The above graph is adapted from Limits to Growth, Revisited. It is not a hard and fast prediction, but rather the product of a model with 40 years of high correspondence with developments. We are, at present, at the top of the growth curves, many of which have already begun to plateau. Slopes of decline do not factor in such worst-case scenarios as widespread urban- or domestic nuclear facilities collapse consequent to economic collapse.

I've added the shading and 'crossover' circle' (coincident with 'peak everything') to indicate my best guess as to the high probablility zone for global, economic collapse, triggering the onset of TEOTWAWKI.

I fear a hard landing... no 'reboot' or 'transition' to a lower functioning economy. I urge high priority preparation now.

I've got a short glossary of terms at the bottom of this page... if you come across an unfamiliar term, please scroll down and check it out.

Information I'm including or pointing to doesn't mean I necessarily agree with it. Rather, I've found it to be stimulating and worthy of consideration. I'm sure you'll exercise your own judgement... we're nothing if not independent! 8)

Monday, March 26, 2012

Trigger Events

You pull the trigger and after that you do not understand anything that happens.
Jean-Paul Sartre


A trigger event is a local event with non-local consequences.

In well designed systems, such as a firearm, the trigger event is known and well-behaved. A weapon is designed to remain in robust equilibrium until a precise input - the trip of the trigger - sets off a well defined series of events. At least until the bullet clears the barrel.

But most systems - an economy, say - are of a different order. Systems of this type are said to be chaotic - small trigger events can have cascading effects with large and potentially global consequences.

The differences were illustrated in the assassination and aftermath of the ArchDuke Franz Ferdinand (and his wife, Sophie) by Gavrilo Pricip in 1914.

Princip pulled his trigger; the well-defined system that was his pistol ran through it's series of cause and effect, producing the fatal bullets. As it turned out, one of them met with its principal target, fatally wounding the ArchDuke.

The chaotic aftermath was the Great War (WWI). Disequilibria within the (near) global geopolitical economies were  triggered by that one shot in a series of cascading events. It 'caused' some 35 million  military and civilian casualties, some 40 million lost to the Spanish Flu (first appearing among troops in crowded field conditions) and, arguably, the 60 million odd casualties of WWII. Four out of five European Empires worthy of the name collapsed.

It was TEOTWAWKI for the Age of Empire.

*****

Confidence is the key to a modern economy. Indeed, Dmitry Orlov cast his Five Stages of Collapse entirely in terms of  faith (confidence)... confidence is the key to any social contract or construct.

Stage 1: Financial collapse. Faith in "business as usual" is lost. The future is no longer assumed resemble the past in any way that allows risk to be assessed and financial assets to be guaranteed. Financial institutions become insolvent; savings are wiped out, and access to capital is lost.

It is arguable that we definitively entered Stage 1 with the confluence of peak oil, and the bursting of the housing bubble/toxic asset crisis. As Howard Kunstler predicted, we have entered The Long Emergency. In this stage, the system has lost its margins. Stability is precarious. Lacking robustness (resistance to perturbation), small triggers may tip the balance.

Orlov's next stage, commercial collapse is, to my mind, the critical step... that which announces the global onset of TEOTWAWKI.

Stage 2: Commercial collapse. Faith that "the market shall provide" is lost. Money is devalued and/or becomes scarce, commodities are hoarded, import and retail chains break down, and widespread shortages of survival necessities become the norm.

Currency relies on the confidence that goods and services will be exchanged for tokens. Credit relies on the confidence that loans will be repaid with interest. Both are absolutely essential for the flow of goods and services beyond arms reach.

It's my belief that TEOTWAWKI trigger events will focus through a currency/credit collapse of confidence. By this I mean that whatever the proximal cause - whether a massive natural disaster, war, disease, banking crisis, etc. - the critical event will be the cessation of the exchange of currency and flow of credit. It is this that will take a relatively localized trigger event global.


The key result is that "import and retail chains break down".

Locales are, of a sudden, dependent on local resources, without the ability to import. Retail is reduced to barter of tangibles. These are much more likely to be in the hands of individuals than of ephemeral corporations or government.

The question is, what would happen in the US (or any modern economy) if Stage Two were reached globally?

First, the transport system grinds to a halt. Import and retail of fuel are crucial to it. Supply on demand fails, as goods cannot be transported. Urban populations shortly implode in the struggle for food on hand, then explode into surrounding countryside.

At this point, I posit that there is no possibility of 'reboot'. Not only do the initiating conditions remain, consequent failures will be multiplying. Urban economic infrastructure will be maimed or destroyed, and adjacent rural areas will be overrun and stripped of ready harvest.

We will have begun the slide down Orlov's slippery slope.

*****

What could trigger a Stage Two commercial collapse?

To date, the global economy has proven remarkably robust. Deep reserves of world resources saw us through the Great Depression and two World Wars. Yet, since these events, exponential growth in both population and world economy have cut deeply into these reserves. The return on investment for securing and procuring them grows ever less, reducing margins which serve to cushion the system from collapse.

With small margins, the ability of the system to absorb shock is lessened. It is less robust.

In 2008, by estimates from the establishment as well as 'fringe thinking', we entered the present global recession. The interesting thing is, nothing in particular happened; the trigger event - the bursting of the housing bubble in the US real estate market - was a 'virtual' event, not even real in the same way that the Dust Bowl was. Yet confidence was shaken, and very nearly broken.

Whether the final trigger be another artifactual event or natural, cascading chains needn't be long or run deep. A system near the tipping point can be felled by events that, in more robust times, were taken in stride. Runs on banks have been contained in the past, for example, but in these times? How much or how little will it take to render our 'debt-standard' currency void of confidence?

The global economy, in its perpetually weakened and weakening state, is a camel dimly awaiting a last straw.



3 comments:

  1. Gomez the Matrix SlayerMarch 26, 2012 at 11:06 AM

    Always room for more analysis when it distills the concepts down to a boots on the ground essence.... how will it affect me, the person on the margins? The margin dwellers will read this and the mainstreamers will deny it, pass it by unnoticed, or scoff at it. Orlov puts the aware at about 1 in 100 right now which makes this journalism a cottage industry at best.... but still WAY worthwhile of time and effort, especially if waking up ones we love and care for. The margin dwellers will benefit locally (and royally!!) being made aware of all this. A totally worthwhile effort to couch this in terms folks can utilize efficiently if need be. Like a good calculus teacher can back off and come at it a different way for that "a-ha" moment in the student. Triggers abound right now: some are looking for a freakin WHITE swan in a flotilla of ebony trouble fowl. Food for thought for this reader who still wonders if expatriation is a solution or the same commercial failure will shitcan ANY global economy for good. Any islands of continuity or one big bang dust-up? Better wrap this up and go find a 10000 mile salad in town while the eatins good!!

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  2. The chart that you show at the top of the blog suggests Births might start increasing @ 2030, and by 2075 be increasing strongly. Can you suggest the rational behind this projection?
    John

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    1. Hi John,

      This is ignorant speculation, on my part, but here's my guess:

      The rise in birth rate trails strong drops in food, services and industrial output per capita. Those, to me, add up to a stressed population, an indicator of which appears promptly as a rise in death rates.

      My thinking is that, in the long run, stressed populations tend toward higher birthrates. There has been a strong and repeated correlation between increased women's status, ability to choose and education, and lowered birth rates.

      My inner skeptic sees women bearing the brunt of hard times, with accordingly less personal empowerment to control their bodies and, thus, birthrate. Empowerment of and respect for women, access to birth control and medical services are are likely to be reversed as we turn the corner toward the Long Emergency.

      I note that total population continues to climb well past the upturns in birth/death rates, then drop as well. That, in itself, is an added stressor.

      As predictions go, I'm in the 'hard landing' school... I think the slopes will be much steeper than this graph shows due to consequences of Orlovian collapse-stage mechanics... I think destruction of infrastructure by desperate urban populations will accelerate and deepen the collapse, once a certain threshold is passed.

      Dammit.

      Dave

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Hey Folks... I'm not in a position to moderate comments. If discussion remains respectful and on topic, I welcome comments (passion okay). If it spins out of control, I'll have disallow them... I thank you for your civility.

I've opened comments to all 'Registered Users' (whatever that means!) to help weed out pesky spam.

- Dave Z