#206. The paradox of growth


An odd paradox emerges when we consider our economic objectives, and question the priority routinely accorded to “growth”.

If we continue our obsession with growth, we will accelerate the deterioration of the energy-driven economy, worsen our environmental predicament and squander the resources which might otherwise have formed the basis of a sustainable economy. If, further, we continue to see the financial system as an adjunct of our pursuit of “growth”, we invite systemic collapse.

The irony here, of course, is that the pursuit of growth is, in any case, the pursuit of a chimera.

Conversely, if we aim for stability, and redesign our failing financial system accordingly, we might yet succeed in combining prosperity with sustainability.

Context – failure on two fronts

If – just for a moment – we ignore financial issues, and concentrate wholly on material metrics such as resources, the environment, population numbers, food supply and the physical output of goods and services, it soon becomes clear that we are either at, or very near, the end of “growth”, unless indeed we have already passed the point of down-turn. Essentially, the modern industrial economy is the product of the use of abundant, low-cost energy from fossil fuels. These fuels are ceasing to be cheap at the same time that their use is colliding with the limits of environmental tolerance.    

Conversely, if we focus entirely on the financial, it becomes equally clear that a system reliant on QE and other forms of monetary gimmickry is at existential risk. We can trace the origins of this process back to the 1990s, and the recognition (though not the explanation) of “secular stagnation”. The authorities’ chosen ‘fix’ for this perceived problem was to use debt to stimulate demand, on the assumption that cheap and abundant credit would prove to be a magic elixir for the restoration of growth to the economy. From there, it was a dangerously easy step from credit expansion to the back-stopping of debt (and asset markets) with monetization.

What we have, then, is (a) a material, physical or real economy that has reached or passed peak output, and (b) a counterpart financial economy which, barring a drastic change of direction, is heading towards collapse.

We’re not yet at the point where there are “no fixes” for these issues, but the odds seem stacked against the determined and effective efforts that would be required to achieve sustainability in the aftermath of growth. Might we yet be forced, kicking and screaming, into wiser decisions?

These situations are set out in fig. 1, using data sourced from the SEEDS economic model. Aggregate prosperity has continued to increase (but is nearing the point of down-turn), whilst prior growth in prosperity per capita has already gone into reverse. Both debt and the broader and much bigger category of financial assets (in effect, the liabilities of the household, corporate and government sectors) have soared, and seem destined to carry on doing so, unless and until the financial system implodes.  

Fig. 1

Two excellent, must-read recent papers have reached stark conclusions about the ‘real’ and the ‘financial’ economies. Gaya Herrington, in a report which concentrates on physical, non-financial metrics such as population numbers, natural resources and the environment, concludes that, under any BAU (“business as usual”) scenario, we face “a collapse pattern” which can only be softened (into “moderate decline”) by advances in technology far beyond historic rates of innovation and adoption. 

In Quantitative easing: how the world got hooked on magicked-up money, published by Prospect, Ann Pettifor says that “[g]oing cold turkey would finish off a dysfunctional global financial system that’s now hopelessly addicted to emergency infusions”.

Neither paper gives us no hope at all, but both point to the need for radical change. On the financial situation, Ms Pettifor concludes that “[t]he only solution is surgery on the system itself”. Ms Herrington sets out an alternative SW (“sustainable world”) scenario which, whilst it cannot restore growth, does at least offer stability.  Unfortunately, SW does not correlate well with what’s actually happening.

We can put these ‘potential positives’ into a single conclusion. The best, indeed the only way to achieve economic sustainability is to abandon all aspects of BAU that are geared towards the attainment of growth, and to shift our objectives from growth to resilience. The financial system, likewise, needs to transition way from an obsession with expansion, and aim instead for functional effectiveness in a non- or post-growth World.

In short, the precondition both for economic and for financial stability is that we ditch our obsession with “growth”. The same, of course, applies to our environmental best interests. The biggest single threat to environmental sustainability is our worship of “growth”.

Difficult, straightforward, paradoxical

Simply stated, the required transition is from a state of mind which obsesses over growth to a state of mind which prioritizes stability. 

Attaining this transition is at once difficult, straightforward and paradoxical.

It’s difficult, because the desirability of “growth” is deeply entrenched both in institutions and in the collective mind-set. Political leaders routinely promise growth, businesses strive to achieve it, and the financial system is entirely predicated on it. Advocates of voluntary “de-growth” have never managed to make meaningful inroads into this obsession with “growth”.

It’s straightforward, in the sense that growth is already over. The continued pursuit of growth is the pursuit of the unattainable. As the ECoEs (the Energy Costs of Energy) of coal, oil and gas have risen, the economic value that we derive from the use of fossil fuels has started to diminish. Assertions that we can replace all of this value using renewable sources of energy (REs) are based on little more than wishful thinking and mistaken extrapolation. Apart from anything else, RE expansion requires inputs which, at least for the present, can only be provided by the use of energy from fossil fuels.   

To be clear about this, we must make every effort to develop renewable energy supply, but we shouldn’t delude ourselves into the belief that REs can replicate the economic characteristics of fossil fuels. Well-managed, a transition to REs can contribute to stability. What REs cannot do is deliver a return to growth.       

As well as being both difficult and straightforward, the required transition is paradoxical, because the pursuit of growth is the best way to ensure economic decline. If sustainability is set as the primary objective, this aim might be achievable. But the biggest obstacle to the attainment of sustainability is our obsession with growth.

Measuring our predicament

The purpose of the SEEDS economic model is to provide holistic interpretation by putting together the ‘real’ and the ‘financial’ economies. SEEDS does this by calibrating prosperity from energy principles, and delivering results in a monetary format which enables us to benchmark the financial system.

SEEDS demonstrates a clear linkage between ECoEs and prosperity. For much of the industrial age, ECoEs trended downwards. This meant that, for so long as aggregate energy supply at least kept up with increases in population numbers, the material prosperity of the average person improved.

The fundamental change occurred when ECoEs stopped declining, and started to rise. At first, this happened only gradually. However, the upwards trend in the ECoEs of fossil fuels is an exponential one.

During the 1980s, a rise in trend all-sources ECoEs of 0.8% – from 1.8% in 1980 to 2.6% in 1990 – didn’t matter all that much, and was, in any case, well within margins of error that are accepted in economic calibration. In short, this early rise in ECoEs wasn’t large enough to force itself upon our attention.  

What happened during and after the 1990s, however, was far more serious. In the 1990s, ECoEs rose by 1.5%, from 2.6% in 1990 to 4.1% in 2000. Trend ECoEs then increased by 2.2% between 2000 and 2010, and by a further 2.6% between 2010 and 2020. This put ECoEs at 8.9% last year, compared with 1.8% back in 1980.

Since an ECoE of 8.9% still leaves surplus (ex-ECoE) energy at more than 90% of total energy supply, it might at first sight seem surprising that prior growth in per capita prosperity should already have gone into reverse.

The explanation for this sensitivity lies in the complexity, and the correspondingly high maintenance demands, of the modern economy. The vast bulk of the economic value derived from energy is required for the upkeep and renewal of systems. Even under the best of circumstances, the scope for growth is constrained by the ‘burden of maintenance’.

SEEDS analysis reveals two very strong correlations here. One of these is between ECoE and prosperity, and the other connects complexity with ECoE-sensitivity. In the advanced economies of the West, prior growth in prosperity goes into reverse at ECoEs between 3.5% and 5.0%. Less complex EM economies can carry on increasing their prosperity until ECoEs are between 8% and 10%.

The latter connection helps explain the apparent divergence between the advanced and the emerging economies over the past twenty years. As of 2000, global trend ECoE was, at 4.1%, well within the threshold at which Western prosperity starts to contract. At that level of ECoE, however, EM countries remained capable of growth. This is why, whilst people in countries like America and Britain have been getting poorer since the early 2000s – and using financial gimmickry to delude themselves to the contrary – Chinese, Indian and other EM citizens have continued to get better off.

A failure to recognize the differing effects of ECoEs on differing economies has led to a great deal of mistaken interpretation of the divergence between growth in countries like China and “stagnation” (in reality, de-growth) in the West. Westerners haven’t become uniformly lazy or complacent over the past two or three decades, any more than EM citizens have been uniformly more industrious and productive.

Rather, the greater complexity of the Western economies has resulted in their earlier exposure to the consequences of rising ECoEs. With ECoEs set to exceed 9% this year, we are well into the ‘zone of inflection’ in which EM prosperity, too, starts to decline.

An accommodation with de-growth?

In this sense, then, growth is over, and “de-growth” has begun. But there’s a world of difference between an economy getting gradually poorer and an economy careering towards a cliff-edge. If we continue our frantic pursuit of growth, the likelihood is that our options will diminish, as resources are exhausted, population numbers continue to increase, environmental and ecological deterioration accelerates and a rickety, Heath Robinson financial system reaches the point of self-destruction.

Of course, nobody would expect political leaders to stop promising growth, or businesses to stop pursuing it. No president or prime minister is likely to proclaim, like the fictional Duke of Omnium, that the country is fine how it is, and the job of government is to keep it that way. No business leader is likely to tell shareholders that corporate strategy is to turn away from expansion, and instead to maintain the company as a reliable generator of value for its owners.

But to concentrate on stated intentions is to overlook mechanisms. If the Holy Grail of “transition to renewables” fails to replace the energy value hitherto derived from fossil fuels, then it will be futile to carry on denying the reality of de-growth.

As we’ve seen in previous discussions, prosperity is declining, whilst the real cost of estimated essentials is rising. As you can see in fig. 2, it’s clear that discretionary prosperity is being compressed, and that continued increases in discretionary consumption have been made possible only by continued credit expansion.

Three processes – prosperity deterioration, the rising cost of essentials and the approach of credit exhaustion – are likely to force businesses into the adoption of policies consistent with the Surplus Energy Economics taxonomy of de-growth.

Some companies, for instance, will work out that switching from a ‘high-volume, low-margin’ to a ‘high-margin, low-volume’ model can support revenues and earnings as the discretionary prosperity of the median consumer declines. Producing less, whilst charging more for it, is one way of maintaining profitability whilst also driving down emissions of CO2.

A de-growing economy is also a de-complexifying one, and this trend is likely to encourage, or indeed to compel, businesses to simplify both their product offerings and their production processes, at the same time tightening their supply lines in pursuit of resilience. Of course, the continuing contraction of discretionary prosperity may shrink or eliminate some sectors, whilst others will be de-layered by customer pursuit of simplification.

Governments, too, will not be immune from these processes. As bridging the ‘discretionary prosperity gap’ by taking on yet more debt ceases to be feasible, the public is likely to become increasingly discontented about the increasing slice of their resources being taken by essentials, be these household necessities or the services provided by government. We should anticipate demands for intervention, particularly over the rising cost of energy.

In other words, businesses and governments might not disavow the pursuit of “growth” – it would be remarkable if they did – but trends are likely to push them in this same direction. If we’re looking for some encouragement, scant though it is, we might note that governments, in promising to “build back better”, have not promised to “build back bigger”.     

Fig. 2

87 thoughts on “#206. The paradox of growth

  1. My question: won’t de-grow eventually cause a full-on banking collapse? For a monetary system based largely on debt, the debt and credit must continuously expand, or the result is contraction and cascading defaults. And there is a point where we’ll all be debt exhausted.

    • Probably…eventually. That’s why money printing is on overdrive. But the junkies need a bigger fix every month, and the drugs can lose potency… in this case as currencies begin to resemble post WWl Germany.

    • In principle, yes, but we need to look beyond banking into areas variously known as ‘shadow banking’ and ‘non-bank financial intermediaries’. This is why I include’financial assets’ as well as ‘debt’ in the charts. This issue is very well explained in the Ann Pettifor article that I’ve linked here.

      My preferred metrics involve comparing both debt and financial assets with prosperity, as calculated using SEEDS. The conventional comparison with GDP is misleading, because increases in credit have the effect of inflating apparent GDP.

      On this prosperity basis of measurement, the financial system is hugely over-extended.

      ‘Debt exhaustion’ (or ‘credit exhaustion’) refers to the point at which people are so heavily indebted that they won’t (or can’t) take on any more credit, irrespective of how cheap it might be. I first encountered this term at Charles Hugh Smith’s excellent blog.

      The global financial system is wholly predicated on growth. The system as we know it today has, after all, evolved under conditions of almost continuous economic expansion. As “secular stagnation” (the precursor to de-growth) set in during the 1990s, we resorted to “innovation” to boost credit take-up and hence increase demand. Negative real interest rates are a response to the ending of growth.

      Unfortunately, this means putting a negative price on money. Seeing that, investors quite naturally seek alternatives – after all, why would you own something, in this case money, that is likely to fall in value? – which helps explain enthusiasm both for property and for cryptos.

      To become sustainable, the financial system will need to be redesigned. We will need to re-think what its purposes are. It’s arguable that this won’t happen without a crisis. Conversely, financial sector participants might decide to ‘front run’ changes, anticipating what’s likely to happen and aiming to secure competitive advantage by ‘getting there before others do’.

  2. Word perfect Tim. Presumably the only critical objection to this comprehensive picture of what is really going on is your ECoE calculations and therefore the extent to which surplus energy deterioration is eroding non credit based discretionary spending as the price of essentials increases.

    Beyond that, the message is clear, long term stability can only really mean the sustainability of per capita essential goods and services as the ECoE increases.

    I’m sure politicians and business leaders are taking note so the question is when the narrated inflection point will occur regarding the pursuit of unsustainable growth so that we can seriously start politically discussing system change, hopefully in a deeply cooperative manner.

    Well done Tim.

    • Thanks Steve, much appreciated. I do think that we, collectively, are ‘getting there’, in terms of understanding processes and prospects.

      It seems to me that, without using “the D-word” (de-growth), there are opportunities in this situation for politicians, in that they could commit to ensuring that the essentials are accessible and affordable for everyone. Even this idea has history, as with the long-ago promise to give everyone “four acres and a cow”. The definition of “essential” moves on, but the principle is as important as ever.


      Actually, it was “THREE acres and a cow”. It dates from the 1880s.

    • Totally agree Tim.

      ‘Back to Basics’ and the clear understanding that a substantial amount of surplus energy is being used to simply maintain what is overall an unsustainable system especially in the West.

      As a society, we need to work out what is essential and what is nonessential and then create a system that adequately satisfies essential goods and services and only creates good quality discretionary production.

      Perhaps this is the real meaning of the Great Reset. Keep on with QE until the system implodes/explodes and then in the midst of a great recession, simplify, delayer and decomplexify the system towards essentials and good quality discretionaries within a more equitable private/tax/public framework.

    • Steve G,

      One never knows, but the mutations (physical, epigenetic, memetic…) required to change behavior quickly are hard to grasp. Feedback will stimulate that, but you make it sound like an instruction manual might be sufficient. Under stress, group vs group competition normally increases.

    • Hence the need to reduce the perceived diversity of groups on the basis of race, colour, gender, sex, ethnicity and beliefs.

      Part of the dynamics of managing degrowth, especially in terms of reducing the competition between ‘conceived’ groups is sociological, ie sociological decomplexification, sociological delayering and sociological simplification.

      This means understanding that our beliefs are mental constructions which either align with and are amenable to group cooperation or align with and are amenable to group competition.

      Thus, ‘degrowthers’ need to be able to create, construct and conceive beliefs systems that align with and are amenable to human cooperation rather than human competition.

      In other words, deep adaptation not only applies externally but internally too.

      Any suggestions for beliefs systems that generate interhuman cooperation rather than interhuman competition??

    • Steve G.

      Your response seems to deal with memetics, but not with the first two aspects I mentioned.

      “This means understanding that our beliefs are mental constructions which either align with and are amenable to group cooperation or align with and are amenable to group competition.”

      It’s not either/or. Both occur depending upon circumstances.

      “Mental constructions” are physical. No evidence for non-physical mind has ever been presented. A Nobel Prize awaits! Evolved biological characteristics which we inherit from sperm & egg are impacted by cumulative inputs since conception. Together they account for our behavior. Adaptation occurs, but overriding innate tendencies is difficult.

      Tribalism has been with us for tens of thousands of years.

      from” Tribalism” in wikipedia:
      According to a study by Robin Dunbar at the University of Liverpool, social group size is determined by primate brain size.[12] Dunbar’s conclusion was that most human brains can really understand only an average of 150 individuals as fully developed, complex people. That is known as Dunbar’s number. In contrast, anthropologist H. Russell Bernard and Peter Killworth have done a variety of field studies in the United States that came up with an estimated mean number of ties, 290, roughly double Dunbar’s estimate. The Bernard–Killworth median of 231 is lower because of upward straggle in the distribution, but it is still appreciably larger than Dunbar’s estimate.[13][14]

      Malcolm Gladwell expanded on this conclusion sociologically in his book, The Tipping Point, where members of one of his types, Connectors, were successful by their larger-than-average number of close friendships and capacity for maintaining them, which tie together otherwise-unconnected social groups. According to such studies, then, “tribalism” is hard to escape fact of human neurology simply because many human brains are not adapted to working with large populations. Once a person’s limit for connection is reached, the human brain resorts to some combination of hierarchical schemes, stereotypes and other simplified models to understand so many people.

    • We need to understand how belief systems evoke competitive behaviour as well as how belief systems evoke cooperative behaviour.

      Or do you disagree.

      For instance, are your responses to me competitive or cooperative? And is your behaviour the result of a belief system. If competitive, what perceived/conceived need are you trying to protect. This is the basis of non violent communication strategies.

      I chose to deal with memetics in particular because belief systems influence RNA which in turn influences DNA. Of course it can be approached the other way around too. Or from the middle. The three, consciousness, RNA and DNA are deeply intertwined.

      In this respect, mental constructions are consciousness artefacts which are quantum in nature hence physical in an unseen sense. So yes, no technology that can easily detect the quantum realm yet. So no consciousness surgery yet!

    • Steve G
      You probably don’t recall that I’m a determinist. Most analytic philosophers I know are as well. Funny though, that few deny free will. Semantics is part. But responsibility for actions is the main stickler. That position is called Compatiblist

      I think it is internally inconsistent. Social mammals use group responsibility in correcting deviants.
      Different cultures perceive values differently, likely geographically influenced. ex Shatia law
      Must sign off now.

      Steve K

  3. Draws the complete picture, Dr Tim. Unfortunately there are no rabbits to pull out of hats. Had to look this up:

    From The Urban Dictionary:
    Adj: An invention, machine or process that is makeshift, fragile, poorly engineered or overly elaborate. William Heath Robinson (1872-1944) was a British Cartoonist well known for humourous illustrations of fantasical inventions involving large numbers of components, often in order to acheive a very simple purpose.

    In the US, see Rube Goldberg. Wonderful drawings!

    • Very interesting. I remember research a year or so ago showing the popularity, even amongst Tory voters, of taking various sectors into public ownership. If memory serves, utilities, railways and banks were high on that list.

      Public hostility towards “capitalism” in the UK is even greater than I’d expected. Contempt for politicians is less surprising, though very elevated.

      Add in the rising cost of essentials, the burden of debt and, of course, the deterioration in prosperity, and you can easily see how a “left populist” party could win, by concentrating on economic, ‘bread and butter’ issues. I get the feeling that dislike of Labour is what put Boris Johnson into power.

  4. Some interesting nuggets to think about here. The idea of complexity being expensive could become an interesting idea applicable to many situations.
    Also I have probably queried this before but I still wonder about the role of debt in allowing ongoing consumption despite material wealth declining. I am thinking of how the debt is used to consume material investment capital, which makes us (collectively) even more materially worse off in future.

  5. Antonio Turiel, in Spain, talks turkey about renewables and hydrogen:


    “Why are we going to condemn ourselves to an unsustainable and impossible model that is going to fail, when there may be a viable and much less expensive alternative? Of course there will be many difficulties, but the biggest one right now is not even starting work on this possibility.”

    Don Stewart
    PS. My guess is that even a politician or business leader who actually understands the problem sees the most urgent issue as keeping the plebes working on SOMETHING, ANYTHING, and offering “hope”.

    • My feeling Don is this might be benevolently achieved with a high minimum wage (and thus creating the apparition of relative wealth by current minimum wage standards) and beyond essentials, only retaining good quality discretionaries which are more amenable to division of labour in order to keep people employed.

      Obviously prices will rise in relation to a higher minimum wage, but my feeling is that the higher the wage, the more scope for sociatal equity and the more scope for affordability for both consumers and producers.

    • Steve
      My inclination is in the opposite direction. My basic direction is toward the Hadza way of life. Herman Pontzer, at Duke, has studied them extensively. He says that all indications are that they are just as happy as Americans. But their monetary income is negligible. They buy a little bit of ‘stuff’ by stealing honey from wild bees and trading it in town for the small amount of stuff they have.

      The Hadza have no chronic disease. Therefore, they have no need for all the pharmaceutical and medical and exercise equipment and other paraphernalia that Westerners need in order to try to ameliorate the deleterious effects of modern life. But we label all those things ‘necessities’.

      I have no illusions that people are going to willingly give up the delusion that more stuff will finally make them happy. The religious leaders have told them that for thousands of years, and it hasn’t done much to persuade the majority of people.

      Jesus said “It is easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven”. And the audience said “Then who can be saved?”. That always puzzled me. The audience was mostly poor. But, I now think, they understood that every one of them THOUGHT that being rich would get them to the promised land.

      We have a similar issue with communitarianism and individualism. Lisa Barrett says that two statements are true:
      *Humans are intensely social
      *Hell is other people

      So we have 2 dilemmas:
      *We are at the end of the fossil fuel era and are loath to accept the consequences
      *We oscillate between the extremes of individualism and collectivism

      I happen to agree with Chris Smaje’s “Peasant Republic” as the best way forward. But I suspect we will only find our way to that after we have further exhausted the ecological richness which makes that Republic possible. The science is promising…but the society is hostile.

      Don Stewart

  6. Interesting article with good food for thought, Tim. My one criticism is that I don’t think it acknowledges that “growth” is not just an economic imperative, it also serves as a religion or faith that is critical to maintaining social order, specifically, buy-in to and/or acceptance of, the status quo. The story is that a rising tide lifts all boats – it is the promise that keeps people in line and struggling to rise within the system. The rich who want to be richer, the poor that want to climb out of poverty, the middle class that wants a better life for their children – all need growth. It is capitalism’s “heaven,” if you will – the promise of a better future.

    If there is no growth, then the only way to greater material wealth is, well, plunder, which is what we are already seeing on a massive scale. For a very status-conscious social animal that that pegs status to material wealth and will don purple clothes and gold crowns, Rolex watches, have multiple homes on different continents, yachts, private jets, and take parabolic flights into the upper atmosphere to experience “space, to signify how elevated it is, this is the inevitable outcome, short of changing “our nature.”

    So if we are going to have social cohesiveness and not a war of all against all over the ever-shrinking pile of stuff remaining, we’re going to need a new faith that doesn’t justify the crap lives that people are living by promising them a rosier future. And a different way of satisfying the need for achieving social status.

    I don’t think we should underestimate the potential for massive social upheaval, upending the best plans and severely limiting the possibility of cooperation. If you take away capitalism’s heaven, I don’t think you’ll be able to buy social peace with gimmicks like UBI that just lock down people in place in the crap lives they are living under this inhuman, ugly system.

    The problem is that one or more “heavens” are necessary to the functioning of the bureaucratic slave state form of social organization that we call “civilization.” Has been since the dawn of “civilization.” Without necessarily endorsing the following viewpoint as correct, I think the comment quoted below to an article by Ian Welsh titled, “How the Metaphysics of Capitalism Destroyed the World,” points in a good direction. It’s not just the metaphysics of “capitalism” that is the problem, it’s the metaphysics of “civilization.”

    [Begin quote] different clue
    @Ian Welsh,

    You raise the question up above in your post . . . “Even if they aren’t dead, is there anything in human history which makes us believe humans are good at making very long term plans, over decades to generations?”

    Yes. Yes there is. All manner of First Nations here on these two continents made their long-range culture-encoded/embodied decisions and actions very well, as seen by steady habitat maintainance and/or upgrading, before the Age of Non-Native Intrusion. One example is the undeniable evidence of eco-up-bioterraforming of several hundred thousand square miles of Amazon Basin land. Another specific example is the Maya Food Forest.

    WesterModern Man doesn’t think of Indians as human beings. Anti-Indian WesterModern Man thinks of Indians as merciless evil dirty savages. Pro-Indian WesterModern Man thinks of Indians as magical other-than-human mystical sentient beings, like Elves and Hobbits.

    For WesterModern man to think of Indigenous humans AS humans is still too threatening to the WesterModern Metaphysical framework, because it would reveal that framework as merely being a framework, and not the Final Great Void Truth which WesterModern man has been raised to believe for 5,000 years, ever since the Great Bureaucratic Slave Civilizations of Old World Antiquity. If WesterModern Man were to accept that Indigenous persons were really human, then WesterModern Man would find itself faced with having to make a choice between Metaphysical Belief Systems. Part of the WesterModern Man drive to exterminate every trace of Indigenous People and Cultures is to avoid having to admit to that choice and to avoid having to face the reality of the visible meaning and result of WesterModern Civilization. The History of Modern Man has been a March to EcoTerracide with no positive meaning at all. It really was all for nothing, and the not-yet-dead Indians are a visible reminder of that fact.

    The only survival choice which WesterModern Man has at the overall mass population survival level is to slipstream itself as-best-it-can into the time tested proven eco-viable Indigenous Metaphysical Belief System. And base its planning and actions on that. The first step would be giving large-scale way to a self- restoration of Indigenous Sovereignty and Culture. [end quote]

    • Thank you. I think I should emphasise that I’m not saying growth is a “good” or a “bad” thing. Rather, I’m trying to analyze situations as objectively as possible. Growth may or may not be “good” or “bad”, but it’s “gone”. My objective conclusion is that the further, futile pursuit of growth is likely to worsen our economic and broader prospects.

      The obsession with growth, as a secular faith, is of relatively recent origin. It has only flourished, in its extreme manifestation, over the last forty years or so, and, even then, only in some countries. We got by without consumerism for thousands of years, and the consumerist mindset is really a post-1945 phenomenon. Beliefs, whether secular or spiritual, have come and gone. A belief which seeks to connect our sense of self-worth with consumption and possessions might prove to be short-lived. We’ve believed, in the past, in witchcraft, phrenology, haunting and numerous other ideas which now seem bizarre. Consumerism and extreme economic liberalism might prove to be just two more additions to a long list of past fads.

      What I am convinced about is that changes of circumstance cause changes in how we see the world. Our views are likely to change, as prosperity deteriorates, and the cost of essentials rises. The latter alone will change popular priorities. Affording a new car, a foreign holiday or the latest gadget could seem far less important when it’s hard to afford food, shelter or the cost of heating. As I see it, at least one Western economy is likely to fail in the comparatively short term. We just about “got away with” financial irresponsibility in 2008-09, but may not pull off a similar escape-act with the next crisis.

    • @tagio

      Just want to thank you for your comments as your viewpoints and thoughts generally align with mine. On another topic, were you ever a read of ITULIP?

    • Poor man wanna be rich
      Rich man wanna be king
      And a king ain’t satisfied
      ‘Til he rules everything…

  7. It seems to me that there are fewer and fewer hiding places available to avoid confronting the self-evident truths in this post. Of course that does not stop people from trying to hide. Politicians, who need to get elected, and re-elected, have used the prospect of perpetual growth to avoid explicitly addressing inequality. If everyone will be more prosperous next year then you can deflect attention away from the fact that. today, the poor and the middle class have substantially less prosperity than the rich. Since it is becoming clearer that this “rising tide” is a mirage, then you have to offer something else tangible to the poor. And that can only be some kind of redistribution of resources. Advocating for and achieving such a redistribution would require of our leaders courage, strength, understanding, persuasive debating skills. and creativity. Unfortunately, the current environment mostly selects for opposite characteristics in people aspiring to leadership positions: weakness, fear, duplicity, superficiality, mendacity, and hucksterism. A good first step would be for discussions such as this to migrate from obscure blogs to wider circulation media.

    • Unfortunately, redistributing the savings and property of the wealthiest 1% to the poorest 50% (could be a different %) won’t cure anything long term. Latent consumption would become immediate. Demand would increase for basics. Production would ramp up increasing mining of resources incl. energy. Transport would increase. All that producing more pollution and waste. The brick wall of crash would be reached more quickly. Voluntary energy diets are not in human nature. See:

  8. Why A Systems Approach is Essential for Solutions (not necessarily for narrowly defined diagnostics)

    “After controlling for factors such as age, sex, handedness, first language, education level, and other variables, the researchers found that those who had contracted COVID-19 tended to underperform on the intelligence test compared to those who had not contracted the virus. The greatest deficits were observed on tasks requiring reasoning, planning and problem solving, which is in line “with reports of long-COVID, where ‘brain fog,’ trouble concentrating and difficulty finding the correct words are common,” the researchers said.

    The level of cognitive underperformance was also associated with the level of illness severity, with those who were hospitalized on a ventilator showing the greatest deficits. The observed deficit for COVID-19 patients who had been put on a ventilator equated to a 7-point drop in IQ. The deficit was even larger than the deficits observed for individuals who had previously suffered a stroke and who reported learning disabilities.”

    And we know from other science that pandemics become more likely as ‘civilization’ advances, and that the current dysfunctional relationships between the linked microbiomes of all living things are instrumental in making infections such as Cover 19 worse, and that the co-morbidities which are a characteristic of civilization, make the infection far more lethal and leaves the survivors in worse shape for the future.

    Don Stewart

    • I suggest giving sufferers the cheap repurposed drugs also being used by Dr Peter McCullough, Dr Pierre Kory, etc to treat COVID-19. The latter doctor at least has used them to treat COVID-19 vaccine damage, which has some similarities to COVID.

      The mainstream media are censoring such possibilities and pushing injections which are *not* of the benign nature associated with the flu vaccines and others of the past 30 yrs. A WHO whistleblower revealed high levels of corruption


      The H1N1 swine flu and Pandremix vaccine scandal at WHO got into the mainstream media. This one’s only leaking out in a limited way. Reiner Fuellmich, a lawyer, is collecting data. He apparently led the lawsuits againt Deutsche Bank and VW (dieselgate).

    • My problem with discussing the health-related (as opposed to the economic) aspects of covid at this site is that I lack the specialist knowledge of life sciences required to moderate and reply to comments.

      Granted, this lack of specialist knowledge hasn’t stopped people all over the net weighing in with opinions!

      But the aim here is to concentrate on issues where we DO have specialist knowledge, such as energy, the economy and finance. The web is full of covid debates, but these can’t add much to our knowledge of the economy.

      My view is that we can have a few very brief mentions of covid and health topics here, but with the emphasis on “few” and “brief”.

    • @tim don’t undersell yourself. Western medicine falls straight into the same paradigm trap that western economics does. It is reductionist, non holistic and tries to infer predictions in non linear complex systems. Expertise in this area is great in the acute setting but horrible in a chronic setting, see the never ending rise in chronic health conditions over the past 50 years. Living things are very challenging to science, it’s much better at quantifying dead things, and it comes out of mechanistic view of the world that took over in the 17 and 1800s.

  9. Population growth has always been strongly associated with economic growth. My penchant, which is very common, was to assign a causal relationship going from population growth causing economic growth. Of course when you think about it the causal relationship could logically be reversed. That is economic growth has caused population growth. On an energy basis this is probably a sounder thesis. In any case it soon becomes a minefield.

    In either case what does positing a decline in population do to SEEDS analysis? I am a very casual observer of SEEDS and can’t make out what a shrinking population would do to it. Perhaps such is beyond the ability of SEEDS to account for.

    Or could depopulation and degrowth be the same thing.

  10. Great to see you connecting with Gaya. Hopefully, the fact that she is in a mainstream big 4 consulting firm will help spread the message. I’m hovering over the send button on an email to a bunch of the NZ Government Ministers providing them with a link to this article. At least then I’ll feel like I did what I could to help stop the insanity!

  11. Dr Tim, thank you for another fine piece that continues the process of developing thoughts and ideas of the unfolding of ‘de-growth’. I’m not wholly convinced that we can take much, if any, solace from the fact that Build Back Better has not been accompanied by specific rhetoric of Build Back Bigger. I say that, as I think that the cult of growth is so deeply embedded that the term Build Back Better implies Build Back Bigger, or at the very least continuation of BAU. The direction of my thinking is increasingly towards pessimism, in that the changes that are required will be forced upon policymakers by events. In the meantime, here in the United Kingdom ‘rainbows and unicorns’ ‘Rule OK’.

    • Thanks Kevin. As you say, growth is a deeply-embedded cult, which creates a great deal of difficulty when growth ceases to be feasible. Countries continue to report “growth” – albeit not very much of it – and seem wilfully blind to the evidence that growth has already ceased. This is surely apparent in levels of debt, if the ‘average’ person simply poses the question ‘if I’m getting better off, why do my debts keep increasing?’ It’s evident, too, in many measures of hardship and insecurity.

      Growth is indeed a cult, but cults have a habit of being discredited by reality.

      I would have expected this to be particularly apparent in Britain. On any realistic measure, systemic inflation there is at least 5%, yet the policy interest rate is just 0.1%. Rumours (which may be unsubstantiated) that the Bank is actively considering negative rates would, if true, be evidence of desperation, and would certainly be high-risk. The ‘recovery’ seems to have stalled. People have benefited from rent and mortgage ‘holidays’, but these sums will, in due course, have to be made good. Many have benefited from furlough payments, made more valuable by reduced travelling expenses, but can they really see this as some kind of ‘freebie’?

    • Rainbows fade and unicorns start to disappear when one reaches the age of reason. This rainbow may be starting to turn into a unicorn as well:
      “The world needs to ramp up its EV battery production, and it needs to do it essentially overnight.” Read: we need more child labours rathole mining in some hellhole somewhere stat! What a wonderful world! Just like self driving cars, WON”T HAPPEN. Makes for good circus though.

    • My view is that EV conversion is a sub-optimal plan, and like-for-like replacement of ICE vehicles isn’t feasible.

      First, it’s debateable how green EVs really are – part of this depends on sources of electricity, and part on the mining involved in battery material supply.

      Second, there are better solutions – obviously fewer vehicles, and also limits on ICE engine sizes, and insistence on hybrids.

      Third, whilst the characteristics of oil favour cars, the characteristics of electricity favour public transport, i.e. trams, trains.

      Fourth, the intermittency of REs imposes huge battery requirements – worsening this problem by favouring EVs is not sensible.

      Fifth, growth projections make no sense. Car numbers worldwide are supposed to increase from 1.17bn in 2019 to 1.94bn by 2040, and commercial vehicles numbers from 245 million to 450 million over the same period. Putting 1.68bn (70%) more vehicles on the world’s roads makes no sense at all, in a contracting economy with severe environmental problems.

    • “TOKYO — A trip of 500 km on one charge. A recharge from zero to full in 10 minutes. All with minimal safety concerns. The solid-state battery being introduced by Toyota promises to be a game changer not just for electric vehicles but for an entire industry. “

      “A four-year-old startup says it has built an inexpensive battery that can discharge power for days using one of the most common elements on Earth: iron.
      Form Energy Inc.’s batteries are far too heavy for electric cars. But it says they will be capable of solving one of the most elusive problems facing renewable energy: cheaply storing large amounts of electricity to power grids when the sun isn’t shining and wind isn’t blowing.
      The work of the Somerville, Mass., company has long been shrouded in secrecy and nondisclosure agreements. It recently shared its progress with The Wall Street Journal, saying it wants to make regulators and utilities aware that if all continues to go according to plan, its iron-air batteries will be capable of affordable, long-duration power storage by 2025.”

  12. The recent chaos in S. Africa was fascinating in that anyone awake can see the warning. People tired of losing in this system (ground down for years, then locked down for a couple more despite having committed no crime and crucially having no support, so not feeling the holiday effect) exploded with little warning. The trigger was almost irrelevant given how long it went on for, how widespread it was and how quickly it morphed into being a general protest against everyone’s problems. You could say there were echos of that in the (2011?) riots that started in London a decade ago.

    Interestingly, in SA, the police (really not known for subtlety) were by their standards very humane, the govt. seemingly bewildered and extremely reluctant to crack down and finally when called out the military were restrained too. Breaking it down to look for lessons we can learn for free, almost all of the security forces are lowest rank, live in normal places, are also experiencing deteriorating conditions and have extended families in the general public rising up. The govt. actually noticed the suddenness, the level of anger and determination to carry on and realised the dangerous optics of gunning down voters. When the tipping point of the % of the public willing to fight is crossed, the state’s bluff is exposed, that even with 10s of 1000s of armed forces out at the same time, it’s still not enough in numbers to shoot or jail everyone, even if they’d comply. You’ll lose the election afterwards to a populist anyway, so more likely is that ‘temporary’ emergency measures will be instituted to restore law’n order, dropping the mask of democracy to reveal a blatant dictatorship.
    They weren’t surprised at the outbreak, deteriorating quality of life means they have seen regular outbreaks, but what did catch them out was that all those before had been directed with skillful dogwhistling at scapegoats, vicious attacks on ‘foreigners’ of all sorts, or at ‘profiteers’, those with more than you, seen as favoured by the system. For some reason this time, it just didn’t work.

    Look at how many laws have been stealthily pushed through under cover of a never-ending pandemic now, eroding away democratic freedoms even in nominally ‘civilised, rich’ countries that don’t necessarily have much to do with public health. You could ask yourself the question: ”Will I die in a free country because the self-awarding of more power is seldom reversed?” ‘1984’

    • South Africa (RSA) is the only African country on the SEEDS model – I would very much like to add others, but cannot obtain all the necessary data.

      SEEDS indicates that prosperity per capita in RSA peaked in 2008. As of 2019, prosperity per person had fallen by 10% since then, but the slump during the covid crisis has been severe, with any recovery likely to be very small indeed. By 2026, the average person is likely to be 18% poorer than he or she was in 2016, and fully 23% less prosperous than at the technical peak in 2008.

      There are, of course, two exacerbating factors. First, the above are average numbers, and the fall in *median* prosperity is likely to have been worse. Second, it’s likely that the cost of essentials has risen even as top-line prosperity per person has fallen.

      I can estimate the decrease in median (as opposed to average) prosperity per capita, but have only indicative numbers for the cost of essentials.

      Even so, SEEDS analysis points to severe hardship. This is enough to convince me that, whatever the proximate political causes of unrest may be, the fundamental issue is economic hardship.

  13. Tim, picking-up on your point ‘… if the ‘average’ person simply poses the question ‘if I’m getting better off, why do my debts keep increasing?’ I’d like to offer an anecdotal story that made me say to myself: ‘Hhhhhhhhhmmmmmmm’.
    A few weeks ago a friend of my wife’s came for dinner. I noticed that she had a new car. It transpired that she had ‘bought’ the car on a PCP, which in fairness she recognised was effectively a ‘tread-mill’, and then she added: ‘Everyone’s got to use finance, as no one can afford to buy a car outright, anymore’. Now, clearly that’s not correct. I’m sure that many can still buy a car outright; but the broader point is that for others, and quite possibly an increasing proportion, it is true and the question then is: ‘If we’re becoming better off, why can’t I afford to buy a car?’
    Perhaps Mark (Meldon) has some useful insights from his vantage point as an adviser, but some of the explanation for younger people may well lay in the high cost of housing.

    • We looked at this a few months back as the ‘income streams’ that some businesses now prefer to outright sales. These income streams are often capitalized and sold to investors. They vary a lot, but income streams in general are vulnerable to a squeeze in household prosperity. Also, capitalized income streams may not be captured in debt or even in broader financial asset statistics.

      I do my level best to avoid adverts, but I have noted that car ads seem to tell you what the monthly cost is rather than the purchase price.

      As for “everyone’s got to use finance”, this is symptomatic of an economy that’s getting poorer, and is using multifarious forms of credit to sustain the illusion of prosperity. I get the feeling that some economies, notably the UK and the US, are looking increasingly hollowed-out.

    • Kevin,
      I like this question: If we’re all getting better off, why do we have to work ever harder? Why can’t I retire?

      Re: your anecdote, the word “new” jumped out at me. Ppl are not willing to give up on their perceived life-style or the social status signaling. Unless she needs a new car that says “successful” for her work, like a real-estate agent, she could have bought a used car at much lower cost.

    • A friend of mine once told me that selling cars is ALL about the monthly payment.

      For many people it is not just rent or mortgage payments; their cars, mobile phones, music, Netflix, Amazon, software, almost everything is monthly subscription.

      I know people who buy wine or gin or have cinema membership, all paid monthly.

      It occurred to me early on in the pandemic that this makes the system very fragile. People that rent everything could quickly lose everything if they lose their income. It is not as though they can sell their car or music collection or anything else. This must have been a factor in the Government’s furlough calculations. Clearly the last thing they wanted was people having to hand back their cars for example. That would have been disastrous for lenders above all else.

  14. Good stuff.

    When you mentioned the ‘D word’, I thought you were going to expand upon the virtues of a global depopulation programme (the new GDP). Surely that is a good solution & perhaps our masters are ahead of you.

    Once you have compulsory jabs in place, subsequent ‘boosters’ could be targeted down to an individual level. Weed out the ‘useless eaters’ & leave only those customers for whom a ‘high margin/low volume’ market holds no fears.

    Managed de-growth – it’s the only way.

    • it’s very easy to be accused of being a wild eyed loon and tin foil hatted conspiracy theorist,
      but it’s usually an accusation thrown by people who aren’t aware of what the military are up to,

      Click to access 53ALMOSARAMONO.PDF

      frankly, stuff like this puts the wind right up me,

    • Matt’s links were very interesting – thank you. Somebody said that the difference between a conspiracy theory & the truth is about 6 months. I’m beginning to think they were right.

      BTW, I had hoped the readership here would appreciate that I am not necessarily advocating the steps outlined – merely stating the obvious logical connection. Klaus Schwab’s books are on my reading list, but I haven’t got around to them yet. The pace of actual events seems to have removed any imperative.

      Speaking as a lapsed engineer/scientist, Dr Tim’s energy-based approach to economics appeals to me. That same background, however, makes me deeply sceptical of claims from the climate change lobby group. They are very powerful, prototyped many of the techniques now in use for covid fear inducement, make extensive use of deeply flawed models & do very bad things with data. It has become a religion.

      This is not the place for more on that – all I’m saying is that I am very happy to go along with the economic analysis but much less accepting of the climate references. The economic consequences of demonising arbitrary members of the periodic table will be dire.

  15. Limits to Growth has arrived on schedule and capitalism, whose life blood is growth, is approaching the Seneca cliff. What we face are the most interesting of times with never a dull moment. There are protests occuring world wide with the underlying motivation of the cratering of one’s standard of living so eloquently displayed in Dr Tim’s thesis. The disappearing potency and availability of fossil fuels cannot be denied although that is exactly what the powers that be are effecting. And the climate crisis is the icing on cake of collapse. Degrowth will include a die-off such as we have never experienced as a species. Doom hangs heavy in the air much like the northern latitude wildfires smoke. Good luck all.

  16. Latest article from the other Tim on the ownership and degradation for profit of national critical infrastructure in the UK, engineered by neoliberal govts for decades and resulting in a fall to 2nd world status: https://consciousnessofsheep.co.uk/2021/07/27/ill-prepared-for-the-coming-shit-storm/

    Seems the brexit govt can be selective about which foreigners it hates and is colour blind when it comes to money at least, but interestingly no politicos have raised the point of the UK’s vulnerability probably because they are all culpable to varying degrees for their part when in power.

    Ominously, it highlights how little control people have over their essential infrastructure if even their elected representatives sold them out and don’t seem inclined to fix their own mess. This is surely a recipe for disasters to come for some time, its like never maintaining a home for 30 years, lots of things will then go wrong at once.

  17. As some of you may have surmised, I am not a devotee of the idea of centrally managed de-growth. I am of the view that it can’t and it won’t be centrally managed, at best there is some hope for local cooperation in making local adaptations, and I believe efforts should be focused there rather than on advocacy of global or national tactics. Of course, I may be wrong, but I certainly don’t hope for centrally managed de-growth, advocate it, or argue that it would be best if we attempted it. Centralized power works for its own benefit, always has, always will, IMO. Not looking for a debate on this, each of us has his own views and, in any event, my advocacy or lack thereof is not going to change the Titanic’s course. Anyhow, FWIW, I saw an Ivan Illich quote in the comments at the automatic earth today and I pass it along as food for thought. Illich saw the logical implications of our world system in the 1970s. The first sentence says it all, but note his extrapolation of the mindset that believes in it.

    “The bureaucratic management of human survival is unacceptable on both ethical and political grounds. It would also be as futile as former attempts at mass therapy. This does not, of
    course, mean that a majority might not at first submit to it. People could be so frightened by the increasing evidence of growing population and dwindling resources that they would voluntarily
    put their destiny into the hands of Big Brothers…

    Man would live in a plastic bubble that would protect his survival and make it increasingly worthless. Since man’s tolerance would become the most serious limitation to growth, the
    alchemist’s endeavor would be renewed in the attempt to produce a monstrous type of man fit to live among reason’s dreams. A major function of engineering would become the psychogenetic
    tooling of man himself as a condition for further growth. People would be confined from birth to death in a world-wide schoolhouse, treated in a world-wide hospital, surrounded by television screens, and the man-made environment would be distinguishable in name only from a world-wide prison…”

    Tools For Conviviality, Chapter V, Political Inversion –Ivan Illich 1973

  18. Tagio, Master Illich is describing the script of the Matrix as our future. We will will plug into our assorted screens and never leave our domicile. We will order all our material needs from the smartphone.

  19. Surprising reference in a MSM outlet alluding directly to your topics and even views here: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jul/28/new-zealand-rated-best-place-to-survive-global-societal-collapse Still not easy to find though, hardly front-page exposure, but still, the fact that it featured at all, instead of yet more ‘things are going great’ infomercials. Really not sure about the UK on that list though given the population size vs agricultural capacity and that’s even before noting that crops are currently rotting in fields for lack of workers to pick, package and transport.

    • It’s an interesting report, and the document on which it’s based gives more information.

      This said, the discussion seems to look at potential resilience independent of financial risk and irrespective of decision-making – in other words, physical characteristics only.

      NZ and Iceland I can agree with, and I can’t comment on Tasmania as distinct from Australia. Even on purely physical criteria, though, the inclusion of the UK is surprising, as I can’t see how the UK’s land area could feed its population. Both Britain and Ireland are at very high financial risk, though that might be ignored if we’re considering ‘post financial’ resilience.

      This is an area that I’d like to research using SEEDS, if only time permitted. SEEDS’ own risk rankings have the UK and Ireland very near the top, but that’s partly because financial risk is included.

      For the most part, I prefer to use a framework which might be called ‘LTG plus financial resilience’.

    • Hmm, that would be interesting, breaking it down to how resilient states are without the financial smoke and mirrors, to see who could feed and defend themselves, while somehow conjuring up necessities to keep up some sort of basic life. (particularly with respect to energy supply) So if there was a collapse of international agreement and all debts vanished with currencies, an ever more likely scenario, how would the new hierarchy look when the dust settled?

      Is that what your reference: ‘LTG plus financial resilience’. means?

    • they’re all Islands with defendable perimeters, I think considerations of financial stability have long since been discarded at the point you are creating fortified outposts in an apocalyptic world,
      note how Japan isn’t included, I was talking to a person in Japan and they said the heat and humidity in summer has become unbearable, there are lots of heat related deaths and thought they were approaching fatal wet bulb temperatures,

      Tim, would you reconsider posting your reflections on bunker mentality?
      it sounds like a fun piece and it’s getting quite topical now!

    • FI, Matt

      These are certainly interesting themes, and I did indeed start drafting an article called (provisionally) “bunker mentality” quite some time ago.

      Let’s start by saying that, whilst I don’t see economic collapse (globally) as inevitable, I’m far less optimistic about the financial system, which has become dangerously over-extended, and could be described, without much hyperbole, as being out of control. A financial system isn’t the same as an economy, but we’d be advised to think about what “financial system 2.0” looks like before 1.0 fails.

      If we presuppose ‘post-financial’ conditions, then questions like self-sufficiency in food, energy and other necessities become relevant, and it’s fair enough for commentators to speculate about these things under conditions of higher global temperatures. If financial conditions break down, then so, to a large extent, would trade, hence the relevance of self-sufficiency, i.e. not being dependent on imports.

      Another question, though, might be described as resilience of attitudes. Imagine a country – perhaps an island, but with no particular country in mind – where self-sufficiency in essentials is feasible.

      Fine, in theory. But the public is bound to be in a state of considerable distress. Essentials are available, but trinkets are not. Money, in many aspects, including the value of savings, property and other assets, has degraded, if not collapsed altogether. Trust in leadership has been lost, and many occupations and employers have disappeared.

      OK, so the public has, let’s say, enough food, energy and shelter, and this, again let’s say, remains the case under higher temperatures. The public must surely be traumatised. That might be particularly acute if the public has been persuaded of the merits and normality of, say, consumerism, immediate self-gratification and so on.

      So I don’t think it’s enough to tot up availability of essentials and measure resilience on that basis alone.

    • Hi Tim,
      in terms of breaking down the resilience of prevailing attitudes, in a hypothetical situation, would someone such as yourself going on Newsnight and being given half an hour to ‘lay it all out’ in a sensitive but matter of fact way, without constant interruption by an interviewer,
      would such a thing be likely to go viral, be discussed in the media and shift perceptions,
      if there was a respected figure of authority (there must be one somewhere!) sitting in on the presentation quietly nodding assent and not pushing back it could have quite an impact?
      Ken Clarke maybe?

      Britons are inately conservative with a little ‘c’, they don’t respond well to long haired freaky people, Roger Hallam works for some of the people but you need a statement from the other side of the social aisle to cement the sale.

      we need some orthodox figures to break rank,

  20. in 2019 Roger Hallam was interviewed by the BBC and pretty much accused of being a terrorist trying to overthrow the British State,

    the post interview exchange was caught and posted on line too,

    now in 2021 the BBC post this on their News site,


    selected quote: “And in separate report, scientists warned that greenhouse gas levels are already too high “for a manageable future for humanity“.

    that didn’t take long did it!

    • I did a stint as a motorcycle courier in the late 80’s, as you left London in the evenings and reached open countryside, just after Sidcup, you could really feel the temperature drop,
      those Tokyo temperatures mixed with high humidity look really unpleasant.

  21. Not much changes, really, here is Adam Smith from “The Theory of Moral Sentiments”, my bedtime reading at present: –

    “This disposition to admire, and almost to worship, the rich and the powerful, and to despise, or, at least, to neglect persons of poor and mean condition, though necessary both to establish and to maintain the distinction of ranks and the order of society, is, at the same time, the great and most universal cause of the corruption of our moral sentiments. That wealth and greatness are often regarded with the respect and admiration which are due only to wisdom and virtue; and that the contempt, of which vice and folly are the only proper objects, is often most unjustly bestowed upon poverty and weakness, has been the complaint of moralists in all ages. We desire both to be respectable and to be respected. We dread both to be contemptible and to be contemned. But, upon coming into the world, we soon find that wisdom and virtue are by no means the sole objects of respect; nor vice and folly, of contempt. We frequently see the respectful attentions of the world more strongly directed towards the rich and the great, than towards the wise and the virtuous. We see frequently the vices and follies of the powerful much less despised than the poverty and weakness of the innocent. To deserve, to acquire, and to enjoy the respect and admiration of mankind, are the great objects of ambition and emulation. Two different roads are presented to us, equally leading to the attainment of this so much desired object; the one, by the study of wisdom and the practice of virtue; the other, by the acquisition of wealth and greatness. Two different characters are presented to our emulation; the one, of proud ambition and ostentatious avidity. the other, of humble modesty and equitable justice. Two different models, two different pictures, are held out to us, according to which we may fashion our own character and behaviour; the one more gaudy and glittering in its colouring; the other more correct and more exquisitely beautiful in its outline: the one forcing itself upon the notice of every wandering eye; the other, attracting the attention of scarce any body but the most studious and careful observer. They are the wise and the virtuous chiefly, a select, though, I am afraid, but a small party, who are the real and steady admirers of wisdom and virtue. The great mob of mankind are the admirers and worshippers, and, what may seem more extraordinary, most frequently the disinterested admirers and worshippers, of wealth and greatness.”

    Back in 1759, the great philosopher that Smith was, might have predicted, then, the rise of bought perceived status by ‘the masses’ using PCP to run around in cars that purport to display a £100,000 a year lifestyle on a £30,000 income.

    • Mark, I believe that ‘The Theory of Moral Sentiments’ is a serious read, but some years ago I stumbled across an abridged version, so-to-speak: ‘How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life: An Unexpected Guide to Human Nature and Happiness’ by Russ Roberts. Without doubt this is the forgotten Smith.

  22. Getting Serious
    If we can get our minds off political jockeying, and actually begin to look at our predicament from a basis of facts, there are a couple of bedrock issues that I think we need to concern ourselves:
    *Food and Agriculture…(yes Britain can feed itself)
    For an excellent introduction to the current revolution taking place in our understanding of the microbes, I suggest this hour with Christine Jones:

    Most of what we are currently doing is damaging. The UN has recently stated that 30 percent of CO2 emissions are from agriculture. Christine shows us exactly how agriculture can sequester large amounts of CO2…a source converted to a sink. We just have to stop doing some extremely destructive practices, and reap more production and more carbon in the soil.

    *The Nature of Humans
    A thoughtful review by Ted Trainer of a new book by Rutger Bregman

    If we put Christine’s science together with the historical findings about human nature, we begin to get a glimmer of what might still be possible.

    Don Stewart

  23. Here are some old words that, I hope, will return to common usage (some hope!): –

    Prudence: the state of being careful in the way you make decisions or spend money so that you avoid unnecessary risks.

    Propriety: correct moral behavior or actions.

    Self-reliance: the quality of not needing help or support from other people.

    Insurance: an agreement in which you pay a company money, either in one payment or in regular payments, and they pay your costs, for example, if you lose or damage something, or have an accident, injury, etc.

    Annuity: an amount of money paid to someone every year, usually until that person’s death, or the insurance agreement or investment that provides money that is paid this way.

    Capital: money and possessions, especially a large amount of money used for producing more wealth or for starting a new business.

    Income: money that is earned from doing work or received from investments.

    (Definitions from the Cambridge English Dictionary).

    In truth, in my job, the latter – income – is the hardest thing to find at the moment but, encouragingly, younger people (at least the ones I have spoken to over the last year or two) are much more interested in propriety, self-reliance, and prudence than their parents were. Their parents (my clients, too) are the ones with ‘gold-plated’ pensions and are buzzing around post-lockdown, in their camper vans, and wasting money on ‘stuff’, not their kids.

    It seems to me that the under 35’s have suddenly realised that they can’t rely on anyone else (or inheritances) for financial stability. Never, in my, 30-year career, have so many young people approached me for disability, critical illness, and life insurance before. When I ask why this is so, they say things like “well, Mark, it’s prudent to do so”, or, “no-one else will help, certainly not the state, should a disaster strike”. Samuel Smiles and Adam Smith would be delighted to know this, I’m sure.

    Older clients are beginning to understand that they have to ensure, as far as possible, that their essential expenditure simply must be covered by as much guaranteed income as possible, leaving investments and other savings as their ‘dip-into’ pots. I have seen a big uptick in retirees at least considering annuities (whether taxable pension ones or tax-exempt non-pension funded ones) to cover any essential expenditure gap between their ‘bottom-line’ cost of living and other secure income streams, such as occupational and state pensions. A very sensible strategy, I think (and not just because “he would say that, wouldn’t he”). Remember, an annuity is explicitly not an investment, it is insurance.

    Nothing above should be construed as either an ‘advert’ or financial advice.

  24. When the SHTF any island, even those as large as England will follow the blueprint of Easter Island by denuding their land and erecting giant heads of their floundering leaders, althoughr sculptors will be driven to madness trying to reproduce Bojo’s mop.

    • If one factors in whether a country can heat itself in the winter without world trade it’s even more bleak.

      Ireland has been denuded of trees for a long time and the country’s farmers / sheepherders are vigorously opposing government programs to reestablish forests. Evidently 1) the wood chips they use to heat homes will flow endlessly like a rver from Canadian forests, and 2) maximized monocrops on every available square foot = more money and more money solves all problems.

      Does the UK have enough oil gas and coal to heat itself or will it be asking for a gas pipeline extension from Russia under the channel?

      As for America, I believe it is foolish to assume geographic cohesiveness. On paper it might look like it can support itself, but that will disappear if it breaks up into regions.

    • @Tagio
      For the US. First, It is legally very easy for the States to call a Constitutional Convention and simply repeal the United States…which puts each state on its own. Similar to what a breakup of the EU would look like. But the usual ‘red state/ blue state’ dichotomy is misleading. The Democratic Atlanta metro area has little in common with the Republican countryside. The Republicans who control Texas are seeking to suppress people who vote Democrat in Dallas and Houston. So what we have is a class divide as opposed to a geographic divide. I believe France is similar…Paris is not like the rural areas. Central Paris isn’t even like the suburbs. Again, I think mostly a class divide.

      So a relevant question is: what have Paris and London and New York City and Atlanta got to export to the rural areas which have the raw materials? The rural supplier for Ireland may be a wood chip plantation in rural Georgia or Canada. What have they got to send to the rural area to pay for the wood chips? If we assume the collapse of fiat money, then everything becomes quite murky, because fiat is well understood to live in places like Wall Street. And the fiat money will be worthless. It’s easy to imagine the wood chip plantations swapping some for food from another rural region, but the loss of money has the potential for moving all of the deck chairs around.

      Albert Bates, who has been a COVID refugee in Yucatan, will post an article on Sunday which relates his experiences getting his second Sinovac shot deep in Maya territory. He notes that there are now more Mayans than there were at European conquest, they still have their language and culture, and, from what I saw, they are still pretty self-sufficient. It’s possible that Mexico could collapse and they would not miss it.

      It seems to me that the balance of trade becomes important. The US is currently running record deficits, which are paid for with fiat money courtesy of the reserve currency. If the fiat system collapses, or the US simply loses the reserve currency to China, then I would predict very hard times indeed.

      From what I know about China, I imagine that the industrialized areas have plenty of manufactured goods to trade for food from the hinterlands. The ‘post-industrial’ cities may be in for a shock.

      Don Stewart

    • The UK has got plenty of coal, the real question is – Does the UK have any men left to go down-pit and dig it out ? I think the snowflake generation would be too afraid of breaking a nail doing such manual labour. Same goes for our feminists, I do not expect too many of them to volunteer for underground work.

      Also, as Fiat becomes worthless, again this is a process and not an event, and as Alasdair McLeod ( @ goldmoney.com ) has suggested in one of his previous articles, Central Banks will eventually be forced to revert to some form of sound money and will need to activate their Gold reserves. This will then give backing to any remaining Fiat, and it will enable trade to take place. The longer they leave this then the more worthless their Fiat becomes, and countries with the higher Gold reserves will fare better. The UK with its paltry 300tonnes will put them economically somewhere below Portugal but above Lebanon, but with more mouths to feed than either of these two nations.

      As far as criminality and violence goes during the period of De-growth, well that is already baked into the cake. Human nature being what it is, people will not co-operate with one another in the division of an ever decreasing supply of resources. When bankrupt governments can no longer pay for their Police Force, then tribalism and gang warfare will take over.

  25. Violent Future Predicted for the US

    The prediction builds on the work of Peter Turchen and Jack Goldstone, which focuses on the political and economic relationship between the elites and the ordinary people. Since Richard Heinberg is the author, we can be sure that he is aware of the worsening energy equation…but this particular piece does not delve into energy.

    This can be read in conjunction with Richard’s soon to be published book on Power.

    Don Stewart

    • “which focuses on the political and economic relationship between the elites and the ordinary people”

      That’s just one part of Goldstone’s structural-demographic theory, the “structural” part. Another major part is “demographic” – that is, population growth and its (bad) consequences. I noticed that Turchin doesn’t talk much about this second part, perhaps because the logiclal conclusion of it is that big, beautifil walls are very useful in some circumstances… and that might get him cancelled?

      What do you think, Don? Has America become too small for Americans?

    • @Vic & Don

      The planet is too small. We will be put back into balance by the rest of nature and by self-culls via violent conflicts and crimes. When a large social mammal quadruples in the lifespan of living members it is called “plague phase” by biologists. My mother is nearing 97. (2B -> 8B)

    • @Vic K
      It is impossible to answer the question of ‘overpopulation die off’ without laying out pretty clearly the environment in which the people are expected to live. For example, at the present time, half the people in the world cannot afford to eat the good diet described by the EAT/ Lancet commission. But the financially poorest people in the world, the remaining hunter gatherers and horticulturists, eat the diet. If a good diet was our measuring stick, the financially poorest would be the rich.

      If minimum calories expended in order to thrive (including any fossil fuel and firewood calories) were the measuring stick, then, again, the financially poorest would be rich.

      If we ponder those paradoxes, we can see that almost 100 percent of the people answering the question about overpopulation have no clear conception of reality. I’ve tried to give it a lot of thought and subjected myself to certain experiences…but I can’t claim to be a wise counselor on the subject. It is clear to me that future survival depends on rapidly changing our relationships to food, water, fiber, shelter, social organizations, and exogenous energy such as firewood and the use of natural forms of control of heat and cold (like a lizard laying in the sun and a resident of India sleeping on the roof in order to cool themselves with radiation to outer space).

      On the plus side, we now have a much better understanding of how we are the products of the microbes and what it takes to keep the microbes happy. It means that we have to stop doing a whole raft of damaging actions.

      I don’t know what are the limits to population in the hypothetical world of ‘wise humans’. I am pretty clear on the direction we need to move.

      Don Stewart

  26. I can’t help glancing at the markets on a daily basis, they seem to have had another bout of incontinence this morning,
    Charles Hugh Smith has just written about retail investors being ‘all in’ and likely to become the bag holders if things go south rapidly,
    I don’t understand this overnight trading business, surely if an exchange is closed it’s closed?
    is anyone in a position to give an informed yet impartial overview of these endless fluctuations that seem to lead nowhere?

    • Matt,

      After hours trading has been going on for many years. Many securities are listed on multiple exchanges (with different currency bases) Trades occur off exchange all the time. Basically like OTC, but also “Dark Pool” in which large blocks are negotiated between very large players.

    • and these are the big drops or hikes you see sometimes when markets open, the big trades arranged after hours?

    • After hour trades, off-exchange, are legal. They are consummated immediately. These players have credit lines with each other, so trust the settlements. There are also second and third exchanges in other countries/time zones where shares of high volume issues can be traded and cleared. (settled)

  27. Spot on, Don. The fact that it’s a class divide, not a geographic one, is a prescription for civil war, not for relatively peaceful resolution through legal means of succession.

    The collapse of fiat would reveal the Big Lie that the Blue State areas – the megalopolises in the East, other big cities in the U.S. and their neighboring commuter suburbs – “produce” 70% of the nation’s GDP and are wealthy, when compared to flyover country. [See brookingsDOTedu blog, “Biden-voting counties equal 70% of nation’s GDP, leaped on and touted on by HRC further to her outlook on the nation’s deplorables.)

    Those places are nodes of mass consumption, they produce little or nothing of value outside of the FIRE sector. The are, in fact, “sinks,” not sources of value. In a fiat collapse, the places that have actual possession of the resources and produce the real goods would become the equivalent of resource rich countries, and have a new upper hand. What do the mass consumption places have to trade with?

    This is what comes of our special form of mental illness, our ability to inhabit virtual, symbolic worlds, where we believe we live in a mental construct called “the economy,” instead of a physical world in which, like every other animal, survival depends on the ability to self-provision water, food, shelter, warmth in winter near at hand. Oh but look at our success – there’s now 7+ billion of us! Winning!

    Within the recent past, we’ve had the collapse of the condo in Miami. We’ve had the other Tim’s post on the failure to upgrade the London Victorian-era water and sewer system – not unique to London by any stretch. We’ve had your article on the Tokyo heat island, not unique to Tokyo. It is fast becoming ever clearer that being in or near a large city is not going to be the place to be.

    • Part of the problem is the dfference between price and value.

      Analyses of economic output by location or sector reflect the prices paid for various activities. These prices seldom reflect the value of these activities. That’s the way prices work.

      For instance, think of the 1970s oil crises, and the end-1985 fall in crude prices. Did the economic *value* of oil change much when prices quadrupled in 1973-74, soared again in 1978-79, and then crashed in 1985? No. If the price of a house soars, or slumps, can we infer that the utility (its practical worth to its owner) of that house rises and falls through that process? Again, no – its functional utility doesn’t change.

      Estimates of the ‘value’ of sectors or workers are based on the price of their activities, not their value. For instance, the pricing process probably undervalues farming and farmers, and overvalues various esoteric trades whose real value is pretty low.

      This, incidentally, is why goverment job-creation strategies so often fail, in that they do create the jobs but don’t replace the economic value of former industries in depressed locations. Let’s say a certain place has a steelworks, car plant or shipyard that closes. Government, meaning well, moves some of its admin activities into that place. Jobs, numerically, are replaced, but economic value is not.

  28. Tim Watkins has just issued another blog . This is a discussion of the energy situation in UK but applicable to most countries . As always a well informed contribution on the jumbled thinking among the PTB.

    I did witness a clear example of the jumbled thinking last week as I sailed across Morecambe bay.
    Our point of departure was Heysham where currently there are two nuclear generating stations which have been operating for between 30-40 years almost continuously generating 2500MW.
    During the sail in calm conditions we passed , for around 2 hours , close by the :Morecambe bay “wind farm”. Not a single wind turbine , of the many hundred , was rotating .

    On an energy related subject I came across an article regarding a project in Switzerland at ETU Zurich and a company Synhelion . Apparently the process under investigation can create a new fuel from solar energy and CO2. I wonder if some of the “tech” types on this forum could assess its thermodynamic and ECOE credentials. Or is it fools gold yet again?

    • the chemical reactions and processes to make liquid fuels from gasses have been known for over a century,
      the hitch is always the amount of energy input compared to the output,
      if it was profitable and practical we would have been doing it decades ago,
      it keeps getting resurrected because CCS schemes have no where to put the co2 they capture and would like to make something they could sell with it.

      look at Bosch reaction, Sabatier reaction and Fischer Tropsch process on wikipedia.

    • @Matt
      Thanks for your reply .
      In other words ECOE is prohibitive which seems to be overlooked by all those who
      “should know better”.
      I was going to suggest a crowd funding by followers of this blog for the project.
      Another bad investment has been avoided!

    • well liquid fuels have a huge utility, they’re portable and compatible with contemporay vehicles and there is an argument that in certain circumstances they are worth making for the convenience even considering their cost,

      but putting up wind and solar farms to generate electricity to synthesise fuels is a whole layer of additional technology with energy being wasted at every conversion stage,

      once you’ve made green energy why not use it, why turn it into yet another form of energy, liquid fuels or another example hydrogen,
      just use the electricity and skip all the extra steps.

      no doubt the military will like synthetic fuels because they can burden the civilian economy with it’s costs and reap the benefits of maintained mobility and flexibility,
      Germany in WW2 was making synthetic liquid fuels for it’s war machine, much of the cost burden was put on the shoulders of slave labour to make it happen,

  29. Sorry, not had the energy capacity to keep up with comments but interesting study regarding the extent of national resilience vis a vis ecological capacity.

    An Analysis of the Potential for the Formation of ‘Nodes of Persisting Complexity’


    New Zealand was identified as having the greatest potential to survive relatively unscathed thanks to its ability to produce geothermal and hydroelectric energy, its abundant agricultural land and low population.

    Iceland, Tasmania and Ireland have similar characteristics. but the UK presents a more complex picture due to its high population density.

    Although the UK has generally fertile soils it has low per capita availability of agricultural land, raising questions about future self-sufficiency.




    ‘Peak Prosperity’ has been a very useful memetic, as has been ‘Limits to Growth’. The need to use ‘Paradox of Growth’ has not come up yet.

    Been ‘seeing’ that transitioning to Stability is all about understanding how to create balance within individuals and communities using this model


    Cooperative Delayering and simplification will require at least three levels to balance, so for example


    Different sized Corporations and different tax rates to change composition of the market as per democratic wishes.

    In other words, democratic wishes regarding the composition of the market which is changed using three levels of tax rates for businesses, different goods and services etc etc which in theory can produce enough change/adaptation in the system to produce pockets of growth and profitability.

    Shifting ecological, material and immaterial priorities in accordance with ecological metrics and inner balance/stability expressed as informed democratic choices should be able to produce enough change in the system to allow some technological growth which is compensated for with degrowth in another part of the system.

    The tricky bit is the politicisation of human descent and Peak Prosperity as we shift towards long term regenerative ecological capacity and start using national metrics, regional metrics and global metrics to determine rate of energy transfer, route of energy transfer and efficiency of energy transfer.

    Lastly, Tim is ECoE correlated with Brent oil price metrics especially regarding postwar oil price stability and post 70s oil price volatility.

    Building up national resilience in balance with some reduction of market efficiency seems a key ecological balance to focus on. Especially if QE is slowed and we hit a recession.

    The debate between national resilience and market efficiency is causing tensions on the Right which are being exploited by the EU Left to direct voters to the Lib Dems. Their angle is European resilience and EU market efficiency.

    My angle is that we need both to varying democratic degrees with an emphasis on national resilience and national ecological carrying capacity so we all know what imbalances we are working with and how these national imbalances can be mediated at regional and global levels.

    Cooperation is key and how to memetically define/shape/construct a cooperative platform/forum/framework to mediate between highly competitive individuals/communities/nations/regions bearing in mind highly competitive individuals/communities/nations/regions will want to define/shape/construct cooperative frameworks that favour themselves.

    I presume therefore, the test of cooperation is one which can demonstrate a high state of internal balance that remains within ecological limits.

    If the cooperative system does not achieve that, it needs to be democratically/technocratically tweaked whatever the perceived or actual harm/loss/damage which in most instances can hopefully be mitigated.

    Stability through Cooperation 😊
    with lots of meandering to find the ecologically optimum balance between competing interests of self preservation.

    It can be done if everyone discovers their own internal stability and realises and rectifies their own ecological imbalances. If people desists from finding their own internal ecological stability then for the common good of the species, then community action can adjust them instead using taxes, ecological metrics, energy metrics, consumption metrics etc etc

    Bye for now 🏵️💗🌍

  30. @jomelco
    I assume the Tim Watkins blog is this one:

    It’s a good essay. But I suggest that in order to draw truly deep conclusions from it, we need to pair it with this one:

    Jennings argues (with more economic jargon than I want to wade through) that economics as practiced by the Neo-liberals, is blind to its own limitations. He argues for pluralism. That approach is, broadly, the same as I have advocated. We have to frame the most important questions very broadly, such as “what do we mean by human flourishing?” Neo-liberalism wants to reduce everything to money, but that is so obviously wrong that I don’t think I need to dwell on it. An illustrative problem is that even something like climate models have Neo-liberal thinking at their basis. Under Neo-liberalism, if just printing money stops working, then governments might require women to charge their husbands for sex, thus stimulating a huge additional growth in the economy…along with a little tax revenue to keep governments in business.

    I do believe Jennings suggests something important when he says that the third industrial revolution did not increase economic growth because it had no additional source of dense energy. An economy, by definition, is the creation of new things using energy which can be traded for other goods which were created by using energy. In the real world of 2021, almost all of the energy used in creating those goods comes from fossil fuels (plus a little nuclear). The vast amount of solar energy needed to keep the Earth in a viable range of temperatures is not counted as ‘valuable’. Which illustrates the problem. We have enough solar energy to keep the Earth habitable, and we have enough fossil fuels to destabilize the environment, but we put value on only one of those two.

    It’s also true that hunter gatherers and horticulturists using virtually no money are just as happy as the average American or Saudi using vastly more fossil fuels. Yet when those hunter-gatherers and horticulturists have the opportunity to move to a money economy, almost all of them do so. So the illusion that more stuff will make us happy is extraordinarily powerful. In order to address that paradox, one has to resort to either some fancy psychology or some religion (Buddha, the Sermon on the Mount, etc.). The Odom’s Prosperous Way Down might be worth rereading.

    Finally, I agree with Watkins that using horses for traction is not the great gain that it appears to be. Few domesticated animals actually pay for their upkeep. For one thing, the process of domestication takes away their ability to function in the wild. Turn them loose and they quickly fall to predators. Which means we have to raise them like children. Which, as any parent can tell you, is expensive. Which implies, to me, that a completely fossil fuel free future involves either hunting and gathering or horticulture. Along, I hope, with a few additions such as water based transport. I also agree with Jennings that water is hugely important. One way to estimate the future population of Earth is to count the number of unpolluted springs which can be claimed, and the number of people they will support clustered around them. I don’t think that is a large number.

    Don Stewart

    • there does seem to be a feedback loop coming into play and opposing neo-liberalism,
      doing a bullshit job for insufficient pay is being rejected as people find that less stuff equals more time for themselves,
      I think neo-liberalism has achieved everything that Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan was trying to avoid,
      people don’t want to live the extreme neo-liberal life, it’s unbearable and they are pushing back, even if they haven’t fully rationalised why,
      I suspect some of the inability to fill job vacancies is also because people don’t want endless vaccinations and to have to carry vaccine passports,
      it’s becoming a last straw for some people,
      I’m spending a lot of time on reddit and the mutinous mood is palpable,
      the neo-liberals might just have pushed people too far at this point,
      the worm is turning!

    • @Don
      No. The blog is entitled “When green gets real.” Issued on 7/31/2021
      Sorry I do not know how to provide links to this blog.

Comments are closed.