#142: Past, present and future


As we near the end of a year that can certainly be called ‘interesting’, I’d like to reflect on what’s happened, what’s happening now, and what we might expect to happen going forward. I can’t be sure that this is the last article for 2018 but, in case it is, I’d like to thank everyone for their interest, their comments and their many invaluable contributions to the themes we discuss here – and, of course, to wish you a very merry Christmas and a happy and successful New Year.

Where Surplus Energy Economics, this site and SEEDS are concerned, this has been a memorable year. SEEDS – the Surplus Energy Economics Data System – was finally completed in early 2018, and, amongst other things, this has freed up time for more thematic analysis. It’s both humbling and gratifying to know that about 44,000 people have visited the site this year, another big increase over the preceding twelve months. Most importantly – though this is for you to judge – I like to think we’ve developed a pretty persuasive narrative of how the economy works, and how things are trending.

We can take less satisfaction in what we see around us. According to SEEDS, most of the Western economies have now been getting poorer for at least a decade – and, ominously, the ability of the emerging market economies to grow enough to offset this deterioration, and keep global prosperity static, seems to have ended. World prosperity per person has been on a remarkably long plateau at around $11,000 (constant values, PPP-converted), but has now started to erode.

Deteriorating prosperity might be ‘a new fact’ in the world as a whole, but it’s an established reality in the West – with the single exception of Germany (rather a special case), no developed economy covered by SEEDS has enjoyed any improvement in prosperity at all since 2007. In most cases, the decline in personal prosperity has been happening for longer than that. But our societies seem to have learned almost nothing about what’s going on – and, until the processes are understood, crafting effective responses is impossible.

Historians of the future are likely to be bemused by our futile efforts to escape from the energy dynamic in the economy. From the turn of the millennium, we started pouring ever larger amounts of debt into the system. This led, with utter inevitability, to the 2008 global financial crisis (GFC I).

Undeterred, we then compounded cheap and abundant debt with ever cheaper money, yet the inevitable consequences of this process will still, no doubt, be declared both ‘a surprise’ and ‘a shock’ when they happen. We surely should know by now that we have an “everything bubble” propped up by ultra-cheap money, and that bubbles always burst. If there’s any sense in which “this time is different”, it is that, since 2008, we’ve taken risks not just with the banking system, but with money itself.

The death of debt?

There’s one theme which, though we’ve touched on it before, really needs to be spelled out. Throughout the era of growth, we’ve come to accept the process of borrowing and lending as a natural component of our economic system. Indeed, this practice long pre-dates the industrial age, when borrowing and lending, which then was more commonly called “usury” (the lending of money for interest), began to be de-criminalised after Christian Europe had been shaken up by the Reformation.

Leaving theological and ethical issues aside, we need to be clear that the process of borrowing and lending is a product of growth, because debt can only ever be repaid (and, indeed, serviced) where the prosperity of the borrower grows over time.

For simplicity, we can divide debt into two categories. If someone borrows money to expand a successful business, it is the growth in the income of the business which alone enables interest to be paid and the capital amount, too, to be reimbursed in due course. This is termed “self-liquidating debt”.

“Non-self-liquidating debt”, on the other hand, is typified by the loans consumers take out to pay for a holiday, buy a car or replace a domestic appliance. Here, the borrower is buying something which he or she cannot afford out of current income, and the only way in which this can be repaid is if the borrower’s prosperity increases over time.

Take away the assumed growth in prosperity, however, and both forms of borrowing cease to be viable. “Self-liquidating” debt assumes that an expanded business can earn greater profits, but it’s hard to count on this when potential customers are getting poorer. As for “non-self-liquidating” debt, the all-important rise in the borrower’s means can no longer be relied upon when people generally are getting poorer.

In short, the very process of borrowing and lending is likely to be stripped of its viability as prosperity declines. This should be an extremely sobering thought in a world which is awash with debt, and where supplying cheap credit is seen as a panacea for economic stagnation.

You might well ponder at least two things about this. First, what happens to the large quantities of debt owed by those Western economies whose prosperity has already moved significantly along the downwards curve? Second, what happens to asset prices in a world where the credit impetus goes into reverse?

Reflecting on the essential linkage between debt and growth, you might also wonder why we’re not already seeing the debt edifice crumbling. There are two main answers to this. The first is that the debt structure has been buttressed by de-prioritising another form of futurity – simply put, we’ve already created huge (and burgeoning) gaps in pension provision as part of the price of preserving the edifice of debt.

The second answer is simpler still – we’ve not seen the debt edifice start to crumble yet……

Feeling the pain

People across the Western world certainly seem to know that their prosperity is eroding, and they’re far from happy about it. We can see the effects both in political choices and in rising popular discontent. If you understand deteriorating prosperity, then you understand political events in America, Britain, Italy, France and far beyond – events which, if you didn’t understand the economic process, must seem both baffling and malign.

Though understandable, anger isn’t a constructive emotion, and what we really need is coolly analytical interpretation, understanding and planning. If it’s true that we’re not getting this from government, then it’s equally true that government reflects the climate of opinion. We can hardly expect governments to understand the economic realities when opinion-formers stick resolutely to conventional interpretation. It’s more surprising that conventional methods still command adherence as outcomes continue to diverge ever further from expectations.

Making glib promises is part and parcel of politics and, in fairness, those who don’t do this can expect to lose out to those who do. What is more disturbing is the continued promotion of economic extremism. Nationalising everything in sight won’t work, and neither will dismantling the state and turning the economy into a deregulated, ‘law of the jungle’ free-for-all.

Over the years, we’ve tried both, and should know by now that the lot of the ‘ordinary person’ isn’t bettered by these extremes. At least, when prosperity was still growing, we could live with the price of ideological purity – now that prosperity (in the West, at least) has turned down, though, these consequences are something that we can no longer afford.

If you think about it, the extremes either of collectivism or of ‘laissez faire’ have always been absurdly simplistic. Have we ever really believed that benign apparatchiks can manage things better than people can do for themselves? Or that unfettered ‘capitalism’, which concentrates wealth and power just as surely as collectivism, can do things better? Perhaps most importantly, why do so many of us persist in the view that possessions, material wealth and nebulous ideas of relative ‘status’ are a definition of happiness?

Logically, deteriorating prosperity means that we concentrate on necessities and dispense with some luxuries. Amongst the luxuries that we can no longer afford are ideological extremes, and an outlook founded wholly or largely on ownership and consumerism.

The need for ideas

The good news is that we’re not going into this new era wholly lacking in knowledge. The trick is to understand what that knowledge really is. Keynes teaches us how to manage demand – or can teach us this, so long as we don’t turn him into a cheerleader for ever bigger public spending. Likewise – if we can refrain from caricaturing him as a rabid advocate of unregulated and unscrupulous greed – Adam Smith tells us that competition, freely, fairly and transparently conducted, is the great engine of innovation. More humbly, or perhaps less theoretically, but surely more pertinently, experience tells us that the “mixed economy” of optimised private and public provision works far better than any extreme.

Going forward, we should anticipate the collapse of the “everything bubble” in asset prices, and should hope that we don’t, this time, go so far into economic denial as to think we can cure this with a purely financial “fix”. I’m fond of saying that “trying to fix an energy-based economy with financial fixes is like trying to cure an ailing pot-plant with a spanner”. We should understand popular concerns, which seem to point unequivocally towards a mixed economy, extensive redistribution and an economic nationalism that needs to be channelled, not simply vilified.

Another, positive point on which to finish is that a deterioration in prosperity needn’t prevent us – indeed, should compel us – to make better use of the prosperity that we do have. There’s no situation which can’t be made worse by rash decisions, or made better by wise ones. The forces described here – economic trends, and their political and social corollaries – all contain the seeds (no pun intended…) of divisiveness. This being so, cohesion and common purpose have never been so important.

Togetherness, and concern for the welfare of others, are, and certainly should be, part of the fabric of Christmas. Seldom can these characteristics have been more important than they are now.


222 thoughts on “#142: Past, present and future

  1. Dr Morgan, I have a notion of how the pension provision shortfall could be resolved in the USA, while reducing a few other problems simultaneously. The Congress can just extend the Pension Guarantee plan to include all government pensions – state and local. As the crap bonds these pension funds bought in a Reach for Yield go to money heaven, the Treasury will issue bonds to raise money to cover the losses, bonds which the Fed will promptly buy up. This way, the Fed doesn’t incite resentment by dropping money from a helicopter, and it will go to people who will promptly spend the money into the economy. As some of the crap bonds are held by the .1%ers who won’t be reimbursed for their losses, this mechanism will also reduce income disparity by some small measure.

    • And what about the private sector who have to generate the wealth in the first place? They get nothing as usual

  2. Happy Christmas Tim and all. 2019 is going to be an intellectually demanding year – but this website offers solace in terms of understanding.

    • Seriously Jason? What about the poor private sector who gets nothing? The private sector reaped the benefit of larger profits because it underfunded their pension obligations and/or got rid of them by placing them on workers to fund their own 401ks oh but without increasing wages to make it a viable option.

      Thanks for your hard work Tim and merry Xmas to everyone!

  3. The Euro and Deflation and Dysfunctional Politics

    As an American, I don’t claim to be an expert on European matters. But I find this talk by Yannis Varoufakis to be quite thought provoking. The statistics on the surplus of money in German financial institutions and the simultaneous decline in the prosperity of German households is startling.

    Don Stewart

  4. @Donald
    Varoufakis points out that the German rate of investment has fallen to levels not seen since 1946. An economy which is trying to save, but has no attractive investment opportunities, is mathematically bound to experience trouble. Attractive investment opportunities in conventional economics requires cheap energy. And for factories in particular, cheap electricity. So, without any first-hand knowledge, I would speculate that the relatively high cost of electricity in Germany is at least partially responsible for their problems.

    I don’t follow Varoufakis closely (he said it is his third speech today), but he seems like a conventional economist…the cost of energy is largely irrelevant. I understand his position on the structural problems caused by the Euro, but I suspect that even if the Euro had never been adopted, Europe would be having problems. Dmitry Orlov’s current post claims that Russia would have a positive trade balance even if they exported no oil and gas, while Saudi will be wiped out if oil prices stay where they seem to be headed. In my opinion, the leaders of Europe need to take a careful look at Russia. The time for antagonizing Russia and belittling Russia is well past its sell-by date. As a start, they can look at the stark difference in the behavior of the central banks.

    Don Stewart

    • I agree that the time for antagonizing Russia is over but they have to start behaving themselves and – at the very least – not send death squads over to my country with dangerous nerve agents

    • Harald Malmgren has an interesting idea on Trump’s appeal to German motor manufacturers. Why not increment on your presence in the southern US states? Better than Europe. The work force is just as skilled, the unions have been neutered and corporate taxes are lower. Why remain in the EU the market is just as big here and we may even soon be able to offer you a friction free route into the UK?

    • Donald,
      I can assure you that the Russians did not send a “Death Squad” over to the UK to kill anybody.
      The mere thought of it is absurd, and the tactical aspects of such an action as described by the authorities simply do not tie up. Just to point out one of the many, many, many glaring inconsistencies;
      What happened to Dawn Sturgess ???
      Where is the autopsy report, why has a murder investigation not been opened ??? How long are the government going to delay the inquest ?? Until 2075 ??
      This ‘Salisbury’ incident is a simple case of the UK government concocting a Cock & Bull story for political purposes. Obviously some newly hired amateur spooks, ‘Brain’-storming over a Latte-break during the long winter month stuck up in a derelict linen mill in some remote corner in the Kingdom of Fife.
      This is MI-6 ( quite wrongly ) assuming that the “I” in MI-6 stands for “intelligence”.

    • Well, if it is in the “Daily Mail”, that stoic bastion of integrity and journalistic magnificence, then it must be true.

  5. @Donald
    I despair of trying to get the British to look at the alleged death squad realistically. So believe whatever it is you want to believe about that.

    I would also not try to convince any British person to actually admire any Russian leader.

    I would suggest that they take a look at the movie Hypernormalization, available on YouTube. The movie, made by a British citizen, lays out the steady stream of lies and miscalculations by governments over the last decades. You will see the Tony Blair lies and the strange demonization/ rehabilitation/ and finally murder of Qadaffi.

    Leaving aside government propaganda, one needs to carefully analyze the behaviors and policies which seem to be working…especially if they are the behaviors and policies of someone you intend to go into a cold or a hot war against….or just compete against in the marketplace.

    Don Stewart

    • Don please – it’s been proved beyond doubt – and they have also admitted that they were in Salisbury. What were they doing there – please tell me.

  6. I am of course aware of Government duplicity (oever a huge range of issues) lies upon lies that become the truth and then become lies again but unlike digital information (or disinformation) the two Russians were physically in Salisbury.

    So in one short sentence – what were they doing there?

  7. I would be grateful if someone on the forum, possibly Dr Morgan included, could explain how in the 1930s – when the energy cost of energy was very low – the American economy experienced such a devastating slump. Energy at that time was extremely low compared with modern day costs.

    • Because the cost was skyrocketing relative to the cost in the 1920s and also the amounts of debt and the debt leverage were similarly insane as today.

    • The energy cost in the 1930s was rising rapidly due to passing Peak Coal in many Western nations and the infrastructure did not exist to shift to petroleum until the war pushed government spending to develop it.

  8. @Ray Waldon
    Any disaster is always ‘overdetermined’…there are many explanations which are not wrong, but may not individually be sufficient to explain the disaster.

    It’s been many years since I looked at it, but Friedman and Scwartz wrote The Monetary History of the United States. They show that the amount of money in circulation collapsed during the Depression. The Federal Reserve was trying to restore solvency by reducing credit and the US Treasury was encouraging budget cuts to try to preserve the federal deficit. So the combination of the panic on Wall Street and federal efforts which reduced the money supply resulted in severe damage to the real productive capacity of the country.

    That was the Monetarist Theory which held sway in the Federal Reserve for a while in the 1970s. Ben Bernanke was a student of such stuff.

    In terms of 2018, there are at least two theories which are plausible. One is that the increasing ECoE is now biting across the globe, the other is that ‘you can’t taper a Ponzi’ , which is Max Keiser’s mantra. Mr. Trump’s theories about the stupidity of the Fed may also persuade a few people.

    Don Stewart

    • “In terms of 2018, there are at least two theories which are plausible. One is that the increasing ECoE is now biting across the globe, the other is that ‘you can’t taper a Ponzi’ , which is Max Keiser’s mantra. Mr. Trump’s theories about the stupidity of the Fed may also persuade a few people.”

      To my view none of these things are mutually exclusive, and in fact are more likely interconnected dynamics of a complex system reaching the breaking point.

  9. @Ray Waldon
    Another plausible explanation for why things are falling apart:

    Musk is using as his defense that people routinely lie and defame on twitter, and so he is not legally responsible for anything he said. One wonders if this applies to Trump’s barrage of tweets?

    A skeptic might think that when a society falls this low, something has to collapse.

    Don Stewart

    • Is he saying that he didn’t really “tweet” what was put in his name – or that he did, but because it was on Twitter it shouldn’t be taken seriously? The former sounds a reasonable argument, if, for instance, his account was hacked. The latter won’t work, I suspect.

      I’m breaking no secrets in telling you that I don’t use Twitter, just as I never use Google or Facebook.

    • On your broader point, there is a certain “eve of apocalypse” feel about society at the moment. Though there are always exceptions, the generality of business, social and political behaviour does seem to be plumbing new lows.

      This is something I plan to explore in a new series here.

  10. Thought for the New Year
    The current socioeconomic system is not sustainable. Antonio Damasio says that ‘Homeodynamic systems, as is certainly the case with living systems, self-organize the operations when they lose stability. At those bifurcation points, they exhibit complex behaviors with emergent characteristics such as bistable switches, thresholds, waves, gradients, and dynamic molecular rearrangements.’

    I have a suggestion as to one such ‘molecular rearrangement’. Please take a look at this video:
    Click on the top entry, How to Die Young

    The first 22 minutes is an interesting discussion of recent research on time of day restricted eating. Starting at 22 minutes you will begin to see the discussion I call to your attention. Doctors Mike Roizen and Mark Hyman, both at the Cleveland Clinic, talk about the revolutionary way that health care costs are being reduced for the staff at the clinic. This is not a small trial, there are 109K employees. The same idea has now been implemented in 10 of the hospitals in a 20 hospital system with similar results. Chronic disease is radically reduced by rewarding employees for keeping six lab tests in the ‘normal’ range.

    Politically, this is an example of a situation where the free market has been a dismal failure. The RAND study said that people would not change their diet and lifestyle just because the medical fraternity promised them reduced risk of chronic disease. But these large ‘savings sharing’ dollars swing people into the compliance mode. The molecules have been rearranged. By a hybrid authority/ participant design using money to grease the skids.

    Perhaps 2019 will see the emergence of more sensible schemes which reduce the colossal waste in the world economy. Because TINA.

    Don Stewart

  11. From my last post:
    The current socioeconomic system is not sustainable. Antonio Damasio says that ‘Homeodynamic systems, as is certainly the case with living systems, self-organize the operations when they lose stability. At those bifurcation points, they exhibit complex behaviors with emergent characteristics such as bistable switches, thresholds, waves, gradients, and dynamic molecular rearrangements.’

    The last post showed the success at the Cleveland Clinic of simply applying the capitalist model in terms of paying people to pursue health, while also working on the social angle in terms of the physical and social environment at the Cleveland Clinic. This link takes you to a 2 hour discussion outlining both the potential and the difficulties in getting widespread behavioral change in the absence of cash payments:

    The interviewer, Rich Roll, has made a name for himself as a top endurance athlete after an early life doing what financially successful Americans usually do: bad food, alcohol, drugs, high stress. The two medical people are Dean Ornish, a long time practitioner and researcher at the U of California at Berkeley and his wife Anne. The two make a yin/ yang kind of symbol (two differences united in a single structure) of what educated, fairly prosperous Californians living in the late 20th and early 21st centuries can accomplish.

    And yet the pair have to be disappointed. Dean discovered one answer to chronic disease 40 years ago. And over the intervening years we have found strong evidence that all chronic disease arises from the same mechanisms. That is, the mechanisms which prevent and reverse heart disease also prevent and reverse diabetes and cancer and Alzheimers and autoimmune diseases. But chronic disease has never been more prevalent in the US, and increasingly around the world. China, for example, which had very low levels of chronic disease 40 years ago now has the same epidemics as the US…after having adopted Western social and economic philosophies.

    The Ornishes believe that a strongly ‘hands on’ coaching from medical professionals is required to help people break free of the chains of Western behavior. That is obviously not cheap. Watch how Dean reacts to Anne’s story about the electrician who bought one of Dean’s books 17 years ago and simply changed his life and has avoided the family history of heart disease. It seems from his body language that Dean doesn’t want us to focus on this outlier. I’ll come back to the point.

    As somebody who knows enough to be dangerous, I can ask questions that Rich Roll never asked. For example, I don’t think Dean gives a good explanation for why animal proteins are inflammatory while plant proteins are protective. If all a protein is is the raw material for the amino acids produced by the stomach, then what difference does it make where the amino acids come from. My GUESS is that the answer lies in a complex substitution effect. When we eat a plant we get, in addition to protein, a whole raft of phytochemical which have a myriad of health benefits. Eating too much protein is not good for us, because it makes too much acid and promotes too much growth hormone which encourages tumor growth. It is hard to eat too much plant protein. But if we eat animal protein, we miss out on all those phytochemicals. In order to get enough plant phytochemicals, we have to eat too many calories in total…animal plus plant. Eating too much has consequences for our weight and chronic disease in general. This is why a ‘balanced’ approach as promoted by the US government doesn’t work. The Ornishes may explain this in the forthcoming book, but this is one example of what I perceive as a still incomplete medical picture of what a ‘healthy diet’ looks like.

    But the Big Picture remains intact. Dean showed 40 years ago how to do something that very few people are doing. Meanwhile, medical costs are bankrupting us, and new epidemics such as depression and autoimmunity and opioids are tearing at the fabric of American society.

    Back to my initial paragraph. The Old Order must collapse and is collapsing before our eyes. We know what to do about certain parts of it, but we are mostly just not doing it. The Ornishes’ observations on how hard it is to change society give us a ground from which to think about other issues such as transportation and manufacturing and mining. One stark choice is to use our dwindling resources for intensive coaching (a la the Ornish program) or just wait to see how many smart electricians make it through the bottleneck.

    Don Stewart

  12. Addendum
    *Stacey Herbert told me that she and Max Keiser’s ‘road trip across America’ taught her that Americans want ‘simple’ explanations
    *Search on the Question Everything blog and you will find this:
    ‘Over the last three decades I developed a true systems analysis process (which I will publish in my next book) and applied it to the human social system and its subsystems. And I applied it to humanity itself. What I have found is a species embedded in a cultural cocoon that has broken free of the normal bounds for living systems in ecosystems. But also, a species that has just recently undergone a transition to what I think is the next stage of evolution – from the great apes to a sapient (or perhaps pre-sapient) but clever one capable of creating and developing more powerful ways to extract material goods from the environment. We are an evolutionary experiment that could go either way.’
    *Do you think that George Mobus publishing a book released by Springer is going to change the landscape. Particularly notice Ugo Bardi’s comment and the comment by Shawn. Ugo joins George in a sort of elegy for the human race, while Shawn thinks that more information is going to solve everything. After listening to the Ornishes, do you agree with Shawn that more information is going to solve the problems???

    Don Stewart

  13. Just to let you know that the next article is ready to go – it’s the first in a series called ‘Fire and Ice’, and is about taxation, spending and politics in a climate of deteriorating prosperity.

    • Can’t wait…

      As soon as someone (Macron) tries to lift up the bucket just a little bit, the yellow jacket wasps makes him run for the hills.

      And STILL, these fools sign shit empty promises like the Marrakesh agreement. Afraid as they are for the collapse of the international trade hub.

      When goods stop passing borders, tanks will.

      Full stop on free flow of people means, after several months, full stop on free flow of goods. They’re not stupid….

      Deteriorating prosperity per capita doesn’t cope with that, so it should be interesting to watch.

      As we all know
      The spice must flow

    • I think the yellow jackets will be back after the Christmas break, and when the weather warms up. It’s interesting to hear how much businesses in parts of France are suffering, even before “Brexit”. It’s surely time for Mr Macron to get a grip on the shower ‘negotiating’ this from the EU side.

  14. @djerek
    You have given us a fine example of: if you don’t like the problem being pointed to, point somewhere else and scream.
    Don Stewart

  15. By chance I caught a discussion of Britain’s retail problems on BBC R4 which turned out to be rather surreal, as everything was mentioned – online erosion of high street sales, awful shopping experience in many towns, failure to innovate and adapt, etc – except the sharply declining prosperity of the masses!

    Which, of course, is like discussing our economies in conventional economic terms without reference to the energy predicament……

    Equally absurd was the repeated assertion of Yannis Varoufakis on his publicity tour for his ‘party that will renew the EU’ that ‘the people of Europe do not have a problem with immigration, but with poverty’.

    Just another Marxist ideologue trying to tell ordinary people what they should be thinking, and pushing the stale old agenda of internationalist and anti-nationalist revolution, somewhat re-packaged: the flip side of the attempted imposition by Brussels of unwanted migrants on the Eastern countries, calling any opposition to this ‘populism’.

    His new ‘Green revolutionary economy’ is beyond laughable; his arrogance and misreading of the popular mood most unimpressive and steeped in ideology.

    Inadequate ideologies and theories from ‘experts’ (often, as with Yannis, and the Neo-liberals, warmed up left-overs from the 20th century) will deluge us as the crisis grows: all about as much use as people in the 14th century being told that to avoid plague all they had to do was walk around the circuit of the town walls dressed in a white sheet, bare-foot, and holding a candle and God would forgive them.

    Well, at least they had a sense of purpose I suppose…..

    • I’ve pretty much given up on BBC reporting. I don’t know how to fix it – I don’t think privatising it would help, but letting licence-payers elect a governing council might work. It’s a shame really.

      More broadly, governments are really clueless about what’s really happening – for instance, don’t the French authorities grasp that taking 51% of GDP in tax takes away 70% of the average person’s (diminished) prosperity? And that indirect taxes (like sales taxes) make this even worse for millions at or below average income?

      Since there are some governments I would be willing to advise, but others I wouldn’t, it’s probably just as well that none of them are likely to ask!

    • BobJ,
      The Zerohedge article is a good read, however I do not accept that the Arab Spring uprisings along with Libya, Syria and Yemen happened as a result of falling EROI. What the author omits here is that there was intense political agitation in these countries by Western “Intelligence” services, ie the CIA and MI-6.
      However, I do accept that falling Eroi is what is driving widespread discontent in Western Europe.

    • @Johan

      I read it that the Arab Spring had a long gestation period going back many years and these were the proximate causal factors and falling EROI was a “trigger” rather than a cause:

      “The destabilisation of Syria, Egypt, Yemen and beyond was a long time coming — but it was triggered by a perfect storm of crises. Domestic oil production declines which pulled the rug out from beneath oil-export dependent state revenues conspired with global oil price spikes thanks to the plateauing in world production of cheap conventional oil.”

      The destabilisation he mentions would include the sort of agitation you mention.

      @Simon Hodges

      No I am retired but some may say that that is indeed equivalent to being a government employee. I couldn’t possibly comment.

    • @Bob

      I find it suspicious how you keep coming on here trying to nudge people away from necessary readings and necessary conclusions. Maybe some government people never retire as such. Can you please just be honest about how you are and what ends you think you seek.

  16. Trolls
    Since I have picked up a troll relative to Dean and Anne Ornish, I will give the non-trolls something to think about.

    If, in the modern world, one cannot be healthy eating an Ornish diet, then how does one explain the extraordinary endurance feats of Rich Roll? (Search on How Rich Roll Went From Obese Alcoholic to Ultra Athlete)

    If, in the modern world, one cannot be healthy eating an Ornish diet, how does one explain:
    *His published results
    *The research portrayed in James Cameron’s movie that athletes crossed over to an Ornish style diet had many more and significantly stronger erections.

    When we go to the world of the hunters and gatherers, many things change but some things remain constant. For example, the Hadza in East Africa stuff themselves on a zebra when the men kill one. They have no refrigeration, so eat up to 16,000 calories a day when they kill a zebra. But most days, they eat around a thousand calories, mostly from tubers. As a second point of change, a weed called stinging nettle (popular in certain circles today) is a better source of protein than meat and also has a super-abundance of phytochemicals. Yet the modern ‘vegetable’ most people are aware of is a hothouse tomato or a hydroponic lettuce…which are only distantly related to the characteristics of a wild nettle.

    What is still true is the Power Principle. Meat, just like petroleum, is a dense source of calories which can be used for work. Humans and other animals tend to seek out power, just as plants seek out sunny spots to grow. But Power has its downsides….clogged arteries and diabetes and climate change. The fact that hunters and gatherers eat meat when they have it, but mostly have little chronic disease, is not exactly understood but probably relates the the fact that they don’t get a lot of meat (because it is trophically scarce, they have no refrigeration, and hunting grounds are easily exhausted) and because the wild plants they harvest are way more nutritious than anything produced by modern (improved) agriculture. The hunters and gatherers also do not have access to refined sugar, which is the second main leg of an Ornish diet, and which is also calorie dense. If you are interested in studying the chase for dietary calorie density, search on The Pleasure Trap.

    Don Stewart

    • Correcting my Error of Omission
      The Ornishes also give the soft skills of meditation equal footing with diet and exercise. There is evidence from contemporary hunter-gatherers (for which I did not save the citations) that the evening campfire serves many of the same purposes as a modern person going to yoga class or doing meditation or mindfulness. The campfire is also an opportunity to ‘stroke’ the other members of the small group. There is abundant scientific evidence that such practices promote well-being. One can eat 16,000 calories of zebra today and 1000 calories of tuber and green leaves for the next 3 days and still not develop chronic disease if all the other wellness practices are in place. (Not proven, but a reasonable supposition as I read the evidence.)

      For a ‘modern’ take on the pointlessness of conversation see Dave Pollard’s blog How To Save The World. The current post is a long one with ‘Links of the Quarter’. The one before that talks about the pointlessness of conversation. If you go down to the comments, you will see my comment that our behavior around the campfire is equivalent to chimps grooming each other or bonobos having sex with each other…both of which behaviors are essential to health.

      Don Stewart

  17. Dr Tim,

    “[L]etting licence-payers elect a governing council” of the BBC is probably a good idea, though it wouldn’t be a panacea for all that is wrong with BBC programming and BBC reporting. However, I doubt that it will happen — it would set a dangerously democratic precedent. If the great unwashed were allowed to elect the governors of the BBC, they’d soon want to elect all manner of bureaucrats and quangocrats. What next? — elected magistrates and judges?? Perish the thought…

  18. 7,000 Euros per person
    As the ECB ends its quantitative easing, the amount of money generated out of thin air is over 7,000 Euros per person. Max and Stacey have a very interesting discussion with some European financial leaders about the effects.


    The leaders say ‘of course, that’s what we wanted to do…raise asset prices’. Of course, if one looks at it from the perspective of the 90 percent, who don’t own much in the way of assets, or the young people, who mostly don’t own assets, they are now worse off. How can a young person pay for college and also buy a house? If the EU had instead sent the 7,000 Euros to families and individuals directly, the results would have been quite different. Europe would probably not be experiencing the political turmoil, for one thing.

    I don’t think I have ever heard a political or financial leader talk about the cost for a young person to acquire ownership of, say, 1 millionth of Apple’s equity. The central banks policies have been to make it more prohibitive for a young person to acquire such an equity stake. The compensation of corporate officers is also designed to make ti more prohibitive for young people to acquire an equity stake.

    A very interesting discussion.

    Don Stewart

    • Once the % of people who own no assets and have no hope of ever doing so, whereas formerly they did have a chance (and who are also very badly-paid and insecure in employment) rises above a certain level, the vote will be for re-distribution – the only logical answer for them.

  19. Zach Bush, MD on Chronic Disease Causing Collapse

    Please watch at least the first 10 minutes to see the exponential rise in chronic disease. This trend is inconsistent with any future for our civilization. Problems with debt and energy cost of energy compound to make a gigantic, impossible problem for us.

    Bush feels strongly that glyphosate, one of the active ingredients in Roundup, accounts for the sudden turn toward exponential increases. At the very end of his talk, you will also find that he sells an antidote. I’m not endorsing the antidote simply because I am not sure about his remedy. I think his numbers are correct, and the idea that a mass application of an antibiotic to soil and to food is causing disastrous consequences is plausible to me.

    A very scary presentation….Don Stewart

  20. Terrifying indeed, Don!

    Much of this puts one in mind of the old story of the Prince of Balkh (one of the most ancient cities in the world), who one day left his palace ‘to seek Wisdom’.

    Walking along he stubbed his toes against an unusual rock: looking down, he saw that it was inscribed: ‘Turn me over if you seek Wisdom’.

    Turning it over, he found another inscription: ‘Why do you seek more knowledge, when you do not use that which you already know?!’

    We can see all too clearly, now, thanks to some very intelligent and impartial investigators, what we are doing to this precious planet, to all other forms of life, and to ourselves, but seem utterly unable to use that information as societies.

    Even worse, we will go down believing in false saviours, like MMT, neo-Marxism, ‘real Capitalism’, tribal nationalism, naive Internationalism, semi-barbaric religious faiths, and philosophically immature techno-Utopianism.

    All presented on glowing screens, and streamed into our ears, until they too fall dark and go silent…..

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