Friday File: Inevitable Collapse and the Story of Progress

Some big picture thoughts on "what has to happen"... plus a new mutual fund to consider, and some minor updates

By Travis Johnson, Stock Gumshoe, March 3, 2017

I spent last week vacationing in Sarasota, Florida, near the old stomping grounds of one of my favorite authors, John D. MacDonald… so I ended up re-reading several volumes of his Travis McGee series as part of my vacation escape from the world.

But MacDonald always included some social or environmental commentary in his novels, so one can’t escape the world entirely… and one bit really caught my eye that I thought worth sharing with you. This is a bit of commentary from McGee’s friend and neighbor Meyer, a wise and hirsute economist who also spends much of his time lolling in the Florida sun:

“These are bad days for an economist, my friend. We have gone past the frontiers of theory. There is nothing left but one huge ugly fact. There is a debt of perhaps two trillion dollars out there, owed by governments to governments, by governments to banks, and there is not one chance in hell it can ever be paid back. There is not enough productive capacity in the world, plus enough raw materials, to provide maintenance of plant plus enough coverage even to keep up with the mounting interest.”

“What happens?” (McGee responds) “It gets written off?”

He looked at me with a pitying expression. “all the major world currencies will collapse. Trade will cease. Without trade, without the mechanical-scientific apparatus running, the planet won’t support its four billion people, or perhaps even half that. Agribusiness feeds the world. Hydrocarbon utilization heats and houses and clothes the people. There will be fear, hate, anger, death. The new barbarism. There will be plague and poison. And then the new Dark Ages”

“Should I pack?”

“Go ahead. Scoff. What the sane people and sane governments are trying to do is scuffle a little more breathing space, a little more time, before the collapse.”

“How much time have we got?”

“If nobody pushes the wrong button or puts a bomb under the wrong castle, I would give us five more years at worst, twelve at best. What is triggering it is the crisis of reduced expectations. All over the world people are suddenly coming to realize that their children and grandchildren are going to have it worse than they did, that the trend line is down. So they want to blame somebody. They want to hoot and holler in the streets and burn something down.”

“Whose ...

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