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

My Dream

Is a simple one.

We produce enough food to feed everyone. We have enough industrial capacity for everyone to have a good life. We can even do this in ways that produce less carbon and pollution than we do now.

Because we could give everyone a decent life, because we have the capability, my dream is just that we do so, and that that be the primary goal of every government on Earth, working together.

It is a utopian goal, but I am tired. Even from rich nations like America, Canada, and Britain, tragic stories keep entering my email box: from sick people, from people without enough money because we distribute money through jobs and there aren’t enough good jobs, from people who are scared and without hope–and who are often right to be without hope: Their lives are bad, and the odds are they aren’t going to get better.

We have the ability to provide a good life to virtually everyone, and we don’t.

I know of no greater indictment of the human species except the mass genocide we are committing of other species, but I know also that we CAN do better.

Whether we will, and if so, when? That I do not know.

The results of the work I do, like this article, are free, but food isn’t, so if you value my work, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.


The Method to Trump and Bannon’s “Madness”


The War with the Fed Begins


  1. David Mercer

    Hear, hear!!!

  2. Webstir

    Well Ian, I’ve gotta say, you made my heart simultaneously smile and break at the same time with this post. Smile because you captured my sentiments so precisely, but with eloquence I can only aspire to. And break because, sadly, it is all too true.

    As I stated in an earlier thread, I wish we humans had default mechanism that held our population to no more than 3 billion people. I feel like every one of our problems are all truly traceable straight to back to carrying capacity. Why do people so howl and gnash their teeth every time population as a problem is discussed? I just don’t get it —

    And as intimated above Ian, I loved this post. So, thank you for providing the work you do, like this article, for free. I know food isn’t, and I do value your work. I’ll be lending a hand tonight to help make sure it can stay both valuable and free.

  3. Herman

    I agree with you it. It makes me sad to think of all the needless suffering that occurs because of our crappy neoliberal economic system. But many people benefit from the system or they think that they benefit from it and are afraid of losing what little status they have to people lower on the totem pole than they are. That is how you get sneering at things like the Fight for $15 from people who themselves are not anywhere near elite status but think uplifting the poor will make their relative position worse.

    I don’t know if there is any way to fix this problem. People seem less empathetic and more narcissistic and selfish than ever before. Social relationships are collapsing. Almost everyone I know is depressed and if you can get them to really open up it is quite shocking what you will hear. I have had people who I thought loved their work reveal to me that they hate their jobs and hate their bosses, that they regret not doing something different with their lives. Friendships are shallow and I get the sense that Americans don’t want to be bothered with you if you are in need of help or comfort. You are only a good friend when you are happy and fun to be around, otherwise you are a pest and a burden. The same goes for family members.

    I wonder if maybe modern industrial society was a mistake. Are we really happier than medieval French peasants? I don’t think the answer is so obviously in favor of modern people being happier. I sometimes wonder if subjective well-being was higher in traditional societies despite the worse health, poverty, shorter lifespans, etc.

    Here is an interesting study on depression as a disease of modernity that readers might find interesting:

    Sorry to be so negative. I really do want to see the world be a better place and I give tons of credit to people who fight for good causes. It is just that I see so much evidence that people don’t really want things to get better for anybody but themselves and maybe their immediate family. This is what leads to “I’ve got mine, screw you” thinking which is very common in the United States. Maybe things are better in other countries.

  4. Webstir

    A late thought I feel is apropos, again, courtesy of those that have gone before me in AA. You’ll often hear old timers say:

    “Getting sober is simple, all you have to do is change everything.”

    Our society is so stark ravingly not sober.

  5. britbong

    99.9999% of all species of life that ever existed has gone extinct. We will too. Good riddance. We’re a species where the supposedly compassionate ones keep voting in warmongers, because they’re too afraid that they will lose their status quo lives of materialism. Both aisles of human poliyi6cal thought are nasty, brutish, and cowardly. Accept our lot and let some other species have a crack at it.

  6. Compound F

    you’re a beautiful man. that’s why i reads ya. a kind soul gives me comfort. i’ll sleep a little better tonight, because of your words. Heck, I’m somewhat impelled do everything a little better when i hear that kind of talk.

    you can tell how hungry i am for kind people.

  7. Mike Cooper

    I agree in principle, it’s a great and simple idea. Human nature is what prevents us from achieving it.

    But, when you say everyone, do you mean all 7.5 billion of us? According to Wikipedia (so I’m, not saying this is exactly correct) the GWP per capita is approx. US$16,100. Convincing the citizens of the West to live on that might be tricky.

  8. Ian Welsh

    We have vast waste, and money doesn’t measure wellbeing well. I’m quite sure Westerners could be happier on average and still take care of others.

    Have to give up suburbia as it stands and a bunch of other stuff. Almost all of it makes you sick and unhappy, though.

    So much resources are used making people sick and unhappy.

  9. The waste is Inherent, because we give results to the past and along family lines – when the future is not driven by these things. in other words we want to waste because it benefits people who have made money in the past. but the future is composed of people who disrupt things – and we only want disruption if it fits in with our narrative of the past. usually, the deep disruption does not work that way.

  10. Hugh

    I agree. This is my goal as well. But it is a lot narrower. As I have said many times here, we need first to deal with the three immediate problems of kleptocracy, wealth inequality, and class war before we can even get to the four much bigger problems of overpopulation, climate change, resource exhaustion, and ecosystem destruction.

    If you look honestly at these problems, you can see that Trump and the current American political scene likely will make them worse, certainly will not make them better, and will waste precious time we do not have. And the US is perhaps the country best situated to have a shot to deal with them.

    If you look at population estimates out to 2050, as I do, with an eye on economics, political events and climate, you can make your own assessments. Mine run something like this:

    In North America, Mexico has a high likelihood of becoming a failed state as well as much of Central America. The US has a 70-30 chance of coming through although something less than a 50-50 chance of doing so as a democracy in a broad sense of that term. Canada’s chances are similar to those of the US, perhaps marginally better.

    South America has a recently good chance of survival with most countries in the 60-40, with the exception of Brazil 40-60 (population, destruction of the Amazonian rain forest).

    Africa is pretty much already past the point of no return (population, weak institutions), with the exception of South Africa 60-40, if it can deal with its immigration problems.

    Europe has slightly worse, but overall similar chances to the US and Canada. Accidentally, Russia, with its declining population, lots of nukes, and large land mass, has a relatively good chance of survival, although with retention of its kleptocratic dictatorship.

    In Asia, most of the Middle East, Central Asia, South Asia, and Southeast Asia will fail (population, weak social institutions). Iran is a toss-up, 60-40 in terms of population but some parts of the country may become uninhabitable due to climate change. Turkey I also would put at 60-40 in terms of population, but with the Erdogan dictatorship, it is destabilizing politically. So I put its chances of survival at 40-60. Indonesia and the Philippines also have high likelihoods of failure. East Asia’s chances would be better without North Korea. Japan has the best chances at 70-30, developed industrial society, followed by China 60-40, and South Korea 50-50 (because of North Korea).

    Australia I would also put in the 60-40 group. It is relatively well situated with regard to population, but fairly poorly so with regard to climate change.

    This may sound like a game, but it isn’t. Billions of lives are at stake. All this is subject to a multitude of caveats and unforeseen confounding events, but consider it is a first approximation.

    I think we currently do have the resources to afford all people on the planet with a decent life. But 1) this would not be sustainable. We would need to immediately decrease family size to manage world population down to sustainable levels. And 2) to do so, would require immediate and radical economic, political, and social changes around the world. The odds of doing these two things are vanishingly small, which leaves us with something like the scenario I have sketched out. Worse, and still most likely, case is a population peak of around 10 billion by 2050 followed by a population crash to under one billion by 2100. Intermediate outcomes would be in the 2-3 billion range. That’s the future I see.

  11. Tom

    @ Hugh

    Erdogan doesn’t rule as a dictator. No more than Lincoln ruled as one. Erdogan’s legacy as the second founding father of Turkey is assured and he will leave office having made the country more democratic and inclusive, and more prosperous than ever.

    What you rail at him for doing is nothing less than legitimate use of state power to stamp out three Terrorist Organizations that are and were tearing Turkey apart and started the fights.

  12. Mike Cooper

    Absolutely we have to give up suburbia and waste and a whole load of stuff. But, Western humans will only choose that because they have no other option, they will never willingly give up their current lifestyle in the name of fairness and equality, because, fundamentally, humans are not fair. There are times and events and people that can convince them to behave more fairly, but, they will then always revert to type.

    Agreeing with Hugh, the biggest issue is, as always, overpopulation. If the Earth’s basic carrying capacity for humanity is actually 1-2 billion, then, we won’t ever solve any of the other issues without solving that one first. But again I suspect the solution will force itself on us rather than be willingly chosen.

    @Tom. Erdogan is not (yet) a dictator but he is trying to turn a halfway decent secular state into a repressive religious one. I don’t see how jailing the opposition and journalists makes a country more democratic.

  13. V. Arnold

    My Swan song; enjoy your dream; it’s just a dream…
    And far, far from reality; the pigs in power will not allow it…

  14. Arthur

    Mr. Bannon certainly does seem intent on sowing discord and breakdown. His state goal is to blow it all up. Okay. We know were he stands. The Paul Ryan wing seems to tolerate Trump because he will sign any nonsense that will give more away to the 1% and the hell with everything else. But aren’t these goals ultimately at odds with each other? I mean how can the 1% enjoy their riches and make more and more if the world is burning down around them? Sure, for a while they will be protected. But for a very very short while.

    I get the feeling more and more every damn day that everyone knows this long Greco-Roman experiment is closing down, no one knows what comes next, so the hell with it all.

  15. EmilianoZ

    A decent life for everyone? But, that would be the end of History.

  16. realitychecker

    Well, Ian, it’s a beautiful dream, and of course all decent people would support it.

    The problem is, the world is currently under the iron-fisted control of people who are not at all decent.

    Why do the decent people continue in their mass delusion that control of the important things can ever be removed from the currently powerful without the use of, or credibile threat of, force?

    Are we just too decent for our own good?

    Are we actually going to ‘decent’ ourselves into perpetual slavery?

    Is it already too late to be having an honest discussion about this?

  17. Arthur


    One of my favorite books is ‘Moby Dick’. Recall that Starbuck knows what the right thing to do is. He even gets to the point where he points a musket at Ahab, but he can’t pull the trigger. Indeed, he even lacks the courage to put Ahab in chains and sail home. And Ahab knows why: “Starbuck, ye be too good a man.” Starbuck knows what he must do to save the men and ship, but he’s ‘too good’ a man to do it.

    So the ship is destroyed and all the men die. . .save one to tell the tale.

  18. brian

    The thing is that you can’t force people to be prosperous, happy, or anything else. They have a program in South Africa where they appropriated commercial, productive farms and gifted them to the workers as a form of reparations. The properties now lie in ruins, not productive, and the small areas of subsistence farming while the new owners still work in other commercial farms in the area. The problem could be that the workers, mostly idigenous africans, don’t have the culture, the skills, or the mentality or appropriate mental framing to understand how large commercial operations work, what they need to succeed. Perhaps Africa would have been better without colonization, if the continent had remained ignorant about large commercial and capitalist operations and industrial scales. So even if humanity has the technology to feed everyone in the world, or the technology to bring peace to the world, it doesn’t mean that all the people necessarily want to go along with that, they may want to stay ignorant, tribal, at the smaller scale. Or many are not ready, they don’t have the cultural or mental framework to really understand this. People still sell their daughters in many parts of the world, cut off pieces of their private parts, kill and murder – and a lot of these people would prefer that to a boring, white culture, corporate existence where everyone has food, if peaceful, and just is… bored. And I’ve got to admit that it’s much more exciting in Syria, in Raqqa, then it is in Boise, Idaho. In Syria your life can mean something. And that’s part of the draw there. People want to feel truly alive, and that’s why Utopia will fail, because no one really has the same Utopia as everyone else. We should not exterminate everything on Earth though..

  19. Effem

    I believe they tried that in Venezuela.

  20. Ian Welsh

    And in America, where for a long time, if you weren’t using land anyone who wanted could come along and use it instead, gaining title.

    Why people always choose as their examples stuff that didn’t work, as opposed to stuff that did, is beyond me. There are tons of effective co-op farms, for example, it’s dead easy to do. You just have to do more than expopriate and drop people down. I said that Venezuela wouldn’t work in 03, publicly, because they weren’t doing it right. If they had done it right, it would have worked (and if they had handled their oil money right.)

    But what people miss is this: most people on earth shouldn’t be working more than about 15 hours a week, there isn’t enough work which should be done, most of it is bullshit. And the 15 hours would be mostly puttering around growing your own food (which can easily be done indoors, or in vertical urban farms, we definitely have the tech for that.)

    We can do half the work we do now, feed everyone well, and they can have any reasonable set of household and electronics goods they want. We already have significant industrial over-capacity.

  21. nihil obstet

    The basic question is how much social control is needed and how should it be exercised. Ruling classes have always believed a lot is needed, and devised ways of making it necessary for most people to obey their betters. Distributing money through jobs isn’t just about making resources available. It’s about requiring employment as social control. Prior to modern vocabulary about employers and employees, unemployment was the problem of “masterless men”. Long after the job requirement had solved how to control the masses while appearing to grant freedom, the law still effectively forced women to obey men who obeyed their employer.

    Rulers faced a problem from the rising productivity of industrial society. Edward Bernays brought psychology to governing public relations and to advertising, to create desires so that consumption would continue and increase the level of perceived need. (Here I put in my recurring plug for Adam Curtis’ Century of the Self on elite distrust of democracy, Edward Bernays, and what followed.) Another tactic was planned obsolescence. Products were designed not to last so that people would have to buy replacements. And even then, after WWII, the U.S. administration decided to stay on a war time economy to sustain demand. The F-35 and the booming homeland security businesses are the descendants of that decision. And reportedly, Obama ruled out single-payer health insurance because of all the private insurance jobs that would be lost, so we waste lots of money and create lots of misery for the sake of making sure people are in paying jobs.

    The long-winded point I’m head towards is that human nature does not demand the ever-more materialistic greed that our society currently seems to produce. Without the constant advertising and the mindset it produces, we would not necessarily spend all our time on looking for things to want. And the need for jobs is a social and political decision that we can and should reverse.

  22. brian

    To follow up my previous comment, I see this today:

    Basically – majority of rural India still uses sickles! to harvest wheat and is now seeing scythe use for the first time. The scythe, a 500BC tool! There is probably so much production gains to be had just by modernizing agriculture worldwide. The sickle probably stayed around because there was so much slave labor, no real interest in modernizing it.

  23. Tom

    @ Mike Cooper

    First off the AK Party is a secular party and has always been a secular party and Erdogan has not passed one Sharia Law and kicked out of the AK Party people advocating for it.

    The arrest of Journalists was not for Journalism but for being members of a terrorist organization. They all got trials, and hundreds have since proven their innocence and been made whole, while others were found guilty and punished.

    At all times Erdogan has been within the law and has extensively put major legislation up for referendum by the people the latest of which is the proposed Constitution to replace the old one which pass Parliament with a super-majority to become law anyway, but is being given to the people to decide themselves whether to adopt it.

  24. brian


    My point was that you cannot ‘give’ anyone a decent life. You can give them the tools, make them available. Foster hope, creativity, stability and well being. But this is a cultural thing and will probably require a new religion in order to make it work. A religion that soothes the fear of death and limits the fear of others being powerful. People are afraid that if everyone is powerful, some of those people will be bad people, turn into Hitler and ruin the world. But that just suppresses the power of everyone just in case a Hitler happens.

  25. DMC

    I second Nihil’s recommendation for Adam Curtis’ Century of the Self. It’s most enlightening and the whole thing is on YouTube.

  26. Ché Pasa

    Yes, a nice dream, and there’s no reason it shouldn’t one day happen. The only thing is you need functioning social and governing systems for it to happen, and ours are breaking down. Fast.

    It reminds me a bit of “Lambert Strether’s” manifesto the other day at NC where he claimed that he wanted three things: Medicare for All, tuition free college, and a Post Office bank. All well and good, if a bit narrow, and these things should be doable without too much fuss or bother.

    But once again, you need functioning systems for them to happen, and our systems are breaking down at an accelerating pace.

    So the question is how to realize your dream or how to get from where we are to where Lambert wants to be when there is no realistic path in front of us. Is the answer to defend Donald Trump? That’s what Lambert does, apparently because he hates the Democrats and Clintons (Obama too) soooooo much.

    When you let your hatred for Democrats and the Clintons cloud your judgment so much that defending Trump makes sense to you, even though you know he’s not going to do anything toward realizing your dream, even though you suspect his actions will put your dream even farther out of reach, then you’d do well to question what it is you really want… because you can’t get what you say you want by doing what you’re doing.

    Trump’s actions are accelerating the breakdown of our governing systems, and if things continue on their current path, social systems will collapse as well, leading to a kind of nasty and brutish war-lordism after a (hopefully) brief -bloody civil war. Many, many innocents will suffer, most without succor. Oh well, too bad for them, right?

    The problem with the nihilists that seek the destruction of the current systems is that they propose nothing in their place. Our current systems have been under extraordinary strains for decades, and those strains have reached the breaking point. It’s not so much that everybody is living in hell — they’re not. Most of those who complain most vigorously about the horrors of the Clintons or Obama are living in remarkably comfortable circumstances. Few or none of those horrors have touched them or even inconvenienced them.

    No, the breaking point has come because of continuous abuses of power by the high and the mighty and because of widening disparities in advantage under the current rules. It’s not a free or fair system by any means. It’s increasingly abusive. It’s not unlike the situation in the Soviet Union before its collapse.

    Abuse of power and widening disparities of advantage are the essential underpinnings of the Trump regime, as is evident by its actions. There is nothing to wait for to see if these abuses and actions “make things better.” They manifestly don’t and can’t.

    So for me the answer is to acknowledge the situation we’re in, to oppose the regime and the current ruling clique, as I opposed previous ones, and to find a path forward that might actually realize your dream or even something as simple as Lambert’s three items.

    Hating on the Democrats or the Clintons is nothing but a waste of time and energy at this point. So long as they are the focus, you’ll never get anywhere. You give them too much power You let them rule you.

    Opposition to the Trump regime and the ruling clique is another matter, as they are the ones in charge, and they are the ones pushing systems toward collapse.

    There’s not much we individually can do about that, but collectively we might gain enough time and space to come up with something better. It’s a project I’ve been working on for many years, and it’s one I’m not giving up on.

  27. brian

    People live in a localized optimum search based on their community that they identify with. This optimal search includes the culture, the technology used, and the geographical resources of their neighbors. As long as the person is in their localized optimum, they are happy, can breed successfully and have higher relative success compared to their neighborhood.

    We as North Americans are aware of how much higher our localized optimum is then that of, say rural India. There may be a global optimum that is way higher than a communities current localized optimum but to get their each individual would need to adapt new cultural ideas, technology used and perhaps seek new resources. This would take them out of their localized optimum into a higher optimum but in the process lose their relative high standards of living compared to their community during the transition to a new community. So it is easy to say why don’t people just adopt these new technologies, standards, etc – but these come at a cost. This may make these people worse off then they were before, because now they are relatively poorer to their new global optimum neighbors and while on a absolute scale they are better on a relative scale in the new community they are worse and will lose their previous high social status and have to work their way up again. Perhaps not even have as easy access to breeding pairs as before.

    It often takes a disruption of the current optimum, an ecosystem collapse per se, for people to reach for a new optimum.

  28. brian

    i feel like my comment was way too complex. sorry. All I wanted to say was the people follow their local optimum ( and just because you recognize there is a higher local optimum, maybe even a global optimum, the path from where they are to the optimum you seek is almost guaranteed to be worse off for the people you want to help in the short term.

  29. Webstir

    I think Tiebout sorting is closer to what you’re trying to express:

  30. Webstir

    Or maybe Tiebout Model/EcoSocial Resilience theory hybrid kinda thingy.

  31. Wholeheartedly agree. I used to try to improve the world (even wrote a book about it). But seeing how different the world could be—needs to be—from what it is and wants to be, broke my heart.

    I now clean up at home, and try to live a good life.

  32. Billikin

    US suburbia is collapsing under its own weight. Old infrastructure was not budgeted for maintenance and replacement, and the tax base has eroded.

  33. Willy

    Are there any studies which quantify the amount of damage sociopaths do to a society? Or, how would a society change if they could somehow be magically removed?

  34. Brian

    No, what I’m trying to express is the idea why rural farmers in India still use sickles to harvest wheat, backbreaking work, when the scythe has supplanted it in all European agriculture since the 15th century. These people must at least know that there are better methods because there ar modern farms in India, exports of tractors, and free travel there. This must be due to something else. And the theory is that these farmers do not need to compete with the rich farmers cause of a caste system, they are isolated from having to get the latest technology. They have to compete with their own neighbors. Their neigbors use the same technology, so all they have to do is have more workers, faster better workers, and they win the relative game of life in their location. These winners, or top dogs, will look at new technology as changing the game they are winning and actively suppress the spread of it. The earliest adopters will be the ones with least to lose, the lowest of the community, and also the easiest to bully by the winners. And so technology, advancement, and better standards are suppressed. This theory can also point to why utopia is so damn hard to reach, cause of these local optimums reached suppress the migration to a global optimum way of life by these mechanics. Just a theory rumbling around in my head.

  35. markfromireland


    Your manifest compassion is a major reason why I read your writings. I doubt, given our fallen nature, that your dream is attainable in toto. But even achieving some of it is a worthwhile and achievable goal.

  36. Webstir


    Ahh yes. I gotcha now. That was a very clear expression of your thoughts on the matter. I was having a hard translating the wiki page into an analogous real life scenario.

  37. Webstir

    Unrelated, but I’m curious. You mentioned Boise upthread. Live in Idaho?

  38. Tom

    If true, then ripping up the TPP was a smart bargaining mood.

    The resistors are now revealing themselves within the Republican Party. Expect them to be purged in the 2018 elections.

  39. It’s easy to dream, Ian, and I suspect almost all of us share yours, but I am not so sure about the feasibility. Are you talking about an average standard of living or a minimum one? There is no way our planet can carry 11 billion people at a western standard of living; we can only aim at minimum ones, but even those can then still cause jealousy and resentment, and that leads to violence and terrorism. All we can do, as Churchill said, is just keep buggering on. I think most people, including Trump, are trying to do exactly that. They just disagree about the methods.

  40. Oaktown Girl

    But what people miss is this: most people on earth shouldn’t be working more than about 15 hours a week, there isn’t enough work which should be done, most of it is bullshit.

    This is so true. Our quality of life would be soooo much better. Life would be so much better.

    The really sad thing is most Americans can’t even begin to contemplate a life where even 30 hours a week could be the norm. They either laugh it off derisively, or get angry and defensive (out of fear).

    Even the concept of having a bit of mental/emotional space and freedom from the workplace freaks people out. True story from just a couple of months ago: I mentioned to my boss that I had read a story that in France it’s now the law that workers have a right to “disconnect” from electronic communications from their workplace. Her straight-faced and dead serious reply: “Well we (Americans) have different values”. Yeah, the value of workers working themselves into an early grave; and the value that it’s ok if your daily quality of life is a miserable soul-sucking grind except for your rare vacation time, which most workers don’t actually receive because employers do everything they can to make sure you don’t “qualify” for it.

  41. RE Oaktown Girl: Know what you mean, but the point you both miss that the boot will always be on the employers’ foot at less than full employment. The solution lies in full employment whether that is achieved either by fiscal, monetary, regional etc. policies or by controlling our borders.

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