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

Iraq wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for oil, and Aaron Swartz died for oil too

Stirling Newberry has up an important piece on how protected works are used to pay for imports. You should read it.  There’s a reason the laws against “piracy” are more punitive than those against, say, negligent murder.


Justice is not Law, Law is Not Justice


The coming catastrophes and the Rawlsian veil of ignorance


  1. For someone who is supposedly so brilliant, that Newberry has absolutely zero talent for writing or communicating. How does he manage to be so long winded and rambling, and yet denser than lead? From one sentence to the next I kept asking myself “How did he get to this statement from the one right before it?” Apparently he thinks we all think and know the same things he does, and so we can follow his reasoning. Someone needs to teach that guy how to break it down, and get to the point.

  2. Compound F

    I’ll admit to being challenged by some of Stirling’s polymathic leaps, but his basic story on paper-for-oil in his original thermidor thesis was fairly straightforward: energy deficits lead to a domino effect of deficits:

     The reality is that all of the deficit problems, the energy deficit, the trade deficit, the budget deficit, and the wages and wealth deficit, are connected, each one reinforcing the others. They cannot be solved piecemeal: increasing real wages will mean that Americans will burn more oil, and import more, which means a higher trade deficit. In an environment in which other nations have energy deficits of their own, America cannot export its way to material prosperity, and so it votes for budget deficits to keep the economy propped up. This is the centerpiece of why the Republicans hold power: to undo what they have done requires a broad mandate to attack, not one deficit, but all simultaneously.
        The root of problem is that the American economy has become a giant “paper-for-oil” deal. We buy energy, both directly as energy, and indirectly by importing goods made more cheaply in other nations where people command a smaller bundle of energy.[8] Goods from China cost less, not because Chinese factories are more efficient, but because Chinese workers have a smaller claim on resources than American workers. America prints paper – in the form of Treasury debt and US assets such as stocks – to buy energy from abroad.
        Because America runs an energy deficit, and must import it, and we cannot export other goods to others to pay for it, we run a trade deficit. It is a problem because there is one scarce commodity which all others are denominated in: oil. Oil is scarce, not because there is not enough energy in the world, but because it is so much cheaper to extract energy from oil than from other sources, and oil can be used to transport goods and people.
        The competition is not over scarce energy in itself, but over a particular form of energy which can be used to substitute for everything else. There is nothing in this world that one cannot get more cheaply by using more oil to get it – whether by importing it, mechanizing its production, or using more energy to extract it. This is not only true of industry, but of people as well: Americans moved to the suburbs because it was cheaper to drive farther than to work through the problems of urbanization, and one could get a larger house with a larger yard in the bargain. As long as it was cheaper to pay rent to Saudi Arabia for the oil, because that is what we are doing, than to pay rent to the government for a working city, people chose to pay rent to OPEC rather than taxes to the government. This ability of oil to be used in place of almost everything else, and not whether there is “enough” oil, is the special property that makes it the basic scarcity of the world economy.

    It’s only dawning on me lately how powerful his message is, especially compared to the the usual crap political analysis. This is the skeleton key that opens all the doors in the house. I was fairly blown away when I read his piece on Swartz.

    I only wish more econ-inclined commentators would take up and challenge his thesis, to kick than can over, if they can. It’s a handful of voltage and explains a lot about Uniparty politics. I’m so tired of partisan hacks.

  3. Wow, what a great and useful analysis by Newberry. (I’m less put off by the “density” of the prose – he’s tackling something that’s difficult to talk about. Some understanding of “the dismal science” – economics – is required, something that I’ve still-as-yet inadequately tortured myself with these last few years. And it has been a torture – I despise and resent the meta-world of money… or rather its abstraction of the latest “indispensable” that it represents: Oil.)

  4. Alcuin

    Someone needs to fix the typos in the article – a word processor has run amok with it!

  5. BlizzardOfOz

    I cringe to see people complaining about typos in a trenchant essay like this, produced by the author for no pay. If you’re not volunteering to copy-edit, then for the love of god, stop whining, you sound like a goober.

    I struggle to follow his essays, but still check his blog regularly. The hypothesis regarding the “Red Queen’s race” is one of the most insightful ideas I’ve seen.

  6. kcbill13

    Very Good stuff from Sterling, Oil has always been the key, and Sterling makes it easier than most on such a complex world of interconnectedness.

    Spelling, so what, Meh!

    It is the ideas, silly!

  7. Z


    I read your twitter feed every once in a while and there are a couple of things that I have some questions about if you care to answer them.

    Once, on January 14th in the middle of an exchange with bmaz about the dangers of jail (possible rape) and the outrageous penalty that Ortiz and co.’s charges on Swartz could lead to as far as a prison sentence, you wrote:

    ‘Bmaz, he was threatened w/it, I have that on good authority.’

    Threatened with what? 35 years or being raped in jail?

    Today you have tweeted several times that Geithner may have had something to do with Swartz being targeted by the secret service. Why would Geithner have anything to do with Swartz’s situation?


  8. Ian Welsh

    I very much doubt Geithner had anything to do w/Swartz. However the Secret Service reports to two people: Obama and Geithner. The Secret Service took over the Swartz investigation as Marcy reported. Why would they do that?

    Swartz tried to FOIA records on Manning’s treatment. If there is anything Obama hates more than whistleblowers I don’t know what it is.

    Why was the SS involved? Two people they report to, and I doubt Geithner gives two shits about academic papers, court records or Manning.

    Can I prove Obama was involved? Of course not. But it fits his MO.

  9. Two people they report to, and I doubt Geithner gives two shits about academic papers, court records or Manning.

    Interesting. To expand on that, even if he did give two shits (one way or the other) – if he were involved, I would think that there’s no way he would/could have acted without… er… impetus, given his titular responsibilities.

  10. Bernard

    Reading the comments about all the American Secret Services out to “get”/ prosecute Swartz, it is “ironic”, but not surprising to see the Government Agencies called for what they are: The state’s Secret Service. Geheimnis Staats Polizei.

    My mind immediately references the Nazi’s “SS”, The Stassi from Germany. and performing the same function. Keeping the Volk/folk on the “Right” path. Swartz was “trouble”and a Whistleblower for the State. this time the American State.

    Empires. how our English/American usage is so similar to the German’s use for their “secret police.” Controlling dissent one “whistleblower” at a time.

  11. Bernard, I had the same thought. It’s impossible to see “SS” and not have that thought.

    As for Stirling’s essay, couldn’t get through it. Too dense, too much academic jargon. I’ve had to read a lot of this stuff in my day, and it still sucks. If you want to get your point across, sorry, that’s not the way to do it.

  12. BDBlue

    Just a quick note – the Secret Service reports to Nepolitano. As part of the creation of DHS it was moved from Treasury to DHS. Not that that has anything to do with your underlying point, Ian.

  13. Celsius 233

    Lisa Simeone PERMALINK
    January 22, 2013
    Bernard, I had the same thought. It’s impossible to see “SS” and not have that thought.
    As for Stirling’s essay, couldn’t get through it. Too dense, too much academic jargon. I’ve had to read a lot of this stuff in my day, and it still sucks. If you want to get your point across, sorry, that’s not the way to do it.
    Your comment is exactly America’s problem; why does everything that advances understanding have to be “easy”; shallow people, shallow society.
    Doomed to their own ignorance…

  14. Celsius 233

    ^ Doomed to their own ignorance…
    Please accept this correction;
    Doomed BY their own willful ignorance…

  15. Celsius 233

    Here’s a link to an mp3 of Sterling talking about the Clark campaign of 2003; in which he gained some notoriety for a blog he wrote;

    Sometimes, it helps to actually hear somebody speak. Cheers.

  16. Menck

    Your comment is exactly America’s problem; why does everything that advances understanding have to be “easy”; shallow people, shallow society.
    Doomed to their own ignorance…

    An uncharacteristically douchy comment

  17. Celsius 233

    @ Menck
    January 24, 2013
    An uncharacteristically douchy comment
    I fail to see what feminine hygiene has to do with anything.
    Do you think I’m wrong?

  18. Do you think I’m wrong?

    It was a tad harsh. Sure, concision can be a difficult art when writing about some things (and boy, do I struggle with that), but Lisa and anyone else can be excused for not wanting to wade through an imperfect effort. I don’t think that equates to being shallow.

    As a credo… it’s always the writer’s fault for not grabbing his/her audience. Anything else is easy elitism.

  19. Celsius 233

    @ Petro
    January 25, 2013;
    Do you think I’m wrong?
    It was a tad harsh.
    Maybe a bit snarky, but my point stands;
    Shallow people, shallow society.

  20. BC Nurse Prof

    Ian, here is a link to a new post by Numerian:

    Very comprehensive and clearly written. I think he is agreeing with Stirling, but it’s hard to tell.

  21. Formerly T-Bear

    Get a Life An Ode to Living in Excellence

    Would you pull down mountains to a level plain?
    Not having the endurance to climb mere foothills in your path
    And leave a wasteland where ‘Excelsior!’ was never heard?

    Would you tear down the Universe and all the mystery it holds?
    Not having the curiosity to open your eyes to sights not before seen.
    And limit all the world to the horizons of your life?

    Would you destroy the thrones where the great minds gather?
    Because the mediocracy that is you do not sit at ease,
    Or comprehend the meaning or intent of words as they are used;
    ….as those words do not meet your convenience?

    Get a Life.

  22. What a perfect metaphor for today’s world. The denizens of a self-styled Mt. Olympus pass manufactured diplomas amongst themselves with much ceremony and vulgarity as the world “below” bustles with the ever-receding sound of the engaged life.

    It would be sad if… no, it’s sad.

    Apologies for the collective OT.

  23. Great write-up, @BC Nurse Prof. Thanks for the link.

  24. Menck

    Ah, purple-prose Ozymandias rears his head.

  25. Formerly T-Bear

    You will find that prose isn’t what you have used the word for,
    And Chartreuse might be the color you want.
    Ozymandias tells of forgotten past glories, the transience of greatness and fleeting nature of power. It is good you are able to recall the name, and hopefully its story as well.

  26. Classicists always have a retort. It’s been written down, and they learned it.

    I know – condescension inflames and does not persuade, but one might argue that it is charitable to offer back this medicine so reflexively, so thoughtlessly, inflicted.

  27. ZZ

    After reading Welsh’s essays, the convoluted thought of Newberry, and his typically post-modern-academic style felt like going into some circus mirror world…

    Newberry’s thought reminds me of the court jester of the New Left, Zizek, a Lacanian loon who, to boot, parades his admiration of Stalin. His style is crooked, in both senses of the word: not only because it is impenetrable but also disingenious. You just can’t quote the academic scammer Derrida (who made it hip to be obscure, in a very pompous, Parisian way) without muddying up the waters. The aim is clear: just like Zizek, by mixing non-sense with truth and insight, he makes the gullible and easily impressed swallow his bs. like caviar. Go google his name – he boasts about his experience as a Democratic Party operative, and if there’s one dish they know pretty well how to cook there, it is deception and propaganda.

  28. Ian Welsh

    A lot of what I write is connected to Stirling’s world view, I just have a different style of writing than him. We know each other very well. He isn’t trying to deceive, there’s no reason for him to, he gets nothing from it.

  29. @ZZ:

    You just can’t quote the academic scammer Derrida… without muddying up the waters.

    While I can accept this statement to be “true-ish” on its face, I object to the characterization of the man and his motives.

    There are those who perhaps do not understand Derrida, but yet expound on his work, who may be “scammers,” so that they may pose. Derrida himself, however, not so much. One cannot clearly analyze language using language – one might call this unfortunate, but the effort reveals the unspeakable… the unthinkable.

    To the dismay of logicians everywhere, there is more to reality than that which can be captured in thought (language.)

    It is no failure to admit that one doesn’t understand his efforts. I can also understand why those who shrink from the effort (it can be existentially painful) would resort to the safety and comfort of dismissing him entirely. This, however, is a failure.

    (I see that Ian has a similar – albeit more clearly written 🙂 – response as regards Newberry.)

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