Jul 122017
 
 July 12, 2017  Posted by at 11:34 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , ,  7 Responses »
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JMW Turner Vignette Study of a Ship in a Storm c.1830

 

Nicole sent me this video, which I know next to nothing about. I don’t know where it was filmed, or when, or why, nada. But, apart from the fact that listening to Nicole is always interesting, and I haven’t heard her talk nearly enough recently, because we live on opposite ends of the world these days, this is interesting because it relates directly to energy issues that have lately been a recurring theme at the Automatic Earth.

That is, once the net energy we gain from our energy sources falls by enough, our complex systems become untenable. This is not an easy-to-grasp thing for many, but it’s nevertheless true. The energy return on energy invested (EROEI) on the vast majority of our present energy sources is already dangerously close to the point where we will have to make our lives, and our societies, simpler.

We can discuss whether that’s such a bad thing, but it doesn’t really matter. We can’t beat thermodynamics. The initial reactions to this will in all likelihood by very dramatic, and in cases violent, since many individuals will try to escape having to adapt, and since individuals, societies, nations will realize that energy provides political -and military- power. Trust is a delicate topic.

There can be no doubt that in the immediate future we will attempt to build even more complex systems and societies, just to solve the problems caused by complexity, only to find out later that these systems are all built around centers that cannot hold. And we can all imagine what this will mean for our economies.

Here’s Nicole:

 

 

Nicole Foss from Community Solutions on Vimeo.

 

 

Jun 262017
 
 June 26, 2017  Posted by at 11:49 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  12 Responses »
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Paul Klee Ghost of a Genius 1922

 

The Automatic Earth has written many articles on the topic of EROEI (Energy Return on Energy Invested) through the years, there’s a whole chapter on it in the Automatic Earth Primer Guide 2017 that Nicole assembled recently, which contains 17 different articles.

Still, since EROEI is the most important energy issue there is at present, and not the price of oil or some new gas find or a set of windmills or solar panels or thorium, it can’t hurt to repeat it once again, in someone else’s words and from someone else’s angle. This one comes from Brian Davey on his site CredoEconomics, part of his book “Credo”.

It can’t hurt to repeat it because not nearly enough people understand that in the end everything, the survival of our world, our way of life, is all about the ‘quality’ of energy, about what we get in return when we drill and pump and build infrastructure, what remains when we subtract all the energy used to ‘generate’ energy, from (or at) the bottom line.

Anno 2017, our overall ‘net energy’ is nowhere near where it was for the first 100 years or so after we started using oil. And there’s no energy source that comes close to -conventional- oil (and gas) when it comes to what we are left with once our efforts are discounted, in calories or Joules.

The upshot of this is that even if we can ‘gain’ 10 times more than we put in, in energy terms, that won’t save our complex societies. To achieve that, we would need at least a 15:1 ratio, a number straight from our friend Charlie Hall, which is probably still quite optimistic. And we simply don’t have it. Not anymore.

Also, not nearly enough people understand that it has absolutely nothing to do with money. That you can’t go out and buy more or better energy sources. Which is why we use EROEI instead of EROI (Energy Return on Investment), because the latter leaves some sort of financial interpretation open that doesn’t actually exist, it suggests that a financial price of energy plays a role.

First, here’s Nicole from the Automatic Earth Primer Guide 2017. Below that, Brian Davey’s article.

 

 

Nicole Foss: Energy is the master resource – the capacity to do work. Our modern society is the result of the enormous energy subsidy we have enjoyed in the form of fossil fuels, specifically fossil fuels with a very high energy profit ratio (EROEI). Energy surplus drove expansion, intensification, and the development of socioeconomic complexity, but now we stand on the edge of the net energy cliff. The surplus energy, beyond that which has to be reinvested in future energy production, is rapidly diminishing.

We would have to greatly increase gross production to make up for reduced energy profit ratio, but production is flat to falling so this is no longer an option. As both gross production and the energy profit ratio fall, the net energy available for all society’s other purposes will fall even more quickly than gross production declines would suggest. Every society rests on a minimum energy profit ratio. The implication of falling below that minimum for industrial society, as we are now poised to do, is that society will be forced to simplify.

A plethora of energy fantasies is making the rounds at the moment. Whether based on unconventional oil and gas or renewables (that are not actually renewable), these are stories we tell ourselves in order to deny that we are facing any kind of future energy scarcity, or that supply could be in any way a concern. They are an attempt to maintain the fiction that our society can continue in its current form, or even increase in complexity. This is a vain attempt to deny the existence of non-negotiable limits to growth. The touted alternatives are not energy sources for our current society, because low EROEI energy sources cannot sustain a society complex enough to produce them.

 

 

Using Energy to Extract Energy – The Dynamics of Depletion

 

Brian Davey: The “Limits to Growth Study” of 1972 was deeply controversial and criticised by many economists. Over 40 years later, it seems remarkably prophetic and on track in its predictions. The crucial concept of Energy Return on Energy Invested is explained and the flaws in neoclassical reasoning which EROI highlights.

The continued functioning of the energy system is a “hub interdependency” that has become essential to the management of the increasing complexity of our society. The energy input into the UK economy is about 50 to 70 times as great as what the labour force could generate if working full time only with the power of their muscles, fuelled up with food. It is fossil fuels, refined to be used in vehicles and motors or converted into electricity that have created power inputs that makes possible the multiple round- about arrangements in a high complex economy. The other “hub interdependency” is a money and transaction system for exchange which has to continue to function to make vast production and trade networks viable. Without payment systems nothing functions.

Yet, as I will show, both types of hub interdependencies could conceivably fail. The smooth running of the energy system is dependent on ample supplies of cheaply available fossil fuels. However, there has been a rising cost of extracting and refining oil, gas and coal. Quite soon there is likely to be an absolute decline in their availability. To this should be added the climatic consequences of burning more carbon based fuels. To make the situation even worse, if the economy gets into difficulty because of rising energy costs then so too will the financial system – which can then have a knock-on consequence for the money system. The two hub interdependencies could break down together.

“Solutions” put forward by the techno optimists almost always assume growing complexity and new uses for energy with an increased energy cost. But this begs the question- because the problem is the growing cost of energy and its polluting and climate changing consequences.

 

The “Limits to Growth” study of 1972 – and its 40 year after evaluation

It was a view similar to this that underpinned the methodology of a famous study from the early 1970s. A group called the Club of Rome decided to commission a group of system scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to explore how far economic growth would continue to be possible. Their research used a series of computer model runs based on various scenarios of the future. It was published in 1972 and produced an instant storm. Most economists were up in arms that their shibboleth, economic growth, had been challenged. (Meadows, Meadows, Randers, & BehrensIII, 1972)

This was because its message was that growth could continue for some time by running down “natural capital” (depletion) and degrading “ecological system services” (pollution) but that it could not go on forever. An analogy would be spending more than one earns. This is possible as long as one has savings to run down, or by running up debts payable in the future. However, a day of reckoning inevitably occurs. The MIT scientists ran a number of computer generated scenarios of the future including a “business as usual” projection, called the “standard run” which hit a global crisis in 2030.

It is now over 40 years since the original Limits to Growth study was published so it is legitimate to compare what was predicted in 1972 against what actually happened. This has now been done twice by Graham Turner who works at the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). Turner did this with data for the rst 30 years and then for 40 years of data. His conclusion is as follows:

The Limits to Growth standard run scenario produced 40 years ago continues to align well with historical data that has been updated in this paper following a 30-year comparison by the author. The scenario results in collapse of the global economy and environment and subsequently, the population. Although the modelled fall in population occurs after about 2030 – with death rates reversing contemporary trends and rising from 2020 onward – the general onset of collapse first appears at about 2015 when per capita industrial output begins a sharp decline. (Turner, 2012)

So what brings about the collapse? In the Limits to Growth model there are essentially two kinds of limiting restraints. On the one hand, limitations on resource inputs (materials and energy). On the other hand, waste/pollution restraints which degrade the ecological system and human society (particularly climate change).

Turner finds that, so far it, is the former rather than the latter that is the more important. What happens is that, as resources like fossil fuels deplete, they become more expensive to extract. More industrial output has to be set aside for the extraction process and less industrial output is available for other purposes.

With signficant capital subsequently going into resource extraction, there is insufficient available to fully replace degrading capital within the industrial sector itself. Consequently, despite heightened industrial activity attempting to satisfy multiple demands from all sectors and the population, actual industrial output per capita begins to fall precipitously, from about 2015, while pollution from the industrial activity continues to grow. The reduction of inputs produced per capita. Similarly, services (e.g., health and education) are not maintained due to insufficient capital and inputs.

Diminishing per capita supply of services and food cause a rise in the death rate from about 2020 (and somewhat lower rise in the birth rate, due to reduced birth control options). The global population therefore falls, at about half a billion per decade, starting at about 2030. Following the collapse, the output of the World3 model for the standard run (figure 1 to figure 3) shows that average living standards for the aggregate population (material wealth, food and services per capita) resemble those of the early 20th century.(Turner, 2012, p. 121)

 

Energy Return on Energy Invested

A similar analysis has been made by Hall and Klitgaard. They argue that to run a modern society it is necessary that the energy return on energy invested must be at least 15 to 1. To understand why this should be so consider the following diagram from a lecture by Hall. (Hall, 2012)

eroei

The diagram illustrates the idea of the energy return on energy invested. For every 100 Mega Joules of energy tapped in an oil flow from a well, 10 MJ are needed to tap the well, leaving 90 MJ. A narrow measure of energy returned on energy invested at the wellhead in this example would therefore be 100 to 10 or 10 to 1.

However, to get a fuller picture we have to extend this kind of analysis. Of the net energy at the wellhead, 90 MJ, some energy has to be used to refine the oil and produce the by-products, leaving only 63 MJ.

Then, to transport the refined product to its point of use takes another 5 MJ leaving 58MJ. But of course, the infrastructure of roads and transport also requires energy for construction and maintenance before any of the refined oil can be used to power a vehicle to go from A to B. By this final stage there is only 20.5 MJ of the original 100MJ left.

We now have to take into account that depletion means that, at well heads around the world, the energy to produce energy is increasing. It takes energy to prospect for oil and gas and if the wells are smaller and more difficult to tap because, for example, they are out at sea under a huge amount of rock. Then it will take more energy to get the oil out in the first place.

So, instead of requiring 10MJ to produce the 100 MJ, let us imagine that it now takes 20 MJ. At the other end of the chain there would thus, only be 10.5MJ – a dramatic reduction in petroleum available to society.

The concept of Energy Return on Energy Invested is a ratio in physical quantities and it helps us to understand the flaw in neoclassical economic reasoning that draws on the idea of “the invisible hand” and the price mechanism. In simplistic economic thinking, markets should have no problems coping with depletion because a depleting resource will become more expensive. As its price rises, so the argument goes, the search for new sources of energy and substitutes will be incentivised while people and companies will adapt their purchases to rising prices. For example, if it is the price of energy that is rising then this will incentivise greater energy efficiency. Basta! Problem solved…

Except the problem is not solved… there are two flaws in the reasoning. Firstly, if the price of energy rises then so too does the cost of extracting energy – because energy is needed to extract energy. There will be gas and oil wells in favourable locations which are relatively cheap to tap, and the rising energy price will mean that the companies that own these wells will make a lot of money. This is what economists call “rent”. However, there will be some wells that are “marginal” because the underlying geology and location are not so favourable. If energy prices rise at these locations then rising energy prices will also put up the energy costs of production. Indeed, when the energy returned on energy invested falls as low as 1 to 1, the increase in the costs of energy inputs will cancel out any gains in revenues from higher priced energy outputs. As is clear when the EROI is less than one, energy extraction will not be profitable at any price.

Secondly, energy prices cannot in any case rise beyond a certain point without crashing the economy. The market for energy is not like the market for cans of baked beans. Energy is necessary for virtually every activity in the economy, for all production and all services. The price of energy is a big deal – energy prices going up and down have a similar significance to interest rates going up or down. There are “macro-economic” consequences for the level of activity in the economy. Thus, in the words of one analyst, Chris Skrebowski, there is a rise in the price of oil, gas and coal at which:

the cost of incremental supply exceeds the price economies can pay without destroying growth at a given point in time.(Skrebowski, 2011)

This kind of analysis has been further developed by Steven Kopits of the Douglas-Westwood consultancy. In a lecture to the Columbia University Center on Global Energy Policy in February of 2014, he explained how conventional “legacy” oil production peaked in 2005 and has not increased since. All the increase in oil production since that date has been from unconventional sources like the Alberta Tar sands, from shale oil or natural gas liquids that are a by-product of shale gas production. This is despite a massive increase in investment by the oil industry that has not yielded any increase in “conventional oil” production but has merely served to slow what would otherwise have been a faster decline.

More specifically, the total spend on upstream oil and gas exploration and production from 2005 to 2013 was $4 trillion. Of that amount, $3.5 trillion was spent on the “legacy” oil and gas system. This is a sum of money equal to the GDP of Germany. Despite all that investment in conventional oil production, it fell by 1 million barrels a day. By way of comparison, investment of $1.5 trillion between 1998 and 2005 yielded an increase in oil production of 8.6 million barrels a day.

Further to this, unfortunately for the oil industry, it has not been possible for oil prices to rise high enough to cover the increasing capital expenditure and operating costs. This is because high oil prices lead to recessionary conditions and slow or no growth in the economy. Because prices are not rising fast enough and costs are increasing, the costs of the independent oil majors are rising at 2 to 3% a year more than their revenues. Overall profitability is falling and some oil majors have had to borrow and sell assets to pay dividends. The next stage in this crisis has then been that investment projects are being cancelled – which suggests that oil production will soon begin to fall more rapidly.

The situation can be understood by reference to the nursery story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Goldilocks tries three kinds of porridge – some that is too hot, some that is too cold and some where the temperature is somewhere in the middle and therefore just right. The working assumption of mainstream economists is that there is an oil price that is not too high to undermine economic growth but also not too low so that the oil companies cannot cover their extraction costs – a price that is just right. The problem is that the Goldilocks situation no longer describes what is happening. Another story provides a better metaphor – that story is “Catch 22”. According to Kopits, the vast majority of the publically quoted oil majors require oil prices of over $100 a barrel to achieve positive cash flow and nearly a half need more than $120 a barrel.

But it is these oil prices that drag down the economies of the OECD economies. For several years, however, there have been some countries that have been able to afford the higher prices. The countries that have coped with the high energy prices best are the so called “emerging non OECD countries” and above all China. China has been bidding away an increasing part of the oil production and continuing to grow while higher energy prices have led to stagnation in the OECD economies. (Kopits, 2014)

Since the oil price is never “just right” it follows that it must oscillate between a price that is too high for macro-economic stability or too low to make it a paying proposition for high cost producers of oil (or gas) to invest in expanding production. In late 2014 we can see this drama at work. The faltering global economy has a lower demand for oil but OPEC, under the leadership of Saudi Arabia, have decided not to reduce oil production in order to keep oil prices from falling. On the contrary they want prices to fall. This is because they want to drive US shale oil and gas producers out of business.

The shale industry is described elsewhere in this book – suffice it here to refer to the claim of many commentators that the shale oil and gas boom in the United States is a bubble. A lot of money borrowed from Wall Street has been invested in the industry in anticipation of high profits but given the speed at which wells deplete it is doubtful whether many of the companies will be able to cover their debts. What has been possible so far has been largely because quantitative easing means capital for this industry has been made available with very low interest rates. There is a range of extraction production costs for different oil and gas wells and fields depending on the differing geology in different places. In some “sweet spots” the yield compared to cost is high but in a large number of cases the costs of production have been high and it is being said that it will be impossible to make money at the price to which oil has fallen ($65 in late 2014). This in turn could mean that companies funding their operations with junk bonds could find it difficult to service their debt. If interest rates rise the difficulty would become greater. Because the shale oil and gas sector has been so crucial to expansion in the USA then a large number of bankruptcies could have wider repercussions throughout the wider US and world economy.

 

Renewable Energy systems to the rescue?

Although it seems obvious that the depletion of fossil fuels can and should lead to the expansion of renewable energy systems like wind and solar power, we should beware of believing that renewable energy systems are a panacea that can rescue consumer society and its continued growth path. A very similar net energy analysis can, and ought to be done for the potential of renewable energy to match that already done for fossil fuels.

eroei-renewables

Before we get over-enthusiastic about the potential for renewable energy, we have to be aware of the need to subtract the energy costs particular to renewable energy systems from the gross energy that renewable energy systems generate. Not only must energy be used to manufacture and install the wind turbines, the solar panels and so on, but for a renewable based economy to be able to function, it must also devote energy to the creation of energy storage. This would allow for the fact that, when the wind and the sun are generating energy, is not necessarily the time when it is wanted.

Furthermore, the places where, for example, solar and wind potential are at this best – offshore for wind or in deserts without dust storms near the equator for solar – are usually a long distance from centres of use. Once again, a great deal of energy, materials and money must be spent getting the energy from where it is generated to where it will be used. For example, the “Energie Wende” (Energy Transformation) in Germany is involving huge effort, financial and energy costs, creating a transmission corridor to carry electricity from North Sea wind turbines down to Bavaria where the demand is greatest. Similarly, plans to develop concentrated solar power in North Africa for use in northern Europe which, if they ever come to anything, will require major investments in energy transmission. A further issue, connected to the requirement for energy storage, is the need for energy carriers which are not based on electricity. As before, conversions to put a current energy flux into a stored form, involve an energy cost.

Just as with fossil fuels, sources of renewable energy are of variable yield depending on local conditions: offshore wind is better than onshore for wind speed and wind reliability; there is more solar energy nearer the equator; some areas have less cloud cover; wave energy on the Atlantic coasts of the UK are much better than on other coastlines like those of the Irish Sea or North Sea. If we make a Ricardian assumption that best net yielding resources are developed first, then subsequent yields will be progressively inferior. In more conventional jargon – just as there are diminishing returns for fossil energy as fossil energy resources deplete, so there will eventually be diminishing returns for renewable energy systems. No doubt new technologies will partly buck this trend but the trend is there nonetheless. It is for reasons such as these that some energy experts are sceptical about the global potential of renewable energy to meet the energy demand of a growing economy. For example, two Australian academics at Monash University argue that world energy demand would grow to 1,000 EJ (EJ = 10 18 J) or more by 2050 if growth continued on the course of recent decades. Their analysis then looks at each renewable energy resource in turn, bearing in mind the energy costs of developing wind, solar, hydropower, biomass etc., taking into account diminishing returns, and bearing in mind too that climate change may limit the potential of renewable energy. (For example, river flow rates may change affecting hydropower). Their conclusion: “We nd that when the energy costs of energy are considered, it is unlikely that renewable energy can provide anywhere near a 1000 EJ by 2050.” (Moriarty & Honnery, 2012)

Now let’s put these insights back into a bigger picture of the future of the economy. In a presentation to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Peak Oil and Gas, Charles Hall showed a number of diagrams to express the consequences of depletion and rising energy costs of energy. I have taken just two of these diagrams here – comparing 1970 with what might be the case in 2030. (Hall C. , 2012) What they show is how the economy produces different sorts of stuff. Some of the production is consumer goods, either staples (essentials) or discretionary (luxury) goods. The rest of production is devoted to goods that are used in production i.e. investment goods in the form of machinery, equipment, buildings, roads, infrastracture and their maintenance. Some of these investment goods must take the form of energy acquisition equipment. As a society runs up against energy depletion and other problems, more and more production must go into energy acquisition, infrastructure and maintenance. Less and less is available for consumption, and particularly for discretionary consumption.

hall

Whether the economy would evolve in this way can be questioned. As we have seen, the increasing needs of the oil and gas sector implies a transfer of resources from elsewhere through rising prices. However, the rest of the economy cannot actually pay this extra without crashing. That is what the above diagrams show – a transfer of resources from discretionary consumption to investment in energy infrastructure. But such a transfer would be crushing for the other sectors and their decline would likely drag down the whole economy.

Over the last few years, central banks have had a policy of quantitative easing to try to keep interest rates low. The economy cannot pay high energy prices AND high interest rates so, in effect, the policy has been to try to bring down interest rates as low as possible to counter the stagnation. However, this has not really created production growth, it has instead created a succession of asset price bubbles. The underlying trend continues to be one of stagnation, decline and crisis and it will get a lot worse when oil production starts to fall more rapidly as a result of investment cut backs. The severity of the recessions may be variable in different countries because competitive strength in this model goes to those countries where energy is used most efficiently and which can afford to pay somewhat higher prices for energy. Such countries are likely to do better but will not escape the general decline if they stay wedded to the conventional growth model. Whatever the variability, this is still a dead end and, at some point, people will see that entirely different ways of thinking about economy and ecology are needed – unless they get drawn into conflicts and wars over energy by psychopathic policy idiots. There is no way out of the Catch 22 within the growth economy model. That’s why degrowth is needed.

Further ideas can be extrapolated from Hall’s way of presenting the end of the road for the growth economy. The only real option as a source for extra resources to be ploughed into changing the energy sector is from what Hall calls “discretionary consumption” aka luxury consumption. It would not be possible to take from “staples” without undermining the ability of ordinary people to survive day to day. Implicit here is a social justice agenda for the post growth – post carbon economy. Transferring resources out of the luxury consumption of the rich is a necessary part of the process of finding the wherewithal for energy conservation work and for developing renewable energy resources. These will be expensive and the resources cannot come from anywhere else than out of the consumption of the rich. It should be remembered too that the problems of depletion do not just apply to fossil energy extraction coal, oil and gas) but apply across all forms of mineral extraction. All minerals are depleted by use and that means the grade or ore declines over time. Projecting the consequences into the future ought to frighten the growth enthusiasts. To take in how industrial production can hit a brick wall of steeply rising costs, consider the following graph which shows the declining quality of ore grades mined in Australia.

mining-australia

As ores deplete there is a deterioration of ore grades. That means that more rock has to be shifted and processed to refine and extract the desired raw material, requiring more energy and leaving more wastes. This is occurring in parallel to the depletion in energy sources which means that more energy has to be used to extract a given quantity of energy and therefore, in turn, to extract from a given quantity of ore. Thus, the energy requirements to extract energy are rising at the very same time as the amount of energy required to extract given quantities of minerals are rising. More energy is needed just at the time that energy is itself becoming more expensive.

Now, on top of that, add to the picture the growing demand for minerals and materials if the economy is to grow.

At least there has been a recognition and acknowledgement in recent years that environmental problems exist. The problem is now somewhat different – the problem is the incredibly naive faith that markets and technology can solve all problems and keep on going. The main criticism of the limits to growth study was the claim that problems would be anticipated in forward markets and would then be made the subject of high tech innovation. In the next chapter, the destructive effects of these innovations are examined in more depth.

 

 

May 182017
 
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Pablo Picasso Bull plates I-XI 1945

 

Nicole Foss has completed a huge tour de force with her update of the Automatic Earth Primer Guide. The first update since 2013 is now more like a Primer Library, with close to 160 articles and videos published over the past -almost- 10 years, and Nicole’s words to guide you through it. Here’s Nicole:

 

 

The Automatic Earth (TAE) has existed for almost ten years now. That is nearly ten years of exploring and describing the biggest possible big picture of our present predicament. The intention of this post is to gather all of our most fundamental articles in one place, so that readers can access our worldview in its most comprehensive form. For new readers, this is the place to start. The articles are roughly organised into topics, although there is often considerable overlap.

We are reaching limits to growth in so many ways at the same time, but it is not enough to understand which are the limiting factors, but also what time frame each particular subset of reality operates over, and therefore which is the key driver at what time. We can think of the next century as a race of hurdles we need to clear. We need to know how to prepare for each as it approaches, as we need to clear each one in order to be able to stay in the race.

TAE is known primarily as a finance site because finance has the shortest time frame of all. So much of finance exists in a virtual world in which changes can unfold very quickly. There are those who assume that changes in a virtual system can happen without major impact, but this assumption is dangerously misguided. Finance is the global operating system – the interface between ourselves, our institutions and our resource base. When the operating system crashes, nothing much will work until the system is rebooted. The next few years will see that crash and reboot. As financial contraction is set to occur first, finance will be the primary driver to the downside for the next several years. After that, we will be dealing with energy crisis, other resource limits, limitations of carrying capacity and increasing geopolitical ramifications.

The global financial system is rapidly approaching a Minsky Moment:

“A Minsky moment is a sudden major collapse of asset values which is part of the credit cycle or business cycle. Such moments occur because long periods of prosperity and increasing value of investments lead to increasing speculation using borrowed money. The spiraling debt incurred in financing speculative investments leads to cash flow problems for investors. The cash generated by their assets is no longer sufficient to pay off the debt they took on to acquire them.

Losses on such speculative assets prompt lenders to call in their loans. This is likely to lead to a collapse of asset values. Meanwhile, the over-indebted investors are forced to sell even their less-speculative positions to make good on their loans. However, at this point no counterparty can be found to bid at the high asking prices previously quoted. This starts a major sell-off, leading to a sudden and precipitous collapse in market-clearing asset prices, a sharp drop in market liquidity, and a severe demand for cash.”

This is the inevitable result of decades of ponzi finance, as our credit bubble expanded relentlessly, leaving us today with a giant pile of intertwined human promises which cannot be kept. Bubbles create, and rely on, building stacks of IOUs ever more removed from any basis in underlying real wealth. When the bubble finally implodes, the value of those promises disappears as it becomes obvious they will not be kept. Bust follows boom, as it has done throughout human history. The ensuing Great Collateral Grab will reveal just how historically under-collateralized our supposed prosperity has become. Very few of the myriad claims to underlying real wealth can actually be met, leaving the excess claims to be exposed as empty promises. These are destined to be rapidly and messily extinguished in a deflationary implosion.

While we cannot tell you exactly when the bust will unfold in specific locations, we can see that it is already well underway in some parts of the world, notably the European periphery. Given that preparation takes time, and that one cannot be late, now is the time to prepare, whether one thinks the Great Collateral Grab will manifest close to home next month or next year. Those who are not prepared risk losing everything, very much including their freedom of action to address subsequent challenges as they arise. It would be a tragedy to fall at the first hurdle, and then be at the mercy of whatever fate has to throw at you thereafter. The Automatic Earth has been covering finance, market psychology and the consequences of excess credit and debt since our inception, providing readers with the tools to navigate a major financial accident.

 

Ponzi Finance

Nicole: From the Top of the Great Pyramid
Nicole: The Infinite Elasticity of Credit
Nicole: Look Back, Look Forward, Look Down. Way Down
Nicole: Ragnarok – Iceland and the Doom of the Gods
Ilargi: Iceland To Take Back The Power To Create Money
Ilargi: The Only Thing That Grows Is Debt
Ilargi: Central Banks Are Crack Dealers and Faith Healers
Nicole: Promises, Promises … Detroit, Pensions, Bondholders And Super-Priority Derivatives
Nicole: Where the Rubber Meets the Road in America
Ilargi: How Our Aversion To Change Leads Us Into Danger
Ilargi: Debt In The Time Of Wall Street
Ilargi: The Contractionary Vortex Of The Lumpen Proletariat
Ilargi: Hornswoggled Absquatulation

 


Fred Stein Evening, Paris 1934

 

The Velocity of Money and Deflation

Nicole: The Resurgence of Risk
Nicole: Inflation Deflated
Nicole: The Unbearable Mightiness of Deflation
Nicole: Debunking Gonzalo Lira and Hyperinflation
Nicole: Dollar-Denominated Debt Deflation
Nicole: Deflation Revisited: The Studio Version
Nicole: Stoneleigh Takes on John Williams: Deflation It Is
Ilargi: US Hyperinflation is a Myth
Ilargi: Everything’s Deflating And Nobody Seems To Notice
Ilargi: The Velocity of the American Consumer
Ilargi: Deflation, Debt and Gravity
Ilargi: Debt, Propaganda And Now Deflation
Ilargi: The Revenge Of A Government On Its People

 

Markets and Psychology

Nicole: Markets and the Lemming Factor
Ilargi: You Are Not an Investor
Nicole: Over the Edge Lies Fear
Nicole: Capital Flight, Capital Controls and Capital Fear
Nicole: The Future Belongs to the Adaptable
Nicole: A Future Discounted
Ashvin Pandurangi: A Glimpse Into the Stubborn Psychology of 'Fish'
Ashvin Pandurangi: A Glimpse Into the Self-Destructive Psychology of 'Sharks'
Ilargi: Institutional Fish
Ilargi: Optimism Bias: What Keeps Us Alive Today Will Kill Us Tomorrow
Nicole: Volatility and Sleep-Walking Markets

 

Real Estate

Ilargi: Our Economies Run On Housing Bubbles
Nicole: Welcome to the Gingerbread Hotel
Nicole: Bubble Case Studies: Ireland and Canada
Ilargi: Don’t Buy A Home: You’ll Get Burned

 


Berenice Abbott Murray Hill Hotel, New York 1937

 

Metals, Currencies, Interest Rates, and the War on Cash

Nicole: Gold – Follow the Yellow Brick Road?
Nicole: A Golden Double-Edged Sword
Ilargi: Square Holes and Currency Pegs
Nicole: The Special Relativity of Currencies
Nicole: Negative Interest Rates and the War on Cash
Ilargi: This Is Why The Euro Is Finished
Ilargi: The Broken Model Of The Eurozone
Ilargi: Central Banks Upside Down
Ilargi: The Only Man In Europe Who Makes Any Sense

 

China’s Epic Bubble

Nicole: China And The New World Disorder
Ilargi: Meet China’s New Leader: Pon Zi
Ilargi: China Relies On Property Bubbles To Prop Up GDP
Ilargi: Deflation Is Blowing In On An Eastern Trade Wind
Ilargi: China: A 5-Year Plan And 50 Million Jobs Lost
Ilargi: The Great Fall Of China Started At Least 4 Years Ago
Ilargi: Time To Get Real About China
Ilargi: Where Is China On The Map Exactly?

 

Commodities, Trade and Geopolitics

Nicole: Et tu, Commodities?
Nicole: Commodities and Deflation: A Response to Chris Martenson
Nicole: Then and Now: Sunshine and Eclipse
Nicole: The Rise and Fall of Trade
Nicole: The Death of Democracy in a Byzantine Labyrinth
Nicole: The Imperial Eurozone (With all That Implies)
Ilargi: The Troika And The Five Families
Ilargi: Globalization Is Dead, But The Idea Is Not
Nicole: Entropy and Empire
Ilargi: There’s Trouble Brewing In Middle Earth

 


Giotto Legend of St Francis, Exorcism of the Demons at Arezzo c.1297-1299

 

The second limiting factor is likely to be energy, although this may vary with location, given that energy sources are not evenly distributed. Changes in supply and demand for energy are grounded in the real world, albeit in a highly financialized way, hence they unfold over a longer time frame than virtual finance. Over-financializing a sector of the real economy leaves it subject to the swings of boom and bust, or bubbles and their aftermath, but the changes in physical systems typically play out over months to years rather than days to weeks. 

Financial crisis can be expected to deprive people of purchasing power, quickly and comprehensively, thereby depressing demand substantially (given that demand is not what one wants, but what one can pay for). Commodity prices fall under such circumstances, and they can be expected to fall more quickly than the cost of production, leaving margins squeezed and both physical and financial risk rising sharply. This would deter investment for a substantial period of time. As a financial reboot begins to deliver economic recovery some years down the line, the economy can expect to hit a hard energy supply ceiling as a result. Financial crisis initially buys us time in the coming world of hard energy limits, but at the expense of worsening the energy crisis in the longer term.

Energy is the master resource – the capacity to do work. Our modern society is the result of the enormous energy subsidy we have enjoyed in the form of fossil fuels, specifically fossil fuels with a very high energy profit ratio (EROEI). Energy surplus drove expansion, intensification, and the development of socioeconomic complexity, but now we stand on the edge of the net energy cliff. The surplus energy, beyond that which has to be reinvested in future energy production, is rapidly diminishing. We would have to greatly increase gross production to make up for reduced energy profit ratio, but production is flat to falling so this is no longer an option. As both gross production and the energy profit ratio fall, the net energy available for all society’s other purposes will fall even more quickly than gross production declines would suggest. Every society rests on a minimum energy profit ratio. The implication of falling below that minimum for industrial society, as we are now poised to do, is that society will be forced to simplify.

A plethora of energy fantasies is making the rounds at the moment. Whether based on unconventional oil and gas or renewables (that are not actually renewable), these are stories we tell ourselves in order to deny that we are facing any kind of future energy scarcity, or that supply could be in any way a concern. They are an attempt to maintain the fiction that our society can continue in its current form, or even increase in complexity. This is a vain attempt to deny the existence of non-negotiable limits to growth. The touted alternatives are not energy sources for our current society, because low EROEI energy sources cannot sustain a society complex enough to produce them.

We are poised to throw away what remains of our conventional energy inheritance chasing an impossible dream of perpetual energy riches, because doing so will be profitable for the few in the short term, and virtually no one is taking a genuine long term view. We will make the transition to a lower energy society much more difficult than it need have been. At The Automatic Earth we have covered these issues extensively, pointing particularly to the importance of net energy, or energy profit ratios, for alternative supplies. We have also addressed the intersections of energy and finance.

 

Energy, EROEI, Finance and ‘Above Ground Factors’

Nicole: Energy, Finance and Hegemonic Power
Ilargi: Cheap Oil A Boon For The Economy? Think Again
Ilargi: We’re Not In Kansas Anymore
Ilargi: Not Nearly Enough Growth To Keep Growing
Ilargi: Why The Global Economy Will Disintegrate Rapidly
Ilargi: The Price Of Oil Exposes The True State Of The Economy
Ilargi: More Than A Quantum Of Fragility
Ilargi: (Re-)Covering Oil and War
Nicole: Oil, Credit and the Velocity of Money Revisited
Nicole: Jeff Rubin and Oil Prices Revisited
Charlie Hall: Peak Wealth and Peak Energy
Ken Latta: When Was America’s Peak Wealth?
Ken Latta: Go Long Chain Makers
Euan Mearns: The Peak Oil Paradox – Revisited
Ilargi: At Last The ‘Experts’ Wake Up To Oil
Ilargi: Oil, Power and Psychopaths
Nicole: A Mackenzie Valley Pipe-Dream?

 

Unconventional Oil and Gas

Nicole: Get Ready for the North American Gas Shock
Nicole: Shale Gas Reality Begins to Dawn
Nicole: Unconventional Oil is NOT a Game Changer
Nicole: Peak Oil: A (Short) Dialogue With George Monbiot
Nicole: Fracking Our Future
Nicole: The Second UK Dash for Gas: A Faustian Bargain
Ilargi: Jobs, Shale, Debt and Minsky
Nicole (video): Sucking Beer Out Of The Carpet: Nicole Foss At The Great Debate in Melbourne
Ilargi: Shale Is A Pipedream Sold To Greater Fools
Ilargi: The Darker Shades Of Shale
Ilargi: Debt and Energy, Shale and the Arctic
Ilargi: London Is Fracking, And I Live By The River
Ilargi: And On The Seventh Day God Shorted His People
Ilargi: The Oil Market Actually Works, And That Hurts
Ilargi: Drilling Our Way Into Oblivion
Ilargi: Who’s Ready For $30 Oil?
Ilargi: US Shale And The Slippery Slopes Of The Law

 

Electricity and Renewables

Nicole: Renewable Energy: The Vision and a Dose of Reality
Nicole: India Power Outage: The Shape of Things to Come
Nicole: Smart Metering and Smarter Metering
Nicole: Renewable Power? Not in Your Lifetime
Nicole: A Green Energy Revolution?
Nicole: The Receding Horizons of Renewable Energy
Euan Mearns: Broken Energy Markets and the Downside of Hubbert’s Peak

 


Underwood&Underwood Chicago framed by Gothic stonework high in the Tribune Tower 1952

 

In the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster, TAE provided coverage of the developing catastrophe, drawing on an earlier academic background in nuclear safety. It will be many years before the true impact of Fukushima is known, both because health impacts take time to be demonstrable and because the radiation releases are not over. The destroyed reactors continue to leak radiation into the environment, and are likely to do so for the foreseeable future. The vulnerability of the site to additional seismic activity is substantial, and the potential for further radiation releases as a result is similarly large. The disaster is therefore far worse than it first appeared to be. The number of people in harms way, for whom no evacuation is realistic despite the risk, is huge, and the health impacts will prove to be tragic, particularly for the young.

 

Fukushima and Nuclear Safety

Nicole: How Black is the Japanese Nuclear Swan?
Nicole: The Fukushima Fallout Files
Nicole: Fukushima: Review of an INES class 7 Accident
Nicole: Fukushima: Fallacies, Fallout, Fundamentals and Fear
Nicole: Welcome to the Atomic Village

 

The Automatic Earth takes a broad view of the context in which finance, energy and resources operate, looking at issues of how society functions at a macro level. Context is vital to understanding the bigger picture, particularly human context as it relates to the critical factor of scale and the emergent properties that flow from it. We have continually emphasised the importance of the trust horizon; in determining what functions at what time, and what kind of social milieu we can expect as matters evolve.

Expansions are built upon the optimistic side of human nature and tend to lead to greater inclusiveness and recognition of common humanity over time. Higher levels of political aggregation, and more complex webs of trading relationships, come into being and achieve popular support thanks to the benefits they confer. In contrast, contractions tend to reveal, and be driven by, the darker and more pessimistic side of human collective psychology. They are social and are political as well as economic. In both directions, collective attitudes can create their own self-fulfilling prophecies at the societal level.

Trust determines effective organisational scale, extending political legitimacy to higher levels of political organisation during expansions and withdrawing it during periods of contraction, leaving political entities beyond the trust horizon. Where popular legitimacy is withdrawn, organisational effectiveness is substantially undermined, and much additional effort may go into maintaining control at that scale through surveillance and coercion.

The effort is destined to fail over the longer term, and smaller scale forms of organisation, still within the trust horizon, may come to hold much greater significance. The key to effective action is to know at what scale to operate at any given time. As we have said before, while one cannot control the large scale waves of expansion and contraction that unfold over decades or centuries, understanding where a given society finds itself within that wave structure can allow people and their communities to surf those waves.

 

Scale and Society

Nicole: Scale Matters
Nicole: Economics and the Nature of Political Crisis
Nicole: Fractal Adaptive Cycles in Natural and Human Systems
Nicole: Entropy and Empire
Nicole: The Storm Surge of Decentralization
Ilargi: When Centralization Scales Beyond Our Control
Ilargi: London Bridge is (Broken) Down
Ilargi: The Great Divide
Ilargi: Quote of the Year. And The Next
Nicole: Corruption, Culpability and Short-Termism
Ilargi: The Value of Wealth
Ilargi: The Most Destructive Generation Ever
Ilargi: Ain’t Nobody Like To Be Alone

 

Trust and the Psychology of Contraction

Nicole: Beyond the Trust Horizon
Nicole: Bubbles and the Titanic Betrayal of Public Trust
Ilargi: Why There Is Trump
Ilargi: Who’s Really The Fascist?
Ilargi: Ungovernability
Ilargi: Comey and the End of Conversation
Ilargi: Eurodystopia: A Future Divided
Nicole: War in the Labour Markets
Nicole: An Unstable Tower of Breaking Promises
Ilargi: Libor was a criminal conspiracy from the start

 

Affluence, Poverty and Debt and Insurance

Nicole: Trickles, Floods and the Escalating Consequences of Debt
Nicole: Crashing the Operating System: Liquidity Crunch in Practice
Ilargi: The Impossible and the Inevitable
Nicole: The View From the Bottom of the Pyramid
Ilargi: The Lord of More
Ilargi: The Last of the Affluent, the Carefree and the Innocent
Ilargi: The Worth of the Earth
Nicole: Risk Management And (The Illusion Of) Insurance

 


Fred Stein Streetcorner, Paris 1930s

 

Finally, TAE has provided some initial guidance as to how to position one’s self, family, friends and community so as to reduce vulnerability to system shocks and increase resilience. The idea is to reduce the range of dependencies on the large scale, centralised life-support systems that characterise modernity, and also to reduce dependency on the solvency of middle men. The centralised systems we take so much for granted are very likely to be much less reliable in the future. For a long time we have uploaded responsibility to larger scale organisational entities, but this has led to a dangerous level of complacency.

It is now time to reclaim responsibility for our own future by seeking to understand our predicament and take local control of efforts to mitigate its effects. While we cannot prevent a bubble from bursting once it has been blown, we can make a substantial difference to how widely and deeply the impact is felt. The goal is to provide a sufficient cushion of basic essentials to allow as many people as possible to preserve the luxury of the longer term view, rather than be pitched into a state of short term crisis management. In doing so we can hope to minimise the scale of the human over-reaction to events beyond our control. In the longer term, we need to position ourselves to reboot the system into something simpler, more functional and less extractive of the natural capital upon which we and subsequent generations depend.

 

Solution Space, Preparation and Food Security

Nicole: The Boundaries and Future of Solution Space
Nicole: Facing the Future – Mitigating a Liquidity Crunch
Nicole: 40 Ways to Lose Your Future
Nicole: How to Build a Lifeboat
Nelson Lebo: Resilience is The New Black
Nelson Lebo: What Resilience Is Not
Nicole: Sandy: Lessons From the Wake of the Storm
Nicole: Crash on Demand? – A Response to David Holmgren
Nicole: Finance and Food Insecurity
Nicole: Physical Limits to Food Security – Water and Climate
Ilargi: Basic Income in The Time of Crisis
Nelson Lebo: (Really) Alternative Banking Systems
Nicole (video): Interview Nicole Foss for ‘A Simpler Way: Crisis as Opportunity’
Happen Films: A Simpler Way: Crisis as Opportunity (full video)

 

 

May 142017
 
 May 14, 2017  Posted by at 9:39 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Henri Matisse Sorrow of the King 1952

 

US Says Trump ‘Can’t Imagine Russia Pleased’ With North Korea Missile (R.)
Macron Takes Office As French President (AFP)
Tech Companies Have Become Monopolies, Drag On Economic Growth (AT)
‘We Can’t Do Brexit With Half The Brexiteers Outside The Tent’ (G.)
Schaeuble Says Financial Transfers In Euro Zone Are Necessary (R.)
Ireland Is World’s Fourth-Largest Shadow Banking Hub (ITimes)
London Home Raffled For £3.75m Bought With Right-to-Buy in 2014 For £360k (G.)
Media Blackout On The DNC Lawsuit Proves That It Is Nuclear (Med.)
Patriotism And Conscience: The Edward Snowden Affair (LibR)
Worried About ‘Wannacry’? You Should Have Listened To Julian Assange (Duran)
Steve Keen Defines A Production Function Based On Energy (Res.)
The Rise Of Rentiers And The Destruction Of The Middle Class (Ev)
The Economic School You’ve Never Heard Of (EpT)
The Future of Work, Robotization, and Capitalism’s Useless Jobs (Bregman)
US Much Women More Likely To Die In Childbirth Than 25 Years Ago (ProP)
Africa’s New Slave Trade (G.)

 

 

A more or less subtle way of trying to drag Putin into the situation.

US Says Trump ‘Can’t Imagine Russia Pleased’ With North Korea Missile (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump “cannot imagine Russia is pleased” with North Korea’s latest missile test on Sunday, as it landed closer to Russia than to Japan, the White House said in a statement. “With the missile impacting so close to Russian soil – in fact, closer to Russia than to Japan – the President cannot imagine that Russia is pleased,” the White House said in its statement. The launch served as a call for all nations to implement stronger sanctions against reclusive North Korea, the White House added.

Read more …

Macron takes office in a strange kind of void. On Monday he will appoint a prime minister, and on Tuesday a cabinet. But his party has zero seats in parliament, so what can they do? Whether they can win a majority in the June elections is very much up for grabs. They may wind up needing -and using- support from the Socialist party that was burned down in the presidential elections.

Macron Takes Office As French President (AFP)

Emmanuel Macron becomes France’s youngest ever president on Sunday, taking over from Socialist Francois Hollande in a solemn ceremony. [..] The new president faces a host of daunting challenges including tackling stubbornly high unemployment, fighting Islamist-inspired violence and uniting a deeply divided country. Socialist Hollande’s five years in power were plagued by a sluggish economy and bloody terror attacks that killed more than 230 people and he leaves office after a single term. The 64-year-old launched Macron’s political career, plucking him from the world of investment banking to be an advisor and then his economy minister. “I am not handing over power to a political opponent, it’s far simpler,” Hollande said on Thursday.

Macron’s first week will be busy. On Monday, he is expected to reveal the closely-guarded name of his prime minister, before flying to Berlin to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel. It is virtually a rite of passage for French leaders to make their first European trip to meet the leader of the other half of the so-called “motor” of the EU. Pro-EU Macron wants to push for closer cooperation to help the bloc overcome the imminent departure of Britain, another of its most powerful members. He intends to press for the creation of a parliament and budget for the eurozone. Merkel welcomed Macron’s decisive 32-point victory over Le Pen, saying he carried “the hopes of millions of French people and also many in Germany and across Europe”. In June, Macron faces what the French media are calling a “third round of the presidential election” when the country elects a new parliament in a two-round vote. The new president needs an outright majority to be able to enact his ambitious reform agenda.

Read more …

A huge global problem.

Tech Companies Have Become Monopolies, Drag On Economic Growth (AT)

Once upon a time the US stock market had disruptive challengers changing the economic landscape – Apple, Google, Cisco, Intel and a half dozen other upstarts. The same companies are there, but they have morphed from the equivalent of Luke Skywalker to Jabba the Hut. Tech companies used to be aggressive growth stocks, the kind that young people bought for long-range gain, while retirees stuck to less-volatile instruments like utility stocks. The world officially went topsy-turvy this year, when the volatility of tech stocks fell below the volatility of utility stocks. The graph shows the implied volatility of options on the S&P tech sector ETF (ticker XLK) vs. the implied volatility of options on the S&P utilities sector (XLU). Options on volatile stocks cost more than options on stable stocks, because volatility increases the likelihood of a payout.

Implied volatility is backed out of the prices of traded options, and reflects investor expectations about future stability. Why would investors expect less volatility from tech stocks than from utilities? Because they are utilities, that is, utilities with neither debt nor regulation. Power, water and sewer companies charge a stable fee to a predictable base of customers. They borrow heavily to build facilities, and are subject to public regulation, such that changes in interest rates and public policy can affect their value. Historically, though, they were widow-and-orphan stocks, the least risky sector of the equity market. In the disruptive days of the 1990s tech boom, the volatility of the S&P technology subsector was two to three times the VIX index. Today the implied volatility of XLK, the tech sector ETF, is actually lower than the VIX. The tech companies have brought down the overall level of market volatility.

Tech companies now sit atop a virtual toll booth and impose a charge on a myriad of transactions. Like water and power companies, they have monopolies, although these monopolies are driven by the price of infrastructure and the network effect. Google has the Internet-advertising monopoly. Microsoft has the personal computer software monopoly. Amazon has the Internet sales monopoly. Facebook has the targeted advertising monopoly. And Apple has the oddest monopoly of all: it is the vehicle by which customers assert their individuality by overpaying the largest-capitalization company in the world. [..] They’re all tech companies, and each dominates its corner of the industry: Google has an 88% market share in search advertising, Facebook (and its subsidiaries Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger) owns 77% of mobile social traffic and Amazon has a 74% share in the e-book market. In classic economic terms, all three are monopolies.”

Read more …

“One Brexiter said: “There is no way to unpick Brexit that doesn’t involve civil war. “

Problem 1: Rich people trying to buy seats.

Problem 2: Both left and right across Europe want to “Love Europe Not the EU”. But the EU rules.

‘We Can’t Do Brexit With Half The Brexiteers Outside The Tent’ (G.)

As an investor in a Premier League football club and a collector of steam locomotives, Jeremy Hosking is used to expensive pursuits. The multimillionaire asset manager is under no illusions that his offer to fund well in excess of 100 local campaigns to unseat pro-Remain MPs could prove to be another. “This is going to stretch the bank’s ability to send out cheque books in a timely manner,” he says. “There is going to be a lot of ink involved.” Hosking has already spent in pursuit of securing Britain’s departure from the European Union shows his dedication to the cause. He gave about £1.7m to Vote Leave and even set up his own poster campaign, Brexit Express, as the referendum approached. Now the Crystal Palace co-owner wants to safeguard the result by funding Tory candidates trying to gain seats where most voters backed Brexit. He will do so through his Brexit Express campaign.

“For me, it is a long-running issue about sovereignty and the transfer of power,” he says. “It wouldn’t matter so much if the EU was constitutionalised properly, but one of the great things about being a democracy is we can boot the government out every five years, but we couldn’t boot out the EU. “A lot of the Remainers I know were really reformers – they held their nose and voted Remain in much the same way we are suggesting that traditional Labour voters should on this occasion hold their nose and vote Tory.” Hosking’s project is testing perhaps the most pertinent question posed by this election. Will the political fissure created by the EU referendum convince voters to abandon their traditional affiliations and back a party that more closely represents their views on Brexit?

The candidates eligible for his money must meet two simple tests. They must be a Conservative candidate trying to unseat an opposition MP that backed Remain. They must also be contesting a seat where most voters are believed to have voted in favour of Brexit. His team has come up with a list of 138 constituencies that they think fit the bill. All will be eligible for donations of up to £5,000 each. While there are some Lib Dems, SNP and Plaid Cymru-held seats on the list, the campaign is aimed overwhelmingly at Tories trying to win Labour-held seats in the north and the Midlands. There is a string of such seats that the Tories have a chance of winning. They include Coventry South, Bury South, Dewsbury, Gedling, Halifax and Bishop Auckland – a seat that has returned a Labour MP since 1935.

Hosking says that while Theresa May was not his “number one choice” as leader, he believes she is handling the Brexit issue well so far. He also believes that a cohort of Tory MPs from Brexit-supporting Labour seats could be key in safeguarding the referendum result and prevent any “backsliding”. “We need all the Brexiteers on the same side,” he says. “We can’t do this Brexit thing with half the Brexiteers outside the tent. “The thinking is, it would be strange if the Conservative party was dusting off inveterate Remainers to fight these seats… the Conservative party is more Brexit-orientated than it was a year ago.” Unlike some Brexiteers, Hosking knows there could be some bumpy times ahead. “We need the best team and you need the army fully equipped and as big as possible,” he says.

Read more …

He contradicts mis own words with impunity and of course doesn’t get called on it.

Schaeuble Says Financial Transfers In Euro Zone Are Necessary (R.)

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble told a magazine he shared French president-elect Emmanuel Macron’s view that financial transfers from richer to poorer states are necessary within the euro zone. Macron, who is due to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Monday, has promised to press ahead with closer European integration. Asked whether Macron was right in believing Europe and the euro zone need a “transfer union”, Schaeuble told Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine: “You can’t build a community of states of varying strengths without a certain balance.” “That’s reflected in the European budget and bailout programmes, for example, and that’s why there are net contributors and net recipients in Europe. A union can’t exist if the stronger members don’t vouch for the weaker ones,” he added in an interview to be published Saturday.

Some conservatives around Merkel worry the euro zone could develop into a “transfer union” in which Germany is asked to pay for struggling states that resist reforms. Schaeuble, a veteran member of Merkel’s party, said if countries wanted to make Europe stronger, it was necessary for each individual country to become stronger first – including France and Italy but also Germany. Schaeuble also signaled he would not object if the European Commission gave its blessing to possible French budget deficits: “It’s up to the European Commission to design the budget rules.” He added: “The German government and I have never objected to a ruling of the Commission on how the deficits of countries like France should be judged.” The European Commission estimates France’s deficit will be 3% of GDP this year, from 2.9% previously forecast, and 3.2% in 2018 from the previous forecast of 3.1%. EU rules say countries should keep their deficits below 3% of GDP.

Read more …

Not very useful without solid China data.

Ireland Is World’s Fourth-Largest Shadow Banking Hub (ITimes)

Ireland is home to the world’s fourth-largest “shadow banking” industry, with $2.2 trillion of nonbanking financial assets based in funds, special-purpose vehicles and other little-understood entities in Dublin’s IFSC, according to a report published on Tuesday. The figure equates to almost eight times the size of the Irish economy, as measured by GDP. The US has the world’s largest shadow-banking sector, with $13.8 trillion of assets as of 2015, according to the latest annual review of the sector by the Basel-based Financial Stability Board (FSB) as it searches for potential risks in the increasingly complex world of international finance. The Cayman Islands, which has taken part in the FSB study for first time, is the second-largest, at $4.3 trillion, followed by Japan, at $3.2 trillion.

The G20 major industrialised and emerging economies gave the FSB the job in 2010 of keeping track of the expanding world of financial activities that take place outside of mainstream banks, given the role that the sector played in the 2008 global financial crisis. The key concern is that, as central banks have clamped down on excessive risk-taking in the banking sector in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, lenders might extend their use of shadow banking to escape the claws of regulators. “Market-based finance provides important diversification of the founding resources which support the real economy,” said Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England and chairman of the FSB on the release of the latest report.

[..] The FSB said China, which ranked third with Ireland in the last report, published in late 2015, didn’t file data on time to be included in its narrow definition of shadow-banking activities that pose potential risks to global finance. Luxembourg, Ireland’s main rival in nonbanking financial activities in Europe, has not yet taken part in the annual survey. Nonbank financing provides a valuable alternative to bank funding and helps support economic activity, according to the FSB, adding that it can provide a “welcome” alternative supply of credit and provides “healthy competition for banks”.

Read more …

Where would we be without bubbles?

London Home Raffled For £3.75m Bought With Right-to-Buy in 2014 For £360k (G.)

A homeowner who tried to raise £3.75m by raffling her home online bought the property three years ago using the controversial right-to-buy scheme, and paid just £360,000. Renu Qadri, who lives in the house in Hardy Road, in south east London’s Blackheath, launched an online raffle on May 7. The dedicated website offered tickets for £5 each, with payments via Paypal. The stated aim was to sell 750,000 tickets, netting her £3.75m. A ticket picked at random would then win the property, including some of the furniture and £12,000 of “lead crystal chandeliers”. The raffle was halted on Thursday after advice from the homeowner’s local council, Greenwich, over “potential” breaches of Gambling Commission rules.

The website was taken down and replaced with a statement that said: “Ticket holders, please be advised that unfortunately we have been contacted by the local council informing us we will no longer be able to continue with this draw. Therefore we will be closing the site and all tickets holders will receive a full refund within 28 days. The five-bedroom flat is still on the market, however, and listed on property portal Rightmove for £1.25m. The owner, who is believed to have lived there since 2002, bought the property under the Government’s right-to-buy scheme three years ago, according to documents lodged with the Land Registry. It is understood that at the time it was valued at £460,000. Land Registry records confirm, however, that the price paid was £360,000, indicating the buyers benefited from a £100,000 right-to-buy discount. This is just under the maximum discount available through the scheme, which in London is currently £104,900.

Read more …

The media are too busy attacking Trump.

Media Blackout On The DNC Lawsuit Proves That It Is Nuclear (Med.)

I had the privilege of interviewing my newest personal hero yesterday, attorney Elizabeth Lee Beck, about her legal team’s fraud case against the Democratic National Committee. One of the many useful insights that this straight-shooting mom on fire brought to light during our conversation was her story about a time she reached out to New York Times reporter Michael Barbaro to get some help cracking through the deep, dark media blackout on this extremely important case. Barbaro had previously interviewed Beck and featured her in a front-page story not long ago, so she had every reason to try and contact him. What happened next? “The little piss head blocks me,” Beck said. Why is a journalist for the New York Times blocking a potential source from contacting him? Why is the mainstream media refusing to go anywhere near a legal case that has heavy implications for the future of American democracy?

You already know the answer to this deep down, whether you’re the kind of person who turns and faces reality or the kind of person who dissociates from reality at all costs while watching Samantha Bee and chugging cough syrup on the sofa. The function of the mass media is not to inform the American public of important things that are happening in their country, it is to turn attention away from the important things that are happening in their country and to keep them sleepy and compliant. The DNC lawsuit is one of the greatest threats to America’s power establishment right now, but only if people know about it. If the corporate media were to advance this story with even a fraction of the intensity that they’re advancing their xenophobic anti-Russia nonsense, they’d start waking up the sleeping masses to the fact that there is nothing resembling democracy happening in America at all.

And the DNC’s own lawyers have indeed made it abundantly clear to anyone who’s been listening that there is no democracy in America. You cannot make the case that you are not required to provide real primary elections in a rigidly-enforced two-party system and still say that democracy is happening to any extent within your nation. Being forced to choose between two establishment-selected corporatists is not democracy, and this revolutionary lawsuit has been showing in no uncertain terms that this is exactly what is happening both in practice and in theory. In order to say that there is any sort of democratic process in America at all, there would have to either be a way to run viable independent and third-party candidates, or the people would have to be able to determine who the candidates will be for the two parties that they are permitted to choose from. Currently neither of those things is happening.

Read more …

I’ve said it before: in Assange, Snowden, Manning etc., America -and the west- “persecutes, prosecutes, vilifies, condemns, exiles, or murders” its finest.

Patriotism And Conscience: The Edward Snowden Affair (LibR)

Here’s the point: If the NSA were to be abolished today and if Congress were to order all of its documents and records to be released immediately to the public, nothing would happen to the United States. Nothing! The same holds true for the CIA and the military-industrial complex. If all their files and records were to be suddenly disclosed to the people of the world, America would continue to exist as a country. It would not fall into the ocean, and the federal government would continue to operate. In fact, full disclosure of all of the illegal and immoral actions that the U.S. national-security establishment has engaged in during the past 70 years of its existence would be the greatest and healthiest thing that could ever happen to the United States.

Full disclosure of such secrets would be an antiseptic that would help cleanse the federal government and the country of many of the long-lasting stains that the national-security establishment has inflicted on it — an antiseptic that might finally begin to restore trust and confidence in the federal government among the American people. To be sure, the secrecy is always alleged to be justified by “national security,” the two most important words in any nation whose government is a national-security state. But what does that term mean? It has no objective meaning at all. It’s just a bogus term designed to keep nefarious and illegal actions secret. But heaven help those who reveal those secrets to others. They will be persecuted, prosecuted, vilified, condemned, exiled, or murdered. Nothing matters more to a national-security state than the protection of its secrets.

Those who reveal them must be made examples to anyone else who contemplates doing the same thing. In the process, conscience is suspended and stultified. It has no role in a national-security state. Individual citizens are expected to place their deep and abiding trust in the national-security establishment and to unconditionally defer to its judgment and expertise. Its job is to protect “national security” and that’s all that people need to know. Sometimes that entails illegal activity, such as murder, torture, and kidnapping, but that’s just the way it is. What’s important, they say, is that the national-security establishment is on the job, a perpetual sentinel for freedom, protecting “national security.”

Imagine that Edward Snowden voluntarily returned to the United States for trial. Do you think he would be given the opportunity at trial to show why he disclosed the NSA’s illegal and nefarious surveillance schemes? Do you think he would be entitled to argue that he was simply following the dictates of his conscience when he chose to reveal that information to the American people and the world?

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“Perhaps in order to save money, governments should also use prop-planes from the 1940s to conduct recon missions? ”

Worried About ‘Wannacry’? You Should Have Listened To Julian Assange (Duran)

A widespread computer virus attack known as ‘WannaCry’ has been compromising computers with obsolete operating systems across the world. This should be the opening sentence of just about every article on this subject, but unfortunately it is not. The virus does not attack modern computer operating systems, it is designed to attack the Windows XP operating system that is so old, it was likely used in offices in the World Trade Center prior to September 11 2001, when the buildings collapsed. Windows XP was first released on 25 August, 2001. A child born on the release date of Windows XP is now on the verge of his or her 17th birthday. Feeling old yet? The fact of the matter is that governments and businesses around the world should not only feel old, they should feel humiliated and disgraced.

With the amount of money governments tax individuals and private entities, it is beyond belief that government organisations ranging from some computers in the Russian Interior Ministry to virtually all computers in Britain’s National Health Service, should be using an operating system so obsolete that its manufacturer, Microsoft, no longer supports it and hasn’t done for some time. Perhaps in order to save money, governments should also use prop-planes from the 1940s to conduct recon missions? The scathing reality of this attack is that Julian Assange warned both private and public sectors to be on guard against known vulnerabilities in such systems, vulnerabilities Wikileaks helped to expose. Assange even offered to help companies to get their digital security up to date. The fact that Assange’s plea fell on deaf ears must bring further shame to all those impacted by the ‘WannaCry’ attacks who refused to listen to Assange and get with the times.

[..] if only governments and mega-corporations took precautions to ensure actual safety measures were in place, rather than engaging in bogus fear-mongering in order to conceal their own incompetence and lack of modern technology, the people that such bodies are supposed to protect would be safe rather than misled and exposed to threats. The blame for today’s attack can and should be equally shared by the hackers themselves and by those who patently ignored the warnings of Julian Assange, who advised the wider world to get clever, get secure and get modern upon the release of Vault 7 by Wikileaks. When there is a wolf at your door, it is unwise to blame the person pointing out the presence of the hungry wolf. Those who attack Julian Assange for pointing out the wolf of un-secured computer systems are doing just that.

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How many people know and understand that the economic models on which all current policies are based entirely ignore both credit and energy in our economies? How crazy is that?

Steve Keen Defines A Production Function Based On Energy (Res.)

Professor Steve Keen may be the first mainstream economist to address a fatal flaw in economic theory: omitting or minimizing the role of energy. Keen has developed a production formula incorporating energy, not as one factor of production along with capital and labor, but as the indispensable flow activating both. “Labor without energy is a corpse” says Keen; “Capital without energy is a sculpture.” Keen was one of twenty or so economists who made a credible prediction of the 2008-9 crisis, which government economists in the US and abroad declared “unpredictable” – after it blindsided them.

His work draws on contemporary economic theory and generates real-world predictions. He’s the sort of economist who financial commentators, investors and even government economists listen to; folks who haven’t heard of Daly’s steady state economy, Odum’s energy flow analysis of the ecosystem-economy, or Hall’s EROI “cheese slicer” model. Keen’s model implies that economic production is measurable in energy units, as Odum and others argued. Wealth is “nothing but the food, conveniences and pleasures of life,” as the earliest economists recognized. But it results from useful work, which can be measured in kilocalories. (To us weight watchers, just “calories.”) Here is his fundamental equation (the only one here, I promise):

To test his model against real data, Keen correlated its results with historical statistics of US GDP, and then compared correlations of GDP with the key terms individually. Over 40-odd years of data, his function correlated 0.79 with US GDP. The correlations with employment (Labor) alone and energy consumption (E) alone were much lower, at 0.60 and 0.59 respectively. His model might have correlated better if applied to a closed economic system, such as the entire world, or the US prior to 1970, if good data were available. Most of the useful work that supports Americans today is performed in the Far East or in the engines of container ships, and the energy inputs are considerable. Introducing his test data, Keen remarked that government statistics showing minimal unemployment were “just nonsense”. He presented a measure of employment instead. “They ask what Trump is complaining about- here’s what he’s complaining about..” (This was back in November.)

Presenting a chart of industrial energy consumption 1960-present, Keen remarked on the on the long decline since the 1979 peak, his latest values showing consumption comparable to 1967-8. Partly the result of increased efficiency, he said, but also “..becoming intractable because we are moving from highly efficient oil and coal to much less efficient wind and solar.” (Efficiency as energy output per unit of energy input.) I don’t think I’m overstating to say that Keen’s model marks a breakthrough in mainstream economics, though Keen describes it as merely “..the beginnings of a decent equation to explain the role of energy in production.”..demonstrating that wealth is “..fundamentally created by the exploitation of free energy, as the Physiocrats argued two centuries ago.” For those who discount any economic reasoning not expressed in calculus, Keen’s work opens an access to the wisdom of the Physiocrats. Maybe that of Daly, Odum and Hall as well.

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Time to organize. Or keep losing.

The Rise Of Rentiers And The Destruction Of The Middle Class (Ev)

The facts about the decline of the American middle class are increasingly familiar, though startling nonetheless. After growing almost continuously since World War II, U.S. median income stagnated at the end of the 1980s and then, beginning in 2000, declined 11%. Middle-class incomes today are no higher in real terms than they were in 1987. Much of the debt that caused the crisis was accumulated by the middle class as people tried to compensate for stagnant incomes by mortgaging up their homes and running up their credit cards. Then the debt bubble burst and the median family lost nearly $50,000, or 40% of its net wealth, from 2007 to 2010. For the typical middle-class family, the crisis wiped out 18 years of savings and investment. With too much debt before the crisis and their modest savings hammered by the downturn, many middle-class baby boomers are facing a major decline in living standards as they age.

On the other side of the generational divide, this will be the first cohort in modern American history whose children will quite possibly be poorer than their parents. So what do the rise of rentier capitalism and the hollowing out of America’s middle class have to do with each other? It is too simple to say that one directly caused the other. But they are more tightly linked than might be expected. The usual explanations for the woes of the American middle class point to big tectonic forces—namely globalization and technological change. At a superficial level this argument is correct—competition from low-wage countries has depressed wage growth in certain sectors, and technology has eliminated some manufacturing and middle-management jobs. But what this analysis leaves out is what we didn’t do—we didn’t make the long-term investments that would have helped us better adapt to these tectonic shifts.

One of the great historical strengths of both American capitalism and the American political system has been their adaptability. When the Industrial Revolution threatened America’s largely agricultural economy, America adapted and went one better, leapfrogging European industrial production by the early twentieth century. When industrialization then unbalanced America’s political system and strained its social fabric, Teddy Roosevelt unleashed a wave of political and social innovation, busting up trusts and introducing protections for consumers and workers. In the depths of the Depression, another Roosevelt responded with rural electrification, the creation of Social Security, and financial regulation that kept the system stable for 70 years. When the Soviet Union challenged America in the Cold War, we made massive investments in technology, education, and the National Highway System. The benefits of these innovations and investments flowed broadly in American society, not least to the middle class.

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Austrian school.

The Economic School You’ve Never Heard Of (EpT)

Economics was once tasked with describing how man manages the world’s scarce resources, a process far older than economics as a science. But it has morphed into a field that blames the individual and reality for not measuring up to its theories, and then uses the coercive power of the state in an attempt to shape individuals and reality according to its ends. The Austrian school of economics, the once dominant school of economic thought at the turn of the 19th century, focuses on the individual—and his or her actions and motivations—to explain economic life. It derives its name from the many scholars from Austria who developed 19th-century classic liberalism into a coherent explanation of economic life.

“Economics is in reality very simple. It functions in the same way that it did thousands of years ago. People come together to voluntarily engage in commerce with one another for their mutual benefit. People specialize and divide work among themselves to advance their condition,” writes modern Austrian economist Philipp Bagus in his book “Blind Robbery!” A bedrock principle of this understanding is that exchange should occur voluntarily and not under the coercion of the state or any other party. If exchange is voluntary, the individual or company must offer something of value if it wants to obtain something of value. This premise encourages innovative, creative, and productive behavior. It also forces individuals to think about what their fellow humans may appreciate or need. Every decision to allocate capital and labor needs to stand the test of reason, argument, and negotiation.

On aggregate, this decision-making process is much more elaborate and prudent than any central planning decision, which must use force to compel its subjects. “Production is directed either by profit-seeking businessmen or by the decisions of a director to whom supreme and exclusive power is entrusted. . . . The question is: Who should be master, the consumers or the director?” Austrian school economist Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973) writes in his book “Human Action.” This approach to economics can do without the complex mathematical models of the current schools because it admits that perfection doesn’t exist. There is no equilibrium. Things aren’t perfect, but the best possible solution to economic problems will be found by private individuals acting voluntarily, each assessing new situations for themselves.

“This is precisely what the price system does under competition, and which no other system even promises to accomplish. It enables entrepreneurs, by watching the movement of comparatively few prices, as an engineer watches the hands of a few dials, to adjust their activities to those of their fellows,” Nobel laureate Friedrich von Hayek wrote in his 1944 classic “The Road to Serfdom.”

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How any people are still happy in their work? Why do they volunteer to work for others?

The Future of Work, Robotization, and Capitalism’s Useless Jobs (Bregman)

I admit, we’ve heard it all before. Employees have been worrying about the rising tide of automation for 200 years now, and for 200 years employers have been assuring them that new jobs will naturally materialize to take their place. After all, if you look at the year 1800, some 74% of all Americans were farmers, whereas by 1900 this figure was down to 31%, and by 2000 to a mere 3%. Yet this hasn’t led to mass unemployment. In 1930, the famous economist John Maynard Keynes was predicting that we’d all be working just 15-hour weeks by the year 2030. Yet, since the 1980s, work has only been taking up more of our time, bringing waves of burnouts and stress in its wake. Meanwhile, the crux of the issue isn’t even being discussed. The real question we should be asking ourselves is: what actually constitutes “work” in this day and age?

In a 2013 survey of 12,000 professionals by the Harvard Business Review, half said they felt their job had no “meaning and significance,” and an equal number were unable to relate to their company’s mission, while another poll among 230,000 employees in 142 countries showed that only 13% of workers actually like their job. A recent poll among Brits revealed that as many as 37% think they have a job that is utterly useless. They have, what anthropologist David Graeber refers to as, “bullshit jobs”. On paper, these jobs sound fantastic. And yet there are scores of successful professionals with imposing LinkedIn profiles and impressive salaries who nevertheless go home every evening grumbling that their work serves no purpose.

Let’s get one thing clear though: I’m not talking about the sanitation workers, the teachers, and the nurses of the world. If these people were to go on strike, we’d have an instant state of emergency on our hands. No, I’m talking about the growing armies of consultants, bankers, tax advisors, managers, and others who earn their money in strategic trans-sector peer-to-peer meetings to brainstorm the value-add on co-creation in the network society. Or something to that effect. So, will there still be enough jobs for everyone a few decades from now? Anybody who fears mass unemployment underestimates capitalism’s extraordinary ability to generate new bullshit jobs. If we want to really reap the rewards of the huge technological advances made in recent decades (and of the advancing robots), then we need to radically rethink our definition of “work.”

It starts with an age-old question: what is the meaning of life? Most people would say the meaning of life is to make the world a little more beautiful, or nicer, or more interesting. But how? These days, our main answer to that is: through work. Our definition of work, however, is incredibly narrow. Only the work that generates money is allowed to count toward GDP. Little wonder, then, that we have organized education around feeding as many people as possible in bite-size flexible parcels into the employment establishment. Yet what happens when a growing proportion of people deemed successful by the measure of our knowledge economy say their work is pointless? That’s one of the biggest taboos of our times. Our whole system of finding meaning could dissolve like a puff of smoke.

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Painful. 3rd world.

US Much Women More Likely To Die In Childbirth Than 25 Years Ago (ProP)

The ability to protect the health of mothers and babies in childbirth is a basic measure of a society’s development. Yet every year in the U.S., 700 to 900 women die from pregnancy or childbirth-related causes, and some 65,000 nearly die — by many measures, the worst record in the developed world. American women are more than three times as likely as Canadian women to die in the maternal period (defined by the Centers for Disease Control as the start of pregnancy to one year after delivery or termination), six times as likely to die as Scandinavians. In every other wealthy country, and many less affluent ones, maternal mortality rates have been falling; in Great Britain, the journal Lancet recently noted, the rate has declined so dramatically that “a man is more likely to die while his partner is pregnant than she is.”

But in the U.S., maternal deaths increased from 2000 to 2014. In a recent analysis by the CDC Foundation, nearly 60% of such deaths were preventable. While maternal mortality is significantly more common among African Americans, low-income women and in rural areas, pregnancy and childbirth complications kill women of every race and ethnicity, education and income level, in every part of the U.S. [..] The reasons for higher maternal mortality in the U.S. are manifold. New mothers are older than they used to be, with more complex medical histories. Half of pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned, so many women don’t address chronic health issues beforehand. Greater prevalence of C-sections leads to more life-threatening complications. The fragmented health system makes it harder for new mothers, especially those without good insurance, to get the care they need. Confusion about how to recognize worrisome symptoms and treat obstetric emergencies makes caregivers more prone to error.

Yet the worsening U.S. maternal mortality numbers contrast sharply with the impressive progress in saving babies’ lives. Infant mortality has fallen to its lowest point in history, the CDC reports, reflecting 50 years of efforts by the public health community to prevent birth defects, reduce preterm birth and improve outcomes for very premature infants. The number of babies who die annually in the U.S. — about 23,000 in 2014 — still greatly exceeds the number of expectant and new mothers who die, but the ratio is narrowing. The divergent trends for mothers and babies highlight a theme that has emerged repeatedly in ProPublica’s and NPR’s reporting. In recent decades, under the assumption that it had conquered maternal mortality, the American medical system has focused more on fetal and infant safety and survival than on the mother’s health and well-being.

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Everybody in the west is responsible for this. Our governments willfully create the chaos that generates it.

Africa’s New Slave Trade (G.)

The dangers of attempting to cross the Mediterranean to Europe, in overcrowded, unseaworthy vessels, have been highlighted by a series of desperate rescue missions and thousands of deaths at sea in recent years. Last week, at least 245 people were killed by shipwrecks, bringing the toll for this year alone to 1,300. Less well-known are the dangers of Libya itself for migrants fleeing poverty across West Africa. The country’s slide into chaos following the 2011 death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi and the collapse of the government have made it a breeding ground for crime and exploitation. Two rival governments, an Isis franchise and countless local militias competing for control of a vast, sparsely populated territory awash in weapons, have allowed traffickers to flourish, checked only by the activities of their criminal rivals.

Last year, more than 180,000 refugees arrived in Italy, the vast majority of them through Libya, according to UN agency the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). That number is forecast to top 200,000 this year – and these people form a lucrative source of income for militias and mafias who control Libya’s roads and trafficking networks. Migrants who managed to reach Europe from Libya have long told of being kidnapped by smugglers, who would then torture them to extort cash as they waited for boats. But in recent years this abuse has developed into a modern-day slave trade – plied along routes once used by slaving caravans – that has engulfed tens of thousands of lives.

The new slave traders operate with such impunity that, survivors say, some victims are being sold in public markets. Most, however, see their lives and liberty auctioned off in private. “They took people and put them in the street, under a sign that said ‘for sale’,” said Shamsuddin Jibril, 27, from Cameroon, who twice saw men traded publicly in the streets of the central Libyan town of Sabha, once famous as the home of a young Gaddafi, but now known for violence and brutality. “They tied their hands just like in the former slave trade, and they drove them here in the back of a Toyota Hilux. There were maybe five or seven of them.”

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Apr 142017
 
 April 14, 2017  Posted by at 8:23 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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American Soldiers Observing Eruption of Mount Vesuvius 1944

 

‘Russia Thinks We’re Crazy, Completely Crazy’ (ZH)
We’re Heading Straight Into a Recession – Jim Rickards (MWS)
How’s This For Grade 1 Central Bank Hubris? (Albert Edwards)
Wall Street Fear Gauge Hits Fresh High For The Year (CNBC)
The Ethical Case For Taxing Foreign Home Buyers (Gordon)
UK Banks Crack Down On Credit Card Lending After Borrowing Binge (Tel.)
CIA Director Brands Wikileaks A ‘Hostile Intelligence Service’ (G.)
‘US Will Keep ‘Open Mind’ On Any IMF Aid To Greece’ (AFP)
American Energy Use, In One Diagram (Vox)
Macroscale Modeling Linking Energy and Debt (King)
Refugee Rescue Group Accuses EU Border Agency Of Plotting Against Them (AFP)
At Least 97 Migrants Missing As Boat Sinks Off Libya (AFP)
The Ultimate Lovebird (DM)

 

 

As Cohen indicates, Tillerson signed multi-billion contracts with Putin. That required a lot of trust. That trust is now being put at risk.

‘Russia Thinks We’re Crazy, Completely Crazy’ (ZH)

Lastly, Stephen Cohen, Professor of Russian studies at Princeton and NYU, an actual expert on China, weighed in, saying ‘Russia thinks we’re crazy, completely crazy.’ He even took some time to express his ‘disgust’ with Al Mattour, saying ‘your previous guest, I don’t mean to be rude to him. First of all, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. And, secondly, he excludes the reality that Russia has a politics. And the politics in Russia today as we talk is […] the concern that America is preparing war against Russia. If not on Syria, then on the other two cold war fronts […] where NATO is building up in an unprecedented way. This is not good because they have nuclear weapons and because accidents happen.’

He then theorized what the conversation between Putin and Tillerson was like, pointing to the two having a history of trust together from the time Tillerson led Exxon Mobile. ‘Rex, says Putin, what in the world is going on in Washington?’ Professor Cohen, ominously, summed it up, ‘I’m not young. I’ve been doing this 40 years, sometimes as a Professor, sometimes inside. I have never been as worried as I am today about the possibility of war with Russia.’

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Any day now.

We’re Heading Straight Into a Recession – Jim Rickards (MWS)

Before the holiday weekend begins, best-selling author James Rickards joins Olivia Bono-Voznenko outside the NYSE to talk all about the markets and his latest book, “The Road to Ruin.” Jim discusses the currency wars, Trump’s turnaround on China & the Fed and an inevitable crisis amid a weak system.

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Though he defines it poorly, Edwards is right that deflation is still here.

How’s This For Grade 1 Central Bank Hubris? (Albert Edwards)

Peter Praet, the ECB’s chief economist said in a recent interview that, “Since the crisis, we have had serious concerns about deflationary risks on several occasions in the euro area, but now we can say they have disappeared.” Really? Has he seen the chart below, which shows core CPI in the Eurozone heading sharply lower and now approaching its all-time low seen at the start of 2015! Not only that, but Eurozone inflation expectations are also declining again, after surging in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election. To be fair, Praet was focusing on the rise in headline inflation in the Eurozone, which touched 2% in February before dropping back in March to 1.5%.

After some 18 months bobbing around the zero mark, I can understand why central bankers might be heaving a sigh of relief, but for them to take credit for a recovery in headline inflation is totally disingenuous given it has been entirely driven by a recovery in the oil price. Similarly, Janet Yellen was quoted saying the Fed is “doing pretty well” in meeting its congressionally mandated goals of low and stable inflation and a full-strength labor market. It’s this sort of comment that has led Marc Faber to want to short central bankers, the only way being to buy gold. The increasing volume of central bank hubris may even explain the recent breakout of gold to the upside! It is not just eurozone inflation expectations that seem to be in retreat. The same thing is happening in the US too (see chart below).

I am always surprised how dominated 10y inflation expectations are by short-term movements in the oil price and headline inflation, but it was noticeable just how rapidly inflation expectations ran up in the wake of Trump’s election – way in advance of what might have been expected by the bounce in the oil price. One might have thought the surge in the oil price from its trough some 12-18 months ago might have had more impact on wage inflation, but so far that does not seem to be the case. Despite the euphoria in the markets about the “reflation trade”, survey inflation expectations have continued to drift downwards. One thing is certain: for central banks to call victory over deflation may prove very premature indeed. Nemesis awaits.

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Easter jitters.

Wall Street Fear Gauge Hits Fresh High For The Year (CNBC)

Stocks may be in for a deeper pullback, now that the so-called fear index is finally breaking out higher. The CBOE Volatility Index (.VIX), considered the best gauge of fear in the market, closed above its 200-day moving average for the first time since the election this week. The indicator jumped more than 2% Thursday afternoon at one point to a fresh high for the year. U.S. markets are closed for trading Friday for the Easter holiday. The recent spike in fear comes just as geopolitical risk heats up. The Pentagon said Thursday U.S. military forces dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb in Afghanistan, the first time the so-called mother of all bombs has ever been used in combat. U.S. stocks fell, with the S&P 500 and DJIA closed at two-month lows Thursday. “I’d say it’s probably more of a Trump trade [reversing] than the geopolitics, but going forward I think the geopolitics is the topic the market is focusing on,” said Andres Jaime at Barclays.

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Good argument: A foreign-buyer’s tax can be refunded to individuals to the extent they pay income taxes..

The Ethical Case For Taxing Foreign Home Buyers (Gordon)

Foreign capital is playing an important role in the real estate markets of Toronto and Vancouver, and has for some time. As political leaders debate its impact and possible policy measures to alleviate its attendant issues, it is important to think clearly about the ethics of foreign ownership. Predictably, those who want to stymie or avoid policy action in this area have alluded to “xenophobia” to deter critics. Even some well-intentioned people have given credence to these claims. Yet curtailing or taxing foreign ownership is not xenophobic, especially if policy is properly designed. Xenophobia is the irrational or unjustified fear of foreigners. Concerns about the impact of foreign ownership are about flows of money, not people, and they are certainly justified in Toronto and Vancouver.

Foreign ownership raises two main ethical problems. First, those who buy based on foreign income or wealth often have access to money in ways that are unavailable to local residents. This means that locals are potentially put into disadvantageous, or unfair, competition for real estate where they live. Second, people who buy property based on foreign income or wealth may not have contributed much in Canadian taxes, which is largely what makes the property so valuable in the first place. Canadian real estate has become an attractive place to stash international money for a variety of reasons – we don’t effectively enforce money laundering regulations, we have relatively low property-tax rates and the enforcement of capital gains taxes has been lax. But real estate in Canada is ultimately attractive because of the country’s stable institutions, its public infrastructure and its social cohesion.

These latter things are paid for, or fostered by, taxes collected from Canadians – income taxes in particular. At a minimum, then, Canadians should have preferential access to property ownership, since they are paying for what makes it so valuable. It is precisely for these reasons that we see nothing ethically problematic about charging foreign students more in tuition at Canadian universities. Residential property is no different. Concerns around foreign ownership are especially potent when money is arriving from societies where corruption is widespread, and when foreign money is playing a significant role in driving up prices. Both apply in the cases of Toronto and Vancouver.

[..] We can then better design a foreign-buyer’s tax, which is needed to calm Toronto’s frenzied market. A foreign-buyer’s tax can be refunded to individuals to the extent they pay income taxes – the amount they pay in the three years following a purchase, for instance. This makes it clear that the tax need not discourage entrepreneurial talent from abroad, as claimed by Toronto Mayor John Tory. This understanding of the issue also leads straightforwardly into the proposal by many economists in British Columbia, including my colleague Rhys Kesselman. Provincial governments should introduce an annual property surtax on expensive homes that can be offset by income taxes paid, while exempting seniors with sustained CPP contribution records. This continuous surtax would powerfully target foreign ownership, and would thereby reconnect the local housing market to the local labour market.

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I’ll believe it when I see it. Nobody wants to see the economy crash, they’ll stick with loose lending standards to prevent it.

UK Banks Crack Down On Credit Card Lending After Borrowing Binge (Tel.)

Britain’s credit card binge could be at an end as banks tighten up controls on consumer debt. Borrowing growth hit rates of more than 10pc over the past year, a pace not seen since the boom years before the financial crisis, but now banks are touching the brakes. The Bank of England has warned that a consumer debt could be more of a risk to banks than mortgage lending, should there be an economic downturn. Fierce competition to win new customers has led banks to offer more credit to customers with increasingly long interest-free periods.But banks have started tightening lending criteria for credit card applicants in a move of an intensity not seen since the depths of the financial crisis in 2008 and 2009.

A net balance of 33pc of lenders expect to tighten standards in the coming three-month period, according to Bank of England data. When unsecured loans are also included, a net balance of 27pc plan to scrutinise applications more closely. There was also a fall in the number of credit card applications approved in the first quarter of the year, and banks expect the number to remain roughly steady in the coming quarter. By contrast credit scoring criteria for secured loans, such as mortgages, is holding broadly steady. “The recent rapid growth in consumer credit could principally represent a risk to lenders if accompanied by weaker underwriting standards,” warned the Bank of England’s Financial Policy Committee this month.

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After first praising it.

CIA Director Brands Wikileaks A ‘Hostile Intelligence Service’ (G.)

Mike Pompeo, the director of the CIA, has branded WikiLeaks a “hostile intelligence service,” saying it threatens democratic nations and joins hands with dictators. In his first public remarks since becoming chief of the US spy agency in February, Pompeo focused on the group and other leakers of classified information like Edward Snowden as one of the key threats facing the United States. “WikiLeaks walks like a hostile intelligence service and talks like a hostile intelligence service. It has encouraged its followers to find jobs at CIA in order to obtain intelligence… And it overwhelmingly focuses on the United States, while seeking support from anti-democratic countries and organisations,” said Pompeo. “It is time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is – a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia.”

[..] Last month, WikiLeaks embarrassed the CIA and damaged its operations by releasing a large number of files and computer code from the agency’s top secret hacking operations. The data showed how the CIA exploits vulnerabilities in popular computer and networking hardware and software to gather intelligence. Counterintelligence investigators continue to try to find out who stole the files and handed them to WikiLeaks. Assange meanwhile criticized the US agency for not telling the tech industry and authorities about those vulnerabilities so they can be fixed. Pompeo said Assange portrays himself as a crusader but in fact helps enemies of the United States, including aiding Russia’s interference in last year’s presidential election.

“Assange and his ilk make common cause with dictators today. Yes, they try unsuccessfully to cloak themselves and their actions in the language of liberty and privacy; in reality, however, they champion nothing but their own celebrity. Their currency is clickbait; their moral compass, nonexistent.” However, Pompeo did not comment on how Trump has previously lavished praise on Assange for the information he has made public. Nor did Pompeo mention that he himself had cited and linked to WikiLeaks in a tweet attacking the Democratic Party. Pompeo at the time was a Republican congressman and member of the House Intelligence Committee. The CIA declined to comment on that.

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Translation: get it done.

‘US Will Keep ‘Open Mind’ On Any IMF Aid To Greece’ (AFP)

The US government will keep an “open mind” on any new loan package from the IMF for debt-burdened Greece, a senior US Treasury official said Thursday. Despite criticism of international organizations by the Trump administration, the comments allay concerns that US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin could veto any large new aid package for Athens. “We’re looking for the Europeans to help Greece to resolve its economic problems, and we think the IMF can play a supportive role,” the official told reporters. “And we’ll look at any potential future agreement with an open mind.” IMF chief Christine Lagarde on Wednesday said Greece and its eurozone creditors have made progress towards a new loan package that includes debt relief, but that is something the fund has been saying for months without a final deal.

Greece last week accepted a tough set of reforms demanded by its eurozone creditors in hopes of securing a new loan in time to avert a looming debt default in July, although it still must finalize the details. Athens has been deadlocked for months over reforms, and budget targets, which has put the IMF and EU at loggerheads over the need for debt relief in order to ensure an economic recovery, and the government’s ability to repay its loans. The eurozone is under heavy pressure to end the feud in order to avert a chaotic default and inflicting damage on an already stalled Greek recovery. Greece has about €7 billion in debt repayments due in July. All the key officials involved in the talks are expected to be in Washington next week to attend the IMF and World Bank annual meetings.

Read more …

We waste. That’s what we’re good at.

American Energy Use, In One Diagram (Vox)

Every year, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory LLNL produces a new energy flow chart showing the sources of US energy, what it’s used for, and how much of it is wasted. If you’ve never seen it before, it’s a bit of a mind-blower. Behold US energy in 2016: So much information in so little space! (It’s worth zooming in on a larger version.)

[..] a British thermal unit (BTU) is a standard unit of energy — the heat required to raise the temperature of a pound of water by 1 degree Fahrenheit. If you prefer the metric system, a BTU is about 1055 joules of energy. A “quad” is one quadrillion (a thousand trillion) BTUs. [..] a few things equivalent to a quad: 8,007,000,000 gallons (US) of gasoline, 293,071,000,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh), 36,000,000 metric tons of coal The US consumed 97.3 quads in 2016, an amount that has stayed roughly steady (within a quad or so) since 2000.

Perhaps the most striking feature of the spaghetti diagram — what everyone notices the first time they see it — is the enormous amount of “rejected” energy. Not just some, but almost two-thirds of the potential energy embedded in our energy sources ended up wasted in 2016. (And note that some scholars think LLNL is being too optimistic, and that the US is not even 31% efficient but more like 13%.) What’s more, the US economy is trending less and less efficient over time. Here’s the spaghetti diagram from 1970 (LLNL has been at this a long time):

Back then, we only wasted half our energy! It’s important to put this waste in context. It is not mainly about personal behavior or inefficient energy end use — keeping cars idling or leaving the lights on, that kind of thing. That’s a part of it, but at a deeper level, waste is all about system design. The decline in overall efficiency in the US economy mainly has to do with the increasing role of inefficient energy systems. Specifically, the years since 1970 have seen a substantial increase in electricity consumption and private vehicles for transportation, two energy services that are particularly inefficient. (Electricity wastes two-thirds of its primary energy; transportation wastes about three-quarters.)

There is loss inherent in any system that converts raw materials to usable energy, or transports or uses energy, of course. That follows from the second law of thermodynamics. And it’s true both narrowly (a car is an energy system) and broadly (a city is an energy system). It’s not possible to achieve perfect efficiency, or anything close to it. But surely we can do better than 31%! Sixty-six quads is a truly mind-boggling amount of energy to vent into the atmosphere for no good purpose. It really highlights the enormous potential of better-designed systems — especially better electricity and transport systems, along with better urban systems (i.e., cities) — to contribute to the country’s carbon reduction goals. We could double our energy use, with no increase in carbon emissions, just by halving our energy waste.

Read more …

I like this, and it’s high time energy became a part of economic modeling; Steve Keen is working on it too. BUT: to understand today’s predicaments, you have to look -seperately- at what has happened in financial markets. The debt binge was not a result of what went on with energy; it stood -and stands- on and by itself.

Macroscale Modeling Linking Energy and Debt (King)

What if you realized that the fundamental economic framework of macroeconomics is insufficient to inform our most pressing concerns? The world is dynamic, in constant change, yet most economic models (even the most widely used “dynamic” model) lack fundamental feedbacks that govern long-term trends (e.g., regarding role of energy) and make assumptions that prevent the ability to describe important real-world phenomena (e.g., financial-induced recessions). Monetary models of finance and debt often assume that natural resources (energy, food, materials) and technology are not constraints on the economy. Energy scenario models often assume that economic growth, finance and debt will not be constraints on energy investment.


Energy and food costs have declined since industrialization, but no longer

These assumptions must be eliminated, and the modeling concepts must be integrated if we are to properly interpret the post-2008 macroeconomic situation: unprecedented low interest rates, high consumer and private debt, high asset valuations, and energy and food costs that are no longer declining. As we attempt to understand newer and more numerous options (e.g., electric cars, renewables, information) regarding energy system evolution, it is paramount to have internally consistent macro-scale models that take a systems approach that tracks flows and interdependencies among debt, employment, profits, wages, and biophysical quantities (e.g., natural resources and population). There is a tremendous research need to develop a framework to describe our contemporary and future macroeconomic situation that is consistent with both biophysical and economic principles. Unfortunately, this fundamental integration does not underpin our current thinking.


U.S. consumer costs of fundamental needs (energy, food, housing, transport) are no longer declining

• Debt is money.

• Money is created when commercial banks lend money to businesses, not when the U.S. Treasury prints money or when Federal Reserve Bank lowers interest rates. Those government and Fed actions are reactions to the creation or destruction of money (e.g., paying back loans) within the real economy.

• Businesses seek new loans when economic opportunities are present. Thus, a growing economy can support more debt.

• Economic opportunities are present when consumers have disposable income to spend (and when innovative technologies supplant old technologies, thus lowering prices, and enabling growth).

• Consumers have more money to spend when core needs (e.g., food, energy, housing) are getting cheaper relative to incomes. Thus, if these core needs are no longer getting cheaper, this is an indication of the lack of income growth to support business investment. In turn banks stop lending because there are fewer viable business opportunities.

• The conclusion is that without decreasing food and energy costs to consumers, real incomes do not rise.

• This is a viable explanation of the post-2008 economy, but one ignored by practically all policy makers, economists, and advisors!

Read more …

Frontex is a disaster.

Refugee Rescue Group Accuses EU Border Agency Of Plotting Against Them (AFP)

A Spanish group which has been rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean since 2016 accused the EU’s border control agency Frontex on Wednesday of plotting to discredit private aid organisations in order to put off donors. Allegations by Frontex that donor-funded rescue vessels may have colluded with traffickers at the end of last year prompted Italian prosecutors to begin an informal investigation into their funding sources. “The declarations by Frontex and political authorities are intended to discredit our actions and erode our donors’ trust,” said Proactiva Open Arms head Riccardo Gatti. “They are trying to say that we support the smuggling or the traffickers themselves,” he said. In a report cited in December by the Financial Times daily, Frontex raised the possibility that traffickers were putting migrants out to sea in collusion with the private ships that recover them and bring them to Italy “like taxis”.

Prosecutors then publicly wondered at the amount of money being spent, though they stopped short of opening a formal probe. “We feel there’s someone who wants to put a spoke in our wheels, though we do not really know who is behind it,” Gatti said. The organization said it had nothing to hide. “We have 35,000 donors. Some are well known – like Pep Guardiola, the current manager of Manchester City – others are anonymous,” said Oscar Camps, Proactiva Open Arms director. He said the group had so far received €2.2 million euros in donations for an op in the Med that costs between €5,000 and €6,000 a day. Pro-Activa Open Arms also heavily criticized a deal signed in February between Italy and Libya which purportedly hopes to stem the flow of migrants from the coast of North Africa to Italy.

Gatti said the deal was made with only part of the 1,700 militias he said control Libya and would therefore be ineffective. Human rights watchers have also warned the accord would put the lives of those fleeing persecution and war in greater danger. “Everything is controlled by the militias in Libya, even the coast guard, and 30 percent of the financial flows in the country come from human trafficking,” he said. The deal is in doubt after it was suspended in March by Tripoli’s Court of Appeal. Nearly 25,000 migrants have been pulled to safety and brought to Italy since the beginning of the year in a sharp increase in arrivals.

Read more …

Happy Easter.

At Least 97 Migrants Missing As Boat Sinks Off Libya (AFP)

At least 97 migrants were missing after their boat sank on Thursday off the Libyan coast, a navy spokesman said. Survivors said the missing include 15 women and five children, General Ayoub Qassem told AFP. He said the Libyan coastguard had rescued a further 23 migrants of various African nationalities just under 10 kilometres (6 miles) off the coast of Tripoli. The boat’s hull was completely destroyed and the survivors, all men, were found clinging to a flotation device, he said. Those who had disappeared were “probably dead”, but bad weather had so far prevented the recovery of their bodies, Qassem added. An AFP photographer said survivors had been given food and medical care at Tripoli port before being transferred to a migrant centre east of the capital.

Six years since the revolution that toppled dictator Moamer Kadhafi, Libya has become a key departure point for migrants risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean to Europe. Hailing mainly from sub-Saharan countries, most of the migrants board boats operated by people traffickers in western Libya, and make for the Italian island of Lampedusa 300 km away. Since the beginning of this year, at least 590 migrants have died or gone missing along the Libyan coast, the International Organization for Migration said in late March. In the absence of an army or regular police force in Libya, several militias act as coastguards but are often themselves accused of complicity or even involvement in the lucrative people-smuggling business. More than 24,000 migrants arrived in Italy from Libya during the first three months of the year, up from 18,000 during the same period last year, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Read more …

Easter feel good.

The Ultimate Lovebird (DM)

A stork has melted hearts in Croatia by flying to the same rooftop every year for 14 years – to be reunited with its crippled partner. The faithful bird, called Klepetan, has returned once again to the village of Slavonski Brod in east Croatia after a 5,000 mile migration. He spends his winters alone in South Africa because his disabled partner Malena cannot fly properly after being shot by a hunter in 1993. Malena had been found lying by the side the road by schoolteacher Stjepan Vokic, who fixed her wing and kept her in his home for years before helping her to build a nest on his roof. After placing her there, she was spotted by Klepetan 14 years ago. And now every year they are reunited in the spring. Klepetan keeps a very strict timetable, usually arriving back at the same time on the same day in March to be welcomed by locals.

But this year he was running six days late, causing panic among local media and fans of the stork couple. Such is the popularity of the pair that there is even a live feed on the main square in the capital Zagreb showing the two storks. There was huge excitement when stork-watchers saw what they thought was Klepetan circling over the nest, and then coming in to land. But the new arrival turned out to be a different stork that was attempting to woo Malena. She quickly attacked him and drove him off and continued to wait for Klepetan. Stjepan Vokic, whose roof the couple nest on, said: ‘She was pretty clear about the message, I doubt he will be back again.’ Vokic has taken care of Malena since she was first injured by hunters and says that she – like her partner – is now part of the family.

During the winter, Vokic keeps her inside the house, and then lets her go to the roof each spring where she patiently waits for her partner. This year, Malena made a rare flight and the couple were reportedly inseparable for hours. She does have the ability to make very short flights but her wing has not healed well enough for her to make the trip to Africa, or even to properly feed herself. Every summer, the pair bring up chicks, with Klepetan leading their flying lessons in preparation for the trip south in summer. The oldest recorded living stork was 39. Locals are hopeful the couple’s long relationship will continue for years to come.

Read more …

Mar 032017
 
 March 3, 2017  Posted by at 1:41 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  14 Responses »
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Leonardo da Vinci Head of a Woman 1470s

 

This is turning into a very rewarding series, it opens up vistas I could never have dreamed of. First, in “Not Nearly Enough Growth To Keep Growing”, I posited that peak wealth for the west, and America in particular, was sometime in the early ’70s or late ’60s of the last century.

That led to longtime Automatic Earth reader Ken Latta, who’s old enough to have been alive to see it all, writing, in “When Was America’s Peak Wealth?”, that in his view peak wealth for America was earlier, more like late ’50s to early ’60s, a carefree period for which Detroit provided the design, and the Beach Boys the soundtrack.

And I know, for those who wrote to me about this, that there’s quite a bit of myopia involved in focusing on the US, or even the western world in general, when discussing these things. But at the same time, we’re all at our best when talking about our own experiences, something this thread has made abundantly clear. That said, I would absolutely love to get a view from other parts of the world, China, Latin America, Africa, Eastern Bloc, on the same topic. I just haven’t received any yet.

What I’ve absolutely adored is how -previously- anonymous Automatic Earth readers and commenters have felt the urge to share their life experiences because of what’s been written. This happened especially after Ken’s follow-up to his initial article, “Peak American Wealth – Revisited”, which saw many of his contemporaries, as well as younger readers after I ‘poked’ them, relate their views.

Then there was distinguished emeritus professor Charles A. Hall, who took offense with neither Ken nor I including energy as an explicit factor in determining wealth. Of course he was right. I have the creeping suspicion he often is. So Charlie wrote “Peak Wealth and Peak Energy”. Which not only set us straight, it also generated a -privately- emailed response from Belgian scientists- also Automatic Earth readers- about work he has earlier published on EROI of for instance Spanish solar PV (2.45:1? That must hurt!). As of this morning, it looks as if this may lead to further cooperation. What’s not to love?

And then all this has fired up Ken Latta to write yet another article, this time on ‘freely available’ energy before the age of oil -and after it!-, in the form of human slavery. In all of its forms and shapes, including wage slavery. Is it a coincidence that at the end of the age of oil, America’s -former- middle class appears to be descending -once more- into wage and debt slavery? Or is something entirely else – and darker- going on, as Ken seems to suggest below: The currently observable rapid decline in demand for wage slaves just happens to coincide with global peak energy.

Here once more is Ken Latta:

 

 

Ken Latta: Responses to the recent Charles Hall posting at the Automatic Earth, “Peak Wealth and Peak Energy”, parried with the idea that slaves were the original black gold that allowed society to build great wealth. Not only is that a fair statement, but what the finest historians tell us is that it was always thus. It seems that whenever a cluster of mud huts went up, taking slaves was soon placed on the to-do list.

When uncoerced human power is the highest EROEI source available, usually not much gets done beyond procuring food and making basic necessities. For such societies, peak wealth occurs when a herd of grazing animals happens by. The first rule of civilization building is: find a bunch of people you can force to do things they wouldn’t otherwise be inclined to do.

In antebellum America (USA that is) there were three kinds of coerced laborers. Chattel slaves (held as real property) were the abducted Africans that made the plantation economy of the southern states possible. Something that was not well known was the practice of our colonial masters trading guns, powder and lead to the “Indians” to purchase captive natives for slave labor. They proved to be unwilling workers and frequently escaped back to their tribes.

Indentured servants were not property. Their coerced labor was legally imposed to work off a debt. Many of our ancestors got to the US by contracting to work for someone that would pay their fare. The main difference from chattel was that upon settlement of the debt they were free to leave.

 

That brings us to the thing known to wags in recent times as wage slavery. Us wrinklies may remember a bumper sticker [I can’t be fired, slaves must be sold]. Wage slaves are free to come and go and quit any time. They may also be fired. When they are trying not to be fired and not ready to quit, they must pretty much do as they are told and thus coerced labor. There could be a fourth class, in that some people refer to entrepreneurial souls as the self-exploited.

Once the infrastructure to fully exploit fossil fuels was in place, the most repugnant forms of forced servitude fell out of favor. The president known as Old Hickory outlawed chattel slavery. Not necessarily because he so loved his African constituents, who were politically considered to be two-thirds of a person, but in hopes they would do what they could to hinder the Confederate war effort.

The newly self-owned citizens often ended up doing much the same work as before except as either indentured or wage slaves. Most wage slaves have progressively gotten less back breaking work to do, though not necessarily less monotonous. Some have gotten to do quite exciting and satisfying work.

They also worked up to the point of having some effective leverage in dealing with their would-be slave masters.

 


James Gibson Group of contrabands [runaway slaves] at Foller’s house, Cumberland Landing, Virginia 1862

 

Wage slavery is categorically different in that its prevalence correlates with non animate sources of energy. Wage slaves have served as overseers of the energy slave economy according to the instructions of the bosses. Sadly, what this implies is that as fossil energy production declines, the demand for wage slaves also declines. We are observing it happening. The stagnation of wage earnings began at the time US oil production peaked. The currently observable rapid decline in demand for wage slaves just happens to coincide with global peak energy.

The actual rate of energy decline is accelerated by the associated trend of impoverishment of wage slaves and the growing pool of would-be wage slaves. And thus we will get to see the effect of Ugo Bardi’s Seneca Cliff. Named for 1st century Roman citizen Lucius Annaeus Seneca and based on this quotation:

“It would be some consolation for the feebleness of our selves and our works if all things should perish as slowly as they come into being; but as it is, increases are of sluggish growth, but the way to ruin is rapid.”
– Lucius Anneaus Seneca, Letters to Lucilius, n. 91

Demand for energy is falling faster than production, causing even the mightiest producers to teeter on the edge of insolvency. The prediction a few years ago by petroleum geologist Jean Laherrere that the Bakken fields would be played out around 2020 appears to be on target.

The great NY Yankees catcher Yogi Berra is said to have quipped that “predictions are hard, especially about the future.” I agree, but sometimes you just have to throw caution to the wind.

Ugo Bardi, an estimable professor, and a whole pack of fellow academics joined by the usual crowd of entrepreneurial hustlers are pushing a pipe filled to the brim with Hopium that ruination can be avoided or mitigated by works worthy of a sorcerers apprentice.

We just have to assemble a vast armada of solar panels and wind turbines, plus a few billion tons of rechargeable batteries and turn every suitable topographic feature of the landscape into pumped storage, et voila!, energy slaves forever.

An admirable dream, but I’m gonna let that bandwagon go on down the street without me. I share the opinion that boat sailed for NeverneverLand quite a long time ago. What already exists and whatever still gets built will keep some lights on for awhile, but preservation of industrial civilization seems to me unattainable.

 

There must be a consequence right? Yes, I think there is and nobody is gonna like what I think it will be. At some threshold level of wage slave unwagedness the perfumed princes of the shrunken “protected class” (pace Peggy Noonan) will regretfully determine that a return to indentured servitude is necessary for the maintenance of moral fabric (and the preservation of their class). Rumor has it, this is already emerging as a feature of the injustice system. The next obvious step would be press gangs grabbing people off the streets and in their homes (hovels?) to sell at auction or gift to a powerful enemy, etc.

Sounds too far fetched? It is approximately what happened in Nazi Germany. The unemployed were rounded up and forced to work on public works projects. Jews weren’t just sent to camps to be gassed, they also went to camps next to industrial facilities to work as slaves to sustain the German economy and war effort. Even Auschwitz was a slave labor camp. Famous sign over the main gate says “Arbeit Macht Frei” (work makes free). If it isn’t already happening, something similar seems likely to emerge in the Nazi glorifying madhouse called Ukraine.

This was difficult to write. It can’t have been easy to read. But, to paraphrase one of recent history’s real shitheads, we must live the dark ages with the human species we have, not the one we might wish we had.

There is an ageless quip about not shooting the messenger, but who else ya gonna shoot when he’s the only one standing there.

Let the 10 minutes hate begin.

 

 

Mar 012017
 
 March 1, 2017  Posted by at 10:46 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »
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Vivien Leigh in Gone With The Wind, directed by Victor Fleming, 1939

 

Raising Pension Age Will Mean Many People Die Before Getting It (G.)
NY Teamsters Pension Fund Becomes First To Run Out Of Money (NYDN)
US Baby Boomers Forced By Law To Start Drawing From Retirement Funds (MW)
Greek Pensioners Brace For Latest Crisis Cuts (K.)
Merkel Bypasses Schäuble To Push For Greek Review Conclusion (K.)
US Stepping In To Ease Greece, Turkey Tensions (K.)
Trump Touts Unity Strength In Speech To Congress (R.)
Donald Trump and Paul Ryan are Not Political Philosophers (Baker)
This Chart Signals China’s Housing Bubble May Burst Soon (ME)
Russia Seen Dominating European Energy for Two Decades (BBG)
Sydney Home Prices Surge 14.8%, Fastest Annual Pace Since 2002 (BBG)
UK Nuclear Power Stations ‘Could Be Forced To Close’ After Brexit (G.)
Denmark Reduces Food Waste By 25% In 5 Years With Help Of One Woman (Ind.)
The World-Ending Fire – How America’s Farmers Betrayed The Land (G.)

 

 

Lots of retirement and pension scare stories today. I can only hope our readers have taken our warnings through the years to heart.

Raising Pension Age Will Mean Many People Die Before Getting It (G.)

Further increases in the state pension age could push it to the point where many working people die before qualifying for it, MPs have warned, in a report that calls for the end of the “triple lock” guarantee on pensions. The Commons work and pensions select committee report on intergenerational fairness, published on Tuesday, claims that financing the triple lock in future will not be possible without increasing the state pension age to 70.5 years – leaving men in Manchester, Birmingham, Bradford and Blackpool dying on average before they receive their state pension. Under the triple lock, pensions have risen every year since 2010 by whichever is the higher figure out of the rate of inflation, average earnings or a minimum of 2.5%. This has lifted many pensioners out of poverty but the committee said it had resulted in the over-65s taking an “ever greater share of national income”.

In its November 2016 report, the committee recommended that the triple lock be replaced from 2020 by a smoothed earnings link. This would benchmark the state pension to a fixed proportion of average earnings in the long run, but would protect its purchasing power in times of inflation. Citing figures from the Institute of Fiscal Studies, the committee said the state pension age would need to rise to 70.5 years by 2060 to make the triple lock affordable, “meaning today’s young would face working lives of over 50 years before receiving a state pension”. It added: “Making the triple lock sustainable would mean pushing the state pension age over average life expectancy in poorer areas of the UK”. Current male life expectancy is lowest in Blackpool, at 67.5, while it is 68.7 in parts of Bradford and 70.2 in much of Manchester. Tower Hamlets in London’s East End has a male life expectancy of 69.1.

Read more …

Dominoes.

NY Teamsters Pension Fund Becomes First To Run Out Of Money (NYDN)

Chmil is one of roughly 4,000 retired Teamsters across New York State suffering a fate that could soon hit millions of working-class Americans — the loss of their union pensions. Teamsters Local 707’s pension fund is the first to officially bottom out financially — which happened this month. “I had a union job for 30 years,” Chmil said. “We had collectively bargained contracts that promised us a pension. I paid into it with every paycheck. Everyone told us, ‘Don’t worry, you have a union job, your pension is guaranteed.’ Well, so much for that.” Also on the brink of drying up are the pensions for two Teamster locals — 641 and 560 — in New Jersey, union officials said. Plus 35,000 Teamster members upstate who are part of the money-hemorrhaging New York State Teamsters Pension Fund.

Bigger than all of New York’s Teamster locals combined is the Central States Pension Fund — another looming financial disaster that could leave 407,000 retirees without pensions across the Midwest and South. And there’s still more beyond that, in various industries, officials say. “It’s a nightmare, it has just devastated all of our lives. I’ve gone from having $48,000 a year to less than half that,” said Chmil, one of five Local 707 retirees who agreed to share their stories with the Daily News last week. “I don’t want other people to have to go through this. We need everyone to wake up and do something; that’s why we’re talking,” said Ray Narvaez. Narvaez, 77, got a union certificate upon retirement in 2003 that guaranteed him a lifetime pension of $3,479 a month. The former short-haul trucker — who carried local freight around the city — started hearing talk in 2008 of sinking finances in his union’s pension fund.

But the monthly checks still came — including a bonus “13th check” mailed from the union without fail every Dec. 15. Then Narvaez, like 4,000 other retired Teamster truckers, got a letter from Local 707 in February of last year. It said monthly pensions had to be slashed by more than a third. It was an emergency move to try to keep the dying fund solvent. That dropped Narvaez from nearly $3,500 to about $2,000. “They said they were running out of money, that there could be no more in the pension fund, so we had to take the cut,” said Narvaez, whose wife was recently diagnosed with cancer. The stopgap measure didn’t work — and after years of dangling over the precipice, Local 707’s pension fund fell off the financial cliff this month.

With no money left, it turned to Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., a government insurance company that covers pension. Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. picked up Local 707’s retiree payouts — but the maximum benefit it gives a year is roughly $12,000, for workers who racked up at least 30 years. For those with less time on the job, the payouts are smaller.

Read more …

“Americans who turn 70 1/2 have until April of the following calendar year to make withdrawals or face stiff penalties…”

US Baby Boomers Forced By Law To Start Drawing From Retirement Funds (MW)

Robert Kiyosaki, author of the “Rich Dad” series of books, has for years predicted an epic market crash when baby boomers, forced by law, start drawing from retirement funds in large numbers. That meltdown was supposed to happen last year. Instead, the bull market raged on: It will be eight years old in March, if measured by the 2009 bottom. Kiyosaki has drawn some flak along the way. Kiyosaki hasn’t given up on the prediction, however, he told MarketWatch in a late-January interview and a series of follow-up emails. Baby boomers still need to start drawing money in 2017, he notes: They hold about $10 trillion in tax-deferred savings accounts, according to Bank of New York Mellon; Americans who turn 70 1/2 have until April of the following calendar year to make withdrawals or face stiff penalties. (There were nearly 75 million Boomers in 2015, according to Pew Research.)

“Every time I say that to people they scoff at me,” said Kiyosaki of his baby boomer meltdown theory. “The fact is, they’re pulling the money out…the thing that did happen that I never expected, was the market went up a lot due to the ‘Trump Bump.’” Early in 2016, when stocks posted their worst January since 2009, it looked like Kiyosaki might be right about the market. Stocks recovered only to slide on Brexit last summer and then fall briefly in an autumn pre-election dip. It’s been upward momentum ever since. The surprise election victory of President Donald Trump, who rallied investors with his promise to revamp the economy, further muddied the picture for Kiyosaki’s forecast. While stocks were already up about 4.3% before the election, its outcome boosted the S&P to finish 2016 with a 9.5% gain. The Dow industrials logged their best annual finish in 3 years, up 13.4%.

[..] Kiyosaki says 2016 brought about other, unexpected, crashes. “What has happened instead of a market crash was the crash in interest rates, which are adversely affecting millions of fixed-income retirees, pension plans, and savers — at the same time incentivizing people like me to become debtors, using debt to acquire income-producing real estate,” he said. Most retirement plans assume an 8% return, Kiyosaki said, but “when interest rates are a 1% or 0% or negative%, returns aren’t working.”

Read more …

Lots of numbers, but none really matter much. The crux is that if there are Greek pensions that are too high, for instance compared to other European ones, cut them, fine. But don’t cut ones that are already below and and all minimal limits. That is not even worth being labeled policy, it’s simply inhumane.

Greek Pensioners Brace For Latest Crisis Cuts (K.)

One group of Greeks that will look upon the return of creditors to Athens for talks aimed at completing the second review with some trepidation is the country’s 2.7 million pensioners. Since 2010, when Greece signed its first bailout with the eurozone and the IMF, the retirement age and social security contributions have increased, while pensions have come down. There is rarely a review that leaves pensions untouched and this one promises to be no different as lenders are targeting a reduction of annual pension spending by about 1.8 billion euros, or 1% of GDP. The IMF has been the most vociferous among Greece’s lenders regarding the need for a further overhaul of the country’s pension system to make it sustainable in the long run.

Between 2000 and 2010, pension spending in Greece climbed from 11 to 15% of GDP, mostly due to large increases in nominal pensions, generous benefits and options for early retirement. During this period, Greece’s figure was the second highest in the eurozone after that of Italy, according to the IMF. Despite two sets of reforms legislated in 2010 and 2012, pension expenditure continued rising and hit 17.7% in 2015, largely due to a GDP contracting by 25% while the average pension decreased by 8% between 2010 and 2015. The IMF believes the combination of low contribution revenues and high pension spending led to the pension deficit climbing from 7.3% of GDP in 2010 to 11% in 2015, making it by far the highest in the euro area.

Read more …

It’s about access to the ECB’s QE program, where Draghi starts buying Greek bonds. And perhaps even the markets too. That would hugely limit Greece’s dependence on the Troika.

Merkel Bypasses Schäuble To Push For Greek Review Conclusion (K.)

Kathimerini understands that German Chancellor Angela Merkel is prepared to do whatever it takes to conclude the second review of Greece’s third bailout so that it can join the ECB’s quantitative easing program (QE), on the condition that the government agrees to a package of pension cuts and a reduced tax threshold – amounting to roughly 2% of GDP. According to sources, Merkel has, to this end, already seized the initiative and met with ECB head Mario Draghi. The German chancellor is also expected to bypass any objections that may be raised by her finance minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble, and will push for a specific outline of what midterm measures for debt relief will look like – once Greece agrees to measures demanded by the IMF.

Draghi, as well as ECB executive board member Benoit Coeure, have already made it clear that Greece can only join the QE mechanism if it concludes the review, and midterm measures for debt relief are in place – which is something that, so far, Schaeuble has opposed. Merkel’s plan stipulates that after a staff level agreement is reached, the Greek Parliament will vote through the measures. When this is done, the specifics of the debt relief measures will be presented as a carrot to Athens. This will open the way for it to join the QE scheme and the IMF to rejoin the Greek program.

Read more …

if this is true, it’s massive.

US Stepping In To Ease Greece, Turkey Tensions (K.)

Washington appears to have activated a channel of communication with Ankara in a bid to reduce the recent spike in tensions with Greece in the Aegean Sea. According to sources, the US recently asked Ankara to tone down its aggressive stance in the Aegean. It is not known how Ankara has taken the American initiative, but it is clear that Washington fears a possible incident in the Aegean between the two NATO allies, which could destabilize the alliance’s southeast wing. Meanwhile, the incendiary rhetoric emanating from Ankara, albeit from nongoverment politicians, continued Tuesday with the leader of the ultra-right MHP party Devlet Bahceli speaking of Greek islands that remained “under occupation.” Bahceli is an ally of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and supports the bid by the Turkish president to expand his executive powers in the referendum that will take place in Turkey on April 16.

Citing what he described as international law, Bahceli called for the “unconditional end to the occupation of the islands,” referring to a string of islands and islets in the eastern Aegean. He went even further, referring to the Greek-Turkish war in 1922 and the way the Greek army was defeated by Turkish forces in Asia Minor – without, however, mentioning the Greek population of Turkey which was uprooted as a result of the war. “If [the Greeks] want to fall back into the sea [referring to how the Greek army was pushed out of Asia Minor] and if they are up to it, they are welcome to do it. The Turkish army is ready,” he said. The MHP leader also said the divided island of Cyprus is Turkish. Since the recent escalation of tension between Greece and Turkey, progress in the UN-backed peace talks between Greek and Turkish Cypriots has stalled.

Read more …

Most remarkable thing must be that Trump has learned to read from a teleprompter, and was told to stick with only that.

Trump Touts Unity Strength In Speech To Congress (R.)

President Donald Trump told Congress on Tuesday he was open to immigration reform, shifting from his harsh rhetoric on illegal immigration in a speech that offered a more restrained tone than his election campaign and first month in the White House. Trump, in a prime-time address to a country that remains divided over his leadership, set aside disputes with Democrats and the news media to deliver his most presidential performance to date, seeking to regain the confidence of Americans rattled by his leadership thus far. The president’s speech was long on promises but short on specifics on how to achieve a challenging legislative agenda that could add dramatically to budget deficits. He wants a healthcare overhaul, broad tax cuts and a $1 trillion public-private initiative to rebuild degraded roads and bridges.

Trump built a base of support behind his presidential campaign by vowing to fight illegal immigration. In his speech, he took a more moderate tone, appealing to Republicans and Democrats to work together on immigration reform. He said it was possible if both Republicans and Democrats in Congress were willing to compromise, although he also said U.S. immigration should be based on a merit-based system, rather than relying on lower-skilled immigrants. Comprehensive immigration reform eluded his two predecessors, Democrat Barack Obama and Republican George W. Bush, because of deep divisions within Congress and among Americans over the issue. Trump said reform would raise wages and help more struggling families enter the middle class. “I believe that real and positive immigration reform is possible, as long as we focus on the following goals: to improve jobs and wages for Americans, to strengthen our nation’s security, and to restore respect for our laws,” said the Republican president.

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Dean Baker corrects the NYT.

Donald Trump and Paul Ryan are Not Political Philosophers (Baker)

Apparently the paper is confused on this issue since it headlined a front page piece on the budget, “Trump budget sets up clash over ideology within G.O.P.” The article lays out this case in the fourth paragraph: “He [Trump] also set up a battle for control of Republican Party ideology with House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, who for years has staked his policy-making reputation on the argument that taming the budget deficit without tax increases would require that Congress change, and cut, the programs that swallow the bulk of the government’s spending — Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.” Most of us recognize Donald Trump and Paul Ryan as politicians who hold their jobs as a result of being able to gain the support of important interest groups. It really doesn’t make much difference what their political philosophy is.

Contrary to what the NYT might lead us to believe, this is not a battle of political philosophy, it is a battle over money. On this score, the NYT also gets matters seriously confused. First of all, it is wrong to describe Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid as “the programs that swallow the bulk of government spending.” Under the law, Social Security can only spend money raised through its designated taxes, either currently or in the past. For this reason, it is not a drain on the rest of the budget unless Congress changes the law. Medicaid would also not rank among the three largest programs. The government is projected to spend $592 billion this year on the military compared to $401 billion on Medicaid.

The claim that Paul Ryan is concerned that these programs would “swallow the bulk of government spending” directly contradicts everything Paul Ryan has been explicitly advocating for years. Ryan has repeatedly put forward budgets that would reduce the size of the federal government to zero outside of the military, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. It is difficult to understand how a major newspaper can so completely misrepresent a strongly and repeatedly stated view of one of the country’s most important political figures.

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Full blown insanity.

This Chart Signals China’s Housing Bubble May Burst Soon (ME)

The probability that a real estate bubble may burst in China is rising. The financial sector heavily depends on real estate, which in turn exposes the entire Chinese economy to systemic risk. This link means that a downturn in real estate could soon spread to other areas of the Chinese economy if banks face liquidity shortfalls. Also, falling housing prices could result in more non-performing loans (NPLs). While NPLs officially account for only 1.75% of all Chinese loans, the government is likely understating the figure. BMI Research, a financial consulting firm, estimated in a 2016 report that NPLs could be close to 20% of loans.

As banks gave more credit to real estate developers and buyers, their profitability stalled. In theory, China’s economy is not based on capitalism and thus doesn’t revolve around profitability; but in practice, money needs to come from somewhere. A company that doesn’t make a profit can’t survive in the long run. The Chinese government can’t afford to let banks fail since it would threaten both the financial system’s health and the key lifeline to state-owned enterprises that provide jobs. This surge in China’s real estate prices, fueled by ongoing credit expansion, are forcing the government to choose between deflating the housing market and slowing growth.

Read more …

Pipelines vs pipedreams.

Russia Seen Dominating European Energy for Two Decades (BBG)

Europe has wanted to wean itself from Russian natural gas ever since supplies from its eastern neighbor dropped during freezing weather in 2009. Almost a decade later, the region has never been more dependent. Gazprom, Russia’s state-run export monopoly, shipped a record amount of gas to the European Union last year and accounts for about 34% of the trading bloc’s use of the fuel. Russia will remain the biggest source of supply through 2035, Shell said last week, echoing comments by BP in January. EU lawmakers have had their hearts set on diversifying supplies with liquefied natural gas delivered by tanker from the U.S., where production of the fuel skyrocketed last year. So far, those shipments have failed to materialize amid a lack of firm contracts and higher prices outside Europe. Overall, LNG shipments to the region, led by Qatar, were stagnant last year. “Russia will for sure remain Europe’s largest gas supplier for at least two more decades,” even if most of the incremental gains in EU imports are met by LNG from somewhere else, said Vladimir Drebentsov, chief economist for Russia and CIS at BP in Moscow.

Read more …

It was once a good place to live.

Sydney Home Prices Surge 14.8%, Fastest Annual Pace Since 2002 (BBG)

Dwelling values in Australia’s largest city rose at the fastest annual pace in 14-years in February as record-low interest rates outweighed regulatory efforts to avert a housing bubble. Average values in Sydney surged by 18.4%, the biggest jump since December 2002 when the nation was at the tail-end of the early 2000’s housing boom, according to data provider CoreLogic Inc. Across the state capitals combined, values rose by 11.7%. Despite tighter lending restrictions aimed at discouraging speculative buying by landlords, the runaway housing market shows few signs of easing amid strong economic growth, historically low borrowing costs and a tax system that offers perks for property investors. Housing affordability has become a hot-button political issue, with New South Wales premier Gladys Berejiklian promising to make it one of her top priorities.

Last month, she appointed former Reserve Bank of Australia governor Glenn Stevens to advise on the options. Central bank Governor Philip Lowe has signaled he’d prefer not to ease interest rates as it would further inflate Sydney house prices and drive already record household debt even higher, threatening financial stability. “The strong growth conditions across Sydney have provided a substantial wealth boost for home owners,” said Tim Lawless, head of research at CoreLogic. “However, the flipside is that housing costs are becoming increasingly out of reach.” Prices are now almost 8.5 times higher than household incomes in Sydney, according to CoreLogic. There are, however, considerable regional variations. Perth, in the mining heartland of Western Australia that’s suffering as a decade-long investment boom winds down, saw values fall by 4.5% in the year to February.

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You can’t easily tweak internation law on nuclear. For good reasons.

UK Nuclear Power Stations ‘Could Be Forced To Close’ After Brexit (G.)

Nuclear power stations would be forced to shut down if a new measures are not in place when Britain quits a European atomic power treaty in 2019, an expert has warned. Rupert Cowen, a senior nuclear energy lawyer at Prospect Law, told MPs on Tuesday that leaving the Euratom treaty as the government has promised could see trade in nuclear fuel grind to a halt. The UK government has said it will exit Euratom when article 50 is triggered. The treaty promotes cooperation and research into nuclear power, and uniform safety standards. “Unlike other arrangements, if we don’t get this right, business stops. There will be no trade. If we can’t arrive at safeguards and other principles that allow compliance [with international nuclear standards] to be demonstrated, no nuclear trade will be able to continue.”

Asked by the chair of the Commons business, energy and industrial strategy select committee if that would see reactors switching off, he said: “Ultimately, when their fuels runs out, yes.” Cowen said that in his view there was no legal requirement for the UK to leave Euratom because of Brexit: “It’s a political issue, not a legal issue.” The UK nuclear industry would be crippled if new nuclear cooperation deals are not agreed within two years, a former government adviser told the committee. “There is a plethora of international agreements that would have to be struck that almost mirror those in place with Euratom, before we moved not just material but intellectual property, services, anything in the nuclear sector. We would be crippled without other things in place,” said Dame Sue Ion, chair of the Nuclear Innovation and Research Advisory Board, which was established by the government in 2013.

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Bur perhaps none of this matters in the long run, perhaps waste is the inevitable consequence of the need to feel rich, be rich. As Ken Latta put it in his February 23 article here at the Automatic Earth: “wealth is best measured by the capacity to be utterly wasteful”.

Denmark Reduces Food Waste By 25% In 5 Years With Help Of One Woman (Ind.)

Never underestimate the power of one dedicated individual. A woman has been credited by the Danish Government for single-handedly helping the country reduce its food waste by 25% in just five years. Selina Juul, who moved from Russian to Denmark when she was 13 years old, was shocked by the amount of food available and wasted at supermarkets. She told the BBC: “I come from a country where there were food shortages, we had the collapse of infrastructure, communism collapsed, we were not sure we could get food on the table”. Her organisation, Stop Spild Af Mad – which translates as Stop Wasting Food – made all the difference and is recognised as one of the key drivers behind the government’s focus to tackle food waste.

“She was this crazy Russian woman that walked in the door, with a crazy idea about stop wasting food and she has come really far since,” Maria Noel, communication officer of Dagrofa, a Danish retail company, told the BBC. “She basically changed the entire mentality in Danemark,” she added. Ms Juul convinced Rema 1000, the country’s biggest low-cost supermarket chain, to replace all its quantity discounts with single item discounts to minimise food waste. Max Skov Hanser, a grocer at Rema 1000, said the retailer wasted about 80 to 100 bananas every day. However, after the supermarket put up a sign saying “take me I’m single”, it reduced the waste on bananas by 90%. In the past five years Denmark has become one of the leading European countries in the fight against food waste. Last year, a charity in Copenhagen opened Denmark’s first ever food surplus supermarket, which sells products at prices 30 to 50% cheaper than usual retailers.

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On Wendell Berry.

The World-Ending Fire – How America’s Farmers Betrayed The Land (G.)

Berry’s essays roam widely over such topics as “Writer and Region” (an A-grade discussion of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn), “The Work of Local Culture” and his high-minded disinclination to swap his ancient typewriter for a computer (complete with several shocked technophile responses). But the majority of them return, out of a kind of disgust, to the idea of betrayal, and the way in which the US farming industry has abandoned its responsibility to the terrain it has been cultivating for the last century and a half. The startling aspect of this charge sheet is its proxy villain, which is neither the cereal companies nor the burger chains but the American dream. Ronald Reagan once named his favourite children’s books as Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series, in which the resourceful Ingalls family head west across the newly available prairie states.

Pa chops trees, builds shacks and plants corn while Ma keeps house and thinks the native population “dirty”. To Berry, by contrast, the Pa Ingallses of the 1870s midwest are simply opportunists casting aside the old ways without bothering to reflect on their value, exploiters whose hard work and high moral tone obscure the absence of any real relationship with the land they are bent on despoiling. “A Native Hill”, a series of pointed reflections on the landscape of Henry County, Kentucky, notes that the original inhabitants had managed to preserve its integrity for thousands of years. The pioneers “in a century and half plundered the area of at least half its topsoil and virtually all its forest”, and constructed a road they may not have needed in the first place.

On the one hand, Berry is placing the Native American Indians and Pa Ingalls in false opposition: the effervescing Ingalls brood were different kinds of people – most obviously, nomads and settlers – wanting different things from the world they inhabited. On the other hand, Berry’s agrarian arguments are persuasive. To produce five feet of topsoil, he suggests in “The Making of a Marginal Farm”, takes 50,000 to 60,000 years. Meanwhile, the rallying cries are mounting up: think small; distrust the combines; a family can live for a year off a 60 sq ft vegetable plot; nobody ever did themselves any good by living in a city (he derides “the assumption that the life of the metropolis is the experience, the modern experience … ”).

As for The World-Ending Fire’s implications, you can just about envisage a future in which, once the fossil fuels have run out, necessity forces us all to live in smaller, self-sustaining societies without the benefit of the internal combustion engine. So perhaps Berry will have the last laugh. Whether by that stage in human evolution it will be worth having is another matter.

Read more …

Feb 282017
 
 February 28, 2017  Posted by at 2:33 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  19 Responses »
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Willem de Kooning Gotham News 1955

 

You could perhaps say that this is part 4 in a series on -America’s- peak wealth, even if it was never intended to be such a series; it just happened. First, in a February 18 essay about declining economic growth, “Not Nearly Enough Growth To Keep Growing”, I said “..the Automatic Earth has said for many years that the peak of our wealth was sometime in the 1970’s or even late 1960’s”.

That prompted a reply from long-time Automatic Earth reader Ken Latta, which he turned into an article a few days later which I published on February 23 as “When Was America’s Peak Wealth?” Ken reasoned that America’s peak wealth was sometime in the late ’50s to early 60’s.

Then yesterday, I posted “Peak American Wealth – Revisited”, which contains Ken’s responses to what various readers had written in the Comments section of the second piece. I remarked that many of the commenters seemed, like Ken, to be in their 70s. All this led to an even livelier and more personal Comments section for that article, including quite a few by younger readers.

Not that I ever had the impression that the Automatic Earth had become an old folks home, I just figured ‘older’ people are more likely to be triggered by talking about the 1960s, a period the younger only know from second-hand accounts. Still, it’s good to see, also in private emails, that there are quite few in their 20s and 30s who’ve been reading us for many years, and who do understand quite a bit about the crisis we’re in.

One of the mails I received was from long time acquaintance (for lack of a better word, I don’t think we ever met) Charles A. Hall. I’ve been familiar with Charlie’s work as systems ecologist on energy -in a very broad sense- for a long time, and have always held him in high esteem. That he reads the Automatic Earth on a regular basis is of course a privilege for us. That what he sees as my mistakes urge him to write an article is an even greater honor.

I’ll let Charlie do his own PR line: “Dr. Hall is Emeritus Professor at State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Syracuse. Author of 13 books and nearly 300 scientific papers on these topics including Energy and the wealth of Nature (with Kent Klitgaard) and his new Energy Return on Investment: a Unifying Principle for Biology, Economics and Sustainabiity (both from Springer Press).”

And I do agree with the honorable professor that discussing peak US wealth without giving energy a prominent position in that discussion is far from ideal. At the same time, economic systems can fall apart of their own accord and/or through human hubris. Even with equal or growing energy availability, no everlasting growth is guaranteed -or even possible.

Interesting detail is that Dr. Hall puts the ‘peak wealth time’ in the late 70s to early 80s. That’s quite a bit later than either Ken Latta or I did, and than most of our commenters seem to do. But point taken: absent energy no wealth can be created. Here’s Charlie:

 

 

Charles A. Hall: I keep being amazed at the inability of economists, commentators and most regular citizens to fail to understand the importance of resources in general and petroleum (oil and gas) in particular to the material well being of society. This is exemplified by the recent posts of Latta and Meijer. I provide a few simple graphs to make my point, and then below add some excerpts lifted and slightly modified from our book (Hall and Klitgaard, Energy and the Wealth of Nations, Springer).

John Hickenlooper, when he was Mayor of Denver, understood the importance of oil and its restrictions. He said: “This land was originally settled by the Sioux. Everything that the Sioux depended upon, their food, clothing, shelter, implements and so on, came from the bison. They had many ceremonies giving thanks and appreciation to the Bison. We today are as dependent upon oil as the Sioux were on the bison, but not only do we not acknowledge or celebrate that, but most people do not have a clue”. Since 2010 global oil production is no longer increasing and may indeed be decreasing. Almost certainly it will decrease substantially in the future as we enter, in the words of geologist Colin Campbell, “the second half of the age of oil”.

The American dream was the product of industrious and clever people working hard within a relatively benign political system that encouraged business in various ways, but that all of these things also required a large resource base relative to the number of people using it. A key issue was the abundance of oil and gas in the United States, which was the world’s largest producer in 1970. But in 1970 (and 1973 for there was a clear peak in US oil production, and while the continued increase in oil production worldwide buffered the United States (and other countries) from the local peak it seems clear by 2017 that global oil production has reached its own peak while demand from around the world continues to grow.

This mismatch between supply and demand resulted in a sharp increase in the price of oil and many economic problems that we believe it caused, at least in part, including the stock market decline of 2008, the sub-prime real estate bust, the failure of many financial corporations, the fact that some 40 odd of 50 states are officially broke and that there is a substantial decrease in discretionary income for many average Americans. As developed later …. all of these economic problems are a direct consequence of the beginning of real shortages of petroleum in a petroleum-dependent society.

 

 

The historical ability to achieve wealth in the United States is in large part a consequence of the incredible resource base once found on the North American continent. These include initial endowments of huge forests, immense energy and other geological resources, fish, grass and, perhaps of greatest importance, rich deep soils where rain falls during the growing season.

While many other regions of the world also have, or had, a similarly huge resource base the United States has several other somewhat unique important attributes. The fact that these resources have been exploited intensely for only a few hundred years (vs. many thousand as in Europe or Asia), the presence of large oceans separate us from others who might want our resources; results in resources per capita that is relatively large, an extremely low human population density in the past and even now, so that the resources per capita is still relatively high.

A critical component of these patterns was the large increase in labor productivity during the first two thirds of the 20th century. This allowed both industry owners and labor, especially of the largest corporations, to do better and better. What was less emphasized but enormously clear in retrospect was that to allow the economy to expand it was possible to massively increase the production from oil, gas and coal fields, some new, and some old but barely tapped previously, so that once the economic engine was started there was a great deal of high quality energy available. The United States began using many times as much energy per person as had been the case relatively few decades before or was the case in Europe.

But in 1973 the United States experienced the first of several “oil shocks” that seemed, for the first time, to inject a harsh note of vulnerability into the united chorus of the American Dream for all. Before the 1970s nearly all segments of American society – including labor, capital, government, and civil rights groups – were united behind the agenda of continuous economic growth. The idea that growth could be limited by resource or environmental constraints, or, more specifically, that we could run short of energy-providing fossil fuels was simply not part of the understanding or dialog of most of this country’s citizens. But this was to change in the 1970s.

 

 

In retrospect, we can now say that the pillars of post-war prosperity began to erode in the 1970s and early 1980s, and that changes in the social sphere also began to complicate and add to the biophysical changes derived from the decline in the availability of cheap oil. Even though the oil market had stabilized and cheap energy returned to the United States in the late 1980’s, the changes in the structure of the economy were long lasting. The economy ceased growing exponentially, although it continued to grow linearly but at a decreasing rate, from 4.4 percent per year in the 1960s to 3.3, 3.0, 3.2 to 2.4 percent to close to one percent in the following decades.

Many formerly “American” companies became international and moved production facilities overseas where labor was cheaper and oil, no longer cheaper in the US compared to elsewhere, was the same price, although cheap enough to pay for the additional transport required. The decrease in labor costs when production facilities were moved to other countries outweighed the costs and the process of globalization accelerated. Productivity growth (formerly strongly linked to increasing energy used per worker hour) in manufacturing industries began to slow, falling from 3.3% per year in the 1966-1973 period to 1.5% from 1973-1979 to essentially zero in the early 1980s.

 

 

Mainstream economists seemed at a loss to explain this phenomenon. Their statistical models, which relied on the amount of equipment per worker, education levels and workforce experience left more factors unexplained than explained. Even the profession’s productivity guru, Edward Denison, had to admit that the seventeen best models explained only a fraction of the problem, leaving half of the increase in wealth unexplained. But Denison’s model did not include energy, but only capital and labor. When Reiner Kummel and his colleagues included energy in the same model they found that the unexplained residual disappeared and that energy was even more important than either Capital or Labor.

My point, and this could be emphasized with many more citations and analyses, is that humans for some peculiar reason are unable or unwilling to give natural resources, the biophysical basis of real economies, their proper due. The days of abundant, cheap, exponentially growing availability and use of many resources, including especially high quality fossil fuels, is forever behind us. Fracked oil is expensive and already declining, we still import about half our oil, and consequently our economy cannot physically grow as readily as in the past. While there are many reasons beyond resources (such as concentration of wealth) for the failure of our economy to grow, we must first start with biophysical reality.

 

See also my new book “Energy Return on Investment: A unifying principle for Biology, Economics and Sustainability (Springer)

 

 

Feb 182017
 
 February 18, 2017  Posted by at 4:01 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »
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Jackson Pollock Shooting Star 1947

 

It’s amusing to see how views start to converge, at the same time that it’s tiresome to see how long that takes. It’s a good thing that more and more people ‘discover’ how and why austerity, especially in Europe, is such a losing and damaging strategy. It’s just a shame that this happens only after the horses have left the barn and the cows have come home, been fed, bathed, put on lipstick and gone back out to pasture again. Along the same lines, it’s beneficial that the recognition that for a long time economic growth has not been what ‘we’ think it should be, is spreading.

But we lost so much time that we could have used to adapt to the consequences. The stronger parties in all this, the governments, companies, richer individuals, may be wrong, but they have no reason to correct their wrongs: the system appears to work fine for them. They actually make good money because all corrections, all policies and all efforts to hide the negative effects of the gross ‘mistakes’, honest or not, made in economic and political circles are geared towards making them ‘whole’.

The faith in the absurd notion of trickle down ‘economics’ allows them to siphon off future resources from the lower rungs of society, towards themselves in the present. It will take a while for the lower rungs to figure this out. The St. Louis Fed laid it out so clearly this week that I wrote to Nicole saying ‘We’ve been vindicated by the Fed itself.’ That is, the Automatic Earth has said for many years that the peak of our wealth was sometime in the 1970’s or even late 1960’s.

Intriguing questions: was America at its richest right before or right after Nixon took the country off the gold standard in 1971? And whichever of the two one would argue for, why did he do it smack in the middle of peak wealth? Did he cause the downfall or was it already happening?

As per the St. Louis Fed report: “Real GDP growth fell and leveled off in the mid-1970s, then started falling again in the mid-2000s”. What happened during that 30-year period was that we started printing and borrowing with abandon, making both those activities much easier while we did, until the debt load overwhelmed even our widest fantasies ten years ago. And we’ve never recovered from that, if that was not obvious yet. Nor will we.

As the first graph below shows, there was still growth post-Gold Standard but the rate of growth fell and then “leveled off”, only to fall more after, to a point where Real GDP per Capita is presently 0.5% or so -little more than a margin error-. How one would want to combine that with talk of an economic recovery is hard to see. In fact, such talk should be under serious scrutiny by now.

Still, the numbers remain positive, you say. Yes, that’s true. But there’s a caveat, roughly similar to the one regarding energy and the return on it. Where we used to pump oil and get 100 times the energy in return that we needed to pump it, that ratio (EROEI) is now down to 10:1 or less. Alternative energy sources do little better, if at all. Whereas to run a complex society, let alone one like ours that must become more complex as we go along – or die-, we would need somewhere along the lines of a 20:1 to even 30:1 EROEI rate.

Another place where a similar caveat can be found is the amount of dollars it takes to produce a dollar of real growth. That amount has been increasing, and fast, to the point where it takes over $10 to create $1 or growth in the US and Europe, and China too moves towards such numbers.

Both our energy systems and our financial systems are examples of what happens when what we should perhaps call the rate of ‘productivity’ (rather than growth) falls below a critical mass: it becomes impossible to maintain, even keep alive, a society as complex as ours, which requires an increase in complexity to survive. In other words: a Real GDP per Capita growth rate of 0.5% is not enough to stand still, just like oil EROEI of 5:1 is not; there is growth, but not -nearly- enough to keep growing.

One does not get the impression that the St. Louis Fed economists who wrote the report are aware of this -though the title is suggestive enough-, they seem to lean towards the eternal desire for a recovery, but they did write it nonetheless. Do note the sharp drop that coincides with the 1973 oil crisis. We never ‘recovered’.

Why Does Economic Growth Keep Slowing Down?

The U.S. economy expanded by 1.6% in 2016, as measured by real GDP. Real GDP has averaged 2.1% growth per year since the end of the last recession, which is significantly smaller than the average over the postwar period (about 3% per year). These lower growth rates could in part be explained by a slowdown in productivity growth and a decline in factor utilization. However, demographic factors and attitudes toward the labor market may also have played significant roles.

The figure below shows a measure of long-run trends in economic activity. It displays the average annual growth rate over the preceding 40 quarters (10 years) for the period 1955 through 2016. (Hence, the first observation in the graph is the first quarter of 1965, and the last is the fourth quarter of 2016.)

 

Long-run growth rates were high until the mid-1970s. Then, they quickly declined and leveled off at around 3% per year for the following three decades. In the second half of the 2000s, around the last recession, growth contracted again sharply and has been declining ever since. The 10-year average growth rate as of the fourth quarter of 2016 was only 1.3% per year. Total output grows because the economy is more productive and capital is accumulated, but also because the population increases over time.

The same dynamics (or lack thereof) are reflected in a recent piece by Chris Hamilton, in which he argues that global growth -as expressed by growth in energy consumption- has largely been non-existent for years, other than in China. Moreover, China has added a stunning amount of debt to achieve that growth, and since its population growth is about to stagnate -and then turn negative-, this was pretty much all she wrote.

Global Growth is All About China…Nothing but China

Since 2000, China has been the nearly singular force for growth in global energy consumption and economic activity. However, this article will make it plain and simple why China is exiting the spotlight and unfortunately, for global economic growth, there is no one else to take center stage. To put things into perspective I’ll show this using four very inter-related variables…(1) total energy consumption, (2) core population (25-54yr/olds) size and growth, (3) GDP (flawed as it is), and (4) debt. First off, the chart below shows total global energy consumption (all fossil fuels, nuclear, hydro, renewable, etc…data from US EIA) from 1980 through 2014, and the change per period. The growth in global energy consumption from ’00-’08 was astounding and an absolute aberration, nearly 50% greater than any previous period.

 

[..] here is the money chart, pointing out that the growth in energy consumption (by period) has shifted away from “the world” squarely to China. From 2008 through 2014 (most recent data available), 2/3rds or 66% of global energy consumption growth was China. Also very noteworthy is that India nor Africa have taken any more relevance, from a growth perspective, over time. The fate of global economic growth rests solely upon China’s shoulders.

 

China’s core population is essentially peaking this year and beginning a decades long decline (not unlike the world. The chart below shows total Chinese core population peaking, energy consumption stalling, and debt skyrocketing.

 

The chart below shows China’s core population (annual change) again against total debt, GDP, and energy consumption. The reliance on debt creation as the core population growth decelerated is really hard not to see. This shrinking base of consumption will destroy the meme that a surging Chinese middle class will drive domestic and global consumption…but I expect this misconception will continue to be peddled for some time.

 

• China of ’85-’00 grew on population and demographic trends.

• China of ’00-’15 grew despite decelerating population growth but on accelerating debt growth…this growth in China kept global growth alive.

• China of ’15-’30 will not grow, will not drive the global economy and absent Chinese growth…the world economy is set to begin an indefinite period of secular contraction. China ceased accumulating US Treasury debt as of July of 2011 and continues to sell while busy accumulating gold since 2011.

Unfortunately, neither quasi-democracies nor quasi-communist states have any politically acceptable solutions to this problem of structural decelerating growth and eventual outright contraction…but that won’t keep them from meddling to stall the inevitable global restructuring.

I can only hope that these data will convince more people that all the times I’ve said that growth is over, it was true. And perhaps even make them think about what follows from there: that when growth is gone, so is all centralization, including globalization, other than by force. This will change the world a lot, and unfortunately not always in peaceful ways.

What seems to have started (but was in the air long before) with Brexit and Trump, is merely a first indication of what’s to come. People will not accept that important decisions that affect them directly are taken by anonymous ‘actors’ somewhere far away, unless this promises and delivers them very concrete and tangible benefits. In fact, many have lost all faith in the whole idea, and that’s why we have Trump and Brexit in the first place.

This turn inward -protectionism if you will-, in the UK, US and many other places, is an inevitable development that follows from declining growth and soaring debt. Entire societies will have to be re-built from the ground up, and people will want to do that themselves, not have it dictated by strangers. At the same time, of course, those who profit most from centralization want that to continue. They can’t, but they will try, and hard.

Equally important, people who wish to try and save existing ‘central institutions’ for less selfish and more peaceful reasons should think twice, because they will fail too. It’s centralization itself that is failing, and the demise of the structures that represent it is but a consequence of that. We will see local structures being built, and only after that possibly -and hopefully- connect to each other. This is a big change, and therefore a big challenge.

Dec 162016
 
 December 16, 2016  Posted by at 5:44 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  10 Responses »
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Parisians duck down to evade German sniper fire following Nazi surrender of Paris, 1945

 

If you ever wondered what the odds are of mankind surviving, let alone ‘defeating’, climate change, look no further than the essay the Guardian published this week, written by Michael Bloomberg and Mark Carney. It proves beyond a moonlight shadow of a doubt that the odds are infinitesimally close to absolute zero (Kelvin, no Hobbes).

Yes, Bloomberg is the media tycoon and former mayor of New York (which he famously turned into a 100% clean and recyclable city). And since central bankers are as we all know without exception experts on climate change, as much as they are on full-contact crochet, it makes perfect sense that Bank of England governor Carney adds his two -trillion- cents.

Conveniently, you don’t even have to read the piece, the headline tells you all you need and then some: “How To Make A Profit From Defeating Climate Change” really nails it. The entire mindset on display in just a few words. If that’s what they went for, kudo’s are due.

These fine gents probably actually believe that this is perfectly in line with our knowledge of, say, human history, of evolution, of the laws of physics, and of -mass- psychology. All of which undoubtedly indicate to them that we can and will defeat the problems we have created -and still are-, literally with the same tools and ideas -money and profit- that we use to create them with. Nothing ever made more sense.

That these problems originated in the same relentless quest for profit that they now claim will help us get rid of them, is likely a step too far for them; must have been a class they missed. “We destroyed it for profit” apparently does not in their eyes contradict “we’ll fix it for profit too”. Not one bit. It does, though. It’s indeed the very core of what is going wrong.

Profit, or money in general, is all these people live for, it’s their altar. That’s why they are successful in this world. It’s also why the world is doomed. Is there any chance I could persuade you to dwell on that for a few seconds? That, say, Bloomberg and Carney, and all they represent, are the problem dressed up as the solution? That our definition of success is what dooms us?

Philosophers, religious people, or you and me, may struggle with the question “what’s the purpose of life?”. These guys do not. The purpose of life is to make a profit. The earth and all the life it harbors exist to kill, drill, excavate and burn down, if that means you can make a profit. And after that you repair it all for a profit. In their view, the earth doesn’t turn of its own accord after all, it’s money that makes it go round.

 

The worrisome thing is that Mark and Michael will be listened to, that they are allowed a seat at the table in the first place, whereas you and I are not. A table that will be filled with plenty more of their ilk, as the announcement of Bill Gates’ billionaire philantropist energy fund says loud and clear:

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and a group of high-profile executives are investing $1 billion in a fund to spur clean energy technology and address global climate change a year after the Paris climate agreement. Gates launched the Breakthrough Energy Ventures fund on Monday along with billionaire entrepreneurs such as Facebook head Mark Zuckerberg, Alibaba Chairman Jack Ma and Amazon.com chief Jeff Bezos. The fund seeks to increase financing of emerging energy research and reduce global greenhouse gas emissions to help meet goals set in Paris, according to a statement by the investor group known as the Breakthrough Energy Coalition.

Yes, many of the same folk and/or their minions were sitting at the table with Trump on Dec 14. To see if there are any profits to be made. When a profit is involved they have no trouble sitting down with the same guy they insulted and warned against day after grueling day mere weeks ago. They have no trouble doing it because they insulted him for a potential profit too. It’s business, it’s not personal.

Billionaires will save us from ourselves, and make us -and themselves- rich while doing it. What is not to like? Well, for one thing, has anybody lately checked the energy footprint of Messrs. Bloomberg, Gates, Ma, Zuckerberg, Bezos et al? Is it possible that perhaps they’re trying to pull our collective wool over our eyes by pretending to care about those footprints? That maybe these ‘clean energy’ initiatives are merely a veil behind which they intend to extend -and expand- said footprints?

The ones in that sphere who wind up being most successful are those who are most convincing in making us believe that all we need to do to avert a climate disaster is to use some different form of energy. That all the talk about zero emissions and clean energy is indeed reflecting our one and only possible reality.

That all we need to do is to switch to solar and wind and electric cars to save ourselves (and they’ll build them for a subsidy). That that will end the threat and we can keep on doing what we always did, and keep on growing it all and as the cherry on the cake, make a profit off the endeavor.

 

None of it flies even a little. First of all, as I said last week in Mass Extinction and Mass Insanity, there are many more problems with our present lifestyles than ‘only’ climate change, or the use of carbon. Like the extinction of two-thirds of all vertebrate life in just 50 years leading up to 2020. There’s -close to- nothing wind and solar will do to alleviate that.

Because it’s not oil itself, or carbon in general, that kills; our use of it does. And the rush to build an entire new global infrastructure that is needed to use new energy forms, which will depend on using huge amounts of carbon, is more likely to kill off that globe than to save it. “Carbon got us in this, let’s use lots more of it to get us out”.

The trillions in -public- investment that are would be needed will make us all dirt poor too, except for the gentlemen mentioned above and a handful of others who invent stuff that they manage to make us believe will save us. Still convinced?

 

The lifestyles of the last 10 generations of us, especially westerners, are characterized more than anything else by the huge increase in the use of energy, of calories and joules. As we went from wood to peat to coal to oil and gas, the energy return on energy investment kept going higher. But that stopped with oil and gas. And from now on in it will keep going down.

“Free carbon excess” was a one-off ‘gift’ from nature. It will not continue and it will not return. Different forms of carbon have offered us a one-time source of free energy that we will not have again. The idea that we can replace it with ‘clean energy’ is ludicrous. The energy return on energy investment doesn’t even come close. And you can’t run a society with our present levels of complexity on a much lower ‘net energy’. We must dress down. No profit in that, sorry.

We built what we have now with oil at an EROEI of 100:1. There are no forms of energy left that come remotely close, including new, unconventional, forms of oil itself. Peak oil has been a much maligned and misunderstood concept, but its essence stands: when it takes more energy to ‘produce’ energy than it delivers, there will be no production.

This graph is a few years old, and wind and solar may have gained a few percentage points in yield, but it’s still largely correct. And it will continue to be.

 

 

We have done with all that free energy what all other life forms do when ‘gifted’ with an excess of available energy: spend it as fast as possible, proliferate to speed up the process (we went from less than 1 billion people to 7 billion in under 200 years, 2 billion to 7 billion in 100 years) and, most of all, waste it.

Ever wonder why everybody drives a car that is ten times heavier then her/himself and has a 10% efficiency rate in its energy use? Why there’s an infrastructure everywhere that necessitates for every individual to use 1000 times more energy than it would take herself to get from A to B on foot? Sounds a lot like deliberately wasteful behavior, doesn’t it?

The essence here is that while we were building this entire wasteful world of us, we engaged in the denying and lying behavior that typifies us as a species more than anything: we disregarded externalities. And there is no reason to believe we would not continue to do just that when we make the illusionary switch to ‘clean’ energy.

To begin with, the 2nd law of thermodynamics says there’s no such thing as clean energy. So stop using the term. Second, that we call wind and solar ‘clean energy’ means we’re already ignoring externalities again. We pretend that producing windmills and solar panels does not produce pollution (or we wouldn’t call it ‘clean’). While enormous amounts of carbon are used in the production process, and it involves pollution, loss of land, loss of life, loss of resources (once you burn it it’s gone).

 

An example: If we want to ‘save’ the earth, we would do good to start by overthrowing the way we produce food. It presently easily takes more than 10 calories of energy -mostly carbon- for every calorie of food we make. Then we wrap it all in (oil-based) plastic and transport it sometimes 1000s of miles before it’s on our plates. And at the end of this process, we will have thrown away half of it. It’s hard to think of a more wasteful process.

It’s a process obviously devised and executed by idiots. But it’s profitable. There is a profit to be made in wasting precious resources. And there is a key lesson in that. There is no profit in producing food in a more efficient way. At least not for the industries that produce it. And perhaps not even for you, if you produce most of your food – it takes ‘precious’ time.

It would still be hugely beneficial, though. And there’s the key. There is no direct link between what is good for us, and the planet, on the one side, and profit, money, on the other. What follows from that is that it’s not the people whose entire lives are centered around money who are the most obvious choices to ‘save the planet’. If anything, they are the least obvious.

But in an economic and political system that is itself as focused on money as ours is, they are still the ones who are allowed to assume this role. It’s a circle jerk around, and then into, a drain.

 

Mankind’s only chance to not destroy its planet lies in diverging from all other species in that not all energy available to it, is used up as fast as possible. But that’s a big challenge. It would, speaking from a purely philosophical angle, truly separate us from nature for the first time ever, and we must wonder if that’s desirable.

We would need to gain much more knowledge of who we are and what makes us do what we do, and why. But that is not going to happen if we focus on making a profit. Using less energy means less waste means less profit.

Yes, there may be energy sources that produce a bit less waste, a bit less pollution, than those that are carbon based. But first, our whole infrastructure has been built by carbon, and second, even if another energy source would become available, we would push to grow its use ever more, and end up initially in the same mess, and then a worse one.

 

 

I stumbled upon an excellent example of the effects of all this today:

The Shattering Effect Of Roads On Nature

Rampant road building has shattered the Earth’s land into 600,000 fragments, most of which are too tiny to support significant wildlife, a new study has revealed. The researchers warn roadless areas are disappearing and that urgent action is needed to protect these last wildernesses, which help provide vital natural services to humanity such as clean water and air. The impact of roads extends far beyond the roads themselves, the scientists said, by enabling forest destruction, pollution, the splintering of animal populations and the introduction of deadly pests.

An international team of researchers analysed open-access maps of 36m km of road and found that over half of the 600,000 fragments of land in between roads are very small – less than 1km2. A mere 7% are bigger than 100km2, equivalent to a square area just 10km by 10km (6mi by 6 mi). Furthermore, only a third of the roadless areas were truly wild, with the rest affected by farming or people.

The last remaining large roadless areas are rainforests in the Amazon and Indonesia and the tundra and forests in the north of Russia and Canada. Virtually all of western Europe, the eastern US and Japan have no areas at all that are unaffected by roads.

 

 

It’s a good example because it raises the question: how much of this particular issue do you think will be solved by the promotion of electric cars, or windmills? How much of it do you think can be solved for a profit? Because if there’s no profit in it, it will not happen.

One more for the philosophy class: I know many people will be inclined to suggest options like nuclear fusion. Or zero point energy. And I would suggest that not only do these things exist in theory only, which is always a bad thing if you have an immediate problem. But more than that: imagine providing the human race with a source of endless energy, and then look at what it’s done with the free energy available to it over the past 10 generations.

Give man more energy and he’ll just destroy his world faster. It’s not about carbon, it’s about energy and about what you yourself do with it. And no, money and profit will not reverse climate change, or any other detrimental effects they have on our lives. They will only make them worse.