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The challenges of powering down

mike's picture

Markets are the most inefficient way of doing anything. It's free markets that got us into this mess in the first place, because when supply far far exceeds demand, commodities are so cheap they are squandered. This is exactly what happened to oil. And water. And farming land.

Now, and quite suddenly, population pressures are exposing all the cracks. We no longer have this super abundance, and the market's way of dealing with this is to increase prices, the idea being to decrease demand. Unfortunately, the high demand is no longer caused by over abundance, it's caused by [per capita] shortages, and the market does not know how to cope with this. It simply does not compute, growth is sacrosanct. Now I realise we 'need' growth merely to pay the interest on the accruing debts the market needs to create more 'stuff', it is fast becoming evident that growth must stop. It will stop. Growth simply cannot go on forever in a closed system [like Planet Earth]. It's immaterial whether we want to end growth or not, it simply will, just like a cancer dies when it kills its host.

Humans did not evolve in markets and money. Money and markets are not in our genes. Money and markets are social constructions.

No a-priori reason exists why people must work to live. Without money, markets or the requirement to work, we would not need banks, insurance companies or most of the institutions we have today.

The market economises "money", not natural resources. Ninety percent of the natural resources used in this country are wasted on the overhead because people are required to work in order to live. I reckon 10% of the population could do all the essential work that actually needs to be done.

Australians' diets require something like 3,500 food calories each day, yet in our idiotic Rube Goldberg social system we are actually consuming, when all energy is taken into consideration, something like 200,000 calories every day! [see below]. Clearly, the "market economy" is the most inefficient organization in the history of the world!

The only technical way to reduce natural resource consumption by at least 90% is to put everyone except those with critical jobs on welfare. Forgive debt. Almost everyone would stay home and practice birth control and Permaculture. See SOCIETY OF SLOTH: A Thought Experiment
By Jay Hanson, spring, 1999 at

See also Mike Stasse interviewed on U-tube, John Quiggin's failure to grasp the resources shortage crisis

Image icon Mike_stasse_little.jpg3.1 KB


Mike, although your idea of putting anyone not working in an essential job on welfare might even seem appealing to some, it's also something that won't happen on a voluntary basis. Not by employers certainly, but not by Governments either. I say this for one obvious would such a proposal be funded?

One of the biggest users of energy is the mining sector. The mining sector is also one of the few reasons Australia is enjoying it's current prosperity. Sales of our gas and commodities have a flow-down effect that have provided money for people to buy and build their McMansions, to drive their flashy cars and keep their children in private schools. Whilst in theory, it would be possible to place all non essential worker on welfare tomorrow, it would eventually be a loose, loose situation as funding dwindled away.

It must be fairly obvious that the Government will never consider such an option, however, that doesn't mean it isn't right around the next corner. In an interview between Astrid Schneider and Fatih Birol on todays Energy Bulletin, Birol, of the IEA predicts a dire future in the coming years and we're not talking about 20 - 30 years. It's looking increasingly likely that we, as a Nation, will have to face up to petroleum shortages before 2012. The knock-on effect of that will see an economic collapse. First will go employment considered not to be of any relative importance to life, such as certain sectors of IT, sales, insurance, etc. First to go will probably be the service sector such as dog washing, wheelie bin cleaning, home maintenance and the like. Next round will see the loss of public servants, small manufacturers, builders and retail staff. The trickle down effect will spare nobody until all that is left are those working in essential services such as nursing, the police force and armed defense. Eventually, even some of the latter might be considered non-essential.

Welfare is already struggling. Just a slight increase at the pump will see it struggle more as families find it impossible to fill the tank to get to work and provide the other necessities of life. The Government will be powerless to intervene and life will, for some, become a race to the bottom. With that will come lawlessness, drugs grown and manufactured in Australia will become more valuable then gold and life on the streets will be fraught with danger as those with enough strength rob from those who are weak.

At some time in the not too distant future, people like myself may be forced to decide when the cost of fuel to get me to and from work is no longer worth going to work in the first place. It's a scary thought, although I believe petrol/fuel rationing will be introduced first. That alone might mean that more people will have to down size as they find it impossible to drive long distances to work every day, working every other day or when ever they can obtain enough fuel. At this point, perhaps your idea of forgiving debt might become palatable to the government. Not a good look to have street after street filled with discarded personal effects as members of the Sherrif's Department toss defaulting home owners out and change the locks. That might work now, but in a few more years it will become obvious, even to our sightless governments and especially when half the occupants of major cities are left to wander the streets.

Well, that's my two bobs worth. Time to get ready to drive to work. I really don't have much choice.

mike's picture

Hi Aime, thanks for the thoughtful response. However, I must take you to task over the claim that the mining boom is responsible for the nation's prosperity. The money used by those who have built McMansions did NOT come from this boom, it came out of thin air, called debt. The mining boom has enriched the wealthy share holders, but I doubt they would have invested too much in housing, otherwise we would not have the current shortages.

Re welfare, it's always bugged me how it's given such a bad rap. Just what do you think people on welfare spend their money on? Holidays to the Bahamas? Of course not, it all gets pumped right back into 'The Economy', where the landlords, retailers and wholesalers make their profits.

I agree with you though that putting 90% of people on welfare was a bit facetious on my part, I was after all hoping to start a debate. What we need is a revolutionary new economic system where debt cannot be created, and all present ones are forgiven.

Try to imagine a world where no one drives (no fuel costs!) and they no longer have a mortgage to pay off. Just how much money would they need? Then imagine further, if you can, a world where everyone did practice Permaculture and grew nearly all their food at home in a sustainable manner. How little money would they need THEN?

Such sustainable lifestyles could thus be funded from taxes paid by those 10 unlucky percent of the population who would still need to go to work to perform essential services like hospitals, fire brigades, police and so on....

I did say it was revolutionary.

Frankly, I see no other outcome unless it's total Urban warfare a la Mad Max, and that's hardly worth contemplating.


Yes Mike. I can see your point concerning debt to a degree, but over the past ten years, it was the Howard Government that preached to the masses just how well off they were with the current mining boom. He and his Government were thoroughly efficient at making ordinary people believe that as long as the mining boom continued, so to did their ability to borrow like there was no tomorrow. "Look how well shareholders are doing!!" he cried, "Look how prosperous our country is!!" he told us. And the people were fools. They believed his rhetoric and outright lies and came to believe that there was no end in sight to Australia's boom years.

And, like the charlatan Howard was, he'd convinced the masses that they could afford to put everything on credit and pay for it later, for while we sold our souls, our gas and our minerals to the Chinese, we could have anything we wanted and at prices never dreamed of before. How he bemoaned the fact that there were not enough people to fill vital jobs. He told us the mining industry had swallowed all the excess workers and left a vacuum of job vacancies in it's wake. He instilled into the average person's brain the belief that we needed "guest workers" to fill the vacancies. In short, he caused the population to believe that our commodities boom was the salvation of the masses and it would enrich our country beyond our wildest imaginations. We could have what ever we long as we paid for it later.

And so, as you suggest, the mining boom isn't directly responsible for our current levels of debt, because of course not everyone is employed in the mining sector. The illusion John Howard created by using the mining industry as a economical 'false front' has sealed the fate of those who have gone out on a limb and hocked their idiotic necks to the hilt.

And so it continues with our next lot of loony politicians. The Labor Party is no better. It's business as usual with them. That imbecile running the NSW Labor Party once told Land Magazine..... "It's no use saving the environment if you ruin the economy doing so," or words to that effect. That shows you the caliber of our State elected parliamentarians. They'll continue to exploit the commodities boom and the general population who follow them like sheep, but eventually, the wheels will fall off. It's fine to tell the masses how much our mining sector is contributing to the wealth of Australia, but what about the debt?? If the commodities markets falls over, there's a lot of people out there who will feel the pinch in dramatic fashion.

mike's picture

Aime, Howard is well known for lying through his teeth... apart from telling everyone they were very well off, he also told them that under his guidance interest rates would not go up, and that is principally why so many people borrowed beyond their means.

This is why I maintain we need a revolution of sorts. Surely we cannot bankrupt every Mom and Pop investor in the land, it would be far better to forgive all the debts, give all the renters the house they live in (and in which they have made, in some cases, substantial investments anyway), and close the banks.

Then we could start again, with 10% employment for those who must work to do essential chores, whilst the rest (like me!) practice family planning and permaculture.

The future is GREEN or not at all....


A pessimist is a well informed optimist

Hi Mike,

I totally agree with you about the radical changes you propose for the economy. The 'live to work' culture serves the rich, who cannot stand the idea of most of us getting out of debt and having calm and enjoyable lives. Why? Because all that work we do (making widgets and polluting) makes the owners of property and the means of production rich. It doesn't make you and me rich; it makes THEM rich. Sorry to quote Marx there, but he said it so well, and he wasn't the first or the last to say it.

Work is the enemy of the atmosphere. If we all worked only on things that are essential, cutting down our activity to about half, at least, then there would be half as much pollution and the petroleum we have would last for twice as long, giving us a couple of generations to adjust, at least.

We hear a lot about how the 'third world' has to be given an opportunity to live (and work) as we do. What we don't hear is that the third world became the third world because the first world dispossessed indigenous peoples, leaving them no option but to work for peanuts in the towns (where the colonialists and the erstwhile leaders of the dispossessed) owned the land and the means of production.

Heck, we cannot even share the food we produce, having destroyed perfectly sustainable food production systems in the countries which are now poor and overcrowded. Best for the US and the rest of the first world to pull out of the countries they are 'helping', and power down.

And the first world dispossessed its own as well, and is about to do it again, to all those poor devils who believed what they were told about everything getting better and better every day and handed over their wills and lives to the bankers.

Yes, totally agree, cancel all debts and close down the banks.

I would go further. Stop land-sales. Stop selling land. Allocate land to communities, with every citizen entitled to shelter and food.

Take it from there.

Also, the only way to work this thing is for the leaders to lead by example; NO MORE OSTENTATION. We should only trust people who demonstrably live modestly, giving the example of what we will all need to do. Gone should be the days when snotty leaders who hobnob with developers and bankers, wearing italian suits, tell the rest of us that life was not meant to be easy, we have to make sacrifices, etc.

No, leaders must make sacrifices. Or go.