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Those who the gods wish to destroy…

Those who the gods wish to destroy…

The UK is already in a de facto recession – only the fiddling of the data to count GP appointments as a value-adding activity led to a paltry 0.5 percent GDP growth in May.  Discretionary spending has already plummeted, and it is only a matter of time before we see widespread business failures and debt defaults.  Indeed, this is likely to be one reason why Britain is experiencing a wave of strikes – provoking a strike to save on energy costs and the wage bill was a common response to inflation in the 1970s and is likely to be one of the few similarities today (the big difference being that we no longer have nationalised industries, so nobody is going to give in to workers’ demands).

Internationally, there is a global dollar shortage – which the Federal Reserve is exacerbating – which threatens a sovereign debt implosion beginning with developing economies dependent upon a single commodity for foreign exchange, but eventually dragging down any economy which trades in dollars…  which brings us to the ill-advised sanctions salad imposed on Russia and China in response to the war in Ukraine.  This has brought forward the establishment of an alternative BRICS currency system which will cover around a third of global trade, and in the process crush the economies of Europe.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, Russia seems to be finally responding by halting its supply of gas to Europe, causing capital flight and industrial closures – including of the wind turbine industry which is supposed to save the day – across the continent.

In Britain, the “curse of oil” means that the unfolding collapse will be all the harder – since the 1980s, Britain’s neoliberal governments have used oil and gas revenues to underwrite the explosion of debt – and profits for the few – generated in the City of London…

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

Bigger than you can imagine

Bigger than you can imagine

What I “remember” of the 1970s is actually very limited.  Most of what I think of as “my memories” have, in fact, been generated by various retrospective media coverage of the period which provide the framework into which my scraps of memory have been slotted.  And the younger someone is, the more their view of the 1970s will have been shaped by media rather than memory.  And so, it has been all too easy for today’s lazy news coverage to frame our current woes through the lens of an imaginary 1970s.

The crisis now unfolding, however, is entirely different to the 1970s in one crucial respect… The 1970s crisis was largely artificial.  When all is said and done, the oil shock was nothing more than the emerging OPEC cartel asserting its newfound leverage following the peak of continental US oil production…

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

The great unravelling

The great unravelling

Real life Bond villain Klaus Schwab has become the focus of ridicule following crude attempts to remove articles praising Sri Lanka’s “Vision 2025” economic plan from the World economic Forum (WEF) website – the world’s leading proponent of the hi-tech fourth industrial revolution apparently not realising that nothing ever disappears from the internet.

Sri Lanka was supposed to be the poster child for the Great Green New Reset, scoring a 98 percent ESG (Environment, Social and Governance) ranking.  Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa winning considerable praise from globalist leaders and climate activists alike for his speech to the COP26 conference in Glasgow last November:

“Sri Lanka recently restricted imports of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and weedicides due to public health concerns, water contamination, soil degradation, and biodiversity impacts.

“Although opposed by entrenched lobbies, this has created opportunities for innovation and investment into organic agriculture that will be healthier and more sustainable in future.”

Critics of climate action have understandably focussed on this policy as “the reason” for Sri Lanka’s economic collapse and descent into political chaos – Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe having fled the country after the hungry masses invaded the presidential palace last week.  In spite of praise from organisations like the WEF and the world bank, however, the Sri Lankan economy was highly indebted and vulnerable to economic shocks long before the country’s leaders decided that a mass crash diet was in order.  The country’s main sources of foreign currency – without which it could not repay its debts – are tea exports and tourism.  Tourism was, of course, crushed in 2020 and 2021, as countries locked down and air travel ground to a halt.  In 2022, moreover, air travel is still disrupted, and far fewer consumers can afford international travel.

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

The devil is in the detail

The devil is in the detail

Voiced by Amazon Polly

If you get your news from the BBC, you might be forgiven for thinking that the economic hit from the pandemic lockdowns and restrictions has come to an end.  Indeed, if you merely skim through the headlines in your social media feed, you might believe that the UK is poised for an explosion of growth, the like of which we haven’t witnessed since the late 1960s.  “Retail sales,” we are told, “rebound in January as Omicron eases.”  The “UK economy rebounds,” they say, “with fastest growth since WW2.”  Chancellor Sunak – who wants to be seen as a prime-minister-in-waiting – announced that:

“Today’s figures show that despite Omicron the economy was remarkably resilient. We were the fastest growing economy in the G7 last year and are forecast to continue being the fastest growing economy this year.”

The GDP figures are certainly better than they might have been if more businesses had been left to go bust during lockdown.  Nevertheless, they are still well below February 2020, following the massive crash immediately after lockdown was ordered.  As the Office for National Statistics explain:

“UK gross domestic product (GDP) is estimated to have increased by 1.0% in Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2021… Compared with the same quarter a year ago, GDP increased by 6.5%.

“Following the large 9.4% fall in 2020 because of the initial impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and public health restrictions, UK GDP saw an annual rise of 7.5% in 2021.”

Worse still, manufacturing GDP was negative, and continues to lag well behind its February 2020 level:

“Production output fell by 0.4% in Quarter 4 2021 and is now 3.6% below its pre-coronavirus levels. The fall in production output was because of a 3.2% fall in electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning supply (energy) and a 4.5% fall in mining and quarrying.”

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

Welcome to the age of cuts

Welcome to the age of cuts

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The UK government faced a barrage of criticism over its National Insurance hike this week.  The tax – which theoretically pays for public services, pensions, and benefits – was in creased last autumn, before the political class became aware of the massive increase in gas and electricity prices coming later this year.  However, with cost-push inflation rising across the economy, and with rises in local taxes due to be announced, millions of British households are facing a massive squeeze on their standard of living.  This has given more weight to the idea that government should extend its pandemic borrowing until the economy has recovered, rather than raising new taxes at this point.

It goes without saying that nobody welcomes tax increases.  Nevertheless, as a consequence of the way this currency-creation system works, the government is rapidly running out of room to manoeuvre.  In the UK, around £500bn worth of government bonds are index-linked, so that as the inflation rate rises, so the cost of servicing the debt increases.  As James Sillars at Sky News reported this week:

“Interest payments on government debt hit a record £8.1bn for the month of December because of surging inflation…  The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said the cost of servicing the country’s £2trn+ debt pile was almost 200% or £5.4bn up on December 2020.

“It is because half a trillion pounds worth of government bonds are linked to the Retail Prices Index (RPI) measure of inflation which stood at 8.4% in December – its highest level since 1991.”

The problem will worsen in the spring as the new energy price cap comes into force, and as prices continue to rise across the economy.  This sets up one of contemporary democracy’s greatest flaws.  It is precisely during inflationary periods that the people begin to demand more government spending and less taxation…

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

Days of reckoning

Days of reckoning

Here’s something which will likely be universally unpopular:  The government shouldn’t do anything to subsidise energy prices.  I say this in the face of a £700 or so increase on annual bills announced today.  And this is just the beginning, because, as Nils Pratley at the Guardian points out, when the price cap is raised again in October, it will add a further £300 to bills – just in time for next winter.

To be clear, I am not arguing that millions of households should be left to choose between heat and food; I am merely pointing out that there are better and more effective ways of alleviating poverty than bailing out a private energy industry which is the victim of its own past follies.  Rather, I agree with Torsten Bell from the Resolution Foundation, who told this morning’s Today programme that the best way of addressing poverty is through increases in the benefits system.  Restoring and adding to the £20 a week cut from Universal Credit and the triple lock on pensions would be by far the most effective way of alleviating fuel poverty.

The energy side of the crisis, however, requires sweeping restructuring which goes well beyond anything the government or the opposition are currently prepared to countenance – not least because the economic models they operate on are so out of step with the real world that they fail even to understand the problem, still less offer a workable solution.

Why the energy cap failed

The state-imposed energy cap, which is the focus of establishment media attention today, was always the wrong solution to the wrong problem.  As I explained four and a half years ago:

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

It’s okay to look up

It’s okay to look up

I am told I should look into filing a copyright claim against the Netflix movie Don’t Look Up, since I wrote a version of it in my 2015 book, The Consciousness of Sheep, and for exactly the same reason:

“We’ve all seen this movie before: A giant asteroid is heading straight for us, and it looks like a big one. Although somewhat smaller than the rock that wiped out the dinosaurs – together with 90 percent of life on Earth – this one could well destroy human civilisation. If it hits a landmass, it will spew pollution into the upper atmosphere. This will initially produce a global ‘nuclear winter’ in which temperatures plummet and plant life withers as sunlight is blocked out. Those of us that survive the impact will face starvation as harvests fail. In the longer-term we face runaway global warming as the gases trapped in the upper atmosphere act like a blanket to prevent heat radiating into space. Even if the asteroid hits an ocean, things may not be much better. Super-size tsunami waves will sweep around the planet wiping out 70-90 percent of the World’s cities and causing massive damage to infrastructure. The water vapour that erupts into the sky is three times more powerful a greenhouse gas than the carbon dioxide that humanity routinely pumps into the atmosphere. This, too, threatens runaway global warming…

“What would we humans do if this was for real?

“The decision to act now should be obvious except for two compounding factors. First, governments in the modern world tend not to trust the people. So they have been trying to keep the lid on the whole thing while telling the population to carry on with business as usual…

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

This economy is going down

This economy is going down

UK gas prices have fallen back this week – although they are still some 400 percent higher than at the start of 2021.  And the reasons for the fall in price should not breed complacency.  First, the arrival of a south-westerly airflow off the Atlantic has finally begun to spin those offshore wind turbines after last week’s doldrums.  At the time of writing, wind is supplying 28.5 percent of our electricity, allowing gas to fall back to 27.4 percent, and for coal plants to be switched off – although nuclear is being run flat out at 20 percent, reflecting the still too high price of gas.  With stronger winds forecast for next week, demand for gas may fall even further.  But the winter is only just beginning, and it is doubtful that we will get through January, February and early March without at least one more week of cold, still, high pressure air.  And if we are unlucky, we could face several weeks in a row.

The second reason for the lull in price is worrying for a more complicated reason.  On Wednesday, Marwa Rashad at Reuters reported that:

“At least ten cargoes of liquefied natural gas (LNG) have recently been diverted from Asia to head west drawn by Europe’s record high prices amid supply concerns ahead of peak winter demand, industry sources said…

“In addition to the above cargoes, a U.S. cargo onboard Marvel Crane had headed toward Panama bound for Asia before being diverted northeast and now signalled it was bound for the UK’s South Hook terminal, according to ICIS LNG Edge.

“Data Intelligence firm Kpler said it has listed more tankers diverting towards Europe from Asia and Other destinations like Brazil including British Contributor, Tembek, LNGShips Manhattan, LNG Alliance and are eying two more for possible route change.

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

The hidden recession of 2020

The hidden recession of 2020

After 20 months of economy-wrecking lockdowns and restrictions, 2019 is fondly remembered as a period of prosperous calm.  Memories though, are deceptive.  And in the days before we learned what gain-of-function meant, things were not as rosy as they now seem.  Although the decade 2009-2019 was officially one of the longest periods of economic growth ever recorded, the rate of growth was anaemic – the media reporting on any quarter with more than 1.0% growth as if it heralded a return to the 1960s.  And what growth there was owed more to additional debt than to improvements in productivity.  The reality of the post-2008 years was of the mergence of an 80:20 economy in which the majority watched their prosperity evaporate, while a shrinking metropolitan salaried class fought a rear-guard defence of their income and status.

The political dam broke in 2016, with “the revenge of the places that didn’t matter” – aka Brexit and the election of Donald Trump.  But few in the salaried class understood the economic decline which had spilled over into the political arena; preferring instead to blame it all on Russian bots.  Nevertheless, whether the elites and their salaried lapdogs chose to understand the economic situation or not, the process of decline continued.

In the UK, Christmas 2018 had been the worse on record… until Christmas 2019 rolled around.  And whereas Christmas 2018 had seen a big decline in discretionary spending, Christmas 2019 produced the first indicators of a decline in borderline essential spending too.  We might choose to regard the humble Christmas pudding as something which can be lived without – although those who lived under Cromwell’s puritanical dictatorship might beg to differ – but a decline in sales – along with those of turkey and seasonal biscuits – points to a nation which was reining in its spending long before SARS-CoV-2 embarked upon the European leg of its world tour.

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

 

In Brief: Fracking back, new weather warnings, lockdown by any other name

In Brief: Fracking back, new weather warnings, lockdown by any other name

Fracking back

Anti-fracking campaigners like to flatter themselves by claiming that it was their protests which finally brought UK fracking to an end.  The reality though, is that the price at which UK shale gas might be recovered was far higher than the prevailing price of gas from the North Sea.  The UK’s tortured geology and its lack of unpopulated open space meant that UK fracking could never match the relatively low prices of its US counterpart.  And a few years ago, when government had to decide whether to give UK fracking the green light, there was enough surplus gas on the wholesale market to justify a moratorium.

Several gigawatts of intermittent wind farms and an insane German decision to phase out nuclear, later, and Western Europe finds itself desperately short of the gas supplies required to keep the lights and heaters running this winter.  The UK – which failed to model the future strength of the Gulf Stream correctly – is particularly vulnerable as it depends upon gas power stations to iron out the intermittency from its over-deployment of wind turbines.  One result – which the establishment media is being surprisingly quiet about – is that the wholesale price of gas has rocketed past October’s record price of £2.93 per therm.  As of this afternoon, the price is £3.49, and may well reach new highs later this week (see below).

The issue here is whether the current price increases are here to stay.  Some commentators suggest that the shortage is due to Russia cutting its supply to Europe in order to pressure Germany to finalise the Nord Stream 2 pipeline…

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

The UK energy rationing plan

The UK energy rationing plan

The establishment media are suspiciously silent about the energy crunch facing Europe in general and the UK in particular.  In October, when the wholesale gas price spiked at 400 percent above its January 2021 level, energy prices were headline news.  So too was the sight of energy supply companies falling like dominoes.  But then, perhaps because energy supply problems couldn’t be blamed on Brexit, the news moved on to MPs sleaze and the Prime Minister’s Christmas parties.  Most Brits today are entirely unaware that our energy situation has become far more precarious.

It falls to the business pages of the American press to spell out what UK outlets refuse to consider.  For example, Anna Shiryaevskaya, Jesper Starn, and Elena Mazneva at Bloomberg explain that:

“Temperatures are forecast to fall below zero degrees Celsius in several European capitals this week, straining electricity grids already coping with low wind speeds and severe nuclear outages in France. To make matters worse, Russia is limiting natural gas flows through a major transit route to Germany…

“Energy prices have spiraled this year, with European gas surging more than 600%. The region’s benchmark gas contract climbed as much as 8.8% Monday and closed record-high, while German year-ahead power, a benchmark in Europe, rose as much as 5.7% to a record 256.25 euros ($289) a megawatt-hour. The French contract jumped 9% to an all-time high.”

The energy crunch has been exacerbated by the political games being played out by the new German government and Russia – the former refusing to finalise the Nord Stream 2 pipeline deal, and the latter choosing to store gas reserves for its own population rather than pump it over to Western Europe.  One consequence for the UK – which is now at the end of the pipelines from Russia – is that the price of gas spiked above £3.70 per therm this afternoon (20.12.2021):

 

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

Hogwash

Hogwash

In the early 1980s, to Margaret Thatcher’s annoyance, union reps and managers at the steelworks in Port Talbot agreed a strategy to save the plant.  As a result, Port Talbot was spared the post-industrial blight visited upon most of Britain’s ex-industrial towns.  Now in private hands, and despite periodic crises, the steelworks employs some 4,000 people – a big drop from the 20,000 workers during the plant’s heyday in the 1960s.  Nevertheless, those 4,000 jobs are supplemented by hundreds more sub-contractors, and together these provide the demand for local small and medium businesses.

What saved the Port Talbot plant was an agreement to implement neoliberal efficiency savings.  Key among these was the sub-contracting of what we might think of as efficiency buffers – redundant capacity to cope with emergencies.  For example, prior to the agreement, the steelworks employed a small army of fitters, electricians, welders and other skilled workers whose skills were only required when something went wrong.  Instead of being paid a full wage – often for sitting around playing cards and drinking tea – they would be paid a retainer together with a set fee every time they were called out.

Similar arrangements were in place in the railway industry in those days too.  And I personally spent shifts playing cards and drinking tea as part of the spare train crews kept on standby for sickness cover and unforeseen emergencies.

Whatever else neoliberalism was about, cutting out these “inefficiencies” lay at its heart.  Companies were losing money paying people like me to sometimes sit around all day.  And so, the redundancy process was enlisted to cut the workforce down to its bare minimum…

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

Separating the self-flagellation from the greenhouse gas

Separating the self-flagellation from the greenhouse gas

Speaking to the media at the Youth4Climate event last week, Greta Thunberg berated the UK for continuing to extract oil and gas from the North Sea while pretending to be green ahead of the coming COP26 conference.  Not only that, but as the originator of the industrial revolution, Britain is doubly guilty:

“Of course, the climate crisis … more or less it started in the UK since that’s where the industrial revolution started, we started to burn coal there, so of course the UK has an enormous historical responsibility when it comes to historic emissions since the climate crisis is a cumulative crisis.”

So, here’s an interesting question that Greta has probably never had to answer, and which many of my readers will probably get wrong.  If we add up all of the carbon dioxide emitted by households, businesses and industries within the boundaries of what we now call the United Kingdom, when will China – currently the world’s biggest emitter of carbon dioxide – overtake?  2025?  2035?  2050?

No, in fact, China overtook the UK in cumulative carbon dioxide emissions two decades ago in 2002:

The reason for this is that China’s march to industrialisation following its admission to the World Trade Organisation, arrived just at the point when the world’s conventional oil deposits were beginning to deplete.  Moreover, by December 2001, while oil was still in demand, most of the developed states had made deep cuts to their coal use.  This gave China access both to its own deposits and to cheap deposits from around the world.  But coal is a particularly heavy emitter of carbon dioxide, and China’s emissions from coal had already passed those of the UK – for the last time – in 1968:

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

A red light on the dashboard

A red light on the dashboard

On New Year’s Eve 2006-7, something unexpected happened.  For most of the previous two decades, most of the pubs where I live had operated a system where they gave tickets to regular drinkers in order to limit the number of people seeking entry.  This was a problem because one couldn’t secure tickets for guests.  And since my relatives only stayed over for the holidays, it left us to seek out the few pubs that did not operate a ticket policy.  And in most years, these pubs would be packed to the rafters.

When we set out in the last couple of hours of 2006, we fully expected the same crowds as the year before.  So did the pubs, apparently, because they had hired security to control entry – something that was common for British nightclubs but rare for pubs.  What none of us had anticipated though, was that the pubs would be almost empty!  Nor was it just one or two pubs.  Everywhere we went it was the same story.  Indeed, on one occasion the security staff hired to keep the masses out tried hard to encourage us to come in.  Quite simply, tens of thousands of people who had previously gone to pubs to celebrate New Year, stayed at home in 2006.

To me it was a warning sign that something unpleasant and dramatic was about to happen to the economy.  It wasn’t that the beer had risen in price – although supermarket beer had long been cheaper than pub beer.  It was an indicator of something much more profound.  Coming on the heels of rising fuel prices and the central bank decision to begin jacking up interest rates, it was a signal that people’s standard of living had been impacted to the point that discretionary spending was being seriously curtailed.

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

The climate war won’t work

The climate war won’t work

There are, in fact, no human comparisons for the effort required to reverse the global-scale damage wrought by 300 years of industrial growth.  Nevertheless, people still reach for past human endeavours to try to spur our political leaders to an action which, in truth, is far beyond them.  How many times have we heard that tackling climate change requires an effort similar in scale to the Apollo moon landings or the Manhattan Project?  And then there is the stubbornly undead comparison to the Second World War.  Every time we think we have successfully driven a stake through the heart of this insane proposition, someone who has failed to understand what the war was really about, resurrects it and drafts it into service in the fight against climate change.

Today it is everyone’s favourite media environmentalist George Monbiot’s turn to suggest that:

“The astonishing story of how the US entered the second world war should be on everyone’s minds as Cop26 approaches.”

Monbiot gives a reasonable summary of the various measures taken by the Roosevelt Administration to mobilise the US economy for war in the wake of Pearl Harbour.  Then he asks:

“So what stops the world from responding with the same decisive force to the greatest crisis humanity has ever faced? It’s not a lack of money or capacity or technology. If anything, digitisation would make such a transformation quicker and easier. It’s a problem that Roosevelt faced until Pearl Harbor: a lack of political will. Now, just as then, public hostility and indifference, encouraged by legacy industries (today, above all, fossil fuel, transport, infrastructure, meat and media), outweighs the demand for intervention…

…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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