Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Peak Oil Derp

Paul Krugman (remember him?) has been taking about what he called  inflation “derp,” meaning an opinion held in contravention of all evidence, and posts this handy chart:

As I recall, runaway inflation has been a standard prediction of much of the Peak Oil blogosphere over the past several years as well. This was also combined with warnings of the imminent collapse of the U.S. dollar and a default on the federal debt. Many Peak Oil commentators also called for eliminating the Federal Reserve, and a return to the gold standard.

My question, and I ask it in all sincerity, is, why? These economic ideas come directly from the right-wing “Austrian School” of economics. Why were these obscure, right-wing economic doctrines embraced by so much of the Peak Oil commentariat? You know who these people are, so I’m not going to name names.

What’s exceptionally bizarre to me about this is that Peak Oil, rightly or wrongly (in my opinion wrongly), has been associated with the political Left. Yet so many people in the Peak Oil sphere enthusiastically embraced the narrative being promoted by right-wing Libertarians that the Federal Reserve is the (exclusive) source of all our economic woes, that gold is the only “real” money, and that “money printing” will lead to runaway inflation and a “debasement” of the currency. If you read many peak oil sites, you would also hear constant scorn being heaped on the likes of Krugman and Ben Bernanake (like Krugman, Bernanke seemed to inspire a bilious, visceral hatred in the angry white males of the blogosphere that Janet Yellen simply can’t match. Must be something about bearded Jewish Princeton economists)

Again, why? Why did so much of the Peak Oil movement embrace these narratives promoted by people like the Koch Brothers and Ron Paul? It’s strange bedfellows indeed – you had libertarian  free-market fundamentalists espousing the exact same economic ideas as people who believed that the very substance that underpins modern industrial capitalism was irretrievably running out. How did they end up espousing the exact same economic philosophy? Why did so many Peak Oil people align themselves politically with extreme free-market fundamentalists like Ron Paul, who believes that a nineteenth century economic regime with no central banking, regulations or worker protections is the key to prosperity for all?

And many in the movement have been doubling down on this. If you point out that inflation is low, you get conspiracy theories about how inflation numbers are secretly being manipulated. Oil prices are going up, but of course Peak Oil people should know that has nothing to do with money printing but rather the increased costs of going after harder-to-get oil sources. College and medical costs have been rising, but that’s because these industries are predatory and fuelled by federal subsidies. Housing costs have been rising, but this is due to a housing bubble, scarcity (in urban areas) and extreme income inequality. These aren't caused by “money printing.”

I think maybe the idea is that if the authorities were not talking about Peak Oil, than they were not talking honestly about other things, and conspiratorial anti-government ideologies were embraced. And the biggest ones on offer ready to go was the ones being stoked and kept alive by anti-government libertarians and the John Birch Society. So, many peak oilers encountered these ideologies and signed on board, thinking that these ideas were another “suppressed" ideology just like peak oil. If the authorities were lying and keeping peak oil a secret, then they must be lying about the Federal Reserve and money printing and all of that as well. And economists like Krugman were in on the scam!

I think there’s also an element of nostalgia. Ron Paul and his libertarians portray an idealized world before the Progressive movement and central banking destroyed a land of plucky individualists and striving entrepreneurs. The fact that the people themselves who lived in this time period (1880s-1920s) fought to end the rapacious rule of Robber Baron elites, the impoverishment (and sometimes outright murder) of the working classes and the complete immiseration of people who had no social safety net to fall back on (no “private charity” was not better) is not mentioned. America’s expansion took place before central banking and during the days of the gold standard (or bimetallism), and there fore if we go back to those days we will go back to economic expansion. Correlation does not equal causation, however. The nineteenth century expansion was caused by a wide-open frontier (the Homestead Act, land speculation), plentiful raw materials, and new technologies (telegraphs, railroads, electricity). Not to mention constant booms and busts occurred during that time ruining millions of people and plunging them into desperate poverty much worse than today. All of this is ignored by Libertarians.

Finally, there is a general anti-centralization, anti-government vibe in much of the movement that was amenable to the anti-government message of libertarianism. But the anti-government message of libertarianism has always been self-serving. It’s all about eliminating the regulations that hold back and restrict the power of the wealthy while maintaining and strengthening the powers of the wealth and corporations. The people who sign onto that agenda are “useful idiots” for the plutocrats. Many peak oil commentators (Kunstler specially) are openly nostalgic for the Horatio Alger days of nineteenth century America and believe that they can magically be recreated by shrinking the government. Peak Oil feeds into this nostalgia and distorts their views, causing them to embrace this libertarian idealization of the Robber Baron era.

But by embracing these fringe economic ideologies, hasn’t the peak oil movement done tremendous damage to their credibility? By throwing their lot in with these obscure schools of economics and constantly predicting things that haven’t happened (derp), the Peak Oil movement risks undermining the message of very real and imminent dangers of Peak Oil that threaten our civilization and our economy. It doesn’t help matters when people like Kunstler consistently predict a stock market collapse and that all 315+ million Americans will become dirt farmers staring at the backside of a horse all day and living like Amish in the next twenty years when the U.S. oil output is a actually increasing. Yes, its is temporary and these are wells that will deplete very quickly, but rather than examine the implications of that, he just doubles down on his earlier predictions.

And that leads me to another rant. Why is Ron Paul-style Libertarianism portrayed the only possible option for those opposed to the drug war and military industrial complex? This article got quite a bit of attention recently: Has the ‘Libertarian Moment’ Finally Arrived? (New York Times)
Libertarians, who long have relished their role as acerbic sideline critics of American political theater, now find themselves and their movement thrust into the middle of it. For decades their ideas have had serious backing financially (most prominently by the Koch brothers, one of whom, David H., ran as vice president on the 1980 Libertarian Party ticket), intellectually (by way of policy shops like the Cato Institute and C.E.I.) and in the media (through platforms like Reason and, as of last year, “The Independents”). But today, for perhaps the first time, the libertarian movement appears to have genuine political momentum on its side. An estimated 54 percent of Americans now favor extending marriage rights to gay couples. Decriminalizing marijuana has become a mainstream position, while the drive to reduce sentences for minor drug offenders has led to the wondrous spectacle of Rick Perry — the governor of Texas, where more inmates are executed than in any other state — telling a Washington audience: “You want to talk about real conservative governance? Shut prisons down. Save that money.” The appetite for foreign intervention is at low ebb, with calls by Republicans to rein in federal profligacy now increasingly extending to the once-sacrosanct military budget. And deep concern over government surveillance looms as one of the few bipartisan sentiments in Washington, which is somewhat unanticipated given that the surveiller in chief, the former constitutional-law professor Barack Obama, had been described in a 2008 Times Op-Ed by the legal commentator Jeffrey Rosen as potentially “our first president who is a civil libertarian.”
So, according to the article, the reasons for the “Libertarian moment” are:

1.) Opposition to the failed drug war.
2.) Opposition to the military-industrial complex and persistent foreign wars.
3.) Opposition to the prison-industrial complex
4.) Support for gay marriage.
5.) Decriminalizing victimless crimes like drug use, prostitution, and abortion.
6.) Opposition to the banking and corporate bailouts (not mentioned, but also true)

How did these views become associated with the right-wing? It’s a stunning piece of co-opting. In the 1960’s the people protesting the war and dropping acid weren’t right-wing libertarians, they were left-wing hippies. Many were even Marxists! In fact, the left has always supported every single one of the above points. Yet we’re not told the country is moving to the left, or having a “Marxist moment,” instead it’s a “libertarian moment.” And then we’re given all this evidence that Libertarianism is “young,” “hip,” and “cool.” Gee, why is that?
Meanwhile, the age group most responsible for delivering Obama his two terms may well become a political wild card over time, in large part because of its libertarian leanings. Raised on the ad hoc communalism of the Internet, disenchanted by the Iraq War, reflexively tolerant of other lifestyles, appalled by government intrusion into their private affairs and increasingly convinced that the Obama economy is rigged against them, the millennials can no longer be regarded as faithful Democrats — and a recent poll confirmed that fully half of voters between ages 18 and 29 are unwedded to either party. Obama has profoundly disappointed many of these voters by shying away from marijuana decriminalization, by leading from behind on same-sex marriage, by trumping the Bush administration on illegal-immigrant deportations and by expanding Bush’s N.S.A. surveillance program. As one 30-year-old libertarian senior staff member on the Hill told me: “I think we expected this sort of thing from Bush. But Obama seemed to be hip and in touch with my generation, and then he goes and reads our emails.”
How did the left become associated with big, oppressive government? When did it become associated with absolute statism? Do people on the left support any of the above things? WTF? The (real) left has opposed these things forever! But there is not “leftist” or “socialist” moment. Socialism isn’t “young, hip and cool." It doesn’t have fancy conferences and media personalities (generously funded by corporate elites as the article points out). Hmmm, I wonder why.

Moreover, if you oppose all of the above things (and I do), why must you also embrace the libertarian principles of no regulations for Wall Street, no unions, no worker protections, and no interference whatsoever in the “free” market? If you oppose the above, then apparently “Libertarianism” is your only option. Gee, isn’t that convenient that this anti-military, anti-drug war ideology also embraces eliminating all taxes and regulations on corporations and worker protections? Yet many who would consider themselves leftist have embraced this movement with open arms. As I remarked to KMO, the drug war has served as the best recruiting tool libertarians could ask for. But are libertarians the only people opposed to the drug war? I seem to recall that the people smoking joints in the sixties weren't exactly right-wingers. What happened?

Here’s what I think – the corporate elites see the writing on the wall with the failure of the drug war, the authoritarianism of the religious right agenda, and the frustration with an out-of control military/police/incarceration complex. These ideas were associated with the left in the 1960's, but a true leftist movement would threaten corporate power and extreme wealth  inequality as well. What to do? The answer: Embrace these obscure right-wing libertarian doctrines of free market fundamentalism and heavily subsidize them to co-opt the left. Voila, you have Libertarianism! Because if the corporate elites can co-opt this social shift and channel into Libertarianism (which they can control), they can ride the social changes without any threat to their wealth and power. In fact, they can even expand it! And that’s exactly what they have done; wealth inequality is back to where it was before the Great Depression, and yet people are fighting for a smaller social safety net, less worker protections, less regulation for Wall Street, and lower taxes on the wealthy thanks to Libertarianism. Genius!

And that ties in to my first point. Because the right-wing libertarian ideas are heavily subsidized, I think a lot of the Peak Oil commentariat jumped onboard, not realizing they were secretly backing the power of the wealthy and corporations. And that’s too bad. Because if you care about the implications of peak oil, you can’t help but be saddened by this ongoing display of peak oil derp. If peak oil wants to be taken seriously (and it should), it needs to start dealing with the real world and real facts, and not embrace these ridiculous fringe ideologies and conspiracy theories.


  1. What? The progressive left has always been pro big government. That's how to MAKE people do the right thing, dontcha know? Oh, yeah, there is the incidental loss of liberties, snooping, and the mindboggling wastage of resources, not to mention the corruption... but hey, trans people are getting access to women's bathrooms, so it must be worth it! Arrgh.

  2. My answer to that is very simple: Amsterdam. The Netherlands has inexpensive subsized education and child care, universal health care, generous vacation time, etc. It even has the most extensive bicycle infrastructure in Europe.

    What it does *not* have is the "drug war" or army bases all over the planet. What it does *not* do is incarcerate an enormous number of its own citizens.

    I picked Amsterdam because of its traditionally lenient drug laws (although they've backtracked a little), but I could have also picked Germany or Denmark or Sweden as well (in Germany, they just made college free and have generous worker training programs). These countries also have semi-legal prostitution and do not restrict abortion. They are, in fact, much more "libertarian" than the U.S., yet much more egalitarian, and people do not go bankrupt for lack of health care or drown in student debt. I would imagine things are better for women there as well - Google "cockblocked by redistribution."

    These examples show that one need not accept a "drown government in a bathtub" extreme libertarian politcal philosphy to support drug decriminalization, a small, defensive military or an end to mass incarceration, yet that's mainly how the Libertarians sell themselves (as opposed to their pro-corporate, anti-worker agenda). "Vote for us and no more drug war," they say, ignoring the fact that it also means no more minimum wage or Medicare or environmental regulations or...

    Ask yourself this: we've been living under the "drown government in bathtub" regime for the last 30+ years. Exactly how has the average person benefitted? The sixties counterculture movement (admittedly only one aspect of the Left) was not pro big-government as far as I know, but they did benefit from low state-subsidized tuition, though.

    And my core point about Peak Oilers embracing kooky economic ideas still stands. I could also point out that Germany and Denmark are leaders in green energy too, whereas the Koch Brothers, the major money behind American Libertarianism, are fighting tooth and nail to prevent solar power from becoming widespread in the U.S. The anti-government philosophy has had an actual *negative* effect on freedom as it has put more money into the hands of unitary plutocrats who rule at their whim in contraversion to the popular will. Note that the environmental movement (including those communes) took place during the heyday of "big government" in the 1970's. Contrast that to today.

    A lot of people say, "Yes but the Netherlands is smaller, less ethnically diverse, more urban, more egalitarian, etc." Fair enough. But then isn't *that* the root of our problems and not some inchoate rage against generic big government? Yes, our government is out-of-control and corrupt. But I still argue that the Libertarian movement is just a Trojan Horse to get us to buy into a plutocrat agenda under the guise of "reigning in big government," which never happens anyway.

    Incidentally, all of those countries produce *less* fossil fuel than the U.S. and yet their average middle class citizen is much better off. And to see what a healthy, sane government can do with fossil fuel revenues, take a look at Norway, whose government does not just cut taxes on the rich but invests in what is now the world's largest sovreign wealth fund, as well as it's own citizenry (imagine that!). Compare that to "small government" Mexico or Nigeria, where the problem, like here, is rule by rapacious elites unaccountable to the average citizen.

    1. "A lot of people say, "Yes but the Netherlands is smaller, less ethnically diverse, more urban, more egalitarian, etc." Fair enough. But then isn't *that* the root of our problems and not some inchoate rage against generic big government?"

      This is the key point IMO which is given hardly any attention - size, and diversity of all sorts (not just ethno-linguistic, but cultural and socio-economic) alienates the average citizen from his government and turns it into a distant, sinister abstraction, while making the business of governing just plain harder.

      To answer your question - the views you mentioned became associated with the right wing because the only voices advocating them as a coherent platform happened to come from the Right. Think Ron Paul and David Stockman. Why isn't there a movement rooted in the Left which goes after the sensible middle - those who don't want endless wars, militarized police or corporate bailouts, nor do they want transgender bathrooms or for all of Central America to show up on their doorstep? Beats me.

    2. What Anonymous said. Incidentally, we have not had "drown the guvmint in the bathtub" all these years. We have had mostly right and centrist hypocrites who have all expanded the guvmint apace, and out of proportion to any good it could have done. With, and I stress this, a complete absence of those on the left being effective in countering the process, or even being vociferous in wanting to. Bah humbug.

    3. "...size, and diversity of all sorts...alienates the average citizen from his government and turns it into a distant, sinister abstraction, while making the business of governing just plain harder."

      Very well said! I think this is why a lot of people are wanting to break up these days - Scotland, Catalonia, the Middle East, South Florida, etc. this quote from Robert Carneiro is interesting:

      For 99.8 percent of human history people lived exclusively in autonomous bands and villages. At the beginning of the Paleolithic [i.e. the stone age], the number of these autonomous political units must have been small, but by 1000 BC it had increased to some 600,000. Then supra-village aggregation began in earnest, and in barely three millennia the autonomous political units of the world dropped from 600,000 to 157.

      I recall that many people projected this forward to a global planetary government (Star Trek). But, in fact, "One-World Government" is the evil bogeyman for both the right and the left, and we're seeing dissolution everywhere we turn. In fact, periods of centralization and dissolution have been going on throughout history - it's just that fossil fuels have allowed unprecedented consolodations thanks to communication and transportation technologies in the last two centuries (allowing the projection of force from a center). Thus, we might argue that political entities are *too* big. And I'll note that the bigger the entity, the more oppressive the government (The U.S., China, The Soviet Union and now Russia). It's also interesting that the arguments for social control are usually economic reasons (larger markets, efficiency, etc.)

      Why isn't there a movement rooted in the Left which goes after the sensible middle - those who don't want endless wars, militarized police or corporate bailouts, nor do they want transgender bathrooms or for all of Central America to show up on their doorstep? Beats me.

      That answer is simple - $$$$. Nobody profits from that.
      Besides, leaders found out that "social issues" rile people up more than economic ones, and appealing to emotion is what politics is, at base.

  3. Kunstler self-identifies as a liberal, but he really isn't. That written, he's not a conservative or libertarian by 21st Century American standards. Instead, he's something else, an old-fashioned anarchist. I noted that back in 2011, when I wrote James Howard Kunstler swims against the stream on marriage equality, in which I called him out on very much the same positions you described here.

    That makes for three issues that put you out of step with many others who call themselves liberal and more in step with conservatives. First, you believe in restricting legal immigration. Second, while you aren't an out and out goldbug, you think that a "hard currency" is inevitable. Now, you're against marriage equality. No wonder you have a lot of conservative readers and commenters!
    Kunstler may identify himself as a liberal, but note the positions of his that I pointed out as being conservative, as well as his particular argument against marriage equality. His suspicions about unintended effects fit perfectly with how Jerry Pournelle would describe a conservative position.
    Kunstler has a strong streak of what Pournelle termed "irrationality" and it's what is propelling many of his views, especially those I pointed out as being conservative. His argument against marriage equality is explicitly an "irrational" one in the sense I described above. He fears that upsetting the established social contract will cause more problems than it solves, which overwhelms his desire for social justice.

    Kunstler's skepticism of progress also underlies his goldbuggery and anti-immigrant positions. In fact, what his skepticism of rationality and progress animates even his liberal positions on the environment. He's much more of an anarchist than he is a liberal in that regard. Hmm, that's a very useful lens through which to view his ideas. Thank you, Jerry Pournelle!

    1. Actually, I beleive the best word to describe Kunstler is as a reactionary in the true sense. Wikipedia defines reactionary as:

      "A reactionary is a person who holds political viewpoints that favor a return to a previous state (the status quo ante) in a society. The word can also be an adjective describing such viewpoints or policies. Reactionaries are considered to be one end of a political spectrum whose opposite pole is progressivism/radicalism (in the meaning "left"), though reactionary ideologies may be themselves radical (in the meaning "extreme")."

      I can't think of a better description that runs through Kunstler's work, whether it's a return to prevous settlement patterns in his urban works, or to previous social arrangments as in his novels (status quo ante). Thus his Peak Oil commentary is colored by his desire to retun to a previous state, which is why he so often depicts America as reverting to the nineteenth century thanks to Peak oil (complete with the requisite social relations and conspicuous lack of racial minorities)

      Another online dictionary defines reactionary as: "Characterized by reaction, especially opposition to progress or liberalism; extremely conservative; An opponent of progress or liberalism; an extreme conservative."

      Thus, Kunstler's reactionary mentality aligns him closer with conservatism. I think a lot of his readership are older white males who feel that modernity has left them behind and hope peak oil will settle the score. And part of this reactionary mentality is going back to an old, almost medieval economic arrangment where we're bartering for stuff and paying with gold soveigns.

      All of this stems from the breakdown of trust in major social instutitions. And who can blame people for feeling that? Unfortunately, I think this pushes people into that arms of some disturbing and dangerous ideas (like the so-called "Dark Enlightenment") I also note that Ran Prieur has a similar question on his blog (which parlty inspired this):

      October 20. The Last of the Monsters with Iron Teeth is a great post on the destruction of children's culture, by the same blogger who does The View from Hell...I don't know what to make of the fact that on reddit, this link did best on a right wing subreddit called Dark Enlightenment. How did overprotection of children become associated with the left?

  4. "...a true leftist movement would threaten corporate power and extreme wealth inequality as well."

    Governments and entrenched powers will ALWAYS treat leftist opposition as a greater threat to the status quo than rightist opposition. That's why antiwar Howard Dean's presidential campaign was sabotaged by the MSM after his supposed "scream," yet antiwar campaigner Ron Paul was allowed to continued to tilt at the Republican nomination windmill--not to mention the vastly different police state responses to the Occupy versus the Tea Party movements.

    Personally, I think the libertarian message resonated with so many Peak Oilers because running out of resources WILL eventually kill the big government economic programs so beloved by the middle class (sure, those programs would have had a much longer shelf life without all the unbridled military spending, but that's a different discussion). Problem is it's taking far longer than most in the community thought it would and so Kunstler, for example, started sounding like a broken record years ago.

  5. Not just Howard Dean, look at the treatment of Occupy versus the Tea Party. Also look at the coverage of Ron Paul vesus Kucinich, or Bernie Sanders (who I believe is also opposed to the drug war and American hypermilitarism).

    I don't know, I think the big government programs beloved by the middle class are as much about redistribution as about growth. Things like universal health care are *insurance* meaning that everybody pays in, but only those who need it take from it in any given year. Thus, it is a pooling of resources more than anything else. We all have insurance on our cars and houses (if we have those), so why is health care any different? Insurance has been around since the age of sail (Lloyd's founded 1688). As I've pointed out, we already spend just as much *government* money on health care as every other country on earth (except Norway); we just get back less thanks to channeling it through the multiple levels of profiteers in the "efficient private sector."

    If these are really about redistribution, we need not have exponential growth to make them work. In fact, we need them now more than ever. The Social Security debt "crisis" has been totally ginned up by the plutocrats, and I don't know why so many on the left (including Peak Oilers) bought into it. Speaking of the Fed, they have no shortage of money for rich people, it's just the rest of us who are screwed. Why not raise the cap given the extreme wealth inequality? Come on! If we gained control over the banks and were able to issue debt-free money these problems would resolve themselves.

    Plus, if these programs are unaffordable thanks to Peak Oil, then why is the safety net so much more robust in countries with *no* oil resources to speak of (Germany, Denmark) as I pointed out above? Isn't the U.S. the "new Saudi Arabia," Lol.

  6. I think a big part of the problem is that people think in terms of only a left-right axis instead of something more expansive. A good model is the two axis political model at I think people need to start speaking up for left-libertarianism (I think that's where what your views probably fall under; mine do as well), and I think you have a good platform to do it. You might take the test and see where you fall (it's not perfect by any means, but way better than other such models that I've seen).

    We need to remind folks that Ron Paul and Rand Paul are actually not very libertarian, it's just that they're more libertarian than the average politician. They're against all sorts of individual choice, such as on many aspects of women's health. I think more folks would agree with a centrist truly libertarian viewpoint than the Pauls' hard-right watered down libertarianism. It'd be interesting to articulate what such a platform would look like, and to differentiate it from ossified left-libertarian thinking like the Green Party.

    1. Yup. I am, when I am not an anarchist, a geo-libertarian, meaning for Henry Georgesque land fees financing much of guvmint. While I share some progressivist leanings, I find myself very uncomfortable in their vicinity at times. Libertarians have a bunch of good ideas but not a clue about making it work.

      Anyhoo.... politics is not where it's at anymore. By it, I mean power.

  7. I would say I’m the opposite of most politics today – I favor the government taking strong controls over economic activities (which are entirely created and sustained by governments anyway – every “market” is a form of collectivism by definition, and most corporations are created and sustained by governments thanks to legal structures, infrastructure, even basic research – so that our economy represents a transfer of wealth from the masses to the rich at multiple levels), but I do not favor government control over people’s individual behavior, aside from the laws of course. The lack of the former leads to neofeudalism, while the existence of the latter leads to totalitarianism. I think we’ve seen that playing out. The thing is, you can’t have the former without the latter, because the latter self-corrects the former. People do not sit idly by and let the rich take it all, so they must be controlled. It’s always been that way-the rich are only sustained by violence. I wish more people could see that.

    I would argue that *rhetorically*, we have been in the “drown government in a bathtub” phase. I like to joke that if you sign up to run as a Republican, you get a franchise kit in the mail telling you exactly what to say and do, and that mainly includes berating “burdensome taxation” and “government waste” with no specifics whatsoever. And this alone (along with a great deal of money) will guarantee to get you elected to any office in 60% of the country.

    What is *actually done*, however, as you correctly point out, is vastly different. But it’s clear from the rhetoric that bashing the government and shrinking it was what people thought they were voting for, and it’s an electoral winner. I think the reason is simple – since the shrinking middle class is told they can do nothing about their shrinking incomes, lowering their taxes is the only thing they can vote for to make their dollar go further – never mind that it’s almost always a tax *shift* – lowered income taxes on the rich and businesses, and higher regressive “user fees” and citations paid disproportionately by the middle class and poor – so that they actually end up worse off. As Scot Walker opined recently, voters aren’t all that bright (which is how he got elected in the first place).

    But I still wonder why the opposition to the police state has entirely been framed in terms of right-wing libertarians. Of all the people that I follow who could be considered Left, all of them, bar none, want less militarism and an end to mass surveillance and the drug war, and always have. Yet they are ignored. Recently I’ve heard a few interviews with Russell Brand about his new book. Whatever you think of Russell as a person, I think his philosophies are a good outline of the kinds of things a true left movement needs – opposition to both corporate power *and* the police state. As I said above, those two things are intimately intertwined.

    These links may add further. Here’s an NPR podcast interview with Brand:

    And this article points out why no matter who we vote for, the national security/police state is essentially a government unto itself:

    Vote all you want. The secret government won’t change (The Boston Globe):

    1. Sigh. On a lighter note, this is worth reading.

    2. You might like this as well, although I don't know a lot about the author or the context, in the American Conservative:

      A great New Yorker, that old libertarian democratic editorialist Walt Whitman, once sang:

      ‘To the states, or any one of them, or any city of the states,
      Resist much, obey little‘

      I suppose that advice would make Walt Whitman a person of interest to the Department of Homeland Security. Walt was no clinger to God or guns but he understood that any healthy political or social movement has to begin, has to have its heart and soul, at the grass roots. In Kansas, not on K Street.

      And it has to be based in love. Love not of some remote abstraction, some phantasm that exists only on the television screen—Ford Truck commercials and Lee Greenwood songs—but love of near things, things you can really know and experience. The love of a place and its people: their food, their games, their literature, their music, their smiles.

      I am a localist, a regionalist. To me, the glory of America comes not from its weaponry or wars or a mass culture that is equal parts stupidity, vulgarity, and cynical cupidity—one part “The View,” one part Miley Cyrus, and a dollop of Rush Limbaugh—rather, it is in the flowering of our regions, our local cultures. Our vitality is in the little places—city neighborhoods, town squares—the places that mean nothing to those who run this country but that give us our pith, our meaning.


      An empire is a centripetal machine that sucks all power to the center. Smaller bodies, grass-roots democratic institutions, are devitalized, wiped out. All political decisions of consequence are made at a level far higher than the town or city council or county legislature; they are made by men and occasionally women in remote capitals. People who don’t know us—people who have no desire or even the means to know us—make life or death decisions about us.

      If you believe, as I do, that rootlessness is one of the great maladies afflicting our lorn and lovely land, then reasserting the importance of place in American life becomes the antidote. America is the sum of ten thousand and one little, individuated places, each with its own character and stories. A politician who understands this will act in ways that protect and preserve these real places. She will ask the question that never gets injected into national debates over the wisdom of American policy: What are the domestic costs? Loving her block, she will not wish to bomb Iraq. Loyal to a neighborhood, she will not send its young men and women across the oceans to kill and die for causes wholly unrelated to local life.

      A rootless politico will babble on about “the homeland”—a creepy totalitarian phrase that, before George W. Bush, was never applied to our country. Don’t ever use that term—the homeland—unless you’re an FBI informer, a Mussolini groupie, or a speechwriter for Chris Christie.

      See also "Obama is a Republican" in the same issue.

  8. I am confused by a couple of aspects of this post.

    The distinction you draw where you say that the housing bubble, medical, and education costs rising have nothing to do with "money printing." Medical and education costs are rising, as you say, in part due to federal subsidies. Aren't federal subsidies in the same ball park as "money printing."

    If the federal government is going to guarantee school debt, taking all risk away from student lenders, doesn't that create a huge incentive to make loans, even when there is little chance of the education justifying the debt? I know you write about student debt topics frequently so you are aware of the situation.

    You mention that housing costs are high due to a housing bubble. What is your thought on why we had a housing bubble? Did interest rates fuel the housing bubble? Who sets interest rates?

    Finally, for the conspiracy theory smear tactics you lay on "peak oil people," the majority of the thought in this post is based on connecting dots based on circumstance. Libertarians are popular now because the elites see the writing on the wall with the drug war and want to coopt the social shift to make a benefit for themselves via associated anti government regulation, libertarian policies. It is a plausible idea in my mind, but it is undeniably fits the definition of a conspiracy theory.

    1. Federal subsidies are different from expansion of the money supply. The expansion of the money supply is accomplished by the Federal Reserve (supposedly not a part of government, but really is is, just exempt from democratic oversight) lowering interest rates to encourage loans. The loans expand the money supply. The Fed also buys up assets and sells the bonds required to issue money.

      Federal subsidies are something else. They are actual government policy. Bad policy perhaps, but two distinct things.

      The argument was that expanding the money supply would cause inflation. More broadly, that it would lead to a loss of confidence in the dollar, a debasement of the currency, and a flight to gold. In addition the advocacy of the gold standard is an ideological position that has nothing to do with federal subsidies or the lack thereof. It is this I was criticizing.

      "If the federal government is going to guarantee school debt, taking all risk away from student lenders, doesn't that create a huge incentive to make loans, even when there is little chance of the education justifying the debt?"

      Probably, yes, but the lack of ability to discharge the loan, that is, the enforcement of payment under any circumstances, is what really makes it easy to make risky loans. If you cannot default under any circumstances whatsoever including bankruptcy, than what is the hazard for the lender? Can debtors' prisons be far behind? Education cannot be repossessed, meaning charging for education is ridiculous and counterproductive. Germany just made higher education free. So should we. We already spend enough money trying to make education "affordable" to do this.

      "You mention that housing costs are high due to a housing bubble. What is your thought on why we had a housing bubble? Did interest rates fuel the housing bubble? Who sets interest rates?

      What caused the bubble could run to book length, and low interest rates were a factor, but the libertarian argument is that bubbles are always and everywhere a phenomenon arising from central banking, since the "free market" is infallible and gold constrains the money supply. Never mind everything from the Tulip bubble to the Panic of 1909, and everything in between.

      I also think that thirty years of tax cuts on the wealthy meant that there was too much money chasing too few legitimate investment opportunities, and housing became a gambling casino. This is never raised by libertarians, since in their philosophy the richer the rich get, the better off we all are.

      Finally, I'm not sure what you mean by conspiracy theory. That Libertarianism has co-opoted popular anger against heavy-handed government (working mostly on the behalf of corporations) and channeled it into avenues that actually expand corporate power isn't conspiratorial. Many conspiracies are just a lot of people who happen to have aligned interests who "coordinate without coercion" as Milton Friedman might put it. There's even a smoking gun - read the Powell Memorandum:

  9. "Why were these obscure, right-wing economic doctrines embraced by so much of the Peak Oil commentariat?"

    I can tell you exactly why this happened. I've been writing about this since at least 2006.

    Back in the early 00's, the brightest lights of the peak oil "movement" (for lack of a better word) understood that peak oil would manifest, above all else, as an economic and financial crisis. The clearest voice articulating this reality was Catherine Austin Fitts. Fitts is one of those rare people who truly operates beyond the left/right, liberal/conservative false dichotomy. She is a former Wall Street investment banker and assistant director of HUD under Bush I. Her understanding of economics, finance, and money is extremely sophisticated.

    Fitts' basic message was that since peak oil would manifest as a money problem first and foremost, what we need to do is learn how to own and operate money on our own at the local level so we don't get sucked down the global financial drain. She supported every sort of money preparation anyone could think of that wasn't stupid, everything from private, for-profit neighborhood financial corporations to barter systems to community currencies as part of the overall “economic relocalization” goal.

    After the 2006 Local Solutions conference, Mike Ruppert wigged out and completely alienated Fitts not only from himself but from the whole "movement." Fitts shut down her bulletin board and retreated behind a paywall, leaving a massive hole in the info flow. The movement then promptly split along ideological lines.

    Lefties began sucking up Transition Towns propaganda, which I hate and loathe in part because it COMPLETELY and UTTERLY refuses to deal with financial issues of any sort. And for those who want to disagree, this exchange between Rob Hopkins & Richard Heinberg is hardly more than an admission of abject failure of Transition Towns to address any issue that relates to money. In other words, the lefties completely abdicated any responsibility to deal with the economic & financial problems associated with peak oil.

    On the other hand, the right-leaning peakniks tended to be libertarians from the outset, and they eschewed Transition Towns in favor of the only remaining money people addressing peak oil. These were the likes of Jim Puplava and others of his general ilk, who were to a man — and they were all men – Austrian-school goldbugs. This is the only money information that circulated among the "movement" for a long, long time. It's only been the past couple of years that more socialist-oriented voices have begun springing up. But even these voices utterly and completely fail to address what used to be called relocalization in favor of monsters lurking in the global financial closet.

    And also as far as I can tell, it will remain the case until people start taking Catherine Austin Fitts' work seriously again. She was the only person who had any money-related proposals that could actually work and it is not too late for them to work. But in order for this to happen the Transition side of the "movement" has to pull its head out of its collective ass and start taking money seriously. "MONEY IS EVIL" is not an appropriate response to the economic ravages of peak oil. Neither is "FUCK THE POOR," which is the inherent message of Transition Towns' elitest, landowning, organic gardening insiders-club.

    So yeah, with regard to economics, finance and money issues in general, the peak oil "movement" is a complete fucking disaster. I'm not holding my breath for anyone to figure this out and make any changes, and I personally have moved on from peak oil and collapse issues in general. I can't handle the stupidity anymore.

  10. I agree money and financial issues are neglected. I don't know if I've written about the Transition Movement, but I've had some contacts with them, and my instincts are the same as yours - many were well-meaning but upper middle class folks with living standards that I could hardly imagine who were worried about gas pumps running dry and power going out even though they could just drive a few miles to the inner city, or out to a small town and see what that actually looks like. In other words, I felt a very uncomfortable class consciousness. These were people who could afford to care.

    I always say that the best thing for the Transition Movement to do will not be making cob ovens and rocket stoves, but running soup kitchens and homeless shelters. Individual solutions are fine for those who can afford it; it's the people who can't that are the problem.

    I've heard Catherine Austin Fitts a few times, especially with Dmitry Orlov, and she does sound like she has some good perspectives, but I don't know much beyond that. She doesn't seem to have much of a voice. given the fact that almost no place is self-sufficient anymore, and thus needs to purchase things from abroad, I'm not sure if it's even possible for localities to disconnect from the financial system in a crisis.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.