Peak Oil And The Tea Party Movement

Time Magazine recently had an article (Why the Tea Party Movement Matters) that looked at the latest manifestation of populism in the United States, with widespread discontent at the state of the US economy and the US political system, particularly the lack of transparency evident in many government initiatives ranging from the bail-out of the financial system to proposed changes to healthcare, along with discontent about costly wars in the middle east that seem to be never-ending.

The "tea partiers" remain a somewhat disorganised grass-roots movement (albeit one with concerted efforts by the conservative establishment to pull their strings) and they are showing some signs of adopting the tactics of the hippie counterculture of past decades and simply dropping out of mainstream society (see this piece on the "Rippies" for some background), but they do have the potential to grow as a result of a number of problematic trends affecting the western world in general and the United States in particular.

The graph below shows a possible scenario for average per capita oil consumption in the United States over the next 40 years, which could possibly drop by 90%. In this post I'll have a look at the boost this is likely to give to populist politics and some of the possibilities for addressing this.

The data that the graph is generated can be found here.

The oil production scenario is a simple one most peak oil analysts would find optimistic - it is based on peak production being achieved in 2026.

Global and US population numbers are based on population models that show global population rising to 9.5 billion (and US population rising to 530 million) in 2050.

The US consumption model assumes that US per capita oil consumption will equalise with that elsewhere in the world over the next 40 years as a result of globalisation.

Mythological thinking, the de-industrialisation of the West and the New World Order

Australian climate change minister Penny Wong recently made a speech to a conference on "Coasts and Climate Change" (see Wong: Climate sceptics are all red herrings and quackery for the full text) where she made some remarks about climate skeptics and their frequent accusations that climate scientists are "part of a vast conspiracy to de-industrialise the Western world" (which is often just one facet of conspiracy theories involving the "New World Order").

While the climate scientists are no doubt innocent of these charges (and correct when they point to global warming being a serious and growing problem) the idea that the West is being deindustrialised is not as wacky as it appears at first glance.

Michael Lind has an interesting column in Salon (Mythological politics), exploring the beliefs of the populist right, in particular its recent manifestation via the tea party movement (occasionally referred to as the "tea baggers" by their detractors), noting that they are ideological descendants of liberty loving Britons of the 17th century, noting that "In a debate for the hearts and minds of the American people, Ron Paul will defeat Peter Orszag every time.".

The narrative expounded by the populists may often be based on myth rather than reality, however their charge that the west is being deindustrialised is partially true (as a result of globalisation) and the people who join or support groups like the tea partiers are usually the people directly impacted by this, so simply dismissing their complaints as myth based delusions is rather unfair.

As an aside, a lot of conspiracy theorists - from both the right and the left - often quote influential Canadian Maurice Strong (viewed as a prototypical member of the "New World Order" - ie. the elites pushing the shift to globalisation - in tinfoil circles) as saying "Isn’t the only hope for the planet that the industrialized civilizations collapse? Isn’t it our responsibility to bring this about?", though apparently this was a fictional scenario being described rather than a plan he wanted to implement.

Stuart Staniford has an interesting post (Chinese Labor Costs, Tea Partiers as True Believers) exploring one aspect of globalisation that is unfolding - the impact of low cost Chinese manufacturing on workers in the US and how this is likely to create the conditions necessary for mass movements as large numbers of workers find themselves in long term unemployment, with few prospects.

Tuesday evening, I was reading Don Peck's generally excellent cover piece, How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America in the March Atlantic. The piece lays out the social damage caused by extended unemployment. ... The entire thing is very well worth reading. I have intimate personal acquaintance with this issue - my Dad had an extended period of unemployment that began during the economic backwash from the 1973 oil shock, and I still bear a few psychic scars from that episode.

I was musing on this piece, and couldn't help thinking of the statistics in Chinese steel production I examined a few days ago. In particular, Peck's piece gives the example of "Errol", a young unemployed machinist ... US steel production has roughly halved since 2006, and so jobs for folks like Errol working with that steel are naturally going to be very hard to find. ...

Alright, so the federal government could continue to run a big deficit, fix a bunch of old infrastructure in Pennsylvania (and elsewhere) and Errol might find a job in that effort for a while. But clearly, the US, with its strong political resistance to paying taxes, can only increase it's national debt up to a certain point, and so after a few years such a government program would have to cease (if indeed it were politically feasible even to start it). So that gets Errol to, say, his mid thirties as a much more experienced and capable machinist. Then what is he to do?

It seems to me that Errol has a much deeper problem: what is it that some US company can employ Errol to make that cannot be made much cheaper in China? And do not the data on Chinese steel production (above) and Chinese transportation and housing, make it clear that the Chinese have every intention of building industrial production capacity that completely dwarfs that of the US?

In search of data on comparative labor costs, I discovered the the US Bureau of Labor Statistics sent a couple of experienced labor statisticians to China to sort out the data situation there. The latest summary of their work is here, and the key graph is this one:

While Chinese wages are increasing, they clearly have an incredibly long way to go before they reach anything like Western levels. The current average for manufacturing wages in China is less than $1/hour. ...

But, and perhaps more importantly, I want to address a reaction I suspect many readers might have - "Oh, we've been dealing with Asian competition for decades now, yeah it's not good, yeah unemployment in Michigan is bad, but the sky hasn't fallen."

Indeed, this is true. However, I suggest that the problem with China is an order of magnitude larger than the earlier problem with Japan and Korea. Firstly, those countries have population of about 130 million (Japan) and 50 million (Korea). China has a population of 1.3 billion - ten times larger than Japan - and is determinedly trying to bring them all into the twentieth century. Secondly, as the labor cost graph higher up shows, Japanese manufacturing wages, for example, are about 80% of those in the US, while Chinese manufacturing wages are about 3%. It's going to take a very long while, or an unthinkably large correction in exchange rates, for Chinese wages to get anywhere close to those in the US.

You can see the effects of this in the data for US manufacturing employment. It peaked in 1980 and then gradually descended to the 2000 recession. But since then, as Chinese exports have ramped up, it's gone into a much more serious decline. It goes off a cliff in each recession, and it doesn't recover at all in between - in fact it continues to decline, only more slowly.

If we continue with our existing policies, it's very hard to see how this is going to change in the next decade or so (absent some internal collapse in China). As the Chinese figure out how to make cars, computers, furniture, etc, etc, to western quality standards, the entire industrial production capacity of the United States is going to get hollowed out. Manufacturing employment in the United States would appear to be headed towards zero, give or take some noise.

Let's not put too fine a point on this: guys like Errol are fucked.

In fact, the entire working class of the United States is fucked. Without manufacturing jobs, they are reduced to the small number of jobs installing and fixing the stuff that comes from China, and then low paying unskilled retail and service jobs. With large numbers of chronically unemployed, the folks who are employed will have no leverage whatsoever on pay and conditions. ...

It appears to me that the Tea Party movement, as disorganized and incoherent as it may currently be, places us on notice that conditions in the United States are now such as to support the beginnings of mass movements of the kind Hoffer is talking about. Such movements are not known for having good ideas for how to run society (note the failures and crimes of both Communism and Nazism when put into practice). In particular, they don't need to have ideas that make sense to the elite of the current society (such as abolishing the Federal Reserve). They just need to have ideas good enough to appeal to the unbearably disappointed and frustrated, the failed and the failing, and credibly promise to solve their emotional problems and give meaning to their lives.

It appears to me that with a working class that is now fundamentally and massively uncompetitive with China, a country with four times the population and wages a tiny fraction of ours, the United States is ripe for a lot more of this kind of thing. What ails us is not just the aftermath of a financial crisis, to be solved with a stimulus. Instead, if present trends continue, we face a national crisis of the first order which will play out over decades. What should our entire working class do now that will give their lives meaning? No quick fix is apparent.

While its arguable that lower wages will mean all manufacturing shifts to China (Germany and Japan have had some success at retaining manufacturing industries in spite of high local wages by concentrating on high quality products, for example), given present trends it does seem that the manufacturing base for the US and other Anglo-Saxon countries, along with much of western Europe, is in long term decline.

The US has had some success in shifting to a services and intellectual property based economy, however financial services have proved to be a not entirely reliable pillar of the economy and intellectual property is hard to protect and extract revenue from offshore (as Cory Doctorow noted in an interesting speech a few years ago).

As Stuart points out, the working class in these countries have little to gain from globalisation - while it may eventually result in a higher standard of living for everyone, it will take decades before labour costs equalise globally and the "rising tide raises all boats" effect could kick in. In the meantime elites seem to be prospering from the trend, so there will likely be a continuing increase in inequality and the resentment this causes (comments like Barach Obama's jibe about the losers from this trend "clinging to their guns and religion" simply add insult to injury for those trapped in post-industrial America's ghost towns I might add).

We've seen populist movements have some limited political success in the past as a result of this. For example, the One Nation party which arose in Australia in the 1990's following the liberalisation of the economy by the Hawke and Keating governments - interestingly there has been some speculation ex-One Nation leader Pauline Hanson will become involved with the BNP in the UK (a right wing group that has shown an interest in using peak oil as a campaigning tool) now she has decided to leave Australia.

The Time magazine piece I began the post with noted that the Reform Party filled a similar niche in the US during the George HW Bush / Clinton years, with H Ross Perot campaigning against the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to start the movement and Pat Buchanan and Ralph Nader following afterwards (ever less successfully and demonstrating that populism can swing back and forth between right and left).

Sarah Palin (who seems more an opportunist than credible political figure) and Ron Paul (who often displays a lot of integrity but who maintains some pretty archaic notions on other issues leading to a number of reservations about him even out on the fringes) are the politicians mentioned in the Time article as being front-runners to attract tea partier support.

The US seems to be most at risk of seeing a revival of a populist mass movement on the right (there seems less chance of a sudden revival of socialism there as a result of rising levels of joblessness, given the political left remains largely moribund outside of Latin America), with the last decade seeing revenge fantasies like the "Left Behind" series being lapped up by those in the working class who are being left behind and the tea partier / bagger movement being the latest sign that populism is on the rise (with the SPLC recently releasing a report claiming the number of "patriot" groups increased by 250% last year).

Unemployment caused by globalisation and cheap Chinese labour is one reason for a resurgence of populism, but there are a number of others :

1. The US is slowly losing the geopolitical dominance it has enjoyed since the end of the second world war. As George Kennan famously put it half a century ago:

We have about 50% of the world's wealth but only 6.3% of its population. This disparity is particularly great as between ourselves and the peoples of Asia. In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. To do so, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming; and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world-benefaction.

For these reasons, we must observe great restraint in our attitude toward the Far Eastern areas. The peoples of Asia and of the Pacific area are going to go ahead, whatever we do, with the development of their political forms and mutual interrelationships in their own way. This process cannot be a liberal or peaceful one. The greatest of the Asiatic peoples-the Chinese and the Indians-have not yet even made a beginning at the solution of the basic demographic problem involved in the relationship between their food supply and their birth rate. Until they find some solution to this problem, further hunger, distress, and violence are inevitable. All of the Asiatic peoples are faced with the necessity for evolving new forms of life to conform to the impact of modern technology. This process of adaptation will also be long and violent. It is not only possible, but probable, that in the course of this process many peoples will fall, for varying periods, under the influence of Moscow, whose ideology has a greater lure for such peoples, and probably greater reality, than anything we could oppose to it. All this, too, is probably unavoidable; and we could not hope to combat it without the diversion of a far greater portion of our national effort than our people would ever willingly concede to such a purpose.

In the face of this situation we would be better off to dispense now with a number of the concepts which have underlined our thinking with regard to the Far East. We should dispense with the aspiration to "be liked" or to be regarded as the repository of a high-minded international altruism. We should stop putting ourselves in the position of being our brothers' keeper and refrain from offering moral and ideological advice. We should cease to talk about vague and -- for the Far East -- unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better.

2. This geopolitical dominance had enabled the US to exert a large degree of control over much of the world's oil supply (viewing the middle east as ‘the most strategically important area of the world’ and ‘…one of the greatest material prizes in world history’) and to become by far the largest consumer of it.

3. US control of oil is steadily slipping. While the Iraq war was viewed by many as a grab for the country's oil reserves, control has remained elusive, with the Iraqi government handing over rights to exploit a lot of large fields to oil companies from other countries (with the Asia Times putting it like this - "After at least US$2 trillion spent by Washington and arguably more than a million dead Iraqis, it has come to this: a pipe dream definitely buried this past weekend in Baghdad with round two of bids to exploit a number of vast and immensely profitable oil fields.")

4. As US economic pre-eminence fades, US consumers are going to find that they no longer get to consume the lions share of the oil that is being produced and their per capita consumption will steadily decline towards the global mean (meaning a huge shift in relative consumption in the graph shown earlier).

5. As oil becomes harder to extract and we reach a peak of production, consumers will be competing for supplies that are static or falling in volume and there is further pressure for average per capita oil consumption to shrink.

6. As the global population continues to rise towards the 9 billion mark there is again further pressure for average per capita oil consumption to shrink.

The combination of these factors means the average US consumer is going to find maintaining the lifestyle they are used to (particularly regarding effectively unlimited use of motor vehicle based transportation) impossible over the next decade or two, unless there is a large and sudden shift to electric transport and clean energy sources, as the chart at the start of the post demonstrates.

The stress that this transition will cause seems likely to amplify the appeal of populist politicians offering "simple" solutions (involving further military adventures abroad or draconian policies at home). As an additional factor, the US also has a large population of war veterans who are likely traumatised by their experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan and facing a weak economy and poor employment prospects when they return home (especially those who are less skilled), and who are likely to find populist policies appealing.

What can be done about this (to ensure a prosperous and peaceful future for all) remains an unanswered question, however many of these issues were considered back in the 1970's.

American geopolitical operator Zbigniew Brzezinski (who is still active today, with his most memorable outing in recent years being his somewhat infamous "head in the bed" speech to the US Senate in 2007 warning neoconservatives not to attack Iran), wrote a number of books analysing future trends and advocating a massive surveillance state in order for elites to maintain control of the situation (along with reversing the "excess of democracy" people like Samuel Huntington perceived in the 1960's and 70's), as outlined in this passage from "Between Two Ages":

"The technotronic era involves the gradual appearance of a more controlled society. Such a society would be dominated by an elite, unrestrained by traditional values. [T]he capacity to assert social and political control over the individual will vastly increase. It will soon be possible to assert almost continuous surveillance over every citizen and to maintain up-to-date, complete files, containing even most personal information about the health or personal behavior of the citizen in addition to more customary data. These files will be subject to instantaneous retrieval by the authorities."

Science fiction writer John Brunner wrote a number of books exploring where these trends might take us, advocating much greater transparency in "The Shockwave Rider" (the opposite of Brzezinski's suggestion above) as a way of retaining popular faith in large institutions and warning of what might happen if the interests of elites diverged far enough from those of the general population as the economy delined and environmental crises emerged in "The Sheep Look Up".

The most famous look forward was from the Club of Rome (an elite grouping generally mistrusted - unfairly - by the populists), who commissioned the often-misunderstood work "The Limits To Growth" which analysed a number of scenarios and recommended a set of steps to avoid environmental (and political) collapse including :

* improved monitoring of our impact on the environment and the resource base
* improved response times to signals from the monitoring described above
* extending planning horizons
* increased use of renewable resource (such as clean energy sources)
* aiming for maximum efficiency in use of resources
* closed loop industrial techniques (commonly known as "cradle to cradle" manufacturing)
* regenerative agricultural practices
* poverty reduction
* nonviolent conflict resolution
* accurate/unbiased media
* “decentralisation of economic power, political influence and scientific expertise”
* “stable populations” and “low birth rates” by “individual choice”

While there has been some movement in these directions at times, by and large "Limits" didn't have the intended effect (with John Michael Greer pointing to it as an example of "Weishaupt's Fallacy" in action).

Jeremy Rifkin has some interesting ideas in a recent article in New Scientist ("The third industrial revolution "), involving the "democratisation of energy" which represent a positive way forward aligned with some of the suggestions in "Limits".

What is the premise of The Empathic Civilization?

My sense is that we're nearing an endgame for the modern age. I think we had two singular events in the last 18 months that signal the end. First, in July 2008 the price of oil hit $147/barrel. Food riots broke out in 30 countries, the price of basic items shot up and purchasing power plummeted. That was the earthquake; the market crash 60 days later was the aftershock. It signaled the beginning of the endgame of a great industrial era based on fossil fuels. The second event, in December 2009, was the breakdown in Copenhagen, when world leaders tried to deal with our entropy problem and failed.

That's the context of the book. Why couldn't our world leaders anticipate or respond to the global meltdown of the industrial revolution? And why can't they deal with climate change when scientists have been telling us that it may be the greatest threat our species has ever faced? ...

In the book you argue that we can break the paradox by shifting from geopolitical consciousness to biosphere consciousness.

We need to implement reglobalization from the bottom-up in order to achieve a more sustainable global economy. Geopolitics is an extension of the Enlightenment view of human nature, the idea that we pursue our utilitarian pleasures and individual self-interests. In geopolitics, the nation-state becomes a macro view of that. Nations deal with nations by being rational, detached and calculating, pursuing self-interests, excercising power and acquiring more capital and wealth. That's why Copenhagen failed. The world leaders weren't thinking biosphere, they were thinking geopolitics. Everyone was looking out for their nation's self-interest.

What we need to do is attempt biosphere politics. Governing units are going to change--I think there's going to be a shift toward continentalization. The EU is a first attempt at organizing a new frame of reference across continents, but it's a transitional governing form. The Asian Union, African Union and South American Union are in their early stages. ...

What will the Third Industrial Revolution look like? When will it happen?

I think we're on the verge. I had the privilege to help design the European Union's Third Industrial Revolution economic stability game plan, which was endorsed by the European Parliament in 2007. What we noticed is that in the last 10 or 15 years we've had a very powerful communication revolution with the internet, and the key word is that it's distributed. What's beginning to happen now is that the distributed ICT [information and communication technologies] revolution is beginning to converge with a new energy regime: distributed renewable energy. When they do converge, it's likely to change consciousness once again.

Distributed ICT will organize distributed energies. Renewables like wind, solar, geothermal and biomass are found in some proportion everywhere, in people's backyards. As people begin to harvest these renewable energies they can share electricity peer-to-peer across an internet-like smart energy grid that extends across nations and even continents. We see buildings as the new power plants. Buildings are the number one source of C02 emmissions, but they might also be the solution if they can harness renewables to produce their own energy on site. People will also need new energy storage technologies like hydrogen. The EU has committed 8 billion Euros to hydrogen storage technologies. Those technologies will give us dependable distributed energy.

I founded the Third Industrial Revolution Global CEO Business Roundtable, which is comprised of 100 leading companies from renewable energy to utilities to architectural firms. We're starting to lay out plans. ...

You said that people hear "empathy" and think "socialism". How does capitalism survive an empathic society?

Market capitalism will be transformed into "distributed capitalism". Just as the internet led to the democratization of information, the Third Industrial Revolution will lead to the democratization of energy. The required changes to infrastructure are going to create massive amounts of jobs and a whole new economy. But when you have peer-to-peer sharing of energy across an intelligent grid system, you no longer have the top-down, centralized economic system. Distributed energy requires distributed capitalism, and that relies on the opposite view of human nature than that of market capitalism. But the politics isn't right or left--its centralized, top-down versus collaborative commons. You don't hear people say, I'm going onto a social networking space because I'm a socialist--it's just a different frame of reference.

Another thinker from the 1970's who looked at these trends was Bucky Fuller, who advocated both globalisation and a large degree of individual freedom.

With legal planning of their lawyer-advised banking leaders, the "haves" have now succeeded in cornering all the world's monetary gold as well as the preponderance of the world's petroleum resources - along with their refineries and world-around petro-delivery systems together also with acquisitions of all the atomic power-generating plants, originally paid for by the US taxpayers - and thereafter in severing the monetary system from the wealth system while marking up the negotiable equity value of gold and petroleum tenfold.

They also have contrived their own game of international monetary banking of international balances of trade and credit accounting, greatly aided by the priorly established existence of 150 "sovereign" nations around planet Earth.

That division of world political power into 150 sovereign nations is a consequence of thousands of years of successive and individually independent contriving of history's most powerful leaders. The number-one strategy of the successful leaders of history's successively established supreme socioeconomic control systems has always been to induce the spontaneous self-divisioning of those designed to be conquered and to keep them spontaneously self-dividing and their divisions lethally interarrayed against one another in order to keep them conquered.

The longer the self-divisionings can be self-perpetuating, the more spontaneously are the divisions accepted institutionally by the successive generations as being "natural" divisions ... The prime vulnerabilities of humanity, which make it subject to spontaneous self-dividing, are those of different speech patterns, skin color, religions, social customs, class or caste systems, political preferences and all varieties of individually unique "troubles", suffering and discontent.

The historical consequence of this aeons-ago-commenced employment of this grand strategy of 'divide to conquer and keep divided to keep conquered" accounts for the "natural" acceptance today by world peoples of the seemingly "God-given" existance of 150 sovereign nations of the world and their respective geographical division of all the world's dry land. ...

The plotted curve of the rate of gain for increasing proportions of all humanity being thus swiftly advantaged by the doing more for more people with less and less matter and energy per function - all accomplished with computers, satellites, alloys, etc. - indicates that 100 percent of all humanity will be thus advantaged before 2000 A.D. In less than twenty years (less than one generation) all humanity is scheduled by evolution (not by any world planning body) to become physically more successful and,metaphysically more interestingly occupied than have any humans ever been in all known history-provided that humanity does not commit ignorance-, fear-, and -panic-induced total-species suicide.

Why might they panic? All the present bureaucracies of political governments, great religious organizations, and all big businesses find that physical success for all humanity would be devastating to the perpetuation of their ongoing activities. This is because all of them are founded on the premise of ameliorating individual cases while generally exploiting on behalf of their respective political, religious, or business organizations the condition of nowhere- nearly- enough-life-support-for-all and its resultant great human suffering and discontent.

Reason number two for fear-wrought panic is because all of the 150 nations of our planet are about to be desovereignized by evolution; that is, they are about to become operatively obsolete - about to be given up altogether. There are millions in the U.S.A., for instance, who on discovery that their government was about to become bankrupt and defunct would become activist "patriots," and might get out their guns and start a Nazi movement, seeking dictatorially to reinstate the "good old days." If people in many of the 150 nations succeeded in re-establishing their sovereignties and all the customs-barrier, balance-of-trade shacklings, it would soon be discovered that the 150 nations represent 150 "blood clots" imperiling the free interflowing of the evolution-producing metals and products recirculation as well as of the popular technical know-how disseminating.

We have today, in fact, 150 supreme admirals and only one ship - Spaceship Earth. We have the 150 admirals in their 150 staterooms each trying to run their respective stateroom as if it were a separate ship. We have the starboard side admirals' league trying to sink the port side admirals' league. If either is successful in careening the ship to drown the "enemy" side, the whole ship will be lost.

Long ago the world's great religions learned how to become transnational or more effectively supranational. Next the world's great ideologies learned how to become supranational. Most recently the world's largest financial- enterprise corporations have become completely supranational in their operation. Big religion, ideologies, and businesses alike found it intolerable to operate only within 150 walled-in pens. Freeing themselves by graduating into supranational status, they have left all the people in the 150 pens to struggle with all the disadvantages of 150 mutually opposed economic policies. The European Economic Community is a local attempt to cope with this world problem.

The United States of America is not a nation. Nations are large tribes of humans that have been geographically isolated for millennia and have progressively inbred the physical types surviving under those unique geographical conditions. As mentioned, the U.S.S.R. had 146 naturally evolved nations" to integrate, the physiognomies of each U.S.S.R. nation looking quite different from the others'. The United States of America is a crossbreeding integration of humans from all the nations of the planet Earth; though often speaking of itself as the United States of America, it is not America. Its population is only one-half that of North and South America. The North Americans, consisting of Canadians, the U.S. citizens, and Mexicans, are evolutionarily cross-breeding into a single hybrid family of world humans. ...

It is the invisibility of the alloys and chemistries and of the electronic circuitry of the design science revolution which finds that revolution to be as yet uncomprehended and ignorantly opposed by humanity's reliance only on yesterday's politically visible means of problem-solving. It is both the invisibility and misinformedness that occasions the lack of spontaneous popular support of the invisible design science revolution by the most powerful political and money-making systems. Big government can see no way to collect taxes to run its bureaucracy if people are served directly and individually by daily cosmic-energy-wealth income. Money-makers cannot find a way of putting meters between people and the wind, Sun, waves, etc. Neither big government nor big business pays any serious attention to the fact that we can live on our energy income, rather than on nature's energy savings account (fossil fuels), or by burning our Spaceship Earth's physical hull, which consists entirely of atomic energy in the form of matter.

I'll close with this quote from Bucky, advocating a revolutionary approach to solving our problems.

We are in for the greatest revolution in history. If it's to pull the top down and it's bloody, all lose. If it is a design science revolution to elevate the bottom and all others as well to unprecedentedly new heights, all will live to dare spontaneously to speak and live and love the truth, strange though it often may seem.

I should have the (long delayed) next installment of my series on Bucky ready in the near future.

Related posts

Critical Path

Is It Time For A Four Day Working Week ?

Cross posted from Peak Energy (with substantial rework on March 8).

The convergence of wages toward a global mean was an utterly predictable consequence of the trend toward globalization of trade. Policymakers and their advisers would have all truly been dunces to have not anticipated this. Yet, hardly a word of warning was said about this, and it continues to be mentioned only by those of us far out on the irrelevant margins of public discourse. I am not one to go in for conspiracy theories. However, when you have a megatrend that is inevitably going to result in the massive impoverishment of the US (and indeed, most OECD nations) working and middle classes, for almost nothing to be acknowledged at all about it in the mainstream media (excepting a few lonely voices like Ross Perot, who were ridiculed, discredited and marginalized) does make one wonder. Conspiracy or dunces? So very hard to decide. . .

To the extent this was even obliquely mentioned at all, we were all assured that (in the US at least) that we were going to transition into a "knowledge economy", and that we would replace the low-tech jobs lost with new high-tech jobs. Right, as if that worked out. First of all, if there was ever a serious intent on the part of the nation's policy makers to make that happen, why was the US education system allowed to deteriorate (with the singular exception of a couple dozen world-class research universities, mostly staffed by foreign-educated professors and educating foreign graduate students)until it has become the laughing-stock of the world? Second, nobody seemed to anticipate that all those new engineering and computer programming jobs could be done just as easily in Bangalore as in Boston, and for a whole lot less money. Third, apparently most of our policymakers and their advisors really were dunces, because they were all stupid enough to think that the mere repackaging of financial instruments actually added enough value to not just sustain, but even expand, the US economy. Thus, most of those "new economy" jobs ended up being in the make-believe world of finance; that world has now collapsed, most of those jobs are going or on their way out, along with all the other "service economy" jobs that had been created by the multiplier effect of the finance bubble.

So here we are, plunging down the cliff, a long way to go to the bottom. What happens? And what SHOULD happen?

I am becomming very pessimistic with regard to the long-term prospects for the survival of the present US constitutional regime. When regimes become paralyzed by factional infighting while huge problems fester and multiply, while the military gets increasingly bogged down in multiplying commitments, when the debts pile up and can only be paid by rolling over with new debt, and when the popular culture descends into decadence, those regimes inevitably end up being replaced. When something can't go on forever, then it won't. I don't know what the shape of the replacement regime will be, or the chain events that will get it in power, but I have no optimism that any replacement regime will actually be "better". Actually, I dread it. Nevertheless, I am enough of a realist to see the writing on the wall, terrifying as it is. I don't know the time frame for regime change, either. I don't expect it before the next election cycle, and probably not even before the one after that. I see very little hope that the present US constitutional regime will survive for much more than a decade or two, though.

Regime change will happen, and many things will change in consequence, although I am sceptical that there is very much of anything that either the present or the replacement regime will be able to do that will make a very great difference in the overall downward trajectory of the US economy. The adjustments that will really matter will be the collective and cumulative impact of the tiny adjustments that the 300 million plus people in the US make over the next few decades. It will be a difficult trip downward for almost everybody, yet we have no choice; downward we must go.

So what will people like "Errol" have to do? I have been saying that the 21st century is going to have to be one long exercise in giving up things. That is certainly going to apply to people like him. One of the biggest and most difficult things he is going to have to give up are his expectations. There is going to have to be a radical lowering of expectations across the board, across the entire population. Life is not going to match up to anything except the most modest and humble dreams, and even that will be having it pretty good. Americans are going to be getting poorer, MUCH poorer. The best thing that most Americans can do is to get ahead of the curve and start downsizing their lives earlier rather than later. People need to radically simplify their lives, and learn to live frugally. Cheap may be the new chic, but even if it isn't, that is how we are going to have to live. The thing is, if what you need to live on is considerably reduced, then the problem of earning a living also becomes easier to solve. There will still be jobs in the US, but they are going to be lower and lower paying jobs. Also, many people are going to find that they have to put together multiple streams of income from several things, including things in the "informal economy" that the IRS might or might not know about. It will be a lot easier for people who have adjusted their lifestyle down to the low end of the cost spectrum to make that work.

WNC,what concerns me a little at the moment about the USA is the negative conventional wisdom which is prevalent.This is contrary to the positive conventional wisdom doing the rounds in Australia.Both delusions are equally false.

The US has many weaknesses but it also has many strengths.What will do you in,and nothing more surely,is a prevailing attitude of defeatism.That doesn't mean talking up the stock market or similar cognitive dissonance.All that is just peripheral nonsense.

What is needed is a recognition of reality,a widespread discussion by the informed and caring citizenry about the problems and proposals to address them.If that happens in a democracy you stand a good chance of getting the leadership required regardless of all the banksters and fraudsters who are currently running the system.

Contrast that to China and maybe to a slightly lesser extent in India.Because China is run by what is effectively a military dictatorship nothing of any long term value is going to happen there without a violent revolution.Chindia is so far behind the eight ball that they can be discounted as any real threat to the US outside of nuclear war.

Look to the enemy within.

The conventional wisdom in the US is very much Polyanna and Pangloss: BAU can go on forever, prosperity is just around the corner, the light is visible at the end of the tunnel, cliche, cliche. Don't be misled by the pessimistic (to the mainstream, I would actually say "realistic") posts you see here on TOD - most of the very few pessimists/realists in America are right here. Better hope we never all get on the same plane.

I think that the US has a tremendous asset in its land, and we do have a lot of very decent people (generally not the ones making headlines!) and some very creative ones too. This is why I only consider myself to be a declinist and not a doomer. I DO think it is possible, even likely, that we'll only decline and then level off, rather than just plunge off the cliff into oblivion.

I am a realist, though. The US is facing huge, huge problems, and it is becoming very clear that the people at the top (both parties) are really not up to the task. It has become increasingly obvious that we have some systemic flaws in the way our society, economy, and polity are put together, and these flaws are preventing us from getting our act together and starting to do the things we have to do to actually solve our problems. It is a different country, in a different world, than it used to be. Change is coming, and it is not something I am looking forward to.

The convergence of wages toward a global mean was an utterly predictable consequence of the trend toward globalization of trade. Policymakers and their advisers would have all truly been dunces to have not anticipated this. [...] Conspiracy or dunces? So very hard to decide. . .

To call it a conspiracy though, one would have to ignore the fact that globalization was coming one way or another. It was in the cards... do you think President Perot could have stopped it? Conspiring globablization in the 80s and 90s would be like conspiring to have water continue flowing downstream. Likewise, it would be pretty duncey to think one could make water flow upstream.

I don't think anyone should argue that globalization was a conspiracy. It may very well been the logical outcome of a very visible chain of decisions in politics, finance and demographics. What is of concern is that the consequences of it should have been obvious to anyone paying attention. Yet all we got was some really silly nonsense about "knowledge" jobs and "post-industrial-society". The decision makers of western society should have been aware of the inevitable outcome yet they did nothing but enable the concentration of wealth into fewer and fewer hands.

Andrew & jjhman:

I tend to agree that globalization itself was inevitable rather than anything conspiratorial. However, the consequences were predictable and obvious and serious for high-wage countries and their workers, yet there was a deafening and unaccountable silence about that. Even to this day, neither top policymakers nor the mainstream media are really speaking the full truth about this to the American public. Is it "a conspiracy of silence", or are these people really the dunces that they appear to be? I'm increasingly inclined to think the latter (which is NOT a reassuring thought!), but one does wonder.

Nothing wrong with hope and faith,after all,none of us Homo Saps would be here without them.The danger is that such emotions will cloud perception of reality.

Humans face a pyramid of self inflicted stressors with population overshoot at the base ranging up to energy shortage in whatever order you like.Any one of these stressors is causing,or will cause,immense problems.The simultaneous multiplicity of the stressors can only result in massive breakdown of the present system.

In this inevitable scenario the rise of Asian nations and the presumed decline of the West,are really not more than minor blips on the radar screen of the commentariat.

Historically,this period is just a little like the period before WW 1.That was a time of glabalization and free trade with multiple empire building.Not only did that time create huge inequities between nations but within nations.It also created geopolitical conflicts which,as we now see,only needed a spark to create an inferno.One bullet at Sarajevo - a classic Black Swan.

Globalization and free trade are dead ideologies walking.We are fast approaching a time where it will be every nation for itself,and if citizens and leadership don't wake up,it will be every man and woman for him/her self.

One bullet at Sarajevo - a classic Black Swan.

Speak in hushed tones.
One small spark is all it takes to start a fire when the wood is dry.

OMG!! England is towing a rig to Ilas Malvinas.
OMG2 America is selling arms to Taiwan.
OMG3 No-one wants American script. (Bonds were under subscribed by 30%)

Hard hats anybody?

I agree with WNC Observer and his posts are very informative to gain a sense of what is happening in America.

Long term, the North American continent will be the place to be in a post-oil, cooked planet, as it still has vast livable spaces and a seemingly infinite amount of productive farmland. Right now, though, things are very, very bad in the U.S. Many others have written about this, but the teabaggers and, more generally, the Republican Party are our canary in the coal mine. Large swaths of middle and southern America-populated by people once thought to represent a pinnacle of modern civilization and supporting a lifestyle to be envied, and emulated, by the rest of the world-are revealed to be filled with mostly brainless dolts, in thrall to evangelical preachers and radio show personalities, constantly in fear of terrorists and immigrants, and unable to come up with (or revive) any idea on how to govern or solve problems. Heck, they can't even string a coherent thought together-making urban black rappers seem positively Shakespearean.

I make no excuses for the Democrats, but I'm sane enough (and have enough memories of 2000-2008) to understand what American right-wing populism represents-namely, theocratic anarchism. And I'm terrified. And Bush and Cheney are lambs compared to some of them.

None of this will end well for anybody now alive.