The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

How The Structure Of The World Economy Made Shortages Inevitable

For the second time I find myself referring readers to an essay by John Michael Greer, this time on shortages. This is the best piece I’ve read on the issue and I agree with almost everything he says. JMG’s overall worldview isn’t mine, but he’s unquestionably brilliant, and this has been nailed. Go, read.

I want to note, as does JMG, than none of this is unexpected: the fact that the just-in-time inventory and ordering system was obviously subject to shocks is a warning given by many.

I want to emphasize, though, that it’s not only “just in time”, it’s the structure of production itself, which is both very dispersed and very centralized. A final assembly factory may draw parts from dozens of other factories, none of them near it, so when one of those factories goes down, the entire show can draw to a halt.

This dispersion was a deliberate choice. Some of it started as early as the fifties, as a deliberate way to tie economies together and attempt to avoid WWIII thru mutual dependence, but as with most of our economic pathologies, it really took off after 1980 and Reagan, with the vast offshoring and outshoring of industry and production: we were told the choice was to seek the lowest costs and highest profits.

None of this was necessary; the proper use of trade and industrial policy could, and I would say, should, have been to encourage every country to produce what it could in its own country, only importing what it couldn’t make or grow itself. Comparative advantage is, and always has been, garbage and no great state has ever allowed it to determine anything. Britain didn’t industrialize under”free” trade and neither did America or Japan or anyone else of significance.

But doing it this wasn’t mostly about profits and costs; it was about tying the world together in a way which disempowered every country outside the core. The so-called value chains were initially all controlled from the West or, perhaps Japan or South Korea. Everyone paid a vig to the controlling interests in the West: the rich did very very well, they just didn’t pay their fellow countrymen and women.

This was excellent, from their point of view, because money is power and it broke the power of their domestic opposition: absolutely gutting unions, the working and eventually the middle class, leaving them completely in charge.

Meanwhile, because of the dispersion of manufacturing and its inputs, other countries mostly couldn’t create any industry they really controlled (again, South Korea, Germany, Japan are exceptions), so there was not threat.

Until they got too greedy, and the Chinese saw their weakness, and they put so much in China while China had a policy of grabbing as much knowledge of how to produce as possible.

Which leaves us where we are today: vastly vulnerable supply and manufacturing chains, an onrushing cold War, and a struggle over who controls the “value chains.”

The Chinese are damn tired of paying the West its vig because the West is at the top of value chains where most of the work is done in China or other countries. Equally they are sick of paying for IP.

US elites, on the other hand, are terrified of losing their top-seat position; their ability take a big percentage of all profits because they own the IP and control the value chains.

There are no good actors here, be clear: the Chinese have done reprehensible things and so have the Americans. But understand that America was a known IP scofflaw in the 19th century, when it was industrializing (and the Brits were stupid enough to ship know-how and factories to the US for “profits”.)

This is a standard pattern, and as long as we make it so that a few countries can skim off everyone else the struggle will always be ferocious.

John Maynard Keynes wanted to end this: he wanted a world in which every country, as noted before, produced as much of what it needed as it reasonably and was allowed to use subsidies and tariffs and policies to do this.

We created a different world; a world in which everyone was dependent, most countries couldn’t even feed themselves, and everyone needed everyone else while a few countries, but especially the US, still remained in overall control of production (again, until US elites got too stupid and greedy and the Chinese took advantage (you can’t cheat an honest man.) Some of the reasons were good, if misguided (especially in the early post-war period), most of them were greedy, stupid and shortsighted, since Keynes could see it was a bad idea even in the 40s.

Now we’re paying, but most of those who set up the system then overbalanced it thru their greed are either dead or still alive and filthy rich, and getting richer.

Life is good if  you’re in the top .01% or so. Really, really good.

And really, you know, to them the problem with mid-century Americans not of the ruling class is they didn’t know their place. Now they’re being taught their place again. No more servant problems.

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The Correct Level of Profits in an Economy


Open Thread


  1. Astrid

    I assume they plan was that China’s development would stall at Malaysia levels, or the Chinese elite could be subverted or assasinated, or worst case, the Legions could be called upon to bloody them up. I think the plan was always to fully gut US industrial workforce (outside of petrochemicals, bulk consumer goods, MIC, and cutting edge tech and pharma) and got channeled to China because it was so much easier or cheaper.

    Not sure if characterize anything the Chinese role in the outsourcing as reprehensible. They got the best deal they could and took care of their industry. Why should they handicap themselves to reduce harm to American industry? And it overlooks the role of Chinese overseas money in starting and running production in China, a lot of that’s still there.
    The Western IP was given away with a IBGYBG wink and nod.

    IP is just a rent extractive device and most of the valuable US patents came from government funded research anyhow. So yeah, I would say the Chinese are likely to be acting more reprehensible in the future when they limit access of their IP to the developing world. But let’s see how serious they are about Communism. They’ve surprised everyone thus far.

  2. Astrid

    Even assuming that the US political and financial class wants industry back, I truly don’t see a pathway forward. They’re completely incompetent and can’t even comprehend the framework of a true industrial policy. Talking to some friends (moving up in the world) this weekend, the amount they don’t know and that I bite my tongue not telling them, is vast.

    The dismantling of American industry also took away entire ecosystems with schools, suppliers, leading industry, and millions of technically capable people. That’s just gone. It took China 1980 to 2010 to build up Dongguan and Shenzhen, and that’s with a disciplined work force, very low costs, and extremely business friendly environment. Then they started to move to lower cost areas in the peripheries. The US can’t even source its MIC components domestically anymore.

    I’m afraid that the US is going to end up just like all the other resource exporting countries, on the other end of this sorry story.

  3. bruce wilder

    Absolutely agree, Astrid. Marx would focus on the class politics shaped by relations of production and, socially, the growth of intermediation is the growth of an increasingly parasitic PMC. And, no they do not know how to do anything genuinely useful and that is now a huge problem.

  4. Greer has his insights embedded in the expectation of a 300-year decline and fall of civilization — a very realistic frame.

  5. Astrid

    I find Greer far too optimistic. Yes, the Roman empire took 3 centuries to fall, but time was extremely lucky and resilient. Many other civilizations feel in far less time and the one we are living in is as fragile as they come. His idea of decline is also something in the order of 95 percent population decline. Maybe there’s something on the other side of that is but I wouldn’t gamble my offsprings in such chances.

    He definitely has interesting ideas and might have access to druidic learning/magic that I’m not quite ready to write off. But it’s hard to keep up with his site. His audience is really very reactionary and frankly nasty these days. The more moderate voices either left or have become much more reactionary. They certainly all discharacterizes the left and people in other countries broadly, and he indulges them while being quick to shoot down what sounds like valid critiques from the left. His tone sounds increasingly smug. He once warned about people who only one story is death, now I only hear one story from him and he doesn’t appear open to any other. This, incidentally, is also Yves’s problem, though she surrounds herself with more heredox people.

  6. nihil obstet

    Part of the problem with what Greer is calling “intermediation” is cultural. Throughout the industrialized world, the culture began calling for children to do better than their parents. “Better” meant moving up the status ladder, not just having more material wealth or time off. To meet those cultural expectations, white collar jobs had to explode. Clean work for a salary was better than hands-on work for wages, even if the hands-on work was as well paid and demanded as much skill. People liked the system because they felt they were providing their children with value that they could be proud of. When everybody had a stake in white collar work, the industrial workers could be attacked and immiserated. That’s a main reason we need a new vision of society.

    I used to read The Archdruid, but I ran out of patience with a condescending patriarchy.

  7. bruce wilder

    Greer is, at base, a reactionary. I had to grit my teeth thru this bit, for example.

    The simplest of all economic exchanges takes place between two people, each of whom has something the other wants. They make an exchange, and both go off happy. If what one of the people brings to the exchange is labor, and the other person brings something the first person wants or needs in exchange for labor, we call that “employment,” and the first person is an employee and the second an employer, but it’s still a simple exchange. So long as there’s no overt or covert coercion involved on either side, it’s a fair trade.

    When I read the Archdruid Report regularly, I readily admit it was to feel the guilty pleasure from congratulating myself when he got history wrong and I noticed. Still, he also thinks, critically. That is a rare stimulus.

  8. someofparts

    Well, I’m too under-schooled to know when Greer was getting history wrong, and I never found the comments over there interesting enough to follow. I’m just not interested in the occult, so that was why I lost interest and wandered off.

    The things he said toward the end of the post about the future of work being in the underground economy rang true for me. Every aspect of my upbringing prepared me to be a diligent cog in some big company and back in the 50s it was reasonable to raise their children that way because we had a robust industrial economy. Now it is time to learn to be self-employed in the underground economy and it is bewildering.

  9. Hugh

    There was a whole ideology/philosophy in the “construction of Europe” that political integration would follow economic integration. There was a similar idea that with China that economic liberalization would spur political liberalization. This lasted up to 1989 and the Tiananmen Square massacre. That was more than 30 years ago. It goes to show that even when policies have been shown to be bankrupt, they can continue to exist in zombie form for generations. This is hardly surprising most American foreign policy is like this. With China, this was even easier because the economic promise of making a lot of wealthy people and corporations even wealthier was still there. From societal and strategic perspectives, it never made any sense. But we live in an upside down world. So a tangled skein of 8,000 mile just in time supply chains wasn’t treated as idiocy but self-evident genius. Its implosion should have shown us the need for a national industrial policy. but it really hasn’t. Just more zombie this and zombie that.

  10. Mark Pontin

    I’ve previously mentioned here a comment I came across some years ago from a Chinese businessman on his memories of first dealing with Americans in the 1980s-90s: “We had never met people so greedy and so naive.”

    That says it all. I remember being a journalist around Silicon Valley in the dotcom days and writing occasional pieces about China predicting it would take such Western IT and business/manufacturing practices as suited it, and build a technological non-democratic society such as aligned with the culture’s own objectives and as the world hadn’t seen before. People would treat me as if I was a little tin-foily. Americans rarely understand that people from other cultures might desire American standards of living, but can despise much else about the US.

    As for Greer: he always works off the same priors, suffers from teh Dunning-Kruger, and anybody American who serious styles themself as the Archdruid — I’m sorry, I’ve a British passport and mostly grew up in the UK — is a clueless twat.

    Incidentally, Ian, did the British move their manufacturing and technology to the US in the second half of the 19th century? I’m not saying they didn’t, I’d just like to see details and documentation (couldn’t find any when I just did a search).

    I know there were British complaints about America stealing industrial technology and processes, and US industrial manufacturing was considered generally superior by the 19th century’s second half —

    –having developed much more systemically and with less of the non-standardized, semi-craft-based local idiosyncracies Britain had developed as first mover in the Industrial Revolution.

  11. Astrid

    I made the mistake of buying Greer’s books on Green Wizardry. Let’s say they’re not deep, accurate, or useful. It certainly cooled my desire to buy any of his other books. I think he is quite interesting because he is an 18th century person (wishing to be a 15th century person) writing for a modern audience. There are synthesis of interesting ideas there, but also so many assumptions and handwaves.

    He was literally an archdruid for his druidic order. So I don’t see how that name was inappropriate. He may have discontinued his old blog when he gave up that job. Something changed when he closed down ADR, and both his writing and his commentators took significant turns for the worse.

    Still, a much better batting average than many. I agree that this is one of his better pieces in a while, though he missed that some of the trucking apocolypse is due to lack of minor repair parts for trucks… “for want of a nail, the kingdom was lost” indeed! It’s shaping up to be a very interesting winter season indeed. Hope everyone here has laid in their stuck of pasta, rice, and dried beans!

  12. Hugh

    I dunno. I think that anyone who styles him/herself as “archdruid” is doing us a service by forewarning us not to take him/her seriously. Of course, this is also why I find mediocrities like the British royals and nobility so wonderfully absurd. I think it is the institutionalization of self-parody that does it. In the US, by comparison, our upper crust is just banal and evil although we do manage the occasional psychotic like Trump.

  13. Joan

    I’ve had to dodge the section of his commentariat that wants to talk about the covid vaccine 24/7, but thankfully he has made a place for that on his other blog, so it doesn’t bleed into everything. I agree with those who’ve said he tolerates some quite out-there statements from the right but readily denounces even level-headed and mild critiques from the left. It certainly feels that way to me, especially when left-leaning Europeans with an obviously different history of what it means to be on the left present him with arguments. I know he doesn’t truly believe this, but sometimes it feels like he falls into the fallacy of anyone to the left of Ronald Reagan must be Joseph Stalin.

    Overall, I tend to enjoy and learn from the things I’ve read of his. (Yes, he helped resuscitate a near-defunct Druid Revivalist order in the US, the AODA, and was the archdruid of that. And no, this organization doesn’t claim descent from historical druids. The Druid Revival was an occult movement that got started during the Industrial Revolution as a nature spirituality in counterpoint to the pollution of that era.)

    The one thing I really give him credit for, is adopting a third world lifestyle in the US. When he talks about living humbly, he actually does it. He doesn’t fly or drive. He lives in an apartment, and has his entire adult life, and advocates small duplexes and things so you can grow your own food. He doesn’t go on vacations or own a cell phone. He was a major inspiration in my reducing my resource footprint.

  14. Ian Welsh

    Wealth and Democracy, by Kevin Phillips, iirc, covers the British investment in the US in the late 19th century adequately. In any case, I recall it definitely being a thing, it’s just something I read mostly about over 20 years ago, so I don’t have the references at my finger tips. I’ve been meaning to re-read Wealth and Democracy for years; maybe I’ll get to it in the next few months.

    Whether you like JMG’s affectations or not, he’s been right about a lot of things for many years. I don’t subscribe to his particular worldview, but when he’s right, he’s right.

    His books on the Hermetic Cabala and on Golden Dawn magic are also excellent, if that’s your ball of wax.

    The main thing to understand is that JMG has done a ton of discursive meditation on the cyclical nature of thing: he’s self-conditioned into a particular worldview. There’s nothing wrong with that per se, in fact a lot of things are cyclical, and it gives him a way of looking at events that isn’t standard for our society, which assumes (as he often points out) an overall narrative of progress.

    He also has a strong tendency to view almost everything in terms of organic or almost organic systems. Again, that has a lot of strengths, especially in a world that mostly doesn’t think that way, but it also has weaknesses.

    At any rate, none of that really matters. I don’t recommend all his articles and certainly not all his beliefs, I simply recommend this one.

    As for being a modern druid, well, so what? It’s no more questionable and has done a hell of a lot less harm than Christianity or Islam or Confucianism. Most of the greatest intellectuals who ever lived were religious.

  15. Mark Pontin

    Joan wrote: “And no, this organization doesn’t claim descent from historical druids. The Druid Revival was an occult movement that got started during the Industrial Revolution as a nature spirituality in counterpoint to the pollution of that era.’

    Ah, I didn’t know that. An American pretending to have any connection to the historical druids in the British Isles would be like me pretending to be an African witch doctor.

    I mean, there are weird hints of survivals of ancient folk history once you get out in the English countryside. For instance, in the Northern town where my father lives in the Lake District, I look out of the window and on the hill opposite his apartment there’s the remains of a 9th century castle that itself is built on a 3rd or 4th century Roman castle that preceded it, while the countryside has been cultivated for much of the last 2,000 years, and the same families have often lived in the area for centuries, and that’s just the way it is.

    So there are strange undercurrents. But none of that stuff can ever be accessible to an American and I only catch hints of it out of the corner of my eye.

  16. Mark Pontin

    Thanks, Ian, re. the Kevin Phillips.

  17. Ian Welsh

    Yeah, JMG has gone at great length, actually, on how modern Druidism has almost nothing to do with historical Druidism except the name; completely a new invention, cloaking itself in an old name.

    Among other things we just don’t know enough about original Druidry. The Romans, then Christians did a real number on it and didn’t write about it much (and what they did write is extremely biased). We basically just don’t know.

    One thing that does seem certain is that they were oral culture specialists. So if you want to be somewhat like it, a lot of training in verse/poetry and memorization techniques. But we don’t know what memorization techniques they specifically used. I’d probably go with some version of the memory mansion, using a visualization more appropriate to their times, but I wouldn’t pretend it was actually what they did.

    JMG is also a “Decline of the West” guy in that he believes great world cultures have very different world views, and that you can’t really understand foreign culture world views and experiences; especially not ones that are extinct.

  18. Plague Species

    Maybe if we returned to true Druidism and its robust memory techniques, we could mitigate this pandemic of senility and Alzheimers that rivals COVFEFE-45 in its effect and implications.

    Decline of the West was a no brainer. Plainly obvious. Predictable. An easy extrapolation of the curve. It’s not like those who have been commenting about it have some special ability or a third and fourth eye. It stating the obvious.

    What’s more important is that the Decline of the West portends the Decline of Human and coincides with it. Astrid is right, manufacturing is never coming back to America but then again, it’s never coming back to China either. China was the last ascendancy and it’s now past its peak and on the downside as the power outages and thus resultant and concomitant global shortages reveal. America’s peak was decades ago and China’s been its crutch ever since and now the crutch is failing and there are no more crutches.

  19. Plague Species

    There was a similar idea that with China that economic liberalization would spur political liberalization. This lasted up to 1989 and the Tiananmen Square massacre. That was more than 30 years ago.

    This is a convenient cover story for labor cost arbitrage. The sole reason America moved its manufacturing base en masse to China was to break American labor and increase ROI to the shareholders. In otherwords, GREED!! The wealthy elite still refuse to give ground. There is an alleged labor shortage but the wealthy elite still will not deliver a livable wage to mitigate it. They’ll just find a way to profit more from 50 % less sales year over year over year over year.

    One thing we can say about the Druids and the Druid Revivalists — they are so typically white. If JMG really wants to brag about going Third World or others want to brag for him, he’ll impress me by living in one of the ghettoes of Chicago or Philadelphia or Baltimore. He’ll be lucky if he lasts a year if a day.

  20. gnokgnoh

    Regarding Western civilization, JMG repeatedly stylized his views as the sensible middle ground between cornucopians and apocalyptics (the world is ending next year). That sensibility is akin to Kunstler and the long emergency or descent. Inasmuch as we are in the middle of decline, shortages and interruptions reinforce his point. The two extremes, total optimism and total pessimism, sell more copy. I have not read him much in two years, especially after his move to Ecosophia, which was a deliberate shift to overt spirituality and astrology. I really dislike astrology, so lost interest. As for his fondness wish to return to a prior age, it seems to be the pre-oil, early industrial 18th century of steam and wind power. If not a druid, he would be a steampunk.

    It was nice to seem him root this article in The Limits to Growth. All of the detailed analysis of supply chains and fragility often elide the underlying story. Shortages are sometimes just shortages, masked in untraceable complexity.

  21. Henrietta Stein

    “It’s no more questionable and has done a hell of a lot less harm than Christianity or Islam or Confucianism.”

    Judaism gets a pass?!

  22. Trinity

    I started reading JMG around 2006, with the rise of the Peak Oil crowd. I stopped reading him regularly when the AD site shut down. As a pagan (a person holding religious beliefs other than those of the main world religions) he and I have a little in common, but that doesn’t mean I always agree with him. My own research on complexity and complex systems fits his commentary, mostly. And what he is describing (over a long time frame) fits with complexity. I’m not sure I agree with three hundred years, as things appear to be speeding up (and not just climate changes).

    Saying that the roots of the elites destruction are in their activities is just another way of saying their activities aren’t sustainable, with the added benefit of assigning accountability. And what Ian describes here (and elsewhere) also describes the characteristics of complex systems. Limits to Growth describes (breaks down) a complex system.

    But I would note that the media et al. regularly push narratives that ignore complexity, and the interconnected nature of everything. Perhaps they do this deliberately, or are merely acting out of ignorance. Or both. It’s one of those things to ignore at your own peril, and they will encourage you to continue to ignore complexity. Non-complex thinking also requires a scapegoat, someone or some group to blame when things go wrong (and they always seem to, don’t they?) It provides conveniences, in other words, but only for the few. But to each his own, I would encourage everyone to find their own path to their own understanding of the world.

    “So a tangled skein of 8,000 mile just in time supply chains wasn’t treated as idiocy but self-evident genius.”

    There are a large number of things being declared as self-evident genius these days, not by accident, where time and the complex nature of systems, whether you choose to “believe” or not, eventually reveals the “downside” of these same “genius” ideas. The faster the cycle rises, the more likely the downside will be quick, too.

    The list of self evident genius ideas continues to grow with every single bad policy, every single new “tech” that we are told will save lives/time/money/etc. but in all cases ends up doing the opposite or something much, much worse. Who knew that an app designed to rate college girls would lead to suicidal ideation in young girls? Or that policies to reduce the tax burden for the rich would lead to not just economic inequality but extremes of economic inequality? (Okay, that one we pretty much all saw, but not the extent). Or that the notion that Big Data processing and AI (as being self-evident genius) was really only a way to rent seek (offload costs) of expensive hardware farms needed to surveil us? Or that smart phones (preloaded with an app designed to rate college girls) might seriously reduce in-person social interactions? Or that mowing down forests to farm low nutrient soils would require massive inputs of fertilizer and increase atmospheric CO2? Everybody knows that forests are a different complex system compared to grasslands, right?

    One might almost conclude that understanding complexity might be a way to combat (or at least identify) bad ideas (and bad policy) from the beginning.

    And one last note: non-technological societies not focused on greed understood complexity much better than we do. They also managed not to burn up the planet, too.

  23. Plague Species

    Judaism gets a pass?!

    Good catch. A Freudian Slip, perhaps?

    Let’s also not forget Buddhism and Hinduism. Michael Parenti underscored how Buddhists also have a history of atrocity and ask Muslims in India about the pacifistic Hindus. Modi is a man of peace spreading love.

  24. Astrid

    Complexity and complicatedness are two different concepts, though they are interlinked. When shocked, complex systems appear to stabilize into a new equilibrium over time, whereas complicated systems decay and collapse.

    Complicated systems, which is what JIT and command economy primarily are, can break catastrophically, often because complexity feedback systems (human nature) kicks in to compensate for the initial shock to the system. I truly gave up on the US when I realized that PTB were intentionally ignoring and silencing feedback signals that should be correcting the problems in the system. Denial works for those at the top, until it doesn’t.

    Pre-industrial societies are less harmful, but the extinction of non-African megafauna show that they are effective enough even with crude stone tools. Prehistoric and ancient history farming practices were unsustainable over millenias. The PNG upland peoples seem have done the best in sustainability, but can’t say I appreciate that life style.

    Nobody is blameless. Every person or tribe that survived to be a victim was or at least had ancestors who were victimizers. Not an excuse to hurt others but a reminder that victim status is situational and one shouldn’t get too fixated to it.

  25. Plague Species

    Nobody is blameless. Every person or tribe that survived to be a victim was or at least had ancestors who were victimizers.

    Hmmm. So Roman Catholicism is right afterall about original sin.

    The oil spill in California was most likely caused by one of those massive container ships, one of so many, waiting (weeks and months) off the coast of California to be unloaded. The downstream effects of any perturbation to the “efficient” supply chain are myriad. The oil spill is just one of them and an unexpected one.

  26. Astrid

    Speaking of Yves and bias, I saw and appreciated Temporarily Sane’s comment yesterday and noticed Yves’s nasty comment. Her anti-China-ness is getting up there with her hatred for Jimmy Dore and Brexit, where reasonable alternate voices were banned because Yves can’t tolerate any dissent, no matter how polite or well sourced.

    She banned me for something similar, when I pointed out that she was approvingly posting an article by a known Adrian Zenz associate. While I generally still think she’s a positive force on the pathetic US left, this is the sort of stuff that makes me question the soundness of her judgment on other topics, and whether I can trust her judgment on anything. I may sit out her future fund raisers and worry that 2020-2021 is the beginning of the end for the site, as she’s situating herself in an ever tightening echo chamber of her “brain trust”.
    Nothing lasts forever.

  27. Willy

    Steve Bannon said that the primary strategy of conservative “warfare” should (continue) to make sure that the left believes that resistance is futile, by using any psychological means necessary to debilitate them. Given the lefts general integrity and need to fight fair, it’s no wonder this new utterly ethically unconstrained conservatism wins.

  28. Mary Bennett

    Astrid: I have to say I agree with Yves on the execrable (IMO) Dore. He can “call out”, in an obscenity laced rant, a Congresswoman who represents a district on the other side of the planet and so far as I know, give the two, Schiff and Chu, who represent different parts of the city where Dore lives, Pasadena, a pass. Chu, BTW, is a member of the Progressive Caucus; how come forcing the vote wasn’t her job? Furthermore, any so called leftist or progressive “influencer” who lives in CA and has nothing to say about the role of PG&E, whose negligence has caused many if not all of the CA mega fires in the past few years, deserves neither attention nor support. Jimmy wants to talk about how medicare is personal for him. Well aged in laws of mine lost everything they had spent a lifetime working for this last summer, so it is “personal” for me that Jimmy and a lot of other lefties would rather rant about pronouns than corporate misdeeds. Maybe someone who follows Dore can tell me what he had to say about the fact that three CA juries unanimously found that Monsanto’s flagship product, round up, does cause cancer. Nothing?? Why am I not surprised?

    You stated above that many other civilizations fell in less than about 300 years. If you are speaking of the Bronze Age Collapse, there was one collapse, Mycenean Greece. Egypt survived, in weakened form; the Canaanites took to the sea, there being no more powerful Egypt to bar the way, and became the Phoenicians, the Hittite Empire fell but the civilization seems to have lingered a while longer until the neo-Hittite states were absorbed into Assyria and then Persia. The Islamic states ( if that is the best word) conquered by Genghis Khan and his sons remained Islamic. What are some of these “many other civilizations” to which you referred?

  29. someofparts

    Want to add a reference here in response to this –

    “JMG is also a “Decline of the West” guy in that he believes great world cultures have very different world views, and that you can’t really understand foreign culture world views and experiences; especially not ones that are extinct.”

    A book from Jane Jacobs, The Dark Age Ahead, has interesting things to say about the decline of civilizations and how such things happen. Jacobs would have it that the disappearance of well-developed cultures is more widespread and frequent than we realize.

  30. Astrid

    Mary Bennett,

    Dore is not a public official and he can go after whoever he wants, as long as he supports his case. And it another makes sense to go after the highest profile targets of this betrayal, especially when Dore wants the left to abandon the Democratic Party altogether because it’s where hope and change goes to gaslit deaths. AOC and Sanders folded and broke their promises to their supporters so many times that they’re useless human accordions. Highlight that and demanding better from the left seems legit to me. If you want to personally focus on other bad politicians, go right ahead. Even if I don’t agree with him on everything, I have not seen him do anything that’s unprincipled or dishonest, and I see plenty of that coming out of the Squad and TYT.

    The 300 years is not total length of a civilization but how long from start of collapse to finish. I would say the Bronze Age collapse, Mayan collapse, etc., happened within a decade. Once the food runs out, it goes downhill quickly. The Roman collapse held on longer (and East Roman Empire held on for another 1,000 years) because of its unusually large size and the Illyrian reforms. But Rome could have easily collapse in the crisis of the second century, they got lucky.

  31. someofparts

    Astrid – Thanks for spelling out the issues with NC, because I was tempted to ask. If Yves has banned Bruce Wilder and you, well, yeah, something must be off-kilter over there.

  32. Astrid

    My issue with Yves now isn’t her opinions. I agree with some and disagree with others, always have. It’s that she is uninterested in dissent or correcting possible blindspots, and frankly hateful and defensive against even hints of dissent. Once that happens, she went from being a “complex” person to being a “complicated” person.

  33. Willy

    I’ve considered that Dore believes in the “paper bag over the head” strategy, like some recent Cleveland Browns fans engaged in. The reality with politics is that consistently losing every year doesn’t produce so many first round draft picks that moving up to mediocrity is almost certainly assured, regardless of how the owners view seas of paper bags in the stands. There are no first round picks in American politics.

    An understanding of the whys of progressive attitudes, seen as a whole, and strategies to empower, seems more important than handing out paper bags. Personally, I see the polls which suggest that 2/3rds of Americans support progressive policies, and that corporate operatives own all GOP reps and at least Sinema and Manchin on the D side.

  34. Plague Species

    If Yves has banned Bruce Wilder and you, well, yeah, something must be off-kilter over there.

    Is it Bruce Wilder or bruce wilder?

  35. someofparts

    What is “paper bag over the head strategy”?

    Krystal Ball says Sinema expects to lose her next election and is lining up lucrative lobbying options for herself when she leaves her current spot. Someone else (can’t remember the source) said that in Arizona so many former Republicans went Independent because of Trump that she thinks she can win the primary despite being unpopular with Democrats, because Independents can vote in the primary out there.

    I like the distinction between complex and complicated that is getting sketched out here.

    I like Jimmy Dore, manic though he is. I think if someone pointed out to him that he should have something to say about the harms PG&E have caused in California he might very well do it.

  36. Hugh

    Re memory techniques in oral cultures, in medieval France, there were poets (trouvères and troubadours) who produced and performed both short and long material and jongleurs who also performed it. These guys didn’t park what they knew in some corner of their mind for tens years at a time. They performed it everyday. It was their profession and how they made their living, and it gave them a place to eat and sleep while they were doing it. They were the TV and movies of their times. They were telling stories so they had a plot line to follow. They could sing and play music to parts of them. They used repetition not so much of lines but of scenes. They could use a poetical device like assonance to tie a stanza together. It is a testament to how popular these works were and the relative prosperity of the times that some monasteries and nobles got some of these guys together with scribes to write it all down. Coming from a literate culture, we forget that they were not memorizing words on a page. They were learning the parts in a performance, a performance which their audience often already knew and appreciated.

  37. Astrid

    To refine my comment about collapse. I don’t really buy the cyclical view of history as presented by JMG or say, Asimov in the Foundation Trilogy. Yes, as societies and empires age they tend to become more fragile and inflexible (taking on growing useless water class that must be liquidated…yup, really feeling that bull’s eye on my back) thus less able to cope with extreme pressures. But given sufficient pressure, any society will fail at any stage. But for the climate change and diseases of the 5th century, it’s quite possible that Western Rome could have lasted as long as Eastern Rome. So is it mostly decay or mostly because eventually, any society’s number will come up?

    On the other side, societies can reorganize under partial collapses and recover quickly, as happened on dynastic China, dynastic Egypt, India, and to some extent in the new world. This is actually the norm outside of Europe. And of course, the indigenous people of parts of the Americas, Australia, some of Africa, and Pacific Islands, maintained a consistent and rich culture over possibly tens of thousands of years.

    The Mediterranean model of collapse maybe simply overinterpretated based on a very small number of runs. Other places with different climate and hydrology and possibly culture and pressures, yielded very different results. Rome and Europe seems like more the aberration than the norm. If JMG had stretched out of his Eurocentric comfort zone to read up on other great civilizations, he might have noticed that.

  38. Plague Species

    Hugh is spot on. Tony Bennett has Alzheimers and yet he can still knock out a set for an hour or two not because of memory but because of something more than memory that science cannot yet qualify if ever. Tony can’t remember his name hardly, let alone anyone outside of two or three people in his close circle, but he can still perform impulsively and perhaps compulsively because it is part of the fabric of his being and therefore much more than memory.

  39. Hugh

    Sinema doesn’t strike me as the brightest bulb in the box. Of course, neither does Manchin. It’s just that Sinema seems really dim. Trying to figure out her strategy is probably pointless. She probably doesn’t have one. Usually Big Something will spring for some lobbying/consulting post or think tank position for even a pretty lame politician pour encourager les autres. But that’s the problem with Sinema, except for Manchin there are no “autres”/others to encourage. So why bother? She’s burning her bridges with the Democrats. She couldn’t win a primary against a Republican if she switched parties. Big Corporations don’t need her and can’t use her to swing anyone else their way. Indeed she’s quickly turning into public relations poison. So having her around could even be a negative. So we come around to the question again What value is she to anyone? And the answer is, no one.

  40. different clue

    @Bruce Wilder,

    In the Greer hypothetical simplest example you cite . . . if person one has zero food and person two has all the food, person two can offer the least food to person one in return for the most work from person one. The power to impose starvation-to-death by withholding food from his total monopoly possession of all the food gives person two coercive power over person one right there.

    Now . . . if person one had all the meat and person two had all the fruit, then a fair and equal exchange is possible in theory, some meat for some fruit. But that is not an employEE to employER relationship. That is an equally fair-and-balanced relationship of one hunter-gather peasant to another hunter-gather peasant.

    Still and all, I will read the essay as per Ian Welsh’s recommendation.

  41. different clue

    I remember reading somewhere that when Julius Caesar went to conquer Celtic Britain, that he recognized the source of Celtic Britain’s resistance-ability to be the knowledge kept by its Druidic Priesthood knowledge-keepers and the Druidic Priesthood keepers of that knowledge.

    So when Boadicea the Warrior Queen up-rose in Britain, Caesar first took the time to find and kill every single Druid of every rank and age in Britain. When the very last Druid was dead to the best of Caesar’s knowledge, he then got around to killing off Boadicea the Warrior Queen and her warriors in a final mopping up operation.

    I also remember reading somewhere that when conquering Celtic Gaul, Caesar made sure to take 3 whole days to burn the entirety of every text and paper in the great Druidic Library in Gaul ( I forget exactly where). It was supposed to have been at least as thorough a burn-down as the Spanish burn-down of the Maya and Aztec libraries.

  42. different clue

    @Mark Pontin,

    I don’t know if historians have properly studied the issue, but I suspect a lot of American techno-industrial growth was driven by mass immigration from the mid 1800s to the early 1900s of highly skilled tech-informed craftsmen from Germany and various other middle-European high-knowledge civilizations and cultures.

    Someone should really study about that.

  43. different clue


    If Greenwald’s “theory of the rotating villain” was/is a correct description of how the Democratic Party conspires to prevent itself from actually achieving certain things its leadership pretends to want to achieve, then Sinema’s value lies in being the “designated villain” of the current rotation. And if she burns up in the fire, she “took one for the team”.

    ” We wanted to pass Both Bills, we really did. But mean old Coaly Joe and especially the evil crazy Sinemoocher wouldn’t let us. Their opposition was immovable, so what could we do?”

  44. Trinity

    I disagree, Astrid. An example of a complicated system is a lever. Or the Apollo spacecraft. Every living human is a complex system, and any system where humans are involved is a complex system.

    But don’t take my word for it. Donella Meadows of (The Limits to Growth) is the one who stated that the difference between the two is predictability. Complicated systems are predictable, complex systems are not, or are very, very difficult to predict. These are the surprises that occur (sometimes good, now mostly bad).

    I think you missed my point entirely, or perhaps I wasn’t clear. Indigenous peoples made the time to understand the world, it’s cycles of natural change, and (more importantly) its unpredictable elements. We instead act as if we can control it all, or worse, that everything will run smoothly or get “fixed” for us, because apparently the chosen people walk among us. The news headlines are always full of the reality of these unpredictable elements in our world, which we usually ignore because it’s “over there” or “someone else’s problem”. Although that’s not exactly true anymore. When people like Musk can suggest an underground freeway (in LA, of all places) and people actually think this is a good idea, well … thinking in terms of systems (instead of cause and effect) should be pretty useful right now.

    Ignoring cycles doesn’t make them any less real. Are they exact? No. Nor are they exactly predictable. Just because a cycle doesn’t hit the same low as a separate but earlier cycle in a different place doesn’t make it a non-cycle. China, as a still existing indigenous people still in control of their native land seem to have pivoted back to not being influenced by the European (now American) insanity. It can be argued that they are more likely to think in terms of systems rather than the simple lever of cause and effect. I’m always going to cheer for the presentation of alternatives to what we have, with limits.

    We, instead, pretend everything is really just a complicated system, even when it’s mostly (or partially) not. It’s much more comfortable to think it’s all just complicated systems, push a button and the milk gets delivered. Pass the right policy and all will be well forever and ever. We are just now beginning to understand the price we will be paying for ignoring complexity and its inherent unpredictability. That’s all I’m trying to say.

  45. Astrid


    Thank you for clarifying. My acquaintance with the concept of complicatedness is fleeting, and I appear to have misunderstood its application. Nevertheless, by your definition I still think that JIT and command economies are complicated systems, not complex systems. They are theoretically just supposed to work, perfectly, to accomplish their stated goals. Unpredictable elements are reduced to a minimum to assert control. They may live in a complex system space but they are not complex system organizational philosophies.

    Similarly, Yves, who stopped listening to dissent, asserts the appearance of control and authority, but undermines her access to actual understanding and control. Perhaps my analogy is half baked, but I find it a helpful reminder to myself to be open minded, within limits.

    I would agree that all societies (and wildlife populations, and many other natural phenomena) waxes and wanes. If that’s cyclical, then yes it’s there. And different cultures and landscapes encourages different patterns. But JMG is arguing for a specific, Faustian civilization decline patterned on earlier Western civilizations and I think he’s leaning on certainty of a pattern that I don’t think is there. He’s also consistently ignoring the role of the left in shaping the last 250 years of European and world history, and has no deep appreciation of imperialism and colonialism or really the other end of merchantilism. So while I think he makes interesting points, I don’t think they beat close scrutiny and are going to be accurate, unless he is actually a marvelous astrologer.

  46. Temporarily Sane

    Great article, great comments. Thank you Ian, Astrid, bruce wilder and others for the thought provoking and stimulating read. I was going to throw in a snide remark about Hugh and Plague Species but nah it’s too nice a day for that 😉

  47. Is it Bruce Wilder or bruce wilder?

    bruce wilder is the anti-capitalist

  48. jack's ma

    China, as a still existing indigenous people still in control of their native land seem to have pivoted back to not being influenced by the European (now American) insanity.

    There are over 150 indigenous groups “in” the larger nation-state known as China. They didn’t band together and decide to turn their sacred ways of life into a plastic-making toxic clown show.

    “It can be argued that they are more likely to think in terms of systems rather than the simple lever of cause and effect.”

    It can be argued the sun won’t rise tomorrow.

    The enormous nation-state of China is a better system thinker? It’s part of the complex system you (correctly) said earlier that is unmanageable, ungovernable, and essentially unknowable. It willingly joined the club!

    China’s elite have made out like bandits, and now it’s inextricably linked to the insanity. Hell, it’s in a mutually destructive symbiotic relationship with the insane-makers.

  49. Mary Bennett

    different clue, Boadicea died about 60 or 61 AD, some 80 years or so after the death of Julius Caesar. The Roman who was governor of Britain at the time was one Gaius Suetonius Paulinus. He was campaigning on Anglesey when she lead a revolt; Druids and their knowledge may indeed have been among his targets. All the libraries of Carthage seem to have been dispersed to the winds following the Roman conquest.

    About Dore, personally, I think he is bought and paid for, as are many others, left, right and center. I think one needs to look what is not being said, what they all are choosing to ignore, like half the state of CA up in flames, and apparently Ol’ Jimmie never looks out the window.

    I don’t necessarily agree with JMG on every point, but “the role of the left in shaping the last 250 years in European and world history”. Oh really? It looks to me like it is imperialism and capitalism which have been running rampant during those 250 years. Sure, the heirs of Marx will come riding out of a whirlwind to save us.

  50. Genuine Hippie

    I’ll stipulate JMG is sometimes brilliant. I read him.

    And I don’t fault him for his unorthodox religious beliefs. (I am a polytheist.)

    But his blind spot is huge: he doesn’t very well intuit other people’s internal states.

    This leads him to believe Trump voters are simply rationally voting their economic self-interest and to underestimate the cult aspect, the bad faith of many, and the racism.

    Similarly it leads him to not recognize Trump as different from other “leaders.”

    Similarly, it leads him to equate the people who protest police murders and the people who attempted to thwart the peaceful transfer of power on 1/6.

    And that’s pretty bad.

  51. Hugh

    Julius Caesar made two limited forays into Britain in 55 B.C. and the following year 54 B.C.. Neither accomplished much, but what can you expect going against warriors who dyed themselves blue? Boadicea or Boudica’s revolt did not take place until around 60 A.D. in the reign of Nero, more than a hundred years later.

  52. Astrid

    Mary Bennett,

    If you think USSR and decolonialization (going back to the Haitian and Bolivar revolutions) is not worth considering, then I don’t know how to respond. You can think whatever you like, but if all you can point to is that Dore didn’t cover your pretty topics, then I suggest you start a YouTube channel and cover them yourself. Otherwise you’re just testing someone down without building anything up.

    To billions of brown people around the world, it mattered even if their current reality is still full of Western oppression. And if the US didn’t spend so much post war effort at deposing, assasinating, and murdering anyone left of Ronald Reagan (as most of those assasinated were not Communists but social democrats), perhaps the left would be a stronger movement. They were foolish and idealistic, I hope their successors learned some wisdom missing from Occidental brains. The Chinese were very lucky and worked very hard for the last 40 years, they didn’t have it handed to them on a silver platter, not at all.

    Anyways, I’m not pinning all my hopes on the heirs of Marx, be they Chinese, Latin American, or maybe in time, Afghani. I am also looking to build a proper suicide booth in my backyard. Now to find a proper Youtube channel for that.

  53. Mark Pontin

    Astrid: ‘JMG is arguing for a specific, Faustian civilization decline patterned on earlier Western civilizations and I think he’s leaning on certainty of a pattern that I don’t think is there. ‘

    Agreed. These very specific theories of cyclical civilizations and the ‘Decline of the West’ are an old cultural meme that Greer appears to have inherited and internalized from a couple of sources, which were massively influential on US and European intellectual culture a century and seventy years ago, respectively — and which you’re probably aware of, but some here won’t be.

    Those sources are German historian Oswald Spengler’s THE DECLINE OF THE WEST, published in two large volumes in 1918 and 1922 —

    — and British historian Arnold Toynbee’s even more massive A STUDY OF HISTORY, published 1934–1961 —

    Both these writers were primarily responding to the trauma of Europe’s self-immolation during WWI — particularly Spengler in the wake of Germany’s humiliation after the Treaty of Versailles — and beneath all their carrying on about world history and cultures as super-organisms that live and die, both have outlooks that are parochial and markedly Western European-centric, and that haven’t aged well.

    Read the wikis on what they thought if you doubt this. They’ve had their descendants among more recent theorists of history like Samuel Huntington and Carroll Quigley, and there’s definitely food for thought there: all cultures do end at some point.

    But in the real world take the very obvious example of Constantinople.

    Sure, in Western Europe the Roman empire declined and fell. But in 324 AD the city of Byzantium had already been renamed New Rome and declared the Roman Empire’s new capital by the Emperor Constantine, after whom it was renamed again. In 410, Rome fell to Alaric the Goth’s army, something which the Western Roman elite of the time, under Honorius, entirely earned by their own brutality and arrogance. But the Eastern Roman Empire continued unabated till the early 13th century, with Constantinople remaining the largest, wealthiest city in Europe throughout that time. And when Constantinople fell in 1453 to the Ottomans, it then became the center of the Ottoman empire.

    So if you ask the question ‘when has Constantinople not been a center of civilization during the last two millenia?’ the answer is arguably ‘never.’

    Astrid: ‘I don’t really buy the cyclical view of history as presented by JMG or say, Asimov in the Foundation Trilogy.’

    So, amusingly, you mentioned Asimov’s vision of history in the Foundation books alongside JMG’s. Maybe even Asimov’s science fiction hews a little closer to the complexity of historical reality, since I now realize — as I didn’t when I read those books at age eight — that Asimov was thinking (to some extent) about Constantinople and the Eastern Roman Empire when he was writing about the Foundation on Terminus.

  54. Ian Welsh

    As an aside, I recently finished reading “the Decline of the West.”

    I think there are good ideas there, and it’s worth reading, but in my entire life (and i’ve read probably 20k books) I’ve never loathed an author so much just because of how they come across in their writing. A real challenge to separate the ideas from the author, for me.

  55. newborn

    and i’ve read probably 20k books

    Wow. That’s a lot of linear thought! But then you meditate a lot, and I imagine “doors of perception” are opened, at least to some degree. But then you try to elucidate what you’ve “seen” by retreating back into those cumbersome linear thought patterns, thereby “losing” in the process the most important aspects of what were “gained” via the meditation.

    And here we are. And the rent gets paid.

  56. amazing feats

    (and i’ve read probably 20k books)

    Ian added it parenthetically. It wasn’t meant to impress bruce wilder or anything.

  57. someofparts

    Talking about the Foundation Trilogy reminded me of something silly. I read the thing back in my early working days. I used long bus trips into the city to my job site to do some of that reading. So one morning I was still reading as I waited from an elevator in the lobby of the building my office was in. The elevator arrived, I stepped in and waited for the folks behind me to fill it up. While I waited, still engrossed in Asimov’s story, I was idly poking around the floor of the elevator with my foot trying to locate the anti-gravity bars. When the elevator doors closed I had a split second of panic because the elevator was moving and I still had not found the anti-gravity bars on the floor. Of course it just took a split second to realize my mistake, but it gave me a nice laugh to start the work day.

  58. someofparts

    Looks like PS is back as a sock puppet. Must gall you to see a conversation go really well despite your best efforts to force these people down to your level.

  59. Astrid

    I almost finished a long comment about Terminus being British Masons and the second foundation being the Church of Rome, and how HHGTG rules over all other Sci-fi because it’s funnier and contain concepts uniquely suited to late capitalism such as the “shoe event horizon”. Then my finger stubbed on browser refresh, wisely wiping out some very tedious (and undoubtedly grammar and spelling errors riddled) musings.

    I am just very glad to read someofparts’s anecdote.

  60. Willy

    @someofparts: What is “paper bag over the head strategy”?

    Paper bags are what people put on their heads when they’re not being entertained by “their” entertainment enough. Based on his style and content, Dore is an entertainer. Unlike the far more serious Chris Hedges, he gets into feuds with “fellow progressives” over nonsense and uses cartoon logos and sells merch. I’d like to think that progressives take their politics a little more seriously than that, a little more seriously than our conservatives who’ll at least vent their inculcated nonsensical angst at local PTAs and by cosplay larping at capitols. But maybe Dore’s right. Progs are working so much to survive that at the end of the day, we only have just enough energy to plop down in front of the entertainment device and watch the game.

  61. someofparts

    Ian, as a palate cleanser after slogging through Spengler, anything by Annie Dillard might be a refreshing change of pace.

  62. Mark Pontin

    Ian W: ‘I recently finished reading “the Decline of the West.’

    I salute your indefatigability.

    I’m not even ashamed to admit that I don’t actually know much more today about Spengler’s DER UNTERGANG DES ABENDLANDES than I gleaned from reading James Blish’s CITIES IN FLIGHT quartet — 1950s-era SF which used Spengler like Asimov used Gibbons in the 1940s — when I was about ten.

    As for Spengler himself, one gets the impression from his CV that if he’d just been a little smarter, less solitary and more outgoing he’d have ended up like Carl Schmitt.

    There was, too, a mindset in the late-starting European colonial empires around the turn of the 20th century, Germany and Belgium, that was even more atrocious than that of the established imperialists — thus, the Herero genocide in Namibia and the butcheries of King Leopold’s regime in the Congo. I would expect Spengler to reflect that mindset to some extent.

  63. different clue

    @Mary Bennett and Hugh,

    Thank you for the historical correction on Boadicea what and when. I am still struck by the more basic theory that the Roman Conquerors recognized the Druidic knowledge-base as being key to Celtic resistance power and decided that to kill the Druids and kill the knowledge would kill the Celtic resistance. Or am I wrong about that, too?

    The International Free Trade Conspirators handed total access to the American market to China on a silver platter. That is what MFN for China and permitting China into the World Trade Organization was for. China worked to monetize that access to the American market, but the access itself was given to China on a silver platter.

    Maybe the non-rich American majority can figure out how to re-conquer their government, round up and exterminate all the Free Trade Conspirators and as many of their supporters as it takes to make sure that the Free Trade Concept is exterminated and STAYS exterminated, and then break the silver platter of totally-rules-free access that the Free Trade Conspirators gave China to the American market.

    Then we can abolish Free Trade, restore rigid Protectionism, regrow a basic survival economy within the borders of the US, and begin decoupling our economy from China.
    The desired end-point would be zero trade in either direction between America and China.

    Let the rest of the world join the One Ball One Chain Greatest Ever China Co-Prosperity Sphere on Chinese terms, as long as America can keep the Free Trade Conspirators away from America’s borders and out of America’s society and economy.

  64. Ray Blaak

    @Astrid, is this the comment that Yves got intolerant to Temporarily Sane?

    Because it seems like a fair response to me.

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