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Living in the Long Emergency by James Howard Kunstler (2020; read in 2020)

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Disclaimer: these are notes I took while reading this book. They include citations I found interesting or enlightening or particularly well-written. In some cases, I’ve pointed out which of these applies to which citation; in others, I have not. Any benefit you gain from reading these notes is purely incidental to the purpose they serve of reminding me what I once read. Please see Wikipedia for a summary if I’ve failed to provide one sufficient for your purposes. If my notes serve to trigger an interest in this book, then I’m happy for you.

This book is a follow-up to Kunstler’s 2005 The Long Emergency. It starts out with a recap of the thesis from the other book and then fills in with information from the last 15 years. Kunstler takes a critical look at his predictions from 2005, detailing where he got it right and where he went wrong—and why.

“I didn’t call it The Long Emergency for no reason. The operations of complex societies have many interesting features. Two in particular exist in a sort of dynamic tension of opposites: fragility and inertia. Fragility accretes insidiously as ever-greater complexity is layered onto the system. But inertia is the property by which systems in motion tend to remain in motion. A system as large and complex as ours has acquired tremendous momentum, which, of course, feeds back to aggravate its fragility, portending a more destructive eventual outcome.”
Page 1

For example, the shale-oil boom was unforeseeable and kicked the can down the road for a decade—at most. He likens it to “cutting of the top ten inches of your bedsheet and sewing it on the bottom because your feet were cold.” Fracking is capital-intensive—read: expensive—and requires heavy loans. Fracked, shale-oil wells have a much steeper expiry curve and are quickly played out.

“As independent oil analyst Arthur Berman put it: “Shale is a retirement party for the oil industry.””
Page 9

Companies that are trying to stay ahead of their creditors have no choice but to dig more and more wells to take advantage of the initial steep “play”, taking on more and more debt. Kunstler calls it “Red Queen Syndrome” because they’re “running as fast as they can to stay in one place.” It’s only ZIRP (Zero Interest-rate Policies) that even allow something like this to exist.

The more successful they are—and they have been very successful, driving U.S. oil production to heretofore unknown heights—the lower the oil price as the market gluts. When the price drops, their already-shitty and barely non-laughable business model becomes utterly fantastic and untenable. But they can’t stop producing, either.

He also discusses the increasing rise of propaganda for both alternative energy and for electric vehicles. He quickly disposes of the notion that either of these will replace the existing infrastructure in any significant way—not without drastically changing living patterns and levels of consumption.

The solution to the atrocity of suburbia, its attendant necessitating of an automobile for nearly everything, and the large-scale elimination of public transportation is not to replace the entire fleet with electric vehicles or to electrify all of the existing vehicles. There are neither nearly enough time nor resources for any of that. There’s also the poor fit—or utter engineering impossibility—of using electric for everything that we use fossil fuels for today. You can’t fly on batteries, nor can you ship overland with batter-powered trucks. Trains would work, but the U.S. blew its rail network to kingdom come decades ago.

“The likelihood that we will power the USA on “renewable” energy in anything remotely like the current configuration of activities—suburbia, Happy Motoring, air-conditioning for all, cheap food, night baseball, Netflix, Amazon, server farms, commercial aviation, et cetera—is about the same as the chance that Xi Jinping will deliver each and every one of us a dim sum birthday breakfast at home next year.”
Page 28
“The wishful public has been fed a diet of misinformation from a wishful news media that won’t tolerate anything but positive thinking about maintaining our current arrangements because imagining a different outcome is too depressing.”
Page 29
“The thinking displayed in the Drawdown Project’s manifesto ignores a primary reality of our predicament: that increased complexity leads to increased risk of systemic breakdown. It’s as if they can’t imagine a world without a continuing expansion of human activities, as represented in economic growth. That is their only context. All that needs to be done is to “green up” the growth.”
Page 212

In part two, Kunstler takes to the road to visit with and interview some of his most interesting, frequent, or long-term correspondents. He mostly visits farmers and those who have figured out how to be self-sufficient, self-taught, or at least useful in myriad ways. They almost all have the affectation common to the self-taught and somewhat cloistered: they have theories that they’ve never had refuted. Mostly, though, they seem like relatively nice (if, at times, woefully undereducated and drastically over-autodidactic) people—Ok, the white-supremacist was far less rational and more suffused with conspiracy lore than the others—who are making their way in decidedly non-mainstream and more traditional and possibly moral ways.

The third and final part looks at some topics that have come much more to the fore in the last fifteen years—and even in the year it took to write the first two parts: extinctions in Nature and environmental impact, financialization and oil and its massive and disastrous impact on savings and investment in the ten years since the 2008 crisis, the autocoprophagy of the American Left (the Right was already hopeless) in recent politics, with the seeming madness engendered by the election of Trump and, more importantly, the loss by Clinton.

This madness evinces itself as a descent into omphaloskepsis on the part of the Left, as they shatter themselves into sects of Twitter-history–scouring hordes of virtue-signalers and purity-testers and know-it-alls who show up to torpedo anyone who was ever useful for ever having been slightly less than perfect in careers that have often spanned decades of struggle and hardship.

“Social media, it turns out, amplifies and accelerates antisocial behavior among a population that was already having a hard enough time processing reality.”

Some of his further speculation is highly speculative and, in my opinion, wrong-headed, but that’s to be expected, I suppose. Whereas he’s mostly right about Trump,

“History is a prankster. You order a Gray Champion, and cosmic room service sends up a casino developer and New York real estate mogul with a laughable hairdo, a big mouth, and no experience running a government.”
Page 232

…his in-built libertarianism mounts for him the same blinkers that many Americans wear, preventing them from seeing any solution but the one put right in front of them. For example, he complains about

“[…] and a new confiscatory wealth tax on assets, not the income from assets, but a tax on what you already own.”
Page 238

But many economically successful countries have something like it (including Switzerland). The problem of inequality is probably the biggest one facing the US (and other countries), with its nearly unfettered upward redistribution of wealth. Making that wealth inheritable cements the problem. Address the idea of “seizing capital”, he writes,

“Even theoretically, the money to pay for those programs doesn’t exist.”
Page 239

It does. Other people have it. Even if future debt doesn’t work, we can take back value from those who have stolen it from us and hoarded it. There’s a decent chance that, by the time we get done taking it, that it won’t be worth anything anymore, but the money is technically available.

While he rightly recognizes that racism isn’t the biggest problem—and that historical attempts to address it in the U.S. have failed miserably—he obstinately characterizes these failings in ways that blame the wrong parties. He correctly notes that all races in a certain class are affected by the upward distribution—pointing out that telling people who’ve also been left behind that they need to share the tiny piece of pie they have is a non-starter. This is all correct, but somewhat lost in his ham-handed prose (and I’m being very generous here because he’s otherwise a lucid thinker and writer; some would just dismiss him as a racist outright, which is unfair in the other direction).

Finally, he tells of his own personal journey over the last fifteen years. He divorced, moved out of Saratoga Springs, and bought a property with a house on it in a declining nearby town. He’s got a large garden, fruit trees, and some chickens. With about ten hours of work per week, he makes a good part of his own food. He’s close enough to town to walk to Main Street. He was quite ill for nearly a decade with cobalt poisoning from a hip replacement in 2003. He seems to have battened down the hatches in his preparations for the ongoing Long Emergency (exacerbated post-publication by COVID-19).

Citations

“I didn’t call it The Long Emergency for no reason. The operations of complex societies have many interesting features. Two in particular exist in a sort of dynamic tension of opposites: fragility and inertia. Fragility accretes insidiously as ever-greater complexity is layered onto the system. But inertia is the property by which systems in motion tend to remain in motion. A system as large and complex as ours has acquired tremendous momentum, which, of course, feeds back to aggravate its fragility, portending a more destructive eventual outcome.”
Page 1
“In any case, after 2016, the attention of the media especially turned away from everything but the political battle of the so-called “resistance” versus Trump. There’s very little news about climate change, the oil predicament, the condition of the banking system, the global food supply, the mass extinction of life on land and sea, and all the other issues that will likely end up mattering a whole lot more than the fate of Donald J. Trump.”
Page 4
“The objective is to stimulate the formation of a coherent consensus about what is happening to us so we can make coherent plans about what to do.”
Page 4
“As independent oil analyst Arthur Berman put it: “Shale is a retirement party for the oil industry.””
Page 9
“Between 2005 and 2008, US imports reached almost fifteen million barrels a day—three-quarters of all the oil we burned. Our dependence on oil produced by foreign nations had become a matter of grave concern.”
Page 10
“On top of all that were the environmental “externalities”—the threat of poisoned groundwater from chemicals in the fracking fluid, seismic disturbances (i.e., earthquakes) from poking so many pipes through underground strata and blasting it with high-pressure water, the considerable wear and tear on roads from the cavalcades of water and sand trucks, and the higher-order damage to the biosphere from extending the fossil-fuel economic regime.”
Page 14
“the oil companies are under tremendous pressure to produce as much oil as quickly as possible in order to maintain the cash flow necessary to service their debt. Paradoxically, that has led to excessive production and thus lower oil prices—a hamster wheel of futility.”
Page 14
“The US burned around five billion barrels of oil in 2017 plus an additional two billion barrels of natural gas liquids, averaging around 19.5 million barrels a day. Independent analyst Arthur Berman estimated that the Permian Basin contained a remaining 3.7 billion barrels of realistically economical-recoverable oil. Do the math.”
Page 15
“The US is caught in a predicament that can be stated pretty simply: oil over $75 a barrel crushes economic activity, and oil under $75 a barrel bankrupts oil companies.”
Page 16
“The public apparently has lost any sense of urgency about our fossil-fuel quandary, and therefore lost any motivation to even think about making changes in our basic living arrangements.”
Page 19

As with COVID.

“Unless, that is, we’re tired of the possibilities for joy, meaning, and excitement on a planet (this one: Earth) that we are superbly fitted to thrive on—and which, sadly, we’re in the process of damaging quite recklessly with our current activities, including shooting a lot of junk into orbit around it.”
Page 21
“But the Mars colonization proposal does raise a sticky question: If the human race can’t get its shit together on Earth, how might we possibly thrive on a distant planet with an atmosphere that is 95 percent carbon dioxide, has little protection against space radiation, no visible aboveground water, nor any of the geophysical and biological characteristics that support life here, and which, finally, is a 33.9-million-mile resupply journey at its closest?”
Page 22
“The fantasy that power for the proposed electric car fleet will someday come from “renewables” also probably founders on the unacknowledged need for an underlying cheap fossil-fuel economy to fabricate things like solar panels and wind turbines at the necessary scale to come close to the lifestyle we think of as normal.”
Page 23
“Even if the trips were all multi-passenger rides, the commute would still require an awful lot of cars.”
Page 25

Corona throws a monkey wrench in here as well.

“After 2010, car sales crept back up again to over seventeen million a year. These are the kind of sales numbers the car manufacturers need to justify their business model. How does this gigantic industry reorganize for much-lower-scale production and survive? Does it become a boutique industry?”
Page 26
“The good news would be that electric cars have the potential to last much longer than gasoline or diesel cars. That’s good news for the car buyer, at least. The bad news is that, unless cars are engineered for timely failure (planned obsolescence), the car manufacturers cannot depend on the same routine replacement formula that has ruled their economic model for decades and accounts for most car sales.”
Page 26
“The likelihood that we will power the USA on “renewable” energy in anything remotely like the current configuration of activities—suburbia, Happy Motoring, air-conditioning for all, cheap food, night baseball, Netflix, Amazon, server farms, commercial aviation, et cetera—is about the same as the chance that Xi Jinping will deliver each and every one of us a dim sum birthday breakfast at home next year.”
Page 28
“The public is tragically confused about so-called “renewable energy.” The sun may shine a lot of the time (in some places anyway), and the winds may blow (ditto), and they may indeed be eternal features of Earth’s geophysics, but the hardware necessary to capture that energy is not renewable. It’s a product of a fossil-fuel economy, and we have no experience fabricating this hardware any other way—most particularly via renewable energy sources. And certainly not at the scale required for a vaunted “Green New Deal.””
Page 28
“The wishful public has been fed a diet of misinformation from a wishful news media that won’t tolerate anything but positive thinking about maintaining our current arrangements because imagining a different outcome is too depressing.”
Page 29
“This is not a malicious conspiracy by evil authorities so much as a neurotic defense mechanism in the face of the disturbing reality that the comforts and conveniences of recent decades may be drawing to a close.”
Page 29
“Wind turbines typically contain more than eight thousand parts. These are made of steel, concrete, exotic metals, and exotic plastics, components that depend on heavy mining activity, the petrochemical industry, long supply lines, and a lot of energy to bring it all together to manufacture and then deploy the gigantic machines.”
Page 30
“all the logistical issues that apply to wind turbines apply to solar: embedded energy in manufacturing the hardware, long mining and manufacturing supply lines, transportation of components to site, limited design life, exposure to the extremes of weather, technical expertise needed to deploy the hardware and the costs associated with all of that. So far, existing battery storage would not scale to accommodate the amount of solar electricity needed under any hypothetical “green energy transition” schemes.”
Page 31
“The bottom line is we will be able to set up a lot less wind and solar electric infrastructure than the public is being teased with these days.”
Page 32
“Finally, there is the issue of the electric grid, a genuine wonder of the world. Americans rarely think twice when they enter their home and flick on the light switch. We just take it for granted that the juice is always available. That is not the case in many other societies around the world. Intermittent or unreliable electric service would be a catastrophe for American business and a trauma for households. And it may be increasingly the outcome as we move forward.”
Page 34
“Social media, it turns out, amplifies and accelerates antisocial behavior among a population that was already having a hard enough time processing reality.”
Page 42
“One important additional angle, however, is uniformly left out of the debate: how all this computer technology is really at the mercy of the fragile electric grid. All discussion about where digital technology is heading in the future ignores this sticky issue, and how it is tied to our fossil fuel supply and debt-based finance system.”
Page 43
“He considers the chestnut an excellent food crop and claims that many of the products made from corn these days could be made from chestnut flour. Corn is a majestically resilient and versatile food crop, but it is hell on a biome. And the way that the agri-biz boys grow it is washing away the topsoil of the American breadbasket at epic rates. It can’t go on. And, as we already know, things that can’t go on, don’t.”
Page 52
“Nowadays it’s gotten to the point where one lone agri-biz farmer can spend a day mindlessly sitting in the air-conditioned cab of a giant, million-dollar harvester guided by GPS, watching movies on an iPad while the machine does all the work, including the mental labor of deciding when to turn the rig down a new row. It’s barely necessary for a human to be mentally present while the job gets done. The giant harvesters also come with giant mortgages. The biggest “input” in this mode of farming is borrowed money, a.k.a. debt.”
Page 59
“If we don’t go toward a perennial ecosystems-based agriculture, whether we’re high-tech or low-tech, we’re going to collapse, because there’s no way to avoid that.”
Page 70
““I can handle deer flies,” Mark said. “You know how you deal with a deer fly? You grab an oak twig and just stick it behind your ear and they won’t bite you.””
Page 71
“There are a few regulars with extreme views whom I allow to post because they are, at least, polite in presenting their unappetizing ideas, and squelching them would keep a certain political reality that we must contend with out of the arena where, at least, they are exposed to light and argument. A couple of these are white nationalists.”
Page 73
“The Civil Rights era ensued, and the legal basis of Jim Crow was dismantled, immediately followed by Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty,” with its unanticipated and destructive knock-on effects of welfare dependency and single parenthood.”
Page 76

He will not fucking let up on this. As if this wasn’t planned as a side-effect of the massive expansion of the carceral state as Jim Crow was replaced with a new slew of laws applied extremely disproportionately to Blacks.

“Indeed, Josh had commented earlier that he viewed black life in America as essentially “prison culture.” I asked if he’d ever been in jail. He said that he’d never even been inside a police car. But he viewed racism in America as being absolutely structural and pervasive, and he based his comportment on the need to survive in a fundamentally hostile culture.”
Page 84
“It had the look of an extraordinarily well-equipped prison cell. Indeed, Josh had commented earlier that he viewed black life in America as essentially “prison culture.” I asked if he’d ever been in jail. He said that he’d never even been inside a police car. But he viewed racism in America as being absolutely structural and pervasive, and he based his comportment on the need to survive in a fundamentally hostile culture. “I dump on black people being fuckups, but racism is a real phenomenon. And you have to come up with strategies to counter it because you can’t just ignore it.””
Page 84
“He regards relations between blacks and whites as “a total disaster” because “[t]he people who have the ability to eliminate racism do not have the will to do so, and the people who have the will to do so do not have the ability.””
Page 85

Hard to disagree in general.

“People will be further “freed” to become prisoners of their own passions, no matter how ridiculous. Video games, porn, recreational marijuana, “sex robots,” social media of all kinds . . . “Distraction” will become the formal currency that drives the economy because in a nation where people (especially young men) can no longer count on full-time employment, the state will have every incentive to support and defend every hedonistic, narcissistic, distractive behavior in order to keep attention off themselves and their failed policies.”
Page 93

Josh wrote the citation above.

“But I came to the conclusion that the problem with the current set of tools was not solvable. We used wind and solar in one form or another to power our planet for × thousands of years, but we’ve never powered it at this scale.”
Page 102

The man never finished high school.

“My big epiphany: the moment you run out of modern metallurgical tools, a lot of things that we take for granted today you can’t do anymore.”
Page 103
“These days, his favorite math workout is how the transcendental number “e” comes into existence. “It’s like pi,” he attempts to explain. Of course, he was talking to somebody who flunked both basic geometry and algebra 1 in high school.”
Page 115

The blind leading the blind.

“Moscow, in the mid 1990s, was an exciting place for a young man. The Russian people had only been out of the Soviet yoke for a few years. Liberation and danger were both in the air. The Americans, led by Harvard economist Jeffrey Sachs, were attempting to “help” the Russians reorient their economy along capitalist market lines—and incidentally assisting the fledgling oligarchs in looting what remained of the country’s industrial base to amass their fortunes.”
Page 120

So-so description. At least he used quotes around “help”.

“The people born between 1980 and 1984 are the really youngest around who grew up in an analog world, in a world that made more sense than today’s world does to people. I am part of the most useless generation that’s ever existed in human history. Millennials know how to do less for themselves than anyone that’s ever existed on the planet Earth. Home Depot and Lowe’s, a couple of years ago they realized ‘our business model is screwed’ because this whole generation of people that’s coming up, they don’t even know how to use a tape measure.”
Page 150
““I think people need to live far more humbly,” she said. “That should have happened a long time ago, probably at least twenty years ago. Like, we have neighbors that work for efficiency advocacy groups, yet they fly all over the world for vacations. There’s just this disconnect. Or I guess you call it greenwashing in your own mind. A lot of people genuinely don’t even think about it and don’t even know, so they’re not even doing it hypocritically. They just honestly don’t even know how much energy something like flying takes. I think the population has to decrease. I think more people need to have small gardens—and I don’t know if this is possible.”
Page 169
“The city of Perth, at the farthest southwestern edge of Australia, is reputed to be the major world city farthest away from any other civilized place on Earth.”
Page 180
““I understand,” he said, “if you’re doing well in a system which is collapsing, it’s in the interest of your own psychological comfort to imagine that the collapse is a fairy tale, that it’s really just lazy people who should get to work and stop complaining. I think our civilization climbed a lot faster than any previous one and it can go down a lot faster. I’ve been living through the collapse most of my life. And I think my kids will live through it for most of their lives.””
Page 189
“the general theme out there is a belief that the problems with our current arrangements can be “fixed” if we just elect the right leaders, apply the right “policy tools,” guarantee equal outcomes, have faith in technological innovation, recycle more trash, and “celebrate diversity.” They are hoping for the best, while living lives that make them frantic just getting through each day, and losing ground even so.”
Page 192
“The world population increased from one billion souls around the year 1800 to nearly eight billion today. (In my lifetime, the USA population more than doubled from 160 million to 330 million.)”
Page 193

In my lifetime, world population has doubled.

“will take some initiative, grit, skill, and probably some luck to stay in the game, which is why it pays to be an early adapter.”
Page 193

It always takes luck. You have to make something of opportunity, but without luck or—even worse—with bad luck, you’re still sunk.

“But today, the world is composed of overdeveloped nations and nations that will probably never develop much further, though we continue to use the euphemism “developing nations” in the public discussion to avoid insulting struggling societies. The fossil fuels won’t be there for them any more than they’ll be there for us. The capital for work-arounds will not be there either. Many so-called developing nations exist in geographically unfavorable places and are already deep into population overshoot. Think: Egypt. Now imagine Egypt with no more grain subsidies and only donkeys where they used to have trucks.”
Page 194
“In short, people living at the core—the “developed” or “advanced” nations—could fall faster and harder than the people in the undeveloped places where life, however arduous, is already simple. So, it may be more accurate to view this as a leveling process. We’ll know more in a few years.”
Page 194
“The weak link in our economy is the feature we call finance, which has been failing in one way or another since the dot-com bust. It slipped very badly again in 2008 and was temporarily salvaged by nations borrowing massively from the future to cover current expenses and to bail out insolvent “systemically important institutions,” i.e., Too-Big-to-Fail banks. The problem, which ought to be obvious by now, is that the future will not provide the amount of collateral that was pledged as security for all that debt—namely, “growth” of ever-more industrial activity and the surplus wealth it would hypothetically produce.”
Page 201
“The confusion at even the most refined layers of the intellectual class is so great now, so vitiated by wishful thinking, public relations bullshit, and political opportunism, that the responsibility weighs extra heavily on individuals to think for themselves through the fog of yammer.”
Page 202
“If government can be reorganized (or emergently self-reorganizes) at the local level, it may tend to be authoritarian. This has been pretty much the norm through human history. Human societies are inevitably hierarchical. Tribes have chiefs. Elites often push the rest of us around. Under the best circumstances, they do it within some cultural constraints to avert rebellion.”
Page 203
“So, thinking about future food production, you must figure on a problem at least as significant as an unstable climate: the end of affordable oil and gas and all their by-products, especially pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, and motor fuels.”
Page 205
“Apart from weather, a stem-rust disease in the Middle East and North Africa dropped yields, with Yemen hit especially hard (and in failed state chaos a decade later).”
Page 206

Can you please mention how their sufferings are not even mostly incidental to climate, but a deliberate machination by Saudi and America?

“The top four corn exporters account for 87 percent of total corn exports. Around the world, corn is the leading livestock feed. The report predicts more frequent “synchronous price shocks.””
Page 208
“Likewise, the Drawdown Project’s riff on airplanes of the future: A century after the first commercial flight, the aviation industry has become a fixture of global transport . . . and of global emissions. Today, some 20,000 airplanes are in service around the world, producing at minimum 2.5 percent of annual emissions. With upwards of 50,000 planes expected to take to the skies by 2040 . . .50 Say what? I’m much more inclined to think that there will be little left of commercial aviation in 2040, not that it will be two and a half times bigger than it is now. Their argument assumes that aviation fuel—basically unleaded kerosene—will continue to be available in the same (or greater!) volumes than today.”
Page 210
“I’m sure it is a cool and fun exercise to imagine evermore elegant technologies, but that ignores the central problem of making further overinvestments in technological complexity as the already-existing hyper-complexity groans with diminishing returns.”
Page 210
““[E]ssential supply chains depend on trucks nearly completely,” she writes. They even deliver the diesel fuel that the trucks run on, as well as other essentials, such as the chemicals used for most municipal water-treatment plants and the food that most Americans eat.”
Page 211
“The thinking displayed in the Drawdown Project’s manifesto ignores a primary reality of our predicament: that increased complexity leads to increased risk of systemic breakdown. It’s as if they can’t imagine a world without a continuing expansion of human activities, as represented in economic growth. That is their only context. All that needs to be done is to “green up” the growth.”
Page 212
“The fact is, 97 percent of the bluefin tuna that were in the oceans before industrial-scaled, mechanized fishing began are gone now.”
Page 213

Actually 100% of those fish are gone. But they’ve been replaced with only 3%.

“Changing the ocean’s basic chemistry is a dangerous game. It’s been thirty-five million years since Earth last reached the atmospheric CO2 levels that are being recorded today. There are several earlier instances, too, recorded in undersea sediment cores. But the rate of change has never been as fast as the current situation. Even in periods when the CO2 levels were higher, the rate of change was slower, and the oceans had time to buffer the effects. That’s not the case now. It’s hard to conceive an outcome in which we can have dead oceans and a still-living Earth.”
Page 218
“I’ve already described my objections to techno-narcissism and organizational grandiosity. We think too highly of our magical abilities to control the things we are so busy measuring.”
Page 218
“What will finally change the picture is the economic collapse of techno-industrial society.”
Page 218

The Corona hammer was a dress rehearsal.

“Global economies, it was thought, would always return to the growth trend line, and that growth could be considered the collateral for ever-more borrowing. Growth meant more, more of everything, ever-more more.”
Page 221
“[…] more to the point, that the public would soon catch on. That is, if expected future growth was collateral for all these massive borrowings—about $240 trillion globally as I write—and there was no more growth, then the debt would never be repaid, and the nations in question would probably not be able to borrow anymore, meaning further, no more bid on bond sales, unless the central banks bought all the bonds themselves. And, if they did, it would be an arrant fraud, and the attempt to do so would have nasty consequences, most likely a currency crisis in which the nation’s money itself lost its value, as people lost faith in the operations that supported it.”
Page 221

And yet, here we are. Covid got that ball rolling quite a bit faster.

“The main result was that jacked-up share prices tended to reward top executives with large year-end bonuses, and more valuable stock holdings, regardless of the performance of the company. The bonuses were usually granted by boards of directors who were appointed by the same people getting the bonuses. These machinations were just another form of classic and massive malinvestment”
Page 222
“You can also view it as mismanagement of all the work that people in society do to produce things of value. Many savers are traditionally older people who seek a low-risk but regular return on their savings. Removing the incentive for saving either pushes them into higher-risk investments like stocks, or prompts them to just spend down the money before it loses even more value. Pension funds, too, are traditionally inclined to seek annual income from low-risk interest-bearing securities, and they need to show reliable gains year-in and year-out in order to pay their obligations to retirees and stay solvent.”
Page 223
“There will be a lack of bond buyers (lenders) in whatever is left of the regular bond market because it will be obvious by then that the government is a deadbeat—that the only way it can pay back the bondholders is in money that has less value than it did when it was borrowed, because the government is repaying old debt in new borrowings that it has, in effect lent to itself. So, it completes the circle jerk of borrowing from its own central bank in order to pay back the central bank.”
Page 224
“Nothing lasts forever, of course, and wonderful as it was, the industrial economy couldn’t last forever. It produced too many destructive externalities, including global population overshoot, resource depletion, and planetary ecological impoverishment. So, as it became apparent that the game couldn’t go on, a lot of the smarter folk in society turned to racketeering to keep making money at all costs—even doctors and college presidents!”
Page 224
“The really magical part was that they managed to make it socially normative and ethically acceptable, even while the middle class was systematically impoverished by their rackets—so that in the year 2019, any poor schnook who took his child to an emergency room with appendicitis could find a bill for $97,000 in his mailbox two months later, with no plausible explanation for the charges—and absolutely nobody from the hospital billing director to the state attorney general would do anything to correct the injustice, or even listen to his complaint.”
Page 225
“Because the depletion rate of shale oil wells is so steep, the industry can’t function without high rates of continual capital spending, and they can’t spend without borrowing. The wells have to be drilled incessantly and fracked (with countless truck trips hauling fracking sand, water, and chemicals to the wells). The industry is caught in the Red Queen Syndrome: running as fast as it can to keep production up.”
Page 226
“[…] national digital currencies created by computer “magic.” Certainly, some countries (e.g., Sweden) are working hard to eliminate cash. People in other nations may not be so ready to submit. An unappetizing by-product of this scheme will be government’s ability to track everybody’s income and spending, in essence, a financial “surveillance state” with an expanded range of punishments for noncompliance.”
Page 229
“Don’t forget that the internet is at the mercy of the electric grid, the world’s largest machine, as it is sometimes called. The American electric grid is in notoriously shabby condition. Draw your own conclusions.”
Page 229
“History is a prankster. You order a Gray Champion, and cosmic room service sends up a casino developer and New York real estate mogul with a laughable hairdo, a big mouth, and no experience running a government.”
Page 232
“Philosophically, they are aligned with Rousseau’s idea of the perfectibility of man and a neo-Jacobin wish to engineer equality of outcome in a world of uncertain events where people are born with different abilities.”
Page 238

Mischaracterized. Different ability, maybe. Different starting lines, different benefits, and different onuses, rules, and impediments, definitely.

“[…] and a new confiscatory wealth tax on assets, not the income from assets, but a tax on what you already own.”
Page 238

Yeah, we have that in Switzerland. Quit yer bitching like its completely unworkable. Fucking Americans, think they’re so special. Bigboy pants time. Time to start adulting.

“Even theoretically, the money to pay for those programs doesn’t exist.”
Page 239

It does. Other people have it. Even if future debt doesn’t work, we can take back value from those who have stolen it from us and hoarded it. There’s a decent chance that, by the time we get done taking it, that it won’t be worth anything anymore, but the money is technically available.

“By the logic of the day, “inclusion” and “diversity” are achieved by forbidding the transmission of ideas, shutting down debate, and creating new racially segregated college dorms.”
Page 244
“The universities beget a class of what Nassim Taleb prankishly called “intellectuals yet idiots,”63 hierophants trafficking in fads and falsehoods, conveyed in esoteric jargon larded with psychobabble in support of a therapeutic crypto-Gnostic crusade bent on transforming human nature to fit the wished-for template of a world where anything goes. In fact, they have only produced a new intellectual despotism worthy of Stalin, Mao Zedong, and Pol Pot.”
Page 244
“It should be obvious that so much of the legislated efforts to assist black America didn’t work out as expected and instead produced tragic unintended consequences, starting with the income distribution policies that promoted single-mother parenting and the absence of fathers in the lives of their children.”
Page 246

Sometimes I wonder if he’s being deliberately obtuse or whether he really doesn’t know about the new Jim Crow. Fathers have a hard time being in the home when they’re imprisoned at the rates that black men are.

“Hung out to dry economically, this class of whites fell into many of the same behaviors as the poor blacks before them: out-of-wedlock births, absent fathers, drug abuse, crime.”
Page 247

You could spare a few words to note that these features are part of the class war of the rich against the poor. They are side-effects of the monied class squeezing value and labor from stones.

“On the Right, Karl Rove expressed this point of view some years ago when he bragged (of the George W. Bush White House) that “we make our own reality,” and the Left says nearly the same thing in the post-structuralist, narcissist malarkey of academia: Your “lived experience” is your truth.”
Page 248
“The toolkit of the Enlightenment—reason, empiricism—doesn’t work very well in this socioeconomic hall of mirrors, so all that baggage is discarded for the idea that reality is just a social construct—just whatever story you feel like telling about it—and what you report your feelings to be.”
Page 248
“The people struggle to find who to blame and what to do. One thing after another obstructs their ability to carry on, to make a living, to find satisfactory relationships, to protect their offspring, to find purpose and meaning in daily existence—until merely being in this world seems like the worst sort of swindle.”
Page 248
“A number of ruins from the industrial age still stand around town. There’s a set of dressed stone bridge piers from the early railroad (1869) standing mutely in the river on the south side of town. They are partially collapsed now, with trees sprouting out of them. The trestle they supported is long gone. Last summer I went swimming in the Gardon River in France under a Roman aqueduct that still spans the stream after nearly two thousand years. It amazes me how quickly the landscape has swallowed up the residue of industrial America, and how brief that heyday was.”
Page 256
“The railroad connected with the industrial city of Troy, New York, thirty miles south, and from there, you could connect with passenger trains to Boston and New York City. The journey from the village down to Manhattan took five hours altogether in the 1920s, including the change of trains. The drive today takes at least four hours—of intense concentration behind the wheel—sometimes longer in terrifying weather, with tractor-trailers bum-rushing you in the passing lane.”
Page 256