Bill Totten's Weblog

Monday, August 31, 2009

Entropy Gets No Respect

by John Michael Greer

The Archdruid Report (August 26 2009)

Druid perspectives on nature, culture, and the future of industrial society

The relation between modern industrial society and the scientific ideas that supposedly guide it is more complex than a casual glance will necessarily reveal. The ideology a society believes that it embraces and the assumptions about the world that actually underlie its actions and institutions are not uncommonly at odds with one another. It often takes the most strenuous sort of willed inattention to fail to notice the gap, but efforts toward that end can count on the support of public opinion as well as the more tangible backing provided by economic interests.

Consider the clash between the Christian and liberal values allegedly embraced by the great powers of nineteenth century Europe and the ruthless political and economic exploitation imposed by these same powers on the subject peoples of their huge colonial empires. The result was a rush to find some justification for European empires other than the obvious one, which was simply that Europeans wanted the wealth and power they could get by exploiting the rest of the planet. As Stephen Jay Gould chronicled in his engaging The Mismeasure of Man (1981), generations of scientists thus spent their careers trying to argue that the "white race", that imaginary and variously defined beast, was biologically superior to the other "races" on the planet.

These efforts fell afoul of a minor detail of anthropology. It so happens that people of European descent fall toward the middle range of a great many biological indices; people of African descent tend toward one end of most of these indices, and people of East Asian descent tend toward the other. Thus it proved impossible to argue, say, that Britons were superior to Africans without providing evidence that Chinese were superior to Britons, and claims that Britons were superior to Chinese ended up just as effectively proving that Africans were superior to Britons. Still, these efforts continued right up into the first half of the twentieth century, because the alternative was to admit that European domination of the planet was a straightforward act of piracy backed by nothing more edifying than a temporary advantage in military technology.

The industrial nations of the early 21st century are in a very similar predicament - or, more precisely, in two very similar predicaments. On the one hand, the relationship between the industrial nations and their Third World client states is very little more equitable than that between the British, say, and the quarter or so of the Earth's land surface that was occupied by British troops and exploited by British economic interests in the nineteenth century. Claims of racial superiority having fallen out of fashion, the industrial nations nowadays justify their position by claiming that their political and economic institutions are superior, and the rest of the world's nations can share exactly the same lifestyles of abundance if they only adopt these.

Today's industrial societies treat this claim as a self-evident truth. Of course the colonial powers of the nineteenth century treated the claim of European racial superiority as a self-evident truth, too, and the two claims are equally bogus. The abundance enjoyed by the world's industrial nations just now, after all, is the result of the fact that those same industrial nations use the great majority of the world's fossil fuel production. Given that the current industrial nations have burnt around half the planet's fossil fuel resources themselves, leaving the remaining half to fuel themselves and the rest of the world in the future, dangling the carrot of industrial prosperity in the faces of Third World countries at this point in the historical process is dishonest at best.

Of course it does seem to be true that representative governments and corporate-capitalist economies are more efficient than the competition at turning abundant fossil fuels into suburban lifestyles. This does not make representative governments and corporate-capitalist economies the cause of the prosperity of today's industrial nations, any more than the skin color of people from Europe was the cause of Europe's ascendancy during its age of empire. Still, just as the unmentionable realities behind European imperialism made it inevitable that there would be attempts to justify it via bad science, the equally awkward realities behind the ascendancy of today's industrial powers provide the push behind well-meaning attempts to package the industrial world's institutions for export to the Third World.

The same sort of logic, on an even deeper level, governs the relationship between the nations of the modern industrial world and the foundation of those nations' present prosperity - the Earth's fossil fuel reserves themselves. The hard reality is that the minority of us who happened to have been born in a few powerful countries squandered half a billion years of stored photosynthesis to give ourselves a brief period of spectacular economic abundance, and by doing so, foreclosed the chance that anybody else would enjoy that same abundance in the future. Fossil fuels are not renewable resources in any time frame accessible to our species. Every barrel and ton and cubic foot of fossil fuel we use now is subtracted from the total available to our descendants; despite an orgy of handwaving, no other resource can provide anything approaching the glut of cheap abundant energy on which our lifestyles of relative privilege depend.

Yet this point of view is at least as unmentionable in polite society just now as were the gritty realities of European colonialism in its time, or the equally gritty facts underlying the ascendancy of the world's industrial nations over the Third World today. The strenuous efforts to find a racial basis for European supremacy a century ago, and the equally vigorous efforts to hold up contemporary Western institutions as the key to prosperity and peace in the Third World today, thus have precise equivalents in the enthusiasm with which every imaginable alternative energy resource gets treated by government officials and media pundits throughout the industrial world.

None of these resources can actually provide the cheap abundant energy needed to maintain the kind of society we have today. I know that this is a controversial statement just now. Still, it's worth noting that every alternative energy resource that's actually been brought into production has turned out, at best, to provide a modest increment to existing energy supplies, and that only if you don't keep track of the energy subsidy the new resource gets from fossil fuels. Of course technologies that haven't been put into production look more promising, and the further they are from implementation, the more impressive they look; hype, often geared to the very practical goal of selling shares in IPOs, is at least as abundant in the energy field as anywhere else.

And this, dear reader, is where the gap between our society's official respect for science and its real attitudes toward the world shows up with remarkable clarity.

Once again, the role of the B-movie heavy in this drama is played by the second law of thermodynamics, better known as the law of entropy. As mentioned in a previous post, this is the gold standard of physics, the law you can't break without, as Sir Arthur Eddington put it, collapsing in deepest humiliation. Everybody in the industrial world with the least smattering of a scientific education knows about it, or at least was introduced to it, and yet next to nobody wants to talk about how it affects the emerging energy crisis of our time.

The crucial implication of the law of entropy, for our purposes, is that it's not energy as such, but a difference in energy potential, that allows work to be done. Imagine two smooth round boulders of equal weight, one of them sitting on a flat plateau and the other sitting on the slope of a steep hill. If the two are at the same distance from the center of the Earth, gravitation gives them exactly the same amount of potential energy. Still, if you give the one on the plateau a push, you aren't likely to do anything but strain your muscles, while if you give an equal push to the one on the slope, you may send it rolling down the hill, squashing everything in its path.

The difference is that every part of the plateau has the same energy potential due to gravity, while every part of the slope does not have the same potential, and the boulder rolling down the slope can cash in some of the difference in potential to keep itself moving. The greater the difference in potential, the greater the payoff in terms of energy released. Notice, though, what happens when the boulder on the slope finally lurches to a stop at the bottom of the valley below: it stops, and another push won't get it going again. It still has a lot of potential energy in that position - it has, in theory, 4500 miles to fall until it reaches the center of the earth - but there's nowhere it can go to release any of that energy. Without a difference in potential, how much energy you've got is a meaningless statistic. (This is, incidentally, why the quest for zero point energy is an exercise in absurdity; by definition, zero point energy is at the lowest possible potential state, and therefore cannot be made to do any work at all.)

The same rule applies to every energy resource: there has to be a difference in potential that allows energy to be released, and the bigger the difference, the bigger the benefit. With petroleum, the difference is in chemical energy. Those long chains of carbon and hydrogen atoms have a lot of energy to release when they come apart and combine with highly reactive oxygen instead; the short chains that form natural gas have less, and the carbon in coal has less still, though it's still a lot by the standards of other energy sources. All the extraordinary things our species has done with fossil fuels over the last three hundred years are functions, in effect, of the difference in chemical potential energy between a barrel of oil and a cloud of smoke.

Why are these reflections as welcome in the collective conversation of our time as a slug in a fresh green salad? Because they point up the profoundly shortsighted nature of the decisions that made the world in which all of us now live. The immense potential energy locked up in fossil fuels was put there by millions of years of photosynthesis. It's as though, to return to our metaphor, living things down through the ages rolled boulders uphill and perched them high above the valley floor. After a half billion years or so, our species came along, and figured out how to roll those boulders downhill. As long as there are still plenty of boulders in place, we can continue using them, but when the rate at which we want to send boulders rolling downhill outstrips the boulder supply, it's a waste of breath to insist that we can get the same results by bouncing pebbles across the valley floor.

This is basically what the more enthusiastic proponents of alternative energy are saying. By the time sunlight gets to us, after traversing 93 million miles of empty space, it's simply not that concentrated an energy source; that's why it took the Earth's photosynthetic organisms so many millions of years to build up the energy reserves we now squander so freely. Wind and hydroelectric power are both secondhand sunlight, the product of natural cycles driven by the sun; the same is true of every kind of biofuel, of course. Nuclear energy is the one nonsolar energy resource we've got, but it has severe problems and limitations of its own, not least the fact that the fossil fuel inputs needed to build, run, and decommission a nuclear reactor are so vast that there's a real question whether nuclear power is a net energy source at all. (Of course the further a nuclear technology is from actual implementation, the better it looks, and the ones that are still vaporware look best of all.)

Does this mean alternative energy is a waste of time? Of course not. Modest as the energy outputs from alternative sources are, they're what we'll have to work with when the fossil fuel is gone. What it means, rather, is that the particular kind of civilization we've built in the last three centuries will not survive the end of cheap abundant fossil fuels. A society that is used to getting things done by rolling huge boulders down steep slopes is going to have to learn to make do on the much less lavish results of bouncing pebbles across the flat.

The problem here is that very few people want to deal with that reality. The great majority will make themselves believe in zero point energy and evil space lizards and any other absurdity you care to name, rather than gulp and take a deep breath and admit that the prosperity we've enjoyed for the last three centuries was bought at our grandchildren's expense. I sometimes suspect that one of the reasons so many people like to imagine an apocalyptic end to the industrial age is that sudden extinction is easier to contemplate than the experience of slowly waking up to the full extent of our own collective stupidity.

And that, dear reader, is why entropy has become the Rodney Dangerfield of the contemporary energy debate. It may be the gold standard of physics, but in the collective conversation about our future, it don't get no respect.


I'm pleased to report that both the new projects mentioned in last week's post are moving ahead. Readers who are following "Star's Reach", my online blog-novel about the world after peak oil, will want to know that a new episode has been posted at

The Cultural Conservers Foundation is also moving forward. Those interested in participating in a more focused discussion of the subject are invited to join me on a newly founded email list, The list is moderated, and the same rules apply there as here - no spam, no flaming, no trolls, et cetera. The fast way to join is to send an email to, with "subscribe" as the subject line.

The process of starting a nonprofit also takes a certain amount of cash; I'm putting my own money into it, but would welcome help with the startup costs. A PayPal account for the Foundation under the address has been set up to handle donations for the foundation. If you haven't used PayPal before, and are minded to make a donation, the website at will walk you through the process in a very user-friendly fashion. Many thanks in advance for your help!


John Michael Greer has been active in the alternative spirituality movement for more than 25 years, and is the author of a dozen books, including The Druidry Handbook (2006) and The Long Descent (2008). He lives in Ashland, Oregon.

Bill Totten

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The US Economy: Designed to Fail

by Richard C Cook

Dandelion Salad (February 26 2009)

We Hold These Truths (2007) by Richard C. Cook

President Barack Obama showed a great deal of gumption in standing before Congress last night delivering his first speech to the joint assembly. All the trappings of power were on display as members of the House and Senate, the Supreme Court, the Joint Chiefs, the Cabinet, and the VIP guests hugged and waved at each other, radiant in their tailored attire only two nights after the Hollywood stars put on their own show on Oscar night.

Too bad neither the president, nor Vice President Joe Biden and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi applauding on the podium behind him, nor the jubilant Democrats with their solid majorities, nor the grumpy Republicans slouching in the minority across the aisle, know what they are doing as economic extinction stares the United States of America in the face.

Yes, it's that bad. The day after the speech the Dow-Jones dropped to 7,271, almost fifty percent off its October 2007 high, with no bottom in sight. According to the Washington Post, the Big Three automakers are now facing a "bottom-up" collapse of their component supply lines if their vast network of suppliers doesn't receive new federal loans within a week. Worldwide the situation is just as bad. The UN's International Labour Organization reports:

"What began as a crisis in finance markets has rapidly become a global jobs crisis. Unemployment is rising. The number of working poor is increasing. Businesses are going under."

President Obama's speech was long on resolve but short on substance. He assured the nation:

"We will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before".

But accomplishing this depends entirely on one thing: more federal deficit spending to serve as the economic engine in an economy where bank lending has dried up because businesses and consumers can no longer repay their loans.

Unfortunately, the deficit is approaching the breaking point.

During fiscal year 2009 the US Treasury is on-track to pay over $500 billion just in interest payments to finance the already-existing debt. New debt this year will likely exceed a trillion dollars. The total debt burden on the economy as a whole could reach $70 trillion by 2010, with annual interest payments for individuals, households, businesses, and all levels of government likely to reach $3 trillion out of a $14 trillion GDP that is now in sharp decline.

Financing the deficit continues to depend on whether China will still purchase Treasury bonds. This is why Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said frankly during last week's trip to China: "We are relying on the Chinese government to continue to buy our debt".

But at least President Obama is trying. He knows the economy can only recover if growth is rekindled. So he is focusing on the creation of jobs that translate into real worker income. But can he reverse a generation of job outsourcing and income stagnation? I don't know of anyone who believes he can. Will the Republican nostrum of tax and spending cuts do anything? You jest. Not when unemployment is approaching Great Depression levels.

But neither President Obama, nor his Democratic supporters or Republican antagonists, should feel badly about what is happening. This is because the system they have been given to work with was designed to fail. The US was saddled long ago with a debt-based monetary system, whereby the only way money can be introduced into circulation is through bank lending. It was the system that was instituted in 1913 when Congress gave away its constitutional power over money creation to the private banking industry by passing the Federal Reserve Act.

It was then that the catastrophe we are now facing became inevitable. It took nearly a century to get here but it finally happened. We should have known it was coming when Federal Reserve-created bubbles replaced economic growth from our disappearing heavy industry, starting with the recession of 1979-83. We could have seen it coming when the bubble collapsed in 2000-2001, and Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan worked with the George W Bush administration to substitute the housing bubble for a real recovery.

The day of reckoning is here. So don't worry, Mr President. It's not your fault. When the collapse takes place the international bankers who will take over might even let you keep your job.

Richard C Cook is a former US federal government analyst. His book on monetary reform, We Hold These Truths: The Hope of Monetary Reform, is now available at He is also the author of Challenger Revealed: An Insider's Account of How the Reagan Administration Caused the Greatest Tragedy of the Space Age (2008). He can be contacted through his website at

Also see The Cook Plan (video):

(c) 2009 by Richard C. Cook

Bill Totten

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Global starvation imminent as US faces crop failure

by Marc Davis (August 23 2009)

Editor's commentary: The above headline and first sentences of a recent report from grab one's attention: "The world faces 'mass starvation' following North America's next major crop failure. And it could even happen before year's end."

World leaders and the corporate media don't appreciate the role of petroleum in food production and distribution. On top of that typical error in the report, several other contradictions make for a jaw-dropping reading experience. Such as, meet the meat-caused grain strain by growing more grain. How? more fertilizer.

One would think it's easier for top authorities to warn of petroleum dependency than to predict famine based on climate change and farming-sector failures from the financial meltdown that began last autumn. No.

An indication of how petroleum is separated from agriculture in the minds of top commodity analysts, such as Don Coxe of the Coxe Commodity Strategy Fund: "the next food crisis - when it comes - will be a bigger shock than $150 oil" [June 2009, from story below]. Coxe was General Counsel for the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, but one has to wonder what he ever learned about petroleum. His interview is the basis of the featured story below.

The article is still an eye-opener for many who have ignored ecology: "In recent years, North America has been blessed with ideal weather conditions for crop cultivation, leading to bumper harvests, Coxe says. But he believes that climate change will soon lead to a trend towards shorter dry cycles, beginning maybe as early as this fall, which will exacerbate a supply-demand squeeze. 'We've been incredibly lucky with the weather up to this point ... In fact, the major inflation of the 1970s was driven more by food than by oil'."

But Coxe shows he is no Lester Brown: "Sadly, this scenario could have been avoided had successive North America's governments not weakened the farming industry with too much political interference, he suggests" - as if the solution is to continue to try to produce more and more food for more and more people, when resource constraints intensify. Don't expect a reporter or editor to look into this big picture, for what profit is there for the media corporations' main constituency of fellow corporations?

The report below does broach the topic of overpopulation - "the onset of a global population explosion in emerging economies" - but not in North America. To give some more credit, Don Coxe is acknowledging the high demand on grain from meat consumption. Yet, he wants to "ramp-up crop production. Especially crops like corn and soybeans, which are the best forms of livestock feed for producing animal protein." How? Though a "long-overdue doubling of fertilizer applications".

Coxe does stand out from his class that never points out that large-scale agriculture is unsustainable from the standpoint of losing top soil. He mentioned "a greater societal emphasis on preserving and nurturing the world's arable land". Regardless, Coxe's expertise is lauded for one reason: money talks - he is credited with managing the best-performing mutual fund in the US, Harris Investment Management, as recently as 2005. That's not a job that requires you pay attention to dwindling aquifers, for example. -- Jan Lundberg

Global starvation imminent as US faces crop failure

by Marc Davis (June 19 2009)

The world faces "mass starvation" following North America's next major crop failure. And it could even happen before year's end. So says Chicago-based Don Coxe, who is one of the world's leading experts on agricultural commodities, so much so that Canada's renowned BMO Financial Group named the fund after him.

Climate change will cause shorter crop growing seasons and the world's under-developed farming sector is ill-prepared to make up for the shortfall, Coxe says. He has been following the farming industry for many years and benefits from more than 35 years of institutional investment experience in Canada and the US. This includes managing the best-performing mutual fund in the US, Harris Investment Management, as recently as 2005.

In particular, an imminent crop failure in North America will have particularly dire consequences for major overseas markets that are highly reliant on US crop imports, Coxe cautions. Sadly, this scenario could have been avoided had successive North America's governments not weakened the farming industry with too much political interference, he suggests.

"We've got a situation where there has been no incentive to allocate significant new capital to agriculture or to develop new technologies to dramatically expand crop output. We've got complacency", he told BNW News Wire. "So for those reasons I believe the next food crisis - when it comes - will be a bigger shock than $150 oil."

As the key strategist for the Coxe Commodity Strategy Fund (TSX: COX.UN), he has an astute understanding of the mounting challenges that the farming industry has contended with in recent years. Prior to entering the investment business, he served as General Manager for the Ontario Federation of Agriculture and General Counsel for the Canadian Federation of Agriculture.

He notes that farmers, not just in North America, but the world over are still reeling from the global economic meltdown and have consequently curtailed their output. Thus, the inauspicious prospect of a drop in global food production this year - the first annual dip in living memory - means that farmers will not be able to keep pace with current grain demand.

"And when we have the first serious crop failure, which will happen, we will then have a full-blown food crisis, which we will not be able to get out of because we will still be struggling to catch up (as a result of diminished crop yields)", he says.

Furthermore, the prospect of a near-term global food crisis has been exacerbated by a surge in demand for high-quality protein (meat) in emerging super-economies such as China and India, Coxe says. This means that burgeoning global demand for crop staples is already beginning to outstrip supply.

"During this decade, the annual increase in hectares of global cultivated farmland has been roughly 1.5 per cent, at a time global demand for grains and soybeans has been growing at double that rate", he says. "We will be dealing with mass starvation with the first serious crop failure. It could happen as early as this fall if for instance we have a killing freeze in Iowa in August."

In recent years, North America has been blessed with ideal weather conditions for crop cultivation, leading to bumper harvests, Coxe says. But he believes that climate change will soon lead to a trend towards shorter dry cycles, beginning maybe as early as this fall, which will exacerbate a supply-demand squeeze.

"We've been incredibly lucky with the weather up to this point. But if you cut the growing cycle by four weeks, that will dramatically reduce yields", he warns. "People assume that the good times will last forever. There's a sense that food has always been readily available and that it will always be there."

Yet, we only need to look as far a back as the mid 1970s to an era when food staples suddenly became far less plentiful due to poor crop yields resulting from adverse weather, he says.

"There were major food surpluses going into that era. Yet, they were gone so fast", he adds. "In fact, the major inflation of the 1970s was driven more by food than by oil".

If society is to avoid a far worse situation than the food crisis of the 1970s, especially with the onset of a global population explosion in emerging economies, then the world has to dramatically ramp-up crop production. Especially crops like corn and soybeans, which are the best forms of livestock feed for producing animal protein, he adds.

Hence, the world can no longer settle for anything less than optimal crop yields, which requires exponential growth in fertilizer applications, he says. Yet, the under-application of such crucial nutrients, particularly indispensable potash-based fertilizers, has been a pronounced problem for decades in the world's most populous nations such as China, India and Malaysia.

Without the long-overdue doubling of fertilizer applications, as well as a greater societal emphasis on preserving and nurturing the world's arable land, the next global food shortage promises to be both pronounced and prolonged. And that could topple governments and destabilize the world's political order, Coxe further warns.

An ominous omen of humanity's first great challenge of the new millennium came just last year. This was when a short-lived spike in the price of food staples led to widespread hunger and ensuing political unrest in some emerging economies, including food riots.


Marc Davis is Managing Editor, BNW Business News Wire

Original article:

Further reading:

What about petrochemical pesticides' sustainability? For the health aspect, see "Debating How Much Weed Killer Is Safe in Your Water Glass" (part of the New York Times' Toxic Waters series), by Charles Duhigg (August 22 2009):

"Catastrophic Fall in 2009 Global Food Production" by Eric deCarbonnel (February 18 2009):

This article is published under Title 17 USC. Section 107. See the Fair Use Notice for more information:

Bill Totten

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Crisis: Debt and Real Wealth

by Herman E Daly (February 25 2009)

In a recent article, former World Bank economist Herman Daly explains that the current financial crisis is not, in fact, a liquidity crisis, but rather "a crisis of overgrowth of financial assets relative to growth of real wealth".

This article has been posted with the author's permission.

Can the economy grow fast enough in real terms to redeem the massive increase in debt? In a word, no. As Frederick Soddy (1926 Nobel Laureate chemist and underground economist) pointed out long ago, "you cannot permanently pit an absurd human convention, such as the spontaneous increment of debt [compound interest] against the natural law of the spontaneous decrement of wealth [entropy]". The population of "negative pigs" (debt) can grow without limit since it is merely a number; the population of "positive pigs" (real wealth) faces severe physical constraints. The dawning realization that Soddy's common sense was right, even though no one publicly admits it, is what underlies the crisis. The problem is not too little liquidity, but too many negative pigs growing too fast relative to the limited number of positive pigs whose growth is constrained by their digestive tracts, their gestation period, and places to put pigpens. Also there are too many two‐legged Wall Street pigs, but that is another matter.

Growth in US real wealth is restrained by increasing scarcity of natural resources, both at the source end (oil depletion), and the sink end (absorptive capacity of the atmosphere for carbon dioxide). Further, spatial displacement of old stuff to make room for new stuff is increasingly costly as the world becomes more full, and increasing inequality of distribution of income prevents most people from buying much of the new stuff - except on credit (more debt). Marginal costs of growth now likely exceed marginal benefits, so that real physical growth makes us poorer, not richer (the cost of feeding and caring for the extra pigs is greater than the extra benefit). To keep up the illusion that growth is making us richer we deferred costs by issuing financial assets almost without limit, conveniently forgetting that these so‐called assets are, for society as a whole, debts to be paid back out of future real growth. That future real growth is very doubtful and consequently claims on it are devalued, regardless of liquidity.

What allowed symbolic financial assets to become so disconnected from underlying real assets? First, there is the fact that we have fiat money, not commodity money. For all its disadvantages, commodity money (gold) was at least tethered to reality by a real cost of production. Second, our fractional reserve banking system allows pyramiding of bank money (demand deposits) on top of the fiat government‐issued currency. Third, buying stocks and "derivatives" on margin allows a further pyramiding of financial assets on top the already multiplied money supply. In addition, credit card debt expands the supply of quasi‐money as do other financial "innovations" that were designed to circumvent the public‐interest regulation of commercial banks and the money supply. I would not advocate a return to commodity money, but would certainly advocate 100% reserve requirements for banks (approached gradually), as well as an end to the practice of buying stocks on the margin. All banks should be financial intermediaries that lend depositors' money, not engines for creating money out of nothing and lending it at interest. If every dollar invested represented a dollar previously saved we would restore the classical economists' balance between investment and abstinence. Fewer stupid or crooked investments would be tolerated if abstinence had to precede investment. Of course the growth economists will howl that this would slow the growth of GDP. So be it - growth has become uneconomic at the present margin as we currently measure it.

The agglomerating of mortgages of differing quality into opaque and shuffled bundles should be outlawed. One of the basic assumptions of an efficient market with a meaningful price is a homogeneous product. For example, we have the market and corresponding price for number two corn - not a market and price for miscellaneous randomly aggregated grains. Only people who have no understanding of markets, or who are consciously perpetrating fraud, could have either sold or bought these negative pigs‐in‐a‐poke. Yet the aggregating mathematical wizards of Wall Street did it, and now seem surprised at their inability to correctly price these idiotic "assets".

And very important in all this is our balance of trade deficit that has allowed us to consume as if we were really growing instead of accumulating debt. So far our surplus trading partners have been willing to lend the dollars they earned back to us by buying treasury bills - more debt "guaranteed" by liens on yet‐to‐exist wealth. Of course they also buy real assets and their future earning capacity. Our brilliant economic gurus meanwhile continue to preach deregulation of both the financial sector and of international commerce (that is, "free trade"). Some of us have for a long time been saying that this behavior was unwise, unsustainable, unpatriotic, and probably criminal. Maybe we were right. The next shoe to drop will be repudiation of unredeemable debt either directly by bankruptcy and confiscation, or indirectly by inflation.

Bill Totten

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Meditation on Our Monetary System

State of Permanent Siege {1}

by Richard Cook

Dandelion Salad (April 22 2009)

The level of public ignorance on the topic of the US and world monetary system is astonishing. This is part of the plan, of course, because the monetary elite control not only the financial system but also the news media, the publishing industry, and the educational system. The blueprint for control was put together over a century ago by Cecil Rhodes and his friends, including British financier Nathan Rothschild, as documented by Professor Carroll Quigley.

During the 20th Century the power shifted to the US, with the Rockefellers playing the dominant role as they continue to do today. It is no accident that JP Morgan Chase - the Rockefeller family bank - dominates the US derivatives market; nor that Exxon-Mobil, the Rockefellers' oil company, is the most profitable corporation in history.

The basic plan was to place all of mankind in a state of permanent mental and emotional siege so that in the end we would trade all our liberties to the controllers in return for protection; even freedom of thought would be traded for physical safety. That plan is well advanced. The sheeple have been prepared for the final shearing.

Meanwhile, every attempt at real reform has been strangled in the cradle. Past voices for monetary sanity like those of Congressmen Louis McFadden and Jerry Voorhis were silenced. Starting in the 1970s, functionaries like Kissinger, Brzezinski, and Volcker carried out David Rockefeller's plan to outsource manufacturing to China and eliminate the US as the world's greatest industrial democracy, replacing it with a financier oligarchy.

During the 2008 election campaign, Ron Paul called for the end of the Federal Reserve, the bastion of financier control, but no one effectively organized the millions of people who responded to his call or had a viable plan to put in place.

Barack Obama obviously works mainly for the financiers, as did Bill Clinton before him. The job of the Democrats is to keep the sheeple quiet by now and then implementing some "reforms"; the Republicans were a more blatant gang of looters.

With the financial crash of 2008-2009, the noose is tightening everywhere in the world. The International Monetary Fund is announcing, "The current global recession is likely to be 'unusually long and severe, and the recovery sluggish.'" (BBC News, "IMF Sees Long and Severe Slowdown", April 16 2009.) In reality, as the IMF knows, it would be possible to put every nation in the world on the road to recovery by allowing them to prime the economic pump through sovereign control of their own monetary systems, with freedom to utilize their own natural resources.

The IMF announcement is in fact the start of a worldwide program of genocide similar to what was done to Russia in the 1990s, with crushing poverty, slashing of incomes, reduction of benefits for the poor and elderly, rising levels of disease and malnutrition, and reduction of life expectancy. We in the West will view the carnage with alarm from our own stripped-down economies but remain docile out of fear the same will be done to us.

Awareness of the hideous evil of the financiers' plans to destroy the soul of humanity is growing. This is being accomplished through the internet and the work of a number of writers who understand what is at stake. I doubt this channel of expression will be available indefinitely. Already alternative websites are being isolated and marginalized. But the fight must be waged.

The one organization that has a program which is comprehensive and free from outside influence is the American Monetary Institute, which has drafted the American Monetary Act. If the Act is introduced in Congress, it will be imperative for it to be recognized and supported as the one chance to save our nation from the dark night that is threatening. But even progressive writers shrink from taking on the Monetary Power, with many of them putting forth the absurdity that all we need to do is reform the banking system.

The American Monetary Act has been in process since 2003. It may be found on the AMI website at:

AMI will conduct a presentation on the Act on Capitol Hill, April 23 2009, in Room 304 of the Cannon House Office Building. Presentations will take place at 10:00 AM and at 2:00 PM.

At the same time, groups of relatively conscious people can come together on their own to create refuges of sanity until the danger passes over - a period of years, decades, or even generations. And, to look at it from a spiritual perspective, we can hope that the Higher Powers who observe humanity's destiny refuse to allow our particular experiment in consciousness to be obliterated.

Destruction of human consciousness is the real goal of the financiers and their minions. It is lies above all that do this. The financiers' power is the biggest lie of all.

Note {1} The phrase "permanent siege" is from Thomas Pynchon's novel Against the Day (2006). Set at the end of the 19th Century, the novel describes the dynamics and strategy of the future totalitarian regimes of the approaching 20th century - that is, a state of "permanent siege."

Richard C Cook is a retired federal analyst who writes today on economic, political, and spiritual matters. His books and videos are available through his website at . He recently released his six-part video series: Credit as a Public Utility: the Solution to the Economic Crisis.

(c) 2009 by Richard C Cook

Also See:

Credit As A Public Utility: The Solution to the Economic Crisis, by Richard C Cook (videos)

Obama Economic Program Increases America's Bondage to Wall Street Billionaires, by Richard C Cook

The US Economy: Designed to Fail, by Richard C Cook

The Cook Plan (video)

Bailout for the People: "The Cook Plan" by Richard C Cook

The Economy Sucks and or Collapse 2

Bill Totten

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Financial Crisis Called Off

Clusterfuck Nation

by James Howard Kunstler

Comment on current events by the author of
The Long Emergency
(2005) (August 24 2009)

Whew, what a relief! Everybody from Ben Bernanke and a Who's Who of banking poobahs schmoozing it up in the heady vapors of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to the dull scribes at The New York Times, toiling in their MC Escher hall of mirrors, to poor dim James Surowiecki over at The New Yorker, to - wonder of wonders! - the Green Shoots claque at the cable networks, to the assorted quants, grinds, nerds, pimps, factotums, catamites, and cretins in every office from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to the International Monetary Fund - every man-Jack and woman-Jill around the levers of power and opinion weighed in last week with glad tidings that the world's capital finance system survived what turned out to be a mere protracted bout of heartburn and has been reborn as the Miracle Bull economy. Our worries over. If you believe their bullshit. Which I don't.

All this goes to show is how completely the people in charge of things in the USA have lost their minds. They seem to think this mass exercise in pretend will resurrect the great march to the WalMarts, to the new car showrooms, and the cul-de-sac model houses, reignite another round of furious sprawl-building, salad-shooter importing, and no-doc liar-lending, not to mention the pawning off of innovative, securitized stinking-carp debt paper onto credulous pension funds in foreign lands where due diligence has never been heard of, renew the leveraged buying-out of zippy-looking businesses by smoothies who have no idea how to run them (and no real intention of doing it, anyway), resuscitate the construction of additional strip malls, new office park "capacity" and Big Box "power centers". restart the trade in granite countertops and home theaters, and pack the turnstiles of Walt Disney world - all this while turning Afghanistan into a neighborhood that Beaver Cleaver would be proud to call home.

By the way - and please pardon the rather sharp digression - but does anybody know if they buried Michael Jackson yet? It's only been a couple of months. And, if not, is that the stench now wafting across the purple mountains' majesty from sea-to-shining sea? Isn't it a little indecent to keep the poor fellow waiting? Or is a really surprising comeback secretly planned, with product tie-ins and all?

America loves the word "recovery" as only a catastrophically sick society can. "In recovery" is the new universal mantra of loser individuals and loser nations. Everybody in the USA is in recovery. Even Michael Jackson (he may have given up on somatic activity but, on the plus side, as the Rotarians love to say, he's quit using drugs for once and for all, and the magazines have stopped publishing photos of him taken after 1990, when he turned himself into something out of the Hammer Films catalog).

To sum it all up, the US economy is in recovery. Paul Krugman says that we'll soon realize that Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is growing. He actually said that on the Sunday TV chat circuit. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I would really like to know what you mean by that Paul, you fatuous wanker. Do you mean that the Atlanta homebuilders are going to open up a new suburban frontier down in Twiggs County so that commuters can enjoy driving Chrysler Crossfires a hundred and sixty miles a day to new jobs as flash traders in the Peachtree Plaza? Do you mean that the Home Equity Fairy is going to wade into the sea of foreclosure and save twenty million mortgage holders currently sojourning in the fathomless depths with the anglerfish? Do you mean that all the bales of deliquescing, toxic "assets" hidden in the vaults of Citibank, JP Morgan, Bank of America, et al, (not to mention on the books of every pension fund in the USA, and not a few elsewhere) will magically turn into Little Debbie Snack Cakes on Labor Day weekend? Do you mean that American Express and Master Card are about to declare a Jubilee on accounts in default everywhere? Do you mean that General Motors will produce a car that (a) anyone really wants to buy and (b) that the company can sell at a profit? Are you saying we get a do-over, going back to, say, 1981? Did we win some cosmic lottery that hasn't been announced yet? What's growing in this country besides unemployment, bankruptcy, repossession, liquidation, gun ownership, and suicidal despair? In short, are you out of your mind, Paul Krugman?

The key to the current madness, of course, is this expectation, this wish, really, that all the rackets, games, dodges, scams, and workarounds that American banking, business, and government devised over the past thirty years - to cover up the dismal fact that we produce so little of real value­ these days - will just magically return to full throttle, like a machine that has spent a few weeks in the repair shop. This is not going to happen, of course. It is permanently and irredeemably broken - this Rube Goldberg contraption of swindles all based on the idea that it's possible to get something for nothing. And more to the point, we're really doing nothing to reconstruct our economy along lines that are consistent with the realities of energy, geopolitics, or resource scarcity. So far, our notions about a "green" economy amount to little more than blowing green smoke up our collective ass. We think we're going to build "green" skyscrapers! We're too dumb to see what a contradiction in terms this is. The architects are completely uninterested in the one thing that really is "green" - traditional urban design - and most particularly the walkable neighborhood. That's just too conventional, not special enough, lacking in star power, not enough of a statement, boring, tedious, so not cutting edge! We blather about high speed rail, but you can't even get from Cleveland to Cincinnati on a regular train - and what's more amazing, nobody is really interested in making this happen. All we really care about is finding some miracle method to keep all the cars running.

What we've been seeing is nothing more than a massive pump-and-dump operation in the stock markets, most of it executed by programmed robot traders, with the trading nut provided by taxpayers current and future. These shenanigans add up to new risks and fragilities so extreme that the next time a grain of sand catches in the exquisite machinery they will sink the USA as a viable enterprise. We will end up discrediting not just capitalism, but also the idea of capital per se, that is, of deployable acquired wealth. As this occurs, of course, events on-the-ground will give new meaning to the term "reality television".


My new novel of the post-oil future, World Made By Hand, is available at all booksellers.

Bill Totten

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Urgency of the American Monetary Act

by Richard C Cook

Dandelion Salad (May 06 2009)

On Thursday, April 23 2009, Stephen Zarlenga, director of the American Monetary Institute (AMI), delivered two briefings on Capitol Hill on the American Monetary Act that AMI drafted and that may be introduced as legislation during the current congressional session. This single measure has the potential of bringing together the tens of millions of people who have realized it's our bank-run debt-based monetary system that lies at the center of the financial rot that is destroying our republic and its values.

Attending the briefings were congressional staffers and members of the public. Zarlenga was introduced by Congressman Dennis Kucinich (Democrat, Ohio), who has spoken in favor of wholesale reform of the monetary system on the floor of the US House of Representatives. Kucinich is also sponsor of HR 7260, the "Transparency in the Creation of Wealth Act of 2008". This act would require the Federal Reserve to resume reporting on the quantity of M3 in the economy (mega-money accessible only to large financial institutions), along with several other economic indicators it now keeps to itself, such as total credit market debt and the holding of Federal Reserve notes by foreign interests.

Stephen Zarlenga is author of The Lost Science of Money (American Monetary Institute, 2002), a monumental 736-page book that shows how money has served socially beneficial purposes throughout history only when created by governments as an instrument of law and not as the private preserve of the rich.

Hugh Downs, an unusually well-informed media personality with a strong social conscience, said of The Lost Science of Money, that it "has some stunning historical vistas of the whole concept of media of exchange". Renowned progressive economist Dr Michael Hudson said, "The history of money is critical to understanding the greatest problem the third millennium will face. Stephen Zarlenga's Lost Science of Money provides the needed background for seeing the basic structural issues at work."

Since Zarlenga published The Lost Science of Money, the American Monetary Institute has grown, with chapters in Boston, New York, Chicago, Iowa, Seattle, and other locations. He conducts an annual monetary reform conference at Roosevelt University in Chicago and has a busy travel and speaking schedule. He has addressed audiences at the US Treasury Department in Washington, DC, and the British House of Lords in London.

The American Monetary Act may be viewed and downloaded from the AMI website at

The main thrust of the act is to replace the bank-centered debt-based monetary system with the direct creation of money by the federal government which would spend it into circulation as was done with the Greenbacks of the latter part of the 19th century.

The money would be spent on all types of legislated government requirements but would focus on infrastructure improvements, including education and health care. The act not only would create a new monetary supply denominated in US Treasury notes, but would rebuild our job base which has been outsourced to other nations by the globalist corporations and big financial interests.

The critical role of the Greenbacks in US history has been distorted and downplayed by the establishment interests that control the writing of history textbooks. The Greenbacks originated during the Civil War when the government printed and spent them to meet wartime needs. Contrary to mythology, the Greenbacks were not inflationary. They continued to serve as a key part of the nation's monetary supply into the early 20th century. As late as 1900 they formed a third of the nation's circulating currency, with coinage, along with gold and silver certificates, forming another third, and national bank notes the remainder.

Later the value of both the Greenbacks and metallic-based currency were destroyed by the inflation caused by the introduction of Federal Reserve Notes after the approval of the Federal Reserve System by Congress in 1913. From that point on, the creation of money in the US became a monopoly of the private banking system. This led to the Great Depression when the banking system crashed the economy through its deflationary policies.

The nation recovered from the Depression through the New Deal and the adoption of Keynesian economic policies during and after World War Two. But now, in the early years of the 21st Century, the financial system again has collapsed through the gigantic speculative bubbles of the last thirty years. The Bush-Obama bailouts that are costing taxpayers trillions of dollars are benefiting the financial controllers but are not doing anywhere near enough for the producing economy. Even though officials are starting to forecast an economic recovery, there is every indication it will be another "jobless" recovery like the one from 2002 to 2005.

The American Monetary Act would put a stop to the travesties of the bank-controlled monetary system that has wrecked what was once the world's greatest industrial democracy. In addition to reintroducing the Greenbacks, the act would eliminate fractional reserve banking by requiring banks to borrow money from the US Treasury to bring their cash reserves up to the level of their lending portfolio rather than allowing them to continue to create money "out of thin air". The banks would no longer be able to create trillions of dollars of credit, backed by nothing, which they use to fuel the speculative equities, hedge fund, and derivative markets.

The act also contains a provision for a citizens' dividend through direct payment of cash to individuals. While it does not authorize a dividend at the level Stephen Shafarman and I have proposed in our respective books, Peaceful, Positive Revolution (2008) and We Hold These Truths: The Hope of Monetary Reform (2009), it is a major step in the right direction. In what I have called the "Cook Plan" I advocate a dividend of $12,000 a year per capita for adults who apply with the money, once spent, being used to capitalize a new network of community savings banks.

With the 2008-2009 collapse of the financial system, the deep recession we are now suffering through, and the injustice of the government's bank bailouts currently being administered by Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, millions of people in the US and around the world have had enough of government policies that enrich the financial oligarchy and destroy the livelihood of everyone else. The world today is headed for a dark age of debt-slavery and ruinous poverty for much of the world's population, including working people in the US.

The only way a catastrophe can be averted is for mankind to wake up and demand the creation of a new monetary system where money and credit are treated as a public utility. This means that money and credit should serve the needs of the producing economy while assuring a decent living and sufficient income for everyone.

To reach this goal, it is counterproductive for people simply to complain about what is happening or support half-measures like the call to embrace a gold standard. Any attempt to impose a new gold standard would play into the hands of those who control the gold; that is, the bankers. Creating a new gold standard appears to be the objective of movements like "End-the-Fed".

The key is not whether money is backed by gold or any other commodity but whether it serves the needs of real people, allows the trade and productivity of the nation to move, restores our job base, and supports consumer purchasing power. The American Monetary Act would meet these objectives. With the financial disasters of the last two years, millions of people realize the system is rigged against them. Jobs and savings continue to disappear while debt and the power of the banking millionaires increase. The time for Congress to act is now.


Richard C Cook is a former federal analyst who writes on public policy issues. His book We Hold These Truths: the Hope of Monetary Reform is now available at His website is

Also See:

A Meditation on Our Monetary System: State of Permanent Siege by Richard C Cook

Credit As A Public Utility: The Solution to the Economic Crisis by Richard C Cook (videos)

Obama Economic Program Increases America's Bondage to Wall Street Billionaires by Richard C Cook

The US Economy: Designed to Fail by Richard C Cook

The Cook Plan (video)

Bailout for the People: "The Cook Plan" by Richard C Cook

The Economy Sucks and or Collapse Two

Bill Totten

Monday, August 24, 2009

Richard Cook: "It's Time to Fix the Monetary System"

by Mike Whitney

Dandelion Salad (February 10 2009)

We Hold These Truths (2007) by Richard C Cook

Richard Cook's new book, We Hold These Truths: The Hope of Monetary Reform (2007), cuts through the nonsense and reveals the root cause of today's economic crisis; a privatized credit system gone haywire. This is first-class analysis from a prescient reformer whose message is just now catching fire. While the pundits are still hung up on subprime mortgages and toxic assets, Cook has peeled the cover off our deeply-flawed monetary system and exposed the rot within. This is where the change needs to begin.

We Hold These Truths is a timely book that challenges conventional thinking about credit and the role of banks. As the author points out, "In a system where the banks have a monopoly on the issuance of credit, they inevitably become the most powerful entity in the economy and therefore the most powerful politically as well". Cook's observations are particularly relevant today, now that many of the same people who pushed for deregulation during the Clinton and Bush administrations have been appointed as key members of Obama's economics team. It's clear that Wall Street has further tightened its grip on Washington even while it continues to wreak havoc on the financial system. It's no wonder Thomas Jefferson concluded that, "Banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies".

Cook's strong suit is taking complex economic ideas and breaking them down for his readers. He devotes a fair amount of time to explaining the fundamental mismatch between what the country produces and its net earnings. This gap between GDP and purchasing power can only be filled through the issuance of credit. The problem is, that as borrowing increases, the ballooning debt becomes more unmanageable and the system begins to teeter. Wall Street's reckless expansion of credit simulated prosperity for nearly a decade, but when the bubble burst, the financial system collapsed, creating the present downturn.

Cook believes that a National Dividend - which would come in the form of a check from the government to every man, woman and child in America - could make up for the loss in purchasing power and maintain economic stability. This is not "pie-in-the-sky" liberalism, but a reasonable proposal designed to stimulate business activity and avoid disruptive recessions. He also advocates public control of credit: community-run investment banks which operate as public utilities and provide low interest loans to consumers and businesses. These ideas were implemented during the Great Depression via the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) and the Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC) They were successful programs that helped build America's middle class while seizing control of the mortgage industry from Wall Street speculators.

Cook also supports a basic income guarantee for every American regardless of whether they work or not. This is a defining issue that should be debated in terms of the value we place on human dignity. Everyone deserves a minimal standard of living. The last time Congress considered such an initiative was Nixon's Family Assistance Act of 1970. The "reverse income tax" was voted down by a coalition of southern Democrats who opposed it mainly on racial grounds. Senator George McGovern who supported the bill said that "it would have provided a basic underpinning of income for all Americans". Income guarantees are stimulative and help maintain demand. They are good for the economy and demonstrate the nation's commitment to provide for those who are most in need.

We Hold These Truths is a book for people who want to understand the current crisis without getting bogged down in hand-wringing and negativity. It's a blueprint for removing the gangrenous parts of the financial system and for establishing a dividend-based system that better serves the public interest. Richard Cook has presented the ideas that are likely to shape the national debate on monetary reform for years to come. They are certainly worth our consideration. It's a great read.

Also See:

Bailout for the People: "The Cook Plan", by Richard C Cook

The Cook Plan (video)

Open Letter to Dr Joseph Stiglitz and Challenge to Debate, by Richard C Cook

Murdered Mexican General a Victim - But of What?, by Richard C Cook

The Economy Sucks and or Collapse 2

Bill Totten

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Hunger Insurance

by Dmitry Orlov

ClubOrlov (August 21, 2009)

I would like to sell you some hunger insurance. Are you insured against hunger? Perhaps you should be! Without this coverage, you may find it impossible to continue to afford feeding yourself and your family. With this coverage, not only will you be assured of continuing to get at least some food, but so will I. In fact, thanks to this plan, I will get to eat very, very well indeed.

Here's how it works. You buy a hunger insurance plan from my hunger insurance company, or from one of my illustrious competitors in the hunger insurance industry. The hunger insurance market is very competitive, offering you plenty of consumer choice. You can even decide to go with a hunger maintenance organization (HMO); that would make a lot of sense if you are on a diet.

Whichever company you choose buys up food in bulk on your behalf. Then, should you come down with a case of hunger, you can file a claim, pay the copayment, and get some of the food. Certain feeding procedures, such as breakfast, are considered elective, and are not covered.

The company is in a position to demand lower prices for food from the food providers, and can even pass some of these savings on to you. (But the fine folks in the hunger insurance company do have to eat too, you know.) Of course, the food providers try to make up the difference by charging those without hunger insurance much higher prices, but how can anyone blame them? That's just market economics. There may also be some food-related benefits, such as lower rental rates on bowls, spoons, napkins and feeding tubes (check the details of your plan).

There is just one more twist: you should try to arrange your hunger insurance plan through your employer. You see, it is much more expensive for companies to do business with consumers directly. It is much cheaper and easier for them to deal with other companies, and this allows them to, again, pass along some of the savings. In fact, many hunger insurers may decide not to sell individual hunger plans because group hunger is much more profitable. This is just Business 101: nothing personal. Plus, how can you afford to pay your hunger premium every month if you are unemployed? It goes without saying that if you want to keep your hunger insurance, you better try to keep your job, whether they pay you or not! And if you are currently unemployed, then, well... why am I still talking to you?

I am sure you will agree that this is a damn good system: it offers you consumer choice, a healthy diet, and, most importantly, peace of mind. But, as you may have heard, some people have been clamoring for a so-called "single-feeder system" run by the government. Now, that sort of thing may be very well for those miserable communists, but let me ask you a couple of questions.

First: Do you want to get fed the same as everyone else, even if you can afford to pay a little extra? What if you, say, win the lottery; wouldn't you want to upgrade to the premium plan, and dine on filet mignon, foie gras and truffles like I do instead of the corporate-government-provided Happi-Meals?

But even more importantly, who do you want your children to be when they grow up: lowly, overworked, underpaid government bureaucrats, or fat-cat capitalists like me? Isn't this compelling vision of hope worth tightening your belt for? To be perfectly honest, those jobs are reserved for my children, but yours might still be able to find work as their personal bathroom assistants, if they are docile and pretty ... let's pretend you didn't hear that.

But ultimately it is still all up to you, because it is you who, every few years, walks into a voting booth and pulls a lever. And then I have to work with whoever you elect, and bring them around to seeing things my way. We are in this together, you see: you get to pull the lever, but I get to write the checks, with your money. Politicians have to eat too, you know, I am there to help them, and they know it.

Is that your stomach growling, or are you just happy to see me?

Bill Totten

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Betting on the Rust Belt

by John Michael Greer

The Archdruid Report (August 19 2009)

Druid perspectives on nature, culture, and the future of industrial society

I owe, I think, an apology as well as a few words of explanation to the regular readers of this blog. The weeks I've taken off from posting here this summer have not been as innocent as they seemed, and those of you who may have imagined me basking in the mostly theoretical sun on some gray and rainy Oregon beach are about to be sadly disillusioned. Conspiracy fans take note: a plot has been afoot.

Over the last few weeks, my spouse and I have relocated to the other side of North America and are now settling into a new home in Cumberland, an old mill town of 20,000 people tucked away in the north-central Appalachians, up in the panhandle of western Maryland. The Amish country of Pennsylvania begins not that many miles north of us, and West Virginia's a stone's throw across the river to the south; the big cities of the east coast are only a few hours away by train, but you wouldn't guess that from the rural ambience and the dense forest blanketing the hills. It's a pleasant place, with old brick buildings and pretty scenery, and it's becoming a regional hub for the arts, with the help of very low rents and the enthusiasm of the local arts council. Still, none of those are the primary reason why we moved here.

Readers of this blog who remember an earlier post, "Rethinking the Rust Belt", may have already guessed at some of the deeper motives behind the move. Though it flowered earlier than most, Cumberland is a quintessential Rust Belt town. Founded in the 18th century along one of the most important transport routes linking the east coast to the interior, it became by turns a canal center, a railroad hub, and a thriving industrial town where factories powered first by water and then by local coal anchored an economy lively enough to make Cumberland the second largest city in Maryland. From its red brick factories and faux-medieval county courthouse to its distinctive local beers - Queen City Brewery was the big name here until it went under in the Seventies - it's hard to think of a detail of the old American industrial heartland that wasn't present and accounted for.

As America's manufacturing economy ebbed, in turn, Cumberland suffered accordingly, and its population today is little more than half what it was forty years ago. Most of the old mansions on Washington Street have been subdivided, the once fabulously busy C&O Canal that ran from here to Chesapeake Bay has not been used in many decades, the last factories closed long ago, and half a century of struggle for survival has left visible wounds across the city. The railroad still runs through the middle of town, and there's daily passenger service west to Pittsburgh and east to Washington DC, but the splendid old station that once graced the town was torn down decades ago and replaced with a bleak little cinderblock building about the size of a suburban three-car garage. The tourist brochures call Cumberland scenic and friendly, and not without reason, but not even the most imaginative publicist would think of calling it prosperous.

The conventional wisdom these days holds that towns like Cumberland have a future only if they can find some way to catch the coattails of the booming (well, formerly booming) economies of the two coasts. Cumberland city boosters have done their level best to follow that lead in recent years, with tourism and the arts scene as focal points, and they've had modest success so far. If I'm right about the future of America and the rest of the industrial world, though, they might want to consider raising their sights a bit, because the tide of history that left Cumberland and so many towns like it high and dry may just be turning.

I don't know how many readers of this blog remember, as I do, the headlines that came out of the Rust Belt in the 1970s, when the economic collapse of America's industrial hinterland first really became visible on the large scale. Anyone who needs a refresher, though, can get one easily enough by reading the equivalent headlines coming right now out of California. The political gridlock, the sclerotic economy, the slumping quality-of-life indices, the special interests clinging to oversized shares of a shrinking pie - it's all there, made all the more poignant by the anguished yelps of California politicians insisting that the rest of the country can't just sit by and let the formerly Golden State finish circling the drain. (A hint to Sacramento might be in order here: state governments from Pennsylvania to Illinois tried that gambit repeatedly forty-odd years ago, and it didn't work then, either.)

The underlying cause is essentially the same, too. The collapse of America's industrial heartland into the Rust Belt was part of the price, as I've pointed out in previous posts, of the economic shift that turned America from an industrial economy that produced most of its own goods and services at home to a global power that imported most of its manufactured goods from overseas. Since so much of the resulting flood of products came from Asia, the great ports of the west coast boomed - for decades now, the Los Angeles-Long Beach complex has been the single busiest port in America - and the resulting flows of wealth turned the entire west coast from a mildly exotic region on the nation's periphery to one of its core economic hubs.

Yet it's only in the imaginations of believers in linear progress that such shifts are permanent. America is learning the hard way, as Britain did a century ago and Spain a century and a half before that, that the sheer economic burden of maintaining a global military presence is quite capable of pushing even the richest nation into bankruptcy. The Asian industrial powers that once churned out consumer goods for American stores are calmly retooling, using the billions we send them each year, to produce goods to meet the desires of their own newly prosperous people. Meanwhile the age of cheap abundant energy that made 20th century-style globalism possible in the first place is coming to an end around us. The economic model that built California's past prosperity, in other words, is done enough to poke with a fork.

As far as I can tell, very few people on the west coast - or anywhere else - have begun to think through the implications of that troubling fact. I wonder, for example, how many states within driving range of California have drawn up plans to deal with the massive influx of economic refugees that will likely follow once California's relatively lavish entitlement programs are slashed to the bone or shut down completely. I wonder whether any of the other west coast states, for that matter, have faced up to the possibility that the import-driven gravy train they've been riding for the last half century may just have run off the rails. If that's the case - if Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle play the same role in coming decades that towns such as Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Buffalo and Gary played in the recent past - some of the most basic assumptions of American social geography are headed for the dumpster.

Sussing out the geography of the future in advance is no easy task, but the constraints bearing down on what's left of the American economy offer a few hints worth noting. Now that we're on the downslope of Hubbert's peak - world production of conventional petroleum peaked in 2005 - energy costs will, on average, take a larger bite out of economies around the world with each passing year. One of the implications is that transport costs will no longer be a negligible part of the cost of goods shipped over long distances. More energy-efficient transport modalities will tend to replace less efficient ones because they, and thus the goods they ship, will be more affordable; equally, diseconomies of distance will tend to outweigh economies of scale and foster the reemergence of regional economies. Among the likely beneficiaries of these changes are the towns that thrived best in an earlier, more regional economy - those that are well served by rail and water transport, surrounded by farming regions that don't depend on irrigation, not too far from major markets, and provided with ample and inexpensive real estate for the factories and warehouses of a downscaled and relocalizing industrial economy.

Welcome to the Rust Belt - and, among many other towns, to Cumberland.

Now of course our move here is a gamble, and a distinctly contrarian gamble at that. According to the conventional wisdom, we're nuts. If the believers in perpetual progress are right, and America leaps out of the current Great Recession into some glossy future full of even higher high tech gimcracks than we have today, Sara and I have consigned ourselves to a dying economic backwater that will survive, if at all, only by whoring itself out to some futuristic tourist trade. If the believers in imminent apocalypse are right, equally, those starving mobs who are supposed to pour out of the big cities on cue to provide target practice for survivalists could very well head this way. Still, my guess is that neither of these very popular tropes about the future is at all likely to reflect what will actually happen - and in most other possible futures, including those I consider most likely, Cumberland and places like it are likely to do at least as well as anywhere else in this country, and quite probably better than most. One way or another, though, we're betting on the Rust Belt.


Over the last few weeks, while I've been packing and unpacking boxes and waiting to get my internet access up and running again, I've set some projects in motion. A couple of them may be of interest to this blog's readers.

First, I finally have something to offer those of you who wrote hoping for more of my fictional explorations of the deindustrial future. I've begun work on an online novel titled Star's Reach; you'll find it just a click away at It's set in Dark Age America about five hundred years from now; longtime readers will likely recognize the setting as the latter years of the salvage society phase I've discussed in past posts. I expect to add a new section to the tale every couple of weeks, but we'll see.

Second, I've begun laying the groundwork for a nonprofit organization to help bring about what I'm convinced will be one of the most crucial initiatives of the next few decades. The Cultural Conservers Foundation will support the hard but vital work of preserving the legacies of the past and present into the future. It will be nonpartisan, nonpolitical, nondenominational, and as independent of any other source of unhelpful interference as I can manage. Expect further posts on this project as it comes together.


John Michael Greer has been active in the alternative spirituality movement for more than 25 years, and is the author of a dozen books, including The Druidry Handbook (2006) and The Long Descent (2008). He lived in Ashland, Oregon.

Bill Totten

Friday, August 21, 2009

China puts people before banks

China hasn't allowed its banking sector to become so powerful.

China is one economy where there is no disconnect between the financial and normal world.

by Samah El-Shahat

Al Jazeera (August 14 2009)

The one question that isn't going away this global recession, is whether China can save the world.

But before we go running to Beijing, hat in hand, demanding assistance or else, there are some home truths that need to be considered first.

China is a developing country, with a per capita income of $4,000, which is much closer to those of African economies than to the US per capita income at $39,000, and $33,000 in Europe.

China has 130 million people who still live in absolute poverty, and even electricity hasn't made it every household yet.

So why should China be asked to save anyone but itself right now?

In fact, as Michael Pettis, a professor at Peking University's Guanghua School of Management says, China's consumption was about the equivalent of France's last year, but no one is calling on Paris to save the world.

The crisis, though, has exposed and clearly magnified the fault lines in China's emerging economy of 1.3 billion people.

The Asian giant needs to nurture its own domestic demand, so that when the export market goes sick, like it has in this Great Recession, it doesn't drag China down with it.

But making her people spend more than they save is harder said than done. After all, less than a generation ago the Chinese were so poor that hunger was the accepted norm in their daily lives.

Tiger has risen

Speak to Chinese officials in their late forties onward and they will tell you that thinking about food was a major preoccupation as they were growing up - it was so scarce and many had to collect food coupons.

Yes, this Asian tiger has risen despite a recent past of malnutrition. So getting the Chinese to move away from the "survivors" mentality of savers to one of spenders will not be easy.

Economists believe it takes a whole generation before people can change their ways and habits. But such a change can be overwhelmingly helped by the establishment of social welfare and safety nets such as health care provision, and other forms of social security.

This might encourage the Chinese to loosen their purse strings.

So why do we assume China can save the global economy?

Is this not a warped sense of economic prioritising to ask a developing country with pressing economic and social problems of its own to come in and sacrifice herself for the rest of the world?

Lending the US

This could have something to do with China's $2 trillion in denominated securities, and bonds it has acquired from the US. It is after all the US's biggest lender.

Yet, take that two trillion-dollar sum and divide it by 1.3 billion - the Chinese population - and I assure you not much would be left for your average Chinese citizen.

However, I feel this basic misunderstanding of China and her position in the world, has to do with our negative bias toward that country - we are much tougher and harder when it comes to the way we report our economic stories on China.

We are not telling enough stories of how we can in fact learn from China, particularly in the way its keeps the power of its banks in check.

Something we have been unable to do.

China is the one leading economy where the divide - the disconnect between its financial sector and the world normal Chinese people and their businesses inhabit - doesn't exist.

Both worlds are booming again and this is due to the way the government handled its banks.

China hasn't allowed its banking sector to become so powerful, so influential, and so big that it can call the shots or highjack the bailout.

In simple terms, the government preferred to answer to its people and put their interests first before that of any vested interest or group.

And that is why Chinese banks are lending to the people and their businesses in record numbers. Why don't we hear more about that in the media?

Different planets

In the UK and US, the financial sector is booming, while the world of normal people seems to be going from bad to worse, unemployment is high, businesses are folding and house foreclosures are still taking place.

Wall Street and Main Street might as well be existing on different planets.

And this is in large part because banks are still not lending money to the people.

In the UK and US, banks have captured all the money from the taxpayers and the cheap money from quantitative easing from central banks.

They are using it to shore up, and clean up their balance sheets rather than lend it to the people.

The money has been hijacked by the banks, and our governments are doing absolutely nothing about that. In fact, they have been complicit in allowing this to happen.

I asked Costas Lapavitas from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) whether governments had put the interests of banks before the interests of their wider populations.

"Yes I think you can say that. I think governments will probably come out and say that we helped rescue the banks, and we prevented generalised collapse. And to a certain extent that is true of course", he said.

"However there were so many ways in which banks could have been rescued and this particular way has been done in such a way that the banks have no incentive to change the ways they operate ... It is as if the banks have written the policies that the state adopted".

Interests of shareholders

The US and British governments have allowed banks to solve their own crises in the interests of their own mangers, and shareholders - they are after all private business.

Governments should have made it conditional for banks to lend to us, before they are given access to so much of our money and the Federal Reserve's cheap credit.

So the Western hemisphere is suffering the consequences of government failure, while the Asian Giant is celebrating government getting it right.

Funny, how our seemingly democratic governments have been taken over by vested interests.

So, lay off China. It is the one country that is putting the interests of its people above that of the banks.

And in these pressing times I say Hallelujah to that.


Samah El-Shahat, Al Jazeera's resident economist, writes a regular column analysing key elements that have contributed to the global financial downturn and its impact across the world. She also presents Al Jazeera's People & Power programme.

The views expressed in the above column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

Bill Totten

The Secret of China's Miracle Economy

The Government Owns the Banks Rather Than the Reverse

by Ellen Brown (August 17 2009)

"The banks - hard to believe in a time when we're facing a banking crisis that many of the banks created - are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. They frankly own the place."

-- US Senator Dick Durbin, Democratic Party Whip, April 30, 2009

While the US spends trillions of dollars to bail out its banking system, leaving its economy to languish, China is being called a "miracle economy" that has decoupled from the rest of the world. As the rest of the world sinks into the worst recession since the 1930s, China has maintained a phenomenal eight percent annual growth rate. Those are the reports, but commentators are dubious. They ask how that growth is possible, when other countries relying heavily on exports have suffered major downturns and remain in the doldrums. Economist Richard Wolff {1} skeptically observes:

"We now have a situation in the world where we have a global capitalist crisis. Everywhere, consumption is down. Everywhere, people are buying fewer goods, including goods from China. How is it possible that in that society, so dependent on the world economy, they could now have an explosive growth? Their stock market is now 100 percent higher than at its low - nothing remotely like that hardly anywhere in the world, certainly not in the United States or Europe. How is that possible? In order to believe what the Chinese are saying, you would have to agree that in a matter of months, at most a year, no more, they have been able to transform their economy from an export-based powerhouse to a domestically focused industrial engine. Nowhere in the world has that ever taken less than decades."

How can China's stimulus plan be working so well, when ours is barely working at all? The answer may be simple: China has not let its banking system run roughshod over its productive economy. Chinese banks work for the people rather than the reverse. So says Samah El-Shahat, a presenter for Al Jazeera English who has a doctorate in economics from the University of London. In an August 10 article {2} titled "China Puts People Before Banks", she writes:

"China is the one leading economy where the divide - the disconnect between its financial sector and the world normal Chinese people and their businesses inhabit - doesn't exist. Both worlds are booming again and this is due to the way the government handled its banks. China hasn't allowed its banking sector to become so powerful, so influential, and so big that it can call the shots or highjack the bailout. In simple terms, the government preferred to answer to its people and put their interests first before that of any vested interest or group. And that is why Chinese banks are lending to the people and their businesses in record numbers."

What Wolff calls a "global capitalist crisis" is actually a credit crisis; and in China, unlike in the US, credit has been flowing freely, not just to the financial sector but to industry and local government. State-owned banks have massively increased lending, with local governments and state enterprises borrowing on a huge scale. The People's Bank of China estimates that total loans for the first half of 2009 were $1.08 trillion, fifty percent more than the amount of loans Chinese banks issued in all of 2008. The US Federal Reserve has also engaged in record levels of lending, but its loans have gone chiefly to bail out the financial sector itself, leaving Main Street high and dry. Writes El-Shahat:

"In the UK and US, the financial sector is booming, while the world of normal people seems to be going from bad to worse, unemployment is high, businesses are folding and house foreclosures are still taking place. Wall Street and Main Street might as well be existing on different planets. And this is in large part because banks are still not lending money to the people. In the UK and US, banks have captured all the money from the taxpayers and the cheap money from quantitative easing from central banks. They are using it to shore up, and clean up their balance sheets rather than lend it to the people. The money has been hijacked by the banks, and our governments are doing absolutely nothing about that. In fact, they have been complicit in allowing this to happen."

Cracks in the Chinese Wall?

The Chinese economy is not perfect. The push to make profits, particularly from foreign investment capital, has encouraged speculative ventures, with a great deal of money going into high-rise apartments and other real estate developments that most people cannot afford. Chinese workers are now complaining of too much capitalism, since they are having to pay for housing, health care and higher education formerly picked up by the State. And while efforts {3} are being made to make more loans available to medium-sized and small businesses, state-owned businesses and large corporations are still getting most of the loans. This is because the banks have been told to tighten their lending standards, and these larger entities are safer credit risks.

Wolff thinks China's "miracle" is a bubble that is about to burst, with catastrophic consequences. Historically, however, when bubbles have collapsed suddenly it has been because they were punctured by speculators. When the Japanese stock market bubble burst in 1990, and when other Asian countries followed in 1998, it was because foreign speculators were able to attack their currencies with exotic derivatives. The victims tried to defend by buying up their own national currencies with their foreign currency reserves, but the reserves were soon exhausted. Today, China has accumulated so much in the way of dollar reserves that it would be very difficult for speculators to do the same thing to the Chinese stock market. A gradual stock market decline due to natural market forces is something an economy can take in stride.

Economic Role Reversal?

For the time being, at least, China's stimulus plan is clearly working better than those of the US and the UK; and a chief reason it is working better is that the government has a grip on its banking sector. The government can operate the banks' credit mechanisms in a way that serves public enterprise and trade, because it actually owns the banks, or most of them. Ironically, that feature of China's economy may have allowed it to get closer to the original American capitalist ideal than the United States itself. China is often referred to as communist, but it has never really been communist as defined in the textbooks, and it is far less so now than formerly. Communist Party leader Deng Xiaoping, who opened China to foreign investment after 1978, famously said that it doesn't matter what color the cat is, so long as it catches mice. Whatever the Chinese economy is called, today it provides a framework that effectively encourages entrepreneurs.

Jim Rogers is an expatriate American investor and financial commentator based in Singapore. He wrote in a 2004 article {4} titled "The Rise of Red Capitalism":

"Some of the best capitalists in the world live and work in Communist China ... No matter how long China's leaders persist in calling themselves Communists, they seem quite intent on creating the world's dominant capitalist economy".

Meanwhile, the US has sunk into what Rogers calls "socialism for the rich". When ordinary US businesses go bankrupt, they are left to deal with the asphalt jungle on their own; but when banks considered "too big to fail" go bankrupt, we the taxpayers pay the losses while the banks' owners keep the profits and are allowed to continue speculating with them. The bailout of Wall Street with taxpayer money represents a radical departure from capitalist principles, one that has changed the face of the American economy. The capitalism we were taught in school involved Mom and Pop stores, single-family farms, and small entrepreneurs competing on a level playing field. The government's role was to set the rules and make sure everyone played fair. But that is not the sort of capitalism we have today. The Mom and Pop stores have been squeezed out by giant chain stores and mega-industries; the small private farms have been bought up by multinational agribusinesses; and Wall Street banks have gotten so powerful that Congressmen are complaining that the banks now own Congress. Giant banks and corporations have rewritten the rules for their own ends. Healthy competition has been replaced by a form of predator capitalism in which small fish are systematically swallowed up by sharks. The result has been an ever-widening gap between rich and poor that represents the greatest transfer of wealth in history.

The Best of Both Worlds

The Chinese solution to a failed banking system would be to nationalize the banks themselves, not just their bad debts. If the US were to adopt that approach, we the people would actually get something of value for our investment - a stable and accountable banking system that belongs to the people. If the word "nationalize" sounds un-American, think "publicly- owned and operated for the benefit of the public", like public libraries, public parks, and public courts. We need to get our dollars out of Wall Street and back on Main Street, and we can do that only by breaking up our out-of-control private banking monopoly and returning control over money and credit to the people themselves. If the Chinese can have the best of both worlds, so can we.






Ellen Brown developed her research skills as an attorney practicing civil litigation in Los Angeles. In Web of Debt (2007), her latest book, she turns those skills to an analysis of the Federal Reserve and "the money trust". She shows how this private cartel has usurped the power to create money from the people themselves, and how we the people can get it back. Her earlier books focused on the pharmaceutical cartel that gets its power from "the money trust." Her eleven books include Forbidden Medicine (1998), Nature's Pharmacy (1998), co-authored with Dr Lynne Walker, and The Key to Ultimate Health (2000), co-authored with Dr Richard Hansen. Her websites are and

(c) Copyright 2007 Ellen Brown. All Rights Reserved.

Bill Totten