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The New Normal: A "Managed Decline"?

by geezer in Paris Mon Feb 28th, 2011 at 06:31:40 AM EST

Occasionally there are threads that run through the shabby sweater that is world politics, threads of apparent causality, of process, of reasonably reliable fact that can be plucked, unraveled, followed. It's my sometimes- pleasure to follow what I can. But there are some that are just crazy. The systematic impoverishment of the middle class is one of them. To economically destroy the buying public is so mad that it seems the actors must be bent on suicide. This is the  near-destruction of the producing and consuming class on which the plutocratic and authoritarian classes depend for their very existence.  Forgive my confusion at what appears to be an apocalyptic self-immolation by the kleptocratic overclass. Even those far better connected and equipped than I - Paul Krugman for one-  publicly slap their forehead and search for a rational explanation for this craziness.


The craziness has at least two ongoing processes, either of which would be sufficient for the parasite to kill the host:

1)The expansion of a national tendency in the United States toward international rape and pillage into a failed attempt at world hegemony supported by resource theft by the authoritarian leaders of the empire. A fabulously expensive and destructive effort viewed from almost any direction, but easy to understand from the point of view of motive. That's what a Cheney does. Like Tiggers bounce.

2)World-wide, the financial predator classes have adopted a market-based theology, complete with patron saints, St. Rand and St. Miltie, to justify an "ethic" of greed, and reify a sort of generalized catechismic business model of cheerful internal predation so  pervasive that the beast of burden is staggering, collapsing, near death. I've always thought that, to justify this destruction the predators had to be so divorced from their prey that they could not see it's imminent collapse. That always seemed unsupportable, but I had no other explanation of events. And now we are to play "Austerity on Parade."  

I think there's a better explanation, another thread of intent emerging that explains more, and more effectively. To understand that explanation, some background is needed. I ask the indulgence of those who are familiar with the work I'm about to paraphrase, and the patient attention of those who are not.

                   World 3

In 1970 the Club of Rome commissioned, and Volkswagen agreed to finance, a study to be done at MIT by:
 Donella H. Meadows, Dennis L. Meadows, Jørgen Randers, and William W. Behrens III,
They were charged with the task of beginning to answer these two questions:

  • Are current policies leading to a sustainable future or to collapse?

  • What can be done to create a human economy that provides sufficiently for all?

"World 3" was a computer simulation developed by them and others to help answer those questions. World 3 modeled the relationship between a set of selected variables of central importance to human society and to growth,  and the world's ecological systems. The model was never intended to produce numerical predictions, but was to be a way to see trends and estimate likely outcomes, if certain courses of action were chosen. It permitted alterations in basic assumptions as well as the numerical estimates of such things as resource discovery and exhaustion, topsoil erosion, population growth, global and regional temperature change and a host of others.

 In other words, "What are we doing to the planet? And where might it lead?

Most importantly, "What might be the result if we changed--that? Or even that and that together?"

"Limits to Growth" was the resulting first book to detail their work and conclusions.
"Limits to Growth" was a courageous if imperfect blockbuster. The authors had no idea just what they had let themselves in for.
Why is that?
Because, in a nutshell, a large majority of World 3's projections of possible futures end in overshoot in ecological footprint leading to societal collapse before 2100, with huge declines in population, quality of life, life span, and in short, chaos. The authors present several possible courses of action that could lead to better outcomes, but during the thirty years since the work came out, only a little has been done that might take us in those directions.  In 1972, all four lead authors believed a change of course was not only possible but likely. Today, only one remains a believer.

It should be no surprise that  "Limits to Growth" was the target of endless attacks and criticism. Some were sincere and valuable, some utterly cynical or disingenuous. It triggered that greatest of all left-handed compliments: It became almost unmentionable in polite circles at the University of Chicago's department of economics, except when accompanied by expectoration. Same at the chamber of commerce. Two singular honors.

 Over the next thirty years, World 3 was modified many times, it's basic programming language was changed, it's assumptions and equations updated endlessly to reflect better data, and it became World 3.3 It gained hugely in sophistication, but it's conclusions did not change.
It's available to anyone on a DVD, for the asking, if you wish to prove it to yourself, or to join the thousands who have tried to pick it apart.
The second book it spawned was called "Beyond the Limits", out in 1992, which discussed ecological footprint and overshoot as well as how the model had fared in the light of global developments over the intervening twenty years. In a nutshell, pretty well.

The latest book is "Limits to Growth. The 30-Year Update", copyright 2004. In my opinion, it's the best summary of the whole project yet.

I'm not going to attempt to repeat in detail the arguments relating to this long term project on both sides, but I will lay down some sources for those who would like to delve further into that morass:

  • Yale economist Henry C. Wallich labeled the book "a piece of irresponsible nonsense" in a Newsweek editorial dated March 13, 1972.  Wallich stated that technology could solve all the problems the authors were concerned about, but only if growth continued apace. By stopping growth too soon, the world would be "consigning billions to permanent poverty".

  • Writing in the Michigan Law Review, Alex Kozinski, a Reagan-appointed judge, discussed "Limits to Growth" in his article "The Skeptical Environmentalist", calling the authors "a group of scientists going by the pretentious name of  "The Club of Rome". He even got the name of his enemy wrong. His broadside was seized upon  by numerous equally ill-informed or disingenuous commercial interests whose business model was threatened by any restrictions on environmental predation. He became the darling of many whose pipeline to profit was the art of externalizing costs onto the backs of the taxpayer or onto future generations.

-.Another angry critic of  "Limits to Growth" was Lyndon LaRouche, who even wrote a book-length rebuttal called "There Are No Limits to Growth" and, characteristically, saw the work as a global Malthusian conspiracy to twist the minds of the innocent.

Puhleeze. I read most of this crap, while preparing this diary, in an attempt at intellectual fairness. In my opinion, there was little of that to be found in these authors. Tough, smelly going.

The most cogent critiques, until very recently, related to disagreements with the authors' treatment of the relationship between technological advancements and extractive practices, farming practices, etc. , maintaining in essence that technology can fix anything,  and, secondly, a perceived insufficient deference toward the market pricing mechanisms' wondrous ability to stimulate research and development. In truth, same argument.

The authors argue that thirty years is plenty of time to evaluate the effects of market forces and technological development on the system. Since the first book hit the stores, the vast majority of technological innovation has come in the development of consumer toys and war-making technology. Only very recently has technology been seriously employed in developing ecologically smart things for the common good. Marketworld just does not do that very well.  And the realities of exponential growth have shortened our response time to an increasingly narrow window, while our meddling in the planetary system has accelerated ecological change greatly.  

As to the emotional element poisoning the scientific well, any attempt to study a question with deep social impact will engender deep emotions. Scientists have them too. The task is not to be emotionless, but to find ways to keep your feelings from poisoning the well of knowledge you wish to drink from.
One way to see if this attempt has been successful is to take a long view- revisit the results a few decades down the road. That's the aim of the book, and the authors maintain their results remain solid. Many others, including me, agree.

In 2008 Graham Turner published a paper called "A Comparison of `The Limits to Growth` with Thirty Years of Reality". Writing for the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation , CSIRO, in Australia, he compared the past thirty years of reality with the predictions made in 1972 and found that "changes in industrial production, food production and pollution are all in line with the book's predictions of economic and societal collapse the 21st century."

 Again, the model was not intended to be a predictive one. It was a trend-spotter, a vehicle for analysis and projection.  But when the trends show a solid pattern of outcomes, even with altered initial conditions, when the model itself is updated to encompass thirty years of technological and social change, and still shows the same patterns, the model can be said to be predictive.
There are those for whom no body of evidence will ever be sufficient to call into real question their theology- that man was given dominion over the earth -by God, Ayn Rand or Milton Friedman, it's all the same in effect- and therefore a license to plunder the earth. But most of these critics do not see themselves as religious at all- they believe themselves to be honest doubters, "sceptical environmentalists", as above. Yet their tenacious hold upon the doily that 30 years' time have made of their criticisms is revealing.

Rescued by the Ugly Duckling?

Nassim Nicholas Taleb has an idea. A simple idea so powerful that it has attracted some of the lightning bolts left over from all the attacks on World 3.3. Ironically, it is in my opinion the best criticism of World 3.3 and of modeling in general that I've read yet.

Taleb is the child of politically prominent French citizens residing in Lebanon, and he attended the Grand Lycee Franco-Lebanaise, until the civil war drove him to take refuge in the family basement, and continue his studies more or less independently. Perhaps that explains his escape from the mold.
Taleb says that throughout our existence the events, the insights, even the art that has changed human life most powerfully have been and will be outside any modeling, any predictive process at all. Simply put, rare, powerful events do not offer any statistical handle for analysis because of their rarity. Well,--duh. OK. This is that sort of idea most disliked by the vested aristocrats of academic analysis- a  simple idea that packs a punch far in excess of their elaborately assembled tools. The hammer as compared to the computer. Like those who built World 3.3, he's described by some as a reductionist, a purveyor of the childish oversimplifications of popular thought. But since Taleb speaks from a background as a trader and hedge fund manager, and these guys have a lot of skin in the game, his ideas have found a respectful ear in the world of finance.

Taleb sees a Black Swan Event as unpredictable, always surprising.

He sees them as potent, powerful beyond other events

Once recognized, Taleb believes these events are shoehorned into out knowledge structure by saying that the relevant data was there, we just didn't put two and two together properly, but now it's obvious.  

Simply put, the events that change the world are extreme outliers- so extreme as to not be either predictable or even describable by existing modeling structures.

Suffice it to say he writes persuasively about an idea that to me has the very character of a black swan idea. Oh. Well-yes. Holy shit.
I suggest the Wikipedia entry as a fair introduction to his ideas, because the rest of the piece hinges on them.

                     Death By Sin
My personal introduction to LTG began around 1978 when I read it while doing a graduate course of directed study in social change with Phil Bosserman. Phil had just come back from a stint in Africa in the peace corps, and was en route to Paris to become the Emile Durkheim professor of Sociology. The book  was still a magnet for spitballs. An angry target for the Very Serious Person opinion. This ability to draw hostile fire was by then not so much a result of substantive imperfections, but because of a problem with sin.
Anyone who read carefully, with any empathy at all, could smell the perfume of affection, of love, of hope for the world that wafted up from the pages of the book. Not from the data, or the modeling, but from the act of dedication that brought these people together for so long.  

 And it is surely a mortal sin for scientists to love the object of their research. Ask Margaret Meade.
Real scientists are cool, rational. They speak and write in the dispassionate exclusionist language of equations, they objectify and decolorize the targets of their intellect. To the VSPs of the day, these people were merely mushy propagandists, appealing to a gullible mass market audience.
A case can be made that objectivity can suffer when a bond of love is made, but then the work must be criticized for it's quality and content so the supposed prejudice might be revealed. In the case of LTG, it seemed to me that all the vitriol of the commercial interests and market theologists turned up only the technology issue.

By that time in my life, I had already had a significant career in the world of technology, and was better aware of it's limitations than most. I also had no cash on the table, having, by 1980, already bailed out of the American economic plane, so no tendency to believe what was profitable, or comfortable. We  wanted only to cherish, to embrace the rich and lovely world, to learn from it, and to perhaps point the way for others. So we sailed away. We were gone for 14 years, and when we returned, the world of my youth was already gone. From both sides.  We did not recognize much, and were glad beyond words that we had bailed out. Still, we had no desire to see the plane crash. We only wanted to not be on it, when it did whatever it's bloody-handed pilots did with it.

I had made my uneasy peace with the Cambodian border, with the Mekong delta, and was beginning to realize that my fellow explorers had been either co-opted or were so dispersed that if we were a vanguard, we were leading the way for no one.
Suffice it to say that my recent reading of the third book thirty years later only increased my admiration for the work done by the authors. It saddened me to learn that all save one had surrendered hope. In short, it was a revisiting of an old and well hated nightmare. We had set it aside, for love of the world, and made a choice to stick to what we did well- explore. Upon revisiting the Club of Rome, it appeared that they too were a vanguard for no one.

 I no longer see it that way. I now suspect that their work is today widely accepted, but just not publicly.

1.The model is now mature, and has stood the test of time. The attacks and criticisms made over time have been addressed, or proved largely incorrect. Those that remain are not based on any real evidentiary analysis, but are largely ideological or theological in nature. They reek of denial, of self-deception.

2.The range of outcomes the model now shows comprise a strikingly similar family of curves. Even after 30 years of upgrades.

3.Only late-stage changes remain to us.

And then along comes Taleb, who points out the obvious to me, and offers a thin reed to breathe through. Pray for a Black Swan? I don't pray, and I'm not much of a gambler, unless forced to it.  I look at LTG and world 3.3 as a body of solid research that must be dealt with. Therefore, it seems to me that these notions are likely true.

1.The world's major industrial nations have at their disposal plenty of modeling talent and research facilities, and as the objections to LTG melted away with time, they cannot have failed to thoroughly evaluate a work with such striking implications, and to have made their own models. Even if only to discredit it.

2. The inputs to World 3.3 have now been tweaked by many different people representing a very wide range of viewpoints. I think it is now clear that no matter what assumptions you make, any model truly attempting to represent an ecological reality will produce a family of outcomes roughly similar to those produced by World 3.3.  The absence of competing models producing differing results that have stood the test of peer criticism supports this suspicion.

3.The actions and policies that can ameliorate the nastier aspects of these models' possible futures will have been picked through with a fine-toothed comb.

4.I think the events since the book's 2004 release have accelerated system processes so that, without herculean intervention the point of collapse  may be undeniable within our lifetimes. World 3.03  still offers some plausible scenarios that could result in a non-catastrophic transition to a sustainable economy.

So when did the results of ecological modeling become reflected in public policy?

I think it began to soak through corporate and political denial somewhere around the early 80's, but if you are speaking of publicly acknowledged policy, the answer is "Never".
It's the "Kill the Messenger" thing, because if the news gets out, you've got chaos. And the destruction of a vast swath of fortunes, industrial empires and political influence.

Those scenarios that do result in a soft landing require the world's population to adjust to a society that consumes vastly less resources and energy, and farms in very different ways- in short, small, energy-efficient dwellings, mass transit where possible and muscle transit mostly, totally different farming technologies,--in general, a place with a different world view and definition of "rich", and "success". That's a hard sell for a generation of politicians who believe, correctly, that the average voter is struggling to remember his 8th grade geography.

Time is now much shorter- we have burned through thirty years, and done almost nothing. Who wants to admit that?
What politician wants to tell their constituents what the new normal really is likely to be?
Would YOU like to be the politician to tell the American voter, or any marketworld citizen, that most of  their resource-intensive, energy slurping toys, like cars, are just -OVER?
That the future of residential architecture in the developed world- the rich world- is perhaps homes built from a couple remodeled shipping containers? That it might be a good idea to trade their Jet-Ski thrill for a pair of cotton shorts and a book on tai-che?

Right. "George, call security on the double, have them bring the squad and the car. Gotta go right now."

I think we all agree that visible government is mostly theater, but there is a layer beneath the stagecraft, perhaps several layers, where attempts at real policy do occur, along with (or mixed with) the predation.

Among the world's leaders, who do you think understands the implications of World 3.3?
GWB? No. Not a good fit with his world view at all- potentially mentally destabilizing, perhaps not even believable by him. And nothing would have been accomplished by telling him.
Obama? I have real questions about his endless obeisances to the gods of  technology, to innovation.  It seems that either he's not nearly as smart as he seemed to be, or he could be just deep in theater. But he must now be aware of a body of well-supported knowledge that bears so powerfully on his policies and governance, his legacy.  He perhaps Krugners it.
Jamie Dimon, and his peers? I'd bet on the bankers getting it. They are accustomed to risking a lot on abstractions, models. I'd bet that they got it long ago, and are acting on what they know.

If you accept, as I do, the likelihood of elite acceptance of the research as plausible, several things make sense:
The acceleration of wealth capture- of predation by an entire class of kleptocrats, with the devil-may-care disinterest in the demise of the middle class. "Big deal. Their goose is cooked anyhow."
 Among those still willing to even try to govern, the whole apparently pyrrhic notion of "austerity" could be a tactic to begin the painful, dangerous process of adapting public attitudes to radically lower standards of living that will soon come upon them, at a time when a host of scapegoats are available.  As well as providing aide to the rapid wealth capture above.
The activation of plans to just pirate the world, such as PNAC and Full Spectrum Dominance, might make as lot of sense to an authoritarian personality who also demands dominance, such as those described as "double-Highs" by Bob Altemyer. Might also be a great excuse to do what they've always wanted to do anyway. What do you bet that the full dominance scenario has been modeled to death in their own version of World 3.3?

             A Thought Game

Imagine that you are a fly on the end table, sipping spilled Coke and listening to the counsels of the mighty.
"Mr. President,  Wickwit here has some model data he'd like to present to you. Glad you could be here today, Wickwit." (turning) "We think Wickwit's data relates strongly to the present circumstances, and it forms the basis of a lot of the council's recommendations over the last few yearsa."
(Wickwit takes the podium and fires up his powerpoint.)
"Mr. President, Blah blah blah blah the chart on the left, that's the projections of overshoot and -er, likely consequences under the three politically feasible options. Blah, blah Heritage modeling tracks the DOD work and all the stuff we got from Paris and elsewhere blah blah but on the right you can see our best-case outcomes, the line in red blah blah we know these are pretty amazing projections, but they've been checked six ways from Sunday, for thirty years. Blah blah since other options are politically impossible blah blah blah discrete bipartisan compromise blah blah---"
Consider the recent SOTU, and Obamas' washed-out delivery, the level of non-speak. Plug in whatever you see as germane data, about whatever world leader relates to your particular situation most importantly, and ask yourself: Does he gets it?" Or does he believe his own bullshit?
As for Obama, I think he gets it. Just a gut feeling, but I think he got hit between the eyes by a carefully packaged delivery sometime after inauguration, and is still trying to wrap his head around it. He looks and sounds like a man who has been slammed hard these days.
Who else might get it?
The eternally bloodthirsty neocons, and the still-powerful overlapping Cheney machine, and the bankers, and the policy-oriented intelligence analysts. I think they all get it, and that's more than  enough.

                          Naomi Moment

I'm proposing we may well be in the middle of an attempt to manage a world-wide decline that is recognized as unavoidable and imminent. This may be a good time to do it, since the supply of fear and of scapegoats is at a high point. It's a perfect example of the process Kline described so well.
A perfect time to blame someone else for the "New Normal", and seize the chance to squeeze and run.

Some of the brightest wits don't see it at all. Again, the esteemed Paul Krugman is one, even though the craziness level in the policy world is high, and he remarks on that often. Are we then to assume, once again, that he  disguises his real opinions in order to survive in his position?
Would that be so bad? We need him.
Some will say that the case is far from proved, Krugman may just see it differently, that it all may just not happen. Yup. And all the bugs ate the oil from the Gulf of Mexico, and Saddam probably hid the WMDs before we got there. Or ate them.
It's 30 years of well-financed work, state of the art equipment and careful thought, and a huge amount of peer review. Though the time frame can shift a fair amount from scenario to scenario, I think the work stands.
Can such a huge decline be managed without ever discussing it publicly? Perhaps, but it would be like attempting to get rid of a dead elephant in the living room, blindfolded, without admitting there are such things as elephants.
What if the world really talked about it? Would the world go berserk?
Will we not eventually reach a point when we must talk about it? Take collective action?
Perhaps not. Perhaps we too will strangle in our own shit, like another dark projection of Maltus' ideas.
But maybe not. If we can do it, the time to act, is now. After all, there is a wonderland to be saved. Perhaps a new normal that helps us to sip lightly at the nectar and give back in equal measure what we take, is not such a bad idea.

In the words of Daily Alice, as she knelt in the barred sunlight on her bedroom floor and said her morning prayers:

"Oh great, wide, wonderful, beautiful world ,

With the wonderful waters around you curled,

and the wonderful forests across your breast,

- Oh, world, you are beautifully dressed."

"Little, Big"
John Crowley, 1981

As for me, I'm starting a new business to save money for that freighter trip around the world. I want my girls to have at least a glimpse of it while it's still there.

Display:
Forgive the crude editing of this diary- I wrote it a while ago, and my new work load will make it hard to post much of consequence. So here it is, with warts- an idea, a suspicion that we've gnawed on for a couple years.
Gaius Publius asks the same question, almost, in his comment on Frank Richs' latest column.

Capitalism searches out the darkest corners of human potential, and mainlines them.
by geezer in Paris (risico at wanadoo(flypoop)fr) on Mon Feb 28th, 2011 at 06:44:33 AM EST
beautifully written, heartfelt diary.

coud not find one thing you said disagreeable, and the takeaway is terrifying, yet has a feeling of optimism buried within it.

what we see now is so humiliatingly undignified, it merits no continuation, yet it is all we know, we are steeped in it.

to turn our consciousness around 180, was one of the challenges of buddhism, and i have never seen such a strong need for it.

the way between scylla of social disaffection and charybdis of peak oil emerges ever more clearly, as in STOP WHATEVER YOU'RE DOING AND THINK ABOUT THIS, because it makes a farce of whatever personal fantasies you have about a 'normal' future for your children.

'it's the energy, stupid!'

the most galling thing of all is to realise what we are allowing to slip between our fumbling fingers, and the still immense ignorance of most of the world of this quandary we're in.

in all these recent uprisings, amidst all the understandable howls for speech and assembly freedoms, new constitutions et al, did anyone see one placard about going solar?

yet there is the answer to so much energy savings, in thermal, and generation/maintenance economy boost.

the present oligarchical energy cabals that are deceiving the public through media control are like global gaddafis or mubareks, in that they care not a jot for their own peoples. we are just numbers to them.

another block to this process of lurching change is the peculiar fantasy we have in the west that gentlefolk need never dirty their hands.

thr riff raff do that. a pol who had the cojones to come out and tell us how many are going to be discovering the joys of working the land would get my vote.

we're still a few katrinas away from that... :(

great diary, i wish you well for your new green business.

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Mon Feb 28th, 2011 at 07:43:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks, melo. Particularly for the compliment on the writing. I thought it was far from my best- it's the John Crowley quote that probably will touch some hearts.

As for the business, it's not so much mine, as ours.
Ivonne teaches languages, with an amazing talent for discovering the students' needs, and the empty places in their knowledge.
She's the talent, I'm the mechanic.

Still, my point (and my question) was: If we are being managed into a new and far less stuff-oriented "normal", then the apparent intention of the oligarchs to kill the consumer society that feeds them by sucking the last drop of blood would finally make sense.

"Get it all now, before they tumble to the truth. Their goose is cooked anyhow."

I don't yet believe that- I have yet hope.
But I damned well have a "Plan B", too.

Capitalism searches out the darkest corners of human potential, and mainlines them.

by geezer in Paris (risico at wanadoo(flypoop)fr) on Mon Feb 28th, 2011 at 11:17:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, first class, geezer.

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears
by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Tue Mar 1st, 2011 at 11:59:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Very nice, reading with pleasure.

Here's a small add. You say:

In 1972, all four lead authors believed a change of course was not only possible but likely. Today, only one remains a believer.

Donella Meadows, known as Dana, died about 10 years ago, but were she here I'm pretty sure she would still believe in her work.

One of the things she was doing then was tracking first frost and thaw dates at her New Hampshire farm -- and in something like 10 years, she'd seen noticeable shifts in how late the first frosts arrived and how early were the spring thaws.

by Mnemosyne on Thu Mar 17th, 2011 at 07:22:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I probably shouldn't begin with the one thing that I find personally unattractive in your piece, but the Black Swan idea is entirely uninteresting to me. There is no such thing (the idea, not the swan); there is only finite knowledge and understanding. In other words we are simply unaware of the mechanisms that lead to unexpected events.

In any case I don't think that you're buying that 'critique' of the LTG theses. I do buy the idea that, if 'we' are considering the model, then 'they' are also. Don't know if I give 'them' credit for truly Machiavellian planning - as in austerity to condition us - but it's certainly possible. I think that it's more likely that a segment of 'them' understands the scenario and opportunistically supports the programs that are developed for reasons ranging from proving Calvinist elitism to Mother-was-scared-by-a-Wobblie to pure predatory instinct.

My best vision for the future is essentially yours. Most of my activities out here aim toward communalism and sustainability. Like you, though, I have mine to protect, which is why we live in the Pacific NW. A lot of the environmental disaster predictions land with a lighter touch here.

paul spencer

by paul spencer (spencerinthegorge AT yahoo DOT com) on Mon Feb 28th, 2011 at 03:22:11 PM EST
there is only finite knowledge and understanding. In other words we are simply unaware of the mechanisms that lead to unexpected events.

When the finite nature of knowledge conceals a game changing event, then what you call the trigger mechanism probably doesn't matter much, in the new world that emerges.

And I do think that there are outliers that could really alter history. Imagine the results of practical fusion energy. It's not at all preposterous.

(Aside)What do you think of Paris as a survivable environment? Of cities in general? Email me?

Capitalism searches out the darkest corners of human potential, and mainlines them.

by geezer in Paris (risico at wanadoo(flypoop)fr) on Tue Mar 1st, 2011 at 02:14:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Other way to get black swans is to limit your own thinking, just don't look at certain models. Then BAH! - a black swan! Someone may have predicted but was silently left out of political "discussion".

This is what basically happened from the 1980s on. As it appears to me, wondering about limits of growth was not an extravagant pursuit until the 1970s. But then the growth concerns were just excluded from political processes, only appearances of concern were held by Gore and some educational systems. Rather emphatically, the 1980s saw fuller adaptation of growth policies - just contrary to whatever Club of Rome implied. Never mind the critics when only echo chamber is left to the worried geeks.

The silent disregard of growth concerns and adaption of opposite policies suggest to me a deliberate choice by some or other elite policy makers. Quite conceivably, a forced overshot could be a survival strategy. Of course, we do not talk here about survival of humanity as we know it, or even survival of particular nations or societies. But when an overshot is problematic or inconvenient to avoid, why not force more abrupt predicaments, disguised by every known financial, military and ecological folly, make the unsustainable run-up time shorter, and then inherit the Earth and share it with a modest "sustainable" group of alike smarts (and some number of indebted serfs)? You don't really need ever improving technology, you would be already happy if there is enough infrastructure left to run your kids' iPad.

by das monde on Wed Mar 9th, 2011 at 11:51:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
paul spencer:
I think that it's more likely that a segment of 'them' understands the scenario and opportunistically supports the programs that are developed for reasons ranging from proving Calvinist elitism to Mother-was-scared-by-a-Wobblie to pure predatory instinct.

Add that predatory instinct and sociopathic behaviour is rewarded by more power, so there is no particular need to understand in order to grow. But not all powergrabbers are stupid, so some probably has their eyes on the larger picture.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Tue Mar 1st, 2011 at 04:11:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Nah. You give them way too much credit. Both in terms of the amount of long-term planning they have proven capable of, and the amount of secrecy that would be required. These clowns aren't precisely subtle or careful. Matt Taibbi and other muckrackers regularly interview insiders who have ratted out crooked banksters (to no visible effect, except to bring their careers to a screeching halt). If these attitudes were prevalent on Wall Street, then we'd know about it by now. I think it's much simpler: They're crooks, Ayn Rand fans, psychopaths (but I repeat myself) and, above all, short-term shysters. They only appear smart, subtle and sophisticated because they've bought the cops who were supposed to put them in the slammer when they blow stuff up for fun and profit (and all the newsies who were supposed to film the perp-walk).

The one place where I do think there's some amount of planning going on is in the military-industrial complex. Unlike the banksters, they're not in the business of defrauding widows and orphans. These people are used to planning ahead, they're used to dealing with supply chains, logistics and all the other aspects of actually making real stuff. And they have considerable experience with waging resource wars, so natural resources are on their mental map.

The banksters have none of those qualifications. They're just children on a coke binge.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon Feb 28th, 2011 at 05:09:05 PM EST
Completely agree.

I think the closest anyone with money or power gets to a usable narrative for what is happening is seeing the chaos on our doorstep and planning their own lifeboats like geezer is, but on a different scale of resources.

Policy wise, no way - you simply can't walk among the elites without believing status quo narratives.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Mon Feb 28th, 2011 at 06:30:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Agree with both you and Jake. Not only you "can't walk among the elites without believing status quo narratives", but you can constantly fear irrelevance and a falling by the wayside in your wished-for career path if you step out of the strait and narrow. That is deeply interiorised ie not even conscious, but a powerful determinant of behaviour.

If anything unites different sections of the elites - financial, political, military, technocratic - it is not a shared secret knowledge of reality on which an eschatological strategy is based, but self-serving ignorance, intellectual and moral mediocrity.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Mar 1st, 2011 at 08:57:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There are significant exceptions. If someone in finance consistently makes high return investments that few others see, that person can believe pretty much what they will, as long as they employ a modicum of discretion in what they say. Successful hedge fund traders are an example.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Wed Mar 2nd, 2011 at 09:30:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
that Geezer is describing. I've known some of what used to be called 'coupon clippers' over the years, plus some of their intellectual servants. Most of them that I've known are self-entitled, but some are quite self-conscious.

Both C. Wright Mills and Bill Domhoff (and others) have documented the development of, and the means employed by, the Power Elite. Neither of them were overly conspiracist. Instead, they saw the mechanisms.

The M-I Complex is one mechanism - centrally important, but still only one out of several.

paul spencer

by paul spencer (spencerinthegorge AT yahoo DOT com) on Mon Feb 28th, 2011 at 06:53:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's a great mistake to underestimate the layered nature of social reality.
Imagine a wheel, with spokes, many bisectors, with Obama's perceptual position in the center. Call this the web of political relations between the office of president and the key players.
Now imagine the wheel rotated a bit about the axis of any one bisector. Call this new figure the web of military-industrial relations with the office of the president.
And so on. and on.
It's far more complex than that, because the axes are multiple and overlapping, rotated along other axes, but it's possible to tease out patterns, threads that run through the gordian knot. That's what a good manager does, in a way, and certainly a really skilled national leader. Shame Obama has not the guts to act on what(I suspect) he sees.
Indeed the military guys OUGHT to have the ability to plan, but outside a very narrow slice of reality they are really bad at it- they are blinded by the perceptual limits of a world-view in which there is only the tool of violent force, and the "other"- those who resist, and are therefore the enemy. Eisenhower emerged from that stew somehow, with some with some wits intact, in spite of his stroke.
Nope. I see your point about the kids with an ounce of blow, but I think there are smarter guys in the background.
Soros, for one.
And they talk.

   

Capitalism searches out the darkest corners of human potential, and mainlines them.

by geezer in Paris (risico at wanadoo(flypoop)fr) on Tue Mar 1st, 2011 at 02:38:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There are certainly smart people out there, and there are certainly people who are able to see a bit down the road, and they are certainly attempting to influence policy in various ways...

... but they are not setting policy. Policy is set by the people who actually run things from day to day, and constrained by the narratives they subscribe to. Nebulous conspirators have to either plant or ride narratives with the people who actually have their hands on the levers. When President Cheney and his oil buddies wanted to go to war in Vietraq, they had to spend three or four months gearing up the war propaganda. Economics, widely considered an arcane subject best left to experts, may not need quite so visible propaganda in order to shape policy, but you can't keep the people who actually manage it completely in the dark about your objectives. And I'm simply not seeing those narratives among the Serious People.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Tue Mar 1st, 2011 at 03:51:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The essence of seriousness is narcissistic grandiosity and detachment from proletarian reality.

I'm finding it hard to imagine that a strategic genius like Rumsfeld has enough marbles to deal with reality effectively outside a mil-ind cocoon.

Greenspan? Geithner? Bernanke? The Koch brothers? Are any of these people capable of rational thought, never mind effective rational planning?

There may well be venture capital survivalists with personal fall out shelters on their private islands, but even they're deluding themselves and looking in the wrong direction. It's entirely possible for ecological - never mind military - catastrophe to be so final that no one gets out alive.

The only practical hope of long-term survival is to turn around and try to fix what's broken - to reengage politically, philosophically and ethically.

Running away to try to build a fortress of impregnability somewhere, even if it's a small sustainable one, is part of the problem - one final repeat of "I've got mine, screw everyone else", but with a slightly guiltier face.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue Mar 1st, 2011 at 04:15:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Jake, I see your points.
First, it's not necessary to postulate a conspiracy, when practically every element in a system bound by the visual limits of predator culture has the same apparent interest in avoiding the whole subject.
They may come to it from a different direction, but the result's the same.

Look what's happening in the media with regards to Wisconsin, and you'll see what could be taken for a grand media conspiracy to suppress the truth about popular anger, and a precarious social situation. Nope. Mostly a perceived commonality of interests, with a bit of kiss-ass subservience.
Actually, I think the MSM is about to render themselves irrelevant.
"--you can't keep the people who actually manage it completely in the dark about your objectives"
Again, you imply action in concert.
No conspiracy- just self preservation and cowardice.
As for the right, their own desire to scoop sand over their ears will do the trick just fine.
Only a brave man or a fool would step out with this truth.
It may be true that the "serious people" aren't talking about this publicly. I dunno- I donn't get their newsletter.
Perhaps that's why we still speak of them as serious people.

Capitalism searches out the darkest corners of human potential, and mainlines them.

by geezer in Paris (risico at wanadoo(flypoop)fr) on Tue Mar 1st, 2011 at 08:22:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Now that's a lot more like it. I did find your diary implied deliberate, concerted action - down to dominance scenario models and (OK,comical) Powerpoint presentations of The Truth.

I don't think they know, because it's not in their daily interest as money-makers, or policy wonks, or elected representatives, to be aware. Their interest commands that they wear blinkers and forget about the fact.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Mar 1st, 2011 at 09:04:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yeah.
I'm somewhat conflicted about that, I admit. Note the question mark in the title.
Glad something finally clicks for you, afew. I guess.
But it's easy to make the other case, with equal plausibility.

Ideas are like editors are like dogs. They have to circle it a few times, then piss on it before they buy it. (Thanks, Heinlein. Rot your hard little heart) Once it's their own idea, then they will defend it.
Given their own likely modeling, and the endless murmurs of support of top researchers growing to a solid consensus drone-
At some point, Wickwit makes the transition from "Them" to "one of ours". Some time long before he ever presents to the prez.

We seem incapable of crediting anyone in our vast throng of the disapproved with the wit to tell a hawk from a handsaw. They all tend to resemble little automata marching to the tune of whatever program we credit to their measly intellectual account. That's a mistake that stymies our ability to project usefully.

Capitalism searches out the darkest corners of human potential, and mainlines them.

by geezer in Paris (risico at wanadoo(flypoop)fr) on Tue Mar 1st, 2011 at 11:41:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Neither witless nor automata, just keeping within the lines laid down by their own interests - which are sufficient to explain elite behaviour without the need for a future collapse scenario.

As you say, it can be argued either way. But I'll stick with my favourite version of the (h/t Occam) razor: never ascribe to malice what can be adequately explained by mediocrity.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Mar 1st, 2011 at 12:24:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Titanic strategy? Possibly.

However, never underestimate the short time horizons of corporate CEOs and the politicians they have bought.  And never, ever underestimate their utter scorn for any math operation more complicated than an average.

by tjbuff (timhess@adelphia.net) on Mon Feb 28th, 2011 at 10:31:19 PM EST
Fine diary, GiP. I read LTG back in the early 70s and it just seemed right. I was somewhere between dismayed and disgusted by the response it evoked. In the 40 years since I have only had reason to see the body of work confirmed. I was particularly struck by this paragraph:

Anyone who read carefully, with any empathy at all, could smell the perfume of affection, of love, of hope for the world that wafted up from the pages of the book. Not from the data, or the modeling, but from the act of dedication that brought these people together for so long.

This brings to mind Richard King's The Party of Eros - Radical Social Thought and the Realm of Freedom, 1972 UNC Chapel Hill, and, especially, Norman O. Brown's Life Against Death, which I read in 1965. The bright red line that runs through King's analysis is the social concern for the lives of individuals, especially the sort of concern that parents have for their children and grandchildren and for the preconditions for them to have good lives. Karl Polanyi is not in his index, though his son, Michael Polanyi, a sociologist, is, but I find their work to be complimentary.

I see the current Masters of the Universe as damaged but highly dangerous people, regardless of the labels that might be attached to them. For them, winning the game as they see it is all. Monteryan once noted in a comment a conversation he had with a Bay Area venture capitalist that is highly confirming of your thesis that these folks see collapse on the horizon and are engaged in a spree of looting before the collapse becomes undeniable.

My sense is that they have little concern for any but their immediate families, if for them, that they do have effective control of governance in the USA, the UK and, probably, much of Europe, and thus they exercise a veto over any collective action to address the wider needs of humanity as that would cut into their efforts at self-aggrandizement. I would call them a Pirate's Cabal, but that would be insulting to pirates. On the level of public politics in the USA I have trouble identifying Presidents who had a truly mature concern for the welfare of future generations  after Eisenhower other than, on the domestic front, LBJ, and Jimmy Carter. Clinton was more of a game player with a Democratic base than someone with a mature concern for the future - else how could he have signed the bill repealing Glass-Steagall? Obama hasn't even really tried to deal with the dead elephant in the White House or the Vampire Squid that killed it, even though he had the best opportunity in two generations to do something effective upon entering office.  Meanwhile the world goes on like some badly scripted interminable soap opera towards what all fear will be a disaster.  

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Mon Feb 28th, 2011 at 10:41:05 PM EST
The most tragic component of the Ayn Rand-Uncle Milty school of happy predators is the acceptance of terminal selfishness as a good thing.
Along with the ecclesiastical conception of immaculate, inscrutable "adjustment" by the God "Market".

That's really only one more lie needed to trash the world.

That's the belief by the people that they are helpless.


Capitalism searches out the darkest corners of human potential, and mainlines them.

by geezer in Paris (risico at wanadoo(flypoop)fr) on Tue Mar 1st, 2011 at 02:49:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sorry. That should read "There's only one more lie needed to trash the world- the belief by the people that they are helpless.

Capitalism searches out the darkest corners of human potential, and mainlines them.
by geezer in Paris (risico at wanadoo(flypoop)fr) on Tue Mar 1st, 2011 at 02:51:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I am reminded of two books.

Stark (novel) by Ben Elton

The protagonist, Colin "CD" Dobson, lives a humdrum life, at a critical point in history. The environment is being rapidly destroyed by a series of 'avalanches' - sudden upsets in the Earth's ecosystem that cause widespread destruction. The Stark conspiracy is a cabal of the world's richest and most influential men, who have long been aware that the planet's entire ecosystem is approaching total collapse. For decades they have been launching unmanned spacecraft loaded with supplies into orbit around the Earth and the Moon. Seeking to save their own lives and leave everyone else to suffer from 'total toxic overload', they secretly create a fleet of spacecraft with the intention of founding a colony on the Moon.

Using crude intimidatory tactics, they purchase land from Aboriginals in Western Australia, to use as a launch site. They sell stocks and commodities to raise cash, selling the assets at the same time and in high volumes, to engineer a worldwide crash of the stockmarkets and lower the price of the resources they need. They buy the Moon from the United States government, along with the hardware to reach it.

The rich guys (and a few gals) coalition has a research team forcasting the future and when it gets to bad they emigrate to star arks to live there while the planet restores itself. Tha obvious conspiracy angle.

But it also reminds me of the prelude to this book:

Orbit Unlimited - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Orbit Unlimited is a science fiction novel by Poul Anderson, first published in 1961 [1]. Essentially a linked group of short stories, it recounts the colonisation of the planet Rustum, a fictional terrestrial world orbiting Epsilon Eridani, by a group of refugees from an authoritarian planet Earth. Although habitable, Rustum's atmospheric pressure is so great that only its mountains and high plateaus are suitable for human settlement. The novel, like much of Anderson's work, has a libertarian subtext as the colonists flee the oppression on their home planet.

In the prelude we are introduced to a Earth in decline, with growing population and inevitably declining standards. An old cynical power player has realised where things are heading, and when a livable planet is discovered he engineers for a gradual squeeze of the remaining middle class, in order to get an ideologically conscious (and troublesome) subgroup of the technical middle class to opt for emigration, including his only child with family. At the same time he plays the other side, acting as a hardliner against the deviant and claims it is better if the worst go and take their accursed views with them.

The main point here is that telling the other powermongers that the world is going to hell would show weakness and spell his own immediate downfall, so he plays his cards thight. He intentionally (and without divulging why) drives his only child into a movement against him in order to get his grandchildren of the planet. Apart from the fools who have inherited their position and is allowed to keep it to prevent competitors, we are never told how his competitors really view things, as their communication is held within the accepted narrative.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Tue Mar 1st, 2011 at 05:38:41 AM EST
Read that.
Poul Anderson. Good storyteller, with good stories, often.
Of late, I've taken to reading more in the biography and memoir column- I find I've dug the science fiction hole down so deep that what's left are mostly genre money machines- formula books aimed at a known audience, or at a market that can be sold to a known publishing house. The stuff has an odor about it that I can't ignore.
 

Capitalism searches out the darkest corners of human potential, and mainlines them.
by geezer in Paris (risico at wanadoo(flypoop)fr) on Tue Mar 1st, 2011 at 11:55:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
the Limits to Growth thesis. As always, a lot depends on where you're standing.

Bear with me while I make stuff up.

While I'm completely on board with the LTG thesis, and have been for more than three decades, I am also sympathetic to the idea that it's not a reason that should be invoked to halt progress. Millions of people are emerging from poverty every year in countries with high growth rates. At the same time, "mature" economies seem to have hit a wall.

Nothing contradictory here. It's possible that WE, in the "overdeveloped" economies, are in overshoot, whereas the people in less-developed economies, who after all consume much less resources per head, are still within the envelope. Resource prices are the key. Paradoxically, it's the rich countries who can ill afford to pay steep increases in the resources they consume just to maintain their standard of living; for countries where incomes are rising, increased resource costs are just one more element to be passed on.

From the point of view of the rich and powerful, everything's fine. As long as they have shifted their money from non-performing assets in the overdeveloped world to high-return investments in high-growth areas, it's all just business as usual.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Tue Mar 1st, 2011 at 12:25:31 PM EST
I have of read more than one fund manager who has relocated to Hong Kong or Shanghai on exactly the thesis you describe -- all the action will be in emerging markets. If I were younger, my preference would probably be Brazil. Demographics are a central concern. In the developed world too many countries have demographic profiles that are inverted pyramids.

I believe it is possible to deal with such demographic problems, but it does not appear to be happening in most countries. To do so successfully requires more planing and acting towards common goals than is possible with current ideologies.China is going to face its own demographic crisis in another twenty to forty years and time will tell how well they cope with those problems.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Wed Mar 2nd, 2011 at 05:52:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It is interesting that in order to bring the growth rate of the world's populations under control without a massive crash it will be necessary to successfully deal with inverted pyramid population demographics. But it is also the case that birth rates decline along with increasing economic development. So demonstrating policies that enable countries successfully to cope with declining birth rates would seem to be a priority. But, unfortunately, the problem doesn't fit easily into a scheme of ever increasing profits, so discussion is marginalized.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Wed Mar 2nd, 2011 at 06:00:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As for the immolation of the middle class on the bonfire of the economy. Which will be the ruin of our economies, and our societies, if we can't put a stop to it.

I am not of the conspiracy school. The fact that certain categories of people have benefited economically from the way things work, is not positive proof that these people have engineered the system for their own benefit. This would be, at best, a static analysis. The rich-and-powerful in the developed countries are now an identifiable and rather ossified social class; but this is relatively recent, I think. During the glorious decades of rapid economic growth (1950-1980 or so), a functional meritocracy emerged. At the end of this period, the club pretty much stopped accepting new members. So that we now have an ageing, or hereditary, class of rich-and-powerful, predatory rather than entrepreneurial.

An entrepreneur understands instinctively that he has to involve a whole ecosystem in his success. A predator doesn't. The predator class will seek all instruments of power available in order to maintain its dominance, including killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.

We need to manage the decline, no doubt about that. The strangling of the middle class in order to maintain the privilege of the predators is manifestly unsustainable.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Tue Mar 1st, 2011 at 01:01:00 PM EST
I think the theory of catabolic collapse has another perspective to add. Lifted from an interview by Alexander Ac, et. al. with John Michael Greer (emphasis mine):
JMG: Basically, the real short form of catabolic collapse is that society always depends on certain resources from nature, and it uses those resources to produce capital, by which I do not mean money, but built capital, buildings, educated people, all the different things that the society creates to do its work for it. When the resource basis runs short, basically the only source of resource that you still got is that built capital. So the society, when it pushes over into this state of collapse begins catabolising, begins feeding on its own capital. It begins tearing down buildings to get the raw material inside them, it disposes of its labor force, it cuts it down. In America, for example, our education system has gone down. That is basically stripping a piece of social capital, for temporary benefit. And that is how a society turns from a successful civilization with a lot of complex things, to 200 years later, when it is a bunch of ruins with trees growing out of it.

AA: Is the process self-inforcing?

JMG: Very much so. Once it gets under way, the only way you can break it is if you can reach a level, where the resource base, the resources that are coming in the society, are adequate to sustain the society at that level. Ancient China used to go through this all the time. They built up a mass of resources, they overran their resource base and they collapsed back down. But because the Chinese economy ran on a very stable system of agriculture, there was a floor, below which it would not collapse. Once the costs of maintaining the society dropped down to the level that could be supported by each year's rice harvest, you were fine. We do not have that good fortune, because we do not depend on rice, we depend on crude oil and we are using it up, so we could go all the way down to zero.

Expanding on what you wrote, this could all be a war for wealth between different factions on the way down. As we enter decline, the question is what capital gets 'eaten' first, who has to become more 'austere' first, who suffers the sharp stick of decline first?

Another strand of thought is that in a world of limited resources, there will be an inevitable movement towards equilibrium via redistribution of wealth (because of or despite crass asymmetries of wealth). Compare the rates of growth or economic momentum of the emerging countries with those of the OECD. One could argue that the Western middle class doesn't like 'sharing' with the rest of the world just as much as the higher echelons of finance&capital don't like sharing with the middle/under class. There used to be a (pretended?) yearning/sense of global social justice before economic confidence got shattered in the last two or three decades. Back then it was probably easier to pretend.

Another strand: The asymmetries will grow more pronounced - not necessarily a contradiction - inter- and intra-society. I remember reading someone from Africa writing something like "You can't believe the level of injustice and corruption that can become normal." (the new normal?) "For some people there is always money for SUVs and boob jobs."

The large majority will not and cannot think about calamity. With good reason, since the conclusions cannot be good. A hope that decline will somehow lead to more justice is a false romantic one. This is what John Greer calls the Terrible Ambivalence. We will grow and should grow but we can't grow. Hence, "There is no brighter future ahead." Business As Usual or Back To The Land will not provide it.

In light of that, the steps that should be taken to make the economy more resilient - predicament or not - probably won't be taken. Which increases the likelihood of calamity. After all, this could all be wrong-placed hysteria and current problems of overshoot could more or less resolve themselves. Not always in a nice way but in the long-term adequately. Who are we to complain? For we live better lives than all our ancestors. History is tragic and sometimes it demands its pound of flesh before it goes on.

It's not a nice picture.

Schengen is toast!

by epochepoque on Wed Mar 2nd, 2011 at 06:46:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Who are we to complain? For we live better lives than all our ancestors.

Whoa. Citation needed.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Wed Mar 2nd, 2011 at 08:18:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"One could argue that the Western middle class doesn't like 'sharing' with the rest of the world just as much as the higher echelons of finance&capital don't like sharing with the middle/under class."

And argue successfully.

"A hope that decline will somehow lead to more justice is a false romantic one."

Word...

Align culture with our nature. Ot else!

by ormondotvos (ormond.otvosnospamgmialcon) on Fri Mar 4th, 2011 at 10:55:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The most reasonable supporters of austerity in economic message boards seems to think that the Asians are caching us and it will cut our living standard because of resource constraints.
by Jute on Tue Mar 1st, 2011 at 01:41:54 PM EST
Welcome to ET, Jute.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Mar 1st, 2011 at 03:59:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The living standards of the West are too high. They need to be cut, and the surplus shared with the poor.

This is an iron law of justice.

Align culture with our nature. Ot else!

by ormondotvos (ormond.otvosnospamgmialcon) on Fri Mar 4th, 2011 at 10:57:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There are two ways of "knowing" the Limits to Growth thesis.

One is working through the series of books, and the critiques, working out whether the strength of the critiques is analytical or rhetorical/political, coming to the conclusion that we are approaching a massive crash unless we engineer a downsizing (Japan) through to massive downsizing (US) of the ecological footprint per person of each of the high income nations.

The other is reacting to the real world situation as portrayed in the book as it occurs. Since, after all, if the book is accurate about the rough shape of possibilities that face us, even people who "know" that the LTG thesis is hogwash also have to cope with the reality that the LTG analysis portrays.

I believe it is more the second kind of knowing, and the seeming commonality of action is the result of the intersection of the channels for actions laid out in existing social regimes, and the playing out of the early stages of the Limits to (Material) Growth scenarios that we are in because all of the dominant channels of the regime that we have been in point toward rejection of the LTG thesis.

That is, does Bernanke manage decline because under the LTG thesis, managing decline is the way to preserve the status of the tribe of mainstream economists? No, he manages decline because the profound learned incompetence required to be a top flight mainstream economist renders it impossible to  see the existing opportunities for managing success, and he is choosing from a set of possible actions each of which is a variety of managed decline.

That is the point of contact that I know best: I know with a lot of direct personal experience and repeated observation that mainstream economics is totally blind to being able to understand that the Limits to Growth thesis is correct. Mainstream economics does not have a syntax and grammer in which the Limits to Growth thesis can be coherently stated. And so every time they state the LTG thesis in the language of mainstream economics, they end up with a non-viable simulcra with enough surface similarity to pretend that rejecting the simulcra is rejecting the actual thesis.

Even the best of the mainstream economists, people like Dean Baker, when faced with an 8% Demand Deficit, can look around the landscape of an economy consuming 1/4 of the world's oil production while only producing 1/10 of it, with roughly 1/6 of the world's oil production to run our transport system alone ~ and not find anything for the US Government to spend a big chunk of 8% of US GDP on.

And while I don't have an inside baseball knowledge of the Obama administration, the administration strikes me as a "best and brightest" Harvard and Yale and Stanford type of administration, and that implies an equal degree of trained blindness throughout the administration. The "deer in the headlights" look is the problem that opportunities for success lie outside the field of vision of those presumed in terms of status to be the "best and brightest", so peering ahead shows only different ways of failing as far as the nearsighted navigators can see.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Tue Mar 1st, 2011 at 03:05:24 PM EST
Thanks very much, Bruce. It's responses like yours which are the reason I wrote the diary.
It was a real question- an honest request for- thought.
Let me chew on your ideas for a while.

Capitalism searches out the darkest corners of human potential, and mainlines them.
by geezer in Paris (risico at wanadoo(flypoop)fr) on Wed Mar 2nd, 2011 at 10:25:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
OK.
The neurons are up to speed after a nap. Whatever good that will do.
I'm tempted to point out that your "one" and "two" are not at all mutually exclusive, but could easily be sequential, but I know that wasn't where you were aiming. Granted.
Yes, the "channels" do seem to support a "Denial by Heresy" verdict, sentenced to (fail to)deal with the cleanup on an ad-hoc basis.
And yes- if you read my diary, "The best and the brightest" -I think I called it here- you will know I share your view of the limiting nature of deep, committed knowledge in a "field" (as described by Bourdieu) as more of a source of blindness than an aid to vision, if the thing you try to focus on is outside the permitted vocabulary of the field.
I've commented often about that, as in "Krugnered it"-(my newly invented verb for that very event). One could also say, perhaps, "-they came close, but in the end they Bakered the data).
But there remains the "blazing saddles" moment---

"Everybody freeze, or the nigger gets it!"

By devouring the 90%, they insure their own demise.

Why is that, prey tell?  

Capitalism searches out the darkest corners of human potential, and mainlines them.

by geezer in Paris (risico at wanadoo(flypoop)fr) on Wed Mar 2nd, 2011 at 10:54:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
... both very scientistic (scientific appearing, albeit not scientific in fact) with its heavily abused statistics and its arcane mathematical modeling, and very convenient to the status quo under normal conditions.

After all, under normal conditions, helping to understand the dramatic change coming and getting ready for it is not required of social theory ~ under normal conditions, it is far handier to have a strong bias for explaining why those with economic power should be allowed to do whatever they wish to do, by virtue of an economic theory which is blind to economic power.

And the supplanting of economic theory which arrived at inconvenient conclusions and replacing it with economic theory that arrived at more convenient conclusions started long, long before the Limits to Growth was every published, so explaining its continued progress from the 1970's through to today in terms of a reaction to the LTG is less persuasive than explaining it as a continuation of the strategies that accounted for its growing prominence through the 50's and 60's ~ tapping military and business sources of incomes to establish "economic analysis" units in PhD granting institutions which both funded the generation of the next generation of PhD's and also tilted the votes in academic departments in favor of the number crunchers.

A bias in your favor in both generation of new PhD's and hires of new PhD's means that over successive generations you shift the theoretical predisposition of young academics, who do the bulk of the work in peer review, and therefore tilt the degree of difficulty in getting different sorts of work published in the "top" journals.

Now, there was a very deliberate aspect to this, in that both military and business funding for this kind of economic research was a deliberate conservative strategy ~ but it was more a deliberate conservative strategy of the 1950's. By the time that the LTG was published, that channel of development was already entrenched as the status quo.

The fact that as a result economics has reached a cul-de-sac where it has blinded itself to almost all of the most important challenges facing economies in the real world is normal ~ there is no reason to expect development within an academic discipline to be dramatically different from development of "harder" technologies, and in harder technologies, development tends to follow established channels until the opportunities implicit in those channels runs out, and only then are the conditions ripe for more fundamental innovations to take hold and establish new channels with a wealth of unexplored new opportunities.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Wed Mar 2nd, 2011 at 12:20:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"Mainstream economics does not have a syntax and grammar in which the Limits to Growth thesis can be coherently stated."

Is not the current geoeconomic situation tearing down the current syntax and grammar?

Align culture with our nature. Ot else!

by ormondotvos (ormond.otvosnospamgmialcon) on Fri Mar 4th, 2011 at 11:03:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
BruceMcF:
Even the best of the mainstream economists, people like Dean Baker, when faced with an 8% Demand Deficit, can look around the landscape of an economy consuming 1/4 of the world's oil production while only producing 1/10 of it, with roughly 1/6 of the world's oil production to run our transport system alone ~ and not find anything for the US Government to spend a big chunk of 8% of US GDP on.
I was thinking of the problem of the "Government as employer of last resort" or the "job guarantee programme" you yourself have advocated on occasion.

So I look around and I see Spain with over 4 million unemployed (an official rate of more than 20%) and for the life of me I cannot imagine what I would employ 4 million people to do "if I were King"...

Not that I'm the brightest of mainstream economists, but I wouldn't even know where to start in order to manage a "job guarantee" programme on that scale.

So, in what may be my last act of "advising", I'll advise you to cut the jargon. -- My old PhD advisor, to me, 26/2/11

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Mar 2nd, 2011 at 10:56:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You mean to say that there are no jobs for construction workers in upgrading your urban light rail net? That your postal service could not improve performance with greater labour input? That all your streets are swept? That your educational system is redlined so hard that you have no room to re-train people? That your shipyards, steel mills, windmill factories and railways have neither vacant unskilled positions nor skilled vacancies and the ability to perform vocational training?

In that case I am left wondering why, precisely, you would want to increase employment rather than simply paying people a basic living stipend?

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Mar 2nd, 2011 at 11:11:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I suppose you're right.

So, in what may be my last act of "advising", I'll advise you to cut the jargon. -- My old PhD advisor, to me, 26/2/11
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Mar 2nd, 2011 at 11:27:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
yes Jake, and don't forget composting and tree planting!

as for paying them a basic living stipend, good move.

or put 4 million spaniards on half time, so all can work.

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Sat Mar 5th, 2011 at 03:48:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
... for employer of last resort programs, the cost of the wage is not charged to the activity, its charged to the general fund, so the question is, what activities are worth their on-costs?

Between environmental remediation, sustainable infrastructure provision and direct provision of increased social services, all budgeted on the basis of on-costs after labor cost and so strongly biased to be done in as labor intensive a way as practicable, employing 10% to 15% of the workforce with Job Guarantee jobs is do-able.

Of course, once a substantial fraction of the unemployed are provided with Job Guarantee jobs, there will be an increase in private employment as well, so its not as if the Job Guarantee has to employ the entire 20%.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Wed Mar 2nd, 2011 at 12:26:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Under the assumptions by which Mainstream Econmics and the conventional wisdom currently operate, a US mobilization to meet the challenges posed by Germany and Japan in the late 1930s would not have been possible, nor could the Pharaohs have built the pyramids. Political power to organize the productive capabilites of society is at the heart of how societies actually operate, but is totally excluded from consideration in mainstream economic thought, which enforces a strict seperation between economics and the state, while, in the USA, being, de facto, in violation of the establishment of religion prohibition, as their economic orthodoxy has become the established state religion.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Wed Mar 2nd, 2011 at 06:23:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... definitely a declaration of war after the bombing of Pearl Harbor would have had to be delayed in order to first work out if the bond markets would finance an all out war.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Thu Mar 3rd, 2011 at 10:13:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Your point is well taken, as is Bruces'.
The most useful comments for me.
However, I'm  convinced this is only one of the operant processes modulating the "now" we find ourselves in. There's more going on - a lot more.
What passed for mainstream economic thought remains the superficially dominant model. But on a more fundamental level the humiliating collapse of vast sections of it's foundational doctrine has not gone unnoticed. We all know "Mainstream" is staggering.

I did my little tongue-in-cheek briefing to pose a dilemma- one I think is common today and growing more and more common. The dilemma of someone who has at least some of the levers to hand, and who gets it, but who is faced with the vast inertia of vested interests, denialists, predators, and a congress populated largely by manipulative, self-congratulatory dickheads, after a half-century of filtering out the last of the true old-style public servants.
Think Russ Feingold.
Don't know who would be comparable in Europe, but I'm sure they're there.
Whether you credit Obama with the wit to see the elephant isn't the point.

That dilemma occurs everywhere, at a time of paradigm shift, unless you see the "other" as just fools.

Who gets it?
How long ago did the light dawn?
What would be (has been) their possible courses of action?
Once the number of players who have made the transition grows beyond some critical mass, what happens? What's the range of likely outcomes?
Some of this is knowable.

My question was embodied in the title.

Capitalism searches out the darkest corners of human potential, and mainlines them.

by geezer in Paris (risico at wanadoo(flypoop)fr) on Fri Mar 4th, 2011 at 02:02:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sorry, I disagree with the thesis that a managed decline in the standard of living of people with computers is a bad thing. You can fill in the rest.

Align culture with our nature. Ot else!
by ormondotvos (ormond.otvosnospamgmialcon) on Tue Mar 1st, 2011 at 07:05:13 PM EST
Aha, so you support the diversion of resources to maintain the indulgent lifestyle of the top 0.01% while the bottom 90% see their standard of living drop in a managed decline.

Interesting.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Tue Mar 1st, 2011 at 07:23:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Eisenhower-level taxation of the rich is assumed, but there are a lot of poor people.

There are things government, and only government can do.

Defense, infrastructure, freedom, education, health care, should all be basic and guaranteed. Not SUVs, but 50 mile range electric cars, small tight houses, a small amount of electricity, gas, water, education, bandwidth.

Let the rich parade their slightly larger versions, but tax grandiosity.

Veblen was right.

Align culture with our nature. Ot else!

by ormondotvos (ormond.otvosnospamgmialcon) on Fri Mar 4th, 2011 at 11:10:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If it were done equitably (see Bruce above).
But if there is an attempt to manage, it seems more like an attempt to manage the final predation of--everybody else.
That, in itself, is an admission that they see the accuracy of the LTG thesis, and a decision to discard to a miserable death between 60% and 80%% of the human race, along with more than half the extant species.
Piss poor management- even for the .01%
So far, it's suicidal management.
What- do they think they can buy a few islands and hang out till the stench of carrion clears? Perhaps. If so, someone should save the last dozen nukes, just in case.
If Bruce is right, and they CANNOT see it, then the best and the brightest are actually the most dangerous, having superficial credibility, and they have to go, fast. Because there are a lot of less well educated (and perhaps clearer of vision) folks who get it just fine.
That's where I'm coming down.


Capitalism searches out the darkest corners of human potential, and mainlines them.
by geezer in Paris (risico at wanadoo(flypoop)fr) on Wed Mar 2nd, 2011 at 11:14:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
... I argue that its the predatory state, and the appearance of a coordinated managed decline is a consequence of the fact that a predatory state under these conditions will possess a declining economy, which the predators will then attempt to manage.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Wed Mar 2nd, 2011 at 12:29:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That still assumes a monolithic predator class, who are fools.
Their predation-deterioration game is now transparently a downward spiral, and some of them are free of vision enough to see it. Perhaps many.

Capitalism searches out the darkest corners of human potential, and mainlines them.
by geezer in Paris (risico at wanadoo(flypoop)fr) on Fri Mar 4th, 2011 at 02:08:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
"Free to see it" does not, necessarily, translate to "free to act on it." Particularly when the institutions that legitimise their power are themselves in large part legitimised by their failure to act on it.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Fri Mar 4th, 2011 at 02:35:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Indeed.
I think the wit to step out of the circle exists, and has existed all along. FDR is a good example.
Granted, players like him are rare.
As well, for some this would mean that their actions would need to be Sub Rosa.

Capitalism searches out the darkest corners of human potential, and mainlines them.
by geezer in Paris (risico at wanadoo(flypoop)fr) on Fri Mar 4th, 2011 at 05:13:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And you still have Soros, Gates, Buffett.

Align culture with our nature. Ot else!
by ormondotvos (ormond.otvosnospamgmialcon) on Fri Mar 4th, 2011 at 11:12:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
the appearance of a coordinated managed decline is a consequence of the fact that a predatory state under these conditions will possess a declining economy, which the predators will then attempt to manage.

But the predators each have first allegiance to their own interest, second, to the common interests of all who are in the position to be predators. Some may even put the interests of the overall society and ecology above the interests of other predators, if my simile of them being, in effect, a cabal of pirates has validity. This means, with appropriate leadership, many could be turned against each other, just as they have, for so long, turned various segments of society lower on the money pole against one another.  

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sat Mar 5th, 2011 at 10:17:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
the Slovenian philosopher, on the radio this morning. In spite of the handicap of being interviewed by Alain Finkielkraut, he managed to say some very interesting things. In particular, I was struck by his notion that the ecological crisis should lead us to go back to interpreting nature rather than presuming to manage it.

He's just published a book, Vivre la fin des temps. I think I'll buy it. He doesn't believe in the possibility of managed decline, apparently.


It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Sat Mar 5th, 2011 at 04:51:06 PM EST
i saw him interviewed by simon sackur on hardtalk. his hair caught fire a couple of times, he got so passionate, but i liked what he said, definitely on to something.

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty
by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Sat Mar 5th, 2011 at 06:04:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]

Stephen Sackur

"definitely on to something" - is this something you're really sure about ? Any hints as to what it might be ? Since he talks so much I suppose he must be onto something or other sometimes :-)

But:

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Sun Mar 6th, 2011 at 06:36:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]

kolorful karacters dept...

his train does leave the track sometimes, imo, but it's refreshing to see and hear such an extreme pov on the bbc.

if i said i understood 1% of his wiki page, i'd be lying!

:)

the delivery is not yer usual pr smoothie style, he zigzags, but he's thought through his history, and would be provocative company on a long air flight.

now maybe you'll give me the pro breakdown...

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Sun Mar 6th, 2011 at 09:11:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Distribution of (land) resource rents, nationalising money supply, regulating finance are not "leftist" alternatives? What is left?
For a georgist-"hudsonist" (kind of), Zizek is frustating listening. Like he is trying to invent the wheel.
by kjr63 on Tue Mar 8th, 2011 at 04:59:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
IF I interpret him as he intended I see him as basically saying that the process of dialog or dialectic, in Hegel's terms this would be thesis, antithesis and synthesis, has ground to a halt due to the ability of liberal capitalism to marginalize all effective antithesises. This leads to a period of intellectual stagnation, as anything that might provoke significant development of our collective understanding of society is stifled. I think he is right on this and, further, that what remains is not sufficient to stand on its own and will stagnate and collapse, as it were, from its own internal contradictions. The process of wealth concentration into the hands of a very few undercuts the basis of the existing economy and society and sets the stage for a collapse of population levels in which only the strong will survive. Most of the population of the "liberal democracies" will applaud this process right up until it kills them.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Thu Mar 10th, 2011 at 10:58:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And it is obvious that Stephen Sackur is a culture bound twit who is incapable of imagining the realities Zizek has lived and is attempting, over Sackur's unhelpful interruptions, to describe. Sackur or sack off?

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Thu Mar 10th, 2011 at 11:03:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
self-important part-time philosopher.

Thanks for the synthetic take on Zizek, I understand better why I like him (and now I don't need to read the book!) (smilee)

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Fri Mar 11th, 2011 at 10:39:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thank you tolerating me...

He spends most energy in being apologetic or denoundements. Which makes it hard to get his point even to possible sympathizers.

by das monde on Fri Mar 11th, 2011 at 02:53:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]

I was struck by his notion that the ecological crisis should lead us to go back to interpreting nature rather than presuming to manage it."

Why ? It's just a silly play on Marx on philosophers only interpreting the world. Marx was right, the point is to change it - e.g. to one not dominated by rapacious capitalism. But of course to do so intelligently requires interpreting nature carefully, which is what climate scientists, etc. are trying to do. At this stage of technological development we cannot just give up "managing" nature, the issue is how do we do it better. We won't do it by going back before Marx to Hegel and just "interpreting":

Even Lacan is just a tool for me to read Hegel. For me, always it is Hegel, Hegel, Hegel," he says, sighing again. "But people just want the shitty politics."

http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2010/jun/27/slavoj-zizek-living-end-times



Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Sun Mar 6th, 2011 at 06:49:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
this was funny



'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Sun Mar 6th, 2011 at 09:34:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Way too late for that.
Having grabbed the controls away and crashed through a department store window, you can't very well say, "Well, I think I'll quit driving now."

Capitalism searches out the darkest corners of human potential, and mainlines them.
by geezer in Paris (risico at wanadoo(flypoop)fr) on Mon Mar 7th, 2011 at 01:49:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In line with all the comments on a new way of interpreting nature instead of managing it, I'm cheered to report that David Brooks has done an Arianna Huffington and come to the Bright Side.

He's started a new column to explicate social neuroscience developments, in the New York Times (mainstream, anyone?), just appeared for a solid hour on Charlie Rose to tout his new book and new outlook about the need for this here new neuroscience of emotion.

David has discovered "Descartes' Error" finally (and if you haven't, well, get to it). That would be the idea that emotions make decisions, and language rationalizes them. David's positively evangelical about it, and it makes me feel good, because it's been my religion for about ten years now.

Align culture with our nature. Ot else!

by ormondotvos (ormond.otvosnospamgmialcon) on Wed Mar 9th, 2011 at 02:55:12 AM EST


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