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New economic system for post-peak ?

Discussions about the economic and financial ramifications of PEAK OIL

Unread postby bart » Sun 06 Mar 2005, 04:36:50

If the concept of PO has any validity, environmental and economic crises will soon rock global capitalism. Anti-capitalistic movements will emerge and socialism will once more be a force.

Even now, if you scan the world for successful adaptations to post-peak, would you choose the US or Cuba as a model? The US is currently in fantasyland as far as Peak Oil is concerned. Theoretically, capitalism could adapt to expensive energy, but what signs are there of any preparation?

In the past, capitalism has shown great resilience; it's been able to adapt and reform its way out of any number of crises. But will capitalism be able to survive the coming crisis? I have my doubts.

To adapt to a crisis, the capitalist leadership must be able to see the shortcomings of the system and tinker with it enough to avert a revolution. But current US leadership is beset by hubris and is incapable of objective analysis.

Even among the pro-capitalists on the board (most with high IQs), we only hear Reaganesque feel-good slogans about capitalism. This will not cut it in the future.
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Unread postby gg3 » Mon 07 Mar 2005, 05:04:23

Bart: or we could end up going for Fascism.

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As MonteQuest well pointed out, capitalism is not identical with free enterprise. You can have a perfectly successful and profitable business that is stable for decades, but in capitalist terms it's a failure because it does not generate sufficient surplus (40% ROE) to attract investors.

Free enterprise means just that: the freedom to start and operate an enterprise as you choose.

No one in their right mind nowadays believes that this is an inherent evil, or that all productive enterprises should be owned by the state or by state-sanctioned collectives, or that the personal possessions of individuals should be confiscated or otherwise collectivized. In fact those positions are straw-men, and cheap substitutes for a reasoned arguement, and they should simply be ignored.

Capitalism is one particular subset of free enterprise, in which entrepreneurs attract outside capital and provide a return on that investment. In the abstract this isn't a problem. In practice it leads to the creation of vast entites whose actions have global impacts, and which are able to externalize costs (such as ecological damage and resource depletion) with virtually no accountability.

In libertarian terms the existence of "legal persons" (incorporated entities) with powers vastly exceeding those of any combination of real persons, corrupts both the market and the political process and must therefore be strictly limited.

If someone wants to argue in favor of the proposition that para-statal behemoths should be able to continue to foist externalized costs upon the general public, let's have at it.

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Wealth vs. excess:

In the abstract there's no problem with individuals having vast personal wealth far beyond their actual needs.

In practice there are two fatal flaws.

One is the creation of aristocracy. The entire premise of our republic was that power is evil, power corrupts, and therefore power must be divided and subjected to checks and balances. Beyond a certain point, a surplus of money becomes an excess of power. The money itself isn't the problem (yet), the power it confers *is.* As a result, an economic aristocracy has arisen to fill the void of political aristocracy. But regardless of economic or political, the result is the same: extreme concentration of power that is anathema to a truly free people.

Two is the issue of distributional equity. In the past one could argue that wealth at one end of the spectrum did not cause poverty at the other end because the pie kept growing, and the rising tide lifted all boats. Anyone who was willing to work could get ahead, and the social safety net could take care of those who fell through the cracks.

However, what happens when the pie stops growing? That's the consensus of opinion about peak oil and similar Malthusian crises: No more growth. No more rising tide that lifts all boats.

At that point, material wealth becomes a zero-sum game: one person's gain is another's loss. If there are 100 people and a fixed supply of 100 widgets that does not grow, and I have three widgets, two other people have none. They can work as hard as they like, but they will still have none.

Here the "hoarder" standard becomes relevant: accumulation beyond a certain point is hoarding, in effect getting something you don't need and can't use, and thereby preventing someone else from having something they need in order to get by.

What do you do about someone who, in time of crisis, has a million cans of soup, a million half-gallon bottles of milk, a million loaves of bread, a million pounds of vegetables, a million pounds of rice, a million pounds of beans, a million bottles of ketchup, a million pounds of ground beef, and so on for another 992 items on the great grocery list...?

Notice that my list here comprises one thousand types of items, and a million of each item: in other words, a thousand million things, which in USA numerical usage, is a billion things.

Just let the implication of that sink in.
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Unread postby gg3 » Mon 07 Mar 2005, 05:46:41

I frequently see references made here to people building up stockpiles of supplies, and vowing to guard them with force if anyone should try to take them. Then comes the illogical extrapolation based on the idea of "property" as an abstraction: i.e. if it's wrong for someone to take your stash, it's wrong for someone to take the stash of the Man on the Hill.

Believe me, your stash is pathetic compared to that of the Man on the Hill. You have a few bags of rice and beans and a few guns & some ammo. He has billions of things, and weapons you can't even dream of. You have as much in common with him as an ant has with a hippopotamus.

The Man on the Hill is not your wealthy neighbor. Your wealthy neighbor might have one decimal place more than you. The Man on the Hill has four decimal places more than you. If you don't know what four decimal places look like in terms of real physical stuff, you should try the exercise of counting it out, using tangible physical objects. Preferably something small and cheap like grains of rice.

Let one grain of rice = $100,000 in net equity.

You own your house? Have a hundred thousand in net equity? Count one grain of rice for yourself. Give yourself another grain of rice for your retirement accounts and stock portfolio even if they're worth less than another hundred thousand.

Count ten grains of rice for your wealthy neighbor who has a million dollars in net equity, and is your present idea of what "rich" means. Give him another ten grains for his other investments even if they're worth less than another million.

Now you want to know about the Man on the Hill with the cool billion? Count ten thousand grains of rice. And keep track of how long it takes you to count 'em out. Ten thousand grains of rice to your two.

And no growth means there aren't going to be any more grains of rice created.

By the way, the guy who you hire to do household repairs or mow your lawn, gets 1/10 of a grain of rice, or perhaps 1/20 of a grain of rice. If you don't want to try chopping up grains of rice, you can represent this with a few grains of salt.

The vast majority of the US population has somewhere between a few grains of salt and a half grain of rice.

And most of the world's 6-something billion humans? Maybe one speck of wheat flour each.

---

By now you should have five piles on your kitchen table:

In one pile, a speck of wheat flour. That's what your average person in the world has.

In another pile, a few grains of salt or a half-grain of rice. That's what your semi-skilled wage-worker in the USA has.

In another pile, two grains of rice. That's you, skilled and successful.

In another pile, twenty grains of rice. That's your rich neighbor who was formerly your idea of what "wealthy" means.

In the fifth pile, ten thousand grains of rice. That's the Man on the Hill with the cool billion, the real member of the new aristocracy.

---

If you want to look at it as lines on a graph, your semi-skilled wage worker has a mark that's a fifth of an inch high. You have a mark that's one or two inches high. Your rich neighbor has a mark that's ten or twenty inches high. The new aristocrat has a mark that's 10,000 inches, or 833-1/3 *feet* high.

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At some point, difference in degree becomes difference in kind. The word "property" does not even begin to describe what that 833-1/3-foot-high mark on the graph represents.

---

The logical question this brings up is, When is "enough", enough? And, when is "too much" pathological?

---

And so, a modest proposal.

The money supply grows through fractional-reserve lending at interest. This is ultimately what makes possible the formation of capital, which in turn is used for investment, which in turn enables publicly-traded corporations to grow. Until we hit the point of no growth in real goods and services. At which point any further growth in the money supply is merely inflation.

Therefore, after the economy collapses, do away with the entire system of fractional-reserve lending at interest, and other abstracted and derivative forms of monetary instruments.

Freeze the money supply at whatever level it was at when the collapse hit.

Then allow it to increase only at the rate provided by the net influx of solar energy to the planet.

We shall see what kind of economics and policies emerge at that point.
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Unread postby Jack » Mon 07 Mar 2005, 07:14:16

Interesting analysis, gg3.

I perceive two issues, though.

First, If I am to defend my few little grains of rice against those with a mere grain of flour, how do I justify - or merely arrange - to confiscate the 10,000 grains of the man on the hill? Given the numbers, it seems to me I'd be better off casting my lot with him than with the masses.

Second, some of those "men on the hill" would include (ahem ) Saddam - who had billions - as well as the Saudi and Kuwaiti royal families. If a resdistribution is considered equitable, wouldn't those who support such action need to be staunch defenders of the war in Iraq? Because, gg3, taking Saddam out of the equation will give the Iraqi people a chance of getting some of the money that went to him. 8)

Or does the redistribution only apply if the billionaire is an American?
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Unread postby smallpoxgirl » Mon 07 Mar 2005, 10:45:51

Excellent post gg3!

Jack wrote:If a resdistribution is considered equitable, wouldn't those who support such action need to be staunch defenders of the war in Iraq?


The problem with the Iraq war was not that it uprooted Sadam. Sadam was a prick. He was a prick that the US helped prop up for years. The problem is that thousands of people...people who don't even have a speck of flour...are getting robbed and killed. You think that pile of Sadam's is going to go to the Iraqi people? Wake up and smell the coffee. That pile of Sadam's is going to Haliburton. It's going to American petroleum magnates. The problem with the Iraq war is that it is literally the armed robbery of one nation by another.
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Unread postby bart » Tue 08 Mar 2005, 06:39:49

Yes, gg3, socialism vs fascism -- that may be how it plays out in the future. In fact during the 30s, that was exactly how many people did see the political situation.

Interesting essay on free markets and capitalism. Your suggestion about basing currency on solar energy sounds like Technocracy. Are you involved with them? Somebody ought to help bring them back to life -- one of the most interesting... and strangest... political movements I've run across. Technocracy might have a new lease on life after PO.

I'm not convinced by the distinction between free enterprise and capitalism. If I remember correctly, "free enterprise" is a term originally thought up for propaganda value, because "capitalism" had acquired such a bad reputation.

In either case, it means that private capital owns the means of production (factories, farms, etc.) and that production is carried on for the purpose of earning a profit. This economic system originated in Europe in the 1500-1700s, suceeding feudalism. Over the centuries, it developed its own social forms, ideas and politics. It is a complete, self-reinforcing system. The dominant class is the capitalist class which wrested power from the land-owning classes.

(The language sounds pretty leftist doesn't it? But if you read standard works from earlier periods, you'll find that "capitalism" and "class" are common terms. It's only in modern times that using these terms has been equated with leftism.)

What you call free enterprise seems to be an idealized portrait of small business. I think a more scientific and less value-laden term would be "market behavior." Markets occur throughout history, usually with social or political controls. And you're right, the value of small markets seems to be well established now.

I also would agree with your attack on "para-statal behemoths ...[which] foist externalized costs upon the general public."

But beyond this, I sure don't know. Since I'm not a politician, I don't need to have all the answers, thank God.

I think sustainable technologies and small communities are a big part of the answer. The Marxist analysis of current politics and economics seems to answer a lot of questions. And I respect those Libertarians and business people with integrity. Most of all, I love history.
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Re: New economic system for post-peak ?

Unread postby Tanada » Sun 12 Nov 2017, 20:49:55

Mercani wrote:In the long run, it seems that the real problem is not peak oil, but the idea of sustainable infinite growth = capitalism, which is totally non-sense.

I assume most of the people would be enligtened after post-peak about this fact.

Therefore I propose a new economic system to replace Capitalism, for discussion. I haven't thought about this deeply, so never mind if it is crap.

Could we create a different economic system where "free market" is a principle, but a person can own at most some specific amount of wealth. Overpassing this limit is illegal, you have the spend the excess wealth in some limited time, and reduce your wealth. Otherwise government forcefully takes it and uses it for some good purpose(HIV research, aid to starving Africa, etc)

That would limit the incentive for growth.

e.g. once a "Bill Gates" goes over this limit(for example $1 million), he should be forced to spend the excess wealth he has, and reduce it to $1 million. Therefore in the end Microsoft would be owned by millions of people. Does this also kill the incentive of Microsoft to develop new products?

Is there a fundamental problem with this approach?

One problem would be, what happens when nearly everybody becomes rich and owns $1 million? This seems like everybody is equal, too much like Communism.

Another problem:
The economy can grow only at the rate of population. Therefore this may push even population up faster. Now, we have to put a legel limit on the number of births.

Is this utopia?

What do you think?

Is it possible that we are stupid enough to stick to Capitalism after peak-oil is all over?

Is it our destiny to hit peak-whatever after we hit peak-oil?


Your plan has a fundamental problem that is nearly identical with all such plans. You make the presumption that the goal of infinite growth on a finite planet is something new that only came upon the human race as the result of discovering abundant easily accessed energy sources.

That is not at all the case. Humans as individuals, tribes, city-states and nation states have always sought to grow in influence/power compared to whomever their rivals are. Eliminate wealth as the status ,marker and it will just be replaced by some other status marker to show who is 'most desirable' and who is homeless.

IOW growth is an innate human desire and you can't get rid of it without genetically engineering all future generations to lack that trait. The difference is through the vast majority of history muscle power was the limit of personal power. even the best Roman and Chinese imperial trebuchet/Catapult/Ballista were ultimately loaded and energized with muscle power. Gunpowder when it was introduced first supplemented and then replaced raw muscle as the best way of winning a fight and replaced it with skill in handheld gunpowder burning weapons. That meant the geekiest guy in the tribe could be the most successful provided he had he skill and reflexes to kill or intimidate all his rivals. The old saying is a Gun makes everyone equal because it doesn't take strength to pull the trigger, just accuracy to hit what you are aiming at.

Humans successfully adapted to gunpowder and its later versions because it still boiled down to human against human in dominance games. Steam power changed the equation far more by providing the ability to transport a small highly skilled army hundreds of miles in a few hours which meant a small specialized force could defeat a large part time force through superior skill and equipment. Railroads and steamships mean nation states can become arbitrarily large and force their desires on surprisingly large numbers of the poorly equipped.

But in reality even that is somewhat an illusion. The real key to dominating other people amounts to a willing use of ruthless force, and a long term commitment to do so. The government of the USSR from 1917-1987 was very successful as a government because it had both of those traits. The British Empire of the 19th Century or the French Empire under Napoleon Bonaparte, or even the Roman Empire of the first century AD all shared these traits. So long as you are ruthless and committed you can gain and hold power. Mussolini for example ruled Italy from 1922-1943 without being particularly bloody as authoritarian leaders go. Not a wonderful guy, but not a brute for brutish sake like Hitler or Stalin.
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Re: New economic system for post-peak ?

Unread postby asg70 » Sun 12 Nov 2017, 20:54:14

What was the point of bumping a thread from 12 years ago? That guy is long gone.
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Re: New economic system for post-peak ?

Unread postby Tanada » Sun 12 Nov 2017, 22:49:08

asg70 wrote:What was the point of bumping a thread from 12 years ago? That guy is long gone.


Perhaps I did it just so you could whine about me doing so?

On the other hand perhaps you have something to say about my post, rather than whining about the fact that I made it attached to an old thread?
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Re: New economic system for post-peak ?

Unread postby onlooker » Wed 15 Nov 2017, 19:57:03

Tanada, you stress that growth is an innate human desire but then seem to speak more about power. Certainly power projection or the power principle is quite evident in the Primates. And it certainly has a strong connection with social status. I agree that this is baked into a nature as humans. However, if along this most dramatic upheaval period coming, mankind finally is seared and traumatized enough, we can profoundly internalize the need to live in harmony with each other and with nature. This can via a cultural manner allow us to develop societies that have a implacable conviction to live in ways that will allow for us to evolve in a more healthy manner. In turn this will certainly allow us to develop an economic system consistent with living in harmony with Nature. Consuming is another from of power/social status projection and so also presumably will be tamed by the Overriding Conviction of needing to live in Harmony. And finally, reproduction can by strictly controlled via both positive incentives, medical techniques and strict enforcement.
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Re: New economic system for post-peak ?

Unread postby AdamB » Wed 15 Nov 2017, 20:27:44

asg70 wrote:What was the point of bumping a thread from 12 years ago? That guy is long gone.


Nothing wrong with bringing an old thread back to life. Heck, we all should do more of it. Do you know how SILLY some of that stuff now sounds with a decade of reality past the claimed blessedly event?
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Re: New economic system for post-peak ?

Unread postby Tanada » Thu 16 Nov 2017, 11:44:05

onlooker wrote:Tanada, you stress that growth is an innate human desire but then seem to speak more about power. Certainly power projection or the power principle is quite evident in the Primates. And it certainly has a strong connection with social status. I agree that this is baked into a nature as humans. However, if along this most dramatic upheaval period coming, mankind finally is seared and traumatized enough, we can profoundly internalize the need to live in harmony with each other and with nature. This can via a cultural manner allow us to develop societies that have a implacable conviction to live in ways that will allow for us to evolve in a more healthy manner. In turn this will certainly allow us to develop an economic system consistent with living in harmony with Nature. Consuming is another from of power/social status projection and so also presumably will be tamed by the Overriding Conviction of needing to live in Harmony. And finally, reproduction can by strictly controlled via both positive incentives, medical techniques and strict enforcement.


Social cultures are not a static thing, like the force of gravity always pulling us towards the center of the nearest large mass. Both Ibon and Yourself have expressed this notion that a harsh die back of population or existential event causing such a die back will have a sure cultural impact. I agree for the generation that goes through the bottleneck and perhaps their two next descent generations, a total of 75-90 years post bottleneck, those social changes will rule. By the time the fourth generation arrives they will be growing up in a world where even the youngest direct survivor of the bottleneck very elderly and in all probability they will be without that influence by the time they are 7-10 years old. From that point on some cultures, of which there will be scattered hundreds if not tens of thousand village size groups, will continue to practice the lessons learned in the bottleneck. However with a hundred to ten thousand village size surviving groups there will be several if not many who will seek to grow at the expense of the neighbors no matter what the elders say should be done. By the time two or three centuries are beyond the bottleneck things will be as shattered and diverse as they were in 1400 AD with everything from very isolated villages independently doing their thing on one end of the scale and nation states gobbling up independent villages and making them part of the new kingdoms of that age on the other end of the scale.

Unlike gravitational force social forces are very real, but only predictable in the broadest outlines. Every early agricultural nation state followed the same pattern, farming villages gathered together for protection against roaming nomad peoples. Those villages allowed some members to specialize in trades like blacksmiths and carpenters supported by the agricultural excess of the pure farmers. This created a feed back loop where the skilled trades improved farm implements creating greater excess and allowing more specialization. In the America's this process was somewhat stifled because the Aztec and Inca did not progress out of the Copper Age into the Bronze Age before the arrival of Columbus interrupted their progress. However up to the copper age level of technology they were very successful building empires as were the Maya before them. The Mound Builders in the Ohio and Mississippi river valley network had a pretty substantial empire as well but because they worked in wood and stone and were wiped out by European diseases it took a long time for modern people to realize just how significant they once were. They had a range of several staple crops and when trade with the Aztecs introduced Maize their empire boomed in population and success because the quantity of food grown per unit of labor was more than triple that which their prior crops alone had provided. They were well on their way to becoming the North American version of the ancient Maya when Hernando de Soto's expedition arrived in the mid Mississippi valley in 1540 and spread European diseases through their empire like a grass fire in a drought year. A true virgin field epidemic is a rare thing, but when it happens the effects are simply mind boggling. Over 90 percent of the mound builder empire died within a decade of that event because they were close living communities with a high population density and no natural immunity whatsoever. When the English and french started colonizing the Atlantic coast a century later the local populations were even then suffering from repeated waves of European illnesses making it relatively easy for the Europeans get a strong presence established on the coast before their population could recover. The First People displaced from the coast and forced across the Appalachians to escape the Europeans found the remnants of the mound builders easy to overcome because their complex advanced culture had collapsed all the way down to simple part time farming hunter gatherer lifestyles.

I bring up the Mound builders aka Mississippian Culture because that is what everywhere MIGHT look like after the bottleneck. If most people die the complexity of society dies along with them, and the first group that recovers that complexity will be able to expand at the expense of the neighbors who are still struggling to regain lost skills. Rome, Italy had a population sustained of over 1 Million people for almost three centuries. When the empire that supported that city decayed the population started shrinking and by 1000 AD there were less than 25,000 people living in a city that had been the largest the world had ever known when it was at its peak from 50 BC to 250 AD. The people living in Rome in 1000 AD could only look at the ruins all around them and wonder, they could no more restore the past glory than they could fly by flapping their arms. A long series of different foreign forces controlled Rome for all practical purposes until the late 19th century and it didn't regain its former population for even longer.

BUT the neighboring successor states controlled its former territory quite effectively even though Rome had lost its glory. Such is the pattern of human history. After the bottleneck most of us believe is coming there will be successor states that will grow from the remains like the Phoenix from the ashes, or a fungus from the decay, depending on your opinion of Humanity as a whole. But either way there will be a successor civilization and it will do what civilizations do, grow just as far as its resources will permit it to grow.
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Re: New economic system for post-peak ?

Unread postby GHung » Thu 16 Nov 2017, 12:11:37

Growth is an innate human desire? Or not?

I think it is biological more than anything. Birth rates had to at least keep pace with survival rates for most of our history, and as we became more adept at improving survival rates and lifespans,while birth rates, for a number of reasons, didn't adjust to inhibit increasing populations. The need to grow our footprint and extraction rates became an artifact of increasing population. It wasn't "desire" so much as a survival requirement, forced by biological expansion. Many other species have biological and instinctual responses to their populations exceeding carrying capacity. Our young specie has yet to develop such. It's up to us, at least until we run out of planet to exploit.

Coming soon to a planet near you.
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Re: New economic system for post-peak ?

Unread postby asg70 » Thu 16 Nov 2017, 13:12:20

Tanada's rant (despite it being initially directed to the equivalent of Clint Eastwood's invisible Obama sitting in a chair) is essentially correct, but with one element missing.

The hierarchy-free utopia that some are hinging their hopes on is unlikely to come to pass because people invariably create hierarchies, or primates before them. Even in tribes there is a chief. The minimum organization like an inner-city gang or organized crime is akin to Afghanistan warlords. The "big man" takes over.

The one thing missing from Tanada's definition of power which is uniquely human rather than animal is the power of ideas. Politics is largely about using ideas for empowerment rather than it being simply might-makes right.

Even in older times, ideas such as religious dogma had enormous power. They fueled things like the crusades. And of course, ideas led to fascism, world war II, genocide, the cold war, etc...

The scene with James Earl Jones in Conan the Barbarian where he explains to Conan that he has power because he's able to command his cult members to literally jump over a cliff to their death. That's like Imperial Japan and the kamikazes or ISIS and suicide bombers or Jonestown and the proverbial kool-aid.

All you have to do is witness the process of failed states to see things move backwards towards sectarianism and warlordism. Again, the gangs and organized crime thing is part of it, centers of power within centers of power. What you rarely see is a gentle fallback to some sort of cooperative utopia. People are, at heart, tribal. Cooperation is reserved for those deemed part of their tribe and the definition of tribe shrinks during times of stress.
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Re: New economic system for post-peak ?

Unread postby onlooker » Thu 16 Nov 2017, 17:34:48

I am the one known on this site as a hardcore doomer but I just think you guys are being too pessimistic. This whole power/social status meme is just one facet of our dynamic and complex makeup as humans. We can all be channeled to see an overriding goal of attaining "power" over our fate as a species as beating the odds of becoming a dead end species. Our genetic evolution as shown by the latest science shows that Cooperation is a outstanding adaptation of our evolution. We can gear that cooperation into a higher gear as the challenges of the times to come will do just that. This cooperation can potentially bind us ALL in a passionate goal and focus to rebuild and reset our societies and civlization. We have shown throughout our history a great resiliency precisely because our imagination and creative faculties elevate and imbue our intellectual capabilities towards lofty goals despite any obstacles. What goal can be more lofty than to overcome the odds and prove to ourselves that we TOGETHER can perservere.
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Re: New economic system for post-peak ?

Unread postby Plantagenet » Thu 16 Nov 2017, 17:50:04

Mercani wrote:I
One problem would be, what happens when nearly everybody becomes rich and owns $1 million? This seems like everybody is equal, too much like Communism.


Actually, thats not at all like communism.

In communism everybody is equal (except the bureaucrats) but everybody loses all their money and property and wages drop to zero so everybody is dirt poor. Look at Venezuela----they adopted a Cuban-style economic system and now everybody is so poor they are starving. Venezuela is an oil-rich country, for heavens sake, but under socialism there is no food in the stores and the country is in a famine.

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