  • 1000 to 1500 – Early use of peat moss for heat energy for industrialization, particularly in Netherlands, leading to increased trade. Continued use of wood in cold countries, with deforestation issues.
  • 1500 to 1820 – European empire expansion to the New World and to colonies in Africa, allowing world population to grow. Britain began using coal. Netherlands added wind turbines beside greater use of peat moss.
  • 1820 to 1900 – Coal allowed metals to be made cheaply. Parts of farm work could be transferred to horses with greater use of metal tools. Coal allowed many types of new technology including hydroelectric dams, trains, and steam powered boats.
  • 1900 to 1940 – Expanded use of coal, with beginning use of oil as a transportation fuel. Depression was during this period.
  • 1940 to 1970 – Post war rebuilding of Europe and Japan and US baby boom led to hugely expanded use of fossil fuels. Antibiotic use began; birth control pills became available. Food production greatly expanded with fertilizer, irrigation, pesticides.
  • 1970 to 2000 – 1970 was the beginning of the great “oops,” when US oil production started to decline, and oil prices spiked. This set off a major push toward efficiency (smaller cars, better mileage) and shifts to other fuels, including nuclear.
  • 2000 to 2014 – Another big “oops,” as oil prices spiked upward, when North Sea and Mexican oil began to decline. Much outsourcing of manufacturing to countries where production was cheaper. Huge financial problems in 2008, never completely fixed.

Growth in GDP in Figure 2 generally follows the pattern we would expect, if fossil fuels and earlier predecessor fuels raised GDP and the great “oopses” during the 1970-2000 and 2000-2014 periods reduced economic growth.

Population Growth vs Growth in Standard of Living

GDP growth is composed of two different types of growth: (1) population growth and (2) rise in the standard of living (or per capita GDP growth). We can look at these two kinds of growth separately, using Maddison’s data. My discussion earlier about cheap energy having a favorable impact on the amount of goods an economy could create relates primarily to the second kind of growth (rise in the standard of living). There would be a carry-over to population growth as well, because parents who have more adequate resources can afford more children.

If we compare the population growth pattern in Figure 3 with the total GDP growth pattern shown in Figure 2, we notice some differences. One such difference is the lower population growth rate in the 2000-2014 period. Compared to the period before fossil fuels (generally before 1820), the population growth rate is still exceedingly high.

Figure 3. Average annual increase in world population, based on work of Angus Maddison through 2000; USDA population figures used for 2000 to 2014.

Figure 3. Average annual increase in world population, based on work of Angus Maddison through 2000; USDA population figures used for 2000 to 2014.

If we look at world per capita GDP growth by time-period (Figure 4), we see practically no growth until the time of fossil fuels–in other words, 1820 and succeeding periods.

Figure 4. Average annual increase in GDP per capita, based on work of Angus Maddison through 2000; USDA population/real GDP figures used for 2000 to 2014.

Figure 4. Average annual increase in GDP per capita, based on work of Angus Maddison through 2000; USDA population/real GDP figures used for 2000 to 2014.

In other words, in these early periods, civilizations were often able to build empires. Doing so seems to have allowed greater population and more building of cities, but it didn’t raise the standard of living of most of the population by very much. If we look at the earliest periods, (Years 1 to 1000; 1000 to 1500, and even most places in 1500 to 1820), the average per capita income seems to have been equivalent to about $1 or $2 per day, today.

I earlier showed how world per capita energy consumption has grown since 1820, based on the work of Vaclav Smil (Figure 5).

Figure 5. World Energy Consumption by Source, Based on Vaclav Smil estimates from Energy Transitions: History, Requirements and Prospects together with BP Statistical Data for 1965 and subsequent divided by population estimates by Angus Maddison.

Figure 5. World Energy Consumption by Source, Based on Vaclav Smil estimates from Energy Transitions: History, Requirements and Prospects together with BP Statistical Data for 1965 and subsequent divided by population estimates by Angus Maddison.

It is clear from Figure 5 that the largest increase in energy consumption came in the 1940 to 1970 period. One thing that is striking is that world population took a sharp upward turn at the same time more fossil fuel use was added (Figure 6).

Figure 6. World population growth, based on data of Angus Maddison.Figure 6. World population growth, based on data of Angus Maddison.

While this increase in population holds for the world in total, analyzing population growth by country or country grouping yields very erratic results. This is true all the way back to the Year 1. If we look at percentages of world population at various points in time for selected countries and country groups, we get the distribution shown in Figure 7.  (The list of country groups shown is not exhaustive.)

Figure 7. Share of world population from Year 1 to 2014, based primarily on estimates of Angus Maddison.Figure 7. Share of world population from Year 1 to 2014, based primarily on estimates of Angus Maddison.

Part of what happens is that economic collapses (or famines or epidemics) set population back by very significant amounts in local areas. For example, Maddison shows the population of Italy as 8,000,000 in the Year 1, but only 5,000,ooo in the Year 1000, hundreds of years after the fall of the Roman Empire.

Per capita GDP for Italy dropped by half over this period, from about double that of most other countries to about equivalent to that of other countries. Thus, wages might have dropped from the equivalent of $3.oo a day to the equivalent to $1.50 a day. None of the economies were at a very high level, so most workers, if they survived a collapse, could find work at their same occupation (generally farming), if they could find another group that would provide protection from attacks by outsiders.

If we look at the trend in population shown on Figure 7, we see that the semi-arid, temperate areas seemed to predominate in population in the Year 1. As peat moss and fossil fuels were added, population of some of the colder areas of the world could grow. These colder areas soon “maxed out” in population, so population growth had to slow down greatly or stop. The alternative to population growth was emigration, with the “New World” growing in its share of the world’s population and the “Old World” contracting.

Each part of the world has its own challenges, from Africa’s problems with tropical diseases to the Middle East’s challenges with water. To the extent that work-arounds can be found, population can expand. If the work-around is cheap (immunization for a tropical disease, for example), population may be able to expand with only a small amount of additional energy consumption.

One point that many people miss is that Japan’s low growth in GDP in recent years is to a significant extent the result of low population growth. In the published GDP figures we see, no distinction is made between the portion that is due to population growth and the portion that is due to rise in the standard of living (that is, rise in GDP per capita).

Growth in Per Capita GDP in the “Advanced Economies” 

As noted above, the big increase in per capita energy use shown in Figure 5 came in the 1940 to 1970 period. No breakdown by country is available, but this period includes rebuilding period after World War II for Europe and Japan, and the period with a huge increase in consumer debt in the United States. Thus, we would expect those three country/groups would benefit disproportionally. In fact, we see very large increases in per capita GDP for these countries, as fossil fuels were added, particularly oil.

Figure 8. Average increase in per capita GDP for the United States, Western Europe, and Japan, based on work of Angus Maddison.

Figure 8. Average increase in per capita GDP for the United States, Western Europe, and Japan, based on work of Angus Maddison for 2000 and prior, and USDA real GDP and population data subsequent to that date.

These three economies (Western Europe, USA, and Japan) are all fairly high users of oil. If we look at long-term world oil production versus price (Figure 9), we see that growth in consumption was rising rapidly until about 1970.

Figure 9. World oil consumption vs. price, based on BP Review of World Energy data after 1965, and Vaclav Smil data prior to 1965.

Figure 9. World oil consumption vs. price based on BP Review of World Energy data after 1965, and Vaclav Smil data prior to 1965.

In fact, if we calculate average annual increase in oil consumption for the periods of our analysis, we find that they are

  • 1900 to 1940 – 6.9% per year
  • 1940 to 1970 – 7.6% per year
  • 1970 to 2000 – 1.5% per year
  • 2000 to 2013 – 1.1% per year

Growth in oil production “hit a wall” in 1970, when US oil production unexpectedly stopped growing and started declining. (Actually, this pattern had been predicted by M. King Hubbert and others). Oil prices spiked shortly thereafter. The situation was more or less resolved by making a number of changes to the economy (switching electricity production from oil to other fuels wherever possible; building smaller, more fuel efficient vehicles), as well as ramping up oil production in places such as the North Sea, Alaska, and Mexico.

Oil prices were brought down, but not to the $20 per barrel level that had been available prior to 1970. Most of the infrastructure (roads, pipelines, electrical transmission lines, schools) in the USA, Europe, and Japan had been built with oil at a $20 per barrel level. Changing to a higher price level is very difficult, because repair costs are much higher and because an economy that uses very much high-priced oil in its energy mix is not competitive with countries using a cheaper fuel mix.

Figure 10. Percentage of energy consumption from oil, for selected countries/groups, based on BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2014 data.

Figure 10. Percentage of energy consumption from oil, for selected countries/groups, based on BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2014 data.

In the 2007-2008 period, oil prices spiked again, leading to a major recession, especially among the countries that used very much oil in their energy mix. With these higher prices, the leveraging impact of oil in bringing down the cost of human energy was disappearing. All of the “PIIGS” (countries with especially bad financial problems in the 2008 crisis) had very high oil concentrations, up near Greece on the chart above. Japan’s oil consumption was very high as well, as a percentage of its energy use. When we looked at the impact of the recession, the countries with the highest percentage of oil consumption in 2004 had the worst economic growth rates in the period 2005 to 2011.

Figure 11. Average percent growth in real GDP between 2005 and 2011, based on USDA GDP data in 2005 US$.

Figure 11. Average percent growth in real GDP between 2005 and 2011 for selected groups, based on USDA GDP data in 2005 US$.

Getting back to Figure 9, after the financial crisis in 2008, oil prices stayed low until the United States began its program of Quantitative Easing (QE), helping keep interest rates extra low and providing extra liquidity. Oil prices immediately began rising again, getting to the $100 per barrel level and remaining about at that level until 2014. The combination of low interest rates and high prices encouraged oil production from shale formations, helping to keep world oil production rising, despite a drop in oil production in the North Sea, Alaska and Mexico. Thus, for a while, the conflict between high prices and the ability of economies to pay for these high prices was resolved in favor of high prices.

The high oil prices–around $100 per barrel–continued until United States QE was tapered down and stopped in 2014. About the same time, China made changes that made debt more difficult to obtain. Both of these factors, as well as the long-term adverse impact of $100 per barrel oil prices on the economy, brought oil price down to its current level, which is around $50 per barrel (Figure 10). The $50 per barrel price is still very high relative to the cost of oil when our infrastructure was built, but low relative to the current cost of oil production.

Figure 12. World Oil Supply (production including biofuels, natural gas liquids) and Brent monthly average spot prices, based on EIA data.

Figure 12. World Oil Supply (production including biofuels, natural gas liquids) and Brent monthly average spot prices, based on EIA data.

If a person looks back at Figure 9, it is clear that high oil prices brought oil consumption down in the early 1980s, and again for a very brief period in late 2008-early 2009. But since 2009, oil consumption has continued to rise, thanks to high prices and the additional oil from US shale.

The low prices we are now encountering are a message from our networked economy, saying, “No, the economy cannot really afford oil at this high a price level. It looked like it could for a while, thanks to all of the financial manipulation, but this is not really the case.” Meanwhile, we see in Figure 8 that for the combination of the EU, USA, and Japan, growth in per capita GDP has been very low in the period since 2000, reflecting the influence of high oil prices on these economies.

Growth in Per Capita GDP for Selected Other Economies

In recent years, per capita GPD growth has shifted dramatically. Figure 13 below shows increases in GDP per capita for selected other areas of the world.

Figure 13. Average growth in per-capita GDP for selected economies, based on work of Angus Maddison for Year 1 to 2000, and based on USDA real GDP figures in 2010 US$ for 2000 to 2014 .

Figure 13. Average growth in per-capita GDP for selected economies, based on work of Angus Maddison for Year 1 to 2000, and based on USDA real GDP figures in 2010 US$ for 2000 to 2014

The “stand out” economy in recent growth in GDP per capita is China. China was added to the World Trade Organization in December 2001. Since then, its coal use, and energy use in general, has soared.

Figure 14. China's energy consumption by source, based on BP Statistical Review of World Energy data.

Figure 14. China’s energy consumption by source, based on BP Statistical Review of World Energy data.

If we calculate the growth in China’s energy consumption for the periods we are looking at, we find the following growth rates:

  • 1970 to 2000 – 5.4% per year
  • 2000 to 2013 – 8.6% per year

A major concern now is that China’s growth rate is slowing, in part due to debt controls. Other factors in the slowdown include the impact pollution is having on the Chinese people, the slowdown in the European and Japanese economies, and the fact that the Chinese market for condominiums and factories is rapidly becoming “saturated”.

There have been recent reports that the factory portion of the Chinese economy may now be contracting. Also, there are reports that Chinese coal consumption decreased in 2014. This is a chart by one analyst showing the apparent recent decrease in coal consumption.

Figure 15. Chart by Lauri Myllyvirta showing a preliminary estimate of 2014 coal consumption in China.

Figure 15. Chart by Lauri Myllyvirta showing a preliminary estimate of 2014 coal consumption in China.

Where Does the World Economy Go From Here?

In Part 1, I described the world’s economy as one that is based on energy. The design of the system is such that the economy can only grow; shrinkage tends to cause collapse. If my view of the situation is correct, then we need an ever-rising amount of  inexpensive energy to keep the system going. We have gone from trying to grow the world economy on oil, to trying to grow the world economy on coal. Both of these approaches have “hit walls”. There are other low-income countries that might increase industrial production, such as in Africa, but they are lacking coal or other cheap fuels to fuel their production.

Now we have practically nowhere to go. Natural gas cannot be scaled up quickly enough, or to large enough quantities. If such a large scale up were done, natural gas would be expensive as well. Part of the high cost is the cost of the change-over in infrastructure, including huge amounts of new natural gas pipeline and new natural gas powered vehicles.

New renewables, such as wind and solar photovoltaic panels, aren’t solutions either. They tend to be high cost when indirect costs, such as the cost of long distance transmission and the cost of mitigating intermittency, are considered. It is hard to create large enough quantities of new renewables: China has been rapidly adding wind capacity, but the impact of these additions can barely can be seen at the top of Figure 14. Without supporting systems, such as roads and electricity transmission lines (which depend on oil), we cannot operate the electric systems that these devices are part of for the long term, either.

We truly live in interesting times.

Parade of Lies

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Aired on the Doomstead Diner on February 4, 2015

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Snippet:

Big-Lie…In a recent rant I titled “Twilight in Amerika”, I covered the non stop LIES spit out by POTUS Telepromptus Obama-sama in his SOTU speech, the annual Big Lie pitched at the population to keep them happy for another year while they are further impoverished and otherwise reamed by the Politicians and Banksters that run Da Goobermint here.

The main lies covered in that Rant were the economic ones, that the Amerikan Economy is Recovering, we are GROWING and we are doing even better than Morning in Amerika of the Ronald Rayguns years, now it’s a fucking Sunny Afternoon in Amerika, we are on the cusp of Energy Independence and the bullshit numbers produced by the Bureau of Lies & Statistics and the Energy Disinformation Agency can be believed!

I covered a few of the Geopolitical false narratives also, like the nonsense that we have had any success whatsoever with the War on Terror, that the trillions of dollars we’ve pitched down the toilet in Afghanistan and Iraq have done a goddamn thing to fix up that clusterfuck, and that anybody in the State Department or Military has a fucking clue how to dig us out of the hole dug here over the last few decades…

For the rest, LISTEN TO THE RANT!!!

Living the American Dream is a Nightmare

From the keyboard of Thomas Lewis
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In Plato’s little-recognized prediction of the Age of Television, slaves chained to their couches watch reflections of events, while philosophers struggle up to the sunlight to see what’s really going on.

In Plato’s little-recognized prediction of the Age of Television, slaves chained to their couches watch reflections of events, while philosophers struggle up to the sunlight to see what’s really going on.

First published at The Daily Impact  January 12, 2014

 

Plato asked us to imagine a group of people chained to a wall in a cave in such a way that they could not see what was going on around them, only reflections cast on the cave wall opposite them by firelight. He invited us to consider how skewed the prisoners’ understanding of the world would become over time, and to value the contributions of philosophers who go out into the sunlight and see things as they really are. It’s easy for us Americans of 2015 to grasp the first part of his allegory, because it’s a perfect description of us watching TV (remarkable that he nailed that prediction 2,000 years ago, don’t you think?). It’s the second part that mystifies: what would a philosopher, stumbling out of the cave of shadows on the wall, make of our realities?

The shadows on the cave wall are dancing in eternal, unrelieved, twitching ecstasy: gas prices are down, the government-calculated unemployment rate is down, job creation is up, the stock market is setting altitude records, and because of the happiness of the shadows on the wall, the prisoners chained to the wall are feeling better about their futures than ever.

So, prisoners. What’s really out there? The philosopher has returned from a brief sojourn, wherein he found that the American Dream has become a nightmare.

  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics — the agency responsible for the “good news” that America has created 605,000 low-paying jobs in the last two months, reported at the same time that the total number of American employed was in December only 182,000 more than the October total. So where are the other 423,000 jobs that were “created?” Shadows on the wall.
  • Also note that in December alone, 451,000 people left the labor market — they joined the 93 million adult Americans who have given up and stopped looking for work (and thus are not counted when the “unemployment rate” is calculated). Quick, another chorus of “Happy Days are Here Again.”
  • Since the last time America was doing okay, 2007, we have added 16 million people to our adult population, and we have subtracted 2 million full-time jobs. Thus we have a situation that (to hear the shadows on the wall tell it) has improved every year for seven years but is now worse than it was seven years ago.
  • Two recent surveys have found that well over half of adult Americans have no savings – none — and do not have enough cash in their possession to cover a sudden expense ($400 in one survey, $1,000 in the other).
  • In contrast to the shadow land where there is no inflation , the philosopher finds that real Americans are struggling with an inflation rate for food of more that 20%. Ground beef has just hit a national average price of $3.88 per pound, an all-time record high. But food prices are not included in the government’s calculation of the rate of inflation. More than 50 million American households — not people,  households full of people – last year experienced what is politely referred to as “food insecurity”. That’s the term the shadows use, out in the sunlight we call it “hunger.”
  • 46 million Americans are on food stamps, 20 million more than were enrolled in 2007, before the Great Recession started. And in nearly three-quarters of large American cities, requests for emergency food aid were up sharply in 2014 and are expected to skyrocket in 2015.

So out here in the sunlight, we see rising hunger, poverty, unemployment, sea levels, desertification and collapsing energy and stock markets. Who can blame us for preferring the cave, where at least somebody sees to it that the fire is kept burning?

 

***

 

Thomas Lewis is a nationally recognized and reviewed author of six books, a broadcaster, public speaker and advocate of sustainable living. He also is Editor of The Daily Impact website, and former artist-in-residence at Frostburg State University. He has written several books about collapse issues, including Brace for Impact and Tribulation. Learn more about them here.

 

 

Boom Goes the Dynamite

Off the keyboard of Michael Snyder

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Published on The Economic Collapse on January 12, 2015

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The Crashing Price Of Oil Is Going To Rip The Global Economy To Shreds

If you were waiting for a “black swan event” to come along and devastate the global economy, you don’t have to wait any longer.  As I write this, the price of U.S. oil is sitting at $45.76 a barrel.  It has fallen by more than 60 dollars a barrel since June.  There is only one other time in history when we have seen anything like this happen before.  That was in 2008, just prior to the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.  But following the financial crisis of 2008, the price of oil rebounded fairly rapidly.  As you will see below, there are very strong reasons to believe that it will not happen this time.  And the longer the price of oil stays this low, the worse our problems are going to get.  At a price of less than $50 a barrel, it is just a matter of time before we see a huge wave of energy company bankruptcies, massive job losses, a junk bond crash followed by a stock market crash, and a crisis in commodity derivatives unlike anything that we have ever seen before.  So let’s hope that a very unlikely miracle happens and the price of oil rebounds substantially in the months ahead.  Because if not, the price of oil is going to absolutely rip the global economy to shreds.

What amazes me is that there are still many economic “experts” in the mainstream media that are proclaiming that the collapse in the price of oil is going to be a good thing for the U.S. economy.

The only precedent that we can compare the current crash to is the oil price collapse of 2008.  You can see both crashes on the chart below…

Price Of Oil Since 2006

If rapidly falling oil prices are good economic news, that collapse should have pushed the U.S. economy into overdrive.

But that didn’t happen, did it?  Instead, we plunged into the deepest recession that we have seen since the Great Depression.

And unless there is a miracle rebound in the price of oil now, we are going to experience something similar this time.

Already, we are seeing oil rigs shut down at a staggering pace.  The following is from Bloomberg

U.S. oil drillers laid down the most rigs in the fourth quarter since 2009. And things are about to get much worse.

The rig count fell by 93 in the three months through Dec. 26, and lost another 17 last week, Baker Hughes Inc. data show. About 200 more will be idled over the next quarter as U.S. oil explorers make good on their promises to curb spending, according to Moody’s Corp.

But that was just the beginning of the carnage.  61 more oil rigs shut down last week alone, and hundreds more are being projected to shut down in the months ahead.

For those that cannot connect the dots, that is going to translate into the loss of large numbers of good paying jobs.  Just check out what is happening in Texas

A few days ago, Helmerich & Payne, announced that it would idle 50 more drilling rigs in February, after having already idled 11 rigs. Each rig accounts for about 100 jobs. This will cut its shale drilling activities by 20%. The other two large drillers, Nabors Industries and Patterson-UTI Energy are on a similar program. All three combined are “likely to cut approximately 15,000 jobs out of the 50,000 people they currently employ,” said Oilpro Managing Director Joseph Triepke.

Unfortunately, this crisis will not just be localized to states such as Texas.  There are tens of thousands of small and mid-size firms that will be affected.  The following is from a recent CNBC report

More than 20,000 small and midsize firms drive the “hydrocarbon revolution” in the U.S. that has helped the oil and gas industry thrive in recent years, and they produce more than 75 percent of the nation’s oil and gas output, according to the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research’s February 2014 Power & Growth Initiative Report. The Manhattan Institute is a conservative think tank in New York City.

A sustained decline in prices could lead to layoffs at these firms, say experts. “The energy industry has been one of the job-growth areas leading us out of the recession,” said Chad Mabry, a Houston-based analyst in the energy and natural resources research department of boutique investment bank MLV & Co. in New York City. “In 2015, that changes in this price environment,” he said. “We’re probably going to see some job losses on a fairy significant scale if this keeps up.”

If the price of oil makes a major comeback, the carnage will ultimately not be that bad.

But if it stays at this level or keeps going down for an extended period of time, it is inevitable that a whole bunch of those firms will go bankrupt and their debt will go bad.

That would mean a junk bond crash unlike anything that Wall Street has ever experienced.

And as I have written about previously, a stock market crash almost always follows a junk bond crash.

These are things that happened during the last financial crisis and that are repeating again right in front of our eyes.

Another thing that happened in 2008 that is happening again is a crash in industrial commodity prices.

At this point, industrial commodity prices have hit a 12 year low.  I am talking about industrial commodities such as copper, iron ore, steel and aluminum.  This is a huge sign that global economic activity is slowing down and that big trouble is on the way.

So what is driving this?  The following excerpt from a recent Zero Hedge article gives us a clue…

Globally there are over $9 trillion worth of borrowed US Dollars in the financial system. When you borrow in US Dollars, you are effectively SHORTING the US Dollar.

Which means that when the US Dollar rallies, your returns implode regardless of where you invested the borrowed money (another currency, stocks, oil, infrastructure projects, derivatives).

Take a look at commodities. Globally, there are over $22 TRILLION worth of derivatives trades involving commodities. ALL of these were at risk of blowing up if the US Dollar rallied.

Unfortunately, starting in mid-2014, it did in a big way.

This move in the US Dollar imploded those derivatives trades. If you want an explanation for why commodities are crashing (aside from the fact the global economy is slowing) this is it.

Once again, much of this could be avoided if the price of oil starts going back up substantially.

Unfortunately, that does not appear likely.  In fact, many of the big banks are projecting that it could go even lower

Goldman Sachs, CitiGroup, Societe General and Commerzbank are among the latest investment banks to reduce crude oil price estimates, and without production cuts, there appears to be more room for lower prices.

“We’re going to keep on going lower,” says industry analyst Brian Milne of energy manager Schneider Electric. “Even with fresher new lows, there’s still more downside.”

OPEC could stabilize global oil prices with a single announcement, but so far OPEC has refused to do this.  Many believe that the OPEC countries actually want the price of oil to fall for competitive reasons…

Representatives of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait stressed a dozen times in the past six weeks that the group won’t curb output to halt the biggest drop in crude since 2008. Qatar’s estimate for the global oversupply is among the biggest of any producing country. These countries actually want — and are achieving — further price declines as part of an attempt to hasten cutbacks by U.S. shale drillers, according to Barclays Plc and Commerzbank AG.

The oil producing countries in the Middle East seem to be settling in for the long haul.  In fact, one prominent Saudi prince made headlines all over the world this week when he said that “I’m sure we’re never going to see $100 anymore.”

Never is a very strong word.

Could there be such a massive worldwide oil glut going on right now that the price of oil will never get that high again?

Well, without a doubt there is a huge amount of unsold oil floating around out there at the moment.

It has gotten so bad that some big trading companies are actually hiring supertankers to store large quantities of unsold crude oil at sea…

Some of the world’s largest oil traders have this week hired supertankers to store crude at sea, marking a milestone in the build-up of the global glut.

Trading firms including Vitol, Trafiguraand energy major Shell have all booked crude tankers for up to 12 months, freight brokers and shipping sources told Reuters.

They said the flurry of long-term bookings was unusual and suggested traders could use the vessels to store excess crude at sea until prices rebound, repeating a popular 2009 trading gambit when prices last crashed.

The fundamentals for the price of oil are so much worse than they were back in 2008.

We could potentially be looking at sub-$50 oil for an extended period of time.

If that is indeed the case, there will be catastrophic damage to the global economy and to the global financial system.

So hold on to your hats, because it looks like we are going to be in for quite a bumpy ride in 2015.

Knarf plays the Doomer Blues

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