Published on The Doomstead Diner on June 19, 2016
Discuss this article at the Economics Table inside the Diner
A while back I wrote a 5 part series analyzing the relationship between Money, Energy, Waste and Thermodynamics I titled "The Money Valve". The effort there was to show that the way the monetary system works is to regulate the downhill flow of an energy stock as it is dissipated and turned into waste of various kinds. The physical waste that stacks up in landfills, the CO2 that collects in the atmosphere, the pollution that works its way into the groundwater, rivers, lakes and finally into the biggest toilet of them all, the world oceans, etc.
I looked at the major players in this game, Goobermints, Banks, Industry, the Military and Consumers, but I missed a very important connection. How the War Machine itself directly produces Waste! In fucking COPIOUS QUANTITY AND FAST!
This came to me in another epiphany when I was considering how Mother Russia has recently been upgrading and increasing it's Military power in a number of areas, due to the constant and increasing threat from NATO on its borders. NATO is moving missiles into states bordering Russia which were formerly part of the old Soviet Union, and in response the Ruskies have formed up entirely new divisions to drop on these borders also. It's not just manpower they're ramping up here, they're upgrading their jets and boats and coming up with their own hi-tech drone systems as well.
Besides those investments in military personnel and hardware, they're doing NATO one better in the Death From Above campaign against ISIS down in Syria, which is no cheap operation. Where is all the money coming from for this bizness, which does not have any direct form of revenue coming out of it? It's not like Mother Russia is swimming in cash these days, like the other Oil exporting nations their budget has been hit hard by the collapse in oil prices. Nevertheless, over the last 15 years, Mother Russia has somehow found the money to keep upgrading their military hardware, apparently actually doing better with this task than NATO and the FSoA. Their new Jets apparently actually WORK, unlike the F-35s.
WAIT A MINUTE! Didn't we CRUSH the Ruskies back in the 90s? Where does a crushed Empire get all the money they need to build still more cool War Toys? Not only are they building more and better war toys, they are doing it mostly over the last 15 years, when just about everywhere in the world the economies are going down the fucking TOILET! WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE?!?!?
What I conclude from this is that the Ruskies are financing this operation on their own credit, issued out in Roubles. Unlike consumer goods, the Ruskies manufacture all their own military hardware. They have their own oil to run all the manufacturing processes, and they either have their own steel mills or they can get steel from the Chinese, who are oversupplied with the stuff. They can direct barter Oil for Steel with the Chinese, who also can supply them with all the electronics they might need which they don't have manufacturing facilities for.
Similarly, the Chinese are also ramping up their military, also in response to NATO aggression. Not only are they building an Aircraft Carrier, they're also building artificial Islands in the South China Sea for uses as military bases in a projected conflict over those shipping lanes with the Nipponese, along with potential Oil drilling in that neighborhood. The're also building up their own new generation of Tanks and Attack Helicopters to improve the hardware end of their Million Man standing army, the largest in the world. Even though Chinese soldiers likely get paid a good deal less than their NATO counterparts, that is still a hefty payroll every month.
Now, unlike the Ruskies, going into the downturn in the economics the Chinese had a healthy pile of savings and a positive trade balance, but economically things aren't going all that well for them these days either. Even at Low, Low Prices Every Day, the toys just aren't moving very fast off the shelves at Walmart. The carz aren't moving too fast off the lots either, despite the low gas prices and the fact they will give anyone who can fog a mirror a car loan. Those LIAR loans have kept car sales floating the last couple of years, but now it's REPO time on all the folks who drove one of these vehicles off the showroom floor and now can't meet the payments on their Starbucks Barrista jobs.
So in theory here the Chinese should not be flush with money to build out their military, anymore than the Ruskies or in fact NATO and the FSoA either. There isn't a country in the stew here that isn't fantastically in debt, but all the Big Boys are cranking out more and bigger and faster and more lethal war toys every day here! Not only are they cranking them out a terrific pace to suit up their own armies, they are selling these weapons to still more smaller client states who are themselves also of course, TOTALLY BROKE!
HTF is this bit of Magic performed? The Smoke & Mirrors of Vendor Financing of course, and the TBTF Banks conjure up the money as necessary for everyone to build new War Toys, and essentially it becomes a casino betting parlor where they are wagering on who is gonna win the projected war and which country will then get raided, raped and pillaged for its assets.
This has been the model we have been working with on the Military-Banking level basically since at least the time of the Roman Empire, and in fact it is pretty much what the entire economy has been based on since that time. You see, nothing wastes resources faster than War does, so if the economy is otherwise moribund, War gets the engine chugging again. Or at least it has in the past anyhow, just look at how WWII got everything moving again after the Great Depression!
So now we can answer the question: What is War Good For?
It's good for the ECONOMY, stupid! lol.
At least it is good for a Waste Based Economy, which is the only type of economy Homo Saps have run since Agriculture supplanted H-G living.
What War does is to DESTROY much if not all of what was built before, which then means it must all be REBUILT! That provides a lot of new jobs! In our current situation, at least in the 1st World, we have a SURPLUS of housing. You might not believe that since there are so many homeless people, but it's true. The problem for the homeless is not that the housing doesn't exist for them, the problem is they can't AFFORD that housing.
The next thing that War does is to disproportionately remove a large slice of the Poor population, from both the sides of the Winners and Losers of the War. It is the poor mostly conscripted as grunts used as Cannon Fodder in Wars, and the poor also suffer the most civilian casualties. They can't get out of the way. The wealthy people in a society generally can find somewhere to run and hide until the war is over.
In Biblical terms, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Famine, Pestilence, War and Death took a 25% cut of the Homo Sap population each time they showed up.
8 And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.
In recent Wars, even really big ones like WWII, the cut has not been nearly so large. Estimated deaths in WWII are put at around 60M, which is only 3% of the estmated Global Population in 1940 of around 2.3B. The War of Northern Aggression (aka the Civil War) is estimated to have culled 620,000 out of an FSoA population estimated at 31M at the time, for only 2%. This is Chump Change by Biblical Standards.
If we projected a 25% mortality rate for WWIII, it would come to around 1.2B people, thus reducing the Global Population to around 6B. Going by the numbers from last week's Renewable Energy Survey, this would not be sufficient to reduce the population to the 1B Homo Saps that most Kollapsniks think is a sustainable number, but it might be enough to drop down to a lower standard of living and plateau out for a while.
The infrastructure destruction would be so vast that we would be FORCED into building all new infrastructure. All the oil platforms, rigs and refineries will have been destroyed at least by conventional weapons if not by Nukes. All the electric power plants and hydro dams, blown also. What remains of major cities would be unlivable.
On first considering this you might say, "With all that knocked out, the remaining population would shrink rapidly", and that might be the case. But it might not also. Why not?
Well, once full blown WWIII is in progress, we will also get full on Martial Law and a Command Economy. People won't have a CHOICE as to whether to stay in a Big Shity or not, they will be FORCED to leave. Where would they be sent to? Out to Goobermint run Farms on land owned currently by ConAgra, Archer Daniels Midland and Monsanto. There they would provide the labor to continue producing food as the diesel for the tractors and the combines starts to run short.
Other teams of workers would be assembled to go Scavenging, pulling Wiring and Piping from bombed out McMansions and Office Buildings and Car Alternators and Batteries from gas starved abandoned cars. A few engines will get scavenged to run on biofuels. New housing will need to be constructed near the fields where the food is grown. Probably Tiny Homes and small Geodesic Domes which can be moved around as necessary, pulled by Animal Labor or the few tractors around running on Biofuels. Where there were no jobs before, now there will be TONS of jobs available in this New Economy, just as after WWII there was an explosion of jobs for rebuilding Europe under the Marshall Plan.
Of course, just as then some system of Credit will need to be implemented if the rebuild is to be done on National Scale. That may or may not be possible in this situation, but also possible is for the rebuild to begin as a national wartime effort, and then gradually break up into smaller Regions each doing their own rebuilds under their own economic system, whatever that might be for a given neighborhood.
In the aftermath of a really BIG War with a lot of Death & Destruction, the surviving population doesn't generally have the stomach for more war for quite a while. 10 to 20 years at least in general. Besides, they are too Bizzy trying to rebuild and make a go of it then to go battling against other people who are just as bad off as they are.
In our discussion on the Renewable Energy Survey last week, Ugo Bardi mentioned the term "Creative Destruction". That we are headed for a period of almost unimginable destruction in the years ahead is a virtual lock at this point, but that is no guarantee there won't be at least one more rebuild after this latest in Civilization Failures.
I am pretty certain that the people who were alive when Babylon was destroyed and the people who were alive when Rome was sacked thought it was the end of all things. Certainly whoever it was that wrote Revelation 18 thought it was the end of all things.
1 And after these things I saw another angel come down from heaven, having great power; and the earth was lightened with his glory.
2 And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird.
3 For all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies.
4 And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.
5 For her sins have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities.
6 Reward her even as she rewarded you, and double unto her double according to her works: in the cup which she hath filled fill to her double.
7 How much she hath glorified herself, and lived deliciously, so much torment and sorrow give her: for she saith in her heart, I sit a queen, and am no widow, and shall see no sorrow.
8 Therefore shall her plagues come in one day, death, and mourning, and famine; and she shall be utterly burned with fire: for strong is the Lord God who judgeth her.
9 And the kings of the earth, who have committed fornication and lived deliciously with her, shall bewail her, and lament for her, when they shall see the smoke of her burning,
10 Standing afar off for the fear of her torment, saying, Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city! for in one hour is thy judgment come.
11 And the merchants of the earth shall weep and mourn over her; for no man buyeth their merchandise any more:
12 The merchandise of gold, and silver, and precious stones, and of pearls, and fine linen, and purple, and silk, and scarlet, and all thyine wood, and all manner vessels of ivory, and all manner vessels of most precious wood, and of brass, and iron, and marble,
13 And cinnamon, and odours, and ointments, and frankincense, and wine, and oil, and fine flour, and wheat, and beasts, and sheep, and horses, and chariots, and slaves, and souls of men.
14 And the fruits that thy soul lusted after are departed from thee, and all things which were dainty and goodly are departed from thee, and thou shalt find them no more at all.
15 The merchants of these things, which were made rich by her, shall stand afar off for the fear of her torment, weeping and wailing,
16 And saying, Alas, alas, that great city, that was clothed in fine linen, and purple, and scarlet, and decked with gold, and precious stones, and pearls!
17 For in one hour so great riches is come to nought. And every shipmaster, and all the company in ships, and sailors, and as many as trade by sea, stood afar off,
18 And cried when they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, What city is like unto this great city!
19 And they cast dust on their heads, and cried, weeping and wailing, saying, Alas, alas, that great city, wherein were made rich all that had ships in the sea by reason of her costliness! for in one hour is she made desolate.
20 Rejoice over her, thou heaven, and ye holy apostles and prophets; for God hath avenged you on her.
21 And a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone, and cast it into the sea, saying, Thus with violence shall that great city Babylon be thrown down, and shall be found no more at all.
22 And the voice of harpers, and musicians, and of pipers, and trumpeters, shall be heard no more at all in thee; and no craftsman, of whatsoever craft he be, shall be found any more in thee; and the sound of a millstone shall be heard no more at all in thee;
23 And the light of a candle shall shine no more at all in thee; and the voice of the bridegroom and of the bride shall be heard no more at all in thee: for thy merchants were the great men of the earth; for by thy sorceries were all nations deceived.
24 And in her was found the blood of prophets, and of saints, and of all that were slain upon the earth.
Regardless how bad it was when Babylon went down, the city itself was rebuilt several times over. As bad condition as they are in today, there still ARE people living in Baghdad, which is only around 53 miles north of the site of Babylon. Also, for as many as who have died in that hell hole in recent years, there are still more people living there today than at the height of the Babylonian Empire, when the Babylon might have held 200,000 people.
Now, do I think the rebuild of some form of "civilization" in the aftermath of WWIII will be a continuation of the cycle of Creative Destruction followed by ever bigger Rebuilds with each new iteration of the cycle? No, I don't believe that at all.
Each successive iteration of civilization got bigger because in each iteration the societies were able to access more and more energy, culminating in the latest iteration where Western Civilization accessed the Thermodynamic energy in stored Fossil Fuels, beginning first in Jolly Old England with the Steam Engines used to pump water out of the Coal Mines. In the 3 centuries following that, we've managed to burn through millions of years worth of this stuff and depleted just about all of the easily accesible reservoirs. WWIII will make it just about impossible to access the hard to reach and expensive to drag up stuff still left. Regardless of whether we get some forms of Renewable Energy up and running or not, the civilization that might follow this one will be working ith a substantially lower energy throughput, and therefore necessarily will only support a smaller population. So instead of getting larger with each iteration, in the future each iteration is likely to get smaller, until it reaches some level at which the energy that can be collected daily from the SUN☼ and Geothermal sources matches the size of the population of Homo Sap walking the earth at any given time.
Does this mean an inevitable spiral downward to EXTINCTION? Well, that is certainly one possibility, but not the most likely one, at least in the Near Term. More likely is we go through successive iterations of population reduction, along with successive iterations of reductions of land mass available with suitable habitat for Homo Saps, given we also have a climate change issue ongoing here. Current Coastal areas will be increasingly uninhabitable, forcing more migrations to areas further inland on all continents. Places they are trying to migrate to won't be doing too good either, setting up battles between current residents and migrants. You already see that underway in Europe of course, So instead of migrating in the furure, they will Stay Where They Lay. They will die where they were born.
This process is unlikely to occur over decades, more likely centuries of time. DEFINITELY unlikely it occurs over the timelines pitched out by Dr. McStinksion from Nature Bats Last, last recorded at around 2020 for a full WIPEOUT of all Hom Saps on Earth. Along with other HOPELESS DESPAIROIN addicts like Carolyn Baker and Deb Ozarko, these folks wallow in misery and self-pity, Hospicing themselves as they wait in impotence for their presumed premature deaths in the Near Term.
What about the rest of us though? Do we all need to sink into self-indulgent misery and drag others down the Black Hole of depression and hopelessness? With whatever time you might have left on Earth, WTF wants to live like that? There are all sorts of avenues open for you to TRY here to keep your clock ticking and do the best you can in a bad situation. If anyone is going to come through this mess, it most certainly will NOT be QUITTERS like Guy McPherson, Carolyn Baker and Deb Ozarko. On the fairly slim chance they happen to be right and everyone will be dead 4 years from now, it's still better to go out fighting then curl up in ball and tearfully wait for your inevitable death.
Tough times are ahead. You have two choices here, you can give up Hope and consign yourself to Death in the Near Term, or you can FIGHT TO SURVIVE A few million years ago during the Pleiocene-Eocene Thermal Maxima, a few of our ancestors, small mammals who burrowed underground SURVIVED, while all the Dinosaurs DIED. You can be a MOLE and LIVE, or you can be a DINOSAUR and DIE. Which do you choose?
Here on the Diner, we are the Moles. On Nature Bats Last, they are the Dinosaurs. So be it. So it was written, so it shall be done. Quitters Shall NOT Inherit the Earth.
WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH, THE TOUGH GET GOING.