Monthly Archives: April 2017

The Wait

P/E ratio for the S&P 500, past 100 years

If there’s anything that seems to be a constant thought from many of the folks who see the realities of things (again, see the blog roll), it’s the concept of The Wait, or “How long can this go on?”  Listen to David Collum’s interview on the Kunstlercast a few months ago, with regard to a financial collapse/hiccup in the markets, or Chris Martenson’s commentaries.  The simple P/E graph above tells the story, if you don’t want to listen through a podcast.   Remember, regression to the mean does not indicate we’ll just touch the mean; we’ll have to go below it, and we’ve been above it for quite a while.

Wile E. Coyote and the cliff indeed.  If you read Zero Hedge, you’ll see complaints about this all the time in the comments section, when another ‘sky is falling’ article is published in all its gory detail.  Many have mentioned (and quite understandably) that if you thought the world was ending in the 1970s, you’d have missed a lot of the world, as it sailed blissfully in the future, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Internet, and the rest of the gadget filled world we’ve got now.

But, as they say in the fine print in many a mutual fund advertisement, “Past performance is not a predictor or guarantee of future returns.”

The JMG view is that we’ll see a stairstep decline, and his analogy to the “Fall of Rome” is one that is trotted out a lot, and he does have a point.  Nobody, at the time, thought “This is it!” and knew that after a given event, things were downhill all the way.   We may be waiting for an “event” that doesn’t happen; it will just be a series of miserable experiences, punctuated by lulls in the action.   Ugo Bardi, of course, trots out the Seneca Cliff, and the quick decline scenario.

The wait isn’t fun; a few people have said, “let’s get it over with,” and get to the resetting.  Not quite sure if that’s better than this maddening wait; any of the scenarios that have been showcased (take your pick of any doomer porn) sound pretty miserable.  If things do go south quickly (EMP (natural or man-made), a small nuclear exchange, bio-warfare, plague, zombies, etc.), it isn’t going to be fun, by any stretch of the imagination.  My instinct is to side with Ugo Bardi on this; complex societies such as ours might go a lot faster than we think; the start of The Great War; the fall of France in World War Two are some examples of where thing spiralled out of control pretty quickly, even though a few predicted a storm of some sort was coming.

Questions, as always:

  • Are we kidding ourselves? Is this crazy system far more resilient than we could ever realize?  Maybe it is.  If so, what are we missing here?  At some point, the physics of the real world must enter the picture, or can our delusions override things like real sea level rise, or drought?  This seems implausible.
  • Is the coming crash going to be so massive that we can’t even wrap our heads around it?  Commentary on the 2008 meltdown seems to be that we were hours from the ATMs shutting down, and if something like that happened again, some say it can’t be contained.
  • Why is the wait so annoying?  Is it the smugness of those who believe in the technofuture, and who have been growing rich, and enjoying the ride?  Again, is it possible that we are wrong, and that Science *will* find a solution?
  • The P/E graph is pretty good at telling us that things are over-extended.  Any other graphs or plots you’d like to let us know about?  What graph shows the “Wile E. Coyote – cliff moment” the best?

The new prophets and saints

Eliseu_Visconti_-_Recompensa_de_São_Sebastião.jpg

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint#/media/File:Eliseu_Visconti_-_Recompensa_de_S%C3%A3o_Sebasti%C3%A3o.jpg

With the recent Easter, the thought of prophets/saints came to mind.   The classic list from Christianity starts with the big four who wrote the New Testament; Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  Of course, all the remaining apostles got their own sainthoods, being so close to JC and all.

When thinking about our modern era, who are our modern prophets and saints?  Yes, there are the folks on the blog roll; they might be candidates for prophets.   But who tells it like it is, and shows modern life for its true insanity?   My short list?  Comedians, most notably:

  • George Carlin
  • Bill Hicks
  • Richard Pryor

Who else?  Chris Rock?

 

EMP – Eeep.

Operation_Dominic_Starfish-Prime_nuclear_test_from_plane.jpg

Photograph of the Starfish Prime high-altitude nuclear test explosion in course of Operation Dominic on July 9, 1962. Yield 1450 kilotons.

The most recent podcast from Radio Ecoshock covered a well known topic in prepper/doomer circles, electromagnetic pulse (EMP).   A good summary is available at Wikipedia, of course, and the corresponding article on Radio Ecoshock brings up a point that the guest made – EMP may be more important to civilization than climate change.   The article is keen to point out that there is a serous problem of those pesky nuclear reactor waste pools which won’t go away, so we’d have Fukushima times 400.

The fact that Radio Ecoshock brought this topic up makes me wonder if any of these ‘phase change like’ effects are starting to be realized as significant triggers to the ‘future we didn’t order’.     In another recent podcast (the Kunstlercast), David Collum mentioned that our economy could go through a ‘phase change’ possibility (our economy going south really, really quickly).

Yes, stairstep decline is upon us, as things go badly in fits and starts.  But there are some possibilities that are a bit too stark to write off ‘bad fits and starts.’   EMP is surely one of them.

Questions:

  • There are a few fast collapse scenarios out there; which ones are also plausible?  Pandemics?  Rogue AI?
  • The collapse of the grid, and the corresponding release of radioactivity from even a small fraction of those nuclear reactor waste pools isn’t discussed much.    What is the source of this cognitive dissonance?
  • What happens when you engage regular people about such possibilities?
  • What happens when you engage people with technical degrees, and knowledge of this effect?

 

 

 

What isn’t being discussed?

(No image)

Watching the interview with some of the more well known names in the “peak everything and downward slide worldview” world (mentioned last week),  it seemed to be an ultimate summary of the troubles facing us.  Every day, we can see examples of the general silliness/idiocy/complacency which surrounds us.   Message received; we are in for an interesting ride.

This being a more-about-questions sort of blog – what isn’t being discussed, or discussed very rarely, in these kinds of discussions?  My own small list:

  • Are we totally ignoring the possibilities of AI, aliens, the ‘we are living in a simulation’ concept, true breakthroughs (in social science) and in the ability of more than 150 people in a group getting to know each other well?  All are serious stretches of the imagination, but the world can get pretty strange some days.
  • Some posit the stairstep decline in civilization, as Rome took centuries to fall.   But will our interconnectedness cause a true TEOTWAWKI event, especially if it is triggered by something like EMP?  Is fast collapse really so unlikely?
  • We will always have “unknown unknowns”; by definition, we can’t know what they might be, but could these sorts of things accelerate or decelerate our demise?   Asking for what these might be would seem to take away the ‘unknown’ elements (and make a bit of a paradox, since it wouldn’t be unknown any more).
  • Would a die-off of affluent people be enough to make the world more habitable for humans?

None of these up there in the “probability of happening” department.   If I “were a betting person”, my gut would say some combination of Kunstler/Greer/Orlov is our probable future.  But are we missing something?   These questions aren’t meant to be a laundry list of ‘deus ex machina’ events that would save us.  If any of these things came to pass, there would still be a lot of predicaments to handle.   My view is here is that we shouldn’t be too complacent in our worldview, even this one.