Role of Wages of the Common Worker in Oil Prices, Collapse

In their book Secular Cycles, Peter Turchin and Surgey Nefedov point out the important role falling wages of the common workers played in early collapses. I got to thinking that this might be an issue with our current situation as well, including the low level of oil prices.

I explain this in two presentations. The first one is called “Overview of a Networked Economy“. The second one is called, “Economic Growth and Diminishing Returns.”

A couple of (amateurish) slides that need explanation are the following ones:

Standard definition of economic growth

The cloud above my representation of the economy is supposed to represent the cloud of goods and services that the economy makes. Many people would like us to believe that as long as this cloud is growing, everything is fine.

What Peter Turchin discovered is that there is a smaller cloud that really needs to be growing, as well.

This cloud is the after-tax income of the common worker. If this isn’t growing, then it is hard to collect enough taxes. The ultimate downfall comes from government downfall, because of the problems of the common worker.

Wages of Common Worker

The above slide is an attempt to show the after-tax income of common workers as a subset within the GDP cloud. (It probably should be much smaller.)

Common workers are ones who will tend to buy mostly goods and not too many services. In fact, the goods that they buy are not necessarily even high tech goods. If these workers cut back on goods that use a lot of commodities in their production, this cutback could contribute to all of the other pressures we are now seeing toward lower commodity prices, and make it much harder for oil prices to rise again.

If we want common workers to do better, it looks to me like we need an increasing supply of cheap-to-extract oil (low priced would help as well).

To see the full story, you will need to click on the links above.

I will be leaving on March 13 to spend four weeks lecturing and traveling in China. (My family will not be coming along, so I won’t be leaving an empty house here.) Hopefully I will have a chance to write a “regular” post between now and then–the two presentations are from this series. I don’t expect to be able to write posts while I am in China because China does not allow access to the WordPress site where I write my posts.

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About Gail Tverberg

My name is Gail Tverberg. I am an actuary interested in finite world issues - oil depletion, natural gas depletion, water shortages, and climate change. Oil limits look very different from what most expect, with high prices leading to recession, and low prices leading to financial problems for oil producers and for oil exporting countries. We are really dealing with a physics problem that affects many parts of the economy at once, including wages and the financial system. I try to look at the overall problem.

332 thoughts on “Role of Wages of the Common Worker in Oil Prices, Collapse

  1. According to Rodger Malcolm Mitchell, The aim of the 1% is to widen the gap between the haves and the have nots. Here is just one of his blogs;
    This Neo-Liberal aim necessarily involves falling real wages for the workers, so it’s important to understand what the consequences might well be. The consequences are mentioned here.

    Using taxation however as a description of what the economy will suffer is not really relevant.
    Federal tax money goes into a black hole when transferred to the Treasury. It pays for naught, nada, nothing. Taxation is never spent, never pays for budget expenses. All tax does is regulate spending within the economy, so called aggregate demand.

    The central banks spend money into existence and are not constrained by tax revenue. They can pay any and all bills submitted by creditors. Even interest payments are free for CB’s. This means there is no non political motivation behind cuts to welfare, medicine, education etc.
    The government can and should do it.

    • Governments can only pay any and all bills, as long as the system “hangs together”. Once interest rates go up a bit, there is a big problem. Once a huge number of banks start defaulting and need big bailouts, there is a big problem.

      I am afraid I don’t share your confidence in “spending money into existence”. QE has not gotten money into the hands of the common worker. All it has done is pumped up asset prices–stock markets, prices of homes and businesses, and the price of farmland. It is the common worker who is still suffering.

      • Your confidence is not a material concern because all money is spent into existence. It’s got nothing to do with liking it or not. It’s just how it is.
        As far as QE goes, the banks pulled a fast one on the Fed and treated it like a TARP extender. The remedy is to confine how the banks operate, on pain of losing their licences.
        Richard Werner suggested the QE should be reserved for infrastructure and the like and proscribed against consumption and speculation.
        On the other hand if the government doesn’t have any plans for infrastructure or productive work, there’s no point in creating money as it just fuels inflation, as the banks won’t have projects to pay for.
        So, when eventually there are no resources around at an affordable price work will dry up and all that’s left will be consumption and speculation, which means those will be the last dominoes to fall.

        • QE’s only purpose was to effectively recapitalize banks by maintaining previously overvalued asset (homes and home mortgages and all the financial non-sense that follows from them) prices.

      • QE has put a large amount of money into the hands of the ordinary person because it has buoyed the stock market.

        Remember, pension funds are heavily invested in the markets and QE has keep the markets hitting new highs. If no QE then no pension.

        And if the stock market were to crash because of no QE then we would not have an economy to speak of.

        There would be no jobs.

        QE has benefited everyone. Not just the rich.

        • There are different layers. The people who have pension accounts are among the more wealthy in the country–above the median wage, on average, I would be willing to bet.

          Most workers of the lower-paid workers have only Social Security and Medicare to count on. These are basically pay as you go programs. It is the higher paid individuals who have access to pension plans and 401K plans.

          Most of the pension plans have changed to “defined contribution” from “defined benefit,” because of the difficulty in getting the funding correct for defined benefit. (There are still quite a few around though, especially City and State programs.) The 401K plans are in some ways like the defined contribution plans. These plans tend to be invested in stocks, bonds, ETFs, and a variety of other things. As I understand it, they comprise a fairly large share of stock market investments. I remember a 50% ratio, but I am not sure exactly what that related to –US, World, certain kinds of investments, etc.

          Workers can’t really get at these funds too easily. They can get them out for certain specified purposes (downpayment on a house is one), but lose 10% of the amount doing so, IIRC.

        • “QE has benefited everyone. Not just the rich.”

          I don’t have a pension, and I have no stocks. QE has not benefitted me. (At least not directly. One might assume that I benefit from other people’s benefitting from it, if one were a supply-sider “rising tide floats all boats” type.)

    • I will be lecturing for two weeks at Petroleum University in Beijing (some to students, some to faculty). Afterward, I will be seeing some aspects of the Chinese economy–perhaps leaving Beijing, with someone from the university.

      What I have posted is two of the student lectures. The title of the short course for students is “Energy Economics and Analysis Modeling.” There are no prerequisites, so I cannot count on much background. I also have questions regarding what ability in English the students will really have. A fair amount of time may need to be spent in translation. After my first lecture to students, I may make adjustments to the talks depending on what the real level of the group is. I have quite a bit more material, but was afraid I would go badly over the head of the students, so I removed material I had put together. For example, it is not just wages that drops, but return on investment that drops, as we hit diminishing returns. I perhaps should put that back in, if only as additional slides I can show if the class is up to it.

      • I think they’d understand better than those students in the West. They’re a smart, pragmatic people and the students are taught well.

        Safe travels and maybe take some pics, upload if you can.

  2. Below, is the text of an email I sent recently:

    What we really need is the cheap oil for the operation of already existing man-made ecosystems.

    Gail Tverberg says:
    February 22, 2015 at 8:12 pm
    Right. And we need to be able to produce the oil cheaply, not just sell “expensive to produce” oil at below production costs.
    Expand the graphs at out to 5 years – isn’t it clear we’re into “something different”, now? (

    • That is a good point–the “something different” that we are already into is very low oil prices. This is the prelude to collapse, because we cannot actually pull the oil out at these prices.

      You are also right about existing man-made ecosystems needing oil–namely farms and farm substitutes, and the whole transportation system for getting the things distributed to us. There are many parts to it, including processing and distribution. Solar panels don’t fix this problem.

      • People often think that the biofuels are the alternative for the agriculture. But the problem of the biofuels is that their production is terribly inefficient, more than it seems at first sight.

        From the point of view of the low energy system, the cow is the most efficient “machine”: it runs on biomass, provides food (milk, meat), the stuff for making shoes and textiles (cowhide) etc. and the fertilizer. There is no such machine that could provide all of this in the environment that lacks cheap energy.

        This way, not just biofuel production is inefficent, but the machines themselves are more and more inefficent system elements with the rising price of the energy.

  3. Obviously GTA thinks we r all a bunch of lowlifes… she made sure to tell us that her house won’t b empty so don’t think about going to Atlanta and helping yourself.. I was hoping to snatch those Leonardo sticks for my collection..

  4. Coilin MacLochlainn says:

    For this idea of yours to have any standing, you would need a guarantee that the financial system will collapse. Can you guarantee that it will?

    What can be guaranteed is that the world’s petroleum production system is undergoing entropic decay. If it isn’t the Second Law is defunct, and we can all go back to banging the rocks together. In 2012 petroleum powered 38% of the world’s economy; that included 83% of the world’s transportation systems which are essential for trade. Our determination is that by 2030 the “average barrel” of oil will have reached the dead state. After that most of the world’s petroleum supply will not be powering much of anything.

    Guaranteeing anything in engineering, or science is not possible. No one can be 100% certain, but when the probabilities are high enough you become very assured. Betting that things will continue along present lines for very long has about the same probability of success as betting every thing one has on the last horse in the last race, every day for a month. Its not likely to turn out well!

    Matthew Krajcik asked:

    Do the batteries plus solar PV system combined have the ability to produce as much energy as is embedded in them, or are you simply storing coal energy at home?

    By our calculations it takes 225 million BTU to produce a $40,000 EV. 38% of that comes from petroleum, which is 14.6 barrels. Since 83% of that petroleum was used for transportation purposes, it is going to be very difficult to replace. 225 million BTU equals 73.25 thousand KWhrs of power. The same numbers can be applied to a $40,000 PV system. It would take 73.5 thousand KWhrs to pay for building and installing it. 83% of that is fossil fuels, and 38% is petroleum. Whether, or not it will ever brake even would depend on where you are.

    We use the BTU/$ approach for problems of this nature. It is accurate to within the error margin of the study, which is ±4.5%. This applies only to large dollar evaluations. For something like a candy bar its result is probably dubious.

    The function can be found here:

    For 2015 its value is 5,631 BTU/$.

    • Thanks! People don’t realize that these so-called renewables move forward coal and natural gas use (so more is extracted and burned), and take oil use that might be used for other purposes. EROEI calculation using standard EROEI factors don’t come anywhere close to showing how much energy really goes into making and transporting them and their backup devices. People think that there is “net energy,” when really there isn’t. The way subsidies work is they tax the poor to make solar panels and electric cars available to the rich. The system makes people think there is a solution, when there isn’t.

      • The greens here in New York believe Germany makes 70% of its energy from PV. When in fact Germany makes only 2% of its energy from PV. They go to public comment meeting and tell the state government to do what Germany did. They believe it is easy to get all energy from PV.

        Of course the real statement is that on a rare cloudless day across all of Germany, during the six hours of peak sun, Germany is able to produce 70% of the minority energy used by the electric system. Of course 12 hours later it s producing 0%, it is night. The PV produces none of the transport, heating, or industrial use.

      • I view solar panels, wind turbines, etc… as an insurance policy. They will insure that your freezer and refrigeration units might be able to stay functioning long enough for you to adjust should the power go out. Most people would starve to death if they had to figure out how to preserve food without refrigeration.

      • As is often the case here at Our Finite World, we see thoughtful discussions ever beginning anew that seem to be guided to the same dead ends.

        Even granting the conclusions that a fiendishly difficult full-EROEI accounting most plausibly entails–then to it adding a fuller ecological cost accounting of the respective subsidies of (of a fossil-fueled military industrial global police state, for instance, versus some less unaccountable alternative) and damages to the sustaining ecosphere–the conclusions seem ever to bang on an already ruptured drum: virtually every commenter here (over the years) has already granted that BAU cannot continue, whether we would like it to or not.

        If that’s the point of all this, then for us at least, the point’s been made. But virtually every alternative path forward–other than retire to a bunker–is foreclosed on here on the basis that it cannot rescue us from a foregone conclusion–that “all this” can’t continue. Yup, we get it. It’s the present set of capitalist arrangements or nothing (ergo nothing) notwithstanding 100,000 years of human striving (thriving and suffering) that unfolded without them.

        Even if what’s next is collapse, are there forms thereof (catabolic vs. catastrophic, for example) that particular communities in particular circumstances might prefer, and work towards, perhaps with the hope that certain outcomes that we work toward together may be preferable to those pursued in a brutal contest of all against all for what’s left?

        Gail’s phrase above–“take oil use that might be used for other purposes”–begs a question persistently turned away from here. What purposes should we wish to pursue other than perpetuating our current uses until we plunge over the cliff of ecological bottleneck?

        Perceptive commenters here have invited us to ask–since we cannot pursue our current rhythm of consumption, and that a sharp fall off in economic activity is inescapable, then might certain forms of transitional consumption be preferable to others? How to spend the last dregs of a fossilized energy trust fund never again to be seen in human reckoning? Are there technologies and cultural arrangements that point toward less brutal ends, less brutal forms of descent towards post-fossil-energy levels?

        The last line of Gail’s post–how long would that take to unpack?

        “The way subsidies work is they tax the poor to make solar panels and electric cars available to the rich. The system makes people think there is a solution, when there isn’t.”

        Really, is that the way subsidies “work”? Could they not also or *instead* progressively tax the rich–how far down the road of neoliberalism have we come that Gail’s assertion might pass without comment–or might we tax the returns of the emphatically non-renewable in favour of reinvesting those energy returns in the partially renewable, and acceleratingly moreso? (The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics would seem to argue that nothing is fully renewable.)

        Rather than the the neo-darwinist zero sum of Gail’s presumption of a governmental role of taking from the poor to give to the rich, how about that perhaps antiquated notion of pooling our resources (according to our means) in “other uses” like energy efficiency upgrades to the dwellings of the poor, or even in public goods of benefit to the commons–solar-powered factories of solar trains, solar panels, household battery back ups.

        Or shall we simply assume that a system here already clearly diagnosed as leading to insane, terracidal and self-contradictory outcomes should continue to drive our decision-making (on a neo-utilitarian basis, no less) to the bitter end?

        • I think that a major point of this blog is public education. We have to keep explaining why industrial scale solar/wind (as opposed to what you are suggesting) will be counter-productive. For example, Bill McKibben’s 350 group is still pushing Cape Wind. In my state they and the government are supporting a big financial solar energy scam through which acres and acres of trees and fields are being covered with solar panels. Many of my friends are on the local energy committees and they are totally on board with this outrage. We have to keep beating the drum.
          When I unsubscribed from and they asked me why, I suggested that they come over and read Gail Tverberg.
          So if you or anyone has a political path to small scale improvements that will help people stay a bit comfortable while they engage in massive conservation why not make those suggestions? What would they be? Our governments will only support industrial scale corporate measures. And, of course, even roof top solar requires a whole industrial system to produce.
          My positive suggestion would be to figure out how to stop supporting this system – stop driving, stop buying, stop borrowing and live differently.
          If that does not appeal to you then just go on and enjoy every day as it comes.
          But my hat is off to anyone who dares to question the mantra “replace fossil fuels with clean renewable energy.” All of your nice well meaning friends are really going to dislike you.

          • Thanks for the compliment. The idea of the world existing on high tech renewables, while everything else disappears, is so absurd that a person wonders how anyone could think it could come to pass. I need to write more on this issue.

            • “I need to write more on this issue.” ~ Gail Tverberg

              That would be cool…
              We were talking about it this past week in the comments on Ron Patterson’s Peak Oil Barrel blog… Although we talk about it often.
              I also quoted you then, here.
              Coincidentally, in the same thread in another comment some minutes ago, I also mention a reciprocal roof: Reciprocal design is essentially your Leonardo sticks. Maybe you say so somewhere. I’ve done a few, if more simpler ones. In a simple circular one at least, take one beam/stick out and they all fall.
              We might do well if there was more cross-pollination between blogs… I recognize a few names here though. One even from Permaculture Research Institute’s blog… Hi Øyvind! …So this is where you’ve been hiding? ^u^

          • “my hat is off to anyone who dares to question the mantra “replace fossil fuels with clean renewable energy.” All of your nice well meaning friends are really going to dislike you.”

            Been there, done that, got the boot tracks up my back!

            I think people of such a mind-set need to work together. Your efforts dissipate like a shot of whiskey in a water barrel. We’re trying to do something similar, but we could use some help!

        • “virtually every alternative path forward–other than retire to a bunker–is foreclosed on here on the basis that it cannot rescue us from a foregone conclusion–that “all this” can’t continue.”

          Good thing you said “virtually.” Because a few of us have proposed alternatives.

          “Even if what’s next is collapse, are there forms thereof (catabolic vs. catastrophic, for example) that particular communities in particular circumstances might prefer, and work towards, perhaps with the hope that certain outcomes that we work toward together may be preferable to those pursued in a brutal contest of all against all for what’s left?”

          Don Stewart (et. al.) has spoken for Permaculture as a way forward. Others have talked about the Transition Town movement. I’ve talked about collective farmland ownership and production (and I “walk the talk”).

          Perhaps these voices in the wilderness are lost amid the noise of “OMG! We’re all gonna die!” but it is unfair to say these voices simply don’t exist.

          “Gail’s phrase above–“take oil use that might be used for other purposes”–begs a question persistently turned away from here. What purposes should we wish to pursue other than perpetuating our current uses until we plunge over the cliff of ecological bottleneck?”

          I think we need to be looking at appropriate technology — meaning tech that is at least 20 years old. We can run our farm equipment off of farm products, for the most part, because they are all older machines that don’t require very much infrastructure support then if we always insist of having the latest and greatest “iThis” or “eThat.”

          If we focus our remaining fossil sunlight toward supporting legacy systems and equipment, I think we can have a smoother transition to a low-energy civilization.

          “how about that perhaps antiquated notion of pooling our resources (according to our means) in “other uses” like energy efficiency upgrades to the dwellings of the poor, or even in public goods of benefit to the commons–solar-powered factories of solar trains, solar panels, household battery back ups.”

          I think you’re about 20 years too advanced.

          I think the thing to “pool our resources” over is photosynthesis, rather than high-tech solar.

          We’re going to end up there someday; might as well get some practice and practical experience.

          • Old tech is wonderful: I regularly use tools and equipment of cast iron and wood which are 1 to 200 years old. We are painting ourselves into a corner with fragile innovation.

          • There’s lots of talk about the physical challenges to survive the near future. Like this:

            ” In the last 500 years humans grew 677 excals of food.
            In the next 40 years, we need 770 excals of food.”

            What I would suggest remembering is that feeding an even larger population than now (combined with the historic mass distinction of species) would have to be done in concert with being much gentler on the planet than hunter gatherers. Can anybody dig it?

            There’s mighty inertia in the system toward obsolescence of past machinery. Wonderful engine-less hulks lie here and there, rusting away. Not enough of it left to benefit mass society, I’m sure. But part of the problem could be mass society itself–the notion that survival means must be centralized. The reasons for this go deep, touching on matters of control, nationalism, domination–too numerous and complex for me to master.

            To what degree can village-scale groups self organize, even in the cities on neighborhood and block levels, to meet their survival needs? Such pods could trade among themselves. No need for infrastructure change. The neighborhoods and blocks, rooftops and backyards are there already.

            It is also said that food can’t be grown successfully in cities. An odd, and inaccurate assumption. It’s done all the time, and being done increasingly. No water source? Not if you consider that everything in the outdoors, urban or rural, is a watershed of sorts.

          • “If we focus our remaining fossil sunlight toward supporting legacy systems and equipment, I think we can have a smoother transition to a low-energy civilization.”

            Not going to happen. I agree, that’s what we should be doing, but that won’t get politicians reelected. They get reelected by telling everybody that everything is great and will get better in the future. I think that we need to be thinking about 18th century methods of tools and combining it with modern scientific knowledge for farming. When the slide downwards really picks up steam, it will get fast. The ability to transition from a neighbor’s manure to night soil might make all the difference in the world, but that implies that you don’t need supplies that are unreliable at best.

            • I was warned not to plant food in our leach field. But that’s at the bottom of our grade, and gets all the runoff. Nowhere else on the lot is the soil so rich. I dug up an earthworm there yesterday. Hadn’t thought there were any around.

      • The way subsidies work is they tax the poor to make solar panels and electric cars available to the rich. The system makes people think there is a solution, when there isn’t.

        I like the distinctions you made with that statement.

    • “In 2012 petroleum powered 38% of the world’s economy; that included 83% of the world’s transportation systems which are essential for trade. Our determination is that by 2030 the “average barrel” of oil will have reached the dead state.”
      I do not doubt the truth of your statement, but I have to say I have some difficulty reconciling it with the world around me.

  5. Dear Gail
    You frequently say something to the effect that ‘if we all stopped consuming stuff we don’t need, then the economy would collapse and people would starve’. But, on the other hand, you say that ‘we can’t keep producing all this stuff because we are at the limits to growth, both physical and finance’.

    I do have a suggestion for you. Take a look at Alain de Botton’s new book The News: A User’s Manual. The book is full of observations and suggestions about why the news as we usually consume it is so unsatisfying. But I will limit my comments to two sections.

    First, let’s look at the chapter on Dining, Travel, and Technology:

    ‘The chopped liver on crostini had a wintery smokiness to it, as did a fold of flat bread, scorched on a griddle to black in places, then layered with slices of garlicky wild mushrooms. Best was a fritto misto of squid, anchovies and prawns in batter…As the chef here used to cook at nearby Bocca di Lupo, it was not a surprise that the crumbly, coarse Cotechino sausage with braised cabbage and mustard was outstanding.’ From The Observer.

    de Botton observes that a certain segment of the population loathes this kind of consumption and the news reports about it, holding that with all the serious problems in the world, such nonsense is ‘futile, greedy, and materialistic’. He might also have used all the fabulous women’s outfits in People magazine, or any of hundreds of other examples.

    ‘These are surely important matters, yet to restrict consumer news to such practical investigations is to overlook a key feature of why we are motivated to buy certain things in the first place. The kinds of purchases surveyed in the news generally sit well beyond necessity. In acquiring them, what we are after is rarely solely or even chiefly just material satisfaction; we are also guided by a deeper, often unconscious desire for some form of psychological transformation. We don’t only want to OWN things; we want to be CHANGED through our ownership of them. Once we examine consumer behavior with sufficient attention and generosity, it becomes clear that we aren’t indelibly materialistic at all. What makes our age distinctive is our ambition to try to accomplish a variety of complex psychological goals via the acquisition of material good. ‘ [My note: similar to the Nate Hagens’ argument that we turn energy into products trying to produce neurotransmitters and hormones which I have recently referenced]

    ‘Our ostensible reason for wanting to travel to the new restaurant in the centre of town is that we feel like having a bite to eat. But a substantial, perhaps even decisive part of our desire has a less mundane, more subtly psychological basis: we want to absorb the values of the restaurant itself. We want (in some vague sense) TO BECOME LIKE IT: Relaxed, Dignified, Convivial, Content with Simplicity, In Touch with Nature, At Eas with Others.’

    deBotton concludes that the News should not focus on the categories Dining, Travel, Technology, and Fashion. Instead the News should focus on opportunities for Conviviality, Calm, Resilience, and Rationality. There are ways that poor people use to achieve all the underlying goals…which may well work as well as the methods used by billionaires (see Nate Hagens). If we, as a society or individuals, can keep the underlying goals in mind, and not become obsessed with the glittery exteriors we are being sold, then there may be hope for the future.

    Second, let’s look at de Botton’s treatment of the connection between religion and the news (the introduction and first chapter).

    ‘Societies become modern, the philosopher Hegel suggested, when news replaces religion as our central source of guidance and our touchstone of authority…the news now occupies a position of power at least equal to that formerly enjoyed by the faiths. Dispatches track the canonical hours with uncanny precision: matins have been transubstantiated into the breakfast bulletin, vespers into the evening report…Here too, we hope to receive revelations, learn who is good and bad, fathom suffering and understand the unfolding logic of existence. And, here, too, if we refuse to take part in the rituals, there could be imputations of heresy.’

    ‘The News knows how to render its own mechanics almost invisible and therefore hard to question. It speaks to us in a natural unaccented voice, without reference to its own assumption-laden perspective. It fails to disclose that it does not merely report on the world, but is instead constantly at work crafting a new planet in our minds in line with its own often highly distinctive priorities.’

    ‘Hegel’s argument that the news now occupies the same prestigious position in society as religion once did misses out an important difference between the two fields of knowledge: religions have traditionally been particularly sensitive to how bad we are at focusing on anything. Exactly like the news, religions want to tell us important things every day. But unlike the news, they know that if they tell us too much, in one go, and only once, then we will remember—and do— nothing. They therefore take care to serve up only a little of their fare each day, taking us patiently through a few issues and then returning to them again and again. Repetition and rehearsal are key to the pedagogical methods of the major faiths….They sit us down in a solemn place, quieten our minds and then speak to us with dignified urgency rather than panic, understanding that we will have to return to their ideas over days and weeks if we are to have any chance of being influenced in how we think and behave.’

    I suggest that some of de Botton’s thoughts are appropriate for those who are looking at ways to bridge the gap between the financial channels on television and the world of energy decline.

    Don Stewart

    • The media teaches proper range of emotional response. I suppose that is a religion.
      BWAAAAK polly wants a cracker
      BWAAAAK USA energy independent by 2025

    • The irony in de Botton’s restaurant example is that the food at Bocca di Luppo in London is basically Italian country food, not sophisticated at all. One would have to be very jaded with London life to reject that as unacceptable indulgence…..

      • Dear Xabier
        What de Botton is pointing out is that a considerable part of the reason why people go there is to have some of that ‘simple Italian life’ rub off on them. One of my daughters is going to Barcelona for some of the ‘continuing ed’ that her license requires each year. Her plan is to spend a week indulging in sunshine and tapas bars. It’s not about ingesting calories or even getting your antioxidants, it’s about those neurotransmitters and hormones.

        Are there other ways to trigger the neurotransmitters and hormones? Well…you could try being a peasant.

        Don Stewart

        • Let’s hope it doesn’t prove too hormonally exciting! One of the best cities in the world to eat in, certainly.

  6. Hi Gail,
    There is a typo in the paragraph that begins, “Common workers are…” in the last sentence, “hater” should be “harder”.

    • Greer is looking at agricultural societies. The farmers there could just pick up and join another agricultural society if their society collapsed, even if the existing society collapsed.

      I don’t see a way we could build up enough of a network of knowledgeable people to build an agricultural society. We would need to do it without electricity, oil or other fuel sources. We don’t know how to go back that far any more. We would need to figure out how to do everything with local materials, everywhere. We would need to build local defenses of cities–moats? All of the attempts at working with wind and solar PV are a waste of time, in this regard. We would after a while even have to do without metal tools–they are just too demanding of wood.

      • I bumped into a young Greek named Dionysius while walking my dog – he’d decided to explore the English countryside while touring Britain. and ended up on our muddy hill asking for directions to interesting places!

        He proved to be smart and well-educated, and like all Greeks ready to talk.

        A very interesting conversation ensued on the state of Greece, and unprompted he made just your point, Gail:

        ‘We were just small farmers, fishermen and traders: talk about everyone going back to the land now is nonsense, as none of us know what to do anymore, we’ve forgotten what our grandparents knew! Our parents saw some things, but have never really done it and they can’t teach us. 60% of our population now live in Athens, we’ve been urbanised, we are useless, just service sector workers.’

        Note, he wasn’t too proud to go back to the land, but readily admitted his cluelessness and lack of physical familiarity with the peasant life. It’s tough.

        He feared civil war and a military/oligarch take-over. Golden Dawn, the neo-Nazi party has gone quiet, but he feels they could come back very strongly, and have interesting links to the police and security services, and I was able to confirm this for him from anecdotes Greek friends had told me indicating direct police-Nazi co-operation. (Just like the police in Spain who display Franco badges and flags quite openly.) There is big money behind the extreme Right-wing European parties. Whose?

        On the whole his views were reasoned and his expectations modest: ‘If things get even a tiny bit better, we will be relieved and grateful.’ This will be most of us in the coming years.

        • Dear xavier
          I think that the dilemma that Greece finds itself in is related to what the Greek told you on the muddy hill. Russia or the BRICS group would probably be glad to trade with Greece after a default, but Greece has to have something to trade. A bunch of bureaucrats don’t produce much that can be traded.

          What does Washington, DC, produce that could be traded? And yet Washington is now one of the richest cities in the United States. In a collapse, would Washington fare any better than Athens?

          The US solution is always to offer credit, usually only good for buying stuff made in the US. Take Cuba. What do you think the conversation is like?
          US…we will extend billions in credit, to purchase US goods
          Cuba…and then how do we repay the debts?
          US…we will make the debt a balloon payment due in 25 years (like California school districts)
          Cuba…but what about our children paying off the balloon note?
          US…We will have incinerated the world in a nuclear war long before then

          Don Stewart

          • I hadn’t thought about repayment of debt needing to be in US goods. I have heard of similar deals by the Chinese, with the debt tied to Chinese goods.

      • I think Greer’s hopes are linked to his “catabolic collapse”, which is a slow collapse. Then there would be hopes for adapting. Unfortunately you say he’s wrong, and that the time-frame of collapse is too short for adapting.

        I hope you are wrong and that Greer is right!

        • Maybe both of them are a little bit right. There’s an awful lot of innovation going on beneath the surface. Maybe some parts of the mainstream will morph with some of these alternatives. But the innovations mostly seem to take continuing fossil fuel use for granted.

          Neither Greer’s nor this blog does that.

          Greer is talking about the 50’s, but the global environment was healthy then, and global population was one-third of what it is now.

          So where are we? People need to maintain body temperature, as well as eat and drink. Most people live in cities. Some say food can’t grow in cities, while I see overwhelming evidence that it can. A relatively few people will learn to grow their own food there. There will be an explosion of the increasing armies of new sophisticated, highly scientific farmers. They’ll find a way to grow for millions using the solar, geothermal and wind they have now. It seems impossible without fossil fuels, but they’ll figure something out. Besides which, I don’t think we should be concerned with any but the immediate future. Can we get through for the next five years? Twenty or thirty years into the future is way too long to consider at this juncture. The next generations must figure it out for themselves.

          How long before fossil fuels go away? I can’t imagine it will be within the next five years. But I’ve been grossly mistaken about similar things before.

          • Monumental changes often sneak up on people, then happen all of a sudden. The signs were there that change was coming, but everybody ignored them until they would no longer be ignored.

            • Hmm. I’ve been wondering how best to predict what comes next. So far, it seems best to see what’s happening now just below the people’s radar but clear to see if you look for just a moment. Extremely clear trends for me concern the NSA, whistleblowers, militarism, propaganda, Monsanto… Actually, the list is rather long of almost unbelievable things that the average person manages to ignore, or doesn’t know about. But I don’t get the impression that cars, department stores or utility companies will go away that soon. I can see them cranking up prices and fees, but I take Gail’s point that life must be affordable for the masses, else risking ever more immediate collapse. And that wouldn’t suit TPTB.

      • Gail

        Historically very accurate. I am almost certainly partly descended from peasants who walked/took a boat, down from the mountains of Eastern France to Northern Spain in the 11th or 12th centuries, probably via Toulouse in S. France:how do I know? they took the name of the home village with them.

        After the Roman collapse, and in the periods when the barbarian monarchies lost control at the death of a ruler, etc, raiders would kidnap simple peasants, and artisans to trade them. Trained soldiers also had value and could end up working in the strangest of places. Children, too.

        Europeans ended up as slaves -mostly captured at sea – in North Africa into the Modern period, ie early 19th century.

      • If society could get by on salvage for, say, 100 years, wood to smelt metal could perhaps grow back by that time.

    • Enjoyed the Greer article. It’s a good try, and one can hardly ask for much more in such a complex crisis. A lot of what his direction entails is mighty cultural innovation–i.e., a large educational initiative aimed at changing the “cultural entrancement” that Greer describes, to entrancement of a less dysfunctional nature. We don’t talk about culture and imagination enough. Those don’t require oil or other forms of material stuff.

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