Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Now Hear This: You Are Evicted From Eden

Homo Economicus is being thrown out of Monetary Eden, a place of previously lush and lazy living on the cheap.  Notice of eviction has been posted at 28o44'N 88o23'W (see below).

Deepwater Horizon Burning In The Gulf Of Mexico

What does money have to do with deepwater-rig oil spills, you may ask?  Pretty simple, really: fiat money debt relies on Permagrowth to keep the game going, i.e. to provide the near-religious belief that debt is currently serviceable and always repayable in the future.  Take Permagrowth away and it all falls apart - unless we manage to give our financial/monetary regime a radical makeover before it's too late.

The fact that we have gone so far as to drill for petroleum (Permagrowth's  fuel of choice) in places and ways that guarantee ecological disasters is proof enough that Permagrowth is unsustainable.  The same can be said for most other resources, from clean water to basic foodstuffs.

From an engineer's point of view, BP (and most other oil and gas companies) routinely drill for oil in such inhospitable locations, obviously without first guaranteeing the quick resolution of serious emergencies.  Is it because they are criminally negligent?  No, I honestly don't think so - they aren't that stupid. 

The simple answer is they can't.  Scarcity of low-hanging-fruit resources means that producers competing for whatever remains MUST cut corners, if they are to bring their products to market at a marginal price that is affordable to an already over-burdened/over-indebted consumer.  Let me put it another way:  all other things equal, what should be the price of fossil fuels if we were to adequately price in spills?  Or  climate change?  Or geopolitical risk? Or lives lost to "police actions"? Or outright wars?

Bottom line: Our fearless leaders have been injecting trillions of fresh debt into the system to prevent it from collapsing from... too much debt.  But the only way to service this debt in perpetuity (once created, all fiat debt is perpetual unless it gets written-off/defaulted) is through Permagrowth.  It's like a dog chasing his tail that keeps getting shorter and shorter.

Well, the Louisiana disaster is another reminder that Permagrowth is over and our days in Monetary Heaven are numbered.

(There is a parallel here with the securitization and derivativization of toxic debt: loan originators had to drill very deep into the pool of potential borrowers to come up with "raw material" to manufacture CDOs, CLOs and other such "products".  What they came up with stank to high heaven, of course, and since they couldn't afford to adequately guarantee their products it wasn't long before the whole thing collapsed.)


  1. I have left a few comments on naked capitalism to the effect that..(and I'm sure that Thai will appreciate...) :
    it all hangs together in a civilization.
    When you look at... the little, everyday things, and behavior of Joe Blow, you can extrapolate right to the top, to see the IDEAS behind Joe Blow's behavior and his beliefs, too, while we're at it.
    Permagrowth is rooted in the belief in... PROGRESS. Unlimited, world without end progress.
    Linear, and non cyclic time, culminating in.. perfection ? Paradise ? Who knows...
    Our ancestors (who did NOT believe in progress, by the way, and had even developed that cute little tactic called original sin to keep hubris under control...) organized time around repetitious cycles, a practice that managed to keep them connected to the earth and ITS cycles, like.. day and night, the seasons, the lunar calendar, for example.
    And some of them organized their economics to take that into account. Like... in Jewish society, Shabbat, and freeing slaves every seven years. Jubilee, FORGIVING DEBT.... every ? I can't remember (that hole..), but slates were wiped clean.
    As I said elsewhere... the Lord's Prayer says... "forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors"...
    Gotta wipe that slate clean every once in a while, and start anew, or... things keep piling up, right ?
    WE, however... have lost track of what forgiveness (hand in hand with trust, AND GRACE...) means, and WE are PAYING for it.
    There are some pretty good STRUCTURAL and SYMBOLIC reasons that justify the idea of God, the ultimate... forgiver.. We might try remembering that.
    Don't ask me how to say all this in physics language. I have no idea.

  2. "...... Forgiveness is the answer to the child's dream of a miracle by which what is broken is made whole again, what is soiled is made clean again......"

    Dag Hammarskjold

    Best regards,


  3. Na... you have got... the wool pulled over your eyes by Voltaire, Eco.
    Try again.
    Best wishes, Debbie

  4. To everything turn...

    Now is not the time for trust but suspicion and investigation.

    I'm suspicious of Warren Buffet saying that he, his rating agency, and 300 million other Americans did not see the burgeoning housing bubble--bullshit.

    GS thought the MBS crap they were selling out the front door and shorting on the back end was good fiduciary behavior--laughable.

    The Federal Government thought it wise to let the oil companies monitor their own safety compliance--gross negligence.

    When you start with false premises you wind up with toxic conclusions.

    The Deep Water Horizon disaster is the perfect cap to an era of politicians running on the premise that government is incompetent, getting elected and proving it.

    There is a fundamental problem with thinking that people can monitor themselves, that oversight and regulation is needless invasion of privacy.

    Hopefully this disaster will leaven the paranoia of socialism in this country, and show the danger of unbridled capitalism. Gooey toxic sludge killing an ecosystem is so much more tangible and immediate than the financial shenanigans.

  5. Off the ReservationJune 3, 2010 at 2:17 AM

    All we need is a population collapse and everything will be fine. The only question is who gets to volunteer.

  6. @ Tiago and Debra:

    From the previous thread, here is something that might bolster your case:

    Cenk Uygur: Israel Must Release the Full Tapes

    Cenk can speak Turkish, and he says the ship surrendered before the Israelis boarded it. There were reports that the ship was fired upon by the commandos prior to boarding. If that is the case, it certainly changes the facts somewhat.

    I will withhold further judgment until I see the rest of the tapes.

  7. Suspect GS?

    Wait until BP goes bankrupt and goldman sachs takes it over and starts with a brand new oil company with no debt.

  8. OT, but I thought I'd post the following link for Thai and others,

    Monbiot takes on Matt Ridley

    Northern Rocks 'Together Mortgage', which lent 125% LTV was the 'poster boy product' of the UK credit bubble.

  9. PS to above. I like the use of the word 'cornutopians' in the linked article, not heard that one before.

  10. @Okie,

    Let me get one thing clear: I do not have any real interest in the subject per se (I do think it is important, but I just have limited time and I prefer to purse other interests).

    Where I really do have a personal interest is in studying people's bias and perceptions in the presence of of highly emotional and polarizing issues (like this one is).

    Whatever the end result in terms of opinion, I am afraid that it will be ultimately shaped by propaganda machines (though, in this time where cameras, web cameras and such abound, maybe there will be some definitive evidence).

    Note that I am not singling out any of the sides with regards to propaganda. I am pretty sure that both sides will have people engaged in lying (and also people who are intellectually honest).

  11. Newsheader in the reference newspaper of the area:

    "IMF appeals to growth in order to solve Europe's debt"

  12. "all fiat debt is perpetual"- It doesn't have to be, but countries/citizens have to be willing to make hard decisions to service that debt.

    I'll point to Alberta, Canada as the example- the 1990s saw massive cuts to program spending and dedicated debt repayment. It is now the only debt free province in Canada, although it was in deficit this year and had to rely on its rainy-day heritage fund.

  13. "all fiat debt is perpetual"- It doesn't have to be, ...

    Yes it does, unfortunately. I was not referring to any one particular debtor, who may very well get out of debt through repayment, but overall, i.e. the entire stock of money/debt.

    Think of this: where did the money come from to pay down Alberta's debt? It's simply someone else's debt...

  14. This comment has been removed by the author.

  15. Mon, the video cams, the wiretapping, the endless invasion of privacy ANONYMOUS tactics that the government(s) engage in in order to enforce law and order (for business as usual) go to show that we do indeed believe in... oversight and surveillance...
    We believe in it a lot (for certain people, in any case...).
    But I have often said here that when you tell people that man is a selfish animal that is only interested in looking out for number one, and when you hammer away at that... PROPAGANDA (oops, I meant... science) long enough, people will believe it, and then, well, you've got a big social problem on your hands because it's like... kinda expensive to stick a policeman behind EVERY citizen, or write a law for EVERY circumstance, too.
    And WITH THOSE IDEAS, and in that context, I'm not exactly sure how far you're going to go with regulation either, while we're at it. Sure looks good on paper though.. I suppose it allows people to feel like they're doing something, and solving the problem.
    Tiago, I left you comments on your blog, by the way...

  16. This insightful analysis based on economic arguments is far too rational for the public and politicians. BP dares to make money and it's their oil in the sea so they MUST be evil!

  17. Debra:

    "...Try again...." ....???

    We are envied by Satan, Gabriel, all the demons in Hell and all the angels in the Heavens..... Why try again...?



  18. Debra,

    "the video cams, the wiretapping, the endless invasion of privacy ANONYMOUS tactics that the government(s) engage in..." is stupid and counterproductive.

    If you don't discriminate based on analysis of previous behavior and threat level you are libel to get hurt.

    A large oil company, with previous bad behavior for safety compliance, drilling at a one mile depth in a sensitive eco-system, needs more scrutiny than every individual walking past Times Square.

    Corporations are like people (at least our Supreme Court says so), and there are some bad actors out there. If you see behavior that appears to be psychopathic should that individual or corporation deserve a higher level of vigilance?

    This is besides the analysis that should of been done. Should anyone be drilling for oil at these depths with today's technology?

  19. Mon, I agree with your last phrase.
    But... WHY is BP drilling in those waters ?
    Could it have something to do with what we do when we fill up at the pump ? (Or do lots of other things too, by the way...)
    I agree that BP has lots of power, and prestige, and money, etc etc. But BP HAS all of that for a REASON.
    Treat the REASON, and THEN we'll see how much power BP has.
    I believe in treating causes, Mon, and not trying to intervene way down the line with lots of measures that will be really much less effective.
    All the rhetoric about regulation, and oversight is ALSO a smokescreen to divert our consciousness from the realization that we GOTTA kick the oil addiction before it takes us all down. If it isn't already too late...
    Video cam surveillance may be "stupid" (I didn't say that, you did...) but it is certainly being done. And it is having a big effect on us, I think. AND on our civil liberties.

  20. Hi Hell... knowing what a Francophile you are, I have stuck down the lyrics for a nice little tidbit on my and Toby's blog.

  21. Debra,

    The cause? Greed? Ignorance? Psychopathy?

    When you don't give extra scrutiny (oversight) to known psychopaths you will likely get more bad behavior. When you don't give extra scrutiny to corporations with known extraordinary safety violations you will likely get more bad behavior.

    Ignorance? If the people of the US knew the chances of the destruction caused by Deepwater Horizon do you think they would forgo the incremental extra oil injected into the world market?

    Greed? Don't we all have to be on guard about this negative drive? Should we always have counterbalancing incentives to mitigate greed?

    You care to list some of your causes?

  22. Oh and Debra,

    Oil as the cause will likely be with us a very long while. So while it is admirable to strive for alternative resources, the system of oil extraction and burning will be here long-term. Therefore it is prudent to have controls on the system.

  23. Mon ?
    I trained as a shrink in France. I read a lot of stuff to train as a shrink, and I also got practical, clinical experience.
    I question our current categorizations of "mental illness" these days. Any kind of categorization is based on a theory of the human animal, and I DON'T agree with the theory that is behind our current categorizations.
    American thought systems have managed to evacuate any premise of "unconscious" motivation for our behavior. ("Unconscious" motivation is NOT rational, but it is not because it is not rational that you can't understand it, by the way...)
    They appear very.. simplistic and limited to me.
    In SOME areas I like complexity. This is an area where I prefer complexity, for example.
    In short, the "P" word you used is one that I avoid.
    Aren't you being overly.. RATIONAL in the rationale used for watching over BP ?
    If BP REALLY IS what is implied in that P word, then how is oversight going to do much to stop BP ?
    Wouldn't it simply be an inititive for BP (with financial resources probably stripping those of an impoverished and much maligned government branch...) to just keep adding on to that smokescreen to outwit the regulators ?
    I don't see ANYTHING stopping BP, if this is truly the way the "game" works.
    This is the same logic going on in the buildup of security all over the States, and Israël, too while we're at it...
    The only way it can stop is with a paradigm change. And a big attitude change too. MORE AND MORE will not do the trick.

  24. Debra,

    "MORE AND MORE will not do the trick."? And less so with less and less?

    You don't believe in chronic anti-social behavior?
    You never met a person with no ability for empathy? One that is concerned with nothing but their own satisfaction. An individual that will kill for childish rage or compulsion.

    I have, and realize there are others --2-3%--of the population by various estimates. I need no further proof than my own experience and that from the maligned (by you) scientific community.

    Because you don't like categorizations does not deny their existence.

  25. Debra,

    I am with you on going after reasons.


    I do not think that the reasons for our resource predicament ("love" for consumption) will be solved in time. I.e. resource constraints will be upon us very soon.

    Therefore I think it is worthwhile to think on a plan B in addition to plan A. Plan A for me is to convince those around me that are better things in life than consumption and more money. Plan B is to be able to survive on a society of increased scarcity of resources when everybody around craves for more those resources.

    PS (to Debra) - Been reading Jung, I do not know if it is your thing or not. I am particularly interested in his bridging of psych and occult. Seems fun stuff.

  26. All great cultures set a monument to themselves. Pyramides, Great Walls, St. Peter's Dome, etc.
    We have an eternal oil well in the Gulf. Now that's something to be proud off. Well done everybody. I'll take my Escalade out in it s honor. 10 mpg baby!
    God bless.
    /sarcasm off

  27. Simplistic thinking is not going to get us out of this.
    Diagnosing... multinationals and wall street traders with the P word will certainly boost those statistics way beyond the 2-3% of the population that the "scientific" (...) community apparently thinks is the norm. (And.. HOW do you diagnose countries and multinationals with the P word ? I don't understand, somehow. Maybe it looks good on paper, but...)
    Personally.. i don't call that very scientific thinking by the way. Not according to my rather rigorous, (don't laugh) definition of the word "science". Vulgarization has tremendous drawbacks, in addition to its good points.
    In the shrink domain, it allows John Q. Public to believe that he can ponderate a diagnosis just like Sigmund, and throw the vocabulary around too, as he pleases. (And the DSM tool, which looks like a car owner's manual, goes even further in gratifying such wishful thinking...)
    Not many shrinks these days capable of producing diagnoses like Sigmund could, by the way. Could we possibly have... LOST some knowledge along the road of progress ??
    And once we've diagnosed well beyond the 2-3% range, well, what's left to be done ?
    MAYBE start wondering where the "P"'s are coming from ? OOPS, could they be a product of... the neoliberal CREED, for instance ?
    I'm not going to pretend to have good answers to this one. But I AM going to say that we don't have the $$$$ to lock everybody up these days.
    Unless we plan on turning our nations into one big prison system..
    I say... that's no fun.
    Gotta be another way.
    Did you know that at the end of the 60's the federal government was considering a moratorium on all prison construction ?
    Doesn't it make you wonder.. WHAT HAPPENED ??
    On the "maligning the scientific community"...
    There are... OTHER thought systems in the world besides the ones we see reported on in American mainstream media, for instance.
    I think that the "scientific" community comprises individuals all over the planet, and that, at this time, (indeed at any time...) there is NO consensus on the meaning of the word "science". Different... scientists in different countries have different meanings for the word. Thank God...

  28. "Well, the Louisiana disaster is another reminder that Permagrowth is over and our days in Monetary Heaven are numbered.

    The big cash gusher the past 30 years for American middle class has been the Real Estate business which also has died but since it had become a religion the stories of its rebirth continue as data miners post various signals of its fledging return.
    The idea that the RE market will return anytime now and begin anew to pour cash and unlimited appreciation upon those that practice homeownership has a religious flavor. The dead will awaken takes on new meaning in our modern economy no longer limited to just old religious mythology.

  29. It is with a very heavy heart that I wanted to let this community know that our friend Thai passed away this weekend after suffering a sudden severe heart attack. His commentary and insight will be deeply missed.

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  31. Thanks for the link, and the addresses, RKohn.
    I'm in shock. It's unbelievable.
    All I can say is that I'm really going to miss you, Thai...
    Even if we wrangled every once in a while.

  32. Thai's passing is more than a shock to me. Some of you on this board may have realized that Thai and I had become personal friends and talked regularly on the phone as well as e-mailing each other (debating fractals and other issues constantly). I also consulted Thai regarding medical issues and knowledge and he was a great help.

    Perhaps we should prepare some statement for the funeral to be read to those in attendance to express our sympathy for the family and how much he meant to us?

    This is just unbelievable. I don't know quite what to say.

  33. Let me pass on a note from the MEP facebook page:

    The memorial service is being planned for the week of June 14th. Once a date is set I will notify you via email. I would like to compile a list of ‘Thai stories’ to present to the family. I know we all have at least one! Please send your stories to Shahana (, and she will arrange them as a memory of Thai’s life.


  34. OK. I was planning on writing something on Toby's and my blog.
    Maybe somebody could check it, and see if they think it's appropriate for me to send to the family ?
    Thanks in advance.

  35. I've learned a lot interacting with Thai. Many times I was actually waiting for his answer, as one has a lot to learn from intelligent and insightful points view, especially if they are different.

    Sad and speechless.

  36. I have no words now other than to say how sad I am. Please, Okie, if you think it's appropriate and would be appreciated, express my deepest condolences to Thai's family.