Beyond Economics

The End of Growth and Time for a New Era

Category Archives: Capitalism

The Future of Economics and Society as We Know It

Richard Heinberg delivers a clear and powerful message on the urgent need for the world to begin the transition to a sustainable future. He takes a big picture perspective on the interconnectedness of economics, energy, the environment, and society.

We are, and will be, seeing a cavalcade of environmental and economic disasters, not obviously related to one another, that will stymie economic growth in more and more ways.

Each will be typically treated as a special case, a problem to be solved so that we can get “back to normal”.

In September 2008, the global financial system nearly collapsed. The reasons for this sudden, gripping crisis apparently had to do with housing bubbles, lack of proper regulation of the banking industry, and the over-use of bizarre financial products that almost nobody understood. However, the oil price spike had played a critical (if largely overlooked) role in initiating the economic meltdown.

The end of growth is a very big deal indeed. It means the end of an era, and of our current ways of organizing economies, politics, and daily life. Without growth, we will have to virtually reinvent human life on Earth.


Interview of Nate Higgins on ChrisMartenson.com

So I’m not necessarily calling for a stock-market crash in the next decade, but I am calling for within the decade we probably won’t have a stock market. That’s a scary thing to contemplate, but this entire system is based on more every year, and we’ve extended the system by a decade or more by little bells and whistles and allowing people to buy houses with no money down and the repeal of Glass-Steagall.

And since 2008, the crash in private and household credit has been made up by government stepping in and providing 11% of our GDP just from deficit spending. And that bullet has now been spent. So the whole thing starts to unravel once they’ve spent all the bullets they have. And I don’t know that it really matters, really; stocks go down 10% or 50% or 100%, we have to restructure the way that we think about society.

Competing for nominal, digital wealth is going to go away as the main cultural objective. 

This is a fascinating, in-depth discussion of our economic, environmental, and societal predicament. If you have the time, this really ties it all together. Until recently, Nate Higgins was lead editor of The Oil Drum, one of the most popular and highly-respected websites for the analysis and discussion and global energy supplies, and the future implications of the energy decline that we are facing. He holds a Master’s Degree in Finance from the University of Chicago and recently completed his PhD in Natural Resources at the University of Vermont. Previously, he was President of Sanctuary Asset Management and a Vice-President at the investment firm Solomon Brothers and Lehman Brothers.

Nate Higgins Web Site

Additional Resources on Peak Oil

Post Carbon Institute
Founded in 2003, Post Carbon Institute is leading the transition to a more resilient, equitable, and sustainable world.

The Oil Drum
The Oil Drum seeks to facilitate civil, evidence-based discussions about energy and its impacts on the future of humanity, as well as serve as a leading online knowledge-base for energy-related topics.

China, Electric Cars, and the Future

Coda - Chinese electric car to be built in US


With all the hand-wringing in the business press about China manipulating its currency, we may be missing the big picture. In a recent op-ed piece in The New Your Times, Thomas Freidman (The World is Flat) calls attention to how China is aggressively investing in the future. Thankfully, the US government helped save GM from itself and we at least have the Chevy Volt, which could be a game changer in its own way.


Their Moon Shot and Ours
By Thomas L. Friedman, 9/25/2010

China Inc. just named its dream team of 16-state-owned enterprises to move China off oil and into the next industrial growth engine: electric cars.

China is doing moon shots. Yes, that’s plural. When I say “moon shots” I mean big, multibillion-dollar,25-year-horizon, game-changing investments. China has at least four going now: one is building a network of ultramodern airports; another is building a web of high-speed trains connecting major cities; a third is in bioscience, where the Beijing Genomics Institute this year ordered 128 DNA sequencers — from America — giving China the largest number in the world in one institute to launch its own stem cell/genetic engineering industry; and, finally, Beijing just announced that it was providing $15 billion in seed money for the country’s leading auto and battery companies to create an electric car industry, starting in 20 pilot cities.

Not to worry. America today also has its own multibillion-dollar, 25-year-horizon, game-changing moon shot: fixing Afghanistan.

If we both now create the market incentives for consumers to buy electric cars, and the plug-in infrastructure for people to drive them everywhere, it will be a win-win moon shot for both countries. The electric car industry will flourish in the U.S. and China, and together we’ll tackle the next challenge: using auto battery innovations to build big storage batteries for wind and solar. However, if only China puts the gasoline prices and infrastructure in place, the industry will gravitate there. It will be a moon shot for them, a hobby for us, and you’ll import your new electric car from China just like you’re now importing your oil from Saudi Arabia.

Read more of this post

Wall Street Bankers Pretending to be Clueless

1/14/2010 – From the testimony of four of the nation’s top bankers before the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission charged with determining the causes of the nation’s financial debacle.

Whatever we did, whatever the standards of the time were, it didn’t work out well.
– Lloyd Blankfein, CEO – Goldman Sachs

Somehow we just missed that, ah, you know, that home prices don’t go up forever.
– Jamie Dimon, CEO – JPMorgan Chase

These guys either take us for fools or are willing to look stupid themselves. They did get ot climb ack into their limos and laugh all the way back to their banks and bonuses. You can see these statements and more in a segment of the Colbert Report from Thursday night. It leads into a satire on derivatives. Very funny and clever.

The Word – Honor Bound (7 minutes)

Your honor was so precious to the banks that they bundled it with other people’s honor, cut that into securitized honor derivatives, and sold it to Wall Street honor speculators…until the honor bubble burst…but, that doesn’t mean that they are responsible.

Is Capitalism Inevitably Prone to Crashes?

From an article in The Boston Globe (9/13/09) about Hyman Minsky:

Why capitalism fails
The man who saw the meltdown coming had another troubling insight: it will happen again

Here is an excerpt of the highlights:

[Minsky] believed in capitalism, but also believed it had almost a genetic weakness…Although Keynes had never stated this explicitly, Minsky argued that Keynes’s collective work amounted to a powerful argument that capitalism was by its very nature unstable and prone to collapse. Far from trending toward some magical state of equilibrium, capitalism would inevitably do the opposite. It would lurch over a cliff…

Minsky called his idea the “Financial Instability Hypothesis.” In the wake of a depression, he noted, financial institutions are extraordinarily conservative, as are businesses. With the borrowers and the lenders who fuel the economy all steering clear of high-risk deals, things go smoothly: loans are almost always paid on time, businesses generally succeed, and everyone does well. That success, however, inevitably encourages borrowers and lenders to take on more risk in the reasonable hope of making more money. As Minsky observed, “Success breeds a disregard of the possibility of failure.”

As people forget that failure is a possibility, a “euphoric economy” eventually develops, fueled by the rise of far riskier borrowers – what he called speculative borrowers, those whose income would cover interest payments but not the principal; and those he called “Ponzi borrowers,” those whose income could cover neither, and could only pay their bills by borrowing still further. As these latter categories grew, the overall economy would shift from a conservative but profitable environment to a much more freewheeling system dominated by players whose survival depended not on sound business plans, but on borrowed money and freely available credit.

Once that kind of economy had developed, any panic could wreck the market. The failure of a single firm, for example, or the revelation of a staggering fraud could trigger fear and a sudden, economy-wide attempt to shed debt. This watershed moment… was later dubbed the “Minsky moment”.

A year after the Lehman bankruptcy and the Minsky moment of last fall, many of the remaining financial institutions are bigger than ever and almost back to business as usual. The urgency for financial reform has dissipated. How soon we forget.