Money Talks

Another guest post from Hans Noeldner.

Somewhere along the way, we-the-people seem to have reached a consensus that when it comes to allocating natural resources, money should do the talking. In fact many true believers contend money is the only legitimate communicator.

“How much oil should I be able to burn? Every barrel I can afford.”

“How big a house – how many houses – should I be able to buy? Just as many as I can afford.”

“How much CO2 should I be able to emit? Not one damned molecule less than I can afford.”

“And if I want to burn and buy and emit more, then acquiring more money naturally gives me the right to do so.”
If our economy fails to charge us the “true cost” of denying future generations the fossil energy they might need to feed themselves 50 years hence; if our economy suffocates vast swathes of bio-productive land beneath highways and parking lots for our Happy Motoring convenience, if our economy fails to extract “flood money” from us to recompense millions of coastal dwellers for the loss of their ancestral homelands beneath rising oceans; well…perhaps the solution is to internalize those costs somehow.

Tellingly, the specific methods politicians might use to sneak such price-boosting tariffs past hyper-vigilant business interests and an unsupportive consuming public are seldom explained. But in any case it is deemed essential that we remember the distribution of natural resources is not – and cannot be – a “moral” issue.

We do not challenge Billy Fourwheeler to find ways to amuse himself that require no fossil fuel. We do not warn Mr. Manor that monuments to covetousness make us worse rather than better human beings. We do not broach carbon footprints when family members or friends return from their flight to Park City to play on world-class ski slopes.

If the unenlightened masses are to wake up, then prices must serve as alarm clocks. As despite the fact that major gasoline price increases (from less than $2 a few years ago to more than $3 today) have failed to put any appreciable dent in our consumption, again and again we are reassured that, “When gas prices go up, (other) people will conserve.”

It would be an understatement to say that our plutocratic caste is particularly fond of the fiscally-based resource entitlements program. Millionaires and billionaires overwhelmingly prefer a system of governance which represents dollars rather than souls, and quite naturally $10 gas and $4000 airline tickets won’t crimp the style of any self-respecting Washington insider or Fortune 500 CEO (in fact chauffeured motoring and flying might become pleasant again without the rabble clogging highways, airports, and flight paths).

When confronted by the abject failures of the market system to distribute Earth’s finite bounties to the most needy, or to restrain present consumption so some essential resources are left for future generations, the “money talks” faithful often counter with the bizarre contention that burning up Nature’s one-time gifts as fast as possible may be the best way to deal with them – a kind of wild-west “bring it on” bravado. True believers do not trouble themselves with niggling trifles like entropy; they harbor unshakeable faith that a scarcity of resource “x” will inevitably spur The Market to develop an even better substitute in the form of “y”.

If pressed on the central matter of usable energy, the economic cornucopians will usually point to the transitions from wood to coal and thence oil and natural gas as incontrovertible proof that the process can continue ad infinitum. But despite billions spent on research into petroleum alternatives over many decades, we have uncovered no evidence that any practical “new” form of energy will ever approach the abundance and convenience of petroleum.

Oil once offered a rate of energy-return-on-energy-invested exceeding 100-to-1. Now we lavish billions on subsidies for corn ethanol which yields at best 1.7 units of alcohol energy for every unit of invested natural gas, diesel, and coal. Now we rip off whole mountaintops to expose seams of low-quality coal, and claw even more savage scars into Earth’s living skin to extract the dilute tar sands of Alberta, in the process burning about one unit of high quality natural gas to produce two or three units of low-quality crude.

The combination of our economic paradigm with our willful ignorance of finite realities is a curse upon future generations. Treacherous slopes lie beyond the extraction peaks for all of our major energy resources, but we-the-people have not begun to assemble the ropes and belays we will need to descend them securely rather than tumbling into catastrophe. And so long as we remain silent and allow money to do the talking, we never will.

Proposed remedies like cap and trade, taxation, etc. are based upon the idea that the market will optimally distribute resources while simultaneously cut oil consumption or some other fossil fuel resource. It is a model drilled into us by our society and especially by our economics courses and professors. But as you are suggesting, these proposals will also perpetuate and perhaps even extend the advantages that the rich have over the less rich and the poor.

But, really, what is the goal? These remedies are proposed because politicians are afraid to do what they really need to do, simply ban certain activities. Instead of banning certain size homes, for example, we see proposals to charge extra carbon taxes for houses over a certain size. We just try to discourage behavior, but are afraid to come out and just say certain behavior is wrong. We talk about gas taxes to discourage consumption; but wouldn't it more efficient to simply ration that gas? Our demand for gas is so inelastic, no one really knows what it is going to take to make a dent in consumption.

But really. Our situation is much worse. We simply wait for the market to do its "magic". Waiting, waiting, waiting, until the resources run out and the planet burns.

But yeh, money rules and creating scarcity will make the rich feel even more privileged and the poor even less privileged. And that is the way of the world. As in the film network, we are not permitted to mess with the primal forces of nature.

Btw, I saw Network last night, the first time in thirty years. Highly recommended.

A simple question I often consider is who is a better true environmentalist:

A. A poor person who doesn't think about environmentalism in their actions
B. A wealthy person who is a strong environmentalist and tries very hard to be environmentally friendly.

I've done a little research on this and through a few questions about what people eat, where they live, how far they commute to work, where they go on vacations, etc. I have to say that Person A almost always has lower carbon emissions than Person B. And it's not even close.

The other major driver is where people live - people who live in small towns or large cities do a lot better than folks that live in the suburbs or even rural areas.

Glenn -- I strongly agree that most "poor" people have a smaller ecological footprint, whether they know it or not, whether they care or not.

We relatively wealthy ones not only breathe and consume food and water like the poor, but our power plants and cars and the huge infrastructure we require inhales an enormous amount of oxygen and exhales a huge amount of waste.

The infrastucture that we relatively wealthy folks require for our "normal" lives soaks up resources and spews out toxins so that each one of us is a large behemoth roaming the earth with consequences we have not been much aware of until lately.

It would be interesting to show the relative environmental impact of those we consider to be "poor" with the "top" 20%, "top" 5% and then the "top" 1%.

One person living sustainably could be seen as 1 standard unit of measure. A poor person might consume/slough off more or less than this, depending. But then what about the people who are "middle class" or "upper class" or "very rich"?

It is a worthwhile point to ponder.

There's more to environmental protection than carbon emissions, though. Wholesale destruction of habitats, slaughter of various species (sometimes just for sport or boredom, like destruction of the passenger pigeon), overuse of soil - that is also a consequence of poverty).

You are still probably right, but there's more to consider. What I hope for is not a return to the past, but a future with a declining human population, but one living in better situations with more space and resources for the rest of life on this planet.

Our population needs to decline. That's the bottom line.

What a lot of rubbish. Non market solutions to inequality and perceived misuse of resources have been tried many times with little success. Check out all the the socialist failures of the 20th century. Those who think they know better than the market are delusional, especially if they think imposing their ideas on the unwilling will improve the situation.

Just cheap opinion here, with no citations. Cuba seems to be doing quite well, thanks primarily to its isolation from global corporatism, and will probably pass the peak oil test with high marks ... if it can survive climate change impacts. The USSR and its satellite states were never socialist prototypes.

Cuba isn't isolated, far from it. Tourism is one, but they also get a lot of their technology from the West. The only truly isolated country is North Korea. And we can see what socialism does there.

If the USSR was never a socialist prototype, then that begs the question what was it? They certainly thought they were the epitome of socialism.

Richard Wakefield

A socialist or communist state requires the power to reside with the people (ie., democracy, or some similar form), and wealth to be distributed according to need.

The USSR horribly failed the democracy test.

I think that using "socialism" as a catch-all for authoritarianism is intellectually dishonest. Saying North Korea is pure socialism has just as much ground as saying Zimbabwe is pure capitalism. It's not because a dictator claims to be serving the greater good, the will of the nation, democracy, socialism, captilism or whatever that that is also true.

If the USSR was never a socialist prototype, then that begs the question what was it? They certainly thought they were the epitome of socialism.

Personally I do not like the world ‘socialism’ because it is so heavily freighted with propaganda that people cannot think about the underlying phenomena objectively. I prefer the phrase ‘democratic, cooperative economic production’. Clearly the USSR was not an example of such a system. Soviet communism was an economic and political system created by sadistic, autocratic ideologues and imposed by force of terror on a culture with no tradition of democratic institutions. Furthermore, the USSR was fully committed to economic growth and to short term exploitation resources in the pursuit of power and wealth, though admittedly they were much less efficient at this process than we were.

One could have argued that the failure of the democratic Greek city states and the failure of the Roman republic constituted definitive proof that democratic institutions are inconsistent with human nature and should be relegated to the scrap heap of history with greater force of reason than arguing that the failure of the Soviet Union constitutes proof that democratic, cooperative economic production is a practical impossibility. If your intuition tells you than such a form of social organization is inconsistent with human nature I certainly cannot disprove your intuition, but you really need to come up with better supporting reasons for it than the fall of the USSR.

Personally, I find the communism vs. capitalism debate to be somewhat beside the point. We are all heavily dependent on the community in which we live. If Bill Gates along with a mountain of gold bars were transported to an uninhabited world then Bill would be rich no longer. The only true source of wealth is a healthy functioning community. All so called ‘stores of value’ are merely claims against the output of the community. If explicitly recognizing this fact is ‘communism’ the communism is merely common sense.

On the other hand if we are to have any production enterprises above the scale of cottage industries then some method must found of capitalizing such production enterprises. The craft guilds of the middle ages were capitalized industries. The question is whether the current system for investing in production infrastructure, which I call private finance capitalism to distinguish it from capitalism in a more general sense, can function effectively in a world in which production is being limited by the availability of resources. I believe that the clear answer to this question is “no”. The only effective way to deal with resource depletion is to voluntarily limit consumption. In the current economic system limiting consumption would lead to a huge economic depression and massive unemployment. This reality is a fundamental structural defect of private finance capitalism which must be fixed if we have any hope of creating a humane, democratic society in the long term. If it is really true that our only choices are Wall Street or the Politburo, then I fear that the Politburo is our future.

This reality is a fundamental structural defect of private finance capitalism which must be fixed if we have any hope of creating a humane, democratic society in the long term. If it is really true that our only choices are Wall Street or the Politburo, then I fear that the Politburo is our future.

And who gets to be those elitist people who control the lives of everyone else? What right do they have to dictate to everyone else how to live? How do you stop them from becoming corrupt? And is their authority enforced through force? Death camps, slave camps? Anyone who disagrees with the system must be "punished"?

Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Richard Wakefield

Why do you think those elites would be any different people than the ones we are dealing with in the U.S. today?

You have completely misunderstood the intention of my post. It is you who are insisting on the absolute dichotomy between autocratic control freaks and the supposed absolute freedom of private finance capitalism. My statement about making a choice between Wall Street and the Politburo was intended as irony. I believe other possibilities exist. If they do not then let civilization burn. I would rather return to village style tribalism rather than live under a system of serfdom as either a slave or a master.

I see no reason why a choice to limit consumption cannot be made in a democratic manner. You and I both know that a single person commuting to work in a 3 ton pickup truck is an incredibly bad idea. That reason we do not ban such behavior is not because the hearts of U.S. lawmakers bleed for the potential psychological suffering of people who have to give up their beloved 400hp monsters; It's because banning such sales would hurt American car manufacturers and eliminate jobs in the automobile industry. Such concerns are very real within the context of the economy as it now exists, but there is no reason for this context to be continued forever. In a world of declining fossil fuel supplies banning the production and sales of such vehicles will collectively enrich us, and the people who voluntarily give up such destructive activities should be supported by the community until they can find new jobs. Instead of clinging to an economic system whose raison d'etre is to increase the total volume of economic transactions as rapidly as possible, we need to create an economic system which seeks to carry out only those economic transactions which support a decent quality of life. We need an economic system which emphasizes the creation of stable community wealth and mutual support rather than the competitive accumulation of private wealth. I do not see why we need autocratic elites to impose such a system by force. All we need is the intelligence to understand that we are members of a mutually dependent community and to act in accordance with this understanding.

Good posts. I agree with everything you say. The million dollar question is how do we get there from here? And thinking about that brings to mind a point which I think may be relevant.
To what extent are our problems the result of the decoupling of capital from social responsibility? Or perhaps they have never been together but need merging. But I have money in a mutual fund with no knowledge of how that money is being used. This can't be good. If I had it invested in a local business I would be more likely to know whether that business and my money were a good thing or bad thing for the community. Obviously the argument against this is rate of return but it seems this would provide at least some check on greed.

The question of how to get from here to there is key question, but is almost unanswerable at the present time. I see very little chance of a rational turning back from the path we are on in the near term. Only when it becomes clear to a majority of the population that middleclass security is disappearing from the face of the earth will a political space open up for genuine institutional change. Even then the path of change will be difficult and tumultuous. I suspect our future will be decided in the streets (a la Argentina or Bolivia) rather than at the ballot box.

As for socially responsible investing, my view is that in the future the only way to earn money should be by working for it. The phenomenon of money earning money needs to disappear from the face of the earth. Of course we will still need to invest in manufacturing infrastructure, but this investing should be done by the community. The return on that investment will be the goods and services produced. Your salary is the return on your investment of labor. Money can increase in value only if the overall productivity of the economy is increasing. Although in some instances the productivity of a particular community may increase, there is no reason to allow large private accumulations of wealth to result from that increase. And, in general, in a post growth world increasing productivity will not be a rule governing all communities at all times. Financial investment will become a relic of the past although saving will still exist.

My statement about making a choice between Wall Street and the Politburo was intended as irony.

Ah, sorry. Now I see. Difficult at times to get such subtleness in a forum.

I would rather return to village style tribalism rather than live under a system of serfdom as either a slave or a master.

As is my position.

In a world of declining fossil fuel supplies banning the production and sales of such vehicles will collectively enrich us, and the people who voluntarily give up such destructive activities should be supported by the community until they can find new jobs.

And that is the Big Unknown. It all depends if governments can have control over the collapse. I don't think it will be possible, but they will try (and fail). Chaos is going to rule, and rationings will be imposed. It will be a whole new era.

Richard Wakefield

It all depends if governments can have control over the collapse. I don't think it will be possible, but they will try (and fail).

It’s not really a question of what governments are going to try to do; It’s a question of what you and I are going to do. Governments will try to preserve the status quo for as long as possible even though doing so will destroy the middle class. When a majority of the population realizes that middle class security is disappearing from the world then the real fun will begin. The transformation that follows will indeed be chaotic, but a new order will come into being only as a result of people rolling up their sleeves and doing the hard work of creating it. The era of being passive consumers is coming to an end. You had better decides what it is that you really believe in and be prepared to go to the streets to promote and defend it.

Richard Wakefield,

Nicaragua has been peachy under capitalism?

As far as what the USSR was,Richard Wakefield, from the beginning it was a beleaguered political state, beleagured mainly at instigation of The US and England, two lovely just so socially conscious states.

It was also, Richard Wakefield, the state that saved your ass from German world domination so that bare bum of yours could be chewed to shreds by Capitalist bankers and an elite-run Greenspan with a prime loan to sell you. And that is just a bit of icing on the cake called America, the beautiful capitalist state. Fauugh!

Take a look at what capitalism has done for you and your country Richard Wakefield. A country that lives on burgers and styles its life after such models as Paris Hilton, has 1 in 31 citizens in the slammer, doesn't keep treaties, treats other nations and their people like disposable ass wipe. Cuba Nicaragua Vietnam Irag Afghanistan and even little weensey Granada a withering trail of capitalist bloodletting. Don't talk to me about the mote in a failed Socialisms eye, tell me about how well your country and the world fare with that beam capitalism in yours.

I would rather have the failings, and ultimate demise, of capitalism than to have lived under the thumb of dictatorial thugs who out right killed millions in the name of the state.

Richard Wakefield

So you are emigrating to Russia Richard Wakefield?

Why would I do that? Seems to me those who should move are the ones who live in a system of society that they absolutely hate.

Richard Wakefield

Instead the states that kill more clandestinely are the choice?

It's not much of a good choice either way, really.

You forgot to mention how well the capitalist system in the wonderful US of A provides THE BEST HEALTH CARE SYSTEM IN THE WORLD to ALL of its citizens. "US Citizens without Health Insurance Climbed to 46 Million in 2005"

And it was that great and wonderful capitalist system that has created the great advances in healthcare in the world. It's so easy to attack a system you don't like, but at the same time ignore the great things it has done for society. How many people in the world have had their lives saved because of our healthcare knowledge and equipment?

Richard Wakefield

Are you sure that the advances you praise were brought about by the system we have now which often works to limit access to knowledge; which patents and licenses protocols? The people, not a system, who brought about those advances worked to promote the development and expansion of public health services. Our current system of for profit medicine has been working to reduce the available services.

Well, we can't turn back the clock and see can we. One has to look at the countries around the world and ask: "which ones have the best medical system, and who invented it?" Was it the Chinese? No. Was it the Russians during the USSR? No. So who? Gee, seems it was the free capitalist systems that have had the greatest advances in medicine (and science). Just because your country does not dish out that medical advancement equaly does not mean the system to invent it is wrong. We have "universal" health care here in Canada, "free" to all. Except the cost to governments swamps everything else. In Ontario the cost of our free healthcare system is 45% of all government expences put together and growing at 11% per year.

Nothing is free.

Richard Wakefield

Sorry Richard, this system is seriously broken in so many ways. I will not deny that many have benefited from science and technology that was developed under capitalistic systems.
However what we have now is a perversion. Let me be very clear, I believe that framing this debate in terms of Capitalism vs Socialism or even worse Communism serves no useful purpose whatsoever. Non of these systems are capable of providing the basis for solving any of our global social (no pun intended)crisis. We need a major paradigm shift. Not that I'm expecting to see one happen anytime soon, at least not in the USA. What exactly is so great about all that technology if 40 million plus of our own citizens not only do not have access to the best of it but don't even have access to the most primitive and basic health care. You are right, I do not like the system and I don't understand the arguments in favor of it.


Both the soviet system and our US system suck. The Soviet Empire is gone but coming back in another form, and the other, the US Empire, is in decline, politically, economically, democratically, and almost by any other way you can measure. The dollar has even recently been devalued 5% here against the local currency, and I fear the fall is only beginning.

I live in a quasi socialist system. We have good cheap health care. We have good schools and inexpensive universities. Cheap clean electricity. Price controls on some items. Wage controls (enforced minimums mostly for every profession). Unions. I look at it as capitalism with a human face. There are some things I don't like, but my family and I are much happier here than we were in the US. This last stupid war was the straw that broke the camel's back for us. I want no more of my money going to the military industrial complex, feeding the US addiction to war.

If you saw Sicko, you would have noticed that that Costa Rican health care quality came in rated 35th, the US 36th, in the world. (You are number one in health care cost though.) We have doctors here that have been trained in Cuba as do Nicaragua and other Central American republics. The first country in the hemisphere to provide assistance after any natural disaster or major hurricane (they offered it to us after Katrina) is Cuba. In much of the Third World, they are the heroes, and they do it largely for free, whereas our disaster capitalism, like our aid to Nica after Hurricane Mitch, comes with major strings attached, mostly leading back to large multi-nationals and Wall Street.


What does Cuba import ? Most of its Calories

The grain imports never stopped.

Right on! How dare this pip squeak slander our god.

Agreed. And the reason is simple. The very thing that makes the market system not work, in this regard, -- fear, greed and power -- is more expressed in socialist systems where the very few control the vast majority of masses by fear. They lavish themselves on the very things that is denied to the masses. Besides, the great socialist governments have had the worst environmental record.

The problem with the scenario in this article is that we live in a free society. As long as we have a free society you can't just enact by decree laws that curb that freedom. Those who do get voted out. Our system is self reenforcing towards the "gluttonous" society we have become.

The only way to change the system is to change the belief system of the masses. Just like we now have a different belief system for smoking, for example, we need a new belief system on the use of our planet for our own survival. Not laws, but a mind set change on mass. That can only happen with education of our children.

If we really wanted to change that mindset, we should have done it after WWII. Then we would have had the ability to manager our natural resources more. But now it's too late. There are just far too many people who will not wish to give up any of their lifestyle unless forced to by circumstances.

Maybe in the Post Carbon Era, once humanity has had a huge awakening due to it's collapse, will there be a chance that such mind sets emerge. But I'm not counting on that either. I see a major stumbling block to this -- religion, which you can almost guarantee will become more radical once things start to fall apart.

Richard Wakefield

Gotta run, but -- this is not an arguement about capitalism vs communism vs socialism.

At root, it is a discussion about economics rooted in superstition and the old divine right of kings versus economics rooted in an understanding of our place withijn our larger environment.

Well, my family calls -- so I must run!

That's my place today!

I beg to differ. Economic policies of any kind, including how the economy interacts with the environment and the Earth's resources, is completely political, and determined from political policies (our laws). You can't separate the two.

The only way you can make the article's system work is to have a completely new political paradigm. Nothing that has existed before. A form of capitalism, democracy, socialism and control all wrapped up in a new system that is stable. And that's the key. It has to be politically stable. And the only way that can happen is if the masses have a fundamental shift in worldview. This would mean rejecting a lot of sacred cows, in particular all religions, but also the emotions that run the market place. Fear and greed. It would also have to eliminate the quest for power of political office. Political office should be a “someone has to do it” view, not one that must be attained at all cost.

Since these are all so well established in the mindset of the masses, the only way I can see it changing is if civilization gets one hellova kick in the ass from this planet. But since that has happened before, and we never learned from history, I'm not holding my breath we will ever succeed. Humanity will always go from crisis to crisis as it always has.

Richard Wakefield

how the economy interacts with the environment and the Earth's resources, is completely political

Good point. I wouldn't go to extremes and call it "completely" political.

As with most good lies, there are some sprinklings of truth within the theories of economics.

We will always have "money" of some sort as a means of assigning "value" to the goods, services and people around us. The question is, what value?

It is there that our political systems have failed us. We end up valuing the wrong things. We end up not "accounting" for the damage we do to ourselves and our surroundings.

The main thing that is free in US-style "free markets" is the cost of externalities to those that generate them. Until that changes, the system is utterly indefensible from a moral, political, or even economic perspective.

And yes, communism was just as bad about externalities, per my post above. Instead of arguing about how much better it is to eat arsenic than cyanide, how about finding a more life-sustaining dish?

Read Odland's dissertation and CV:

We need nonmarket intervention if there is to be any hope.

I agree with the post of practical.

If you remember that when the USSR collapsed economically, Gorbachev was at his seaside villa, enjoying his privileged position. Instead of gaining the power to consume more than average by economic success, he had gained it from the barrel of a gun.

What Glenn is advocating is using force on people to allocate resources, instead of using a system of voluntarily trading value for value; slavery instead of freedom.

Underlying his thesis is not an assumed right to life, but a nonexistent right to be taken care of. The right to life does not guarantee successful in living that life nor does it mean that you have a right to force others to see to it that you get your perceived equal share of what others have discovered or produced.

If you read the Discovery of Freedom by Rose Wilder Lane (the real life daughter is Little House on the Prairie) you will see a history of the world where periods of freedom produced the most human advance and the most natural distribution of wealth (bell curved) while periods of slavery produced considerable human suffering and a skewed distribution of wealth in favor of those in power (and poverty for the majority).

I suspect that as the terrible future arrives we will hear more and more calls like Glenn's for government to further intervene in our lives with force. Should these calls be headed the level of human suffering will only increase, and the dieoff will be even larger. For example, already we have been impoverished to some degree by government involvement in the energy markets (ethanol subsidies) which has made it marginally more difficult for individuals to afford their own solution.

The "freedom" meme has so completely supplanted critical thinking that discussion about any issue that requires restraint on the part of the people is shut-off.

This bumper-sticker mentality that screams, "We need freedom over planetary health, over our health, over every other creature's health," will inevitably cause the enslavement of the population in more easily seen ways -- and all of it coming in the not too distant future.

The right wing does not want you to see that their agenda does not include 99.9999999 percent of the population. They do not want you to see that their every action is designed to limit your freedom to the choice between planet-wrecking product "A" and planet-wrecking product "B." The right wing is the party of the uncaring rich. Their interests lie in lowering wages, reducing or eliminating health care, gutting environmental regulations, reducing safety rules, dumbing down education and limiting it. All in the name of the god "CAPITALISM." They quite frankly hate you.

How do you keep that image from entering the minds of Joe and Jane Sixpack? Cause if they suddenly realized that they have been bent over without lube since Ronald Reagan, they would start voting for people who actually cared about them and the country and the environment.

To get rich, stay rich and get richer without caring, you only need to promise that anyone can be rich. This is the great lottery ticket scam. How many of you people would buy a lottery ticket absolutely expecting to become a millionaire? Yet millions of Americans believe that they can hit the capitalism lottery and play every day, paying through the loss of dignity, health, and environment. As one person noted, the lottery is the stupid tax. The Neo Cons (and "CON" is the right word) have spent the better part of 25 years rewording and retasking the word sets that describe reality. They have convinced the slaves that they are better off with chains, that they are better off sick, broke, ill-housed, racked with violent neighborhoods, poorly educated, and working as many hours as humanly possible. They have convinced them not only of that but that they should help to attach the chains and weld them on. The average Joe will defend to the death his right to live a crappy life in the one in a billion billion trillion chance that he will suddenly develop the intelligence to create that one in a billion product that will enrich them beyond caring just like their jailers.

So, to prevent the loss of economic power you offer the faked-up power of "freedom®." So, if society at large asks you to sacrifice your AssHauler 2000 Bloatmobile in order to not kill everyone off, you scream, "FREEDOM®!!!"

If society asks you to contribute to the everyone's health, rather than just your own, you yodel, "FREEDOM®!!!!"

And, of course, everyone says, "But what's wrong with freedom?" Well, nothing.

But it must be limited. If your freedom causes me to die, then it must be limited. You do not have the freedom to pipe carbon monoxide into your neighbor's home. Why should you have to freedom to pipe carbon monoxide into everyone's home, namely the planet earth?

Capitalism cannot exist without growth. We cannot exist if it continues to grow. One of us has to go.

Your choice: all of the planet's biota (including us) or an abstraction designed to kill us and enrich a few.

Bravo sir! I am amazed that there are still people out there who can see past what they've been fed since their birth. It really is absolutely incredible how many "educated people", even on this site, cling to the idea of "freedom" and their right to "get rich, or die trying". I think it's based off of a very primitive drive that tells them they are better than everyone at everything, and it is simply inevitable that they get rich (win the lottery).

What a perfect system! You really have to respect Capitalist governments; when the slave WANTS to be enslaved, then by God Alan Greenspan can re-iterate a hundred times over that Iraq was about Oil, and only Oil, and nobody would even care!

The right wing does not want you to see that their agenda does not include 99.9999999 percent of the population. They do not want you to see that their every action is designed to limit your freedom to the choice between planet-wrecking product "A" and planet-wrecking product "B." The right wing is the party of the uncaring rich. Their interests lie in lowering wages, reducing or eliminating health care, gutting environmental regulations, reducing safety rules, dumbing down education and limiting it. All in the name of the god "CAPITALISM." They quite frankly hate you.

Wow, what a politically charged statement of opinion. The whole point of a capitalist system, at its core, is that ANYONE has the ability to ascend in our society. For practical reasons, sure that does not always occur, but the core of freedom is just that. Everyone is free to fulfill their dreams.

You are confusing freedom with laws. We have laws so that those who abuse our freedom get punished.

You say one or the other has to go. Fine, but what do you propose as a replacement for capitalism that will work?

Richard Wakefield

You are confusing freedom with reality. As population density increases, then by definition, each individual person's freedom decreases. I really want you to ask yourself what "freedom" means to you.

Simple. To live my life as I want to. To do the job I want. To get the education I want. To be able to pursue any activity I want. If I want to get rich, that's my right in a free society. If I want to donate to a cause, any cause I want, that is my right in a free society. You can't have human rights without freedom.

Who are you to take way my rights and freedoms?

Richard Wakefield


"Who are you to take way my rights and freedoms?"

As a person by definition you have basic rights, no argument there.

"If I want to get rich, that's my right in a free society."

That is a highly questionable statement if by doing so you are using more than your fair share of the resources of the commons.

To live my life as I want to. ... To get the education I want.

That's funny.
And how was it decided what you "want"?

You actually had no free will.
Your parents decided what language you would speak.
Your parents decided what religion you would follow.
Your parents decided what school you would attend.

And after you had been indoctrinated into all that, they set you "free".

"I'm free to be anything I want to be."

Golly Jrwakefield,

I don't want to take away your rights and freedoms, merely to remove your license and yes even unto your driver's licentiousness.

BTW I believe the Greeks in Athens based their democracy on obligations of the citizens to that state rather than the Life Liberty pursuit of Happiness 'rights' driven constitution of the USA where as far as I can see no obligations are mentioned at all. But then I think the fathers of the constitution did not have the proles in mind when they were busy defeathering the goose to write that Disney World rag waving patriot(sucker) fodder.

An interesting set of criterion. Now I will ask you, how free are you to do each of those things in the USA? What I'm trying to get at is the illusion of freedom. You may actually think you are free to do these things, but you never include the little clauses that end up being the deal-breakers. For example, how much does post-secondary education at MIT or Harvard cost? Truly examine your degree of freedom...and you will be startled I think...

If you want to understand what it truly means to be free, ask those who were liberated during WWII in France, Holland, Belgium, The Philipines, etc.

My father was part of the liberation of Holland, he saw on the faces of those people what freedom meant to them.

In the times of today we forget what it really means to be free.

Richard Wakefield

what it really means to be free.

My parents are Holocaust survivors.
I kind of grok where you're coming from.

There are different degrees of "freedom":

1. Free from worrying 24/7 about whether you're going to be shot in the head because the commandant "feels like it" today.

2. Free from worrying 24/7 about whether you're going to have food to eat in the next 72 hours.

3. Free from worrying 24/7 about whether you're going to have shelter from climate in the next 72 hours.

4. Free from worrying 24/7 about whether your loved ones will be killed or become ill (fatal) today.


50. Free from worrying whether someone will dictate to you what job you are going to do in order to earn your keep and thereby obtain food, shelter, medical care and the nonnegotiable other necessities of the good life.

No, the point of the system is that those who have ascended have an unlimited ability to use their wealth to shut the doors behind them.

It doesn't happen all at once. It was happening in the old slave south, as wealth calcified in the older slave states, and would-be entrepreneurs moved to Mississippi and Texas to start the whole rotten process up again, until the most entreprenerial slaveowners could cash in their wealth for high office (Jefferson Davis) or command of military units (Gen. Bedford-Forrest). If they had won, their worthless brain-dead children would have inherited those offices and powers, just as the worthless brain-dead stepchildren of Washington and Jefferson inherited status in Virginia long before.

Ditto, the Gilded Age, the tale of the Rockefellers.

Instead, a POLITICAL intervention crushed their progress for a while. But that requires a political movement that questions the "naturalness" of property, whether it be slaves or industrial trusts. Both the slaveowners and robber barons controlled their conservative masses so successfully that they controlled the law itself. It took a calamity for those movements to succeed, and civil war in the first case, and a near-class revolution in the second case.

All this happened in the simple olive-growing economy of Athens in the 6th Century BC, leading to a revolution and the first democratic government. After the fall of Rome merit consisted of talent at beheading people from horseback, and entrepreneurship consisted of selling that talent to get a castle. But though it took over 1000 years that system fell to radicals.

What has been edited out of our understanding of world history is that property owners have always gone from entrepreneurs to barons and then faced mass violence. If you want to repeat the process one more time, fine, I've got the gun, but it's getting awful tiresome.

For practical reasons, sure that does not always occur,

No kidding?....I think what you are reaching for is not democracy or freedom for all, but a meritocracy and freedom for the gifted or those who in fortune have been allowed an education or other advantage.

The watch words of the socialists are 'From each according to their abilities too each according to their needs' simple and not too shabby I would say, at least not as shabby as that rather hackneyed crap about life liberty and the pursuit of happiness, real Disneyesque butterflys and big eyed doggy stuff that, keep the proles in line and saluting the rag while we pick their pockets, eh Uncle Sam.

BTW.... Economy , dictionary definition:
1. thrifty management; frugality in the expenditure or consumption of money, materials, etc.


1. given to seizing for plunder or the satisfaction of greed.
2. inordinately greedy; predatory; extortionate: a rapacious disposition.

Go figure which is the better definition of capitalism:)

I would say we have a 'rapaciousness' rather than an 'economy'.

The whole point of a capitalist system, at its core, is that ANYONE has the ability to ascend in our society.

The whole point of capitalism is to have a few top dogs who dispose of most of the wealth. The difference with classic oligarchies is that many political entities exist within the framework of one world-economy, rather than uniting many local economies into one empire. This allows for partial failures, since failed states will be taken over by other ones. Also, political movements that would contest the empire now waste their energy contesting a particular political entity within the economic framework. For example, decolonization did not end the subservient status of most of the ex-colonial areas.

Any slave may take the place of the master, but that does not end slavery.

(Capitalism, however, is a historical and diverse phenomenonlike socialism. The free market, like communism, exists mainly as an abstract theoretical construct.)

Maybe we need a few definitions before we start tearing at one another. Freedom is self ownership, not being owned by another or others. In owning one's self, you have the right to the benefits of ownership, including keeping the fruits of one's labor and the right to live one's life as one choses. The only prohibition is that one may not commit acts of aggression against others.

When people see collusion between government and corporate or other special interests in the market place, this is not freedom or free markets, but rigged markets; it seems, however, that people are prone to call this collusion capitalist instead of the fascism or socialism that it really is. To remedy these abuses some foolishly call for an end to free market capitalism when what should be call for is an end to government granting and enforcing privilege in market transactions.

I don't know where this idea that capitalism (the free pursuit of one's life) cannot exist without growth comes from. Consumption is a natural requirement of life; without the drive to acquire food, shelter, self defense, and the like, humans would perish and the species would long ago be a dead end. All capitalism is the pursuit of the necessities of life without the burden of plunder of others. You decide what is necessary for your life and I will decide what is necessary for mine. If I decide that a dozen trips to Disneyworld is of value to my grandchildren and me, what business is that of yours?

Of course free men have an interest in not committing acts of aggression against others and others committing acts of aggression against themselves. The only proper function of government is to act on behalf of each of us against those who will not abide by this principle. Government is force and this force cannot properly be used except to counteract acts of aggression by individuals or groups. What constitutes an act of aggression may be subject to dispute; some things are obvious like murder, armed robbery, rape, and dumping of toxic waste into the water and air. But others are somewhat ill defined like abortion and the contribution to global warming of CO2. Certainly your consuming more than I, or visa versa is not an act of aggression.

I think that perhaps your objection to freedom is misguided and that you will be jumping out of the frying pan into the fire by advocating force be used to impose your view about what people should or should not consume or about what is an act of aggression in regards to the global warming/CO2 theory.

The real issue of our time is that the human species has followed biological dictates in response to the fossil fuel windfall, and as a result has grown to numbers out of balance with nature. The only solution is to reduce those numbers significantly, and barring a Hitler like cleansing, mankind is highly unlikely to achieve this. I am relatively certain that nature will impose her solution in the very near future, which will be a significant increase in the death rate coupled with a significant decrease in the birth rate. Nature's solution is survival of the fittest, with the attendant benefit to the strength of our species, which we may not like on a personal level, but which we should embrace to see the species go on.

Another well said post Henry. Good job. I wonder about those who hate the system so much. It must just gnaw at their very soul to live and have to work within our capitalist free society that they hate so much. Me, I'd move out of a country I did not agree with. But that's just me. Then again, it is because they live in this free society that they can say these things against it and not have the secret police show up at their door, to never been heard from again.

Richard Wakefield

Richard, the old "Love it or leave it", BS is very very tiring, don't you think? As for your arguments, they are not even wrong.

"Then again, it is because they live in this free society that they can say these things against it and not have the secret police show up at their door, to never been heard from again."

Why do I get the impression that you would like to have exactly that to happen to those who hold different views from your own. My gut feeling is that you do not appreciate their freedoms as much as you pretend, even to yourself.

Then you have completely missed my points here, and other threads. I'm not the one calling for people who disagree with me to be banned or to shut up.

I'm all for rational debate, airing things, and goring sacred cows, and above all, questioning authority.

Interest, though how people get a perception of someone just from posting here knowing nothing about anything else about the person.

Richard Wakefield

Ok Richard, I'll take you at your word that I have misunderstood your intent. However statements such as, forgive the paraphrasing here, If you don't like the current system just pack up and move to another country, just really rub me the wrong way. If nothing else, I believe that it is the ultimate cop out of last resort to have such an attitude. It really isn't a very realistic option for the majority of people. Having said that, in my personal case, I have lived in other countries and under other systems so I actually have something to compare with. Furthermore just because someone disagrees with and criticizes a particular aspect of a system does not necessarily follow that one is steeped in hate for said system. Since you don't know me either, let me say in my own defence, that my world view is a bit more subtle and nuanced than that. Cheers!

I believe that it is the ultimate cop out of last resort to have such an attitude. It really isn't a very realistic option for the majority of people.

That maybe, but it certainly is true of the 250,000 per year who immigrate to Canada. If the country they lived in was so much better, then why leave it? You will find the vast majority of those who come here do so because they do not agree with the way of life of their country and want a better one. So that's the preception. Anyone who feels this life here is wrong, and you have the means to leave, then why would you stay?

If I didn't have family, I'd be in Australia. Hate winters.

Richard Wakefield

"If I didn't have family, I'd be in Australia. Hate winters." LOL, to tell you the truth I really don't care about the system, I live about a mile and a half from the beach in Florida and I can scuba dive from my kayak on ancient coral reefs which are about a half mile offshore. I can catch my own fresh fish and lobster. BTW, I've never lived in Canada but I have lived in Buffalo New York that's close enough for me...

No, Henry, "capitalism IS NOT the free pursuit of one's life". Capitalism is an economic system in which the fruits of labour accrue to the owners of capital, not the group, nor the government, nor the military, nor the clergy. I suspect that you and Wakefeld are confused because you don't understand the meaning of the word capitalism. Freedom, is not badly defined as you did, but Freedom, is associated with the political system called anarchy. Capitalism may be the economic system in an anarchy [see for instance Ron Paul's supporters] but it may also be the economic system in a slave state. Capitalism is neutral as to freedom.

I do not agree with what you are saying. Capitalism is both a social and economic system based on individual rights and the related ownership of private property. It is not neutral as to freedom as you claim, but is an integral part of freedom. I am not free just because I can speak my mind without fear of retribution. Indeed, the essence of slavery, the opposite of freedom is for the economic exploitation of humans. I think your definition of capitalism is contorted, and it is you who is confused. Capitalism cannot be an economic system in a slave state as you suggest; this is simply a contradiction of ideas.

Capitalism cannot be an economic system in a slave state as you suggest; this is simply a contradiction
of ideas.

You might want to read The Known World
(Edward P. Jones).

Will, see my previous post to Henry. The Old South [of the USA] was a capitalist society as were the original fourteen colonies and the USA has always followed the principles of the economic system called capitalism. However, slavery was only banished during the civil war, almost ninety years after the Declaration of Independence and two hundred years after the original settlements. So capitalism is consistent with slavery!

Heh. Why do you think today's folks are termed "wage slaves"?

Henry, it doesn't matter whether you agree with me or not. The word capitalism has a dictionary definition and a deep philosophical exposition as to its nature. Check Wikipedia for an introduction.
Just because somebody that you have read has confused capitalism with a political system.

Capitalism is also based on the idea of ownership of resources, that humans have the right to own anything for the sole benefit to humans, to the exclusionary detriment to the the atmosphere and the rest of the ecosystem.

The ideas of capitalism, ownership, and resources couldn't have anything to do with the situation we're currently in, could it? Or, just as mankind was destined to leave the hunter-gatherer lifestyle in favor of civilization, are we just destined to promote civilized inequality and devastation? There are as many people living in poverty on the planet today as there were people living on the planet in total when I was born.

The idea that "anyone" can make it big is distilled, grade A, pure bullshit. The proof is in the pudding. Only a select few can and do make it big, get rich, get famous, get elected, get to be among the chosen.

When you realize that money is only an abstract representation of access to goods and services, that money in and of itself is nearly useless without available things to buy, and people to pay to do things for you, having more money means having more things than people with less money, and having more people follow your orders.

Under capitalism, more money means more access and more power. Capitalism, on a limited planet, by definition will cause wealth inequity through concentration of money and access to resources, reducing resources and access to those with less money, thus reducing their quality of life and "freedom".

Capitalism is not neutral as to freedom, it instead concentrates "freedom" among those who have the most money.

The irony is that after a certain tipping point, having incrementally more money takes away your freedom due to worry, and due to spending the money necessary to manage and protect your money. Worrying about the alarm working, the security company being trustworthy, the cleaning staff, the crashing market, the broker, the greedy family takes a lot of time and money away from the freedom that the money gives you.

I would call this declining FROMI, declining freedom returned on money invested. After a certain point, you don't own your possessions, they own you.

710, just beautiful. I wouldn't add a word.

Actually, in a market composed of many approximately equal buyers and many approximately equal sellers, there really isn't any scope for any individual to "make it big". At best, a few individuals might get a little bit of an edge over the others. Buyers could live a little more frugally, and thus have a few more dollars in their pocket. Sellers could work just a little harder, and maybe have a few more units of production or items of maybe slightly better quality to sell. However, others inevitably get the same idea, so it becomes pretty hard to ride these differentials very far.

That is the classic paradigm for free market economics. It sounds fine in theory. Unfortunately, it hardly ever exists in practice. The mere fact that it is possible for a few (it cannot possibly be everyone, or even a majority) to "make it big" is itself prime evidence that the real market doesn't operate anything like the theoretical construct cited as its justification.

If you consider the market of tribes 10,000 years ago, all looking to domesticate large, plant-eating mammals and engage in agriculture, that market of tribal cultures was approximately equal.

But then the tribes in the Fertile Crescent had access to more energy-dense grains and more domesticated species and gained advantage over other tribes. They capitalized on these advantages, and 10,000 years later the culture of civilization is strangling the planet.

The problem is that in any market with competition, equality will give way to winners and losers. Thus, some species thrive and some eventually go extinct when competing for the same resources.

Don't forget to add that there was huge social class structure then. The very few Rich Elite "gods on earth" and the rest. Don't forget to add that wars were raging over those resources. And what was the cheep source of energy then? Slavery, through conquering neighbours. Something we will likely go back to some time down the road. Anyone here still alive may be wishing for the "good old times" they currently hate.

Richard Wakefield

Capitalism is also based on the idea of ownership of resources, that humans have the right to own anything for the sole benefit to humans, to the exclusionary detriment to the the atmosphere and the rest of the ecosystem.

Hmm, I don't see that in any definition of what capitalism is. Though I do agree that is what it has become. As I have noted before, you are bashing the system but the system is getting abused by irrational humans. The system is sound, it's the abuse of it my people that is the problem.

The ideas of capitalism, ownership, and resources couldn't have anything to do with the situation we're currently in, could it? Or, just as mankind was destined to leave the hunter-gatherer lifestyle in favor of civilization, are we just destined to promote civilized inequality and devastation? There are as many people living in poverty on the planet today as there were people living on the planet in total when I was born.

As I have stated before, social systems and economies have life spans. You are witnessing the end of this one. As when a body becomes old and near death, things stop working properly.

The idea that "anyone" can make it big is distilled, grade A, pure bullshit. The proof is in the pudding. Only a select few can and do make it big, get rich, get famous, get elected, get to be among the chosen.

Interesing, what would you have said about Bill Gates, et al, who made it to the top starting out in their garages from nothing? You are using equipment and software that was born just in that manner. I call it success.

I can't disagree with the rest, as I have seen people who get obsessed with earning more money and willing to do just about anything to get it. Those people have no concept of what life is really about.

Richard Wakefield

The system is sound, it's the abuse of it my people that is the problem.

So we can conclude that the system is not fit for us abusive people?

Furthermore: How to Become As Rich As Bill Gates

No, it means we prosecute the abusers, such as Conrad Black et al. Yes, I know a lot of them get away with their crimes. But that's another issue.

Richard Wakefield

jrw, you had me roaring with laughter on this one!

Bill Gates was born with a silver spoon in his mouth like maybe less than 1% of the people who've ever lived get.

His own dad, known to most as Bill Gates Sr., has enthusiastically supported the estate tax, noting that those who benefit greatly from the happy circumstances of their lives ought not to concentrate the wealth through inheritance, but should spread much of it back to those who altogether gave them such a good go in life.

We can use wisdom like this!

We need more careful thought about so many issues. I find myself throwing away or revising my ideas every day.

Bill Gates' childhood garage was not exactly primitive, nor did Microsoft become what it is today because of whatever happened in that garage -- no matter what PR flacks or corporatist romanticizers may say.

We live in a false reality created by the dominant culture's way of interpreting the great windfall of cheap, plentiful, and reliable energy (and other "resources" like land and water for those of us in Canada and the USA) in a time when even the climate has been pretty easy on our species.

Some in the dominant culture say that "Rags to riches" is a sign of God's favor. Others say it is a sign of hard work or moral righteousness. Quite often, wealth is gained by genocide, slavery, colonial oppression and just plain dumb luck.

In our case in in the USA we've hit the jackpot but tend to attribute it to our blessedness, our work ethic, or our very rational and reasonable approach to life.

We could not be more wrong: genocide, slavery, and colonialism as well as considerable dumb luck play key roles.

Hard work and reason are wonderful, but brutality in drag as religion, noblesse oblige, The White Man's Burden, or patriotism has paid far better so far.

Global climate change, peak oil, and other consequences of our global environmental impact are about to bring about a huge shift related to this.

All the guns and all the propaganda in the world cannot cause the planet to cower or the billions of disenfranchised people to acquiesce.

A new understanding of ourselves as a single species among a living ecological community of species is vital to survival.

In order to prevent extinction by the end of the century or so -- if it can be prevented at all -- we need to save every species that we can.

The fabric of life is terribly shredded -- more terribly than the propaganda czars of corporatist media can admit to themselves, let alone to their paying advertizers.

Check out E. O. Wilson, if you have not already. The science -- about who we are, how we got here, and what our prospects are -- is truly more exciting than any fiction available today.

I did say et al. There have been a number of "nerds" in the 1960's-70's who did do the rags to riches. So too with rock bands (ie the Beatles). Blind luck does play a big role, and that's because the only god that controls the universe is the one called Chaos.

You are looking back through a rear view mirror. You see the past only in today's context. It's unfair to blame the system earlier on because the world view of people back then was totally different.

Slavery in the US, that was brought up before, is a prime example. What was its justification? The deep down justification? Power? Free energy? I don't think so. Those where the excuses used, but the true deep down justification was that the white people, guided by their religion, deemed every other race as inferior and less human. That was the engrained world view of the time.

It's so easy today to see the folly of the past because we are now seeing the ramifications of previous world views. There were very few in the past who would have been able to predict what we are going through today. And those would have been ridiculed as crackpots (we still see this today with PO).

I guess my point is, the system used to work. Capitalism used to work for the most part, especially after WWII. Now there are just too many people, who are in conflict with each other for resources, so we play a blame game. Such blame games often end up in genocide. Thus unless we focus on surviving the coming crash, instead of complaining about a system that is dying anyway, we risk repeating the atrocities of history.

Richard Wakefield

they would start voting for people who actually cared about them and the country and the environment.

That would be fine, if there were actually any such people on the ballot. Unfortunately, what we have to choose from are, in Dmitri Orlov's words, "the Capitalist party, and the OTHER Capitalist party."

You certainly were not thinking of the Democrats, were you? Get ready for a shock: From the perspective of the global political spectrum, the US Democratic Party is a CENTER-RIGHT party!!! The US political spectrum is shifted so far to the extreme right wing that most Americans are totally brainwashed and oblivious to the fact that for all practical purposes, a true left wing does not effectively exist in US politics. A withered and crippled left wing used to exist for part of the 20th century, but it has been all but extinct for decades now.

Henry - this is a guest post from Hans Noeldner. I stated my own opinion in the comments

Good post Henry. I concur.

Richard Wakefield

"...imposing their ideas on the unwilling"

Practical, please explain how The Market would "wisely" allocate things like CO2 emissions and oil consumption WITHOUT POPULAR SUPPORT for caps, rationing, tarrifs, etc.?

And why would 51% of the voting public support ECONOMIC restraints on consumption and emissions if they did not belive in the ETHICAL reasons for sustaining planet Earth?

I am very confident The Market could do a splendid job of allocating these things once there is political support for "enlightened self-restraint".

There is no one in the world more naive than the person who thinks that markets are anything but a way to operate under rules set up by a government.

The only thing that matters are those rules

Check out all the the socialist failures of the 20th century.

Uhhh... which 'socialistic failures' are you referring to? Perhaps Norway, Sweden, Germany? All at least somewhat socialistic and, compared to the USA, having stellar environmental and social records.

All free market capitalist countries too.

What they have is a mix, like we do in Canada. But I'll tell ya from our experience is that we sway back and forth between left leaning and righ leaning governments. Ontario was a Conservative government for 40 years until about 1989 when the NDP (far left socialist) party took control. They subsequently and dramatically raised our taxes, spent the province into a $100 billion debt in 5 years, almost bankrupting the province. That former NDP premier is now a Liberal looking for the top job.

Feberally we had 13 years of Liberal government, whose party is in such disarray all the time as they back stab each other for the top job. They signed Kyoto but then did nothing about it for 10 years so our emissions went up 30% making Kyoto impossible to achive. But they now have the gaul to complain about the current government (Conservative). These Liberals claim to be left leaning, during election campaigns, then promply govern from the right. They fill the pockets of their friends with tax payers money and pull every trick they can to get themselves elected. Hence the new donation rules the Conservatives brought in to prevent buying votes and positions of power.

Such is the state of affairs in the semi-socialist/capitalist country of my home.

Richard Wakefield

your comparing apples to oranges:

Norway has a population of nearly 5 million people, the city of Houston Texas and the greater metroplex around it has more people that Norway, USA has 300 million people, comparitaly speaking, Norway is slightly larger than New Mexico. religion? Norway is 85.7% Church of Norway Pentecostal 1%, Roman Catholic 1%, other Christian 2.4%, Muslim 1.8%, other 8.1% (2004) .

USA is Protestant 52%, Roman Catholic 24%, Mormon 2%, Jewish 1%, Muslim 1%, other 10%, none 10% (2002 est.)

Germany: slighly smaller than Montana, with a population of 82 million, Protestant 34%, Roman Catholic 34%, Muslim 3.7%, unaffiliated or other 28.3%

The USA will be much harder to bring more civility or homogeny to a just cause as in recycling, or powering down on the carbon footprint! point is, the examples you mention are more smaller is size and population than the USA thus they are also more easily controlled/orderly in terms of the way the populations of those nations behave.
The USA is so large and sparse, it can't behave in the same orderly way or fashion as smaller nations, when trying to move us sheeple around in the USA is more akin to trying to herd cats.

My point was that it is ridiculous to demonize 'socialism' since these partially socialistic countries do quite well by comparison to any others.

practical -- what many folks today think of as capitalism, at least in the USA, is actually corporate socialism, corporatism, or fascism.

The government is fused with the industrial-military complex, and gives huge tax subsidies and services to corporations at the expense of individuals.

Political representation is purchased before, during, and after elections through corporate lobbyists.

Socialism has not failed in northern European countries, by the way. Some of the highest standards of living have been attained and sustained for an impressive period of time in socialist countries.

The "Free Market" is not free. Our current economics will be the death of us if we sit and stagnate in the Free Market ideology that so many wave around as a magic wand.

Actually, I'd say that both state socialism and hypercapitalism will both stand condemned and end up together in the dustbin of history when all is said and done. Each is a failure for different reasons.

Hypercapitalism fails because of the market failures represented by externalities and monopolization. Both of these are due to a failure of government to effectively regulate private businesses, which is in turn due to government being pretty much bought and operated by and for private business interests instead of for the public interest.

State socialism fails because of an inherent conflict of interest. Enterprises need to be run efficiently in order to generate enough surplus to at least cover their capital replacement costs. As explained above, though, they also need to be regulated to protect the public interest. When the government wears both hats (so to speak) it ends up doing neither job well. The typical pattern is thus: 1) goods and services are priced low, which is good for the general public; 2) the government also milks the enterprises for money to use to fund other social programs; 3) however, this results in enterprises not being profitable; 4) which causes reinvestment to be curtailed; 5) which causes the quality of goods or services produced to decline; 6) and which drys up the cash cow that the government was counting upon to fund their social programs; 7) eventually, the enterprises start to require subsidies rather than being a cash cow to be milked; 8) which in turn causes the government to start cutting corners on regulatory oversight in an effort to reduce the red ink; 9) which end up causing externalities as bad or worse than anything generated in hypercapitalist economies.

The only system that makes any sense and holds out any genuine promise of actually creating a sustainably better life is one in which government limits itself to the provision of truly public goods and services, with a particurlarly important one being the very careful and intensive regulation of all other economic activity to protect the public interest. This particularly includes the systematic internalization of all externalities, profits be damned. The only monopolies that should be allowed are those that are owned by the public through some sort of cooperative structure; publicly owned (but not GOVERNMENT-owned) enterprises are inherently non-expoitive of the general public.

thanks for your support of the ability to have this discussion. :)

Superb post, Glenn!

"Money Talks" gets right to the heart of the matter of our inability to confront resource depletion and global warming.

This line from your concluding paragraph was the most succinct summary for me:

"The combination of our economic paradigm with our willful ignorance of finite realities is a curse upon future generations."

M. King Hubbert's paper "Two Intellectual Systems: Matter-energy and the Monetary Culture" points out that our monetary culture -- based largely on superstition and holdovers from the Divine rights of Kings, I must point out -- is completely incompatible with Matter-energy reality.

So there we go.

I've been alluding to "Intentional Ignorance" for quite a long time. One step in the right direction is to question our own behaviour and beliefs: "Is this really working for me? Is this really working for us as a bioregion? ...nation? ... species?"

At root, we do need culture change at as fundamental level.

Our Corrupt Crony Capitalism is really "war and arbitrary, capricious rapacity disguised as civilization."

Solutions? I'm going to be away from computer for awhile, but will read Hubbert's essay:

I should also review John Gray's "False Dawn" as well:

Again, kudos -- you are an existential provocateur today, yes?

Again, this is a guest post from Hans Noeldner, not my thoughts necessarily.

Right, Glenn.

My apology to you and to Hans Noeldner.

.... I was sure in a rush earlier, with family calling to go pay an important family visit.

My mother-in-law turned 84 today!

What she has seen in terms of huge changes in life!

Consider a reconciliation between the classical economic view of money and the physical realities of the whole earth system. Two kinds of knowledge are needed. One: that money (in all of its primary forms - not derivatives) is just a signaling mechanism for telling us how much free energy we command, as the article implies. In order for this to work, however, the monetary system has to be pegged to the amount of free energy that actually exists in the system. This isn't a particularly easy thing to do, but we used to use various surrogates, such as gold, to assign value to the monetary units. With today's computational power, I suspect that we could, if motivated, align the amount of circulating money with the production of free energy.

But the other bit of knowledge that would be needed by all participants in a market system based on free energy currency would be a very deep understanding of the laws of thermodynamics and their extensions to open, far-from-equilibrium systems. I suspect this will be the harder problem since I am beginning to have my doubts about the educability of 3/4 of the population.

There is a third factor which I suspect will determine the long-range fate of Homo sapiens and that is the lack of real sapience. Humans evolved a capacity to exercise judgment in a limited environment and, by comparison with today's world, a very simple one. Modern humans are very likely not much more sapient than early humans in Pleistocene times. Yet being able to judge the long-range goodness of manufacturing or buying Humvees or widescreen, flat panel wall TVs seems to allude the majority. Wisdom is in very short supply in our species.

I tend to question conventional wisdom at:

Well, we are stuck with what we've got. Living people aren't going to change very much -- or at least, they haven't in the past.

Darwin will likely be proved right-- the oil depletion and global warming combined effects may be the event that "punctuates" the "equilibrium" in Steven Jay Gould's version of evolution.

You brought up a few very important points:

First, it is that the malleability of human minds decreases with age; I call it "mental mobility". This means that certain logical tests are abandoned in favour of a "faith-based" system, where you simply "believe" that a way of life is correct, and thus you pursue it. This is the problem we currently face with the current populace's response to the interconnected socio-economic-geophysical issues (e.g. Freedom, Capitalism, Peak Oil).

The second is that the future generation, those with greater mental mobility, and thus who are more willing to critically analyze our current infrastructure, are trained to abstain from it in every way possible. The public (and private, for that matter) education systems, infotainment, video games and many coalescing factors contribute to this.

My belief is that our only hope lies with the eduction of the future generation as the current wave of politicians, businessmen and scientists are not capable of the mental malleability required to come to the very logical solution that we cannot co-exist on this planet based on a concept of infinite growth.

"...malleability of human minds decreases with age"

FD3SA - Is this a fact or merely self-fulfilling? I have seen a good number of older people make astonishing leaps in their worldview, while it seems to me that most teenagers are totally obsessed with being just like each other.

I have chosen the view that if we repeat the message that brains of any age are malleable, then at least we - and some other people - will leave our minds open to beneficial smithing. Dunno if it's "true", but it is how I want to live.

You are very correct, and it is more of a problem of me not being able to find the correct word for it other than "age".

What I mean is that the general trend for the brain is that it asks "Why?" and critically examines a concept until it is no longer required to do so. The extra step I mention, is one we take voluntarily, and as you mentioned, is quite unrelated to a person's physical age.

The leap I mention involved constantly analyzing (asking Why?) as we develop our knowledge regarding a certain subject. We can only stop asking Why if we have reached a stagnation point in our degree of understanding. This very rarely happens as humans constantly learn unless they choose otherwise. This, I believe, is the central problem facing humanity today.

Education of the future participants of our society is the only way to change the mindset. But that in itself begs questions. How do we get around the bias that all teachers and institutions inflict on students? Religeous schools for example. Private schools. More and more private schools are croping up all over, all giving their slant on how children are to be taught, and what they are to be taught. We have a big fight here in Toronto because the public school board wants to have segragated schools!!! They want a black only school, taught by black only teachers, to give a black only teaching curriculum! How the wheel goes round and round.

Personally, because no one can agree on how things need to be done, what the root cause of the problem is, who is to blame for the problem (in this thread alone), i would have to say there is no way humans will prepare in any way for what's coming. What we will be left with is picking up the pieces. The question then will be, do we continue to be bitter rivals of each other and try and lay blame, or do we move on and try to build a new society that learned a big lession from the biggest crash of human existance?

Richard Wakefield

Very true in all respects. That I think goes back down to human nature, i.e. human psychology. If you are at all familiar with Sigmund Freud's model of the mind (only his model, not his Psycho-sexual theories of development), he says that we are constantly fighting between the Id (our primitive drives) and our Ego (our intellectual obligations).

What I think you and I both wish for is an "evolution" of humanity, where we understand why we have certain desires (for sex, greed, power,etc) and why they must be controlled for society's protection. I think once people understand this, it will be a very natural transition. What they will also realize is that the carnivorous consumerist society we have created is the very pinnacle of un-sustainability.

True, we just have to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water. The biggest blockade to any worldview change is the various ethic backgrounds and religious control over people. As long as the leaders of these groups continue to preach myths about society that the masses take hook line and sinker, with out question, humanity will for ever be in conflict. We need to be humans first, living within the bounds of nature, than to be such-and-such a group or religion first and all else is either to be destroyed or an least ignored.

The only way humanity will evolve to a higher level of understanding is if natural selection does that to us.

We may end up with pockets like that, but that's all. Pockets of rational communities trying to stay alive within larger masses of irrational people.

Richard Wakefield

I have read that "A time will come when humanity will see that all ideas(ideologies?) are just primitive superstition".

So a rational community is truly not the pinnacle of evolution, which in itself is just a concept, denoting the western concept of linear progress, but in terms of the body, where man is the end result of a multibillion year development.

Nothing against evolution mind you. It is just the underlying assumption of progress and the wish for an end to history in ideal form. This is actually quite similar to the religious concepts of heaven and the New Jerusalem/Paradise you deny as atheist.
Paradise is here and now, or hell, depending on how you see it. Live with what you have in terms of body, politcal system, friends and family as it is all you are going to get. The intellect is terribly overvalued by the current industrial scientific system in the west and intuition is greatly undervalued. Intuition consists of using all your feelings, senses to come to a holistic answer and it is not a guess. I personally intuit a soul possesing a body and not the other way around so I don't have panic about death or TEOTWAWKI. I am calm but determined. Religious / political or any other fanaticism is misuse of the intellect to assuage fears. Intuitive understanding eliminates fears as it contacts directly with the essence of life / reality. However a balance is necessary. We have an intellect for a reason. An integrated personality is the best thing you can develop.

Ethnicity and religion surely do influence peoples' worldviews, but what a worldview is based on is stories.

There are the unsustainable and binding stories of our civilization, part and parcel of the unintended consequences of overpopulation, resource depletion, mass extinctions, climate change, and imminent die-off:
* humans subdue, have dominion over, and own the planet outright
* humans living in non-civilized ways are not truly human
* all problems have solutions to our civilized satisfaction
* hard work, growth, and having more possessions are all A Good Thing (tm)
* the rights of humans supersede the rights of all other living things
* humans' ability to do something, "can we", supersedes the consequences and impacts of our actions, "should we"

There can also be stories that are sustainable and enabling, that are representative of humans living within the bounds of nature:
* humans are part of nature, not separate from it
* all living things deserve respect
* humans have agreements with those that came before, those who currently are, and those who are yet to be
* humans can accept and adapt to problems that cannot be solved, such as with our own mortality
* all our possessions are only borrowed, including our very flesh, and will one day return to the rest of the biosphere

The good news is that civilization is not humanity, and humanity can adapt.

The bad news is that adapting will mostly involve overshoot-driven natural selective processes in the form of famine, dehydration, disease, social chaos, and war. And it will also involve those brave enough to step away before the avalanche gains momentum.

Interesting set of points. I think it would be worth pigion-holing each of the religions and cvilizations throughout history and see who stands out in each of the two groups. I would guess most of us already have a good idea who's where.

Richard Wakefield

I am not stating endorsement or criticism of the practice, but some tribes do practice infanticide as a means of population control, effectively throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

I agree about natural selection. With the understanding that humans are a part of nature, not apart from it, we humans will play a large active role in that selection through war and social unrest, and a passive role through disease.

"...malleability of human minds decreases with age"

I beg to differ:

The whole series is worth the 12 hours it takes to listen to it all.

BTW I don't usually consider economists to be cutting edge intelectuals but these two standout from the crowd:

Deirdre McCloskey teaches at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She has written fourteen books on economic theory, history, philosophy, rhetoric, and ethics. She taught for twelve years in economics at the University of Chicago, and describes herself as a "postmodern freemarket quantitative Episcopalian feminist Aristotelian." Her latest books are The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Capitalism and (with Stephen Ziliak) The Cult of Statistical Significances.

Gregory Clark chairs the Department of Economics at the University of California, Davis. He is author of the recent book A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World which in part details how the economic systems of the long pre-industrial era helped shape modern cultures, and perhaps even modern human preferences at the genetic level.

I would say that we're moving (slowly) towards where you want us to go -- the distibution of natural resources should be a "moral" issue, not just a question of money. It's no longer OK for people to be starving or homeless in this country. It's increasingly not OK for people to be without access to healthcare. These are moral beliefs contrary to a "pure market" distribution of wealth; and we have created political institutions to ensure that fellow Americans have at least the basics of life, no matter what. So there's hope. We haven't done a very good job, yet, of spreading this moral concern to include all people of the world, but again there's progress. We feel a duty to intervene with food aid during the worst famines, or after natural disasters. Partly the larger problem just seems too large -- we can take care of America's poor with a small fraction of our collective wealth, but we couldn't lift the whole world out of poverty without bankrupting ourselves. And the issue of trans-generational fairness is also improving. I see this with the global warming issue, which is growing as a moral issue of fairness to future generations. Policy is still fitful, but the momentum on the ground is growing. (Most Americans don't see resource depletion in the same way because they don't think about it, or they don't believe that resources actually deplete).

How fast will we adopt a moral sense that everyone everywhere, present and future, deserves at least a basically decent life? And will it be fast enough in the face of resource depletion and climate change? Magic 8-Ball says, "Ask again later".


I'm pretty sure market solutions are an important part of the equation. Cap and trade can work. Taxing externalities, making the price higher will make a difference. Political will is essential for any system to work. It is important to make polluters pay for the social costs as well as the economic costs. This isn't socialism, it's good economics. If the costs of polluting are high enough, the polluter will find a way to stop and pass costs onto to the consumer. Consumers will have to pay the true costs for goods. We will consume fewer goods, with lower environmental impact. Capitalism favors efficiency over equity with a result that is optimal for profits and dismal for citizens. Socialism favors equity over efficiency with a result that fewer goods are produced, lots of shortages and a huge black market. A modified capitalism with the true costs of production imposed on producers is about as good as you will get for an economic system. Unfortunately producers have great political power and find ways to throw off any regulation by becoming regulators in any free market administration.

I think that costs of $10 for gas and $4,000 for routine coach airline tickets would result in most billionaires not being billionaires any longer. Most billionaires get to be so by having something to do with a product that the masses want to buy and can afford to buy - currently, e.g., I-pods, cell phones, computer programs, Walmart, medical devices, and on and on. So, at some point, most of them (and all of the billionaire wannabes) have a strong incentive to see a reasonable way of life continue for a large portion of mankind.

As far as your reasonable way of life is concerned, when I was born, there were roughly 3 billion people in total living on the planet. Today, the population is 6.6 billion, and 2.8 billion of those people, almost as many as were around in total 40 years ago, those 2.8 billion live in poverty.

Then add in how the abstraction of money has allowed us to wield incredible power over vast distances sight unseen and direct effects unfelt, yielding wide swaths of devastation to not just the human condition, but to the climate and the biosphere.

This is not a reasonable way of life.

You may be interested in this then


Billions spent on African aid and all it's done is made more poorer people. They may have done better if we had not sent any aid there at all.

Richard Wakefield

Externalities are the big issue, the huge market failure. Classical market economics is only valid in the absence of externalities; unfortunately, there is hardly a market that exists that is not loaded with externalities these days. We've got "free markets" in the sense that the externalities are free to those that generate them.

We've always had externalities big time when it comes to energy in all of its forms. We're learning now that the externality of carbon emissions from the burning of fossel fuels might very well end up killing our entire species off before all is said and done - the ultimate in externalities. Even good, clean, renewable forms of energy like wind can have some very substantial externalities, such as: spoilage of viewsheds and resulting damage to tourism trade and property values; noise pollution (driving some people living nearby batty); and damage to wildlife (birds).

If these externalities are not systmatically eliminated or internalized, then we are left with the old story of privatizing profits and socializing costs - which is apparently what "capitalism" really means these days, and which I increasingly suspect is the real reason why those Washington insiders and Fortune 500 CEOs have so much more money than ordinary people like myself.

It would be an understatement to say that our plutocratic caste is particularly fond of the fiscally-based resource entitlements program. Millionaires and billionaires overwhelmingly prefer a system of governance which represents dollars rather than souls,

History records many examples of governance representing souls rather than dollars -- how about medieval Europe, for example. Just a different plutocracy, I think. No obvious regard for the poor and underprivileged.

I am curious, and have tried to learn something about those North American indigenous cultures that seemed to combine a fairly high level of technology with a more-or-less egalitarian system of governance, but I am afraid that so much of what is written is wishful thinking rather than good scholarship that I am skeptical and confused.

What certainly is true is that the Northwest Indians of the Columbia River region were densely populated, and well fed and housed-- and they lived here for 10,000 years or so prior to smallpox, measles and syphilis imported from Europe --without destroying either the forests or the salmon runs. In the less than 200 years that Europeans have controlled the area the river has become a nearly lifeless ditch used for water transport and waste evacuation, and the forests have become so decimated they can not hold back the torrential December rains and we become a "Federal Disaster Area" through wilful neglect of obvious principles of resource management. So much for the "free market."

Interesting. Did indians have money? Was trade and agriculture used to accumulate wealth and status?

Obviously once you invent such a society, class stratification is inevitable and monetary units (cattle or beads or coins) and everything they can afford distinguish people.

But without this stratification and its associated specialization you have no civilization or complicated, developed culture with arts, sciences, literature, tools and pottery, toolmaking.

Presumably the hunter gatherers had tools of a simple sort but as wealth could not be accumulated and a score card developed of historical events, meaning who fought what war over which lands, then we cannot really make a comparison to our modern systems.

I think we do not want to live without culture as hunter gatherers and all other sedentary, agricultural, civilizational systems are based on ideologies, which though certainly taken seriously in the beginnning , erode over time, according to circumstances, like weather, technology and availability of resources or population pressures.

Communism and capitalism are simply asort of mirror images of this concept of wealth accumulation, which a pure primitive would not understand as he would not understnd the idea of ownership in the same senes thereby having to reject it as in pure communism or affirm it as in capitalism.

Certainly a wolf has its lair and a bird nests each year maybe in the same place and a dog marks its territory. How many generations can a certain pride of lions possess a territor before it loses a war?

We have language and distinguish ourselves into cultural units, families, clans, nations, and population pressures ensue due good harvests which result in war. Our natural love of one another (sex) which is proclaimed as the most beautiful and positive of all things results in the end in in war and the resolved extinciton of enemy peoples to expand. So love begets hate.This is biology, plain and simple and some attempt to explain it away and aviod it by econoic theory and the creation of an ideal system which avoids the mistakes we made "last time " are doomed to failure as eventually the younger generation some time out will find out how to game the system to their own advantage and create the war scenario again. We see how this has happened in just this way since 1980. A relatively stable global system has been destroyed to thae advantage of a few. In Russian corruption and black market took over in the 70s. The result was similar. A practical structure built on the basis of an ideology became undermined by selfish interest and forgetfulness. "If you forget history you are doomed to repaet it".

If we, or better said our survivors, after some detructive resource war, create a new societal order based on the theoretical construct of energy units as money and a complicated Zero growth model and a massive powerdown concept then most certainly within 25 years the youth will have rebelled against our simple materialstic concepts to have their own spirual renewal and they will break out of the straitjacket of our ideology, meant to provide safety here on earth just for these children, so that they can express pure love and spirituality to one another.

A Paradigm is good adn useful ofr a scociety in its time for those who practice it but history is a spiral development of paradigms which work for awhile and then are tossed aside. Humans are idea machines, continually trying out new ideas like chidren who play with toys till they become bored and move on. This is why no paradise on earth can be acheived. Paradise is boring.

I find it fascinating that some people often equate ideas of equity and sustainability as "utopian" or "paradise."

Equally fascinating, or rather disappointing, is the idea that only world-raping, growth-oriented, wealth-accumulating capitalists can bear the label of "civilization," not hunter gatherers. There are several ways to react to this delusion.

1. If that's civilization, then give me barbarity.

2. Apparently civilization is an self-referential oxymoron.

3. A hunter-gatherer in the bush is worth more than all of civilization in the hand.

I love that people who wish to deny a paradigm shift often cite the idea of paradigm shifts as the main reason that paradigm shifts won't work.

When the cheap energy runs out, we will live within the solar budget one way or another. My guess is that there will be boom and bust agricultural civilizations like mesopotamia, the Aztecs, and mediaeval Europe; there will be hunter-gatherers, forest peoples, fisherpeople, and nomads. We will have democracies, feudal overlords, fascists, and anarcho-syndicalist communes. There will be limited forms of capitalism, mercantilism, socialism, gift economies, and communism. In other words, we will have the same range of human endeavors as we had before cheap energy. The main difference will be the degraded planet these people will inherit. And they will be forced to live within the daily solar budget. They will not be able to use fossil sunlight. In other words, on an evolutionary scale, nature will shape humans instead of humans shaping nature.

Our momentary blip of cancerous, fossil fuel inspired growth will be over and the business of life can continue in a normal fashion.

Hear, Hear!

If we had only not ofund the damn oil we would have been better off certainly.

I am just sayingt hat given that we could very well sit down and design a Powerdown Plan B New Deal and someone will certainly do so, rprobabbly when it is too late. 3 years later someine will start gaming the system to theri own advantage that their earnest fathers held so dearly. A pardigm shift nust take place and it will. I am just saying time keeps on ticking and paople keep on changing so one ideological construct will certainly not be the last. This is not cynicism. This is reality. Everyday.

If we hadn't found out about coal we would definitely have moved more slowly in developing new social and political systems. Maybe the rate of change from the 17th Century to the French Revolution. However, even that rate of change required finding and conquering new forests. They would have hit Peak Wood around 1850 and had to figure out what to do next. Without coal whites could not have conquered the more populous continents, which would have kept the world a lot more equal in poverty.

The problem is, what would the poor themselves have organized as reform movements in a low-growth, no-coal world? Would the scales have tilted towards anarchism instead of high-growth socialism? Could they have escaped the lack of free time needed to truly govern themselves? In a world with advanced communication (telegraph, newspapers) but not trains and steamships, would consciousness of localism have outraced the ability of kings and plutocrats to send their troops to stamp out new thoughts? Perhaps there are parallels to our near future here.

Yes, the Indians had "money". And technology. And they traded over long distances. They had governments, some of them had slaves.

It is recorded that many of the early European settlers had difficulty keeping their children from running off to "go native" -- there was at least some idea that the Indians might have had a superior system.

Whatever else they did, they sustained a large population over a very long time -- unlike their European conquorors.

There are so many distortions of the record -- it is hard to come up with the "truth" in all this. But almost certainly the average Native American child was better off than the average lower class, and probably even middle class English child long after the Europeans arrived.

Glenn, Thank you for the best post I have read on TOD for quite a spell.

Higher energy costs and taxes do reduce energy use, compare Europe to the US. New homes are smaller in Europe and far more efficient as in the Passive House. Al Gore's message would be far more compelling if he traveled between engagements via rail or sailing ship, one must lead by example and show a quality life can be had without massive resource consumption.

Great article. You got right to the point of our current crisis when you tell that we allow the current "cheapness" of energy and consumption by hiding the environmental costs from these products and services, and you did it in a very concise manner.

BUT, as some other people have already commented, you can't enact laws by decree that people should consume less. Not entering in the whole capitalism x socialist issue, I'll talk about another issue with this view. I firmly believe that no government in the world, ever, was able to truly dictate society in such a complete manner (maybe some of the most autocratic ancient cultures, but even then I would have some doubts). It isn't possible. Governments of any kind always maitain an situation of tension with society as a whole. In current parliamentary democracy you create a valve of escape for that. If the current government does things that society doesn't like, society was supposed to throw it out of government trough election. Other societies had other means of keeping this balance, although each one had found it's own optimum (more autocratic societies means more margin for government). The soviet system, for example, was plagued by black markets (a way to get what you want when the government messes up the market), there was legal and illegal immigration of elements that would otherwise be building pressure inside the society, there was an attitude of "work as little as possible" because of the price controls, etc, etc, etc.

My point is that even a pretty totalitarian government (which no one here would be very confortable to live under), is not really equipped to dictate consumption levels for the totality of their society. Various means of resistance would appear inside the people, the most extreme being a revolution to overthrow the government and put someone else there. You can see that in the simplest of things. In a lot of places there are laws that are unpopular, thus unenforceable. Some of the more progressive rules about not dumping discarded paper or other minor trash in the street, for example, are rarely truly enforced by fines, penalties, etc. Trash will only stop being dumped on the street when people do it themselves, not when we have a cop in each street corner fining people. Even stuff that's more "important" than that, like transit laws, are difficult to enforce when people don't really want.

Which brings me to my conclusion. Governments are not equipped to TELL people what to do 100% of the time, not when society think this is illegitimate. What governments can do is push people into some directions and, in the process, try to create legitimacy around an issue. Car safety and seatbelts are a good example. Today it's a widely acceptable pratice that government can indeed fine you for not wearing a seatbelt (in most parts of the world, anyway), and most people do wear seatbelts all the time, but that took several decades to become a reality in most countries. When it comes to environmental issues, it's the same thing. Only when legitimacy around the issue is created among the population, we will see truly meaningful changes. We can argue that we are not likely to see such legitimacy ever happening unless we get a pretty big kick in the ass from Mother Nature, but that's another issue.

But, in essence, my point is that persuasion (including monetary ones) do indeed talk, and do it more sucessfuly than regulation. If we would truly measure each product and service based on a thorough environmental costs for current and future generations, gas would cost so much that it would be a resource used mostly when it's unavoidable, not squandered like today because it's cheap. And there are ways to also insure that all resources wouldn't be a privilege of the ultra-wealthy by having societies where the ultra-wealthy are not common. Take a look at Scandinavia today, for example. Not nearly the same level of filthy rich and dirty poor people, like in the USA. They do it trough taxation and other means, and we could all do that if we really wanted (and had legitimacy for it). Some people will always be richer than others, but that's normal, the idea that you can have people all earning the same was the main fault of communism, because it goes against common sense. What's happening is that corrupt capitalism of today (corporatism) is trying to prevent ALL changes in these directions. They are bombarding people with propaganda, hijacking government and using military and police forces against the "trouble makers". Thus, we have a skewed money system that rewards overconsumption, greed and wastefullness, and it does so because it concentrates the wealth in the corporations. Money does talk, but it's talking the wrong language today. If we could get money to do the right talking, we wouldn't need a government that says how big should my house be. Or what kind of underwear is appropriate for me. Or any number of other stuff that would require silly regulation otherwise.

DeltaGreen - let's not forget the Amish. While they have not addressed the unsustainability of their reproduction, in other respects they have created a much more sustainable society than our own. They have done this by being very selective about adapting technology - they do not blindly sacrifice meaningful, useful, HEALTHFUL employment among themselves to the gods of automation and outsourcing.

Granted, theirs is a repressive culture. Importantly, most repression among the Amish is either internalized or imposed by family and immediate community, not more abstract, impersonal, distant levels government.

Based on our consumption and emissions, it is clear that mainstream America needs a good bit of repressing. The more of THIS KIND of repression we internalize and teach to our children, the less repression our heirs will suffer from without. Nature always bats last.

The Amish case is sort of a proof of what I was saying, although in a skewed way. Like you said, they are more "sustainable" than you and me because they repress a lot of our industrial lifestyles. The key point is what you identified: they do it themselves, it's not imposed by government. This lifestyle has a legitimacy for them, based on religious sentiment. I doubt you could select a random small city in the USA and impose a amish lifestyle on them. No ammount of government coercion would manage that. Only society itself can do that, although government has a enormous impact on what society does. As I was saying, government can push you in a certain direction, and to a certain point. But do notice that the Amish themselves are not completly "stable" community. I understand a number of their youth go away from their communities and into the wider US society. If forced to stay in the communities, they would be a source of friction. So, in essence, the Amish can maintain their society more or less stable by "exporting" its troublemakers. This won't be possible for the planet as a whole once Peak Oil and environmental collapse have taken it's toll. There won't be anywhere for the troublemakers to go, so we will need a political system that can hangle them, and convince them that living sustainably is required.

I'm not advocating free market, btw. I'm a firm believer in public action, community rule (trough government) and moral imperatives in the economy (no children dieing of hunger so someone else can drive a Ferrari, no matter what the market says). What I'm saying is that advocating a "government should ban this and that and require this and that" doesn't quite work. In a democracy, if a government did this against public sentiment, it would be voted out. In a dictatorship, people would manage other (more violent or illegal) forms of resistance. What must happen is a concerted effort to get back government from the corporation hijackers (not easy, I know), and then a gradual public shifting of paradigm, preferably with government help trough regulation.

Or, in a last case scenario, of which I'm thinking it's more possible each day, simply ignore as much as you can government/corporations and try to live as sustainably as you can and are willing. At this point, it might not be possible to rescue government from the hijackers, so you might choose to wait for the inevitable crash, survive it and make your contribution to any post-crash community rule that emerges.

I think you just nailed it: when you mentioned "What must happen is a concerted effort to get back government from the corporation hijackers (not easy, I know), and then a gradual public shifting of paradigm, preferably with government help trough regulation. "

Govt is and has been hijacked by corporate interests for many years, and while we voted politicians in and out based on performance or most notably lack thereof , what what we fail to recognize is that corporate runs the politicians.

How do we get back at corporate? stop buying the products i suppose, hitting them in the pocketbook per se! Discretionary spending keeps this nations economy running, and a big slow down in discretionary spending will hurt corporate, but unless the spending public took a concerted effort to stop spending all at the same time for a few days, wall street would have a meltdown. But then should the spending public get that organized, then a revolution is certainly around the corner!

Trying to live more sustainable on the land with no or minimalized corporate interdiction is probably the best choice, failing that, then we are DOOMED!

I mean just look at that ugly mug of Harry Reid to left of the screen at the top, what an freaking idiot! He'd sell this nation out on the first offer! He's not looking out for this nation, he's looking out for himself!

The effectiveness of the NeoCon propaganda emitted from the wing-nut think tanks since Reagan is quite evident. People now actually believe that regulations are ineffective. I have news. Every rule is not one hundred percent effective. Duh.

The idea that the markets are moral, altruistic entities working towards the betterment of all is the greatest lie of all time. It lies at the heart of every corporatist's argument about the "invisible hand." But, we all see the results of the "free hand" every day. We see the corruption. We see the sub-prime greed fest, we see the pollution and the failure of corporations to clean it up, we see the predatory health care system, we see the poor working conditions, we see the declining wages and longer hours. We see reduced vacations.

The invisible hand is spanking the crap out of you and me. The invisible hand is grabbing us by the private parts and squeezing until we scream and scream. And, because of the NeoCons propaganda, we snap out a salute to the invisible hand and say, "PLEASE, SIR. CAN I HAVE ANOTHER."

Until the people return to the roots of the American Revolution, we will continue to be the footstools of the rich.

So, once the average American has determined, with great deliberation, using our money-thinking powers, which brand of underwear we want, (Cause we all know how important that is), we may want to apply our "thinking" skills towards resolving the situation regarding the fetters around our ankles.

I'm sorry, but I'm not a citizen of the USA. I'm Brazilian. I'm also not in any way swallowed by NeoCon propaganda. I don't consume corporate media, and in Brazil we don't have a whole lot of NeoCon propaganda in any media, anyway. Quite the contrary, I come from a very leftist-leaning/progressive family. My parents were both protesters against the military rule (US backed) that we had here until the mid 80's.

So, having said that, I agree with you up to a point. We live in a lie called "free market" and "neoliberal economics". It doesn't work and it's not good to anyone but a tiny number of people at the top of the pyramid who call the shots and get to use all the money.

But, having said that, I'm not against markets. I really do think that a good market is better than some government or other well-intentioned organization telling me how my house ought to built, what toothbrush is appropriate for me or any number of other silly things. What we can't have is this current crazy market, which is not free at all. The current market ortodoxy is a machine to produce a bunch of useless junk in the name of perpetual growth and wealth accumulation. I agree that we don't need it. I just happen to think that it's a disservice to equate all forms or market (which is just a way to people trade stuff they have an excess for something they need) to our current form of predatory markets.

Again, community rule and government should have a role in creating regulation that favor a better, more humane market. Our laws should be enacted in a way that makes living more sustainably a good course of action to the average person, rather than the contrary. The simple expedient of returning to a more rational financial system, instead of this crazy fiat-driven, derivatives and securities market, would go a long way.

In my ideal world, people would build houses that are more environmental-friendly, use alternate forms of transportation, eat more local food, etc, not because someone is ordering them to do so, but because it makes good sense and there are enough incentives to do so. I actually think we will get there anyway. Either we will do it or it will de done anyway by nature when the whole system crashes down in itself.

Just a few brief notes on "Money Talks."

I think the primary reason the energy return value for oil and its likely successors is so low is that, currently, there are no other options. Sure 100 for 1 is great. But what other 100 for 1 liquid, easily transportable fuel do we have that readily fits our current distribution and extraction infrastructure. And sure, the oil companies do want survive... If all you have to eat is spam, well it's better than the alternative.

As for solutions, in my opinion they need to be integrated into market paradigms. We need something that is cheap, easy to mass produce that we can make readily available to the largest group of people possible with added incentive to continue to produce lots and lots of it. In my opinion, government and business will both be part of the solution. Although it doesn't seem likely that oil companies will be given their current stance.

BP made noise but it's really not that progressive if you look at the fine print.

I know I mentioned this in a previous post and it seems Chris has been talking about the economies of concentrated solar power as well as the issue of time on delivery. Regardless of TOD, solar power delivers energy when needed most -- at time of peak demand and TOD can be mitigated through the use of heat and battery storage facilities. The energy extraction potential of solar is vast -- many times the size of the current global consumption and is available so long as we have a sun.

Furthermore, current technology in solar is moving forward very rapidly. Third generation solar cells being produced by Nanosolar offer a 33 cent per watt production cost and a very impressive mass production potential. The materials used in these very thin film solar cells do not stress current materials production, are warrantied to last 25 years, and have low industrial impact on the environment. A single plant currently has the ability to produce 430 MW of capacity in a single year.

At last we have something in solar that is cost competitive, creates massive economies of scale, and is frugal in its materials use and cost. We will certainly need legislation to support solutions like the ones offered by Nanosolar. So I hope the governments of the world get to work incentivising it.

For all you "the Free Market will save us all" people,I think you should have paid attention in your basic Macro and Micro courses. The Free Market has serious flaws, no sane economist will tell you that a perfectly free market is best for society. Our "free market" is based upon cheap fossil fuel, First of all the market does not distribute goods efficiently at all. The market will distribute goods on the basis of cost, not energy. Thats why as cheap energy runs out, cost will rise to show the true cost of energy involved. If you think it's energy efficient to grow 1000lbs of tomatoes,with petrochemical fertilizers, spray pesticides on them, harvest them, put them on a truck to a loading dock, load them, and then send them halfway around the world, so you can drive your damned f350 to the store and bring to your home, then god save us all, there is no hope for you, you poor ignorant bastard. It is cheap yes, but that cost does not represent the long term cost, which would be the energy involved. Also Free markets do not account well for a thing they teach you in microeconomics nowadays called, negative externalities, aka Co2, So2 and cfc emissions, pollution ect. They do not incorporate those cost into effect. Also the natural course of a free market is to establish a monopoly or oligopoly, i.e. one or more firms will gain power, and erect "barriers to entry", to the market, through political manipulation or any means necessary. Also another huge flaw with our market, on the "socialist, regulated, government intervention, what have you side" of the non-free part of the market, is the fact that we have rigged the market to where almost all firms can prosper, i.e. the federal reserve, mint, manipulates interest rates in order to prevent recession. Well, guess what, Business cycles, such as recessions keep the economy healthy. It's like Darwinian natural selection, in a recession the firms that don't survive, aka go bankrupt, default on loans, etcetera, will not continue and they will be replaced by better firms that can cut it, and the existing firms that survive will continue, until the next weeding out process occurs, until the strongest survive. Guess What? Many of America's Business's aren't strong anymore, subsidies much, all of these contribute to a weak market place. I am not arguing for or against a free or regulated market, I am simply analyzing the flaws with both in our current market as seeing it's a hybrid of the two.
I was recently at a presentation put on by Oklahoma's secretary of energy, he said that most business in the market only look about 2 years into the future. This is madness, It's akin to a deaf drunken blind hobo wandering down a train track, he's obviously not going to see the train coming, and won't be in great shape when it does come.

The biggest flaw in the free market system is the ability of people to abuse it. It's not the concept or the model of free markets (the Post Carbon Era there will still have such, albeit much smaller) that is the problem, it's the people who work with it that are the problem. Well, for a little while longer. Once the collapse happens that will all change, for a while until the next Big Cycle.

Richard Wakefield

I could not read more than about 5 lines into that.

If you want your words to be read, I strongly suggest that you learn how to organize thoughts and use white space.  I go to extra effort to get around HTML's opposition to well-known principles of good typography; the least you can do is insert paragraph breaks now and then.

One point I may have failed to clarify to those of you who read this post is "YOU don't have to listen! At least, not all the time."

I suspect a good number of you have chosen to restrain your own petroleum consumption for ethical reasons, not because of prices, but for ethical reasons. So next time you are having a conversation with someone who prefers to talk about what "they" (i.e. third persons) will or won't do, put it to 'em straight - "Do prices tell YOU how much gasoline you are going to use? Are you a robot or a thinking human being?"

This "third person" way of thinking and speaking - like we are removed, impartial gods sitting in judgement of some nameless, faceless "others" - is a real and present danger to OUR civilization!

If we want a society where money DOES NOT do all the talking, then we need to speak that possibility into reality - one conversation at a time. It's gonna be a damn big job, so let's get cracking.

I always inwardly sigh when the inevitable "Capitalism vs. Communism" debate erupts during a discussion around allocating our remaining, dwindling resources.

Partially because a few ardent souls seem not to have really thought about this issue beyond the propaganda, but mainly because it is the wrong argument to have.

Our current fiat, debt-based, floating exchange rate monetary system is both an artifact of plentiful (and ever increasing) market supplies of oil and it is a mere 36 years old (since the end of Bretton woods in August 1971).

There are exactly zero models, books, or reasoned and reasonable position papers out there describing how such a system will manage to transform into stable, growth independent system, or any at all, once the fallacy of perpetual economic growth becomes commonly understood.

Ever increasing amounts of debt require an ever larger future (or at least the belief in one). Unfortunately, our current system requires ever larger amounts of debt (= credit = money) to remain stable. A larger economic future requires more energy consumption. Does anybody really think that we are on the right path to achieve this?

It is clear we will need new models, and a new Adam Smith, that can create a stable economic system that is capable of operating in a world of flat to declining growth. Without an equitable method of economic/energy distribution within and among society's members, social stability will elude us, and progress will cease.

In short, our current monetary model, which can be employed by so-called capitalists and socialists alike, is simply incompatible with the future.

Which is why I always sigh when the argument gets framed as "Capitalism vs. Socialism". The discussion should not be along a left vs. right axis, but rather right vs. wrong.

I can't see any other way around it, our current monetary, and therefore economic, system suffers from a fairly severe design defect and is therefore 'wrong'.

That's the discussion I want to have; what sort of monetary system would support the future we see coming and the lives we want to live?

This is what I meant by rejecting all old sacred cows. From political heritage to economic heritage to etho and religous heritage. It will all have to go if we want a stable system.

But it isn't going to happen during the petrolium era, it will defintely not happen during the transision (crash) into the next era.

But if the people of the next era can shed all the dogmas, all the previous myths and segragated mentalities, there may be hope. But looking at our past makes that highly unlikley.

Richard Wakefield

Any time you set society up as a pyramid, with the fortunate few on top and the slaving masses on the bottom, you end up with misery.

Is anyone capable of imagining, much less creating, a society that's not like this?

The trick if you will is retained wealth that spans generations. This means that somehow the your labor and your parents labor are additive. This should also cross classes in the sense that success in one generation or by one individual gets spread out. Before mega corps the wealthy in a town contributed a good percentage of their wealth back to the town.

Basically what this means is that durable goods need to last across several generations so that each generation needs only work enough to supply its non-durable needs and ensure the next generation is slightly better off.

Our current mad society actually for a bit managed to somewhat accomplish this. Now however it seems that each successive generation is in general in worse shape than the preceding one. If you can't take a multi-generational view to begin with your already lost.

Memmel your "wish" is how the US has been for the past 100 years or so. Horatio Alger died a LONG time ago.

The US is a nation of hereditaru class, or caste, and has been for many generations now. TV brainwashing and the propaganda paid for by the haves does not change this reality, although I can see you jumping up to give me a lecture on America, The Land Of Opportunity...

In reality there's far more opportunity in Sweden and in Europe in general, even more in Britain because you didn't have to be rich or a certain race to go to college, get a job, etc.

In the US the hereditary inequality is so strong, that you actually have short, thin, stunted people, children, who don't even have the nutrients to learn much while in school - although their school will just teach them how to be good slaves.....

I will keep arguing this: That society should NOT be set up as a pyramid, it earned Trotsky an icepick in the head, and it's probably ticked off quite a few of the fortunate here too.

Good read on the US: Class, by Paul Fussell

Memmel each generation in the US seems to be doing worse because it IS doing worse - the money's being sucked off by the top few percent and they're keeping it.

Joe Bageant's site, can give some insight to the class situation in the US ...... most of us working harder for less, it's really a powder keg ready to explode .....

Not allowing 'excessive' wealth to span generations is one element of what might be an egalitarian society.

It seems to me that the largest amounts of wealth are derived from the exploitation of resources, both human resources and non-human natural resource.

It makes sense to me, in my own 'ideal society' view, that natural resources should be a regulated commons and the wealth derived should be so allocated. Free markets could exist within such a system, but they would be limited in size and scope (think the Mom & Pop grocery store). Those wanting to build a business around the exploitation of a given natural resource would have to be licensed to do so by society (incorporated, with important regulatory differences than the current system) and would have to abide by strict environmental laws and rules that require the business to ultimately serve the public interest.

Actually, with changes in corporate law, these kinds of ideas could be implemented. I think, like others having posted on the subject, that the capitalism-socialism dichotomy is vastly artificial and that workable political systems are going to be a practical mix of freedom for the individual combined with responsibility for the group.

The key to group responsibility is looking forward. A group can take on responsibility for several hundred years. Many corporations have outlived all the original employees. The same of course for towns. I'd not call it socialism but more like charters. Universities or schools are good examples. And the post office. I'm not saying they are prefect but give a clear charter a group can effectively do the right thing for a long time.

Today the concept of charter is gone.

Who gets to hand out the licenses? If my next door neighbour is a Momand Pop grovery store, can I set one up too? After all i ahve a family to feed as well and besides, they do it all wrong over there and I'll give you free donuts if you give me a license and take theirs off them! Would that be OK?

The democratically elected local government, ideally, would be the issuer of licenses, as it is today for the most part. Whether you could set up a store too would depend on the resources available in terms of land and so on.

A lot of the regulatory stuff we have now is not necessarily all that bad in its basic concept. In too many cases it has grown burdensome and been corrupted by wealthy interests that essentially control the government. This leads many to want to throw out the whole government altogether, hence the popularity of Libertarianism . In my opinion, this would paradoxically lead to a totalitarianism by corporations or Fascism.

Seems that the 'eternal vigilance' we are supposed to exert vis-a-vis our various governments has been flagging and we are reaping the results.

In a sense a charter is a way to handle the tragedy of the commmons. A charter company is forced to include the common good as a big part of its operations in exchange for exclusive control of a common resource. So instead of a tax based system you have a monopoly which turns a small but rewarding profit.

Its not something that makes sense in a inflationary environment but in a stable or deflationary environment these sorts of charters would be lucrative.

As a example if this concept was used in the past the oil companies would be responsible for the development of all roads and C02 emissions etc etc. So you can have the charter to exploit a common resource i.e oil but your also responsible for all costs. Hell make responsible for car manufacture. So given the responsibilities they would then have to make a profit. I think you can see that the real profit is actually fairly small. Once you look at all the costs you start to understand how badly we have misallocated resources and raped the commons.

You have this problem across all our base industries including agriculture.

Those wanting to build a business around the exploitation of a given natural resource would have to be licensed to do so by society

Not sure how that would work. If I happen to invent something, and everyone wants it to make their lives better, and I become rich over it, then what's the problem? What right is it of any society to say I can't do that? Or at some arbitrary point I'm not allowed to have any more wealth from the invention.

But that seems to be the mentality of those who attack with a vengence our capitalist system.

The issue is not allowing by the decree of those elected (and have ulterior motives) how rich someone can become, or how big their business becomes, but what they do with that wealth.

I bit of a story if I may. I used to work for a small family buisness as their IT person. The CFO was an ex banker. He kept telling me the most important thing is the bottom line at the end of your wealth list. It must grow each year.

I had to laugh. It misses the point of life altogether. What is the point of amassing a large bank account at the time of your death? I told him that for me, the most important thing is to live a fulfilling and happy life. Do lots of things. Spend money on doing the things you enjoy. Learning new things about life and the universe we live in. Donating to a worth cause. What matters on your deathbed is that you have done the right thing, and that can be measured not by how much you leave behind, but by how little money you leave behind. You don't cheat people (this firm was nasty for that, hence I left). (BTW, many young people today can't wait for their parents to die so that can get their inheritance. Much of the current housing boom here is fueled by it. My father, on the other hand, spent every penny during his retirement before his death. Good for him)

So you can become wealthy and as long as you then pump that wealth back into the community, spreading the wealth around, what's the problem? And that is what we need more of. Not the hording of wealth mindset, but the redistrubution on a VOLUNTARY level is what is needed. You force that, and people will just clam up.

Richard Wakefield

Companies these days make you assign patent rights. If your lucky you get a few hundred buck for your invention.

The number of successful inventions by individual inventors is vanishingly small.

Try and get a job and refuse to sign over your patent rights.

Patents are on ideas not the exploitation of and idea.

And our monetary system has resulted in 1% of the population controlling 90% of the wealth.

The point is its broken it may have been based on noble ideas in the beginning and I question that, but its been so throughly corrupted that to assign these ideas to the way things work today disgraces the ideas your claiming to champion.

To be honest I could care less if a system prevented a few worth people of large wealth. In the end its corruptible and leads to exploitation of resources. The common good requires everyone to make a sacrifice especially when you consider future generations. Are the baubles of physical wealth worth destroying a planet and causing the death of billions ?

Does it really mean that much to you ?

So we have to forego our uniqueness in the bible as ruling over nature and return to being just another animal sharing with the other animals and plants.

Pure democracy has to be expanded to nature. Mother nature gave us life and rulership in the form of dominant species for a time. If we abuse this dominance we destroy our habitat and go extinct and will be replaced. It s our decision. Absolute power corrupts absolutely and ends in certain death as nature abhors a vacuum or one sided power(pendulum of nature always swings back and forth).

Interesting discuission. A lot of good points in many of the comments. I particularly liked Cherenkov, DeltaGreen, and fuzzy. I somewhat disagree with Cherenkov's number saying Repubs disfavor 99.9999% of the population. I'm not sure the true numebers of the "choosen" by I would suggest say the top 1% of US and .1% of world wealth. Or perhaps the breakpoint is at 5%/1%. They definately need greater numbers than your statement would imply.

Like most things, moderation is often a key concept. Avoid a choice of simple binary choices. For instance laisse fair, versus centrally planned economies. The optimal choice is likely somewhere in the middle. But its hard to create a social/political movement based upon moderation, so the tendancy is for our system to produce polar choices. And we know we are late in the game. We have to avoid letting the perfect (or best) path become the enemy of the best feasible path.

We clearly have to gradually create new economic/political paradigms, which can manage a world without exponentially increasing energy/wealth. Unlike most peak-oilers, I think energy-scarcity is not going to be the thing that brings us down. I think it is more than 50% likely that we will soon have abundant/cheap energy soon. But unlike today it will not be dispatchable in time or place like we have today. We will have to create systems which can take advantage of those times and places where energy flows are harvestable (say times of higher than average wind), and organize work around when/where these events occur, rather than when it is most convienient for us.

When you leave a dog in a yard with two days food supply you know it will eat it all the first day and go hungry the second day. If we wanted to leave-some-for-later with finite resources we should refuse to pay a high price even when it is clearly running out. Should but don't. Maybe we have some kind of wolf pack instinct that prevents us from grasping future shortages.

You see people taking their grandchildren by car to an icecream parlour. Will either icecream or cars still be around by the time the kids are the same age? Nobody wants to think about it.

When you leave a dog in a yard with two days food supply you know it will eat it all the first day and go hungry the second day.

How true of dogs, and many people.

I have birds, mostly small, but some large. They only eat what they need to go get filled then stop. Does not matter if it's their favorite food, they eat until full then stop. The rest they eat later when they are hungry again.

Birds are pretty intellegent too. We could learn from them.

Richard Wakefield

The dog may feel hungry the second day, but it does not "go hungry". The food was all eaten, and what wasn't immediately biologically needed was stored as protein, fat, and carbohydrates.

In the future, most will have neither cars, nor ice cream, nor even grandchildren.

I'll miss ice cream.

Thsi article misses the fundamental point that money is societys way of allocating energy to those enterprises that serve the needs of the people. But it is the energy that came first and the money second. Money is easy to make. Just ask any central banker. Energy is more difficult to harvest and we have invesnted money so that large enterprises can be organised to harvest it.

Agriculture is one form of energy harvesting - solar to plant to animal- as is coal mining and oil drilling. Our society generally is organised between the two and consumerism is actually necessary to both justify and maintain the sheer scale of the monster we the people have created. Even your giant SUV's and McMansions, while grotesque, are an integral part in the energy enterprises that exist. The history of the oil industry is one of booms and busts, useful deriviative products and cheap wastes. Our society has evolved to extract as much energy out of the barrel as to gain maximum efficiency.

To suggest that banning certain consumer activities will solve any of the problems of peak oil and climate change is naive and simplistic. Just becasue the market isn't working fast enough to satisfy your agenda, doesnt mean it isn't operating properly. It is just working to the natural timetable that will manifest itself when resources start to decline.

Yes the market will sort out the energy allocation, just as it has through the ages. And yes the rich are likely to suffer less than the poor. But what the rich have that the poor don't is control over energy, not just more cash. Interference by governemnts to dictate how resources should be allocated and who is allowed to do what would simply result in an authoritarian dictatorship that plunges us inot more misery than if we just let the market forces do what they have to.

I guess that people are no different from yeast or dogs? Intellect and moral sensibility are evolutionary dead ends?

The evidence so far points to that. Intellect and moral sensibility are luxuries that most hunngry people don't get to have. Maybe when you are sitting in a comfortable home typing on your broadband interlink thingy you can afford to take the time to moralise and intellect yourself. But for roughly 5 billion people on this planet, today is just about getting enough food to eat and doging all sorts of physical hazards that are far more immediate. Would these people trade in the planet for just a little more physical security? You bet they would, because for most of them, the planet is a shitty place anyway.

Are The poor are not going to give up their aspirations of a better life just because some rich western intellectuals tell them the planet is warming or the oil is running out? I don't know? But I do thinkl they will probably choose to feed their kids today if they can and let tomorrow take care of itself. Maybe you can moralise on that situation.

Good Lord, not the capitalism vs socialism and freedom vs dictatorship strawman again.

Every time the government does even the smallest thing in the name of the common good which requires certain individual sacrifices, there is some indoctrinated economics graduate to shout "socialism" or "dictatorship". Strangely no such calls were heard from economists when the Patriotic Act was issued. How did we get to the point when restricting the "right" to consume is unthinkable and violating political rights is OK?

What Glen is talking about is not socialism, he is talking about dysfunctional government, owned by corporate interests. Economic growth and prosperity have become the sole purpose of both authorities and private enterprise. And this should not be the case. The mission of governments is not to ensure economic growth, it is to protect societal common good - the good both of current and future generations.

And this is what it is failing to do - we don't have independent government with independent leadership which could implement even unpopular policies whenever they are needed. What we currently have is "the best democracy money can buy" - and we are going to live to the consequences of it.

It always did baffle me on how you could classify people as "Right" or "Left" based on a single policy. Once again, I have to ask myself Why? And the answer I came to is that a divided citizenry is a conquered citizenry. If the citizens squabble amongst themselves (Capitalism vs. Communism vs. Socialism) then the powers that have everything to gain from our lack of understanding of the true issues (our ignorance) profit handsomely.

Yes, we do live in Feudal times :) It's quite remarkable once you really see it. Sad, but remarkable nonetheless!

What Glen is talking about is not socialism, he is talking about dysfunctional government, owned by corporate interests. Economic growth and prosperity have become the sole purpose of both authorities and private enterprise. And this should not be the case.

Should not be...but is. No point whingeing about it until you understand how it happened. That is the smart people cornered the energy supplies and then doled it out to the stupid people who were too lazy, dumb or stupid enough to get sucked into a bad deal. Market economics really. Been going on for a long time before FF and is hard to see how human nature will change very much post peak oil. Those with the energy will rule those without. It's not "money" that makes you rich. It's energy.

The mission of governments is not to ensure economic growth, it is to protect societal common good - the good both of current and future generations.

Agree completely. See my post above for ideas about allocation /ownership of resources.

An example of necessary resource regulation by government might be the regulations on using the aquifers in the US Ogallala Aquifer. While the regulations appear to be somewhat ham-handed in their implementation, there is at least a genuine effort to allocate this depletable natural resource in a sensible way. Doubtless there are business interests constantly trying to undermine efforts to regulate, as always seems the case.

The mission of governments is not to ensure economic growth, it is to protect societal common good - the good both of current and future generations.

Alot of people would see that ensuring economic growth does protect the societal common good. (why can't people just use the word society or social rather than this conflagration of the two words?:)

Having a growing economy is seen as providing future generations with more opportunities. The downside issue of resource depletion just doesn't register in our human experience as there as always been more to have. We are not programmed to conserve and preserve for future generations.


Here is something from Jane Jacobs who talks about societal dysfunction when government and business mix duties. Search 'moral hybrids' for a quick look.

You have touched on the fact that this discussion has gone completely off the tracks. This began with a discussion of how effective the market could be in effecting changes in behavior to accomplish a good like cutting the amount of carbon emissions and has devolved into a lengthy debate about capitalism, communism, freedom, tyranny, and slavery.

If we must sacrifice everything in the name of freedom, including the viability of our existence on earth, then we are in very bad straits. But I guess that is where we are in the 21st century, U.S.A.

While I am thoroughly indoctrinated in the power of the market, having earned an economics degree, I am beginning to have my doubts as to whether using the market will bring change as quickly and effectively as necessary. I guess that means I am a communist.

I guess that means I am a communist.

Don't insult yourself. You are a practicalist. Like every living organism, economic systems have a time of birth, life, old age and death. Our current economic system is now in its death throws as its life blood (cheep energy) deminishes. It will die (maybe violently). But once the dust settles a new system will emerge. It too will live, and then die. And so on.

Richard Wakefield

No I wouldn't say you area communist. Impatient Revolutionary perhaps but not necessarily a commo.

People tend to attach too many human values to "the market" one of which is that the market has an independent way of evaluating if it is doing good or evil. The market is not a thinking being or a god. It just operates according to the basic laws of economics which are analogous to the laws of physics and energy flow. We may want the market to implemement the changes that we want to see, but the market can only act according to its energy inputs and demands. At the momnet the market is "well supplied" so nothing changes. It's is when the market is undersupplied with oil that the demand side must adapt, however painful that may be, but adpat it will. just make sure you are pre adapted so you can take advantage of the stupid people who aren't (sorry, once a capitalist....)

What we currently have is "the best democracy money can buy" - and we are going to live to the consequences of it.

I'm sorry to say but that is so true for you guys in the US. This used to be the case up here in Canada until just recently. No longer are corporate or union donations allowed to any federal political party. Individual donations are limited to, IIR, $1000 per year per campaign. Those keniving Liberals got around that one by having 6 year old kids in a family each donate $1000, so that was changed.

Now political parties, and leadership races, must be funded only by individual donations. The NDP lives with it, the Conservatives (who enacted these new laws) live with it, it's the poor Liberals who are having a real tough time.

Best of all, corporate donations, and hence influence from that, has evaporated.

Richard Wakefield

Krugman worries that the monumental upward shift of wealth is deny­ing too many North Americans the opportunities that they need, and that real cleavages are forming between the few haves and the legions of have-nots. “The statistical evidence shows, unequal societies tend to be corrupt societies,” he recently wrote. “When there are huge disparities in wealth, the rich have both the motive and the means to corrupt the system on their behalf.” Without significant changes, Krugman envisions history repeating itself, not necessarily with a new Gilded Age, but in the form of Latin American dictatorships of the rich.

There are over 2 million millionaires in the US. I am sure
the rest of the country will experience significant demand destruction long before it has an impact on people of even this insignificant worth. There was a point made earlier that people will pursue their own self interests. I know this to be true for myself, even though I know the horrors to come. I just want to keep everything going as long as possible.(Of course, I don't believe mankind is capable of doing anything to save ourselves, otherwise we already would have. It's just not in our make-up.) We will just keep propping everything up til it all falls down. The other important point made today was that the wealthy and powerful will use that wealth and power to pursue their own self-interests. Seems self-evident to me. No conspiracy theory necessary. The poor and powerless will be the first to suffer and the first to die. Those with the power do not have to be EVIL or Conspiring to pursue policies that benefit themselves without regard to the adversity those policies may bring to the vast majority. This planet has an EXCESS POPULATION of several billion. Natural limits will enforce their death. Unequal allocation of resources will determine who lives or dies for the most part. While billions starve, some will not even feel a pinch. That's just the way it is.

My thoughts exactly. The market will work perfectly. It just won't give good outcomes that some people here think it should. The only way to change that is to scrap the freedom of the market and vest all power in a few "enlightened ones" to make our choices for us. If anyone can show me where benign (or even psychopathic) dictatorship has worked out well for the rulees, I'd love to hear it?

The idea is to place limits on the market corresponding to the physical limits to growth. Within these limits, any society is still possible.

Not in a growing population. Limiting growth only put off what is coming. Negative growth is the only way to turn this around. But that is a recipe for mass deaths.

Damned if we do something, damned if we don't. Personally, I'd rather take my chances on blind luck than on the whims of some dictatorial system of forced negative growth.

Richard Wakefield

No, I mean absolute limits to the area/resources/space that a system can grow into ; a maximum size, an absolute limit. I know that we probably are far beyond a realistic limit; but implementing the principle on the local level into social structures will provide a blueprint for future generations.

If anyone can show me where benign (or even psychopathic) dictatorship has worked out well for the rulees, I'd love to hear it?



Maharaja Ranjit Singh

Shaikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan

CY -- thanks for the link to "Moneybags."

Very good article!

While the rest of us are supposed be be dying, what is more likely going to happen if someone doesn't come up with a better idea than "the rich are rich that's just the way it is" is that the two million millionaires are going to die with us. The three hundred million are not going to go quietly through their "demand destruction." We've got the financial collapse, the peak oil collapse, and the climate change collapse coming. Everyone with a brain, including those millionaires better come up with a sustainable economic system. I really don't think that the peons are going to go quietly.

Hey, fellow TOders!

Check out what these 8th graders have to say about their study of the movie and book "The Corporation."

Also, if you've not looked it over yet, check out the book "The Divine Right of Capital: Dethroning Corporate Aristocracy" by Marjorie Kelly.

I think that we need to see our discussions go deeper than they normally do related to our current economic and political structures.

Economics is politics in disguise.

Economics is never an objective science, but always a political technology.

Ultimately, we design (or corrupt) an economic system to benefit a shrinking elite, or we keep a healthy but difficult dynamic going which moves our political, economic, and corporate culture toward a broad and democratic definition of wealth, which not only includes all people, but also includes our species within the context of a shared ecosystem.

The paradox is that the more democratic capitalism truly is, the more we all benefit.

Perhaps, but only if we're willing to live in small steady-state intentional communities (e.g., Mennonites), where one's accountability to the community is direct and unfiltered and not delegated to someone else.

In discussions like these, scale matters. The larger our numbers and the more stress we place on the Earth's carrying capacity, the harder it will be to maintain our freedoms, regardless of pre-existing constitutional guarantees and property rights. The objective, as Garrett Hardin once wrote, is to arrive at those limitations via "mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon." That's something that can happen with any society, whether capitalist or socialist, though with each additional claim on resources, the coercive measures become more difficult to agree on.

"To plain speaking and clear understanding"--Sidney Greenstreet, The Maltese Falcon

All forms of human 'economics' are simply distortions or perversions of the original economics; namely Ecology.

Ecology is the primary 'market force' because it is based on physics, Not money.

The original primal currency is energy. Period

Not the 'accounting' schemes of present day modern economics , which are based on gerry-rigged, insider trading, tortuous manipulations of logic and civil law by corrupt special interest.

A deer standing in a field at -20 degrees is making every btu it needs to survive with the fat stores on it's own body. If it did not eat enough the previous spring/summer/fall to put on sufficient fat, it Dies.


The deer does not have the luxury of suspending the second law of thermodynamics, and ultimately neither does human civilization.

That is Ecology/economics.

The deer does Not have the option to take out a low interest 'loan' to get a few thousand more btus on it's credit card to survive it's current predicament, it just freezes to death.


That is the Real Economics at work, Physics.

Accountants would hate to have to account with Physics (EROEI) instead of the current Enronomics of the US tax code which is a hostage to political perversion (Accountants are by and large not smart enough anyway to do so even if they could)

Real money like real power is literally grounded on Energy, Not fiat currency.

Until humans start honestly analyzing and accounting using energy instead of what currently passes off as 'money', nothing will change.

And oh, bye the bye, in all this post about how many btus can dance on the head of an oil drill, I read very few remarks emphasizing the fact that there is a Real Time Clock (RTC) running out on the problem. One of the few moments in human history where decades and a century or two will be a very moot point.

The deer in that meadow at -20 zero is humanity, and theory, and insiders connections, and 'freedom' and The Market are Not going to save it.

Energy is going to save it. Physics is going to save it.


Not Magical Thinking or Accounting Theory.

To those who think "The Market" will always eventually prevail in the end (given enough Time Which We Do Not Have) remember John Maynard Keynes quip in response to Markets Alway Solve Every Problem (MASEP),

He agreed whole heartedly, markets alway do prevail eventually precisely because:

"In the long run, we are all dead"

"in the long run, we are all dead" - well spoken

looks like you basically summarized my earlier post.

I agree whole heartedly

Are we forgetting that there are other countries THAT DO take the issue of HC consumption seriously and can serve as a model other than mentioning that failure USSR?

Sweden, Finland, Japan come to mind. Hence IMHO it can be done.

You guys need to smoke more weed. Only in liberal Amerika would this anti-freedom crap be debated. Not even the Chinese believe this sh*t anymore. Get out and see the real world folks. The funny thing is “evil” US multinationals suffer because they try to do what's right and get laughed at by the locals and their non-US competitors. Take a look at what's really happening outside your crapy little apartments and see who's screwing the planet, today. Go to asia (all over), middle east, africa (all over), s. america (Venezuela in particular), even europe. You'll be amazed if your eyes and brain still work... The US system ain't so bad! But I guess your mind (what's lefty of it) is already made up?

Before you go, first buy a passport.

We wouldn't want to be stuck with a lot of cowboys over here


Thank you for your insightful and poignant response. It is this kind of creative thinking that will make our impending energy transition much smoother.

"Only One Reason to Grant a Corporate Charter" by David Korten is up over at CommonDreams.

Korten has had a fair amount of success (understatement?) within our current system, but sees where we are headed with it.

An outline of the "free market" we've depeloped so far -- from the article:

"Here is the big picture in brief outline.

1. Consumption: Growth in human consumption resulting from a combination of population growth and growth in consumption per capita is depleting the natural life support system of the planet, disrupting hydrology and climate systems, and threatening human survival.

2. Inequality: Unconscionable and growing concentration of financial power in a world engaged in an ever more intense competition for a declining base of material wealth is eroding the social fabric to the point of widespread social breakdown.

3. Institutional Pathology: The most powerful institutions on the planet, global financial markets and the transnational corporations that serve them, are dedicated to growing consumption and inequality. They convert real capital into financial capital to increase the relative economic power of those who live by money, while depressing the wages of those who produce real value through their labor. They offer palliatives that leave the deeper cause of our potentially terminal environmental and social crises untouched, because they are the cause."

And what we must do:

"Our future depends on a dramatic cultural and institutional transformation to reduce aggregate consumption and achieve an equitable distribution of economic power.It requires an epic institutional transformation to:

1. Reduce aggregate human consumption.

2. Redistribute financial power from rich to poor to achieve an equitable distribution of Earth’s life-sustaining wealth.

3. Increase economic efficiency by reallocating material resources from harmful to beneficial uses. Examples include reallocation from military to health care and environmental rejuvenation, from automobiles to public transportation, from suburban sprawl to compact communities, from conversion to reclamation of forest and agricultural land, from advertising to education, and from global financial speculation to investment in self-reliant local economies.

4. Invest in the regeneration of the living human, social, and natural capital that is the foundation of all real wealth. This requires reversing the current process of converting the real wealth of living capital into the fictitious wealth of financial capital and accepting the resulting negative returns to financial capital. It may take us awhile to recognize that just as increasing financial capital at the expense of living capital makes us collectively poorer, increasing living capital at the expense of financial capital makes us collectively richer.

5. Accelerate social innovation, adaptation, and learning by nurturing cultural diversity and removing intellectual property rights impediments to the free and open flow of beneficial knowledge."

Finally, the only reason to charter a corporation:

"The only legitimate reason for a government to issue a corporate charter giving a group of private investors a legally protected right to aggregate and concentrate virtually unlimited economic power under unified management is to serve a well-defined public purpose under strict rules of public accountability. This defines a public-benefit corporation, which can be chartered as either for-profit or not-for-profit. The private-benefit corporation is an institutional anomaly, a creation of monarchy that properly shares monarchy’s historic fate."

We have rebelled against Kings, only to create them again in the form of unaccountable legal sociopaths.

Reforms as Korten suggests above are needed for survival.

Just wanted to point out:

I believe someone associated the Federal Reserve with Capitalism.

Depending on how one defines capitalism, I guess you could make that contention.

However, US monetary policy is the antithesis of a free-market system.

(Even Jon Stewart, whom I would venture to guess is no economist (nor am I) was astute enough to recognize that and point it out to Alan Greenspan, much to the latter's embarrassment. Nobody is supposed to point out the emperor has no clothes.)

Our monetary policy is not operated as a free market, it is controlled by a government-sanctioned banking monopoly known as the Federal Reserve.

But, aside from monetary policy, I agree that our economy is heavily based on the free-market philosophy.

I personally don't believe that any modern human society that does not have a heavy dose of market economics is inevitably one in which ordinary citizens are enslaved. On the other hand, free markets clearly are inadequate to address all the problems we face as evidenced by the case of peak oil.

A couple of other comments: I find it odd that there are so many comments here portray the economic systems of countries of the world in such black and white terms. It seems to me the vast majority of the developed world has adopted a hybrid system of free markets accompanied by a welfare state. It doesn't seem to me that there is a huge difference between the economic system of the major nations of Europe versus the US. The example of Costa Rica that was mentioned as an attractive alternative- my impression is that their economy is much like ours as well.

It seems to me that a free-market system accompanied by a welfare state to, for example, assist the disabled, did not evolve as the dominant economic system of the developed world by accident.

I believe it did so because it has proven successful in producing prosperity accompanied by some recognition of moral obligations.

Consider how broad this consensus is: In the US, the difference between one major political party and the other is whether to tax high incomes at the federal level at 40% or 35%.

I would say, as grave as peak oil is likely to prove to be, I am wary of it serving as a pretext to institute an authoritarian system at the drop of a hat.

When I read someone talking about "should someone be allowed to get rich", to me at the heart of that statement is an authoritarian mindset.

I am perfectly willing to accept personal freedoms being circumscribed where a compelling case can be made that is necessary for the survival of society. But I believe such issues should be discussed from the standpoint that the burden of proof lies in the curtailing of individual rights. I do not believe that the presumption should lie in the Government having the right to arbitrarily restrict the rights of the individual.

Another great topic to make people use there thinking caps, and a number of great responses too.
Just think all this discussion from a article in the local news paper the article was talking about our new country club neighborhood , and how the residents have disposable incomes and they are about the image, kinda like having a tan in Feb.
This is were the nevo’s run unleashed and do not even see they are insulting the rest of the community they live in.
I am amazed with what can evolve from two guys talking about stuff in the paper.

All my point is that we are doomed, but I can’t wait until we reboot America then quality of life will be better.

Peace be with you