December 13, 2011

Mormon Links

By John Ballard

Mitt Romney's Mormon faith is in the news and large swaths of people claiming to be Christian are working hard to find a non-Mormon alternative for the GOP. Mormonism, they say, is a cult. I have the impression that many would prefer an atheist to a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. (Secretly they love the sound ot the Mormon Tabernacle Choir but that's about as far as their affection for anything Mormon can risk.) It should be noted that Jon Huntsman is also Mormon, although his position in the race for the Republican nomination is way down toward the bottom. I find it fascinating that the two most impressive candidates of the GOP lot are Mormon. 

Aside from my lifelong identity as a Yellow Dog Democrat, I have always had a healthy respect for anyone of any political persuasion who is intelligent, sincere and open to negotiation when it comes to resolving differences. Unfortunately those qualities are in short supply this season with candidates signing pledges never to have a change of heart or negotiate in good faith if it involves several items important to a hard-headed segment of single-issue voters. It's been a long time since Emerson said "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines" so they must have forgotten (assuming they ever knew). But I digress... Here is a little collection of links for readers looking at Mormonism from the outside, without the perverted tilt of biased critics.

Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey is one of those self-help books that's been around for a long time. Last time I was in a book store I noticed that the author is still making money from a successful venture into the self-help how-to cottage industry. I read the book years ago and was very impressed. I found it challenging enought that I had to put it down halfway through and reflect on the message before finishing the last couple of chapters.

Anyway, Stephen Covey is a Mormon and this book is apparently a non-religious presentation of core Mormon beliefs or practices. Check out the reader comments at the Amazon link for a string of opinions from one extreme to the other. The number of stars will indicate which end of religious rainbow is being presented. (Many of the same readers who find Covey's book something of a tool of Satan will also feel the same way about the Harry Potter series.) There are over a hundred screens of comments so don't get bogged down.

Mormon Fashion Bloggers is a list at Clothed Much blog, linked by a post at Killing the Buddha which readers may also find interesting. This list is a fascinating look at fashion through Mormon eyes. 

Mfbbutton[1]Welcome to Clothed Much, a modest fashion blog! I'm Elaine and I dress modestly because I am a Mormon so I aim to feature modesty by Mormon/LDS fashion standards. I'm not an expert on modesty or fashion but I love being creative with what I have within my values. Modesty means different things to different people and this is just my story. Even if you don't share my views, I hope you at least get some cute modest outfit ideas!!!

AnneAngel[1]

The 100 Hour Board is a place where students at Brigham Young University can ask questions on line and they will be answered withing a hundred hours. I don't recall where I first came across it but I recognized a repository of purity and innocence that seems to have been lost or deliberately destroyed in most institutions of higher learning. Pocket your urge to be cynical and go take a look. There are still places in America where young people are still writing and interacting with courtesy and good manners, not preoccupied with the vices widely depicted of their generation in movies and TV shows. 

Check out this quesiton and answers...
Season's greetings! What are your some of your favorite Christmas ornaments? What about your least favorite? Do you have pictures? Happy Holidays --Salty Dog

"Life Dances Inside a Circle Made By Living, They Say"
This story I found at Group News Blog will take a few minutes to read but it is worth every minute it takes. Don't skim it. Take time to read it for the full effect. The Mormon element is central to the story but the importance has more to do with doing what is right than doing what is Mormon. I'm not sure which of the contributors at GNB wrote it. I should know but I haven't followed them enough to know each by name and this is not attributed. Here is a snip.

The winter of 1958 on the White Mountain Apache Reservation was hard. Unusually heavy snowfalls, very low temperatures and a sudden freeze all contributed to the dangerous misery there. The Bureau of Indian Affairs was not responding to the pleading of the people for help and aid. They ignored the missionaries who were trying to keep our tiny school going. It was a Mormon year that time. One of the "teachers" was from a Mormon Ward in Mesa.

Their Bishop, his family has asked that I not name him, because they are old school Mormons who believe that doing good, and caring for your fellow human beings is something that should be expected, it is not something to be celebrated, so I'll just call him The Bishop, hearing of the plight on the rez, opened his Bishop's stores. This is something that the Mormons take very seriously. They encourage their members to keep a year's supply of canned and preserved foods, and each Ward's Bishop has control of an even larger storage.

The Bishop opened his stores. He directed the members of his Ward to gather at the storehouse, bringing their trucks and vans. They loaded them down with food, blankets, and warm clothes. They drove 350 miles from Mesa to the rez. They began to distribute those badly needed items. They did this without preaching or doing anything but try to find out where what the greatest needs were. When they had finished, they drove back to their home, loaded up again, and drove back.

"Pennies From Heaven" by Bernard Avishai
Avishai splits his time between Jerusalem and Wilmot, New Hampshire. He is adjunct professor of business at Hebrew University. He's taught at Duke, MIT, and was director of the Zell Entrepreneurship Program at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya. From 1986 to 1991 he was technology editor of Harvard Business Review. He's written dozens of articles and commentaries for The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, Harvard Business Review, Harper’s and many other publications.

A Jew looks at this Mormon, a first-person impression that appeared a few weeks ago. Do read the whole piece if time permits. I hold Bernard Afishai in high regard. His impressions and observations are solid. 

When I joined Monitor Company (now Group) in the spring of 1992, the first party its directors, my new colleagues, invited me to was at Mitt Romney's mansion in Belmont. Romney was at the time still with Bain Capital, but his political ambitions were clear. The party, in fact, turned out to be a fundraiser for a friend of his who was planning a run for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senator from Utah.
~~~~~~~~[snip]~~~~~~~
Make no mistake. Romney and his wife Ann could not have been more gracious--or attractive. Their sons (I think I met three out of the five) were about as good-looking as it was possible to be outside of a Land's End catalogue, yet they were warm, respectful, and the huge, imposing home-on-a-hill had an unmistakably lived-in air about it. Homework was being attended to around the kitchen table. You got the sense that they were good and grateful people, who simply assumed their wealth was earned, deserved, yet a blessing, something to be put to the fullness of life. They seemed middle class, only more so.

I should add that I had just finished five-year stint as the Harvard Business Review's technology strategy editor, and found the karma familiar. The Romney home seemed a kind of extension of the business school's architectural principles, not just the physical space, with its understated but firmly established elegance, but its implied social architecture as well.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

This post is not an endorsement of Mitt Romney or Mormonism. I put it together simply because I hate seeing so much stupidity around me and no one seems to know how to come against it. Or if anyone does, they are not doing so very effectively. 

Saudis behead woman for witchcraft

By BJ Bjornson

Not much nice you can say about this kind of crazy behaviour.

A Saudi woman has been executed for practising "witchcraft and sorcery", the country's interior ministry says.


She is the second person to be executed for such crimes by Saudi Arabia this year. Her actual crimes, such as they are, were to convince people to give her money based on claims that she could cure their illnesses. I’m definitely not in favour of quackery, but it is not magic, and does not condone having a person’s head chopped off as punishment.

Unsurprisingly, the harshness of the sentencing comes from those who believe in the supernatural themselves.

Amnesty says that Saudi Arabia does not actually define sorcery as a capital offence. However, some of its conservative clerics have urged the strongest possible punishments against fortune-tellers and faith healers as a threat to Islam.


I can only hope that the clerics’ fear is that once the people understand how foolish and idiotic those other superstitions are, they might start casting their critical eyes towards the superstition the clerics base their authority on and note it makes claims just as outrageous, which would be quite threatening to the clerics indeed.

EU Economics -- Arcane Recreational Links

By John Ballard

It's not called the dismal science for nothing. No matter what economists understand about their subject political types and their followers -- like macho lost husbands driving miles in the wrong direction, ignoring the wife's pleas to stop and ask directions -- continue stubborn habits making matters worse.

The Roubini stable offers this collection.

==> The Simple Explanation of Why Night Falls Over Europe

  1. The real results concern aid for the banks. Necessary actions to improve bank liquidity, but ineffective without broader policy action.
  2. Approval for more and deeper austerity policies. In fact, locking EU fiscal policy into a straitjacket as a recession looms ahead. Europe’s leaders have learned nothing from 1929-32, and nothing from the great progress in economic theory since then. This could have horrific results! Future generations will not understand.
  3. They hope (again) to get more aid from the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, China) via the IMF. This is delusional. The BRICs did nothing earlier this year, when hopes were higher for effective EU action AND the BRICs were stronger. Now all four BRICs have serious problems at home; substantial help for the rich folks of Europe from the poorer BRICs seems unlikely.
  4. Most important, they have done nothing to address the imbalances within the EMU that caused the crisis — and drive the current downturn.

    This is, as many have said, like the Captain of the Titanic convening a seminar on metallurgy after they hit the iceberg.

==> A Deep Seated Hostility Towards European Construction? by Edward Hugh

Doing The Berlin Brake Dance

What Wolfgang [Munchau] is getting at here is that the core of the proposed EU agreement is the introduction of the so called “balanced budget amendment” as a binding principle across all the eventual signitaries. Naturally Germany already has this amendment in place. According to Wikipedia: “In 2009 Germany’s constitution was amended to introduce the Schuldenbremse (“debt brake”), a balanced budget provision. This will apply to both the federal government and the Länder (states). From 2016 onwards the federal government will be forbidden to run a deficit of more than 0.35% of GDP. From 2020, the states will not be permitted to run any deficit at all. The Basic Law permits an exception to be made for emergencies such as a natural disaster or severe economic crisis”
~~~~~[snip]~~~~~
Hence perhaps the most worrying thing about last weeks agreement to agree was that each and every one of the 26 countries concerned has stated that “I will stop beating my wife, I promise I will, and soon”, but understands what this means in their own special way.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

There are lessons here for anyone paying attention.

Am I alone thinking that these discussions are the same as the gridlock here? Entrenched, tight-fisted banker types and their clients really imagine that if they squeeze hard enough they cn get a fw more drops of juice out of an already used-up orange. Proposals for a federal balanced budget agreement (indeed a proposal to amend the Constitution to that effect) are supposed to resolve all the problems by shoving them out to the states.

All this in the face of a looming global recession, increased scar-tissue at home and a steady erosion of our collective net worth. What kind of madness is this?

December 12, 2011

Brutal Logic

By BJ Bjornson

David Roberts has a couple of posts up at Grist regarding the quite ugly situation facing us in regards to climate change. Starting with the second, Roberts notes some rather ugly points that doesn’t give one much in the way of optimism for humanity’s future.

We pretend that 2 degrees C is our threshold. Yet the climate scenarios and plans presented to policymakers do not actually reflect that threshold. As Anderson and Bows say, "most policy advice is to accept a high probability of extremely dangerous climate change rather than propose radical and immediate emission reductions."

Note, also, that most popular climate scenarios include an implausibly early peak in global emissions -- 2010 in many cases, 2015-16 in the case of the Stern Report, the ADAM project, and the U.K.'s Committee on Climate Change.

Why do climate analysts do this? Why do they present plans that contain wildly optimistic assumptions about the peak in global emissions and yet a high probability of overshooting the 2 degrees C target?

The answer is fairly simple, and it has to do with the answer to question (4), regarding what level of emissions reductions is reasonable to expect. According to the Stern Review and others, emissions reductions of 3 to 4 percent a year are the maximum compatible with continued economic growth. And so that's the level they use in their scenarios. Yet reductions at that pace offer very little practical hope of hitting 2 degrees C.

In other words, climate analysts construct their scenarios not to avoid dangerous climate change but to avoid threatening economic growth.

That would make sense if being richer would help us prosper in a 4 degrees C [7.2 degrees F] world. But ... no such luck.


That’s where we start looking back at the initial post, which notes that the long-stated target of 2 degrees C no longer looks like it will actually avoid the “acceptable” level of dangerous changes. Instead, the damage once expected at 2 C is now expected at much lower temperatures, which means that even the stated target is going to be bad.

He then gets into talking about what it will take to actually hit that target, and that doesn’t look too good either:

Anderson is adamant that the familiar targets almost all politicians and many scientists use in public -- e.g., "80 percent reduction in the rate of emissions by 2050" -- are deeply misleading. As far as the climate is concerned, the rate of emissions in 2050 relative to the rate of emissions today is meaningless. CO2 stays in the atmosphere for over a century; the atmosphere doesn't care what year it arrives. (Though targets in the distant future are comforting to politicians, for obvious reasons.)

The only thing that matters in limiting temperature rise is cumulative emissions, the total amount we dump into the atmosphere this century. When the total concentration of GHGs in the atmosphere rises, temperature rises. That is the correlation that matters.

. . .

Right now, global emissions are rising, faster and faster. Between 2000 and 2007, they rose at around 3.5 percent a year; by 2009 it was up to 5.6 percent. In 2010, we hit 5.9 percent growth, a record. We aren't just going in the wrong direction -- we're accelerating in the wrong direction.

. . .

The growth of emissions is making the task ahead more and more difficult. The longer we wait to start shrinking emissions, the faster we'll have to shrink them to stay under budget. Here's a visualization of what that means -- some sample reduction curves with varying peak years (the four different lines are based on the four main IPCC scenarios):

PhpThumb_generated_thumbnail


As you can see, if we delay the global emissions peak until 2025, we pretty much have to drop off a cliff afterwards to avoid 2 degrees C. Short of a meteor strike that shuts down industrial civilization, that's unlikely.

How about 2020? Of the available scenarios for peaking in 2020, says Anderson, 13 of 18 show hitting 2 degrees C to be technically impossible. (D'oh!) The others involve on the order of 10 percent reductions a year after 2020, leading to total decarbonization by 2035-45.


After that, things start getting scary:

It might seem that, given the extraordinary difficulty of hitting 2 degrees C, we ought to lower our sights a bit and accept that we're going to hit 4 degrees C. It won't be ideal, but hitting anything lower than that is just too difficult and expensive.

It's seductive logic. After all, to hit 4 degrees C we would "only" have to peak global emissions in 2020 and decline thereafter at the relatively leisurely rate (ha ha) of around 3.5 percent per year.

Sadly, even that cold comfort is not available to us. The thing is, if 2 degrees C is extremely dangerous, 4 degrees C is absolutely catastrophic. In fact, according to the latest science, says Anderson, "a 4 degrees C future is incompatible with an organized global community, is likely to be beyond 'adaptation', is devastating to the majority of ecosystems, and has a high probability of not being stable."


He goes on to explain that the reason for the potential instability is that the positive feedback loops such as melting Arctic permafrost releasing methane to cause greater heating and more melting start becoming self-reinforcing and negate whatever humanity does to try and stop its own emissions; the “tipping points” we always hear about. We might hit them before a 4 degree C change, but will almost certainly hit them with it.

At that level, there's good reason to believe that some positive feedbacks will become self-reinforcing. In other words, 4 degrees C would very likely be a way station on the road to much higher temperatures.


Moving back to the second post, the conclusion of the paper Roberts is using as a basis for these is pretty plain,

This is the stark conclusion drawn by Anderson and Bows: "The logic of such studies suggests (extremely) dangerous climate change can only be avoided if economic growth is exchanged, at least temporarily, for a period of planned austerity within Annex 1 nations and a rapid transition away from fossil-fuelled development within non-Annex 1 nations."


All of which points to, “not gonna happen”, at least within the current political climate. It basically boils down to one of those wishes that we hit peak oil fast enough to for the austerity and transition away from fossil fuels to become forced rather than planned, because if we have to hope for a planned austerity that does anything outside of rescue the gambling banksters corrupt politicos like what’s happening in Europe and the U.S. these days, it will never happen.

December 11, 2011

Net worth, or why Americans are not as wealthy as they think

By BJ Bjornson

A week or so ago, John put up a post describing the difference between one’s income and one’s net worth, the latter being another way of determine just how wealthy one is. It is a very important concept, particularly for this point.

Building net worth is everyone's safety net for the future.


Or, to put it another way, your net worth is what you use and/or borrow against when you no longer have any income to maintain your lifestyle. It is your security against hard times, and your hope for a decent retirement. If you have little or, as is too often the case these days, negative net worth value, you have no security and little hope for a secure future.

As John noted, most people focus on income when they speak of riches, and when the U.S. is spoken of as one of the richest countries in the world, it is usually by a measure of per capita GDP, or the average income per person based on the GDP of the country, where the U.S. always comes out near the top outside of a group of small, usually oil-rich, countries where the GDP per capita can be greatly skewed by a single great revenue driver.

When one looks at wealth, though, and particularly median wealth rather than average, a very different picture starts to emerge, as this article at The Daily Reckoning points out.

According to the article, the average wealth of people in Britain and the U.S. is $258,000 and $248,000 respectively. Not a lot a difference there, but when you look at the median instead of the average, which tells you a lot more about what the typical net worth actually is. For Britain: $121,000. For the U.S.: $53,000. Less than half, and that’s not an aberration.

What this means, says our Bonner Family Office chief economist, Rob Marstrand, is that “wealth in America is heavily skewed to the rich, with a lot of adults with very little net worth.”

Compared to the typical Japanese or European, the typical American is only half as rich. Half the people in the US have less than $53,000 net worth. You can imagine what the bottom 20% have.

This is a devastating and grim insight. It explains why so much of America seems, well, so poor. Because it is poor. People don’t have any money. They dress poorly. Eat poorly. Live poorly.


This skewing of wealth has been intentional, and it is only going to get worse. There is a generational cost hidden in that data. Take as an initial example the cost of college or university education. This article from the NYT tells a part of the story:

Over all, the report found, published college tuition and fees increased 439 percent from 1982 to 2007 while median family income rose 147 percent. Student borrowing has more than doubled in the last decade, and students from lower-income families, on average, get smaller grants from the colleges they attend than students from more affluent families.

. . .

Although college enrollment has continued to rise in recent years, Mr. Callan said, it is not clear how long that can continue.

“The middle class has been financing it through debt,” he said. “The scenario has been that families that have a history of sending kids to college will do whatever if takes, even if that means a huge amount of debt.”


More than just the straight cost of higher education, the less capital (or net worth) you have available, the less money you have to assist your children in pursuing that education. As noted, the only way around that is to add more debt, either to yourself or your children, and the servicing of that debt acts as a drag on your and their ability to create a nest egg of capital to fall back on, or to use to assist their children.

Even worse is the fact that the sacrifices people make to send their children to post secondary schooling no longer pay off the way they used to, at least unless your family is already well-connected.

This kind of drain continues elsewhere. No extra money lying around to help out with a downpayment or cosigning on a car loan, or for a mortgage, or anything else you might want to do to give them a good start in life because you’re still stuck paying down your own debts when they’re ready to get started.

Worse, without a nest egg or retirement income, you’re pretty much forced to depend on them or other family members to look after you when your own productive years end. That at least is nowhere near as bad as it once was, but should the Republicans and others of their ilk get their way and gut or destroy Social Security and Medicare, that problem is going to return to its previous hellishness for the elderly poor.

All of which points to the reasons that social and economic mobility in the U.S. has dropped below where it is for most other first-world nations and why the “American Dream” is now more and more becoming a true fantasy.

Increasingly, the "richest country in the world" is just a place where a lot of really rich people happen to live.

Drones, Sign of the Times

By John Ballard

Via a Radley Balko RT this report from LA Times about a North Dakota sheriff's use of a predator drone to apprehend some bad guys. I looked for the term alleged but didn't find it in the article. 

Take a look at the advertisement below some of the photos in the paper.


DronesJanke knew the gunmen could be anywhere on the 3,000-acre spread in eastern North Dakota. Fearful of an armed standoff, he called in reinforcements from the state Highway Patrol, a regional SWAT team, a bomb squad, ambulances and deputy sheriffs from three other counties.

He also called in a Predator B drone.

As the unmanned aircraft circled 2 miles overhead the next morning, sophisticated sensors under the nose helped pinpoint the three suspects and showed they were unarmed. Police rushed in and made the first known arrests of U.S. citizens with help from a Predator, the spy drone that has helped revolutionize modern warfare.
~~~~~[snip]~~~~~ 
For decades, U.S. courts have allowed law enforcement to conduct aerial surveillance without a warrant. They have ruled that what a person does in the open, even behind a backyard fence, can be seen from a passing airplane and is not protected by privacy laws.

Advocates say Predators are simply more effective than other planes. Flying out of earshot and out of sight, a Predator B can watch a target for 20 hours nonstop, far longer than any police helicopter or manned aircraft.

"I am for the use of drones," said Howard Safir, former head of operations for the U.S. Marshals Service and former New York City police commissioner. He said drones could help police in manhunts, hostage situations and other difficult cases.

But privacy advocates say drones help police snoop on citizens in ways that push current law to the breaking point.

"Any time you have a tool like that in the hands of law enforcement that makes it easier to do surveillance, they will do more of it," said Ryan Calo, director for privacy and robotics at the Stanford Law School's Center for Internet and Society.

"This could be a time when people are uncomfortable, and they want to place limits on that technology," he said. "It could make us question the doctrine that you do not have privacy in public."

Old Book Revisited -- "People of the Abyss"

Sunday morning is one of my best times for reading, reflecting and exploration. Nothing much happens on Sunday unless a natural disaster or revolution takes place, making first-string journalists give up their weekend. So a while ago I came acdross this interesting conversation in a comments thread at Obsidian Wings where Dr. Science has posted a list of "Books of the year."

jrudkis:  Old Book: Jack London's People of the Abyss
I think it is especially appropriate as we have one of our major political parties interested in going back to the work rules of 1906, and the current leader for the GOP nomination wants to put kids back to work.
I think it is also of interest as the UK was in the same relative state as an empire, had significant worker displacement due to "outsourcing" and automation.
Parts are a hard slog, but for me it was a cure for the GOP that was lurking inside me.
Plus it is a free download for Kindle.

Hartmut:   I guess few people know today that Jack London was a dirty commie ;-). I didn't until I read The Iron Heel (in a GDR edition that somehow found it's way into the Siemens company library that served as the (semi-public) library in this part of town when I still went to school).

hairshirthedonist:   Hartmut,  I would guess it would be hard not to be a commie given the working/living conditions he describes. The Iron Heel was interesting too, but I found it dissappointing and incomplete. I did like his Scarlet Plague, though.
I think both London and Sinclair missed the rise of unions as a counter to the oligarchy and a correction to working conditions. Although maybe they were just wrong by a century or so.
"Parts are a hard slog, but for me it was a cure for the GOP that was lurking inside me." Do your parents know about this?:

jrudkis:    "Do your parents know about this?"
yes, my mother accepted my "coming out" with grace, but dad is not speaking to me.

hairshirthedonist:  I think he's more hard-headed since switching from Piels to Budweiser.

With yesterday's remembrance of Looking Backward in recent memory, this exchange piqued my curiosity about another old book. Sure enough it's another public domain book and People of the
Abyss can be found (for free) at the Guttenberg Project.
   I most likely won't get around to reading the whole book, but the first chapter and a random pick of Chapter Thirteen (Dan Cullen, Docker) gave me a general idea abouot the thrust of the book.

(Same is true, incidentally, of Uncle Tom's Cabin that Dr. Science also listed with very positive comments
...a revelation -- not *at all* what I was expecting. I'll be writing more about it later, but I'll just say that I think it's not a "sentimental novel", it's an emotional one. The characters are not stereotypes, as I had been led to expect, but are more realistic than those in, say, Dickens, and *far* more believable than those in Melville.
Several years ago I read a few chapters myself and was impressed the same way.)

The similarites of what is described in these books and today's news should not be a surprise to any student of history. But no matter how much we know intellectually, what we face personally (suffering of a family member, being the victim of a really bad accident, facing death) overcomes intellect with all the panic of running out of air under water. Readers here are smart enough to connect the dots connecting these old books with today's reports of demonstrations and protests in cities all over America as well as the rest of the world. Until the last few days I didn't know there was so much bad blood between Vladimir Putin and a large and growing number of Russians.

That said, Steve's vision of "The Collapse" and the End Times predictions of Christian Zionists are not that far apart. The agents of causation are not the same but they share a sense of helplessness confronting forces over which we have little meaningful control.So here is Chapter XIII of Jack London's People of the Abyss.  I have not experienced the conditions described here but I am keenly aware that among the growing thousands of homeless people now found around American cities in every state there are conditions as bad or worse. There are individuals with the same measure of intelligence and industry. And there are tragedies every bit as quietly dramatic as what is described here.

 

 

Continue reading "Old Book Revisited -- "People of the Abyss"" »

December 10, 2011

An Overview of the Collapse

Creative writing by Steve -- Intro and post by John

I have an old copy of Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward, a science fiction novel published in 1887. Using the literary device of having the central character fall into a Rip Van Winkle type sleep until waking up in the year 2000, he describes what the country and the world could be like in a Socialist utopia. The vision looks quaint to us as we actually can look backward, but the author's imagination is not far off predicting many developments long before they came into existence, including credit cards, artificial light and even shopping malls. The book is accessible at the Guttenberg Project. Here is an excerpt from Chapter 10.

"Here we are at the store of our ward," said Edith, as we turned in at the great portal of one of the magnificent public buildings I had observed in my morning walk. There was nothing in the exterior aspect of the edifice to suggest a store to a representative of the nineteenth century. There was no display of goods in the great windows, or any device to advertise wares, or attract custom. Nor was there any sort of sign or legend on the front of the building to indicate the character of the business carried on there; but instead, above the portal, standing out from the front of the building, a majestic life-size group of statuary, the central figure of which was a female ideal of Plenty, with her cornucopia. Judging from the composition of the throng passing in and out, about the same proportion of the sexes among shoppers obtained as in the nineteenth century. As we entered, Edith said that there was one of these great distributing establishments in each ward of the city, so that no residence was more than five or ten minutes' walk from one of them. It was the first interior of a twentieth-century public building that I had ever beheld, and the spectacle naturally impressed me deeply. I was in a vast hall full of light, received not alone from the windows on all sides, but from the dome, the point of which was a hundred feet above. Beneath it, in the centre of the hall, a magnificent fountain played, cooling the atmosphere to a delicious freshness with its spray. The walls and ceiling were frescoed in mellow tints, calculated to soften without absorbing the light which flooded the interior. Around the fountain was a space occupied with chairs and sofas, on which many persons were seated conversing. Legends on the walls all about the hall indicated to what classes of commodities the counters below were devoted. Edith directed her steps towards one of these, where samples of muslin of a bewildering variety were displayed, and proceeded to inspect them.

The author had no way of knowing that in our capitalist version of shopping malls anchor stores would be attracted by developers by years of free rent with the smaller merchants along the main concourse paying very high rents per square foot and shouldering the lion's share of common area charges for expensive plants, fountains and security. So much for Socialist utopias. But the prescient vision of Edward Bellamy was remarkably accurate in many ways. 

Steve Hynd, our host here at Newshoggers, is something of a latter-day Edward Bellamy. A few readers have noted his absence lately, but he has not been idle. In the historic tradition of predicting the future by looking backward, he has produced An Overview of the Collapse.  Unfortunately, current trends point more to a future dystopia than any utopia. Here is a description from Edgerunners, a GURPS creation from today's world of games creation, science fiction and the predictive imagination.  

Impending world economic collapse brought on by greedy corporate fat-cats who it seems will never see the inside of a jail no matter what they do. Impending societal collapse catalyzed by that economic breakdown and only to be worsened by increasing global climate change, which will cause war, famine and disease on a truly global scale. Superpowers that aren’t super at anything anymore except bombing brown people and warrantless watching of their own citizens, run by politicians that in any case are all in the pockets of those corporate financiers.

The majority of people now earning below the “average” wage, which is only average because the billionaires skew the statistics – worldwide, that 1% own 99% of everything. Peak “cheap” oil heralding the end of the capitalist lifestyle for the 99% who own only 1% of the wealth, but the fat cats still want to wring the last red cent out of an obscelecent energy policy. Riots and revolutions by the disenfranchised, the disenchanted, against the elite – everywhere from Cairo to New York.

Sound familiar? It should. That’s the modern age, but it’s also pure cyberpunk. It’s as if the 1980s pioneers of the genre got the motifs right, but were off on the timeline by about thirty years.

That’s the starting point for this new imagining of cyberpunk for the GURPS 4th edition rules. In this dystopic setting Japan and Europe are just as much in the hole as America, cellphones aren’t the size of house bricks and the Net is for everyone. But other than that, this dystopic future looks a lot like the one imagined by the likes of Gibson, Sterling and Stephenson. Some inner city areas are combat zones filled with crime and poverty, the corporate elite rule the world from their glittering towers, and the foolish or brave few try to change their lives or the course of history. We’ll call those few Edgerunners.

The Corporations control the world from their skyscrapers, enforcing their rule with private cyborg assassins and insider deals at every level for politicos and police. The world economy has crumbled while global warming and environmental pollution have made many places, including large chunks of America, uninhabitable. On the streets, Boostergangs roam a shattered urban wilderness, killing and looting. In the hottest clubs and sleaziest bars it’s a perpetual party, as fashion-model beautiful techies rub biosculpt jobs with battle armoured roadwarriors. The Future never looked so bad.

An Overview Of The Collapse

1.  Economic Collapse

First, the world’s economy had been crippled by debt, created in the great credit default and property bubble scams that made a few very rich at the expense of a very great many. The first ripple of the economy’s cratering was the Depression from 2008 to 2012, which turned into the Double Dip of 2013-2014 as frantic state governments spent trillions to bail out banks they were told (by bankers) were too big to fail and tried to cope with crippling national debts brought about by short-term, big-spender thinking from spendthrift politicians who refused to tax the rich elite bankrolling their election campaigns and dictatorships. Most nations installed harsh austerity measures that further depressed growth and discouraged corporate capital spending at the very time they finally should have been running up debts for stimulus measures. In this, again, they were encouraged and cajoled and even threatened by bankers who sat on each others boards and owned each others shares. A cynic might have seen a scam in all that, one designed to benefit only the financiers, but politicians who had been bought and sold certainly didn’t.

Burning_money[1]By late 2016 world debt totalled over U.S.$50 Trillion with no nation in the black. States which had staved off defaulting on their debts through massive new loans from other nations and international banks reached their last gasp. The domino topple of defaults began in Southern Europe and in over-leveraged Mid-East states like Dubai, but quickly spread as each default made financial markets ever more risk-averse, calling in loans and threatening nations who wouldn’t consider even more austerity in the face of angry populations. Illinois was the first U.S. State to go broke, then California. By then, Argentina, Italy, Pakistan and several other nations had also defaulted. The European Currency agreement broke under the strain – Germany leading the way out – and worldwide, stock markets crashed in response. The so-called Christmas Crash of 2016 was the last death-knell of the post-WW2 world economic system. Billions lost life savings, jobs, everything. Governments world wide found they could no longer afford both military and welfare spending – and chose to keep their militaries and national security apparatus as their only remaining claim to legitimacy of power.

In the aftermath, the select list of the world’s richest companies – who had all remained suspiciously cash-rich through all this – embarked on a massive program of acquisitions and mergers and emerged even stronger and more consolidated in the hands of an ultra-elite of the mega-rich. In 2011, a “super-entity” of 147 tightly knit companies – all of their ownership was held by other members of the super-entity – controlled 40 per cent of the world’s total wealth. By 2020, a group of five corporate entities, all financial houses, formed a “Hub” of mutual ownership that also owned 100% the score or so largest of the world’s merged corporations. These scant two dozen corporate entities controlled 60% of the world’s wealth between them. The age of the Megacorps had arrived.

2.  Climate Upheaval

In 2011, climate scientists were broadly agreed that the world had blown right through the emissions levels needed for serious climate change. A position paper by the influential CNAS think-tank proved glumly prophetic for the next forty years.

“In the case of severe climate change … nations around the world will be overwhelmed by the scale of change and pernicious challenges, such as pandemic disease. The internal cohesion of nations will be under great stress, including in the United States… The flooding of coastal communities around the world has the potential to challenge regional and even national identities. Armed conflict between nations over resources… is likely and nuclear war is possible. The social consequences range from increased religious fervor to outright chaos.” The Age of Consequences, CNAS, 2007

By 2050, mean sea levels worldwide have risen by over half a meter and every year it gets worse. Scientists agree that the North and South ice sheets have become wildly unstable and expect sea rises of up to six meters over the next century and a half. Bangladesh is mostly gone. The Low Countries of Europe and the Norfolk region of the UK are partly inundated, and fighting a rearguard action to save what is left. In the U.S., New Orleans and Houston were turned into permanent Venices by hurricane tide surges and Galveston, Texas has been evacuated – abandoned to the Gulf‘s advance. It’s by no means alone – across the globe, smaller towns and villages are likewise flooded and abandoned. In the temperate regions precipitation falls far more frequently and heavily, up 20% since 2010: storms that were “once in a hundred year“ occurrences are now expected to happen twice or more a decade. Worldwide weather patterns have become more energetic: hurricanes, typhoons and tornadoes are both more common and more powerful.

The Arctic is ice free for half the year and the Northwest Channel can be kept open by nuclear-powered icebreakers even in Winter – much to Canada and other Northern nation’s benefits. With the U.S. too weakened to enforce freedom of the seas, these nations charge shipping a toll to pass through their territorial waters, routes which cleanly bypass the Suez and Panama canals for First World imports and have made those engineering marvels obsolescent. Both the Arctic and Antarctic circles are being exploited for their great mineral wealth, previously inaccessible, and several nations are greedily eyeing the Antarctic mainland, where grass now survives even through the Winter months.

Climate_change[1]Some areas have too little water, however. In the dry tropics and sub-tropics, severe water scarcity affects 2 billion people worldwide. The Middle East in particular has seen water wars help fuel its meltdown into two decades of war, while the Amazon rainforest has shrunk by over a third, leaving flatlands ideal for corporate farming methods. The Indian Ganges river is dry, the Nile and the Euphrates nowadays fail to reach the sea – all the water is sucked up before they ever reach their now-salty deltas. Australia is an arid nightmare, with a fringe of civilization clinging to a narrow coastal band.

 

Water_shortage[1]In the U.S., the dustbowl is back with a vengeance – much of the American Southwest and is uninhabitable without expensive piped-in water. Ghost towns proliferate by their hundreds, making the entire center third of the U.S.A. an arid wasteland punctuated by wandering bands of nomad migrants and cities hanging on by the skin of their teeth. Wildfires devestate millions of acres every year. In the Midwest, massive corporate agrifarms are sucking up water for irrigation, and the Ogallala Aquifer, on which the entire region depends for water, is nearing total depletion. Worldwide, over 60% of the world’s previously most productive farmland is nonviable. 

Ocean currents have changed too. The Gulf Stream died in 2027, other currents have shifted or died too. Monsoon patterns are increasingly erratic and fish populations, already suffering from heavy over-exploitation, have nose-dived. Jellyfish, being luckily well adapted to the more acidic and warmer world’s oceans, proliferate like bacteria in a petri dish. All the coral reefs have died, part of a massive and world-wide species die-off which has seen 60% of the world’s bio-diversity sink into extinction in the past 40 years.

Pandemic disease, famine and war have stalked the world for over two decades, bringing with them the fourth Horseman, Death. Over a billion and a half are estimated to have died, bringing the world’s population back to around 8 billion, just as it was in the third decade of the century. Another billion, at least, are homeless refugees and wanderers. The Middle East, Asia and Africa have seen the bulk of those fatalities, but by no means all. In the U.S., where FEMA and ICE largely died with the Christmas Crash, the various causes of the collapse are estimated to have killed 50 million and another 60 million are “displaced persons”. Like every other nation, the U.S. response has been to tighten its grip on what it can still control – leading to Emergency Powers declarations, martial law, more control handed to the Megacorps and more resentment.

3.  The Collapse

“We can evade reality, but we cannot evade the consequences of evading reality.” Ayn Rand

“I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.” Thomas Edison, 1931

Peak Oil

The second half of the 20th century saw amazing economic and technological growth, literally fuelled by the access to cheap energy and transportation afforded by oil. But oil was always a finite resource, so what was going to happen to that growth when the oil began to run out? Experts had been warning for some years that “peak oil”, the point at which more than half of all oil reserves would have been extracted, would be reached sometime around 2010. Other experts, usually employed by big oil companies, countered that new techniques for drilling and new oil field discoveries could push “peak oil” out, perhaps as far as 2030.

Peak_oil_2[1]As it turned out, the truth lay almost exactly between those extremes. In 2011, the world was consuming 89 million barrels per day, by 2030 that was 105 million. The difference amounted to 5 new Saudi Arabias. While such reserves existed, notably in tar sand deposits and processing natural gas into fuel, production from unconventional oil fields was never able to ramp up fast enough to replace declining production at aging conventional oil fields.

Already, in 2010, analysts knew that a more important landmark had already been reached – the era of cheap oil was over. As the shortfall between production and demand grew ever larger, prices rose to and stayed at the magic figure of $90 dollars a barrel – where the price of oil for transport and energy generation is so high that it prohibits economic growth. When that harsh reality – and the reality of “peak cheap supply” in many other major resources, including tin, copper and iron – intersected with the world economic collapse of 2016 and the growing turmoil created by climate change, things got ugly quickly.ready, in 2010, analysts knew that a more important landmark had already been reached – the era of cheap oil was over. As the shortfall between production and demand grew ever larger, prices rose to and stayed at the magic figure of $90 dollars a barrel – where the price of oil for transport and energy generation is so high that it prohibits economic growth. When that harsh reality – and the reality of “peak cheap supply” in many other major resources, including tin, copper and iron – intersected with the world economic collapse of 2016 and the growing turmoil created by climate change, things got ugly quickly.

Corporations hanging on to wring the last red cent from high oil prices before changing to alternates, and hamstrung governments, failed to act anywhere near in time to head off a crisis. Nuclear power failed to deliver on many promises – safety concerns over sites following the Fukishima tsunami and meltdown of 2011, then the Indian Point, New York, earthquake and leak of 2018, meant that nuke plants never could deliver more than 2% additional energy before 2045 and the advent of fusion, exactly as M.I.T. had predicted back in 2010. Solar and other renewables didn’t see the massive investment needed util well after the effects of Peak Oil were felt, and solar in particular had to wait for the development of more efficient industrial-scale capacitors and batteries before it was a real contender.

Farmscraper[1]The world’s “green revolution” agriculture model was based upon cheap transport, to move food from where it was grown to where it would be eaten, often overseas, and on cheap production of fertilizers and pesticides which were often petroleum based. The power for the pumps that moved increasing scarce freshwater to fields also too often came from oil-fired power plants. The agricultural system that had so well served the late 20th century, already under huge strains, simply failed. In the two decades to 2030, the cost of staple foodstuffs more than doubled, causing food riots and insurrection worldwide. Only post 2040 has the world‘s ability to feed all of it‘s 7 billion population begun to recover, with urban “vertical farming” facilities for the elite and new innovations in gene-tailored algae and soy bean texturing for the poor.

Transportation also saw a fundamental change. The Western ideal of commuting to work from the suburbs in your own car and the late 20th century corporate ideal of shipping goods produced cheaply in one place to another where they could be sold for maximum profit became far less attractive, even for the rich. Suddenly, it was more cost effective to do administration work from home – for the new, small, almost fully automated factories producing goods locally for local markets, with “just in time” delivery and minimal warehousing.

Dirigible[1]Even as alternative fuels like methane, methanol, hydrogen and electricity came online fully at last, many of those technologies also relied on oil in their manufacturing process. In the corporate-controlled zones and ‘burbs that were being created in the First World’s partial post-Crash recovery, mass transit was the norm rather than the exception. In the long haul transport industry, dirigibles and hybrid solar/wind powered ships, albeit hi-tech ones looking little like their predecessors, became an attractive option for some. In the U.S., the dustbowl is back with a vengeance – much of the American Southwest and is uninhabitable without expensive piped-in water. Ghost towns proliferate by their hundreds, making the entire center third of the U.S.A. an arid wasteland punctuated by wandering bands of nomad migrants and cities hanging on by the skin of their teeth. Wildfires devestate millions of acres every year. In the Midwest, massive corporate agrifarms are sucking up water for irrigation, and the Ogallala Aquifer, on which the entire region depends for water, is nearing total depletion. Worldwide, over 60% of the world’s previously most productive farmland is nonviable.

IV.  Locations

“War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.” Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler, USMC

War

Despite brushfire conflicts on almost every continent, the first decade and a half of the Twenty-First Century were fairly peaceful, historically speaking. Even as Americans focused on their own wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and their involvement in Libya, fewer people worldwide were dying as a result of armed conflict than during any comparative period in two hundred years. Deaths due to war were only a half the rate in the nineties, and a third that of the Cold War years, mostly because the kind of guerilla wars being fought were nasty, but weren‘t between equally-matched and massive mechanized armies. If the world felt more violent, it was because there was more information about wars — not more wars themselves. Once-remote battles and war crimes now made it onto TV and computer screens, and in more or less real time.

Guard_Assault[1]The decline in wartime deaths, and a general decline in the number of conflicts being fought, gave rise to the thought among some observers that perhaps world peace wasn’t all that far away after all. Even the decline in influence of the world’s policeman, America, wasn’t expected to change trends greatly, with one expert writing in 2011: “The best precedent for today’s emerging world order may be the 19th-century Concert of Europe, a collaboration of great powers that largely maintained the peace for a century until its breakdown and the bloodbath of World War I.”

Unfortunately, that great power collaboration never had a chance to coalesce. With the economic crash in 2016, the West was bankrupt. The U.S., already less co-operative in foreign policy than it had been since before World War Two, could either fund its military might or all its other federal obligations – not both. With massive domestic unrest fuelled by the economic crisis and turmoil abroad fed by peak cheap oil and the beginnings of climate catastrophe, it chose to fund the legitimacy of military power at home and abroad. The UN was cut off and collapsed, as did other international bodies and several major humanitarian charities. There was no money for the kind of Peace Corps operations that won hearts and minds and could have headed off some of the worst, nor was there federal money for domestic security and law enforcement, or for the over-burdened welfare system.

Troops_in_NOLA[1]At home troops were increasingly seen on the streets doing riot suppression and disaster management, abroad the military concentrated on rapid strike and power-projection capabilities. Other nations followed suit, though none could match the U.S., which by now was spending well over half of the world’s total defense budget. Suddenly, the military was government’s only tool in the toolbox, and when all you have is a hammer…

The catalyst was, as ever, the Middle East – to be specific, Iran. The Islamic Republic announced in 2014 that it had achieved a “virtual deterrent” – the same capability as Japan or Belgium to construct a nuclear weapon rapidly in response to an attack. The West and Israel had been muttering about attacking that nuclear program for over a decade, with never any action taken because Iran always carefully stayed below the threshold of causing outright public alarm. Now, however, any Western attack would be met by a nuclear response. Like Pakistan and North Korea, Iran had moved into new geopolitical territory and the new Grand Ayatollah, an Iraqi brought up in Iran who had swiftly moved to unify Shiite Islam, didn’t waste time in taking advantage of the economic crash. He used Iraq’s hoard of oil cash to fund Unification in full with Iraq in 2017, despite a Sunni insurgency, and cut the Kurdish North loose as an independent nation and a divisive thorn in Sunni sides. Then he turned to Western Afghanistan, to Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Yemen and other nations with large Shia populations, fomenting rebellions and civil war. The objective was no less than a new Safavid Empire.

Military_maneuvers[1]While Israel sat worried on the sidelines and the West looked on from afar, the Sunni nations of the region – led by Saudi Arabia – pushed back hard. They funded insurgencies and backed incumbent rulers whenever necessary, depleting their own hoards of oil cash. Brushfire proxy wars sprang up across the region, meeting global warming and failing oil incomes head on in a recipe for geopolitical disaster. The wars escalated until, on 11th August 2020, Saudi Arabia revealed it too had nuclear capacity – by striking Tehran, Basra and Tabriz with nuke-tipped cruise missiles believed to have been bought from Pakistan. The U.S. and Europe were dragged in, all unwillingly, and the Iranian counterstrike a month later aimed at Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Muscat was intercepted by Western missile defenses. A coalition of European nations put troops into the region as peacekeepers, mostly to secure remaining oil reserves and the Suez Canal, but too late to stop Israel being largely overcome by a tide of refugees who turned that small nation into a terrorist nightmare.

To the East however, Iran’s shakeup of Shia/Sunni rivalries had even more horrific consequences. As the East rebelled against the still-shaky and notoriously corrupt Kabul government, it appealed to Pakistan for help and troops were dispatched. There was no way India was ever going to be happy about that, and several rounds of increasing rhetoric and “incidents” culminated in relations between Pakistan and India breaking down entirely by 2020. In late April of the following year, Indian intelligence captured agents from Pakistan who were reportedly planning a repeat of the 2001 attack on India’s parliament and on May 1st India launched a massive pre-emptive conventional strike across the border into Pakistani territory.

EDF_Tank[1]India was by now a superpower with the technology Pakistan lacked and advances were rapid. The Indian military had been re-designed across the last decade through technology-transfer deals with Russia and Europe and that paid off as pinpoint air strikes swept away much of Pakistan’s defenses – including most of its substantial nuclear force. In desperation, Pakistan used its dwindling nuclear arsenal. India lost Bangalore but Pakistan lost Faisalabad, Karachi, Lahore and Rawalpindi as well as most of it’s military in the field in retaliatory strikes, as the superiority of India’s homegrown anti-missile defenses became obvious. Pakistan’s long-term military ally China made a few light probes on India’s flank and rapidly transitioned to watchful non-involvement. In all, over 12 million died.

It was as if events on the sub-continent brought the world to a boil. Over the next three decades the planet saw War retake it’s place alongside Pestilence and Famine, which were riding high on climate change, as a major cause of fatalities. The Middle East has continued to be a bloodbath of Sunni-Shia feuding, with almost as much resentment and violence directed at European forces and corporate mercs in North Africa and the Suez area. Barring South Africa and Kenya, Africa is the Dark Continent again as plagues and famine have wiped out whole societies and created wars between tribes, between religions and between nations all across the continent. In the gaps created by failed states, terrorism and piracy thrive – as do corporate corruption and malfeasance. In Europe and North America, the Haves must keep the Have-Nots in place by near totalitarianism, creating police states to stop social unrest destroying the very fabric of civilization. The Militia Wars of the late 30s in the U.S. are the textbook example. The West has even seen at least one nasty and quick war which was only between corporate combatants – the infamous conflict between Armatech and LMB corporations which only ended when the U.S. government used it’s own military might on both.

Basecolour2[1]Asia isn’t in any better shape. Even the two regional powers, India and China, are a mixture of grinding civil insurrection in rural areas and police state responses in urban ones. In Latin and South America, climate change had created both winners and losers. Brazil is the regional power now, while Argentina and Mexico are failed states. In fact, Mexico has become Texas’ own Iraq – only this time just across the border – following the Free State’s deployment of troops there in 2024 as “advisors” to the corrupt Mexican government. Elsewhere, drug cartels, revolutions and corporations willing to pay enough in bribes carve their own little kingdoms out of what remains of the previous national structures. All across the globe, arms manufacturers and security contractors are reaping tidy profits.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. Dwight D. Eisenhower

Saving The Plutocrats

Commentary By Ron Beasley

Here is some economic history from Barry Ritholtz:

We’ve known for literally thousands of years that debts need to be periodically written down, or the entire economy will collapse. And see this.

We’ve known for 1,900 years that that rampant inequality destroys societies.

We’ve known for thousands of years that debasing currencies leads to economic collapse.

We’ve known for hundreds of years that the failure to punish financial fraud destroys economies.

We’ve known for hundreds of years that monopolies and the political influence which accompanies too much power in too few hands is dangerous for free markets.

We’ve known for hundreds of years that trust is vital for a healthy economy.

We’ve known since the 1930s Great Depression that separating depository banking from speculative investment banking is key to economic stability. See this, this, this and this.

We’ve known since 1988 that quantitative easing doesn’t work to rescue an ailing economy.

We’ve known since 1993 that derivatives such as credit default swaps – if not reined in – could take down the economy. And see this.

We’ve known since 1998 that crony capitalism destroys even the strongest economies, and that economies that are capitalist in name only need major reforms to create accountability and competitive markets.

We’ve known since 2007 or earlier that lax oversight of hedge funds could blow up the economy.

Of course the technocrats and politicians in the US and Europe have either learned none of these lessons or are ignoring them.  The latest example is Europe's disastrous summit.

I thought disasters were all meant to happen over the weekend? Somehow, in Brussels, EU leaders have contrived to pull defeat out of the jaws of victory on Thursday night, leaving Friday for finger-pointing and recriminations and wondering whether anybody who signed on to this deal has any chance at all of even getting re-elected, let alone being remembered as one of the leaders who saved the euro.

Here’s how the FT put it on Wednesday:

It borders on hysterical to say there are but hours to save the euro, but there is a risk that if the crisis is not now tamed the price of a rescue might start to spiral out of politicians’ grasp. The stakes are therefore very high at Friday’s summit. The world cannot afford another half-baked solution.

And yet, inevitably, another half-baked solution is exactly what we got. Which means, I fear, that it is now, officially, too late to save the Eurozone: the collapse of the entire edifice is now not a matter of if but rather of when.

So why is this happening? We will return to Ritholz's first point for the answer:

We’ve known for literally thousands of years that debts need to be periodically written down, or the entire economy will collapse.

The technocrats and politicians are simply ignoring the fact that there is trillions of dollars of debt that is never going to be repaid. Of course the primary goal is not to save the international financial system or the Euro but to protect the TBF banks and the wealth and power of the plutocrats.  Of course their policy will fail on all counts. 

As Kevin O'Rourke points out the forced austerity makes it even less likely that any of the debt will ever be repaid.

One lesson that the world has learned since the financial crisis of 2008 is that a contractionary fiscal policy means what it says: contraction. Since 2010, a Europe-wide experiment has conclusively falsified the idea that fiscal contractions are expansionary. August 2011 saw the largest monthly decrease in eurozone industrial production since September 2009, German exports fell sharply in October, and now-casting.com is predicting declines in eurozone GDP for late 2011 and early 2012.

A contracting economy will be even less likely that debt will be repaid.  It should be obvious that the Eurozone is going to eventually breakup.  O'Rourke thinks the sooner the better.

An immediate breakup of the eurozone would be a catastrophe, which is why the European Council agreed to a “fiscal stability union” in exchange for some movement by the ECB. This may indeed prevent collapse in the short run – though that is far from certain. Treaty negotiations outside the EU framework, and the ratification procedures that will follow, are a recipe for even more uncertainty when Europe needs it least.

In the slightly longer run, such a deal, assuming that it goes ahead, will mean continued austerity on the eurozone periphery, without the offsetting impact of devaluation or stimulus at the core. Unemployment will continue to rise, placing pressure on households, governments, and banks. We will hear much more about the relative merits of technocracy and democracy. Anti-European sentiment will continue to grow, and populist parties will prosper. Violence is not out of the question.

This summit should have proposed institutional changes to avert such a scenario. But if such changes are politically impossible, and the euro is doomed, then a speedy death is preferable to a prolonged and painful demise. A eurozone collapse in the immediate future would be widely perceived as a catastrophe, which should at least serve as a source of hope for the future. But if it collapses after several years of perverse macroeconomic policies required by countries’ treaty obligations, the end, when it comes, will be regarded not as a calamity, but as a liberation.

And that really would be worse.

December 08, 2011

Richard Dawkins on the Republican primary

By BJ Bjornson

I just love this little exchange from an interview with Dawkins by Lightspeed Magazine:

[Interviewer] Speaking of really strange characters, I gather from your recent op-ed in The Washington Post that you’re not a big fan of this year’s crop of Republican presidential contenders?

[Dawkins] Is anyone that you know? I mean, no, of course not. These people are know-nothings, and it would be a tragedy if any of them was elected. No serious scientist, or nobody even of any education at all, takes Creationism seriously. It’s almost as though the American electorate is splitting into two species, with the civilized, educated ones on one hand and the total ignorant know-nothings on the other, and it’s terribly sad that a large number of voters seem prepared to vote for somebody because he’s like them rather than because they think he’s actually qualified to lead the country.


Gets really hard to argue with that sometimes.


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