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What is this ‘Crisis’ of Modernity?


Workmen next to the screws of the RMS Titanic at Belfast shipyard, 1911
The people at Conflicts Forum, which is directed by former British diplomat and MI6 ‘ranking figure’ Alastair Crooke, sent me an unpublished article by Alastair and asked if the Automatic Earth would publish it. Since I like his work and I (re-)published two of his articles last year already, ‘End of Growth’ Sparks Wide Discontent in October 2016 and Obstacles to Trump’s ‘Growth’ Plans in November 2016, I’m happy to.His arguments here are very close to much of what the Automatic Earth has been advocating for years, both when it comes to our financial crisis and to our energy crisis. Our Primerssection is full of articles on these issues written through the years. It’s a good thing other people pick up too on topics like EROEI, and understand you can’t run our modern, complex society on ‘net energy’ as low as what we get from any of our ‘new’ energy sources. It’s just not going to happen.

Here’s Alastair:

Alastair Crooke: We have an economic crisis – centred on the persistent elusiveness of real growth, rather than just monetised debt masquerading as ‘growth’ – and a political crisis, in which even ‘Davos man’, it seems, according to their own World Economic Forum polls,is anxious; losing his faith in ‘the system’ itself, and casting around for an explanation for what is occurring, or what exactly to do about it. Klaus Schwab, the founder of the WEF at Davos remarked  before this year’s session, “People have become very emotionalized, this silent fear of what the new world will bring, we have populists here and we want to listen …”.

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

How Will You Cope With A Lower Standard of Living?

How Will You Cope With A Lower Standard of Living?

The forces are mounting that will eventually overwhelm most Americans and send their standard of living to unknown depths. Americans that have only known the post WWII prosperity are ill equipped and educated to deal with depression level living. Easy credit and instant gratification have created a nation of whining, self absorbed, entitlement minded people with no moral or mental toughness.

Doug Casey believes we are headed for what he calls a super depression created by the ending of a debt super cycle. The bigger the debt cycle the bigger the depression that follows. That’s how reality works and most people are not prepared for reality.

When this depression, which has already started, gets momentum, it will overwhelm the plans of a society that is expecting to get things like social security, pensions and payouts from retirement plans they have paid into for many years. All of those things will disappear almost overnight and leave society gasping and stupefied over what to do. Their reactions will be to yell and scream and try to identify who to blame but the only person they should blame is the one in the mirror.

Many very smart people have raised the alarm and done their best to warn the sleeping public, but those slumbering masses have ignored the warnings and hit the snooze button one more time. The masses do not understand economics, do not want to understand economics and they will pay dearly for that ignorance in the coming days.

When the real unemployment rate becomes common knowledge as it increases substantially, people will be left to survive on what resources they have saved up outside the banking system that cannot be stolen by the politicians and bankers. That is a key point here. The assets you have outside the system that cannot be stolen from you with a few key strokes on some computer.

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

The Keys to Human Prosperity: Individual Liberty and Rule of Law

We live at time when, increasingly, the U.S. government operates in arbitrary and discretionary ways. Government regulatory agencies seemingly have unrestrained powers over land-use, business manufacturing and enterprise, the workplace and the environment under broad legislative mandates. And proposals are now frequently being made for ad hoc restrictions and prohibitions on freedoms of speech, press, religion and association.  The principle and practice of individual liberty, therefore, is under serious attack.

The history of liberty and prosperity is inseparable from the practice of free enterprise and respect for the rule of law. Both are products of the spirit of classical liberalism. But a correct understanding of free enterprise, the rule of law, and liberalism (rightly understood) is greatly lacking in the world today.

Historically, liberalism is the political philosophy of individual liberty. It proclaims and insists that the individual is to be free to think, speak, and write as he wishes; to believe and worship as he wishes; and to peacefully live his life as he wishes. Another way of saying this is to quote from Lord Acton’s definition: “By liberty I mean the assurance that every man shall be protected in doing what he believes his duty against the influence of authority and custom, and opinion.” For this reason, he declared that the securing of liberty “is the highest political end.”

Lord Acton did not say, you will notice, that liberty is the highest end, but rather the highest political end. In the wider context of a man’s life, political and economic liberty are means to other ends. What ends? Those that give meaning and purpose to man’s sojourn on earth. Classical liberalism does not deny that there may be or is one ultimate Truth, or one moral “right,” or one correct conception of “the good” and “the beautiful.”

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

Triffin’s Paradox Revisited: Crunch-Time for the U.S. Dollar and the Global Economy

Triffin’s Paradox Revisited: Crunch-Time for the U.S. Dollar and the Global Economy

The reality is that we’re one panic away from foreign-exchange markets ripping free of central bank manipulation.

While all eyes on fixated on global stock markets as the measure of “prosperity” and “growth” (or is it hubris?), the larger force at work beneath the dovish cooing of central bankers is foreign exchange: the relative value of nations’ currencies, which are influenced (like everything else) by supply and demand, which is in turn influenced by interest rates, perceived risk, asset purchases and sales by central banks and capital flows seeking the lowest possible risk and the highest possible return.

Which brings us to Triffin’s Paradox, a topic I’ve covered for many years:

Understanding the “Exorbitant Privilege” of the U.S. Dollar (November 19, 2012)

The Federal Reserve, Interest Rates and Triffin’s Paradox (November 19, 2015)

The core of Triffin’s Paradox is that the issuer of a reserve currency must serve two entirely different sets of users: the domestic economy, and the international economy.

The U.S. dollar (USD) is the global economy’s primary reserve currency. When the Federal Reserve lowered interest rates to zero (Zero Interest Rate Policy, ZIRP), it weakened the dollar relative to other currencies. In this ZIRP environment, it made sense to borrow dollars for next to nothing and use this free money to buy bonds and other assets in other currencies that paid higher yields. Many of these assets were in emerging market economies such as Brazil.

As a result of this enormous carry trade, an estimated $7 trillion was borrowed in USD and invested in other currencies/nations.

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

What Killed the Middle Class?

What Killed the Middle Class?

If the four structural trends highlighted below don’t reverse, the middle class is heading for extinction. 

Everyone knows the middle class is fading fast. I’ve covered this issue in depth for years, for example: Honey, I Shrunk the Middle Class: Perhaps 1/3 of Households Qualify (December 28, 2015) and What Does It Take To Be Middle Class? (December 5, 2013)

This raises an obvious question: what killed the middle class? While many commentators try to identify one killer cause (for example, the U.S. going off the gold standard in 1971), the die-off of the middle class is more akin to the die-off in honey bees, which is the result of the interaction of multiple causes (factors that increase the toxic load dumped on bees and other pollinators by modern agriculture).

Longtime collaborator Gordon T. Long and I discuss the decline of the middle class and other key topics in a new 29-minute video How did that work out for you?

So where do we begin this detective story? With the engine of all real prosperity, productivity. This chart reveals that wages stopped rising with productivity around 1980.

Here’s another look at the same phenomenon:

Productivity has been slipping since around 2003: Alan Greenspan:”Productivity is Dead”

Cause #1: declining productivity, which means the pie of real wealth is no longer expanding.

Exhibit #2: middle class wage earners have not received any of the gains.Wages as a percentage of GDP have been falling for decades, with occasional blips up in tech/housing bubbles:

Inflation-adjusted household income has dropped back to levels first reached in the 1980s:

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

What is Degrowth? Envisioning a Prosperous Descent

What is Degrowth? Envisioning a Prosperous Descent 

What is Degrowth? Envisioning a Prosperous Descent

This is a transcript of my keynote address presented at the ‘Local Lives, Global Matters’ conference in Castlemaine, Victoria, 16-18 October 2015.Other keynote speakers included Rob Hopkins, David Holmgren, and Helena Norberg-Hodge.

Introduction

Thank you for that introduction, Jacinta, good morning everyone. I would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of this land and to recognise that these have always been spaces of teaching, learning, sharing, and conversation. It is a real honour to be part of this conversation today.

When I was a boy, if ever I were amongst a group of people congregating at 9am on a Sunday morning it was because I was at Church. For better or for worse, I am now a lapsed, or rather, I should say, a collapsed Catholic, although I remain a seeker. But as I look around the world today, especially from my Western perspective, it seems clear enough that God, if he is not yet dead, as Friedrich Nietzsche declared, is, at least, increasingly absent. There seems to be a tension between our spiritual sensibilities and the cultures and systems within which we live. As the poet-musician, Tom Waits, would shout in the voice of a husky wolf: ‘God’s away on business.’

But the absence of God should not imply an absence of religious thinking in our culture or cultures. In fact, I would argue quite the opposite; that our Western religiosity has become ever more intense in recent decades, and what has happened is that we simply switched idols, no longer worshipping the God of Christianity, and instead worshipping at the alter of growth, singing praises to the God of GDP, our saviour, for only in growth will we find redemption. Our high priests now take the peculiar form of neoclassical economists, bankers, and national treasurers. Daniel Bell once wrote in his landmark text, The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism: ‘Economic growth is the secular religion of advancing industrial nations.’

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

As the “Prosperity” Tide Recedes, the Ugly Reality of Wealth Inequality Is Exposed

As the “Prosperity” Tide Recedes, the Ugly Reality of Wealth Inequality Is Exposed

This chart of median household income illustrates why so many of us feel poorer–we are poorer in terms of the purchasing power of our income.

A rising tide raises all boats, from rowboats to yachts–this is the narrative of “prosperity.”

A rising tide is also the political cover for rising inequality: if the guy in the rowboat makes $100 more a month, he feels like he’s participating in the prosperity.

Meanwhile, the guy in the speedboat is making $1,000 more a month and the guy in the yacht is making $1 million more a month.

But this doesn’t bother the guy in the rowboat, for two reasons:

1. He thinks of himself as a guy who is currently in a rowboat on his way to buying a speedboat

2. Studies have found that our sense of wealth and “falling behind” is not defined by our actual increases in income or wealth, but by how we’re doing relative to our peer group. If everyone else in rowboats is making $200 more a month in the rising tide of prosperity, the guy making only $100 more feels like he’s falling behind–even if his absolute income and wealth is rising.

Conversely, if his peers are all suffering declines in income while his income is holding steady, he feels like he’s doing pretty well for himself, even though his income is stagnant.

The fact that the wealthy are gaining far more in “prosperity” in both absolute and relative terms doesn’t bother him as long as he’s doing as well or better as his peers and feels he has a chance to eventually move up from a rowboat to a speedboat.

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

 

 

A Prescription for Peace and Prosperity

A Prescription for Peace and Prosperity

The question is often asked: “What can we do?” Here is a prescription for peace and prosperity.

We will begin with prosperity, because prosperity can contribute to peace. Sometimes governments begin wars in order to distract from unpromising economic prospects, and internal political stability can also be dependent on prosperity.

The Road to Prosperity

For the United States to return to a prosperous road, the middle class must be restored and the ladders of upward mobility put back in place. The middle class served domestic political stability by being a buffer between rich and poor. Ladders of upward mobility are a relief valve that permit determined folk to rise from poverty to success. Rising incomes throughout society provide the consumer demand that drives an economy. This is the way the US economy worked in the post-WWII period.

To reestablish the middle class the offshored jobs have to be brought home, monopolies broken up, regulation restored, and the central bank put under accountable control or abolished.

Jobs offshoring enriched owners and managers of capital at the expense of the middle class. Well paid manufacturing and industrial workers lost their livelihoods as did university graduates trained for tradable professional service jobs such as software engineering and information technology. No comparable wages and salaries could be found in the economy where the remaining jobs consist of domestic service employment, such as retail clerks, hospital orderlies, waitresses and bartenders. The current income loss is compounded by the loss of medical benefits and private pensions that supplemented Social Security retirement. Thus, jobs offshoring reduced both current and future consumer income.

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

Post-Development Discourse: Lessons for the Degrowth Movement (Part 1)

Is degrowth only conceivable in the context of “oversaturated” industrial societies while the global “South” remains dependent on growth? In two installments, this article questions such assumptions. In this first part it introduces positions critical of development which refuse to adopt the Western model of prosperity; the second part will focus on the analysis of these positions with a view to their relevance for the European degrowth movement and the growth debate here.

A common objection against visions of degrowth is raised with regard to the material needs of large parts of the global population – those who live in so-called “developing” or “underdeveloped” countries under conditions of extreme poverty. This group, so the argument goes, essentially depends on growth in order to improve their living conditions.

Interestingly, this argument is often brought forward in order to justify further growth in the global “North,” i.e., growth which in the first instance would benefit much more privileged groups. This line of argument has been easily refuted by the degrowth movement which emphasizes that in view of increasingly scarce natural resources, further material growth in richer industrial countries would rather diminish the prospects for development in poorer regions. The claim that wealth generated in the “North” would somehow “trickle down” to the “South” – the traditional argument of radical free-market theorists extrapolated to the global level – has been too thoroughly discredited over decades of empirical evidence to deserve further attention here.

But even explicit critics of growth, in pursuit of the laudable goal of global justice, often argue that economic development requires further growth in the “South.” Indeed, their demand for an end to growth in OECD countries is often motivated by the desire to enable “sustainable development” in poorer regions. From the perspective of post-development theory, however, the assumptions underlying such demands are quickly revealed to be rooted firmly in Western ideas of progress and growth.

 

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

The Last Days Of ‘Normal Life’ In America

The Last Days Of ‘Normal Life’ In America

Sheeple - Public DomainIf you have got family and friends that you would like to visit before things start getting really crazy, you should do so within the next couple of months, because these are the last days of “normal life” in America.  The website where I have posted this article is called “End of the American Dream“, but perhaps I should have entitled it “The End of America” because that is essentially what we are heading for.  The debt-fueled prosperity that so many of us take for granted is about to come to a screeching halt, and we are about to enter the hardest times that any of us have ever known.  And I am not just talking about economics either.  Based on all of the intel and information that I have gathered, we are about to enter a “perfect storm” that is going to shake this country in just about every possible way that it can be shaken.  So I hope that you will truly savor this summer – days like this will not come around again any time soon.

Have you ever known someone that lived a seemingly charmed life even though that individual made foolish decision after foolish decision?

In the end, reality almost always catches up with people like that.

And in so many ways, we have been living a charmed life as a nation even though we have been making incredibly foolish decisions for decades.  We have cursed ourselves over and over again, and just about every form of evil that you can possibly imagine is exploding all around us.  As a nation, we now stand for just about everything that is foul, disgusting and wicked, and the rest of the world is absolutely horrified by what has happened to us.

 

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

 

 

 

Collaboration, Adaptation and Risk: Innovate or Die

Collaboration, Adaptation and Risk: Innovate or Die 

Collaboration, innovation and risk are all intrinsic to adaptation. Without adaptation, every system eventually perishes once conditions change.

One feature of capitalism that is rarely discussed is the premium placed on cooperation and collaboration. The Darwinian aspect of competition is widely accepted (and rued) as capitalism’s dominant force, but cooperation and collaboration are just as intrinsic to capitalism as competition. Subcontractors must cooperate to assemble a product, suppliers must cooperate to deliver the various components, distributors must cooperate to get the products to retail outlets, employees and managers must cooperate to reach the goals of the organization, and local governments and communities must cooperate with enterprises to maintain the local economy.

Ideas, techniques and processes which are better and more productive than previous versions will spread quickly; those who refuse to adapt them will be overtaken by those who do. These new ideas, techniques and processes trigger changes in society and the economy that are often difficult to predict.Darwin’s understanding of natural selection is often misapplied. In its basic form, natural selection simply means that the world is constantly changing, and organisms must adapt or they will expire. The same is true of individuals, enterprises, governments, cultures and economies. Darwin wrote: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, or the most intelligent, but the ones most adaptable to change.”

This creates a dilemma: we want more prosperity and wider opportunities for self-cultivation (personal fulfillment), yet we don’t want our security and culture to be disrupted. But we cannot have it both ways. Those who attempt to preserve their power over the social order while reaping the gains of free markets find their power dissolving before their eyes as unintended consequences of technological and social innovations disrupt their mechanisms of control.

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

 

 

Escaping the Deadly Financial Rip-Tide of Debt and Speculation

Escaping the Deadly Financial Rip-Tide of Debt and Speculation

Only those know to swim parallel to the shore can escape the destructive rip-tide of debt and speculative risk pulling everyone to insecurity and impoverishment.

Longtime correspondent Kevin K. recently shared an extremely insightful analogy of our financial peril. Those of you who swim or body-surf in the ocean are familiar with rip-tides–strong currents shaped by the contours of inlets and bays that pull unwary swimmers rapidly out to sea.

 

The only way to escape the rip-tide is to swim parallel to the shore. This succeeds because the rip-tide is like a narrow river; once the swimmer moves out of the strong flow, the current’s deadly pull quickly subsides.Those with experience of rip-tides know that it is futile to swim against the tide–those who try will only exhaust themselves, and be carried away despite their exertions.

Kevin described the economic and cultural rip-tide of the postwar years 1945 – 1985 as positive: anyone caught in this great tide of prosperity would be carried into secure jobs, homeownership, opportunities for attending college–all the critical elements of middle-class prosperity that were widely available to the majority of households.

This tide of prosperity was powered by the GI Bill that paid higher education costs for 20+ million veterans of World War II and Korea and later, of the Vietnam war, abundant factory and office jobs that offered relatively high pay to those with little education, and dirt-cheap (by today’s standards) college. (CUNY, the public university in New York, was free until the late 1970s.)

 

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

7 Habits of Highly Effective Libertarians

7 Habits of Highly Effective Libertarians

How to sustain a lasting passion for liberty

What does it mean to be an effective advocate of liberty? It means to love what you do and adopt sustainable patterns of thinking and living that contribute to making the world a freer place.

Sustainability is key. Most of today’s attacks on freedom lovers include a dismissal that libertarianism is an ideology for idealistic (or maybe deluded) kids, not one for adults. Sure, you can feel enraptured by the writings of Bastiat or Rand or Rothbard when you are in high school or college. But once you get into the real world, they say, you mature and give up the illusions of a freer world.

I don’t believe this. Within the domain of liberty, we find the path to prosperity, social peace, and human flourishing. Every limitation on the freedom of thought, action, and ownership robs the world of creativity, wealth, and progress.

And yet, freedom is not baked into a world where various forms of despotism are always threatening. It must be won anew in every generation. Indeed, it’s the ones who fancy themselves as grown-ups — able to make big decisions for the rest of humanity — who become the next generation of despots. It is the very foundation of intellectual and moral maturity to resist this level of hubris and to acknowledge the truth of our limitations.

Surely maturity shows us the limits of power. Surely the cause of liberty is worth our lifelong efforts.

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

 

 

Our Current Illusion of Prosperity

Our Current Illusion of Prosperity

President Obama and Fed Chair Janet Yellen have been crowing about improving economic conditions in the US. Unemployment is down to 5.5 percent and growth in 2014 hit 2.2 percent.

Journalists and economists point to this improvement as proof that quantitative easing was effective.

Pile on More Debt

Unfortunately, this latest boom is artificial and has been built by adding debt on top of debt. Total household debt increased 2.5 percent in 2014 — the highest level since 2010. Mortgage loans increased 1.5 percent, student loans 6.6 percent while auto loans increased a hefty 9.6 percent. The improving auto sales are built mostly on a bubble of sub-prime borrowers. Auto sales have been brisk because of a surge in loans to individuals with credit scores below 620. Since 2010, such loans have increased over 100 percent and havegone from 20 percent of originations in 2009 to 27 percent in 2013. Yet, auto loans to individuals with strong credit scoresabove 760, have barely budged over the last year.

Subprime consumer borrowing climbed $189 billion in the first eleven months of 2014. Excluding home mortgages, this accounted for 41 percent of total consumer lending. This is exactly the kind of lending that got us into trouble less than a decade ago, and for many consumers, this will only end in tears.

But we need to ask ourselves: is the current boom built on sound foundations? In other words, do we have sharp increases in productivity or real wage growth?

Productivity increased less than 1 percent on average in the last three years and real wages have flat lined or declined for decades. From mid-2007 to mid-2014, real wages declined 4.9 percent for workers with a high school degree, dropped 2.5 percent for workers with a college degree and rose just 0.2 percent for workers with an advanced degree.

 

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

Jim Grant Sums It All Up In 2 Stunning Paragraphs | Zero Hedge

Jim Grant Sums It All Up In 2 Stunning Paragraphs | Zero Hedge.

What will futurity make of the [so-called] Ph.D. standard [that runs our world]?

Likely it will be even more baffled than we are. Imagine trying to explain the present-day arrangements to your 20-something grandchild a couple of decades hence – after the crash of, say, 2016, that wiped out the youngster’s inheritance and provoked a cenral bank response so heavy-handed as to shatter the confidence even of Wall Street in the Federal reserve’s methods…

I expect you’ll wind up saying something like this:

“My generation gave former tenured economics professors discretionary authority to fabricate money and to fix interest rates.

We put the cart of asset prices before the horse of enterprise.

We entertained the fantasy that high asset prices made for prosperity, rather than the other way around.

We actually worked to foster inflation, which we called ‘price stability’ (this was on the eve of the hyperinflation of 2017).

We seem to have miscalculated.”

*  *  *

Source: Jim Grant’s November 2014 speech at the Cato Institute

Full keynote address below: (Grant begins at 10:00)

Olduvai IV: Courage
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