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Guest Post: Running Away From Reality | Zero Hedge

Guest Post: Running Away From Reality | Zero Hedge.

From Fernando del Pino Calvo-Sotelo, published originally in Expansion

View from Spain: Running away from reality (pdf)

In a society that’s incessantly pulling all sorts of rights out of its hat, the right to not suffer is the father of them all. We feel entitled to keep our jobs, our health, our home and our leisure, demanding in fact to be carefree. We don’t want our lifestyle to depend on how hard we work or how much we save, and neither do we want our wrong decisions to have any consequences. In our delirium, we feel we have the right to know the future or even to decide when life should start (that of others, of course) and also when death should come (usually that of others as well). In brief, we want the security that we will be able to avoid pain. The problem is that, in life, pain is as undesirable as it is inevitable, and security, in the words of Helen Keller, is “a superstition that does not exist in nature”. However, man persists in his chimerical search for the security that will keep him free from suffering. Citizens demand that from their ruling classes, who promise ever more extravagant rights and certainties, constantly fleeing reality and truth. And in this hysterical, unbridled race to reach an evanescent security, liberty is thrown into the dust like a bothersome burden.

The free man must be responsible for his behavior without being able to blame anyone else when things go wrong. He must live in discomfort and uncertainty and accept the authorship of all his decisions. This is hard. That’s why as soon as the sweet illusion of freedom gives way for the bitter taste of responsibility and effort which that very freedom bears with it, man revolts against the latter. Some 3500 years ago, the Jewish people, having been oppressed for generations by slavery, was freed by Moses, who took them out of Egypt in order to lead them to the Promised Land. But just a few short days after their last minute’s escape from Pharaoh’s claws in the Red Sea, as the harshness of the desert started to put a dent in their spirit, the Jews forgot the humiliations, whippings, hardships and indignity of their slavery, cursed their freedom and blamed their liberator for freeing them, to the extent that Moses was nearly stoned: “Why did we not die at Yahweh’s hand in Egypt, where we used to sit round the flesh pots and could eat to our heart’s content!”. The security of a hot meal and a loaf of bread seemed worth more than the recently recovered freedom.

It goes without saying that throughout History all power seekers and power holders have taken good note of this story. They have come to realize that all they need to have the people surrender their liberty is to promise them security: a certainty – liberty – in exchange for a promise – security; an extremely valuable good in exchange for a chimera. And over and over again, the people have fallen into the same trap.

Today, under the disguise of a promise of physical security, governments treat each of us as if we were suspected criminals and not free citizens with rights: they record our conversations, intercept our mails, take our fingerprints and as many pictures as they deem necessary, do body searches and leave us half naked when we travel as if it were business as usual, and ruthlessly hunt down as traitors those who uncover these practices.

As far as economic security is concerned, totalitarian communism was an extreme of this barter: the people lost their liberty and never found any security, except for the certainty of being poor under a merciless tyranny. The fraudulent Welfare State proposed something similar (do you believe that the wording of Social “Security” is casual?): it promised a paradise of “free” pensions, healthcare and education in exchange for giving up our freedom to save (thus relieving us off the uncomfortable responsibility of doing so). We surrendered our savings to the politicians, those incurable squanderers, well known for anything but respecting either their word or other people’s money! And now that, even after burying us under a mountain of taxes and perpetual debts, public money is scarce and nearing extinction, where is the promised security to be found? We must understand once and forever more that security is not only liberty’s enemy, but an impediment to prosperity. In fact, security and prosperity are antonyms.

The 2008 financial crisis was mostly caused by politicians and central bankers wanting to avoid the suffering caused by economic cycles. Due to the irritating fact that pained voters tend not to reelect incumbent governments, what better promise could they make than that of trying to end recessions and live in a plateau of permanent prosperity? We still believe the charlatans who, in politics or in central banking, assure us that they can get rid of the uncertainty that terrifies us so much. We long for a control that simply does not exist, and these are the consequences: perversely, the chimeric search for security brings much more suffering than what it pretended to avoid in the first place.

In 1891, Pope Leo XIII prophetically forewarned us in his wise Encyclical Rerum Novarum about the evils that are now upon us: “To suffer and to endure, therefore, is the lot of humanity; let them strive as they may, no strength and no artifice will ever succeed in banishing from human life the ills and troubles which beset it. If any there are who pretend differently – who hold out to a hard-pressed people the boon of freedom from pain and trouble, an undisturbed repose, and constant enjoyment – they delude the people and impose upon them, and their lying promises will only one day bring forth evils worse than the present”.

We have to accept insecurity and pain as something inherent to human nature and promptly mistrust anyone promising the opposite, in the conviction that that promise only seeks to fool the unsuspecting. An economic and political system focused on avoiding the inevitable, promising an inexistent security, is due to fail and headed for poverty. That’s why we should make peace with the reality of uncertainty and suffering and not try to escape from both. Only from the deep acceptance of these realities, will the trembling, fragile ember of hope that has always raised the human being up from his falls catch fire again. The history of man is the successful story of a flexible adaptation to an ever changing, ever insecure environment. As a country, we should look suffering in the eye, without fear, and dedicate all our energies to adapting to the new reality instead of continuously running away from it.

7 things everyone knows about energy that just ain’t so (2013 Edition)

7 things everyone knows about energy that just ain’t so (2013 Edition).

by Kurt Cobb, originally published by Resource Insights  | TODAY

Mark Twain once said, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” And, there are many, many things that the public and policymakers know for sure about energy that just ain’t so.

That list is very long indeed and getting longer as the fossil fuel industry (which has little interest in intellectual honesty) continues its skillful manipulation of a gullible and sometimes careless media.

Pinocchio in a parade http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:1916MomusPinocchio.jpg

Below I’ve listed seven whoppers that it would be charitable to call misleading. Longtime readers will recognize that I’ve addressed them before in various pieces. But I thought that it would be useful to review the worst of the worst of 2013 as the year ends.

Here are seven things everyone knows about energy that just ain’t so:

1. Worldwide oil production has been growing by leaps and bounds in the last several years. Oil companies (with governments following suit) have cleverly redefined oil to include something called natural gas plant liquids (NGPLs) that you might surmise actually come from natural gas wells. These include propane, butane, ethane, and pentanes. The new definition also includes biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel.

This mishmash is sometimes referred to as “total liquids,” but more often “total oil supply.” This redefinition, however, depends on something that just ain’t so, namely, that NGPLs and biofuels are 100 percent interchangeable with oil. There is some interchangeability, but the volume is relatively small. NGPLs make up just 10 percent of total liquids. I’ve seen investment research that asserts that probably less than one-fifth of that (equivalent to about 2 percent of total liquids) can be directly substituted for oil, primarily in petrochemical refineries. That portion could grow, but only with extensive and costly retooling of the refinery industry, a move that seems risky with U.S. natural gas production stalled (see below).

Now, the central problem with including NGPLs as part of the oil supply remains that they have only a very limited ability to be used as transportation fuel which is the main driver for oil consumption.

Moreover, the energy content of NGPLs is around 65 percent of oil per unit of volume. Ethanol has about 66 percent of oil’s energy, and biodiesel has slightly more than crude oil, but somewhat less than the diesel it is meant to replace. We must also consider all the energy including oil that goes into growing, harvesting, transporting and processing the crops that are feedstocks for biofuel refineries. Some studies show that more energy goes into making ethanol than ethanol produces when burned in an engine.

Despite these well-known facts, the industry and government continue to count NGPLs and biofuels in barrels right alongside oil as if they were all equivalent.

Ethanol and biodiesel do directly substitute for some motor fuels. But there are upper limits on what we can produce and use. We are near those limits with ethanol unless engines change to tolerate higher concentrations of ethanol. Moreover, neither ethanol nor biodiesel can be used for the wide variety of purposes that crude oil can.

It turns out that 2005 was an inflection point after which supply growth for both total liquids and oil proper slowed considerably. With all this in mind, let’s look at the actual numbers which come from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

 Total Liquids:

 Growth from 1998 to 2005: 11.7 percent

 Growth from 2005 to 2012: 5.7 percent

 Oil Proper (Crude Oil Plus Lease Condensate):

 Growth from 1998 to 2005: 9.9 percent

 Growth from 2005 to 2012: 2.7 percent

You can see that the real oil supply (crude oil plus lease condensate) has been growing at just over one-quarter the pace it did in the previous seven years–even with record prices, record investment and the wide deployment of new extraction technologies. Slowing growth coupled with skyrocketing demand in places such as China and India has put a lot of upward pressure on oil prices. It’s one reason oil prices remain near record highs based on the average daily price of Brent Crude, the world benchmark.

In 2011 the average daily Brent Crude price was a record $111.26—which was followed by another record in 2012 of $111.63. The price in 2013 through December 26 has averaged $108.52.

2. U.S. natural gas production continues to grow by leaps and bounds.This claim is even more misleading than the first one. It’s true that natural gas production has grown in the United States in recent years due to the exploitation of gas trapped in deep shale deposits, deposits that new technology called hydraulic fracturing is now making accessible.

But, it turns out that the rate of production of these wells declines rapidly, and the numbers suggest that raising the overall U.S. rate of production is going to be very difficult and expensive. In fact, since January 2012, monthly U.S. marketed natural gas volumes have been nearly flat despite a more than doubling of natural gas prices from their April 2012 lows. The average monthly volume in 2012 was 2.11 trillion cubic feet (tcf). For 2013 the data are only available through September, but the average through that month was 2.12 tcf. It’s doubtful that the average will change that much when the final three months of the year are included.

The easy shale gas has been extracted. Now comes the hard stuff. We may already be on the shale gas treadmill.

3. There is enough natural gas under the United States to last the country for 100 years. This claim requires that you first do bad math on the numbers even the perpetrators of this falsehood provide. The number turns out to be 90 years using their figures and 2010 U.S. natural gas consumption (while assuming, improbably so, no growth in U.S. natural gas use for the next 90 years).

But even that number vastly overstates what we are likely to get out of the ground for it includes estimates of probable, possible and speculative technically recoverable resources. Now, just because something is judged to be technically recoverable does not mean it will be economically recoverable. And, if it is further labelled possible or speculative, it seems foolish to base our public policy on such resources as if they were proven to exist and were ready to extract.

Shale gas expert Art Berman suggests we focus on the probable resources category and assume generously that 50 percent of those resources will actually get turned into reserves. (Keep in mind that no resource is ever exploited to 100 percent and usually only to a fraction of that. Also, resources are what are thought to be in the ground based on sketchy evidence, while reserves are what the drill bit proves are actually there and, more importantly, amenable to extraction.) Based on these assumptions, the United States has about 550 tcf feet of probable and proven reserves which means that the country has a likely supply of about 23 years (again, assuming, improbably so, no increase in the rate of consumption during the entire period).

Since Berman made those calculations, some of the probable resources have moved into the reserves category. But, the outlook has not really changed because this was expected.

4. The United States is about to become the world’s largest oil producer. This claim depends on the same sleight-of-hand being used to inflate worldwide oil production numbers as noted above: the inclusion of NGPLs and biofuels in the production numbers. The United States has been furiously drilling natural gas wells in the last few years and has increased its supply of NGPLs greatly. The production of crude oil proper has also been growing for essentially the same reason natural gas production grew: the deployment of hydraulic fracturing techniques and horizontal drilling to extract previously inaccessible deposits of so-called tight oil.

The results have been impressive, lifting U.S. production of crude oil proper (crude oil plus lease condensate) from 5.2 million barrels per day (mbpd) in 2005 to 6.5 mbpd in 2012. The latest available monthly production results are for September 2013 and put U.S. crude oil production at 7.8 mbpd.

But, it seems unlikely given the very steep production declines that existing tight oil wells experience–about 40 percent per year–that production will be able to scale that of the world’s number one and number two oil producers.

Russia currently produces 9.9 mbpd of crude oil proper. Saudi Arabia produces 9.8 mbpd. Both numbers come from the EIA.

Could the United States produce more crude oil proper than these countries in the near future? Since we cannot know the future, anything is possible. But, consider that the United States has gotten most of the easy tight oil. Now, it must begin to rely on extraction of the hard-to-get oil. That oil will come out at a slower rate.

Meanwhile, the tight oil wells already drilled will continue to decline at colossal rates and their output will have to be replaced before any increase in production is possible. Trying to increase oil production under these circumstances can be likened to running up a down escalator since the declining production of existing wells cancels out much of the production from newly drilled wells.

If the United States were to attain the number one spot some day, it would be hard to maintain given the high production decline rates cited above.

5. The United States is on the verge of energy independence. This canard takes advantage of the lack of public awareness about U.S. energy resources. The country has long been self-sufficient in coal. This has never been an issue. It has also been nearly self-sufficient in natural gas, importing a little over 15 percent of its needs (almost all of it from Canada) from 1991 through 2011 according to the EIA. That percentage has trended down recently as U.S. production has increased. But the U.S. supply of imported natural gas was never in danger due to political disruptions or wars in faraway unfriendly countries.

So, it turns out that energy independence really means oil independence. On this count the country is still very far away from independence despite recent gains in domestic oil production. For the most recent week ending December 20, the United States’ net crude oil imports were 7.5 mbpd. The country would have to nearly double its rate of domestic crude oil production to meet its current consumption needs. That seems very unlikely given the production dynamics discussed above for tight oil which is where nearly all the growth in production is currently taking place.

6. The United States has 250 years of coal left. This claim keeps getting recycled even though a 2007 National Academy of Sciences study concluded that there was no basis for making such a claim. It suggested that the United States might have 100 years of coal left (assuming, improbably so, there would be absolutely no increase in the rate of consumption over that period). But, the report concluded that no comprehensive study of U.S. coal resources was currently available. The truth is nobody knows how much coal is left in the United States, nor how much of that might actually be accessible.

7. Peak oil is a myth. Peak oil is the idea that oil production inevitably reaches a maximum rate and thereafter begins an irreversible decline. It does NOT mean running out, but rather that production declines over time. It turns out that peak oil is actually an empirically demonstrated reality for every oil well, every mature oil field, and now for the majority of oil producing countries in the world. Those who tell us that peak oil is a myth can only be engaged in propaganda rather than a search for the truth. Ironically, many of them cite the upturn in U.S. production as “proof” that peak oil is a myth, forgetting that U.S. production peaked more than 40 years ago.

Oil is a finite resource and so, the real debate is over the timing of peak oil production for the world as a whole. Some say the peak is nearby. Others say it is two or three decades away. But no credible expert says that there will never be a peak.

The cases for and against a near-term peak would be difficult to relate in detail here. But, it’s worth noting that the optimists have been consistently wrong about prices and supplies in the last decade, and those predicting a near-term peak have been much closer to the mark.

That doesn’t mean that the peak must be nearby. But it suggests that the models and assumptions of the optimists are badly flawed.

There are so many other misconceptions about energy which remain that it would take a dozen seven-item lists just to begin to address them. But, I offer these seven as a starting point for a clearer and more honest discussion of our energy future in the coming year.

 

Education protests challenge the market – which makes them a target | Michael Chessum | Comment is free | theguardian.com

Education protests challenge the market – which makes them a target | Michael Chessum | Comment is free | theguardian.com.

A 'Cops Off Campus' protest – Dec 2013

‘The demand that police get off campuses is not just about defending civil liberties. It is also about what kind of education system we want.’ Photograph: Gail Orenstein/Corbis

Three years on from the threefold increase in tuition fees in 2010, opposition to the government’s marketisation of university education is regenerating, with protests and occupations across the UK. Both the demands of this emerging movement, and the policing measures it has faced, are a sign of things to come in 2014 and may well mark a broader shift in how we challenge austerity.

Since October, the higher education sector has co-ordinated national pay strikes by all three major trade unions, widespread picketing and a number of student occupations. The political basis of this movement has centred around opposition to privatisation – from the outsourcing of services to the sell-off of student debt.

On 4 December, police raided the University of London’s management offices, where a student occupation was taking place, to demandpensions for outsourced cleaning staff and a reversal of the university’s decision to abolish its student union. The eviction took place without court proceedings, and in the following 48 hours, 40 students werearrested and others were assaulted by the Metropolitan police. Some were placed on bail conditions banning them from congregating in public in groups of more than four. It marked a low point in a series of police intrusion on to the campus, including an activist arrested for allegedlychalking slogans in support of cleaners’ strikes, and my own arrest.

In the same period, the University of Sussex suspended five studentsfrom their studies, and the University of Birmingham threatened to hit two students with tens of thousands in court costs for occupying. At the University of Ulster last week, management has been accused of cutting off occupiers’ water and electricity as they protested against plans toturn their common room into a corporate dining facility.

Commentators have been right to point towards the problem that demonstrations and strikes pose for university managers who seem to regard themselves as executives of large corporations selling education and employability. As our institutions are run more like businesses, with academia reduced to research competition and democratic processes such as elected academic boards eroded, the people who run universities are becoming unaccountable to those who make them function. That is why the most recent wave of protest has sprung to life not only under the banner of support for strikes, but that of “cops off campus“. The demand that police get off campuses is not just about defending civil liberties; it is also about what kind of education system we want – one in which disputes are resolved collectively, rather than with court injunctions and police batons.

What is happening in education matters, and not just because it is the place where many people first come into contact with political ideas. The higher and further education sectors have for years been at the forefront of opposing austerity – from the walkouts that followed the Millbank Tower occupation in 2010 and triggered action from the unions, to what seems to many like a renewal of dissent now.

The education sector is not yet comparable, either in its disruptive capacity or the level of repression it has faced, to those who carried out mass industrial disputes of the 1970s and 80s. But like other social movements, its experience fits a historical pattern of political policing being deployed against sectors of society that most resist the interests of the market. If students and workers in education can build a concerted revolt over privatisation and repression, we may well expose the contradictions in the government’s attempts to marketise universities and colleges, and push it back.

 

When economic theory fails the maths exam | Business Spectator

When economic theory fails the maths exam | Business Spectator.

When economic theory fails the maths exam

 9 Dec, 7:44 AM

Eight years ago, in December 2005, I began warning of an impending economic crisis that would commence when the rate of growth of private debt started to fall. My warnings hit a popular chord: journalists throughout the world picked it up and publicised my views – as well as similar arguments from Nouriel RoubiniDean BakerAnn PettiforMichael HudsonWynne Godley, and a few others.

But our arguments were ignored by the economics profession because, according to mainstream economic theory, private debt should have no impact on aggregate demand. As Bernanke put it, lending simply transfers spending power from lender to borrower, and “pure redistributions should have no significant macro-economic effects” (Bernanke, Essays on the Great Depression, p. 24).

Yet the empirical evidence that change in debt does have “significant macro-economic effects” is compelling: the correlations of change in debt to the level of employment (Figure 1), and of acceleration in debt to changes in employment (Figure 2), are overwhelming.

Figure 1: Compelling visual evidence? Not to a mainstream economis
Graph for When economic theory fails the maths exam

Figure 2:Something else to ignore because it doesn’t pass the a priori test
Graph for When economic theory fails the maths exam

This visually compelling numerical evidence of what caused the crisis was and still is ignored by mainstream economists, while less numerate journalists latched onto it. Why? You would expect that the more numerate a person is, the more he would take evidence like this seriously.

But that isn’t the case it seems – and a fascinating new study of numeracy and reasoning has indicated why this might be so. It seems that when an issue is politically neutral, a higher level of numeracy does correlate with a higher capacity to interpret numerical data correctly. But when an issue is politically charged – or the numerical data challenges a numerate person’s sense of self – numeracy actually works against understanding the issue. The reason appears to be that numerate people employed their numeracy skills to evade the evidence, rather than to consider it.

The research paper, Motivated Numeracy and Enlightened Self-Government, tested people’s ability to interpret numerically challenging data against their ratings on a numeracy test, and their political allegiances. Precisely the same data was presented as the results of two quite different studies: whether a new skin care product did or did not reduce skin rashes, and whether gun control laws did or did not reduce crime. The hypothetical data was set up so that half of the survey group saw objectively positive results – the skin care product worked, or gun control reduced homicide rates – and the other saw objectively negative results in each case (see Figure 3).

Figure 3: The hypothetical data presented as real data to different segments of the survey group
Graph for When economic theory fails the maths exam

The “data” was designed to be confusing to those with low numeracy skills: a simple comparison of numbers in the first column would lead to reaching the wrong conclusion – that the skin cream increased rashes when it reduced them, or that gun control laws decreased crime when it increased it. Getting the correct answer involved a comparison of the ratios of the two columns.

The experimenters expected that more numerate people would trump less numerate people in both instances – so that effectively, a higher level of numeracy would lead to a lower level of ideological bias, whether the issue was politically charged or not, and whether the subject was conservative (Republican) or progressive (Democrat). The argument, effectively, was that a higher level of intellectual skill would mean higher cognition in general and a lower level of political bias. As a psychological hypothesis, they termed this the “Science Comprehension Thesis” (SCT).

Mentally, the reason for the expected bias of the less numerate people was that they would use what Kahneman called System 1 or “fast” thinking, which is more instinctive and emotional – the sort of reasoning that stops you becoming a meal for a lion on the Serengeti. More numerate people were expected to also employ System 2 or “slow”, logical reasoning – the sort that enables you to turn the lions into prey rather than predators.

But there was an alternative hypothesis as well, which proposed that more numerate people would use their greater numerical skills to hang on to pre-existing beliefs, in order to preserve their membership of a group that was socially important to them. The researchers termed this hypothesis the “Identity-protective Cognition Thesis” (ICT):

Individuals, on this account, have a large stake – psychically as well as materially – in maintaining the status of, and their personal standing in, affinity groups whose members are bound by their commitment to shared moral understandings. If opposing positions on a policy-relevant fact – e.g., whether human activity is generating dangerous global warming – came to be seen as symbols of membership in and loyalty to competing groups of this kind, individuals can be expected to display a strong tendency to conform their understanding of whatever evidence they encounter to the position that prevails in theirs.

The results are summarised in Figure 4 – and interpreting it might itself be challenging if you’re not American, because red signifies conservative while blue signifies progressive!

The simplest observation is that higher numeracy led to a higher ability to interpret the data in the politically-neutral skin rash data, and that there was no significant difference in ability due to political allegiance.

Figure 4: Correct results by topic versus numeracy level and political allegiance
Graph for When economic theory fails the maths exam

The more complex result is that higher levels of numeracy led to higher, rather than lower, polarisation on the politically charged issue of gun control. There was no gap between Republicans and Democrats of low numerical skill when interpreting data that found that gun control increased crime: both groups were equally bad at getting the right answer. But there was a very big gap for numerate Republicans and Democrats when the “results” contradicted their pre-existing beliefs. Highly numerate Democrats were little better than innumerate Democrats in correctly interpreting data that showed that gun control increased crime; and equally, highly numerate Republicans were little better than innumerate ones in interpreting data that showed that gun control reduced crime.

The polarisation between Republicans and Democrats also increased as numeracy rose – the opposite of what you would expect if you thought political differences over objective data arose from an inability to interpret that data. There was no difference between innumerate Republicans and Democrats when presented with data that implied that gun control failed, but a very large gap between their numerate brethren. The substantial gap between innumerate Republicans and Democrats when presented with data that implied that gun control worked (we’re talking America, after all) became a chasm between the numerates.

The authors found the implications of their study for democracy rather depressing, since it implies that both evidence and intelligence make precious little difference to how people will vote on contentious issues – which are after all the only ones we do vote on. The need to preserve a sense of identity matters more than the evidence – and this can’t be treated as “irrational” behavior either, because it’s quite rational to want to retain membership of a group that is immediately important to you.

Numeracy can make you blind. Who’d a thought?

Someone who did belatedly reach the same conclusion was one of history’s great numerates,Max Planck – the father of quantum mechanics. He found it near impossible to convince his fellow physicists to accept his new – and empirically far more accurate – characterisation of the nature of energy, and he ultimately concluded that:

A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it. (Max Planck).

Planck’s pessimism might well turn out to be optimism when compared to how economics “evolves”. As John Quiggin put it in his book Zombie Economics (which hands down has the best cover of an economics book that I’ve ever seen), ideas that manifestly conflict with empirical data continue to exist long after reality killed them. The data on private debt and employment should long ago have killed the “Loanable Funds” model of lending that led Bernanke and his tribe to ignore private debt before the crisis hit, but I expect they’ll hang on to their pet theory and find a way to make it appear compatible with the data instead—and Larry Summers may well have given them the means to remain part of The Great Undead with his “secular stagnation” hypothesis.

Kahan and colleagues’ research also has implications for people in the global warming debate – and many other areas of social conflict over empirical issues. Each side tends to deride the other as lacking the ability to interpret the data – thus thinking they are more numerate than their opponents. Those who believe that global warming is happening (guilty as charged Your Honour) tend to think that their opponents are scientifically dumber than they are, and simply can’t process the overwhelming numerical evidence in favour of the hypothesis; those who reject global warming believe their opponents are politically motivated dumbos who are deliberately hoodwinking themselves.

But this research implies that leading lights on both sides of the argument could be just as numerate as each other, and numerical evidence alone will never cause one side to concede defeat. Only reality itself will ultimately end that debate.

Steve Keen is Associate Professor of Economics & Finance at the University of Western Sydney and author of Debunking Economics and the blog Debtwatch.

Canadian Corporate Profit Decline Approaching Recession Levels: TD

Canadian Corporate Profit Decline Approaching Recession Levels: TD. (source)

TORONTO – Canadian corporate profits have declined in five of the past six quarters and are now 16 per cent below their post-recession peak in late 2011, according to a study released Tuesday by TD Bank.

“This decline is not as bad as during the last recession, but it is approaching the performance Canadian firms saw during the U.S. downturn in 2000-2001,” TD economist Leslie Preston writes.

Key export-driven sectors like manufacturing and resources have seen the most weakness.

The resource sector’s corporate profit performance has followed closely with commodity prices, which fell last year and remain below a post-recession peak in set in early 2011.

“So far in 2013, generally higher commodity prices have helped drive encouraging growth in resource sector profits, although the sector is still in the red over the past six quarters as a whole,” Preston writes.

Manufacturers face competitive challenges, not only from a relatively strong loonie but also because unit labour costs have risen in Canada since the recession but remain flat in the United States, TD says.

Profits in more domestically-oriented industries have held up better, although they too have seen their pace of growth slow dramatically compared to the pre-recession period.

The study says the weakness in corporate profit can be seen in the way Canada’s equity markets have underperformed the United States since the lows seen in October 2011.

Looking ahead, however, TD expects profit performance to show modest improvement over the coming quarters, led by the export and resource-oriented sectors, as stronger economic growth in the United States next year will help lift U.S. demand.

U.S. economic growth will be weaker than anticipated in the near-term because of the recent government shutdown, but TD expects that the lost activity will be recouped next year.

The bank says commodity prices should also improve, although further gains are likely to be modest, and domestic demand growth is also likely to be slow.

“Echoing the forecast for growth in the economy as a whole, corporate Canada should see better days ahead, but not a return to the heydays seen prior to the recession,” Preston said.

 

CULTURE OF IGNORANCE – PART ONE « The Burning Platform

CULTURE OF IGNORANCE – PART ONE « The Burning Platform. (source)

“Five percent of the people think;
ten percent of the people think they think;
and the other eighty-five percent would rather die than think.”

– Thomas Edison

The kabuki theater that passes for governance in Washington D.C. reveals the profound level of ignorance shrouding this Empire of Debt in its prolonged death throes. Ignorance of facts; ignorance of math; ignorance of history; ignorance of reality; and ignorance of how ignorant we’ve become as a nation, have set us up for an epic fall. It’s almost as if we relish wallowing in our ignorance like a fat lazy sow in a mud hole. The lords of the manor are able to retain their power, control and huge ill-gotten riches because the government educated serfs are too ignorant to recognize the self-evident contradictions in the propaganda they are inundated with by state controlled media on a daily basis.

 

“Any formal attack on ignorance is bound to fail because the masses are always ready to defend their most precious possession – their ignorance.” – Hendrik Willem van Loon

The levels of ignorance are multi-dimensional and diverse, crossing all educational, income, and professional ranks. The stench of ignorance has settled like Chinese toxic smog over our country, as various constituents have chosen comforting ignorance over disconcerting knowledge. The highly educated members, who constitute the ruling class in this country, purposefully ignore facts and truth because the retention and enhancement of their wealth and power are dependent upon them not understanding what they clearly have the knowledge to understand. The underclass wallow in their ignorance as their life choices, absence of concern for marriage or parenting, lack of interest in educating themselves, and hiding behind the cross of victimhood and blaming others for their own failings. Everyone is born ignorant and the path to awareness and knowledge is found in reading books. Rich and poor alike are free to read and educate themselves. The government, union teachers, and a village are not necessary to attain knowledge. It requires hard work and clinging to your willful ignorance to remain stupid.

The youth of the country consume themselves in techno-narcissistic triviality, barely looking up from their iGadgets long enough to make eye contact with other human beings. The toxic combination of government delivered public education, dumbed down socially engineered curriculum, taught by uninspired intellectually average union controlled teachers, to distracted, unmotivated, latchkey kids, has produced a generation of young people ignorant about history, basic mathematical concepts, and the ability or interest to read and write. They have been taught to feel rather than think critically. They have been programmed to believe rather than question and explore. Slogans and memes have replaced knowledge and understanding. They have been lured into inescapable student loan debt serfdom by the very same government that is handing them a $200 trillion entitlement bill and an economy built upon low paying service jobs that don’t require a college education, because the most highly educated members of society realized that outsourcing the higher paying production jobs to slave labor factories in Asia was great for the bottom line, their stock options and bonus pools.

Instead of being outraged and lashing out against this injustice, the medicated, daycare reared youth passively lose themselves in the inconsequentiality and shallowness of social media, reality TV, and the internet, while living in their parents’ basement. They have chosen the ignorance inflicted upon their brains by thousands of hours spent twittering, texting, facebooking, seeking out adorable cat videos on the internet, viewing racist rap singer imbeciles rent out sports stadiums to propose to vacuous big breasted sluts on reality cable TV shows, and sitting zombie-like for days with a controller in hand blowing up cities, killing whores, and murdering policemen using their new PS4 on their 65 inch HDTV, rather than gaining a true understanding of the world by reading Steinbeck, Huxley, and Orwell. Technology has reduced our ability to think and increased our ignorance.

“During my eighty-seven years, I have witnessed a whole succession of technological revolutions. But none of them has done away with the need for character in the individual or the ability to think.” –Bernard M. Baruch

The youth have one thing going for them. They are still young and can awaken from their self-imposed stupor of ignorance. There are over 80 million millenials between the ages of 8 and 30 years old who need to start questioning the paradigm they are inheriting and critically examining the mendacious actions of their elders. The future of the country is in their hands, so I hope they put down those iGadgets and open their eyes before it is too late. We need many more patriots like Edward Snowden and far fewer twerking sluts like Miley Cyrus if we are to overcome the smog of apathy and ignorance blanketing our once sentient nation.

The ignorance of youth can be chalked up to inexperience, lack of wisdom, and immaturity. There is no excuse for the epic level of ignorance displayed by older generations over the last thirty years. Boomers and Generation X have charted the course of this ship of state for decades. Ship of fools is a more fitting description, as they have stimulated the entitlement mentality that has overwhelmed the fiscal resources of the country. Our welfare/warfare empire, built upon a Himalayan mountain of debt, enabled by a central bank owned by Wall Street, and perpetuated by swarms of corrupt bought off spineless politicians, is the ultimate testament to the seemingly limitless level of ignorance engulfing our civilization. The entitlement mindset permeates our culture from the richest to the poorest. Mega-corporations use their undue influence (bribes disguised as campaign contributions) to elect pliable candidates to office, hire lobbyists to write the laws and tax regulations governing their industries, and collude with the bankers and other titans of industry to harvest maximum profits from the increasingly barren fields of a formerly thriving land of milk and honey. By unleashing a torrent of unbridled greed, ransacking the countryside, and burning down the villages, the ruling class has planted the seeds of their own destruction.

When the underclass observes Wall Street bankers committing the crime of the century with no consequences for their actions, they learn a lesson. When billionaire banker/politicians like Jon Corzine can steal $1.2 billion directly from the accounts of farmers and ranchers and continue to live a life of luxury in one of his six mansions, they get the message. Wall Street bankers are allowed to commit fraud, reaping profits of $25 billion, and when they are caught red handed pay a $5 billion fine while admitting no guilt. No connected bankers have gone to jail for crashing the worldwide financial system, but teenage marijuana dealers are incarcerated for ten years in our corporate prison system. The message has been received loud and clear by the unwashed masses. Committing fraud and gaming the system is OK. Only suckers play by the rules anymore. A culture of lawlessness, greed, fraud, deceit, swindles and scams was fashioned by those in power. Reckless disregard for honesty, truthfulness, fair dealing, and treating others as you would like to be treated, has permeated the beliefs and behavior of our society.

The ever increasing number of people in the SNAP program along with abuses committed by retailers and recipients, the skyrocketing number of people faking their way into the SSDI program, billions of taxpayer dollars lost to Medicare fraud, billions more lost paying out earned income tax credit refunds based on non-existent children, public schools falsifying test scores, students cheating on SAT tests, credit card fraud on a grand scale, failure to report income and falsifying tax returns, and a myriad of other dodges and scams are just a reflection of a moral and cultural collapse. The dog eat dog mentality glorified by the media, with such despicable men as Dimon, Greenspan, Corzine, Clinton, Trump, Rubin, Bernanke and Bloomberg honored as pillars of society, has displaced honesty, compassion, humanity, shared sacrifice, and caring about our descendants. Self-interest, self-indulgence, and a narcissistic focus on what is in it for me today has led to an implosion of trust and an attitude of “who cares” about our fellow man, morality, right or wrong, and the fate of future generations. We ignored the warnings of our last President who displayed courageousness and truthfulness when speaking to the American people.

“As we peer into society’s future, we — you and I, and our government — must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering for our own ease and convenience the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower

The Me Generation has devolved into the Me Culture. While the masses have been mesmerized by their iGadgets, zombified by the boob tube, programmed to consume by the Madison Avenue propaganda machines, enslaved in chains of debt by the Wall Street plantation owners, and convinced by their fascist government keepers that phantom terrorists are hiding behind every bush, they surrendered their freedoms, liberties and sense of self-responsibility. There will always be evil men seeking to control and manipulate the ignorant and oblivious. A citizenry armed with knowledge, critical thinking skills, and moral integrity would not passively submit to the will of a corporate fascist oligarchy. Well educated, well informed citizens, capable of critical thinking are dangerous to rich men of evil intent. Obedient, universally ignorant, distracted, fearful, morally depraved slaves are what the owners of this country want. As the light of knowledge flickers and dies, we sink into the darkness of ignorance.

 

“No people will tamely surrender their Liberties, nor can any be easily subdued, when knowledge is diffused and virtue is preserved. On the Contrary, when People are universally ignorant, and debauched in their Manners, they will sink under their own weight without the Aid of foreign Invaders.” – Samuel Adams

Cult of Ignorance

“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.” – Isaac Asimov

  

“While every group has certain economic interests identical with those of all groups, every group has also, as we shall see, interests antagonistic to those of all other groups. While certain public policies would in the long run benefit everybody, other policies would benefit one group only at the expense of all other groups. The group that would benefit by such policies, having such a direct interest in them, will argue for them plausibly and persistently. It will hire the best buyable minds to devote their whole time to presenting its case. And it will finally either convince the general public that its case is sound, or so befuddle it that clear thinking on the subject becomes next to impossible.

In addition to these endless pleadings of self-interest, there is a second main factor that spawns new economic fallacies every day. This is the persistent tendency of man to see only the immediate effects of a given policy, or its effects only on a special group, and to neglect to inquire what the long-run effects of that policy will be not only on that special group but on all groups. It is the fallacy of overlooking secondary consequences.” – Henry Hazlitt

America’s cult of ignorance, combined with the selfish interests of various constituencies, the character weakness of the people elected to office, a lack of understanding or interest in basic mathematical concepts, and inability to comprehend the long term and unintended consequences of every piece of legislation, have brought the country to the brink of fiscal disaster. But still, the vast majority of Americans, including the supposed intellectuals and economic “experts”, are basking in their ignorance, as the stock market reaches a new high, the local GM dealer just gave them a 7 year $40,000 auto loan at 0% on that brand new Cadillac Escalade, Bank of America still hasn’t foreclosed on their McMansion two years after making their last mortgage payment, and they just received three pre-approved credit card notices from Capital One, American Express and Citicorp. As long as Bennie has our back printing $1 trillion new greenbacks per year, nothing can possibly go wrong. Our best and brightest economic minds are always right:

“Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau.” – Irving Fisher, Professor of Economics, Yale University, 1929

“Many of the new financial products that have been created, with financial derivatives being the most notable, contribute economic value by unbundling risks and shifting them in a highly calibrated manner. Although these instruments cannot reduce the risk inherent in real assets, they can redistribute it in a way that induces more investment in real assets and, hence, engenders higher productivity and standards of living.” – Alan Greenspan – March 6, 2000

“We’ve never had a decline in house prices on a nationwide basis. So, what I think what is more likely is that house prices will slow, maybe stabilize, might slow consumption spending a bit. I don’t think it’s gonna drive the economy too far from its full employment path, though.” – Ben Bernanke – July 2005

The profound level of ignorance displayed by economists, politicians, business leaders, media personalities, and the average American, regarding the mathematically unsustainable path of our fiscal ship is perplexing to me on so many levels. If the Federal government was a family, the budget ceiling debate would be put into the following terms. Our household earns $28,000 per year, but we spend $38,000 per year and add $10,000 to our credit card balance, which stands at the limit of $170,000. In addition, we owe our neighbors $2 million we don’t have because we promised to pay if they voted for us as Treasurer of our homeowners association. We celebrate our good fortune of getting approved for another credit card with a $30,000 limit by increasing our spending to $39,000 per year. Intellectuals scorn such simplistic analogies by glibly pointing out that the family has a crazy uncle with a printing press in the basement and can pay-off the debt with his freshly printed dollars. And this is where the deliberate and calculated ignorance by the highly educated Ivy Leaguers regarding long term and unintended consequences is revealed. They ignore, manipulate, cover-up and obscure the facts because their wealth, power and influence depend upon them doing so. But ignorance doesn’t change the facts.

“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.” – Aldous Huxley

Nothing exposes the ignorance of various factions within our society better than a debate about budgets, spending, and unfunded liabilities. This is where every party, group, special interest, and voting bloc ignore any and all facts that are contrary to their selfish interest. They only see what they want to see. The fallacies, errors, omissions and mistruths of their positions are inconsequential to people who only care about their short-term self-seeking interests. When I question the out of control spending on entitlements and our impossible to honor level of unfunded liabilities, those of a liberal persuasion lash out with accusations of hating the poor, starving children and throwing granny under the bus. Anyone suggesting we should slow our spending is branded a terrorist by the overwhelmingly liberal legacy media.

When I accuse Wall Street bankers of criminal fraud and ongoing manipulation of the financial markets, the CNBC loving apologists for these felons bellow about the market always being right. When I rail about the military industrial complex and our un-Constitutional invasions of other countries, the neo-cons come out in force blathering about the war on terror and imminent threats. When I point out the horrific results of our government run educational system and how mediocre union teachers are bankrupting our states and municipalities with their gold plated health and pension plans, I’m met with howls of outrage about the poor children. The common thread is that facts are ignored because each of their agendas requires ignorance on the part of their team’s fans.

The following chart of truth portrays an unsustainable path. Ignoring the facts will not change them. This isn’t a Republican problem or a Democrat problem. It’s an American problem.

 

“There are men regarded today as brilliant economists, who deprecate saving and recommend squandering on a national scale as the way of economic salvation; and when anyone points to what the consequences of these policies will be in the long run, they reply flippantly, as might the prodigal son of a warning father: “In the long run we are all dead.” And such shallow wisecracks pass as devastating epigrams and the ripest wisdom.” – Henry Hazlitt

Henry Hazlitt may have written these words six decades ago, but they aptly describe Paul Krugman and the legions of Keynesian apostles whose bastardized interpretation of Keynes’ theory has led us to this fiscal cliff. How anyone can truly believe that borrowing to consume foreign produced goods versus saving and making job creating capital investments is a rational and sustainable economic policy is the height of ignorance. One look at this chart exposes the political party system as a sham. When it comes to the fiscal train wreck, set in motion thirty years ago, the ignorant media pundits peddle a narrative about politicians failing to compromise as the culprit in this derailment. Nothing could be further from the truth. Compromise is what has gotten us to this point. The Republicans compromised and allowed the Democrats to create a welfare state. The Democrats compromised and allowed the Republicans to create a warfare state. The Federal Reserve compromised their mandate of stable prices and preventing financial calamities by inflating away 95% of the dollar’s purchasing power in 100 years, while creating bubbles every five or so years, like clockwork. There are a myriad of facts related to the chart above that cannot be ignored:

  • It took 192 years for the country to accumulate $1 trillion in debt. It has taken us 30 years to accumulate the next $16 trillion of debt. We now add $1 trillion of debt per year.
  • If the Federal government was required to use GAAP accounting, the annual deficit would amount to $6.7 trillion per year.
  • The fiscal gap of unfunded future liabilities for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and government pensions is $200 trillion.
  • Using realistic growth assumptions adds another $6 trillion of state and local government unfunded pension benefits to the equation.
  • The Federal government has increased their annual spending from $1.8 trillion during Bill Clinton’s last year in office to $3.8 trillion today, a 110% increase. The population has increased by 12% over that same time frame, and real GDP has advanced by 25% since 2000.
  • Defense spending has increased from $358 billion in 2000 to $831 billion today, despite the fact that no country on earth can challenge us militarily.
  • The average Baby Boomer will receive $300,000 more than they contributed to Social Security and Medicare over their lifetime. Over 10,000 Boomers per day will turn 65 for the next 17 years.
  • The Social Security lockbox is filled with IOUs. The funds collected from paychecks over the last 80 years were spent by Congress on wars of choice, bridges to nowhere, and thousands of other vote buying ventures.
  • A normalization of interest rates to long-term averages would double or triple the interest on the national debt and increase our annual deficits by at least 30%.
  • Obamacare and the unintended consequences of Obamacare will add tens of trillions to our national debt. The initial budget projections for Medicare and Medicaid showed only a modest financial impact on the financial situation of the country. How did that work out?
  • Entitlement spending in 2003 was $1.3 trillion. Entitlement spending in 2008 was $1.7 trillion. Entitlement spending in 2013 was $2.2 trillion. Entitlement spending in 2018 will be $2.8 trillion, as these programs are on automatic pilot.

When you consider the facts in a rational manner, without vitriolic denials, bitter accusations, acrimonious blame, and rejection of the entire premise, you come to the conclusion that we’ve passed the point of no return. Decades of bad choices, bad leadership, bad men in important positions, bad education, bad governance, and bad citizenship have led to bad times. But very few people, across all socio-economic classes, have any interest in understanding the facts or making the tough choices required to save future generations from a life of squalor. We willfully choose to ignore the facts.

“Most ignorance is vincible ignorance. We don’t know because we don’t want to know.” – Aldous Huxley

Our degraded and ignorant society is incapable of comprehending their dire circumstances or acting for the common good of the country. We are a nation on the take. Greed really is good. Everyone needs to play the game. From the top floor corporate CEO suite to the decaying urban wastelands, we have chosen comforting ignorance to uncomfortable knowledge. Our warped form of democracy enriches the few at the top, while dispensing enough subsistence payments to the lower classes to keep them from revolting, while enslaving the middle class in debt and convincing them it’s really wealth. Mencken understood the pathetic impulses of the American populace decades before we reached our point of no return.

“Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance.” – H.L. Mencken

The only way a democracy can survive is if the population is knowledgeable, vigilant, skeptical, educated, individually responsible, self-reliant, moral, capable of critical thinking and willing to accept the consequences of their actions. A nation of takers, fakers and blamers will not last long. We’ve degenerated into a nation of knowledge hating book burners. Our culture of ignorance will lead to the destruction of our culture and the ignorant masses will wonder what happened.

 

“But you can’t make people listen. They have to come round in their own time, wondering what happened and why the world blew up around them. It can’t last.” – Ray Bradbury – Fahrenheit 451

In Part Two of this examination about our culture of ignorance I’ll explore the roles of technology, family breakdown, government, and propaganda in creating the ignorance that is consuming our system like a mutant parasite. If you are seeking a happy ending, I suggest looking elsewhere.

 

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How Marineland Is Using the Law to Silence Protestors | Cara Faith Zwibel.

 

charles hugh smith-Why the Higher Education System Is Unsustainable (i.e. Doomed)

charles hugh smith-Why the Higher Education System Is Unsustainable (i.e. Doomed).

 

Laurence Kotlikoff: “The US Fiscal Gap Is $200 Trillion… Our Country Is broke” | Zero Hedge

Laurence Kotlikoff: “The US Fiscal Gap Is $200 Trillion… Our Country Is broke” | Zero Hedge.

 

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