Is this present era really coming to an end?
Somewhere in my aged brain cells is the memory of having heard that humans are great lovers of patterns. In other words, patterns are deemed to be very important for the progress and evolution of homo sapiens. Of course, it is not just humans who learn from patterns; I’m sure most of the animals who live around us are great pattern matchers. To support that proposition, anyone who has owned a dog or cat will have spotted how quickly they learn patterns. (As an aside, some months ago our puppy German Shepherd, Cleo, work me at around 4am because she needed to go outside for a ‘call of nature’. I now get woken every single night variously between 2am and 5am for Cleo’s benefit!)
The British mathematician G. H. Hardy who lived from the last quarter of the 19th Century well into the 20th Century, reputedly said (and I cheated and looked it up!):
A mathematician, like a painter or poet, is a maker of patterns. If his patterns are more permanent than theirs, it is because they are made with ideas.
So why has this post opened with the theme of patterns? Because, call it coincidence or what, within the last couple of weeks there have been three articles, each from very a different source, predicting that the present levels of inequality in society are both unsustainable and the beginning of the end.
Global wealth inequality: top 1% own 41%; top 10% own 86%; bottom half own just 1%
Just 8.4% of all the 5bn adults in the world own 83.4% of all household wealth (that’s property and financial assets, like stocks, shares and cash in the bank). About 393 million people have net worth (that’s wealth after all debt is accounted for) of over $100,000, that’s 10% own 86% of all household wealth! But $100,000 may not seem that much, if you own a house in any G7 country without any mortgage. So many millions in the UK or the US are in the top 10% of global wealth holders. This shows just how little two-thirds of adults in the world have – under $10,000 of net wealth each and billions have nothing at all.
This is not annual income but just wealth – in other words, 3.2bn adults own virtually nothing at all. At the other end of the spectrum, just 32m people own $98trn in wealth or 41% of all household wealth or more than $1m each. And just 98,700 people with ‘ultra-high net worth’ have more than $50 million each and of these 33,900 are worth over $100 million each. Half of these super-rich live in the US.
Michael Robert’s essay closes:
All class societies have generated extremes of inequality in wealth and income. That is the point of a rich elite (whether feudal landlords, Asiatic warlords, Incan and Egyptian religious castes, Roman slave owners, etc) usurping control of the surplus produced by labour. But past class societies considered that normal and ‘god-given’. Capitalism on the other hand talks about free markets, equal exchange and equality of opportunity. But the reality is no different from previous class societies.
Secondly, just last Friday I was drawn to an essay on, of all places, The Permaculture Research Institute blog. The essay, by Chris Hedges (**), was called On Inequality and the Collapse of Globalization. Chris Hedges opened his essay, thus:
The uprisings in the Middle East, the unrest that is tearing apart nations such as the Ivory Coast, the bubbling discontent in Greece, Ireland and Britain and the labor disputes in states such as Wisconsin and Ohio presage the collapse of globalization. They presage a world where vital resources, including food and water, jobs and security, are becoming scarcer and harder to obtain. They presage growing misery for hundreds of millions of people who find themselves trapped in failed states, suffering escalating violence and crippling poverty. They presage increasingly draconian controls and force—take a look at what is being done to Pfc. Bradley Manning—used to protect the corporate elite who are orchestrating our demise.
We must embrace, and embrace rapidly, a radical new ethic of simplicity and rigorous protection of our ecosystem—especially the climate—or we will all be holding on to life by our fingertips. We must rebuild radical socialist movements that demand that the resources of the state and the nation provide for the welfare of all citizens and the heavy hand of state power be employed to prohibit the plunder by the corporate power elite. We must view the corporate capitalists who have seized control of our money, our food, our energy, our education, our press, our health care system and our governance as mortal enemies to be vanquished.
The PRI editor’s preamble to the Chris Hedges essay included a couple of videos that he recommended watching. One was a talk by Robert Reich: How Unequal Can America Get Before We Snap?
The other one was a recent TED Talk by Richard Wilkinson (his profile is here).
Mr. Wilkinson explains that for the majority of people there is an instinctive feeling that societies with huge income gaps and corresponding high levels of social inequality are somehow going wrong. He charts the hard data on such economic inequality and shows what gets worse when rich and poor are too far apart: ergo, the very real effects on health, lifespan, and even such basic values as trust.
Just 16 minutes long, it’s a very revealing talk. Do watch it.
The final, third piece of the pattern was me coming across an essay on the blog DeflationLand, not a blog I had come across before, on the same day that I saw the PRI article. This essay, published just two days before the PRI article, was about patterns; the patterns of the centuries. More specifically, how the characteristics of a century generally evolve to a new culture within the first 10 to 15 years of the following century. It was a most interesting proposition and, to my delight, I was given permission to republish that essay here on Learning from Dogs. So here it is.
Why I stopped worrying and learned to love the currency collapse
For the past 300 years, the historical pattern has been for the era marked by a century to continue into the following century by fourteen or fifteen years. Let me explain. Everyone knows that the 19th Century, its uprightness, its optimism and sense of purpose, the halcyon days of British Empire, came to an end with World War I, starting in 1914 and building to a nasty crescendo by 1916. The 20th Century had arrived, and it had some real horrors in store for us.
But if we return back another hundred years, we notice that the 18th Century ends in 1815 with the final defeat of Napoleon, that final project of the Enlightenment and of the French Revolution. With the Congress of Vienna in 1814-1815, we have a new Europe along the lines of Metternich’s plan, and the 19th Century at last is here.
In 1713 and 1714, we have the Treaties of Utrecht, Baden, and Rastatt, bringing an end to the era of Spain as a major power, and the rise of the Habsburgs. Louis XIV dies in 1715, after reigning for 72 years. The Baroque period is over, and we are now firmly in the 18th Century.
We still live in the 20th Century. Nothing much significant has changed in our lives in the past twenty years. Symptoms of a deeper rot are appearing here and there, foreshadowing a larger crisis, but the crisis itself has not arrived yet. We still live in an era of Pax Americana, the old republic very much a strained and tired Empire now, with the U.S. Dollar as the world’s reserve currency.
That is going to change.
The next task for History is to dismantle the untenable structures and institutions put in place by late Modernity, which have been extended now as far as they can go. Our debt-based monetary system will collapse, our unbacked fiats will be worthless. The debts and unmeetable obligations will all default.
There are ironies and great contradictions as the former home and hope of Liberty becomes viciously unfree and increasingly despotic. Our leaders no longer govern, but try instead to rule us — they are less legitimate with each passing day, their laws corrupt or worse. They are nearly finished, and will be swept away with the tide.
Just as in 1914, the internationalist system will break down, dashing the hopes of the would-be first-world nations. We will probably have a pretty good war as well, or many local ones worldwide. These transitions tend to involve war.
Deflation first — it clears the way for the complete loss of faith and hyperinflation that will follow. The next big wave down in the financial markets is the battering ram. The U.S. national debt is about faith, so is quantitative easing, and so is the very idea of magical coins that could ever be “worth” a trillion dollars. When this faith breaks, in concert with loss of faith in perpetual growth and unlimited cheap energy, then things will move very, very quickly.
There is nothing any of us can do at this point, except navigate the rapids as well as possible, and to stay out of the way of a dying empire, which is still very dangerous in its death throes. We are actually very privileged to be alive and witnessing this next transition, to what we do not know just yet. But what an honor to live at this time, not in ignorance but with an existential resolve to come out of it alive and much the wiser.
** Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize–winning author and former international correspondent for the New York Times. His latest book is The World As It Is: Dispatches on the Myth of Human Progress.
I am neither a scientist nor a historian; just someone who has lived in and observed the world for coming on for 60 years.
So you have to understand that my prediction is hardly worth the ‘paper I write upon’ (which certainly dates me!). But, undaunted, here are my predictions for the 21st Century:
- That the power of internet communications will allow more people, more quickly, to find their soul-mates wherever they are on this planet.
- That the realisation of how dysfunctional many Governments are, of how truly poorly they serve the majorities of their citizens, will lead to mass rejections of these so-called Governments’ policies. Such rejections predominantly peaceful, as in taking the horse to water but being unable to make it drink.
- That there will be a new form of localism. At two levels. Literally, people geographically close to each other creating 21st C. versions of local communities. Virtually, those local communities linking to other like-minded communities right across the world resulting in highly effective and innovative learning, accelerated common-sense, (call it wisdom if you wish), and extraordinarily efficient and sustainable ways of living on this planet.
What do you think?