A third try at describing The First Step to reforming America

Summary: The first post in this series reviewed my posts about the state of the American Republic, asking why it has deteriorated far faster than I expected — or considered possible. This post attempts a diagnosis, and points to a path perhaps leading to a cure.

There is no single solution, no golden key
There is no single solution, no golden key to reform

A series about America

  1. Confession about a failed forecast
  2. A 3rd try: The first step to reforming America
  3. The bad news about reform: time is our enemy

Content of this post

  1. Diagnosis
  2. What’s the Cure?
  3. Specifics!
  4. For More Information

(1) Diagnosis

I have thought much about the reason for my mistakes — leading to a flawed analysis — and now see that it resulted from a violation of my own analytical rules. How often have I stressed the importance of diagnosis? To use a medical metaphor, forecasts of an illness’ course and successful treatment both build upon an accurate diagnosis of the illness. Many posts here speculated about the mature our problems and possible solutions, but I only slowly found an cause that matches the facts. Unfortunately that answer is so dark as to shake my soul:

We are the cause of the Republic’s death. We the people (as a collective) no longer make the effort — the sacrifices — necessary to maintain the Republic.

For a brief description of this problem see these two posts (these summary the scores of posts listed here):

(2) What’s the cure?

Strictly speaking, there is no problem. The American people (as a group) have the right to choose how they are governed. We try to change that choice. It has been done before; it is never easy to do.

(a) In May 1764 Samuel Adams took his first steps to end British rule in America (see here for details). That same year a small group of people in Boston formed the first of the Committees of Correspondence. The Revolution ended 19 years later with the Treaty of Paris in 1783.

(b) In 1774 Benjamin Franklin and Benjamin Rush founded America’s first anti-slavery society. In 1868 we ratified the Fourteenth Amendment. In the mid-1960′s the Civil Rights legislation ended government-sponsored oppression of Blacks, concluding the project begun 190 years earlier.

(c) Rights for homosexual citizens: The Society for Human Rights was formed in 1924 (see Wikipedia). The campaign continues today. See a global timeline at Wikipedia.

Now we face the prospect of starting a new project. I say “starting” because I do not believe anything happening today addresses the core problem described above. Today’s reformers, while skilled and committed, treat only symptoms. While that works with some diseases (e.g., cholera), it will not work with the deep systemic crisis gripping America (to continue the bad medical analogies, like syphilis).


We can press the POWER button only after building the machine

A long road lies ahead of those who choose to participate in this project. It will take years or decades of work to convince our fellow Americans to again accept the burden and responsibility of self-government. I wonder if I’ll live to see success. I do not know what success would look like, since it will probably create a polity different than ours. For example, will it take the form of a revitalized Second Republic, or building the Third Republic?

No matter what the result, the process starts with the first organization built upon recognition of the problem and dedicated to a solution. Will you join this movement? Then reach out to others, show them the path, and ask them to join you on it. On a larger scale this means agitation and a thousand other kinds of political effort.

But first comes organizing. The first one can be small. They will grow if the time is right.

(3) Specifics!

The problem: how to change the American spirit. How do we reawaken our fellow citizens? Collectively Americans want rights and liberty, but lack a willingness to work for it — and to carry the burdens of self-government.

I believe this love of freedom lies latent in us, but just smoulders today. Almost exactly four years ago I wrote The first step on the road to America’s reform, saying that anger provided the fastest path to reviving our spirit. I no longer believe that. The fires have died beyond that point.

I have no other ideas. If you have any, post them in the comments.

(4) For More Information

An earlier version of this post: Realism about the prospects for reform in America

About the weakening of America’s spirit:

  1. Americans, now a subservient people (listen to the Founders sigh in disappointment), 20 July 2008
  2. The American spirit speaks: “Baa, Baa, Baa”, 5 August 2008
  3. We’re Americans, hear us yell: “baa, baa, baa”, 6 August 2008
  4. This crisis will prove that Americans are not sheep (unless we are), 8 January 2008
  5. About security theater, a daily demonstration that Americans are sheep, 25 January 2009
  6. Are we citizens? Or peasants?, 21 May 2009
  7. A Washington Insider looks at America, but does not understand what he sees, 7 September 2011 — Will the American people revolt?
  8. Hear the cattle bellowing in the chutes. Will they revolt?, 8 September 2011
  9. Surgery now underway to transform citizens into subjects, 4 April 2012

Some inspirational notes:

  1. de Tocqueville warns us not to become weak and servile, 21 July 2008
  2. A famous guest speaker visits the FM site to tell us that we are not weak — we are strong, 8 June 2008 — Patrick Henry
  3. A great artist died today. We can gain inspiration from his words., 26 June 2009 — Michael Jackson
  4. A wonderful and important speech about liberty, 23 July 2009 — Judge Learned Hand
  5. Why the Turkey is not our national bird, and a reminder that America belongs to us, 26 November 2010



51 thoughts on “A third try at describing The First Step to reforming America”

  1. Fabius:

    I believe along with you that the burden of self-government lies latent and smoldering within us. It is part of our cultural/historical experience and part of my hope for the future.

    But I also have been shocked to my core that collectively, up to this point, we have made the choice to largely accept our present corrupt structure of power.

    I am struggling to understand and articulate the factors which have apparently combined to create our seemingly accelerating passivity of the present but a passivity which is also historically encased within a heritage of democratic self-assertion.

    Consequently my focus has turned more and more to an attempted analysis of our culture, to its mechanisms of transmission, and to the relationships between the big vague words of culture, mind, brain, choice, and community.

    I to am starting over but continuing.

    1. You need to start a Radio Station or at least get on the Air! Radio is often critical to Freedom movements! Radio Free America!

      1. slapout9,

        Agreed! Access to media is vital for any political movement.

        Such a step lies quite a few steps in the future, IMO. What would be said today? How would any public energy, if achieved, be focused without an organization (new or existing)?

    2. Jim,

      I suspect that analysis of causes — beyond the fact I believe I have identified — lies beyond my capabilities. I am glad that you — and no doubt others — are investigating this. Some answers would prove of great value!

  2. Fabius, you’re a very insightful person, and I can tell your heart is in the right place, but I am consistently left disappointed by articles such as this one.
    You built up my hopes by promising a grand solution. You even had a section titled ‘Specifics!’, but then you failed to deliver.
    There are dozens of articles on the Fabius Maximus site that follow the same pattern:
    – You say you’ve identified the problem: Things in the USA are not as they should be. Things are not ‘constitution’ enough, or not ‘OODA’ enough, or something.
    – You say you’ve identified the solution: We get together and make things the way they should be, somehow.

    Sometimes your articles read like a late night infomercial from a get-rich-quick guru. They get you very excited about the all money you could be making with the guy’s program, but they never give you any specifics on how the program actually works.

    I know you have a lot of ideas in your mind, and I know you care deeply about these issues. Still, saying that the solution to the problems of America lies with the people, is like saying that the solution to a math problem lies with the numbers.

    I don’t pretend that the solution is easy to come by, or easy to understand, and certainly not easy to implement. Still, give us something.

    1. As I have said before, progress is incremental. Sometimes — at a given point in time — diagnosis is all that we have.

      The shock you feel is an intended response. I too feel it, and am transmitting it to you. That is IMO a necessary step — to realize the nature of our situation.

      I had hoped that a widespread reaction to this would be anger, as I have written so often. The comments on the FM website, and my personal experience with personal discussions, proves that I was wrong. Bringing people to recognition of our situation produces an emotion reaction, but nothing else. As commercial for soap that would be inadequate, let alone when seeking radical political action.

      So we are at square one. That’s the point of my historical analogies. You are Ben Franklin, deciding that slavery is unacceptable. Or Samuel Adams, deciding that continued rule by Britain was intolerable. Did either of them immediately have a plan? Presenting their beliefs to most others would produce a range of reactions — few positive.

      The task in step two is organization. Convince others, find others, who believe as you do. Then organize, in a small way. I like the Committees of Correspondence concept. Just finding others of like mind is progress. Pooling ideas is progress.

      It is a long road ahead. I cannot see the middle, let alone the end. But clarity of our situation is IMO necessary.

  3. Here’s what I think, since you asked. I think that ‘freedom’ means different things to different Americans. To modern Conservatives, ‘freedom’ seems to mean freedom from government, and freedom from immigrants and foreigners. To modern liberals, ‘freedom’ seems to mean freedom from exploitation, and freedom from the possibility of becoming extremely poor or destitute. There are many other personal definitions of the term that people seem to have. This is not surprising in the age of information and easy self-expression. The Fabius Maximus personal definition seems to relate directly to what’s in the Constitution. None of these definitions are inherently wrong; it’s all about personal values.
    So, when you ask the people of the country to fight for their freedom, they will. They have already done so in fact, in the forms of the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements. But the people will be fighting more against each other, arguing about the proper definition of ‘freedom’, than they will against the powers that be.
    So, what happens when there is such wide disagreement in a population about what is the right way to move forward? I would say we have three possible paths: stagnation of real economic or social progress; fracturing of political authority into more autonomous local governing jurisdictions; or consolidation of power into a central authority that is able to take charge amid the chaos. Personally, I’d prefer path number 2, but maybe that’s just because I come from a relatively prosperous region. Others will no doubt disagree.

  4. “Collectively Americans want rights and liberty, but lack a willingness to work for it.”

    I suggest it is not so much that collectively we are unwilling to work for it as that individually we do not know how.

    (Whatever is the case collectively must be so because shared conditions tend to give rise to its individual counterpart.)

    One factor: Learned Helplessness

    I recall that some twenty-five years ago I noted that the law where I lived at the time required every rental unit to be equipped with smoke detectors, but fire extinguishers were neither mandated, nor encouraged, nor common.

    At the time I thought that was prototypical of something that was changing in America; I still do. There are good reasons for those choices, of course—this is not a conspiracy theory—but consider the effective message: “When something goes wrong, the proper action is to run to safety and call the experts.”

    I’ll leave it to the reader to run through his or her personal catalog of the ways we are trained (and teach our children) to be helpless. There are good reasons for most of them, but the net effect is to shape the way we think about our place in the world.

    We are independent in our wants, needs, pleasures and fears; but increasingly, for most of us, our jobs are to do as we’re told and avoid presuming to overstep our bounds. Is it surprising that we bring the same skills—obedience, passing the buck and looking the other way—to self-government?

    1. Coises,

      I didn’t want to get deep into causes of our situation — just the conclusion that describes where we are. It’s too murky, too complex for me. And I wonder if the answer matters? Can we say for sure until we know; and we might never know?

      Given all that, I agree that somehow we have fallen into learned helplessness. Some of this is the result of successful effort by our ruling elites.

      Some might be economic. Jefferson thought that a free people must be economically independent, hence his idea of an America of farmers, craftsmen, merchants — not employees. Working as many of us do as cogs in a giant corporations conditions us to be serfs. It’s difficult to break that mindset in the few waking hours outside the workplace.

      That’s a dark analysis, that our situation results from a form of economic determinism. It leads, I suspect, to a (broadly speaking) Marxist-type revolutionary solution.

      Which might be accurate. I have long suspected that future historians might say that Marx was early, not wrong.

      In really dark moments I wonder if they might say that about Hitler, too. I have post, too dark to post, that we refuse to consider the significance of the rapid spread of NAIZIism in Germany — and what that says about western culture. So many aspects of our culture were influenced by NAZI innovations (i.e., propaganda — the big lie is the foundational element of political communication in the US).

    2. Both Thomas More and I used the phrase “learned helplessness”; I more colloquially, he with specific reference to the use of the term in psychology. Let’s pursue that a bit further.

      Learned helplessness is not a pathology; it is the normal response of an organism to certain environmental contexts. We can characterize it as what happens when a subject learns that acceptance of some class of unpleasant situations is consistently a more effective coping strategy than attempting to avoid or change them.

      If conditions do not change, learned helplessness is simply adaptive behavior. Where the experiments become interesting is when conditions do change, but new learning does not occur. Presumably this happens because the subject, having already learned that resistance is futile, never attempts any other strategy and thus has no opportunity to learn that circumstances are different.

      Since learned helplessness is not pathological, it’s not strictly possible to treat or cure it; but in a bit more colloquial sense, how might we deal with it?

      First, obviously, by avoiding the conditioning that teaches and reinforces helplessness. (Easily said, not easily done.)

      Second, opportunities to achieve observable results following closely upon small positive actions must be present, so that new conditioning can begin.

      What I am suggesting is that the idea that we must enact sweeping political reform so that our lives and circumstances can change is backwards; but the new age notion that first we must change ourselves is equally bankrupt. We cannot change much if the environment that conditions us remains the same. First, we must change our immediate circumstances, our lives, our associations, our workplaces and street corners. Then we will adapt more deeply to the new environment we have created, and then we can move outward.

      But there is no point in asking people to rise up and tackle, say, Big Finance when they lack enough sense of empowerment to deal with a dysfunctional homeowners’ association or a demoralizing office manager. And no amount of exhortation to “do something” or “pull out of it” will fill the gap: only the experience of power can recondition us away from helplessness. It’s almost a chicken-and-egg problem, but not quite: if the first steps can be small, secure and certain enough, the rest will follow.

    3. I suspect this ‘learned helplessness’ is not merely a quality of recent American culture, but of all humans, in all time periods. Was the American Experiment really an exception to the rule, or was it just another in a very long line of examples of this trait? The Founding Fathers of the United States were the elites of their own world. What could the common man of that world do but to follow them?

      In thinking about cases like these, the Founding Fathers, the Marxists, the Nazis, I’ve always found myself going back to Plato’s original truism about the nature of government. Whether it be a Monarchy, a Republic, or a Democracy, government is exactly as good or as evil as the specific individuals who are actually the ones making the decisions. Kind of a coin flip, if you will forgive the nihilistic implications.

      1. “a quality of recent American culture, but of all humans, in all time periods.”

        Yes, but then every human trait is present in every society, in every time. What differentiates societies from each other, and constitutes their individual evolution, is the relative magnitude and modes of expression of each trait (or behavior, however one chooses to conceptualize it).

  5. The first and biggest step toward reforming America? Pull ourselves out of despair. I don’t know how many times I’ve suggested various policy changes to politically involved Americans, only to get the response “It’s hopeless” and “it wouldn’t help” and “it would only make things worse.”

    Good or bad, we’ve got to do something. Sitting around on our asses whining that “the system is too corrupt” guarantees a bad ending.

    The psychologists call this “learned helplessness.” If we don’t break out of it, we truly are doomed.

    1. “Pull ourselves out of despair.”

      Precision of description is essential at this level of discussion. So I am not just being pointlessly pedantic (as I usually am) when I say…

      *** That is a *result* of reformers actions, not an operational step. ***

      Most of the solutions proposed in comments here make this kind of category error. Such as “the solution is to call a constitutional convention”. While that might be useful, many steps must precede that to produce the convention — and give reasonable odds that it will improve the situation. Not make it worse.

      In a long-gone time — the late 1960s — dreamy reformers spoke of the need to “make people think as one”. Those were just dreams because they had not a clue how to achieve it.

    2. precisely the inverse…everything now is same or change. do not heed the call to just do something…this will only produce a happiness is just around the bend effect as the purpose of desire is simply its replication. happiness cannot be obtained directly…it is a BYPRODUCT of flow. time is an illusion. it is simply an arbitrary index to mark changes in the way your feel.
      now is the time to think and talk about it.

      the ‘something’ you use leads you to the beetle in the box. humans can only discuss language that exists in symbolic reality. everything in your mind is imaginary. ultimately the richness of your inner landscape is fake. if humans continue in this manner they will arrive at the Sophie’s Choice.


  6. First, the US has not been a republic since as long ago as the 1880s (corporate personhood) when commercial and imperial maritime law superseded an increasing number of the provisions of the US Constitution, affirmed repeatedly since by the SCOTUS.

    Popular representative governance of a republic of 315 million citizens is simply impractical, if not demonstrably impossible.

    The US has become, as many other historical empires, a multi-cultural empire (historically an unambigous sign of decline, which in turn was a precursor to disintegration and eventual collapse), characterized specifically as a rentier corporate-state variety and successor to the British Empire.

    The US gov’t is the best that (lots of) money can buy. Lobbying, primarily by Fortune 25-300 firms, is effectively legal bribery, which cannot be described as “corrupt” when the system is designed by its owners to accommodate and encourage such activities. Money buys the privilege to write the rules in your favor, irrespective of the effect on the rest of society. Period.

    The revenues of the Fortune 25-100 to 300 firms are equivalent to 40-75% to 100% of US GDP, even though these firms employ fewer than 13% of the total US workforce at revenue/employee of $425,000.

    The US gov’t and the Fortune 25-300 are synoymous. Mussolini described the merger of the largest industrial and banking firms with the imperial state as fascism. The US corporate-state has been described as fascism with a [relatively] friendly face. To deny that the US is a corporate-state and thus exhibits many of the ideal type characteristics of Mussolini’s fascist state is to be naive or in denial about the evolution of int’l capitalism and the will to power of wealthy elites and the institutions they create and control to perpetuate their power.

    There are no constituencies within the US to challenge the rentier corporate-statist elite top 0.01-0.1% to 1% of households who own controlling interest in the Fortune 25-100 firms and thus exert the dominant influence on the governance of the corporate-state, including monetary, tax, fiscal, and foreign policies.

    The elite top 0.01-0.1% are largely disengaged from the real economy and indifferent to the challenges of the bottom 90-99% of households; they are effectively untouchable, having virtually no accountablity to the society except to themselves.

    Like all other empires before her, the Anglo-American (and marginally German, Dutch, Swiss, and Milanese) empire is effectively too large, costs too much to sustain and defend, is ungovernable (the US is comprised of AT LEAST 5-6 distinct cultural/economic regions whose populations are as different as are many European countries/regions), and thus is unsustainable.

    Without acknowledging what kind of state the US is, who owns it, what their motivations, objectives, and methods are, thus who governs the state in their interests, and what role or status the bottom 90-99% of the population has, there can be no informed action (or not) to challenge the entrenched constituencies.

    Thus, the US is the Anglo-American successor to four centuries of British Empire, the latter form having been in decline since the onset of peak US crude production, deindustrialization, and financialization in the 1970s-80s.

    Now, with Peak Oil and falling global crude oil production and oil exports per capita since 2005, the world is exergetically where the US was in the early to mid-1970s, facing the end of growth of industrialization and the end of growth, and onset of decline, of real GDP per capita hereafter.

    Wall St., Fortune 25-300 CEOs, the Pentagon, CIA, NSA, State Dept., the Anglo-American imperial ministerial intellectual caste, and the rentier Power Elite are all well aware of these global structural factors and their implications hereafter; but no one gets paid to sell the metanarrative of imperial peak and decline and the imperative to postpone or mitigate the worst effects of imperial decline and collapse.

    1. OK, you consider the situation hopeless. Please excuse the rest of us if we disagree and try to fix it.

      “Now, with Peak Oil and falling global crude oil production and oil exports per capita since 2005”

      While people never give up this nonsense? Liquid fuels production (including natural gas) is adequate to meet demand (it can never exceed production for long, as storage is too expensive) with prices flat since 2008 (far down from peak). That shows no scarcity, despite roughly 3%+ average growth/year in GDP since 2008.

      In terms of total US energy consumption, prices per BTU consumed are far down from peak in 2008. Oil, natural gas, and coal prices have all dropped quite a bit. Again, no signs of scarcity.

      Looking at the larger picture, energy prices probably will continue rising for the foreseeable future — due to the inverse relationship between the quality and quantity of minerals. This is offset by new technology, like that allowing tapping of oil and natural gas in tight rock formations (aka fracking). So long as the rate is not too fast, the economic effect will be minimal.

      At some point we will hit peak oil. But that remains in the future, at some unknowable date. We don’t have adequate data about Middle East and Russian reserves, about the global potential of fracking, etc. And of course we cannot make reliable long-term forecasts of GDP, let alone energy consumption.

    2. https://www.box.com/s/gb8m6ur7zwfzflrwurw0








      Despite the tripling of the average price of crude oil since ’05, total world crude oil production per capita is declining.

      US total oil production is back to the levels of 1956-61 and down 45% per capita since the peaks in 1970 and 1985. US deindustrialization and financialization of the economy since peak crude oil production per capita is not a coincidence.

      US real GDP per capita cannot grow with the price of oil in constant dollars above $30-$40/bbl. Therefore, the US cannot grow real GDP per capita AND have the price of oil high enough to permit sustained profitable extraction of tight, deep, and bitumen oil.

      China’s net oil imports have reached par with that of the US with world net oil exports having peaked in ’05 and declined per capita thereafter, increasing the risk of int’l tension, global oil supply shocks, and thus a national security threat from China’s growth of consumption of oil imports as a share of total consumption.

      In this context, the world is where the US was in the mid-1970s, only this time with unprecedented public and private debt/GDP and little or no growth or real GDP per capita.

      As for “nonsense”, Peak Oil is about the rate of change of oil extraction per capita at a price that permits growth of real GDP sufficient to ensure sustained growth of demand to enable future investment in oil extraction. We reached the Peak Oil threshold in ’05, at which point growth of real GDP per capita is no longer sufficient to support growth of demand for oil at an affordable price that is profitable to extract so as to sustain future profits and investments.

      That oil extraction and exports per capita are contracting since ’05 implies that the rate of world growth of real GDP and food production per capita is likewise peaking.

      The world at 7 billion people and Peak Oil can no longer afford to grow an oil- and auto-based mass-consumer economy in real terms per capita, and that’s not “nonsense”; it’s a demonstrable statistical fact.


      China-Asia’s growth (funded primarily by US and Japanese supranational firms’ $4 trillion of FDI since the early ’90s) is occurring at the expense of available net oil exports (a concept understood by only a tiny fraction of the population, I suspect) for the rest of the world. Therefore, China-Asia’s growth is peaking but still poses a national security threat to the West hereafter.

      Not only are oil extraction and exports per capita contracting, the quality is declining at a faster rate, which implies that the “net energy” (EROEI) per capita is declining at an accelerating rate, increasing the net costs of liquid fossil fuel per capita at diminishing marginal returns to each bbl extracted.

      Before one concludes that Peak Oil is “nonsense”, one should first understand what the condition actually is, as well as understand the related concepts of “available net oil exports” and “net energy” and the long-term structural effects on real GDP per capita.

      Unless one actually understands Peak Oil, which occurred first for the US in 1970, one will not understand the geopolitical and geoeconomic factors associated with the 1970s-80s oil embargoes and inflationary recessions/depressions, Arab-Israeli wars and ongoing conflict, Iranian Revolution, the collapse of the Soviet Union, 9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, the ’08-’09 meltdown, “The Arab Spring”, Syria, and the deteriorating US-China trade and diplomatic relations, the next global stock market crash and deflationary recession, risk of war with China, and China’s economic collapse and social instability in the years ahead.

      Restoring a quasi-fascist, militarist corporate-statist global empire to a republican form of governance under ongoing conditions of global population and ecological overshoot, mass immigration, Peak Oil, and falling real GDP and net energy per capita? Talk about “nonsense”. :-D

      1. I have written dozens of articles about peak oil, and had many discussions with leaders in the field quite well.

        I did not say that “peak oil was nonsense”. In fact I said the opposite. What I said is nonsense is belief that we have reached Peak oil. My explanation why was quite adequate. I don’t see that you have replied to anything I said, which makes further analysis quite futile.

        I will comment only a few points in your confused word blizzard.

        (1). US petroleum production is increasing quite rapidly, unlike the picture you paint. This evolution might be in it’s early stages; we do not know yet.

        (2) It is highly likely that these techniques can produce large new petroleum flows from other regions in the world with similar deposits.

        (3). It is important to look at liquid fuel consumption, not oil. That oil substitutes becomes available and displace oil use does NOT mean peak oil.

        (4). Oil consumption is a function of demand. If demand is flat due to increased efficiency and demand changes (as in the developed nations), that does NOT mean we are at peak oil.

        (5). Increased consumption of liquid fuels while prices are flat to down is sufficient proof that peak oil has not arrived.

        I could go on, but why bother? These things have all been explained in a thousand news articles during the past few years. Anyone who does not know them does not want to know them.

    3. Fabius Maximus writes:

      (1). US petroleum production is increasing quite rapidly, unlike the picture you paint. This evolution might be in it’s early stages; we do not know yet.

      BC: But why is US production rapidly increasing? It is because the average price of oil has tripled since the peak rate of change increase and the onset of the decline per capita. But global petroleum production per capita since ’05-’08 has DECLINED. And look at what has happened to US real GDP, employment, industrial production, and real incomes per capita.

      We can’t have the price of oil high enough to increase US and Canadian production AND have real GDP per capita grow. Eventually, US liquid fuels production will peak and reverse as demand further decelerates per capita. I predict that it’s peaking now and will decline in the years ahead.

      (2) It is highly likely that these techniques can produce large new petroleum flows from other regions in the world with similar deposits.

      BC: But what is the net energy per capita return to real GDP per capita from the reserves and flows at current high prices? Can real GDP per capita grow with the price of oil at $95-$120/bbl required to extract profitably the new reserves? The evidence is clear that it cannot.

      (3). It is important to look at liquid fuel consumption, not oil. That oil substitutes becomes available and displace oil use does NOT mean peak oil.

      BC: Total world petroleum liquid fuels production has not grown per capita since 2002-03!!! World liquid fuels consumption per capita is where it was in the early to mid-1990s!!!

      And what about the cost of the subsitutes in net energy per capita terms? What are the flow rates and depletion rates? It requires crude oil to extract the substitutes. Look at the rate of reserve growth and prices of oil that are required to sustain the investment and extraction of the substitutes. There is NOW WAY the world economy can grow in real per-capita terms at current fuels prices to sustain demand and growth of production of liquid fuels.

      Again, we can’t sustain the investment and extraction at these high prices AND have growth of real GDP per capita. Without GDP growth, demand falls and the cost of the production infrastructure is prohibitive to further growth of demand.

      (4). Oil consumption is a function of demand. If demand is flat due to increased efficiency and demand changes (as in the developed nations), that does NOT mean we are at peak oil.

      BC: Why is demand flat?! Are you looking at the real GDP and liquid fuels consumption per capita data? We have deindustrialized and burdened the US economy with debt to GDP for over 40 years because US oil production per capita peak 28-43 years ago and we could no longer afford to grow an industrial economy! Is it no wonder that demand is falling per capita? Why do you think the panicked bankers are printing themselves $3 trillion and the US gov’t has borrowed and spent over $6 trillion in four fiscal years?! The price of oil being at $95-$120 has nothing to do with this? Good grief!

      And why has the price of oil tripled since 2005 and production per capita has DECLINED?!

      And now world real GDP per capita is decelerating again to historical recession levels, which is why commodities prices are in bear markets. Again, growth of real GDP per capita is not possible at the current price of oil, which in turn means that demand will not sustain current levels of liquid fuels production per capita.

      (5). Increased consumption of liquid fuels while prices are flat to down is sufficient proof that peak oil has not arrived.

      BC: US, EU, and Japan are not increasing liquid fuels consumption per capita because their economies are not growing in real per-capita terms. The growth of demand is coming from China-Asia and the oil-producing countries, but most of the net investment that has driven Asian demand is from US supranational firms that have invested $4 trillion in FDI in China-Asia over the past 20 years. Now that 70% of the world is experiencing no real GDP per capita growth, growth in China-Asia is poised to decelerate along with demand for liquid fuels, which will cause liquid fuels production to decline further in per-capita terms.

      When liquid fuels or total petroleum production declines per capita because prices are too high to allow growth of global real GDP per capita and thus to sustain the current rate of global production of fuels, THAT IS PEAK OIL.

      The test of your understanding of Peak Oil and its effects is whether or not you can make reasonably accurate predictions about the rate of demand and production per capita in the next 1-3 to 5+ years, as well as the associated rate of growth of real GDP per capita; if you are unable to, or you don’t know anyone who can, you need to go back to school about Peak Oil, net energy (EROEI) per capita, oil export capacity per capita, available net oil exports per capita, and real GDP per capita.

      1. Bc,

        You are just making stuff up. You have not remotely answered my questions.

        This is one of the most closely subjects in economics. Major agencies such as the EIA and other national agencies — plus the IEA and a host of academics crunch all these numbers. Try citing some sources.

        By the way, production increasing along with prices is not a sign that peak oil is here, or even approaching. It is a function of the inverse relationship of ore quantity and quality, offset by technology.

        You appear to be defining peak oil as anything …including increasing production. Whatever.

        It will come, eventually.

      2. BC,

        You might not have thought through the implications of your belief — contrary to all experts — that peak oil has arrived. It means you are also a Global Warming Denier. You disagree with the core forecasts of the IPCC regarding emissions, and the peer-reviewed consensus science on which it is based.

        While we can rejoice in your discovery, you should take it to higher profile venues. RealClimate, Skepticalscience, and the climate blogs at the NY Times and Guardian.

        They — and those that comment there — will be eager to hear you corrections to the IPCC forecasts. Peak Oil means that global economic growth will slow (or reverse), and that the world’s co2 emissions will follow the path of the US (decreasing as miles driven decreases).

        As one who has been viciously attacked (my disk has megs of hate mail) for quoting climate scientists and the IPCC — noting that advocates and journalists go beyond this in their enthusiasm — I will warn you that attacking the IPCC might result in some strongly worded criticism (e.g., you are evil incarnate).

        But that’s the price you Climate Deniers pay for bringing the truth to humanity. If we are at peak oil, than a large fraction (not all) of the funding and attention devoted to global warming should be re-focused ASAP on opening new energy sources.

        Please report back on your experiences delivering this news!

  7. FM, I have to confess that your website has helped me to reconsider my own initial aversion to politics. I once believed that any change had to come from outside the “system” yet the truth is we are the system and we always have the ability to take it back and make it work for us. It is a tool, a type of technology we have created to make life easier for us, nothing more nothing less. Just like computers though, very few of us actually knows how the system works and how to operate it. We defer to the experts and otherwise interested parties thinking that they will take care of us at the end. As you have pointed out, they will probably take care of us in some way, and they know exactly what they are doing, yet as human nature would imply, they will take care of themselves first, leaving us to contend with the morsels they are generous enough to grant us.

    Below is a brief strategy for how we can take back the machinery of government for our use and our benefit:

    Create an umbrella organization, an alliance of third parties and disaffected republicans and democrats to bring about reforms in one or two key areas.

    For example, repealing the authorization of military force and scaling back the national security state and foreign military bases and interventions. This is an issue that unites libertarians, progressives, greens, paleo-conservatives, and others.

    There is no need to create a new party or glorious movement, just one temporary alliance to affect one key area of reform that is sucking the life out of our civil liberties and economy. Membership is broad and open, all you have to do to be a part of it is support the one or two key issues by supporting and voting for member candidates regardless of party, and by actively recruiting new members.

    With some initial momentum and a modest group size, this alliance can then seek larger funding via crowd-sourcing sites such as kickstarter. That money can then be used to place ads, field candidates and fund campaigns for state and national level representatives. These candidates can be from any party or independent, thus the money we add is a boost from whatever money they may receive from their own parties and they have a greater chance of being elected. In exchange, they must vote in line with their membership in the alliance. If they re-neg on their commitment, they are immediately expelled and denied any further funding or support.

    The goal is not to somehow miraculously get a majority in congress or state legislatures, but rather to create a large enough caucus to block key legislation unless the reform alliance’s goals are seriously considered and bills are drafted to support them. Just having 15% of representatives could be enough to put enormous pressure on politicians, especially where issues fall along partisan lines and the majorities are very slim.

    Once the actual reform is past, the alliance could disband or it could continue on to another goal that unites across ideological lines. This approach can be copied in various ways and in multiple levels, from a city council vote on eminent domain, to legalizing marijuana at the federal level. The key in my view is what politicians really need and crave: money. Either we the citizenry who care about a particular issue can fork that money up and buy the politicians, or the special interests will.

    1. “For example, repealing the authorization of military force and scaling back the national security state and foreign military bases and interventions. This is an issue that unites libertarians, progressives, greens, paleo-conservatives, and others. ”


    2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-imperialism





      Have you ever read about the US anti-imperialism movements during the late Victorian Era and the Progressive Era? Most Americans do not know about Mark Twain’s opposition to Imperium Americanum, or to imperialism in general.

      Despite the US having developed as an empire arguably as long ago as the Louisiana Purchase, resulting in the US becoming the successor to British Empire, the ruling Anglo-American elite have discouraged the development of the narrative of the US as an empire; and it has worked exceedingly well to condition the overwhelming majority of Americans to continue to believe, if they think about it at all, that the US has a popular representative republican form of goverance rather than a global militarist-imperialist rentier corporate-state.

      Given the iron grip the rentier owners of the banks have on the US gov’t, the economic and financial system, and the mass-media influentials, no “reform” or r-evolution is even conceivable without a growing plurality of the “educated” professional middle class next 9% abandoning the top-down rentier values of the top 0.01-0.1% and directly challenging their power and control over the tax code, banking system, federal legislature and judiciary, electoral process, mass media, and control of the ownership and financial flows of the Fortune 25-100 firms.

      Name one empire in history that did not decay and disintegrate from the top and within, and then suffer retreat from the imperial fringes and eventual collapse.

      Decline of empires is halted by collapse and hard stop. Anglo-American empire has been in decline since the 1970s, picking up speed since ’00 and again in ’08.

    3. “Name one empire in history that did not decay and disintegrate from the top and within, and then suffer retreat from the imperial fringes and eventual collapse.”

      In some ways the idea is to hasten the collapse that we all know will eventually come but to do so in a way that prevents the least amount of international chaos possible and allows us to withdraw to a more modest position gracefully rather than be forced into it by a dead economy and defeats by rising powers and 4gw non-state actors.

      Furthermore, just because there is no history of something happening before, does not mean it cannot happen now. A prime example is the abolitionist movement in Britain. No real history of mankind repealing slavery, an ancient institution, by the will of a popular movement, yet it happened. Gandhi in India is another first, the first independence movement that succeeded in ending colonialism without the use of force.

      I do not believe in a steady upward path of progress, we often make the same mistakes time and time again, but if you look at the condition of mankind today, and compare it with only 500 years ago, things that once seemed little more than fantasy are now accepted as political realities.

      This happens because people refuse to accept the situation is hopeless and that change is impossible, we owe our republic, as flawed and corrupt as it may be, to the efforts of those who did not accept the irredimability of the human condition but instead strove to make things just a little bit better, even if they lost everything in the attemp.

  8. Well worth reading: “The America That Was Free And Is Now Dead“, excerpted from the book Buried Alive: Essays on Our Endangered Republic by Walter Karp (1992)

    Opening of this thought-provoking essay about an inflection point of American history:

    The triumph of Woodrow Wilson and the war party [World War I] struck the American republic a blow from which it has never recovered. If the mainspring of a republican commonwealth – its “active principle,” in Jefferson’s words-is the perpetual struggle against oligarchy and privilege, against private monopoly and arbitrary power, then that mainspring was snapped and deliberately snapped by the victors in the civil war over war.

  9. I came across an interview this morning:


    that includes some observations relevant to our discussion.

    One of the principles I seem to be encountering repeatedly in this particular rabbit hole is something like this:

    The most important changes won’t come from working within the system or from working against the system, but from working around the system.

    This is not a new idea, of course. It was probably the dominant view within the late ’60s and early ’70s counterculture; only small minorities believed that the political system could actually be turned to good or that a frontal attack on it would be anything but ineffectual martyrdom. If I’m reading Dr. Chomsky correctly, Bakunin had some similar thoughts in the 1800s.

    Here’s a contemporary example: the Free Software/Free Culture movement. (See:
    if those terms are unfamiliar. Please note that, in Richard Stallman’s famous phrase, the essential meaning is “free as in free speech, not as in free beer.”)

    While there is certainly some political advocacy, the major thrust has been to work around the existing system of intellectual property; not by defying it, but by using its own legal formalisms to protect the freedom to use, copy and modify creative works instead of to restrict it.

    In the desktop computer world, this movement might seem like a footnote. The WordPress software on which this blog runs is free software; on its page about the Apache HTTP Server, also free software, Wikipedia notes, “Since April 1996 Apache has been the most popular HTTP server software in use. As of December 2012 Apache was estimated to serve 63.7% of all active websites and 58.49% of the top servers across all domains.” (Wikipedia itself also runs on free software, as well as being comprised of free content.)

    1. All interesting ideas. I am skeptical that building enclaves will have significant effect in our increasing tightly integrated world. But who can say?

  10. My two cents.
    I think i have the new paradigm you are asking for.
    I believe i comprehended the world system or Theory of Everything just last year and still working on it.

    + and – = 0

    Positive and negative creates something (visible/ perceived)

    I apologise for using big words but consider that english is my second language.
    How to explain that new paradigm if Morpheus could not describe what Matrix is to Neo?

    I got it from comprehending MMT and the true nature of money.
    Money is debt. + and – = 0
    Money that we use is government debt. Credits from the banks are recorded as liabilities and assets at the same time. +-=0
    Matter and antimatter was created from almost nothing into universe. +-=0
    We as young people without achievements and savings want to share in from what older generations achieved so young are liberal, while older who got afluence and respect and ssavings want to preserve it from being shared with those that do not have it, so older become conservative even tough in earlier age we were liberal. Same person with two opposing attitudes separated by time. +-=0

    As previously described what the nature of the state really is ( i believe by coisus, but not sure), State is a legal creation by society that serves whatever society decides it shoud. The same should be said for money. Money is a legal creation by society and it should be used as needed by and for society. This is what MMT describes and why MMT offers the new paradigm and new hope for creative forcees of the society without waiting for a false prophet( dictator) to lead them by giving the hope.
    Coupled with automatization that offers free goods and services with free energy needed MMT makes it possible to propel the world into new paradigm pointing to the possibilities with New Hope.


    The Matrix thrilogy shows this Theory of Everything very clearly, Creator has Oracle as its counter to keep the ballance. +-=0
    Mobious has Neo to merge as one since they want the same just using different wording and from different perspectivee to keep the world going.+-=0

    And so on. I got to go now without finishing and clarifing as much as i could.

  11. the crisis you sense lies within ideology itself…this produces framed imaginary decisions such as the end of capitalism or the end of the world. most people live in a paranoid masturbatory rape fantasy. this is the background that their thoughts and attitudes emanate from BEFORE they consciously think them. the subject of analysis is the cartesian subject. the voice of the unconscious is the voice of the other. the secret of the other is the secret for the other itself. love is a feeling. love ONLY relates to the nothing that does NOT exist behind ideology and symbolic reality. real freedom is unbearable.

    a closed rational system will eventually begin to produce ONLY irrational results. if this continues features such as splitting begin to crop up. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Splitting_(psychology)

    occurring somewhat in tandem with changes in the individual psychologies, humans have also become a force of nature…this decoupled the racist fantasy from the real by producing a fantasy of a fantasy. real events stopped happening but change is the only constant.

    society as of now is a fight to death for recognition but only near death as both master and slave are imaginary in the mind of the other. actual death would break the illusion. reality is for those who cannot sustain the dream. there is no real difference between waking and dreaming

    the problem with fantasies is that only one can exist at a time…this is driving it dangerously close to totality. the only way to navigate a system built of excess desire is to expose the point of cognition that lies within your unconscious. this reveals your subjectivity and allows you to give yourself your own coordinates.

    do not be afraid to desire what you want.

    this will be very difficult to do and it seems to be out of reach for most humans
    only AFTER humans are able to navigate the existing system can politics be re-established
    politics are required to form NEW laws

  12. Coises on May 28 at 6:38 am raised some important issues when he stated:

    “But there is no point in asking people to rise up and tackle Big Finance when they lack enough sense of empowerment to deal with a dysfunctional homeowners association or a demoralizing office manager. Only the experience of power can recondition us away from helplessness…It is almost a chicken-and-egg problem, but not quite: if the first steps can be small, secure and certain enough, the rest will follow.”

    I would like to believe that we may be reaching a point where a greater and greater number of us desire change(the nature of which is still extremely muddy both structurally and psychologically) but don’t yet believe we can get much.

    Perhaps, part of a first step is to formulate responses to such a tension within us.

    Stated in a slightly different way—there may be a growing aspiration for change but connected closely to such aspiration is an increased anxiety/fear about changing.

    Fear, then, on a psychological level, may be an extremely important source of immobility and must be closely examined and openly discussed.

    Coises then states that if the first steps can be small, secure and certain enough, the rest will follow– I also believe he has hit on something extremely important here.

    It may be necessary both psychologically and structurally to formulate an initial organizing strategy that can result in small victories with minimal threats to our sense of security but which serve as foundations of empowerment that give us the strength and confidence to carry on and eventually implement a broader democratic political vision (which must also be simultaneously formulated, debated and articulated).

    On thing seems certain though– we must use both our social experience and our intelligence to begin to formulate not only alternative political visions with specific goals but also an organizing strategy that will eventually be capable of recruiting large numbers of people to breath social life into the actual possibility of achieving these goals.

    Such a powerful collective will cannot magically coalesce—it must eventually be organized.

    1. you must remember that society is based on envy not greed. if your neighbor gets one eye poked out you want both poked out.

      you cannot harness raw power. in attempting to do so you remove its cleansing properties
      love is all or nothing

      the excess desire for experience arises out of a bad faith or double mindedness
      desire is a byproduct of your needs being fulfilled. all humans only need to be loved…so
      something is always left out…creating a lack that is filled by desire

      fear of what?
      where precisely is the psychological level?

  13. I tend to see the psychological level as the space which includes the culture within (symbolic stimuli without a sensory component) and outside (symbolic stimuli with a sensory component) the brain.

    For the purpose of political organizing, I see fear as the inability or hesitancy to act publicly against sanctioned authority.

    Stated more positively it is the creation of an insurgent attitude or the breaking of this barrier of fear.

    1. how can you see a psychological level if it is behind your eyes?
      your definition of ‘inclusive space’ is exclusive of that which cannot be symbolized. this is a logical flaw. in order to objectively discuss a subject you must also take into account its effects

      culture is steeped in a world view…your description creates a positive feedback loop
      the ‘insurgent attitude’ is NOT radical. it is a self flagellation born out of an ascetic tone within the ideology. fear itself is irrational. the regret of inaction is a byproduct of the minimal difference between your narcissistic will and your fear of annihilation

      the ONLY way to regulate a positive feedback loop is by embedding negative feedback loops

      the proximity of the other in this case society IS the bar of your unconscious. the secret of the other is the secret for the other itself

  14. How can you see a psychological level that is behind your eyes?

    Because what is considered “inner” is initially and primarily outer–a particular cultural tradition internalized during childhood.

    I agree with you that fear is irrational.

    Perhaps you could explain to me the ingredients of your negative feedback loop and how it could regulate or dismantle my supposed positive feedback loop?

    I tend to start most of my analysis from the perspective of the same and tend to be satisfied with its circularity since such skepticism seems, at least, to have rhetorical affinities with democracy.

    1. who precisely is doing the considering?

      children do not develop a self image until around 9 or 10
      in other words, events do not happen to them

      where was your psychological level in early development?
      how are traditions being internalized?
      what is the difference between tradition and ritual?
      can traditions be used to create taboos?

      there are no ingredients to a loop
      systems have ingredients
      everything is relationships

      the system as of now CANNOT be regulated
      it is running on bad faith or double mindedness
      you can see this in the perception of inner and outer
      the duality is an illusion
      probability is an actuality
      the following hierarchy cannot reach a steady state and
      eventually begins to have difficulty replicating itself
      as long as there are castes there will be outcasts

      the only objective standpoint is the antagonism of the real
      this standpoint is in some dimension related to the view of the outcast
      which is precisely that which is prohibited from within the loop and a driver of the loop itself
      any organizational activity within the system produces an inverse effect
      heightening anxiety

      if you are determining that something has affinities with democracy do you
      not need to know the coordinates of where you are coming from?

    2. with regards to your direct query about possible ways to adjust feedback to facilitate some
      type of organization…
      the only things that seems to give it a handle in the status quo is the indirect manipulation
      of simulated luxury
      this is a very weak and unstable control that desensitizes rapidly

  15. As I remarked, FM, people like BC respond to all calls for change from the current situation in America with the plaint “It’s hopeless.”

    I can offer a number of concrete suggestions for fixing America, but first we must get out of the rut of “learned helplessness.” I truly do believe that you have it backwards. Belief in the possibility precedes efforts to change society, not the other way around. (But of course I could well be mistaken.)

    Some concrete suggestions:

    [1] Work to get people under 25 to vote. This age group votes at a lower rate than any other, yet if they did vote, they would completely transform our political landscape, allowing many progressive reforms to be passed. Want to know why fringe lunatics like Michelle Bachmann get elected to congress? Because people under 25 don’t vote. Want to know why George W. Bush got within a few thousand votes of Al Gore in the 2000 election? Because people under 25 don’t vote.

    [2] Become personally involved in politics. Join your local party committee, work to get out the vote by knocking on doors and cold-calling. Regardless of your political beliefs, the more people who actually get up off their asses and get personally involved in our system of governance, the more health our democracy will be.

    [3] Take the time to personally contact your representative and your senator in Washington about issues you care deeply about. People always say “That’s pointless, you can’t chance anything with phone calls and emails and letters.” WRONG. Look what happened when SOPA triggered that firestorm of phone calls and emails and letters. When politicians see a big enough negative public response to their proposals, they back off fast.

    [4] Consider getting involved in your local government. The more you get invovled, the more you’ll realize how connected you are to your government, and how much it pervades your life. And the more possibilities you’ll see for changing things. Even a very small step, like volunteering to work with your local town council, will make a very big change if enough people do it.

    1. I totally agree with your description of things each of us can do. But individually we are powerless.

      The question is how to get people motivated to change.

    2. hope is a feeling. it only kicks in when love cannot bridge the gap and maintain the illusion of reality. over proximity of the traumatic real gives symbolic reality a fiction like quality. as you enter a liminal state a feeling of hope arises in an effort to maintain stability. feelings are direct responses to your environment. the cynic believes in joy and makes it imaginary. you will not cut your own arm off unless you have to.

      the ‘it’s hopeless’ or ‘oh dear’ is a form of sarcasm
      sarcasm is the last cry of the good human heart

      a sense of helplessness arises from traumatic desensitization somewhat related to a thousand yard stare

      what you are seeing as ‘learned helplessness’ seems more directly related to diffusion of responsibility.

  16. FM remarks in a previous reply to another commenter:

    Oil consumption is a function of demand. If demand is flat due to increased efficiency and demand changes (as in the developed nations), that does NOT mean we are at peak oil.

    I wish this were true. Have you heard of the Jevons Paradox? Historical evidence shows that increasing efficiency alone won’t save us, since historically whenever technological systems that use scarce resources grow more efficient, this simply encourages people to use more of the scarce resource. In fact it’s precisely for this reason that we enjoy a better standard of living than Aztec princes or Egyptian pharaohs. If it weren’t for the fact that the average American or Japanese or German uses exponentially more energy than the pharaohs of ancient Egypt despite enormous improvements in the efficiency of energy-using technology, we wouldn’t have a better standard of living — no air conditioning, no cars, no diesel-electric locomotives, no jet planes, no energy-gobbling data centers (which currently account for 4% of all U.S. energy usage and growing fast) to feed data to our smartphones.

    Like Baumols’ Cost Disease, the Jevons Paradox suggests that we’re not going to technofix our way out of Peak Oil. (But of course I could be completely wrong, and will appreciate anyone who can provide logic and evidence where my reasoning has run awry.)

    1. I agree about the significance of Jevon’s Paradox. But it does not apply to short-term changes, such as the past few years that BC discusses.

      For example, oil prices zoomed after 1972. After seven years of this, after 1979 world oil consumption collapsed. Despite GDP growth, it took 14 years for oil consumption to return to the previous peak.

  17. I have been reading a lot about the history of Political Correctness as a result of my interest in 4GW. I think they are really spot on when they talk about the “Long March Through The Institutions.” Certainly explains many of our problems today and more importantly the lack of solutions. Our corrupt institutions hold much of the real power in the USA so the formal or visible governmental power structures simply don’t matter.

    Fab Max glad to see you are going subjective. I think it was W.E.Demming that said “some of the most important factors cannot be seen and cannot be measured but they are there.”

  18. Moderator, I really messed up. The above post should go under the propaganda article! Don’t know how to move it. Sorry about that.

  19. Pingback: The Second Step to Reforming America « Föhrenbergkreis Finanzwirtschaft

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