There are a lot of doom-and-gloom messages going around at the moment – it’s hard to know which to believe. Here’s a smorgasbord of articles that caught my eye, though they’re only a small selection of what’s out there.
Biosphere collapse: the biggest economic bubble ever
Worried about debt, defaults and deficits? Save up your concern for the real problem, writes Glen Barry. The systematic destruction Earth’s natural ecosystems for short-term profit is the ‘bubble’ that underlies economic growth – and if allowed to continue its bursting will leave the Earth in a state of social, economic and ecological collapse.
“The human family will only avert biosphere collapse if we choose to live more simply, share more with others, go back to the land, have fewer kids, protect and restore ecosystems, grow more of our own food, end fossil fuels, and embrace social justice.”
The global environment collapses as in the pursuit of short-term growth, humanity overruns natural ecosystems including the atmosphere that make Earth habitable.
Together we urgently address inequity, climate change, overpopulation and natural ecosystem loss or alone we each face the horrors of economic, social, and ecological collapse.
Newspapers are full of disastrous warnings if economic growth does not return to Greece, or if it drops a couple points in China. Rarely in human history have so many been so fundamentally wrong about a matter of such importance as the desirability, and even the possibility, of perpetual economic growth.
The real threat to human well-being is not that there is too little economic growth. Rather, it is that there is too much, and that we have overshot how much growth can occur without collapsing our shared environment.
The industrial growth economy is ravaging natural ecosystems. Stocks of natural capital – including water, soil, old-growth forests, wild fish – are being pillaged to artificially inflate short-term economic growth numbers.
Modern industrial capitalism’s narrow focus upon GDP growth as a measure of a society’s well-being utterly fails to account for the very real and detrimental costs of liquidating Earth’s natural life-support systems.
Infinite growth on a finite planet is a recipe for disaster. Nothing grows forever and trying inevitably rips apart any system seeking to do so.
Continued ravaging of Earth’s natural ecosystems for short-term growth is the biggest economic bubble ever. Such a short-term, myopic focus upon economic growth can only end in social and ecological collapse.
Read more: The Ecologist
Deflationary Collapse Ahead?
Both the stock market and oil prices have been plunging. Is this “just another cycle,” or is it something much worse? I think it is something much worse.
Back in January, I wrote a post called Oil and the Economy: Where are We Headed in 2015-16? In it, I said that persistent very low prices could be a sign that we are reaching limits of a finite world. In fact, the scenario that is playing out matches up with what I expected to happen in my January post. In that post, I said
Needless to say, stagnating wages together with rapidly rising costs of oil production leads to a mismatch between:
- The amount consumers can afford for oil
- The cost of oil, if oil price matches the cost of production
This mismatch between rising costs of oil production and stagnating wages is what has been happening. The unaffordability problem can be hidden by a rising amount of debt for a while (since adding cheap debt helps make unaffordable big items seem affordable), but this scheme cannot go on forever.
Read more: Our Finite World
You Call This Progress?
One of the prevailing narratives of our time is that we are innovating our way into the future at break-neck speed. It’s just dizzying how quickly the world around us is changing. Technology is this juggernaut that gets ever bigger, ever faster, and all we need to do is hold on for the wild ride into the infinitely cool. Problems get solved faster than we can blink.
But I’m going to claim that this is an old, outdated narrative. I think we have a tendency to latch onto a story of humanity that we find appealing or flattering, and stick with it long past its expiration date. Many readers at this point, in fact, may think that it’s sheer lunacy for me to challenge such an obvious truth about the world we live in. Perhaps this will encourage said souls to read on—eager to witness a spectacular failure as I attempt to pull off this seemingly impossible stunt.
The (slightly overstated) claim is that no major new inventions have come to bear in my 45-year lifespan. The 45 years prior, however, were chock-full of monumental breakthroughs.
Read more: Do The Math
How our energy problem leads to a debt collapse problem
Usually, we don’t stop to think about how the whole economy works together. A major reason is that we have been lacking data to see long-term relationships. In this post, I show some longer-term time series relating to energy growth, GDP growth, and debt growth–going back to 1820 in some cases–that help us understand our situation better.
When examining these long-term time series, I come to the conclusion that what we are doing now is building debt to unsustainably high levels, thanks to today’s high cost of producing energy products. I doubt that this can be turned around. To do so would require immediate production of huge quantities of incredibly cheap energy products–that is oil at less than $20 per barrel in 2014$, and other energy products with comparably low cost structures.
Our goal would need to be to get back to the energy cost levels that we had prior to the run-up in costs in the 1970s. Growth in energy use would probably need to rise back to pre-1975 levels as well. Of course, such a low-price, high-growth scenario isn’t really sustainable in a finite world either. It would have adverse follow-on effects, too, including climate change.
Read more: Our Finite World
How the banks ignored the lessons of the crash
Ask people where they were on 9/11, and most have a memory to share. Ask where they were when Lehman Brothers collapsed, and many will struggle even to remember the correct year. The 158-year-old Wall Street bank filed for bankruptcy on 15 September 2008. As the news broke, insiders experienced an atmosphere of unprecedented panic. One former investment banker recalled: “I thought: so this is what the threat of war must feel like. I remember looking out of the window and seeing the buses drive by. People everywhere going through a normal working day – or so they thought. I realised: they have no idea. I called my father from the office to tell him to transfer all his savings to a safer bank. Going home that day, I was genuinely terrified.”
A veteran at a small credit rating agency who spent his whole career in the City of London told me with genuine emotion: “It was terrifying. Absolutely terrifying. We came so close to a global meltdown.” He had been on holiday in the week Lehman went bust. “I remember opening up the paper every day and going: ‘Oh my God.’ I was on my BlackBerry following events. Confusion, embarrassment, incredulity … I went through the whole gamut of human emotions. At some point my wife threatened to throw my BlackBerry in the lake if I didn’t stop reading on my phone. I couldn’t stop.”
Other financial workers in the City, who were at their desks after Lehman defaulted, described colleagues sitting frozen before their screens, paralysed – unable to act even when there was easy money to be made. Things were looking so bad, they said, that some got on the phone to their families: “Get as much money from the ATM as you can.” “Rush to the supermarket to hoard food.” “Buy gold.” “Get everything ready to evacuate the kids to the country.” As they recalled those days, there was often a note of shame in their voices, as if they felt humiliated by the memory of their vulnerability. Even some of the most macho traders became visibly uncomfortable. One said to me in a grim voice:
“That was scary, mate. I mean, not film scary. Really scary.”
Read more: The Guardian
IMF warns of stagnation threat to G7 economies
Fund’s latest World Economic Outlook cuts global growth forecasts saying emerging markets slowdown may entrench low inflation and promote stagnation in the west
The International Monetary Fund is warning that the weak recovery in the west risks turning into near stagnation after cutting its global economic growth forecast for the fourth successive year.
In its half-yearly update on the health of the world economy, the Washington-based fund predicted expansion of 3.1% in 2015, 0.2 points lower than it was expecting three months ago and the weakest performance since the trough of the downturn in 2009.
“Six years after the world economy emerged from its broadest and deepest postwar recession, a return to robust and synchronised global expansion remains elusive,”
said Maurice Obstfeld, the IMF’s economic counsellor.
Read more: The Guardian
The Stock Markets Of The 10 Largest Global Economies Are All Crashing
You would think that the simultaneous crashing of all of the largest stock markets around the world would be very big news. But so far the mainstream media in the United States is treating it like it isn’t really a big deal. Over the last sixty days, we have witnessed the most significant global stock market decline since the fall of 2008, and yet most people still seem to think that this is just a temporary “bump in the road” and that the bull market will soon resume. Hopefully they are right. When the Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeted 777 points on September 29th, 2008 everyone freaked out and rightly so. But a stock market crash doesn’t have to be limited to a single day. Since the peak of the market earlier this year, the Dow is down almost three times as much as that 777 point crash back in 2008. Over the last sixty days, we have seen the 8th largest single day stock market crash in U.S. history on a point basis and the 10th largest single day stock market crash in U.S. history on a point basis. You would think that this would be enough to wake people up, but most Americans still don’t seem very alarmed. And of course what has happened to U.S. stocks so far is quite mild compared to what has been going on in the rest of the world.
Read more: The Economic Collapse Blog
HSBC fears world recession with no lifeboats left
The world authorities have run out of ammunition as rates remain stuck at zero. They have no margin for error as economy falters.
The world economy is disturbingly close to stall speed. The United Nations has cut its global growth forecast for this year to 2.8pc, the latest of the multinational bodies to retreat.
We are not yet in the danger zone but this pace is only slightly above the 2.5pc rate that used to be regarded as a recession for the international system as a whole.
It leaves a thin safety buffer against any economic shock – most potently if China abandons its crawling dollar peg and resorts to ‘beggar-thy-neighbour’ policies, transmitting a further deflationary shock across the global economy.
Read more: Telegraph
The Crash of 2015: Going Global
Just in the past week, the headlines have been coming like triphammer blows: in Bloomberg News, “Something has gone wrong with the global consumer,” (according to JP Morgan); in International Business Times, “G7 Finance Ministers to address faltering global growth;” in London’s Telegraph, “HSBC fears world recession with no lifeboats left;” in OilPrice.com, “Clock running out for struggling oil companies;” and even in the mainstream vanilla Washington Post, a column by Robert Samuelson predicts “China’s coming crash,” then puts a question mark at the end to make sure we don’t worry too much.
When you add these concerns to longer standing ones about wild gyrations in the world’s stock and bond markets; the advent of peak oil in pretty much every oil-exporting country in the world; the onset of the effects of global climate change in California, the Middle East, North Africa, Brazil and elsewhere; it becomes apparent that optimism ought to be listed as a disorder requiring medical intervention.
Read more: Daily Impact
Global Financial Meltdown Coming? Clear Signs That The Great Derivatives Crisis Has Now Begun
Warren Buffett once referred to derivatives as “financial weapons of mass destruction“, and it was inevitable that they would begin to wreak havoc on our financial system at some point. While things may seem somewhat calm on Wall Street at the moment, the truth is that a great deal of trouble is bubbling just under the surface. As you will see below, something happened in mid-September that required an unprecedented 405 billion dollar surge of Treasury collateral into the repo market. I know – that sounds very complicated, so I will try to break it down more simply for you. It appears that some very large institutions have started to get into a significant amount of trouble because of all the reckless betting that they have been doing. This is something that I have warned would happen over and over again. In fact, I have written about it so much that my regular readers are probably sick of hearing about it. But this is what is going to cause the meltdown of our financial system.
Many out there get upset when I compare derivatives trading to gambling, and perhaps it would be more accurate to describe most derivatives as a form of insurance. The big financial institutions assure us that they have passed off most of the risk on these contracts to others and so there is no reason to worry according to them.
Well, personally I don’t buy their explanations, and a lot of others don’t either. On a very basic, primitive level, derivatives trading is gambling. This is a point that Jeff Nielson made very eloquently in a piece that he recently published…
No one “understands” derivatives. How many times have readers heard that thought expressed (please round-off to the nearest thousand)? Why does no one understand derivatives? For many; the answer to that question is that they have simply been thinking too hard. For others; the answer is that they don’t “think” at all.
Derivatives are bets. This is not a metaphor, or analogy, or generalization. Derivatives are bets. Period. That’s all they ever were. That’s all they ever can be.