Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Dark Age America: The Hour of the Knife

It was definitely the sort of week that could benefit from a little comic relief. The Ebola epidemic marked another week of rising death tolls and inadequate international response . Bombs rained down ineffectually on various corners of Iraq and Syria as the United States and an assortment of putative allies launched air strikes at the Islamic State insurgents; since air strikes by themselves don’t win wars, and none of the combatants except Islamic State and the people they’re attacking have shown any inclination to put boots on the ground, that high-tech tantrum also counts in every practical sense as an admission of defeat, a point which is doubtless not lost on Islamic State. Meanwhile stock markets worldwide plunged on an assortment of ghastly economic news, with most indexes giving up their 2014 gains and then some, and oil prices dropped on weakening demand, reaching levels that put a good many fracking firms in imminent danger of bankruptcy.

In the teeth of all this bad news, I’m pleased to say, Paul Krugman rose to the occasion and gave all of us in the peak oil scene something to laugh about.  My regular readers will recall that Krugman assailed Post Carbon Institute a couple of weeks ago for having the temerity to point out that transitioning away from fossil fuels was, ahem, actually going to cost money. His piece was rebutted at once by Post Carbon’s Richard Heinberg and others, who challenged Krugman’s crackpot optimism and pointed out that the laws of physics and geology really do trump those of economics.

Krugman’s response—it really is a comic masterpiece, better than anything I’ve seen since the heyday of Francis Fukuyama—involved, among other non sequiturs and dubious claims, assailing mere scientists for thinking that they know more than economists. Er, let’s see: which of these two groups of people is expected to test their predictions against hard facts and discard a theory that produces inaccurate predictions? That’s what scientists do every working day, while economists apparently have something else to occupy their time. This may be why, when it comes to predicting macroeconomic conditions, economists these days are rarely as accurate as a tossed coin: consider the IMF’s continued advocacy of austerity programs as the road to prosperity when no country that has ever implemented them has ever achieved prosperity thereby, or for that matter the huge majority of economists who insisted the housing bubble wasn’t a bubble and wouldn’t crash, right up until the bottom dropped out.

Like so much great comedy, though, Krugman’s jest has its serious side. He sees a permanent condition of economic growth as the normal, indeed the inevitable state of affairs; it has doubtless never occurred to him that it might merely be a temporary anomaly, made possible only by the reckless extraction and consumption of half a billion years of fossil sunlight in a few short centuries. That the needle on the world’s fossil fuel gauge is swinging inexorably over toward E, to him, thus can only mean that some other source of cheap, abundant, highly concentrated energy will have to be found to keep the engines of economic growth roaring on at full throttle. That there may be no such replacement for fossil fuels ready and waiting in Nature’s cookie jar, and that economic growth can thus give way to an economic contraction extending over decades and centuries to come, has never entered his darkest dream.

That is to say, Krugman is still thinking the thoughts of a bygone era when the assumptions guiding those thoughts are long past their pull date and a very different era is taking shape around him. That’s a common source of confusion in times of rapid change, and never more so than in the decline and fall of civilizations—the theme of the current series of posts here. One specific form of that confusion very often becomes the mechanism by which the governing elite of a society in decline removes itself from power, and that mechanism is what I want to discuss this week.

To make sense of that process, it’s going to be necessary to take a step back and revisit some of the points made in an earlier post in this series. I discussed there the way that the complex social hierarchies common to mature civilizations break down into larger and less stable masses in which new loyalties and hatreds more easily build to explosive intensity. America’s as good an example of that as any.  A century ago, for example, racists in this country were at great pains to distinguish various classes of whiteness, with people of Anglo-Saxon ancestry at the pinnacle of whiteness and everybody else fitted into an intricate scheme of less-white categories below. Over the course of the twentieth century, those categories collapsed into a handful of abstract ethnicities—white, black, Hispanic, Asian—and can be counted on to collapse further as we proceed, until there are just two categories left, which are not determined by ethnicity but purely by access to the machinery of power.

Arnold Toynbee, whose immensely detailed exploration of this process remains the best account for our purposes, called those two the dominant minority and the internal proletariat. The dominant minority is the governing elite of a civilization in its last phases, a group of people united not by ethnic, cultural, religious, or ideological ties, but purely by their success in either clawing their way up the social ladder to a position of power, or hanging on to a position inherited from their forebears. Toynbee draws a sharp division between a dominant minority and the governing elite of a civilization that hasn’t yet begun to decline, which he calls a creative minority. The difference is that a creative minority hasn’t yet gone through the descent into senility that afflicts elites, and still recalls its dependence on the loyalty of those further down the social ladder; a dominant minority or, in my terms, a senile elite has lost track of that, and has to demand and enforce obedience because it can no longer inspire respect.

Everyone else in a declining civilization belongs to the second category, the internal proletariat. Like the dominant minority, the internal proletariat has nothing to unite it but its relationship to political power: it consists of all those people who have none. In the face of that fact, other social divisions gradually evaporate.  Social hierarchies are a form of capital, and like any form of capital, they have maintenance costs, which are paid out in the form of influence and wealth.   The higher someone stands in the social hierarchy, the more access to influence and wealth they have; that’s their payoff for cooperating with the system and enforcing its norms on those further down.

As resources run short and a civilization in decline has to start cutting its maintenance costs, though, the payoffs get cut. For obvious reasons, the higher someone is on the ladder to begin with, the more influence they have over whose payoffs get cut, and that reliably works out to “not mine.” The further down you go, by contrast, the more likely people are to get the short end of the stick. That said, until the civilization actually comes apart, there’s normally a floor to the process, somewhere around the minimum necessary to actually sustain life; an unlucky few get pushed below this, but normally it’s easier to maintain social order when the very poor get just enough to survive. Thus social hierarchies disintegrate from the bottom up, as more and more people on the lower rungs of the latter are pushed down to the bottom, erasing the social distinctions that once differentiated them from the lowest rung.

That happens in society as a whole; it also happens in each of the broad divisions of the caste system—in the United States, those would be the major ethnic divisions. The many shades of relative whiteness that used to divide white Americans into an intricate array of castes, for instance, have almost entirely gone by the boards; you have to go pretty far up the ladder to find white Americans who differentiate themselves from other white Americans on the basis of whose descendants they are. Further down the ladder, Americans of Italian, Irish, and Polish descent—once strictly defined castes with their own churches, neighborhoods, and institutions—now as often as not think of themselves as white without further qualification.

The same process has gotten under way to one extent or another in the other major ethnic divisions of American society, and it’s also started to dissolve even those divisions among the growing masses of the very poor.  I have something of a front-row seat on that last process; I live on the edge of the low-rent district in an old mill town in the Appalachians, and shopping and other errands take me through the neighborhood on foot quite often. I walk past couples pushing baby carriages, kids playing in backyards or vacant lots, neighbors hanging out together on porches, and as often as not these days the people in these groups don’t all have the same skin color. Head into the expensive part of town and you won’t see that; the dissolution of the caste system hasn’t extended that far up the ladder—yet.

This is business as usual in a collapsing civilization.  Sooner or later, no matter how intricate the caste system you start with, you end up with a society divided along the lines sketched out by Toynbee, with a dominant minority defined solely by its access to power and wealth and an internal proletariat defined solely by its exclusion from these things. We’re not there yet, not in the United States; there are still an assortment of intermediate castes between the two final divisions of society—but as Bob Dylan said a long time ago, you don’t have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing.

The political implications of this shift are worth watching. As I’ve noted here more than once, ruling elites in mature civilizations don’t actually exercise power themselves; they issue general directives to their immediate subordinates, who hand them further down the pyramid; along the way the general directives are turned into specific orders, which finally go to the ordinary working Joes and Janes who actually do the work of maintaining the status quo against potential rivals, rebels, and dissidents. A governing elite that hasn’t yet gone senile knows that it has to keep the members of its overseer class happy, and provides them with appropriate perks and privileges toward this end. As the caste system starts to disintegrate due to a shortage of resources to meet maintenance costs, though, the salaries and benefits at the bottom of the overseer class get cut, and more and more of the work of maintaining the system is assigned to poorly paid, poorly trained, and poorly motivated temp workers whose loyalties don’t necessarily lie with their putative masters.

You might think that even an elite gone senile would have enough basic common sense left to notice that losing the loyalty of the people who keep the elite in power is a fatal error.  In practice, though, the disconnection between the world of the dominant elite and the world of the internal proletariat quickly becomes total, and the former can be completely convinced that everything is fine when the latter know otherwise. As I write this, there’s a timely example unfolding at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, where hospital administrators have been insisting at the top of their lungs that every possible precaution was taken when the late Thomas Duncan was being treated there for Ebola. According to the nursing staff—two of whom have now come down with the disease—“every possible precaution” amounted to no training, inadequate protective gear, and work schedules that had nurses who treated Duncan go on to tend other patients immediately thereafter.

A few weeks ago, the US media was full of confident bluster about how our high-tech medical industry would swing into action and stop the disease in its tracks; the gap between those easy assurances and the Keystone Kops response currently under way in Dallas is the same, mutatis mutandis, as the gap between the august edicts proclaimed in the capital during the last years of every civilization and the chaos in the streets and on the borders. You can see the same gap at work every time the US government trots out the latest round of heavily massaged economic statistics claiming that prosperity is just around the corner, or—well, I could go on listing examples for any number of pages.

So the gap that opens up between the dominant minority and the internal proletariat is much easier to see from below than from above. Left to itself, that gap would probably keep widening until the dominant minority toppled into it. It’s an interesting regularity of history, though, that this process is almost never left to run its full length. Instead, another series of events overtakes it, with the same harsh consequences for the dominant minority.

To understand this it’s necessary to include another aspect of Toynbee’s analysis, and look at what’s going on just outside the borders of a civilization in decline. Civilizations prosper by preying on their neighbors; the mechanism may be invasion and outright pillage, demands for tribute backed up by the threat of armed force, unbalanced systems of exchange that concentrate wealth in an imperial center at the expense of the periphery, or what have you, but the process is the same in every case, and so are the results. One way or another, the heartland of every civilization ends up surrounded by an impoverished borderland, scaled according to the transport technologies of the era.  In the case of the ancient Maya, the borderland extended only a modest distance in any direction; in the case of ancient Rome, it extended north to the Baltic Sea and east up to the borders of Parthia; in the case of modern industrial society, the borderland includes the entire Third World.

However large the borderland may be, its inhabitants fill a distinctive role in the decline and fall of a civilization. Toynbee calls them the external proletariat; as a civilization matures, their labor provides a steadily increasing share of the wealth that keeps the civilization and its dominant elite afloat, but they receive essentially nothing in return, and they’re keenly aware of this. Civilizations in their prime keep their external proletariats under control by finding and funding compliant despots to rule over the borderlands and, not incidentally, distract the rage of the external proletariat to some target more expendable than the civilization’s dominant minority. Here again, though, maintenance costs are the critical issue. When a dominant minority can no longer afford the subsidies and regular military expeditions needed to keep their puppet despots on their thrones, and try to maintain peace along the borders on teh cheap, they invariably catalyze the birth of the social form that brings them down.

Historians call it the warband: a group of young men whose sole trade is violence, gathered around a charismatic leader.  Warbands spring up in the borderlands of a civilization as the dominant minority or its pet despots lose their grip, and go through a brutally Darwinian process of evolution thereafter in constant struggle with each other and with every other present or potential rival in range. Once they start forming, there seems to be little that a declining civilization can do to derail that evolutionary process; warbands are born of chaos, their activities add to the chaos, and every attempt to pacify the borderlands by force simply adds to the chaos that feeds them. In their early days, warbands cover their expenses by whatever form of violent activity will pay the bills, from armed robbery to smuggling to mercenary service; as they grow, raids across the border are the next step; as the civilization falls apart and the age of migrations begins, warbands are the cutting edge of the process that shreds nations and scatters their people across the map.

The process of warband formation itself can quite readily bring a civilization down. Very often, though, the dominant minority of the declining civilization gives the process a good hard shove. As the chasm between the dominant minority and the internal proletariat becomes wider, remember, the overseer class that used to take care of crowd control and the like for the dominant minority becomes less and less reliable, as their morale and effectiveness are hammered by ongoing budget cuts, and the social barriers that once divided them from the people they are supposed to control will have begun to dissolve if they haven’t entirely given way yet. What’s the obvious option for a dominant minority that is worried about its ability to control the internal proletariat, can no longer rely on its own overseer class, and also has a desperate need to find something to distract the warbands on its borders?

They hire the warbands, of course.

That’s what inspired the Roman-British despot Vortigern to hire the Saxon warlord Hengist and three shiploads of his heavily armed friends to help keep the peace in Britannia after the legions departed. That’s what led the Fujiwara family, the uncrowned rulers of Japan, to hire uncouth samurai from the distant, half-barbarous Kanto plain to maintain peace in the twilight years of the Heian period. That’s why scores of other ruling elites have made the obvious, logical, and lethal choice to hire their own replacements and hand over the actual administration of power to them.

That latter is the moment toward which all the political trends examined in the last four posts in this sequence converge. The disintegration of social hierarchies, the senility of ruling elites, and the fossilization of institutions all lead to the hour of the knife, the point at those who think they still rule a civilization discover the hard way—sometimes the very hard way—that effective power has transferred to new and more muscular hands. Those of the elites that attempt to resist this transfer rarely survive the experience.  Those who accommodate themselves to the new state of affairs may be able to prosper for a time, but only so long as their ability to manipulate what’s left of the old system makes them useful to its new overlords. As what was once a complex society governed by bureaucratic institutions dissolves into a much simpler society governed by the personal rule of warlords, that skill set does not necessarily wear well.

In some cases—Hengist is an example—the warlords allow the old institutions to fall to pieces all at once, and the transition from an urban civilization to a protofeudal rural society takes place in a few generations at most. In others—the samurai of the Minamoto clan, who came out on top in the furious struggles that surrounded the end of the Heian period, are an example here—the warlords try to maintain the existing order of society as best they can, and get dragged down by the same catabolic trap that overwhelmed their predecessors. In an unusually complex case—for example, post-Roman Italy—one warlord after another can seize what’s left of the institutional structure of a dead empire, try to run it for a while, and then get replaced by someone else with the same agenda, each change driving one more step down the long stair that turned the Forum into a sheep pasture.

Exactly how this process will play out in the present case is impossible to predict in advance. We’ve got warband formation well under way in quite a few corners of industrial civilization’s borderlands, the southern border of the United States among them; we’ve got a dominant minority far advanced in the state of senility described in an earlier post; we’ve got a society equally well advanced in the dissolution of castes into dominant minority and internal proletariat. Where we are now in the process is clear enough; what will come out the other side, which will be discussed in a future post, is equally clear; the exact series of steps between them is of less importance—except, of course, to those who have the most to fear when the hour of the knife arrives.

In other news, I'm pleased to announce that my latest book from New Society Publications, After Progress: Reason, Religion, and the End of the Industrial Age is now available for preorder, with a 20% discount off the cover price as an additional temptation. Those readers who enjoyed last year's series of posts on religion and the end of progress will find this very much to their taste. 


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Glenn said...

So, is this Krugman's unlimited source of energy? Just came up today. Lockheed claims to have done what was supposed to have been done 40 years ago. They say it will be "10 years" to work the bugs out and develop. Hmmm, I've heard that before.


In the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

olduvaiguy said...

Warbands: NSA, police

Moshe Braner said...

Perhaps an example of the "disconnect" is the huge deal now made of the fact that the second Ebola-infected nurse in the US flew on an airliner just before she was diagnosed. Nobody seems to worry about the people who she might have bumped into on a bus, at a supermarket, and so forth. Only airliners. Why? Seems to me, that is because only on airliners do the dominant minority share personal space with the proles. Except for the 1% of the 1%, who travel on their private jets. The fact that their maids shop for them at crowded supermarkets is also out of their sight.

Grebulocities said...

Oh come on, JMG. Paul Krugman is funny in the unintentional style the NYT is good at, but this was only typically funny - he shouldn't even be mentioned in the same sentence as a master comedian like Fukuyama.

Krugman's a 61-year-old at the tail end of his career whose entire identity is based around a delusion: in his case, perpetual growth by means of Keynesian economics. Having fallen to that view for a few years before reality hit me was a severe shock; I can't even begin to imagine how I'd respond if I'd spent my entire adult life immersed in the economic mainstream and risen to claim its most prestigious prize. He has staked his life on a worldview that is visibly crumbling around him: of course he's going to flail around like this as it disintegrates.

Of course, he already knows that growth is a physical process and that efficiency gains still don't allow indefinite exponential growth. He doesn't accept it consciously, but if you look at his columns you'll see the evidence of some subconscious realization of what's really going on written all over the place. He's written about and endorsed fellow comedian Larry Summers' idea of secular stagnation (otherwise known, but never phrased, as the end of growth), and used that to advocate negative interest rates as the only way to get the economy to keep expanding. During that weird, metastable early-2010s plateau that seems to be ending now, he actually did occasionally write about whether growth was slowing down permanently; he usually dismissed that notion, but never with any real evidence.

Some part of him must also be aware of the connection between economic growth and GHG emissions, even if carbon intensity usually falls slowly as GDP increases at a more rapid clip. Then there's the part of him that actually understands the implications of the exponential function: sure, you can improve efficiency as measured by GDP per unit energy consumed and grow your favorite economic statistic somewhat faster than energy consumption for a while, but there's no way this can continue for very long. An economy that becomes totally decoupled from energy and other resource inputs is an obvious absurdity, and I think some part of him knows this too.

That's why he's suddenly started attacking the Post-Carbon Institute, which he would have considered beneath him even a few months ago. If you eloquently troll him for long enough he might even respond to you directly - if he does, that post might actually put him in Fukuyama's comedy league. I agree with you that it's a fascinating sign of decline that the most mainstream of mainstream economists has suddenly started feeling the need to reply to peak oil bloggers.

I hope The End of History does manage to survive any future dark age, though. It's an amazing snapshot of the pulse of jubilation that appeared in 1989 right around the time of Fukuyama's first version of the essay. That short-lived pulse of unrivaled American hegemony, where the wealth pumps were working in most of the world including Russia, might well be the stuff of legend in a few centuries.

Mark Rice said...

The chart in Krugman's essay was disingenuous or perhaps just innumerate.

The chart plotted fuel consumption per day as a function of ship speed. But at a slower speed, it will take more days to get there. The fuel savings will not be as dramatic as the chart suggests.

A chart of fuel consumed per say 100 nautical miles as a function of ship speed would have been more useful.

He lost me with the misleading chart. I wonder if he is even attempting to be intellectually honest.

team10tim said...

Hey hey JMG,

I was expecting the Praetorian guard. The process is obvious. A senile elite that can no longer inspires must start enforcing. I was thinking of private prisons with fun names like Wackenhut and mercenaries like Blackwater.

But the core is the same. The elites abdicate all of their responsibilities and keep the perks. Naturally, in doing so, they also relinquish the respect and admiration that keeps them on top and the people that actually do the enforcing end up in charge. Because they are the only people who can be in charge when the collective will to be part of a hierarchy is totally spent.

But I have to admit that I don't follow how this would happen IN the USA. Are you talking about training and equipping the Mujahideen in Afghanistan to fight the USSR and then morphing into Taliban? Giving Saddam weapons to attack Iran and then... Then I forget what happened. I remember Rome did that sort of thing often; hiring some Barbarians to do it's bidding and then being attacked by the same barbarians. But all of this happens far away. I can't imagine how this would happen in my neighbourhood.*


* Just for the record I know that what I just said: "But all of this happens far away. I can't imagine how this would happen in my neighbourhood." struck me as famous last words, or one of those signs like Krugman's piece.

D.M. said...

"...and try to maintain peace along the borders on teh cheap..."

Yes, teh L33Ts will have a difficult time attempting to maintain peace along the borders as increasing costs to maintain capital as well as the war bands putting more and more pressure on the puppet governments takes increasing amounts of resources to deal with, especially if boots have to be put on the ground from the declining civilization's army.

Pinku-Sensei said...

"In the teeth of all this bad news, I’m pleased to say, Paul Krugman rose to the occasion and gave all of us in the peak oil scene something to laugh about."

I'm glad I shared that link with you last week and even more pleased that you enjoyed it and got to use it.

"Krugman’s response—it really is a comic masterpiece, better than anything I’ve seen since the heyday of Francis Fukuyama—involved, among other non sequiturs and dubious claims, assailing mere scientists for thinking that they know more than economists. Er, let’s see: which of these two groups of people is expected to test their predictions against hard facts and discard a theory that produces inaccurate predictions?...consider the IMF’s continued advocacy of austerity programs as the road to prosperity when no country that has ever implemented them has ever achieved prosperity thereby, or for that matter the huge majority of economists who insisted the housing bubble wasn’t a bubble and wouldn’t crash, right up until the bottom dropped out."

To be fair to Krugman, he has been pointing out the folly of "expansionary austerity" for years and was one of the few economists who thought that the housing market was in a bubble at the time. However, he had no idea how bad the bubble bursting would be. He's also made a few other predictions that have come true, such as expanding the money supply would not create inflation so long as interest rates were so low, but which other economists and policy makers have generally ignored. Just the same, those are successes within his paradigm, which means they don't fit in a world of limits to growth. Speaking of which...

"That the needle on the world’s fossil fuel gauge is swinging inexorably over toward E, to him, thus can only mean that some other source of cheap, abundant, highly concentrated energy will have to be found to keep the engines of economic growth roaring on at full throttle. That there may be no such replacement for fossil fuels ready and waiting in Nature’s cookie jar, and that economic growth can thus give way to an economic contraction extending over decades and centuries to come, has never entered his darkest dream."

That's pretty much what I've been saying about him. Peak oil? He's not having it.

However, he's not alone in assuming that "they'll think of something" because otherwise the assumptions of his world will be shown to be false. The most read article on Reuters as I type this is Lockheed says makes breakthrough on fusion energy project. Here's the lede: "Lockheed Martin Corp said on Wednesday it had made a technological breakthrough in developing a power source based on nuclear fusion, and the first reactors, small enough to fit on the back of a truck, could be ready for use in a decade." Hope springs eternal. Also, a decade away? Well, that's an improvement over it being 30 to 35 years away, but I don't believe it. After all, nuclear fusion would be even better than flying cars, and I don't think those will happen for the mass market, either.

Mark Rice said...

The city of San Jose CA is having a hard time keeping it's police force happy. The police had been given a very lavish pension plan. Now it is obvious the city can not afford this in the long run. Efforts to roll this back are resulting in unhappiness and much gnashing of teeth.

John Michael Greer said...

Glenn, I saw that, and wondered who's been smoking their shorts.

Olduvai, no, they're members of the overseer class, the ones that the elites will find increasingly unreliable as things wind down. The warbands that matter are forming outside US borders.

Moshe, true enough.

Grebulocities, well, I suppose there's no accounting for taste. I found this latest piece of Krugman's very funny indeed.

Mark, I suspect it's simple innumeracy -- the sort of thing that a cheerleader for some ideology would find and use without asking hard questions.

Tim, no, not at all. Imagine a future in which the Southwest gradually descends into anarchy, in which drug gangs and insurgent forces fuse into private armies with charismatic leaders. Sooner or later the elite in DC decide to cut a deal with one of the leaders in order to get muscle to quash a sputtering insurgency in the Deep South. We're some years away from that -- I expect it after the current crisis and breathing space, say, fifty years from now -- but that's the sort of thing I have in mind.

DM, exactly. One more demand on the declining resources of a society that already can't pay its bills.

Pinku-sensei, I got pelted with links to Krugman's piece -- for which thanks are owed to all, as I needed a good belly laugh. So fusion's going to be the next big subsidy dumpster! I figured it would be something nuclear; sooner or later we'll probably see a huge program to build fission reactors, which will get very few (if any) actually built, cause one of history's truly great bankruptcies, and delay the recognition of the inevitable for a few more years. Still, that's further down the road.

Thomas Daulton said...

It's pointless to argue energy realities with Krugman. He's a "nice" economist, with compassionate sensibilities, but in the end he's still an economist. Economics is one of America's "Civil Religions" as you've defined the term, and as a High Priest of Economics, Krugman is one of the senescing elites you describe. Krugman, and most of his compatriot economists, are blind to the natural limits of their profession in much the same way that telescopes can't see beyond 14 Billion light-years. Just the way that Karl Rove is alleged to believe, when he said "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality." Economists are indeed lords of the reality that they create -- a mumbled word from an economist like Alan Greenspan can make the livelihoods of thousands of the internal proletariat appear or disappear like magic -- but because all they can see is within the bounds of their artificial reality, they don't notice and _CAN'T_ notice that the size of their sphere of influence is shrinking, due to real-world constraints. Krugman’s got a great plan for how the shipping industry can continue to grow infinitely on some theoretical planet other than Earth, but in the real world, he will be perpetually mystified by the mysterious, pessimistic dropoff in shipping demand as unemployed people can no longer afford to buy plastic crap shipped halfway around the world from China in the first place.

Krugman is basically admitting that economics is a separate, divorced reality from the physical world -- a reality of numbers and customer satisfaction, which can theoretically increase without limit and create numerical "wealth" out of thin air. He believes his theoretical economic numbers can visit the physical reality, "slumming" from their home dimension, to provide happiness and sustenance to real-world people -- in much the same way that the Christian "Holy Spirit" can visit Earth from Heaven to provide salvation and balm to the downtrodden. In some ways he has a point, because money itself is a figment of theory and imagination. We can re-jigger the formulas, create more money from thin air, pay people more, and in many circumstances that alleviates hardship. But that basically only works for human-induced hardship.

The example in his column about steamships is instructive. More or less he says that the shipping industry can experience growth and profits while using less petroleum if we order our ships to travel slower, because slow travel gets better gas mileage. In order that the total amount shipped not decrease, which would slow growth, we "simply" put more ships on the seas. Numerous objections leap to mind. Let’s ignore for a minute the fact that we’ve already tried this experiment on our highways, and found out that fuel economy is not sufficient incentive to get people to lower their travel speeds voluntarily. When Krugman says shipping can use less petroleum but still experience economic growth "simply" by adding more ships, I immediately started to think about logjams of container ships at ports, lining up to wait for an inadequate number of berths; the extra water pollution caused by leaking oil and trash from ships spending longer and longer times at sea; and so forth. How about refrigerated cargo, is there no extra cost for refrigerated or fragile cargo to spend months longer at sea? Isn't there a saddle point in a new graph between speed and efficiency somewhere, such that we can't continue to reduce speed by throwing more ships at the problem, because each ship is taking years or decades to make the journey? Doesn't the construction of more ships also use petroleum? He's right that there's still a lot of low-hanging fruit to be plucked in terms of energy efficiency... but at some point, the low-hanging fruit _will_ run out. His stance appears to be that we’ll find a new source of growth by then. Welcome to the perpetual bubble economy.

Derv said...


One thing that's stuck out to me recently is how strongly our whole system is tied together in a neat little bow (that's now being unwound). The pieces fit together so nicely, and I think the Krugmans of the world subconsciously recognize the link between perpetual progress, economics, and American exceptionalism.

The root of our exceptionalism myth is tied to three things, to my mind: our "just" form of governance, our military prowess, and our economic success. This, more than the nature of the collapse, is why I think Rome is such an alluring target of comparison. It's the same myth rewritten, the myth that all of Europe pursued at least until the First World War, when it lost its Tsars, Kaisers and Austrian emperors. The replacement myth has failed as well, but I digress.

The main thing I wanted to point out was how utterly silly the myth is when looked at from the outside. Whatever just elements our government once held are gone, and even Ivy League institutions issue political analysis conclusively demonstrating that the common people's views have zero correlation to government policy. Our economic success is the most striking, I think, because we just happened to one day find ourselves sitting on the largest stockpile of the most useful resource ever known to man. We had so much of it that it accidentally poured from the ground. I can't even imagine the fool who couldn't conjure massive growth in that situation. But that's the whole thrust of the myth; our military prowess is the product of that resource (as well as the good fortune to not be easily bombed during the World Wars), as is our economic strength, which is the "proof" offered up of the goodness of our system.

A whole system of mad hubris sustained itself for two centuries based on the fact that we sat on the largest pile of black goo. At least it was better than a system based upon enslavement or overt conquer-and-pillage methods, I guess. And even with this, the most elaborate, wealthy and bizarre civilization that's ever existed on earth, all the old rules of human nature dictate with Foundation-trilogy certainty the outcome we can expect. ISIS (or its inevitable successor) won't be our borderland warband, but it'll certainly be Europe's. Once the drug cartels have solidified themselves as governing systems, caring for the poor and enforcing basic rules of law in place of the failed Mexican government, they'll have all the panache, legitimacy and loyalty they need to become ours.

I suppose the most we can hope for is either the assimilation of the warbands into our society (a la the Normans in England or Romans in Greece) or our own charismatic leader who can replace the old system and rally the people against the threat. Both the US and Europe will soon sorely need a Charles Martel, or at least a Jan Sobieski.

As for me, I'll take comfort in knowing that I live in a place that the warbands will find intolerably cold, and try to secure the position of an Irish monastery of the new dark age. In a thousand years, between the lines of our Spanglish prayer books, some future academic will find the faded words of Francis Fukuyama, and laugh.

SDBoneyard said...

JMG, all that was missing out of your first paragraph was a reference to "tattooed meth heads happy motoring to the local Wallyworld" and your blog this week could have been written by a rhetorically toned-down James Kunstler.


I am enjoying your gift for narrative and sense of how history has main currents and local turns. Excellent.

And that you give the system 50 years! It's nice to see such optimism these days ... be well, my friend.

Avery said...

In case anyone is curious about Lockheed Martin's amazing fusion discovery, here is a refutation from several angles. Turns out that nobody at the company actually claimed they had made a "breakthrough".

I wonder how long the news media will remain valuable for information like this. It is already quite common for ordinary folks, including scientists, to get fooled by "satire" websites designed specifically to confuse people into linking to their articles. I expect that at some point it will become aggravatingly difficult to figure out whether things have actually happened.

Perhaps we will arrive at the model of news familiar to Kremlinologists, where knowledge of what's really going on becomes a valuable currency the "dominant minority" can use to reward insiders, while the "internal proletariat" is left with rumors and fabrications. (In the stock market, of course, this is already the case.)

Derv said...

Oh, and if you're wondering about that Lockheed fusion reactor, there's a blindingly obvious scalability problem: it requires tritium. So it's already basically dead in the water.

To produce any appreciable quantity, we'd need massive numbers of fission reactors filled with Lithium (and so don't need the Tritium). That, or we could go mine it from the moon, at a cost of over $12,000 per lb just to get the equipment into orbit, assuming you have easily accessible liquid fuels (and therefore don't need the Tritium). Then it would have to scour the moon and send a launch vehicle full of radioactive gas back to earth. On a scale large enough to sustain worldwide energy consumption.

But other than that, it's a REALLY big breakthrough! I can't wait to see how well it performs in three labs and a single submarine that's decommissioned early for disappointing performance!

Whole systems thinking, people. But I'm preaching to the choir here.

ed boyle said...

Of course IS, taliban,boko, haram, los Zetas, Crips and Bloods are some self produced enemies who never can be eradicated with own trajectory. In Eastern and other Europe the US colonies are falling to separatist and ultra-nationalist movements. In the most spectacular case recently, the CIA funded svoboda, right sector are creating an Iraq-libya nearby. On26th oct. elections will probably putsuch peopl legitimately in control. We saw results of ths in Germany 80 years ago. If they get out of control maybe US and Russia will start bombing Kiev together like an Iraq situation. Waking evil ghosts of past, caliphate, banderism, uigur nationalism for US security interests against strategic enemies instead of building common ground is stupid. US power will be lost in Eurasia first then latin America. Your sketch of events makes the case for US decline as in a Roman u ipolar world. Since this summer the main previous US rival who was a wannabe vassal has started major strategic initiative to replace western systen with own IMF, own Nato and own WTO and reserve currency. So Saudis lower prices to repeat on Putin what happened to Gorby, only this time house of Saud and US fracking and corresponding dervative dependent banks go down. Russia and China will ride out storm. So New global power will shift East. In Russia the cycle of corrupt takeover was gone through twice recently in100 years as you dscribed. Warlord nr. 1is in charge. They can live successfully on 10% or less of US energy needs and still beat US strategicallyby not fighting and wasting energy but maing friends by playing supporter of poor, oppressed millions anti-imperialists across world. This costs too much in long run so only of use until imperial collapse.But resistance will be funded and splug pulled on USD. So what if Carthage had won? Your scenario is in my eyes incomplete.

escapefromwisconsin said...

"For obvious reasons, the higher someone is on the ladder to begin with, the more influence they have over whose payoffs get cut, and that reliably works out to “not mine.” The further down you go, by contrast, the more likely people are to get the short end of the stick."

For a dramatic example of this principle in action, see this which I ran across while in California last week:

Judge rules Stockton can sever CalPERS pensions; Wall Street approves

A bankruptcy judge handed CalPERS and organized labor a decision they’ve long feared Wednesday, declaring the city of Stockton has the right to reduce pension payments and even sever ties with the powerful pension fund.

The verbal ruling from U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Christopher Klein was groundbreaking. It pierced CalPERS’ aura of invincibility and made clear, for the first time, that public employee pensions in California aren’t sacred. Two years after Stockton filed for bankruptcy protection, buried under more than $200 million in bond debt, a judge has declared that a municipality can walk away from its obligations to the California Public Employees’ Retirement System.

So the city of Stockton, already in a deep and painful recession, will renege on its promises to its workers, while the promises to the holders of Wall Street paper will be preserved at all costs. Because that's how the system operates.

Gloucon X said...

Glenn said...
So, is this Krugman's unlimited source of energy?

It might be also be this:'a-tenth'-of-iter'13101401

Our lab-coated high priests are not giving up without a fight; they’re now claiming the fusion subsidy dumpster just got 90% cheaper.

Stuart said...

I note today with some amusement that the first Krugman article you linked was published on the exact day (Sept. 18) that turned out to be the pre-correction peak for stocks.

Dorda Giovex said...

Hello JMG and all. Thank you for another interesting post.
I read Krugman's article.. while the slow shipping is correct (fuel consumption goes up quadratically with speed if you move in a fluid above the laminar flow speed). So reducing speed increasing the number of ships reduces explicit fuel consumption.. until you go slow enough to hit laminar flow i.e. linear consumption, then it becomes antieconomical: then you do not consume less going slower and using more ships, lose the economy of scale AND you consume much more in building ships, mantaining and scrapping them. What economist, mainstream climate change scientists and senile elites are mistaking most is using the "business as usual" scenario which they know very well to project future trends... whitout considering the profound changes that what they project will have on the complex system feedbacks. They linearize.. they only plan for what they know without considering that things will change, adapt and bend according to the stresses they predict

Rhisiart Gwilym said...

JM, I've given up trying to rank your posts in order of outstanding excellence. But this one must come high. LOLz from the very first paragraph. But beneath that, as deep a deep-penetrator insight into what's really happening, beneath all the surface froth, as anyone could wish; one that I can find almost nowhere else. Richard Heinberg, perhaps? Dmitry O; one or two others in the same league. But - by now - the Archdruid output must be a serious contender for primus inter pares.

You >are< making sure that all these essays and books are being archived in ways that have a high chance of surviving into the distant future, I hope? Think if Aeschylus had done that with ALL his plays, for example, instead of us having only the heartbreaking fragment of his output that's actually come down to us by the accidents of multi-century chance...

In 1981, I was in the Peter Hall/Tony Richardson/English National Theatre production of Aeschylus' Oresteia trilogy, that apart from it's run at the Olivier auditorium at the National was taken for just a couple of performances at the ancient theatre at Epidaurus. An indelible experience like that makes you realise, achingly, how much of the work of the BCE Greeks has been lost. Is it inevitable that much of what we have now will vanish too? Beethoven's last works; Bach's Ciaconna from the D Minor Partita for solo violin; and on. Surely you're right: we have to do what we can to transmit the best of it, at least, to the far future. A few happy accidents will get through. Engraved on titanium tablets, perhaps...

stennerjm said...

I always look forward to the ADR, one of the few calm voices of truth in a shouting match of distraction and nonsense that makes up the mainstream media. I wonder if Ebola could hasten one of the catabolic steps down to the steady state of the future? I have never forgotten a BBC TV series from 1976 called Survivors (still available on DVD) where a plague is spread by air travel to every corner of the globe - was this prophetic? The opening title sequence is on YouTube and it's worth watching if you have a moderated imagination.
The nonsense by Krugman about infinite growth is echoed in the teaching profession in the UK, where we are all told to keep improving indefinitely. I wonder if after 40 years teaching we would all be perfect or completely exhausted? The earth will call a halt to this madness in time, whether it is Ebola or bird flu or something else. If 50-70% of the Earth's population died over the next year, the whole game changes for all of us..including Krugman!
Keep up the truth telling JMG!

latefall said...

@JMG: Thanks for the series so far, though I can't say I enjoyed it much. I am too much in agreement I guess. And I never liked "bad boys" much.

re slow steaming:

When I first read the title I had some hope for the article. If you continue to go slower as you run into problems, you'll eventually get to the same point LTG heads towards, no?
Of course the devil is in the details behind the abstractions in your excel sheet (that only somewhat hold in a very limited range anyway)...
It didn't get a laugh out of the article - only a sigh. Judging by the comments I assume it is the same for most readers.

If you are interested in container shipping (and slow steaming) I can recommend:
The second part is also particularly interesting to this audience: How to make humans and algorithms work together.

Funny enough one click away you find:
Desertec folded,

"Costs were very high and some companies said we're not that interested in the Middle East and North Africa,"

"[...] analysts had highlighted that northern African states carried significant political risks [...]"

Well, we'll see if that perception is mutual in due time.
I think they should try to pursue a Norwegian approach where the oil pays for peoples pensions (possibly in a desertec similar manner). Of course that you may or may not include the despots in that scheme...

Kutamun said...

Here at the Imperial Periphery of Ozland , imbalanced mechanisms of exchange have resulted in enormous wealth flowing back to the imperial centre in the form of currency manipulations which have artificially appreciated the value of the Australian dollar ; this has undervalued the price received by this country for its raw agricultural and mining produce over the last several years ... The lifeblood on which this dusty resource outpost depends .
This has not been offset by our cheaper imports of Cheez Doodles and spare parts for the Illuminati spaceship which hopefully we shall all one day have a golden ticket on before the system implodes ( bondi hipsters - you tube ) . Our politics have taken a definite lurch in the american direction , wheras formerly our most conservative party was some what similar to the democrats , our current elected officials are well and truly the nutjob equivalent of anything the u. s has so far thrown up.
This week our retarded PM offered to physically assault Vladimir Putin at the upcoming G20 gathering here , for allegedly "murdering " Australians with his russian backed rebels .

The internal proletariat is under siege and in a constant state of anxious terror ,current war bands ranging from organised boat arrivals from asia , bikie drug gangs and radicalised islamists in poorer suburbs of the major city . We are exhorted to dismantle our world class health and education networks in the name of " efficiency " while successive state governments of all stripes hastily privatise everything that is not nailed down . With the added complication of being an object of tug of war between china and u.s.a fecklessly mediated by our frightened pollies , it is no wonder the average aussie these days is an anxiety ridden internet addicted obese porn and drug junkie with a penchant for consumerism and conspiracy theories of all shapes and sizes , under constant surveillance from a motley collection of domestic and international security agencies .
Interesting to note the netherlands yesterday granting a local bikie gang permission to travel to the middle east to fight the Saudi and U.S Created radical Sunni Isis currently rampaging through the region . A case of sending one peripheral NATO war band in to fight one of a different stripe , the only proviso being they "do not participate in actions against the netherlands " . It may be as Assange has pointed out " you live in a country called Anglo Saxon " , which to my mind would emcompass the US and NATO as well . The whole lot may well go down together .

There is evidence the BRICS have launched an assault on foretress australia in the past few weeks by hastily erecting coal tarriffs on our black stuff , collapsing the price of iron ore.
Talk about copping it from both ends . Pass the doodles ...

Don Plummer said...

It appears that austerity policies may have a direct link to the West's unpreparedness for dealing with the Ebola outbreak:

Yupped said...

One of the strings that connected America's internal proletariat to the elites, so giving the impression that we were all in it together, were the various stories and myths of exceptional upward mobility in the US. One day I'd like to find the time to look at how these stories have evolved over the decade. Somewhere along the line Horatio Alger's optimism seemed to give way to the more austere "just work hard and play by the rules" line, which in turn gave way to the more devious "but a rising tide lifts of all boats" storyline.

Now there seems to be a bit of an embarrassed silence on the whole topic, as wealth disparity accelerates and the wealthy seem to be busy pulling up the drawbridge. But these stories were important, part of the soft power that kept the machine running along. It's one of the interesting features of the last few years that politicians haven't (at least to my ears) tried to roll-out a new narrative, other than a bit of fluffy "hope and change" in 2008. But that didn't go very far at all.

Is there a current narrative that's intended to explain our current predicament, other than "don't worry, normal programming will resume shortly"? Maybe it's just the "be afraid - of ISIS, ebola, etc, etc" story that will be relied on to try to keep us aligned from here on in.

luna said...

Hi JMG, just wondering what your feeling is regarding the the "Arab Spring" of a couple of years ago. At the time it seemed to me "colour revolution"-like, brought about partly by western meddling. And if that's the case, it has now backfired badly, as it has created the conditions that has allowed IS (an obvious warband) to emerge.

Maybe this is wrong though - it could be the external proletariat spontaneously rebelling against their puppet rulers. Though the western propaganda did seem adamantly against Gadaffi, Assad etc. at the time and on the side of the protesters - which doesn't quite fit this theory.

Either way, it looks like some very powerful and unpredictable forces have been unleashed...

What's your take on this?

Ventriloquist said...

What is that I see over there on the horizon?

It appears to be a large flock of birds . . . but large, white, squat birds . . . chickens, actually -- and they are walking, purposefully, determinedly.

They are following their leader . . . another, much larger, bird. This one is more elegant of look, shapely, graceful, and it is very dark in color -- black, actually.

And they continue, marching steadily, as if they are returning from a time away, as if they are . . .

. . . coming home.

Cherokee Organics said...


Your crystal ball is working in overdrive this week:

Australian defence force outlines pay offer

My favourite quote: "The Australian Defence Force says its below-inflation pay offer to tens of thousands of members will cost the Abbott government $634 million and should be supported before the existing arrangement expires, because back pay is not an option." Nuff said really, it’s not like they’re not armed and dangerous...

I wonder whether the politicians have received a pay rise recently?

Well at least they had the good sense to announce a pay freeze for themselves this year: Abbott freezes politicians pay allowances for year

Still, my choice quote from the article was:" But politicians’ have had big pay rises in the past two years, backbenchers jumping $54,000 to $195,130." That sounds like it is above inflation to me.

Gotta love statistics and spin.

You know I used to get rather upset by all of this sort of stuff because I believed that political parties when in power and (also in opposition) generally governed on behalf of the population at large. I can see that this was an error, because they generally govern on behalf of their supporters. That is one of the sources of peoples passions on that subject.



PS: Either baby wombat has been eating too many of my vegetables and herbs, or she's pregnant as her pouch is hanging way low. You go girl.

PPS: There's a new blog post up too showing lots of cool photos and a short video of the bushfire sprinklers here. There is even a photo of a wedge tail eagle being attacked by smaller birds: History revealed

Phil Harris said...

JMG & All
The civilisation predicaments are getting interesting, but I see a difference or two compared with the agrarian past examples. Perhaps our abstract analyses could help predict where iterative trial and error will actually trend. (I remember for those of us who were there, the London EEE Conference this year; JMG a keynote speaker. This conference included a ‘simple’ participatory experiments in iterative behaviour and resulting patterns.)

Our proletariat – both internal and external - is needed for hands on work, but as we have come to realise, most of the physical work that we ‘consume’ is actually done by ‘energy slaves’. Most of our proletariat are surplus to requirement except in one important sense as ‘consumers’. Without mass production and consumption the per-unit costs of each piece of our technology (shipping, airlines, tractors and trucks, factories, information and trading links moving supporting materials, and pre-eminently pipelines) do not make sense. We are not looking just at a proletariat resource tied mostly to the land and food production. These same modern resources feeding political and military structures, including ‘warbands’, feed the large network of urban societies.

I take it that your JMG point is that such ‘low-cost’ alternatives as warbands and the like, cannot run the larger system. So the system will adjust to what the warbands can run? Well, there are sure some interesting experiments ongoing both sides of the fence as it were. China is attempting to envisage a trading zone where the old silk roads are transformed into something like the Roman Mediterranean as low-cost infra structure to secure trade (added economic value) with Europe. All kinds of highway and pipelines are envisaged. On the other hand, marginal lands* nevertheless critical for connections, are in active contention in many key border zones, where low-cost (parasitic) violent organisations seek control of hubs. The larger networks are puzzled at the moment to deal with these violent interventions - and the USA for one, has lost respect. But the ratios are not yet entirely tipped in favour of parasitic low-cost control systems – in my humble opinion.

PS * Ukraine with its very large area of arable land (a large per capita ‘surplus’) should not be considered ‘marginal’, but given relative cost structures just now, farming seems not the prime concern in that situation.


mr_geronimo said...

When you wrote about warbands being sucked into the collapsing universal state and suffering the same fate of the former overlord the fate of the Seljuk came to my mind. Toghrul Beg defeated all ohter factions in the Abassid Civil War and his descendents fell the same way the Abbasids fell before.

Also, the fall of the Abassid was FAST... only a hundred years between the anarchy at Samarra and Toghrul becoming the sultan of the Caliphate. So, those that think that all universal states fall slowly like Rome did should remember how crazy things were in that universal state, the Abbasid. If America is as unstable as they were (and America IS unstable) things may go quite fast and some crazy colombian warlord may seat in the Pentagon as the Supreme Commander while the President becomes a figurehead, rubberstamping everything.

DaShui said...


I know several of the bodyguards for the elite in dc, people y'all know. Bodyguards gossip like old church ladies, and I know for a fact they feel nothing but contempt for the political elite.
One possible future presidential candidate told her bodyguard that her designer sunglasses were more valuable than he was.
So b sure to cheer when she rolls by in a tumbrel cart, hopefully still wearing her designer sunglasses .

Bill Pulliam said...

Hmmm... I'm a little confused about your mention of protofeudalism and the rule by warbands in the context of much of the rest of your writing over the last many years. I did not think that you felt that a return to feudalism was an obligate or even likely outcome of the long descent. And how does the rule-by-warbands square with your other writings about government by small-scale participatory democracy? Are we talking about different scenarios that might all play out in different regions, perhaps even within the same present-day nation? I don't see much warband development here, and I doubt you do in Cumberland either. Our "drug lords" are the AMA doctors pushing opiates, and the local pot distributors who are for the most part stoned, passive, and no better armed than the rest of the population. The meth culture is not actually all that organized, just a bunch of small-time cookers who tend to blow themselves up, no need for warlords to do it for them. In these regions I see more of the structures in place that could transition into local democratic rule fairly smoothly, barring massive external disruption. Of course it will contain corruption, it always does. The voters actually do not really want law enforcement that is objective and unbiassed.

Or is one scenario the one you promote and hope for, while the other is the scenario you fear and warn about?

Mean Mr Mustard said...


"For obvious reasons, the higher someone is on the ladder to begin with, the more influence they have over whose payoffs get cut, and that reliably works out to “not mine.” The further down you go, by contrast, the more likely people are to get the short end of the stick."

Here in the still declining UK, our 'welfare reform' Minister, one Lord Freud - has suggested some disabled people 'aren't worth' the minimum wage... It's provoked a bit of a flap, so perhaps not all is lost just yet.,_Baron_Freud



Ben said...

Given the events of the last few weeks, i'm upping my "Ebola Doomsday Clock" from 1% to 5% chance that the Ebola outbreak reaches 'Epic Black Death' scale.
Having worked in medical field I both am, and am not, surprised with how comically bad the Texas hospital handled their patient zero.
Moshe's observation that MSM is obessed with the fact that the nurse FLEW ON A DOMESTIC FLIGHT!!! is telling. The elites lost track of the fact that their continued well-being is tied to the economic and cultural well-being of the rest of a decades ago. Apparently, they've forgotten that their biological well-being is tied to the rest of us as well.
I'd say I'm looking forward to the stunned look that many of the elites will wear when they are trotted to their own personal lampposts, but I'm well aware of how badly things can go for the rest of us when the "help wanted" signs go up in the windows of the top-floor corner offices. If only getting rid of the parasites involved a treatment that was more palatable than the disease.

Luckymortal said...

Some ways in which I wonder whether we might get confused by the terms here, especially when combined with our societal conditioning.

"War band" seems to imply that these groups exercise power through violence alone. The THREAT of violence means that these groups are already apparently being allowed to exercise increased power, especially in declining cities, through means that look democratic. In fact, compared to the old regime of Plutocracy, the rising power of the internal proletariat might be more democratic and less violent! An example would be the revolution to community policing and restructured police forces that are occurring right now in American cities.

"The border lands" seems to imply locations outside the US borders. But from my perspective, since the era of "White Flight," the suburbs have generally had an exploitive colonial relationship with American cities, which is increasingly true today. Most suburbs are kept afloat through a process of "mining" the cities by liquidating their infrastructure, wealth, real-estate, institutions ("privatization"), etc. and exporting the value to the suburbs. Meanwhile, further value is extracted in the form of "subsidy mining" where money intended to help urban poor is mined by suburban whites, who reap most of the value, while the risks and maintenance costs of "programs" are dumped on urban poor.

All of this is kept in place by power structures that we call "non-profits" and "NGOs" but would appear very familiar to managers of the East India Company.

I'm not sure that these areas have been "internal," as in sharing much in the benefits of the empire," for some time.

As a final, I can't help but notice that warbands and the constituencies they represent, from what I can tell, don't necessarily share much of the values of white liberal Gaia worshipers like me, with our fantasy of an inevitable "Permaculture Future" that's somehow dictated by natural law.

Andy Brown said...

I enjoy Krugman. He's much smarter than the other public economists (faint praise, I know), and he has a quaint faith that economics is a science designed to serve truth and the creative minority. He seems truly frustrated and mystified as to why it seems to be simply fabricating convenient lies for the senile elite.

I don't occupy the same bubble as him (due thanks to peak oil bloggers and others!), but I do sympathize with one aspect of his optimism. His steamship digression can be read as a claim that predictions of collapse are unnecessarily pessimistic, because there is still tremendous scope for humans to adapt and muddle along using less energy than they do at present. I think that's inarguably true. As to whether energy efficiency could alone serve as an orderly transition to a (down-shifted) post-peak stability for some subset of the West - well, neither of us have done that math. Unlike many people here, I actually see Krugman as an earnest enough empiricist to eventually grapple with that. In his defensive way, he's thinking about energy constraints, which is a remarkable change for the de facto conscience of liberal economics.

What he is blind to, however, and what he could stand to learn from this blog, is the unlikelihood that the powers that be (or their "market forces") will engineer any such orderly downshift.

For several years he's been hammering away at one theme in particular - namely that economists and economic policy have been serving the delusions of political and economic elites rather than studying and seeking a way out of economic stagnation and the ongoing or upcoming erosion of the material position of global majorities. He's right about that, of course, but he seems to have no real insight into why that might be - and until he does much of his analysis remains irrelevant.

jkwill said...

We can see the process of the fall of a empire in Venezuela right now as the paramilitary troops armed by the government are turning against them. It´s going to be ugly.

The regime in Venezuela based all it´s power on oil exports being able to buy loyalties with oil. Now that the price on international markets is going down, the regime is collapsing to the great relief of the majority of the population.

An empire needs to offer benefit for the people it rules or it can´t last long. This is the case for Venezuela (and other countries in Latinamerica right now) and Saudi Arabia where the regime has eroded all support with a very conservative version of Islam. Your mention of warband formation in Mexico is apt, but I wonder if the USA elites will develop a relationship with them more sooner rather than later. I´m already seeing some collusion in arms being sold to the various criminal groups in Mexico.

Rashakor said...

Here is an interesting blog post from the comment section of Krugman's opinion piece:

Very good material for having the same similar discussion with a gnostic of process.

pyrrhus said...

Of course, Krugman is also a devotee of AGW, in which an 18 year "pause" not predicted by the pseudoscientific model is simply ignored, so at least he is consistent.

Jim R said...

Glenn's first post, about "in 10 years" technology from 40 years ago, reminded me of a video I recently viewed.

It was from NASA, about the revival of their manned space program. They showed diagrams, animations, and drawings of the craft that they will use "to Mars and beyond!" ... These craft looked shockingly similar to the Mercury and Apollo craft I watched in my childhood. I suppose it's hard to improve on perfection, though.

Of course, the problem is that every launch, and manned launches must carry a lot of massive life-support gear, burns thousands of tons of hydrogen or other energy-rich fuel. And with the offshoring of our industries has gone the source of cheap by-product hydrogen fuel.

JML said...

I don't know about you, but I prefer a scenario in which local citizen militias band together to fight exploitation by the dominant minority. I definitely don't prefer a scenario in which these militias set themselves up as some feudal-like ruling caste. I would rather they be champions of localized democracy and representative government.

LL Pete said...

JMG, you and Erik Prince, the founder and head honcho of the mercenary warband private security firm Blackwater are definitely reading the same tea leaves.
"Let Contractors Fight The Islamic State, Blackwater Founder Erik Prince Says" - The Washington Post 10/9.

Odin's Raven said...

How long can the Welfare State survive?

It's not just the Overseers who get benefits, the internal and previously-external proletariats also extort a lot under implicit threat of violence. When the Bread and Circuses have to be cut back, might disease epidemics seem a cheaper and more scientific means of population management?

SLClaire said...

I read the Reuters article on Lockheed's supposed breakthrough. If anything, it was more empty of useful information than Krugman's posts. What dogs fusion power more than anything is that every single reactor design so far requires far more energy to produce the fusion reaction than the reaction itself supplies. Given that, the lack of any mention of energy efficiency at all in the Reuters article is astonishing. If I read it right, the only thing they are claiming is that in ten years they think they think they will be able to build a small-enough reactor to fit on a truck. Big whoop-ti-do. It's still useless in any real-world sense if it takes more energy to get the reaction running and sustained than the reaction provides. But since this article seems to have been written by and for economic interests, it should not surprise me there is no real-world data in it. After all, Krugman says economists are smarter than mere scientists. Economists don't need no stinkin' physical data to spin a tale well enough to get some money flowing in a direction they want it to flow ... at least so far. But probably not for much longer.

Laylah said...

One of the things I've been finding most darkly humorous in the ebola coverage (hey, you take humor where you find it) is the repeated attempt to pretend the internal proletariat doesn't exist. In explaining why we couldn't possibly have a full-scale outbreak here, the articles cite "differing cultural factors" and then among those they list "distrust of government officials." In Liberia. And supposedly not here. One pretty much has to either laugh or cry.

jonathan said...

krugman demonstrates that economics is better conceptualized as a religion than a science. in theology and in economics, unlike most disciplines, a career will be advanced by rejecting reality if it conflicts with the received wisdom of keynes, hayek or friedman.

i have been around long enough to see fusion energy be 10 or 20 years away since the eisenhower administration. (but this time we MEAN it!)

the end of empire generates some strange ideas indeed.

onething said...

"Miss Vinson flew on Monday on a Frontier Airlines flight with a 99.5F fever from Cleveland to Dallas the day before she was diagnosed with Ebola
It was revealed that the CDC gave her permission to board the flight since her fever was below the 100.4F threshold"

I'm just wondering, if a person's temp is to go from 98.6 to, say, 100.4 - does the body temp have to traverse that gap in increments or does it just leap like and electron jumping shells to the higher number, with no time in between?

Eric S. said...

I just finished my book on Hypatia, so the dominant minority is being filtered through that. In that story, the Alexandrian Elites reduced the entire social world of Alexandria down to “Hellenes” and “Barbarians” (using Hellenic antiquity the same way Southern Aristocrats in the 1800s used Shakespeare). Even the writings of the Christians in Hypatia’s circle of elites (such as Synesius) refer to monks and priests as barbarians tainting divine mysteries for the common rabble. And of course, when the hour of the knife arrived in the year 415, it was the monks, priests, and common rabble who came out on top. Now I’m about to start reading a biography of Theodosius I next, which should be filled with warbands and crumbling borders.

As for the energy bubble, this has been a learning experience about just how the beginnings of scarcity economics actually look and a lesson in how to sort through the nonsense spouted economists to pull out the underlying truths. What I’ve gathered so far is that the high price of energy made the energy investments of drilling depleted deposits in the US economically viable, fueling the oil and shale boom. Decreased demand started driving prices down, putting strain on the energy boom and opening the door for OPEC countries which haven’t hit their resource peak and have smaller economies comparatively to flood the market. Which means that the bottom should fall out of the American energy industry around the time that the cost of energy equals the cost of production, right? (Chesapeake is selling off wells which may be a sign that we’re getting close too...). It seems like that number will be really important number, since it reveals just how depleted America’s natural resources actually are. It’s tricky, because the way it plays out creates an illusion of abundance when what’s happening is actually a preview of what scarcity industrialism looks like. It also shows the difference between technical feasibility and economic viability.

Mark Sebela said...

In the shipping industry it's know as slow steaming and all the big shipping companies have been doing it since 2007. They have done about all they can; Peak slow steaming. All hail the return of the sail!

magicalthyme said...

So after the hospital blamed the nurse for supposedly not learning the travel history before discovering yes she did; then the CDC blamed infected nurse #1 for a breech in protocal before discovering that for 3 days there was no protocol and they were instructed to wrap their exposed necks in tape (I want to cry typing this); and then the CDC blamed infected nurse #2 for flying before discovering the she'd reported her plans and temp to the CDC and was given the ok.

Talk about a faceplant of a reality check.

The CDC has finally admitted their assurances came too easy, their protocols were too lax, and their criteria too high.

Protocol is now fully protective gear. The threshold temperature has been lowered to 100.4F, and in light of the most recent case, may be lowered again.

And best of all, both nurses have been, or are about to be, transfered to BSL-4 hospitals with specially designed facilities and specially trained staff treating them. I believe their chances of survival just improved significantly.

I expected a fustercluck, but nothing as monumental as this string of incompetence and hubris.


MindfulEcologist said...

In Paul Krugman’s article he writes this gem, “Energy is just an input like other inputs.” The inability to distinguish how energy differs from other items in our environments is stunning. Imagine a set of human inputs typical of a Monday morning as a family gets ready for work and school. Everyone is awash in a variety of inputs from oatmeal to news on the radio, kinesthetic feedbacks from putting on coats and shoes, oh, and everyone has breath coming in and out - steady as you please, burning up the food calories and creating respiration. Krugman is asserting that turning off the radio and choking off someone’s air supply are equivalent. Picture it; as your child grows blue in the face, clawing for survival more desperately by the moment you offer to satisfy all their immediate needs, being the good parent you are and always looking out for what is best for your offspring, by turning the radio back on.
This week I traced energy through succession to carrying capacity on my blog, maybe it just made me sensitive to such statements but it leaves me feeling dizzy. If Krugman’s comment is an example of our intellectual elite’s thinking, we are indeed far into never–never land. To stretch the metaphor, if the warbands offer oxygen, that which serves the immediate biological needs, it’s not hard to understand how Toynbee’s succession comes to pass.

MindfulEcologist said...

JMG – responding to Tim you mentioned the timeline in which you consider the warband stage coming to these United States this way, “I expect it after the current crisis and breathing space, say, fifty years from now.” The imagined context is the elites hiring a Southwest drug lord and his retinue to help combat an insurgency in the Deep South. This helped me pin your thinking to probable time spans which in turn helped place the other elements of this post series. Thanks for that.
The response implies a limited immediate crisis since a breathing period come after it. Somewhat like the Great Depression without a War on the other side to lift people into a bright and shiny middle class. One question if you would, do you anticipate the current crisis to run its course in any rough time period? 1 year, 5, 10, 25? The catabolic stair step now gathering momentum, any sense of its most probable impact on the devastation scale? Just wondering what your educated intuition is telling you.

Random Man said...

I'm a physician who has lost respect for the older generation, but for reasons that you might not expect.

Most of the physicians I trained with are really good. Hard-working, dedicated. Knowledgable and skilled. Much better than I am.

But it's precisely for this reason why I've lost respect for them. The only way I can explain it is this: they were too precise, and too well off. They had all the tools available, and made a ton of money doing everything under the sun. Thinking that they were going to save every last patient, everything can go perfectly, and they themselves were gods. And if something goes wrong its our fault, or the nurses fault. Heaven forbid a human being dies. Surely that never happens.

What hubris! And what joy of life is lost in that. Industrial medicine is part of the problem, because at heart it has an impossible goal: infinite extension of human life.

And isn't it interesting that these same godlike doctors do everything possible to avoid interacting with the system as patients. That should tell you something.

My point in all of this is, you never know just who is going to be impacted by collapse and in what forms people lose confidence. This relates of course to the Ebola threat mentioned.

Clark Harris said...

What are the chances that this is true?

Bogatyr said...

@Luckymortal said "[W]arbands [..] don't necessarily share much of the values of white liberal Gaia worshipers like me, with our fantasy of an inevitable "Permaculture Future"".

@JML said "I prefer a scenario in which local citizen militias band together [... as ...] champions of localized democracy and representative government."

Hear, hear. Amen to that. And other expressions of (to borrow an expression from our host) "thank you for getting it".

I absolutely support and applaud @dltrammel and others in their efforts to build a Green Wizard movement, but this problem of how to fend off predators is a huge, huge gap in the concept. In fact, there's a huge conceptual gap afaik between Green Wizards/Transitioners on the one hand and the individualist preppers on the other, and that's building a strong, resilient community.

I don't have anywhere near enough time to commit to it, but I'm trying to explore this based on successful contemporary communities in the part of the world where I find myself. The first article is quite specific, on the importance of a dance culture (please, leave feedback and suggestions!); I'm working on a more general post which I'm afraid will offend a lot of people. I'll just say that although my main focus is the Cossacks, I'm starting to look a lot more closely at the Chechens...

pyrrhus said...

"To be fair to Krugman, he has been pointing out the folly of "expansionary austerity" for years and was one of the few economists who thought that the housing market was in a bubble at the time. However, he had no idea how bad the bubble bursting would be. He's also made a few other predictions that have come true, such as expanding the money supply would not create inflation so long as interest rates were so low, but which other economists and policy makers have generally ignored. Just the same, those are successes within his paradigm, which means they don't fit in a world of limits to growth. Speaking of which..."
Krugman was wrong, it created a lot of inflation in the capital markets, housing markets, and also in food, college tuition, taxes, etc. none of which is in the CPI. CPI was engineered to show minimal inflation to reduce inflation escalators in social security.

Mark Rice said...

I am not at all surprised by the bad performance of our so called emergency rooms at hospitals.

A typical visit to an emergency room is a 5 hour NOP .

I do not think hospital administrators have the will to make an emergency room an emergency room.

Dorda Giovex said...

I do think that we misinterpret economists though. Economy is the "science" of making money.

Not of producing real, useful stuff. Not of sustaining life! For these last things you need a decent environment and energy.

Economy instead is about making money. Green pieces of paper, or a number in a few memory locations in a bank computer. You hardly need any energy to keep adding to that number!

Until recently, money was largely linked to useful, life and society sustaining stuff. So making money was a measure of usefulness to the society. Similarly, saying "thanks" is a measure of a useful personal interaction. Money was the way of the society to say "thanks" to its members.

When central banks give money for free to the elites the game changes, and moneymaking becomes fully disconnected from reality. Elites accumulate all "thanks" .. they keep giving all thanks to each other forgetting about people who do the actual work. A symptom to this is Saint Steve Jobs taking all the credit for "his" invention of all Apple's product (as if he did not have tousends of engineers working for him and designing the stuff). It just does not have any sense.

In conclusion. If economy is just about making money economists are right. You dont need energy to propel GDP .. as long as GDP is completely irrelevant of the status of society as a whole.

RogerCO said...

Minor quibble (although I could be wrong). I always understood that caste was something you were born with and couldn't change whereas your class was mutable. I think in most case where you have written caste you mean class?
But aside from that what you describe seems pretty right from a perspective on Airstrip One. I do wonder though what the prognosis is for revolutionary change to break out from within in parts of the empire - individual US states or closely associated smaller nations like the UK.

Shawn Aune said...

Ever the prophet...

Also... @Rhisiart Gwilym

"You >are< making sure that..."

Somebody is. Have no fear.

William Church said...

Honestly I think Krugman is getting far more benefit of the doubt than his track record warrants. This main was one of the people who laid the intellectual groundwork for the neo-liberal trade and monetary policies that gutted our industrial base and strip mined the middle class.

He's no more friendly to the middle class than any other right wing market fundamentalist... The biggest difference is that he come w/o the less savory social attitudes.

Don't complain about the demise of the middle class when you provided the political and intellectual cover needed to make it happen.


Violet Cabra said...

A year and a half ago I fairely intensively researched primate behavior and hominid evolution, in order to get a better sense of why humans behave the way we do.

The results were in turn hilarious (such as Desmond Morris), fascinating (the highly recommended Making Silent Stones Speak) and perhaps most saliently, emotionally devastating (Sarah Blaffer Hrdy's incredible The Woman That Never Evolved).

All books contained similar information, observed from different angles. Before my research project I was a political anarchist. Afterwards I was a traditional conservative. My worldview was totally shaken.

Humans by and large behave like other social primates, that is, the claims that there will be imminent social equality is total bunk. Equally dubious are claims that any social program can make us stop acting like the great apes we are.

I bring this us because you make note in your essay that:

So the gap that opens up between the dominant minority and the internal proletariat is much easier to see from below than from above. Left to itself, that gap would probably keep widening until the dominant minority toppled into it. It’s an interesting regularity of history, though, that this process is almost never left to run its full length.

To which I reply of course it almost never runs its course! If I remember correctly Jane Goodall goes into great detail about how chimpanzees form and negotiate hierarchies: essentially a male comes to dominate the troop, he gets the most access to food and sex, eventually he grows old and is disposed of by a younger, stronger and less senile dominant male.

What we see with human hierarchies is, more or less identical. Spengler points out that as civilizations grow old they become stiff, rigid. Lao-tsu says beautiful that what becomes hard and rigid is following the path of Death.

Humans being humans we don't allow for a power vacuum. Even if most people are only managing to just get enough to survive there will always be those who get significantly more because they are dominant. As the elites grow weak and weaker, their muscles atrophy and their bones soften it is only a matter of time before a bigger, meaner kid comes and kicks them out of the tree.

Laylah said...

Have you run into this article yet?

The Telegraph is a remarkably mainstream source to be connecting disparate dots and coming up with the conclusion that global power architectures are in danger of coming down....

John Michael Greer said...

Mark, exactly; that's a good example of the process I'm discussing.

Thomas, nicely put. Like all efficiency measures, and everything else in the human world for that matter, slow steaming is subject to the law of diminishing returns. An economist should know that, of course.

Derv, exactly! The history of the United States in the 20th century basically amounts to one vast drug trip, with petroleum as the mind altering substance involved. Now that the black goo's running out, we face one wicked hangover.

Boneyard, thank you! I'm not offended by tattoos or youth culture, though. ;-)

Avery, we were due another round of smoke-shoveling on the energy front, and it's amusing to see fusion being trotted out again to play its usual role as subsidy dumpster. I wonder if Lockheed's losing money on its planes or something.

Derv, true enough. The only way fusion is ever going to become a meaningful energy source is if somebody figures out a way to tap the hot air and handwaving that clusters around it.

Ed, of course the scenario is incomplete -- I was writing a blog post, not a book. (That comes later.) If you want the rest of the story before the book comes out, may I suggest a bit of reading in this blog's archives?

Escape, another solid example -- and of course the senile elite on Wall Street is incapable of realizing that their behavior is leading them straight to the lampposts. Hubris is the past tense of nemesis...

Stuart, well, of course! When big name economic pundits start targeting critics of the bubble du jour by name, the roof really is about to fall in. Down we go!

Dorda, exactly! You get today's gold star for a good summary of the central flaw in modern thinking: the delusion that you can act on a system without having the system react to your actions.

steve said...


"Somewhere along the line Horatio Alger's optimism seemed to give way to the more austere "just work hard and play by the rules" line, which in turn gave way to the more devious "but a rising tide lifts of all boats" storyline.

Now there seems to be a bit of an embarrassed silence on the whole topic, as wealth disparity accelerates and the wealthy seem to be busy pulling up the drawbridge."

Actually, I think the storyline is still intact, yet far more hollow and incredible than earlier versions.

Personal economic advancement for most has just been redefined downward more shamelessly. Hence, Obama's celebration of Amazon warehouse jobs as "middle class jobs (and if you don't like it, suckers, too bad because this is as good as it gets)."

MawKernewek said...

I've had a quick skim-read of a book I picked up second hand a while ago, "Celt And Greek" by Peter Beresford Ellis.

This book mainly concerns itself with the 6th-3rd centuries BC, and describes how many of the mercenaries employed by Hellenic states were of Celtic origin.

We see in this era that there were many gradations observed in the non-Greek populations, with Greeks separated from Macedonians, Thracians, Getae, Celts, Illyrians, Scythians, Persians, Egyptians and Germanic peoples.

The Celts according to this book are supposed to have expanded from Gaul into southern Germany, Austria, Czech and Slovakia and eventually present-day Romania and Bulgaria from the 8th-4th centuries BC. I am unsure what other historians would say about the date of these migrations, and the numbers involved. I would be sceptical about a 1st millenium BC date for Celtic occupation of Britain, the placename "Karrek Loos y'n Koos" The Grey Rock in the Wood for St. Michael's Mount presently surrounded by water suggests a much earlier date, and I don't know of any real evidence for a distinct pre-Celtic population in Britain in the Bronze Age. Nevertheless it could be supposed there was a core territory of Britain, Ireland and Gaul and parts of Iberia dating much to a much earlier time that the later expansions of the 1st millenium BC sprung out of.

I have not studied the history of Classical Greece in detail, but did not the Hellenic world go through something of a previous collapse after the end of Alexander the Great's career, with the wars that followed his death until the time Greece fell under the Roman orbit?

Perhaps though this was not the same process, because the Celts did not end up in charge of Greece, indicating it was perhaps the Celts culture or economy that was decaying, and therefore any of that the warrior caste that did remain and settle were assimilated into the Greek societies in time.

Nevertheless, this period where the various Greek states were employing non-Greek mercenaries of various origins would serve perhaps to diminish the feeling of distinctness between different kinds of non-Greek, and different kinds of Greek over time, so that in the end there would be a dominant minority though in this case it was temporarily replaced by the Roman empire rather than warbands.

Varun Bhaskar said...


I can't help but be curious as to how this will all shake down. Which hordes will finally overwhelm the Europeans, which the Americans, and how will the Indians and Chinese fare in the aftermath. Some of those hordes are boiling inside Pakistan right now. Can you imagine how quickly things will go sour if the Ebola virus makes its way to Karachi?

Has there ever been a case where local populations manage to stave off or survive the passing of these hordes, or are we small folk simply going to get swept up in their passing?

In other news, I finally talked to the Matron of the local wiccan order and have informed them of your work. I'll be talking to one of the larger ones in southern Wisconsin sometime this year, gonna get to know them at the Samhain festival. Next week I talk to the pastor of a local Christian church.

To the Wiccans I can spread the warnings of a druid but the Christians I gotta be a little more careful. The wiccans and other neopagans are aware of the turning of the wheel and are preparing, though most won't openly talk about their preparations. I'm hoping once I tell them about your writing more of them will at least start talking to each-other.

The life of an aspiring bard-in-training...which reminds me, I gotta mail AODA my check.


Varun Bhaskar
Aspiring Bard-in-Training
View on the Ground

Ed-M said...

Hi, JMG, great article!

I know of one warlord who's very confident of the continued success of his Far Northern country, but may soon get pulled into the thereinmentioned Catabolic Trap: Vadimir Putin. It turn out that Rissia is now drilling in the Arctic, is drilling for natural gas on the Arctic Coastal Plain, and will soon be fracking over in Siberia. The fossil fuel resources may keep him in the catbird seat for now, but once extraction begins to decline, look out!

On a related front, the RS has spurned the team led by Natalia Shakhova and Igor Semilitev and the observational findings in the East Siberian Arctic Shelf area. It turns out the findings are much, much worse than predicted by the models, with methane gas effervescences in the sea 1 km wide. So what does the RS do? Refuse to hear the findings and keep on sticking to the discredited models. Nullis in verba, ha! Yet another example of the senility of the elites: geopolitics trumping scientific cooperation. Even during Reagan it wasn't this bad.

Mark Sebela said...

You simply can't make this stuff up.

The Idiotic Explanation Why The "Idiot With The Clipboard" Was Unprotected

Spare yourself the comments.

Dornier Pfeil said...

Blogger Mark Rice said...
The chart in Krugman's essay was disingenuous or perhaps just innumerate.

The chart plotted fuel consumption per day as a function of ship speed. But at a slower speed, it will take more days to get there. The fuel savings will not be as dramatic as the chart suggests.

A chart of fuel consumed per say 100 nautical miles as a function of ship speed would have been more useful.

He lost me with the misleading chart. I wonder if he is even attempting to be intellectually honest.

10/15/14, 9:17 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Mark, I suspect it's simple innumeracy -- the sort of thing that a cheerleader for some ideology would find and use without asking hard questions.

No it is not simple innumeracy and it is no more honest for you two to say that. The chart is not misleading. The shipping industry is already using the principle presented; they could hardly be making use of a numerical error that is just all in Krugman's imagination.

It is extremely common to think that any fuel savings gained by moving slower is swamped out by the loss of taking more time, but that is an innumerate conclusion.

The effect Krugman is pointing out is simple enough to understand if you know fluid dynamics. The drag on an object is a function of the square of the speed. A car moving at 65mph is using 40% more power to overcome air resistance than a car moving 55mph even though it only gains 18% more speed. The effect only gets worse the greater the speed differential.

For a ship. 10 knots=100, 15 knots=225, 20 knots=400, 25 knots=625. If you want to go from 15 to 25 knots you only gain 66% more speed but have to use 177% more power. These are of course only BOE calculations missing tons of refinements but they illustrate the basic principle.

Krugman is wrong not because of innumeracy but rather because he seized on one of the few places where energy expenditure is exponential to the gain achieved. Not all situations parallel his example but this particular example is a sound one.

Greg Belvedere said...

Enjoying this series of posts. You are expressing things that a younger more anarchistic version of myself sensed, but could not articulate nearly as well. This does seem how it will fall apart.

The news about Lockheed's "breakthrough" amused me. But it makes sense that they would pursue this. Given their success milking the joint fighter project by constantly delaying it and going over budget, they are the perfect contractor for a technology that is always 20 years in the future. Perhaps someone there has also noticed a shortage of bankable projects.

A.S. said...

John Michael Greer,

I had the fortune of stumbling upon a gem of a story while looking for old faery tales to tell to my friend's kids. It might as well be called The Theory of Catabolic Collapse: Childrens Edition. Have a listen if you'd like (~3 minute mp3):

The story, called The Big Oven, originates from Russia and is told here by Danny Kaye (from his album: Stories from Faraway Places).

Your writting is like the wise neighbour trying to talk some sense into the stubborn fool with his oversized oven.

The final sentence of the story:
"That's like giving all your food to a cat to keep the mice out of your food," could just as well be written, "That's like giving all your money/resources/wealth to warbands to keep your disgruntled-overseers/internal-proletariat from getting some of your money/resources/wealth."

Please, keep it up.


John Michael Greer said...

Rhisiart, I'm getting 'em in book form and getting those into as many hands as possible -- that's about as much as I'm prepared to do just now. If somebody else wants to inscribe these posts on granite, by all means. ;-)

Stennerjm, much less than a 50% dieoff would produce massive change. My worst case scenario would be around 2 billion deaths over the next five years, resulting in immense economic, political, and cultural shifts. But we'll see.

Latefall, oh, granted. This series of posts is mostly bad news. Sorry.

Kutamun, I hope your PM tries it. It would be entertaining to see Putin -- who has black belt rankings in more than one martial art -- toss your prime minister over a balcony or something and go on chatting with the Chinese president as though nothing had happened...

Don, thanks for the link! Not that this surprises me at all.

Yupped, no question, it's a major trend. One of the things that senile elites tend to forget is that soft power needs to be fed and fostered.

Luna, I don't know. It's entirely possible that the original Arab Spring risings could have been manufactured in the usual way, but the question is by whom -- there are more players in this game than the obvious one.

Ventriloquist, a finely honed metaphor. Thank you.

Cherokee, at this point it's as easy as shooting fish in a barrel. All I have to do is think of the most counterproductive thing the US government and financial class could possibly do, and predict that they're about to do it. A week or so later, they do it and I look like a genius. ;-)

Phil, no, my point is that the larger system is going to bits as the energy slaves escape back to their homes in the Mesozoic or something, and the chaos generated by the rise of warband culture adds to the pressures on a system that's failing because the available resources no longer meet maintenance costs. More on this as we proceed.

Mr. G., political change is often very fast -- think of how little time the French and Russian revolutions actually took. It's the underlying dynamics that take their merry time.

DaShui, fascinating. Utterly unsurprising, but fascinating.

Kylie said...

This is a very interesting discussion, but it is very tempting to focus on *those* evil people who are screwing everything up, and *their* shortcomings, as a way of avoiding our own. I think in the current context we should also remember to look down and see who is currently regarding *us* as a useless parasitic elite, and how we can reduce *our* dependence before they shake us off.

Also, Australians seem to be over-represented in the comments compared to our population size. Coincidence, or something else?

Bob Wise said...

ISIS sounds like a full-fledged war band, per this analysis. But I can't imagine who is going to hire them, or how.. they don't seem to be looking for work. Any clues?

David said...


I work at a modest-sized municipal electric utility in WI and last night we held an annual meeting for the consortium of allied muni utilities with whom we work. As part of the program there were several guest speakers, including one from a sizable national energy trading corporation. I can only describe that presentation as truly cornucopian, as in "this country will be awash in cheap natural gas and oil for the foreseeable future" kind of visions. When I asked (politely, this being at work and all) about the current marginal cost of production for fracked NG, he said 50 cents per thousand cf, $2 if you include the all the other fixed costs. I could only shake my head...

Doctor Westchester said...


I'm glad that you pointed out the comic aspects of Krugman's blog post. When I read it I decided that that I had to take back my defense of him that I put forth previously. The destructive effects of being on the cover of a national magazine of record wasn't enough to rationalize this drivel. Thank you for pointing out his noble efforts to provide humor in a week could only otherwise described as O-M-G.

On a more serious note, I don't consider that the shale bubble has really popped yet, but it is very close -- the bankruptcies haven't started - yet. I've always considered that the anti-fracking movement really started with people, landowners, objecting to having their property possibly being rendered useless, and even if it wasn't happening on their property. The big environmental group picked this up, but it always frustrated me that these groups refused to take aim at the soft underbelly of the beast, which was the economics. It is so ironic, but in hindsight predictable, that Saudi Arabia, with their "economic oil weapon", may have done more to potentially stop fracking in its tracks than anyone else.

John Michael Greer said...

Bill, the latter. Warband culture leading to feudalism is the norm. It's not quite inevitable -- I'm thinking here, among other examples, of Roman cities that survived the Dark Ages and maintained significant elements of their original system of government straight through to the high Middle Ages -- and it might be possible to forestall it, or at least temper it, with a revival of democratic culture and practice. That said, it's going to be a long uphill fight to make that happen.

Mustard, I'm sure there are plenty of people who are sure Lord Freud isn't worth minimum wage, either!

Ben, I'd rate the chance a little higher than you do, but it's still not the most likely outcome, granted. Still, a few more flustered clucks like the one in Dallas and it'll be "bring out your dead!" time in short order.

Mortal, that's an interesting point; I'll want to poke around and see whether internal borderlands of the kind you've described are to be found elsewhere in history. As for the values of white liberal Gaia worshippers, well, no; the point at which the warbands settle down and look for religious sanction is some centuries off yet.

Andy, maybe so, but he seems to me to be trying to coat business as usual with a layer of green spraypaint, which is not a useful activity just now.

Jkwill, I don't think Venezuela counts as an empire -- just one more nation that thought it could solve its long term problems by way of short term expedients.

Rashakor, Tom Murphy's always worth reading. Thanks for the link!

Jim, well, yes. Pretty much all they can do at this point is recycle images of past triumphs.

JML, so do I. What are you doing to bring about that state of affairs?

LL Pete, the man knows a business opportunity when he sees it. What happens, though, if Islamic State offers him a higher price?

Raven, the problem with epidemic disease is that it has an awkward habit of leaping from one socioeconomic level to another.

SLClaire, yes, I noticed the lack of any reference to getting more energy out than they put in. It was quite the vacuous puff piece.

Kaitain said...

John, you mentioned Vladimir Putin as a classic warlord type. We have also talked about the “drug gangs” in America and Mexico as emerging warbands. Judging from this popular hip-hop song and video, it would appear that the rappers and inner city gangbangers here in America recognize Putin as a kindred spirit and that right wingers like Pat Buchanan and William Lind aren’t the only Americans who admire him and see him as a role model. Of course, given the complete failure of leadership from the likes of Obama, Cameron, Hollande and whatever non-entities are currently warming the prime ministerial seats in Rome, Athens, Stockholm and Madrid this month, that shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. Talk about a failure of mimesis!

Kaitain said...

Speaking of William Lind, here is a recent comment of his about the resurgence of China while the West self-destructs due to its own folly and decadent stupidity:

“ 'Ancient Chinese Thought, Modern Chinese Power’ well sums up where China is headed. Its corollary might be ‘Modern Western Thought, Modern Western Weakness’. As the West has adopted the ideology of cultural Marxism that has as its primary objective the destruction of traditional Western culture, it has devoured itself. Now, in most of the West, the will to live is almost gone (just look at the birth rates). China too became weak during Mao’s “Cultural Revolution,” which sought to destroy traditional Chinese culture. Now, the return of that culture has brought China new strength. Perhaps there is a lesson there for the West.

Whether or not the West rallies and turns back from the road to Avernus, it will face a China that thinks and acts differently from the itself. In a contest between head-butters and maneuverists, the maneuverists usually win, absent a gross disparity of strength. If the West insists on destroying everything that has defined it for 3000 years, that might be good news. A world dominated by traditional Chinese culture would likely be a far better place than a world dominated by Islam, corporate greed, or unending disorder.”

Repent said...

In a previous post, in the comments section, you suggested to me that a person though meditation, Tai Chi, or other practices can develop a understanding of how the matrix works.

I took a shorter route and took the psychedelic medicine Ayahausca from the Amazon. (I wrote about this experience here: )

I've now seen the matrix and it is not black, like I had expected, instead I've seen that it glows in technicolor. Thank you for the suggestion !

Moshe Braner said...

Bob Wise said: "ISIS sounds like a full-fledged war band, per this analysis. But I can't imagine who is going to hire them, or how.. they don't seem to be looking for work. Any clues?"

- well yes. Assad has been buying their (formerly his) oil. In return, so to speak, they use the funds to fight the other anti-Assad rebels. But that won't save Assad in the long run, of course.

Moshe Braner said...

Re: EROI of the newfangled fusion gizmo. Of course the mainstream articles are devoid of any numbers. And of course the overall system EROI is unknown (and I would bet under unity). But googling around I did find an article that actually explained their "breakthrough", which has to do with the geometry of the device, and how it affects the narrow-system-boundaries EROI, supposedly improving it by an order of magnitude relative to the dismal EROI of the Tokamak geometry. The thing is, even if this part works, they still have to work on all the other hard bits, such as the materials that can survive being bombarded by 100 megawatts worth of neutrons.

What I find interesting is the timing of this announcement. We've seen various energy saviors come and go. Anybody remember the Hydrogen Economy? Then it was Second Generation Ethanol. Etc. Every time the energy savoir du jour seemed to fade away (due to problems predicted in advance by those who did the math), a new one was promptly trotted out to keep the proles entranced by the pie in the sky. So the question now is, which energy savior is currently fizzling, requiring this new one to be wheeled out of the Skunk Works at this moment? Why, fracking of course!

Kylie said...

Bob, re: the hiring of ISIS - they're currently funding themselves partly through black-market oil sales (rumour says they're selling to Turkey, among others). Since they're Sunni, and specifically Wahhabi of the brand that Saudi Arabia's been funding overseas for years, I would suggest that the House of Saud would be the ones most likely to hire them. Saudi Arabia has an ageing disconnected elite, a large underclass with few prospect and a population much larger than the area can support without cheap oil. The ruling class also has a habit of using violent repression to keep the lid on and a history of hiring foreign labour to do the actual work.

Marinhomelander said...

Your “overseer class” are the rank and file police. They are being not only shortchanged through various financial machinations such as the loss of defined benefit pensions and pay raises but as well through privatization of their functions.

The other attack on the overseers is political. The vast majority of police are White. They are being attacked in the progressive media for being trigger happy killers of minority youth and for extorting money from the population through civil forfeiture.
In many cases promotions are reserved for minorities or females or better yet, minority females, which further alienates them. Both these trends will continue to increase as things decay and there is a shuffling of loyalties.

Note: All the Bank of America’s I’ve seen in the San Francisco Bay Area recently have private armed guards stationed in front of them. Never have seen that before.

Geography coming into play here. A story on NPR’s Latino USA talks about “Whitetopias” such as Northern Idaho becoming a place that Whites move to because they want to be around other Whites who are in the majority there. A Los Angeles cop is profiled as such.

Marin County, just north of San Francisco is another Whitetopia on a smaller scale although it’s superficially progressive.

I love to go into sports bars and start talking politics and economics. It’s the most fertile ground. The outlet of aggression and the distraction that sports provide in these guys is easily co-opted with well-timed innocuous questions about their personal finance, that of their friends plus anecdotes about some outrage or other committed by the PTB.

“You seem like a smart guy. If you can understand how the NFL works and memorize sports statistics then there’s no reason you can’t begin to comprehend what’s happening to us economically.”

Then I hand them a piece of paper with your site’s URL as well as that of Naked Capitalism and Charles Hugh Smith’s.

Great fun.

Ben said...

"I'm not dead yet!"

John Michael Greer said...

Laylah, laughter's my preferred option, but yes, those are basically the choices.

Jonathan, nah, that's actually true in most current academic subjects. Hardening of the orthodoxies is a common health problem in aging empires.

Onething, funny. In a grim sort of way.

Eric, excellent. I see you're going heavy on the contemporary literature!

Mark, no argument there.

Magicalthyme, that's one of the reasons why I'm planning on home care if this thing gets out of control. If this is the way things work when it's just a couple of patients, what do you think the hospitals will be like when there are thousands, or tens of thousands?

Ecologist, I should probably do a post sometime soon reminding people of what I've been saying all along. The short form is that at some point in the next few years, possibly as soon as now, we're going to enter the second major round of crises in the decline and fall of industrial civilization. The first such round ran from 1914 to 1954, give or take; think about the events of those years -- two world wars, a global pandemic, a global depression, and a steady drumbeat of revolutions, political crises, mass murders, and so on -- and you've got a very rough sense of what we're facing. More on this in a future post!

Random, a useful point!

Clark, when the Black Death was raging, people spread stories that it was actually being caused by Jews throwing poison into wells. This is exactly the same sort of frantic nonsense.

Mark, that's because they've found it more profitable to make them primary care facilities for everyone but the rich. Game theory reminds us that it's impossible to consistently maximize more than one variable at a time; profitability is one variable, level of health care provided is another.

RogerCO, yes, I was using the label loosely as a wake-up call. The single most important factor in how much you will make is how much your parents made, by the way, so "caste" isn't as extreme as it might sound!

Shawn, that's the great thing about history -- you know what to look for.

John Michael Greer said...

Will, that's one of the reasons I find him such an inspired comic.

Violet, good. I learned much the same thing from comparing the oh so liberal Neopagan groups I've encountered with baboon troops, and noticing that the only significant difference is that the baboons don't insist that their hierarchy doesn't exist. Have you read Burke yet, btw? He should be high on the list for any recent convert to conservatism.

Laylah, no, I hadn't -- thanks for the link!

MawKernewek, good -- it's not quite the same process, no, but familiarity with any troubled period of history will give you useful points of comparison for the present. I see the Hellenistic era as parallel to the early modern era in Europe, when the various nations were still forming and Britain hadn't yet risen to global domination.

Varun, relations between the locals and the hordes vary all over the potential space of human interactions, and it's far from uncommon for the barbarians and the local inhabitants to work out a modus vivendi very quickly -- warlords like food on the table, so they have a vested interest in keeping the peasants productive; peasants like to be protected from raiders and the like, and so they have a vested interest in finding a competent warlord. Of course there are exceptions to that rule, but it's very much a matter of specific conditions.

Ed-M, Putin isn't exactly a warlord -- he's a talented despot in charge of a large and potentially very powerful nation, who's figured out that the age of scarcity industrialism is here but may not grasp all the details yet. He could certainly crash and burn -- it's a common occupational hazard in his field -- but we'll see.

Mark, I see the joke writers are working overtime these days!

Dornier, I think you missed both our points. Of course slow steaming has some economic payoff -- the point is that the chart in Krugman's piece overstates it by neglecting to factor in the increased number of days per voyage. That's the innumeracy we were discussing.

Greg, a good point! Having turned the F-35 into one of history's great subsidy dumpsters, the folks at Lockheed Martin may have noticed how well the fusion crowd has been playing that game, and decided to try to get a piece of the action themselves.

Aanos, thank you! If an old folk tale supports my case, I consider that a very serious bit of evidence in my favor.

Kylie, that's a different issue, and since each of these posts is a short essay rather than a book, we'll get to each issue in due time. As for the size of the Australian contingent here, yes, I've noticed that also -- if I ever get a paid speaking gig down under, I'll interview the wombats and see if I can find out why. ;-)

Bob, they're a mature warband, meaning that they're not interested in being hired any more; they want territory. See the Visigoths in 410 or so for a comparable example.

hapibeli said...

" That there may be no such replacement for fossil fuels ready and waiting in Nature’s cookie jar, and that economic growth can thus give way to an economic contraction extending over decades and centuries to come, has never entered his darkest dream. "

That it would cause a complete breakdown of our environment even faster than it will happen anyway, is an even better reason for believers in growth to go the way of most wild animals today! LOL!

John Michael Greer said...

David, that kind of drivel is everywhere in the US these days. I wonder if any of the people who are spewing it have ever stopped to wonder what's going to happen when people realize that it's all a pack of lies.

Doctor W., oh, granted -- I think the current downturn in the stock market may be a bellwether, but the real crash of the fracking bubble will have to wait for the first major bankruptcy of a frackng firm and panic selling of stocks and debt issued by fracking-related companies. I expect that tolerably soon.

Kaitain, exactly. It's a common feature in a society with a senile elite, and shows just how readily the people low down the ladder will abandon that elite for someone who can win their respect.

Repent, well, de gustibus non disputandum est, but I prefer methods of spiritual expansion that don't require chemical assistance.

Moshe, bingo. The timing of the fusion announcement is a pretty brazen attempt to seize center stage as the Next Thing That Will Save Us From Peak Oil. There's a lot of money to be make convincing people that they can have their planet and eat it too.

Marin, no, the police are only one small part of the overseer class. You're right that they smart under the sort of accusations you've mentioned; the fact that a significant minority of US police have taken to shooting young African-American men for no good reason, and that a significant minority of US police departments do in fact use civil forfeiture as an excuse for outright robbery, just adds to the complexity and bitterness of the resulting mess.

Ben, all in good time... ;-)

Redneck Girl said...

JML said...
I don't know about you, but I prefer a scenario in which local citizen militias band together to fight exploitation by the dominant minority. I definitely don't prefer a scenario in which these militias set themselves up as some feudal-like ruling caste. I would rather they be champions of localized democracy and representative government.

10/16/14, 8:56 AM

This sounds just like John Man's 1000 years of Shadow Warriors. In short ninjas, they were a nascent democracy because their land was so rugged it was hard for the Samurai to conquer. That's what I advocate for here in Cascadia, which is far northern California, including Oregon and Washington, stretching up into Canada the width being from the coast to the east side of the Cascades. LOTS of mountains, well watered from the coast to and including the Cascades with a fairly temperate climate. The coastline is inhospitable with one navigable major river, the Columbia which REQUIRES a local pilot to bring foreign shipping across the bar. (Its very treacherous!)

Eastern and southern boundary would be dessert in the south, mountains as well and very rugged to cross.

As JMG has basically said, who bells the cat, how is this future country to be set up? Could we do it with games and competitions now? How do we build this network? Because a network must be built. What would we require in skills that would be needed? Martial Arts obviously, wilderness survival skills with emphasis on the primitive. There's a resource in the re-enactors of frontier and native American skills.

Getting an expert to train locals would be good. Someone >LIKE< Tom Brown or Mykel Hawke might be best to recruit, both wilderness survival experts. Tom Brown having experience training CIA operatives and Mykel Hawke in Special Forces. A big name isn't essential and might best be avoided but someone of their skill level would be valuable.

In some ways it would be fun to create such an organization, but it would be a lot of hard work and perhaps not really possible for a woman like me that's ADD and inept in social skills, getting moreso with age. Maybe a year from now I'd have more time to give it a try but unfortunately my current obligations won't allow it.

Who's up for it? I almost wish it were me!


onething said...


I loved the link with all the dances. Especially the 3rd one down with Russian types who keep grabbing children and dancing what I call the "presyadka."

Around here we have cloggers and they do teach their children! When I lived in North Carolina there was a lot of contra dancing, and this is a really beautiful, fun and elaborate kind of folk dance that really originates in the British Isles.

Just for that, check this one out:

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

Based on reportage to date on the handling of Ebola cases in the United States, a few conclusions.

The US public health system has been inadequately funded, but I don’t think this is the direct cause for the one death and unknown number of resulting infections at Dallas Presbyterian Hospital. The direct cause was carrying on with business as usual in a crisis situation, which is what institutions ordinarily do at first. Mr. Duncan wasn’t sent home with pills on his first visit because anyone wasn’t doing their job. Their job was not to admit any uninsured patient who showed up at the ER unless that patient was at death’s door. BAU continued after his admission. The administrators didn’t foresee any reason to change the normal staffing practices or implement extraordinary measures against infection.

IMO the test of whether this is an example of normal institutional stupidity or sclerotic decline will be whether and how fast people in charge learn from the initial mistakes. The media attention to the mishandling of Duncan’s case could result in treating it as a shakedown cruise.

However, I think the lesson hospitals are actually learning is to dump any Ebola patients they receive on some other institution. Caring for Ebola patients in US hospitals is going to be very expensive. There are no effective drugs available at almost any price, only supportive care and perhaps blood transfusions from recovered survivors. Double staffing is required to implement a buddy system for the donning and removal of protective gear; otherwise large portions of your staff will soon be in isolation themselves or infecting the hospital’s regular patients, neither of which is good for the bottom line. A huge amount of medical waste is generated in industrialized care for hemorrhagic fevers. According to Rachael Maddow’s report tonight, the facility to which one of the sick nurses was moved has a giant autoclave in which everything the patient has used is sterilized—laundry as well as medical equipment. There are four US facilities for highly contagious diseases that have this kind of autoclave, and they have a total of nine beds for Ebola patients.

I suspect that until a day or two ago the advice that the CDC was giving hospitals on how to avoid transmitting the disease was not based on the protocols used by organizations like Doctors Without Borders and the WHO which have experience treating it in Africa. Those organizations apparently had a pretty good record in preventing health workers from being infected during previous outbreaks. The information is readily available; I posted a link to one of the manuals here a few weeks ago. If CDC thought they knew better than the people with field experience, that is indeed a sign of institutional rot.

Finally, if the social fabric is more or less intact at the beginning of an outbreak, having a public health system that is not very technologically advanced may be an advantage in containing it, in part because it simplifies triage. I gather that in viral diseases of this kind, the sicker the patient, the more contagious, as the immune system fails and all the body’s resources are hijacked into producing more copies of the virus. The interventions possible at that point may be more likely to kill the nurses than to save the patient. Also, a patient in extremis with fluids coming from every orifice probably doesn’t care whether she’s lying on a clean sheet or a straw mat. The straw mat can be burnt.

Kutamun said...

Hey Rhishart Gilliam , gday mate
My fave Archdruid posts of all time are these
Aug 2011- salvaging resilience
Sep 2011- clarkes fallacy
Sep 2011- a preparation for philosophy
Oct 2011- the peak oil initiation
Feb 2012- the recovery of the human


DiSc said...

To the examples of warbands in the past, I would like to add the Turkish mercenaries in the Byzantine empire - at the battle of Manzikert, 2 thirds of the Greek army were actually Turks. It did not end well.

Today's warbands are clearly not part the NSA, Blackwater, or the police. Those are clearly the internal proletariat.

Today's warbands are large criminal organizations, for example in South America and Southern Europe.

The Mafia basically took over law enforcement in Southern Italy after Rome was not up to the task after WWII.

When Italian politics collapsed in 1991, the Mafia took over more power and brought one of their own, Mr. B., to power.

Thanks to the EU, the Mafia now has a free hand over the whole continent and is going to weaken - and eventually replace - legitimate institutions.

I suppose the same is happening in the US.

Dorda Giovex said...

ISIS - I personally dont believe they are a genuine warband. I think they are mostly a secret service "bad boy" media stunt to drive the western pleb into giving the elite a ticket to do whatever they want in IRAQ and Syria.
My view is that like James Bond's Spectre or El Quada their motivation to exist is to look bad, terribly amorally bad to give the "good" guy the licence to kill. Done that they mostly disappear from the scene into the background of the action, providing some nicely and spectaculary disposed cannon fodder. They have no clear political goal except "I will kill you all everywhere and horribly"

Compare this with the clarity of the goals of a genuine revolutionary movement like Castro's goal to free Cuba and govern it establishing communism. The goal there was to win the support of the people not to scare them into supporting the established elite!

Or the goals of drug warbands: make money selling drugs, controlling territory and avoiding anyone interfering (right?). Clear simple transparent.

ISIS does not make sense.

Luckymortal said...

Violet said: Before my research project (on primate behavior) I was a political anarchist. Afterwards I was a traditional conservative. My worldview was totally shaken.

I'm far from "conservative," but a similar lesson could be learned from organic gardening (or probably any aspect of the natural world): everything consumers, everything kills, everything dies, everything struggles for an advantage, and that's all quite right. Many of the "problems" our "politics" tries to "solve" are simply a failure to accept that unfair and unsatisfactory reality.

Yet, a great many philosophers have pointed out that there are great personal and spiritual advantages from attempting to be kind and help each other altruistically.

For every problem rooted in this reality disconnect, every step becomes a zen "koan," such as: to advocate for social justice one must cause harm to the people one's trying to help, by inflicting the painful mental state of "discontent" and "anger" over oppression, in people who can do little to change their situation. But if you try to do them the kindness of instilling the personally freeing and adaptive mental state of "contentment" you aid in their oppression!

The question becomes how to intervene in such a complicated system skillfully? Which message do you convey to which audience at which time? Who helped and who harmed?

Resource limitations are another such reality-acceptance problem: what can we change and what must we accept? And if I've read the Archdruid correctlly, the "koan" this represents is one spiritual impetus for this blog. At least it's the reason I read it....

Agent Provocateur said...


I agree strongly with your suggestion that loyalty is bought and paid for. This, for me, rings truer than issues of imitation or respect for the elite. No doubt respect for the elite helps but, failing that, a full belly and some of the loot goes a long way to keeping people loyal to you. This at least has been my observation based on personal experience with some of the warlords and cruder elites and their retainers in the third world.

Just to be clear who the elite are, we could use the case in Canada. 86 families in Canada (representing 0.002% of the population) hold the same amount of wealth as the bottom 34%. Combined, these families have enough wealth to buy every private asset in the province of New Brunswick. Many of these families have criminal pasts. Only 10 of Canada's highest paid CEOs are part of the Wealthy 86. These CEOs are just the top end of the retainer class; not really part of the elite at all.

This underscores a point you made in an earlier post: the extremely wealthy stay that way not through income but by building and trading assets, mostly companies. This brings me to a question I brought up some time ago. In most civilizations of the past, wealth was based on resource extraction from land. Of course this is still the case; thus the need for an ever expanding frontier. However, in the past, the link between land and wealth was much more direct. Wealth meant ownership of land and those who worked it for you. Right now, extreme wealth is based on owning companies. In the past one could kill his landlord (or someone else could) and one could be further ahead ... not so much now in the OECD countries.

As the economic decline progresses, will we not find that a significant portion of the elite and their top retainers simply cease being such because the basis for their wealth disappears? Many of the companies they own will simply go bankrupt. Certainly a core group of the elite will buy up what are still going concerns; but will not the rest simply atrophy? No doubt the warlords will move in at some point, but well before that point, will not much of the elite simply cease to be such? So, say in the case of Canada, will we not see Wealthy 86 contract to say the Wealthy 20 long before these last are threatened seriously by warlords? A positive answer to this question does not contradict your main point at all but it would involve a making the basic process more specific to our time.

Eric S. said...

Looks like there was a slight uptick in oil and gas prices today, that seems to be from Russia cutting down its own production. Everyone's saying the worst is over, and economists are making increasingly bold claims about the invincibility of the American energy boom. Based on what energy companies were doing earlier this week, I'm getting the distinct impression the 80 dollars a barrel price of oil was teetering on the brink of what the industry can handle. These are the numbers energy analysts are giving to the press for the point at which fracking and directional drilling in America stop being economical( Would it be safe to assume that that price is probably actually a lot higher? I can see this whole situation teetering on the edge of collapse, but I'm not sure how long it will take. My thought is that if the industry can limp along until winter, cold weather demand could prop up the bubble until sometime next spring but I just can't see it lasting any longer than that. I'm still expecting November, especially if there's another price drop next week. I do know that my friend in the energy industry for whom peak oil is usually a no-go topic if we want to maintain our friendship told me that he's trying to find a way out of the industry before it goes. I grew up in Midland Texas, and its population has more than tripled since the energy boom started and it's sprawled out, built new extravagent and flashy wastes of space. Once this bubble bursts, I may just have to go visit just so I can see the abandoned buildings getting claimed by tumbleweeds and dust. Do you have any recommendations for a good place to follow the bubble that doesn't require mucking through the nonsense that economists and journalists say? Or is sifting through the stupid just part of the fun?

1ab9a86a-8991-11e3-899b-000bcdcb8a73 said...

Here's a thought experiment:

what would happen if a major polling firm in any of the Western democracies had the idea of adding Vladimir Putin to their standard list of candidates in their "who would you prefer as grand poohbah" question?

When you consider the utter uselessness of the frauds and empty-space-pretending-to-be-occupied that comprises the rest of the list, well, er ...

I've seen admiring comments about Putin from an almost bizarre range of sources ... people who probably couldn't agree on anything at all except that they can't fail to notice that Vladimir seems to be competent, and the contrast with Western *cough* leadership simply can't go unnoticed even by people who would normally go a long way to avoid admiring Russia.

NosVemos said...


I always get a chuckle out of any reference to Francis Fukuyama, who seemed to be the actual embodiment of Voltaire's Doctor Pangloss.

Last week's post had me turning up some old works on Sumerian history and mythology by Samuel Noah Kramer, specifically in thinking about how emergent cultures can adopt the cultural artifacts of the residual culture to very interesting effect.

Anyway, thank you for a very insightful post. I always feel that, to paraphrase Vico, your writings make me feel like it's time to leave the academies, and go back to the woods.



Andropos Nebulus said...

A lot of people are making fun of Krugman, but curiously it appears most agree with his policy points... and I'd like to address this. The disagreement seems to stem from fundamentals: Krugman sees growth continuing, and most here do not. So it's a religious dispute: his religion is Progress, and people here practice the anti-religion of Decline. (Me personally? As with God, I have an agnostic attitude toward the Progress-Decline dichotomy right now.)

My point in bringing it up is that all of you laughing at Krugman et al are essentially being unfair, or at least being unreflective about it. Fact is, a majority here seem to agree that his policy economic positions are mostly right, but his worldview is mostly wrong.

To put it another way, despite the general belief here that none of this will last, when it comes to specific questions of contemporary economic policy, most of you seem to find yourselves in the position of having to awkwardly agree with one or another of the Progress authorities. Eg. most seem to agree with JMG that "everywhere austerity has been tried it has failed." But austerity is the act of ceasing to spend money when the money has run out, no? So non-austerity *is* spending money even after it's run out... which is Krugman's position.

Andropos Nebulus said...

For the record, it is false that austerity has failed every time it's been tried. It has failed *almost* every time it's been tried, but not every single time. The reason it usually fails is that it is not accompanied by debt repudiation--- eg in the form of currency revaluation, or by defaulting wholesale on debt obligations like Iceland in '08 or the USA in 1933 (I'm referring to the bank holiday and wholesale contract abrogation in spring 1933---FDR's Keynesian style make-work and infrastructure programs ramped up later, particularly after the Supreme Court killed the NRA in 1935).

The reason debt repudiation is rarely done is that it causes pain for everybody, rich and poor; the benefit is that it places an economy in a greatly improved position later on. How? Interest payments are wealth transfers from productive to unproductive sectors of society---with lower debt levels, an economy functions more productively. Austerity *without* debt repudiation (which is the IMF's cure) causes pain for debtors (mostly less wealthy) but enriches the lenders (mostly wealthy)... the result is an economy with ever greater shares of its productivity going to the rich, and a *much* more poorly functioning economy. Eg Greeks become impoverished, even while writing ever bigger checks to German bankers.

Krugman's Keynesianism provides an alternative: when debt becomes unpayable, have a more creditworthy entity (the government) issue even greater amounts of debt to cover the transfer payments. The benefit is far fewer people suffering… at least right now. The negatives are three-fold: 1) increased wealth-transfer from the economy in general to the rich, in the form of ever greater interest payments, 2) almost inevitably the new debt won't finance productive asset-building, but will finance consumption and/or speculation: so we get a housing bubble, a stock-market bubble, or a fraking bubble, which *WILL* lead to another crisis later, and 3) the *risk* (not certainty) that the authorities may loose control of the money supply (uncontrolled inflation). Usually this only occurs when, in addition to everything else, there is some kind of supply shock---like the occupation of Ruhr in 1923, or an oil-shock which we might see again in the next few years.

Outside of a few libertarian and/or right-wing circles, possibility 1 (austerity + debt repudiation) is completely ignored by everybody. The consensus (against evidence) is that the result is an automatic great depression---the actual Great Depression had multiple causes, most of them rooted in WWI and its aftermath. The IMF and the big banks like possibility 2 (austerity only), and the center-left economic mainstream likes possibility 3 (more debt, no austerity at all). To me it's strange that this blog sympathizes with the mainstream on this one!

Greg Belvedere said...

A relevant question given the possibility of Ebola getting out of hand. I have heard resources for herbal anti-virals mentioned here. I have also heard mention of using herbs to help liver and kidney function. Would store bought detox teas work for liver and kidneys, or would I want to seek out a better source? Also, could someone recommend a good general resource for medicinal herbs? Preferably herbs that are common, or can be easily grown, in the northeastern US. I had a great herbal apothecary when I lived in Brooklyn, but I have since moved.

Roger said...

Yeah, where can I get me one of those Nobel things anyway? Anyway, whenever I feel down about life and need a good laugh I look at one of Krugman's columns. Some real howlers.

OK, maybe I mis-understand him. I mean, didn't he go to Yale?

Regardless, I'm all for the abolition of economics as an academic field. Why? Because, in my estimation, it's been so corrupted by ideological and commercial interests as to make it worse than useless. If only (like some of Krugman's pronouncements) it were JUST ridiculous. It's much worse than that. IMO it's positively harmful. Economists occupy offices in government and institutes of higher learning or think-tanks or business associations and people listen to those charlatans. And they screw up massively or they're wrong or they mislead or they outright lie. I wish my alma mater would take the lead. Shut down the department. Pronounce it unfit. Tear down the building. Be done with it.

Roger said...

To illustrate some of what you write about, when I was growing up, the local Anglican church (with regimental banners on the walls) was a tribal sanctuary. Religious yes but tribal too with people that looked and spoke and smelled a certain way gathering there. I'm not Anglican but because of my neighbourhood friends I was in an Anglican scout troop. You know how it is, like every other kid I wanted to fit in. And we would march into that church regularly in our uniforms for church parade.

In this neck of the woods the dissolution of castes got underway decades ago. So "fitting in" got easier. If I had been born a generation prior I would have been consigned by ethnicity and religion. Would I have been able to join that Anglican troop?

I had heard of quotas in law and accounting firms for Jews and other "off-whites". By the time I was in my teens the ethnic and religious subdivisions were breaking down. So, no more quotas, no more changing your surname to "Jones". I know the grand-daughter whose immigrant grand-father adopted that particular moniker. She laughs about it.

But part of the issue of "caste" comes down to you. People naturally band together. How do YOU define yourself? How do YOU self-identify? It's not just segregation it's also SELF-segregation. Your many behaviours, your choice of food, drink, sport mark you. People have asked my ethnic origin and the answer surprises them. In the words of my Lebanese immigrant barber, I don't have the "air".

William Church said...

@ Andropos: Fair points but I want to differentiate myself from the majority on two counts.

First I don't agree with Krugman's recommendations. He and his brethren have systematically advocated the deindustrialization of this nation and replacing productive industry with the fever dreams of financialization. He is a fraud and one of the worst enemies those of US who produce real goods. One need look NO further than his address to know where his interests lie. Ask yourself what area of the country actually benefited from financialization.

Two, debt repudiation and regulatory reform would be at the bottom of any response to our situation... if you want to actually reform the system. After watching the right wingers go nuclear when the subject of taking over insolvent banks (all the big ones) I have to say they aren't onboard. Watching them stifle regulatory reform should have removed any doubt.

As to your wider point, my opinion is that things are much worse than they should be. And advocating higher public debt is insane when what the country needs is more productive enterprise and less parasitic behavior from the Wall St criminal element. To my mind the question of decline versus growth should only address the direction to which the produce/consume economy is pointed not whether it is the correct path to trod.

Krugman agrees with NONE of this.


Daniel C. said...

This comment is not necessarily for publication unless you think others will find it relevant. In light of the way things are going, I've been trying to get a copy of the master conserver handouts you've referenced in previous posts, but every link I've found is to the same defunct website. Is there another copy of them somewhere, or a comparable resource you'd recommend? My apologies if this has been covered elsewhere.

Grebulocities said...

I find one thing strangely comforting about the revelations about the gross incompetence of the response to the Dallas Ebola case. At first I was afraid that the virus was now infective enough that even standard biohazard protection was not enough to reliably stop it. Instead it turns out that the nurses were infected the standard way for medical personnel: inadequate protective measures for the level of contact they had with the patient.

Of course the fact that even our best hospitals take woefully inadequate measures to minimize the spread of the disease is disturbing, but given the rates of hospital-acquired infections we have, it's hard to call that surprising. The only people it seemed to surprise were the ones at the top saying Ebola was no big deal for us because America's high-tech but notoriously flawed healthcare system would easily contain it. I doubt that most people were fooled by those reassurances, and they certainly won't be fooled by new pronouncements like that.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@Roger--I love your coinage of "off-whites" and I'm going to adopt it. Growing up, my parents and public school made me aware of our intermediate status between WASPS and Negroes (the polite term at the time). I heard about the exclusion of Jews from the professions you mention and from certain country clubs, but it didn't affect me directly. Restrictive covenants in housing were beginning to be banned. My mother led our Brownie troop and most of the Brownies were gentiles.

The emergence of Jewish neocons who totally identify with elite interests, and the acceptance of those neocons into influential positions in the second Bush administration, marked the transition of American Jews from off-white to white. Henry Kissinger had a great deal of influence and some power in the Nixon administration, but Nixon didn't like Jews and most Jews didn't like him. Kissinger was a one-off and felt like a court Jew to me. The Bush neocons were part of the inner circle, without apparent distinction of ethnicity among them.

I still identify as off-white.

Justin G said...

For another counter-example to warlords leading to feudalism would be the Qing dynasty. In classic fashion, the Manchus (Qing) were invited to help put down a peasant rebellion. In classic fashion they didn't want to leave when the job was done, and the Qing dynasty was founded, with not to much noticeable change in the structures of governance.

Ed-M said...

JMG, I have to admit: you're right about Putin being a talented tyrant of a large and potentially very powerful nation. It is also a provincial state of Industrial Civilisation and by any measure, just like the West, it is badly infected with the Religion of Progress!

So you give the system just 50 years. I'd thought it would last longer in places like Russia and China.

Brian Weber said...

It's empire management. Assad was aligning with Russia, as Russia has been attempting to (re)build it's own empire of proxy rule. Gaddafi was always a loose cannon, and a liability to the west. Just prior to his death he'd been trying to build an African currency union. International trade in anything other than dollars would threaten to untangle our strings of control over global commerce. In the extreme, this could curtail or even reverse the wealth pump.

Not that i was asked, but I'll give a personal opinion about the Arab Spring: I think it was a sincere uprising, but without a solid ideological underpining, it was always bound to be co - opted by forces with solid, well thought out ideas, methods, and objectives. Think about it: yes they were fighting against regimes that were making life intolerable, but what we're they fighting *for*? Islamic law? Western - style democracy in the mold of the USA which they dislike? Democracy in the abstract? A Marxist ideal where power is welded by the people directly somehow? Just a better freakin' life and who cares how? It's a little hard to say, isn't it. Well there are ideological minority groups over there (and here) that can answer those questions directly, and they are the ones with the objectives, the methods, and the will to co - opt or fight to co opt those movements. There's usually not a dominant group at the outset so they'll fight it out amongst one another for now (as in supporters of western puppet govs versus secular military juntas vs islamists vs tribal or sectarian breakaways, etc). The common people will be caught in the middle, as usual.

Nemo said...

The talk of warbands reminds me of something I learned from a "Losing Iraq" episode of Frontline earlier this year. I had honestly never paid too close attention to the goings on in Iraq so maybe this is old news but I found some details pretty surprising.
First, I learned that the insurgents the US military spent so much time fighting were largely former soldiers of the Iraq military, something the Americans disbanded early on in the invasion. After fighting them for many years, General David Petraeus led a plan to hire them as peacekeepers and they became known as the "Sons of Iraq." Predictably, with the insurgents on the payroll, this made things a lot more stable temporarily. But now that they aren't being propped up, many of them have defected to ISIS. This seems like as close a definition of a warband-scenario as anything else I can imagine!

And if anyone's curious that episode of Frontline is watchable online here if anyone is curious -

donalfagan said...

This youtube of an interview of David Byrne seems to fit in here:
He talks about the fast fall of the Marcos regime.

August Johnson said...

@Daniel C - The basic pdf of the Master Conserver files are at:

John Michael Greer said...

Hapibeli, and if pigs had wings we'd all catch our breakfast bacon with butterfly nets!

Unknown Deborah, all valid points.

DiSc, it's more disorganized on this side of the pond, with a variety of ethnic gangs vying for control over various territories. Other than that, pretty much the same.

Dorda, there I disagree. ISIS makes sense from the point of view of hardcore takfiri Muslim fundamentalism -- "put your trust in Allah and forget about everything else" makes perfect sense from the perspective of people who won't use toothpaste because it isn't mentioned in the Quran.

Agent, loyalty and mimesis are powerful forces when the elite is still a creative minority, and people dream about being successful in the same mode. It's precisely when loyalty becomes solely a matter of a paycheck that you know the rot has set in. As for the dissolution of the elite due to the collapse of the system that gives them their wealth and power, bingo -- the thing to watch is the emergence of alternative structures of power within the crumbling shell of the existing order. I'll be discussing that as we proceed.

Eric, get used to sifting through the stupid. As for the temporary pause in the decline, those are common -- I'd encourage you to read Galbraith's The Great Crash if you haven't already; he talks in some detail about the way that every temporary respite got turned into an excuse for renewed fantasies of prosperity "just around the corner."

1ab, I'd love to see that -- but I don't imagine the experiment will ever be tried. I doubt anybody among the current dominant minority in the US wants to know the answer to that question.

NosVemos, the woods are a good place to learn just now!

Andropos, you're late to the conversation. No, most of us don't agree with Krugman's policies -- quite the contrary. The alternatives are not limited to "austerity" as currently defined and reckless expansion of debt; I've written a book on some of the other alternatives, in case you're interested.

As for "austerity," that label -- as I'm sure you know -- refers to the standard Washington Consensus policies of bailouts for the rich, cutbacks for the poor, and privatization of the commons at fire-sale prices, which in point of fact has brought economic disaster to every nation that's tried it. I noted in a post here back in 2012 that a comprehensive default on unpayable debt is the only way that today's debtor nations will return to prosperity, so I'd encourage you to check your facts next time before insisting that this blog favors a set of policies that I've critiqued at length.

Kaitain said...

1ab9a86a-8991-11e3-899b-000bcdcb8a73 said:

“What would happen if a major polling firm in any of the Western democracies had the idea of adding Vladimir Putin to their standard list of candidates in their "who would you prefer as grand poohbah" question?”

I am reminded of a series of columns by David Goldman, who writes under the pen name Spengler for the Asia Times, in which Goldman half-seriously advocated changing the Constitution of the United States to allow Putin to run for President of the United States during the 2008 elections. Here is the original set of columns:

Goldman pointed out back then that Putin would have been a far better leader than either Obama or McCain and that one of the reasons why the US is in so much trouble is because of poor leadership by the current crop of elites. Goldman is himself a very well connected member of the elite and served as a senior official in both the Reagan and Bush Sr. administrations, so he speaks from first hand experience as someone who was a high ranking government official and knows the shortcomings of the establishment all too well.

Again this comes back to a failure of mimesis as well as leadership. When you have diehard conservatives, inner city gangsters, rap stars and even certain members of the elite openly expressing admiration for a foreign despot like Putin and you have a leading paleoconservative and military analyst like Lind saying that a world dominated by China would be preferable to a continuation of the present American Empire, it speaks volumes about just how hated and unpopular the status quo has become. I am also reminded of Cornelius Tacitus, a Roman senator and a leading intellectual of Imperial Rome, who denounced the growing degeneracy of his own people while praising the Germanic barbarians who were assailing the northern frontier of the Roman Empire as exemplars of virtue. I think we will see similar sentiments expressed a lot more in the not-so-distant future.

John Michael Greer said...

Greg, I'd encourage you to consult with a qualified herbalist on that one.

Roger, I ain't arguing. I spent much of my book The Wealth of Nature pointing out that mainstream economists these days live in Neverland.

Daniel, see August Johnson's comment. I'd encourage as many people as possible to download copies and make them accessible via the web, so we can keep this information out there.

Grebulocities, granted. If people get good and scared at this point, it might just get them wary enough to slow the transmission of further cases below the point that an epidemic can sustain itself.

Justin, you're pulling one detail out of context rather than trying to follow the whole argument. Warbands by themselves don't result in feudalism; warbands in a declining civilization do. Ming China was fairly stable, thus the continuation of the same civilization under different management for another three centuries.

Ed-M, where did you get the fifty years? No, that's not what I think at all. Again, my take is that we're on the brink of a multidecade crisis period, which will be followed by another period of relative calm -- mind you, the US will probably be an impoverished Third World nation by the time the crisis ends, but that's common enough in such situations. The calm will be followed by another round of crisis, another calm, and a final round of crisis toward the latter part of the 22nd century in which the last scraps of industrial civilization will go under once and for all. I'll talk about the reasons for that scenario in an upcoming post.

Brian, to my mind it's less empire management than crisis management, and increasingly inept crisis management at that.

Nemo, typical. A lot of German barbarians were on the Roman payroll at one point or another.

Donalfagan, you'll notice that the fall of the Marcos regime did not equal the end of Philippine civilization. The distinction's an important one!

Kaitain said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andropos Nebulus said...

JMG, My apologies for misrepresenting your views. It seems the point of confusion was indeed our different understandings of the word "austerity." The way you explain it in your reply, I agree that it has always failed to restore prosperity.... although it has been successful in its main goal which is to keep the rich happy and wealthy regardless of what's going on with everyone else. I suppose I must also retract my assertion that "Outside of a few libertarian and/or right-wing circles, possibility 1 (austerity + debt repudiation) is completely ignored by everybody"..... since you have pointed out that something like this was discussed on this blog 2 years ago. Again, apologies.

As for "check your facts next time before insisting that this blog favors a set of policies that I've critiqued at length" .... Well gee! I'd have to familiarize myself with at least 2 years of posts and read a book! Now your work is worth reading, but that's quite a bar to pass before contributing to the Archdruid's comment threat.

To William Church: yeah, Krugman's favored trade policies have definitely contributed to USA middle class decline. In fact he's admitted so himself, in some of his lectures on trade policy. His (overt) justification is compassion: it's OK to sacrifice some well-being of the American middle class in order to outsource jobs to the rest of the world...that lets the even poorer people in other societies escape their rice polders and become part of the world economy, too.

I'll leave it to others to pick apart this kind of argument if they want to---there are numerous ideologically different ways to do so from all across the spectrum---but I will say that if you believe in eternally expanding economies, or even if you merely believe the planet has enough resources for 7 billion to live like Americans, then there is at least something to be said for his point of view. The younger me held views like that at points in the past, and I don't think I was a *complete* idiot.

Ahavah said...

I was in a steering committee meeting this morning for a new organization. One of the items on the agenda was the recently crafted mission statement. Here it is:

To empower the community by informing, entertaining, and engaging listeners with local, timely, and relevant information and viewpoints that impact safety, well-being and quality of life in Central Lexington.

Sounds pretty standard, right? One person, a journalism professor, objected to the word "impact. Strenuously. She said we had to replace it, because it was inappropriate. (Now, it is grammatically correct and was chosen to be more forceful than "affect" purposefully.). She claimed she teaches thgat the only things that can be impacted are teeth and furniture? (WTF?)

She was quite upset and said she threw away resumes that said "impact" and downgraded papers for it! When the group seemed disinclined to agree with her she doubled-down and defended her position - she was PROUD of tossing talented young people's work in the trash over a stupid (and incorrect) matter of opinion.

She said the people who make grants would not take us seriously with that word. And finally she complained that we would just never know how many grants we will lose because we didn't take her advice.

And I was thinking, "Senile elite! Good heavens, JMG's post right here at this meeting!" She is so stuck in her power and authority to ruin kid's grades and careers that she thinks there is nothing wrong with what she has been doing. And if she is right about grant-makers, what an example of institutional rot, to reject ideas because of a single word in the mission stratement! That's just retarded.

And then I thought, the kinds of grantors she has in mind wouldn't give us grants anyway, because an empowered block of poor and minority people engaged enough to vote is the last thing they want.

blue sun said...

Unbelievable! Just last week you were pointing out how government functions become cemented in place. In fact you even wrote that "Getting an entrenched bureaucracy to set aside its mummified policies in the face of changing conditions is generally so difficult that it’s often easier to leave the old system in place while redirecting all its important functions to another, newly founded bureaucracy oriented toward the new policies. If conditions change again, the same procedure repeats, producing a layer cake of bureaucratic organizations that all supposedly exist to do the same thing."

Then today it turns out Bush III has appointed an "Ebola Czar"! And not a doctor or nurse, either. A Biden crony. Of course, if the surgeon general were expected to do his or her job (sad that I don't know who he or she is), and Obama suspected that he or she wasn't up to par, wouldn't the logical consequence be simply to replace him or her?

This very idea that this job is for the surgeon general in fact came to my attention earlier in the week when Mike Shedlock suggested it on his blog. It makes sense to me. If one of your employees isnt fulfilling their duties, you don't hire another one and still leave them on the payroll!

Yet, thanks to your post last week I understand why, in the case of a bureaucracy, you would. From a personal perspective, I still can't get over it though. I guess I'm just too practical a personality.

Your timing is certainly impeccable. I mean, there are times where it seems things just happen as if on cue.

Matthew Casey Smallwood said...

We home school and I'm reading an English of Gallic Wars (Caesar) to the oldest two. Caesar is interesting because he both aspired to supremacy in Rome (secure the heartland) and because he thought that conquering/pillaging the periphery might make the heartland more secure (I think Ortega y Gassett pointed this out somewhere). A legion was just a gigantic and well organized warband with lots of discipline and the power of the mutating Roman state behind it. They could invade virtually anything (Caesar went across the Rhine and into Britain, just for sightseeing and practical reasons), live off the land, and settle down comfortably into winter quarters, while their enemies starved and hid in the hills, plotting revenge. I think you'll see US military operating like that as well, behind a charismatic general or colonel. So the chaos is going to cut both ways.

It's interesting that someone like Violet Cabra can end up becoming a traditional conservative from such a different starting point than myself (it's my birth right, but I had to 'rediscover' it, like all real learning). A sign of the times. Traditional conservatism's motto (given by Burke) is "never, without strongest necessity, disturb something that is at rest (equilibrium)." It's basically geared towards the preservation of a "bottom up" peasant-democracy as the underpinnings of whatever superstructure you build on top. Kind of like topsoil.

pyrrhus said...

Lockheed seemed to be trolling for new money in their press release. I am highly skeptical, more so since they don't seem to understand how long it would take a fusion plant, if successful, to be licensed by the NRC.

Moshe Braner said...

blue sun: we don't have a surgeon general, since Bush III has nominated one, but the stone-wall congress has blocked that, like everything else. What I don't understand is why didn't he now appoint that nominee as Ebola Czar, as a back-door tactic? Choosing a lawyer/politico instead seems to say: "never mind the epidemic, how do I minimize the election fallout?"

Matthew Casey Smallwood said: "never, without strongest necessity, disturb something that is at rest (equilibrium)."
- ah, but almost nothing is ever at rest. The yoeman peasants that supposedly underpinned American democracy were co-opted by scheming banksters right from the start, and by the late 19th century the whole place was owned by the robber barons. The only way we got somewhat of a reprieve between then and now was due to efforts to "disturb" that non-rest. Not to mention that those "founding fathers" did a little, um, disturbance of their own.

Ellen He said...

This is offtopic, but I'd like to remind you that David Brin's different from the other progressives you talk about because he thinks progress is hard-won, more about challenging assumptions than technology etc. Anyways, some think Ebola will die down if the survivors develop immunity and they set to work treating victims. Just an idea.

Glenn said...

blue sun said...

" if the surgeon general were expected to do his or her job (sad that I do not know who he or she is)"

Wikipedia _can_ be your friend. The acting SG of the U.S. is Admiral Boris Lushniak, former Deputy SG.

The nomination of a full SG, Dr. Vivek Murthy has been held up by the usual suspects in the Senate at the behest of the NRA who dislike Dr. Murthy's plan to treat gun deaths in the U.S. as a Public Health problem.


In the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Dalish Sea

onething said...


I've ordered some herbs in bulk from amazon. It's quite a bit cheaper to order in bulk. My thoughts on herbs for kidneys, liver and other things like soothing the intestines or controlling bleeding, are to make a strong tea of it, cool it off, stuff it with powdered vitamin C or whatever other medicinals I've come up with, and either sip it or use it as a slow rehydrating enema solution. You can also buy pedialyte. There is a formula for adding salt and sugar to a quart of hydrating water. I believe its 6 teaspoons of some kind of sugar and 1/2 tsp of salt.
There's the idea of hydrating as soon as you know you're sick, to get a jump on it before it gets more difficult to take anything in. Also, I like the emergen-c formula as it is 1000mg of c with some other electrolytes and B vitamins. All of this can go up the backside as well as down the hatch. Naturally, you might wonder how to accomplish much is diarrhea is bad. The answer is to drip it slowly and not worry when you lose some that you put in. Some will be absorbed. Likewise in the mouth, even if vomited back up, some is absorbed and the key is to go slow. There might be a time when the vomiting or diarrhea is really severe, but you would try not to let that go without replacement for more than about 12 hours. Consider an enema kit.

I'm not buying detox formulas, as they have different goals and mixes. Some herbs I'm interested in are yarrow for intestinal irritation, control of bleeding. and fever. Chinese medicine says it is good for kidney, spleen and liver. Boldo tea- antiinflammatory, for liver-gallbladder and GI upset.
Dandelion- both liver and kidneys. Milk thistle- liver. Can chew the seeds. couch grass for kidneys. turmeric- antiinflammatory. peppermint tea - quite soothing to stomach. Never forget cayenne. It can be added to tolerance to every beverage of tea or coffee.
Burdock - fever, blood purifier, liver.
Sheperd's purse- fever, vomiting blood, headache, diarrhea.
Licorice - if blood pressure low.

I'm also looking into homeopathic remedies for hemorrhagic fever. For some reason homeopathics really makes rationalists nervous, but I have never understood why. If you get the right treatment, it's pretty amazing. For example, the flu remedy oscillococcinum. The first time I tried it, it took away a headache with flu that nothing would help for about 3 days running. My symptoms began to recede an hour after I took it. I then gave it to two or three more family members, all of whom got better quickly. That was over ten years ago, I have tried it two or three more times to no avail. Right now I have some sort of respiratory flu/cold with chest involvement, was feeling really bad Tuesday night, tried the oscillo, and felt immediate relief in 1-2 hours. My conclusion is that oscillo works like a charm if you really have the kind of flu it is made for. There are lots of upper respiratory, flu-like, cold-like illnesses.
The homeopathics I'm looking at consist mostly of snake venom and spider venom. Crotalus hurridus, Bothrops, Lachesis, phosphorus, mercurius corrosivus, sicarius.

I think consulting an herbalist is a good idea. someone here recommended Herbal Antivirals by Buhner, which I bought.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@blue sun--The reason you can't recall the name of the Surgeon General is that we don't have one.

Obama nominated a man for the position months ago. The nominee is on record saying that firearms are a public health issue because of the number of people being wounded and killed by them. The NRA opposes his nomination. It hasn't come to a vote.

You Can't Make This Stuff Up.

Candace said...

@ Andropos
As for "check your facts next time before insisting that this blog favors a set of policies that I've critiqued at length" .... Well gee! I'd have to familiarize myself with at least 2 years of posts and read a book! Now your work is worth reading, but that's quite a bar to pass before contributing to the Archdruid's comment thread

Actually Andropos if you do a brief review of the posts and associated threads you will find that most of the commenters have in fact met the bar you mentioned. It's not an unreasonable expectation if you are actually interested in learning about things.

S P said...

Our current world order, is essentially, 200 years old. Give or take. One can argue about dates and things but basically everything we know today originates with the rapid expansion of the post Napoleon British coal empire, continuing after WW2 in the American oil empire.

Now yes, rise and decline tend to be relatively symmetrical. However, in this case we are dealing with two substances of incredible energy being rapidly depleted by more human beings than have ever existed in history.

Given this reality, my belief is the collapse will be faster this time, in historical terms. Of course, I am a declinist. But I don't think industrial civilization survives this century. I think it's over by 2100 at the most.

John Michael Greer said...

Kaitain, yes, I thought of "Spengler" and his mock-serious campaign too. As a fan of democratic institutions, I'm not sanguine about the enthusiasm so many Americans are showing for a competent despot -- but given the current clown show in DC, I can understand it.

Andropos, thanks for your response. I certainly don't expect you to read the last two years (or eight years!) of posts just to take part in the discussions, but if you want to make blanket statements about what this blog does and doesn't support, a bit of keyword searching in the archives might be sensible!

Ahavah, that sort of thing is embarrassingly common among those who can't do and therefore teach. I hope the steering committee told her to keep her tantrums to herself.

Blue Sun, thank you! Yes, I thought of that too -- but since that's the way everything happens (or, increasingly, does not happen) in DC these days, it was pretty much guaranteed that I'd hit that target.

Matthew, Caesar's legions hadn't learned a way of warfare that requires dozens of stock clerks, data entry typists, middle managers, bureaucrats, and factory workers for every grunt hiking through the mud with a pack on his back and a weapon on his shoulder. Ours have -- thus I don't expect them to do anything like so well as things wind down.

Pyrrhus, and of course that's also an issue!

Ellen, did you know that Brin once posted a spit-slinging denunciation of one of my posts here and on his own blog? I'm familiar with his version of the religion of progress, which I suppose could be called the heroic version as opposed to the bland version; it's still the same old civil religion, motivated by the same misplaced hopes and the same blindness to the law of diminishing returns. I'll be talking a little more about that next week.

SP, all the fast-crash people insist that we face worse problems than any previous civilization has faced. All the progress-will-save-us people insist that we have more capability to meet those problems than any previous civilization has had. I think they're both right, and that they cancel each other out -- giving us the usual one to three centuries of decline, ending in a half millennium or so of dark age.

Nastarana said...

Greg Belvedere, Richter's Herbs in Canada has a huge selection of herb plants and does ship to the USA. You were thinking of growing some? They also have some interesting vegetables and I think I remember seeing dried herbs in their catalogue. For bushes like elderberry, schizendra, goji berries, some sources are Horizon Herbs in Southern Oregon, Forest Farms from the same region, and Raintree in Washington State. You might want to place orders ASAP. The best East Coast source I know of is probably Fedco, in Maine.

Wadalusi, about the future Republic of the Pacific, or Cascadia:

First, you might be getting a little ahead of yourself. I doubt the USA is going to splinter apart in the next few years, although, stranger things have happened.

A new nation of Cascadia would be surrounded by some large players wanting to take over so prestigious and lucrative territory a territory as the Pacific Northwest; some of their names are Mexico, the remnants of the USA, Canada, and China. The governing authorities of such a new nation would need to immediately fortify and control the mouth of the Columbia River (with its experienced pilots), and the San Juan de Fuca Straits. Also, the Cascadian authority must control and fortify the major dams, from Lookout Point (where the Willamette R. emerges from the mountains), to at least, The Dalles and John Day ,and preferably Grand Coulee as well, so must be able to project power into what is now Eastern Oregon and Washington, over the armed objections of "libertarian" ranchers who are used to having their own way. Militaries are likely to still have aircraft long after anyone else, and most have one or two of those huge dam-busting bombs tucked away. Flood out the inhabitants of, say, the Willamette Valley, and then you get to settle your own people there.

What I do think people across the USA need to start doing now is seizing control of local governments and taking back assets such such as water systems from corporate ownership. The anti-GMO movement in Southern Oregon does look it could become the nucleus of an insurgent (and maybe in future decades, governing) political party.

hari capra said...

Several months ago I spent a day learning everything I could about the cartels (inspired, of course, by these blog posts). There's not a lot of good information about them, but there's a little. I'm sure that if we knew the real story, these stories would all be very Shakespearean. It's not hard to imagine this era retroactively becoming a great age of legends, especially if you were to white wash a lot of the brutality (which I expect is as par for the course as anything else). Common themes include armed militant wings of larger organizations becoming independent enemies of their previous bosses (Los Zetas came from the Sinaloa cartel, but I seem to remember other similar stories, maybe in Michoacan?), a very very quickly changing map of territories and alliances (these organizations seem too fluid to ever actually pin down or understand), and also the conflict between more brutal and more business-like factions of cartels. In the case of the Zetas and Sinaloa, the more brutal side won, broke away, became one of the biggest cartels in Mexico, and is in the forefront of escalating violence and brutality. In the case of the Tijuana cartel, the more business-like side won. As I understand, their leadership was several brothers but is now their sister (who has a degree in accounting) and her son (who leads the men). My sense is that are closer to filling the role of a government than other cartels. John Michael Greer, what can you say about conflicting trends towards both becoming more organized, defined, and legitimate on the one hand, and becoming more brutal and aggressive on the other hand? I'm guessing we'll see both. I'm curious how the two will interact with one another.

Cherokee Organics said...


Ahh, well, it does make your job easier. hehe! A good seer can read well.

As I've mentioned before, I live in a risky part of the globe, so risk is a subject that tends to be on my mind.

I was also wondering whether the rise of the paid mercenary, maybe is assisted by the situation whereby the population refuses to take risks in order to progress the ideals/programs of the elite.

When you look back at historical accounts of say, the Boer War or World War 1 or even 2, people here were lining up to be sent off to an uncertain - and possibly also very short lived future. They sacrificed themselves for the greater good, but there is a completely different attitude today.

I can well understand the temptation for the powers that be to employ mercenaries in the place of regulars. It is just somehow wrong and self defeating.




latefall said...

Sometimes I can't help to think there are some parallels between advice to switch to cake if you run out of bread and some "Tech Hurrah".
Like switch to badly designed hybrid or electric drives if you run out of badly designed liquid fuel engines.
Or running short on wood (and other biomass) for heating needs, therefore switching to nuclear alternatives with their long, fat tech tail...
Not saying the research is worthless, but it may be a good idea to keep the ingredients for cake in mind (and pretty pleease communicate them clearly!) if you seriously propose to phase out bread.
Here's a positive example:
LCA of MWh ingredients for different energy sources.

If you agree it is the maintenance bill that is going to be the showstopper, you better start getting serious about life cycle assessments (in a "complex systems world" style).

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG and Kylie,

You could both do worse than ask what the opinion of the local wombat may happen to be on any particular subject!



MawKernewek said...

So perhaps the Hellenistic era around Alexander the Great and after can be thought of as a crisis of growth, in a parallel to the early modern European era?

As compared to a crisis of decline, which we are facing now. It might not be immediately obvious why the First World War starting in 1914 would be a crisis of decline, because per capita energy use in the industrialised nations taking part was well under what its eventual peak would be. It could instead be thought of as a crisis of growth, because for example the working classes in Britain around the beginning of the 20th C were still poor even in the head nation of the wealthiest imperial structure of the time, so while there was still a lot of growth, demand from rising expectations was outstripping it? Likewise this same pattern would make the retention of overseas colonies untenable in the long term.

Or can we analyse it as a crisis of decline, because the main resource that the empires had, namely colonies, had now pretty much all been added to one empire or another during the "Scramble for Africa" in the 19th C? Thus any empires growth had to come at the expense of another, and Germany who had come late to the imperial party, potentially had the most to gain.

Cherokee Organics said...


No need to reply to this observation:

Yet again, Andropos has proven the benefits of an initiatory order.

Hi Candace,

Well spoken!

Hi Andropos,

I noted the graceful apology. However, I'm unclear as to your objection. What does it mean to you that you consider two years (a small fraction of the total incidentally) and perhaps a book or two, too much? What else are you doing with your life?

I'm not trolling you, I'm just trying to gain an understanding of your different perspective.

As a bit of a friendly suggestion for commenting: question; certainly introduce ideas; ask for clarification from people; but perhaps avoid in future claiming that people have certain positions on subjects (especially if you don't want to undertake the requisite homework) ;-)!



Don Plummer said...

Well, they didn't ask about Vladimir Putin, but this Washington Post poll asked about the popularity of various Star Wars characters vs. the putative 2016 presidential candidates, with some rather surprising, or maybe not so surprising after all, results.

You can't make this up.

Shane Wilson said...

Can you clue us in any on your political evolution? I noticed that you now embrace the term conservative, in the burkean sense, but considering how abused that term has become, and detached from its roots. Just wondered how your political outlook may have changed over the years, particularly recently.
Please try to get a copy of Roberts Rules of Order and incorporate it into your organization and follow it religiously. It's the foundation of our democratic process, and keeps meetings from getting hijacked by people like you describe, and keeps the organization productive by shutting down unproductive debate.

Greg Belvedere said...


Thanks. I have a general knowledge of herbs for liver and kidney functions. As you mentioned burdock, dandelion, etc. But more info is always welcome. I plan on getting that Buhner book on antivirals as well.

Ing said...

Greg Belvedere, and anyone else interested in the herbal realm, but unsure where to start.

Finding an Herbalist
If you're interested in finding an herbalist, you can start with the American Herbalist Guild. Professional members have been practicing and go through a rigorous peer review. You can also search locally for herbwives, root doctors, medicine makers, but if you don't already travel in these circles it can be hard to find the opening. Finally, you can do an internet search for herb schools in your area, which may also have a free clinic where their students gain experience.

Doing Our Own Research
Even if you are working with a qualified herbalist, you might want to research herbs that are supportive to various organ systems as opposed to detoxing herbs or formulas. While some supportive herbs can have a detoxing effect, that is not their sole function. To my mind there are few situations that benefit from detoxing because we are not all toxic, shoring up our systems will have more far reaching benefits for most of us. I was interested to read Matthew's comment wherein he quoted traditional conservatism's motto as "never, without strongest necessity, disturb something that is at rest (equilibrium)." Ebola would be the strongest necessity, but using the strongest measures in preparation of a viral threat may upset our body's balance and ability to respond.

Using keywords such as "hepatoprotective," "lymphatic," and "trophorestorative and (enter organ system here)" could be a good start. Herbs that are anti-virals may be helpful, certainly I am thinking about herbs that help prevent capillary fragility. A search for "nephroprotectives" will turn up material on kidneys that isn't necessarily herbal and if you search for "kidney herbs" you'll turn up a bunch of information on cleansing your kidneys. So herbs to support your kidneys may require a deeper search.


Ing said...

Blogging Herbalists
There is much herbal information on the internet presented by people who don't grow them or use them. Even within the larger "herbal community," there are many approaches to herbs and the practice of herbalism. Here are herbal websites I have found very helpful in learning for myself what herbs suit my body and needs., herbalist Kiva Rose. Interestingly, her partner Jesse Wolf Hardin just posted an essay on Ebola here. I have not read this yet, but the rest of the site is very helpful in getting your bearings with herbal energetics., herbalist jim mcdonald. Look at /properties.html to get a sense of what you're looking for, then I use those words and herbcraft in a search to get around his site., herbalist Rebecca Hartman. The Body Systems links on the right hand side just under the archive dates is a good place to start.
If you are new to herbs and very interested in studying and having a forum to engage with others, there is

Herbal Book Authors
Matthew Wood, David Winston, Stephen Buhner. There are many, many more, but these are a very good place to start.

Plant Resources
When I am unable to find herbs in my own yard I order from Mountain Rose Herbs. They consistently have the widest selection of fresh, potent, and organic or ethically wildcrafted herbs. Regional sources can be found as well. For seeds and starts for some harder-to-grow herbs, we go to Horizon Herbs, Fedco, and Richter's in Canada.

There is a bit of an Alice in Wonderland aspect to entering the herbal world. It's vast, sometimes confusing, always entertaining, and has the potential to bring us closer to ourselves and the unvarnished world all around us.

While we've discussed some herbs that may be useful in a pandemic, I'm generally not geared toward suggesting herbs for the masses because we are all individuals and so are the plants. However, I am more than happy to provide additional information to help anyone navigate this information for themselves.

Ed-M said...

JMG, where did I get the 50 years? From the comment above wherein you said you gave the current system about 50 years. Mind you, it's a disappointment that the current capitalist system within the United States and maybe even the political arrangements as well might actually have enough strength left to it to withstand the multiple crises thrown at it between now and 2065 when the whole shebang collapses and we finally devolve into smaller states.

As for the last remnants of IC finally collapsing at the end of the 22nd Century, would that not occur in Russia and China?

Dagnarus said...

To add to the discussion on the Krugman article. I couldn't help but notice that the article only mentioned only the idea that it would be possible to grow the "shipping" economy without increasing carbon emissions, when the actual necessity, at least as laid out by the IPCC, is to reduce carbon emissions by 80%. His example doesn't look anywhere near as good when that little wrinkle is added.

Personally I think this sort of thinking comes from a misunderstanding of what human ingenuity being infinite, means. Leaving aside whether or not human ingenuity is/or is not infinite, it is not the case that an infinite set must necessarily contain everything. Just as the set of even numbers is infinite, but does not contain the number 3, it is quite possible to human ingenuity to be infinite, and yet have no way to generate infinite economic growth. Secondly, the infinite number of ideas which humanity can use to tackle the problem has a dark side, namely that most of them are rubbish and will have to be sifted through in order to find one which works.

team10tim said...

Hey hey JMG,

I imagine that Ed-M got the 50 years from your response to my comment.

Ed-M, 50 years before a war band gets invited in to take care of some local troubles is not the same as the system having 50 years left to run.

It's a lot like our oil supply. It isn't going to keep running at present rates for 40 years and then drop to nothing. Instead, it is going to wind down in an uneven way with shortages and high prices that crush the economy followed by gluts and low prices that crush the oil sector and bankrupt producers. Overall, the "system" is going to do the same thing, become more expensive, less reliable, and provide less in a bumpy uneven fashion over the next 50 years.


John Michael Greer said...

Hari Capra, the warbands that matter ultimately will be those that figure out how to split the difference and become more organized and more violent at the same time; that certainly worked for Attila the Hun...

Cherokee, exactly -- would that be "too right!" on your side of the planet? The problem with mercenaries is that they're always for sale, and won't necessarily fight to the last ditch if someone can make them a better offer. Loyalty and mimesis are stronger motivators than a paycheck.

Latefall, true enough -- and of course the cake was never meant to be there at all; it's just a distraction, aimed at temporarily convincing those without bread that they have something to hope for from the bakery.

Cherokee, I'm quite confident that Fatso the wombat would give better advice than, say, Krugman. A tossed coin will beat most economists 50% of the time.

MawKernewek, exactly -- the wars of Alexander the Great to my mind are the equivalent of the wars of Louis XIV. Energy per capita as a measure of expansion or decline has been distorted in the present case by the impact of fossil fuel extraction, which turned the aftermath of the first crisis of decline into a giddy if very temporary boomtime.

Don, Darth Vader would at least be able to get something done. Can you imagine his response to the CDC's fumbling of the Ebola business? "I find your lack of competence disturbing," says the president, as Frieden clutches his throat and crumples...

Shane, the ironic thing is that my politics are about the same now as they were when I was in my twenties. What's happened is that the culture has shifted around me, so that what once counted as moderate liberalism is now best described as Burkean conservatism. The same principles -- constitutional government, equal provision of civil rights for all, a balance of powers between government and the private sector, and so on -- still apply.

Ed-M, no, what I said above is that we're about fifty years from the point at which warbands become a massive political force in the US. That's not the end of the current system, it's one step on the way down. I really do need to do a post sketching out the future as I see it, don't I?

Dagnarus, nice. Exactly; human ingenuity is as well displayed by our ability to come up with enticing but wrong ideas as anything else -- the intersection of the set "human ideas" with the set "what actually works in the real world" is far smaller than the set "human ideas"!

exiledbear said...

The police had been given a very lavish pension plan. Now it is obvious the city can not afford this in the long run. Efforts to roll this back are resulting in unhappiness and much gnashing of teeth.

It's the same bargain made to soldiers too - pledge your life and we'll take care of your family should you die. That's why you hear cops go on and on and on and on and on about their pensions. And why it's a big deal when vets get stiffed on health care by the feds.

And if that bargain is broken (which it looks like more and more), if you stiff the people who actually have to bash the heads in, you're in deep trouble.

In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if during this Ebola crisis, that the police, the ambulance drivers, the EMTs, if all the emergency services just abandon their posts and bug out to the country where they can hole up.

It wouldn't surprise me if they call up what's left of the military reserves, and find that many are deserting their posts, again to protect themselves and their families, because they no longer have faith that the system will live up to its promises anymore.

It's going to be a DIY world, in all aspects, including physical security.

Speaking of DIY I've learned how to lace, dish and true bicycle wheels. Thankfully I didn't have to calculate spoke lengths and I wonder how the world will do that when the power goes out and doesn't come back on again.

Cherokee Organics said...


Absolutely correct. There's also: Fair dinkum mate! Shame you don't hear it said much anymore.

Fatso does seem to know what he is doing. I'd certainly trust his judgement when it comes to matters concerning the environment versus the economy. He would certainly beat most economists hands down on that score.

I wonder if there is anything to the thought that the population at large can also display the signs of senility? The world from my perspective appears to be quite a risky place and our actions are increasing that risk on so many fronts. Somehow the population loses its appetite for risk taking and instead settles into a comfortable state - which from my perspective is a tell tale sign of decline. I wonder whether it is also a sign that we've all drunk the Kool Aid and believe the dreams of the future that we're sold in order to maintain our passivity in the face of so many increasing risks? Dunno, but it seems to me to be a self defeating behaviour. Again, dunno.



Ahavah said...

@Shane - Thanks! I normally just do bookkeeping for orgs that already exist. This is my first time actually being a real part of one, and being here at its birth. It has been an interesting experience. I have a feeling it is going to be a bumpy ride. Reading through JMG's essays has made me realize we are going to be fighting an uphill battle both from the side if the proletariat that mistrust the system (for good reasons) and also from the side of the system itself we want people to utilize (that has the money and power) and is not willing to do anything that would really change anything. Perhaps it is too late, but we will try, around and maybe in spite of people even within the new org who can't think outside the box.

magicalthyme said...

JMG, no doubt that with thousands of Ebola patients, our current health care system would be overrun.

Well, hospitals are now learning the hard lessons, as Texas Presb has been described as a ghost town. Their ED waits used to average 52 minutes. No wait now. 50-60% of patients cancelling appointments there and with affiliated doctors as well. And people are avoiding their ED at all costs. And it turns out they shipped out their 2 Ebola patients due to staffing issues -- fear of a nurse walkout.

The CDC has lowered their threshold temp to 100.4F and may lower it further, and has raised their PPE guidelines to something resembling what is done at the BSL-4 hospitals and in Africa.

Hopefully Dr. Brantly will get a break from plasma donations for a while. He's already given 4 or so, and is still not even close to fully recuperated from his own ordeal.

In the meantime, I've just heard from my lab manager. It looks like there will be CDC-approved treatment centers. Outlying hospitals, urgent care centers and clinics will inquire about patient travel for the past month and include that as part of the diagnosis. Any suspect will immediately be isolated and treated by very limited staff and all testing will be point-of-care prior to shipping out to the approved center. Only one test will potentially involve our lab. We are also tightening up our own Ps&Ps.


Phil Harris said...

Many thanks to latefall for the link to PNAS studies - in particular environmental / ecological budgets for renewable technologies - worth having.
Similarly thanks to August Johnson for posting the link to the Master Conserver pdf. I will follow JMG's advice on this one.

Phil H

Ed-M said...

In which case 50 years to me sounds optimistic. Right now the Zetas (and perhaps some other drug gangs) are better equipped than the armed forces that Mexico can throw at them.

Right now I'm going through your 2012 posts, all 52 of them. So if you'd like to post your predicted timeline, that would be very nice, thank you.

Ed-M said...


So I won't get to see the request for intervention by the warbands from the elites. Even if it's just 20 years away (I really don't expect to live that long, fortunately / unfortunately.).

Sorry, but I have a difficult time remembering things and keeping them straight, especially when I have to read them on an i-phone. Like I am doing now.

Violet Cabra said...

John, I've not read any Burke, but have added Reflections on the Revolution in France to my long and winding reading list.

Luckymortal, I think we are speaking the same language, although perhaps have reached different conclusions? I just finished reading Bruce Catton's excellent history of the endgame of the US Civil War, Never Call Retreat. I was struck by the almost blind groping Lincoln did around the issues of slavery. At first he claimed to be ambivalent towards it, and then issued the Emancipation Proclamation solely as a military expedient, and by the Gettysberg address went to recast the entire war as being about slavery. By the end of the war he was working to pass a constitutional amendment banning slavery from the united states forever.

People can agitate towards social justice, and I think that this agitation has the potential to do great good. The changes aren't likely to be accepted though until the views themselves are middle of the road. By the end of the US civil war ending slavery was sufficiently middle of the road that it was workable. Even the confederate government decided to allow slaves to be soldiers with freedom and money afterwards at the request of Gen. Lee. This of course happened only a few months before Richmond fell, but speaks volumes about how attitudes about slavery had shifted tremendously.

My point is that social justice can happen, but only does so at a horrifically slow pace. There is certainly a "should" that exists. Slavery is clearly an injustice. It should have never happened and/or been abolished much sooner. However, there is also, the "could" and "would". And these are, in my estimation, much weightier than any "should". The should is born out historically of being, at most, secondary.

My personal belief is that it is always more effective to allow for the horrifically slow pace of change than to burn away the fabric of society to endeavor bold sweeping changes. As a corollary I think it is almost always the most effective to have change come though the institutions already in place rather than dismantle said institutions and start from scratch. Human beings are reluctant to change and sweeping changes have a tendency towards total failure. Have you read Warren Johnson's Muddling Towards Frugality? It is an charming book that articulates the appeal of Conservatism in terms of both resources and social structures in gracious, light-hearted prose.

Matthew Casey Smallwood , It is indeed interesting! ;7)

Thank you for your Burke quote and beautiful explanation. I'm all in favor of the top-soil, both environmentally and politically.

latheChuck said...

Only slightly on-topic: The fifteenth bank failure (FDIC-arranged merger) was recorded this last Friday night, and that's the second one in Maryland this year. To facilitate the merger, the FDIC put about $24 million of its own money (accumulated FDIC deposit insurance premiums) into the deal. Maryland has a couple of factors making bank failure more likely now: it's a "judicial foreclosure" state, and its proximity to Washington DC ensures that some of the wealth pumped in from the provinces splashes its way.

Judicial foreclosure means that a court ruling is necessary to put a debtor out of the house. (The alternative is "administrative foreclosure", which can apparently be done by mail: "We both know that you're not paying the mortgage, so get out.") A judge, on the other hand, may ask to see documentation that the party collecting the mortgage payments is actually the owner of the property (not merely performing a service for the owner) and therefore has the right to foreclose. [At least, that's my understanding of the issue; I am not a lawyer and do not give legal advice.]

Anyway, until the house of a delinquent buyer is actually re-sold, its value as a bank asset is ambiguous. The bank can pretend that it's still worth what it once was. But when enough homes get sold at lower values, the asset base of the bank sinks, and its insolvency can no longer be denied.

Deposit insurance premiums come out of the money that a bank would otherwise pay as interest on savings, by the way, which is one reason that bank savings are paying so little interest.

Banks almost never fail on other than a Friday night, so the clean-up crew has two days to sort out the bookkeeping and re-open on Monday.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@magicalthyme--There's a Girl Scout camp near my home that used to be a tuberculosis sanitarium. Looks like the county might want it back.

You wrote, "It looks like there will be CDC-approved treatment centers. Outlying hospitals, urgent care centers and clinics will inquire about patient travel for the past month and include that as part of the diagnosis. Any suspect will immediately be isolated and treated by very limited staff and all testing will be point-of-care prior to shipping out to the approved center."

As a response to well publicized mistakes, that's promising. They are getting ahead of the patient dumping problem by dumping proactively.

In the short run, concentrating materiel and training enough to do some good may, in fact, do some good. At the very least, it isolates the ill more quickly and leaves the rest of the hospitals in operation for ordinary purposes.

Those CDC approved treatment centers might go VA. If the caseload gets ahead of the resources provided (what are the chances that Congress would allow that to happen?), the authorities will check you in and in a week or two you can count on being carried out in a zippered plastic bag. You didn't take too many people with you; your country thanks you for your service. People with symptoms that could be tied to Ebola will hide from doctors.

The standard of care in Dallas Presbyterian's emergency room is probably about average for hospitals that aren't affiliated with a teaching institution. Serves them right if they go bankrupt, but they are owned by a chain and probably will be sold to some other soulless corporation. Good for the nurses.

Stacey Armstrong said...

It is often difficult at this point in the comments for me to add anything remarkable. I notice more and more gaps in my education as you flesh out what an emergent dark age could look like. What has been noteworthy day to day is the kinds of conversations occurring around ebola in my house. It has built interesting bridges between the rational and irrational sensibilities (dreaming and waking life) in a way that peak oil and climate change have been unable to do. While my brain is often admired, my unscientific approaches to asking questions are often subject to eye rolling. My pursuit to understand the best way to describe a virus ..... Is it alive? Is it like a seed? Is it like a machine? Etc. have inspired a host of conversations and dips into the encyclopedia that have spanned science, history, literature, western medicine and localized disaster management. When I brought Buhner's 'Herbal Antivirals' into the house my husband was immediately on the defensive and then he looked at the bibliography of more than fifty pages. It is still baffling for me at times how a working brain can be shut down by a single word. As we were drinking some of the ginger tea recommended in Mr. Buhner's book he said "we are turning in to those people."

Gloucon X said...

JMG said…“As a fan of democratic institutions, I'm not sanguine about the enthusiasm so many Americans are showing for a competent despot -- but given the current clown show in DC, I can understand it.”
”Shane, the ironic thing is that my politics are about the same now as they were when I was in my twenties. What's happened is that the culture has shifted around me, so that what once counted as moderate liberalism is now best described as Burkean conservatism. The same principles -- constitutional government, equal provision of civil rights for all, a balance of powers between government and the private sector, and so on -- still apply.”

I don’t see anything on that list that does not now exist but did thirty years ago. And did you know that Burke did not include the right to vote to be a civil right for all? He was against the common people’s right to vote. He believed in representative gov as opposed to absolute monarchy, but he believed that people with little or no wealth should not be permitted to participate in it. That would exclude a lot of green wizards, would it not? If you are a fan of democratic institutions for all, can you be a Burkean conservative too?

KL Cooke said...

"I really do need to do a post sketching out the future as I see it, don't I?"


You realize, I hope, that you fit the description of "charismatic leader."

jean-vivien said...

There is one place where you cannot get Ebola... and it COULD solve all our problems :
Ever heard the ramblings of an old person ? A sad thing but apparently it happens to deities as well.
And the French poster says "nothing obliges us to die here" which is a tacit acknowledgement of reality sometimes opposing our plans. Whereas the original formula, "was never meant to", implies it is in our destiny...

KL Cooke said...

Violet Cabra

I don't think Lincoln was any great believer in racial equality. No doubt you are familiar with this quote from a letter to Horace Greeley

"If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it..."

There is an apocryphal story about his meeting with Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom's Cabin where he addressed her as "...the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war!"
If true it would be an example of his penchant for ham-handed jokes.

As you know, the Civil War was not really about slavery, but rather economic policy. The North wanted high tariffs to protect their nascent industries. The South wanted low tariffs to promote their agricultural exports.

It is my opinion that had the Civil War somehow been avoided, the South would soon have voluntarily abolished slavery, as the advent of mechanized farming would have made it no longer economically viable. As our host has pointed out, there is no need for slaves when there is large underclass to exploit, i.e., freed slaves in whom there is no investment to protect.

Whether such a voluntary emancipation would have resulted in a more benign outcome is a subject for alternative history.

Phil Harris said...

JMG and All
There has been discussion this week of several earlier historical parallels with regard to ‘growth’ (and subsequent ‘decline’), especially now after fossil fuel energy became a major factor in recently rapidly growing world economies.

We have been reminded, (by you and others), that Britain at the height of its imperial industrial power had a desperately poor underclass, as well as a poor and under resourced working class subject often to economic insecurity.

UK or as it was then Britain with Ireland before 1914 had a still growing population of around 45 millions, but was well past the inflection point of acceleration in population numbers. By and large Britain’s ‘food problems’ had been ‘solved’ by importing food mostly from ‘new’ temperate agriculture elsewhere, (though we should not neglect the importance of Caribbean sugar calories in the British diet). It is sobering therefore to calculate that per capita use of coal was considerably higher in Britain (4.4t/person) back then than in present day China (2.9t/person)! (China’s production approaches 4 billion tonnes coal just now for 1.35 billion persons compared with 200 million tonnes used by about 45 million persons in 1913 Britain).

UK was mining nearly 300Mt coal per annum in 1913, but sold 100Mt for export. Oil of course was a much smaller part of the picture in those days (as it still is in China) although burning oil in steam engines was about to become briefly important in 20thC shipping and naval logistics.

Agricultural production both here and in new farming elsewhere had barely been touched directly by fossil fuels at this stage although coal and railroads and shipping enabled both continental and inter-continental shipment in an already sophisticated market system.

Rapid industrial growth or the prospect of it (in for example Imperial Russia) destabilised previous European social / governance structures despite often seemingly effective attempts at rapid catch-up during the 19th Century. Very large migrations within and across Europe (urbanisation) and emigration to New World and colonies followed from the sudden population expansion and seemed to have added to social de-stabilisation. Old dynasties and previously reasonably stable regions (Ottomans for example) then fell-over after full-on industrialised warfare was unleashed.

I think it is true, however, that the largest migrations ever seen have been and still are ongoing in China and to a lesser extent elsewhere (urbanisation involving hundreds of millions). This second phase for industrialisation is much bigger than the first in Europe and in the Americas despite there being far fewer fossil fuel energy resources per capita than in the first limited phase to 1914. The degree to which internal urbanisation can be maintained and for how long in China seems to me to be the defining question of the next decades. India (which is not just ‘one-place’) just mind-boggles me, and I cannot even ask the questions.

Europe and the USA and satraps do indeed seem like Top Dogs past their prime and the last few decades of petroleum have provided what appears, as I think you suggest an illusion of solution to an ongoing crisis. It is here, JMG, it seems to me you are asking the pertinent questions. Thank you.

Phil H

magicalthyme said...

@Deborah Bender, the treatment center in my community will likely be the large, affiliated hospital to our south. They are a top-notch facility and are already using WHO protocols, which are much more stringent than both the CDC's failed, and improved, protocols. Plus they plan to use their tb isolation rooms, which have negative pressure.

Such hospitals really are prepared to handle a single Ebola patient here or there. Not everybody is as behind the curve as Texas, and this travesty has been a real wake up call for those that are, as well as a lessoon in unexpected pitfalls (mountains of hazardous waste).

Unless there was a sudden influx of hundreds of Ebola patients, I don't think we'll be shipping Ebola patients off to the "mountain cures" just yet.


Dagnarus said...


Yes, but it's more than the fact that most of the things which we can imagine don't actually work, which is the problem. It's the fact that generally we must sift through those things which don't work to find those which will. Take for example fusion research, if there were only a finite, relatively small number of ways of tackling the problem, one could imagine that researchers could have iterated through them all in short order, at which point they would have either found a working method, or alternatively they would have known it was impossible. As it stands there are all sorts of different ways to tackle the problem, most (or all) of which don't work. If fusion is impossible this immense search space means that an infinite amount of human efforts could potentially be thrown at the problem with no one but the pragmatic realizing fusions impossibility. In contrast if fusion is possible it could potentially lead to an infinite amount of human effort being thrown at the problem, but still not hitting one of those possible solutions. I leave the question of whether the pragmatist would actually be wrong in this scenario up to you.

Dagnarus said...

Also on the subject of the elites. It seems to me that to a large extent the reason why the elites in America had so much confidence in the ability of there healthcare system to deal with Ebola, primarily came from the fact that they only interact with it through the benefit of good insurance. It probably never occurred to them that a man could go to a hospital from an Ebola infested region, with the symptoms of Ebola and be promptly kicked out of the hospital as quickly as possible in order to care for customers who could actually pay.

John Michael Greer said...

Tim, yes, that's what I figured.

Bear, excellent. The math for calculating spoke lengths actually isn't that difficult -- you need to learn the relevant math, is all, and that and a slide rule will enable you to whip out the figures in no time. Find a couple of old books on bicycle repair from before the internet era, and those will give you the equations you need.

Cherokee, senility of the non-elites is also a concept worth exploring. I'll have to do some reading -- that, or inquire of Fatso. ;-)

Magicalthyme, I'm glad to hear it. I saw in the local newspaper here yesterday that our regional hospital is also making basic preparations, which is a good sign. It's straightforward public health measures like those that will keep this thing at bay, if anything does, until a vaccine can be developed.

Ed-M, of course they're stronger than the Mexican government. We're talking about the point at which they become stronger than the US government, and that will have to wait until the US empire is a thing of the past.

Violet, glad to hear it.

LatheChuck, if that starts to accelerate, things could get very colorful indeed.

Stacey, if Ebola's getting past the blind faith in industrial civilization's invulnerability, well, that's something.

Gloucon, it's always possible to find something in a thinker of an earlier time that offends today's sensibilities, and pulling some such detail out of context and using it as a rhetorical weapon is a common debating trick. Of course you're quite aware that one can be a Darwinian evolutionist without subscribing to every detail of Darwin's original theory, including those that have since been superseded, and it's just as possible to be a Burkean conservative while recognizing the limitations of some of his specific ideas -- not to mention the context of the bit you quoted, which you've neatly edited out -- but hey, anything for a cheap shot, right?

KL, gah. That's the last role I'm interested in filling. (BTW, I can't trim anything out of a post -- I can either post it or delete it intact -- so you'll have to resubmit your second post without the parenthesis.)

Jean-Vivien, sure -- and if pigs had wings, we could all catch our breakfast bacon with butterfly nets! Interstellar butterfly nets, in this case...

Phil, a good clean summary. Thank you.

Dagnarus, of course. It's out of issues like the one you've raised that the deep problems with the logic of belief in progress emerge. As for the elites, they also go to different hospitals than most of us, so you may well be right!

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@magicalthyme--I greatly appreciate your progress reports. I have neither medical training nor insider information.

The US usually deals with public health emergencies either well or by muddling through. I think either of those outcomes is more likely than catastrophe.

The situation where I live is similar to yours. The University of California operates a very good hospital. Given the size of San Francisco's Asian immigrant population, San Francisco General, owned and operated by the city, probably has a TB isolation ward which could be used for Ebola patients. SF General was a world leader in treating AIDS.

A failure of contact tracing in some region of the country before a vaccine is available would make things more difficult.

Violet Cabra said...

KL Cooke said: It is my opinion that had the Civil War somehow been avoided, the South would soon have voluntarily abolished slavery, as the advent of mechanized farming would have made it no longer economically viable.

What a brilliant insight! I haven't thought about that possibility before, and it does make for a fascinating alternative history speculation ;-)

Varun Bhaskar said...


The preparations we make will effect whether we're ruled by samurai or are rule like ninjas, correct?

Redneck girl,

Your first line of defence is information. If you know what is going on in all of the cascades, you'll be better able to plan and coordinate resources. How do you build an information network?


In defence studies we call the DIY world you're describing the democratization of war. Fun and terrifying stuff.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

About twenty-five hospital employees are now sleeping at the Dallas hospital, presumably in rooms normally occupied by patients. This includes both workers who are being monitored under a county order for exposure to the late Mr. Duncan, and other employees whom "the hospital was also allowing . . . to stay at the hospital rather than go home,'to avoid even the remote possibility of any potential exposure to family, friends and the broader public.' ” The hospital was pressured/persuaded by the county into making the beds available.

Most of this article is a string of PR statements, apologies and excuses from corporate spokespeople and government officials.

E. g. “We are moving toward a return to normal levels of operation following recent events,” Wendell Watson, the hospital spokesman, said in a statement. “We are a hospital family who for nearly 50 years has provided safe and quality care for this community. We are committed to sharing our recent learnings with the broader health care community and reaffirming our excellent reputation.”

The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is quoted saying that "the nation needs more than just a handful of beds able to handle a case like [Nurse Pham's]. 'We need to shore up,' Mr. Fauci said."

Ed-M said...

JMG "that will have to wait until the US empire is a thing of the past."

In other words, when we've lost our occupied or otherwise subjugated countries abroad, our client states, and perhaps even our "near abroad" (Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands, Guam, etc). Got it.

Kylie said...

Stacey, it's not the single word that shuts down the brain: it's the ideas that the word has come to symbolise, thanks to people who have tried to justify all kinds of garbage by using it. I had a similar opinion of herbalism thanks to a 1970s book that recommended taking oral doses of belladonna without mentioning that it could kill you.

I'm currently working on the same problem with the word 'occult' by reading through what Dion Fortune actually had to say for herself, rather than judging the field by the giant clouds of handwaving wish-fulfilment that have attached themselves to the idea of 'magic'.

Michael McG said...

Another Greer book to enjoy, yea!

Doctor Westchester said...

A point on the Civil War I've wondered about. Had the war been avoided - and the North not gotten the trade barriers it was seeking - would the same industrialization happened that would render slavery moot? Perhaps or perhaps not. Remember that it is England who was the industrial powerhouse then, and what it may have done under these different circumstances might be quite different from the approach the US did take.

Kutamun said...

I suppose in defense of the neo-cons then , having a war over the abolition of fossil fuel use ( modern slaves) is equally futile when they are well aware the system is about to implode ; wheras the lefties main interest is in prolonging the consumer system .....
Civil War redux ...hmmmmm

Bill Pulliam said...

Ebola, ebola, ebola. And of course we still have ISIS, ISIL, IS. Y'all are forgetting one of the basic principles of life in the 21st Century:

Whatever the mainstream media are ranting about, that thing is NOT what you need to be worried about or preparing for.

Ebola is not a new thing. It has been known for decades. Its means of transmission are well-understood. And we know what type of bug it takes to make a global epidemic-turned-pandemic. Ebola is not that type of bug. Please, don't even bring up the "but it could mutate and go airborne" slogan. Yeah, sure, anything can happen. But that is really not one of the more likely scenarios. Don't bother saying "but we don't know!" We do know. Ebola is a well-known virus.

There will be another global pandemic almost surely, unless global travel fades out before it happens. And it won't be the first by a longshot. We are still in the middle of one, in fact -- HIV is still spreading. HIV epitomizes one of the strategies for a bug to conquer the globe in the era of modern medicine: it is not easy to catch, BUT it has a lag time of years before it causes symptoms, yet is contagious during this long asymptomatic phase. The other strategy is typified by pandemic flu -- be very easy to catch, and spread faster than the vaccine can catch you. Ebola is neither of these.

Whatever global pandemic comes next will almost surely be either a variant on influenza, or a new bug that has just made the jump from animal to human and can spread easily. In the latter case, it will be something you have never heard of before, and probably will just be known by some acronym ending in "S" (for syndrome, meaning "we don't know what is causing it, but a lot of people have it").

As for ISIS, haven't we had a militant Islamic State that hates the west ever since the Iranian Revolution 35 years ago? Sure they have caused us some trouble, but the sky has hardly fallen, the oil has kept flowing, and no mobs of Iranian terrorists have ever stormed into the U.S. across The Southern Border. Given they have no actual nation backing them, I'd be shocked to see ISIS have even a small fraction of the long-term impact that the Iranian revolution had.

Again, I repeat, whatever the mainstream news media are jabbering about, that is NOT what you should be worried about.

Gloucon X said...

“a common debating trick” “a cheap shot” --I was going to admit to that, but I changed my mind. I will not accept that pointing out that Burke was not in fact a proponent of democracy for all was a trick or a cheap shot. And in fairness, you should point out how the irrelevant parts of quotes that I left out represent a deception. The most I will admit to is a somewhat hamfisted attempt to get you to flesh out your political views and get more details of the period when you adopted your Burkeian views. Maybe the tone of it was wrong, but It was done in the spirit of inquiry.

Cherokee Organics said...


Well Fatso is a worthy seer with an extremely high degree of accuracy - particularly in relation to future events such as if it is going to rain and whether it is safe to venture out of the burrow or whether a bit of extra sleep wouldn't go astray. I suspect that many economists would be stumped by that question.

The transfer of ideas goes both ways too!

Incidentally, Fatso pointed out this little gem to me the other day in the business section: Transfer pricing presents a huge challenge for the taxman

Now at first glance this is quite a boring article about a topic which few people ever wonder about. However, it is being reported anecdotally that many large corporations are paying very little taxes on their earnings. This is achieved through a process called transfer pricing.

It works like this. Local company A makes heaps of mad cash and they don't really want to pay taxes on it so they have a holding (or other) company in a foreign location which can also be conveniently in a tax haven (i.e. Country with very low or zero taxes on income).

The holding company then charges a management or some other such fee to the local company and all of their local profits magically (apologies, but this refers to the Harry Potter type - which I've never read or seen incidentally) disappear. That's how many large companies go on trading year in year out but cry poor at the same time.

Is this against the law? Possibly if it can be proven in court that it is part of a tax avoidance scheme. Although it should be mentioned that such descriptives as avoidance are considered to be in poor taste and you rarely hear them spoken.

Oh yeah, I won't mention loans to directors from offshore entities whereby the loans are used to pay day to day expenses of said directors. I wouldn't want to mention that at all and know even less about such things.

Anyway, I'm digressing so back to the article. My favourite quote is: "A report by the Tax Justice Network last month claimed that about 60 per cent of world trade now takes place within, rather than between, corporations"


"On any given year, about 20-25 per cent of the Australian economy happens between related parties".

Please hang with me! Many of those transactions are legitimate, but if you think about the situation one step further, you'll note that these transfer pricing transactions (I'm assuming) also form part of the GDP equation.

All I can say is: Give a man a key performance indicator and he will soon be thinking of ways to game it. Plus it sort of makes you feel like you are getting the raw end of the deal when the tax man comes knocking. It is also worthwhile mentioning that these sorts of arrangements are well beyond the capacity of the average Joe or Jane and/or small to medium business.

Cheers from Fatso the wombat as translated by: Chris

Cherokee Organics said...


Just thought that I'd let you know that today has smashed all records here for electricity usage all powered directly from the sun. Plus the batteries are 100% fully charged. It is really hard to come up with new and inventive ways with which to use solar generated electricity.

Even then, the usage was half that of the average household here.

There is a new blog entry up showing some interesting before and after photos as to how I've dealt with living in such a difficult location. Plus I talk about eating some of the local insects here and introduce the readers to one of the larger easy protein hits: Trying to smile

PS: The quince trees are magnificent flowering trees. Hopefully they produce some fruit this year? I noticed that prunes are fruiting here this year for the first time.



Greg Belvedere said...

Thank you Nastarana and ing. This is definitely something I plan on studying more and I find it a lot easier to navigate a topic when I have recommendations from people who have some familiarity.

On the topic of warbands, I enjoyed this piece on the Kurds who beat back ISIS from Kobani. The Kurds being no stranger to defending themselves did not shy away from fighting ISIS (unlike the Iraqi army who dissolved) and they showed that ISIS fighters are not 10 feet tall. While very brutal, ISIS doesn't know how to use the tanks they captured. This piece contains a video that shows an ISIS tank rolling down the street in Kobani without any infantry support. Kurdish fighters walk along side it laughing until one of them blasts it with a RPG.

Avery said...

Kylie, while "occult" is a confusing story I'm not going to get into, the word "magic" actually has an interesting history. The Greeks borrowed it from Old Persian and used it to mean "someone else's silly religion," in the same way that we use "myth". Scholars today don't use the word to describe societies at large, because it's been acknowledged to be basically pejorative. The closest any scholar ever came to defining "magic" neutrally was Levy-Bruhl's proposition that "magical thinking" is a type of thinking that interposes secondary causes that mediate between causes and effects. However, things got weird when he realized that Westerners do this all the time.

(Source: Hanegraaff, "Esotericism and the Academy")

Robert said...

Fraternal greetings from KWC 3883 Isle of Man to Brother JOhn MIchale

The submarine has been decommissioned. The children are safe Repeat the chidren are safe. Striaight from the Phoenix himself.

Ed-M said...

@Deborah Bender, regarding Texas Health's spokesman Wendell Watson's PR statement: he couldn't bring himself to say the hospital made huge mistakes by following BAU or even that their reputation was in tatters. No, he had to state that TH was "reaffirming" its (cough, cough) "excellent reputation" (cough, cough).

And this is why I am not convinced that we will do well or muddle through, except *after* we have a public health emergency, or mini-emergency. At least we probably won't have a public health crisis like Liberia's. Yet.

Jasmine said...

Dear Mr Greer

I understand that Mr Krugman said in his article that ships use less energy if they go slower. Well I have just thought of this amazing idea which could save civilization from peak oil. If we take Krugman’s idea further and stop ships from moving, then they will not use any energy at all. We could apply the same principle to trains, cars and planes. If we switch them off and leave them where they are, then they will not use any energy. We can also apply the same idea to all other forms of machinery and electronic gadgetry. If we switch them off then they will not need any energy. This means that we can reduce the energy consumption level of our industrial civilization down to zero. I am sure some people will object on the grounds that we will be unable to produce the food we need or heat our houses . Well there a simple solution to that, we can stop eating food. As for heating we can just freeze to death.

This is an idea that could save the world from peak oil. I am sure that I will get the Nobel Prize for Economics for this. Of course it means that you will have to close down this blog and stop publishing books on peak oil and go back to doing your druid stuff full time. All your friends in the peal oil scene will have to look for other jobs. But never mind, that is a small price for saving civilization from peak oil and the energy crisis.

Yours sincerely

Miss Tongue in Cheek

Janet D said...

KL Cooke said: "It is my opinion that had the Civil War somehow been avoided, the South would soon have voluntarily abolished slavery, as the advent of mechanized farming would have made it no longer economically viable."

Well, I don't mean to divert too much here, but I have to say I disagree. Southern slavery was partially about economics, but it was also firmly rooted in violent racism - too much racism for those in power to ever voluntarily free the slaves - the slaves would have just been redeployed to other positions, which they pretty much were anyway (even with the "ending" of slavery and the coming of mechanization, many African Americans lived in near-slavery-like conditions in the South right up until the Civil Rights Movement came along).

I always find it interesting to read the actual Declaration of Causes of Secession, written by several of the States, in which the reasons for the secession of the state are spelled out. Texas, for example, chided the North for "proclaiming the debasing doctrine of the equality of all men, irrespective of race or color--a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of the Divine Law..." and also stated that "We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race..."

The point being that slavery was a complex tar-baby of an issue, not just economics, with tremendous investment of the controlling class in maintaining their own sense of superiority, so I don't think it would have been a case of "Machines are here now, gee, guess the slaves can go."

Scott Nance said...

Hi, JMG. While I tend to be more charitable towards Krugman than you, the real focus of your latest piece -- the looming hour of the knife -- really hit home. While your emphasis on the internal and external proletariats is justified, I was pleased to see that you also note the example of Aetius, where an ostensible member of the elite became the leader of a warband. Especially as things fall apart, I suspect that will be a common phenomenon, as members of the lower elite in particular abandon their "class" allegiance to side with the proletarians. At the same time, especially as the transition occurs, the proletarians still have some residual respect for and deference towards members of the elites. You can see this in, among others, the eagerness of the Bolsheviks to welcome Tsarist officers into the Red Army -- the most notable examples being Mikhail Tukhachevsky and Aleksei Brusilov

I have encountered a recent example of this phenomenon among the elites of the United States. I know a young man (named, oddly enough, Alexander) who is by any measure a product of the elites. He went a "public" school in a wealthy suburb of Washington, then went on to graduate from one of the country's top universities. His friends have become consultants and entrepreneurs. He, on the other hand, joined ROTC, became a combat engineer, and proceeded to spend a good deal of time in the mountains of Central Asia living under conditions a good deal more spartan than those found in our leafy suburbs. While he stated that he was there to teach the local army mountain warfare tactics, when I asked him who was teaching and who was learning, he seemed to think the answer was too obvious to justify an answer.

At one point, I asked him what his career plans were. He replied, only partly ironically, "To become the leader of a warband after civilization collapses." In our conversations, he has demonstrated keen insight into both our (US) political situation and into the underlying dynamics of American society. While it's just one data point, I think his apparent realization that his elite status may not last out his lifetime, and his willingness to consider fairly radical alternatives, is quite significant. I just wonder how many others there are like him out there.

Shane Wilson said...

@ Gloucon,
I think what Burke is referring to when he limits voting to the landed class is the fact that democratic systems require an engaged electorate that is sufficiently educated about the issues to make an informed decision. The liberal idea is that democracy is always good regardless of the education & engagement of the electorate, but the conservative would posit the experiences of democracy in non-literate, non-engaged countries that were not properly prepared for democracy by educating and engaging the population--we can see these problems not only in 3rd world countries, but also the decline of democratic systems here in the US in the last 50-60 years as the population has become less engaged and educated about democratic process and engagement.

Marba Node said...

Earlier this year, after engaging in a bout of "realistic" speculation about the main features of this century, I found that despite the acknowlegdement by some that we will (and presently are) face serious challenges, the prevailing notion is that advanced technology and economic diversification (another euphemuism for growth)will come to the rescue. The ruling class here is promoting something called vision 2030 and no, it's not a prophetic cursade about human extinction(but much like the apocalytic movement,high consumption properity for all is a matter that requires continuous rescheduling). You are quite right that the people in power (economic, political, cultural) can barely appreciate let alone make drastic changes, as even if they could, what often must change, are the very conditions and relationships which support their current power and status.

The reaction to the suggestion that economic contraction is likely the defining characteristic of this century was not taken well (in fact, it was largely dismissed)in the social media exchanges.

I posted this on my blog some weeks ago. It's an attempt to weave together what I was trying to say.

troy said...

The basic idea of Burkean conservatism is that overthrowing the existing social order to bring about a utopian heaven-on-earth almost always ends in tears and blood, and is almost never worth the cost, no matter what specific details of the new world order are promised by the utopians. This is true whether the proposed utopia is some left-wing Workers' Paradise or right-wing Jesusocracy or something in between. The reason is that human nature is what it is, and, historically speaking, attempts to socially engineer human nature out of existence have met with pretty much universal failure. And that failure, when it inevitably occurs, leads the utopians to double down on their folly, which in practice usually means jailing or executing anyone who disagrees with them. Or, after the Revolution comes the Terror.

"Democracy for all" is a fine idea in the abstract, but consider this: was France really better off during the Terror than before the Revolution? Was Soviet Russia really better off than Tsarist Russia? Are Ukraine, Libya, or any other country where we have instigated a color revolution under the pretext of "democracy for all" really better off for our having done so?

History has borne Burke out in that democracies do not have an appreciably better track record than monarchies, broadly speaking, in terms of human rights and so on (and of course, specifically, he was right about the French Revolution being a bad idea). So, in the end, was the change really worth all the killing? But that's not to say that Burkean conservatives are opposed to democracy per se, or would be in favor of bringing back monarchism. Attempts to roll back the clock to re-institute a romanticized past is also a form of utopianism, and thus looked upon with deep suspicion by Burkeans.

For a Burkean conservative, to pick up a weapon with the idea of remaking society into a fantasized paradise is virtually never worth the real-world consequences that are the most likely result of that action, no matter the details of the imagined paradise, and even no matter whether you succeed or fail. In the end, all that happens is a body-count gets racked up and human nature remains as it was before.

Slow Moe said...

I dont see how Gloucon was making a cheap shot at all. Im still perplexed at how you consider yourself Burkean instead of an anarchist or libertarian socialist. Being an anarchist would be more consistent with your support of direct democracy, wouldnt it, or am I misunderstanding something still?

Taraxacum said...

Just came across this

Robert said...

I think the point we need to make is that we are trying to defuse a bomb. If you make a mistake it will blow up in your face. But if you go into denial and ignore the problem it will blow up in everybody's face. Cleaning up Wall Street is vital to national security. Treating workers and the unemployed decently is vital for the economy. If too much of the national wealth is concentrated at the top the !% spend it on assets thereby blowing bubbles. The working middle class and the poor spend it back into the economy. If the spending power of the poor and working class falls the economy suffers from lack of demand and people are driven into unsustainable debt.

John Michael Greer said...

Varun, the preparations we make are one of many variables that determine who disposes of power and in what way. The notion that we can do something that makes all the difference is one of the less helpful delusions of our time.

Unknown Deborah, I wish the flacks who insist there's nothing wrong were required to suit up and take care of some Ebola patients themselves. Half the reason we're at risk from this thing is the dizzying disconnect between administrative office fauna and reality down there on the hospital floor.

Ed-M, pretty much, yes.

Michael, stay tuned. There's another in the works.

Doctor W., an interesting question. It certainly worked that way in some other countries.

Kutamun, yep -- if the question is "How do we keep things running the way they are?' there is no right answer.

Bill, obviously I disagree. I think you're missing the still small but very real chance that Ebola, just as it is now, could propagate itself throughout the third world under current conditions and cause localized outbreaks in the industrial world. The logic of the claim that "X is a real problem, so you shouldn't worry about Y" is a bit odd, you know...

Gloucon, that is to say, you're defending the trick of pulling one factoid out of context and trying to pick a fight with it. If you want to know about my political views, I'd encourage you to read my books The Wealth of Nature and Decline and Fall, which discuss the matter in some detail.

Cherokee, you might consider getting Fatso the wombat his own economics blog; maybe he could hire Blind Freddy as a consultant. His point about internal dealing as a way to boost fictive GDP is something I'd missed completely. I wonder what you'd get if you systematically subtracted that out of the annual GDP?

Bro. Robert, and likewise, fraternal greetings from Doric #92 in Seattle and Queen City #131 here in Cumberland!

Jasmine, brilliant! I think you certainly have a shot at the Nobel (sic) prize in economics. May I suggest an addition to your theory? By Krugman's logic, if all the ships start going backwards, that should actually add energy to the world's supply, shouldn't it? ;-)

John Michael Greer said...

Scott, I'm not at all surprised. Military personnel with field experience are fairly well suited for warband leadership; it's going to be a very competitive field for the next five or six centuries, with the business end of someone else's weapon the most common cause of retirement, but I wouldn't be at all surprised to see our own Aetii getting in at or near the ground floor.

Marba Node, you've hit on one of the core blind spots in contemporary thinking. The religion of perpetual progress has such a deep grip on most people's imaginations that they literally can't get their minds around the concept of contraction and decline.

Troy, nicely summarized.

Moe, er, where did you get the idea that I support direct democracy? No, I'm not at all an anarchist; in my view, the rule of law is basic to any meaningful human community, and laws without enforcement are wasted breath. Nor am I any kind of a socialist; constitutional democratic syndicalism is more my style. I see I'm probably going to have to do a series on politics once the current sequence is over...

Taraxacum, so our warbands need to go over and mess with their warbands. Works for me!

Robert, a useful metaphor.

Redneck Girl said...

@ Nastrana I don't believe you'd be getting ahead of yourself. The time to begin building a network is NOW (just like becoming a Green Wizard!), when it would be easy for the families to fade into the background as time passes. There are yearly get together's like Rabbit Stick in Idaho and one a ways north of me at a state park to practice pioneer/Native American skills which cover the whole gamut of wilderness survival, like learning how to move through the woods silently and invisibly. (And a few pioneer skills like blacksmithing, tanning hides, spinning and weaving.)

I've bought a few books by Nicholas Tomihama on making both wood and PVC bows. PVC to get started and wooden bows later. (I want to do horseback archery, if I can consistently hit a target from the back of a running horse I can hit a target on foot!) Bows are quiet unlike a gun and in the relatively near future you wouldn't want to advertise your presence. (If you learn to throw a knife or a warhawk dressed as an Indian or a pioneer you're just considered a kook with a weird hobby!) Eventually you could hold your own get together's without necessarily contacting anyone outside the core group or just hold any meetings necessary for covert business as well as political decisions before the official beginning or delay until after non members leave. At that point you would just be considered hard core re-enactors. Formal Martial Arts training for anyone is just another skill to be learned publicly then shared and combined later at private gatherings.

At the end of the meet time allotted everyone would scatter back to their homes around the territory. To keep skills fresh after group travel becomes difficult, kids could be swapped between families for cross training. One adult right of passage could be for young members of the people to trek overland to a chosen destination, in a set amount of time to carrying a token of Cascadian Ninjas. (For want of a better designation.)

When the tech becomes scarce/gone, Ranchers can be persuaded that friendship and cooperation is most useful, because they'll need a little 'quiet help' from time to time just to defend their little kingdoms as well as trade and mutual protection agreements with Cascadia. After all, real luxury goods would be coming UP the Columbia and there's the port sitting there for them to sell cattle, hides and any other products they'll make or grow.

Visible and rapid communication would be done the old fashioned way, on the mountains of Cascadia by way of signal towers, using mirrors and or fires. Mores Code anyone?

BTW, thanks for the questions, it's helped me get some ideas straight in my head for my stories! I hope this helps someone else to really start on our own shadow warriors here in Cascadia. We'll need them.


Redneck Girl said...

@Barun Bhaskar

By starting my 'Ninja Clans' now and the families being scattered all over the provinces and prefectures, the young adults, like any kids from the country wanting to see 'The Big City' they'll find jobs in influential house holds or social hot spots. With other Ninja affiliates traveling through Cascadia and outside the boundaries as merchants, peddlers or vagrants, they can carry messages from one drop to another where they could be encoded and sent via signal towers when extreme situations develop that need 'remediation,' of any sort.

Honestly, I'd be a lousy spy, I'm the garrulous type! It would take someone totally different from me to be the director of such activities. But Dang its fun to roll this around inside my head just for the story ideas to ferment!


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