Friday, April 24, 2009

 

Foreign Workers in Japan Paid to Leave

Foreign workers are leaving many countries these days, under various conditions, because of the crumbling world economy. Some fly by night and abandon their cars and belongings. So-called nikkei foreign workers in Japan have it better: The Japanese government is paying their way home. Of course when business conditions improve again, they can go back to Japan, right? Not necessarily so. The government has attached a revealing condition to this financial incentive: the workers cannot seek work visas again. What’s the significance of this? It is a tacit admission by the government that it does not expect the good old days of economic growth to return. If it did, it would instead seek to keep these workers in Japan as a reserve labor pool. But here is the government handing them wads of cash as an inducement to go home.

 

Cellphone a Vital Necessity?

Apparently many Americans now feel that their mobile phones are vital necessities, more important than air conditioning. So I say it again: When people start to give up their cellphones, we’ll know things are really bad. In addition to the previous item I posted on this topic, I see that in Canada cellphone subscription growth has now stagnated.

Keep watching this vital metric.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

 

A Presidential Energy Policy

I’d like to follow the previous post with a very hopeful message. Many people, faced with a future of economic contraction, are going to do some serious worrying when they realize all the implications: Mass unemployment that we can only now begin to imagine, the end of “retirement” and pensions, civil upheaval, military confrontations over energy and resources, increasing piracy across the world’s oceans, lawlessness, the decline of industrial civilization, famine, and many more wrenching changes come to mind.

So people are going to wonder how they as individuals, and their governments, should cope with this new world. An excellent place to start is Michael C. Ruppert’s new book A Presidential Energy Policy. You can find out about the book and much more here.

Don’t let the title fool you. Yes, we should all hope that President Obama reads this book immediately and acts accordingly. But it’s a book that people in charge of policy and decision-making at all levels, not to mention the general public, can benefit from. And although not everything will apply directly to countries other than the US, in general it does.

Instead of the pap that the media spoon-feed us daily about “economic recovery” and a Glorious Technological Future, what the world needs now is the kind of brutally frank assessment of the situation that Ruppert dishes out in this book. But that assessment is accompanied by a proposed program of 25 points that will go far toward mitigating the impacts of peak oil and setting us on a path toward a new society and socioeconomic system.

There is not a moment to lose. Even the mainstream media, which tend to paper over and sugar-coat events that don’t fit the paradigm, now present shocking news of impending financial and industrial collapse on a daily basis. Everyone needs to realize that this isn’t just another recession from which we’ll recover and march toward new heights of economic growth.

So, click that link now, visit Rubiconworks, and spread the word.

Monday, April 20, 2009

 

Growth and Debt

In an interview, Colin Campbell says in part,
These new energy sources, especially oil, the easiest, allowed the rapid expansion of industry, transport, trade and agriculture allowing the economy to expand greatly. It was accompanied by the growth of financial capital as banks lent more than they had on deposit, confident that Tomorrow's Expansion was collateral for Today's Debt.
I don’t know if Campbell made up that italicized bit himself, but it’s a great line that we should all remember because it distills the essence of our oil-driven growth economy into a short, pithy sentence: “Tomorrow’s expansion is collateral for today’s debt.” In other words, the only way that most of the colossal debt out there could ever be repaid is for the world economy to quickly recover and grow at a respectable clip. And in fact, as the above verbal distillation says, that is indeed the whole premise for our debt-based world economic system.

The world financial crisis is said to have been precipitated when a whole lot of bad debt (subprime loans, etc.) started to unwind. And of course there has been much unregulated greed out there creating that toxic waste. But what led to this in the first place was the expectation that continuing economic growth would somehow keep the show going.

Now, however, there’s a really big possibility that we have passed the peak of oil production. Making this especially likely is the shelving of many oilfield development projects because they are unprofitable at current low crude prices. Even if there is an economic recovery, there would almost certainly not be enough oil to power it.

If this really is the “end of growth,” then there is a heckuva lot more bad debt in the world than we can imagine, because the collateral for all of that debt is disappearing or already gone.

Friday, April 17, 2009

 

Keeping Them Down on the Farm

Here is an interesting article about city people in Japan returning to the land and taking up farming. Naturally they’re surprised by the amount of back-breaking labor there is, despite the use of modern gasoline-powered machinery. And no one should be surprised that many just can’t hack it.

Nevertheless, as we head into the new age of economic contraction, we’ll be seeing lots of people in industrialized countries returning to the farm, and those inured to a city life of ease will find a lot of unpleasant surprises, especially as the conveniences of industrial society start melting away. Moreover, owing to the structure of land ownership and methods of large-scale agriculture that have developed during the period of oil-fueled economic growth, especially since the end of WWII, many people thrust into the countryside will find that preparations have not, shall we say, been made to accommodate them. It’s going to be very messy until new arrangements evolve. People with relatives on the farm will be lucky.

One more observation about that back-breaking work. Farmers are often the butt of jokes. They’re “country bumpkins,” “hayseeds,” and any number of other contemptible things. But we should recall at this time — when we might already be on the verge of a mass exodus from the cities — that the back-breaking labor of country bumpkins around the world and throughout history has sustained human life, culture, and civilization itself. As a tiller of the soil myself, I welcome the city-slickers to the country, and hope they will be humbled and enlightened when their backs are sore, their muscles are aching, their clothing is caked with dirt, and their hands are blistered. For many people, it will be the best thing that ever happened to them.

Friday, April 10, 2009

 

The Significance of Cable-Cutting

An event of particular interest has been the cutting of fiber cables near San Francisco. Two observations.

First, this writer proposes that the cuts were made by someone who wanted to test the network. I agree. Remember the rash of undersea cable cuts last year? Although official explanations discounted any purposeful cuttings, those disruptions too could well have been done to test networks. Cutting a cable and then observing the extent of communication disruptions provides valuable strategic information to someone who might use it to cripple an opponent’s communications in a future conflict. It is the same as when one country flies aircraft into another country’s airspace: watching the reaction can likewise provide useful information about the other country’s air defenses. For example, how long did it take scrambled aircraft to get into the air? What types of aircraft were scrambled, and how many? What bases did they come from? Even if the undersea cables were not cut on purpose, you can bet that all the major players on the global chessboard were watching carefully and taking notes. Hence there is no doubt that many parties — even parties not involved — were carefully observing the results these recent fiber cable cuttings.

Second, it is interesting to speculate who might be behind this act. The US government has relentlessly spooked us with the “terrorist threat,” and we are constantly told that the “terrorists” are out to get us. My view is different. Terrorists out to victimize innocent Americans could have done it easily, and long ago, as this incident shows. Therefore I suspect that this is either an inside job — meaning it was done by Americans for some purpose, or the work of a foreign state actor. Needless to say, we might very well see the arrest of some suspects said to be connected with an “Islamic radical” group, or an announcement that some such organization is responsible, which would be quite handy for those promoting the “war on terror.” But real terrorists, who would want to do as much damage as possible and not care if they themselves are killed, would certainly not have stopped at something on such a small “science fair” scale, especially considering the gross vulnerability of urban infrastructure everywhere.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

 

The Value of Organic Inputs

In several previous posts I made two predictions. First, that the rising cost of artificial fertilizers will push farmers back toward using the traditional organic inputs that have sustained agriculture from its inception until the invention and widespread use of artificial fertilizers, and still do sustain agricultural production for many people (including me). Second, I said that the more dependent farmers become on organic inputs, the more they will come into conflict with commercial biofuel producers seeking feedstock for their operations.

This article makes my first point, going so far as to say that livestock manure will become a hot commodity. Whether or not it will be traded on the stock market in any significant quantity remains to be seen (I suspect most will be produced and consumed locally), but it certainly will become highly sought after, as will all other kinds of organic inputs.

Although the article does not treat biofuels, it is a foregone conclusion that competition for organic inputs will pit farmers and commercial biofuel operations against one another. Those who do not grow food, or those who grow food only with chemical fertilizers, have no appreciation of the large amounts of organic inputs needed to build and maintain soil fertility. And large amounts means that vast expanses of land — which biofuel producers are counting on — will be needed just to produce farmland inputs.

It’s possible that high oil prices will cause the large-scale commercial biofuel industry to fizzle before competition for organic inputs really heats up, in which case my second prediction may not come to pass, at least not to a significant degree. But of my first prediction there is absolutely no doubt.

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