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Charles Hugh Smith: What Would A Better System Look Like?

Writer, philosopher and long-time contributor to PeakProsperity.com, Charles Hugh Smith, returns to the podcast to explain the new socio-economic model he has just introduced to the world through his new book A Hacker’s Teleology: Sharing the Wealth of Our Shrinking Planet.

The main mission behind Peak Prosperity is to focus on new, more regenerative and sustainable models that will better serve humanity than the old models which are currently falling apart. Charles posits a new way of living that is a) achievable with existing resources and technology, and b) much more equitable and resistant to abuse.

We very much need new alternatives like this at this time. Because, once the system breaks in earnest, our ‘leaders’ will be desperate — and as Jared Diamond wisely observed “Nations in crisis borrow and adapt solutions already devised”. So getting good ideas on the table now, so that they’re available to be adopted when needed, is critical.

The principal idea is we need a new system. Now, it doesn’t have to replace the existing system entirely. It just has to be an effective alternative that people can choose if they so desire to.

In my opinion, it needs to be decentralized, anti-fragile, yet connected with other like-minded people. But right now, we’re having to start from scratch, basically reinventing the wheel. We’re fighting a kludgy, broken, unfair, rigged system every step of the way if we want to create a decentralized community-based economy.

So what would a system be like if we designed it from scratch to actually make it easy to join a community economy? Well, we want a system that’s opt-in and voluntary, not like the one we have now.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

“Inflation” and America’s Accelerating Class War

“Inflation” and America’s Accelerating Class War

Those who don’t see the fragmentation, the scarcities and the battlelines being drawn will be surprised by the acceleration of the unraveling.

I recently came across the idea that inflation is a two-factor optimization problem: inflation is necessary for the macro-economy (or so we’re told) and so the trick for policy makers (and their statisticians who measure the economy) is to maximize inflation in the economy but only to the point that it doesn’t snuff out businesses and starve workers to death.

From this perspective, households have to grin and bear the negative consequences of inflation for the good of the whole economy.

This narrative, so typical of economics, ignores the core reality of “inflation” in America: it’s a battleground for the class war that’s accelerating. Allow me to explain.

“Inflation” affects different classes very differently. I put “inflation” in italics because it’s not one phenomenon, it’s numerous phenomena crammed into one deceptively simple word.

When “inflation” boosts the value of homes, stocks, bonds, diamonds, quatloos etc. to the moon, those who own these assets are cheering. When “inflation” reduces the purchasing power of wages, those whose only income is earned from their labor suffer a decline in their lifestyles as their wages buy fewer goods and services.

They are suffering while the wealthy owners of soaring assets are cheering.

The Federal Reserve and federal authorities are not neutral observers in this war. The Fed only cares about two things: enriching the banking sector and further enriching the already-rich.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Four D’s That Define the Future

The Four D’s That Define the Future

When the money runs out or loses its purchasing power, all sorts of complexity that were previously viewed as essential crumble to dust.
Four D’s will define 2020-2025: derealization, denormalization, decomplexification and decoherence. That’s a lot of D’s. Let’s take them one at a time.
I use the word derealization to describe the inner disconnect between what we experience and what the propaganda / marketing complex we live in tells us we should be experiencing.
Put another way: our lived experience is derealized (dismissed as not real) by official spin and propaganda.
The current state of the economy is a good example. We see the real-world economy declining yet the officially approved narrative is that there’s a V-shaped recovery underway because Big Tech stocks are hitting new highs. In other words, we don’t need a real-world economy, all we need is a digital economy provided by Big Tech platforms.
This is derealization at its finest: the everyday world you experience directly no longer matters; what matters is stock prices and various statistics that all paint a rosy picture.
Meanwhile, the wealthiest class is fleeing soon-to-be-bankrupt cities. The wealthiest class has the means to buy the best advice and also has the most to lose, so I give their actions far more credence than official propaganda.
This is why denormalization is an extinction event for much of our high-cost, high-complexity, heavily regulated economy. Subsidizing high costs doesn’t stop the dominoes from falling, as subsidies are not a substitute for the virtuous cycle of re-investment.
The Fed’s project of lowering the cost of capital to zero doesn’t generate this virtuous cycle; all it does is encourage socially useless speculative predation. Collapse isn’t “impossible,” it’s unavoidable.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

This Is How It Ends: All That Is Solid Melts Into Air

This Is How It Ends: All That Is Solid Melts Into Air

While the Federal Reserve and the Billionaire Class push the stock market to new highs to promote a false facade of prosperity, everyday life will fall apart.
How will the status quo collapse? An open conflict–a civil war, an insurrection, a coup–appeals to our affection for drama, but the more likely reality is a decidedly undramatic dissolution in which all the elements of our way of life we reckoned were solid and permanent simply melt into air, to borrow Marx’s trenchant phrase.
In other words, Rome won’t be sacked by Barbarians, or ignite in an insurrectionary conflagration–everything will simply stop working as those burdened with the impossible task of keeping a failed system glued together simply walk away.
If we examine the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Western Roman Empire, we can trace the eventual collapse to the sudden psychological shift from an assumption of permanence that found expression in denial (Rome can’t fall, it’s eternal…) or in the universal belief that life was unchanging and so everything was forever.
This psychological state was replaced by a shocked awareness that what was unimaginable, “impossible”–systemic collapse–was not only entirely possible, it was happening in real time. This change in consciousness arose in individuals in differing ways and velocities, but eventually everyone accepted that some adaptation was now necessary.
Correspondent R.J. and I have been discussing the consequences of the sharp decline in the value of labor which is painfully obvious in the chart below and the many other charts depicting the declining purchasing power of wages and the skimming of the majority of the economic gains by the top 0.1%.
In effect, it no longer pays to work beyond the bare minimum needed to survive as all the value generated by labor above this minimum is either skimmed by the Bezos, Buffetts, Gates, Zuckerbergs et al. or it’s paid in higher taxes to the government.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

We’re All Serfs of Big Tech

We’re All Serfs of Big Tech

What do you call an economy of monopolies without competition or any regulatory restraints?

An economy of monopolies that controls both the buying and selling in the markets they control?

Monopolies with the power to commit legalized fraud and the profits to buy political influence?

Monopolies whose black box algorithms are all-powerful but completely opaque to public scrutiny?

Call it whatever you want, but it certainly isn’t Capitalism, which requires competition and market transparency to price capital, labor, risk, credit, goods, services, etc.

Black Box Monopoly is the death of Capitalism as it eliminates competition and market transparency.

Legalized Fraud

The American economy is now dominated by Big Tech Black Box Monopolies, and thus what we have isn’t a “free market” system (a.k.a. capitalism), it’s the pretense of capitalism, a slick PR cover for the most rapacious form of exploitation.

The SillyCon Valley model is simple: achieve monopoly power by scaling the network effect and buying up hundreds of potential competitors with stock “printed” out of thin air.

Once monopoly is achieved, buyers and sellers are both captive to the Big Tech monopoly: both buyers and sellers of apps, for example, must submit to the profiteering and control of the Big Tech monopoly.

Once the profits flowing from monopoly pile up, buy back the shares you “printed” to eliminate competition, boosting the wealth of insiders to the moon. Since share buybacks were once illegal, this is nothing but legalized fraud.

Despite the immense destruction these Big Tech monopolies wreak on society, the political power they purchase protects them from any limits. of “free markets.”That their platforms now control the flow of data, including political content and adverts, is brushed aside with the usual paradoxical claims

Ironic, isn’t it?

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Will Skilled Hands-On Labor Finally Become More Valuable?

Will Skilled Hands-On Labor Finally Become More Valuable?

The sands beneath what’s scarce and what’s over-abundant are shifting.
On a recent visit to the welding shop where my niece’s husband works, I asked him if they had enough welders for their workload. His answer surprised me: “If you asked every welding shop in the country if they have enough welders, the answer would be no.”
The reasons for this disparity between the economic need and the workforce’s skills aren’t that complicated. Many of the skilled welders are Baby Boomers who are retiring or nearing retirement, and there aren’t enough younger trained welders to meet the need.
Though there appears to be an uptick in the number of young people interested in apprenticing to construction trades, the cultural zeitgeist has largely disdained hands-on, real-world skills in favor of making videos, becoming social-media influencers, joining an investment bank to make bank, working for a tech startup to score a quick million or two in stock options or if no creative way to make it big presents itself, join the cushiest bureaucracy available with lifetime security, or seek out a non-profit doing some virtue-signaling projects to pad your resume.
As for hands-on skills, becoming a chef certainly topped becoming a crane operator, as attaining semi-celebrity has become a core ladder of social mobility. The desirable livelihoods are creative, virtue-signaling, semi-celebrity and perhaps most importantly, clean white-collar (mostly digital) work.
On top of this cultural disdain we can overlay the general surplus of labor globally and the relative scarcity of profitable homes for capital. As I have often mentioned, the twin drivers of wealth for the past 30 years (arguably even longer) have been financialization and globalization, both of which heavily favor capital over labor, with the exception of tech-managerial skills needed to maximize profits in financialized, globalized ventures.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Here’s Why the “Impossible” Economic Collapse Is Unavoidable

Here’s Why the “Impossible” Economic Collapse Is Unavoidable

This is why denormalization is an extinction event for much of our high-cost, high-complexity, heavily regulated economy.

A collapse of major chunks of the economy is widely viewed as “impossible” because the federal government can borrow and spend unlimited amounts of money because the Federal Reserve can create unlimited amounts of money: the government borrows $1 trillion by selling $1 trillion in Treasury bonds, the Fed prints $1 trillion dollars to buy the bonds. Rinse and repeat to near-infinity.

With this cheery wind at their backs, conventional pundits are predicting super-rebounds in auto sales and other consumption as consumers weary of Covid-19 and anxious to blow their recent savings borrow and spend like no tomorrow.

As for the 30+ million unemployed–they don’t matter. Conventional analysts write them off because they weren’t big drivers of “growth” anyways–they didn’t have big, secure salaries and ample wealth/credit lines.

What this happy confidence in near-infinite money-printing and V-shaped spending orgies overlooks is what I’ve termed denormalization, an implosion of the Old Normal so complete that the expected minor adjustment to a New Normal is no longer possible.

The “New Normal” Is De-Normalization

We’re already in a post-normal world because the expansion of globalization and financialization needed to fuel the Old Normal has reversed into contraction. This reversal is an extinction event for all sectors and institutions with high fixed costs: air travel, resort tourism, healthcare, higher education, local government services, etc. because their fixed cost structures are so high they are no longer financially viable if they’re operating at less than full capacity.

Only getting back to 70% of previous capacity, revenues, tax receipts, etc. dooms them to collapse.

And there’s no way to cut their fixed costs without fatally disrupting all the sectors that are dependent on them.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Memo from Insiders: Dear Bagholders, Thanks for Buying Our Shares at the Top

Memo from Insiders: Dear Bagholders, Thanks for Buying Our Shares at the Top

The self-sustaining recovery is a fantasy that’s evaporated.

What looks like a powerful, can’t-lose rally to newbies is recognized as distribution by old hands. In low-volume markets (as in the past few months), insiders holding large positions can’t dump all their shares at once or the price of the stock would plummet due to the thinness of the bid.

The only way to get top-dollar for one’s overvalued shares is to play distribution games: sell a little each day on the upticks, and buy back shares when they threaten to drop below the key support levels followed by trading algos.

When insiders have finished distributing their shares to naive and trusting bagholders at the top, then the price can flush lower with a velocity that shocks the complacent bagholders who saw only the inevitability of an endless rally rather than the inevitability of a collapse of bubble valuations.

Stocks are priced for a V-shaped recovery and/or $1 trillion in federal giveaways per month. Neither is possible. The V-shaped recovery hopes were based on $6 trillion in federal/Federal Reserve stimulus washing over the nation, boosting household incomes and opening spigots of cash for enterprises and local governments.

The basic idea was to give the economy a needed shot of adrenaline to get to to the point where a recovery would be self-sustaining: companies would hire back laid-off workers, people would start borrowing and over-consuming again, sales and income tax revenues would return to pre-pandemic levels, etc.

The self-sustaining recovery is a fantasy that’s evaporated. The spike in activity was all the giveaways being spent. Now that most of the free-money programs are expiring, there’s no more stimulus to spend.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Why the Unraveling Will Accelerate

Why the Unraveling Will Accelerate

Sclerotic, hidebound institutions optimized for linear stability and permanent growth are simply not designed to adapt to non-linear change and disruption of permanent growth.

Since the first news of pandemic in late January, I’ve been discussing potential accelerants to the unraveling of our fragile financial system: second-order effects (initial travel restrictions and layoffs were first-order effects, new waves of layoffs are second-order effects) and the shift from linear dynamics (add 1 to inputs, that changes output by 1) to non-linear: (add 1 to inputs, that changes output by 10).

The system appears stable until a catalyst pushes it off the cliff. Catalysts come in a variety of forms, from the apparently modest “straw that breaks the came’s back” to a broad awakening that the status quo simply isn’t capable of adapting successfully to new realities.

Financial catalysts tend to result in sudden, cataclysmic collapses in liquidity, solvency and sentiment. While the Federal Reserve can “fix” liquidity crises by creating currency out of thin air, that doesn’t make bankrupt firms solvent or make employers hire employees. Once complacent confidence slides into cautious fear, massive liquidity injections to keep the system from crashing are understood as last-ditch desperation.

Social-political catalysts are slower but much more difficult to reverse. While the media’s attention has been focused on the protests stemming from long-standing institutional bias, As Mark, Jesse and I discuss in Salon #14: Jobageddon and the Coming Education Revolts, two other social-political catalysts are gathering momentum:

1. The failure of our education complex to provide workable childcare/learning solutions

2. The hope of a V-shaped recovery in employment collapses.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Introducing the “Everything Bubble” Sentiment-o-Meter

Introducing the “Everything Bubble” Sentiment-o-Meter

Since human wetware remains stuck in OS1.01, we can predict a remarkable reversal.

The “Everything Bubble” has been a sight to behold. With central banks providing trillions to the big players and margin debt enabling small punters to leverage up, the hot money rotation has been a real merry-go-round as one asset and sector after another is ignited by a massive flood of money seeking a quick return.

Once the hot sector has been slingshot to absurd heights, the hot money abandons it in favor of whatever hasn’t been shot into orbit.

Bat guano is the new Tesla–or maybe it’s Beanie Babies pulled out of attics, or sand. The sand index could be the next moonshot, who knows?

There’s an interesting self-referential, self reinforcing dynamic in manic bubbles. As everyone sees other “regular folks” scoring massive gains from doing nothing but buying what everyone else is buying, the temptation to join the orgy of easy money becomes irresistible.

This new money adds momentum to the hot-money rotation, accelerating the moves and the gains. In other words, the easy money just keeps getting easier.

This feeds an irresistible compulsion to leverage up–to borrow money and throw it into the 100% guaranteed-to-rise market. Once debt has been maxxed out, then punters discover options and leveraged ETFs as avenues to increase the 100% guaranteed gains.

To chart this self-reinforcing momentum in sentiment and hot money, I’ve prepared this “Everything Bubble” Bubble-o-Meter. Clearly, we’re at the very top: there’s no fear except of missing out. Buy the dip has yielded 100% guaranteed returns, with the proviso that the more you”invest” (heh), the more you make, and the more leverage you take on, the greater your gains.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Welcome to the Crazed, Frantic Demise of Finance Capitalism

Welcome to the Crazed, Frantic Demise of Finance Capitalism

The cognitive dissonance required to ignore the widening gap between the real economy and the fraud’s basic machinery–speculation funded by “money” conjured out of thin air–has reached a level of denial that can only be termed psychotic.

When scams start unraveling, the scammers become increasingly frantic to maintain the illusion of legitimacy and the delusion of guaranteed gains that are the lifeblood of every scam. One sure sign that the flim-flam is about to collapse is the manic rise of FOMO, fear of missing out, as the scammers jam the Ponzi scheme’s stellar returns to new extremes.What greedy human can resist guaranteed gains, especially of the enviously grandiose variety?

The greatest scam of the past century is unraveling before our eyes. I’m calling it finance capitalism as a general descriptor of the dominant form of what’s called “capitalism” because calling it what it actually is–a fraud that’s destroyed the foundations of our economy and society–is, well, a much more difficult sell than “capitalism,” which still has some faint echoes of the open markets, etc. that characterized traditional capitalism, which I call naive capitalism because it is incapable of differentiating between the parasitic, predatory finance version cloaking itself as “capitalism” and actual capitalism, in which capital is put at risk, markets are transparent, etc.There are many labels for the distorted, corrupted “capitalism” that dominates our economy and society: I’ve long used state-cartel capitalism, others prefer monopoly capitalism or crony capitalism.

I now favor finance capitalism because the heart of the fraud is finance: printing “money” out of thin air without creating any value or any goods and services. If you can’t print “money,” then borrow it into existence–that’s just as profitable a fraud as printing it.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

This Is a Financial Extinction Event

This Is a Financial Extinction Event

The lower reaches of the financial food chain are already dying, and every entity that depended on that layer is doomed.

Though under pressure from climate change, the dinosaurs were still dominant 65 million year ago–until the meteor struck, creating a global “nuclear winter” that darkened the atmosphere for months, killing off most of the food chain that the dinosaurs depended on. (See chart below.)

The ancestors of modern birds were one of the few dinosaur species to survive the extinction event, which took months to play out.

It wasn’t the impact and shock wave that killed off dinosaurs globally–it was the “nuclear winter” that doomed them to extinction. As plants withered, the plant-eating dinosaurs expired, depriving the predator dinosaurs of their food supply.

This is a precise analogy for the global economy, which is entering a financial “nuclear winter” extinction event. As I’ve been discussing for the past few months, costs are sticky but revenues and profits are on a slippery slope.

Businesses still have all the high fixed costs of 2019 but their revenues are sliding as the “nuclear winter” weakens consumer spending, investment in new capacity, etc.

Despite all the hoopla about a potential vaccine, no vaccine can change four realities: one, consumer sentiment has shifted from confidence to caution and from spending freely to saving. This is the financial equivalent of “nuclear winter”: there is no way to return to the pre-impact environment.

Two, uncertainty cannot be dissipated, either. There are no guarantees a vaccine will be 99% effective, that it will last more than a few months, that it won’t have side-effects, etc. There are also no guarantees that consumers will resume their care-free spending ways as credit tightens, incomes decline, risks emerge and the need for savings becomes more compelling.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Sinking Titanic’s Great Pumps Finally Fail

The Sinking Titanic’s Great Pumps Finally Fail

The greater fools still partying in the first-class lounge are in denial that even the greatest, most technologically advanced ship can sink.

On April 14, 1912, the liner Titanic, considered unsinkable due to its watertight compartments and other features, struck a glancing blow against a massive iceberg on that moonless, weirdly calm night. In the early hours of April 15, the great ship broke in half and sank, ending the lives of the majority of its passengers and crew.

The usual analogy drawn between the Titanic and our financial meltdown stems from the initial complacency of the passengers after the collision. Some passengers went on deck to play with the ice scraped off the berg, while most returned to the festivities still working their magic as midnight approached.

The class structure of Edwardian Britain soon came into play, however; as the situation grew visibly threatening, the First Class passengers were herded into the few lifeboats while the steerage/Third Class passengers–many of them immigrants–were mostly kept below decks, sealing their doom.

But there are even more compelling analogies than initial complacency turning to panic. Consider this diagram of the great ship:

The large black rectangles on the lower deck represent the coal bunkers; they were located adjacent to the boilers which powered the engines. Though the ship only scraped against the iceberg, as Titanic explorer Robert Ballard explains, that was enough to pop rivets and open hull plates:

The glancing blow that ruptured the Titanic’s hull over a distance of roughly 250 feet (out of a full length of 882 feet) and admitted water into six of her compartments sealed her fate.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The American Economy in Four Words: Neofeudal, Extortion, Decline, Collapse

The American Economy in Four Words: Neofeudal, Extortion, Decline, Collapse

Our society has a legal structure of self-rule and ownership of capital, but in reality it is a Neofeudal Oligarchy.

Now that the pandemic is over and the economy is roaring again–so the stock market says–we’re heading straight back up into the good old days of 2019. Nothing to worry about, we’ve recovered the trajectory of higher and higher, better every day in every way.

Everything’s great except the fatal rot at the heart of the U.S. economy hasn’t even been acknowledged, much less addressed: every sector of the economy is nothing but one form of neofeudal extortion or another.

Let’s spin the time machine back to the late Middle Ages, at the height of feudalism, and imagine we’re trying to get a boatload of goods to the nearest city to sell. As we drift down the river, we’re constantly being stopped and charged a fee for transiting one small fiefdom after another. When we finally reach the city, there’s an entry fee for bringing our goods to market.

Note that none of these fees were payments for improvements to transport or for services rendered; they were simply extortion. This was the economic structure of feudalism: petty fiefdoms levied extortionate fees that funded the lifestyles of nobility.

This is why I have long called America’s economy neofeudal: we pay ever higher fees for services that are degrading, not improving. This is the essence of extortion: we don’t get any improvement in goods and services for the extra money we’re forced to pay.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

How We Got Here: the Global Economy’s 75-Year Stumble to the Precipice

How We Got Here: the Global Economy’s 75-Year Stumble to the Precipice

Not only will there not be a recovery, but there can’t be a recovery, as those brittle extremes have been lost for good.

How did the global economy end up teetering on a precarious financial precipice? To formulate a cogent answer, let’s take a whirlwind tour of the history of the global economy 1946-2020.

Before we start the tour, I want to return briefly to my first Musings of the year, which was posted on January 4, 2020, before Covid-19 was officially announced on January 23, 2020. (The Musings Reports are sent weekly to patrons and subscribers at the $5/month or higher level.)

Instability Rising: Why 2020 Will Be Different:
“Economically, the 11 years since the Global Financial Crisis of 2008-09 have been one relatively coherent era of modest growth, rising wealth/income inequality and coordinated central bank stimulus every time a crisis threatened to disrupt the domestic or global economy.This era will draw to a close in 2020 and a new era of destabilization and uncertainty begins.”

The long-term trends set up a row of dominoes that the pandemic has toppled. But any puff of air that toppled the first domino would have toppled all the dominoes of fragility, instability and unsustainable extremes that characterize the global economy.

The whirlwind tour of the global economy’s history must include these essential dynamics: energy, currencies, globalization, debt and financialization, which broadly speaking refers to everything that renders finance (borrowing, leverage, speculation) more profitable than actually generating goods and services.

The “glorious thirty” (Les Trente Glorieuses) years from 1946 to 1975 were decades of rising prosperity in the developed world (Europe, Japan, North America) and rapid development in the first tier of developing countries in Southeast Asia and elsewhere. (Decolonized nations and China struggled with political, social and economic turmoil.)

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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