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[Below are excerpts from Kevin Carson of the P2P Foundation responding to someone who claimed, “post-capitalism talk is largely Utopian fantasy”. I agree with the thrust of Kevin’s argument, capitalism faces collapse on a global scale – but the key social question of our age will not be “can capitalism survive?” but “what new social system(s) will outlive it?”

There are powerful forces seeking to deny us the possibility of relocalizing and democratizing our own economic networks, and which favor a re-nationalization of economic organization and a more brutal resource imperialism. In short, using the State to protect wealth and privilege from the economic chaos, commonly referred to as fascism. Social change is not deterministic, we are faced with widely diverging paths. How we win this struggle and create a post-capitalist world worth living in is the subject of my work. – alex]

“Is post-capitalism a fantasy?”

P2P Foundation, June 7, 2009.

Quotes by Kevin Carson.

I believe that within a generation we’re going to see a radical shortening of supply and distribution chains from Peak Oil, a combined relocalization of most production and an explosion of LETS and barter networks as official money and wage employment dry up for a major part of the population, and a collapse of the old corporate proprietors in the culture and software industries.

The growth of the financial sector compared to physical assets is a major symptom of the problem. Given corporate capitalism’s chronic tendency toward overproduction and overinvestment, you can’t invest the surplus in plant and equipment that will generate even more goods when people can’t consume existing output. So you pile up the surplus investment capital in a FIRE sector that only works until the ponzi scheme collapses.

[O]ne reason for the growth of the FIRE economy from the ’90s on was that the export of industrial capital had reached its limits as a strategy for solving the crisis of overinvestment. China is saturated with more industrial capital than there is a market for. And second, there’s not much future in shipping goods overseas from Chinese factories when fuel costs two or three–or more–times what it did this time last year.

Had oil stayed at its summer 2008 prices indefinitely, some 20% of airline routes would have shut down and a comparable percentage of long-haul trucks left the market. And this was indeed a “hiccup” compared to what we can expect from Peak Oil in the future. Even a supply shortfall of a few percent can cause prices at the pump to double. What can we expect when supply falls by half or two-thirds over the next generation? I expect we’ll see a total collapse of intercontinental supply chains except in vital minerals, and an order of magnitude of reduction of continental supply chains for most manufactured goods.

The factories in China and Vietnam will become useless for anything but producing goods for people in–well, in China and Vietnam. Production of spare parts and modular accessories will grow massively at the expense of production of new goods, and the growth in such production of spare parts and modular accessories will occur mainly in flexible manufacturing nets in relocalized industrial economies. In-season produce will be almost entirely relocalized by backyard gardening and market gardening, and a much larger percentage of our diets will be either in-season or canned local stuff.

We’re barely two years into the real crisis: two years from when real estate prices began to slide, a year from when Peak Oil first became a household word, and nine months since inventories and employment began a free-fall.

To say “everything’s OK so far” this early in the process is IMO about like saying, immediately after Alaric’s first repulse from the gates of Rome, “Well, the system’s still got a lot of life in it.” Or the old joke about the optimist who fell off a 100-story skyscraper and shouted to the people on the 99th floor, “OK so far!”

To say that things look good for capitalism except for Peak Oil is a bit like saying your uncle is just like your aunt except for his testicles.

More and more comparisons between today’s market plunge and the Great Depression of 1930s are being made and are needed.  This article from Monday favorably compares the collapse of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the most important measure of industrial economic activity.

It’s interesting to note that Phil Dow, “market strategist for RBC Dain Rauscher & James” admits the possibility that we are witnessing “the end of capitalism.” He denies that this is the case, since “people will start buying cars [and houses] again“. He’s trying to be optimistic of course, but it’s hard to imagine anything more depressing, considering that members of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are now warning that greenhouse gas emissions are rising much more rapidly than their worst-case projections.

A new way of life is on its way that does not rely on consuming ever-increasing mountains of industrial products, and that’s cause for celebration. [alex]

Dow Jones decline rate mimics Great Depression

by Dawn Kawamoto

Originally published by CNET, March 2, 2009.

With the Dow Jones Industrial Average falling below the psychological watermark of 7,000 on Monday, investors may be wondering how it all stacks up against the stock market crash of the Great Depression.

It’s not looking good.

In the here and now, the Dow has dropped 52.5 percent since its high of 14,279.96 on Oct. 11, 2007, to its low point of 6,779.62 during intraday trading on Monday. (Update 1:16 p.m. PST: At Monday’s close it was 6,763.29, a drop of nearly 300 points from the previous close.)

And in taking a similar period of a year and five months in the late 1920s, it’s a case of deja vu.

The rate of decline is mimicking that of the Dow during the Great Depression.

Back on September 3, 1929, the Dow hit a high mark of 381.17. And over a similar length of time, it fell 54.7 percent to 172.36 on January 2, 1931.

“It’s very troubling if you have a mirror image,” said Phil Dow, market strategist for RBC Dain Rauscher & James. Read the rest of this entry »

Anatoly Karlin at Sublime Oblivion has compiled some provocative graphs which suggest that the global peak of oil production has played a large causative role in the global economic meltdown of the past few years. Right off the bat we should look at how skyrocketing oil prices caused global food shortages and price inflation for other necessities, but also how the rising gas prices hurt US Real Estate markets and burst the subprime mortgage bubble. We know how that damage was compounded into the financial crisis and got us where we are, but what hasn’t been studied is the role of oil in originating the breakdown, not to dismiss the role played by lax regulatory oversight, financial mismanagement or straight-up theft by large banks and speculators.

I look forward to this argument on the role of oil being expanded and enriched by an anti-capitalist framework. [alex]

Excerpts from Oily Origins of the Economic Crisis.

Anatoly Karlin, February 18, 2009.

In an article some months ago I suggested that “perhaps this crisis is simply an unconscious recognition of this inconvenient truth?” – namely, the peaking of oil extraction and all that it implies for the continued survival of a financial system built on assumptions of continuous economic growth. In other words, the fashionable approach of focusing on exotic financial instruments, regulatory failures, etc, if a case of mistaking the forest for the trees.

The Oil Drum had a nice graphical summary. According to the author, Gail the Actuary, the chain of causation runs thus:

This explains the extreme severity of the crash – record GDP growth at a time of plateaued oil extraction in the 2005-2008 period was patently unsustainable, so a very big “correction” could not have been unexpected.

And it is quite a correction.

As of the September-November average, global industrial production was plummeting at an annualized rate of -13% and merchandise trade by a truly remarkable -43%. And it is obvious the collapse accelerated since then…

Already far worse than during even the worst month of 2000-2001, the last and only global slowdown for which the IMF has data.

Another Oil Drum blogger, Phil Hart, wrote about the dramatic rise and fall in oil prices in terms of simple supply and demand curves…

Oil demand and supply.

His thesis is that because of the geological limits to oil supply, the marginal cost of providing ever more oil is generally low until it reaches some point – say, 85mn barrels a day – and then veers off into the sky (i.e. becomes very inelastic). Demand is also inelastic, since modern society basically runs on oil. Hence there comes a time when the demand curve reaches a point when its intersection with the supply curve – i.e., the market price – starts rising exponentially. Read the rest of this entry »

One of Philadelphia’s larger newspapers puts Paul Glover, local currency and mutual aid-based health care advocate, on its cover story. As always, Paul makes wise and witty proposals to help us solve our economic and ecological woes, and now people are finally listening!

My favorite solution: “Neighborhood watch instead of neighborhood watch TV.” [alex]

Prepare for the Best

A guide to surviving — and thriving in — Philadelphia’s new green future.

Published: Jan 28, 2009

The Dark Season closes around Philadelphia. Wolves howl, “Tough times coming!” Young professionals with good jobs study budget cuts, watch stocks flail. Career bureaucrats are laid off; college students wonder who’s hiring. Old-timers remember when Philadelphia staggered through the terrible Depression years without jobs or dollars, while crime and hunger rose. Some districts here never escaped that Depression — they’re still choosing between heating and eating.

As usual, the future will be different. Philadelphia’s responses to global warming and market cooling, high fuel and food prices, health unsurance, mortgages, student debt and war will decide whether our future here becomes vastly better or vastly worse. Whether we’re the Next Great City or Next Great Medieval Village. Imagine Philadelphia with one-tenth the oil and natural gas.

But to hell with tragedy. Let’s quit dreading news. Take the Rocky road. There are Philadelphia solutions for every Philadelphia problem.

Imagine instead that, 20 years from now, Philadelphia’s green economy enables everyone to work a few hours creatively daily, then relax with family and friends to enjoy top-quality local, healthy food. To enjoy clean low-cost warm housing, clean and safe transport, high-quality handcrafted clothes and household goods. To enjoy creating and playing together, growing up and growing old in supportive neighborhoods where everyone is valuable. And to do this while replenishing rather than depleting the planet. Pretty wild, right?

Entirely realistic. Not a pipe dream. And more practical than cynical. The tools, skills and wealth exist.

Mayor Michael Nutter foresees we’ll become the “Greenest City in the United States.” So it’s common-sensible to ask, “What are the tools of such a future?” “What jobs will be created?” “Who has the money?” “Where are the leaders?” “How will Philadelphia look?” “What can we learn from other cities?”

Some of the proposals sketched here can be easily ridiculed, because they disturb comfortable work habits, ancient traditions and sacred hierarchies. Yet they open more doors than are closing. They help us get ready for the green economy, and get there first. Big changes are coming so we might as well enjoy the ride. You have good ideas, too — bring ’em on.

From “Yes We Can” to “Now We Do”

As President Barack Obama says, “Change comes not from the top down, but from the bottom up.” Philadelphia’s chronic miseries suggest that primary dependence on legislators, regulators, police, prisons, bankers and industry won’t save us. They’re essential partners, but the people who will best help us are us. Read the rest of this entry »

Interesting to see how second-tier nations are facing such dramatic upheaval, it seems the crisis is being somewhat deflected from the United States and other centers of global capitalism.  In the long run of course, the US is LEAST prepared to deal with the energy shortage, and will crash hardest.  For now though, the coronation of our new fresh president has kept the myth of American exceptionalism alive, at least for a little longer. [alex]

Riots in Iceland, Latvia and Bulgaria are a Sign of Things to Come

Our third global political column explores the start of an age of rebellion over the financial crisis – beginning in Iceland

by Roger Boyes

The Times Online (of London)

January 21, 2009

Icelanders all but stormed their Parliament last night. It was the first session of the chamber after what might appear to be an unusually long Christmas break.

Ordinary islanders were determined to vent their fury at the way that the political class had allowed the country to slip towards bankruptcy. The building was splattered with paint and yoghurt, the crowd yelled and banged pans, fired rockets at the windows and lit a bonfire in front of the main door. Riot police moved in.


Icelanders vented their fury at the political class's handling of the financial crisis by staging angry protests in Reykjavik

Now in the grand sweep of the current crisis, a riot on a piece of volcanic rock in the north Atlantic may not seem to add up to much. But it is a sign of things to come: a new age of rebellion.

The financial meltdown has become part of the real economy and is now beginning to shape real politics. More and more citizens on the edge of the global crisis are taking to the streets. Bulgaria has been gripped this month by its worst riots since 1997 when street power helped to topple a Socialist government. Now Socialists are at the helm again and are having to fend off popular protests about government incompetence and corruption.

In Latvia – where growth has been in double-digit figures for years – anger is bubbling over at official mismanagement. GDP is expected to contract by 5 per cent this year; salaries will be cut; unemployment will rise. Last week, in a country where demonstrators usually just sing and then go home, 10,000 people besieged parliament.

Iceland, Bulgaria, Latvia: these are not natural protest cultures. Something is going amiss.

The LSE economist Robert Wade – addressing a protest meeting in Reykjavik’s cinema – recently warned that the world was approaching a new tipping point. Starting from March-May 2009, we can expect large-scale civil unrest, he said. “It will be caused by the rise of general awareness throughout Europe, America and Asia that hundreds of millions of people in rich and poor countries are experiencing rapidly falling consumption standards; that the crisis is getting worse not better; and that it has escaped the control of public authorities, national and international.”

Ukraine could be the next to go. The gas pricing deal agreed with Moscow could propel the country towards a serious financial crisis. Russia, too, is looking wobbly. A riot in Vladivostok may have been an omen for things to come. What will happen when the wider economic crisis translates into higher food prices? Or if Gazprom has no choice but to increase domestic gas prices?

Governments have so far managed to deflect attention from their role in the crash, their slipshod monitoring, by declaring themselves to be indispensible to the solution. This may save the skins of politicians in wealthier countries who can credibly and expensively try to prop up banks and sickly industries. But it does not work in countries that are heavily indebted, with bloated and exposed financial sectors. There, the irate crowds are already beginning to demand: why hasn’t a single politician resigned? What has happened to ministerial responsibility? Who will investigate government failure?

Good questions, it seems to me, in these unquiet times.

Two days before he published this article, David Graeber spoke at the People’s Forum in DC, which was organized by DC SDSers as part of Global Justice Action. The People’s Forum ran simultaneously while the G20 met in DC to save capitalism, because capitalism isn’t in crisiscapitalism is the crisis. The activities included a brainstorming session to explore “What Comes After Capitalism?” and a celebratory “Funeral for Capitalism” where the below pictures were taken. [alex]

At the "Funeral for Capitalism"

At the "Funeral for Capitalism" - photo by Jake Cunningham

Hope in Common
David Graeber
Originally published by InterActivist Info Exchange, November 17, 2008.

We seem to have reached an impasse. Capitalism as we know it appears to be coming apart. But as financial institutions stagger and crumble, there is no obvious alternative. Organized resistance appears scattered and incoherent; the global justice movement a shadow of its former self. There is good reason to believe that, in a generation or so, capitalism will no longer exist: for the simple reason that it’s impossible to maintain an engine of perpetual growth forever on a finite planet. Faced with the prospect, the knee-jerk reaction—even of “progressives”—is, often, fear, to cling to capitalism because they simply can’t imagine an alternative that wouldn’t be even worse.

The first question we should be asking is: How did this happen? Is it normal for human beings to be unable to imagine what a better world would even be like?

photo by Christa Hendrickson

photo by Christa H

Hopelessness isn’t natural. It needs to be produced. If we really want to understand this situation, we have to begin by understanding that the last thirty years have seen the construction of a vast bureaucratic apparatus for the creation and maintenance of hopelessness, a kind of giant machine that is designed, first and foremost, to destroy any sense of possible alternative futures. At root is a veritable obsession on the part of the rulers of the world with ensuring that social movements cannot be seen to grow, to flourish, to propose alternatives; that those who challenge existing power arrangements can never, under any circumstances, be perceived to win. To do so requires creating a vast apparatus of armies, prisons, police, various forms of private security firms and police and military intelligence apparatus, propaganda engines of every conceivable variety, most of which do not attack alternatives directly so much as they create a pervasive climate of fear, jingoistic conformity, and simple despair that renders any thought of changing the world seem an idle fantasy. Maintaining this apparatus seems even more important, to exponents of the “free market,” even than maintaining any sort of viable market economy. How else can one explain, for instance, what happened in the former Soviet Union, where one would have imagined the end of the Cold War would have led to the dismantling of the army and KGB and rebuilding the factories, but in fact what happened was precisely the other way around? This is just one extreme example of what has been happening everywhere. Economically, this apparatus is pure dead weight; all the guns, surveillance cameras, and propaganda engines are extraordinarily expensive and really produce nothing, and as a result, it’s dragging the entire capitalist system down with it, and possibly, the earth itself.

photo by Christa Hendrickson

photo by Christa H

The spirals of financialization and endless string of economic bubbles we’ve been experience are a direct result of this apparatus. It’s no coincidence that the United States has become both the world’s major military (”security”) power and the major promoter of bogus securities. This apparatus exists to shred and pulverize the human imagination, to destroy any possibility of envisioning alternative futures. As a result, the only thing left to imagine is more and more money, and debt spirals entirely out of control. What is debt, after all, but imaginary money whose value can only be realized in the future: future profits, the proceeds of the exploitation of workers not yet born. Read the rest of this entry »

I recently posted Dmitry Orlov’s great essay ‘Closing the Collapse Gap‘, and here is his latest piece, which he delivered to the 5th Conference on Peak Oil and Community Solutions.  I am only reposting excerpts, because the original is very long and somewhat repetitive.  I also must warn that although I find Orlov’s insight useful, I have a much more positive view of the collapse of US Imperialism, mainly because I think he is overlooking the benefits of this process for the planet’s ecosystem as well as the possibility of freedom for the majority of the world’s people who are currently suffering under US dominance.  Iraqis certainly will have a different view of the collapse of the US Empire than those in the Pentagon.

How about for Americans? Is the collapse of the US better for people who live here?  Orlov’s conclusion actually indicates that it may be, especially in terms of rebuilding the social fabric that has been worn away by individualism and consumerism.  But he also overlooks the reality of social oppression in the US. Not everyone lives the same “middle class” lifestyle he seems to be taking for granted.  There are already millions of Americans on the brink of poverty, or deep in poverty, who don’t worry about losing their SUVs.

The best outcome is for not just a collapse, but a transformation, so that nobody has to go hungry or work their life away just so that the wealthy can take cruises or visit the spa.  The current Bailouts are the most striking example of the government having the exactly opposite priorities.  Instead of bailing out homeowners, or the poor who lack access to public transportation, they are dumping money into the hands of the real estate and automaking profiteers!  We must continue to oppose this nonsense, from Obama or anyone, and make sure that our money is used for the benefit of the majority, not the wealthy few.  In a world of shrinking wealth, there should be no rich, and there doesn’t have to be any poor either.  [alex]

The Five Stages of Collapse

by Dmitry Orlov
Originally published by Energy Bulletin, Nov. 11, 2008.

Hello, everyone! […] My specialty is in thinking about and, unfortunately, predicting collapse. My method is based on comparison: I watched the Soviet Union collapse, and, since I am also familiar with the details of the situation in the United States, I can make comparisons between these two failed superpowers.

I was born and grew up in Russia, and I traveled back to Russia repeatedly between the late 80s and mid-90s. This allowed me to gain a solid understanding of the dynamics of the collapse process as it unfolded there. By the mid-90s it was quite clear to me that the US was headed in the same general direction. But I couldn’t yet tell how long the process would take, so I sat back and watched.

I am an engineer, and so I naturally tended to look for physical explanations for this process, as opposed to economic, political, or cultural ones. It turns out that one could come up with a very good explanation for the Soviet collapse by following energy flows. What happened in the late 80s is that Russian oil production hit an all-time peak. This coincided with new oil provinces coming on stream in the West – the North Sea in the UK and Norway, and Prudhoe Bay in Alaska – and this suddenly made oil very cheap on the world markets. Soviet revenues plummeted, but their appetite for imported goods remained unchanged, and so they sank deeper and deeper into debt. What doomed them in the end was not even so much the level of debt, but their inability to take on further debt even faster. Once international lenders balked at making further loans, it was game over.

What is happening to the United States now is broadly similar, with certain polarities reversed. The US is an oil importer, burning up 25% of the world’s production, and importing over two-thirds of that. Back in mid-90s, when I first started trying to guess the timing of the US collapse, the arrival of the global peak in oil production was scheduled for around the turn of the century. It turned out that the estimate was off by almost a decade, but that is actually fairly accurate as far as such big predictions go. So here it is the high price of oil that is putting the brakes on further debt expansion. As higher oil prices trigger a recession, the economy starts shrinking, and a shrinking economy cannot sustain an ever-expanding level of debt. At some point the ability to finance oil imports will be lost, and that will be the tipping point, after which nothing will ever be the same.

This is not to say that I am a believer in some sort of energy determinism. If the US were to cut its energy consumption by an order of magnitude, it would still be consuming a staggeringly huge amount, but an energy crisis would be averted. But then this country, as we are used to thinking of it, would no longer exist. Oil is what powers this economy. In turn, it is this oil-based economy that makes it possible to maintain and expand an extravagant level of debt. So, a drastic cut in oil consumption would cause a financial collapse (as opposed to the other way around). A few more stages of collapse would follow, which we will discuss next.[…]

I don’t mean to imply that every part of the country will suddenly undergo a spontaneous existence failure, reverting to an uninhabited wilderness. I agree with John-Michael Greer that the myth of the Apocalypse is not the least bit helpful in coming to terms with the situation. The Soviet experience is very helpful here, because it shows us not only that life goes on, but exactly how it goes on. But I am quite certain that no amount of cultural transformation will help us save various key aspects of this culture: car society, suburban living, big box stores, corporate-run government, global empire, or runaway finance. Read the rest of this entry »

Now I hope people don’t see this article as ‘support for the Soviet Union’ or something ridiculous like that, but I think this is a very insightful and amusing article, based on a powerpoint presentation.  The question is, was the USSR more prepared for the economic collapse it suffered than the US is for the collapse it will soon suffer?  Orlov lived through the former and seems to think that it was.

Also note that I strongly disagree with his recommendation to abandon politics – he’s right that politicians are swine but i think he’s wrong in overlooking people’s ability to build a resistance movement that can make real changes to our society, despite politicians best efforts to derail it.  So with that, enjoy the article! [alex]

Closing the ‘Collapse Gap’: the USSR was better prepared for collapse than the US

by Dmitry Orlov
Originally published be Energy Bulletin, December 4, 2006.

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I am not an expert or a scholar or an activist. I am more of an eye-witness. I watched the Soviet Union collapse, and I have tried to put my observations into a concise message. I will leave it up to you to decide just how urgent a message it is.

My talk tonight is about the lack of collapse-preparedness here in the United States. I will compare it with the situation in the Soviet Union, prior to its collapse. The rhetorical device I am going to use is the “Collapse Gap” – to go along with the Nuclear Gap, and the Space Gap, and various other superpower gaps that were fashionable during the Cold War.

Slide [2] The subject of economic collapse is generally a sad one. But I am an optimistic, cheerful sort of person, and I believe that, with a bit of preparation, such events can be taken in stride. As you can probably surmise, I am actually rather keen on observing economic collapses. Perhaps when I am really old, all collapses will start looking the same to me, but I am not at that point yet.

And this next one certainly has me intrigued. From what I’ve seen and read, it seems that there is a fair chance that the U.S. economy will collapse sometime within the foreseeable future. It also would seem that we won’t be particularly well-prepared for it. As things stand, the U.S. economy is poised to perform something like a disappearing act. And so I am eager to put my observations of the Soviet collapse to good use.

Slide [3] I anticipate that some people will react rather badly to having their country compared to the USSR. I would like to assure you that the Soviet people would have reacted similarly, had the United States collapsed first. Feelings aside, here are two 20th century superpowers, who wanted more or less the same things – things like technological progress, economic growth, full employment, and world domination – but they disagreed about the methods. And they obtained similar results – each had a good run, intimidated the whole planet, and kept the other scared. Each eventually went bankrupt. Read the rest of this entry »

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