Question time on the FM website. Post your questions and answers!

Summary: It’s “ask a question” time. In the comments “ask the mineshaft”:  post questions about geopolitics — and your answers to other people’s questions.  This is a community exercise, from the German “Gemeinschaft” (see Wikipedia).

Questions are especially welcome about current events and recent posts (which appear on the top of the right-side menu bar).  Please reply to comments using the REPLY button (to keep the thread together).

Questions

  1. With Affordable Health Care clearing the Supreme Court, is there a health care bubble?
  2. What are you guys attempting to accomplish here?
  3. What are the odds of balkanization of the US into smaller autonomous regions?
  4. What constitutional remedies are there to break out of this death spiral, in time to save us?
  5. What are your thoughts about LIBORgate?
  6. Should we prepare for the inevitable doomsday next winter?
  7. At what rate has the world warmed since 1978?  Guess before you see the answer!
  8. More discussion about “doomsday next winter”.
  9. What do you think of Prof. Florida’s ideas about the “Creative” and “Supercreative” classes?

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Also:  look at the FM Twitter feed on the top of the right-side menu.  Hit the “follow” button and try it out!

63 thoughts on “Question time on the FM website. Post your questions and answers!

  1. With Affordable Health Care clearing the Supreme Court, should we now turn our attention to a health care bubble?

    1. The term “bubble” has become almost useless by imprecise overuse. In economics a “bubble” usually refers to a speculative investment bubble. In things such as tulip bulbs, homes, or shares of stock. Health care is not a bubble in this sense.

      Our spending on security (ie, military, surveillance intelligence, and internal security) and health care are a different kind of phenomenon. They are useful to some degree, but we’re spending inefficiently AND to a degree beyond our ability to afford. It’s an ugly combination. One way or another, inevitably, this overspending will end.

      Both are foolish, even sad. The income of a great nation poured down the toilet. Our peers manage both of these things much better, but we close our eyes least we learn from nations we consider inferior to us.

    2. If “bubble” is the wrong term to describe what is happening in health care, then what is a better term? Overstretch (like a rubber band that loses elasticity or snaps from being pulled too hard) or overload (like a top-heavy structure that buckles under weight)? Something else?

      This Seeking Alpha article explains the phenomenon very well. The headline is “Beware Of The U.S. Healthcare Bubble,” but toward the end the writer says “While the U.S. Healthcare Bubble isn’t an asset bubble like stock or real estate bubbles, it is a bubble-like phenomenon with very similar risks and implications as asset bubbles.”

      There are securities assets, such as stocks of pharmaceuticals, device makers and medical REITs, that could bubble.

      The prime problem, though, is that the claims made on the health system are going to be too great that actual outcomes and payments will fall far short of expectations. When the failure does occur, it will play out just as the housing-finance collapse did. The U.S. will come to the rescue in the same way, and Americans will get socialized medicine — health care run like Amtrak.

    3. Let me put it more clearly: the investment community has gone mad about bubbles. Everything is a bubble. The word “bubble” has become the stop button on their minds.

      There are few significant similarities between the housing bubble and the dysfunctional US health care system. Most especially, health care is a service (not an asset), and is not financed by investors using borrowed money.

      Reform of the health care system will adversely affect providers of most health care services — to greatly varying degrees. Many are global firms, and so somewhat buffered. Many have already been forced to begin the adjustment process by decreases in payment by Medicare and Medicaid. Some might be beneficiaries, such as HMOs.

      The adjustment process might be sudden, but will more likely be a series of incremental reforms forced by rising expenses.

      For more about reforms to our health care system

  2. Q: What are you guys attempting to accomplish here?

    A: We’re attempting to understand these events through a combination of seeking their origins in the past and guessing about possible futures. We’re looking for solutions. We’re attempting to start the process of organizing our thoughts, and the larger task of organizing people — functions done during the Revolution by the Committees of Correspondence (the first in 1764; see Wikipedia for details).

    Think of this as an aerie, a ledge high in harsh mountains from which baby birds look out at the world. We discuss events in the comments. But up here there is time for little more than civility. Amidst the crumbling destruction of America-that-once-was, discussion will be stark and impersonal.

    Your comments?

  3. Mr Maximus, what do you think of the possibility of a balkanization of the United States into smaller autonomous regions such as these: Wikipedia entry on Megaregions of the US.

    What conditions would need to be in place to realize such a political fracture? I wouldn’t imagine it happening within most of our lifetimes, but what about over the next 50 years? In the modern world, we have a marked absence of warlords and conquerors to unite ever larger agglomerations of regions as has happened occasionally throughout history.

    I would say that most of what holds us together now are the vestiges of nationalism as well as the relative success of our historic institutions, but these things might not always have the same binding effect. Could that mean a more provincial future in store for America?

    I would very much like to hear your thoughts.

    1. I see no basis on which to expect the US to geographically fragment at any time in the foreseeable future.

      “most of what holds us together now are the vestiges of nationalism as well as the relative success of our historic institutions”

      I disagree. The US has stronger cohesiveness than most nations of the world, past and present. A common culture, common language, high degree of economic and political integration, high degree of mobility of people & jobs & money, a near-zero sense of geographic – ethnic – religion regionality..

    2. We Americans do indeed have a lot in common. 50 years is a long time though, and what if something were to change that – say, significant immigration? Just speaking hypothetically here.

    3. Yes, many things might change over 50 years.

      I doubt that we’d experience sufficient immigration to so destabilize the Union. The population of the US is 312 million!

    4. Hi Fabius,

      I am intrigued by your comment: “a near-zero sense of geographic – ethnic – religion regionality..”

      It seems to me that the Red/Blue state divide becomes wider and wider, with truly different world views and approaches to education, science, global climate change, contraception etc. Each seems to steep in a different brew coloring their viewpoints in ways they might not even notice.

      Or do you think these differences are quite shallow compared with the things we hold in common or the influx of Americans to the sunbelt dilute this regionalism?

    5. (1) “with truly different world views and approaches to education, science, global climate change, contraception etc.”

      Polls do not support that. There are differences, but there are always differences. The differences are VERY small compared to geographic differences in the past, when there were in fact strong regional cultures.

      (2) The “red-blue” state level charts are chart-junk. The dramatic pattern disappears when looking at smaller-scale data (eg, by county, showing gradations). See this article at the U Michigan for examples.

    6. The corporate overlords and their purchased politicians, and purchased evangelical hucksters are not limited to a particular region. They have largely reversed the results of the civil war, and southern mentalities are now common across most of the moderate/liberal areas.

      There really are relatively few places where a far left majority exists in the USA.

      The so called “liberal nanny state” is dependent on the industrialists.

    7. (1) “purchased evangelical hucksters”

      Can you show evidence that evangelical ministers are “purchased”? I know quite a few. Most were sincere. Some were entrepreneurs, slick salesmen of the sort found in any field. None were “purchased”.

      (2) “They have largely reversed the results of the civil war”

      That’s too weird a statement to discuss.

      (3) “southern mentalities are now common across most of the moderate/liberal areas”

      For more about this see “Conservative Southern Values Revived: How a Brutal Strain of American Aristocrats Have Come to Rule America“, Sara Robinson, AlterNet, 28 June 2012 — “America didn’t used to be run like an old Southern slave plantation, but we’re headed that way now. How did that happen?”

    8. 1) don’t know why you inserted “ministers”. Members of the far Right have intertwined themselves with conservative evangelical communities. Money flows, support for those communities blossoms. There is a connection to areas with large military establishments. I seem to recall PBS documentaries about conservative churches being used by Jack Abramhoff, a notorious, corrupt conservative/republican lobbyist that was convicted and served time for some of his corrupt acts. There may have been an AIPAC connection. There are connections between AIPAC and conservative/evangelical churches. My understanding is that AIPAC is sleazy. This brings up the question of the connections between evangelicals, the military establishment and Israel. And, the growth of evangelical churches as networks for people in the defense industry and military establishment.

      Thanks for the link to Sara Robinson’s article, I forgot to bookmark it before. :)

      2) and 3) it seems clear that if (paraphrasing slightly) brutal conservative southern values (Aristocracy) have been revived and come to rule america, then the results of the civil war (that northern, “liberal” notions of the Republic prevailed) have been reversed in significant areas of culture and politics and the economy.

      As always, please correct me if wrong.

      If you are objecting on the basis that slavery has not been re-established, then your are correct. But I never referenced slavery, and I don’t think Robinson did either. I was thinking about the underlying values, and tendency toward imperialistic, predatory culture (in the south).

      Thanks!

    9. “They have largely reversed the results of the civil war” “brutal conservative southern values (Aristocracy) have been revived and come to rule america” {reversing} northern, “liberal” notions of the Republic … in culture and politics and the economy.”

      None of those were results of the Civil War. After Reconstruction Southern whites waged a successful counter-revolution which restored much of the antebellum culture and politics of the South. The enduring results of the War were the elimination of slavery (replaced by lighter oppression of Blacks) and reduction of the power and wealth of the South.

      You refer to the reaction to the Gilded Age, starting in the late 19th century and waged on many fronts at great cost — culminating with the victories of the progressives and eventually the New Deal.

  4. In July 2012, it’s as if we are sleep-walking down to our own destruction.

    The world’s economies are in steep decline; American politics are grid-locked; the Courts are making laws; the US is mired in endless unwinnsble wars; the People are powerless.

    QUESTION: What constitutional remedies are there to break out of this death spiral, in time to save us?

    1. “The world’s economies are in steep decline; American politics are grid-locked; the Courts are making laws; the US is mired in endless unwinnable wars; the People are powerless.”

      Cheer up! I believe the reality is far less bleak.

      • The developed nations of the world have been stable and appear to be entering a slow downturn. The emerging nations are still growing, but slowing. Estimates of 2012 global real GDP are roughly 3% (from memory).
      • All democratic political systems experience occasional periods of gridlock. It’s not a problem unless it continues too long.
      • I doubt the Courts are more active in shaping our laws than in some past periods. Consider the Warren Court years (1953 – 1969).
      • We’re in unwinable wars, but they’re hardly endless. We’ll shake ourselves our of them, eventually.
      • The American people are not powerless. We are passive and complacent, constrained by fetters of the mind.
    2. Maurice, constitutional remedies are many, and most have to do with the representative nature of our republic. But I don’t think you’ll like that answer because you would of course need the cooperation of millions of your countrymen to enact significant change in US policy. If you don’t like Democracy as currently exists (maybe you can’t wait until the next election?) then the second amendment to the constitution could be interpreted as leaving room for some sort of armed insurrection, if you have sufficient connections and equipment for a coup of the government.

      Either way, there are many powerful and monied interests you’ll have to combat along the way to your ideal vision for the nation. Best wishes and good luck!

    3. I disagree with the negative implication in your statement that the “Courts are making the laws.” The U.S. is a common law system, and to a certain extent the courts are supposed to make law {Wikipedia entry on common law}. Many of the basic legal claims that you may be aware of, such as negligence, defamation, breach of contract, etc. are creatures of common law developed over the last several centuries.

      Courts also enforce statutory law (i.e. laws passed by the legislature). They are supposed to enforce those laws as written, while keeping in mind the intent of the legislature. Since no statutory scheme can anticipate every permutation of the application of the statutes to real world facts, courts by necessity (and by legislative design), have to interpret the statutes in accordance with the legislative intent and devise “legal tests” as to what is required to prove a case under the particular statute. I can tell you that the vast majority of the time, the courts do their jobs in a precise, technical fashion.

      Courts also take into consideration notions of “equity” and “justice” in performing their functions.

      The exception, of course, is when a court is forced to consider the constitutionality of a law. The common law which has developed around statutory construction advises that a court should find any way it can to interpret a statute in a constitutional fashion.

      You may believe that the Supreme Court is an exception to this. In most instances, it is not. The majority of their cases are decided in a predictable manner based on predictable legal grounds. In certain instances, such as the recent Obama care decision, as the court of last resort it has to make what amounts to a policy decision. Does Obama care’s personal mandate exceed the power of Congress to regulate interstate commerce? There is no cut and dry answer to that question, and reasonable people can disagree. It comes down to what you believe about policy.

      I am not defending the Robert’s court. To the contrary, I think that Citizen’s United was misguided and disastrous. Moreover, I recognize that, by necessity, judge’s are, (or were in their previous life) political animals (how else would they get appointed or elected?) However, this whole thing about “activist” judges, blah blah blah is ridiculous. The SCOTUS, by its very nature, is an “activist” court on certain issues because it has to decide and piss of somebody. “Activist judges” has always appeared to me to be a right wing code word for judge’s who give too many rights to minorities and the poor, and not enough to the rich and corporations.

      Ultimately,if you don’t like a Supreme Court decision, there is always a remedy. Which is to pass a new law, or a constitutional amendment.

  5. What are your thoughts about LIBORgate? The financial scandal in which Barclays and doubtlessly other financial institutions have been manipulating the London Interbank Offered Rate. In particular, how do you assess the lackluster US response? What does this suggest about our OODA loops? Also, some commentators have stated that this scandal poses an existential threat to the banking system because, they say, it shreds what trust banks still may have had.

    1. (1) “What are your thoughts about LIBORgate?”

      It’s just another large corporate criminal activity. As our large corporations have gained power, they engage in larger and more blatent criminal acts. The pharmaceutical and investment banking industries are clear examples, where the fines are a cost of doing business — far smaller than the profits gained from each crime.

      (2) “In particular, how do you assess the lackluster US response?”

      The corporations own the system. This is just another example. A better question is why do you find this surprising?

      (3) “What does this suggest about our OODA loops?”

      The American people are blind and dumb (in both senses). Perhaps its not accurate to say that we have an OODA loop, except in the sense that a dog or cat does.

      (3) “some commentators have stated that this scandal poses an existential threat to the banking system because, they say, it shreds what trust banks still may have had.”

      I missed that episode of Saturday Night Live! Hilarious, as if anyone trusts banks!

  6. ToddGuthrie, in his reply to my question, responded, in part, as follows:
    “If you don’t like Democracy as currently exists (maybe you can’t wait until the next election?) then the second amendment to the constitution could be interpreted as leaving room for some sort of armed insurrection, if you have sufficient connections and equipment for a coup of the government.”

    This is an extreme, foolish, erroneous and dangerous interpretation of my motivation.

    To ask about constitutional remedies, surely does not imply “armed insurrection”. I reject utterly this line of thinking.

    My pessimism was prompted by a recent (July 6 2012) article by PIMCO’s Mohammad A. el-Erian, in FT.com. A careful reading of this article, points to severe dysfunction of the global economic system and concomitant political paralysis. His view – not mine!

    Recent statements from Chairman, Ben Bernanke, uses the worrisome term “fiscal cliff” and pointedly washes his hands, Pilate-like, of the responsibility to act.

    Contributors to the Fabius Maximus blog have written elsewhere about the urgency for remedies, but most everyone seems to be prepared to await the inevitable doomsday, next winter.

    Am I being too simplistic – maybe I just don’t understand? But, believe me, we are running out of time and the way forward is unclear.

    1. (1) “(July 6 2012) article by PIMCO’s Mohammad A. el-Erian, in FT.com”

      Can you provide a link? The most recent I see is a post on July 5 at the FT’s blog: “El-Erian on the need to listen carefully to what the G-20 is saying“, containing the usual blather guys like him say — with nothing warranting your pessimism.

      (2) “worrisome term ‘fiscal cliff'”
      We face the crisis crisis. Every day the news media describes a new horrific endtime crisis. It’s not that big a deal.

      (3) “Chairman, Ben Bernanke, uses the worrisome term “fiscal cliff” and pointedly washes his hands, Pilate-like, of the responsibility to act.”

      He’s Chairman of the Fed. Not a member of Congress. Not President or SecTreasury. He has no “responsibility to act” regarding fiscal policy.

      (4) “but most everyone seems to be prepared to await the inevitable doomsday, next winter.”

      There is no inevitable doomsday. Turn the TV off, go for a walk in a park. Look at the flowers and the sky. Talk with friends. There are many long-term concerns, but no “inevitable doomsday next winter”.

    2. (1) “A sorry jobs report for America’s past, present and future“, Mohamed El-Erian, blog of the Financial Times, 6 July 2012.

      (2) I know what Bernanke’s mandate is. He is the expert – not I. He “stands ready” to act – whatever that means! Our elected represenatives are like deer caught in the headlights – fearful and immobile.

      (3) A walk in the park when it is 38C won’t help much. Flowers and friends are comforting – agreed. The stars are cool, but too remote. TV is hot and much too close. Rational discourse, is the modality I wish to use.

      Thank you for this!

    3. (1) Thanks for the pointer to the FT blognote. But there’s nothing in it suggesting “severe dysfunction of the global economic system and concomitant political paralysis”. It doesn’t even forecast a recession in the US.

      “Friday’s weak job report does more than confirm the prospects of a sub-2% growing US economy with unusually high and stubborn unemployment; it also signals even greater fragility ahead for both the country and the global economy.”

      (2) Bernanke stands ready to act with monetary policy. Fiscal policy is not in his area of responsibility, hence your comment that he “pointedly washes his hands, Pilate-like, of the responsibility to act” is not correct.

      (3) “Our elected represenatives are like deer caught in the headlights – fearful and immobile.”

      I see zero signs of that. Both sides are mustering their strength. Note that when we had similar conditions — and similar dire warnings — in Fall 2010 The Congress and President passed a massive stimulus package in the six weeks following the election.

  7. At what rate has the world warmed since 1978?

    For the answer using the satellite data (the only source providing global coverage), see the June 2012 Global Temperature Report from The University Of Alabama At Huntsville.

    • June 2012 was 0.5F (0.37C) above the 30-year June average.
    • The trend since data began on 16 November 1978: +0.25F (0.14C) per decade.

    These results are similar to the sea level data: the two century long trends (ie, warming, rising sea level) continue. But so far no signs of the feared accelleration forecast by most models. Astonishinly, the news media often (usually?) misrepresent this — telling people that the accelleration is a present reality — not a prediction by as-yet unproven models.

  8. Fabius Maximus argues against the “inevitable doomsday next winter” and counsels stress-reducing therapies for pessimists like me. This approach has the merit that it may soon be proved right or wrong.

    “Have confidence in our leaders and in our institutions. There won’t be a major economic crisis, next winter”.

    “Smile, Be Happy”

    I can live with that.

    ZZZZ

    1. “but most everyone seems to be prepared to await the inevitable doomsday, next winter.”
      “a major economic crisis, next winter”.

      First, a major economic crisis is not doomsday. Second, nothing you have cited even remotely suggests a “major economic crisis” — let alone as soon as next winter — and certainly not “doomsday”.

      Exaggeration is just a form of error.

      Try presenting evidence instead of mockery.

    2. Originally I put the QUESTION: “What constitutional remedies are there to break out of this death spiral, in time to save us.”

      The argument, thus far, has disputed the view that there will be major economic disruption next winter and, even if this happened, it will not be doomsday. To offer an opinion that does not have the necessary rigor to persuade Fabius Maximus to the contrary is not mockery. It is merely an acknowledgement that there are no obvious remedies, except to wait it out, and to expect that time will disprove such a defective world view.

      Believe me, this is no mockery, but an attempt to reason together and, perhaps, to understand.

    3. (1) “To offer an opinion that does not have the necessary rigor to persuade Fabius Maximus … attempt to reason together and, perhaps, to understand.”

      So far you have offered zero evidence that a “doomsday” is likely next winter, let alone “inevitable”. It is IMO irresponsible to talk about changes to the Constitutional to prevent conjectural dangers (ie, “this death spiral”). That’s the essence of fear-mongering (Wikipedia), making loud noises to herd sheep.

      (2) “Believe me, this is no mockery”

      I don’t believe you. Your previous comment was mockery, neither reason nor evidence.

  9. Dear FM, do you think that Prof. Florida’s ideas about the “Creative” and “Supercreative” classes {Wikipedia entry} on are valid, and have any relevancy to understanding the future techno-economic, and corresponding political re-alignments that might come about in the USA and world?

    TIA!!!

    1. Florida made his name with a theory of urban development based on the rise of the creative class. Typical pop-sci bs. Considerable research has been wasted proving it baseless. For a fun rebuttal see “The Fall of the Creative Class“, Frank Bures, 32 Magazine, 15 June 2012.

      From what little I’ve read, Florida has since migrated back to writing about economic class in a more standard fashion, with mention of “creative class” mixed in to attract interest. However bogus, the phrase is catnip to the self-esteem of cubical-dwelling urban peons who find the truths of Dilbert too harsh to accept. For an example see “Class decides everything“, Salon, 24 June 2012 — “Income increasingly dictates every aspect of our lives, from our politics to our health to our happiness.”

    2. Thanks, hilarious stuff. excerpt:

      In his ini­tial cri­tique, Peck said The Rise of the Cre­ative Class was filled with “self-indulgent forms of ama­teur microso­ci­ol­ogy and crass cel­e­bra­tions of hip­ster embour­geoise­ment.”

  10. “Mockery” no – “Disagreement” yes. I do not wish to deride or sneer at any viewpoint expressed on this blog. I do not seek to change the constitution. I acknowledge that I may be “too simplistic – maybe I just don’t understsnd.”

    Is that fear-mongering? I leave it to your readers to decide. Thank you for the opportunity to attempt to reason with you. I wish you well.

    Maurice Brown, Ontario Canada

    1. Apology unnecessary, but thank you. I suspect my views are closer to the views expressed by the Fabius Maxima author(s), than this exchange would suggest. I have sometimes erred by the use of language that is too blunt and not sufficiently nuanced,

      I do wish Fabius Maxima well and I look forward to following its discussions on other topics.

      Thank you.

    2. (1) “Apology unnecessary, but thank you.

      That’s very gracious of you! But it’s house rules: always admit error, always apologize when appropriate.

      (2) “I have sometimes erred by the use of language that is too blunt”

      No clear language is too blunt here, for discussion of imporant and difficult to understand issues.

      (3) “and not sufficiently nuanced”

      That can cause confusion here, as our search for precision and clarity often verges into pedantry and misunderstanding. Probably an inevitable and unfortunate side-effect.

    1. Powerful question, and one out of my area of expertise to answer.

      But there should be investigation and (perhaps) punishment for his mistreatment while confined, which far exceeds standards of both the United States and those of the developed nations (to which we’ve agreed by Treaty).

  11. Do you have any suggestions for counteracting the propaganda that is deployed on behalf of the would-be plantation masters described by Sara Robinson?

    I’m of two minds about the appropriate strategy. On the one hand, my fellow Yankees all too often make strident, gratuitous comments about the South that Southerners quite reasonably find offensive. Snide commentary about “dumb rednecks” and the like doesn’t alienate just parochial bigots; it also offends reasonable people of goodwill in the target area, and often rightly so. On the other hand, much of the propaganda that I mentioned is brazen and odious. So as a matter of mounting an effective opposition to this pervasive propaganda, I’m torn about how to balance consideration for idiosyncrasies of Southern culture (about which Yankees are generally ignorant and tone-deaf) with the bluntness necessary to effectively cry foul on propaganda that comes wrapped in the Confederate battle flag.

    By the way, when I refer to regional idiosyncrasies, I don’t mean to include slavery, Jim Crow and the like. To some extent these can be reasonably described as Southern idiosyncrasies, but Northerners routinely alienate Southerners by insulting aspects of Southern culture that aren’t nearly as loaded or vicious.

    At the same time, the pervasiveness of Southern cultural influence across the country in recent decades is striking. Many aspects of the harsh penal regimes implemented by many states in recent decades originated in the South, particularly in Texas. There has been a proliferation of Southern Baptist Convention and likeminded congregations, a number of which now run full-fledged print and broadcast operations with national reach (e.g., evangelical book publishers, SRN News, CBN, etc.). Meanwhile, country music stations broadcast some of the vilest authoritarian ditties imaginable from coast to coast, and the political arms of Southern right-wing politics are frighteningly well organized, as you’ve discussed before.

    One thing that I find particularly galling is that despite their immense successes at molding public opinion and policy, the proponents of these authoritarian strains of politics and religion often earnestly insist that they’re under siege from the likes of socialists, atheists and “godless liberals.” Large audiences believe them when they swear that they’re being oppressed by constituencies that are provably weak and disorganized, if not completely marginalized. This is a disgusting but cunning strategy.

    1. I fear we’re past the point of easy solutions (my recommendations have proved inadequate, quickly overtaken by events). We’ve grown too weak realtive to our ruling elites. Worse, I fear we’ve grown too soft and foolish. Worst of all, we appear to have lost any sense of solidarity as Americans (eg, many in the Tea Party sees only conservative property-owning whites as Americans).

      It’s difficult to continue the struggle for liberty, as the life seems to have faded from the American people — and their hearts grown cold. In such times we turn to our past for guidance. Even Thomas Acquinas asked “Is Despair the Greatest of Sins?”. We can learn much from his answer.

      “If, however, despair be compared to the other two sibs {disbelief or hatred of God — or, in this context, Libery} from our point of view, then despair is more dangerous, since hope withdraws us from evils and induces us to seek for good things, so that when hope is given up, men rush headlong into sin, and are drawn away from good works. Wherefore a gloss on Proverbs 24:10, “If thou lose hope being weary in the day of distress, thy strength shall be diminished,” says: “Nothing is more hateful than despair, for the man that has it loses his constancy both in the every day toils of this life, and, what is worse, in the battle of faith.” And Isidore says (De Sum. Bono ii, 14): “To commit a crime is to kill the soul, but to despair is to fall into hell.”

      Part I – Treatise on the Theological Virtues, sectino I, Question 20 – About Despair, Article 3

  12. What do you think of this article, which touches upon the prediction of a coming “robotic” revolution? (From a skeptical standpoint?)

    Campagning with the Greens : the basic income delusion“, Damien Perrotin, 4 July 2012 — Excerpt:

    “Of course this did not mean that the idea of a generalized free lunch died. It merely migrated to the techno-optimists, who replaced the “higher stage of Communism” by technological progress, which would cause workers to be progressively replaced by robots and automated factories. This would greatly increase the richness of the society, but also have a devastating impact upon blue collar retail and wholesale employees and drastically shrink the middle class, making a generous basic income both feasible and socially and politically necessary. The only other option would be the development of a permanent underclass of former workers and employees, with all the politically unpleasant consequences this may entail.”

    “The problem, of course, is that this future of robots and automated factories shall never come to pass. It is not automation per se that fueled the industrial revolution and gave us our society, but access to fossil energy. Without coal, oil or gas to fuel them and the highly complex social apparatus they need for their manufacture and maintenance, our machines are useless.”

    1. It’s a fun collection of myths. The Left is losing in the West because so many of them have built a fantasy house and moved into it.

      It is a popular idea among degrowth people and some sections of the Green movement and of the far left. My last girlfriend was very much into it, and it definitely is a bad idea … The main reason for it should be obvious to anybody vaguely aware of the coming energy descent. Even its proponents acknowledge that the feasibility of a basic income system is highly dependent upon the continued existence of the industrial civilization.

      … The problem, of course, is that this future of robots automated factories shall never come to pass. It is not automation per se that fueled the industrial revolution and gave our society, but access to fossil energy. Without coal, oil or gas to fuel them and the highly complex social apparatus they need for their manufacture and maintenance, our machines are useless.

      fossil fuel reserves will last for several score years. Peak oil and coal is not “running out” of oil and coal. Also, there are alternatives and time to develop them.

      That doesn’t mean that the adaptive process will be easy, fast, or fun.

    2. “The Left is losing in the West because so many of them have built a fantasy house and moved into it.”

      Agreed. Does not the author I link to agree with you on this point? The fantasy house of never ending growth and the “Myth of Progress”?

      “Peak oil and coal is not “running out” of oil and coal.”

      Of course not. Just the cheap stuff, which industrial civilization requires. Without it, it simply can not exist. Better learn to use that abacuses! (They’ll be useful when we can’t make calculators anymore)

      “That doesn’t mean that the adaptive process will be easy, fast, or fun.”

      No, the transition back to an agricultural society will mean a lot of (unfortunately necessary) deaths.

    3. “Without it, it simply can not exist. … the transition back to an agricultural society”

      All total malarkey. The Left’s love of such nonsense is one factor in its eclipse.

    4. Just letting you know, the author himself is not part of “The Left”, and most leftists believe in technological “progress”, and roundly reject Peak Oil.

      How is it Malarkey? Does industrial civilization need oil or not?

    5. (1) I don’t know how you describe the Left, but IMO the author clearly is part of the left (so far can be determined from one article).

      (2) It’s malarky because its doomster nonsense. World oil reserves are known with moderate certainty, and will provide ample oil for several scores of years following peaking — which will probably come sometime during the next 20 years. That allows ample time to develop alternatives, assuming we use it wisely — which rising prices will provide ample incentive.

      As an example of how this process works, see the development of natural gas in the US. Five years ago peakists were forecasting a production “cliff event”, where production unexpectedly crashes. Now prices have crashed due to the unexpected rise in production.

      (3) “Does industrial civilization need oil or not?”

      This is similar to the standard & idiotic reply of warmistas: “the world is warming, is it not?” These things are not binary.

    6. Then you don’t know the same “left” as I do. How is this author who regularly decries and critiques the left, a leftist. Is George W. Bush now a liberal? Leftists aren’t primitivists, they’re not calling for the sensible option of going back to a middle age technological base. How is this issue not “binary”? Does industrialism need petrolium based oil or not?

      Prove the peakists said that about natural gas.

    7. (1) The “Left” is not a club where you get to set membership requirements. The division of Left and Right assumes a few very simple and broad criteria for distinguishing the two, and hence leaves wide diversity of opinions and goals on both sides.

      (2) Who forecast a natural gas cliff event, that north American natural gas production was about to enter steep and terminal decline? Here are a few examples by big names:

      Google searches will show hundreds more. Such as this one for natural gas “production cliff”. Look for articles dated around 2005.

    8. “Does industrialism need petrolium based oil or not?”

      Since you keep repeating this, and appear not to understand the answer, I’ll reduce it to a child’s level. Yes. But there are sufficient fossil fuel deposits to carry us through the 21st century. Before the century ends I doubt we’ll be using fossil fuels as an energy source, except for campouts and wilderness trips.

  13. Well, as my article is discussed here, I feel I must clarify a few things.

    a) I am technically part of the Left, meaning that the electoral alliance I am a part of locally is left wing. Remember, however, I live in France. Our president belongs to the Socialist Party and the right is secular and pro-choice. We have had a civil union for more than a decade and gay marriage will be voted before the end of year. I am dark green, communautarian and rather socially conservative, which is a minority but acceptable position within the French left.

    My references would be Christopher Lasch, Jean-Claude Michea and John Michael Greer.

    b) we won’t run out of oil any time soon. Discoveries, however, have peaked in 1964 and are declining since. Production is plateauing since 2006 and will begin to decrease in the relatively near future. It certainly won’t be a cliff but a long and progressive descent. Alternatives won’t be developed, because there is none. The last breakthrough in energy (nuclear energy) happened during the fifties and was an economic failure. The other alternatives are low quality.

    c) industrial civilization needs a constant inflow of high grade energy ; Without it they will collapse, but that will take some time. We won’t have any instant Dark Age. What will happen is that we will be forced to replace high grade fossil fuels by lower grade « alternatives », which will result in cycles of steadily worsening economic crisis with periods of temporary recovery. According to the Meadows report, it should begin during the first decades of the XXIst century.

    d) don’t expect the Middle Age 2.0 before 2100, at the very earliest, and while we may lose a lot of technology, we won’t get back to medieval level.

    1. My original reply above wasn’t as clear as it should have been. I added a few words to the start of each section.

      Again, thanks to Damien Perrotin for posting a comment here!

    2. Global prosperity and stability of the biosphere in the 21st century might depend on the development of fusion. We might be asking ourselves this question many times in the years to come (from the 8 May 1989 cover of Time.

      Time, 8 May 1989

    3. The basis for near-term optimism about liquid fuels supplies (which is the real question, not just oil) — it’s not just “cornicopian” optimism. Look at North American daily production (data from EIA), where increases in Canada and USA far more than offset decline from Mexcio.

      Q1 2005: 15.556,803 barrels
      Q1 2012: 17,522,633 (+2 million, +13%, over 7 years)

      Q1 2009 was aprox the same as Q1 2005, but that decrease was economic; hence the start in 2005.

      Aprox 1.3 million of the 2 million was from increased production of natural gas liquids and biofuels. The biofuel rise was probably uneconomic — converting taxes to fuel, with corn as an intermediary element. Still it was an impressive accomplishment.

      For more about the potential increase of North American oil production see Jim Hamilton’s article on “Shale Oil and Tight Oil“, 12 July 2012.

    4. If I may interject… “My references would be ….. John Michael Greer.”

      I decided to look this guy up, since he sounded vaguely familiar. According to Wikipedia at least, his credentials are … "American author, independent scholar, historian of ideas, cultural critic, Neo-druid leader, Hermeticist, environmentalist/conservationist, blogger, novelist, and occultist/esotericist "

      Call me a stickler, but if *that's* one of your primary sources, you might be best off finding someone more, uhm, qualified.

    5. Thanks — that’s the sort of attention to detail we appreciate! John Michael Greer’s work has come up in comments. Here are two, with comments on the last two.

      (1) Here’s one of his best known works: “How Civilizations Fall: A Theory of Catabolic Collapse“, John Michael Greer, 2005 — (PDF version, 14 pages) — Abstract:

      The collapse of complex human societies remains poorly understood and current theories fail to model important features of historical examples of collapse. Relationships among resources, capital, waste, and production form the basis for an ecological model of collapse in which production fails to meet maintenance requirements for existing capital. Societies facing such crises after having depleted essential resources risk catabolic collapse, a self-reinforcing cycle of contraction converting most capital to waste. This model allows key features of historical examples of collapse to be accounted for, and suggests parallels between successional processes in nonhuman ecosystems and collapse phenomena in human societies.

      Judging something by its abstract is difficult and prone to error. They’re too brief. But life is too short to read articles unless they seem to offer promise of useful insights or data. Greer’s article might be a work of genius. But it looks to me like gibberish. How many civilizations collapsed from depletion of resources? Climate change, war, internal social decay and instability — those are the commonplaces of history. Climate change is a frequent killer of civilizations, as pre-modern technology provided few means to adapt.

      (2) Waking up, walking away“, The Archdruid Report, 18 January 2012

      Most of it reads like gibberish to me, but that’s based on a quick read and I could be grossly wrong (it’s part of a discussion with which I’m unfamiliar). One specific did leap out:

      “Since the peak of conventional petroleum production in 2005, economies around the world — above all the economies of the US and its inner circle of allies, which use more petroleum per capita than anybody else — have been stuck in a worsening spiral of dysfunction, and the middle classes have abruptly found themselves struggling to maintain their lifestyles.”

      This is not accurate, on many levels.

      • Global gdp has continued to grow at a respectable pace since 2005. So “worsening spiral of dysfunction” seems over-the-top.
      • Most of the world — the half of the world called “emerging nations” plus many developed nations — have done quite well since 2005.
      • Some nations experienced downturns in GDP and other economic metrics; this is the business cycle — a normal part of life.
      • The US has done well since 2008, so the “above all” comment seems incorrect. Europe is the focus of concern.
      • The problem with the US “middle classes” is one of distribution, with most of US economic gains going to the top 1% (so oil is not the problem).

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