Monday, April 14, 2014

Shooting the Elephant

Elephant by Raphael Riegger
When I started penning this blog a few years ago the idea that we might have reached some fixed limit of oil production and all that entails for our rapacious industrial civilisation seemed rather preposterous to most people. What’s changed in the interim? Not much, by most accounts. Those who accept the reality did so ages ago, and those who tune out reality continue to do so, lumping anyone who mentions ‘peak oil’ into the same mental category as Space Lizards and Mayan prophesies.

There aren’t many rewards attached to being a blogger writing about the grinding reality of the limits to growth and pointing out the presence of a large elephant in the middle of the sitting room becomes quite tiresome. Cornucopian believers send you poisonous emails, friends quietly get married without telling you and you spend those small hours before the sun’s rays lighten the eastern horizon wondering quietly “What if I’m the mad one and you can have infinite growth on a finite planet?” After all, the newspapers are full of pronouncements of ‘the recovery’, with more people buying new cars than ever before, m/b/trillionaires thronging the streets of London and the stock markets testing ever greater heights. Yes, there are the occasional dark clouds in an otherwise sunny sky, such as the recent NASA-funded report concluding that industrial civilisation is doomed, and the latest IPCC report which stated that … ummm, global GDP may be reduced by a tiny fraction by 2100 due to global warming (so, actually let’s not bother doing anything then!)

So anyway, amidst all of the white noise perhaps it’s time to sweep away the clutter from the desk and get back to basics with a pared-down recap of the situation we face and why it actually matters.

Peak oil snuck past us

Let’s deal with peak oil first of all. Yep, that old bugbear that won’t go away - no matter how much guff is pumped out by the mainstream media who take their cues from industrial PR flacks and lobbyists. Listening to it, we might imagine that there’s enough oil to go round for the next few decades or centuries. But they’re wrong. As Kurt Cobb points out, actual production levels of regular ol' crude oil hit a plateau of 67 million barrels per day in 2005 and, despite a bit of minor fluctuating, was at the exact same level in 2012, the latest year we have figures for. And that is despite the ‘boom’ in tight oil in the US and, more importantly, more money being flung at the industry than the average person can imagine.

So, in the last eight or so years, despite rocketing demand from China, India et al. combined with the throwing of mega sums of money at the industry, the amount of crude we can get out of the ground has remained stuck, while the price has risen several fold. How did they get away with hiding this? Simple - they just included all sorts of ‘oil-like fuels’ such as biodiesel into the mix and hoped nobody would notice. Let’s not forget that oil companies always like to inflate their figures so as to attract new investment. An honest oil company who says ‘Actually we didn’t produce as much as we said we had, and next year it will be even lower,’ is an oil company that will shortly be out of business.

Conclusion: Big fat industry lies can only mask reality for so long. Peak oil has been hidden from our view for too long.


High oil prices matter

For the last century or more, economic growth has occurred on the back of cheap oil. We, a single species among millions, have burned through most of the Earth’s accessible store of cheap fossilised sunlight. 99.9% of economists never thought that this would matter because they barely gave it a thought. Instead, we built a global civilisation that simply cannot continue to function unless it is constantly growing on the back of cheap fossil fuels. Now that the oil price seems stuck at around $100 a barrel, meaningful growth has stopped. Instead of productive economic activity we now simply have the growth of the money supply. Some countries, such as the UK, have managed to create the illusion that their economies are growing, but if you strip out the billions added in quantitative easing, Chinese and Russian casino money and the dubious gains of the stock market then an entirely different and more honest picture emerges.

There are now about 99 dollars/pounds/yen of credit/debt for every ‘real’ dollar/pound/yen. It is the mother of all credit bubbles and even if it partially pops it will take down a huge chunk of the global economy with it. The question is not if but when it will pop.

But because all of our economic systems have no reverse gear, this means future payments will not be honoured, no matter how much they are promised. In reality, negative economic growth means no new lending for business, no investments and no pensions for the masses. What will you do if your pension is sharply reduced or taken away just before you retire?

Conclusion: Economic growth is dead for most people and living standards are declining accordingly. The ‘recovery’ is simply the paper wealth rich getting richer at the expense of everyone else, as well as the entire system they depend upon for their wealth. You will probably not get a pension and your kids will be slaves to debt. This is what peak oil looks like.


Peak oil hits

'So what?' say environmentalists. Oil is evil and solar panels are good. We can transition to a world of clean energy and life can continue much as it has but everything will be more pleasant. Except that it can’t and won’t. Peak oil means that from now on in there will be less and less energy available to us. And like a falling tide that reveals all the rocks hidden on the beach, falling energy supplies mean that those who control power will do their best to consolidate that power. This means more privatisations of institutions that were previously considered off-limits, more squabbles over resources and more self-cannibalisations of societies.

Furthermore, we face diminishing complexity in our techno-obsessed cultures. Less concentrated readily-available energy means business slows down and companies go bust. The thousands of components that make up a tablet computer, for example, are produced in a web of specialised factories spanning the globe. Add a credit crash, a currency war or a bog-standard economic panic and the whole ultra-complex just-in-time model for producing an iPad shatters into a million little useless pieces.

What is a million times more complex than an iPad? A national electricity grid. To keep all that electricity flowing from the wall sockets takes an enormous amount of complexity and the whole system relies on global supply chains functioning perfectly. Add renewable power into the mix and we’re okay for a certain percentage, but beyond that the grid becomes unstable due to the inevitable unwillingness of wind, sun and waves to conform to our precise human desires. An unstable electrical grid means industry is unable to operate and relocates, causing more economic damage as it does so. In actual fact, it may not even be possible at all, because renewable energy systems rely on a very high level of socio-economic complexity - the kind that only concentrated forms of energy can provide.

Conclusion: Renewable power is great on a small scale, but we can’t power an industrial scale civilisation on it. 


Too high, too low - but never just right

What does peak oil look like from the top? At the moment we are existing in a kind of oily no-man’s land. Oil prices are too high to allow economic growth to happen, but too low to make it profitable to produce the stuff in the first place. That’s why big companies such as Shell are walking away from the North Sea, the Arctic and the US. All of the low-hanging fruit has been picked and it is just the hard-to-reach stuff at the top of the tree which is available. Oil companies cannot make a profit if it costs them $150 to extract a barrel of oil using all the latest technology and drilling techniques, which they will then only be able to sell for $100.

Conclusion: Expensive oil kills economies. Cheap oil kills oil companies. Dead oil companies don’t produce oil. Less available oil kills growth-based economies. Rinse and repeat and this is what peak oil looks like.


Grabbing what’s left

As the US struggles with a moribund economic situation, unpayable debts, high-level corruption and falling access to real energy supplies - it is becoming ever more desperate. Just like George Orwell shooting an elephant in Burma to maintain face in front of a mocking crowd:

“I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys. He becomes a sort of hollow, posing dummy, the conventionalized figure of a sahib. For it is the condition of his rule that he shall spend his life in trying to impress the "natives," and so in every crisis he has got to do what the "natives" expect of him. He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it. I had got to shoot the elephant. I had committed myself to doing it when I sent for the rifle. A sahib has got to act like a sahib; he has got to appear resolute, to know his own mind and do definite things. To come all that way, rifle in hand, with two thousand people marching at my heels, and then to trail feebly away, having done nothing — no, that was impossible. The crowd would laugh at me. And my whole life, every white man's life in the East, was one long struggle not to be laughed at.”



Is there any way of seeing John Kerry posturing over Ukraine or Obama with his red lines not looking like Orwell’s ‘hollow posing dummy’? Because Ukraine is not about freedom or democracy or any of the other words that are subject to the laws of diminishing credibility, but about energy. Ukraine is all about getting a natural gas fix to Europe’s needy energy markets and the power play between east and west threatens to crush Ukraine like a nut between two grind stones. The US didn’t spend all that money installing a friendly government only to see it be overthrown - even if it did mean cosying up with some unsavoury people. And Putin may be the largest shark circulating the floundering figure of Uncle Sam, but he is not the only one.

We must ask ourselves - would we be willing to risk a major war over fossil fuels if those same fossil fuels were as abundant as many claim they are? Just why are US energy majors such as Chevron and Exxon salivating about fracking natural gas in Ukraine?

Conclusion: Increasing hostilities over who has access to the remaining fossil fuels, combined with a changing worldwide power dynamic as one big growling dog faces down another is the new reality. This is what peak oil looks like.


What to do about it

As I’ve been writing here on these pages for a while, there is no single action that you or I can take which will steer this ship away from its suicidal course. Our systems of governance are a system for ensuring that we are only ever ruled by sociopaths, so the best course of action to take is to avoid them and the systems they have created. This system is not reformable, so the best thing to do is help build a new paradigm that can run in parallel until the old one inevitably expires. What this means in practice is disassociating yourself as much as possible from a global economic system that is collapse-prone and which does not have your interests at heart. You need to learn to cover the basics of food, fuel and shelter for you and your family, and learn new ways of living that are in harmony with nature as much as possible.

This doesn’t mean, as I’ve repeatedly said, filling a bunker with tins of corned beef and guns, but instead requires that you get out there and make some friends with a community of people who share the willingness to put in the work rather than just talking about it on internet forums. Get hold of a bit of land, if you can, and practice permaculture. Share stuff. Teach what you have learned to others. Write about it, talk about it, but most importantly do it. Every day thousand more are tossed onto the scrap heap by an economic system which is isn’t fit for purpose. Try not to join them.

If you find that depressing - don’t. There are some silver linings to this cloud - such as our inability to fry the atmosphere. If you come along for the ride then you’ll likely be fitter, happier and your brain will not be frazzled by working a 60 hour week to pay off endless debts with no prospect of an easy retirement at the end of it. That, at least, has to be worth something.








Saturday, March 8, 2014

Just sayin'

Chart from http://crudeoilpeak.info
With most commentators saying that we don't 'need' oil and gas from Russia to continue our ongoing bonanza of consumption this chart would seem to suggest otherwise. I'm trying to think of a better adjective than 'precipitous' to describe production levels.

Factor in the decommissioning costs of winding down a whole industry and it's not hard to see why oil majors such as Shell are walking away from the North Sea and blasting their cash in the direction of shareholders.

The only thing that's puzzling me is why Scotland and London are arguing over who gets to keep the  'riches'. Might it not be a better idea to use the remaining oil to build some kind of society that can exist on an EROI level of 5:1 while we still have a chance?


Friday, January 31, 2014

Something Stirs



Do you remember this poster that idealistic people used to have on their walls in the 1970s? The native American wisdom it quotes stresses that we can't actually eat money, which to my young self seemed pretty self-evident.

These days of course, people don't put posters like that up on their physical walls, they put them all over their virtual social media walls so that like minded people can 'like' them and un-like minded people can unlike you and whisper about you having 'gone weird'.

Anyway, money, or what passes for it these days, has been getting a whole lot more exciting over the last week. I blame Ben Bernanke, the soon-to-be ex-chairman of the US Federal Reserve. During his tenure he has overseen a massive bond-buying programme, the likes which the world has never seen. Now, as he steps down to hand over the reins of power, he is tapering off the amount of - let's be honest - money printing. And this is having a pretty dramatic effect on things, to say the least.

Although he is being hailed as a fiscal hero in most quarters, the legacy he leaves behind is massive debt and broken economies. And it is only now becoming clear that the effect of flooding the too-big-to-fail banks with money has been to make them even bigger, and to launch a series of crises around the world as 'emerging economies' (I hate that condescending nomenclature, so have to put it in quotes) suddenly find themselves with currency crises. Any number of them are having to hoik interest rates to protect their currencies, and in doing so are chucking many of their citizens under the proverbial bus.

India, Turkey, South Africa, Russia, Ukraine, plus a baker's dozen other 'emerging nations' are in full panic mode as they exhaust their supplies of hard currency trying to keep their own rands, rupees and florins from devaluing. Each one is a different case, with some in better positions than others, but the upshot of it is that all of them will be going through some challenging contractions. Some excitable people are talking about currency wars being a prelude to real bullets and bombs wars. Better get a flak jacket and dig a shelter, if that's the case.

And it's not just the 'emerging economies'. Combined, they make up almost half of the world's trade. A couple of decades ago this would not have been the case, but now, by crashing their economies, the US is effectively shooting itself in the foot - albeit a foot that is wearing the steel toe-capped boots of a reserve currency status. For now.

Turmoil ensues. Stocks are dropping like stones. Money is flooding into safe havens, such as gold, the Swiss franc and, of course, the US dollar. The volatility index has gone through the roof and the mainstream media, for all of its talk about recovery, is still trying its best to ignore it.

And so it becomes clear that all of this QE business boiled down to one thing: most of the world's weaker economies were sacrificed on the alter of keeping the bigger western economies from melting down. Simple as that, really. Let them have an emerging middle class of consumers, and just when their expectations have been raised, pull the rug out from under their feet and send them all back to the shanty towns. That's life in the hardball world of dog-eat-dog capitalism.

And still, it may all be for nothing. Does anyone feel safe with their money in a bank account? If so, why? Putting your money in a bank is akin to lending it to a crystal meth addict with a black credit record. Incidentally, once you put your money in the bank it ceases to be yours. Almost every western nation is now talking in terms of bail-ins. A bail-in is where YOU get to bail out the failing bank with YOUR money because the world's central banks are running out of fire blankets and ammunition to contain the problem of over-leverage. It happened in Cyprus. It may well happen in the UK next, where some banks are insisting that if you want to withdraw money from your own account you must submit to intimate questioning, have documented proof of what you are spending it on, and present a signed note from your mum for good measure.

What's more, we are heading into a period of deflation. People hear the word deflation and think that it'll be great because things will be cheaper. They may well be cheaper, but they'll have correspondingly less money to spend on them, so they'll still be poorer. Europe has already entered into deflation. I found myself in a Poundland store (where everything costs a pound) this morning on a trip to Truro, the regional capital (a throbbing metropolis of 19,000 people). I must admit to being a bit sniffy about this kind of place in the past. Not any more. I picked up four fruit bushes, some toilet paper, a roll of silver kitchen paper, two home-grow mushroom kits, a CD, two litres of milk and some potting compost - all for ten quid. The same stuff in other stores would cost four times the price.

Perhaps that's why everyone all of a sudden seems to be shopping at these places and why supermarkets such as Lidl are popping up everywhere. Of course, not everyone can even afford to shop at Poundland or Lidl - these are the people that find themselves lining up at food banks. There are plenty of these too. Some recovery! Still, better get used to going hungry some reports suggest that global food prices will triple in the next two decades.

Poundland: cheap and cheerful

On the way back home I listened to a BBC programme on the radio in which people in Liverpool were questioned about whether they could 'feel the recovery yet'. Only one person said he had become better off in the last five years and he was selling donuts on the street ('Because people can't afford a proper meal any more so they buy donuts.'). Everyone else seemed to have tales of deprivation and downright misery. The only person who could see any green shoots at all was the leader of the city council, who was defending his decision to spend £50 million on a shiny new prestige library that has won some kind of architectural award. The city borrowed the money to build it. But even he said it was 'challenging' when the receipts from local taxes only covered about half of what the city spends annually. But he figured everything would be okay in the end because the city has a great vibe and 'people are resilient'.

Yet, despite all this gloom, there remains a patina of richness and wealth about the country. People cruise around in their shiny new BMWs and Audis and luxury supermarkets are also on the rise. Property prices are rising dramatically, and the government would have us believe that Britain is the rising star of the European economies. Sometimes I have to pinch my arm and remind myself that most wealth is virtual, that 99% of 'money' in the global economy is just static electricity on computer chips being buzzed around via satellites and cables from one continent to another seeking 'yield'.

A newspaper front page last week

So it seems that the propaganda machine is in overdrive to convince us that we are enjoying boom times again. Could it be that this is timed to coincide with the inevitable capital flight from the 'emerging nations' as QE programmes are wound down? Is the British government's policy to try and look like the proverbial prettiest horse in the glue factory to skittish investors? Does anyone realise we are just one sharp pin away from a big bubble going pop?

Prediction time. Over the next few weeks and months there will be a massive deleveraging of unsalvageable debt. The stock market will go down a lot. The weaker currencies will devalue mightily as traders act like pack wolves to bring them down one by one. China will wrestle with its out of control shadow banking system, with unpredictable results. People will willingly sign up to have their pensions evaporated. Financial Crisis 2:0 will be hailed and politicians everywhere will blame the 'emerging markets' for the chaos. Within a year the fracking bubble will have burst (big oil companies are already pulling out as fast as they can), deflation will take hold and a lot of people will suddenly find they are a lot poorer. Life will go on, for most. The investor classes will look around for a new bubble to inflate.

And no, when the last tree has been cut down, the last river poisoned  and the last fish caught, we will find that we can't eat static electricity either. What strange times we live in.

***

I'm taking a break from updating this blog for at least a month as I attempt to finish the book I am working on entitled When the Lights Go Out. I hope to have this for sale in the summer, assuming anyone has enough money to buy things then. If not, I'll accept family silver, shares in DONG, non-perishable food and pigs' teeth as currency (but, sorry, not Bitcoins).


Monday, January 20, 2014

The Energy Thieves


An interesting side effect of spiralling energy bills in the UK is that a lot more people are stealing energy through a variety of ingenious means. From bypassing meters, tampering with supplies and sawing the edges off the meter cogs, an entire new industry has sprung up offering people the chance to get away without paying for their utilities.

What is the upshot of all this? Well, those who do pay their bills will have to shoulder the costs of paying for those who don't. Furthermore, they will also be saddled with the not inconsiderable cost of making the system more secure - after all, someone has to pay for it. This means electricity and gas bills will have to rise further, pushing more people into either stealing their supplies or else just cutting it off and going medieval. This in turn pushes the fixed costs of maintaining the system (including the energy companies' hunger for inflated profits) onto the ever decreasing pool of those still able to pay.

In other words, we have a positive feedback loop going on. And they never tend to end well.

'It's a difficult economic climate so more people are feeling this is the only way they can get their energy.  So the trend is upwards.'

  - Mark Andrews, head of revenue protection for British Gas

There's more on this story here.





Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Joy of Coppicing



There's a post over on today's Archdruid Report in which he lists seven sustainable technologies he thinks are worth reviving for a post-industrial future. I was happy to see that he included coppicing as this, in fact, is what I've been up to for the past week.

To that end, I have written a new post over on my Tales From Fox Wood blog talking about how the coppice work went and why, in my opinion, you could do worse that get hold of a piece of woodland yourself.

You can read it here

Monday, January 6, 2014

Nuisance Abatement Disorder



This is quite outrageous but entirely predictable. As people turn their backs on the consumption and waste based paradigm and opt out of the system, authorities are increasingly stamping down on them, saying they represent a 'nuisance'. Whether it's for raising funds for their cash-strapped authorities or simply out of a naked hatred for anyone who likes they may be getting something for free, people are having their lives turned upside down by over-zealous officials with 'nuisance abatement' enforcement orders.

It's not just in the US that this is happening, but it does seem to be there that the worst abuses of it are occurring. Who'd have thought that rainwater could be private property (as in Colorado) or raw milk would be illegal, or organic kitchen gardens would attract the attentions of the police? Where else in the world is it illegal to dig up your lawn and plant vegetables?

Where do you go if you have no income or marketable skills and you are turfed off your own land by gun wielding cops? Where do you go if opting out is illegal but opting in is impossible?

As the video above shows, the only way to combat this insanity is to stick together as a group, know your rights, and make a loud fuss about it.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Pigs on the Wing

Will the FTSE reach new heights in 2014?
Another year dawns and it’s with some wry amusement that I note almost everyone in the peak energy/collapse blogosphere has been throwing out predictions as to what the coming year has in store for us. It seems to me a bit of a fool’s errand to try and predict what will happen over the coming twelve months because, as the Danish physicist Niels Bohr noted, it’s hard to make predictions, especially when they are in the future. But then Mr Bohr was pretty bad at making predictions himself, failing to foresee that inventing the atomic bomb might lead to a few problems in the future.

Mind you, if one considers oneself as having something even vaguely worthwhile to say about the future of our energy supplies and thereby our industrial civilisation it’s perhaps not too hard to see why people might expect some kind of periodic prediction with a timeframe attached to it. I mean, is it too much to ask? So here’s my prediction about what will happen in the year to come:

I don’t know.

There it is - you have it. I have no clue about gold or silver prices, and still fail to understand why these should be considered important to so many people in this corner of the internet. Neither do I have a clue about the price of oil, subject as it is to a baker’s dozen vagaries ranging from supply and demand, to geopolitics and corruption. I do know that the supply of oil is slowly but steadily dwindling, especially so when you take into account the quality of said oil, but what turn that will take in 2014 is anyone’s guess. Those who have spent far more time analysing these factors seem to be saying that it could be as low as $20 a barrel, or perhaps as high as $200 - or somewhere in the middle, and bouncing around quite a bit. Let’s face it: nobody knows. What we do know is that high prices and volatility cause economic damage, and that low prices mean it isn't profitable to produce it in the first place. These are both good and bad depending on your perspective.

Speaking of geopolitics, what is to happen on the international stage? Will China and Japan have a war? Will Saudi Arabia have an Arab Spring? Will the European Union bust apart at the seams with Greeks fighting Germans? Will Syria’s bloody conflict spread beyond its borders and engulf surrounding lands?

In each case I could say ‘possibly’, but I’d also have to admit that anything else could happen, and probably will. Going from past experience it’s equally as likely that some new previously overlooked regional flashpoint escalates in a way nobody expected it to. China might attack its own Uighurs. North Korea might throw a fit. Israel or Russia might have a nuclear 'whoops' moment. Anything could happen.

Here at home, what is to happen in ‘Great’ Britain? Scotland might or might not decide to turn its back on Sassenach rule. The best of luck to them but either way it won’t make much difference to the fortunes of these increasingly damp and dispirited isles. Will we be invaded by legions of Romanians and Bulgarians - all of whom are thieving, benefit cheating, swarthy ‘others’ as the press keeps telling us? Again, I don’t know, but I doubt it (Romania’s economy is doing better than the British one). If they do arrive en masse, perhaps they could teach us a few of the skills we have so willingly forgotten.

Will Fukushima kill us all? Will the US government launch a war against its own people? Will the world economy crash and we will all have to revert to making transaction with pigs’ teeth? I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know.

I’m not much use am I?

Well, okay, if we have to play this game then I’ll make a few predictions that are close enough to home that I feel confident enough to call. Here they are, in no particular order of importance:

  • The government and press will continue to confuse asset price inflation with economic recovery. The fact that the FTSE has inflated like a giant floating pig at a Pink Floyd gig will continue to be heralded as proof that an economic recovery is underway. If further proof were needed, house price rises will continue to such an extent that home ownership will slip even further from the outstretched grasp of Mr and Mrs Average, while multi million pound mansions in London will continue to be snatched up like hotcakes by Chinese, Russian and Arab buyers.
  • At the same time, the number of families who rely on food banks will continue to climb. As will the number of children turning up hungry to school and unable to afford school uniforms. Austerity will continue to bite deeper and harder and more people will end up living on the streets. More families will break down and the number of people with a decent job that allows them a good standard of living and a chance to put some aside for the future will continue to fall.
  • The public will become increasingly fed up. British people don’t get angry, they just get miffed. There will be more peeved letters written to The Times, and mostly they will be about the price of petrol and food, and the fact that energy bills and train fares are going up almost as fast as savings rates and pensions are going down. 
  • There will be a growing realisation among people that the retirement age is accelerating away from them as they age, like a mechanical rabbit at a greyhound track. 
  • The government will continue to enact policies that may have made sense ten or twenty years ago before energy supplies had plateaued but which now make no sense whatsoever unless interpreted through the lens of cargo cult behaviour. They will promise more housing development on protected land, more nuclear power stations, more ‘golden age of energy’ fracking, more high speed train lines that nobody needs or can afford, more airports and more road building to promote GROWTH!
  • More people will see through this increasingly desperate tissue of lies and start wondering why they hadn’t seen through it all a few years earlier when they had more cash. They will start reading books on peak oil and searching the internet for somewhere ‘safe’ to go and live. Their friends will think they are weird and have ‘lost the plot’.
  • Usury will continue to be the most profitable business in the country. More and more people will consider it to be normal behaviour to turn to companies like Wonga.com that feature cute animated 'normal people' characters on prime time adverts and take out loans at 5,853% interest.
  • The weather will be awful, again. Floods, torrential rain and storms will continue to turn this once green and pleasant isle into something from a dystopian sci-fi B movie where it never stops raining. As a result, more homes built on flood plains, beside rivers or a bit too close to the sea, will become uninsurable. And when it does occasionally stop raining it will turn into a scorching drought that gives old people heat stroke and dries up all the rivers.
  • More and more councils and local authorities will slip into the red and have to cut the services they offer. At the same time, the ongoing wholesale privatisation of council services will massively drive up costs as inefficient and bloated corporate behemoths stuffed with thousands of salaried middle managers attempt to make money out of vital public services - and succeed - at the expense of the public. 
  • Ditto with public health services.
  • More public assets will be sold off at fire sale prices to overseas ‘investors’ and this will be spun as a ‘good thing’ and positive for the economy.
  • The number of road miles driven will continue to fall (it has already fallen by 18% since its peak in 2008) and this will again be put down to increased haulier efficiency and better SatNavs.
  • The number of street lights switched off will continue to climb and safety campaigners will continue to insist that we we are going ‘back to the dark ages’.
  • I will finish writing my book entitled “When the Lights Go Out: A Survival Guide for Energy Descent” and a handful of people will place orders for it through this blog.

These are the things we can look forward to in 2014. There are a whole load of other predictions that one could wager upon in the realm of economics, but I’m not going to make any because for the time being at least that realm is controlled by fantasists and mental herds.

One thing that I have observed that should worry anyone with the sense to be worried by it is that the abstract notion of the ‘economy’ as we know it is showing alarming signs of becoming something similar to the state-controlled Soviet communism of yore. It’s ironic, to put it mildly, that as China becomes ever more capitalist in nature (and increasingly hardline attempts to control its shadow banking system are something to look out for this year) the West becomes increasingly monolithic. Because that’s what quantitative easing seems to be all about, namely taking wealth from the population and delivering it to a tiny elite who increasingly control the means of production and are able to successfully lobby governments and enact regulatory capture. But all this is more or less hidden from view, or at least rarely mentioned, and won’t really come apparent until we are looking in the rear view mirror and asking what went wrong.

And I’m not even going to mention the so-called taper.

Or the US fracking bubble.

So there it is. A bunch of predictions and non-predictions. The only one I feel I can make with cast iron certainty is that our over-loaded techno-economic-infrastructure will continue to be worn thinner by the physical constraints that underpin it and that a great many people will proclaim that this isn’t so while simultaneously becoming poorer in any metric that you care to measure except, perhaps, the availability of credit.

And then maybe credit will die too. But maybe that’ll be next year. Or the year after.