Understanding Our Pandemic – Economy Predicament

The world’s number one problem today is that the world’s population is too large for its resource base. Some people have called this situation overshoot. The world economy is ripe for a major change, such as the current pandemic, to bring the situation into balance. The change doesn’t necessarily come from the coronavirus itself. Instead, it is likely to come from the whole chain reaction that has been started by the coronavirus and the response of governments around the world to the coronavirus.

Let me explain more about what is happening.

[1] The world economy is reaching Limits to Growth, as described in the book with a similar title.

One way of seeing the predicament we are in is the modeling of resource consumption and population growth described in the 1972 book, The Limits to Growth, by Donella Meadows et al. Its base scenario seems to suggest that the world will reach limits about now. Chart 1 shows the base forecast from that book, together with a line I added giving my impression of where the economy really was in 2019, relative to resource availability.

Figure 1. Base scenario from 1972 Limits to Growth, printed using today’s graphics by Charles Hall and John Day in “Revisiting Limits to Growth After Peak Oil,” with dotted line added corresponding to where the world economy seems to be in 2019.

In 2019, the world economy seemed to be very close to starting a downhill trajectory. Now, it appears to me that we have reached the turning point and are on our way down. The pandemic is the catalyst for this change to a downward trend. It certainly is not the whole cause of the change. If the underlying dynamics had not been in place, the impact of the virus would likely have been much less.

The 1972 model leaves out two important parts of the economy that probably make the downhill trajectory steeper than shown in Figure 1. First, the model leaves out debt and, in fact, the whole financial system. After the 2008 crisis, many people strongly suspected that the financial system would play an important role as we reach the limits of a finite world because debt defaults are likely to disturb the worldwide financial system.

The model also leaves out humans’ continual battle with pathogens. The problem with pathogens becomes greater as world population becomes denser, facilitating transmission. The problem also becomes greater as a larger share of the population becomes more susceptible, either because they are elderly or because they have underlying health conditions that have been hidden by an increasingly complex and expensive medical system.

As a result, we cannot really believe the part of Figure 1 that is after 2020. The future downslopes of population, industrial production per capita, and food per capita all seem likely to be steeper than shown on the chart because both the debt and pathogen problems are likely to increase the speed at which the economy declines.

[2] It is far more than the population that has overshot limits.

The issue isn’t simply that there are too many people relative to resources. The world seems to have

  • Too many shopping malls and stores
  • Too many businesses of all kinds, with many not very profitable for their owners
  • Governments with too extensive programs, which taxpayers cannot really afford
  • Too much debt
  • An unaffordable amount of pension promises
  • Too low interest rates
  • Too many people with low wages or no wages at all
  • Too expensive a healthcare system
  • Too expensive an educational system

The world economy needs to shrink back in many ways at once, simultaneously, to manage within its resource limits. It is not clear how much of an economy (or multiple smaller economies) will be left after this shrinkage occurs.

[3] The economy is in many ways like the human body. In physics terms, both are dissipative structures. They are both self-organizing systems powered by energy (food for humans; a mixture of energy products including oil, coal, natural gas, burned biomass and electricity for the economy).

The human body will try to fix minor problems. For example, if someone’s hand is cut, blood will tend to clot to prevent too much blood loss, and skin will tend to grow to substitute for the missing skin. Similarly, if businesses in an area disappear because of a tornado, the prior owners will either tend to rebuild them or new businesses will tend to come in to replace them, as long as adequate resources are available.

In both systems, there is a point beyond which problems cannot be fixed, however. We know that many people die in car accidents if injuries are too serious, for example. Similarly, the world economy may “collapse” if conditions deviate too far from what is necessary for economic growth to continue. In fact, at this point, the world economy may be so close to the edge with respect to resources, particularly energy resources, that even a minor pandemic could push the world economy into a permanent cycle of contraction.

[4] World governments are in a poor position to fix the current resource and pandemic crisis.

In our networked economy, too low a resource base relative to population manifests itself in a strange way: It appears as an affordability crisis that leads to very low prices for oil. It also appears as terribly low prices for many other commodities, including copper, lithium, coal and even wholesale electricity. These low prices occur because too large a share of the population cannot afford finished goods, such as cars and homes, made with these commodities. Recent shutdowns have suddenly increased the number of people with low income or no income, pushing commodity prices even lower.

If resources were more plentiful and very inexpensive to produce, as they were 50 or 70 years ago, wages of workers could be much higher, relative to the cost of resources. Factory workers would be able to afford to buy vehicles, for example, and thus help keep the demand for automobiles up. If we look more deeply into this, we find that energy resources of many kinds (fossil fuel energy, nuclear energy, burned biomass and other renewable energy) must be extraordinarily cheap and abundant to keep the system growing. Without “surplus energy” from many sources, which grows with population, the whole system tends to collapse.

World governments cannot print resources. What they can print is debt. Debt can be viewed as a promise of future goods and services, whether or not it is reasonable to believe that these future goods and services will actually materialize, given resource constraints.

We are finding that using shutdowns to solve COVID-19 problems causes a huge amount of economic damage. The cost of mitigating this damage seems to be unreasonably high. For example, in the United States, antibody studies suggest that roughly 5% of the population has been infected with COVID-19. The total number of deaths associated with this 5% infection level is perhaps 100,000, assuming that reported deaths to date (about 80,000) need to be increased somewhat, to match the approximately 5% of the population that has, knowingly or unknowingly, already experienced the infection.

If we estimate that the mean number of years of life lost is 13 years per person, then the total years of life lost would be about 1,300,000. If we estimate that the US treasury needed to borrow $3 trillion dollars to mitigate this damage, the cost per year of life lost is $3 trillion divided by 1.3 million, or $2.3 million per year of life lost. This amount is utterly absurd.

This approach is clearly not something the United States can scale up, as the share of the population affected by COVID-19 relentlessly rises from 5% to something like 70% or 80%, in the absence of a vaccine. We have no choice but to use a different approach.

[5] COVID-19 would have the least impact on the world economy if people could pay little attention to the pandemic and just “let it run.” Of course, even without mitigation attempts, COVID-19 might bring the world economy down, given the distressed level of today’s economy and the shutdowns experienced to date.

Shutting down an economy has a huge adverse impact on that economy because quite a few workers who are in good health are no longer able to make goods and services. As a result, they have no wages, so their “demand” goes way down. If the economy was already having an affordability crisis for goods made with commodities, shutting down the economy tends to greatly add to the affordability crisis. Prices of commodities tend to fall even lower than they were before the crisis.

Back in 1957-1958, the Asian pandemic, which also started in China, hit the world. The number of deaths was up in the range of the current pandemic, relative to population. The estimated worldwide death rate was 0.67%.  This is not too dissimilar from a death rate of 0.61% for COVID-19, which can be calculated using my estimate above (100,000 deaths relative to 5% of the US population of 33o million).

Virtually nothing was shut down in the US for the 1957-58 pandemic. When doctors or nurses became sick themselves, wards were simply closed. Would-be patients were told to stay at home and take aspirin, unless a severe case developed. With this approach, the US still faced a short recession, but the economy was soon growing again. Populations seemed to reach herd immunity quite quickly.

If the world could somehow have adopted a similar approach this time, there still would have been some adverse impact on the economy. A small percentage of the population would have died. Some businesses might have needed to be closed for a short time when too many workers were out sick. But the huge burden of job loss by a substantial share of the economy could have been avoided. The economy would have had at least a small chance of rebounding quickly.

[6] The virus that causes COVID-19 looks a great deal like a laboratory cross between SARS and HIV, making the likelihood of a quick vaccine low.

In fact, Professor Luc Montagnier, co-discoverer of the AIDS virus and winner of a Nobel Prize in Medicine, claims that the new coronavirus is the result of an attempt to manufacture a vaccine against the AIDS virus. He believes that the accidental release of this virus is what is causing today’s pandemic.

If COVID-19 were simply another influenza virus, similar to many we have seen, then getting a vaccine that would work passably well would be a relatively easy exercise. At least one of the vaccine trials that have been started could be reasonably expected to work, and a solution would not be far away.

Unfortunately, SARS and HIV are fairly different from influenza viruses. We have never found a vaccine for either one. If a person has had SARS once, and is later exposed to a slightly mutated version of SARS, the symptoms of the second infection seem to be worse than the first. This characteristic interferes with finding a suitable vaccine. We don’t know whether the virus causing COVID-19 will have a similar characteristic.

We know that scientists from a number of countries have been working on so-called “gain of function” experiments with viruses. These very risky experiments are aimed at making viruses either more virulent, or more transmissible, or both. In fact, experiments were going on in Wuhan, in two different laboratories, with viruses that seem to be not too different from the virus causing COVID-19.

We don’t know for certain whether there was an accident that caused the release of one of these gain of function viruses in Wuhan. We do know, however, that China has been doing a lot of cover-up activity to deter others from finding out what actually happened in Wuhan.

We also know that Dr. Fauci, a well-known COVID-19 advisor, had his hand in this Chinese research activity. Fauci’s organization, the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, provided partial funding for the gain of function experiments on bat coronaviruses in Wuhan. While the intent of the experiments seems to have been for the good of mankind, it would seem that Dr. Fauci’s judgment erred in the direction of allowing too much risk for the world’s population.

[7] We are probably kidding ourselves about ever being able to contain the virus that causes COVID-19. 

We are gradually learning that the virus causing COVID-19 is easily spread, even by people who do not show any symptoms of the disease. The virus can spread long distances through the air. Tests to see if people are ill tend to produce a lot of false negatives; because of this, it is close to impossible to know whether a particular person has the illness or not.

China is finding that it cannot really contain the virus that causes COVID-19. A recent South China Morning Post article indicates that roughly 14 million people are to be tested in the Wuhan area in the next ten days to try to control a new outbreak of the virus.

It is becoming clear, as well, that even within China, the lockdowns have had a very negative impact on the economy. The Wall Street Journal reports, China Economic Data Indicate V-Shaped Recovery Is Unlikely. Supply chains were broken; wholesale commodity prices (excluding food) have tended to fall. Joblessness is increasingly a problem.

[8] If we look at deaths per million by country, it is difficult to see that lockdowns are very helpful in reducing the spread of disease. Masks seem to be more beneficial.

If we compare death rates for mask-wearing East Asian countries to death rates elsewhere, we see that death rates in mask-wearing East Asian countries are dramatically lower.

Figure 2. Death rates per million population of selected countries with long-term exposure to the virus causing COVID-19, based on Johns Hopkins death data as of May 11, 2020.

Looking at the chart, a person almost wonders whether lockdowns are a response to requests from citizens to “do something” in response to an already evident surge in cases. The countries known for their severe lockdowns are at the top of the chart, not the bottom.

In fact, a preprint academic paper by Thomas Meunier is titled, “Full lockdown policies in Western Europe countries have no evident impacts on the COVID-19 epidemic.” The abstract says, “Comparing the trajectory of the epidemic before and after the lockdown, we find no evidence of any discontinuity in the growth rate, doubling time, or reproduction number trends.  .  . We also show that neighboring countries applying less restrictive social distancing measures (as opposed to police-enforced home containment) experience a very similar time evolution of the epidemic.”

It appears to me that lockdowns have been popular with governments around the world for a whole host of reasons that have little to do with the spread of COVID-19:

  • Lockdowns give an excuse for closing borders to visitors and goods from outside. This was a direction in which many countries were already headed, in an attempt to raise the wages of local workers.
  • Lockdowns can be used to hide the fact that factories need to be closed because of breaks in supply lines elsewhere in the world.
  • Many countries have been faced with governmental protests because of low wages compared to the prices of basic services. Lockdowns tend to keep protesters inside.
  • Lockdowns give the appearance of protecting the elderly. Since there are many elderly voters, politicians need to court these voters.

[9] A person wonders whether Dr. Fauci and members of the World Health Organization are influenced by the wishes of vaccine and big pharmaceutical companies.

The recommendation to try to “flatten the curve” is, in part, an attempt to give vaccine and pharmaceutical makers more time to work on their products. Is this really the best recommendation? Perhaps I am being overly suspicious, but we recently have been dealing with an opioid epidemic which was encouraged by manufacturers of Oxycontin and other opioids. We don’t need another similar experience, this time sponsored by vaccine and other pharmaceutical makers.

The temptation of researchers is to choose solutions that would be best from the point of their own business interests. If a researcher gets much of his funding from vaccine and big pharmaceutical interests, the temptation will be to “push” solutions that are beneficial to these interests. In some cases, researchers are able to patent approaches, even when the research is paid for by governmental grants. In this case they can directly benefit from a new vaccine or drug.

When potential solutions are discussed by Dr. Fauci and the World Health Organization, no one brings up improving people’s immunity so that they can better fight off the novel coronavirus. Few bring up masks. Instead, we keep being warned about “opening up too soon.” In a way, this sounds like, “Please leave us lots of customers who might be willing to pay a high price for our vaccine.”

[10] One way the combination of (a) the activity of the virus and (b) our responses to the virus may play out is as a slow-motion, controlled demolition of the world economy. 

I think of what we are experiencing as being somewhat similar to a toggle bolt going around and around, moving down a screw. As the toggle bolt moves around, I picture it as being similar to the virus and our responses to the viruses hitting different parts of the world economy.

Figure 3. Image of how the author sees COVID-19 as being able to hit the economy multiple times, in multiple ways, as its impact keeps impacting different parts of the world.

If we look back, the virus and reactions to the virus first hit China. China’s recovery is moving slowly, in part because of reduced demand from outside of China now that the virus is hitting other parts of the world. In fact, additional layoffs occurred after Chinese shutdowns ended, because it then became clear that some employers needed to permanently scale back operations to meet the new lower demand for their product.

Commodity prices, including oil prices, are now depressed because of low demand around the world. These low prices can be expected to gradually lead to closures of wells and mines extracting these commodities. Processing centers will also close, making these commodities less available even if demand temporarily rises.

As one country is hit by illnesses and/or shutdowns, we can expect supply lines for manufacturing around the world to be disrupted. This will lead to yet more business closures, some of them permanent. Debt defaults tend to happen as businesses close and layoffs occur.

With all of the layoffs, governments will find that their tax collections are lower. The resulting governmental funding issues can be expected to lead to new rounds of layoffs.

Natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, earthquakes and forest fires can be expected to continue to happen. Social distancing requirements, inadequate tax revenue and broken supply lines will make mitigation of all of these disasters more difficult. Electrical lines that fall down may stay down permanently; bridges that are damaged may never be repaired.

Initially, rich countries can be expected to try to help as many laid-off workers as possible with loans and temporary stipends. But, after a few months, even with this approach, many individual citizens and businesses will likely not be able to pay their rent. Default rates on home mortgages and auto loans can be expected to rise for a similar reason.

We can expect to see round after round of business failures and layoffs of employees. Financial systems will become more and more stressed. Pensions are likely to default. Death rates will rise, in part from epidemics of various kinds and in part from growing problems with starvation. In fact, in some poor countries, lower-income citizens are already having difficulty being able to afford adequate food. Eventually we can expect collapsing governments (similar to the collapse of the central government of the Soviet Union) and overthrown governments.

Longer-term, after this demolition ends, there may be some surviving pieces of economies. These new economies will be much smaller and less dependent upon each other, however. Currencies are likely to be less interchangeable. The remaining people will need to learn to make do with many fewer goods than are available today. It will be a very different world.

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.
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3,868 Responses to Understanding Our Pandemic – Economy Predicament

  1. frankly step-by-step says:

    Christian Drosten speaks polished. Every word sits. No uh, no hesitation.
    Undoubtedly: he has charisma. But he pretends that none of this concerns him. He claims to be a scientist. Not a politician.
    Nevertheless, a German newspaper recently opened the headline as to whether Drosten could be Chancellor.
    But its popularity is declining recently.


    • Duncan Idaho says:

      TWiV 601: Das coronavirus with Christian Drosten
      Interesting, but a background in virology is needed.

      • frankly step-by-step says:

        Interesting, but a background in virology is needed.
        No. That’s the strange thing about Drosten’s success. Every day he reached hundreds of thousands of people with the initially daily podcast who have no medical or virological training. Has brought them statistics, methods of virology and the reasons for the medical procedure in his inimitable way. Daily between 30-40 minutes.
        People felt and feel taken seriously by him (I felt the same way) because the next day he answered questions from the audience. It distinguishes him and makes him unique.
        The questions for him were, of course, selected by the editors of the NDR (one of the multi-channel association called ARD, the public service broadcaster in Germany).
        A lot of critical things about his approach were probably not allowed on the table.
        I would like to know how he would comment on Andreas Kalcker’s video, which was linked here before.


  2. frankly step-by-step says:

    But his popularity is declining recently.

  3. frankly step-by-step says:

    One of the best interviews I’ve read on current affairs in recent months.
    The interviewee is a professor of psychology at the University of Kiel in northern Germany.
    Very clear-sighted. Very critical.
    It is worth using the google translator.


    • Democracy needs to be understood as a high-energy from of government. As energy supplies diminish, it becomes less and less possible, unfortunately. A king or dictator ruling over all requires much energy. Think about the energy required for the election and the meetings to decide what laws should be passed. Also, the time taken from other (more productive) work to handle campaigning and the meetings of the organization. In modern democracies, there are whole support staffs as well.

      • frankly step-by-step says:

        If I understand you correctly, you assume that as a result of the lack of energy, all current political and possibly and most social structures will break.
        What is left then? Just a few small, manageable groups that are struggling to survive?

        • No form of civilisation can function beyond the level of surplus energy available to it. Civilisations live to the maximum that energy availability allows

          those laws are immutable and apply universally

          it explains why the world’s first great civilsations arose around the tropical/sub tropical equatorial circle—(check it out) lots of sunshine=cheap food=cheap surplus energy

          they also explain why the great ‘northern’ powers didn’t come into full function until the industrial revolution replaced ‘free’ sun heat.

          remove fossil fuels, and we revert to a pre 1700s economic system

          • The center of the economy again moves to reasonably warm, wet areas, to the extent that it exists at all.

          • frankly step-by-step says:

            “Remove fossil fuels, and we revert to a pre 1700s economic system”

            Which might not be the worst.
            Back then, like us, people certainly enjoyed living. Well, they had a life that was different, very different from ours today. Was it a lousy life?

            And thank you for your post.
            Helped me understand why I was irritated by Gail’s post and thought I had to ask.
            How is she supposed to know that I have been a silent reader of her blog for years and that the topic of the finite world and the declining energy was already familiar to me before.
            For a long time I was only concerned with the question of how very personally and practically to deal with the situation of the future lack of energy. I have my answers.
            Now I’m going outside. I have ideas for the big picture. Ideas that still have to pass OFW.
            I think it will be exciting.

            • there’s always more lurkers than posters in here—but we know where you live

              as to pre 1700s economic system, it supported only one seventh of our current population.

              yes it was a lousy life unless you happened to be an aristo, and even then you were open to diseases almost as much as the lower orders. (who came after you with pitchforks every so often.) —check Minneapolis right now.

              the difference then was that they didn’t know diseases could be cured so they accepted them

              now we do know cures are possible, but without ff energy they will not be available

              There is a prevailing fantasy that we will somehow ‘revert’ to a pre 1700s period, with the comforts we enjoy now. It just doesn’t work like that.

              Here in uk, people love living in 18th c houses, but only with modern amenities–heating lighting plumbing and a decent roof. and usually 3 houses knocked into one—-those things are supplied courtesy of 21st c economics

              I clearly remember my grandfather’s cottage, which hadn’t changed since it was built in 1830—an awful place, looking back. That cottage was knocked into the one next door to make something of a decent size and is now a desirable residence

          • frankly step-by-step says:

            to Norman Pagett

            “…- but we know where you live”
            Ha-ha, my decision. Amazon and google know it anyway and probably also the NSA.

            “Yes it was a lousy live …”
            This is a first world view. I’m not sure if a 3rd world slum dweller sees it the same way.

            “Here in uk people love living …”
            Then why the trend towards tiny houses? Not that I wanted one.

            • Matthew Krajcik says:

              ““Here in uk people love living …”
              Then why the trend towards tiny houses? Not that I wanted one.”

              Poverty. If people could afford much bigger houses, they would. Or for those who can, maybe they think their green virtue will save them from the wrath of the mobs.

            • frankly step-by-step says:

              It may have been about a year ago when I got the opportunity to speak to a still young architect who designs tiny houses for Third World residents. The idea that less is more connected us directly.
              So he told me about his fellow campaigners, whose project wanted to enable people there to buy such a house.
              They are humanists – in the best sense of the word – people who want to improve the world. And I took the humanist and world improver from him. Also that he has no particular financial interest in it.
              He also had planned to build a rolling tiny house for himself in the next few months.
              So much for that all people always strive to want more and more.
              As I found out in the conversation, it is neither his image of man, and I add, nor is it mine.
              And he didn’t seem to be afraid of other people, in the sense of having to protect himself from them.
              Flat-rate judgments are simple, but usually do not do justice to reality.

            • here in uk 000s of people live in rolling tiny houses, they call them caravans

              they are famous for the way they keep them—shiny, spotless inside and out, they really a sight to behold for pride of ownership and care

              then they roll on and leave behind all the crap that the rest of us have to pay to clear up. If we dared to pile all that stuff up outside our ordinary houses, the neighbours would form a lynch mob.

              As for the other ‘tiny house’ minority, I don’t doubt they mean well, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that they are merely a very short term ‘fix’ of some kind. It’s not possible to live in a space 6ft x 12 ft without leaving dross outside. You can’t spend a lifetime in a tiny house sleeping with your feet in the sink and your head in the toilet unless you’re a mass murderer.

            • frankly step-by-step says:

              In Germany, there was a children’s program on TV: dandelions. The moderator Peter Lustig.


              Translation of the subtitle:
              Visiting Peter Lustig

              The original construction trailer from the cult series awakens childhood dreams and memories.

              Dungarees, nickel glasses and a melody that you can’t get out of your head anytime soon. This is dandelion. The program ran for 25 years, in which Peter Lustig explained the world to millions of children.

              With us you can admire the historic original vehicle with a staircase, roof terrace and bathtub in the middle of our weed garden.

              In addition, a three-minute clip of the program to get an insight.

              To the motorhomes and caravans:
              I see them every day. They are often in my way (sightseeing).
              Some are now so large that you need a truck driver’s license, so they are no longer tiny houses.
              The presence of most of them will, I assume we agree, resolve itself in the wake of the lack of energy.

              I would also like to write something about avoiding rubbish and dross. But that would now go beyond the scope. More on that on occasion.

            • Matthew Krajcik says:

              I wonder what the energy needed to run this rolling micro home would be? How much energy to move it around, and how much to heat or cool it? I am sure this dissipates a lot more energy than having a conventional cottage fixed to a piece of land. If he travels frequently by air to help this people in third world countries make their houses, how much more does he consume? You see, size alone does not reflect the amount of energy wealth.

        • cassandraclub says:

          Read The five stages of collapse by Dmitry Orlov
          “Stage 3: Political collapse. Faith that “the government will take care of you” is lost”
          The first stages of collapse may occur sooner or later, the order is not set in stone.
          You can view the election of Trump and the yellow vests in France as a partial collapse of the political system.

          • The election of Trump was clearly a sign that many people felt a major change was needed. This has been very upsetting for the group that assumes that BAU can continue forever. All we need is a few more wind turbines and solar panels, and everything will be fine.

            • Matthew Krajcik says:

              What do you think about Tesla using the batteries in electric cars to help stabilize the grid and provide solar power during the night? The new “million mile” solid state batteries are supposed to be a big step forward in life expectancy and capacity. I assume million miles means total life cycle, not single charge. Their autobidder technology is supposed to sell power to the grid when price is high and buy when low to recharge the batteries. Might this finally be the game changer solar needs?

            • Regarding Matthew’s question about whether electric car batteries might stabilize the grid and provide solar power during the night, the answer is “No” for several reasons:

              (1) The number of electric cars with batteries would be tiny, relative to the need for storage.

              (2) The big electricity storage needs are seasonal, not time of day. We need to save electricity from summer to winter. There tends to be huge overproduction on sunny weekends in the spring and fall.

              (3) The wholesale rates paid to electricity producers now are terribly low. They need higher prices, if the grid is to be stabilized. A scheme to “sell electricity to the grid when the price is high and buy when low to recharge the batteries” is counterproductive.

              (4) It is not at all clear that the need for electrical storage would match up well with storage space on workers’ batteries. The overproduction of solar tends to come in the morning. So charging of batteries would need to come while workers are at work, assuming that there are recharging stations at work. The underproduction/high electricity prices tend to come at the end of the day, when workers are arriving home from work. Batteries would already be depleted at that time, from driving home. It is not clear that there would be enough charge in the batteries to provide the electricity needed. Somehow, later that night, the batteries would need to be recharged, so that workers could get to work. Making all of this work is iffy at best.

              (5) The scheme would wear out the batteries of the car owners. They would expect to be compensated for this service.

      • Matthew Krajcik says:

        I think it is the scale, rather than the form, of government that requires such vast energy. Athens had democracy thousands of years ago. The Forbidden City is a massive complex for administering a vast pre-fossil fuel empire.

        • dunno why i have to keep repeating it, but Athens did not have a democracy

          Athens was a slave owning society (their energy source,) and women did not have the vote.
          Only men voted for their own self interest, and set up a ‘government’ in that respect.

          I don’t think China has ever been an egalitarian society.

          The Romans had a vast pre fossil fuel empire, but day to day function could not be faster than the speed of hoof and sail, so much of it was autonomous

          • Matthew Krajcik says:

            So only a perfect democracy is a democracy? If so, show me one.

            • no democracy can be perfect

              but a political system based on slave labour and selective suffrage is in no sense one

            • Matthew Krajcik says:

              I think you may find that, by your definition, there has never been a democracy.

            • Norman Pagett says:

              you may be right on those terms

              but to define a poltical system as democratic when it depends on slave labour most definitely is not democratic in any form

              it may also be that democratic systems are unworkable anyway. They have only been in existence for less than a century..

              before that autocracies were ‘normality’

      • Lidia17 says:

        Gail, I think there will be bigger social shifts involved. We’ve seen a sort of tyranny of the marginalized lately, in the US and in Europe, which has only been possible due to FF surplus. Some of that marginalization is because of actual defects. There simply won’t be the possibility for a complex society to be run by people with low IQ, or by anyone needing safe spaces, hormones, pronoun police, psych. meds, and so forth. Extinction notwithstanding, it will be touch-and-go whether we might maintain some form of viable society *without* all that stuff, much less with it.

        One commenter I came across said not to bother to challenge pro-lock-downers: “their fear is their virtue.” You cannot ever “win” by taking away that “virtue”, but a society in which fear has become a virtue cannot survive no matter what.

        Kings and dictators still need a lot less energy than democracies.. though we might see a regression to a lot of tiny kingdoms (Brunei, Lichtenstein, San Marino ?). Those might persist at least conceptually for a bit longer than other political structures.

        I don’t believe tribal societies are truly egalitarian: they seem to implement forms of royalty/big men (the former term is probably just a modern euphemism for the latter). Whether a prominent local warlord or “big man” gets the name of “king” may be only a matter of whether he can aggregate more symbiotic cronies and sycophants than potential rivals, whether he can out-compete rivals for wives in order to out-procreate them, whether he can command enough resources to have a gold crown crafted, paintings painted, and statues sculpted.. etc.

        Hey! The Latin Kings are all kings.. (and queens)!

        • Xabier says:

          Celtic and German tribes by the time of Julius Caesar had often grown to some 50-100,000 people -hence a huge threat to Rome when they got in the move – and were strictly hierarchical. That didn’t exclude consultation, though.

          Even in the simplest farming communities there are usually hierarchies,and for a good reason – hierarchies help to get things done.

        • Ed says:

          Lindia, The Latin Kings and Queens look out for the community. Do you think a small Vermont town will be able to look out for the interests of the community in the coming low energy world?

      • Tim Groves says:

        More available energy doesn’t necessarily correlate with more democracy or with warmer, sunnier weather. Here are three examples taken from Wikipedia.

        Tynwald, on the Isle of Man, claims to be one of the oldest continuous parliaments in the world, with roots back to the late 9th or 10th century.

        The Althing, the parliament of the Icelandic Commonwealth, founded in 930. It consisted of the 39, later 55, goðar; each owner of a goðarð; and each hereditary goði kept a tight hold on his membership, which could in principle be lent or sold. Thus, for example, when Burnt Njal’s stepson wanted to enter it, Njal had to persuade the Althing to enlarge itself so a seat would become available. But as each independent farmer in the country could choose what goði represented him, the system could be claimed as an early form of democracy. The Alþing has run nearly continuously to the present day. The Althing was preceded by less elaborate “things” (assemblies) all over Northern Europe.

        The Thing of all Swedes, which took place annually at Uppsala at the end of February or in early March. As in Iceland, the lawspeaker presided over the assemblies, but the Swedish king functioned as a judge. A famous incident took place circa 1018, when King Olof Skötkonung wanted to pursue the war against Norway against the will of the people. Þorgnýr the Lawspeaker reminded the king in a long speech that the power resided with the Swedish people and not with the king. When the king heard the din of swords beating the shields in support of Þorgnýr’s speech, he gave in. Adam of Bremen wrote that the people used to obey the king only when they thought his suggestions seemed better, although in war his power was absolute.

        • Lidia17 says:

          “Adam of Bremen wrote that the people used to obey the king only when they thought his suggestions seemed better, although in war his power was absolute.”

          I like that idea or governance as well as, if not better than, any other.. To hold assemblies has a cost, though, and northern societies had to know how to harbor resources (surplus energy) over long winters. It’s not just a matter of having the surplus energy lying around, but also of reserving and marshalling it, I think.

          No matter where you are on earth, if you don’t hold back enough communal resources in reserve to host a regional conclave, you won’t host one.

          • Xabier says:

            There was also a Dark Age law in either Denmark or Norway which only permitted the kings to wage full-scale war every 8 yrs (subject to consultation): a wise way to avert bleeding the tribes dry of warriors through endless fighting – losses in war were very high, maybe over 30% in serious campaigns.

            At the same time, I suppose that a war every 8 years or so would help keep population down, and keep one’s neighbours in their place, too.

            Older warriors were perhaps less likely to survive fighting, being a bit slower and stiffer, so that would have been another beneficial effect, shedding them in a decent way before they became a burden and opening up opportunities for the young.

            And again, every 8 yrs an influx of gold, silver, cattle, slaves, and above all nubile females for genetic renewal.

            Pretty smart, on the whole.

        • If you have a small enough group, travel isn’t such a huge cost item.

          I suspect that these early democracies did not have a pension programs for the elderly, an unemployment program for those who couldn’t find work, universities, public libraries, and regulation to try to ensure that food met certain standards. It is the additional programs, and the people who need to be hired, that make them expensive.

    • Covidinamonthorayearoradecade says:

      “… emancipation movements etc etc etc…”

      he concludes:

      “So it will probably have to get worse before there is reasonable hope that it can get better. But maybe that’s too pessimistic, because of course everything ultimately depends on our will and our determination – because if we really wanted, we could too.”

      if we really wanted to free ourselves from The Power, we could do it! (which is a gross misunderstanding of human nature)…

      he’s a professor at a large university because of the abundance of net (surplus) energy made available by many capitalists…

      he has no clue how this power issue will get worse as net (surplus) energy declines…

      and perhaps he never will…

      • Lidia17 says:

        Yes, there is a huge human energy sink in these circumstances. Maybe Marco Bruciati will be reminded of the common Italian phrase, with its vague Pol-Pot overtones, to scorn such individuals: “braccia rubata all’agricoltura”—”manpower stolen from agriculture”.

  4. Sven Røgeberg says:

    Interesting article from Peter Turchin from 2016.
    «Increasing inequality leads not only to the growth of top fortunes; it also results in greater numbers of wealth-holders. The “1 percent” becomes “2 percent.” Or even more. … from 1983 to 2010 the number of American households worth at least $10 million grew to 350,000 from 66,000. Rich Americans tend to be more politically active than the rest of the population. … In technical terms, such a situation is known as “elite overproduction.” … Elite overproduction generally leads to more intra-elite competition that gradually undermines the spirit of cooperation, which is followed by ideological polarization and fragmentation of the political class. This happens because the more contenders there are, the more of them end up on the losing side. A large class of disgruntled elite-wannabes, often well-educated and highly capable, has been denied access to elite positions.»

    • Dr. Fauci and Bill Gates are clearly in elite positions. Lots of others as well. Donald Trump and some of his staff. Many physicians with very high annual incomes.

      With very low interest rates, the value of paper assets tends to grow far too high, relative to their value to society. The very rich tend to be disproportionate owners of paper assets.

      • Dan says:

        I watch and read a lot of economic blogs and a lot of them are titled ECONMIC DESTRUCTION!! Capitalism failing etc… and they talk about the failing economic system and then on an aside they start talking about investing in real estate! So the disconnect is all around not just with the elites. George Gammon is a prime example of that; yes you may move up to first class but you are still on a sinking ship..

    • Stevie says:

      The recent college admissions scandal is a fine example of said intra-elite competition from elite overproduction. This seems to have infected much of the upper middle class also, given their increasing obsession with getting their kids into a top college.

  5. Covidinamonthorayearoradecade says:


    “Back in the game’: SpaceX ship blasts off with 2 astronauts”

    “… NASA outsourced the job of designing and building its next generation of spaceships to SpaceX and Boeing, awarding them $7 billion in contracts in a public-private partnership aimed at driving down costs and spurring innovation. Boeing’s spaceship, the Starliner capsule, is not expected to fly astronauts until early 2021.”

    $7 billion = 2 astronauts… okay, whatever…

    “NASA’s Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken rode skyward aboard a white-and-black, bullet-shaped Dragon capsule on top of a Falcon 9 rocket, lifting off at 3:22 p.m. from the same launch pad used to send Apollo crews to the moon a half-century ago.”

    oh, look:

    “… from the same launch pad used to send Apollo crews to the moon a half-century ago.”

    • beidawei says:

      It’s all lies! Stanley Kubrick directed the original launches, and now these new ones are being directed by Michael Bay. Watch for his signature lens flare!

    • Matthew Krajcik says:

      Saturn V cost per launch in 2019 USD: $1.23 Billion
      Falcon 9 cost per launch in 2019 USD: $57 million
      Less than 1/20th the cost per launch with the new SpaceX rockets. Pretty significant improvement in economics. Looks like only 1/6th the payload capacity, though. I guess lighter loads is part of the innovation.

      • Covidinamonthorayearoradecade says:

        I calculate the Falcon 9 cost per launch at $7 billion each…

        where is my math off?

        • Matthew Krajcik says:

          It looks like its not your math, but your reading comprehension that’s off.

          The $7 Billion is the government funding for development costs for SpaceX and Boeing who are each developing their own manned spacecraft. SpaceX Falcon 9 costs $62 million for a new launch in 2020, or ~$50 million for a reused rocket: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falcon_9

  6. Malcopian says:

    These current protests in the USA remind me of the Rodney King riots in 1992. However, I did read (because I didn’t remember) that those back in 1992 were confined to LA only. The current ones are not. They are probably the US variation on the Yellow Vests of France.

    • Kim says:

      It is hard to see the parallel with the Yellow Vests, which were non-racial, focused largely on economic issues, involved very little protester violence, were heavily policed (rubber bullets and eyes lost) and fiercely opposed by governments with very few concessions made and no sympathetic mass media, including a strict under-reporting of the protests to the point of an apparent global media ban.

      Contrast what we are seeing in the Unites States:

      1. Explicitly race-based

      2. No clear-stated issues. Police violence can’t be the true reason because statistics make clear that many more whites than blacks die from police violence each year.

      3. Massive protester violence (including deaths as rioters kill each other) and property damage

      4. Little to (in some places) no policing of rioters

      5. Goverrnment and offcial political encouragement. Governments calling off the police, the involvement of government agents provocateurs (FBI and Antifa) shown on video breaking shop and office windows to encourage more destruction and to ensure enough oxygen for fires that are lit, delivery of pallets of bricks to rioters, and so on. Bail and fines paid for by political groups such as the Biden campaign. Masintream media concealment ofthese easily-demnstrated facts.

      This massive national perfomance is 100% a show that has been long-planned, approved and mounted by the powers-that-be and their agencies. Purpose? Removing Trump may be the goal. National hysteria by itself? A continuation and extension of the fracturing and weakening of the social strength of the USA? In any case, it is just one more in a long line of shows that tptb have used their media to put on since 2016: Russiagate, the Kavanaugh smears, the Covington kid smears, the Wuhan Flu hysteria and hoax, and now these riots – and note that riots are very rarely spontaneous. Humans don’t work like this. These riots have been instigated by trained provocateurs.

      These riots are not at all like the Yellow Vests.

      • Lidia17 says:

        This is an interesting article, from a South-Korean journalist via CNN:
        The LA riots were a rude awakening for Korean-Americans
        “The nearly weeklong, widespread rioting killed more than 50 people, injured more than 1,000 people and caused approximately $1 billion in damage, about half of which was sustained by Korean-owned businesses. Long-simmering cultural clashes between immigrant Korean business owners and predominately African-American customers spilled over with the acquittals.”

        Yet the orange-man-bad article then states, “Latinos, African-Americans and Korean-Americans have “a lot more in common than differences,” Ahn said. “In the midst of this Washington chaos and uncertainty, I see an opportunity to coalition build and really improve the district.”

      • Ed says:

        Yes, it is just campaigning for the Democratic candidate in November organized by the Chinese and their bought politicians the democrats.

  7. CTG says:

    When I talk about riots, I do not bother about ethnicity. It is totally irrelevant from the perspective of biology.and anthropology.

    Diversity is mother nature’s way to ensure resilience of species surviving on the vastly different different geology and climate. Birds of the tropics cannot be the same as the birds of the temperate climate and vice versa. This balance has been in placed for millions of years until the last 30 years where homo sapiens decide to play God, a role which is totally unsuited for this species.

    Because fossil fuel took away the heavy burden of “working for food”, people have idle minds and began to think about equal rights for all. That is not nature intended. As an analogy, homo sapiens brings the Indian Sun Bear for north to the Alaskan Peninsular and began to proclaim that the Indian Sun Bear should be treated equal to the Polar Bear and Grizzly Bear. They are still bears of course. Will the Indian Sun Bear out compete the other more suited bears? Even if there is assistance from fossil fuel, Indian Sun Bears are not biologically and anthropologically suited for that kind of climate. Indian Sun Bear has access to plenty of food in the tropics and take its time to wander around and just pluck what they need from the tree or suck the honey from the hives. This is not the life style of the Polar Bear of Grizzly Bear, where are harsh winter will bring starvation. Indian Sun Bear does not even bother with starvation, only worried about Cobra or Tigers.

    Nature never intend to let Indian Sun Bear to live in the temperate climate. If she does, it will not be called the Indian Sun Bear but Grizzly Bear.

    As the top predator of the food chain, homo sapiens must have a way to control population, like what the tigers and lions do. They will fight till death for mates. Over population lead to starvation, survival of the fittest are some of the key things that happen so that the population is in harmony with the environment. Homo sapiens are adapt at doing that. Killing each other, famines. disease and war are all part of this anthropological culture of homo sapiens. If one tribe does not like the black shorty tribe of the next village, they will just go over, kill all of them and took away the women and children as slaves. All these came to an end when we harness trees, coal and then oil as our external energies and labelled all the actions as “cruel and barbaric” even though it has been like this for millennia and will continue this way if not for the discovery of fossil fuel.

    Are we smart to defy what mother nature wanted us to do? Definately not. That is why I say we are not smarter than yeast.

    Political correctness is the manifestation of sedentary lifestyle and the use of fossil fuel. The use of fossil fuel freed our minds and made it the devil’s workshop. The mind came out with stupid ideas like equality. How come we never stop the lions and tigers from eating gazelles? It is so cruel and barbaric for us to kill chickens and eat them. They have the rights too, you know?

    Political correctness and “equal rights” for all has gone from “in the background late 1990s to the forefront of everything in 2020. In just 20 years, equality and diversity has taken over so much and make it so prominent that it will make mother nature so sad.

    100 years ago or 200 years ago, life was hard. Very hard as you can die from disease and starvation. War was present but not so common. Quality of life was not good but “quality mental life” was much superior than today. You don’t have to worry of “offending people of colour” (what nonsense is this word “people of colour”. There is no such thing as litigation. You don’t have to worry about politicians promising you something and never deliver. You don’t have to worry about what will happen to the stock markets, retirement plans, political correctness, etc. Life is short, hard, tough but mentally more pleasant. When people enjoy their idle time, they really do enjoy it thoroughly. When darkness falls, everyone goes to bed and when dawn comes, everyone wakes up. No alarm clocks, no artificial lights, no constant news, no BS political correctness, etc.

    Mother nature wins. All the time. Don’t play God.

    • Slow Paul says:

      I really enjoy your writing CTG. They didn’t have to worry about paying the mortgage, car troubles, making sales quotas or saving for pensions back then. Though I’m sure they had their share of troubles to worry about 200 years ago as well. They probably dreamed of an age where they would sit in a comfortable chair all day and get food delivered on their doorstep!

      We are lucky to have lived in this age of surplus, so we know that there is no salvation in filling our bellies and lounging in chairs. Either we suffer physically or we suffer mentally. Some solace can be found in understanding why we feel and behave the way we do.

  8. Kim says:

    On twitter you can find the undercover cop breaking windows with a hammer in Minneapolis and being confronted over it. The dummy is wearing a police-issue breathing apparatus and is identified on Twitter by his ex-wife. The police of course deny it is him but if you look at the pics it is undeniably him, clear as can be.

    If the link is no good, you can get to it through Andrew Anglin’s site.


    • Kim says:

      The black umbrella he is carrying is a nice touch. Is it supposed to be alink the the Umbrella prtests in Hong Kong? The color revolutions are notorious for repeating what has worked in their previous shows.

      Also bear in mind that the Hong Kong police and Chinese agents provocateurs were also discovered breaking windows and lighting fires in Hong Kong.

      The beauty of a lot of this stuff is that it is counter-intuitive. Why do the authorities want to make things worse? The average person finds it hard to explain. Why destroy? Why say one thing and do another?

      First, because you have to smash things apart before you can rebuild them. Second because, as the bolsheviks say, “Worse is better”. Make it worse so that people demand change. Third, because people living in fear and confusion will always seek securiy. We are being conditioned. This is what is always being done to us. Constant conditioning to make us fearful, anxious, obedient, infantile, confused, and suggestible.

  9. Tim Groves says:

    You gotta hand it to the people of Minneapolis. They really know how to end a lockdown in style.

  10. Hide-away says:

    While wealth concentration, Covid, lockdowns, unemployment, inequality and riots destroy the USA, the stockmarket goes up. It is looking a lot like Nero fiddling while Rome burned.
    Funny how history doesn’t quite repeat, but it does rhyme.

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