Say Goodbye to Normal

The tremors rattling markets are not exactly what they seem to be. A meme prevails that these movements represent a kind of financial peristalsis — regular wavelike workings of eternal progress toward an epic more of everything, especially profits! You can forget the supposedly “normal” cycles of the techno-industrial arrangement, which means, in particular, the business cycle of the standard economics textbooks. Those cycle are dying.

They’re dying because there really are Limits to Growth and we are now solidly in grips of those limits. Only we can’t recognize the way it is expressing itself, especially in political terms. What’s afoot is a not “recession” but a permanent contraction of what has been normal for a little over two hundred years. There is not going to be more of everything, especially profits, and the stock buyback orgy that has animated the corporate executive suites will be recognized shortly for what it is: an assest-stripping operation.

What’s happening now is a permanent contraction. Well, of course, nothing lasts forever, and the contraction is one phase of a greater transition. The cornucopians and techno-narcissists would like to think that we are transitioning into an even more lavish era of techno-wonderama — life in a padded recliner tapping on a tablet for everything! I don’t think so. Rather, we’re going medieval, and we’re doing it the hard way because there’s just not enough to go around and the swollen populations of the world are going to be fighting over what’s left.

Actually, we’ll be lucky if we can go medieval, because there’s no guarantee that the contraction has to stop there, especially if we behave really badly about it — and based on the way we’re acting now, it’s hard to be optimistic about our behavior improving. Going medieval would imply living within the solar energy income of the planet, and by that I don’t mean photo-voltaic panels, but rather what the planet might provide in the way of plant and animal “income” for a substantially smaller population of humans. That plus a long-term resource salvage operation.

All the grand movements of stock indexes and central banks are just a diverting sort of stagecraft within the larger pageant of this contraction. The governors of the Federal Reserve play the role of viziers in this comic melodrama. That is, they are exalted figures robed in magical Brooks Brothers summer poplin pretending to have supernatural power to control events. You can tell from their recent assembly out west — “A-holes at the J-hole” — that they are very much in doubt that their “powers” will continue to be taken seriously. This endless hand-wringing over a measily quarter-point interest rate hike is like some quarrel among alchemists as to whether a quarter-degree rise in temperature might render a lump of clay into a gold nugget.

What they do doesn’t matter anymore. What matters is that a great deal of the notional “wealth” they conjured up over the past decade or so is about to vanish —poof! Perhaps that will look like a black magic act. That wealth seemed so real! The bulging portfolios with their exquisite allocations! The clever options! The cunning shorts. Especially the canny bets in dark derivative pools! All up in a vapor. The sad truth being it was never there in the first place. It was just an hallucination induced by the manipulation of markets and the criminal misrepresentation of statistics, especially the employment numbers.

There are rumors that the Grand Vizeress of all, Ms. Yellen, is flirting with possible indictment over the “leakage” of valuable information out of her inner circle to potential profiteers. Whoops. It may lead nowhere but to me it is an index of her more general loss of credibility. All year she has spouted supernaturally fallacious nonsense about how “the data” guides Fed decision-making. Only her data is contrary to what is actually happening in the pathetic Rube Goldberg contraption that the so-called US economy has become (Walmart + entitlements). Her “guidance” amounts to a lot of futile drum-beating on a turret of the Fed castle, hoping to make it rain prosperity. Her enigmatic utterances have kept financial markets in a narrow sideways channel most of the year until recently.

I’d say she’d lost her mojo, and the lesser viziers on the Fed board are looking more and more like the larval, sunken-chested dweebs that they really are. So where is the nation to turn? Why, to the great blustering Trump, with his “can-do” bombast about “making America great again.” What does he mean, exactly? Like, making America the way it was in 1958?” Behold: the return of the great steel rolling mills along the banks of the Monongahela (and so on)! Fuggeddabowdit. Ain’t gonna happen.

I have to say it again: prepare to get smaller and more local. Things on the grand level are not going to work out. Get your shit together locally, and do it in place that has some prospect for keeping on: a small town somewhere food can be grown and especially places near the inland waterways where some kind of commercial exchange might continue in the absence of the trucking industry. Sound outlandish? Okay then. Keep buying Tesla stock and party on, dudes. Hail the viziers in their star-and-planet bedizened Brooks Brother raiment. Put your head between your legs and kiss your ass goodbye.

More: see 4 comments.


About basicrulesoflife

Year 1935. Interests: Contemporary society problems, quality of life, happiness, understanding and changing ourselves - everything based on scientific evidence.
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4 Responses to Say Goodbye to Normal

  1. We have been on this for some time I think. I think the human condition follows something seen in the ecology of a population boom. This starts with a phase of exponential growth, which has characterized the rise of civilization since at least 3000BCE. This is followed by a usually brief stationary phase that has logistic or Henon-Heiles type of dynamics. This is seen with a saturation of the population and the end of growth, with a chaotic sort of variation in population about some average population. This is followed by a collapse phase. We are I think in the stationary phase, or are progressively entering into that reality.

    Human population growth has been slowing and is expected to crest at about 9 billion or so. Population growth may in fact largely end in the second half of this century. The world economic system is also similar to this, for after all it is a system of energy + resources in and then waste and entropy out. Economic growth up until about 25 years ago was thought to be a sort of universal thing. Now we see a situation where economic growth in the developing world has occurred where at the same time economic conditions for people in the US, and this extends to other OECD level nations, has stagnated. China has added about 200 million people to the developed economic level, another 100 million or so people around the world are now on OECD levels, and about a billion people have been risen from abject poverty to some modest level of living, but not wealthy or even close to middle class. At one time it was thought such progress in the world would occur while economic progress would continue in developed nations. The only people in the US who have seen enormous economic progress are the wealthy and even more the hyper-wealthy. I think this is an economic case of ecological stationary phase.

    We are seeing more of this; think AirBnB and Uber, where the real-time economy means more and more of the average person will have no job benefit, labor rights or anything, because frankly they really do not have a job. People will get a job on a daily basis and work for the APP. Other cases of this are the diminution of material usage that more people face, such as owning cars much longer, sharing a house with another person or even family, and so forth. These conditions will squeeze in harder over the coming decades. On the natural resource front, we passed peak out on sweet light crude oil back around 2008, we are now making up the short fall with hydraulic fracturing, shale oil and other methods that might keep the oil pipelines filled for a few decades.

    The bad time will be the collapse. That is likely to happen at the earliest in the middle or in second half of this century. We might be able to push the collapse out for a century or so. This will be the “blow out,” where it will not just be a collapse of civilization similar to the fall of the Roman Empire, but a massive die-off of the human population. The events surrounding this will doubtless involve wars, and to be honest I suspect nuclear bombs will come into play.

    As I have said I see these things as almost unavoidable. To avoid them would require some sort of enlightenment on the part of people on an unprecedented scale, and a rapid reversal of the huge disinformation campaigns that have marred the minds of people. I doubt that will happen, and I suspect we will approach the cusp of this die-off with rather few people being at all aware of the problem.


  2. Well maybe people will wake up from their slumber and mental lethargy, maybe the world in the coming decade, which is about all the time we might have left, will actually move to address these problems, and maybe the vultures running things will go away. Maybe the global warming denialism will go away, along with people who think there is some Santa Claus eschatology that will save us, and so forth — maybe it will all go away, maybe even tomorrow. Right now I see Donald Trump pulling ahead in an election and this is the opposite direction we need to go.

    In the end we do face the two ultimate peak outs. The first is peak environment or peak planet. This is where we cripple the biological life support system and its capability to support us. We are alarmingly close to this problem, and in just the last few years sulfide bacterial blooms have started to occur; shadows of a coming Canfield ocean condition, a condition we have absolutely no chance of surviving. The other peak is peak brain, which means that we have some limit to our ability to manage a world that is becoming ever more complex. Back in the 70s it was nowhere thought that in 40 years there would be a world with a global network of computers millions of times beyond the abilities of anything then, which by 2010 would be the nerve center of the entire world economy. Then put on top of that the black hat operations that could bring it down. This is complexity out the kazoo.

    To be honest I see little reason to think our situation can be rescued. We seem almost as incapable of changing our situation as any creature in a population boom. Think of it: At no time in the natural history of this planet has their been a species of animals our size and dietary requirements that number 7.3 billion at one time. We are basically somewhat brainy walking apes that are exponentially rampaging out of control, and we have been for thousands of years. It is just now the situation has gotten really crazy.


  3. Progressives toy with the word “sustainability” but most others seem to be bound by the maxim “If you’re not growing, you’re shrinking.” Question: Has there ever been a civilization which acquired “sustainability” for an extended period — or has every one of them been continually in the process of either growing or shrinking? Can a society “stand still” i.e maintain the same population/standard of living from one generation to another, without also stagnating?

    Perhaps it’s cyclical and each civilization is doomed to pass through Spenglerian seasons of spring (pioneer period), summer, (conquest, acquisition of wealth) autumn (cultural harvest, decadence) and winter (shrinking, dying). Perhaps, like Malthus said, each species is doomed to expand into a new habitat until the habitat is exhausted or changed by shifting climate – even humans, if we regard their habitat as being the whole planet. Since the first migration out of Africa, Homo sapiens have been expanding into new habitats of earth when their old one became unable to support all them. But now we’ve about run out of new lands and resources to exploit. Where else is left to expand into? The poles might become habitable for a while and attract migrants, but they’re not likely to last long. And finding new habitats off-planet is not as doable as we once imagined. So are we “marooned” on a planet where entropy is rising and no new habitats, resources are available to pump new energy into it?


  4. I mostly agree with Lawrence. However, I think some elites will go underground into bunker-cities and try to ride it out. They will have some supplies and plans, although ultimately these will not be enough.

    Some people will survive the population bottleneck, and will try to build a much more ethical future of mutual cooperation.

    Most people on the earth will die. That’s not doom-saying…just a simple fact. There are too many people consuming too many resources for the current setup to be indefinitely sustainable.
    Christine Hansen

    Maybe Aboriginal society?
    Christine Hansen

    A long term sustainable society is a stone aged society. I think societies that use more energy, exploit more materials and the rest are less sustainable. Arguments about shifting to new energy sources or materials are well and good, but in the end they illustrate the problem. As we have done this things have been increasingly transient, each energy source works for a shorter period of time, and a part of this is Jevon’s paradox. Jevon’s paradox illustrates why widening a road does not really solve traffic congestion, for it permits more cars on the road that ends up in the same congested state — now just bigger. It is the problem with nuclear energy. If we really ramp that up we will exhaust uranium resources in about 50 years, and thorium is at best only 100 years. As we progress further along these lines the more unstable and unsustainable things become, which means that if we face a fundamental limit, either peak planet or peak brain, we face doomsday.

    A stone aged society can’t sustain billions of humans beings, in fact only a few 10s of millions. Further in the wake of the coming collapse we will probably fall ultimately into a neo-stone aged reality. However, it will be different than the past. Our paleolithic (stone age) period was during the Pleistocene where the Earth was rich and abundant with life. The next stone age will be in a depleted Earth, and in fact it might be so depleted that even a stone aged existence is impossible. I frankly see no escape from this. We may be able to adapt and develop things for a while, maybe for longer even given the exponential growth/time compressed nature of what we face. Can we forestall collapse indefinitely? However, take your time frame, 50, 100, 150, 250 years or even longer, and at some point our foot will slip and down we will go.

    Advanced hominids since Homo erectus existed for a several hundred thousand years. Neanderthals existed 350k years. We have been here for 150k years. If we had remained at a stone aged culture we might have lived as long as neanderthals, but now we face this complete collapse, and it is anyone’s guess whether our species survives through it.


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