Let’s Stop Fooling Ourselves: We Can’t Afford the Future

Affordability?  Of Concern To Us All.

For this post I want to simply quote, verbatim, an article by Adam Taggart, originally published by Peak Prosperity.  I couldn’t put this any better and it applies just as much to my own country Australia as it does to America.


Let’s Stop Fooling Ourselves: Americans Can’t Afford the Future

Unemployment, Taxes and Unfunded Retirement are Squeezing Each Generation
by Adam Taggart
Tuesday, March 12, 2013, 11:24 AM

The American spirit is rooted in the belief of a better tomorrow. Its success has been due to generations of men and women who toiled, through both hardship and boom times, to make that dream a reality.

But at some point over the past several decades, that hope for a better tomorrow became an expectation. Or perhaps a perceived entitlement is more accurate.

It became assumed that the future would be more prosperous than today, irrespective of the actual steps being taken in the here and now.

And for a prolonged time – characterized by plentiful and cheap energy, accelerating globalization, technical innovation, and the financialization of the economy – it seemed like this assumption was a certain bet. 

But these wonderful tailwinds that America has been enjoying for so many decades are sputtering out. The forces of resource scarcity, debt saturation, price inflation, and physical limits will impact our way of life dramatically more going forward than living generations have experienced to date.

And Americans, who had the luxury of abandoning savings and sacrifice for consumerism and credit financing, are on a collision course with that reality. Like the grasshopper in Aesop’s fable, they have partied away the fair seasons and winter is now on the way, which they are not prepared for.

The prudent thing to do here would be to have an honest, adult-sized conversation with ourselves about our level of (un)readiness and how best to use the resources and time we have left while the system still works more or less the way we’re used to. There are certainly strategies and steps we can take in the here and now to best match priorities to needs, and meet the future as prepared as possible.

But you won’t find this discussion in the national media. Our politicians insist on charting a course of more of the same, no matter how unsustainable, adamant not to touch any political third rails – for fear of not pleasing the electorate and/or donors. Major media outlets have abandoned the investigative journalism that once held the mirror of truth up to power, and instead, run superficial puff pieces that conclude with platitudes – for fear of not offending viewers and/or sponsors. The message is clear: The future will be better as soon as economic growth returns. Or oil prices come down. Or the iPhone 6 comes out. Or whatever the magic bullet du jour.

So it’s up to the concerned and critical-thinking among us to look at the math, the hard data underlying the headlines, and construct what we can best calculate to be true. 

And the truth is: The three adult generations in the U.S. are suffering, and their burdens are likely to increase with time. Each is experiencing a squeeze that is making it harder to create value, save capital, and pursue happiness than at any point since WWII. At that point, we were a creditor nation with an economy exploding into dominance on the world stage. Now, however, the U.S. is the largest debtor nation and our economic hegemony is increasingly at siege across a number of fronts.

A continuation of the status quo is a decision to sleepwalk face-first into the constraints hurtling towards us.

Instead, shouldn’t we stop fooling ourselves and ask: What should we be doing differently?

We’ll address that after we walk through the numbers.

Seniors Woefully Unprepared for Retirement

In the late 1970s, the 401k emerged as a new retirement vehicle. Among its touted benefits was the ability of the individual to save as much as s/he thought prudent for his/her financial future. Companies loved the new private savings plans because they gave them a way out of putting aside mandatory savings for worker pensions. For a long time, everyone thought this was a big step forward.

Three decades later, what we’re realizing is that this shift from dedicated-contribution pension plans to voluntary private savings was a grand experiment with no assurances. Corporations definitely benefited, as they could redeploy capital to expansion or bottom line profits. But employees? The data certainly seems to show that the experiment did not take human nature into account enough – specifically, the fact that just because people have the option to save money for later use doesn’t mean that they actually will.

First off, not every American worker (by far) is offered a 401k or similar retirement plan through work. But of those that are, 21% choose not to participate (source).

As a result, 1 in 4 of those aged 45-64 and 22% of those 65+ have $0 in retirement savings (source). Forty-nine percent of American adults of all ages aren’t saving anything for retirement.

Of those with retirement savings, the numbers are not good. Over half of US retirees have less than $25,000 in savings:


(Source)

Most planners advise saving enough before retirement to maintain annual living expenses at about 70-80% of what they were during one’s income-earning years. Medicare out-of-pocket costs alone are expected to be between $240,000 and $430,000 over retirement for a 65-year-old couple retiring today.

The gap between retirement savings and living costs in one’s later years is pretty staggering:

  • As the table above shows, nearly 83% of retired households have less saved than Medicare costs alone will consume.
  • One-third of retired households are entirely dependent on Social Security. On average, that’s only $1,230 per month – a hard income to live on. (source)
  • 34 percent of older Americans depend on credit cards to pay for basic living expenses such as mortgage payments, groceries, and utilities. (source

As for Medicare, the out-of-pocket costs could easily soar over retirement. The Wall Street Journal reports that the current estimate of Medicare’s unfunded liability now tops $42 Trillion. Such a mind-boggling gap makes it highly likely that current retirees will not receive all of the entitlements they are being promised.

And the denial being shown by baby boomers entering retirement is frightening. Many simply plan to work longer before retiring, with a growing percentage saying they plan to work “forever”. 

But the data shows that declining health gives older Americans no choice but to leave the work force eventually, whether they want to or not. Years of surveys by the Employment Benefit Research Institute show that fully half of current retirees had to leave the work force sooner than desired due to health problems, disability, or layoffs.

Add to this the nefarious impact of the Federal Reserve’s prolonged 0% interest rate policy, which makes it extremely hard for retirees with fixed-income investments to generate a meaningful income from them.

The number of Americans aged 65 years and older is projected to more than double in the next 40 years:

Will the remaining body of active workers be able to support this tsunami of underfunded seniors? Don’t bet on it.

Taxes and Inflation Are Sucking Productive Workers Dry

To borrow from another fable, U.S. policy is doing its best to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. Bottlenecked between retirees and the younger “millennial” generation is the current “productive peak” working class. As government, mired in debt and budget deficits, grows desperate to boost tax receipts and keep interest rates on its debt manageable, it is increasingly both siphoning capital and stealing purchasing power from those generating income.

History shows that this cannot continue indefinitely. Eventually you exhaust the incentive for working and your productive class goes on strike.

How close are we to that breaking point? It’s not hard to find a litany of articles on the Internet these days warning that it’s coming soon:

Personal Incomes & the Decline of the American Saver
If we put all of this together we can see a picture of the average American.  The chart below shows the annual change in personal incomes combined with the annual change in personal expenditures.  What is clear is that consumption has been supported by rising transfer receipts (welfare) and a drop in the personal savings rate which is now at the lowest level since just prior to the last recession.  The consumer is clearly struggling to maintain their current standard of living and all indications are that they are going to lose this battle.

Consumer Spending Drought: 16 Signs That the Middle Class Is Running out of Money
Is “discretionary income” rapidly becoming a thing of the past for most American families?  Right now, there are a lot of signs that we are on the verge of a nightmarish consumer spending drought.  Incomes are down, taxes are up, many large retail chains are deeply struggling because of the lack of customers, and at this point nearly a quarter of all Americans have more credit card debt than money in the bank.  Considering the fact that consumer spending is such a large percentage of the U.S. economy, that is very bad news.  How will we ever have a sustained economic recovery if consumers don’t have much money to spend?  Well, the truth is that we aren’t ever going to have a sustained economic recovery.  In fact, this debt-fueled bubble of false hope that we are experiencing right now is as good as things are going to get.  Things are going to go downhill from here, and if you think that consumer spending is bad now, just wait until you see what happens over the next several years

Looking from a bird’s-eye view, real wages have been falling in the U.S. for decades. The below chart includes numbers based on the officially reported Consumer Price Index (or CPI, the methodology of which has been changed many times to make the output “kinder and gentler”), as well as those from ShadowStats, which applies a standardized and less fuzzy methodology to try to get to a truer picture. You can see that according to ShadowStats (the dark blue line), real wages have been plummeting in recent years as the Federal Reserve has been running the money-printing machines at full tilt:

Meanwhile, the cost of living has soared as the Fed’s liquidity has found its way into the commodities markets and driven prices of essentials higher:

So today’s worker is enjoying paying for substantially costlier goods with a materially devalued income – that is, if they are fortunate enough to have an income.

Unemployment in the U.S. is still painfully high. Even the recently-celebrated declines are due to a jump in part time jobs as workers take on multiple jobs to simply get by. Full-time jobs are actually on the decline.

At the same time, in pursuit of greater efficiencies, U.S. corporations are investing more than ever in automation. Many of the less-skilled jobs lost during the Great Recession are simply not coming back, as human labor is increasingly replaced by robots and intelligent machines.

And yes, while the stock market is up nicely in the past year, the wealth gains from this are hyper-concentrated within the top 10% – really the top 1%, as this excellent video visualizes. (Warning: viewing this may make the blood boil.) The mean U.S. household currently only has about $50k in savings (and that average is skewed upwards by the super-rich).

These workers have also been whipsawed over the past decade by several asset bubbles blown by central banks that have knee-capped their efforts to amass wealth. The S&P 500 stock index has just returned to price territory last seen in 2001 and 2007, and housing prices are only slowly beginning to rise again in the aftermath of the vicious correction begun in 2007. Sadly, it seems that new bubbles in stocksbonds and housing are being inflated once again – sure to take a large swath of wealth from these workers when they burst.

Perhaps the arriving cohort of younger workers will be able to support their elders once they hit their peak earning years.  We can hope.

But again, the prospects do not look encouraging.

Millennials at Risk of Becoming a Lost Generation

Pity the recent college graduate. The cost of higher education has been far outstripping inflation for years, largely due to that fact that most colleges have no exposure to their students’ ability to repay their loans. So universities actually have an incentive to continue to raise tuition and other fees as high as the market will possibly bear.

The average graduating student has a student loan balance of over $27,000 (not including credit-card or other types of debt that many students also have). This puts them into a hole early in their adult lives that delays their ability to create families, buy a first home, or start businesses.

This challenge to capital formation is compounded by the frighteningly high unemployment rate ofapproximately 12% for those under 30. Not only are companies still hiring conservatively, but given the factors mentioned above, younger workers find themselves competing with older ones for entry-level positions to an extent not seen in living memory.

It’s no wonder there’s a growing perception that going deep into debt for a college diploma isn’t a smart trade-off. A number of today’s graduates will be finally paying off their balances around the same time their own childrenare heading off to college.

And along with the joys of debt-serfdom, younger workers are realizing they can’t count on:

  • loyalty from the companies they work for
  • a national infrastructure that is the envy of the world
  • low oil prices
  • affordable healthcare
  • affordable home prices
  • easy access to credit
  • Social Security

…and a number of other elements of the “American promise” that preceding generations were able to take for granted.

It’s no surprise that millions of young workers are giving up on searching for work.

Of course, the big danger for this generation’s members is that the longer they go without work experience, the less appealing they become to employers when hiring does begin to pick back up. Tomorrow’s new college graduates will be hired for entry-level positions, leaving many of today’s unskilled seekers “unemployable” – a lost generation.

Let’s Stop Fooling Ourselves

In summary, if we’re being honest with ourselves, the current narrative of recovery being pushed by Wall Street and the mainstream media doesn’t make any sense. The American experience of rising standards of living and general prosperity have always rested upon a deep and healthy middle class. That middle class, by almost any available economic or financial measure, is steadily losing ground as a direct consequence of Fed and DC policies.

By forcing the stock market higher, the Fed has simply made a small minority of the country better off  By funneling endless amounts of free money to the biggest banks, the Fed has enriched the banking system. The Fed truly seems to believe that this is the right course of action: that a stable and profitable banking system coupled to rising stock prices will somehow generate the necessary confidence within the middle class required for them to once again go on a borrowing binge.

Because that’s what the system has devolved into, for better or worse: our economy is founded on credit and borrowing, not earnings and savings. The problem is, outside of the manufactured statistics of government and the manufactured stock prices of the Fed, the median family has far less earning power this year than last. And it knows in its heart of hearts that DC will tax more and return less as time goes on, and that job security no longer exists as corporations ruthlessly pursue bottom line results. Quite rationally, many families are realizing that’s not an appropriate environment for taking on more debt.

More profoundly, the big picture numbers just don’t add up. A nation that’s collectively in hock to the tune of 373% of GDP – not including entitlement liabilities  which launch that figure to more than 1000% – needs to seriously face the fact that it cannot make good on its current promises, let alone entertain making them larger. And yet here we are, with every outlet of the current power structure vigorously promoting that “all is well” while minimizing or completely ignoring those who would seek to open a dialog about the wisdom, or lack thereof, of ramming asset prices higher and supporting historically ruinous levels of deficit spending by printing money out of thin air.

Redefining Prosperity

As dire as the trends look, there is much that can be done to ameliorate their impact – and enter the future with grace and optimism – if as a society we have the courage to do it.

There’s no doubt that simply continuing along the status quo is a vote for digging ourselves deeper as the constraints of the future arrive. Behavior change is necessary in order to improve our chances.

At the core of the needed change is redefining prosperity. In modern society, it has largely come to be defined by material possessions, usually assuming that the more (and the more expensive), the better.

In the future, we’d do much better to define it by:

  • our health (both physical and emotional)
  • our purpose
  • our ability to meet our needs sustainably
  • our relationships
  • our level of happiness

All things that were once valued much higher in our culture.

It’s important to realize that when the cheap energy and associated cheap-credit era arrived, the work of all those energy and liquidity “slaves” allowed us to disassociate ourselves from centuries-old customs and live a much more isolated, materialistic life. While freeing in ways, perhaps, we are beginning to realize that those values and norms evolved for a reason. We’ll be on a journey of rediscovering their worth as we start trending back towards more historic baselines. 

The good news is the list of prudent behavior to adopt is long, and it’s growing as we (here at PeakProsperity.com and related sites) work together to identify those with the most promise. This is by no means an exhaustive account, and I look forward to active discussion and additions in the Comments section below:

  • Live below your means  Rather than pride yourself on what you purchase, pride yourself on what you don’t. That doesn’t mean you must live miserly or live in poverty. Learn the peace of mind that comes from knowing you can afford the things you do buy, and the confidence that comes from growing your savings. (Frugality is the #1 quality that all self-made millionaires share)
  • Buy quality and maintain it  When you do purchase something, buy for utility and longevity. “Cry once” is a good motto: in other words, pay a premium if necessary to get what will meet your needs best over the longest time horizon (versus “crying often” and spending more $$ over the long run because you bought an inferior product that needed chronic repairs or replacement). Take good care of what you do buy to ensure it will be there as you need it when you need it.
  • Take control of your income – Avoid being a wage slave for your entire life. There are innumerable reasons why your situation with your employer can change faster and more drastically than you think. Cultivate an income you “own”, either full-time or on the side, so that you aren’t left 100% vulnerable to a sudden change in employment. (I realize this is easier said then done, but it is doable by just about everybody. We have a guide we’ll publish on this subject within the next few weeks.)
  • Cultivate resiliency – Invest in your skills, your homestead, your health, and your community. These will all serve you well as economic growth slows further due to reasons outlined in the Crash Course and for the skeptics, these are solid investments no matter which way the economy turns. For those new to resiliency, our What Should I Do? Guide is a useful resource to start with.
  • Simplify  Learn that less is more. Fewer things to deal with frees you up to focus more on those that matter most. In addition to being a good philosophy to live by, it also reduces the number of things to pay for and the number of things to be taxed on. Both of which leave more money in your pocket.
  • Apprentice/mentor – Learn how to do important tasks yourself instead of becoming dependent on paying someone. If you can trade labor for learning, you may be able to avoid some or all of the excessive time and $ costs of academia. If you have expertise, pass it on to others around you. In this way, we create resiliency at the community level, improving the odds that an effective local support network is in place if ever needed. 
  • Shop & invest locally  Keep capital inside your community to strengthen it and enable re-investment. So much is currently sent to multinational corporations and Wall Street banks  never to return  that even a small percentage redirection will make a big impact at the local level.
  • Prefer hard assets to paper ones – In a world of runaway central bank money printing, paper currencies (like the U.S. dollar) are not a smart option for storing wealth. Nor are dangerously inflated paper securities like stocks and bonds. If possible, purchase physical assets you can tangibly hold and store, like precious metals, and for the rest of your investments, find a financial advisor who has a strategy that takes hard assets and depleting resources into account. (We know a few, if you’re looking.)
  • Consider multi-generational living – The economics of the future may force this on us, and that may not be a bad thing. But it’s better to adopt this lifestyle by your own choice, on your own terms, if possible. We have moved so far away from this model of living, at great cost – both money-wise and socially. Knowledge transfer, chore sharing, child/elder care, emotional support, cost reduction, pooled purchasing power – there are many advantages to co-habitating with close family or friends.
  • Get and stay fit – The benefits of good health on quality of life, longevity, and net worth are just too numerous to ignore. The modern “sick care” industry over-focuses on treating what breaks. Instead, focus on achieving and maintaining wellness. Chris did it; you can, too.
  • Use your productive output as an alternative currency – Much can be acquired without $, in trade for your support or skills. Both goods and services. Learn to ask: What can I trade? before asking How much does it cost? You’ll save money while at the same time increasing your perceived value to those around you.
  • Pursue happiness – Learn that pleasure comes from relationships, from having purpose, from creation, and having new experiences. All of these can be enjoyed in a multitude of ways, and few require spending lots of money. If you manage to simplify your life (see above) and find pleasure in doing so, you’ll be much more likely to enjoy the future, whatever it brings.
  • Require awareness and accountability for the future – Hold your elected officials to the same standards you hold yourself. Vote accordingly. Participate in the democratic process. It may not work as well or as fast as we want, but boycotting will only guarantee us disappointment. In a nutshell, hope for the best but don’t plan on miracles. 
  • Trust yourself – Always rely on your own good sense and intuition about what makes sense for you and your family in your unique situation.  Do consult with those who have insight and experience to share that will help you make the most informed choices you possibly can, but remember that your present and future are your own responsibility.  Do not ever fully relinquish this power to anyone else – not the government, not a family member, not a professional adviser, not even “the experts.”  Always, always trust yourself first and foremost.

There are other prudent behaviors to add to this list, but this is a pretty good start. 

And a good start is what we need, as a country and a global community: to stop denying the reality around us and start getting on with how we want to deal with it.

~ Adam Taggart


The End of All Things

A Book Recommendation

I have just finished reading ‘The End of All Things‘ by Lissa Bryan, published in January this year.

Book Cover of 'The End of All Things' by Lissa Bryan'

At the time I came across this book I knew nothing of Lissa Bryan and it didn’t even register with me until I was some way into the read that this was a book by a female author.  The book appeared in my Amazon.com suggested reading list, presumablty because I have recently been looking at and purchasing a number of dystopian or apocalyptic or post-collapse scenario books.

I read the first few pages of the book online and was immediately drawn into the story line. The idea of a young woman with a wolf for a pet companion, living in an urban apartment block with a biker guy camped out across the street, was appealing.  So much so, that even though it was a higher price than I would normally pay for Kindle books, I decided to purchase it.

Now, let me say that I do not enjoy all books of this genre.  No, that is not quite true.  I have enjoyed all of the books that I have read so far, but all are written by men and some of them contain generally right-wing ideas and rhetoric that is somewhat distasteful to me and which I think is quite superfluous to the story line.  There was none of that in this book.

Another feature that marks this genre but which is also possibly true of much modern fiction is the sad state of editing of the text or the apparent lack of any editing at all in some cases.  This distracts and detracts so much from the story line of some books that the reader needs to display a certain level of determination to get through it or to ignore it.  Either ‘The End of All Things’ contained none of that sort of thing or the story was so compelling that I didn’t notice it.  Either way, that was a bonus.

This is not intended to be a book review so I am not going to tell you what the story is about or how it progresses.  All I will say is that this is a love story, a tale of courage and hope set in the most dreadful of circumstances.  I read the book in three days over three lengthy reading sessions and found it difficult to break myself away and stop reading at the end of each.

I suppose you could say that I am a bit of a sucker (inwardly) for the emotional stuff, finding my heart strings pulled and shedding tears even during some dramatic television series moments (not that I watch much TV).  The characters in ‘The End of All Things’ are so well developed all through the book that there are many moments in the story where I experienced explosions of emotion and empathy from deep within.  Only the best of writing can evoke that kind of response.

As the story drew to a close, I was left wanting more.  I am not particularly sure that is altogether a good thing, unless the intention is to develop the story further in a sequel, but it felt good to have journeyed with these characters and share their experiences but a little sad to now leave them behind.

I am happy to recommend this book as an excellent read.  It is most definitely not a children’s book but open-minded adults of any age and gender will find it both enjoyable and intriguing.

Here is a link to the first chapter on the book’s own blog page to whet the appetite of anyone who’s interest I may have stirred.

Let’s Fuck Their Shit Up!

A Growing Concern

In recent days I have noticed a growing trend towards advocacy of the implementation of Civil Disobedience to achieve particular activist goals.

I can’t say that this is at all surprising.  Not in the least.  Take a look at the world we live in. Frustration abounds.  Having seen what is possible through the global communications revolution in the last decade or so and implementation of the world-shrinking Globalization policy, people all over the world are now expressing a growing desire for the freedoms and advantages that western nations have enjoyed for many decades.  Everyone wants to live like an American.

Isn’t it natural for that sort of desire to boil over to some form of action when they see the difference in the way they actually live and the lifestyles of those rich foreigners in other countries?  And why shouldn’t they think that way?  Aren’t we all equal?  Don’t we all have the same rights?  Shouldn’t we all be able to get our snouts into the feeding trough?

Damn right we should! …are! …do!

This is not to say that the ‘Trough of Plenty’ is big enough for everyone to guzzle in, because it isn’t.  But the ‘Trough of Enough’ is.  And so is the ‘Trough of Fair Shares’.

But that would then inconvenience those eating at the ‘Trough of Plenty’.  How would they cope?   And would those newly eating at the ‘Trough of Fair Shares’ then be satisfied with just getting a fair share?   Or would they say “What happened to the ‘Trough of Plenty’ we were expecting?”.

So, Who’s In Charge?

With Globalization in full swing, why haven’t the world’s governments done something to effect a ‘fair shares for all’ policy?  That’s easy.  The world’s governments are not in charge any more.  If they ever were.  Since the industrial revolution that is.  And even assuming that they would want to enact such a policy even if they were in charge. Governments are not known for providing benefits to the populace which also might diminish their own power base.

So, who is in charge?  Don’t get me started on New World Order.  I don’t believe any of that crap.  No, it is a simple case of Corporate Greed.  Yes, the Corporates are in charge and running things their own way simply to maximise profit.  Now, there’s a subject I could run with for a long time, but I won’t.  The giant corporations have infiltrated, emasculated, bribed, threatened, bought and paid for the services of all (or most) world governments. These governments are now mouthpieces, lackeys and even puppets of the corporates.  Whether that can be classified as a New World Order, I am not prepared to say.

Where Is Public Anger Being Directed?

The corporate master plan has been well conceived because even though they are behind the whole global economic shambles they are not by and large being blamed for it.  Look around the world.  Take the Arab Spring.  Take the European Austerity backlash.  Take the US simmering hatred of their own languishment in the economic gutter.  Who is it all directed towards?   The governments of those countries of course.  Some rightly so, where harsh dictatorships stood in the way of personal freedoms.  Not that there is much difference between dictatorships and democracies where ineffective and downright incompetent government is being practiced to impoverish the people and enrich the corporations.

“Let Them Eat Cake” Will No Longer Cut It

The cat is out of the bag now.  Old paradigms no longer work.  A new world order of people power is called for.  And, it is beginning to happen.

Even among the favoured western democracies there is unrest over the lack of concerted government action to tackle the issues of climate change and the rise of corporate elites.

On my Facebook page I recently featured this protest: unregulated-markets-will-kill-us-all by First Dog On The Moon on Crikey:

CorporationsAreBad

Then there is the case of a call to pursue a path of Civil Disobedience (CD) by the President of The Sierra Club in the United States in order to influence an intractable government to change its ways over the single issue of the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada. 

The Sierra Club of Canada is also considering taking similar action in this case.  A survey of members was overwhelmingly in favour but they have yet to make a decision.

Where Is It Going?

It is time for the corporates and governments to alter the their attitude towards their  customers and people, to globally bring about a fairer system.

Alternatively, they must be prepared to get their shit fucked up.  And the people of the world must be prepared to rise up and do that.  Such action is most likely to be the only way to achieve change in the face of ingrained greed for wealth and domination from the powers that be.

I can foresee that this movement of restlessness, anger and frustration is not going to disperse quickly like a puff of smoke.  It will gain strength.  It will need to.  Corporate elites and their puppet governments are unlikely to simply lay down and capitulate their positions of power or to readily share the wealth (transient as it may be) that they have accumulated.  Wealth is power.  Especially wealth that is based on the indebtedness of the rest of the people.  Make no mistake, government debt is your debt and the corporates will want to extract every last pound of flesh from you in debt slavery for that as well as your own personal debt, come the day.

There are global issues.  There are regional issues.  There are national issues.  There are personal issues.  It would not surprise me to see angry mobs, organised armies or motivated individuals mobilised to take what they want but don’t have, from those who have, in days to come, as world resources deplete and needs become more pressing.  Even if that means crossing borders, invasions, conflict and misery for everyone involved.

Difficult times await the world.  Times of crackdown on personal rights and liberty.  Times of brutality and coercion.  Let’s hope that freedom, equality  and common sense prevail.

Can a collapse of global civilization be avoided?

Well, can it?  Good Question.

I have been saying for some time now, here on this blog and elsewhere, that we are headed for a collapse of civilisation, globally, the like of which has never before been witnessed on this planet.  At least, unseen during the 200,000 odd years, perhaps longer, that we or beings like us have been progressing to become the present dominant species here.

Civilisations come.  Civilisations go.  Most, notably in a state of collapse.  Sometimes a sudden collapse.  Sometimes a protracted one (150 years or so).  But go they must, and ours will be no different.

What makes the collapse of our civilisation so unprecedented?  Well, the world has never before seen a truly global civilisation until just a few decades ago.  Perhaps fifty or sixty years or so.

I personally think our fall will be rather sudden.  Why?  Well, for a number of reasons but primarily because of the crazy reliance on debt based economic growth that underpins it. It basically has the stability of a house of cards.  Without economic growth it is frighteningly unstable and such growth now, despite what governments tell you, has reached its limits.  Witness austerity in Europe, $multi-billion budget cuts in America, etc. etc.  Even here in Australia the government, spruiking economic growth, has spent enormous amounts of money it does not have and is not likely to get, as economic downturn begins to bite.  It will not matter who governs in the future.  They will all face the same problem of cutting up an ever smaller revenue pie.

It doesn’t take much of a nudge to topple a house of cards.

That’s My View.  Now Read On…

Well, it is briefly my view, but I leave it there because the real reason I had for adding this post today is to introduce what I consider to be an important paper on the subject originally published by the Royal Society  in January this year and most recently also published by The Simplicity Institute here in Australia.  A paper which coincidentally, wouldn’t you know, carries the same title as my post.

The Authors of the paper are Paul Ehrlich and Anne H Ehrlich.

Paul Ehrlich is a Professor of Biology and President of the Center for Conservation Biology at Stanford University, and Adjunct Professor at the University of Technology, Sydney. His research interests are in the ecology and evolution of natural populations of butterflies, reef fishes, birds and human beings.

Anne Ehrlich is a Senior Research Scientist in Biology at Stanford and focuses her research on policy issues related to the environment.

He is perhaps best known for the 1968 book ‘The Population Bomb’, though they both co-authored it, and his outspoken views and predictions on global population issues.  Many of his early predictions failed to materialise but that is often the way when numbers and dates are mentioned.  The general thrust of his ideas is still valid, perhaps even more so, today.

What Does It Say?

This paper argues much the same as what I have been saying but of course with a greater degree of eloquence, academic validity and cogency than I could ever hope to garner.  It focuses mainly not on economic issues but on the social issues of over-population, over-use of resources and consequent problems.  These are very real issues of the type that might precipitate a longer, more drawn out but perhaps just as painful societal collapse as the more dramatic economic collapse that I spoke about earlier.  Either path could very well form a lead-in to initiate the other.

The paper concludes that because of the capacity that society has shown to be able to deal with threats if the collective attention can be sufficiently focussed on the task, a global collapse of society can be avoided.  However, it goes on to suggest that even though catastrophe can be avoided, the odds are small that it actually will be avoided because collectively we will not be sufficiently motivated to work for the good of future generations at the expense of our own.

I could not agree more.

What’s Your Money Worth?

Let’s just see if we can work out how much the money in your bank account, if you have one, or a $5 note in your pocket, is worth.

Suppose that you take your $5 note from your pocket to the bank and tell them to look after it for you.  What would they do with it?  Where would they put it?

Well, the next ten people who came into the bank asking for a loan would get it.  Each of them would get $5.  Of course it wouldn’t be your $5 note.  How could it be?  That note would be handed over to some shop or something like that to be given to some other person as change for goods or services, from where it would go back to the bank.  A sort of money-go-round.Australian Money

Let’s get back to the ten folk who borrowed $5 from the bank.  Each of them thinks they have $5 in their bank account. If they look at their computer screen they can actually see it in there, or more precisely, numbers that represent it.  They can actually test that they have that money by using it to buy something and can see that the $5 was taken from their account and given to the person who they purchased from.  Or they could invest that $5 and watch it grow.  Isn’t that how the world works?

Let’s say there comes a time when you want your original $5 note back.  Let’s also assume that all ten people who were lent $5 on the basis of your $5 deposit also wanted their $5 in cash at the same time. Times were getting somewhat difficult and everyone needed a little extra to keep going.  Let’s also suppose that everyone in the world who had deposited money into a bank or who was owed money by people who had borrowed from them also wanted their money back.  What would happen?

In short, chaos.  The whole monetary system is based on debt.  The bank takes on debt when they take your $5.  People, organisations, companies and governments take on debt when they borrow for some purpose.  All debt is payable back to the lender.  This is ok as long as the debt keeps growing because it is the same money, your $5 note and everyone else’s $5 notes, that is going round and round all the time, replaced as numbers on computers and statements.

How much debt is there in the world?  I had a look today.  It is just over $50 trillion.

How much actual money (notes/coins) is there in the world?  I had a look at that too.  This seems to be something that there is generally much confusion about.  This is likely to be a deliberate ploy, all tied up with the definition of money.  But I found an answer.  It is something like $5 Trillion combining all world currencies.  It was said to be $4.5 Trillion in 2009 so I have adjusted it up a bit for today.  Now, there are other estimates which include things like short term deposits, travel cheques etc.  Including these in the definition of money would bring the amount up to between $7 – 10 Trillion, but it is cold hard cash that we would want to be paid in, right?

Now, you see how nicely that fits in with the ten people who got your $5 from the bank?  $5 Trillion becomes $50 Trillion.  Magic, or illusion?

So, how much is your money worth?  I know this is a simplistic view and in the real world it would be much worse a picture but if everyone who is owed money from anywhere were to be repaid at one time, they would each get ten cents in the dollar.  It couldn’t  possibly be any more, unless you were one of the fortunate ones who got in first before the banks realised there was going to be a ‘run’ on.  Your $5 would now be worth $0.50 (50 cents).

Your home would be worth nothing.  You wouldn’t own it anyway as the bank would have taken it to help them repay all the institutions they had borrowed from.  Same for your car, boat, anything bought on credit.

One question occurs to me:  How long do you think this money roundabout can go on for?

Answer: Can’t say.  But it will soon all come crashing down in a big heap.

Two questions then:  And doesn’t it strike you as being somehow fraudulent?

Answer: No comment.

Added Some Time Later

I’m afraid that there are discrepancies in the above information that I was not aware of at the time it was published.  My apologies.

The World Debt Clock article that I linked to as a source of world debt I now realise covers only public (government) debt.  If we add private debt on top of this the picture is much much far far (can’t come up with an appropriate word) worse than I originally painted it to be.

I haven’t been able to find a total world debt level but the total (public & private) debt of the US alone is something like $54.5 Trillion.  That is more than the world public debt put together.  Yet the US is not by any means the most indebted nation in the world in %GDP terms.

Two points emerge:

  1. Do not take everything that you read on the internet as correct until you have checked out the facts for yourself.
  2. My inadvertent error made the picture look better than it actually is.  Sorry.