Blog Archives

The Illusion of Progress

The core narrative of politics everywhere is progress, i.e. “moving forward.” If progress isn’t being made, politicos and the system are failing.

In the past, “progressive” movements sought to advance both social and economic opportunities for marginalized groups.

For a variety of reasons, social progress has been decoupled from economic progress.

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Dear President Trump: If You Want to Lower Healthcare Costs and Stem the Opiate Death Spiral, Legalize Marijuana

If there is anything the left and right, progressives and conservatives, and everyone in between can agree on, it’s ending the counter-productive, destructive “war on drugs” that has generated crime and violence, a “we’re number one in Gulags” prison complex and pushed people into harder, far more dangerous drugs (see chart of “legal” opioid deaths below).

Dear President Trump: if you’re truly serious about lowering healthcare costs and stemming the rising tide of opioid addictions and death, then fully legalize marijuana via executive order now.

The usual justifications for continuing the criminalization of marijuana have moved from threadbare to completely disconnected from reality. We’re told that marijuana is surrounded by violence–well duh–the violence is the direct consequence of Prohibition.

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Virtue-Signaling the Decline of the Empire

There are many reasons why Imperial Rome declined, but two primary causes that get relatively little attention are moral decay and soaring wealth inequality. The two are of course intimately connected: once the morals of the ruling Elites degrade, the status quo seeks to mask its self-serving rot behind high-minded “virtue-signaling” appeals to past glories and cost-free idealism.

Virtue signaling is defined as “the conspicuous expression of moral values by an individual done primarily with the intent of enhancing that person’s standing within a social group,” “the practice of publicly expressing opinions or sentiments intended to demonstrate one’s good character or the moral correctness of one’s position on a particular issue” and “Saying you love or hate something to show off what a virtuous person you are, instead of actually trying to fix the problem.” Yes, yes and yes.

“Virtue-signaling” expresses two other key characteristics of an empire in terminal decline: complacency and intellectual sclerosis.

Michael Grant described these manifestations of decline in his excellent account The Fall of the Roman Empire, a short book I have been recommending since 2009:

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Those Systems That Aren’t Busy Being Born Are Busy Dying

One way to understand the rising sense of disintegration and discord around the globe is to realize that those systems that aren’t busy being born are busy dying–and virtually none of our primary systems are busy being born.

The line is from Bob Dylan’s song It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding): “he not busy being born is busy dying.”

What does busy being born mean? For both individuals and systems, it means adapting by advancing understanding, flexibility and capabilities.

Systems that are dying are rigid, mal-adapted, resistant to change, obsessed with obscuring their failure and retaining their grip on cronyist privilege and power. Big Pharma: dying. Banking: dying. Governance, a.k.a. political processes: dying. Enforced consensus: dying.

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How Do We Design a DeGrowth Economy?

I’ve written about DeGrowth for many years, including Degrowth, Anti-Consumerism and Peak Consumption (May 9, 2013), Degrowth Solutions: Half-Farmer, Half-X (July 19, 2014) and And the Next Big Thing Is … Degrowth? (April 7, 2014)

These are the basic concepts of Degrowth:

1. Consumerism is psychological/ spiritual junk food (French: malbouffe) that actively reduces well-being (bien-etre) rather than increases it.

2. Better rather than more: well-being is increased by everything that cannot be commoditized by a market economy or financialized by a cartel-state financial machine– friendship, family, community, self-cultivation. The goal of economic and social growth should be better, not more. On a national scale, the cancerous-growth measured by gross domestic product (GDP) should be replaced with gross domestic happiness/ gross national happiness (GNH).

3. A recognition that resources are not infinite, despite claims to the contrary. For one example of many: China Is Plundering the Planet’s Seas (The Atlantic). Indeed, all the evidence suggests that access to cheap energy only speeds up the depletion and despoliation of every other resource.

4. The unsustainability of consumerist “growth” that’s dependent on resource depletion funded by financialization (i.e. the endless expansion of credit and phantom collateral). (This is covered in greater depth in my short book Why Our Status Quo Failed and Is Beyond Reform.)

5. The diminishing returns on private consumption and “bridges to nowhere” (crony-capitalist public consumption).

6. The failure of neoliberal capitalism and communism alike in their pursuit of growth at any cost.

Degrowth is heresy in what John Michael Greer calls the religion of progress (i.e. growth).

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The Problem with Gold-Backed Currencies

There is something intuitively appealing about the idea of a gold-backed currency –money backed by the tangible value of gold, i.e. “the gold standard.”

Instead of intrinsically worthless paper money (fiat currency), gold-backed money would have real, enduring value–it would be “hard currency”, i.e. sound money, because it would be convertible to gold itself.

Many proponents of sound money identify President Nixon’s ending of the U.S. dollar’s gold standard in 1971 as the cause of the nation’s financial decline. If our currency was still convertible to gold, the thinking goes, the system would never have allowed the vast pile of debt to accumulate.

The problem with this line of thinking is that it is disconnected from the real-world mechanisms of capital flows and the way money is created in our financial system.

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The Criminalization of Financial Independence

Just as the “war on drugs” criminalized and destroyed large swaths of African-American and Latino communities, the “war on cash” will further criminalize the few remaining avenues to financial independence and freedom. The introduction of “entitlement” welfare in the 1960s generated a toxic dependency on the state that institutionalized worklessness, a one-two punch that undermined marriage and family in America’s working class of all ethnicities.

The “war on drugs” launched in the 1970s turned millions of American males into felons with severely restricted rights and opportunities in mainstream America.

Now we see the same destructive pattern repeating with “disability” being the new “welfare” and “legal” synthetic heroin (oxycotin etc.) being the new street-smack that lays waste to entire communities. Once you’re dependent on the state for disability and synthetic smack, you are owned by the government, lock, stock and barrel.

When the temptation to sell your $3 Medicaid prescription for synthetic smack for a quick $1000 becomes too much to resist, bang, you’ve got a one-way ticket into the Hell of America’s criminal “justice” system. Do you see the pattern? Offer the blandishments of “free money” and nearly free synthetic smack, and the vulnerable populace is quickly reduced to a dependent state of worklessness and addiction.

Needless to say, an addicted, ill, workless populace that is herded into the grinder of the criminal justice system isn’t going to create any political resistance. They have their hands full just trying to stay alive and avoid being sucked into the voracious maw of the criminalization meat grinder.

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Over-Regulation Has Criminalized the Practice of Medicine

The average person has little exposure to the criminalization of everyday enterprise in America via over-regulation and outsized penalties for even accidental violations of rules and regulations. One field that continues to be burdened with excessive/counter-productive regulations and outsized penalties is the practice of medicine.

I received the following email from a physician correspondent:

“As you will see, physicians have to deal with the federal government’s increasingly crazy and copious rules (like which patients they can screen for disease and how often).

The following is an email ad I received for an expensive service that provides no benefit to the ill and injured of America. It’s bureaucratic nonsense.”

Here is the email ad:

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There’s a Difference: Fake News and Junk News

The mainstream media continues peddling its “fake news” narrative like a desperate pusher whose junkies are dying from his toxic dope. It’s slowly dawning on the media-consuming public that the MSM is the primary purveyor of “fake news”– self-referential narratives that support a blatantly slanted agenda with unsupported accusations and suitably anonymous sources.

Many of these Fake News Narratives are laughably, painfully bogus: that President Trump is a Russian tool, to take a current example. (That President Obama was a tool of the neocon Deep State–no mention of that. According to the MSM, America doesn’t even have a Deep State–har-har…the joke’s on you if you are credulous enough to swallow this risible absurdity.)

But the real danger isn’t fake news–it’s junk news. Junk News (the title of a 2009 book by an Emmy Award–winning journalist– Junk News: The Failure of the Media in the 21st Century) —is related to Junk Science and Junk Food.

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This Is How the Status Quo Unravels

The politics of the past 70 years was all about horsetrading who got what share of the growing pie: the “pie” being cheap energy, government revenues and consumption, sales and profits.

Horsetrading over a growing pie is basically fun. There’s always a little increase left for the losers, so there is a reason for everyone to cooperate in a broad political consensus.

Horsetrading over a shrinking pie is not fun. Everybody is shrilly demanding their piece of the pie should either grow or be left untouched; any cuts must come out of someone else’s slice.

Everyone turns on their most compelling emotion-based defense: “we wuz promised” is a reliable standard, as is “we need more money to defend the nation from the rising threat of XYZ.” “Help those in need” plays the heartstrings effectively–as long as the “help” comes out of somebody else’s pocket.

Everyone sharpens their knives, the better to carve a slice off somebody else’s slice of the pie. A passive-aggressive free-for-all ensues as everyone reacts with aggrieved defensiveness to any attempt to diminish their slice, even as they launch shrill attacks on everyone else’s defense.

As the pie shrinks, the motivation to join a broad consensus vanishes like mist in Death Valley.

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Political Consensus Is Splintering into Class Wars

In years past, we spoke of class war between the haves and the have-nots. It’s no longer that simple. Now the traditional political consensus is splintering into multiple class wars between overlapping camps of the protected and the unprotected, those who’ve been promised entitlements and privileges that are no longer affordable and those expected to pay more taxes.

In the modern era, the phrase Class War is rooted in the socialist/Marxist concept that the conflict between labor (the working class) and capital (owners of capital) is not just inevitable—it’s the fulcrum of history. In this view, this Class War is the inevitable result of the asymmetry between the elite who own/control the capital and the much larger class of people whose livelihood is earned solely by their labor.

In Marx’s analysis, the inner dynamics of capitalism inevitably lead to the concentration of capital in monopolies/cartels whose great wealth enables them to influence the government to serve the interests of capital. Subservient to capital, the laboring class must overthrow this unholy partnership of capital and the state to become politically free via ownership of the means of production, i.e. productive assets.

This Class War did not unfold as Marx anticipated. The laboring class gained sufficient political power in the early 20th century to win the fundamentals of economic security: universal public education, labor laws that prohibited outright exploitation, the right to unionize, and publicly funded pensions.

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While Elites Played Empire, America Fell Apart

Our extraordinary misallocation of national treasure and political power has set a banquet of consequences that few are willing to face, much less address head-on. If we had to sum up this vast misallocation, we might start by characterizing it as the result of a multitude of elites playing Empire with money borrowed from future generations.

We can start the list of extraordinary misallocations of national treasure with the Neocon’s endless wars of choice. Ten years ago, estimates of the total cost of the Iraq misadventure were $3 trillion: Cost of Iraq War: $3 Trillion; Cost of Solar Plants to Power all 105 million U.S Households: $500 Billion (April 10, 2008)

But this does not exhaust the list of extraordinary misallocations of treasure.

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