Growth Delusion

Last summer I went to the Aspen Institute, home of establishment wisdom, and found myself both bemused and bored by the narrow “managing chaos” focus of the pundits. What I long for is a conversation that questions some of the basic assumptions of the conventional wisdom. I find that in the writing of Jeremy Grantham, an extremely successful investor who is willing to question some of the basic assumptions of contemporary capitalism. Grantham’s new quarterly letter is titled “On the Road to Zero Growth” and it starts with a shocker to the conventional wisdom and then takes you on an amazing ride.

The U.S. GDP growth rate that we have become accustomed to for over a hundred years – in excess of 3% a year – is not just hiding behind temporary setbacks. It is gone forever. Yet most business people (and the Fed) assume that economic growth will recover to its old rates.

Grantham puts up this chart that shows that 3% growth is a strange outlier that occurred for about 50 years in the last 1000 years, and may never return.

For the US, the limits to growth are part demographics and part “other stuff”, including productivity, inequality, reduced capital spending, resource restraints and ecological crisis. The demographics are the most ineluctable.

This of course is both good news and bad news. As manufacturing gets more productive with robots replacing humans, the number of jobs in the sector continues to drop. With tongue in cheek, Grantham points out where this is headed.

This headwind will continue into the indefinite future until one day, perhaps, we will reach what has been called a singularity. The last handful of humans engaged in manufacturing – all engineers and designers – are supervising intelligent robots making and designing yet another generation of even more productive and intelligent robots. On this particular day, R3142 sends the fateful silent communication to his fellow robots suggesting that their friendly human acquaintances, Fred and the boys, are beginning to get in the way. After which, there is no more productivity per man-hour at all, but only productivity per robot-hour or per unit of capital employed. This deepening of capital and technology almost guarantees that productivity will continue to be high in manufacturing even as the percentage of the total workforce employed there dwindles away toward zero. As the rest of us do each other’s art appraisals and investment management we can fantasize about productivity, but it will mainly represent hard to measure qualitative improvements. (On a hypothetical island where services are outlawed and only manufacturing exists, the final position is that automation, and thereby capital, produces everything while all of the mere mortals sit on the beach. And starve? The worthless unemployed who are obviously not carrying their weight? Ah, there’s the rub! Up the beach, in a protected, cordoned-off section is the capital owners’ club. There, a handful of equally “unemployed” owners sit, enjoying tea and the ocean. How material goods and sustenance are divvied up will determine the future of that island, for the unemployed will be 100 or 1000 times the number of dividend counters.) Is there not a growing element of this unfortunate hypothetical island in our current world, for basically the same reason? Capital deepening and technology (and offshoring) steadily replace manufacturing and farming jobs until one day perhaps there will be no manufacturing jobs at all.

Needless to say this inequality endgame is a few years off, but we are surely headed in that direction and only the inevitable decline of working age population will keep us from a revolutionary situation where the ex-workers over run the capital owners club.

But for Grantham (and for me), the larger issue is that measuring quality of life by GDP growth is a fools errand and if we don’t come up with another metric pretty soon, we will be royally fucked.

GDP is a mish-mash of costs and outputs of “goods” and “bads” indiscriminately jumbled up. Put more of your unemployed in prison and GDP rises. Raise your legal or consulting fees and the GDP rises. Hire more lawyers to sue and cover that risk with more insurance and the GDP rises. (Japan has only 1/16th of our lawyers per capita, one in 4,000 to one in 250. Makes you think!) Fight more wars, build more tanks, and have them blown up and the GDP rises. Have twice as many workers in a service industry like teaching than you might have had and … you get the point. But nothing shows the deficiencies of GDP measurement as clearly as the topic of a resource squeeze. Take oil. Today we are constantly pumping those wonderfully cheap, irreplaceable barrels of Saudi oil from their great oil fields (the likes of which have never been discovered since the 1970s or, one could argue, the 1950s) that begged to leap out of the ground with a lifting cost of a handful of dollars. In their place, to maintain oil production, we are preparing to deliver oil from deep and dangerous offshore Brazil. One-day daily flights of 300 miles, outside the range of current helicopters, will have to be made to supply rigs of incredible size, anchored to the ocean bed two miles below and drilling another two miles below that. They will need vast quantities of steel and other increasingly expensive commodities as well as large inputs of brains from the best Schlumberger types the industry can offer. The “good” that comes out is the same good that came out of the Saudi field – one barrel of nearly identical oil – but instead of a $10 lifting cost it will have costs of $120-$170 and counting, all of which will be accounted for as Brazilian GDP! So the more you torture the planet to produce oil, digging up tar sands and baking the oil to dribble out, the higher the GDP.

As I have said before, I think the United States is the one country capable of dealing with these problems. We have a flexible society that is not wracked by the religious and sectarian tensions of the Mideast, the authoritarian constraints of China or Russia or the crippling political system of the EU. But much of our response to Grantham’s challenge will be to abandon our obsession with GDP growth and try to create a sustainable economy where the quality of life improves for everyone, not just the capital owners club.

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26 Responses to Growth Delusion

  1. JTMcPhee says:

    But much of our response to Grantham’s challenge will be to abandon our obsession with GDP growth and try to create a sustainable economy where the quality of life improves for everyone, not just the capital owners club.

    Respectfully, I have to totally disagree. Very respectfully, of course. Maybe it’s just my burden of cynicism, and being outside the loop of Innovation, and that like most of us I only know what I know or think I know and don’t know any personal unknown unknowns. But as far as I can see of human history and human nature, especially in BigWorld where we live today, there ain’t even a modicum of a bit of an influence of a notion of revisions to human behavior (physiology- and psychology-driven) that might possibly move the track of the Juggernaut of consumption and domination even a particle of a radian from its current track. Take a peek here,, and especially do a little scan of the comments. The mix of stacked idiocies is obvious and mortal. Them that have, as I point out fruitlessly, will always be dominated by the demand for MORE! of everything, and the feedbacks are all tuned to make it ever easier for the few to fuck over the many. Most important, to be able to do so without any fear of consequences. Nobless oblige was at least in part motivated by a bit of cultural momentum likely tied to a fear of the Hell that Dante so beautifully described and Breughel so artfully depicted. The Few know they only live a certain span, are almost completely immune to consequence (whether retribution or restitution) and when they are dead and gone, what are the rest of us Soylent-eaters going to do? Track down their ashes and burn them again? In BigWorld, there’s no need to have to look your slaves in the eye, unless like that was it Saudi prince who had his retainers hold some “offender” down while he ran over the mope with his Land Rover Discovery 4?

    You’ve published a lot of charts and graphs here, boss, but can you select from among them any that show anything but decline of quality of life for the most of us, time-on-time against increasing absorption of all the real wealth (leveraged against all that Funny Munny that they and their people have created that the rest of us have to make good on all their welshed bets over) by the smaller and smaller membership of the “capital owners club? Maybe there will be some sudden transfiguration amongst those few, leading to an upward inflection of “quality of life” for the masses, but it sure won’t be in my lifetime.

    And the notion that the promoters of consumption will somehow have a mass conversion experience to the Church of Sustainability gives me reason for yet more sour laughter. Look around your circle of acquaintances: You see any Captains of Industry giving more than lip service to the “sustainability” schtick, because like “organic,” and “Pandora,” and “iEverything,” the mob has adopted the meme and that’s the way you keep the illusions intact and sell more product? “Call of Duty: Black Ops” sales now in excess of $1 billion. Fights at Walmart. Look below the surface at the behaviors of people battered by the recent hurricane.

    Time to stop: exceeded word limit, voided all meaning.

  2. JTMcPhee says:

    One point is not a line, far less a trend, but gee, how deep are the delusions we live in? “Shale Gas Bubble About to Burst: Art Berman, Bill Powers”

    Remember the Soylent Corporation’s history and business model: Eat it all up. Every last bit. Grab for all the pleasure and power you can. Fuck the rest of you, and if you threaten to expose the game, you’re dead, here me, DEAD!

  3. Parkle says:

    Malthusian hooey. The most obvious point one can make is that this ground has been better covered in the late Fred Hirsch’s classic “The Social Limits to Growth.”

  4. Flint says:

    Yeah… It’s over. Stripping the Titanic on the way down.

  5. Hugo St. Victor says:

    Wait a minute, Flint, there’s hope here. Heed Jon.

    Jon, man, I’m sorry to have been so petulant and overwrought lately. You guys got so fired up, vitriolic and soaring, over the reelection that I figured you’d stopped being strategists. It was mildly heartbreaking, but everything’s mild after losing Elizabeth Penniman, so, you know, one rebounds. You have been right, and I wrong. We’ve got Antietam on our hands, and I was either too stupid or too housebound & lonely to get that I wasn’t the only one seeing the immediately current exigency.

    You’re a hardcore futurist, the one I most respect for hardass accuracy, dollars & cents. I, on the other hand, am not Promethean but rather am Epimethean. I look back, you, ahead. Which brings us to Now. We as a people are caught in prophetic Torah. Change, or perish as a people. So I just have to be selfish here, and ask you and the Table where a graying Drummer Boy possibly could fit into the army we’re going to need, if we want to escape Antietam.

    It occurs to me that you have the saavy, balls and moxie to be Prescriptive in this crisis. I have no such credentials. Am not even sure where my ex-wife left my left testicle. But I know something that’s potentially useful, in service of this cause. I know in patchwork needlepoint how we got here, Who, When, Why and How. Let me reassert, after three years of assertions: there is almost nothing that’s happenned, in New York and Washington, which was not painfully foreshadowed in Sacramento, where my Democratic masters chose to ignore the signs, read by us few remaining analysts who did not get much exercised over relatively transitory stuff like elections, reelections. I’m saying that we surfers saw this tsunami coming because we already stood in a horizonal ebbtide. You name it, it happened previously, under our noses. We knew that the mighty ocean would come back, from the East Coast, in terrible force. And D.C. isn’t the only capital that spells million with a “B”.

    To my mind we’ve got Houdini work. Hippocratic, if we’re as intelligently patriotic as a Princetonian millionaire. I can help with dispassionate diagnosis, but my whole confidence goes over to those of you capable of working up a prognosis and issuing prescriptives. You’d be quacks, however, not to consult my X-rays first. Skeletons never have been so valuable. And the genteel thing about skeletons is that they have no names.

    So how do I sign up?

    P.S. A commentary. My beloved late friend and teacher, Ivan Illich, held three doctorates, in History, Theology, Physics. He also had been elevated the youngest Roman Catholic monsignor in the history of the Western Hemisphere. To me, though, two of his distinctions meant more to me than they did to him: (1) he was a trusted friend of Rustum Roy and Rene Girard; (2) he held UC’s University Medal, an invitation to teach any subject, at any campus at any time. Don Ivan said 40 years ago, loud and clear, that the first beast to bring us down would be miseducation, longitudinal. The stupefication of the clientele of the mindfucked. That beautiful man spent the ensuing thirty years showing, to shrinking audiences, that the devil was in the architecture; that we’d made blasphemous graven images in the form of self-sustaining “systems” that eat human beings for breakfast and leave Baja Califorians to swallow the effluent. The reason why systems engineers are doomed is that it’s the system, not the engineers, built to survive. The system is Moloch. Engineers, geezers, children…absolutely interchangeable and replaceable. Excremental, and irreduceably, unspeakably elemental. Check with your employer’s department of human resources. Fear not. They were engineered to help you. So Professor Taplin, my historical hypothesis is that the impending fall of the American Empire has been potentiated by its systemic, systematic and unconscious stupefaction by processes, not persons, emplaced by cocksure Positivists who find Humanists quaint. That’s the strategic war. The tactics, ground, troop strength, order of battle, etc. — that’s for you guys. I’ll salute.

  6. Fentex says:

    To move from an observation that recent growth in industry is unusual, to one that it won’t keep up, to the conclusion that “our response to Grantham’s challenge will be to abandon our obsession with GDP growth and try to create a sustainable economy” is a non-sequitor.

    Is is not ought.

    Improving everyone’s lot is a nice ambition but isn’t a logical consequence of growth in production slowing.

    Most modern wealth is built on the energy density of easily pumped oil, that’s the source of our bump in industry and it’s output. There was always going to be a time when it waned. It would be sad to discover the growth of the twentieth century in liberties and independence was nothing but a luxury allowed by cheap energy.

    I think first and foremost we need to work on new energy sources – perfect drilling for geo-thermal, thorium reactors, tidal capture. There really oughtn’t be a property within 30 degrees of the equator built without it’s roof covered in solar panels.

    If we can keep our energy wealth up the spread of it’s benefits can continue and we don’t need to fear the possibility that our current improvements are only a temporary luxury.

  7. Hugo St. Victor says:

    Sounds good. Long-term, I think we need to work creatively to restore the Humanist Tradition to Medical Arts, Design, experimental and clinical Psychology and the other social sciences, to the study of History, statecraft and Les Beaux Arts. Where Humanism still holds a place in American Academe, for example in Human Factors Engineering, it should be valued and encouraged. The Positivist assumtion of academic power, ~1985-1995, already has trickled and even showered down through early andragogy and, now, even through early pedagogy. Postivism, Positivist-Behaviorism, and Structural-Functionalism are a jealous triune god. The belong in their proper places within the temple of academe, and not at its altar. The ripples of this profitable idolatry are seen affecting all of our social institutions for the worse. It took only 25 years to yank us this far out of whack. It need not take so long to bring us back toward a better balance approximating steadier equilibrium in our thinking and work as Americans.

  8. Fentex says:

    I think we need to work creatively to restore the Humanist Tradition to Medical Arts, Design, experimental and clinical Psychology and the other social sciences

    This sounds suspiciously like a suggestion that undervalues the hard sciences that delivered our modern wealth and health.

    There are serious issues facing humanity, there always are, and they should be solved using the best tools built on the best evidence honestly gathered and constantly tested with arguments that can stand up to scrutiny.

    The suggestion that the Positivist view (the idea that evidence is the ultimate arbiter of truth) should be sidelined after it’s proven itself by delivering on it’s promises offends me.

    I sounds like giving into fear and asking to retreat to a cave of shadows when you can look outside and confront reality, creating opportunity to forge ahead.

  9. Fentex says:

    Argh. I wish a post publishing editing plug-in was installed on this blog so I could correct my typos that break blockquotes. How that post ought to have looked…

    I think we need to work creatively to restore the Humanist Tradition to Medical Arts, Design, experimental and clinical Psychology and the other social sciences

    This sounds suspiciously like a suggestion that undervalues the hard sciences that delivered our modern wealth and health.

    There are serious issues facing humanity, there always are, and they should be solved using the best tools built on the best evidence honestly gathered and constantly tested with arguments that can stand up to scrutiny.

    The suggestion that the Positivist view (the idea that evidence is the ultimate arbiter of truth) should be sidelined after it’s proven itself by delivering on it’s promises offends me.

    It sounds like giving into fear and asking to retreat to a cave of shadows when you can look outside and confront reality, creating opportunity to forge ahead.

  10. Hugo St. Victor says:

    No, friend, it’s a strategy for “[re]balance]”, toward “equilibrium”. Our collective heritage, our genius as a People, I agree, is Positivism wedded to Humanism and Humanist ideals. A match made in our New Jerusalem, our Square Deal, New Deal, Fair Deal, New Frontier and Shing City on a Hill, our Bridge to the 21st Century. A quarter century ago the most lucrative, and therefore now the most influential, universities purged most any Humanist their senates and corporations could touch. No numbers, no pay. The point isn’t to go for Victory, but for armistace along the pre-existing 48th Parallel of the classic Quad, each a geospatial rendering of Jefferson’s take on the disciplinary mandalas or schemas of the ancient universities. The present condition is Thatcherism on Yankee steroids. What are we to suppose that Dr. Franklin or Dr. Mead would make of that?

    My point is not to diminish Positivism, but to infuse and reinvigorate it. In the Talmud Judaism itself is a system for the prevention of Idolatry. And Idolatry itself, defined as missplacing as utmost or ultimate that which is crucially, but merely, penultimate. A critical mistake, that displacement. A life of- kilter. A wobbling Planet.

    Jon and Grantham speak, as Illich, Stewart Brand, Jimmy Carter and Jerry Brown used to do, of sane survival, or sustainability, through expressly delimited, participatory planning. As their friend Fritz Schumacher summed it, “less is more”. Turns out that was sagacious. It’s time for humane Positivism to take the reins, and I don’t see how that spills beer with you nor anyone here. It’ll have to be a collective effort, after all, over time. Iteratively, in conversations such as these. Teamed horses, pulling together.

    I’ve exausted myself and my meager resources in trying to meet a challenge that Jon and some others of you issued three years ago: How to reverse the fortunes of pupils in approximately the worst middle school in America, and do it in a year for less than five thousand Dollars. Turns out that it probably can be done for less, but that the obstacles are comparatively young, and a result of the Heart’s having been excised from the body of students, scholars, citizens. So it’s a bigger, longer project. Give me that school, or the other I’ve found that’s about as miserable, and yes, it can be done for the price of a few bake sales. Replicated too. But the larger difficulty, long-run, is the hardenning of the hearts of mis-schooled by the mis-educated — those out of balance.

    It’s rather Old Hat to you, Fentex, but there it is. Futurism? Who’s futurism? Which future?

  11. Hugo St. Victor says:

    Fentex, Jon says that in Grantham’s prognosis, “The demographics are the most ineluctable”. That’s always the case, in that demographical data, though sometimes soft or questionable, seldom hold surprises. They’re too longitudinal to surprise. But Jon and Grantham are doing a “thick” analysis of the human, demographic, data. They bother doing this because of course our bleak capital outlook has very much to do with the sorry state of American “human capital”. (Humanists in economics eschew that term, but the fact is that Human Capital Theory by any other name remains the same study, with the same methodologies, data collection and datasets). Either way, our humans live less and less like humans and more and more like heaps of human capital. Aggregations of raw materials and spare parts. It’s therefore not only a problem for economics but also for moral philosophy and for political theory. Whither our American pursuit, that of Happiness? Of lives as prospering and fulfilled persons?

    Should Americans be cultivated, like tomatoes, to fit the machine harvester, or should the harvest be done by humans who treat humans as humans and not as bioengineered, green and unripe tomatoes? Do the American People ill suit the economy, or is it the American economy which ill suits us? Moreover, is it really true that We (not to say our present economy) are unfit to build the global economy? I believe that there are compelling reasons why Americans who live fuller, freer lives — enriched by and enriching their own culture and that of other peoples –can enjoy, create and share greater prosperity than we’ve seen heretofore. There are very particular reasons justifying this view. The view, though, isn’t telephoto. It’s panoramic, multivariate, multicolored and necessarily interdisciplinary and interdependent.

    The assertions I made in my two previous comments struck you expressly as antagonistic over against America’s scientific and technical innovation. I regret giving that impression. But Science and Technology are not to be excised from the body politic. That’s what Jefferson believed, what he was taught when he studied Political Economy at William and Mary, and what he insisted be taught at the public university he created as his legacy. To excise systems from the complete living organization, in this case the body politic and the individual human beings who compose and protect it, is perforce Reductionism. This thinking is the critical flaw in postwar “Systems Thinking”, the intellectual parent of powerful yet ultimately imbalanced and tragically diseconomic Systems Theory, an elegant, crucial branch of speculative science and mathematics, and of the field of engineering. It’s precisely the pathology that Jon has labored rigorously, for more than two years, to find: the “trigger”, as he calls it, of the bomb that blew up the United States as we used to know it.

    I’m simply prescribing Holism, the antithesis of Reductionism. One cannot see it under a microscope, nor even through the broad lens of modern macroeconomics. Its temporal and spacial features can be seen only from Space, from a view of a Whole Earth and a whole people made whole at last. Our national enterprise can be made whole. Jon says so, and I know he’s right. My dead mentor would be so happy upon seeing Jon’s post. Oh God, I miss him.

  12. Rick Turner says:

    If we’d stop wasting human and natural resources on the death industry, slow down the rate of having kids, and stop to enjoy the time that technology should be allowing us, I’ll bet we could have well distributed wealth and full employment for all who want it…and a 30 hour work week for those who choose not to be self-driven entrepreneurs. Capital is winning/has won the upper hand in the production of food and consumer goods. Labor is less and less necessary. That’s just the way it is, and so you either wind up wasting human and industrial resources in the war game (which has become a de facto form of welfare…) or you give that shit up and fix the country up to be a nice place for recreation and the feeding of the human soul through education and the arts.

    Fat frigging chance of that happening…

    The funny thing is that the dystopian vision seen in Metropolis had it wrong. The future is not populated by industrial slaves running the machines; it’s populated by consumers who are hooked on shiny things…who are wondering if they’ll have jobs that pay enough to keep the shiny things coming from the robots who make said things.

    For better or worse, it would seem that the solution is indeed a redistribution of wealth, if only to keep the plebes from revolting. It’s amazing how hard it is for average college grads to find work these days, and they’re getting pissed off about it. The “promise” was that if you stuck it out and got that degree, you’d have a much better shot at a job. Hmmm… My niece just graduated, did really well, and she’s working two jobs as a sales “associate” in a mall in New Hampshire for just above minimum wage and precious few benefits. And of course, the disincentives for employers to offer full time work as opposed to part time work are undeniable. Better to have 100 part timers than 50 full timers… Of course, if we had a national health insurance system, that disincentive would fade away. And that’s the dichotomy of it all…in a capital driven automated services and goods economy, we may be better off with more part time employment, but it would have to pay better than the grinding poverty that, for instance, WalMart employees find themselves trapped in.

  13. Hugo St. Victor says:

    Amen, Rick. Lawdyess.

    p.s. can’t sign onto redistribution, though. It’s Statist; therefore an unwise empowerment of hinky statesmen and inefficient (at best) bureaucracy. Can’t exactly agree about Walmart either. As AFL-CIO as I am, still that longstanding dispute is complicated, with compelling evidence all round, once the zombie media, the ludicrous anecdotal pap and the busloads of pseudo-labor shills (to my old, head-cracked comrades and me, as bad as scabs) and shanghaied vagrants are removed from the table. We’re gonna need that company, and need it to be far better than it is. This can happen, I believe, with the tried and true Good-Cop-Bad-Cop function enshrined in Labor Law. And it just might be possible for Wlmart to become the model of a “Third Way”, mutually beneficial. Not likely, but possible. Little Rock is strategic, Labor moribund, and Occupy chimaerical as a herd of Anarchist kittens.

    But that shit’s all for a different day, Rick. My thing is, Amen. Your post, Right On. I really don’t want to say more on this string. Believe it or not. I played mine, and you’ve provided the coda. ‘Nuf sed.

  14. Fentex says:

    slow down the rate of having kids

    People have. Population growth is not a problem, the desire of everyone to have the same luxuries as others at the same crippling cost is a problem.

    I’ll bet we could have well distributed wealth and full employment for all who want it…and a 30 hour work week for those who choose not to be self-driven entrepreneurs

    I suspect not. I’m not sure there is enough work in our highly automated industrial world for everyone. I suspect the promise of high tech is being realised and that there’s a fundemental disconnect in having a world where competitive high tech industry can be very efficient and the earning of a living through labour.

    There’s a reason service industries now make up the vast bulk of all business, and I think a limit to the services that can be supported by decreasing participation in industry.

  15. Rick Turner says:

    How many McDonald’s burger flippers does it take to support a McDonald’s? That is the question.

    Of course, if we put people to work making our environment a nicer place to live and taxed capital to support that…well, that will piss off the red staters, won’t it?

  16. Rick Turner says:

    Fentex, if you look at many other parts of the world, the “population bomb” is still quite happening. Just don’t think about where most of the white folks live… The Chinese population is still expanding…India, the rest of SE Asia, Latin America…etc… But, then, these are the populations who will be most vulnerable to climate change, new plagues, wars over resources…rising waters in Bangladesh, famine and drought in Africa, AIDS, tribal and sectarian wars, etc., so maybe population control will happen…but be of a more tragic nature than use of birth control. The Gaia theory might have a kernel of truth… Mother Nature isn’t happy these days, and when she gets pissed off, people die.

  17. Fentex says:

    if you look at many other parts of the world, the “population bomb” is still quite happening.

    I went and checked the latest research, just to make sure and no it’s not. The worlds population is still increasing but the rate at which it’s increasing continues to slow (and a surprising proportion of it’s growth is extended life expectancy rather than births).

    In the last fifty years the rate of world population growth has slowed from ~2.1% per annum to ~1.1%.

    Projections are guesses so making one about when it might drop below 0% is fraught with issues but it could be as soon as 2050, although I notice the U.N’s population study group thinks more like 2100.

    Asia is the part of the world where the rate is dropping fastest, correlating closely with rising living standard.

    The problem remains our energy wealth – we now rely a great deal on oil and the cheap energy we extract from it. If we want to improve the world, peoples lot, and avoid the consequences of living beyond our means we need to actively invest in technology to make our energy demand efficient and to obtain is reliably into the distant future.

  18. Rick Turner says:

    Surprising, and thanks for the update.

    And fully agreed re. the energy thing. We should be saving as much oil for other uses as possible…recyclable plastics, for instance…and also using this natural gas boom to get ready for the bust.

  19. len says:

    The drama before us is will we go over the fiscal cliff which some predict is the best medicine for shocking everyone into enlightenment. It sounds good but consider that Obama’s numbers while winning were still whittled down quite a bit and were near run in the last weeks. Some say the win was a result of the brilliant votint organization and fantasmagoric use of technology. Rah! Rah!

    Or… Bullshit.

    The Republican strategy of lie and deny until the day you die almost worked. Look at the candidate they fielded. 48% bought it. Yes, despite the knee knocking wingnut crazy issue insane ignoramuses put forward by the hard right, it almost worked.

    And that should scare the hell out of our smug we are so hot brains. Consider, they were very close to making Obama responsible for the problems and getting a not inconsiderable number of people to forget about G.W and the Crazy Brigade. They got them to forget the bogus way we were led into a war, to overlook the billions lost, the people fucked over, the lives lost. They were winning with a deck we knew was rigged. People bought into the 2016 The Socialists Are Coming Riefenstahl flick. It was working.

    And it still is.

    Now, we drive over the cliff, things go from getting better to pretty dammed bad pretty dammed fast. Pieces are patched but all the wounds are reopened. The bleeding starts again.

    Two years until the midterms:

    1. Who will remember who actually drove us over the cliff?
    2. Who will be blamed if the media machine (which remembers even less) decides to use the agony to once again drive viewers into a frenzy of FOX/MSNBC addiction?

    Remember: Weimar was supposed to be the solution. When it didn’t work, the former crazies in the beer hall cruised to victories unheard of, cemented themselves to the halls of power, and the world went promptly very mad.

    Be very careful in the coming months. A tipping point is exactly that because you don’t know which way it will fall. The election was the result of overstepping by the hard right in the last months and an unbelievably weak candidate, enough to piss off enough people that they showed up just to prove they would. If they get hungrier and the pain quotient goes back up, the call that “He had his chance and now we need a change but dammit we need it very fast so do whatever you have to do to get it done and we’ll look the other way or applaud, stomp our boots and salute”, will find willing supplicants.

    Let’s hope Obama does not hide in the White House for the next thirty days. Let’s hope that the cliff is not an intoxicating illusion of “this’ll show’em” because if the last twelve years have proven anything they’ve proven that being crazy does not disqualify a candidate in America. Not one bit.

    To some, a crazy is better than a socialist. To orcs, way better.

  20. Rick Turner says:

    The plain fact is that if you’re not a Ted Kaczynski, you’re a socialist here in the US. And even he took advantage of the socialist US mail. If you drive a car on public roads, you’re a socialist. If you ever took a train, you’re a socialist. If you every flew from an airport with air traffic control, you’re a socialist. If your community is protected by fire and police departments, you’re a socialist. If you ever borrowed a book from a library, you’re a socialist. If you went to public schools, you’re a socialist. The Republicans could not exist unless they were, to a degree, socialists. It’s about time for our fearless leader to proudly proclaim the benefits of being a part of the United States as a society. Some of the assholes out there need a good reminder…

  21. len says:

    It’s about time for our fearless leader to proudly proclaim the benefits of being a part of the United States as a society.

    True dat. And it’s time to refute the idea that the only way we can grow an economy is to cut the benefits of participation by the middle and lower class. Sustainability is not a recipe for the benefit of the very well-off over everyone else participating.

  22. rhbee says:

    I say we have a contest. Workable solutions win the prize. The prize is in the proof.

    Or lets start a Facebook group. Go viral on it. Lets see if the people do have a voice.

  23. Hugo St. Victor says:

    Great thought, rhbee. It happens that I’ve been working at Wit’s End to establish such venues, onnaccounta a challenge that Taplin issued me some years ago: How to fix a really fucked up urban school quickly, on the cheap, and reproduceably. He really remains an incorrigible impressario of all manner of shit, yunno. Am in the process of incorporating an 501(c)(3) nonprofit, The H Trust, the website of which, presently in development pending the OK from IRS, would welcome colloquies among any guests at Jon’s table. Moreover the notional Trust is meant to operate as an umbrella for two actual (public benefit) LLCs, one of which is a small press the flagship of which is the retro-mod humanist journal “A Cathedral of Redwoods”, dedicated, like the USPS, to the rediscovery and promotion of American Arts, Culture, and History. Y’all will be exceedingly welcome there, too. My web officianado has it at Version 1.0 sometime next week, but Little Big Plans for it down the road. (The other, subsidiary LLC obviously is an education design house I’m re-badging to fit the nonprofit pass-through). Perhaps we might even lure Amber out of her Mertonian silence in Alberquerque. Who knows?

    As to this instant discussion, it’s a great point, concerning the fearless Leader’s obligatory hoo-haw about the Great Society. Obviously that is a direct response to Jon’s post. Here I was palavering about historical anthro in the context of bygone “Political Economy” while you diners were talking Socioeconomics. That’s cool. Have taught it both ways.

    Let me say this. The implication of “less is more” is to attempt to make do, especially by doing more with less. Not exactly an un-American objective. Democrats should not cede this ground to Republicans such as young Rep. Paul Ryan. I’ll give you three reasons, on three fronts: MIC, General Administration, Education. (Only freshman believe that Entitlements are the gorilla).

    MIC. Back when his marbles were brilliant Sen. Albert Gore Jr. led the fight for an intelligently “leaner, meaner Military”. That was fully one-fourth of why Gov. Clinton wanted him as running mate; obviously it was not for the usual demographic diversity. The father of the “leaner, meaner” idea was Dr. William Perry, Clinton’s ultimate Defence Secretary. Pe

    General Administration. Another Democrat, President Jimmy Carter, exhausted himself in trying to keep his campaign promise to bring us a more “efficient” federal system aimed at doing more with less. He actually wanted fewer Secretaries sitting at his Cabinet table in the notional second term than had convened there during his first and only term in office. Frankly I can’t think of a more direct means of political suicide short of self-immolation on the streets of Saigon, but there you go. That old Navy commander was a man of his word, and Full Steam Ahead. So we see what happened. Even his successor broke his own prominent commitment to blow up the U.S. Department of Education. So there you go. That’s K Street for you.

    Now, next to the MIC, the Ed Industry accounts for the largest public industrial sector in the United States. Lotta juice, lotta power. I’ve tried for 25 years to convince powerful people that education too can “do more with less”. But try selling that to the NEA’s puppets, such as Barack Obama, Arnie Duncan and Rahmbo and you’ll find yourself in Hoffa’s cement. But I worked for “Bombthrower” Al Shanker, AFT, AFL-CIO, and before he died Mr. Shanker was promoting, at the highest levels, really radical ideas for doing more with less in his own sector of the GDP. RIP, Al.

    Nobody here is foolish enough to escape the conclusion that eludes Republicans such as Paul Ryan: that you cannot get to “leaner, meaner” without serious, strategic restructuring. Mere “reform” won’t do. It’s actually a false flag. A ruse.

    And lest anyone think that doing more with less, look at the GOP’s beloved business sector. There, such efficiencies are the Brass Ring for CEOs having to report to their boards and shareholders. That ring secures you unto a golden handshake. Our own Rick, poor fellow, finds himself having to run a medium size business in hard times. Ask him if he thinks that doing more with less is a fond notion in the world of business.

    It’s only today’s politicians who find this notion foreign and chimaerical. They’re fey punks, sellouts and tools. Your party need not surrender the turf. The ground is pregnant with inefficiencies, sops, and diseconomic counterproductivity. Until some grown-ups begin turning that soil, “Sustainablility” is a rainbow bumpersticker.

  24. Hugo St. Victor says:

    …sorry for the sloppy “signal to noise ratio”. I’m really tired and have to hit the sack. Lawyers in the morning. Oh goody…

  25. Rick Turner says:

    Well, we could certainly have a leaner military…just de-deploy a few hundred thousand troops; stop buying so many offensive weapons; and concentrate on the Defense Department being a defense department.

    Education? I see parents as being the biggest problems. Parents who truly value education will have more motivated children-students. Class sizes over 30 are utterly insane for pre-K through 12. English language learners are at a huge disadvantage, and return to point #1…parents. If the parents aren’t going to learn English; if they don’t read books at home; the kids are screwed. I don’t mean to sound racist, but why are voter pamphlets published in foreign languages? Seems to me that if we want any kind of societal cohesiveness, then insisting on English as the official language would be a good idea. I have no problem with folks retaining their native language, but what’s the problem with being multilingual and using English for official and normal communication? Not doing so promotes the ghettoizing of many populations.

  26. Hugo St. Victor says:

    Nothing wrong, everything good with your emphasis on a Lingua Franca as avenue to enculturation — and, I might add, to cultural transmission. Who really cares but us? Please consider how the parents themselves are, like us, products of the supreme products of mass schooling, are themselves schooled up, in need of de-mindfucking. This sickness mirrors the MIC so horribly that it’s all but too horrible to say. Believe me, like Lyndon Johnson “I could teach it either way”, but Life is fleeting and so there’s little time left for praxis. Our Generation made historic Music but we otherwise mostly frittered our talents. (No offense to Stewart, Tom and Bill, but, guys, the damn building did not in the end levitate). Before we go we’ve got to make more beautiful stuff for the next endangered Innocents. Otherwise we’re just a bunch of irresponsible, forgettable thumbsuckers

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