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You Were Going to Die Anyway

2017 October 24
by Ian Welsh

… and that’s reason for cheer.

I often write about scenarios, likelihoods, that are pretty grim. Climate change, ecological collapse, war, and revolution.

Fun stuff.

Some readers find this depressing.

You were going to die anyway. So is everyone you know and love, or know and hate, or don’t know. Every country will fall, all cities will be abandoned, the Earth itself will eventually be destroyed.

It’s all here just for a time, and if one thing doesn’t end us, something else will.

This isn’t cause for depression, this is cause for freedom. It’s all lost anyway, so relax. Just figure out what you’re going to do, and run with it.

Nothing has really changed if we wind up dead due to A, B, or C. In all cases we’re dead. Same for our family and friend and enemies.

(I am fundraising to determine how much I’ll write this year. If you value my writing and want more of it, please consider donating.)

Figuring out what’s likely to happen, what the risks are, lets us navigate them and try to have a better life. If it’s not one thing, it’ll be another, so figuring out what the risks are matters so we can have a better life, not because doom, doom, doom.

It remains true, by the way, that the single biggest thing you can ever do to safeguard  yourself other than living a healthy life, is to have friends–real friends. The more people who think you’re just aces, the more people who will do what it takes to keep you alive, healthy and happy, because you’re the shine in their eyes, the more likely you are to survive whatever catastrophes come down the line, whether they are the big, society-shaking ones, or the small personal ones (both of which are just as good at ending your world).

Life ends. Knowing the risks lets you enjoy it more and longer is reason for happiness, not gloom.


Matching Funds Finished

2017 October 23
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by Ian Welsh

The $1,000 matching funds for donations of $100 or more, up to $1,000 is now finished, and we are $9,245. The final stretch goal was $10k, for an essay on how to evaluate risks from upcoming events, and the 2017 fundraiser will end this week.

Thank you so much to everyone who gave.

If you’d still like to give and can, the link is below. As before, if food, rent, or medicine is an issue, please don’t give.


Note: bitcoin, litecoin, and ethereum wallets are listed at the bottom of the donation page.


Bugpocalypse: Environmental Collapse Continues

2017 October 22
by Ian Welsh

There are two major, interrelated environmental problems today. The first is climate change, the second is environmental collapse. The ecosystem is a very complicated web, from single celled organisms on up to apex predators and humans. When you unbalance it, when you take out chunks, the consequences cascade through the ecosystem, and it is possible for ecosystems to collapse, losing the ability to support higher forms of life, while the makeup of the lower parts changes significantly.

(For example, there are predictions of jellyfish taking over the oceans, or in bio-habitats, slimes becoming dominant.)

Climate change will be catastrophic, and it feeds into ecosystem problems by changing climates faster than animals and plants can adjust, but it’s probably survivable for humanity. (Just because humans will survive does not mean you and your kids will survive.)

Probably doesn’t mean certainly, there are outside scenarios where some system goes into exponential overdrive and renders the Earth unsuitable for humans.

Ecological collapse has its own nightmare scenarios. Traditionally, the apex predators (and, yeah, that’s effectively us), don’t survive great die-offs, and we have induced a great die-off. We’re losing, basically, all the fish: We have spreading areas of oxygen drought in the ocean. Anecdotal reports of insect die-offs now have some scientific confirmation:

The abundance of flying insects has plunged by three-quarters over the past 25 years.

This new data was gathered in nature reserves across Germany but has implications for all landscapes dominated by agriculture, the researchers said.

This amounts to a six percent decrease per year, and it’s happening in nature preserves, which are the places one might expect to be effected least.

(I am fundraising to determine how much I’ll write this year. If you value my writing and want more of it, please consider donating.)

Anecdotally, as someone who’s almost 50, I remember a lot more insects in cities when I was a child. I see hardly any now.

As humans, we have taken over so much of the land’s surface and replaced it with farms and a very few animals (domesticated animals like cattle, chicken, sheep, llamas, and so on). We’ve removed most of the great forests and jungles, and replaced them with plants and animals that are very close to being monocultures (especially as the animal and plant breeds have been reduced to a few strains, with heirloom strains being phased out.)

58 percent of all vertebrate wildlife was lost just between 1970 and 2012.

On top of this, we have massive use of pesticides, mass release of chemicals into the environment in general, and the vast pools of plastics, all of which have become ubiquitous throughout the environment–including microscopic particles in our drinking water.

We’re pushing environmental collapse, in other words.

It’s not as obvious as wolves growing too numerous and taking too many dear, then dying off themselves, but it’s very close to the same thing.

It isn’t, well, necessary. We could do agriculture in ways that didn’t create monocultures, didn’t use mass pesticides, and made farmlands not be wastelands for everything but our few chosen animals and plants, but we don’t. Our cities could be full of green things and life that isn’t harmful (or not very) to humans, but they aren’t.

In most cases, this might be more expensive and more work, but it would also be better for us. We do better where there are more micro-organisms, not less. We do better where there are more plants, and especially trees, not less. A flourishing biome is in our interest, despite some challenges.

But we haven’t. Driven by efficiency and the profit motive, we have chosen instead to strip ecosystems bare, and not create new ones or work to keep those remaining healthy.

This is a great danger to us, and to most other living beings on the planet. We are foolish to think we will escape severe consequences: We will not.

This intersection of ecosystem collapse and climate change contains the highest chance humans have to cause their own apocalypse. The only other threat as large is the use of nuclear weapons.

It may be that humans are simply incapable of handling the technology we can create.

We shall see. It is clear, at the least, that we will need a harsh lesson, with deaths of a billion or more, as a corrective.

Let us hope that’s all that happens, and that those who survive, learn from it and change, permanently.

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Fundraiser Reaches $7,000 Mark, Almost Over

2017 October 20
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by Ian Welsh

As of today, we’re at $7,035 (taking subscriptions as triple.) That puts us at:

A collection of 14 older posts with commentary, an introduction, and a conclusion.

$8,000 would get us to 16, and 9000 would add a long piece on how to create a stable government, with 10k (looking unlikely) adding an article on how to evaluate personal risks for the geopolitical events we can forsee.

In general, how much I raise also tells me how much my work is valued and how much I should do (I understand that many people value it and can’t afford to give, nonetheless, I must pay rent, etc…).

Last year’s fundraiser raised about 9K.

I’m going to bring this fundraiser to an end next week. If you like my writing, and can afford to give without hardship, please do. Don’t give, please, if food, rent, or medicine are an issue for you.

And thank you, very much, to all who have already given.


Note: bitcoin, litecoin, and ethereum wallets are listed at the bottom of the donation page.

Update: A generous donor has offered to match all donations of $100 or more, up to $1,000 total. I’ll give this its own post on Monday, but the offer is valid now.

George Bush Is Responsible for Innumerable Murders and Rapes

2017 October 20
by Ian Welsh

The rehabilitation of George W. Bush because he says some bad things about Trump needs to stop.

Not only was Bush responsible for Iraq, he is responsible for everything that happened during it, and everything that comes from it. That includes ISIS, which absent the Iraq invasion, DOES NOT HAPPEN.

Every rape, every murder, every torture is George W. Bush’s responsibility.

His crime.

Anyone, and I mean anyone, who does not understand this is entirely part of the problem.

(I am fundraising to determine how much I’ll write this year. If you value my writing and want more of it, please consider donating.)

How Our Everyday Life Creates Our Character and Our Destiny

2017 October 19
by Ian Welsh

We are what we do. What we experience during our daily lives creates our habits, both of action and thought and those habitual actions and thoughts are our character. The character of men and women, and the shared character of a society is destiny. It determines how we respond to what happens, it is as close to fate as exists in a world awash in choice, where we make the choices we are expected to.

The defining characteristic of growing up in the modern world is school. In school, we are taught to sit still, speak only when we are allowed to by an authority figure, and do meaningless work that is not suited to us. For the bright kids, school is stultifying. They sit there, bored out of their skulls by how slowly the class proceeds. For the active child, school is stultifyingly boring because they are told to sit on their butt for most of the day, when they’d rather be doing something physical. For the creative child (which is all children, till they have it schooled out of them), school is, yes, stultifyingly boring, as it is all doing what someone else tells  you to.

Outside of class, school is about nasty peer pressure and fitting in. Even if you aren’t a loser or a loner, even if you belong to a clique, you quickly understand what happens to someone who doesn’t fit in, who doesn’t do whatever it takes to belong to an in-group. Our society is rife with comments about how something is “high school all over again,” and we don’t mean anything good by that, we mean a horrible game of cool kids and jocks and geeks and fitting in or getting ostracized at best, or possibly beaten down, or worse for the truly unlucky.

By the time we get out of school, most of us have been trained to do what authority figures tell us, had the creativity taken out of us, lost all real intellectual curiosity (because intellectual pursuits are associated with the horrors of school), learned that nothing is more important than fitting in and that popularity matters more than virtually everything else. We have come to accept that we don’t make choices except those on offer to us: “You may write an essay from the following list of topics/you may select from the following list of electives.”

Our adult life is little different. We have some more choices, but most of us will work for someone else, and that someone else will tell us what to do, how do it, where to do it (at their workplace), and when to do it. Our consumer existence, in which we appear to have choices, mostly involves choices between Brands X,Y, and Z, and the choice between brands is almost always completely minor: The differences are not substantial. More importantly, again, we choose from choices offered us, we do not create our own choices.

This issue has arisen since most people have entered formal schooling as children and since people have moved into wage labor. Before the late 19th century, you did not see this type of conditioning (though they had their types) in the majority of the population. Mandatory regimented schooling, and wage labor, in which we do not decide what we do with our time, has made things very different from the previous society.

One of my uncles lived in, let’s call it, the pre-industrialization lifestyle. He was a farmer and a fisherman (and hunted on the side, for food for his plate). He had huge lists of work to do, but he chose when to do it and how to do it. He controlled his own life. This is how free farmers and artisans used to live. In the day-to-day detail of their lives, believe it or not, even many peasants had more freedom than most industrial and post-industrial workers do.

This has grown worse over the last three decades.

Free play time, as a child, was when we used to have choice. As a child, outside of school, I had to be home for meals and bedtime, otherwise I was my own boy. I had very few toys, and I and my friends made our games of make-believe. I created the rules to my own games, made my own pieces, and played them. I ran wild through the neighbourhood, living a hundred different imaginary lives from books and movies, but also ones I made up myself. My parents did not try to control the details of my life beyond making sure I got to school and got fed, so long as I didn’t cause (too much) trouble.

Oh, it was still a regimented life, but it was a much less regimented life than today’s helicopter children experience. The conformity of that late industrial society, oddly, was less than the conformity pushed on children for the last couple decades by their own parents.

The workforce has in some respects also become worse. The sort of micro-control that is commonplace in Amazon warehouses, with a supervisor electronically watching you every second, was almost impossible in the past. The sort of micro-measurement of productivity was also impossible in most jobs, though certainly, assembly lines were hell. In most jobs, your boss had to give you the work and check in later to see if it was done and how well. As long as it got done, you were fine.

(I am fundraising to determine how much I’ll write this year. If you value my writing and want more of it, please consider donating.)

Again, to be sure, there were micro-supervised jobs even then, but technology has made it possible to micro-supervise the sort of work which simply could not be supervised then.

And when you left work, there were no cell phones, no pagers, no laptops. For the vast majority of workers, once they left work, work was done for the day. They were not, for all intents and purposes, on call 24-7.

High surveillance societies produce conformity, because we are what we do. What we do forms our habits, our habits form our character. If you are constantly under your boss’s thumb, you learn to act reflexively in ways that will satisfy your boss. Of course, we all rebel where we can, but the margins for rebellion are growing smaller and smaller.

We have created a society where people live regimented lives, doing what they are told, choosing from choices given to them, learning that nothing matters more than popularity, and constantly under supervision or at the beck and call of their teachers, bosses, and other lords and masters (including their parents; sorry parents).

This is not a society that makes people happy. There is good reason to believe (Diener) that rates of depression are about ten times higher than they were one hundred years ago. But more to the point, it is a society that creates people with the type of character that does not produce better futures, because they are conditioned to choose only from what is offered them, to sit down, shut up, and do what they are told, and to play popularity games. If you don’t, well, no good job for you, or no job at all, and in this society having very little money is very unpleasant. We do not think up our own options, create our own politics, choose options outside of the limited ones offered by our lords and masters.

We have been created this way, conditioned this way, trained this way, by the everyday experience of our lives, starting from a very young age. To be sure, this is far from the only reason our societies are dysfunctional and careening from disaster to disaster; there are very real material constraints on what people can do in this society, largely through control of who is given money and credit, but it is a major reason for our problems. We have been shaped into people our lords and masters sincerely hope are not fitted to freedom, not able to make choices outside what they offer, not able to challenge them effectively, and well suited to the trivial jobs they want us to perform, mostly by fighting over which billionaire is the richest.

If you want a free people, you must free your minds, but free minds come from the exercise of practical everyday freedom.

Originally Published November 11, 2013.

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China’s Economy, Freedom and the Threat of War

2017 October 18
by Ian Welsh

This article from NPR is useful for context.

The 2008 financial crisis hit Chinese exports. Approximately 20 million people lost their jobs, and had to go back to their villages, so the Communist party did a huge stimulus, but since China is vastly corrupt, that lead to vast corruption.

The Communist party, and Xi in particular, saw that the economy was unstable, and that scared them, so they started suppressing dissent even more fiercely.

For a long time my analysis of China has been simple, the Communist party stays in power as long as they keep the economic growth going.  If they don’t, the members of the party (and remember, it is a family affair, with high officials passing power to their incompetent children), are at risk of death.

The Chinese are very violent. There are riots all the time. Villages confront police and even the army, by which I mean, fight them, regularly. I recall one ethnic riot in a factory, where the workers ripped apart the beds in the dorms to get iron bars to beat each other with.

These people are on the edge, and they are still used to hard manual labor. They are not particularly scared of violence.

This is is also a great danger to everyone else. If China’s economy goes truly south, and the Chinese Communist party leadership is scared, they will use jingoistic nationalism even more than they do already, which is a lot.

And if blaming foreigners and going to war is required to keep Chinese minds from blaming who’s really at fault (their own leadership), well, they’ll do that. Millions of ordinary citizens dying, to the leadership of almost all countries in history beats the leadership dying.

This is exacerbated by two things: that Chinese leadership is about to run out of people who didn’t grow up powerful and comfortable, meaning truly competent people, and that China will be hit massively hard by aquifer depletion and climate change.

(I am fundraising to determine how much I’ll write this year. If you value my writing and want more of it, please consider donating.)

For quite a while China has basically, despite rampant local corruption, been run more or less competently. But as the old leaders aged out, that became less true. It’s soon going to be almost completely true (as it is in the US and most of Western Europe.)

Russia is probably the country which needs to worry most. Yes, they have nukes, but they also have a vast amount of land right north of China which is virtually unpopulated, and when the Chinese think they might start to starve, nukes, exactly because it is mutually assured destruction if they are used, may not be a deterrent.

But other Chinese neighbours should worry as well, especially those that don’t have nukes.

It’s going to be an interesting time.

Note that China will be hitting incompetence about 5 to 10 years before Western demographic and political trends will give the West a chance to replace its incompetent leadership.

Not healthy for China, or for anyone else, really.

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Could Obama have fixed the economy?

2017 October 17
by Ian Welsh

I want to revisit this. Obama was the last person who had a real chance to change and fix things. A crisis is an opportunity. FDR used the Great Depression to change America. Reagan used stagflation to change America. Bush used 9/11 to change America.

Obama could have used the financial crisis to change America. He did not. That was a choice.

His failure leads straight to Trump and various other pathologies. It is a straight line. Failure has consequences. Belief in the status quo (which describes Obama to the T) has consequences.

So, here’s what I wrote about this November 6, 2014 and many other times…

I’m hearing “Obama couldn’t have fixed the economy.  Wage stagnation is not his fault, it’s been going on for decades!”  (For the record it’s been going on for at least 34 years, probably 39, and for some parts of the population, for 46 (that’s when wages for working class white males peaked.  Which is why they’re pissy.))

This argument is, to give it more courtesy than it deserves, bullshit.  I wrote about this back in 2010, and you can read that article, but let’s run through this one more time, because you will never get good leadership if you keep excusing your leaders for betraying you.

Part of the argument is that Obama couldn’t do almost anything because Obama only controlled the House, the Presidency and didn’t quite have 60 votes in the Senate in his first two years.  Because this is the case, I’ll deal with this argument in two parts.  In the first we will discuss something that needed Congressional approval.

The Stimulus: Negotiating 101, people, is that you always ask for more than you want.  Obama asked for too little, and a huge part of his stimulus was tax cuts. Worse than this, his stimulus was structured terribly.  What you do with a stimulus package in a recession and financial collapse is you use it to restructure the economy.  That means things like moving the entire federal package of buildings over to solar, and buying from American companies. (Don’t even try to natter on about trade deals, the US is more than happy to ignore trade rulings it does not like.)  That means putting aside a huge amount of money to refit every American house to run on renewable energy, which are jobs which cannot be offshored or outsourced, they must be done in America.

That means building high speed rail, and using eminent domain to get it done.  It also means moving money off the sidelines which would otherwise sit there by providing a clear direction for the economy so that private actors invest hire and invest.

(I am fundraising to determine how much I’ll write this year. If you value my writing and want more of it, please consider donating.)

Note that Obama did not negotiate properly, he did include a huge amount of tax cuts (right wing ideology), and he produced a stimulus which did not restructure the economy or get private money off the sidelines.  I wrote extensively about this at the time.   None of this is post-facto judgement:

January 5, 2009: The day the news leaked that 40% of the stimulus was tax cuts, I wrote it wouldn’t work.

January 17, 2009: The full details are out, I write: “For ordinary people however, there will be both wage deflation and real asset deflation…

Now, all the things Obama could have done which DID NOT require Congressional approval:

Prosecute the Bankers: This is an executive decision.  Entirely an executive decision.  There was widespread fraud, and no senior executive on Wall Street could credibly claim to not know of it.  Seize their emails, indict them under RICO statutes (ie. take away all their money and force them to use public defenders), and throw them in jail.  Do not let them get off with fines that are less than the profits made, effectively immunizing them.  This means they will keep doing fraudulent and destructive things, because doing so made them personally rich.

Oh, also, there are now fewer, bigger banks.

Take Over and Break Up the Banks: The Federal Reserve had trillions of dollars of toxic sewage on its books which it borrowed at par, which could not sell on the market at par.  But Ian, you cavil, “the Federal Reserve is independent of the President.”  No. The President can fire any member of the Board of the Federal Reserve except the Chairman for cause and replace them.  Letting the financial collapse happen might qualify as cause.  Even if Bernanke refused to leave, he would be outvoted on every issue by Obama’s people.  Once you control them, you return all the tosic sludge to the banks.  They go bankrupt.  Which leads to:

Make Stockholders and Bondholders Take their Losses: Yes.  This will wipe them out.  That’s the point.  The problem with the rich isn’t primarily that they are rich, it is that wealth allows them to largely control the government (I trust this is non-controversial. If it isn’t, I hope you’re on the payroll and paid to believe such sewage.)  Making them take their losses breaks their power. Once their power is broken, it’s a lot easier to get everything else done.  This is also a popular move. (There are ways to fix the pensions which go bankrupt, another time on that.)

Using the Banks you Took Over and Broke Up, Lend!  These banks are now under Federal control. They do what the President wants, when the President wants it done.  They start lending to create small business, rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, move to renewable energy, and so on and so forth.  (Read THIS, for what the US needed to do at the time. Again, written at the time.)

This article is not exhaustive

There are many other things Obama could have done, that he chose not to do.  It is entirely fair to judge Obama on the economy because not only did he never do what was needed to fix it, he did not even try.  Everything he did that was supposedly to fix the economy was insufficient and he was told so at the time by people who had been right about the oncoming financial crisis, in advance.

Even in small things, like aid for homeowners, the Obama administration, even when it had both the authority and the money (which it did), chose to do as little as it could.

Obama is a Right Wing President.  That is all. He is a Reaganite, and to the right of Reagan, but somewhat to the left of the Tea Party, which puts him in spitting distance of Atilla the Hun (his record on civil liberties is, according to the ACLU, substantially worse than George W. Bush’s. He deported more Hispanics than George Bush ever did, etc…)  Obama had plenty of power to make more of a difference than he did, and he chose not to.  In the small things, in the big things, when it came to economic policies and to non identity based civil liberties, he virtually always did the right wing thing.

Obama is the first President in post-war history (and maybe all of history) whose economy gave more money to the top 10% than the entire value of all productivity gains in his Presidency.  Even George W. Bush didn’t manage that.

Yes, stagnation of wages and wealth, and even the drop of both in many sectors while it concentrated in the hands of the rich is something which has been going on for decades. It is hard to stop.

But, because of the financial crisis, Barack Obama had the opportunity.  Calls against TARP were running, according to my sources, 200:1 to 1200:1 against. It failed to pass the first time.  Nancy Pelosi said she would not pass it if an equal proportion of Republican House members would not vote for it also.  They refused to do so.  It would have died except for one thing: Obama twisted arms to make it happen.  As the Presidential candidate (and likely future President), he had the ability to do that, and he did.

Again, Obama did not fix the economy because he did not want to. Or rather, keeping rich people rich was  more important to him.  You can argue, if you wish, that he was not willing to break up the banks because it would have been catastrophic.  That argument cannot be dealt with fully here, without doubling the length of an already long essay, but I will be gauche and quote myself, once more, from 2008:

Now it’s the US. America can try and sweep this crisis under the carpet and pretend there isn’t a huge overhang of bad loans and worthless securities. If it does so, the best case scenario is that the next twenty years or so will be America’s Bright Depression (Stagnating economy). Best case.

I will tell you now that the best case has not happened.  As the charts in this post show, the economy stagnated for ordinary people through the recovery and boom of this business cycle.  During the recession there will be job losses again. Most of them will not come back in the next recovery and boom, and neither will wages.

This is Barack Obama’s legacy.  Those like Paul Krugman (what happened to Paul?), who pretend that Obama is a great president are laughable.  History does not grade on a curve “well, we aren’t all chewing on our boots”.  Obama had a historic opportunity to be the next Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Instead, he chose to save the rich, and let them eat everyone else.  This was a choice, he could have done other things.

Nor is this a noble failure: he did not try.  He did not use the real tools he had at his disposal.

I note, finally, again, because I know most readers will have heard over and over again that Obama saved you from armaggedon, that the US economy cannot be fixed until the wealth, and therefore power, of the very rich is broken. It can not be done.  However bad you think it would have been if that had been allowed to happen, this economy will continue to get worse because it was not done.

The Federal Reserve has printed trillions of dollars, and given them to the rich.  Imagine another world, where it had printed that money and used it to restructure the economy for prosperity and growth again.

That, my American friends, is the future Obama stole from you.  Indeed, as the rest of the developed world would have followed his lead, stole from all of us.

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