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Intermission: The Machine Stops?

Intermission: The Machine Stops?

‘I have seen the hills of Wessex.’

“The Machine,” they exclaimed, “feeds us and clothes us and houses us; through it we speak to one another, through it we see one another, in it we have our being. The Machine is the friend of ideas and the enemy of superstition: the Machine is omnipotent, eternal; blessed is the Machine.”

– E. M. Forster, The Machine Stops, 1909

Samhain, in old Ireland, was one of two annual festivals (the other was Beltaine, in May) in which the veil between the world of humans and the otherworld of the Aos sí – the ‘fairies’ in modern parlance – was said to be thin. Fires were lit, and the burial mounds were opened to allow the dead to move freely between the worlds. Some of the neolithic tombs here have portals which are aligned with the rising of the sun on the eve of Samhain – the 31st of October.

Neopagans still take Samhain fairly seriously, but in today’s Ireland the tradition has been almost entirely subsumed by the modern American festival of Halloween. As across much of the Western world, Halloween has moved far from its origins in either Samhain or the Christian festival of All Hallows, and has mutated into a month-long deluge of consumer crap, built around a few Hollywood horror franchises and aimed at getting children to buy as many sweets, pumpkins, plastic witches’ hats, Harry Potter Quidditch broomsticks, inflatable ghost toys and zombie-themed biscuit selections as humanly possible.

Not this year, though. This year, you couldn’t find a cheap, Chinese-made plastic vampire mask in the shops around here for love or money. You couldn’t find much at all, in fact…

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

Shortages & Hyperinflation Lead to Total Misery


At the end of major economic cycles, shortages develop in all areas of the economy. And this is what the world is experiencing today on a global basis. There is a general lack of labour, whether it is restaurant staff, truck drivers or medical personnel.

There are also shortages of raw materials, lithium (electric car batteries), semi-conductors, food,  a great deal of consumer products, cardboard boxes, energy and etc, etc. The list is endless.


Everything is of course blamed on Covid but most of these shortages are due to structural problems. We have today a global system which cannot cope with the tiniest imbalances in the supply chain.

Just one small component missing could change history as the nursery rhyme below explains:

For want of a nail, the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe, the horse was lost.
For want of a horse, the rider was lost.
For want of a rider, the battle was lost.
For want of a battle, the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a 
horseshoe nail

Cavalry battles are lost if there is a shortage of horseshoe nails.

The world is not just vulnerable to shortages of goods and services.


Bombshells could appear from anywhere. Let’s just list a few like:

  • Dollar collapse (and other currencies)
  • Stock market crash
  • Debt defaults, bond collapse (e.g. Evergrande)
  • Liquidity crisis  (if  money printing stops or has no effect)
  • Inflation leading to hyperinflation

There is a high likelihood that not just one of the above will happen in the next few years but all of them.

Because this is how empires and economic bubbles end.

The Roman Empire needed 500,000 troops to control its vast empire.

Map of the Roman Empire.

Emperor Septimius Severus (200 AD) advised his sons to “Enrich the troops with gold but no one else”.

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

“People Are Hoarding” – Supermarkets Are The Next Supply Chain Crunch As Food Shortages Persist

“People Are Hoarding” – Supermarkets Are The Next Supply Chain Crunch As Food Shortages Persist

It’s been 19 months since the virus pandemic began, and supply chain disruptions continue, making it more difficult for customers to find their favorite item at supermarkets nationwide. Simultaneously, the psychology of empty store shelves and President Biden’s inability to normalize supply chains forced some people to panic hoard this fall as uncertainty about food supplies mount.

Chris Jones, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs & Counsel of the National Grocers Association, told Today, “shopping early for the holidays is a wise strategy, especially under current conditions.”

“There’s plenty of food in the supply chain, but certain items may be harder to get at certain times due to a nationwide shortage of labor impacting manufacturers, shippers and retailers. Additionally, lack of enforcement of antitrust laws in the grocery marketplace have allowed dominant retailers to secure more favorable terms and ample supplies of high-demand goods while leaving many smaller retailers with limited selections or, in some cases, bare shelves,” Jones said. 

In a separate report, USA Today listed items that customers are having trouble finding at grocery stores.

Ben & Jerry flavors

This frozen treat is usually the perfect dessert, but in an email on Sept. 14, Ben & Jerry’s parent company, Unilever, cited labor shortages as the reason for reducing the amount of flavors produced. The company said it will focus on producing its most popular flavors. Phish Food lovers, you have nothing to worry about.

Carbonated drinks

Fertilizer plants, which lead to the production of carbon dioxide, had to reduce their output because of rising costs, causing shortages in food and other products, Per Hong, senior partner at consulting firm Kearney, told CNBC. 

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

IHS Market Warns Of “Armageddon” For US Propane Market 

IHS Market Warns Of “Armageddon” For US Propane Market 

The expanding energy crisis is causing propane to rocket higher (read: here) as supplies dwindle to below seasonal levels as research firm IHS Markit Ltd. warns of “armageddon” during the Northern Hemisphere winter.

IHS analyst Edgar Ang told attendees during a virtual presentation on Tuesday that US propane inventories are at a record low and will be extremely tight as cold weather is ahead. Mean temperatures in the Lower US 48 are expected to dip into the 60-55F range through the end of this month.

Heating degree days are set to soar by month end, suggesting the heating season has already begun.

Ang said 1Q22 prices are already above later-dated supplies that “it may indicate players are preparing for propane-market armageddon.” He warned some areas of the country might be prone to shortages this winter.

Propane prices, which are used for heating resident and commercial building structures and also used for industrial production of plastics, have jumped to the highest in a decade due to increasing overseas demand and tight production. The surge comes as a global energy crunch threatens to derail the global economy.

In a separate report, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) expects households that use propane and heating oil this year will spend much more than last. This could strip out some of their spendings in other areas of the economy, such as eating out.

Soaring energy prices, plus food, shelter, and other costs, will continue to pressure the Biden administration to solve persistent inflation that eats away at real wages.

Making matters worse IHS expects a cooler winter that could boost energy demand and continue to place a bid under propane prices, analyst Veeral Mehta said.

It’s only now that the Biden administration wishes there was global warming.

Hit by Shortages, Vehicle & Parts Production Plunged to Lowest since Lockdown. Oil & Gas Has New Script

Hit by Shortages, Vehicle & Parts Production Plunged to Lowest since Lockdown. Oil & Gas Has New Script

Industrial production over the long term is a sad sight, powered by offshoring.

Industrial production – manufacturing output, oil-and-gas extraction, mining, and gas and electric utilities – fell 1.3% in September from August, pushed down by production of motor vehicles and parts, which plunged 7.2% for the month, and by oil and gas extraction, which fell 3.8%.

Manufacturing of motor vehicles and parts has been hobbled all year by supply semiconductor shortages that have led to rotating shutdowns of parts manufacturing operations and assembly plants. The shortages continued to get worse – despite assurances earlier this year that they would be over with by Q4.

The manufacturing production index for motor vehicles and parts, adjusted for inflation, dropped to a value of 85.4. Beyond the collapse of production during the lockdown, it was the lowest output value since 2013 and was back where it had been in 2006:

Motor vehicle and parts manufacturing started hitting new highs in 2014 on an annual basis and continued to grow and peaked in 2018, before dipping in 2019 and plunging in 2020. This year promises to be rough too.

Unlike the Great Recession collapse of production of motor vehicles and parts – which was driven by a collapse in demand that caused GM and Chrysler and many component makers to file for bankruptcy – the drop in production this year was driven by supply shortages. The drop in production, amid strong demand, has caused inventories at auto dealers to be essentially depleted.

In an effort to keep their plants running, automakers have built large numbers of nearly finished vehicles that are missing a part of two and were put on storage lots until those parts arrive. Then the finished vehicles are shipped to dealers. In Q3, GM shipped over 68,000 of those vehicles to dealers.

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

Not Getting Better: Relentless Retail Inventory Squeeze amid Shortages & Supply Chain Chaos

Not Getting Better: Relentless Retail Inventory Squeeze amid Shortages & Supply Chain Chaos

Holiday selling season is going to be a mess: Look not for what you want but for what the store has.

The holiday selling season is approaching, and a whole litany of weird shortages is ricocheting through the economy. Stuff suddenly gets hung up somewhere, on a ship, or in a port, and then ends up somewhere else, or it’s on backorder for months, as manufacturers are struggling with material shortages and in in Asia with Covid outbreaks that shut down factories for weeks at a time.

And stimulus-fueled demand in the US has been huge and relentless, while retailers are struggling with inventories, some more than others.

Catastrophic shortages at auto dealers got even worse.

Auto dealers, particularly new-vehicle dealers, are experiencing catastrophic shortages of popular models, as automakers have been getting blasted by semiconductor shortages that simply refuse to abate, leading to rotating shutdowns of assembly plants globally.

Auto dealers are the largest retailer segment, with their sales normally accounting for over 20% of total retail sales, and with their inventories normally accounting for 33% of total retail inventories.

Inventories at auto dealers, measured in dollars, declined to a new multi-year low of $151 billion in August, according to data released by the Commerce Department on Friday.

The long-term dollar-increase in inventory levels that you can see in the chart above is a reflection of higher costs per vehicle in inventory. But the number of vehicles in inventory has been in the same range for two decades, as unit sales have mostly been below the peak achieved in the year 2000.

It’s even worse during the current shortages: Inventory in dollars – though it collapsed – is being inflated by the shift to high-end models as automakers are prioritizing the biggest money makers.

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

Why Shortages Are Permanent: Global Supply Shortages Make Fantastic Financial Sense

Why Shortages Are Permanent: Global Supply Shortages Make Fantastic Financial Sense

The era of abundance was only a short-lived artifact of the initial boost phase of globalization and financialization.

Global corporations didn’t go to all the effort to establish quasi-monopolies and cartels for our convenience–they did it to ensure reliably large profits from control and scarcity. Not all scarcities are artificial, i.e. the result of cartels limiting supply to keep prices high; many scarcities are real, and many of these scarcities can be traced back to the stripping out of redundancy / multiple suppliers of industrial essentials to streamline efficiency and eliminate competition.

Recall that competition and abundance are anathema to profits. Wide open competition and structural abundance are the least conducive setting for generating reliably ample profits, while quasi-monopolies and cartels that control scarce supplies are the ideal profit-generating machines.

The incentives to expand the number of suppliers, i.e. increase competition, are effectively zero. America’s corporations spent $11 trillion buying back their own stocks over the past decade; that’s equal to the combined GDP of Japan, Germany and Italy. If adding new suppliers to the global supply chain were profitable, some of that $11 trillion would have exploited those vast profits.

The financial reality is attempting to compete with an established cartel that has captured regulatory and political mechanisms is a foolhardy waste of capital. If firing up a new supplier of essential solvents, etc. was so captivatingly profitable, the why wouldn’t Google and Apple take a slice of their billions in cash and go make some easy money?

The barriers to entry are high and the markets are limited. A great many specialty lubricants, solvents, alloys, wires, etc. are essential to the manufacture of all the consumer and industrial products that are sourced globally, but the markets are narrow: manufacturers need X amount of a specialty solvent, not 10X.

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

Things do not have to run out for their scarcity to become destabilizing

Things do not have to run out for their scarcity to become destabilizing

Economic cornucopians who believe “innovation” and “substitution” will solve every constraint on the resources needed for modern civilization use a clever piece of misdirection to deflect the arguments of those concerned about limits. These cornucopians say that the claim by the limits crowd that we will “run out” of resources we need to maintain the smooth functioning of our complex industrial society is nonsense.

But that statement is a straw man designed to avoid the real issue, an issue which we see in abundance all around us today, namely: Things do not have to run out for their scarcity to become destabilizing. This is a key argument among those concerned about limits and the effects of those limits on the stable functioning of modern society.

We have not run out of fossil fuels but shortages are creating widespread problems in China and Europe. We are not running out of water in the world, but there is not enough of it in the right place to supply all the needs of those living in the American Southwest. That lack of water is leading to a reduction in geothermal power generation as well. And, drought in California is reducing the amount hydroelectric generation by a third so far this year.

High natural gas prices in Europe are not only affecting those who burn the fuel for heat and transportation, but also those who use natural gas as a chemical feedstock. Two British fertilizer plants ceased operations because the high price of natural gas is making it too costly to produce nitrogen fertilizers…

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

What then are we to become?

What then are we to become?

According to Boris Johnson, the economic dislocation which appears to be gathering pace across the UK is merely “a period of adjustment after Brexit.” In Johnson’s formulation, those who would turn the clock back are tacitly in favour of the low-pay and poor working conditions which were encouraged when the UK was a member of the European Union.  There is, for example, no shortage of lorry drivers in the UK.  More than 230,000 of us hold valid Heavy Goods vehicle licences.  Unfortunately for those who like turkey for Christmas dinner and petrol at any time, the pay and conditions in the haulage industry are so poor that most prefer to work elsewhere.  Cheap Eastern European drivers living out of their cabs and engaging in cabotage helped to paper over the cracks until the lockdowns began and some 20,000 of them opted to be quarantined at home rather than stay in the UK.

In the anti-Brexit narrative, the shortage of drivers, agricultural workers, natural gas, garden furniture and anything else which turns out to be in short supply, is the unintended consequence of an ill-conceived withdrawal from the EU.  But in Johnson’s formulation, the dislocation is no more than the intended first phase of a transition from the low-paid and low-skilled economy of the past to a new, high-paid and hi-tech “global Britain.”  It is not – his supporters claim – the government’s fault that these shortages are materialising now.  It is the fault of employers who – despite having had five years to prepare for Brexit – have failed to train enough workers and offer them decent enough pay and conditions to retain them in their respective industries…

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

A crisis of affordability

A crisis of affordability

Western capitalist economies don’t really do shortages.  There are a few stand alone exceptions such as a music festival or a sporting event, where demand so outstrips supply that queues form.  But for the most part – as we saw last week with the eye-watering rise in wholesale gas prices – when something is in short supply the price increases; and when the price increases enough, the queues disappear.

In economics, this is the difference between demand and desire.  I might, for example, desire a new sports car or a country mansion.  But since I do not have anything like the discretionary income to buy these things, I do not contribute to the economic demand for them.  And unless someone is going to offer them for sale at a ridiculously low price, I doubt that we are going to see queues forming any time soon.  As Tom Chivers at UnHerd puts it:

“Over the long run, the market normally solves coordination problems like this, reasonably effectively. If lots of people want some resource, then the people selling that resource realise they can make more money if they raise the price. At the higher price, fewer people are willing to buy it, but the seller makes more money per unit sold. And, in theory, they can keep raising the price until the lost sales start to outweigh the gain per unit.”

When we witness queues piling up outside filling stations across the UK then, we might be correct in assuming that something – or most likely some things – are being done to artificially generate a shortage where none previously existed…

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

The Harsh Truth Behind Europe’s Energy Crisis

The Harsh Truth Behind Europe’s Energy Crisis

Europe’s energy crunch is continuing, as gas storage volumes have shrunk to 10-year lows. A possible harsh winter could lead to severe energy shortages and possible shutdowns of large parts of the economy.

While the main discussion is currently focused on the potential role of Russia in the energy crisis, a new narrative could soon make the headlines. In a surprise move, the Dutch government has indicated that in a severe supply crunch situation, the Groningen gas field, Europe’s largest onshore gas field, could partially and temporarily be reopened. It seems that the term Dutch Disease could get a new meaning, from being the paradox of a rentier state suffering from plentiful resources to a show of Europe’s lack of realism when it comes to energy transition risks and current market powers.   Dutch Minister Stef Blok has indicated that he is considering the potential reopening of the Groningen field, in particular five wells, especially the one at Slochteren, as indicated by Johan Attema, director of the Nederlandse Aardolie Maatschappij (NAM), the operator of the Groningen field. The reopening of the field, even in the case of an emergency or an energy crisis, is politically controversial.

Until recently, the plan was that Groningen would be closed completely by 2023, ending the large-scale gas production and export by the Netherlands with a bang.

The Dutch media is speculating that minister Blok will be asking for a possible reopening of the Groningen field, a decision that must be made before October 1. If the Minister decides to change the current shutdown plans, the whole Groningen debacle, as some see it, will be prolonged. It is clear, looking at the current deplorable situation of the European energy sector, that Groningen is still needed…

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


The march of folly

The march of folly

It is of some interest that people have been contrasting images of British petrol queues this weekend with the petrol queues which formed back in 1973 as a result of the OPEC oil embargo.  Not least because a more accurate comparison is with the fuel protests in September 2000.  That is, this weekend’s “shortages” are largely the product of a multinational oil company launching a media campaign aimed at avoiding having to improve the pay and conditions of its drivers.  From past experience – including your rush to get toilet paper last March – you didn’t have to be a genius to realise that publicising a faux shortage of fuel would lead to a run on the country’s filling stations.  They are, after all, just like banks in that if we all turn up at the same time, they break.  And so, in a matter of hours fuel shortages became a self-fulfilling prophesy; aided by ministers taking to the airwaves to urge people not to panic.

If anything, we have become even more dependent upon just-in-time deliveries today than we were 21 years ago.  And back then it only took the loss of 15 percent of deliveries to bring us to the brink of a cascading collapse.  This is because the real economy fails in the same way as Liebig argued that crops fail.  The absence of one component is sufficient to bring about a total failure.  So, for example, in September 2000 several English hospitals ceased treating people because of a shortage of Sucher.  The operating theatres were ready to go.  The surgeons were in place.  The patients were ready to be anaesthetised…

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

Soaring energy prices in Europe are forcing U.K. factories to shut down

Soaring energy prices in Europe are forcing U.K. factories to shut down

Europe is facing an extreme squeeze for energy supplies, with gas and power prices breaking records day after day

Europe’s energy crunch has forced a major fertilizer maker to shut down two U.K. plants, the first sign that a record rally in gas and power prices is threatening to slow the region’s economic recovery.
CF Industries Holdings Inc. said Wednesday it’s halting operations at its Billingham and Ince manufacturing complexes due to high natural gas prices, with no estimate for when production will resume. European gas and power futures tumbled Thursday on signs energy-intensive industries are curbing consumption.The move comes as Europe is facing an extreme squeeze for energy supplies, with gas and power prices breaking records day after day. The continent is running out of time to refill storage facilities before the start of the winter as flows from top suppliers Russia and Norway remain limited. There’s also a fight for shipments of liquefied natural gas, with Asia buying up cargoes to meet its own demand.

The crisis could have severe economic consequences. Soaring prices are exposing the risk of power outages this winter, according to Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Blackouts would likely send energy prices even higher, compounding concerns about inflation and adding to the rising costs businesses are already shouldering for raw materials.

CF has so far taken the most drastic move of companies operating in the region, but others are warning of the likely blow-back.High energy prices are creating “inflationary pressure on every other cost” that will end up being passed on to customers, said Pascal Leroy, senior vice-president of core ingredients at Roquette Freres SA, a food processing company based in northern France. And France’s top sugar producer, Tereos, warned of surging natural gas prices raising production cost for the company “tremendously.”

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

Panic Hoarding Gasoline Begins As UK Plunges Towards “Winter Of Discontent”

Panic Hoarding Gasoline Begins As UK Plunges Towards “Winter Of Discontent”

One day after oil giant BP warned about rationing gasoline and diesel at UK service stations, Brits began to panic buy fuel as the government tried to calm fears.

Lines of cars and trucks are spilling over into the streets at service stations across the country. A BP spokesperson said Thursday that a truck driver shortage has resulted in its inability to transport fuel from refineries to its network of service stations. These words spooked the public, which could cause a more severe shortage due to the hoarding.

The scenes of long lines at gas stations bring back memories of the 1973 Opec Oil Crisis, the 2000 fuel shortage, and the virus pandemic disruptions amid fears the country is diving headfirst into a 1970s-style “winter of discontent” of shortages and socio-economic distress.

On Friday afternoon, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told Brits on Sky News that there was no fuel shortage and for “everyone to carry on as normal.” His soothing words weren’t enough to stop the buying panic, which is expected to continue into the weekend.

Gasoline and diesel shortages will only stoke higher prices amid an expanding energy crisis that has resulted in another shortage: natural gas. This has caused power prices to erupt and disrupted chemical plants that halted fertilizer production, and has caused headaches for major food supply chains. Brits are also panic hoarding food.

The Daily Mail provides a list of issues that threatens a winter of discontent:

1. A shortage of natural gas causing a spike in gas bills for millions of Britons, along with the possibility of dozens of small energy firms going bust; 

2. However ministers say ‘there is question of the lights going out, of people being unable to heat their homes. There will be no three-day working week, or a throwback to the 1970s’; 

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

Before They Were An Inconvenience, But Now The Shortages Are Really Beginning To Sting

Before They Were An Inconvenience, But Now The Shortages Are Really Beginning To Sting

Have you noticed that store shelves are starting to get emptier and emptier?  During the panic shopping that was sparked by the start of the COVID pandemic in 2020, there were very intense shortages of certain items, but those shortages did not last very long at all.  But now there are widespread shortages in just about every sector of our economy, and they are starting to become quite painful.  Unfortunately, we are being told to expect the shortages to intensify as we head into the holiday season.  That is extremely alarming, because in many areas the shortages are already quite severe.

I had been away from the news for a couple of days, and when I came back there were lots more stories about our ongoing shortages.  For example, the following comes from an excellent piece by Matt Stoller

There are shortages in everything from ocean shipping containers to chlorine tablets to railroad capacity to black pipe (the piping that houses wires inside buildings) to spicy chicken breasts to specialized plastic bags necessary for making vaccines. Moreover, prices for all sorts of items, from housing to food, are changing in weird ways. Beef, for instance, is at near record highs for consumers, but cattle ranchers are getting paid much less than they used to for their cows.

In my entire life, I have never seen anything like this.

Even the Federal Reserve is admitting that we have a major problem at this point.  In fact, in the latest Beige Book the Fed referred to the shortages a whopping 80 times.

In certain parts of the country, these shortages are really beginning to sting.  A reader just emailed me about what is going on in his section of Connecticut, and he said that I could share this with all of you…

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

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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