Home » Posts tagged 'charles hugh smith' (Page 2)

Tag Archives: charles hugh smith

Olduvai
Click on image to purchase

Olduvai III: Catacylsm
Click on image to purchase

Post categories

Post Archives by Category

It’s a New Era

It’s a New Era

This dynamic–making problems much worse by forcing more of whatever worked in the previous era into a saturated, increasing unstable new era–receives little attention or understanding.

Eras may last decades, and only those who’ve lived long enough to recall previous eras have experienced the transition from one era to the next. The era of financialization, globalization and low-cost, abundant oil/natural gas began over 40 years ago in 1981.

The era of digital / Internet technologies took off about 30 years ago. All of these dynamics accelerated in the early 2000s, roughly 20 years ago.

Only those 60 and older experienced working in a previous era (pre-1981).

All of these dynamics are entering a phase of nonlinear turbulence as the changes are outpacing these highly streamlined / optimized systems’ ability to self-correct.

This nonlinear instability is being accelerated by doing more of what worked in the previous era, in the mistaken belief that the 2020s are simply an extension of the eras that began 40 and 30 years ago.

The fixes that worked in the past won’t resolve the nonlinear instability because all these dynamics have reached saturation: adding more debt no longer generates organic expansion of productivity, all it does is inflate an even larger and more unstable credit-asset bubble.

Globalization has been optimized to the point of saturation: the potential downsides to national security outweigh any remaining marginal gains in corporate profitability.

Financialization has so distorted the economy that gambling on useless speculations is now viewed as the best (or only) way to get ahead.

When a system has absorbed all it can absorb, adding more is just a waste of resources.

We’ve entered a new era, and so the fixes and incentives that worked in the past 40 years no longer work.

…click on the above link to read the rest…

My One Prediction for 2023

My One Prediction for 2023

The question that should be on our minds is: how are my household’s buffers holding up?

Lists of predictions for the new year are reliably popular. Here’s 10 predictions, there’s 17 predictions, over here we have 23 and a half… let’s strip it all down to one prediction: everyone’s predictions will be wrong because 2023 isn’t going to follow anyone’s script.

There are several reasons for this. One is that the vast majority of predictions are based on historical comparisons to previous eras. If the current era is unique in its combination of dynamics and instability, previous pathways are not going to accurately predict what happens next.

Recency bias leads us astray. The past 50 years of relatively mild weather, the past 40 years of Bull Markets, the past 30 years of financialization and the supremacy of monetary policy–all of these offer a warm and fuzzy confidence that the future will be comfortingly similar to the recent past. This assumption works pretty well in stable eras but fails dismally in destabilizing, transitional eras.

Stability and instability are not evenly distributed, so every cherry-picked bias can be supported. You predict slow sales? Here’s an empty shopping mall. See, I’m right! You predict a return to the good old days? Here’s a crowded street fair. See, I’m right!

Those who happen to be living inside an island of coherence are inside a bubble that they mistakenly think encompasses the entire world. This is especially prevalent in the top 5% who shape the narratives that influence the rest of us. If real estate is sinking in their little corner of the world, they predict real estate will crash everywhere.

If everything’s rosy in their protected enclave, they predict a mild recession and steady growth, blah blah blah.

…click on the above link to read the rest…

How Things Fall Apart

How Things Fall Apart

That’s how things fall apart: insiders know but keep their mouths shut, outsiders are clueless, and the decay that started slowly gathers momentum as the last of the experienced and competent workforce burns out, quits or retires.

Outsiders are shocked when things fall apart. Insiders are amazed the duct-tape held this long. The erosion of critical skills and institutional knowledge is invisible to outsiders, while everyone inside who saw the unstoppable decay either left or burned out.

Those who remain are the ambitious who lack the experience to reverse the decline and the self-awareness to realize they’re way over their head. They’re ambitious enough to want the managerial title and power but don’t have the necessary experience and competence to lead a brutally difficult and painful turnaround.

So they either “stay the course” doing more of what’s failed or they flail around, trying one reorganization-fad-of-the-day after another, pushing the few remaining competent staffers to leave and thus steepening the decline.

Everyone who cared and was competent in the support staff either left or burned out trying to doing three jobs at once. The most prescient and experienced staffers noted the decline in managerial competence and the decay of the operational skills needed to keep the ship afloat, and so they found a better position elsewhere or retired early.

The less prescient but competent then tried to compensate for failing management and poorly trained staff by doing more of the work themselves. First they do the work of one-and-half less competent employees, then of two and after that, three for a brief time until their health is destroyed and they burn out. They either go on medical leave, retire or quit as the sole means of retaining whatever health they still possess.

…click on the above link to read the rest…

I Used to Be Disgusted, Now I’m Just Tired

I Used to Be Disgusted, Now I’m Just Tired

The midterm elections, the “most important elections of our lifetimes,” are over. Whoever won, it wasn’t really going to change much. Today’s system is simply too deeply entrenched.

While the much-touted differences between America’s political parties get obsessive, hysterical attention, the sameness of Imperial corruption, waste and squalor regardless of who’s in power gets little notice.

Scrape away the differences — mostly in domestic and cultural issues — and we see the dead hand of Imperial Corruption is on the tiller.

The core of Imperial Corruption is the disconnect between the nation’s ideals of representational democracy and open markets and the sordid reality: elites serve their interests by corrupting both democracy and open markets.

Elites Against Democracy

Unfettered democracy and markets cannot be controlled by a tiny, self-serving elite. Stripped of corruption, democracy and markets are free-for-alls that are constantly evolving. This open-ended dynamism is the beating heart of both democracy and open markets.

But the dynamic adaptive churn of unfettered representative democracy and open markets are anathema to insiders, vested interests and elites. Each has gained asymmetric power by subverting democracy and markets to serve their private interests. They’ve destroyed the system’s natural dynamism.

When “competition” has been reduced to two telecoms, two healthcare insurers, two pork processors, etc., the system has been stripped of adaptability and resilience.

Democracy has been replaced by an auction of political power to the highest bidder.

Everything’s Up for Grabs

It rewards cronies and devotes all its resources not to solving the nation’s problems but to whipping up conflagrations of divisiveness and partisan hysteria that wash away the middle ground where problems can actually be addressed.

This crippling of the nation’s ability to actually solve difficult problems serves the interests of self-serving elites whose sole interest is accumulating personal wealth and power.

…click on the above link to read the rest…

The “Oil Curse” and Splashy PR Announcements of Oil Production Cuts

The “Oil Curse” and Splashy PR Announcements of Oil Production Cuts

It’s not just the price of oil that matters: how much disposable income consumers have left to buy more goods and services matters, too.

The Oil Curse (a.k.a. The Resource Curse) refers to the compelling ease of those blessed with an abundance of oil/resources to depend on that gift for the majority of state/national revenues. The risks and demands of developing a diverse, globally competitive economy don’t seem worth the effort when the single-source wealth of oil offers such a low-risk bounty of revenues.

This dependence becomes a curse when the market value of the oil/resources plummets. Having come to depend on that seemingly inexhaustible source of massive revenues, even states that have set aside prudent reserves soon find their expenses cannot align down to diminished oil revenues without unbearable political/social pain.

The ideal solution to this problem is to jawbone oil prices higher by splashily announcing major cuts in oil production and then ignoring the proposed cuts to pump as much oil as possible to restore spending to politically viable levels.

The problem is every other oil producer is pursuing the same game plan and so production doesn’t actually decline. As global demand continues sagging in a global recession, oil supply remains at high levels. Since oil and other commodities are priced on the margin, even modest misalignments of supply and demand can generate huge swings in price.

There is no real enforcement of heavily promoted production cuts. The pressure on every oil producer is to assure the world they’re complying to cover the reality that they’re not actually cutting production because they can’t afford to lose any more revenues.

The price of oil appears to be reflecting the global recession that’s baked into receding stimulus and liquidity and higher inflation

…click on the above link to read the rest…

 

Regardless of Who’s Elected, Imperial Corruption Rules the Nation

Regardless of Who’s Elected, Imperial Corruption Rules the Nation

But in the meantime, enjoy the political theatrics down on the sand-strewn floor of the Coliseum.

While the much-touted differences between America’s political parties get obsessive, hysterical attention, the sameness of Imperial corruption, waste and squalor regardless of who’s in power gets little notice. Scrape away the differences–mostly in domestic issues–and we see the dead hand of Imperial Corruption is on the tiller.

The core of Imperial Corruption is the disconnect between the nation’s ideals of representational democracy and open markets and the sordid reality: elites serve their interests by corrupting both democracy and open markets.

Unfettered democracy and markets cannot be controlled by a tiny, self-serving elite. Stripped of corruption, democracy and markets are free-for-alls that are constantly evolving, as highly adaptive islands of coherence coalesce that influence the quasi-chaos, competing with other islands of coherence but never gaining dominance due to the open-ended dynamism of collaboration-competition that is the beating heart of both democracy and open markets.

The only way to control democracy and markets to serve the interests of the few at the expense of the many is to corrupt them completely by destroying the dynamism of collaboration-competition. Democracy is replaced by an auction of political power to the highest bidder that rewards cronies and devotes all its resources not to solving the nation’s problems but to whipping up conflagrations of divisiveness and partisan hysteria that wash away the middle ground where problems can actually be addressed.

This crippling of the nation’s ability to actually solve difficult problems serves the interests of self-serving elites whose sole interest is accumulating personal wealth and power…

…click on the above link to read the rest…

The Unintended Consequences of Unintended Consequences

The Unintended Consequences of Unintended Consequences

Decades of central bank distortions and regulatory / market-share capture by cartels and monopolies have completely gutted “markets,” destroying their self-correcting dynamics.

Unintended consequences introduce unexpected problems that may not have easy solutions. An entirely different set of problems are unleashed as unintended consequences have their own unintended consequences. This is the problem with complex emergent systems such as economies, societies and global supply chains: the system’s feedback, leverage points and phase-change thresholds are not necessarily visible or predictable, yet these dynamics have the potential to cascade small failures into systemic collapse.

The unintended consequences of unintended consequences are called second-order effects: consequences have their own consequences.

So for example, you juice your economy with massive stimulus after a lockdown that upended consumers and global supply chains, crushing both demand and supply, and suddenly you have rip-roaring inflation as demand comes back while supply chains remain tangled.

Shifting critical industrial production to frenemies so corporations could maximize profits while reducing the quality of goods and services seemed like a good idea until the potential costs of that dependence on frenemies become apparent.

Assuming oil and natural gas would always be in abundance made sense when they were abundant, but geopolitical forces kicked that assumption into the gutter. All the reassuring economic stories we told ourselves–energy is only 3.5% of the economy and the household spending budget, so cost really doesn’t matter–fall off the cliff when availability and supply become the paramount issues setting price.

That 3.5% loses meaning when there’s not enough to supply demand and somebody loses the game of musical chairs.

Then there’s the fantasy that monetary policy imposed by central banks control inflation. The inconvenient reality is central bank monetary policy is akin to building sand castles on the beach: when the tide is ebbing, the castles look magnificent. When the tide is rising, the sand castles are quickly washed away.

…click on the above link to read the rest…

Everything’s Fixed–Except What’s Broken

Everything’s Fixed–Except What’s Broken

Everything’s fixed except what’s no longer profitable to plunder. Underfunded, ignored, mismanaged by incompetents, it breaks.

Everything’s fixed–except what’s broken. Hmm. Maybe we need to read that again.

Everything’s fixed means it’s been “fixed” like a game or match has been fixed–rigged to benefit insiders while the unwary onlookers and punters have been led to believe that it’s “fair and open.” That con job is the critical cover to cloak the fix/rigging.

If a market or regulatory system can’t be rigged to benefit insiders, then it’s broken because if it isn’t profitable for insiders, it’s neglected until it breaks.

It’s rather ironic, isn’t it? If you want a system to semi-function as advertised, it has be rigged to benefit insiders, as only then do insiders and major players devote enough attention and resources to keep it stumbling along, much as an organism is kept alive so parasites can continue feasting on it.

These zombie-systems rigged to benefit insiders only serve the public in a cursory, minimal-effort fashion. These systems excel at recruiting naive idealists who actually believe in the purported purpose of the organization: public service, education, quality products and services, etc.

These idealists soon lose their naivete as the learn that all that “serve the public” rah-rah is a PR facade to cover the expert pillage by insiders.

You, fine idealist, can be an adjunct for life here at this great university, earning $35,000 a year without tenure, job security, pension or benefits, while we insiders earn $350,000 as associate deans of diversity and other cushy insider gigs that have nothing to do with what students actually take away after they’ve been bled dry via student loans.

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

The EU’s Crisis Is Global: Neocolonialism, Hyper-Financialization and Hyper-Globalization Come Home to Roost

The EU’s Crisis Is Global: Neocolonialism, Hyper-Financialization and Hyper-Globalization Come Home to Roost

The EU’s crisis isn’t limited to energy. It is a manifestation of the global breakdown of Neocolonialism, Financialization and Globalization.

The European Union (EU) was seen as the culmination of a centuries-long process of integration that would finally put an end to the ceaseless conflicts that had led to disastrous wars in the 20th century that had knocked Europe from global preeminence.

Wary of the predations of the U.S. and rising Asian powers, European nations sought the economic and diplomatic strength of a confederation that would be greater than the sum of its parts, a union that would restore Europe’s rightful place as a global power.

This worthy goal was undermined by the destructive dynamics of the past forty years: Neocolonialism, Financialization and Globalization.

These dynamics are unstable due to their internal contradictions. In classical colonialism, the Core dominates the Periphery with force, extracting economic value by exploiting the subject states’ commodities and forcing the colonies to buy the valued-added finished goods produced by the colonial power’s domestic economy.

This extractive model was at odds with the liberal worldview of the colonial powers which held self-rule and open markets as necessary to stable prosperity. The contradictions of classical colonialism led to its collapse as colonies broke free and the colonial powers were forced to navigate a more open global economy.

Beneath the glossy vibe of strength through unity, the EU institutionalized a Neocolonial Model in which some EU members are more equal than others, a divide that was starkly revealed in the debt crisis of 2011-2012.

I described the EU’s version of the Neocolonial Model in 2012: The E.U., Neofeudalism and the Neocolonial-Financialization Model (May 24, 2012)

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

The Fed Can’t Stop Supply-Side Inflation

The Fed Can’t Stop Supply-Side Inflation

The Fed and other central banks have zero control of supply-driven inflation, period.

America’s financial punditry is bewitched by four fatal fantasies:

1. Inflation is demand-driven. If the Federal Reserve (or other central banks) reduce demand with monetary tools like raising interest rates, inflation will cool.

2. Substitution of high-cost goods with lower-cost goods reduces inflation, and substitution is infinite: there’s always cheaper chicken if beef gets too pricey.

3. Higher prices will lead suppliers to increase production, which will increase supply and reduce prices.

4. The Federal Reserve has control of all these inflation-reducing dynamics via interest rates and its balance sheet (buying or selling various durations of Treasury bonds).

All of these are fantasies, fantasies that are fatal because they’re flat-out false. The Fed has no control over supply-driven inflation, which is what we have now. Consider eggs. The price has skyrocketed not because consumers suddenly ramped up demand that is now outstripping supply, but because essential inputs to supply such as feed and energy have soared in price and constraints that have nothing to do with interest rates such as the spread of bird viruses.

These essential inputs are going up in cost due to factors completely unrelated to interest rates or monetary policy. Drought and weather extremes are constraining the supply of animal feed stocks, and energy prices are being driven by geopolitical forces completely outside central bank control.

Infinite substitution is also false. What’s the substitute for eggs? Silkworm goo squeezed into plastic eggs? Well, not yet… there are no substitutes for eggs. And with the soaring input costs of producing chickens, chicken is no longer that cheap.

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

 

Rather Than Focus on What You Don’t Control (“The News”), Focus on What You Do Control: What You Grow, Eat and Own

Rather Than Focus on What You Don’t Control (“The News”), Focus on What You Do Control: What You Grow, Eat and Own

Now that globalization and financialization are finally unraveling, people are slowly awakening to the national security foundations of localizing production.

What exactly is “the news” other than an inducement to passivity, despair and derangement? Since we exert zero control over what happens in distant lands and global economies, why waste time passively consuming “if it bleeds it leads” offal designed to addict us to a steady stream of despair and derangement?

Why not ditch “the news” in favor of focusing on what we do control: what we grow, eat and own? It’s almost a binary choice: either focus on screens of addictive offal for hours every day or act on our own behalf in the real world.

Food inflation is highlighting the financial value of home gardens. Paul of the Silver Doctors and I discuss turning gardening savings into more ownership of something we control (for example, precious metals) in Save Money On Food, Get Free Gold & Silver, Beat Price Inflation (1:08 hrs).

I’ve been posting about the value of gardening for over a decade, describing the financial and health benefits. I Dig Dirt: The Remedy for Derealization (July 23, 2011)         The Hidden Value of Gardens (September 13, 2014)

Food inflation simply increases the gains: One Solution to Soaring Food Prices: Start Your 2022 Garden Now (November 6, 2021).

Municipalities can either encourage or hinder local food production. Cities once grew between a third and a half of their own food within city limits: Could Urban Gardens Supply 1/3 of a City’s Food? Yes. (March 13, 2010).

If we’re not allowed to grow food, that’s a problem that can be solved by local lobbying or moving to a place where there are fewer restrictions on growing our own food…

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

The Most Valuable Form of Money Nobody’s Seen–Yet

The Most Valuable Form of Money Nobody’s Seen–Yet

What is “money”? “Money” is a claim on the essentials of life. Ration cards are claims on essentials.

Many people expect “money” will soon be tied to commodities. Agreed. It’s called a ration card that grants the holder the right to buy a specific quantity of essential goods at a specified price.

This right is a form of “money” directly tied to the value of commodities.

Ration cards are the only fair way to distribute essentials in times of chronic scarcity. Markets work fine when there’s a substitute for whatever is scarce, but there are no substitutes for electricity, food, fuel or fresh water, the FEW essentials (Food, energy, water).

Leaving the distribution of scarce, no-substitutes essentials up to the market leads to the rich eating very well indeed and the poor going hungry. This leads to a little thing called the overthrow of the failed status quo and the destruction of a good chunk of its ruling class (Payback’s a witch, etc.). No bread? Let them eat iPhones.

We know ration cards work because a mass experiment in rationing essentials was conducted in World War II. Maybe fairness no longer matters (and if it doesn’t, then prepare for the overthrow of the failed status quo and the destruction of a good chunk of its ruling class), but if fairness matters–or the ruling elite wish to keep all their power and all their goodies–then rationing and the ruthless suppression of price gouging are as good as gold.

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

The Age of Discord

The Age of Discord

It’s very difficult to find common ground that supports cooperation in the disintegrative stage of scarcities, rising prices, catastrophically centralized power and social discord.

Today’s topic echoes Peter Turchin’s 2016 book, Ages of Discord, which I have often referenced in blog posts.

I’ll also discuss two other books I’ve often referenced, Global Crisis: War, Climate Change and Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century by Geoffrey Parker and The Great Wave: Price Revolutions and the Rhythm of History by David Hackett Fischer.

Turchin proposes repeating cycles of history of social integration (people finding reasons to cooperate) and disintegration (people finding reasons to not cooperate).

Clearly, we’re in a disintegrative stage.

Fischer proposed a repeating cycle of history in which humans expand their numbers and economy to consume all available resources.

Once all the low-hanging fruit has been consumed, scarcities arise, pushing prices above what commoners can afford, and the result is economic stagnation and social/political revolution.

Either humans exploit a new energy source at scale to provide for the larger population and higher consumption per person, or the population and consumption decline to fit available resources.

Parker covers the mutually reinforcing climate, political, social and economic crises of the 17th century. A long cycle of cold, wet summers reduced crop yields, leading to hunger and strife.

Parker also identifies another cause of the tumultuous, war-plagued 1600s: political leaders had consolidated too much power, enabling them to pursue disastrous wars without any restraint from competing domestic social-political interests.

Clearly, we’re in Fischer’s stage of overshoot and resource scarcity and Parker’s extremes of centralized power free to pursue catastrophic wars of choice.

In the 1600s, those launching wars reckoned a clean, decisive victory was within easy reach. In every case, the wars dragged on inconclusively or generated even wider conflicts.

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

The Difference Between a Forecast and a Guess

The Difference Between a Forecast and a Guess

Every forecast or guess has one refreshing quality: one will be right and the rest will be wrong.

What’s the difference between a forecast and a guess? On one level, the answer is “none”: the future is unknown and even the most informed forecast is still a guess. The evidence for this is the remarkable number of informed forecasts that prove to be as completely off-base as the wildest guesses.

On another level, there is a big difference between an informed forecast and a guess–if the informed forecast has the consequential system dynamics right. The world is complicated and discerning the consequential dynamics in the tangle of complexity is difficult.

Context and perspective matter. So do incentives. To take one example of many, war planners in the Vietnam era looked at war from the perspective of “scientific metrics” that focused on collecting data on the efficacy of sorties and combat missions. This resulted in the infamous “body counts.”

The larger context was that war could be productively distilled down to metrics, costs and attrition: the enemy was presumed to be a rational player who will give up when the pain and cost become too high.

Planners slouching in comfortable offices have many incentives to “go along to get along”: and veering off into dynamics that can’t be conveniently measured and questioning the entire foundation of the war’s planning and execution will get you sent to bureaucratic Siberia. “Getting with the program” will get you kudos and promotion.

Hmm, which will most people choose? The Pentagon Papers circulated among hundreds of senior officials, and parts of the report circulated among thousands of lower-ranking employees. Only one person took the risks of sharing the report with the American public.

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

Our Economy In a Nutshell

Our Economy In a Nutshell

The economy has reached an inflection point where everything that is unsustainable finally starts unraveling.

Our economy is in a crisis that’s been brewing for decades. The Chinese characters for the English word crisis are famously–and incorrectly–translated as danger and opportunity. The more accurate translation is precarious plus critical juncture or inflection point.

Beneath its surface stability, our economy is precarious because the foundation of the global economy– cheap energy–has reached an inflection point: from now on, energy will become more expensive.

The cost will be too low for energy producers to make enough money to invest in future energy production, and too high for consumers to have enough money left after paying for the essentials of energy, food, shelter, etc., to spend freely.

For the hundred years that resources were cheap and abundant, we could waste everything and call it growth: when an appliance went to the landfill because it was designed to fail (planned obsolescence) so a new one would have to be purchased, that waste was called growth because the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) went up when the replacement was purchased.

A million vehicles idling in a traffic jam was also called growth because more gasoline was consumed, even though the gasoline was wasted.

This is why the global economy is a “waste is growth” Landfill Economy. The faster something ends up in the landfill, the higher the growth.

Now that we’ve consumed all the easy-to-get resources, all that’s left is hard to get and expensive. For example, minerals buried in mountains hundreds of miles from paved roads and harbors require enormous investments in infrastructure just to reach the deposits, extract, process and ship them to distant mills and refineries. Oil deposits that are deep beneath the ocean floor are not cheap to get.

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

Olduvai IV: Courage
Click on image to read excerpts

Olduvai II: Exodus
Click on image to purchase

Click on image to purchase @ FriesenPress