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Olduvai III: Catacylsm
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What We’ve Lost

What We’ve Lost

This is only a partial list of what we’ve lost to globalism, cheap credit and the Tyranny of Price which generates the Landfill Economy.

A documentary on the decline of small farms and the rural economy in France highlights what we’ve lost in the decades-long rush to globalize and financialize everything on the planet— what we call Neoliberalism, the ideology of turning everything into a global market controlled by The Tyranny of Price and cheap credit issued to corporations and banks by central banks.

After Winter, Spring (2012) was made by an American who moved to a small village in the Dordogne region of France to recover something of her childhood on a small Pennsylvania farm.

The farmers–self-described as paysanspeasants in English, (a translation I don’t consider entirely accurate, for reasons too complex to go into here)– describe the financial difficulties of earning enough to survive without outside jobs.

One young farmer who is taking over the family dairy from his aging parents encapsulates the economic reality of small farms: in the 1960s, they had 3 or 4 cows, now they have 100, but their income is the same.

Corporate mega-farms can produce huge quantities of agricultural products of questionable quality because they have the scale, access to cheap credit and expertise to deal with the voluminous bureaucratic paperwork imposed by the EU and the French government. (One slip-up on a form and you’re sunk if you’re a one- or two-person operation.)

Artisanal producers can’t compete, and will never be able to compete in a global marketplace where there is always a cheaper source. (Up to half a small farmer’s income comes from EU subsidies, which the EU is trying to cut.)

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

Economic Decay Leads to Social and Political Decay

Economic Decay Leads to Social and Political Decay

If we want to make real progress, we have to properly diagnose the structural sources of the rot that is spreading quickly into every nook and cranny of the society and culture.

It seems my rant yesterday (Let Me Know When It’s Over) upset a lot of people, many of whom felt I trivialized the differences between the parties and all the reforms that people believe will right wrongs and reduce suffering.

OK, I get it, there are differences, but if the “reform” doesn’t change the source of the suffering and injustice, it’s just window-dressing that makes the supporter feel virtuous. Want an example? Let’s take the the “cruel and unusual punishment” for drug-law offenders, many of whom are African-American males whose lives are effectively hobbled by felony convictions and long sentences in America’s Drug War Gulag.

You want a “reform” that actually gets to the root and solves the source of the injustice? It’s simple: decriminalize all drugs and recognize drug use as a medical and social issue rather than a criminal-justice / Gulag issue. But that won’t happen because too many people are making too much money off the Gulag, which is now a public and private-prison Gulag.(Other advanced nations have had success with this structural change. Maybe we could learn something from their examples?)

If you’re not ready to demand the full decriminalization of all drugs, then you’re not really interested in solving the problem; you’re just seeking virtue-signaling “reforms” that don’t upset the power structure. And since any real solution necessarily disrupts the power structure benefiting from the status quo, all the painless “reforms” are ineffective.

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

Democracy Is Now a Hindrance to the Imperial State

Democracy Is Now a Hindrance to the Imperial State

Democracy is the coat of paint applied for PR purposes to the Imperial State.

If we step back from the histrionics of impeachment and indeed, the past four years of political circus, we have to wonder if America’s democracy is little more than an elaborate simulation, a counterfeit democracy that matches our counterfeit capitalism (Matt Stoller’s term).

If we review the mechanics of our “democracy,” we find that swapping which party controls Congress doesn’t really change the policies of The Imperial State, the central state that oversees America’s global commercial and geopolitical empire.Next, consider the high return rate of incumbents. Once in power, politicos can skim the millions of dollars in campaign contributions needed to win re-election.

Then there’s the some are more equal than others nature of the judicial system that serves the interests of financial and political elites: Bernie Madoff was free to continue his Ponzi scheme for years despite whistleblower attempts to instigate a federal investigation, and pedophile /schmoozer / “intelligence agency asset” Jeffrey Epstein was free to exploit underage teens and pile up $200 million after a wrist-slap conviction.

The corporate mass media is the PR machine for the Imperial State. If the state seeks to sell the public a war of choice, the media dutifully pounds the drums of war. If the Imperial State decides to disempower a president or other elected official, the media will hound the elected official until he/she is disgraced or buried, too busy fighting off the ceaseless media propaganda to function. The mass media excels at ruthlessly mocking political targets, reducing their stature in the public eye and undermining their “soft power.”

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

So Sorry, Your Karma Ran Over Your Dogma

So Sorry, Your Karma Ran Over Your Dogma

When dogmas lose their grip on believers, they collapse in spectacular fashion.

Karma covers a lot of ground, but it boils down to consequences: consequences not just from your actions but from your convictions, schemes, obsessions, and yes, dogmas.

The reason why Karma runs over Dogma is that nobody clinging to a dogma sees themselves as dogmatic. The true believer never sees their conviction as dogma, but as Revealed Truth, as self-evident, a view that is buttressed by all the other True Believers who surround the believer, reinforcing their conviction and soothing any nagging doubts by mocking, “debunking” or marginalizing heretics and critics.

In our society, the mass media serves as a soothing echo-chamber of dogmas. It must be true, the news anchor said it on TV, etc.

Dogmas generate power and profits. Trillions of dollars flow into a few pockets because people believe the dogmas that “you need a college diploma to succeed” and “America’s healthcare system is the best in the world.”

As evidence-based doubts seep in, those at the top of the “faith” who have the most to lose become increasingly fanatical and rabid, pushing an increasingly restrictive Orthodoxy on true believers and establishing an Inquisition to excommunicate or eliminate any heretical doubts or dissenting views.

As the increasingly detached-from-reality leadership senses their power waning, they double-down, exhorting the faithful to support the orthodoxy even as the orthodoxy reaches new heights of fanaticism.

As moderates drift away (or sneak away, loudly proclaiming their fealty to cover their escape), the leadership triples down, demanding unwavering loyalty of the remaining believers, who themselves triple-down by reassuring each other that they really are on the right track and the world is about to awaken to the correctness and righteousness of their cause.

The problem with dogmas is that they are detached from the real-world consequences of dogmatic convictions. 

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

The Black Swan Is a Drone

The Black Swan Is a Drone

What was “possible” yesterday is now a low-cost proven capability, and the consequences are far from predictable.

Predictably, the mainstream media is serving up heaping portions of reassurances that the drone attacks on Saudi oil facilities are no big deal and full production will resume shortly. The obvious goal is to placate global markets fearful of an energy disruption that could tip a precarious global economy into recession.

The real impact isn’t on short-term oil prices, it’s on asymmetric warfare: the coordinated drone attack on Saudi oil facilities is a Black Swan event that is reverberating around the world, awakening copycats and exposing the impossibility of defending against low-cost drones of the sort anyone can buy.(Some published estimates place the total cost of the 10 drones deployed in the strike at $15,000. Highly capable commercially available drones cost around $1,200 each.)

The attack’s success should be a wake-up call to everyone tasked with defending highly flammable critical infrastructure: there really isn’t any reliable defense against a coordinated drone attack, nor is there any reliable way to distinguish between an Amazon drone delivering a package and a drone delivering a bomb.

Whatever authentication protocol that could be required of drones in the future–an ID beacon or equivalent–can be spoofed. For example: bring down an authenticated drone (using nets, etc.), swap out the guidance and payload, and away it goes. Or steal authentication beacons from suppliers, or hack an authenticated drone in flight, land it, swap out the payload–the list of spoofing workaround options is extensive.

This is asymmetric warfare on a new scale: $20,000 of drones can wreak $20 million in damage and financial losses of $200 million–or $2 billion or $20 billion, if global markets are upended.If it’s impossible to defend against coordinated drone attacks, and impossible to differentiate “good” drones from “bad” drones, then the only reliable defense is to ban drones entirely from wide swaths of territory.

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

These Are Not Signs of a Healthy Market

These Are Not Signs of a Healthy Market

If these three charts reflect a “normal” “healthy” Bull market, then why are they so uncommon? 

The implicit narrative of the latest rally in stocks is that this is just another normal rally in the ongoing 10-year long Bull market. Nice, but do these three charts look “normal” to you? Let’s take a quick glance at a daily chart of the S&P 500 (SPX), a weekly chart of TLT, the exchange-traded fund of the US Treasury 20-year bond, and silver.

In other words, let’s look at three different assets: stocks, bonds and one of the precious metals.

Even the most cursory glance reveals there is nothing normal about any of these charts. The recent action in the SPX is anything but normal: yet another announcement of yet another (low-level nothing-burger) trade meeting opens a gap big enough for a semi to drive through, punching through the upper Bollinger Band, and on the heels of a previous big gap up, also on no fundamental news.

Look at August: if a month of nearly daily open gaps and manic swings is “normal,” why are such periods so uncommon in “normal” rallies? Looking at August’s wild schizophrenia, does this strike you as “normal” market action in an ongoing Bull market? If so, perhaps you should dial back your Ibogaine consumption.

Next up, TLT, the US Treasury long bond. You know, the “safe” long bond, which moves glacially compared to risk-on stocks. 

If we dare to be honest (risky in a world terrified of honesty), this looks like the blow-off topping move of risk-on bitcoin in December 2017. There is nothing “normal” about this parabolic move in Treasury bonds.

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

Will Everything Change in 2020-2025 or Will Nothing Change?

Any domino-like expanding crisis will unfold in a status quo lacking any coherent response.

Longtime readers know I’ve often referenced The Fourth Turning, the book that makes the case for an 80-year cycle of existential crisis in U.S. history.

The first crisis was the constitutional process (1781) following the end of the Revolutionary War, whether the states could agree on a federal structure; the 2nd crisis was the Civil War (1861) and the 3rd crisis was global war– World War II (1941).

According to this proposition, we’re fast approaching an existential crisis that could upend the status quo in a fundamental fashion.

While there is a great deal of historical evidence for cycles, predicting a major transition based on previous cycles is obviously a guess rather than a certainty.

So will everything change in 2020-25, or will the present simply extend another five years? We have to start by defining what qualifies as fundamental change. In my view, if the current distribution of income, power and ownership of capital remains unchanged, nothing of import has changed.

There might be dramas playing out in the political theater, but if the asymmetrical distribution of income, power and wealth doesn’t change, then the dramas are merely another form of distraction / entertainment.

The other type of change that qualifies as fundamental is the breakdown of the structures of everyday life: the distribution, cost and availability of food, fresh water, energy, healthcare, income and basic security.One way to measure the vulnerability of any society to breakdown or a fundamental reshuffling of income, wealth and power is to examine its buffers–the resiliency and reserves of the core systems.I often reference buffers, as these are largely invisible to everyone who isn’t intimately familiar with the workings of each system: the reserves that can be drawn upon in crisis, the redundancies, the staff and management training to handle crises, and so on.

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

The Fantasy of Central Bank “Growth” Is Finally Imploding

The Fantasy of Central Bank “Growth” Is Finally Imploding

Having destroyed discipline, central banks have no way out of the corner they’ve painted us into.

It was such a wonderful fantasy: just give a handful of bankers, financiers and corporations trillions of dollars at near-zero rates of interest, and this flood of credit and cash into the apex of the wealth-power pyramid would magically generate a new round of investments in productivity-improving infrastructure and equipment, which would trickle down to the masses in the form of higher wages, enabling the masses to borrow and spend more on consumption, powering the Nirvana of modern economics: a self-sustaining, self-reinforcing expansion of growth.

But alas, there is no self-sustaining, self-reinforcing expansion of growth; there are only massive, increasingly fragile asset bubbles, stagnant wages and a New Gilded Age as the handful of bankers, financiers and corporations that were handed unlimited nearly free money enriched themselves at the expense of everyone else.

Central banks’ near-zero interest rates and trillions in new credit destroyed discipline and price discovery, the bedrock of any economy, capitalist or socialist.

When credit is nearly free to borrow in unlimited quantities, there’s no need for discipline, and so a year of university costs $50,000 instead of $10,000, houses that should cost $200,000 now cost $1 million and a bridge that should have cost $100 million costs $500 million. Nobody can afford anything any more because the answer in the era of central bank “growth” is: just borrow more, it won’t cost you much because interest rates are so low.

And with capital (i.e. saved earnings) getting essentially zero yield thanks to central bank ZIRP and NIRP (zero or negative interest rate policies), then all the credit has poured into speculative assets, inflating unprecedented asset bubbles that will destroy much of the financial system when they finally pop, as all asset bubbles eventually do.

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

Nothing Is Guaranteed

Nothing Is Guaranteed

There are no guarantees, no matter how monumental the hubris and confidence.

The American lifestyle and economy depend on a vast number of implicit guarantees— systemic forms of entitlement that we implicitly feel are our birthright.

Chief among these implicit entitlements is the Federal Reserve can always “save the day”: the Fed has the tools to escape either an inflationary spiral or a deflationary collapse.

But there are no guarantees this is actually true. In either an inflationary spiral or deflationary collapse of self-reinforcing defaults, the Fed’s “save” would destroy the economy, which is now so fragile that any increase in interest rates (to rescue us from an inflationary spiral) would destroy our completely debt-dependent economy: were mortgage rates to climb back to historical averages, the housing bubble would immediately implode.Hello negative wealth effect, as every homeowner watches their temporary (and illusory) “wealth” dissipate before their eyes.

The Fed’s “fix” to deflationary defaults is equally destructive: bailing out too big to fail lenders will spark a political revolt that could topple the Fed itself, as the populace has finally connected the dots between the Fed bailing out the banks and financiers and the astounding rise in income and wealth inequality.

Other than the phantom “wealth” of real estate and stock bubbles, the vast majority of the ‘wealth” generated by the Fed’s actions of the past 20 years has flowed to the top 0.1%. This will become self-evident once the phantom gains of speculative bubbles vanish.

The Fed’s other “trick” to halt a deflationary collapse is negative interest rates, in effect taxing savers and those holding cash and rewarding those who borrow.Negative interest rates destroy every institution that depends on relatively low-risk interest income via bonds: pension funds, insurance companies, etc.

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

It’s Not Just the News That’s Fake–Everything’s Fake

It’s Not Just the News That’s Fake–Everything’s Fake

That we fall for the fakes and cons is understandable, given that’s all we have left in the public sphere.

What do we mean when we say corporate media is fake? We mean it’s a carefully crafted con, a set of narratives, cherry-picked data and heavily massaged statistics (the unemployment rate, etc.) designed to instill the reader’s confidence in a narrative that serves the interests not of the citizenry but of a select few pillaging the citizenry.

Once upon a time in America, no adult could survive without a finely tuned BS detector. Herman Melville masterfully captured America’s culture of cons and con artists in his 1857 classic The Confidence-Man, which I discussed in The Con in Confidence (October 4, 2006).

An essential component of the American ethos is: don’t be a chump. Don’t fall for the con. And if you do, it’s your own fault. America in 1857 was a simmering stew of con artists, flim-flammers and grifters exploiting the naive, the trusting and the credulous, and that remains the case in 2019.

We now inhabit a world where virtually everything is a con. That “organic” produce from some other country–did anyone test the soil the produce grew in? It could be loaded with heavy metals and be certified “organic” because no pesticides were used during production. Are there any nutrients left in the soil or has it been depleted? What’s in the water used to irrigate the crops?

The point of the con in offshored “organic” is the higher prices fetched. This is why it’s critical to ask of every narrative, story, product and data set: cui bono, to whose benefit?

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

The Planetary Insanity of Eternal Economic Growth

The Planetary Insanity of Eternal Economic Growth

This is the fantasy: we can rebuild our entire global industrial society every generation or two forever. 

“Earthrise” is one of the most influential photographs ever published. Taken on the Apollo 8 mission in late December 1968 by astronaut Bill Anders, it captures Earth’s uniqueness, isolation and modest scale: a blue and white dot on a vast sea of lifeless darkness.

The revelation that strikes me is the insanity of pursuing eternal economic growth, not as an option but as the only possible path: there is literally no alternative to extracting ever greater quantities of the planet’s resources to enable ever greater consumption by the planet’s 7.7 billion humans.

Stripped to its essence, this mad drive is about profit and power. The necessity is sold as the only path to prosperity for humanity, but it’s really about securing wealth and power for the few.

A recent article in Scientific American magazine highlights how the idealistic impulses of protecting the planet’s diverse life from the machinery of “growth” are inevitably subsumed by the necessity for profit: The Ecologists and the Mine.

Here’s what these kinds of articles never say: markets cannot price in the value of non-monetized natural assets such as diverse ecosystems. Whatever cannot be monetized right now is worthless, as markets lack any mechanism to price in what cannot be valued by market supply and demand in the moment.

There is no way to fix this fatal flaw in markets, and attempts to do so are merely excuses deployed to enable the profitable exploitation and resulting ruin.

(Recall that neoliberalism is the quasi-religious ideology of turning everything on Earth into a market, so it can be exploited and financialized by the few at the expense of the many.)

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

The Three Ds of Doom: Debt, Default, Depression

The Three Ds of Doom: Debt, Default, Depression

“Borrowing our way out of debt” generates the three Ds of Doom: debt leads to default which ushers in Depression.

Let’s start by defining Economic Depression: a Depression is a Recession that isn’t fixed by conventional fiscal and monetary stimulus. In other words, when a recession drags on despite massive fiscal and monetary stimulus being thrown into the economy, then the stimulus-resistant stagnation is called a Depression.

Here’s why we’re heading into a Depression: debt exhaustion. As the charts below illustrate, the U.S. (and global) economy has only “grown” in the 21st century by expanding debt roughly four times faster than GDP or earned income.

Costs for big-ticket essentials such as housing, healthcare and government services are soaring while wages stagnate or decline in purchasing power.

What’s purchasing power? Rather than get caught in the endless thicket of defining inflation, ask yourself this: how much of X does one hour of labor buy now compared to 20 years ago? For example, how much healthcare does an hour of labor buy now? How many days of rent does an hour of labor buy now compared to 1999? How many hours of labor are required to pay a parking ticket now compared to 1999?

Our earnings are buying less of every big-ticket expense that’s essential, and we’ve covered the gigantic hole in our budget with debt. The only way the status quo could continue conjuring an illusion of “prosperity” is by borrowing fantastic sums of money, all to be paid with future earnings and taxes.

At some point, the borrower is unable to borrow more. Even at 0.1% rate of interest, borrowers can’t borrow more because they can’t even manage the principal payment, never mind the interest. That’s debt exhaustion: borrowers can’t borrow more without ramping up the risk of default.

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

Following in Rome’s Footsteps: Moral Decay, Rising Inequality

Following in Rome’s Footsteps: Moral Decay, Rising Inequality

Here is the moral decay of America’s ruling elites boiled down to a single word.

There are many reasons why Imperial Rome declined, but two primary causes that get relatively little attention are moral decay and soaring wealth inequality. The two are of course intimately connected: once the morals of the ruling Elites degrade, what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine, too.

I’ve previously covered two other key characteristics of an empire in terminal decline: complacency and intellectual sclerosis, what I have termed a failure of imagination.

Michael Grant described these causes of decline in his excellent account The Fall of the Roman Empire, a short book I have been recommending since 2009:There was no room at all, in these ways of thinking, for the novel, apocalyptic situation which had now arisen, a situation which needed solutions as radical as itself. (The Status Quo) attitude is a complacent acceptance of things as they are, without a single new idea.

This acceptance was accompanied by greatly excessive optimism about the present and future. Even when the end was only sixty years away, and the Empire was already crumbling fast, Rutilius continued to address the spirit of Rome with the same supreme assurance.

This blind adherence to the ideas of the past ranks high among the principal causes of the downfall of Rome. If you were sufficiently lulled by these traditional fictions, there was no call to take any practical first-aid measures at all.

A lengthier book by Adrian Goldsworthy How Rome Fell: Death of a Superpower addresses the same issues from a slightly different perspective.

Glenn Stehle, commenting on a thread in the excellent website peakoilbarrel.com (operated by the estimable Ron Patterson) made a number of excellent points that I am taking the liberty of excerpting: (with thanks to correspondent Paul S.)

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

No, Autos Are Not “Cheaper Now”

No, Autos Are Not “Cheaper Now”

According to the BLS, inflation in the category of “New Vehicles” has been practically non-existent the past 21 years.

Longtime readers know I’ve long turned a skeptical gaze at official calculations of inflation, offering real-world analyses such as The Burrito Index: Consumer Prices Have Soared 160% Since 2001 (August 1, 2016) and Burrito Index Update: Burrito Cost Triples, Official Inflation Up 43% from 2001 (May 31, 2018).

Official claims that grossly understate real-world inflation is a core feature of debt-serfdom and neofeudalism: we’re working harder and longer and getting less for our earnings every year, but this reality is obfuscated by official pronouncements that inflation is 2%–barely above zero.

Meanwhile, quality and quantity are in permanent decline. New BBQ grills rust out in a few years, if not months, appliance paint is so thin a sponge and a bit of cleanser removes the micron-thick coating, and on and on in endless examples of the landfill economy, as new products are soon dumped in the landfill due to near-zero quality control and/or planned obsolescence.

Free-lance writer Bill Rice, Jr. recently analyzed shrinkflation, the inexorable reduction in quantity:

What Does Your Toilet Paper Have to Do With Inflation?

Manufacturers have been engaging in “shrinkflation,” leaving consumers paying more for less, but stealthily.In the guest post below, Bill looks at new car prices, and finds that official inflation for “new vehicles” from November 1983 to November 2013 measured only 43.8 percent… while actual car inflation (based on archived price records in Morris County, NJ) is 4.85 times higher than official CPI “new vehicle” inflation.

Prices for new cars sky-rocketed over 30 years (or did they?)

A lesson in ‘hedonic adjustments’

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

The Lessons of Rome: Our Neofeudal Oligarchy

The Lessons of Rome: Our Neofeudal Oligarchy

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

The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages 400-1000 is not an easy, breezy read; its length and detail are daunting.

The effort is well worth it, as the book helps us understand how the power structures of societies change over time in ways that may be largely invisible to those living through the changes.

The Inheritance of Rome focuses on the lasting influence of Rome’s centralized social and political structures even as centralized economic power and trade routes dissolved.

This legacy of centralized power and loyalty to a central authority manifested 324 years after the end of the Western Roman Empire circa 476 A.D. in Charlemagne, who united much of western Europe as the head of the Holy Roman Empire. (Recall that the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire endured another 1,000 years until 1453 A.D.)

But thereafter, the social and political strands tying far-flung villages and fiefdoms to a central authority frayed and were replaced by a decentralized feudalism in which peasants were largely stripped of the right to own land and became the chattel of independent nobles.

In this disintegrative phase, the central authority invested in the monarchy of kings and queens was weak to non-existent.In the long sweep of history, it took several hundred years beyond 1000 A.D. for central authority to re-assert itself in the form of monarchy, and several hundred additional years for the rights of commoners to be established.

Indeed, it can be argued that it was not until the 1600s and 1700s–and only in the northern European strongholds of commoners’ rights, The Netherlands and England–that the rights of ownership and political influence enjoyed by commoners in the Roman Empire were matched.

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

Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
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