#161. A welcome initiative


As we’ve been discussing here, Dominic Cummings, senior policy advisor to British premier Boris Johnson, has issued a clarion call for “data scientists, project managers, policy experts, assorted weirdos” and others to join an effort to transform the workings of government.

Here is how Mr Cummings defines his objectives:

“We want to improve performance and make me much less important — and within a year largely redundant. At the moment I have to make decisions well outside what Charlie Munger calls my ‘circle of competence’ and we do not have the sort of expertise supporting the PM and ministers that is needed. This must change fast so we can properly serve the public”.

Let me start by making two points about this initiative. The first is to commend Mr Cummings for taking it. New thinking is needed as never before in government, not just in Britain but around the World.

The second is that I think Mr Cummings has a better-than-evens chance of success. He’s not the first person in government to try to think “the unthinkable” or “outside the box”, but conditions do look propitious.

The long-running political guerrilla war over “Brexit” has had a numbing effect in numerous important areas, not just on policy but on constructive debate, so there’s a lot of catching up to do. My hunch (and it’s not much more than that) is that Mr Johnson is more open than his predecessors to genuinely new thinking. Additionally, of course, his large Parliamentary majority will help very considerably.

So, too, will the fact that his Labour opponents are in such disarray that they might even replace Mr Corbyn with somebody who still thinks that trying to stymy the voters’ decision over leaving the EU was a good idea. Labour, it should be said, has a vital part to play in the political discourse, but cannot do this effectively until it reinstalls issues of economic inequality at the top of its agenda.

Lastly, and notwithstanding the kind (and beyond-my-merits) encouragement of some contributors here, I’m not going to be sending my CV to Downing Street. This, at least, frees me to muse on what I would be saying if I were submitting an application.

First and foremost, I’d urge Mr Cummings to recognize that the economy is an energy system. This will require no explanation to regular visitors here, but I would add that this interpretation can enable us to place our thinking about economics on a scientific footing. The ‘conventional’ form of economics which portrays the economy in purely financial terms may or may not be “gloomy”, but it certainly isn’t a “science”. We’ve spent the best part of two decades finding out that ‘tried and tested’ financial paradigms range from the incomplete to the outright mistaken, and that pulling financial levers doesn’t work.

Mr Cummings won’t need me to tell him that paying people to borrow (as we’ve been doing ever since 2008), whilst penalising savers, is a very bad idea. I’m sure he will appreciate, too, that trying to run a supposedly “capitalist” system without positive returns on capital is a contradiction in terms. Moreover, those of us who believe in the proper working of markets cannot applaud a situation in which asset prices are propped up by intervention. Any country which deliberately supports over-inflated property prices ought to face tough questioning from the younger members of the electorate.

Second, I’d suggest to Mr Cummings that recognition of the energy-determined character of the economy reframes the debate about the environment. I would steer him towards sources which debunk the illogical notion that we can “de-couple” the economy from the use of energy. Economic prosperity, and the broader well-being embodied in environmental and ecological issues, share the common axis of energy.

Getting into the nitty-gritty, and being wholly candid about the situation, I would go on to contend that the energy equation, which hitherto has driven our prosperity upwards, has turned against us. That, after all, is why we’ve been trying one financial gimmick after another in an effort to convince ourselves that “growth” in our prosperity is continuing, when a huge amount of evidence surely demonstrates that it is not.

In the United Kingdom, “growth” (of 26%) between 2003 and 2018 added £430 billion to GDP, but at the cost of £2.16 trillion in net borrowing. You don’t need a degree in advanced mathematics to recognize that borrowing £5 in order to purchase “growth” of £1 isn’t a sustainable plan.

In Britain, as in most other Western countries, a very large part of the “growth” recorded in recent years has been a simple function of spending borrowed money. If we stopped borrowing (leaving debt where it is now), rates of growth would gravitate to somewhere barely above zero. Trying to reduce debt to its level at some earlier time would eliminate a lot of the “growth” recorded in the past into reverse, leaving GDP a lot lower than it is today.

Adding rising ECoEs into the equation, I would seek to demonstrate that the prosperity of the average Western citizen has been deteriorating for more than a decade. Increasing taxation, meanwhile, has been making this worse. Over a fifteen-year period in which the average British person has become £2,570 (10%) less prosperous, his or her burden of tax has increased by £2,240.

Of course, one cannot expect statistical, model-based numbers to make a wholly persuasive case, especially when the techniques involved avowedly ditch conventional notations. But I would urge Mr Cummings to look at a range of other indicators in order to triangulate some conclusions. Such indicators would include homelessness, the relentless rise of consumer credit, the dependency of the economy on credit-funded consumption, the associated symptoms of debt distress, and the millions generally recognized to be “just about managing”. He could reflect, too, on correlations that can be drawn between adverse trends in prosperity and rising public discontent, whether on the streets of Paris or in the voting booths of the United States and much of Europe.

Finally, none of this would be presented as a cause for despair. Accepting that government cannot make people richer doesn’t involve concluding that it cannot make them more contented.

The smart move at this point is to recognize what’s really happening, steal a march on those still in ignorance and denial, and work out how to improve the quality, both of people’s lives and of the society in which they live.

237 thoughts on “#161. A welcome initiative

  1. An excellent post Tim. I wonder if anyone who reads this site would be tempted to reference it in a letter to their MP?

    On this site we all know that effective and honest management by the Government of the changes taking place already is the way forward

    • Thanks, and anyone is, of course, free to do so.

      Britain faces big challenges, and it’s easy to be over-optimistic about a new government in the early days, as many were about Mr Blair, and then Mr Cameron. There is even more of a ‘temptation to over-optimism’ now, in having ended the demoralizing, paralyzing guerilla war over enacting/sabotaging/rescinding/ignoring the public’s decision over “Brexit”.

      Despite this, I think that there’s cause for cautious optimism. Mr Johnson seems a very clever man, and doesn’t have to worry about sniping from within his own ranks. He has some good people around him, and there should be a lot of pent up energy that can be released now that the “Brexit” impasse has been broken.

  2. Well, why step into the Whitehall bear-pit? Better off, perhaps, working on your beautifully-polished essays and getting these unorthodox ideas circulated. as much as possible.

    I took a look at his blog and I found to my great surprise that it pierced my carapace of cynicism – and even indifference – which has been building up in the face of the multi-faceted delusion and incompetence that seems to characterise our age (no doubt exacerbated by the Brexit debacle!).

    Scanning his list of objectives and areas of enquiry, he clearly appreciates how much is going profoundly wrong, and that that people might exist both within the Civil Service (to whom he appeals) and outside, who might be able to contribute to better decision-making.

    Most notable, for this blog, is that he sees that conventional economics is failing abysmally in predictive power, and therefore ever-more disconnected from reality – just the point made here time and again!

    I also rather like the hope he expresses that he will make himself ‘redundant in a year or so.’

    Things do need shaking up, let’s hope some good comes of it.

    Seeing David Cameron’s bland, pink, face on the cover of his book today (I couldn’t help mentally putting on it a full-bottom early 18th-century wig) brought home to me how badly the British people have been served by a mediocre – and inexplicably entitled – political class.

    And may we now offer up prayers at having been delivered from Corbyn and his mouldy old bag of ideology and slogans handed down from the 1970’s -and that is not a party-political comment!

    At least there is some hint of fresh air in Mr Cummings: Corbyn’s ideas had, on the whole, much the same effect as the first intake of breath on entering Oxford Circus underground at peak rush hour. All Londoners will know the dismal and disheartening staleness….

    • Thanks. I’ve had just enough experience of politics and government to know that it’s not for me.

      The Labour situation is fascinating, albeit in a rather morbid way. Their manifesto contained some good ideas, notably on the economy. But it was peppered with silly ones as well. One such was to have schools teaching how ‘bad’ the British Empire was. But it’s not the role of historians to teach how ‘bad’ or ‘good’ something was, but to teach objective understanding. Then they larded the whole thing with promises that were wildly unaffordable.

      There’s a faction in Labour which argues, with stats to prove it, that they weren’t defeated by their position on “Brexit”. Actually, this was one of the two reasons why they were. They became seen as obstructive, blockers and spoilers, trying to stop anything getting done, and ‘knowing better than’ the voters who, for right or wrong, had decided. The public wanted to move on.

      The second reason was irrelevance. Proclamations on how teachers do or do not present the history of Empire don’t exactly address things that matter to the ordinary person in Brentford or Barnsley. Labour needed to get out of its metropolitan talking-shops and listen to the day-to-day concerns of the voters.

    • Political parties can easily fall into the trap of presenting policies which matter to them, but are of no interest to voters.

      Particularly highly ideological parties, and often on the Left where ideology is everything, the internal debates fierce, and a pragmatic approach regarded as impure: they can get wildly out of touch – just as much as the Neo-liberals, but with an insufferable self-righteousness.

      My step-mother’s marxist party in Spain realised this and ran a ‘consultative tour’ under the slogan: ‘We want to listen!’ which amused me greatly – they should have been doing that from the word go, surely, as self-appointed tribunes of The People?!

      Again, one of principal problems is that ideology and class struggles (share of a diminishing pie) will distract us from the processes at work in undermining our economies and civilization.

      But as it has always been like that, one should perhaps not expect anything better.

      Equally, can we really expect technocrats to save us from the double-pincer of extreme environmental degradation and species extinction, and a global energy crisis?

    • There are two ‘great hopes’, I think.

      The first is that we develop a shared understanding of how the economy really works.

      The second is that we start to reframe our expectations and goals away from the overwhelmingly materialistic.

      Consumerism has huge financial backing, most obviously in global ad spending. Contra-materialism, everything from religious faiths to humanists, philosophers and – yes – some Greens, lack these resources and have an uphill struggle.

      What could matter is the synthesis between understanding (forced on us by economic reality), and reframing our attitudes.

      “Advertisers/consumerists keep telling me to consume more. But I cannot afford to do so. So maybe I’ll listen to the alternatives….”

    • Tim,

      You’re an idealist too, methinks. I’m not saying those with insights such as this group discusses shouldn’t spread memes. But realism about their impact, both nationally and globally, needs to be kept front and center. Voluntary shrinkage isn’t “in the genes.” First one must have ample excess to even consider cutting back. Second one must have a long term mindset…at least for grandchildren. Third, one must make the connection between the impacts of current behavior to likely future outcomes. My guess is that < 10% of humans fit all three. Perhaps that's why I keep returning to scale.

  3. Dr Morgan should definitely apply although I suspect Mr Cummings, who seems a little bit too clever for his own good, would be unreceptive to the ideas behind surplus energy economics.
    Government doesn’t need to over complicate by using ‘game theory’ etc. Quite the reverse. It just needs to apply common sense and go back to first principles to discover and think outside it’s conventional box.

    I see the battle in the years ahead as between the globalists and nationalists. Perhaps the time is right for a backlash against the cultural revolution that has caused so much ruin.

    • Thanks Ken, though I shall not be applying.

      In fairness to Mr Cummings, his brief – a huge one in itself – is to improve how government affairs are conducted. I’m not sure how far it extends from there into what we might call policy areas.

      It seems to me that, if there is indeed a conflict between globalists and nationalists, there can be only one winner, and it isn’t the globalists.

      I hope there’s room for internationalists, though – and that ‘ordinary’ people don’t get caught in the cross-fire.

    • Exactly my view Tim, I do hope that Nationalism tempered with Internationalism will prevail.

      I have emailed Cummings with your link and copied to my MP. Your short, sharp description said it all for me, thank you. Nothing ventured, nothing gained as my old Dad used to espouse.

  4. It has been occurring to me more and more that population growth within a stabilised economic capacity will inevitably reduce standards of living. Similarly, population growth within a reducing ecological capacity will also inevitably mean a reduction in living standards as import dependancies increase and the ecological basis of national survival deteriorates.

    In this respect, cheap credit or financial voyeurism is little more than seeking to increase economic capacity to keep up with population growth with the vain hope that an increased economic capacity will return the necessary dividends to pay down debt.

    The principal concern of these various iterations of MMT (in my mind at least) is that national (public and private) debt is inextricably tied to the national ecological debt. So whilst MMT might be a way for an economy to keep up with population growth under conditions of minimal natural growth, it pays little attention to the ecological and environmental impacts of increased human consumption and production. Similarly MMT does not appear to pay much attention to the effects on currency especially regarding the pricing of imports.

    As such, for me, Brexit was defined by the relationship between national democratic free choice, national population stabilisation and growth, national human consumption and production and national economic and ecological capacity.

    In terms of the economy and ecology being an interconnected energy system then all these defining issues will need forensic attention with the possibility that the economy can be separated between the outward import/export sector and the inward domestic sector with the latter being publically supported in order to sustain national strategic industries for the sake of national sufficiency and resilience concerns, especially regarding the potentially disruptive nature of climate change, biodiversity loss and ecological degradation which may well negatively affect import supply chains.

    I appreciate that segmentation isn’t without its own paradoxes along with fossil fuel paradoxes, population growth paradoxes, population stabilisation paradoxes and degrowth paradoxes but some effort is required to somehow model both our economy and our ecology using energy flow calculations. This would also include the continued development of the National Materials Datahub by the Office of National Statistics to enable resource flows through the economy to be tracked.

    I certainly don’t have the energy or intelligence to develop these models but I’m sure there are people/teams who can.

    • These are complex and important issues, many of which I’m sure we’ll be discussing here.

      On MMT itself, it’s an answer to the wrong question, which is “what sort of monetary policy can improve prosperity?” The right question might be something like “how do we work monetary policy to get the best collective outcomes within the energy/economics equation?”

      I’ve no doubt, too, that MMT will be put to use in ways its thinkers didn’t/don’t envisage.

      Many Keynesians tend to treat their mentor’s works as a recipe for perpetual stimulus, which isn’t what he actually argued for.

      Many on the other side interpret Adam Smith as an advocate of free-for-all and an opponent of regulation – properly understood, he was neither.

      And didn’t Karl Marx say that “the one thing I know is that I’m not a Marxist”?

    • “how do we work monetary policy to get the best collective outcomes within the energy/economics equation?”

      Mind-boggling and with an acknowledgement of entropy built in – wear and tear of systems – even more mind-boggling.

  5. reflect, too, on correlations that can be drawn between adverse trends in prosperity and rising public discontent,

    For a politician, there is no point in reflecting on these correlations since they are already carved in stone at the alter at which all politicians worship. “It’s the economy, stupid” is the age-old expression of this correlation. Positive trends in prosperity get you elected and adverse trends get you thrown out of office.

    The problem comes when nothing can be done about adverse trends in prosperity due to increasing energy costs of energy. Those politicians that try to patiently explain that life is going to get less prosperous, basically forever, and try to figure out ways to share the pain more equitably are not going to last long. There will always be someone who will claim that they can “make the economy great again” who will displace the realists, just like Ronald Reagan displaced Jimmy Carter.

    It is true that massive redistribution of assets from the more wealthy to the less wealthy could sooth the pains of the majority, at least for a little while. But if this were to become the emphasis of the Johnson government it would be an admission that the Labour manifesto was right after all. I doubt that the Conservatives want to become Labour, especially now that they have their huge majority. They will just keep on doing what they have always done, make sure that the trend of adverse prosperity affects their political opponents and that the wealthy, who are the backbone of their party, get to experience the trend of increasing prosperity.

    • Thanks Joe.

      I agree that the Conservatives don’t want to become Labour – but they do want to keep hold of the former Labour votes which put them in office.

      As I see it, redistribution is being made inevitable by deteriorating prosperity. The Conservatives, and others, need to work out whether to front-run and try to direct this tide, or go down bravely in a Knut-like attempt to stop it.

      Moreover, if the Conservatives do adopt moderate redistribution, who is going to oppose them, and for whom would the disgruntled wealthy case their votes instead?

    • An awful lot of people who dress at Primark voted Tory this time around and not just over Brexit -and they would be fools to lose those voters.

      Of course, Parties have squandered huge majorities before this.

      ‘Dominion is a wind of change; and power a deceptive lightening’.

  6. In degrowth, politicians become dictators. So we won’t need them anymore.

    Despots, warlords, leftists and other useless regimes we can do without.

    Regional cooperation is, if we’re lucky, a chance for coming decades. Accounted for by ever changing counsels of cooperation that coordinate trade etc

    Current system is a corpse. Don’t bring Frankenstein in.

    • Necrophilia is a real pleasure to some; Frankenstein can’t help but tinker; and Sauron – and Satan – thought they could do better and create perfection…..

  7. Dear Dr. Morgan,
    as a regular reader of your thoughtinducing blog and operations director of a small resort company i like to ask your advice to share what further readings help me apply your core principles into the managing of our company.

    • Thank you, and please let me reflect on this. I’m going to be putting a lot of thought into ‘managing businesses in an era of de-growth’.

    I have been reading Kristof Koch’s book The Feeling of Life Itself. The subject is consciousness. And the purpose of the book is to elucidate Integrated Information Theory. Briefly, consciousness is simply the feel of life itself. Machines do not feel…so no matter how smart the AI algorithms become, they will never become conscious. Consciousness probably exists at least from microbes to humans. Consciousness is all we really know, and comes before physics.

    Consciousness is the experiencing of seeing, hearing, smelling, loving, hating, suffering, remembering, thinking, planning, imagining, dreaming, regretting, wanting, hoping, dreading….

    Now I will leave the strict world of Koch, and begin my own speculations. I would like to add the complication that much of what we feel is based on forecasts of the future. We expect that the stab of the nurse’s needle will be uncomfortable, and we experience something worse than it actually needs to be. Forecasting is also the mechanism through which we make decisions…we forecast a world without a spouse or a child or fossil fuels, and we may not like it at all. Such distaste may cause us to reject whatever it is that the psychology of decay of affection or the physics of climate change might indicate.

    I’d also like to observe that the primary goal in life may well be to maximize time spent in healthy stress (as defined by the Sherzai brain scientist team). That is, working toward positive goals gives us pleasure, so long as the stress is something we can deal with satisfactorily.

    The achievement of positive goals utilizes many means to an end: consciousness and memory; resources; symbionts (such as the gut bacteria which digest our food); knowledge we have mostly inherited; commensals (other creatures not directly symbionts); wisdom (perhaps borrowed from others, but ultimately our own). In addition to ’natural’ resources, we can utilize the tools provided by civilization: fossil fuels and complex machinery.

    I hypothesize that people at the beginning of the 21st century are much more highly dependent on the tools provided by civilization than our ancestors were. Since tickling our pleasure centers is now much more a function of watching a commercially produced movie on a screen backed by an information network while consuming food produced in factories, and much less about sitting around a campfire swapping stories, the prospect of a future without fossil fuels is bound to be scary for many people. Which, due to the forecasting issue, may lead them to deny basic physics.

    A politician who proposes to radically rethink government is faced with a daunting task. There is a reason why incumbent governments are being threatened, and I think the preceding paragraph sheds much light on it. An individual human or family or close-knit group is more likely to be able to rethink the use of resources to still achieve the goal of healthy stress than a clumsy government.

    “Despite the near-religious beliefs of the digerati in Silicon Valley, there will not be a Soul 2.0 running in the Cloud.”

    So…unless the digital AI future holds out the promise of a future replete with fossil fuels and complex machinery, then I predict that the popular reaction is going to be denial, I don’t think DeGrowth will sell politically.

    So what’s a Government to do?
    *I spent the morning visiting with (grown) grandchildren and visiting a city park. Lots of kids playing and laughing and running. I don’t think it gets any better. Moral: spend some money on public goods.
    *Do not hide consequences. A hard money policy will relay pain to the public. Pain may motivate behavior change in the direction of more campfires. Putin can do it.
    *Make public policies consistent with declining ability to pay taxes and also stopping the transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich. Tough Love.
    *More public recognition of events not connected with getting rich, but worthy of emulation. Scott Morrison’s failure to recognize the contribution of volunteer fire-fighters in Australia is a negative example. The recognition of artists or volunteer firemen or the volunteers who work in premie nurseries in hospitals are a positive example.

    I explained what I say above to my ‘marketing oriented’ daughter. She said ’beef now always wins out over the beans tomorrow’.

    Don Stewart

    • Don,
      Seems to me that despite your consistent efforts at increasing comprehension of what the Club of Rome calls “The Problematique,” you are at bottom an idealist, an optimist.

      Given the daily increase in human overshoot of ~220,000 (which The Global Footprint Network estimates at over 170% of capacity), and given the history of human behavior (beef now over beans later), how can any of us analyzing our predicament think socioeconomic engineering can resolve a scale problem? (“The Resolutique” to C.O.R.)

      As an aside to this group, improving the systems of a small nation might help short term, but in the global picture, it is insignificant. Much pollution migrates in the air, seas, and rivers beyond national borders. Birds, fish, animals can carry pathogens as well. Getting energy economic seeds planted in Whitehall would be positive, but don’t overestimate the overall impact.


    • Agreed, as regards pollution, I am led to believe that even vehicle tyres emit micro particles which linger in the air. I feel that pollution is much more important than climate change and business models need to incorporate external costs, which are a big hole in our current economic and financial models IMO.

    • Agree. CC acts like a huge (unsolvable) diversion from myriad “bads” being dumped on the Commons. The reason most humans use less energy than the “well to do” is that they can’t afford more. INvoluntary simplicity is increasing and will continue barring unforeseen wild cards. Praising low energy usage as noble is bogus. Humans will burn whatever they can to keep warm, cook, have electricity, mobility, refrigeration, lighting…

  9. Nothing new here, from a ex-civil servant perspective.

    New government, new challenger, will make a load of noise, initiate a whole bunch of new ‘change programmes’ (meaning we now can’t measure if the previously implemented ones were actually making a difference over time), and then the civil servants will ‘adapt’ to the new rhetoric and keep their little empires, just hidden by a different department name.

    Same old sh*t. Glad I left.

    • ‘The Churn’ that Cummings describes is a recognised problem within the Civil Service and Public Sector.

      Smarter people than Cummings have attempted to address it, and one of the repeatedly identified barriers is an inability to recognise competence, experience, and performance via rewards (i.e. Pay).

      People move to new internal job opportunities because there is no scope to increase their salary within there current position. In the past there used to be mechanisms for this, but no longer. The vacant position also gets filled often too quickly, the other side of the ‘churn’. I took advantage of this multiple times 😜

      This leads to lots of the ‘churn’ related issues Cummings describes. But if no extra money is allocated then you can’t really tackle it.

      Reorganising the way things works also adds to the churn. Usually many more management posts are created. An internal study was done in MoD, I can not remember the title, that concluded that the constant reorgs and changes just resulted in more top heavy organisations, more management and less people doing the actual work.

      The fact that Cummings thinks he can just come in and ‘improve’ things, suggests some naiveté. Also, the fact that he has announced it in this way (loudly), was a little silly. He may have set himself against the very people he needs help to make these improvements happen. The existing establishment.

      But even if the ‘improvements’ are not made, it will be probably be ‘spun’ as though they were. Much like Bush’s “Mission Accomplished”.

      In my view an enlightened administration would leave the existing improvement programmes from their predecessors alone for at least their first term to see if the desired performance improvements are actually being achieved or not, and if the desired benefits are being accrued.

    • I can’t resist mentioning C Northcote Parkinson here. He observed how, just as numbers of major Fleet vessels decreased by x%, dockyard employment increased, by y%, and administrative staff increased by 2 x y%.

      The Foreign & Colonial (latterly Commonwealth) Office administered half the World with far fewer people than the FCO has now.

      In 2010, it was noted that non-uniformed staff at the MoD significantly outnumbered the combined strengths of the RN and the RAF.

      In about 1905, Jackie Fisher scrapped an Admiralty department responsible for issuing cutlasses, something that no sailor had required for nearly a century. When he returned for a second stint as First Sea Lord ten years later, he found that the cutlass issuing department had reinvented itself, so he scrapped it for a second time!

    • It’s also worth noting that, perhaps legitimately, public services have objectives which reduce productivity.

      The factory manager wants “more widgets per hour”, but the hospital manager wants “less patients per bed”, and the teacher wants “less pupils per teacher”.

      It has been suggested in the past that this asymetry requires that the public sector share of total resources can be expected to increase over time….

    • You clearly have an inside knowledge of the government machine, something which I lack; merely observing from the sidelines, although a couple of my friends were in the civil service when I vicariously picked up their experiences.

      My only lesson was a six week stint at the War Office at the end of 1963. My current girlfriend insisted that I get a ‘proper job’, rather than working at the local car mart where I was making good money. I applied and obtained a position in Bicester , at the Royal Ordinance Corps where I witnessed the depressingly tardy wheels of government grind exceedingly fine and as the days worn on, I almost lost my mind to boredom.

      I returned to the vehicle auctions and eventually discovered my work ethic (as opposed to fun and games) and initially trained as a company secretary – never looked back.

    • Most probably true!

      I often feel that the habits of the Civil service bear close comparison to those of Oxbridge dons, their love of comfortable stagnation, their petty turf wars, vanities and power-plays: for that reason, I am far more interested in DC’s apparent intellectual openness.

      The Civil Service will no doubt defeat him, as it attracts the personality type best suited to this sort of game: this is after all a late-stage and declining civilisation, and they are the incumbent Byzantine bureacracy…….

    • Here are some more of Dominic Cummings views of the Civil Service:


      I’ve known quite a few Senior Civil Servants. In my view the problem with the civil service isn’t the people, it’s the incentives. All the incentives are to follow a process, not achieve an outcome. If and when an outcome is bad, “following the process” (even if it was obvious that process would result in a bad outcome) is a valid defence. The evidence given by Senior Civil Servants and former Senior Civil Servants to the House of Commons’ Public Accounts Committee on the Hinkley Point C fiasco is quite a good example of this.


    • Sorry Will, There are people that do and there are people that teach or join the civil service. I am afraid that my general view of these people as producers is rather low. They may be good at other things, but contributors to the economic well-being of society at large, they are mostly not – and I speak from only a sliver of experience and thus stand to be corrected.

  10. Hi Tim

    Thanks for another perceptive post.

    I wish DC good luck in his efforts and sincerely hope he succeeds; the greater the challenges the more new thinking is needed. The thing is of course that it’s not just energy but demography; automation and climate change, any of which would pose challenges on their own without the others so the need for action is great indeed.

    Your point about the need for redistribution I would not only agree with in respect of deteriorating prosperity due to energy but also the other things I mentioned which strengthen the case even more.

    The thing about this though is that it doesn’t just call for a revolution in government and the way we administer things, it call for a political revolution and this is far more difficult as it will require not just the introduction of critical path analysis (to give a trivial example) but a revolution in the way people think, something that is far more problematical. Which is more important? Whilst the DC project could yield substantial dividends in its own terms it will not be nearly enough to meet the transformative challenges that are required.

    • Thanks.

      Over barely 250 years, we’ve moved from the relative simplicity of an agrarian society to the complexities, stresses and sheer scale of the industrial society.

      But, in evolutionary time-scales, 250 years is the blink of an eye.

      I think it was Don Henley who penned the lines “space-age technology/stone-age emotions” and, if so, he nailed it.

      There’s a superb article by E.P. Thompson called something like “Time, Work Discipline and Industrial Capitalism”, which looks at the wrench in taking people used to taking their time from daylight, and suiting their work patterns to what needed to be done, into clock-determined work systems – not to mention the irony of rewarding a lifetime’s submission to clock-time with the presentation of a gold watch….

      Harold Perkin, in The Age Of The Railway – which is not ‘a book about trains’! – examined how the class system of the industrial age was formed by early railways.

      As just one example, in pre-railway times, the boss lived close to where his workers lived, dressed similarly, and pitched in on the shop floor. Come the railway and, as well as travelling from somewhere where the workers don’t live, he shares a compartment with professionals, like clergy, lawyers and doctors, and soon dresses like them. Thus attired, he can no longer work with an oily rag – hence the invention of the office. Likewise, railways needed a clerical staff on a scale quite unlike any previous activity, even government.

    • If we see the DC mission as one to improve the way government and civil service work, and also widen the talents and intellectual capital available to it, it is clearly highly desirable.

      More important is that he has identified the almost total failure of the predicative capacity of conventional economics as a key issue. It is very good to see that set out clearly!

      On redistribution, the trap it will probably fall into is trying to maintain the status quo of an infrastructure , employment and consumption patterns only truly viable in the age of abundant energy, which is now passing. It may simply be another instance of throwing good money after bad.

      Then again, this is the usual pattern in decaying cvilisations when the foundations of their existence are severely eroded – seeking to sustain the unsustainable – and it is likely we cannot escape that fate ourselves.

      Arguments for redistribution are often based on an entirely false estimate of national wealth – usually meaning the current distorted property valuations!

      And politically this is further complicated by the subjective: someone on £25k pa may regard a salary of £60k as ‘rich’ and vote to tax them even more heavily – but if transposed to their position they would see that in no way is it great wealth. There have been some interesting surveys on this topic.

      The immunities of the super-rich though, the high net-worth people, and of socially destructive corporations such as Amazon, will as things deteriorate, seem less and less justifiable in the eyes of almost everyone.

    • Didn’t Don Henley also pen the words ‘You can check in every time, but you can never leave’?

  11. And of course, in pre-Modern times, the clever apprentice might well marry the old boss’s young widow, having got to know her very well in the course of his apprenticeship……

  12. As the Navy has come up here, I have just heard an appalling story about a major screw-up in the construction of the latest destroyer – the son of a friend is trying to entangle the awful mess being a bit of an engineering trouble-shooter.

    One does wonder how such things can happen – I am sure the full story would be wonderfully Byzantine.

    At the same time, the nature of the screw-up rather reduces ones level of confidence in both the manufacturers and the admirals involved!

    (I don’t think I should give more details or identify those involved more closely).

  13. Hiya,
    there’s plenty of people out there doing impressive work on expanding the understanding of ‘what the heck is going on’
    it’s just they never seem to be allowed to break into the mainstream discourse,

    I just stumbled upon this recent paper submitted by Nate Hagens which looks like it should be required reading for the entire human race but has only had scant attention so far,


    it’s not a 5 min read but it’s definately worth the effort.

    • Great paper. Nate sent it to me day 1. He is a generation younger and still has hope. He knows that chances are slim, but he can’t stop trying. I did likewise until my early 60s when I chose to repeatedly deliver the scale message in response to all “Resolutique” efforts. Treating the symptoms merely delays crash, with more suffering in the future.

    • WOW, Matt, thank you. A stunning article which I will read in depth later on. Thank you for the link and your contribution to our communal effort.

    • Thanks very much to Matt for posting the Nate Hagens paper.
      The history of our economic system being an energy based one goes back a long way yet this view has always been viewed as “crackpot” by mainstream economists.
      As an aside, on a recent ramble along the Seven Sisters, I frequented the Beachy Head pub. In said pub, there is a picture of Frederick Soddy – a local man who originally started life as a chemist and worked with Ernest Rutherford and was a Nobel prize winner in this field. Yet he became disillusioned with his scientific research being used for military purposes and turned to Economics. The picture highlights what he perceived about his new discipline – namely that our economic system suffers from entropy. This was in the 1930s and his ideas at the time were roundly derided as being – you guessed it – “crackpot” – yet most of his ideas have now come to pass. The one idea that has not is the one whereby private banks are not allowed to make money out of thin air – which is arguably the most important one.
      Btw the beer was well kept in there as well! Need to mention the important things, don’t I?!

    • @ everyone
      This is a FB post by Alice Friedemann (Energy Skeptic blog) We email a bit too.

      Alice Friedemann
      22 hrs ·
      in a letter to The Guardian, David Reed suggests:
      “The effort of collecting, transporting and cleaning plastics for possible recycling has largely failed, created much more pollution and contributed massively to climate change. The idea of burning plastics and using the energy to heat our homes was proposed by the plastics company Dow more than 30 years ago: it suggested treating all plastics as “borrowed oil”. At that time, ordinary domestic waste had a calorific value of low-grade coal, so the suggestion was that this waste should be burned in efficient plants with heat recovery and treatment of the gases produced, perhaps even trapping the carbon dioxide produced, rather than trying to recycle the complex (and dirty) mix of plastics. Today, with higher use of more complex plastics, this makes even more sense. Mixed plastics cannot really be recycled: they are long-chain molecules, like spaghetti, so if you reheat and reprocess them, you inevitably end up with something of lower performance; it’s called down-cycling.”
      While this could be polluting if not done right, people will certainly turn to burning plastic and anything else they can get their hands on at some point of energy decline. Better to do it correctly now in an incinerator than in backyards in the future as well as to protect our land and waterways from plastic pollution right now.
      Preface. Vaclav Smil doesn’t mention using plastic for heat, but in a letter to The Guardian, David Reed suggests: “The effort of collecting, transporting and cleaning plastics for poss…

      Vaclav Smil on natural gas (ethane) and plastics
      Preface. Vaclav Smil doesn’t mention using plastic for heat, but in a letter to The Guardian, David Reed suggests: “The effort of collecting,…

  14. @Steven Kurtz
    “at bottom an idealist”
    One of Koch’s books was titled ‘Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist”. He spent many years at Cal Tech working very closely with Francis Crick.

    I was looking at the publications of an in-law this morning. He started as a conventional reductionist back in the days when sequencing the genome was supposed to solve all our problems. Now he is writing articles about the vast sea of genetic material in which humans swim. I’m not sure the conventional distinctions hold any more.

    At any rate, when someone says “it’s all in the genes”, I want to immediately ask them “which genes, out of that vast ocean of genes?”

    Don Stewart

    • “In the genes,” in my usage, is shorthand for “determined by genes, epigenetics, and experiences since conception.” I think I’ve posted that before. Free will is overrated at best. See Galen Strawson.

    • @Steven Kurtz
      I don’t have any strong opinions on the subject of Free Will. I’ll just observe the parallel with Quantum Mechanics. There are so many possible branches that we could end up postulating a ‘many worlds’ theory if the possibilities are not ‘collapsed’ by a choice.
      Don Stewart

  15. Harry Beck, say I.

    “Who the ‘eck is ‘arry Beck?” say you.

    He was the genius (see link below) who took a fairly complex thing and simplified it, mainly by looking at the problem from a different angle.

    In this complex age, we need to get rid of the ‘Why use two when you can manage with four?’ mentality and start to simplify things – beginning at a top level in government. For that, I think, we need a Bletchley Park system of free thinkers – people who can think round corners as well as in straight lines.


    • I believe they deliberately went out of their way to recruit across a cross-section of society and that some of the geniuses among them were oddballs and eccentrics.

    • Thanks.

      Being of simple mind, anyone who can simplify things to the extent that he did gets my approval.

    • I had the privilege of knowing, slightly, one of the Bletchley Park greats, Sir Harry Hinsley, who I believe was crucial in finally tracking down the ‘Bismarck’.

      Author, as well, of an excellent standard work on international relations.

      Not only brilliant, but a man of integrity and professionalism – not so common among the dons. (I remember him banging his
      – sadly crippled – fist on the table at the news of some misbehaviour on the part of a supervisor!)

    • I should imagine there were many interesting characters among them.

      Regarding “a man of integrity”, I’ve seen a few programmes about the place where none of those interviewed were prepared to disclose, even after all those years, what they’d sworn to keep secret.

  16. Tim noted, “I can’t resist mentioning C Northcote Parkinson here. He observed how, just as numbers of major Fleet vessels decreased by x%, dockyard employment increased, by y%, and administrative staff increased by 2 x y%.”

    Steve Ludlum’s First Law of Economics is “the cost of managing any surplus increase along with the surplus until at some point they exceed it.” Discussed in various of his posts at Economic Undertow. Create a surplus and everyone will attempt to feast on it, till it is gone. I think Steve Kurtz refers to this as the something power law.

    Here’s Steve in one of his essays contrasting “debtonomics,” his description of how the industrial and credit economy actually works, with “economics,” the fairly tale about how it works:

    “Industrial economies intend to manage diminished returns: the ‘First Law’ of economics: that the costs associated with any surplus increase along with it until at some point the costs exceed what the surplus is worth. Surpluses, by themselves, are the product of industry; they can be any tangible thing such as pins, machines, tycoon’s money or ‘wealth’: gold, fuel, food, material even livestock, cars, coal, water, cigarettes; anything. As surpluses expand so do costs; agents shift these costs onto third parties, using them as ‘cost sinks’. As Rognlie observes; “the economic concept central to diminishing returns, the elasticity of substitution between capital and labor” … is self-defeating.” See his “Debtonomics vs. Economics” essay.

    I can’t find the exact quote, but Immanuel Wallenstein, who developed worlds systems analysis and harped on and on about how the capitalist world system, which started in the 16th Century, harvested surplus/ bounty from the periphery to support the core, somewhere said that the fundamental problem of humanity is that of handling/managing surplus. And Jared Diamond identified agriculture as “the worst mistake in the history of humanity.”

    The original surplus is, of course, agricultural bounty, i.e., grain stores, which supported the rise of kings and priests and a much more stratified (class-ified) society i.e., created “elites.” (A term whcih, btw, should never be used without quotes or some other sarcasm as it unwittingly flatters and legitimates the status of those sociopathic creeps. You wouldn’t call someone “my lord” would you?) Contrast James C. Scott, who points out that, without grains, there are no civilizations as we understand them (see his book, “Against the Grain”).

    IDK, a case could be made that figuring out how to exploit fossil fuels was “the absolute worst mistake,” because the surplus available from that energy source has allowed us to do far more damage to the world, nature and ourselves. Those alive today are privileged, among all humans in history, to have witnessed this, and to have internalized it as an expectation of what’s “normal.”

    • Fabulous overview, Tagio, thank you, and truly bang IMO, well done. You reminded me of a recent re-reading of ‘Sapiens’ – much the same assessment.

    • Yes, the exploitation of fossil fuels has caused great harm, but it is easy to see why we jumped at the chance to use them. Maintaining a stable agrarian society with a stable population involves not only a lot of hard work in the fields, but stultifying class stratification and methods of maintaining population stability that most people would rather avoid (check out infanticide in Edo period Japan).

      And in the early years, when the damage from fossil fuels was minimal to non-existent (think of the forests that didn’t need to be cut down), the power of coal must have seemed like manna from heaven. It took a long time for us to become completely addicted to fossil fuels and for their adverse impact on the environment to become manifest. Now it is too late to change course and forgo them. The end result will be horrific increases in the mortality rate.

    • It’s interesting to speculate in an idle moment on the course that human history would have taken if the social, economic, intellectual and legal, conditions for the exploitation of fossil fuels had not come about in 17th-18th century Western Europe.

      Accumulated capital from centuries of trade, security of property, law-bound rulers, sophisticated finance and accounting, philosophical freedom of enquiry, etc, in a context of intense inter-state rivalries.

      The path we have taken was by no means inevitable. If Islam, which became resolutely anti-scientific in bias in the early Middle Ages, and which never really established security of life and property in the face of despotic Divine rulers on the Asian model, had conquered and converted the early Christian kingdoms of the West it might all never have developed.

      The idea that all energy gradients must inevitably be exploited seems erroneous and unhistorical.

      But, once discovered and opened up, nothing could stop this.

    • Xabier,

      The idea that all energy gradients must inevitably be exploited seems erroneous and unhistorical.

      “all energy gradients” is a lot. 😉 Even if your scenario had occurred, wouldn’t the timeline likely change but the eventual outcome be similar?


  17. Only a few Isolated Victorian pessimists, such as John Ruskin and the novelist Richard Jefferies, saw where the coal-based civilisation was heading: mass death wallowing in aerial and terrestrial filth.

    It all spread from those first few factory and foundry chimneys visible in the later works of JMW Turner

    In the era of global plastic rain (it was ‘acid rain’) in my youth, even they would be astonished at the extent of pollution and mass-poisoning.

    • It’s interesting to speculate on what might happen if we discovered one or more huge new, low-ECoE oil fields now.

      That isn’t going to happen – but if it did?

      Environmentalists would call for us to leave that oil in the ground.

      Big business, and government, might, I think, contend that we should exploit it.

      But where is the ordinary person in this?

      Probably, I think, in favour of exploiting it.

      This is the effect of 250 years of conditioning, making us believe that “growth” is not only “good” in itself, but synonymous with “progress”.

      250 years is a blink of the eye in evolutionary terms. That the belief in “growth” has established so strong a hold, in such short a time, suggests that we’re ‘quick learners’.

      But can we learn new ideas, replacing this validation of “growth”, in an even shorter time?

      We look back at earlier times in ways that are a mix of the patronizing and the genuinely shocked – ‘how on earth could people back in xxxx not have realised that raw sewage caused epidemics?’, and so on.

      Likewise, historians in 2120, with the benefit of hindsight, might be asking “why couldn’t those people back in 2020 see that “growth” was over, and that their gimcrack financial system couldn’t possibly escape collapse?”

    • Getting rid of half of them might be more feasible.

      In the stereotyped example, husband and wife now have to plan – who has the car, when, how to the children get to or from school, the parents to work, doing the shopping? That’s inconvenient.

      But there’s definite upside, too. No traffic jams, no problem finding somewhere to park, far less stress, much lower costs – and cleaner air, too. It’s a very hard sell, but not an impossible one, as it has benefits which offset the inconvenience.

    • Read your blog for several years Steve. That is, if it is you. Great blog.

      What was it, hopeless? I get tired of it too sometimes.

    • Yes, Thanks. Ludlum has been mentioned here before. Via a link there I got to Doomstead Diner which I had come across before. A post there showed that Aldous Huxley foresaw the likely blow-up we now face – in 1928, prior to _Brave New World_ It involved system breakdown from resource bottlenecks, wealth inequality, and he even mentions population. The link near the end is to a page of Huxley’s novel _Point Counter Point_ – well worth a look.

      “Just a quick note:

      I’ve since sent my finding to a few ‘collapse’ related blogs. Got thanks from Kunstler, JM Greer and Ugo Bardi.
      Bardi even offered to publish it as a guest article if I’d give it the appearance of a post.
      I was glad at first… but if it was going to published, I’d rather have the original text appear for the proper ‘record’.

      I finally found it digitized and accessible for free on India’s Digital Library, and since Ugo suggested I prettied it up a little, I formatted it on a free floating web page using one of Google Drive newest options.


      **The mustache man is actually Lord Cunliffe (1855-1920), GBE, Governor of the Bank of England (1913-1918)
      but for the purpose of this post, he’ll pose as the fictional Lord Edwards Tantamount … !

  18. Why is it so difficult to acknowledge the evermore self-evident ‘end of growth’? It should be straightforward: all the indicators are there and fairly unambiguous in their message. Just like the utterly naked Emperor in the tale.

    Perhaps it is because our economy – and society – is not, and never has been, a product of purely rational actions and processes?

    Rational analysis tends to fall dead flat most times, at least in everyday life.

    We tend to grope for rationalisations, rather than reason: and this is just as true of think-tanks as other less exalted bodies. Politics, too, is mostly pure bluster, the pandering to delusion, and the ritual repetition of slogans – politicians should appear at altars, not behind stands with microphones…. Little ‘reason’ in any of this.

    This readily transposes to the macro-scale, without any need for distortion by wicked elites, vested interests and – most evil of the evil according to some – Boomers.

    Man stands in his own shadow, and is his own greatest enemy.

    It might be, too, that the human brain simply cannot take very much hard reality, particularly if it is uncomfortable.

  19. … “trying to run a supposedly capitalist system without positive returns on capital” … The concept of pensions makes no sense if one cannot get a reliable and low-risk return on investments. Young people must surely be getting the idea that (1) too many jobs have poor benefits, and (2) whatever pension plans they have are woefully underfunded, and earn very little. Therefore they have ZERO chance of building the kind of wealth that their parents did to secure a comfortable old age. Given these circumstances, how long will it be until young people are out in the streets, demanding new economic priorities?

  20. https://megacancer.com/2019/12/16/merry-christmas-from-the-big-bang/

    We do Not have a choice:

    „An individual’s “success” in life, in acquiring and consuming resources or having many offspring is the thermodynamic success of the Universe which uses and shapes humans and other life for its dissipative bidding. You think you are successful, but you have been used to further the apparent goals of an expanding Universe. It’s no accident that successful dissipation bolsters your self-image and gives you a good feeling as your homeostasis is maintained. More money, more food, more investments, more children, more dopamine, more………. it all feels good and that’s no accident. The Universe leads you through life in an endless quest for more free energy gradients and after each acquisition the happiness seems to fade until another is found.“

    • I’m with you and James, (Megacancer author who is also on a small list I co-own)


    • Try turning down the thermostat on central heating and see how quickly your wife mentions Divorce……

      ‘Being comfy’ ie thoughtless use of available resources = implied mating suitability, reproductive success and longevity.

      Note: handing her a saw and an axe, and suggesting she visit the local wood will probably not work as an alternative strategy.

    • https://ellenbrown.com/2011/04/16/libya-all-about-oil-or-all-about-banking/

      Libya has a few clues. This from Ellen Brown in 2011.
      Alex Newman wrote in the New American:

      In a statement released last week, the rebels reported on the results of a meeting held on March 19. Among other things, the supposed rag-tag revolutionaries announced the “[d]esignation of the Central Bank of Benghazi as a monetary authority competent in monetary policies in Libya and appointment of a Governor to the Central Bank of Libya, with a temporary headquarters in Benghazi.”

    • Thanks for the link Roger – it makes the US and its allies come across as the axis of evil at times.

      As a sidenote Libya’s part in the 1988 Pan Am bomb has always been disputed.

      Just to avoid and confusion is piece about the rebels forming s bank from March 2019?

    • Hi no problem – a happy New Year to you too although – in my view – it’s got off to a terrible and frightening start.

  21. This Varafoukis Lecture on The Nature of Money was brought to mind today after watching a more recent interview he gave to a French interview channel in February 2019, recommended to me by a French friend today.

    In the second one He is asked to explain the Exponential Function.
    @ 24.08 income was around 55 trillion just say
    55 there are too many zeros to worry
    25:52 about 55 the total size of financial
    25:57 derivatives was 70 okay so total income
    26:02 another world
    55 26:05 total derivatives 70 2007 exponential
    26:12 growth okay this is this global income
    26:17 had risen because of globalization from
    26:19 55 to 70 from in six years as a lot from
    26:23 55 to 70 growth in the size magnitude
    26:28 volume of the river
    26:30 others from 70 to 780 , nice so to
    26:38 put it bluntly planet Earth was not big
    26:40 enough for this bubble say burst in 2008

    Steve Keen A good friend of Varafoukis has published and been linked to here on the Physiocrats and the Energy aspects of the Economic System. The point is though that it’s not only about Energy qua energy.
    Which brings me to Dominic Cummings? I actually read all of the linked-to papers and blogs, After the whole exercise I have more doubts about Dominic Cummings before I started, The Un-necessary, “I will bin you”, machismo is rather off-putting. This Talk on the Edge web site is very good, Cummings would do well to watch it and internalise the ideas. https://www.edge.org/conversation/lee_smolin-the-causal-theory-of-views
    This is a very good video on Di-Electric Magnetism, now this guy is a proper misfit. What’s more, he is I think very close to scientific truth as we would get to, absent vested interests. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KooPsEE7E-Q

    Smolin really is onto something as is this man.


    I had reblogged this but as it hadn’t appeared I have re-posted instead. For a Blog that purports to be about scientific rigour, it seems to me that Scepticism, essential to the scientific enquiry, should welcome other points of view. The edge site is particularly good at that, at the edges of Human Knowledge, the way forward is not placed onto a handy shelf of bumper stickers.

    “All men in this and other countries are accustomed from youth
    to measure the increase or diminution of wealth by dollars or other
    denominations supposed to be units of value…. Even when the facts
    are understood, the idea that the change is in the value of the commodities measured, and not in that of the dollar itself, is so natural
    that a long and severe course of mental discipline is necessary to get
    rid of it. Indeed, we question whether the most profound economist
    can be entirely successful in this respect “(Newcomb, 1879, p. 230).

    Click to access 6360154.pdf

    “The idea of electricity as a flow of ‘electrons’ in a conductor was regarded by Oliver Heaviside as “a psychosis”. This encouraged Heaviside to begin a series of writings
    Also consider the J.J. Thomson concept of the “electron” (his own discovery). Thomson considered the electron the terminal end of one unit line of dielectric induction. “Electrons as a separate, distinct entity…doesn’t really exist, they are merely bumps in something called a ‘field’.” – Dr. Steve Biller

    • WOW, I can’t thank you enough for all this Roger – I am but a poor soul as far as advanced physics goes and my math requires something to be desired! After 75 years – at last a viable explanation – and I love short pithy videos.

      I did Chem, Bio, Phys at ‘A’ level in 1963 but instead of going to Imperial College to study biochemistry, I got diverted and joined a local car auction instead – great income, poor academic learning environment!

      I have retained a passing interest in science and through computing learned more about this subject – but your short videos tell an amazing story – isn’t this generally accepted by the mainstream theoretical physicists in their ivory towers? Here we have a unified theory – amazing. So, light really is a wave form and photons are a human virtual construct, like time.

      You have made my day – what an wonderfully knowledgeable site has Dr Tim enabled. I have passed it to my sons, one is an electrical engineer and the other a computer programmer (open source/Linux). I am sure that it will blow their minds unless they already know. I am definitely going to buy a Toroflux! https://www.google.com/search?client=firefox-b-d&q=toroflux – £5

      Have you come across Prof. John R R Searle?- worth a look – he might have stumbled into dielectric fields too: http://www.searlsolution.com/

    • Hi Peter,
      This Eric Dollard Video is very well worth watching its 3 and a half hours long but worth the time I assure you.

      Eulers Identity and other “Constants are In my view related to Electro Magnetism and field theory.

      My own research in these matters relates to Sound and Signal processing, particularly FFT analysis, I have also modelled Timbre in guitar bodies and pickups the Time and frequency domains are mutually exclusive in computation and windowing in computer modelling have profound effects on matters of precision. Always one as a modeller one must remember the Map is not the territory. an ancient and wise Military Aphorism.

      Claes Johnson
      is my tutor of choice in Applied Mathematics and FInite element analysis,
      his ebook the Dr Faustus of Modern Physics is well worth taking the time to read and then to ponder.

      Wal Thornhill and the Electronic Universe and Maurice Cotterals theory of Gravity, also Hoyle and Alfven on Steady State theories and Plasma Cosmology all fall outside of the deterministic Atomism of Post Copenhagen consensus Bohrite Dogma. Most of the good science is done in Garden Sheds in the back yards of FlyOver America and North of Watford and outside of Metropolitan areas,
      Being handy with Bale String and Gaffer tape can lead to a whole world of discovery and invention, it was ever thus.

      Listen to Alfvens two Nobel Lectures they are nothing short of inspiring.

    • Thank you once again Roger, all most enlightening for me. And I will definitely follow up once I have cleared the publishing of my book this quarter. I have saved your comment and will return asap. My life is becoming somewhat busy!

    • Hi, Peter, I have looked at the Searle Link when you have posted it before. I have had an interest in zero-point energy for many decades. My contention is that the earth is a perpetual motion Machine within a perpetual motion cosmos system. The Earth System Dynamo sits right before our noses and the problems we face are to do with Enclosure and False scarcity narratives, human constructs of institutionalised control for the protection of ingroup elite privilege.
      Anthropocentric thinking is a peculiar hubris of a certain breed of control freakery.

    • Yes Roger, I agree with you. It seems that I am not normal either – being a person to question everything. It offers and exciting and fulfilling life and at my age I should think about slowing down but actually life is speeding up.

      My father (an amateur philosopher) taught me ‘elegant sufficiency’:

      Elegant Sufficiency
      Having enough for fulfillment, while avoiding waste and excess, valuing quality over quantity.

      Ummm, have to remind myself again!

  22. As a straw poll I wonder how many Seeds commenters possess a soldering Iron? How many Seeds commenters can programme in or use Python or have any rudimentary skills sufficient to compile their own applications from Source? How many people here use Gnu/Linux.
    Tim uses Duckgo go as his browser of choice how many others use another browser outside of the Google Suite?
    On the Cummings Blog post this was the site I found most interesting of all that Dominic found interesting.

    This statement stood out?
    “No normal person sees an app
    and thinks “I can make that myself.”
    Or even “I can modify that
    to do what I actually need.”

    By that definition I am not a normal person, I think the statement is false it is natural in all of us to question, to ask why? We are trained and indoctrinated not to do it, that’s rather different to not having a natural inclination to do it anyway.

    In the Pavlovian dystopia of surveillance Capitalism, it is more important than ever to make Orwell Fiction again.
    “The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those who speak it”. George Orwell

    • Well, I can program in Python (although I dislike Python), can compile from source, and use Linux.

    • To answer Roger’s question:
      1) I have a couple of soldering irons – one temperature controlled. I mainly use them for general electronics repair.
      2) I can’t program in Python – but I have dabbled in C and Java.
      3) I do use Gnu/Linux. And I have complied and installed programs. The last big compile job was a new kernel.

    • And I’ve got a soldering iron. I gave up on electronics when transistors arrived – I couldn’t see the little devils and they didn’t light up so I was unsure if they were working. I once built an oscilloscope from old TV parts and an ex WD CRT.

      This completes my claim to fame, Oh, I forgot C (Mark Williams compiler) and 4GLs in the 1980s.

  23. The “blame game” is part of hierarchical and tribal competition. It solves nothing in the big picture. It merely shuffles positions of relative power of groups.

    • The intellectually aggressive hedgehogs knew one big thing and sought, under the banner of parsimony, to expand the explanatory power of that big thing to “cover” new cases; the more eclectic foxes knew many little things and were content to improvise ad hoc solutions to keep pace with a rapidly changing world.
      In: Justin Fox. “How to Be Bad at Forecasting,” in Harvard Business Review, May 11, 2012.
      About prediction and forecasting. Fox commented that “psychologist Philip Tetlock (following the lead of Isaiah Berlin), divided the world of political forecasters into hedgehogs and foxes.”
      Tetlock is one of Dominic Cummings Go To’s.
      People who screw up or act illegally or Criminally Negligently, a big Clue, Bankers in 2008, should go to jail. That No Big wigs did and haven’t really since Enron and the Savings and loans scandals before. That’s not the Blame Game it’s asking that no one should be above the Civil or Criminal Legal and justice systems let alone Sat astride it and mocking it.

    • I don’t like abuse of power any more than you do. Go for it! Good luck, as you’ll need plenty. Scale will destroy all. Reset the deck chairs on the Titanic. 😉

  24. IRAN – a SEEDS take on the economy

    Re. assessing the tensions between Iran and the US/West, here are some findings on the economy of the Islamic Republic, drawn from SEEDS.

    I should caveat that available data for Iran is not wholly satisfactory, particularly over debt numbers. IMF data is useful, the BIS doesn’t list Iran in its credit data, and official Iranian stats are hard to navigate. Other sources are patchy on Iran.

    Starting with estimated GDP for 2019, the local number translates to $450bn based on market F/X rates, but the PPP equivalent (about $1,450bn) is probably much more reliable. C-GDP is probably very similar, in that there seems, unsurprisingly, to have been little or no ‘debt-bingeing’ “credit effect” behind Iranian GDP.

    ECoE, put by SEEDS at 7.0% (2019), is surprisingly high for a significant energy-exporting country. In USD PPP, prosperity per person is estimated at $16,300 (though only $5,080 in market dollars).

    Importantly, prosperity per capita is falling quite rapidly. SEEDS data shows it down by 16%, both local and USD PPP, since the recent peak in 2011. (It has dropped even further in market dollars, but what markets think about the Iranian currency isn’t ‘fact’). Prosperity in constant Rial is falling by between 3% and 4% annually, according to SEEDS.

    I’m posting this comment because realistic and useful economic info on Iran seems thin on the ground. Data converted into USD at market rates is virtually meaningless.

    Objectively, Iran has a problem in that prosperity per person is falling rapidly – but it hasn’t ‘collapsed’, as some might think or assume.

    • Iran is an Islamic state, as such, it does not have the Deadweight of usury around its neck, merely of US sanctions. The Usury point is not to be trifled with although remains one of the great enduring taboos of Finacialised Capitalism and the Dismal Science.
      Prof. Helmuth Kreutz’s The Money Syndrome or Gringons Money Lent Twice to see how Usury is the problem and driver of a Growth imperative and all the absurd wastes and inefficiencies baked into the Cake to privilege the Financial parasite class.

    • The Islamic ban on usury is also in the Bible, and was enforced in Christian Europe until the sixteenth century. Opposition to usury seems a wise principle.

      This needn’t mean that all debt is necessarily bad (mortgages have helped many). But opposition to usury means, to me, that exploitation of others is always bad, and few instruments offer as much scope for exploitation as debt.

    • I agree about usury Tim and it has brought nothing but trouble upon large groups of people. However, I had a long discussion with Gerry about this when I was crafting my Chapter on Money. I had thought that money originated with tokens, like shells etc and then gold of course. But Gerry pointed out that money first began as credit: You do this for me and I will return at sometime in the future and repay you.

      Credit of course is the other side of debt. And as you say, debt can be good if it is used to yield a return like investing in productive machinery. Debt for consumption is not good as it is bringing forward future production and will eventually have to be balanced out – which is mostly where we are today.

      If companies has invested in income yielding assets instead of financialisation, buying their own shares etc then maybe we would be in a better place. It is of course a lot more complex than this but for me it is the core problem with crony capitalism.

    • @austrianpeter
      If you read the article on ‘the big defector’, you can see that investing a little money into the whole advertising/ big data/ AI business has returned enormous GDP and immense wealth. But does anyone here think that has been ‘productive’?

      It seems to me that our problems are much deeper than money and debt. I do agree that talking to governments has to begin with money. With corporations, it also ends with money. With Degrowth happening despite the best efforts of government, then they may turn to Quality of Life in desperation.

      Don Stewart
      PS. Every time I type ‘Degrowth’. the Apple software ‘corrects’ me too ‘Regrowth’. Enough said.

    • Thanks Don agreed. But you know they always say “follow the money” – I would not agree it is right, but it is what it is. And yes my own US online dictionary constantly confuses ‘degrowth’ – there, it has done it again. I have settled on ‘de-growth’ as it seems to like that!

    • Collapse of the credit system has likely the best chance of decreasing what you call usury. Until then, interest rates matching inflation should not be termed usurious, as retirees and those saving for it merely break even over time if rates of interest match inflation. If zero interest, they are pauperized over time.

    • Tim we agree on that, manipulated behaviour is not the same as determined behaviour it is a flaw at the centre of atomist logic. Graeber is very good on Debt Jubilees they were the ancients solution to the “Problem of Usury”. It’s a huge subject area I actually blame Jeremy Benthams In defence of Usury for the fall of sensible political defence against Usury. Bentham wrote that in an attempt to get Adam Smith to recant from his views against Usury. It’s a delicious Irony of all the Adam Smith fan boys who have not taken the Trouble to read Wealth of Nations let alone Smiths substantial Body of other work. Darwin is in many respects as dumbed down and bumper stickered as is Malthus.

    • Its a tautology, Chicken and egg.

      The Solution is to create bonds bearing equity returns on real investment, not Casino Captial Debt perpetuating the Hubris of the Financial Oligarchical class and its cronies sand henchmen.
      Taleb calls it asymmetric Risk and its a Skin in the game problem, too many dilettantes and not enough stakeholders. Moral Hazard no longer exists in the current bankrupt Model, there are people who are to Blame for this Steven, we all must acknowledge our own part in the idiotic artifice, some are more guilty than others, we all know which side we stand on when we clean our teeth or shave whilst looking in the mirror.

    • “Academic Taboo
      Challenging a paradigm in any field is always a risky business. In particular, challenging
      the monetary paradigm can be interpreted as violating an academic taboo. It somehow
      gets in the way in being invited to the top conferences or getting published in the most

      prestigious “peer-reviewed” journals. Let us take as example the most prestigious award
      of all, the “Nobel Prize in Economics”. Many people ignore that there is a significant
      difference between that economics prize and the other five established in 1901; the ones
      in physics, chemistry, medicine, literature and peace. The Economics prize is the only
      one that wasn’t created by the will of Alfred Nobel, nor is it funded by the Nobel
      Foundation. Its technical name is the “Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in
      Memory of Alfred Nobel”, and it was first awarded in 1969. Its laureates are selected
      exclusively by the Board of the Swedish central bank, and its funding is coming from the
      central bank. Is it surprising that none of the 64 Nobel Laureates in economics so far have
      made the mistake of challenging the monetary paradigm?

      Paul Krugman told the author personally in 2002 in Seoul, Korea, that he has always
      followed one piece of advice that his MIT professors had given him: “never touch the
      money system”. He did get the Nobel in 2008.

      The four layers that generate the blind spot in the monetary paradigm reinforce each other
      to the point of locking us into a pretty tight straightjacket around what is perceived as
      “normal” or “acceptable” in the monetary domain.”
      Bernard Lietaer. The Monetary Blind Spot by Bernard Lietaer

      Bernards Integral Theory of Money is also very good.

  25. Regarding Mis Pricing and misallocation of resources under advanced Financialised Capitalism this paper from 2010 by Saskia Sassen

    Click to access savage.pdf

    is very good regarding Debt as an instrument of Primitive accumulation, or Coercive Aggregation. These trends are Capital / Political and Ideological in nature and not I would argue driven by Energy imperatives but a necessity for keeping the medium of Exchange scarce so as to privilege one ingroup of Finacial Capitalists, the Roving Cavaliers of Credit as Marx called them. as such SEEDS is forecasting a problem which will arrive but could be postponed a little longer by Changing the Management.

  26. Talk about “appeal to authority” 😉

    My name is mentioned once in your 1000 word diatribe. I’m familiar with M. Kennedy’s work, and much else that you paste here.


    How does it change (from human intentionality and action) *sooner* than system crash or multiple decades long natural evolution? Do you propose pitchforks at a time when drones can control mobs? Why direct your energy at esoteric utopian theories?

    I hate fiat/credit based money too. But as our host says, this is what we’re stuck with now. You like to curse at the powerful and call them names. I choose instead to deal with probabilities going forward that will affect my son and grandsons, and small responses I can take in educating them with old skills as well as insights into system fragility/brittleness.

    • Steven,
      The sort of Name dropping you indulge your self in is an appeal to authority, Citing Sources with their own reasoning is not appealing to Authority it is the presentation of Argument and data as evidence.
      I know you are upset that you think I have not shown your wished-for level of deference to your “Systems Paper on Over-Population”, It is outdated and also superficial on its treatment of the subject. I spent a good deal of time structuring a reasoned argument in response, again citing evidence and data which is checkable, and challengeable and you responded with abusive emails and continued sour grapes on this site.

      What I have presented here in this discussion thread is all publicly available for review and readers here and elsewhere can make up their own minds. Your own feelings on the matter are of no interest to me Steven.
      Enjoy the rest of your day. I am getting ready for a business trip to London, maybe even to meet with Dominic Cummings for an interview. I’ll let you all know how I get on.
      With Best wishes and no Animus,

    • Please enlighten us as to the source of your claim that electromagnetism is not physical. Energy is physical if you recall, and electricity is energy. The Nobel Committee is all ears and ready to award a Prize.

    • I have responded here but the comment has not been published. It is copy and pasted onto my own blog.
      Regarding the charge of Diatribe and Esoteric utopian theories, I have not made any such arguments or any appeals to Authority. No, I do not propose pitchforks I subscribe to Erica Chernowerths research that non-violent civil resistance is what works and is the only plausible action in a State apparatus where the monopoly on violence and as you say access to instruments of surveillance capitalism are at the disposal of the current corrupted establishment leadership and being used with increasing frequency in France and the United States as well as in the so-called failed rogue states.
      Regarding your religious atheism Steven, your own zealotry does not convert into better arguments for the case you continually fail to make.
      Regarding the philosophy of mind and atomistic reductionist world view to which you claim no alternative Electro Magnetism is non-pyhsical, no one knows many of the answers that you claim to be settled, they simply are not.

    • Not taking sides here – I wouldn’t dream of it! – but I do wonder whether this debate-within-a-debate – is of any interest at all to ‘the general reader’?

  27. Straws in the Wind
    *Is this Reality?
    It’s hard to argue that turning a billion dollars into 500 billion dollars isn’t real. So maybe the Yellow Brick Road is paved with Advertisements guided by Big Data and AI?

    *Maybe solar panels aren’t such a great idea after all?

    *Maybe electrical gadgets are a bad idea?

    Actually, the description of stacked functions in the Too Much Combustion article leads me back to the ultimate stacking scheme that Albert Bates supports. The stacked functions works best, I think, for a family or small group located close to each other. For one thing, they require a lot of tending. There is no timer function with electricity and electrical control circuitry.

    I guess my main conclusions are:
    *Technology is much over-hyped in terms of increasing human flourishing.
    *The people who lust after even more technology are driving the ship toward the rocks.
    *It is useful to ponder a return to a biomass driven system, but as Australia shows all too well, biomass combustion will kill everyone unless it is tightly controlled in a CoolLab type environment.
    *The conclusion that the Earth can support 10 or 12 billion people with biomass requires the ‘end of the wild’, with everything turned into coppice (as I understand it). Which suggests to me that a more realistic target is 2 billion or less.

    Don Stewart

  28. @austrianpeter
    Jim Kunstler today uses the phrase:
    “it’s a hologram of a mirage of a Ponzi scheme”.

    Is that a better description of the Tech Boom in the US than ‘it’s a goose laying golden eggs’?

    Much depends on the answer….Don Stewart

    • Hi Don,
      I think he may be making a vague reference to a Churchillian quote::
      “I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest”.

      Equally, Jim is right, perhaps the key is the American national interest? They say a picture speaks a thousand words:

      Forgive if you have seen it already – it is fairly common – but I felt it encapsulates the essence of Jim’s point.

  29. Returning to our main theme, I would suggest that historically ‘quality of life’ has never been the principal concern of governments, or any entity in a position to levy taxes (nomad hordes, etc) until the oil flow permitted a certain self-indulgent fantasy to develop in the 20th century – the Welfare State, now nearing its end.

    At best, it has occurred to more enlightened and less brutal rulers (or their advisors!) that healthy, fat, sheep were all the better to sheer, and no more; or that taxing merchants regularly and reasonably works out better in the long run than arbitrarily seizing their goods and torturing them for ransom. This should never be mistaken for evidence of benevolent intent.

    As the flows of fossil fuels start to dry up, the behaviour of pre-Modern societies will be a far better guide to how things might develop.

    In the case of complex societies in decay, the lesson is generally that the wind is not ‘tempered to the lamb’ (the tax-payer), and the shears that are used get rather bloody as a system in decline attempts the hopeless task of maintaining itself and what is regarded as essential infrastructure against all the odds, until the whole thing collapses. Why should we be any different?

    • That’s how I view things, too. The kicking can routine via QE/ZIRP/NIRP/MMT is still operative, but if/when energy really bites, air will leave the balloon. No magic bullet is on the horizon unless fusion or an unknown surprises.

    • Quite so Xabier, thank you and I entirely agree, we are no different. The rules for the rulers never change and they will fight to end to preserve their advantage:

  30. Please note

    This morning I found a truly huge number of comments in the moderation queue. Looking at some of these at random, I found that they all came from the same source. I therefore did a block delete.

    Please accept my apologies if you had a legitimate comment, awaiting moderation, lost in this process.

    I’m hopeful that I can prevent this from recurring.

  31. One thing that strikes me is that the woeful state of the Western World’s pension ‘system’ in ‘off the radar’ for consumers. Over the next decade, most ‘baby boomers’ will retire and only a reducing fraction of these will have relatively secure, index-linked, defined benefit pensions to look forward to. The majority of UK individuals are now reliant on defined contribution arrangements, such as personal (or ‘private’) pensions that I’m involved with professionally.

    The majority of those I work with, whether accumulating or decumulating, are only dimly aware of the fact that they bear all of the capital risk and running costs of their DC pensions and are aghast when I enlighten them. The blanch when they realise how expensive guaranteed annuities are nowadays and many decide to ‘stay invested and hope for the best’ by drawing down from their pot. I see a looming disaster here as if/when the asset markets ‘correct’, many pension fund holders will quickly be in big trouble as their withdrawal rate will be unsustainable from a reduced fund value. They won’t necessarily have the time for things to recover (if indeed they ever do).

    Whilst a sensible compromise can be reached when looking at retirement options, the overwhelming sense of disappointment many individuals face is palpable.

    • Pensions have, in broad terms, been discussed here before. I have mentioned a WEF report about this a number of times, and have recently read a similarly comprehensive report from another source.

      I’ve estimated that, since 2008, we’ve probably blown a $100tn hole in global pensions adequacy, a number not dissimilar to the escalation in debt over the same period. I’ve also calculated that, where a person formerly (pre-2008) put aside 10% of his or her income for retirement, that would now need to rise to about 27% to provide the same outcome. This is unaffordable for the vast majority.

      The surge in asset prices has – seemingly – contradictory implications for pensions savers. On the one hand, seeing the $10,000 you invested rise to $20,000 sounds good. On the other hand, returns on each additional $1,000 you invest have collapsed.

      The reality, though, is that this is unalloyed bad news. Pensions are really all about incomes, and sustainable returns on assets, not nominal fund values. In general, capital gains are notional, in that they cannot (in the aggregate) be monetized (we can’t all be sellers).

      What’s really happened is that the income/asset pricing ratio has been bent out of shape.

      For reasons of their own, the authorities seem to set a very high priority on preventing an asset price slump. ZIRP, NIRP and so on send a clear signal – ‘consume, don’t save’. Put another way, prosperity trends have weakened to the point where agggregate saving has become unaffordable.

      A sting in the tail here is that anyone relying on funding their retirement by downsizing from a large to a smaller house might be well advised not to put too much trust in this process.

      The authorities might have been right to use ZIRP (etc) as emergency expedients in 2008-09. Making these “temporary” and “emergency” expedients permanent, though, has been a grotesque mistake. At best, we might hope for gradual falls in asset prices. The ‘next worse’ outcome would be a crash in prices, and ‘even worse’ would be rising inflation caused by monetary recklessness.

    • Maybe the retirees who will be coming on stream need to adapt and get religion: a new Carthusianism to make austerity in old age a virtue? Only porridge to eat, but you’ll get to Heaven…..

      Or start demanding serious money for dealing with grand-children, as is so often expected?

      Seriously, far too many people look forward to a retirement like the ads: all smiles, restaurants and holidays. Pure fantasy. Just like the bank loan ads, that promise to ‘Make your dreams reality’.

      Eventually, the increasingly impoverished mass of the elderly, savings and pensions wrecked, will be thrown on the state – at astonishing cost – deepening the hole we are in.

    • You are quite right, Xabier, alas! I have just been speaking to a gentleman aged 41 who earns £160,000 a year and wishes to retire by the age of 57. Whilst he may achieve his aim (and I sincerely hope he does), I don’t believe he will. He still has a mortgage of £170,000, you see, and a DC pension fund of a touch under £100,000. Sure, he can turn off today’s consumption and throw money at the mortgage and thus lose the ‘serfdom’ of debt – OK a mortgage might be described as ‘sensible debt’, but you get my point, I’m sure – but likely he won’t as he is just too interested in ‘sexy’ investments like venture capital trusts.

      Telling people boring things like ‘pay off you debt, then invest’, ‘insure your economic value through long-term ill-health insurance’, ‘insure your life if you have people who rely on your income’, etc. just don’t cut the mustard with those under about 50 nowadays. I do, however, believe that the outmoded concept of self-reliance might make a comeback.

      This is why I recommend the fascinating history of the investment trust sector to my clients. Look at people like Robert Fleming who persuaded Dundee businessmen to help get what is now Dunedin Income Growth up and running in February 1973. A fund that invested in the then leading emerging market of the day, the United States – this at a time before the invention of electric light, the telephone or the motor car, never mind air travel. As John Newlands wrote in his history of the fund, Fleming was a man who, before he was 30, had attained a position of influence in Dundee’s textile industry despite having left school at the age of 13 to work as an office boy on a starting salary of £5 per year. Go to Dunedin’s website, ring them up and they will send you a copy of their anniversary book (I have no connection to the fund or its managers).

      So, paying off debt, living frugally, insuring adequately and saving will, I hope , be the new order.

  32. Well, Dr. Morgan, after the recent events – namely, the murder of general Soleimani – do you still expect much wisdom from various governments?
    I frankly have no idea why anyone would expect anything except more and more bloodthirstiness. Can anyone make a case for why the opposite would happen? Some historical examples, or something?

    • I’m drafting something on this now, but can’t promise, as yet, to publish it. Geopolitics is certainly something we need to discuss as part of the energy-economics debate.

    • Vic K,
      the mask of spreading Freedom, Liberty and Democracy has been removed.
      The USA has finally exposed itself for what it really is: a self-serving, murderous, plundering, military Empire.
      All this chanting about abiding by International Law and respect for other nations sovereignty, was never anything more than bluster.
      This is a serious concern for us all, because it is a further step towards totalitarianism. If we let our government’s off with such behavior, it will not be long until open acts of violence are perpetrated against the citizenship.

      Worrying about your pension will become the least of your concerns.

  33. Indeed you have mentioned pensions many times, Dr. Tim, but some of the comments here fly far away from SEEDS and associated areas.

    If you pick up a Victorian/Edwardian novel, for instance, the characters are often banging on about whom much she or he is worth. They refer to income, not ‘net worth’ as we call ephemeral capital values today. This switch away from measuring ones ability to put bread and cheese on the table has been a big mistake, in my opinion. My happiest clients are those with modest savings/investments but an excess of income over expenditure with, in most cases, their ‘bottom line’ covered by ‘secure’ sources of income like annuities.

    These fortunate few will diminish rapidly in number as the return on capital deteriorates further.

    • An elderly lady, who kindly sold me bookbinding tools at a bargain price when I set up, told me that her Edwardian father had advised her to get ‘A good free-hold, free of mortgage, spend only part of one’s income – not capital – and buy good things which can be sold in emergencies for ready cash’.

      I also recall an old definition of middle-class which stated that one should be able to live off income from capital alone to be considered ‘solid’. No credit cards or real estate ‘flipping’ in sight!

      How far we have come from that sanity: more like aristos spending wildly on the basis of an anticipated fortune -which in our case will never arrive….

  34. Not having certainty about causation is a normal occurrence in complex systems. Positing mystical causes is a human action; it is not evidence of anything but human lack of knowledge. Re energy, I quote from your supposed rebuttal of my 20 yr old paper (any wanting to see the non-sequitur 2 pages please email me kurtzs at ncf dot ca)

    ” Electromagnetic radiation is energy. ” R. Lewis

    Perhaps you like the flexibility of changing your scientific views for whatever reasons. I prefer to remain uncertain unless there is shareable evidence rather than to give opinions about the unknown.

  35. Well done Tim, an interesting article and as you say, encouraging.

    “Lastly, and notwithstanding the kind (and beyond-my-merits) encouragement of some contributors here, I’m not going to be sending my CV to Downing Street. This, at least, frees me to muse on what I would be saying if I were submitting an application.”

    I think you should seriously consider it, though I know it won’t sit well with your Spanish retirement plans. Firstly, there is no guarantee that your work will otherwise receive the visibility that it needs to receive, unless you deliver it yourself to the halls of power. It does not receive very much visibility outside of the limited circles of the ‘transition movement’ at present. Whilst we enjoy your work and are appreciative, it is time for it to make its mark on the world. Raising awareness of the energy-economy paradigm could make an enormous difference to the future of mankind at this point. Lives could literally hang on whether the government (and other governments) know what is really going on and what to do about it.

    Secondly, you have spoken before about the need to make money out of your work in order for its development to be sustainable. The most obvious ways of doing this would be: (1) as a paid consultant to the government; (2) as a professor of energy-economics at a university. It is up to you, but I personally think your contribution to this field is worthy of financial reward. Maybe you can arrange to work from home?

    In my opinion, we will know whether Dominic Cummings gets the whole energy-economic paradigm, based upon what he has to say about UK energy policy. If he talks in washy terms about the need for more renewable energy and the need for security of energy supply (for fossil fuels) in competitive global markets, and the need for competitive UK energy markets; then he probably doesn’t. I say that, because that is exactly what every UK government has been saying for the past 25 years and it has led us to where we are now. If on the other hand, he starts talking about the need for native development and mass production of fast neutron nuclear reactors with closed fuel cycles and nuclear fission based research, in a state-led programme; then he probably does understand the situartion.

    Click to access Weissbach_EROI_preprint.pdf

    When energy losses and embodied energy of storage are taken into account, wind and solar power simply do not yield enough net energy to function as substitutes for fossil fuels within the infrastructure that we have built. There is no escaping this, as the EROI of these sources is limited by their poor power density, which is in turn limited by the energy flux of sunlight and wind, about 100W/m2 and 2W/m2, respectively. Compare that to the power density of a nuclear reactor core, which somewhere between 60-500MW/m3 – about a million times greater than equivalent solar power systems. That translates into the need for very large energy, material and land inputs for renewable energy infrastructure, compared to fossil and nuclear systems of comparable power.

    Thus far, renewable energy has allowed a reduction in utilisation and fuel consumption of fossil fuel power plants that serve as backup. Unless we are willing and able to accept lengthy power outages, this is the only arrangement that allows the sort of sustained supply to which industry and society have grown accustomed, at an affordable cost. Hence, a large build up in renewable electricity supply, will substitute rather than displace fossil fuels. And it requires maintaining two sets of infrastructure – both fossil and renewable.

    A prosperous future with anything like today’s living standards requires strong and increasing inputs from nuclear energy from this point onward. It needs to be done safely and will only be affordable if it exploits large economies of scale with dedicated supply lines for key components like turbines, steam generators and pressure vessels. And it needs to start whilst we still retain enough industrial capacity and money to pull it off.

    • Thanks Tony, glad you liked the article, and Mr Cummings’ initiative is encouraging. This doesn’t make me keen to join it though (and neither does it mean that my somewhat unconventional interpretation would be welcomed aboard!) Just to put you right on one minor point, I’ve not retired to Spain, but have moved here.

      What I do here isn’t just an intellectual exercise, but neither do I aspire to influence. Our shared approach – and my SEEDS model – are getting a lot of things right where the consensus approach is not. I enjoy the debate here, and the numbers visiting this site have increased very markedly in recent years.

      I’ve worked from home for years, seldom visiting London or NY since the late 1990s. That’s mainly because I don’t do my best work in an office environment.

      Time moves on, of course. But, for the time being, I’m happy doing what I do, and how I do it. Building SEEDS started out as an Everest (“to see if it could be done”) sort of project, but I really enjoy seeing the insights that it delivers, and will be making more use of its output here in the coming months.

      Since you’ve asked a serious question, you’re entitled to a serious answer. If Mr Cummings (or someone like him) invited me to carry out a realistic, SEE-based analysis of a country’s economy, concluding with a survey of the issues needing to be addressed and a range of preferred options, that would be of great interest. But Whitehall, and politics, and London are not for me. But it’s just as likely – rather, as unlikely! – that I could do something similar in a private sector context.

    • For those who are curious about UK’s fast reactor program (and that of other countries), here’s a good overview: fissilematerials.org/library/rr08.pdf
      As far as I can tell (and I’m very interested in this), as of 2020, Rosatom’s project is still the only plausible chance of creating an economically viable fast reactor.

    • Thanks Vic, a good summary, though I would say somewhat pessimistic as it is written by anti-proliferation activists who appear to be bent towards discouraging development of the FBR. Their concerns have some validity, but it does skew their overall appraisal of the concept. Due to the presence of a secondary cooling circuit, sodium fires are an operational problem, not so much a nuclear safety problem. But this additional engineering does push up capital costs. On the other hand, the sodium fast reactor has superior core power density compared to a PWR and does not require a pressure vessel. It also allows use of metallic fuel which is suitable for electro refining; much cheaper than traditional reprocessing methods and proliferation resistant. For more about that, read ‘Plentiful Energy’.

      Click to access PlentifulEnergy.pdf

      Suffice to say, there are pros and cons when choosing nuclear fuel cycles. The most significant issue so far as I can see is that the Earth’s supply of fissile material does not appear to be sufficient to support nuclear energy as a large scale replacement for fossil fuels for more than a few decades without some sort of breeding cycle. And yet there is no other extant technology capable of substituting fossil fuels on the requisite scale. There are actually quite a few options for achieving a breeding cycle. Possible coolants are liquid metals (sodium, NaK, lead, lead-bismuth, lithium) or compressed gases (S-CO2, helium, steam). There are fuel cycle options (metal, oxide and nitride) which have different issues in terms of reprocessing and cladding / coolant compatibility. There are options that were never considered in the FBR programmes of the 1970s-90s. These include S-CO2 as a secondary coolant in the sodium cooled reactor or as a primary coolant in a direct cycle. This has received some attention from MIT. Slightly more difficult, but maybe more promising in terms of avoiding doubling time problems; is the fusion-fission hybrid reactor. This uses fast neutrons yielded by fusion to fast-fission a natural or depleted uranium blanket.

      None of these technologies have been subject to serious development outside of Russia, India or China, because the OECD countries remain completely blindsided to the juggernaut that is approaching.

  36. I think someone needs to help me out at this point. At the risk of embarrassing myself in such esteemed company, I need help in understanding why exposing Dr Morgans excellent SEEDS analytical tool to a greater audience is such a good idea ?
    Isn’t it a great risk that advertising the fact that the economy is an energy equation and the energy supporting it is becoming too expensive, in ECoE terms, to access ?
    I base this question on the additional fact that the fiat monetary system is a faith based system, and once the truth is understood there may well be ( I suggest – probably will be ) a rush for the exit.
    ( Self fulfilling prophesy an’ all that ? )
    I am a Licensed Aircraft Engineer by trade and have no qualification in this area of discussion other than what I have learned over the past 15 years of concerned enquiry.
    Thank you, Dr Tim, for your excellent illumination. Both yourself and Gail Tverberg are essential reading.

    • Thank you.

      I think the risk would only be real if the energy basis of the economy was some kind of secret, or if the influence of myself, and of others working on similar lines, was vastly greater than it is. Even then, the other side of the argument would be that people are entitled to the maximum range of information. The only thing that, perhaps, I do and others don’t is putting numbers, on it using SEEDS.

      My view is that, in recent times, trends have taken a dangerous new turn, with the authorities seemingly determined to do whatever it takes to prevent a slump in over-inflated asset prices. That is an objective than can only be pursued by pouring yet more newly created money into the system. If faith in fiat currencies were to be lost, it would be this process and these policies that would bring it about, not any discussion of this issue here, or anywhere else.

    • Its like a drop of water in a stadium that doubles every second. We all cheer as our feet become wet. By the time it reaches the knees we all start running.

      Fiscal stimulus through monetizing gov debt, and a large tax on savings. E voila; consumption!

      The new equilibrium that approaches will show its ugly face in due time.

      Just make sure you have a plan B for yourself.

      Like becoming a member of a local kitchen garden.

      You cannot taper a ponzi!

  37. New Limits to Growth Study

    This is the first I have heard about the results of this model. I haven’t had the time to dig through a lot of it, but it seems at first blush to reconfirm what the now ancient Limits To Growth model predicted….using less of everything is the only solution.

    On the other hand, somebody at Stanford has put out a study which allegedly shows that carbon capture and storage is not needed because renewables are going to simply make fossil fuels un-economic.

    Of course, all this may be idle speculation as political leaders prepare to blow up the world fighting over control of fossil fuels.

    Don Stewart

    • “This is the first I have heard about the results of this model. I haven’t had the time to dig through a lot of it, but it seems at first blush to reconfirm what the now ancient Limits To Growth model predicted….using less of everything is the only solution.”

      Or perhaps, move to, or at least start mining resources that are outside our sphere of influence until now.


      Just a thought. Many people automatically find this idea ridiculous, but I think it is the only option that makes any long term sense if we want our grandchildren to enjoy the sort of living standards that we have now.

  38. The living standards we have now are, demonstrably, not essential to a full human life.

    It is the futile attempt to create and maintain impossible living standards and structures which destroys civilizations.

    Perhaps we should accept the rise and fall of civilizations as we accept the growth and death of individual humans and other animals?

    Our current civilization is a laboratory for madness, the sickness of soul, body and Nature itself , in many respects.

    This is less apparent in the West, where we have cleverly managed to push the real damage -human and environmental – to the fringes and impose them on poor and powerless people globally, to our shame. Then we preen ourselves on our green policies and reduced use of energy……

    • +10 Xabier. Why is re-thinking our current way of life always a non-starter for so many people?

  39. Dave Pollard on Complex Systems
    Collective Intelligence to Make Sense of Complexity

    To start: It seems to me that the core discussion on Surplus Energy is about a Complicated Problem. The ultimate fate of the debt driven economic system encountering rising ECoE can be pretty accurately forecast. The same is true of climate change. Some smart people can build models starting with fossil fuel depletion and energy density and population and make pretty good forecasts of the future.

    To continue: The problem becomes Complex when we try to figure out how to change the system to cope with the accurately forecasted future. While many people profess certainty about how the various players will react when the status quo becomes untenable…it’s probably true that nobody knows with any certainty.

    Don Stewart

  40. Retails sales fell for the first time since 1995 in the UK – the headline bed are expressing a sense of shock.

    The don’t seem to be able to understand that real incomes are falling and personal debt is far too high.

    • And I’m not even sure if these numbers allow for inflation….

      I listened to somebody saying yesterday that the US (and other advanced economies) are “producing more [GDP] with less [material inputs]”. Might even be true – but only if you believe credit-inflated GDP numbers!

      Retail sales, car registrations, consumer credit, hardship, ‘just about managing’ – these trends paint a consistent picture, I think.

      Is the UK still wise to spend £100bn+ on a railway that won’t be open for decades?

      P.S. It’s only fair to add that, whatever’s happening to the British economy, the Euro Area is faring even worse.

    • My general feeling is that Cummings is seeking a mathematical means to work through various paradoxes of which the growth, degrowth, fossil fuel paradoxes are the most pressing. He may also be interested in the Pareto efficiency/optimality.

      Others are listed here.

      In this respect, he might well be searching for an optimal choice between
      +1+1= +2
      -1 -1 = – 2
      +1 – 1 = 0

      Interestingly, +1 – 1 = 0 seems to articulate the Nash Equilibrium but may also represent the dielectric = magnetism conundrum as well as the dialectic (thesis and antithesis = synthesis.

      If he is, I’m not sure he is going to be successful, since I don’t think the mathematicsal optimal exists. Mainly because the optimal is always dependent on the variables and the ratios that exist in real-time especially in relation to
      Economic/ecological capacity
      Population growth/stabilisation/reduction
      Human consumption/production.

      My musings may obviously be very wide off the mark.

      But thanks to the very wide ranging inputs on what are a very vexing set of problems.

    • Well let’s hope so – he has a chance to at least understand the needed adjustments to our economy.

      Here’s a link to Forbs who seem very happy with US shale oil production and the oil they get from Canada.

      It almost looks like putting two fingers up at the Middle East but the actual investors in shale oil would have a different view and would be more cautious.


    • The shale story, from an energy economics perspective, is instructive.

      In energy terms, shale production is ‘worth having’. But, for the various reasons we’ve discussed before, it’s not ‘commercially viable’.

      This makes it logical for the US to subsidise it. But subsidy must come at the expense of something else.

      As ECoEs rise, this kind of conundrum is likely to become more frequent. We can’t escape the ‘price’ of energy subsidy by printing money [there’s no ‘ free lunch’] so we end up paying for subsidising energy in one way or another.

      This is de-growth in action – energy keeps flowing, activity keeps happening, but a higher proportion of total value goes into energy supply, leaving less for everything else.

    • @Dr. Morgan
      I have previously asked the rhetorical question “Where could the energy subsidy come from?”. If we are producing no other form of dense energy from which to get the subsidy, then we can’t subsidize it except with huge volumes of low density energy.

      Cary King’s paper is interesting in that, if I understand it correctly, the subsidy is coming from wages. Cary has a sector model, and he assume that the ‘capitalist’ parts of the economy are favored over wages. As the total output of the economy falls, and if the capitalist sectors are made whole, then wages have to fall…as they have been since 1970.

      Don Stewart

    • If I may respond slightly simplistically, of course some group must lose out in income terms as prosperity decreases. If that group is wage-earners, though, ever more people are not only angered but pushed into abject hardship. That, I suspect, would be a recipe for destabilising the system. That might be why some owners of capital think (albeit mistakenly) that investing in a bunker might be a good idea. It’s also why I expect pressure for redistribution to grow markedly.

      Capital, on the other hand, might be said to be losing its value already – we are already, after all, trying to run a “capitalist” system without returns on capital.

      Capital’s nominal value is hugely overpriced (and is probably heading for a sharp correction), whilst its real value – measured as the current equivalent of what it can earn in the future – seems to be decreasing as returns on capital fall ever lower. Take the widely-assumed “growth” component out of valuation calculus and the real (DNPV) value of capital falls yet further.

      These are reflections, on which comment would be particularly welcome as I think through an article on “what this [SEE/ECoE/de-growth] means for businesses”.

    • @Dr. Morgan
      I made a follow on comment before I read this. But let me just float one speculation. Consider the ‘hedonic adjustment’. It is used to understate inflation and thus suppress social security payments directly and adjust other benefits down more indirectly. And if the ordinary workers somehow fails to recognize that a 5G network is 5 times as beneficial to him as an old 1G network…well, he is just too stupid to understand economics.

      And further suppose that virtually all of the mass communications networks are under the control of a handful of trillionaires and giant corporations. The old Labor Union newspapers are only dusty memories.

      I’m not arguing that the situation is stable. But it may be a lot harder to overturn than we might imagine. Consider all the labor that went into the Great Wall of China. It was built not so much to protect the masses of workers in China, but to protect their ruling class. When the Mongols finally over-ran the wall, I don’t think it had much impact on the ordinary peasant. In the Middle Ages in Europe, the farmers owed the Lord a fixed number of days per year of fighting neighboring Lords. Of course, the Church was in on the deal, telling the peasants that God put the Lords where they were, and the only way to learn what God was thinking was to listen to the Church. Lasted a lot longer than a skeptical modern mind would likely believe possible.

      Don Stewart

    • IMHO Tim, return on capital by rentiers has always taken precedence, in our ‘capitalist’ system, over labour.and it was only the Unions over the last 100 years that labour secured a pitiful percentage of the capital returns.

      Of course, Maggie destroyed union power in the 1980s and introduced privatisation which further enriched the elites and has resulted in the extreme wealth disparities extant today. Only a fundamental change in the way our economic and financial systems work will correct these (I will be kind) unintended consequences.

      In Chapter 13 of my book I speculate on the emergent economy arising after the coming crisis which IMO cannot be avoided, viz:

    • “…..then wages have to fall…as they have been since 1970”

      Odd isn’t it Donald, that this date coincides with the failure of Bretton Woods and the global financial system moving to fiat currencies on 15th August 1971. Everything that has gone wrong since then could be laid at this door but of course there are many other factors at work in our complex system of economics.

  41. Hi Tim regarding HS2 – if you go online and look for this article

    ‘HS2 destroyed trees in way of train line without permission’

    You’ll see wonton destruction of ancient woods and hedgerows is still going on while it’s under review.

    If built I wouldn’t be surprised if the final cost is £150bn .

    If car ownership falls to a level where motorways are far less crowded perhaps one lane could be designated for fleet of hybrid coaches to provide any extra capacity needed for Birmingham and the North.

    In the future – due to falling incomes – we do know that luxuries like travel will be affected so coaches could provide a much lower cost flexible alternative for the Government.

    Getting to the M1 from a coach station near Kings Criss could be achieved by modifying the Finchley road.


    • Good points, Donald. I fail to see why anyone still thinks HS2 a good idea. Even those who believe in the ‘conventional’ economics of ‘growth’ must surely recognise that people need more and better trains now, not faster trains at some far-distant point in the future.

      After all, if you have a comfortable, roomy carriage, and have your smartphone/tablet/laptop with you, are you really keen on getting to your destination ten or twenty minutes sooner? Wouldn’t it be better to eliminate the time that you waste, right now, waiting uselessly for trains that are late, never come at all, or have no available seats?

    • Agreed current infrastructure needs updating first.

      I’m not sure how much the coach system I suggested would cost but let’s say £10bn to update the motorways – provide a link road to the M1 – the fleet of coaches and a computer system which maintains a set gap between each departure

      Passengers would be encouraged to book in advance and would enjoy a luxury 60 seater coach with plenty of legroom.

      So no expensive track to lay – massively reduced maintenance and staff costs and a far more flexible system to cope with demand

      Don’t worry though it’ll never happen.

    • Yes I understand the dangers of current self driving vehicles – I think we’re still 25 years away from a fully autonomous car

      Forget all the hype – flashing lights and snazzy display screens – current computers are simply not up to the task and nor will they be until their architecture mimics that of certain brain functions.

  42. @Dr. Morgan

    I suggest that we formulate Cary King’s problem this way:

    Imagine a stable and growing economy supplied with constantly increasing high density energy. Although there are sectoral struggles for their piece of the pie, the rising tide is lifting all the boats. Now imagine that the high density energy begins to deplete, with the consequence that the energy available to the economy is no longer capable of lifting all of the boats. Suppose further that some of the boats have the ability to manipulate the politics and other command and control mechanisms so that they get the resources they need in order to continue to flourish. Then the sectors which don’t have such power must, of necessity, shrink.

    The result can be perhaps characterized as follows:
    *The financial economy and the armaments industry and military continue to grow. Everything else declines.
    *The managerial class prospers while the workers decline.
    *The EROI needed to sustain the economy declines from 10:1 to 8:1 because the workers don’t have to be supported in the style to which they were accustomed.
    *The ECoE, which had formerly reached a critical level at 8 percent, now only reaches a critical level at 12 percent.

    Of course, thermodynamics will prevent growth when the ECoE reaches 50 percent, and it takes all of the energy simply to produce energy. That is appropriately labeled the ‘dead state’. As an economy begins to approach that, all of our previous expectations fall by the wayside. There would be no civilization that we would recognize.

    In some of King’s model runs, the economy reaches a new equilibrium at about 50 percent of current output, using a mix of fossil and ‘renewable’ energy sources. King’s models derive from “predator/ prey” models developed long ago in ecology.

    These are just ideas…so skepticism is warranted.

    Don Stewart

    • Growth stops a long way before ECoE hits 50%! My analysis shows that growth ends when ECoE reaches 3.5-5% in Western economies, and 8-10% in the EMs. Each unit of energy has to pay for a vast amount of complexity, even in the EMs. It’s instructive to make a list of what Surplus Energy pays for – food, water, housing; health, education, government, law, defence; transport, communications; capital equipment; manufactured goods; services, whether of value or not; discretionary purchases…… the list goes on. That’s a huge burden for a humble bbl of oil (etc) to carry, even when ECoEs aren’t high, and rising!

    • “It’s instructive to make a list of what Surplus Energy pays for”

      Presumably that list would also show what a complex economy needs to dispose of – to “decomplexify”, if you like – in order to maintain growth in the face of higher ECoE.

    • Yes, Will, except that I’m not sure that what we’d be maintaining would be “growth”.

      But your point is a good one – de-complexifying would be an intelligent approach to de-growth.

    • One can observe that the crunch is now on for many of the middle-class managerial/academic/professional types, who have held out until now, and that the whole economy -apart from the very privileged sectors (military, financial, some public sector) you correctly identify – is premised upon MASS consumption – so less consumption is a real problem. Even many university lecturers and tutors are now being paid in Term-time only – a once solid middle-class category! Regular salary, job for life, decent pension….

      Dr Pangloss will have to scrabble around to put a positive gloss on these trends….

    • The reversal of prior growth in prosperity has these consequences. Low ECoE has afforded us all sorts of luxuries, a term that doesn’t just include gadgets and indulgences, but includes the layering of activities, and the luxury of extreme ideas.

  43. Surplus energy paid for my house to be built of materials which were not, and cannot be, sourced locally: moreover, it pays for maintenance with similarly widely-sourced materials which can have no local provenance.

    Extend this to almost everything we do and make in the advanced economies and the basis of nearly all employment, except the hill farmers of this world.

    This proves the unreality of ‘localisation’ theorists.

    Not that growing a few cabbages in one’s garden is not to be highly recommended……

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