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Prepare for Winter

Prepare for Winter

Realism must precede optimism or the optimism will collapse as the tsunami of reality comes ashore.

It’s time to prepare materially and psychologically for a winter unlike any other in our lifetimes.

Here’s the view from 30,000 feet:

1. The stock market and the general zeitgeist of optimism have soared based on expectations that the real-world economy and efforts to suppress Covid would also track a V-shaped recovery.

While GDP did make a V-shaped recovery, GDP (gross domestic product) is a measure of flows and consumption, not a measure of the socio-economic “balance sheet.” GDP measures the money flowing through accounts but not the “assets” of a functioning society: functional institutions and infrastructure and the well-being and security of the citizenry.

Thus GDP soars while the real-world economy and society are hollowed out by economic inequality, declining health, financial insecurity, rising prices for essentials, dysfunctional institutions and decaying infrastructure.

Simply put, GDP doesn’t measure what’s important; it creates destructive incentives to squander resources and borrow staggering sums to support more consumption. This systemic flaw in what we measure has long been recognized by mainstream economists such as Joseph Stiglitz. Measuring What Counts: The Global Movement for Well-Being (Joseph E. Stiglitz et al.)

So the recovery of GDP doesn’t mean the real-world economy has been restored to pre-Covid settings. GDP is a deceptive metric that’s masking a free-fall in our well-being, security and social cohesion.

2. Just as GDP is a deceptive measure of the economy, counting Covid fatalities is equally deceptive: a declining death count is good news, of course, but that ignores the other effects of Covid, particularly organ damage and “Long-Covid” debilitation, not just in people with pre-existing conditions and the elderly but in healthy middle-aged and even some young people.

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Aggregate green growth is a mirage: we need to take a more scientific approach to societal wellbeing

Aggregate green growth is a mirage: we need to take a more scientific approach to societal wellbeing

In the spring of 2020, the new Irish government announced its desire to develop new measures of well-being and progress in Ireland. The idea was given some prominence in the Programme for Government, ‘Our Shared Future’.

This is exactly the kind of initiative that we in Feasta have been advocating for the past 20-odd years. It’s also in line with an encouraging international trend of governments seeking to reorientate their economies towards well-being, and fits in nicely with the thinking of the global Wellbeing Economy Alliance (of which Feasta is a member).

A recent publication by Fine Gael, ‘Measuring Wellbeing’, refers to this Irish government initiative and makes a case for expanding “the range of economic, social and policy indicators that we use in government”. It lays out a draft outline for developing a wide range of metrics for measuring well-being, along the lines of the OECD’s Wellbeing Framework, and implementing them into State budgeting decisions. There is much in there to agree with.

Unfortunately, however, there is a serious problem with one of the most basic assumptions that is made in the Fine Gael paper. Unless this problem is examined and properly addressed, all the improved measurements in the world won’t be able to improve societal well-being in Ireland.

The problem relates to GDP growth. GDP growth is considered by the paper’s author to be “a critical means to the end of progressing society”.

This is a highly problematic assumption.

The authors take care to point out many of the well-known shortcomings of GDP growth as a measure of progress. So the issue here is not whether or not GDP growth is an unreliable measure of progress; it looks as though we can (almost) all agree on that, these days.

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

No, GDP Didn’t Jump “33.1%” in Q3, But 7.4%, after Plunging 9% in Q2: Time to Kill “Annualized” Growth Rates. Imports, Powered by Stimulus, Dragged on GDP

No, GDP Didn’t Jump “33.1%” in Q3, But 7.4%, after Plunging 9% in Q2: Time to Kill “Annualized” Growth Rates. Imports, Powered by Stimulus, Dragged on GDP

GDP back to Q1 2018. Worst ever “net exports.” The decline in government spending was also a drag. “GDP per Capita” bounced back only to 2017 level.

The spectacular spectacle of an absurd creature called the “annualized” growth rate of GDP appeared again this morning, and the headlines screamed that GDP, adjusted for inflation, surged by a record of “33.1%” in Q3. On the face of it, this would mean that the economy increased by one-third from Q2. But that’s the magic of “annualized” rates. And it’s time to kill them in headline reporting.

That “33.1%” reflected the jump in Q3 from Q2 but roughly multiplied by 4 to produce a theoretical figure of what GDP for the whole year would be if it kept surging four quarters in a row like this. And that’s not going to happen, just like the plunge in Q2 wasn’t actually “31.4%” and wasn’t repeated four quarters in a row. Deeper down in its GDP report this morning, the Bureau of Economic Analysis also reported “not annualized” figures. And not annualized, GDP jumped by a record of 7.4% from Q2, after the record 9.0% plunge in Q2 from Q1:

Both the jump in Q3 and the plunge in Q2 were the sharpest moves ever in the quarterly GDP data, which began in 1947. Before then, there were only annual data.

And we faced another “annualized” figure in today’s GDP reporting: that GDP in Q3 was $18.58 trillion “annual rate” and “seasonally adjusted” and “in 2012 dollars.” These “2012 dollars” are used to adjust for inflation (loss of purchasing power). And so these terms show how far economic activity dropped in Q2 and the partial bounce-back in Q3. This measure of GDP puts it back where it had first been in Q1 2018:

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

Capitalism Will Ruin the Earth By 2050, Scientists Say

Capitalism Will Ruin the Earth By 2050, Scientists Say

The good news is, by cutting our consumption, there’s another way.
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IMAGE: GETTY IMAGES

A spate of new scientific research starkly lays out the choice humankind faces in coming decades:

By 2050, we could retain high levels of GDP, at the price of a world wracked by minerals and materials shortages, catastrophic climate change, and a stuttering clean energy transition —paving the way for a slowly crumbling civilization.

Or, we could ditch the GDP fetish and enter a world of abundance, with energy consumption safely contained within planetary boundaries, and high-tech economies that support jobs, health and education for everyone without costing the earth.

On the first option, scientists backed by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program have concluded that capitalism-as-we-know-it cannot support a successful clean energy transition.

Not only that, but capitalism is on track to lead the world into mineral shortages and supply bottlenecks that could cut short efforts to decarbonize transport systems, guaranteeing dangerous climate change.

The new study published in the journal Energy Strategy Reviews finds that electrifying our cars, trucks and trains so that they run on renewable energy is only viable if we reduce the endlessly growing levels of consumption in industrial societies. That, effectively, means fundamentally transforming the very sinews of capitalism.

The good news is that separate research published in September proves that such an economic transformation is perfectly feasible while still maintaining a good quality of life for people all over the world.

Modeling the world

The transportation study is based on a highly sophisticated ‘integrated assessment model’ (IAM) that brings together a vast amount of empirical data. Known as the MEDEAS-World model, it incorporates feedback relations between global and regional economies; renewable, fossil fuel energy flows and energy infrastructure; technology developments and costs; minerals and land requirements; climate change and water; and many other sectors.

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

A Response to McAfee: No, the “Environmental Kuznets Curve” Won’t Save Us

A RESPONSE TO MCAFEE: NO, THE “ENVIRONMENTAL KUZNETS CURVE” WON’T SAVE US

A number of people have asked me to respond to a piece that Andrew McAfee wrote for Wired, promoting his book, which claims that rich countries – and specifically the United States – have accomplished the miracle of “green growth” and “dematerialization”, absolutely decoupling GDP from resource use. I had critiqued the book’s central claims here and here, pointing out that the data he relies on is not in fact suitable for the purposes to which he puts it.

In short, McAfee uses data on domestic material consumption (DMC), which tallies up the resources that a nation extracts and consumes each year. But this metric ignores a crucial piece of the puzzle. While it includes the imported goods a country consumes, it does not include the resources involved in extracting, producing, and transporting those goods. Because the United States and other rich countries have come to rely so heavily on production that happens in other countries, that side of resource use has been conveniently shifted off their books.

In other words, what looks like “green growth” is really just an artifact of globalization. Given how much the U.S. economy relies on globalization, McAfee’s data cannot be legitimately compared to U.S. GDP, and cannot be used to make claims about dematerialization. If McAfee wants to compare GDP to domestic resource consumption, then he needs to first subtract the share of US GDP that is derived from production that happens elsewhere. He does not. Nor is this possible to do.

Ecological economists have been aware of this problem for a long time. To correct for it, they use a more holistic metric called “raw material consumption,” or Material Footprint, which fully accounts for materials embodied in trade.

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Is the Green Deal a card shuffle trick?

Is the Green Deal a card shuffle trick?

(NOTE; this is not an analysis of the US New Green Deal, it is about the “green growth” narrative with the European Green Deal as the point of departure.)

The European Green Deal is a ”growth strategy that aims to transform the EU into a fair and prosperous society, with a modern, resource-efficient and competitive economy where there are no net emissions of greenhouse gases in 2050 and where economic growth is decoupled from resource use.”

There are reasons to discuss if the vision of the European Green Deal is desirable: why should it be a goal to be “competitive” or ”modern”? But let’s buy into the narrative and ask: is the vision possible? Is ”green growth” as expressed in the Green Deal or the Sustainable Development Goals even possible?

In a recent paper in New Political Economy, Jason Hickel and Giorgios Kallis do a good job in illuminating many of the discussions and concepts involved in the Green Growth debate. Their overall conclusion is that ”green growth theory – in terms of resource use – lacks empirical support”.  They note three caveats of their own conclusions. First, it is possible that ”it is reasonable to expect that green growth could be accomplished at very low GDP growth rates, i.e. less than 1 per cent per year”. Second, conclusions are based on the existing relationship between GDP and material throughput, but one might argue that it is theoretically possible to break the existing relationship between GDP and material throughput altogether. Third, the aggregate material footprint indicator obscures the possibility of shifting from high-impact resources to low-impact resources. Meanwhile, Hickel and Kallis also point out that material footprints needs to be scaled down significantly from present levels; to be truly green, green growth requires not just any degree of absolute decoupling, but rapid absolute decoupling.

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

Nobel prize-winning economics of climate change is misleading and dangerous – here’s why

Nobel prize-winning economics of climate change is misleading and dangerous – here’s why

While climate scientists warn that climate change could be catastrophic, economists such as 2018 Nobel prize winner William Nordhaus assert that it will be nowhere near as damaging. In a 2018 paper published after he was awarded the prize, Nordhaus claimed that 3°C of warming would reduce global GDP by just 2.1%, compared to what it would be in the total absence of climate change. Even a 6°C increase in global temperature, he claimed, would reduce GDP by just 8.5%.

If you find reassurance in those mild estimates of damage, be warned. In a newly published paper, I have demonstrated that the data on which these estimates are based relies upon seriously flawed assumptions.

If you find reassurance in those mild estimates of damage, be warned. In a newly published paper, I have demonstrated that the data on which these estimates are based relies upon seriously flawed assumptions.

Nordhaus’s celebrated work, which, according to the Nobel committee, has “brought us considerably closer to answering the question of how we can achieve sustained and sustainable global economic growth”, gives governments a reason to give climate change a low priority.

His estimates imply that the costs of addressing climate change exceed the benefits until global warming reaches 4°C, and that a mild carbon tax will be sufficient to stabilise temperatures at this level at an overall cost of less than 4% of GDP in 120 year’s time. Unfortunately, these numbers are based on empirical estimates that are not merely wrong, but irrelevant.

Nordhaus (and about 20 like-minded economists) used two main methods to derive sanguine estimates of the economic consequences of climate change: the “enumerative method” and the “statistical method”. But my research shows neither stand up to scrutiny.

The ‘enumerative method’

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False Bizarre Economy Renders GDP Useless (Part 1)

False Bizarre Economy Renders GDP Useless (Part 1)

GDP Growth Is Akin To “Magic Illusion 101”

We may be getting to the place where more people are beginning to realize the illusion created from printing and pouring trillions of dollar haphazardly into the economy can’t last. Today, consumer confidence hinges on what Washington decides to do with the next stimulus package. At this point it is likely they will pour enough money into the economy to keep things artificially inflated. Still, anyone looking at the coming gross domestic product (GDP) figures as an indication of how the economy is faring is barking up the wrong tree.

The usefulness and validity of the GDP numbers in determining how rapidly the economy is growing has been disputed over the years. Let us face the fact the illusion the economy continues to work its way forward is completely based on “government deficit spending” coupled with the Fed’s very easy monetary policy.  At the same time, we should concede much of the perceived growth is because all the money being printed has to go somewhere. Sadly, economic growth does not guarantee a healthy economy. 

The original formula for measuring economic growth was full of flaws but over the years we have allowed numbers that mean “nothing” to seep into how the GDP is calculated all in an effort to create the illusion of growth. In years past America far outproduced the rest of the world and manufactured goods that it exported across the seas. Today much of our economy is dominated by the service sector, this means if you wash my windows, then I will mow your yard. Another huge problem is that the GDP counts government spending, and politicians spend (other people’s) money on stuff simply to get reelected. If this isn’t the clearest cut case that the calculation of GDP is meant to obscure, rather than to inform, I can’t imagine what would be.

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

GDP & Consumer Confidence in Crash Mode

GDP & Consumer Confidence in Crash Mode

The impact of Coronavirus is far worse than most can imagine. GDP dropped 32% during the 2nd-quarter which is a new historical record surpassing every recession and the Great Depression of both the 19th and 20th centuries. The epidemiologists cannot be this stupid. The people who have died because of a lack of healthcare during this trumped-up pandemic is serious. Many have been denied healthcare and others have been afraid to even go to the hospital. I myself went to the ER and ended up in a COVID wing for two days and it took two negative tests to get out. Everything has become COVID. In Florida, a young man killed in a motorcycle accident ended up on the death list of COVID. The numbers are being manipulated and the fraud is massive.

As wave two appears with the next flu season, the media has beaten this into such an insane pandemic you would think it was the Black Plague with a 50% mortality rate. The last half of 2020 will get worse. They are using this for political objectives. Any doctor who stands up against this manipulation is attacked and then they roll out a fake study to claim they are wrong. When I was called in as an “expert” to be exploited to create the G5 back in 1985, I saw this was all a joke and so I wrote to President Regan. I was told that I would never be called again because I went out of the committee. I was told to be a good boy, produce studies they tell you the conclusion, and I would make a few million a year. Studies are worthless! Try to find a real one is next to impossible. They all have been paid for to achieve a political objective.

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Green economic growth is an article of ‘faith’ devoid of scientific evidence

Green economic growth is an article of ‘faith’ devoid of scientific evidence

Crack team that advised UN Global Sustainable Development Report settle a longstanding debate with hard empirical data

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For years, financial institutions and governments have been focused on the idea of ‘decoupling’ GDP growth from resource use. This has been driven by the recognition that to stay within the ‘safe limit’ of 2 degrees Celsius, we have to dramatically reduce our material consumption.

The goal is to keep our economies growing to sustain prosperity while reducing our actual resource use and material footprint. The bottom line is that without reducing our overall use of planetary resources, we are bound to cross the line into a dangerous climate. But is doing so consistent with the continued increase in economic growth?

The conventional belief has been most recently articulated in a recent book, More From Less, by Andrew McAfee, principal research scientist the MIT Sloan School of Management. Financial and other data, McAfee argued, shows we can actually easily reduce our material footprint while continuing to grow our economies in a win-win scenario.

But new scientific analysis by a group of systems scientists and economists proves that this contention is completely groundless. Far from being based on hard evidence, this sort of claim is instead derived from egregious selective readings of statistical data.

Decades of research on material flows confirm that there are “no realistic scenarios” for such decoupling going forward.

Combing through 179 of the best studies of this issue from 1990 to 2019 further reveals “no evidence” that any meaningful decoupling has ever taken place.

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

Fourth Turning Accelerating Towards Climax

FOURTH TURNING ACCELERATING TOWARDS CLIMAX

“At some point, America’s short-term Crisis psychology will catch up to the long-term post-Unraveling fundamentals. This might result in a Great Devaluation, a severe drop in the market price of most financial and real assets. This devaluation could be a short but horrific panic, a free-falling price in a market with no buyers. Or it could be a series of downward ratchets linked to political events that sequentially knock the supports out from under the residual popular trust in the system. As assets devalue, trust will further disintegrate, which will cause assets to devalue further, and so on. Every slide in asset prices, employment, and production will give every generation cause to grow more alarmed.” – Strauss & Howe – The Fourth Turning

Economists Predict Great Depression II for US Economy: Fast or V ...

I’ve been writing articles about the Fourth Turning for over a decade and nothing has happened since its tumultuous onset in 2008, with the global financial collapse, created by the Federal Reserve and their Wall Street co-conspirator owners, that has not followed along the path described by Strauss and Howe in their 1997 book – The Fourth Turning.

Like molten lava bursting forth from a long dormant (80 years) volcano, the core elements of this Fourth Turning continue to flow along channels of distress, long ago built by bad decisions, corrupt politicians and the greed of bankers. The molten ingredients of this Crisis have been the central drivers since 2008 and this second major eruption is flowing along the same route. The core elements are debt, civic decay, and global disorder, just as Strauss & Howe anticipated over two decades ago.

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GDP Now Q2 Estimate At -34.90 Percent, So What Now?

GDP Now Q2 Estimate At -34.90 Percent, So What Now?

Summary

  • The Atlanta Fed’s GDP Now is estimating a -34.9 percent Q2 GDP print, which is 3.5x the largest quarterly decline in the post-WWII economy
  • If realized, the 11.3 percent non annualized first-half GDP collapse in 2020 will approach the worse year of the Great Depression, when in 1932, the economy shrank 13.1 percent for the entire year  
  • We are not paying much attention to these numbers as they reflect an economy that has been closed for two months, which should experience a relatively sharp snapback in Q3, with unemployment most likely peaking this month
  • Nonetheless, the pandemic and economic lockdown will do long-term structural damage to the economy
  • The rapid growth of the monetary aggregates alleviates much of the deflationary forces in the economy in the short-term and we perceive inflation a much bigger risk over the medium-term
  • If the GDP Now estimate holds, and even if GDP prints a record annualized 27.6 percent number in Q3, real output will still be 7 percent below the Q4 2019 level with unemployment remaining close to low double digits
  • We suspect the recovery will come too late and not be enough to save President Trump and the Republicans though the White House will tout it as “the greatest economic recovery in the history of the world“
  • Investors and companies should plan for higher capital gains and corporate taxes
  • Check out the astonishing performance of our stock picker’s large-cap portfolio, which is trouncing the S&P500 this year

Since the COVID crisis hit America, many businesses are operating at limited capacity while others have ceased operations completely.  The unprecedented aggregate supply and demand shock to the U.S. economy has resulted in horrific economic data, including the 20.5 in nonfarm payroll jobs lost in April and the unemployment rates shooting up over 14 percent.

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They’re All High on Fed Fairy Dust

They’re All High on Fed Fairy Dust

Everybody realizes the US economy is in a bad spot. But most people still seem to believe it will bounce right back once we deal with the coronavirus.

They’re all high on Federal Reserve fairy dust.

US GDP contracted by 4.8% in the first quarter. It was the first negative GDP reading since a 1.1% decline in the first quarter of 2014 and it was the lowest level since the 8.4% plunge in Q4 of 2008.

And the worst is yet to come.

The Q1 GDP number only captures the first couple of weeks of coronavirus-inspired government lockdowns of the economy. In fact, in January Donald Trump and others were telling us that it was the best economy in the history of the world. That was also in the first quarter.

The first-quarter GDP print came in even worse than expected. Economists were projecting a contraction of 3.5 to 4%. The precipitous and rapid plunge in economic activity not only reflects the impacts of turning off the economy in the midst of coronavirus; it also reveals just how fragile the economy was before the pandemic.

Back in January, President Trump called it the greatest economy in history. Trump continued to talk up the economy during the State of the Union address, taking credit for the “strong” economic growth. At the time, Peter Schiff said nobody should be taking credit for the condition of the US economy. In fact, economic growth wasn’t much different than it was when Obama was president.

The only difference is we had to borrow even more money to achieve the same level of fake GDP growth that we did under Obama. The reality is nobody should be taking credit for the current US economy. The question is who deserves the blame?”

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The Recent History of GDP Growth, CO2 Emissions, and Climate Policy Paralysis, All in One Table-Runner

The Recent History of GDP Growth, CO2 Emissions, and Climate Policy Paralysis, All in One Table-Runner

Note: I began designing this table-runner just before the COVID-19 pandemic blew up in the United States. In the time I have been embroidering it, rates of death and misery have soared while wealth generation and carbon emissions (the two subjects of this work) have ended their decades-long rise and have plummeted. A deadly virus is a terrible means of slowing greenhouse warming. Whenever we come out the other side of the pandemic, we must pursue a rapid, humane, ecologically sound, and guaranteed-effective course of action to drive greenhouse emissions down to zero. Here’s how— P.G.C.

tablerunner

The color of money is the color of calamity

This table-runner illustrates, from left to right, the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration from 1946 to the present. Each year is represented by two adjacent stripes: one in gradually deepening shades of green representing that year’s U.S. gross domestic product (adjusted for inflation) and one in increasingly intense shades of yellow-orange-red, representing CO2 concentration.

There are nine shades for GDP and eleven for CO2, with shades indicating roughly equal intervals of increase in each. The shades of both types of stripes darken as the years go by, in accordance with the increases that occurred in both GDP and CO2. (For hi-res, zoomed-in images of the table-runner, see here.)

The shades of yellow-orange-red in the table-runner darken more and more rapidly as the years pass, illustrating how emissions of CO2 accelerated as industrial output and fossil-fuel use rose more rapidly throughout the world. The concentration of COrose at an annual rate of about 0.8 ppm from 1945 to 1980; 1.5 ppm from 1980 to 1995; and 2.1 ppm from 1995 to 2019. (The United States accounted for almost 20 percent of the rise in atmospheric CO2 during those years.)

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

Recession Begins: Q1 GDP Plunges 4.8%, Biggest Drop Since The Financial Crisis

Recession Begins: Q1 GDP Plunges 4.8%, Biggest Drop Since The Financial Crisis

With news that the Gilead Remdesivir trial had reportedly met its primary endpoint hitting “coincidentally” just seconds before the Q1 GDP print, and with newswires initially reporting the GDP erroneously as a positive 4.8% print, it was clear that the real number would be a disaster, and sure enough moments later newswires reversed and reported that Q1 GDP was in fact, a worse than expected negative 4.8%, the biggest drop since March of 2009, and officially marking the start of the US recession.

Perhaps in response to demands from the White House, the BEA was quick to note that “the decline in first quarter GDP was, in part, due to the response to the spread of COVID-19, as governments issued “stay-at-home” orders in March. This led to rapid changes in demand, as businesses and schools switched to remote work or canceled operations, and consumers canceled, restricted, or redirected their spending. The full economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic cannot be quantified in the GDP estimate for the first quarter of 2020 because the impacts are generally embedded in source data and cannot be separately identified.”

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Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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