The discussions in the comments generate much of the value to the FM site. On occasion especially interesting discussions are lifted from the comments or email to their own post, for example with Michael Totten (here) and Bill Roggio (here and here). Since the comments on this site are more challenging than most, it gives us an opportunity to see well-known experts engage their readers.
Here is a discussion with M. Simon, lifted from the comments posted to “A powerful perspective on the candidates for President of the US“. He posts actively on his blog, Power and Control, and at Classical Values— an influential libertarian weblog discussing politics, current affairs and pop culture (to which the Instapundit frequently links). M. Simon is an engineer, and involved in some cutting edge projects.
This discussion covers a broad range of topics, from peak oil to the future of America. I have added additional supporting explanation and links to my posts, and invited M. Simon to add comments or corrections.
Round #1 of 7, comment #8 in this thread
Where do you folks get such idiocy? And you FM? Are you paying attention? It is official US Policy to end tyranny in the world. Our executive is carrying out that policy: “Coming US Policy: Ending Tyranny in Our World“, M. Simon, posted at Power and Control, 31 July 2005. Personally I like that policy. Good for us. Good for the world. YMMV.
Bush won 2 elections. McCain will win the next. Don’t like it? Then reform the D Party, because the Rs represent the will of the American people. We have a right wing Congress. It is just that some of those on the right have Ds behind their names. Ever hear of Blue Dog Democrats?
Here are a couple of links that explain the basis of the American “Empire”. I’ll give it to you in one word: Trade.
- “Decline and Fall“, M. Simon, posted at Power and Control, 3 January 2007
- “Desolation Row“, M. Simon, posted at Power and Control, 21 December 2006
We conquer any country that interferes with trade and then include them in our trading system. They generally get rich if they apply themselves. Far from being on the decline the American Empire is advancing. Why? We do not believe in mercantile trade but in free trade.
A study of geopolitics here? Infantilism is more like it.
BTW the expansion of self government to the rest of the world represents a significant faction of the American polity since its founding. You may not like that faction but to pretend it isn’t traditional is just nuts. The original proponents were the New England traders and manufacturers.
Fabius Maximus replies
“McCain will win the next.”
— You can predict the future! Don’t tell us about the election; tell us what the markets will do in November.
“We have a right wing Congress.”
— If the polls are correct, in January we will have a left-wing Congress.
“We conquer any country that interferes with trade and then include them in our trading system.”
— You are kidding, right? “Any country”? Russia?
“It is official US Policy to end tyranny in the world.”
This is absurd. You article references “The little-noticed legislation passed the House a week ago today as part of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act.” If go through every piece of paper the US executive and Congress have issued over the past 5 years, you will find we are committed to doing many many things, probably including making the weather nice for everyone, always (or is it Obama who will do that?).
A better example is our National Security Strategy issued September 2002. From the intro:
To achieve these goals, the United States will:
- Champion aspirations for human dignity;
- strengthen alliances to defeat global terrorism and work to prevent attacks against us and our friends;
- work with others to defuse regional conflicts;
- prevent our enemies from threatening us, our allies, and our friends, with weapons of mass destruction;
- ignite a new era of global economic growth through free markets and free trade;
- expand the circle of development by opening societies and building the infrastructure of democracy;
- develop agendas for cooperative action with other main centers of global power;
- and transform America’s national security institutions to meet the challenges and opportunities of the twenty-first century.
How nice! That is, so long as China continues lending us the money to fund these good works — and does not asks us how we plan to repay our debts. This program is insane for a country in our condition, IMO.
All together, let’s chant “imperial overstretch”.
Round #2, comment #9
“Foreign Aid” aka bribes, has been an American tradition since the beginning. We do it when bribery is cheaper than war. Even St. Jefferson believed in bribes.
What has been overriding American policy since WW2? Small wars are cheaper than big ones.
Park American troops where ever there is trouble and keep the peace. It has been in general a very successful policy. The short version: you run your country the way you like (self government preferred) we run the world. Trouble with your neighbors? We can help. Don’t want our help? We will be glad to leave you to your own devices. Don’t cause us trouble.
Bush and McCain are both proponents of that policy. Don’t like it – then get a national discussion going about the wisdom and success of that policy, not a bunch of “it’s not Constitutional” crap.
Honestly, I’m dumber after I visited here than before I came.
Fabius Maximus replies
I am sorry that you are dumber after visiting here. Have you read anything? Your characterizations of my posts bear little resemblence to anything I have written, and often contradict them. Nor do you provide any quotes — or anything — to support them. Nor have you responded in any relevant way to my responses, many of which include supporting links.
“then get a national discussion going about the wisdom and success of that policy.”
Look on the upper right-side meu bar. Each of those links goes to a contents page, each of which has dozens of posts about “the wisdom and success of that policy.” You might start with the section “Military, political, and strategic theory” (49 posts).
This is my attempt, in a small way, to “a national discussion going” about these things. That is the important aspect, not whether my theories are correct or not.
“not a bunch of “it’s not Constitutional” crap”
— To what are you referring? There is nothing in this post about the Consitution.
Note: This has been edited form its original form. The rule here is no personalities. After 7 posts of what are in my opinion inaccurate representations of my views, I posted an intermperate response. This reflects a more appropriate reply.
Round #3, comment #10
There is no energy problem. There is a restraint of trade problem: cartels. You break cartels by bringing more product on to the market. We are 20 to 30 years away (due to technology and logistics issues) from making a serious dent in the necessity for oil. What can America do if Congress and local Democrats get out of the way? Drill, mine, refine.
At this point in time energy is a political problem not a geological one.
Where do you folks get your misinformation? BTW the most misunderstood discipline in war and industry is logistics. You know – arm chair generals study battles, real generals study logistics.
A good place to start is the history of bomber production in WW2. Start at the mines and work your way forward to aircraft. Or ship production – start with coal and steel production and work your way forward to ships. With an all out focus it took us 5 years to get the production up enough to win the war. Normal rates are 10 to 20 years.
Fabius Maximus replies
This is one of the more interesting comments on this site to date, and worth remembering for the future.
“There is no energy problem.”
Links or other references, please, to something (including your own posts) supporting this. There is a large body of evidence that this is not the case. While these experts (including the major energy agencies, the IEA and EIA) might be wrong, I cannot imagine how you can so easily and confidently disregard their work.
“Where do you folks get your misinformation?”
From the major sources of information about energy: major academic studies, IEA, EIA, the major energy consulting firms. Which is easily seen by reading some of my 29 posts about peak oil, or the 16 major studies linked to on the FM “reference page” about peak oil (other resources).
“There is no energy problem. There is a restraint of trade problem: cartels. You break cartels by bringing more product on to the market. We are 20 to 30 years away (due to technology and logistics issues) from making a serious dent in the necessity for oil.”
This raises an important point, discussed in “The three forms of Peak Oil (let’s hope for the benign form“, 23 April 2008: Much analysis of pek oil is a question of time scales. A difficult 20 year adaptation period might rate only a footnote in the history books of 2300 (e.g., at Star Fleet Academy). On the other hand, saying that “of course we will adapt” (as many economists do) is a worse than useless insight for us today. Everything — wars, famines, plagues — works itself out eventually. As John Maynard Keynes wrote in 1923:
“In the long run we are all dead. Economists set themselves too easy, too useless a task if, in tempestuous seasons, they can only tell us that when the storm is long past the ocean is flat again.”
We must think of long-term factors, but we live in the short-term. As the Doe-sponsored Hirsch report(”Mitigations”) showed, the adaptation to peak oil will take at least two decades. We might not have two decades (worse, the peaking process might already have begun). Knowing that things will work out eventually will be cold comfort during years of slow growth, or even a long, deep recession.
Also, we must avoid the “whale oil” fallacy. The necessary technology will not necessarily appear just because we need it. That this happened once in the 19th century does not guarantee anything for us.
Round #4, comment #11
America is a center right country. We will continue to have a right wing Congress. The number of folks with Ds after their name is not an indication of the direction of policy. Look at the direction of Iraq war funding and tell me why Pelosi couldn’t make her policies stick. Clue – she talks big but didn’t have the votes.
Really. You may get individual points correct but your understanding of the big picture is inadequate. Woefully.
Re: Iraq. American optimism on that front is rising. You will note the lag between results on the ground and changes in the electorate runs 6 months to a year.
And yeah. America is in big trouble. Big economic trouble. A depression is now a couple of quarters with growth in the 1% range. Proof positive that we are falling apart. You might want to look at the water crisis in China. Or the mortgage crisis in China and Europe. The worst is behind us. For them the worst is ahead. And what did the worst do to us? Slowed growth to .5% in one quarter. Boo frickin hoo.
Fabius Maximus replies
“The number of folks with Ds after their name is not an indication of the direction of policy.”
Agreed. However, the flushing away of so many moderates in Congress over the past decade means that policial swings might be more extreme than in the past. We will see.
” A depression is now a couple of quarters with growth in the 1% range.”
To what you are referring to in this strange comment? I agree with the minority of economists looking for a severe recession, like 1973-75 or 1980-83 (the rest are more optimistic). Hardly a depression, but which could be painful due to structural changes since then (so many households having minimal liquidity, low savings, high debt, and very high debt payments to income (measured by the Fed’s financial obligations ratio).
“The worst is behind us.”
I very much doubt that, as described in the 3 dozen articles about the end of the post-WWII geopolitical and economic regime.
I esp draw to your attention this: “We have been warned. Death of the post-WWII geopolitical regime“, 28 November 2007 — Links to 25 warnings we have ignored, from individual experts and major financial institutions.
Round #5, comment #12
Yeah. We have past the peak of $20 oil. The world is coming to an end we are doomed. There is enough $100 oil for 100 or 200 years. Minimum.
I get my information from geologists. The industry sources you cite all make their calculations based on price and current technology. The deal is neither price nor technology stands still.
You want to know how much oil we have – talk to geologists and engineers. You want to scare yourself shitless talk to politicians and enviro whack jobs.
Fabius Maximus replies
This is mildly interesting, but would be more so if you would provide some sort of reference other than that you “talk to geologists.” The dialog on this site asks for more than this.
“The world is coming to an end we are doomed.”
This is an odd comment to post here. The second most read FM post (almost 12,000 views) is “Peak Oil Doomsters debunked, end of civilization called off” 8 May 2008. Also, I have been critical of many aspects of the “Peak Oil” community, as seen in this post about The Oil Drum (see “More answers about Peak Oil! (or just better phrased questions)“, 5 November 2007).
Round #6, comment #13
Two trillion barrels of oil shale in America. 1.5X that in tar sands in Canada. The Canadians are producing at around $15 to $20 a bbl. And that doesn’t even count the amount we might have in the continental shelf which is not well explored thanks to Congress.
Yep. Not enough oil. I’m convinced.
Fabius Maximus replies
“Two trillion barrels of oil shale in America. 1.5X that in tar sands in Canada.”
This is almost an urban legend, discussed at this site (and many others) many times. Unconventionals include biofuels, deepsea, polar, Venezula’s heavy oil, Alberta’s bitumen (aka oil sands), America’s kerogen (misleadingly called shale oil), coal-to-liquids, and others.
Unconventional reserves are not easily comparible to conventionals. Gross numbers of barrel-equivalents have little meaning. Numbers on a net BTU basis (net after extraction costs), would be more useful, but still misleading.
Most unconventionals are production-constrained, not reserve-constrained, due to their high capital costs, operating costs, resource requirements (e.g., energy, water) and environmental impacts (each has a different mix of these). Also, they require longer to scale-up than conventional sources. Hence the massive reserves you mention have little relevance.
To consider the two examples you provide:
(1) Bitumen (aka “Oil sands”)
This is mined and extensively processed (requiring major energy input) to become a liquid fuel, in no way comparible to a field like Ghawar. It has taken 20 years to get Alberta’s output to 1 million b/day; their goal for 2020 is 5 million b/day — which might not be feasible due to resource limitations (water, natural gas) and ecological impacts. Neither of these are “political” in any meaningful sense.
For more information on this see what is perhaps the best oveall analysis of the oil sands industry: “Canada’s Oil Sands Resources and Its Future Impact on Global Oil Supply“, Bengt Söderbergh, Uppsala University, January 2005 (105 pages). Also see the reports issued every few years by Canada’s National Energy Board, the most recent being “Canada’s Oil Sands – Opportunities and Challenges to 2015“, June 2006 (85 pages). Both provide balanced looks at the challenges and costs of expanding production in Alberta. The Wikipedia article also links to many good sources.
(2) Kerogen (aka “shale oil”)
There is as yet no proven large-scale commercially feasible process for mining and refining shale oil, although some are under development. Most estimates show that decades will be required to perfect and scale-up extraction and refining of these reserves — assuming the many problems can be overcome. I believe the largest plant is that of Fushun Mining Groupin China, scheduled to produce 7,400 barrels/day in 2008 and 14,000 b/day at some point in the fuure (source).
For more information see WIkipedia on shale oil and shale oil extraction, and the Congressional Research Service report on Shale Oil dated 13 April 2006 (32 pages).
“The Canadians are producing at around $15 to $20 a bbl”
I do not know what you mean by this. The key — and obvious — aspect of most unconventional sources is that today they are more expensivethan conventional oil (with a few exceptions, such as recycled waste vegitable oil or mean). In the past 5 years growth in demand has been met by expensive altnernative sources, which has pushed up the price of oil. When unconventional sources become less expensive than conventional oil, we will have left the Age of Oil (the third age of humanity). This will happen, eventually.
As for this statement, the companies themselves give much higher numbers for their operating costs. For example, on 29 July 2008 Canadian Oil Sands Trust forecast operating costs of $32/barrel for 2008, plus $14.50 in royalties to the resource owners (in Canada, the government) for a break-even point of about $46.50 a barrel. This does not include capital costs on the massive investments they have made, which pushes the break-even numbers even higher.
Round #7, comment #14
The world has been predicting the decline of America for 200+ years. It is always a popular topic. And yet American ingenuity keeps confounding the experts. That has got to suck. For you.
Fabius Maximus replies
You appear to be making these broad comments without actually reading much on this site. Your resulting guesses are not accurate.
My posts here discuss problems and solutions, always in the context that we will work through these and go to a better future. I am not sure what you believe is the alternative, perhaps just telling ourselves how wonderful we are and hoping for the best? That is like driving with your eyes closed. As evidence, note these 17 posts which expressly disprove your assertion about the posts on this site.
As does this quote, from a post considering “worst case” scenarios:
The predominate reaction of the Romans to the death of the Republic was resignation, as seen in the popular philosophies of the Empire: Stoicism, Epicureanism, Hedonism, and Christianity. How will Americans react when they realize that the Constitution has died? Reform, rebellion, or resignation?
“There was a dream that was Rome. You could only whisper it. Anything more than a whisper and it would vanish, it was so fragile.”
— Marcus Aurelius, in the movie “Gladiator” (2000)
The coming years might test America more than anything in our past, including the Revolutionary and Civil wars. America might lose both what defines it and what we hold most dear: our Constitution, our vast wealth, and our role as global hegemon.
This transition will be like a singularity in astrophysics, a point where the rules breakdown – and beyond which we cannot see.
Such trials appear throughout history. Consider Russia in 1942. Ruled by a madman. Their government had betrayed the hopes of the revolution, killed tens of millions, and reduced the nation to poverty. Most of their generals were dead, their armies were in full retreat, and vast areas were controlled by a ruthless invader.
The mark of a great people is the ability to carry on when all is lost, including hope. We can learn much from the Russian people’s behavior in WWII. I doubt we will fall into such peril. On the other hand, our situation might be far more complex, with no clear enemy to unify us. But there is no cause for despair.
People, Ideas, and Hardware. “In that order!” the late Col John R. Boyd, USAF, would thunder at his audiences.
(1) Our wealth is just things (”hardware”), an inheritance from past generations. What we lose we can work to replace. Our aspirations to global hegemony were revealed as a mirage in Vietnam and Iraqi, lasting less than two generations after WWII.
(2) Our Constitution is just an idea, inherited from the founders. We created it, and its death will give us the experience to do better with the next version.
(3) Our culture is a collection of discordant ideas, mixing lofty and base elements in a manner despised by much of the world – an easily understood disgust to anyone watching many of our TV shows and movies, or listening to some of our popular music.
The Constitution is not America. We are America. We are strong because of our ability to act together, to produce and follow leaders. We are strong due to our openness to other cultures and ability to assimilate their best aspects. We are strong due to our ability to adapt to new circumstances, to roll with defeat and carry on.
We will be what we want to be. The coming years will reveal what that is.
“There was a dream that was Rome. It shall be realized. These are the wishes of Marcus Aurelius.”
— Maximus Decimus Meridius, in the movie “Gladiator”
Here is a gentle paraphrase of an email from M. Simon discussing my review of his work, reprinted with his permission:
The thing lacking in most people discussing the issue is:
- Not an engineer.
- Not studied war sufficiently.
- Ignorance of history.
- Ignorance of logistics.
- Too invested in Shrinking Media memes.
- Too utopian.