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Social influence, global crisis and lack of awareness — Transition Voice

Social influence, global crisis and lack of awareness — Transition Voice.

crowd looking up

Photo: jdn.

As our civilization proceeds down the slope of the post-peak-oil curve, global trade will become more and more expensive, so our economies will naturally localize. The energy-efficiency benefits of localized economies are obvious to us, but there are also social and even psycho-social benefits that aren’t often contemplated.

I had the good fortune to work with respected crowd-behavior expert Alan Berkowitz several years ago on a film project about “bystander behavior.” Berkowitz is a psychologist and sociologist who advises, writes, and speaks on bystander behavior, as well as a number of other health and social justice subjects. He founded and edited the Report on Social Norms.

I later interviewed him for my documentary, GrowthBusters: Hooked on Growth. I was curious about why human beings react so irrationally to evidence we are harming our planet and the life support systems on which we depend. “Bystander behavior” or “crowd behavior” theories offer some useful ideas. Berkowitz offers a concise summary in Applications Of Social Norms Theory To Other Health And Social Justice Issues:

Individuals may see that others are not doing anything and assume that there isn’t a problem (social influence), may fear doing something that may cause embarrassment (audience inhibition), or may assume that if they don’t do anything someone else will (diffusion of responsibility).

The phenomenon of “social influence” plays a huge role, in my view. Here’s how it plays out for an ordinary Joe:

One evening Joe sees a film, reads a news report or explores a scientific study that convinces him we are in a global emergency; we are about to drive our civilization off a cliff. The next morning, Joe walks out the door and sees his neighbors carrying on just as they have for the last several years.

As he goes through his day, he is surrounded by people behaving just as they did the day before. Life seems pretty normal. There is no apparent state of emergency. What goes through his head? According to Berkowitz:

“When I don’t see other people doing something, I think, ‘Well maybe it’s not really so bad, its blown out of proportion, because if it was really as bad as you say, someone else would be doing something.”

And so, Joe does nothing, just like the vast majority of people – and for the same reason. This is social influence at work.

Nonetheless, there are many other people around the world, however, who do actually understand that we are in a state of crisis. Many of them are even doing something about it. They are changing the way they live. But they’re spread around the world and therefore pretty invisible to the ordinary Joes out there.

Imagine, however, what will happen as our economies re-localize. Connections will be formed among people who share the same concerns and are similarly motivated. We will be increasingly surrounded by people who are changing their behavior. In such a case, social influence will inspire us to alter our behavior even more.

I’ve experienced this myself, as I’ve engaged more and more in my local Colorado Springs Transition group and in another local group called the Green Cities Coalition. I’ve noted that hanging out with these wonderful folks is changing my own norms. Behavior that might be considered completely normal among a group of stockbrokers (serving food on disposable plates, for example) suddenly becomes embarrassing when you’re mingling with sustainable-living advocates.

Berkowitz explained when I interviewed him:

The presence of other people inhibits the desire to help when there’s confusion about what’s really true for other people. Now let’s take a different situation. Let’s say I grow up in a community where I’m taught very clear values and guidelines about when I’m supposed to help and I know that the other people in my community share my values. We have a well-articulated shared set of values that in this situation we do X. So if you and I are both friends, lifelong friends, we went to high school together, whatever, and we’re driving a car and we see situation X, without even saying anything we’ll both get out of the car and go help because we know that we both share these values that we need to do these things. In this case the presence of other people encourages the desire to help because we have a shared value system.

Who you hang out with can either strengthen sustainable living values or weaken them. I’m not suggesting you avoid groups and friends who don’t share your commitment. In fact, being aware of the power of social influence, you may be able to start raising awareness and shifting values of those groups if you’re clever. Be sure to come back to your tribe frequently for a refill of values affirmation. Then go back out and infect more people with sustainable-living thinking.

Berkowitz offered this observation:

So we live in communities, we’re all walking around feeling unhappy and not allowed to tell each other that we’re all unhappy because we think we’re the only one. So there’s this whole system that maintains … forces us to keep the unhappiness as a secret. Why can’t we admit that we’re good people, we’re trying really hard, we’ve done the right thing and it hasn’t worked? And so we need to rethink some of our fundamental assumptions, like the world isn’t flat, and the sun doesn’t go around the earth and that women are smart enough to exercise the privilege to vote and own property and that the growth paradigm isn’t producing the results it promised us.

As our economies re-localize, our social connections will be reinvigorated, and we’ll find ourselves more and more in touch with others who share our values.

I believe this will serve to accelerate the transition. Many of us are experiencing it already, and we can manage that to our benefit. Hang out with people who reinforce your values and desired behaviors, and invite others in. They may be out there thinking they’re the only ones troubled by what’s going on out there.

Want to know more? This article from Forbes is worthwhile reading on social influence, as is this piece from Scientific American.

This article is based on a piece originally published in Shift magazine.

– Dave Gardner, Transition Voice

Activist Post: Top Adviser To The Chinese Government Calls For A “Global Currency” To Replace The U.S. Dollar

Activist Post: Top Adviser To The Chinese Government Calls For A “Global Currency” To Replace The U.S. Dollar.

Michael Snyder
Activist Post

The former chief economist at the World Bank, Justin Yifu Lin, is advising the Chinese government that the time has come for a single global currency.  Lin, who is also a professor at Peking University, says that the U.S. dollar “is the root cause of global financial and economic crises” and that moving to a “global super-currency” will bring much needed stability to the global financial system. And considering how recklessly the Federal Reserve has been pumping money into the global financial system and how recklessly the U.S. government has been going into debt, it is hard to argue with his logic.

Why would anyone want to trust the United States to continue to run things after how badly we have abused our position? The United States has greatly benefited from having the de factoreserve currency of the planet for the past several decades, but now that era is coming to an end. In fact, the central bank of China has already announced that it will no longer be stockpiling more U.S. dollars.

The rest of the world is getting tired of playing our game. Our debt is wildly out of control and we are creating money as if there was no tomorrow. As the rest of the world starts moving away from the U.S. dollar, global power is going to shift even more to the East, and that is going to have very serious consequences for ordinary Americans.

Sadly, most Americans don’t even realize what is happening. These comments by a top adviser to the Chinese government should have made front page news all over the nation. I had to go to China Daily to find the following excerpt…

The World Bank’s former chief economist wants to replace the US dollar with a single global super-currency, saying it will create a more stable global financial system.

“The dominance of the greenback is the root cause of global financial and economic crises,” Justin Yifu Lin told Bruegel, a Brussels-based policy-research think tank. “The solution to this is to replace the national currency with a global currency.”

Lin, now a professor at Peking University and a leading adviser to the Chinese government, said expanding the basket of major reserve currencies — the dollar, the euro, the Japanese yen and pound sterling — will not address the consequences of a financial crisis. Internationalizing the Chinese currency is not the answer, either, he said.

And this is not the first time that we have heard these kinds of comments coming out of China.  For example, Xinhua News Agency called for a “de-Americanized world” back on October 14th…It is perhaps a good time for the befuddled world to start considering building a de-Americanized world.

That particular news agency is controlled by the Chinese government, and if the Chinese government did not approve of that statement it never would have made it into the paper.

Then in November, the central bank of China announcedthat it is going to stop stockpiling U.S. dollars.

Most Americans don’t want to hear this, but what we are witnessing is a massive shift in global power.  China is catching up to us in a multitude of ways, and they are getting tired of playing second fiddle to the United States. In fact, China is already surpassing the U.S. in a number of key areas…

-China accounts for more global trade than anyone else in the world.

-China imports more oil from Saudi Arabia than anyone else in the world.

-China imports more oil overall than anyone else in the world.

-It is now being projected that Chinese GDP will surpass U.S. GDP in 2017.

When the rest of the world quits using U.S. dollars to trade with one another and quits lending our dollars back to us at ultra-low interest rates, things are going to start changing very rapidly.

In a previous article, I discussed why having the reserve currency of the world is so important to the United States…

The largest exporting nations such as Saudi Arabia (oil) and China (cheap plastic trinkets at Wal-Mart) end up with massive piles of U.S. dollars.

Instead of just sitting on all of that cash, these exporting nations often reinvest much of that cash into low risk securities that can be rapidly turned back into dollars if necessary.

For a very long time, U.S. Treasury bonds have been considered to be the perfect way to do this.  This has created tremendous demand for U.S. government debt and has helped keep interest rates super low.  So every year, massive amounts of money that gets sent out of the country ends up being loaned back to the U.S. Treasury at super low interest rates.

And it has been a very good thing for the U.S. economy that the federal government has been able to borrow money so cheaply, because the interest rate on 10 year U.S. Treasuries affects thousands upon thousands of other interest rates throughout our financial system.  For example, as the rate on 10 year U.S. Treasuries has risen in recent months, so have the rates on U.S. home mortgages.

Our entire way of life in the United States depends upon this game continuing.  We must have the rest of the world use our currency and loan it back to us at ultra low interest rates.  At this point we have painted ourselves into a corner by accumulating so much debt.  We simply cannot afford to have rates rise significantly.

As the rest of the globe moves away from the dollar, demand for the dollar is going to go down and that is going to cause a lot of inflation – especially for imported goods.  So the days of piling lots of cheap plastic stuff made in China into your shopping carts is coming to an end.

And as the rest of the globe moves away from U.S. debt, interest rates are going to go much higher than they are today.  Eventually, the U.S. government will be paying out more than a trillion dollars a year just in interest on the national debt and all loans throughout our entire financial system will have higher interest rates.  This is going to cause economic activity to slow down dramatically.

On the global economic stage, China is playing checkers and we are playing chess, and we are getting dangerously close to checkmate.

Meanwhile, China is also rapidly catching up to us militarily.

At a time when U.S. military spending is actually decreasing, China is spending money on the military aggressively.

In 2014, Chinese military spending will rise to $148 billion, which represents an increase of 6 percent over 2013.

The balance of power is shifting right in front of our eyes.

For example, at one time the U.S. Navy reigned supreme and the Chinese Navy was a joke.

But now that is rapidly changing.  The following is from an article posted on military.com

The Chinese navy has 77 surface combatants, more than 60 submarines, 55 amphibious ships and about 85 missile-equipped small ships, according to the report first published by the U.S. Naval Institute. The report explains that more than 50 naval ships were “laid down, launched or commissioned” in 2013 and a similar number is planned for 2014.

Of particular concern is the growth of the Chinese submarine fleet.  The Chinese now have submarine launched ballistic missiles with a maximum range of about 4,000 miles…

ONI raised concerns about China’s fast-growing submarine force, to include the Jin-class ballistic nuclear submarines, which will likely commence deterrent patrols in 2014, according to the report. The expected operational deployment of the Jin SSBN “would mark China’s first credible at-sea-second-strike nuclear capability,” the report states.

The submarine would fire the JL-2 submarine launched ballistic missile, which has a range of 4,000 nautical miles and would “enable the Jin to strike Hawaii, Alaska and possibly western portions of CONUS [continental United States] from East Asian waters,” ONI assessed.

In addition, China is also working on “hypersonic glide vehicles” that can travel “at speeds of up to Mach 10 or 7,680 miles an hour”.  The following is an excerpt from a recent Washington Free Beacon article…

The Washington Free Beacon first disclosed China’s Jan. 9 flight test of a hypersonic glide vehicle that the Pentagon has called the WU-14.

The experimental weapon is a new strategic strike capability China’s military is developing that is designed to defeat U.S. missile defenses. China could use the vehicle for both nuclear and conventional precision strikes on targets, including aircraft carriers at sea.

U.S. officials said that, while the glide vehicle test was not an intelligence surprise, it showed China is moving much more rapidly than in the past in efforts to research, develop, and test advanced weaponry.

The world is changing, and the United States is not the only superpower anymore.  China is thriving and Russia is also on the rise.  Five years from now, the world is going to look far, far different than it does today.

Sadly, most Americans do not care about these things at all.  Most of them are much more concerned about the latest celebrity scandal or about what Justin Bieber has been doing.

In the end, most Americans will have no idea what is happening until it is far too late to do anything about it.

This article first appeared here at the American Dream.  Michael Snyder is a writer, speaker and activist who writes and edits his own blogs The American Dream and Economic Collapse Blog. Follow him on Twitter here.

Charles Hugh Smith: What If Nations Were Less Dependent on One Another? | Peak Prosperity

Charles Hugh Smith: What If Nations Were Less Dependent on One Another? | Peak Prosperity.

Autarky is more than a ten-dollar word for self-sufficiency, as it implies a number of questions that “self-sufficiency” alone might not.

Autarky vs. Self-Sufficiency

The ability to survive without trade or aid from other nations, for example, is not the same as the ability to reap enormous profits or grow one’s economy without trade with other nations. In other words, ‘self-sufficiency’ in terms of survival does not necessarily imply prosperity, but it does imply freedom of action without dependency on foreign approval, capital, resources, and expertise.

Freedom of action provided by independence/autarky also implies a pivotal reduction in vulnerability to foreign control of the cost and/or availability of essentials such as food and energy, and the resulting power of providers to blackmail or influence national priorities and policies.

Where self-sufficiency might suggest a binary state – you’re either self-sufficient or you’re not – autarky invites an exploration of which parts of one’s economy and political order are self-sufficient and which ones are critically dependent on foreign approval, capital, resources, and expertise.

In terms of military freedom of action, some nations are able to commit military forces and project power without the aid or approval of other nations. These nations have military autarky, though they might be entirely dependent on foreign countries for critical resources, capital, expertise, etc.

In this case, though their military may be self-sufficient in terms of capabilities (power projection, control of airspace, etc.), any dependency in other critical areas introduces an element of political, financial, or resource vulnerability should the key suppliers disapprove of a military action. These vulnerabilities impose often-ambiguous but nonetheless very real limits on freedom of action.

The key take-away from this brief overview is that autarky has two distinct states. One is absolute: i.e., Can a nation grow, process, and distribute enough food to feed its population if trade with other nations ceased?, and the other is relative: Is the we-can-feed-ourselves self-sufficiency of the subsistence-survival variety that requires great sacrifice and a drastic re-ordering of national priorities and capital? Or is it relatively painless in terms of national sacrifices and priorities?

Clearly, relative autarky invokes a series of trade-offs: Is the freedom of action and reduction in vulnerability gained by increasing autarky worth a national re-ordering of values, priorities, and capital, and quite possibly broad-based, long-term sacrifices?

There is an additional issue raised by autarky: Is the self-sufficiency a matter of being blessed with abundant resources, or is it the result of conscious national policy and resolve?

Autarky as Policy

Consider petroleum/fossil fuels as an example. Nations blessed with large reserves of fossil fuels are self-sufficient in terms of their own consumption, but the value of their resources on the international market generally leads to dependence on exports of oil/gas to fund the government, political elites, and general welfare. This dependence on the revenues derived from exporting oil/gas leads to what is known as the resource curse: The rest of the oil-exporting nation’s economy withers as capital and political favoritism concentrate on the revenues of exporting oil, and this distortion of the political order leads to cronyism, corruption, and misallocation of national wealth on a scale so vast that nations suffering from an abundance of marketable resources often decline into poverty and instability.

The other path to autarky is selecting and funding policies designed to directly increase self-sufficiency. One example might be Germany’s pursuit of alternative energy via state policies such as subsidies.

That policy-driven autarky requires trade-offs is apparent in Germany’s relative success in growing alternative energy production; the subsidies that have incentivized alternative energy production are now seen as costing more than the presumed gain in self-sufficiency, as fossil-fueled power generation is still needed as backup for fluctuating alt-energy production.

Though dependence on foreign energy has been lowered, Germany remains entirely dependent on its foreign energy suppliers, and as costs of that energy rise, Germany’s position as a competitive industrial powerhouse is being threatened: Industrial production is moving out of Germany to locales with lower energy costs, including the U.S. (Source)

The increase in domestic energy production was intended to reduce the vulnerability implicit in dependence on foreign energy providers, yet the increase in domestic energy production has not yet reached the critical threshold where vulnerability to price shocks has been significantly reduced.

Assessing the Trade-Offs

This highlights the critical nature of the autarchic thresholds of systemic costs and freedom of action. Above a difficult-to-define threshold, the trade-off required to increase self-sufficiency to the point of being meaningful is too high in sacrifice or cost to the economy or society; the trade-offs required aren’t worth the gain in freedom of action and self-sufficiency.

Put another way: Below a difficult-to-define threshold, an increase in self-sufficiency does not yield either lower or more reliable economic costs, nor does it decrease the nation’s vulnerability to blackmail, price shocks, etc.

In other words, though dependence always has potentially negative consequences, it can also be cheaper, more convenient, and more profitable than autarky.

The diffused benefits of autarky are often overshadowed by the presumed burdens of increasing self-sufficiency. But this trade-off can be illusory. Though the status-quo players benefiting from dependence on foreign markets, trade, and capital will shrilly claim that the nation is doomed should their foreign-derived profits be sacrificed in favor of increasing autarky, a desire for more autarky often pushes the economy and society into a highly positive and productive search for greater efficiencies and more productive uses of capital.

Is the sacrifice needed to reach self-sufficiency as steep as presumed, or is a new order of efficiency enough to meaningfully reduce dependence on foreign resources and capital?

A Thought Experiment in American Autarky

If we look at America’s consumption of fossil fuels and its dependence on oil imports to feed its consumption, autarky forces us to ask: Exactly how difficult would it be to lower consumption enough to eliminate the need for imported oil? Would the economy suffer a death-blow if vehicle, heating, and appliance-efficiency standards were raised, and business travel declined in favor of telecommuting and teleconferencing, etc.?

The answer of those profiting from the status quo is, of course, “Yes, the U.S. will be fatally harmed if energy consumption declines,” but the reality is that such creative destruction of wasteful inefficiencies and consumption is the heart of free enterprise and the rising productivity that creates widespread prosperity.

If the U.S. had listened to the 1970s-era defenders-of-the-status-quo doomsdayers, who claimed that environmental codes and higher energy-efficiency standards would doom the nation, the U.S. economy would in fact be doomed by the absurdly inefficient energy consumption of that era. The U.S. economy has remained vibrant and productive precisely because the defenders-of-the-status-quo doomsdayers lost the political conflict between the forces of improved efficiency and productivity and the defenders of the inefficient, wasteful, and diminishing-returns status quo.

There is one other element in the calculus of dependence, vulnerability, and freedom of action implicit in any discussion of autarky. Despite the rapid increase in production of oil and gas in the U.S., America remains dependent on imports of oil. But not all foreign sources of oil, capital, expertise, etc. are equal; some suppliers may be stable, close allies, and share borders and standards of trade (for example: Canada, Mexico, and the U.S.), while others may be distant, unstable, and unreliable.

In other words, autarky may not be worth the cost if a nation is dependent on stable, close neighbors, but the value of autarky rises very quickly when a nation’s survival is dependent on distant, unstable nations with few ties other than the profitable export of resources.

Though a survey of America’s relative dependence and self-sufficiency would require a book, let’s look at a few charts to get a taste of America’s declining dependence on foreign-supplied oil.

Declines in consumption have the same effect in terms of reducing dependency as do increases in domestic production. Has the U.S. economy imploded as miles driven have declined? Or has the increased efficiency this implies boosted productivity?

U.S. imports of petroleum have declined:

U.S. domestic crude oil production has increased:

U.S. natural gas production has risen:

The U.S. oil/gas rig count is still far lower than the peak in the 1980s:

There are many issues raised by these charts, including the sustainability of increased production, the possibility of further declines in consumption, policies that affect production and consumption, and so on, but similar charts of grain, capital, expertise, goods, etc. would help to fill out the complex set of issues raised by declining consumption and increasing domestic production and productivity.

In finance, dependence can mean dependence on other nations for capital and/or profits. What is the consequence of rising autarky for an economy such as America’s that is heavily dependent on foreign markets and trade for the stupendous profitability of its corporations?

In Part II: The Consequences of American Autarky, we discuss this and other ramifications of America’s rising autarky.

America’s ability to project power and maintain its freedom of action both presume a network of diplomatic, military, and economic alliances and trading relationships which have (not coincidentally) fueled American corporation’s unprecedented profits.

The recent past has created an assumption that the U.S. can only prosper if it imports oil, goods, and services on a vast scale. Could the U.S. shift production from overseas to domestic suppliers, and reduce its consumption of oil and other resources imported from other nations?

Click here to access Part II of this report (free executive summary; enrollment required for full access).

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