Tanto Magis Omnia

Why man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus, and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs and peep about
To find ourselves dishonorable graves

— William Shakespeare

The Colosseum in Rome was named for a gigantic portrait statue of Nero commissioned by the emperor in AD 64 to commemorate … himself. It stood within the Domus Aurea, a 300 acre complexes of palaces, gardens and pavilions Nero ordered built at public expense not far from the old Republican Forum, between the Palatine and Esquiline hills. The Domus’ occupied what was previously a residential district for Roman elites adjacent to a marshy lowland. The grounds can be compared to another marshy lowland favored of the elites, the National Mall in Washington, DC. At 309 acres, the two compounds are not entirely identical: one was intended to be as a tourist attraction, the other, a playground for a single person,.

As for the Domus …

… Its size and splendor will be sufficiently indicated by the following details. Its vestibule was large enough to contain a colossal statue of the emperor a hundred and twenty feet high; and it was so extensive that it had a triple colonnade a mile long. There was a pond too, like a sea, surrounded with buildings to represent cities, besides tracts of country, varied by tilled fields, vineyards, pastures and woods, with great numbers of wild and domestic animals. In the rest of the house all parts were overlaid with gold and adorned with gems and mother-of‑pearl. There were dining-rooms with fretted ceilings of ivory, whose panels could turn and shower down flowers and were fitted with pipes for sprinkling the guests with perfumes. The main banquet hall was circular and constantly revolved day and night, like the heavens. He had baths supplied with sea water and sulfur water. When the edifice was finished in this style and he dedicated it, he deigned to say nothing more in the way of approval than that he was at last beginning to be housed like a human being.

— Suetonius

The pond was supplied with water from an aqueduct built for the purpose and surrounded with its own colonnade. The rotating hall and other features were said to be powered by a water wheel. The 400 rooms were arranged on two floors as a kind of maze intended for banquets and entertainments, there are no signs of any sleeping quarters. Nero did not live there but in another palace on the Quirinal Hill.

Rooms were built with 30- foot vaulted ceilings, were lit with skylights and clerestories, decorated with frescoes, elaborate mosaics, fountains and grottoes. The complex was constructed largely of brick and Roman concrete then finished over with marble, alabaster and other colorful stones. Nero’s statue might have been the largest cast bronze artwork of ancient times, exceeding the by-then destroyed Colossus at Rhodes. By comparison, New York’s Statue of Liberty rises one hundred and fifty-one feet from her metal base to the torch. Lady Liberty was built like a car or a washing machine in a factory, assembled from hammered copper sheets riveted together onto an iron armature. Nero’s sculpture was cast in sections which were then braze-welded together and hoisted onto its base. It was a marvel of Roman artistry and craft; the techniques needed to make large castings were lost and forgotten for over 1,200 years until they were reinvented by Donatello in the early half of the fifteenth century.

Nero was a appealing public figure at the beginning of his reign, because of his youth and his informal demeanor. He was an entertainer who was obsessed with his own popularity

Not content with showing his proficiency in these arts at Rome, he went to Achaia, as I have said, influenced especially by the following consideration. The cities in which it was the custom to hold contests in music had adopted the rule of sending all the lyric prizes to him. These he received with the greatest delight, not only giving audience before all others to the envoys who brought them, but even inviting them to his private table. When some of them begged him to sing after dinner and greeted his performance with extravagant applause, he declared that “the Greeks were the only ones who had an ear for music and that they alone were worthy of his efforts.”

While he was singing no one was allowed to leave the theater even for the most urgent reasons. And so it is said that some women gave birth to children there, while many who were worn out with listening and applauding, secretly leaped from the wall since the gates at the entrance were barred, or they feigned death and were carried out as if for burial. The trepidation and anxiety with which he took part in the contests, his keen rivalry of his opponents and his awe of the judges, can hardly be credited. As if his rivals were of quite the same station as himself, he used to show respect to them and try to gain their favor, while he slandered them behind their backs, sometimes assailed them with abuse when he met them, and even bribed those who were especially proficient.

— Suetonius

As he grew into maturity, Nero was consumed by his insecurities, his crimes were many, there were no checks upon his viciousness and greed. The Domus was built in an area that had been ravaged the great fire of 64:

When someone in a general conversation said: “When I am dead, be earth consumed by fire;” Nero rejoined “Nay, rather while I live,” and his action was wholly in accord. For under cover of displeasure at the ugliness of the old buildings and the narrow, crooked streets, he set fire to the city so openly that several ex-consuls did not venture to lay hands on his chamberlains although they caught them on their estates with tow and fire-brands, while some granaries near the Golden House, whose room he particularly desired, were demolished by engines of war and then set on fire because their walls were of stone. For six days and seven nights destruction raged, while the people were driven for shelter to monuments and tombs. At that time, besides an immense number of dwellings, the houses of leaders of old were burned, still adorned with trophies of victory, and the temples of the gods vowed and dedicated by the kings and later in the Punic and Gallic wars, and whatever else interesting and noteworthy had survived from antiquity. Viewing the conflagration from the tower of Maecenas and exulting, as he said, in “the beauty of the flames,” he sang the whole of the “Sack of Ilium,” in his regular stage costume. Furthermore, to gain from this calamity too all the spoil and booty possible, while promising the removal of the debris and dead bodies free of cost he allowed no one to approach the ruins of their own properties; and from the contributions which he not only received, but even demanded, he nearly bankrupted the provinces and exhausted the resources of individuals.

— Suetonius

Nero was known to disguise himself then go out into the city at night and rob passersby, also break into houses and shops and steal the contents which he would later sell in the palace. These encounters were often violent so that soldiers were sent to follow behind at a discrete distance and rescue the emperor from those who fought back.

Then, it became notorious that the depredator was the Caesar; outrages on men and women of rank increased; others, availing themselves of the license once accorded, began with impunity, under the name of Nero, to perpetrate the same excesses with their own gangs; and night passed as it might in a captured town. Julius Montanus, a member of the senatorial order, though he had not yet held office, met the emperor casually in the dark, and, because he repelled his (Nero’s) offered violence with spirit then recognized his antagonist and asked for pardon, was forced to commit suicide, the apology being construed as a reproach.

— Tacitus

Nero was suspected of conspiring with his mother to murder by poison his step-father, the emperor Claudius. It is possible the youthful Nero was not involved directly, but he became emperor as a consequence and was thereby an accessory. He later grew weary of his mother’s interference and had her put to death after a brutal ordeal; he also murdered his half-brother, also the daughter of Claudius by his second wife (Claudius had four wives); Nero also killed his own two wives along with the husband of the first so as to gain access to her; also a man who was his mother’s lover; also his first cousin and maternal second cousin along with that individual’s widow, children and father-in-law. Nero did away with many servants including long-time tutors and advisors, Seneca, and possibly Sextus Burrus, his military aide. Due to his insatiable need for funds he used the plot of Gaius Calpurnius Piso as an opportunity to murder hundreds of distinguished Romans; their wives, children, even their servants in order to confiscate their properties, he also murdered ordinary citizens.

Nero needed the money because of his stupendous wastefulness …

Accordingly he made presents and wasted money without stint. On Tiridates though it would seem hardly within belief, he spent eight hundred thousand sesterces a day, and on his departure presented him with more than a hundred millions. He gave the lyre-player Menecrates and the gladiator Spiculus properties and residences equal to those of men who had celebrated triumphs. He enriched the monkey-faced usurer Paneros with estates in the country and in the city and had him buried with almost regal splendor. He never wore the same garment twice. He played at dice for four hundred thousand sesterces a point. He fished with a golden net drawn by cords woven of purple and scarlet threads. It is said that he never made a journey with less than a thousand carriages, his mules shod with silver and their drivers clad in wool of Canusium, attended by a train of Mazaces and couriers with bracelets and trappings.

— Suetonius

Nero gave himself over entirely to debauchery and vice.

Besides abusing freeborn boys and seducing married women, he debauched the vestal virgin Rubria. The freed-woman Acte he all but made his lawful wife, after bribing some ex-consuls to perjure themselves by swearing that she was of royal birth. He castrated the boy Sporus and actually tried to make a woman of him; and he married him with all the usual ceremonies, including a dowry and a bridal veil, took him to his house attended by a great throng, and treated him as his wife. And the witty jest that someone made is still current, that it would have been well for the world if Nero’s father Domitius had had that kind of wife.

— Suetonius

All of this and more were paid for out of the Treasury then extracted with increased violence by the tax collectors.

In point of extravagance and notoriety, the most celebrated of the feasts was that arranged by Tigellinus; which I shall describe as a type, instead of narrating time and again the monotonous tale of prodigality. He constructed, then, a raft on the Pool of Agrippa, and superimposed a banquet, to be set in motion by other craft acting as tugs. The vessels were gay with gold and ivory, and the oarsmen were catamites marshaled according to their ages and their libidinous attainments. He had collected birds and wild beasts from the ends of the earth, and marine animals from the ocean itself. On the quays of the lake stood brothels, filled with women of high rank; and, opposite, naked harlots met the view. First came obscene gestures and dances; then, as darkness advanced, the whole of the neighboring grove, together with the dwelling-houses around, began to echo with song and to glitter with lights. Nero himself, defiled by every natural and unnatural lust had left no abomination in reserve with which to crown his vicious existence; except that, a few days later, he became, with the full rites of legitimate marriage, the wife of one of that herd of degenerates who bore the name of Pythagoras. The veil was drawn over the imperial head, witnesses were dispatched to the scene; the dowry, the couch of wedded love, the nuptial torches, were there: everything, in fine, which night enshrouds even if a woman is the bride, was left open to the view.

— Tacitus

Nero was a coward, he never led an army in battle, nor was the Empire expanded during his rule. The Romans waged an on-again, off-again war against the Parthians in Armenia (eastern Turkey). An uprising by Boudica in Celtic Britain was triggered by oppressive taxation and cruel Roman administration

To all the disasters and abuses thus caused by the prince there were added certain accidents of fortune; a plague which in a single autumn entered thirty thousand deaths in the accounts of Libitina; a disaster in Britain, where two important towns were sacked and great numbers of citizens and allies were butchered; a shameful defeat in the Orient, in consequence of which the legions in Armenia were sent under the yoke and Syria was all but lost.

— Suetonius

The legions ultimately prevailed in both places, Boudica’s army was scattered and she committed suicide. The Parthians withdrew and Armenia remained a Roman client.

I may fairly include among his shows the entrance of Tiridates into the city. He was a king of Armenia, whom Nero induced by great promises to come to Rome; and since he was prevented by bad weather from exhibiting him to the people on the day appointed by proclamation, he produced him at the first favorable opportunity, with the praetorian cohorts drawn up in full armor about the temples in the Forum, while he himself sat in a curule chair on the rostra in the attire of a triumphing general, surrounded by military ensigns and standards. As the king approached along a sloping platform, the emperor at first let him fall at his feet, but raised him with his right hand and kissed him. Then, while the king made supplication, Nero took the turban from his head and replaced it with a diadem, while a man of praetorian rank translated the words of the suppliant and proclaimed them to the throng. From there the king was taken to the theater, and when he had again done obeisance, Nero gave him a seat at his right hand.

— Suetonius

Given a little time it is likely Nero would have put on the bridal veil and wed the king of Armenia, the dowry was already paid. And yet, the ordinary Romans were satisfied with their emperor, whose outrages were directed toward others, whose vices were to them only rumors. The plots against Nero rose from the elites, whom he prosecuted with increased ferocity until he was undone by bad luck: besides pestilence, there were damaging storms and food shortages. Rome was entirely dependent upon grain shipments from the provinces particularly Egypt. Interruptions for any reason held serious consequences. As belts were tightened, Nero’s popularity with the ordinary citizens evaporated:

When another rebellion arose in the western provinces he ignored the warnings, seeming at first not to take them seriously. After a delay of some days, during which he was abandoned by his courtiers and bodyguards, he fled to the house of a servant in a nearby suburb. Declared a public enemy by the Senate, he committed suicide to avoid being beaten to death in the Forum. He was 32.

Nero was in office for fourteen years, which seems to suggest his reign was successful; he was not deified afterward which suggests it was not. Leaving aside the epidemic and famine, it is likely the better classes of Rome had grown anxious of his vanity and licentiousness; the constant demands of the tax collectors; also the debasement of the currency and persecutions and murders. Nero’s follies did not bring the empire to a end or even lead to it; ironically his vast money-waste stimulated the Roman economy … there were no other places for the funds to go outside of the empire. Over the course of the following year, Nero was succeeded by three mediocrities; Galba, Otho and Vitellius; the fourth, Vespasian, was at least competent.

The Domus was a public reminder of Nero’s excesses, within a decade it was stripped of its decorations and partly abandoned to the bats and wild dogs. Parts of the building were used as storerooms or as stables. The pond was drained to allow for the foundations of the enormous amphitheater built in its place. Other parts of the palace were built over or became dumping grounds for garbage and rubble left over from earthquakes and building demolition. It was this accretion of structures and material that preserved the remains of the Domus that can be seen today …

Vespasian removed Nero’s likeness from the Colossus and fitted it a new head representing the Roman sun god; later Hadrian moved the statue to allow construction of the new temple of Venus and Rome on the original site. The triumphal arch of Titus and the Bath of Trajan were built nearby along with warehouses, bakeries and apartments. Note: the temples of ancient Rome were not houses of prayerful worship and propaganda like churches today; the priests acted as notaries, mediators, fiduciaries, keepers of vital records and contracts; temples functioned as banks, law offices and trading rooms as these things did not exist as such during that time. The last mention of Nero’s statue was in a description of the city in a manuscript published 354 AD. It was likely broken up, perhaps toppled by an earthquake, with the remains sold off as scrap: Sic Semper Tyrannis.

– C. Suetonius Tranquilis, ‘The Lives of the Twelve Caesars’

– Publius Cornelius Tacitus, ‘The Annals’

– Furius Dionysius Filocalus / Unknown author ‘The Chronography of 354’

90 thoughts on “Tanto Magis Omnia

  1. ellenanderson

    The fall of the Roman Empire was much later than the fall of Nero, as you say. I think that we are in the equivalent of the years between Nero and the sack of Rome. Certainly if we have anyone equivalent to Nero he is well past the age of 32. I am particularly interested in the decision made by the Romans not to rescue the British from the Scotti and Picts.
    Drawing more parallels, you could say that the western empires invited the rest of the world in to help rescue them. Now they want to share the wealth and even bring their families and we are horrified. But not all of us.
    By the way I think I see why Tillerson wants to be Secretary of State and to lift the Russian sanctions.
    Better start putting some of our writings on parchment, Steve.

  2. Creedon

    I’ve never liked the Romans all that much anyway. I’m sure they must have had some good qualities.

    1. steve from virginia Post author

      Exxon still owns some larger conventional properties that can pump crude @ $20/barrel or less. These are likely keeping the company afloat.

      Nihil durat in aeternum … Nothing lasts forever.

    1. steve from virginia Post author

      You mean buying up money-losing oilfields.

      The oil is valuable but the cost of retrieving the value is slipping fast out of reach.

  3. ellenanderson

    I think that this is bunch of libertarians basically. They just can’t stand the fact that the government has to be right up there with the capitalists in order for the system to work. They mean to be the last guys standing and they think it will be cheaper to buy the oil and bring it home than to fight for it. The market will take care of the rest. Everybody else is fired. They remind me of some of my ancestors who were serious America Firsters. Maybe Russia would sell some good fields to them? ‘
    Vive ut cras moriturus (I think)

    1. steve from virginia Post author

      I think I will write this blog in Latin only. Wouldn’t that be fun?

      (I better learn it first … )

      BTW: Real libertarians don’t want to start a shooting war w/ China.

      None of the people in Washington understand the government HAS to borrow and spend b/c it is the only entity that can run a perpetual deficit and not go out of business. Government spending finds its way to the lenders, pays interest and retires maturing loans. If the government doesn’t borrow and spend the private sector must do so in its place … the marginal businesses, which cannot run perpetual deficits, will fail and the costs will compound along with the failures.

      I suspect governments-kings-emperors were invented to run deficits, enable lending which is necessary for ‘progress’ and the addition of new money. That means wars were an invention as well.

      1. ellenanderson

        Neither libertarians nor neo-liberals nor neo-conservatives get the implications of energy depletion for our political economy. Nobody does. There is no good word for what should/will happen. All of the words to describe it have horrible negative connotations from conservation to collapse. I personally like the French word ‘decroissance’ but it is too long and hard to pronounce.
        If you think about it, the collapse of the Roman Empire was a wonderful thing – for the earth and for the people who had been enslaved. For others it was terrible. I think that people want to know what will happen to them personally. I know I do. But it is going to depend on who you are and where you are. No one knows for sure.
        I was stuck in Latin class for four, maybe five years and I have forgotten most of it. Probably had we spoken it we would remember more. I think the spelling and translation of the following are correct and words to live by. You should move to Vermont, by the way, I think.
        Disce ut semper victurus, Vive ut cras moriturus. = Learn as if you would live forever, live as though you would die tomorrow.

      2. steve from virginia Post author

        I figure one of the reasons why the Empire declined is because the Romans burned every tree that could not cut up into building lumber. The destruction of the forests led to soil erosion, degraded watersheds and associated ills. The Empire was consuming firewood faster than it could be regrown or new supplies captured from others. Rome failed to conquer Germania despite centuries of trying. Doing so would have added another hundred years of burning. The nomadic Goths, etc. lacked the sorts of static possessions the Romans could compromise, like farms and settled towns. The Legions would chase the tribes but never catch them; the latter were unrelievedly hostile so Rome could not risk bringing in colonists. As soon as Christianity took hold the Germanics were instantly converted, becoming ‘brothers in Christ’ with the legionnaires and their bosses. Instead of enemies, tribesmen became Roman mercenaries facing later rounds of barbarians; the overall consequence was that German forests were spared the axe.

        I suspect Romans burned coal (to make bricks and cement, and to smelt ferrous metal) but did not invent the smokestack which would have enabled them to burn coal efficiently … and to industrialize, build boilers, steam engines and railroads.

        Also, the clever Romans forgot to invent plate glass or latticework glass windows. They left holes in the walls to let in light that were closed with shutters when it was cold outside. Roman buildings were either dark, smoky caves with drafts or they were wide open to the elements; there was no architectural middle ground … or sun rooms. Romans coped with the chill by wearing layers; the heat by wearing skirts. During the winter the wealthy migrated to warmer parts of the empire like Northern Africa or Sicily: to the hills east of Rome when it was hot.

        The great Roman baths by themselves must have consumed prodigious amounts of firewood, this in addition to the fuel needed for other uses: charcoal burning, space heating, cooking, rendering of cooking- and lighting oils, working of metals, etc. The burning must have made Rome unbearable from the smoke and soot, also the pollution from the coal fires and other sources. My guess (hat tip Juvenal): Rome was a miserable shithole not much different from Lagos or Mumbai today: with mile after mile of rotting, dilapidated slums surrounding the fabulous built-up center.


        Some issue about what happened with the aqueducts. They were broken by the time the barbarians arrived to sack the place: there were probably few Romans left to greet them with not much loot remaining to steal. Without the water, Rome shrank, without the urban Rome the finance-based economy went into a tailspin. It is possible the early Popes decided to undo the aqueducts just to clear the air, to rid the city of its ragged population of beggars and tinkers who may or may not have been resistant to the Catholics. IMO, the Roman Empire never really fell or even failed. The government changed; it became decentralized (except in the Eastern half). The church took over the administrative and mediative functions of the state (they started the takeover in the 2d century) and became prime arbiter over an area that included the entire ancient empire + Germania, excepting parts of Northern Africa. ‘Pope’ was another way to spell ‘Emperor’; Senators and Tribunes became Cardinals and Bishops, etc. The admin structure never changed. The secular state fragmented leaving each piece too weak to disrupt the whole. This division of political labor worked quite well: none of the individual duchies themselves; nor groups of duchies nor the Rome establishment itself could afford the army of legions the old Rome could put into the field. The exception to this rule were the Carolingians/Franks who deferred to the Pope. Compared to the preceding imperial period, ‘Medieval’ Europe was more peaceful and prosperous save for 14th century.

        In 1450, modernity began. Duchies became powerful relative to their size; a small state w/ cannons and 3-masted sailing ships could- and did overrun continents, An individual duchy could field a modest force more powerful than all the armies of the ancients put together. So it is/was with modernity … war looked to be a going concern, again.

        The Roman period would then begin w/ the legendary Tarquins in 753 BC lasting to the w/ Peace of Westphalia in 1648 … which ended the 30 Years War, also the temporal power of the Pope in Rome and what was left of medieval culture in Europe: that’s 2,401 years! Not bad.

        I suspect Chinese empires (Ming) had similar problems: exhaustion of prime mover along with famines did them in. Meanwhile, in the background, there are the turning cycles of planting and harvest, the changing of the seasons, the rise and fall of youth to old age.

        Vermont – awful cold. Awful. How about Hawaii?

      3. Mister Roboto

        @Steve: As long as you’re mentioning the smokiness and the cold, the invention of the chimney by the English was also a pretty crucial step forward in the invention of the modern homestead. Back before the time of industrial heating, the houses of the well-to-do had chimneys with ducts attached to them at various levels that conveyed warm air to the rooms of the upper floors.

      4. steve from virginia Post author

        It’s possible the inability to properly heat their buildings is why the Romans failed to subdue northern barbarians. Romans liked their comfort, even the (otherwise) tough legionnaires.

  4. Elmar

    Hi, Steve,
    this may be of interest!

    Power, the State and the Institution of Property
    Paul C. Martin
    (Preliminary version of 26 October 2003)

    Private property as de jure institution needs a foregoing state to come into existence. The state needs foregoing power and foregoing power needs armed force. The ultimate “foundation of the economy” thus is the weapon, where possession and property are identical because the possession of it guarantees property of it (makes it proprietary). Armed force starts additional production (surplus, tribute). The first taxes are contributions of material for the production of attack weapons (copper, tin). Thus non-circulating money begins. Taxes as census and money are the same.

    As soon as defense and protection of the titular power (is) executed by armed force in war and peace (the hire of) mercenaries the one-way money turns into circulating “genuine money” in modern sense and its material changes from weapon-fitting to precious metal and actually into any material which can be monopolized by the state.

    Interest also at first is the tax (census) itself. The state, that must exist before property and property-based contracts which only can be executed with use of armed force, can’t be financed out of property or income which can only appear after (such things) exist. Therefore the state faces the problem of pre-financing itself (before it can) draw on later tributes or taxes. This “interest”, which always starts with power and never with “private” titles is nothing but a discount, thereby rather a discount of the state-owned property (monopoly of armed force) or property rights (monopoly of taxation) than any private “property premium” or even an mysterious item that “enlarges” something. Interest, then is the partition of forced- or expected income (as measured in the state-owned monopoly to declare “legal tender”) or property (goods) by the party which will get this income or property (goods) from other parties. The more property is ceded by the state to the private sector or can be created as income after cession to the private sector in the private sector the longer the process of “creation of wealth” can endure, because the more power-sustaining taxes can be imposed.

    Nonetheless the breakdown of all property-systems is inevitable. This we actually can study watching the exploding indebtedness of “democratic” powers. The problem of state power vs. private economic activities is by definition unsolvable. Wealth creation inevitably sooner or later leads to wealth destruction. This explains “rise and fall” of any power- or state-based
    systems throughout history.

    (Edited for clarity)

    1. steve from virginia Post author

      It’s hard to say where the original article was published, I haven’t been able to find anything but versions translated into German (which must then be translated back into English). Perhaps someone out there can find an English original. The entire article clocks in at 35 pages.

      I disagree with the tone of this because both people and states act for various reasons including altruism: the determinist obsesses about force monopolies and the tending of fear and punishment. People create wealth (also steal it from their neighbors) so they might enjoy themselves or at least try. Theft is stressful making enjoyment difficult or impossible … “Out, damned spot!”

      1. Reverse Engineer

        “People create wealth”-SfV

        People don’t “create wealth”. They just extract it from the Earth and to an extent collect it from the Sun. Then they invent means to distribute the wealth amongst the population, most popularly in modern times with the use of Money. In prior times Potlatch or the Gift Economy was used for this distribution.

        No animals at all create wealth, they only consume it. The only wealth creators on the planet are the photosynthetic organisms, which themselves are not really wealth creators, they are just extracting energy from the Sun.

        The only Wealth Creator in the whole system was whoever it was that created the Sun.


      2. steve from virginia Post author

        Whazzup, RE?

        Long time no see … !

        Now that you mention it, wealth is an abstraction like humor that does not exist in nature. Wealth itself is a human creation, it has to be! Nobody or nothing else can come up with it …

        : )

      3. Reverse Engineer

        Stop by the Diner for Dinner with Ted Nugent. I’m there daily as Chief Cook and Bottlewasher.


  5. Creedon

    Steve; David Stockman has an article at the Daily Reckoning; https://dailyreckoning.com/peril-casino-youre-fired/ in which he is basically saying the government is going to face economic reality this fall when they hit the debt ceiling. In the past the debt ceiling has been hit many times and in the end never stops the continued growing of the debt bubble. What are the chances that this time is different. I believe that David Stockman has been saying for a long time that the Stock market bubble can not go on for ever, but it seems currently, that it can.

    1. steve from virginia Post author

      One thing the establishment has become very good at is kicking that poor, dented can down the road. Year after year = more kicks, more dents (more tributaries of credit). As long as there is a believable growth narrative out there somewhere in TV-land, there will be more credit finding new channels, more ways to prop up the status quo.

      Stockman’s warning is credible: the shiny-new Nero administration is taking key man prop managers outside and feeding small-caliber bullets into their skulls … and doing so just for the fun of it (or pay off particular cronies)! This can only go on so long before some key man is left un-propped. Which key man- or when is impossible to say. Key men are thick on the ground, many are faltering outside Nero’s reach, in Japan, Middle East, China, EU, Latin America. Even as there are multiplying key men and the desperate need for more props, the numbers decrease with the promise of more shrinkage to come. Nero is working against his own interests: the shit could hit the fan next year … or Monday!

      Longer term, physics sets the boundaries of Nero’s excesses … and ours. Nothing to be done about that but adjust.

      A much larger problem for Nero is that he has staked out his role outside what Americans expect as ‘leadership fashion’. Oh My God, you would think the world has cracked and the Nazgul have flown out! Who sez fashion is unimportant? Nero has become in a week the enemy of the state! Whereas the suave actor-leading man Obama was the perfect presidential stuffed animal, Nero is the anti- Obama: the opposite of the ‘West Wing’- hairsprayed, quasi-liberal ‘political-type’. Ironically Nero and many of his cronies are pop culture originals: Nero actually lurked within the Warhol Studio 54 orbit when he was younger … looking for (male?) pickups most likely. His current mission to eradicate-repudiate Obama-fashion screen-prints him as crude, petty, insensitive and nakedly coercive; too much so to be either fashionable (which makes all the current Nazi arguments fall apart) … or effective longer term. Here is another way Nero has stranded himself.

      To some degree Nero’s unfashionability also leaves my (Roman) Nero thesis on shaky ground … but, not entirely. There was little in the way of popular culture in imperial Rome (no media), and (Roman) Nero was indeed fashionable in elite circles. (Roman) Nero was the extension of his mother … and Cicero. Mom was happy for him to sing as long as he genuflected toward Roman Republican pieties. After Mom’s tortured demise (Roman) Nero sought to meet the Augustus fashion standard by way of his urban renewal project(s). What many can’t visualize is the relationship between (Roman) Nero’s looming (leering) statue and the old Republican Forum. How the Romans were able to cast that erect middle finger is still lost to the ages …

      1. Bachs_bitch

        “What many can’t visualize is the relationship between (Roman) Nero’s looming (leering) statue and the old Republican Forum. How the Romans were able to cast that erect middle finger is still lost to the ages …”

        Can you elaborate on the “middle finger”? I haven’t noticed anything like it in images or on my visit to Rome some years back.

        Anyways; if Trump is Nero, was Obama Claudius? And who is to be the Flavians? No, to my mind the Bushes and Clintons represent the Constantinian (also called the Neo-Flavians…!) and Valentianian dynasties, which makes Obama Honorius and Trump Joannes the Usurper. Of course, there really isn’t much to this analogy, but it does fit on a superficial level. The one thing our age has going for it is that it is horribly and hilariously unique.

        By the way, hello. I’ve been following this blog for about 6 months but this is my first post.

      2. steve from virginia Post author

        Welcome, thanks for saying ‘hello’.

        Nobody knows exactly what Nero’s statue looked like (historians can’t even agree how big it was) nor do they know exactly which direction it faced. This leaves room for poetic license …

        It seems to have been originally installed at the open end of the shallow valley containing the old Republican Forum, a little ways past the Palace of the Vestal Virgins where the Temple of Venus and Rome is now. Anyone in the Forum would be under the gaze of a giant, bronze half-naked Emperor as tall as a ten-story building. That his effigy would be giving the old Republican ghosts the finger makes perfect sense … to me, anyway!

        Once you start with the analogies there are all sorts of possibilities. I figure most of the post-Kennedy presidents were pee-wee versions of Mark Antony; a well-meaning dolt who was principal to the shift from Republic to permanent dictatorship.

        Pompey was another fool, successful for an instant then a quasi-tragic figure who lost both his nerve and his sense of place in the greater scheme of things: the Ezzard Charles of Roman politics.

      3. Bachs_bitch

        “That his effigy would be giving the old Republican ghosts the finger makes perfect sense … to me, anyway!”

        Ah. I thought you were talking about some feature of the Forum that stood relative to where old Nero’s statue was supposed to be located.

        “Once you start with the analogies there are all sorts of possibilities. I figure most of the post-Kennedy presidents were pee-wee versions of Mark Antony; a well-meaning dolt who was principal to the shift from Republic to permanent dictatorship.

        Pompey was another fool, successful for an instant then a quasi-tragic figure who lost both his nerve and his sense of place in the greater scheme of things: the Ezzard Charles of Roman politics.”

        You seem determined to limit the analogies to the Julio-Claudian era, but to me the state of the US Imperium qua Roma is past that.

      4. steve from virginia Post author

        I’ll plead guilty to that. Not that there aren’t other good analogies elsewhere …

        You have to admit Nero is too good to pass up.

  6. ellenanderson

    Truly wonderful writing. So that is why the Black Forest survived? I never thought about how the Roman’s heated their baths. I know that providing a daily hot shower without burning fossil fuels is beyond my capability to provide. Thanks so much. A lot to think about there. I am really interested in British history. They were eventually abandoned by the Roman Legions, or so they thought at the time. I have heard that London was first home to the remaining elites and then emptied out and used for salvage for hundreds of years. Is that true? I guess that you would argue that the church was a simpler and more workable extension of the empire?

    Hawaii? You have got to be kidding. Much easier to get warm than to get cool. Up by Lake Champlain you get a bit of thermal climate moderation in the winter and in the summer. You have a pretty good college town, a bunch of friendly old lefties and really a lot of trees – at least for your lifetime. Build a small house around a masonry contra-flow stove (5,000 +- year old technology.) You can build in copper coils for water heating but all it will take is for some drunken relative to forget to fill the tank and they will be melted. I know my family history too well to try something like that. I have a little rocket stove (we have talked about them before) and will probably get a better one soon if I can afford it.

    Of course there is now a Clif High out there claiming that we could easily be flash frozen. Don’t know whether he means Hawaii. But he seems to think we may be found again in 15,000 years like the bison with buttercups flash frozen in our mouths. I really like that image. Sort of like Ferdinand the Bull forever and ever.

  7. ellenanderson

    ROFL – just re-read your description of our Neo-Nero. I think I will send it to my grieving daughter. It is so hard for earnest, well meaning people to laugh at this. But right now there is not much else to do. Thank you!

  8. Dan Johnson

    Hi Steve, I’ve learned so much from your work, reading lots of back issues of Undertow. Thank you for the education. Off topic:
    1) Is there a mini T.o.D. occurring now, since the 2015 oil price crash? Graphically, I see the apex somewhere around Jan 2018? Homing in on $50 — your famous Triangle homed in on $100.
    2) In my town in CA, some academic greenies are looking at “carbon offsets” to help the town achieve its GHG reduction goals. I was spun from reading Undertow and suggested that instead of offsets, it would be better to literally burn the money to remove it from the economy, so it couldn’t circulate to generate FF consumption. But the banks can create more from thin air, so are we hopelessly outgunned? Does this makes any sense? Furthermore, is there anything at all a person can spend dollars upon that will have a net conservation effect, despite the dollars continuing to circulate? Gratefully, Dan J

  9. London Underground

    I’m interested in British history at the end of the Roman period, to see what resonance it has with the rapid changes I see here…. I’m intrigued by the linguistic change from Brythonic (which developed into the minority languages of Welsh, Cornish and Bresoneg – Gaelic with Latin borrow words) to Germanic languages. This happened overnight, so to speak. Within a generation much of what constituted Christian roman Brittannia spoke German and worshipped idols. Little is known of this changeover time. Books went south.

    When the 3 legions left for the core, Roman Britain kept going for a century or so, island monkeys away from the turbulence of the western empire. But then things must have got really bad very quickly..with migrants flooding in, all regions changed their names except for Kent (home of the cianti tribe) which would be the first base for most arrivals, and still is….so they naturalised here more and accepted a few local things. Every where else…pooof, it’s gone. By the sword, demographics, decadent roman predilections , we just don’t knows. King Arthur spend a few years in the 6th centrist running round the western coastal fringes, holding back tides to no avail, and then they all ran off to do sheep in mountainous Wales or depopulated Brittany.

    What we have now? Local population who can’t afford to have kids due to debt and monopoly rent costs, constant inward migration, overshoot of population vs resources in a cold place. The legions leaving (Brexit). And demographic growth expansion of a non local , unassimilable migrant populations. Locals seem a bit helpless, mostly can’t see it happening. All refugees are little girls with teddies and sick nana, in wheelchairs. I’ve seen it in the daily BBC. Not mainly young, mainly male and mainly carrying an unhealthy religious interest in bladed weapons.

  10. ellenanderson

    Hey London Underground – have you tried the AngloSaxon Podcast? You probably know all of the source materials he quotes already but maybe not.

    1. steve from virginia Post author

      It’s been bizarre/amazing to watch the decline and fall of racketeer Trump taking place in amazingly short real time.


      Meanwhile, quietly in the background we Earthlings are burning through 90+ million barrels of non-renewable capital every 24 hours.

      Also speechless …

      1. Volvo740...

        Some new emerging effects. Plan to outlaw gas/diesel cars in larger metro areas in Scandinavia. (Of course in the name of helping on climate change…) We just can’t talk about depletion with a straight face. The truth is probably that the fuel is better used elsewhere. But since we can’t admit that there is a fuel shortage problem, we’ll do it via the climate change meme. Clever.

      2. steve from virginia Post author

        The shortage is just as likely to be blamed on Muslims or ‘terrists’, blacks or women. Some fine morning, people will wake up to a government crackdown on villainy and the military will be given control over oil supply. There will be a six-week interregnum in which the motorists go bat-shit crazy and the stores will be emptied out. *That’s why I suggest putting away at least 2 months worth of food and basic necessities like toilet paper, razors, aspirin, salt, etc.*

        After the dust settles, there will be ration coupons + 3 gallons per week per driver!

        Another way is the oft-proposed tax on fuel. A gallon of gas = $10.00US would go a long way to solving many of the world’s problems.

      3. Reverse Engineer

        “After the dust settles, there will be ration coupons + 3 gallons per week per driver! “-SfV

        I can get by on 3 gallons/week.

        Last year I used 4 tank fulls of gas. @15 gal/tank, that’s around 60 gallons, so slightly over 1 gallon/week.

        I’ll have X-tra ration coupons to sell off! 🙂


      4. steve from virginia Post author

        There ya go~!

        It’s the people with 50 mile commutes — each way — that will howl.

        People w/ boats, jet skis, snowmobiles, 6-wheel pickup trucks, muscle cars … they will be ready to go to war. The military will commandeer the fuel supply and the motorists will shut everything down, the farmers will be forgotten, so will food distribution. That’s why I tell everyone to set aside a couple of months worth of dried food like beans, rice, flour, cooking oil, salt, etc.

  11. London Underground

    Great site Ellen ! Thanks will get a few hours out of that. still not much between the ample material on Romano brittania and the (less ample) material on the early anglo Saxon era. Nothing on the cusp, the changeover. The exciting stuff always happens on the boundary layer between things, and I can’t find any decent slow motion stills of the major linguistic transition. Maybe things just fell apart with no trees left to burn……plenty in the north though.

    Maybe the locals and the incomers just rubbed along, with landlords taking the tenement rent every month. Until a famine meant chop chop for the roman Brits – not enough to go round and numbers against them. Pretty thorough though with no written record of this period.

    Germans like nothing more than a bit of pasture for their cows, lowland. Go to Wales now and it’s all hill farms, with Welsh spoken, and market towns lower down with much English spoken.

  12. Creedon

    For followers of the ETP model; shortonoil is saying that the big money is keeping oil above 50 dollars a barrel to support an Aramco IPO. Who knows. I finally understand what Steve has said in the past. The oil industry and the auto industry are all bankrupt industries. It’s just a matter of time and the world has no options.

  13. ellenanderson

    @#speechless. It is just as you predicted – we will not be ruled by unfashionable, non-cool persons. Thank to all of the TV news shows for showing these folks close up. #just-not-cool-enough. Perhaps the most rumpled and dead-eyed of the crackpots will be dragged off stage pretty soon. The End of the World As We Know It will be a lot less fun to watch if that happens.

    Do people have favorite lists of what should be put away to endure for 8 weeks (or longer?) I am pretty sure that RE thinks toilet paper isn’t all that important so I think this has been discussed before and that we disagree.

    1. steve from virginia Post author

      If there is a conflict, it is one without much substance. Trump & Co. would not exist at all except for the media which in turn has benefited greatly from having a Trump to ‘kick around’. Even the Washington Post is making money along with other ‘newspapers’. Without controversy there is nothing for them to sell (except more of Kim Kardashian’s butt).

      If you want to understand Trump watch some of this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DHrVRpeIZqI This is professional wrestling. Everything — including the conflicts — is fake, everything. Trump is a heel. Trump has actually appeared on wrestling programs; he just named the wife of WWE boss Vince McMahon as Administrator of the Small Business Administration.

      Trump is substantially like all the other modern, post-WWII US presidents, he has a different (not necessarily better or worse-) personal style which is driving a lot of people nuts. Outside of (non-) conforming to fashion, there isn’t a whole lot for American presidents do, they are figureheads not dictators. This is why they all spend so much time playing golf. Certainly, Trump has broken the law, he’s a money launderer, he’s spent his whole life associated with gangsters. Put this in perspective: Trump has routinely sailed in waters that most others, including those in law enforcement, steer out of. Trump’s associates live their lives in high relief, unlike Congressmen or newspaper editors, they are not concerned with elections (popularity contests), they solve their disputes the old-fashioned way. That Trump has thrived in this environment is indicative; he is not literate; he’s a crude parvenu … but he is canny and has good survival skills. Those skills and the ruthlessness that run along with them are why he was voted for in the first place.

      As far as the ‘deep state’ theory; you have to ask, who would make it up?

      There is no one but same incompetents that ‘run’ the shallow state: career bureaucrats, both public and private, sitting in offices somewhere in the NY- VA corridor, pecking at computers … “Ohhh, my Windows has crashed AGAIN … !”

      The real deep state is the auto industry. Right now it runs the world which has surrendered entirely to it … everyone loves the industry and its products to the point of sacrificing everything including their children and their children’s children for it.

  14. ellenanderson

    @Steve – thanks for the analysis and for the links, esp. the NYT where David Brooks sez “Everything about Trump that appalls 65 percent of America strengthens him with the other 35 percent, and he can ride that group for a while. Even after these horrible four weeks, Republicans on Capitol Hill are not close to abandoning their man.”

    Subscriptions to the Times, WaPo are soaring I hear.

    So glad you are recovering from speechlessness!!

  15. Creedon

    Steve; I agree with you about automobiles, but I also think that when no one can any longer drive that the world will be nothing but chaos and poverty. As far as the deep state is concerned I don’t think we are on the same page. The deep state is just a word to define characters we can’t really name. Who wanted the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Who wanted to overthrow Assad in Syria, go to war with Russia, overthrow the regime in the Ukraine, overthrow the leader in Turkey (that was a failure). Who wants to capture and kill Julian Assange. Who wants to capture and kill the NSA informant currently in Russia. Who overthrew regimes in Haiti, Nicaragua, Panama, Chile, Iran. Who controls the governments in Europe, creates the business connections to confiscate wealth world wide. World hegemony can be defined as the deep state, but it could be defined in many ways and it is certainly not all about Trump. Obama and Hillary were in the pockets of the deep state.

  16. ellenanderson

    Serious crocodile tears. Especially for the EPA. These are the folks who have refused to ban neonicitinoid poisons though we have known about their drastic consequences for at least ten years. I can only hope that as the neo-con-neo-lib consensus is shattered by this chaos that some of the smug, ironic young New Yorkers will begin to think about how nothing is really all that different about Trump except the bad manners. If the anti-Trump forces don’t get their act together pretty soon… well I don’t think they will. They love their cars and their airplanes and their easy lifestyles.

    This administration is going to bring it all back home. When we outsourced our jobs we outsourced our pollution as well. These disgusting old men plan to dig up what is left of American resources, burn them, put the money in their pockets and then dump the trash on what remains of our earth. There won’t be much. Shame shame shame!

  17. Creedon

    Looking at the Deep States flag ship media outlet CNN, shows me that they want us to be concerned about war with China. Maybe they are trying to get something stirred up. Trump is irrational enough and the Chinese have gained enough power that sanity may get pushed to the back ground. Besides, it would make lot’s of money for the military industrial complex. We also, need a Black Swan event. Europe going down will not be enough. If there is no trigger event by this fall than I am folding my hand as I have no predictive ability.

    1. steve from virginia Post author

      Nobody really has predictive ability: events pop out of the woodwork.

      What’s worse is people don’t recognize events taking place right under their noses. For instance, analysts are mystified by the ongoing ‘dollar shortage’, yet they refuse (or are unable) to make the connection between dollars and fuel prices. They need to, the relationship is the most important economic relationship of all, rendering central banks largely irrelevant.

      Another example is the acidification of the ocean. It just doesn’t relate, people let it go over their heads.

  18. Creedon

    Nobody really has predictive ability: events pop out of the woodwork. Steve, I have been following George Ure lately. He calls what he does long wave economics. He has to my mind accurately predicted the current blow off top in the stock market. He overlays the stock market bubble of the 1920s with the current bubble and says that the stock market will start falling this year. I have spent many years fruitlessly looking for those who could accurately predict. Those who follow bubbles say that all bubbles pop. Economic expansion can not go on forever, there are cycles, but that doesn’t mean we can accurately predict when things will break in another direction.
    By the way, wall street would have you believe that we have brokent the business cycle

    1. steve from virginia Post author

      Usually, the biggest things are the hardest to see. We get hung up in the details and the blank spaces surrounding them are filled with wishes. The problem w/ predicting dollar preference has two sides:

      – The economics are not taken seriously in our current equilibrium-theory economic environment,

      – Preference is difficult to pick out of the background of currency trading noise- ordinary market moves.

      Dollar preference reaches back to beyond Marshal and Lucas to the pre-Wicksellian hard currency monetarist economics of Walter Bagehot (primarily) with bits of Irving Fisher and Hyman Minsky. Reaching back means an economic theory that is based on ‘money price’ … and the centrality of money itself. Equilibrium economics (and those disciplines that have grown up around it) focus on transactions; they disregard money and what it costs altogether. The hard money schools emphasize the ‘official’ or redemption price such as that for gold in the national currency (and by implication all the other currencies & their own relation to gold); the (only) transaction that matters here is an arbitrage: between the fixed or government- set price of gold on one hand vs. the market price of the same gld on the other. The interplay between hands (the intensity of the arbitrage) is what moves, or fails to move, the economy.

      Take out gold and substitute oil and the current run out of non-dollar currencies makes a lot of sense: it’s an arbitrage between different oil prices in different currencies. Dollars offer a ‘better deal’ for oil than do the other currencies: they are everywhere in the world, the amount of oil that can be made available is greater for dollars than for other currencies, there is more institutional support for dollars vs. ‘Brand X’ currencies, etc. Because dollars are the world’s primary trading currency, they are (theoretically) available everywhere, particularly in the hands of oil producers and goods’ exporters such as China. Dollars are backed by 100 years of US credit provision and the infrastructure needed to produce dollar credit including property rights, rule of law and enforceable contracts which makes dollar credit — and the dollar itself — worth something (more than other currencies). Dollar worth is self-reinforcing as they are taken out of circulation as loans are repaid, dollars remaining are worth even more still => dollar oil price declines => fewer dollars in circulation => lower oil price => etc.

      At some point (now?) dollars become proxies for the oil rather than proxies for the wasting of the oil; at that point dollars are valuable and hoarded out of circulation. This in turn leads to rippling insolvencies and contagion as the circulating credit needed to service and roll-over maturing debts cannot be had.

      Right now, the dollar is worth more even when it should be worth less: after years of QE and negative real interest rates and tepid GDP growth. The US lost the currency war to the dollar!


      As for the markets: this looks like the final blow-off top; the US is in the process of defaulting the bosses just don’t identify what’s occurring as such.

  19. Creedon

    Steve, a theme of your writing is that dollar preference is currently taking place. If the Sudan is currently collapsing, is this dollar preference taking place. Dollar preference is taking the shape of the currencies of developing countries world wide failing. The dollar in the U.S. will only fail when their is a tipping point of currency collapse outside the dollar. There I am trying to predict again.

  20. ellenanderson

    @Creedon- I see that shortonoil is posting on that site and has a couple of interesting comments. I also just checked ZeroHedge and see that Charles Hugh Smith has a post on degrowth. It must have gone up recently because the snarky comments are just starting. But degrowth sounds good to me. Most of the good articles are in french or german.

  21. ellenanderson

    @creedon – can’t disagree about small scale organic farming especially if it is done with some chickens and goats. I suppose de-enclosure goes with de-growth so that communities have access to land that they can manage cooperatively.
    Growing the world and feeding the world, however, are concepts whose time has come and gone.

  22. ellenanderson

    My last comment was pretty cryptic. I do think people could (must) feed themselves without industrial agriculture. Years ago when I tried to convince farmers/eaters to reject industrial agriculture they all declared “You can’t feed the world on organics” It is still a slogan that I hate. Today there is so much evidence that we need to adopt organic techniques, based upon a local, decentralized (peasant) model and supported by all of our contemporary knowledge of soils and biology.
    Years ago there used to be some real discussion of radical change on Naked C. Some of you may remember Attempter who was banned. He has continued to blog but doesn’t get a lot of comments. Here is a link to his latest post. https://attempter.wordpress.com/2017/02/26/sample-party-program/

  23. Eeyores enigma

    Ellen – I too got very involved in local ag here in the willamette valley. What really surprised me was when I started to think about it as I read your comment was that that was 10YEARS ago I was doing that!!! I also championed all of localization efforts.
    I even received a USDA grant to analyze the economics of it in order to address that comment except around here it was “you can’t make money on organics”.
    What we learned is that they were sort of right. The only way to scale up true organic ag as well as all localization is to heavily tax existing production and heavily subsidies local production.
    Either that or keep your efforts on the high end boutique market for your products. Like a 70 year old friend of mine who has been doing organics for 40 years says ” we are just a bunch of dirty hippies growing food for rich yuppies”.

  24. ellenanderson

    @eeyore – right you are. If you are competing within this financialized economic system you can’t make “money.” Commercial farming is a losing proposition. Small scale organic commercial farmers make enough to come back to work most years but either they don’t have mortgages or someone in the family has a job in the FIRE sector. That is the hedging strategy of organic farmers I know. My guess is that farming doesn’t make money in the old fashioned sense. Industrial ag gets huge subsidies or it couldn’t survive. It also relies upon outdated science that supports outdated regulations. Does anyone think that Trump will sunset the regulations on raw milk?
    The money makers are the chemical companies, the bankers and the middle men. That is how it has been since Shay’s Rebellion failed and the 19th century progressives failed. The farmers have made enough cheap food to help fuel the automobile based industrial waste economy.
    If you want populations to be able to feed themselves you have to abolish corporations and/or limit their charters. You have to have strictly public banking and disallow lending at compound rates. Only then can you allow people to live in communities that have food sovereignty. Obviously conservation of resources and the kinds of resource recycling that allowed China, Korea and Japan to farm for thousands of years would have to be required.
    I think we talked about Soddy on this blog. He proved nearly 100 years ago that farmers can’t be allowed to go into debt.

    1. steve from virginia Post author

      What subsidizes ag today (since WWII) is land development & speculation. Farmers borrow against their land worth until they have to settle with the bank by selling their land to real estate developers. Without sprawl we would have nothing to eat.

      Of course, if we keep sprawling we will also have nothing to eat because we won’t have enough farms. There is more than one reason for the 1,500 mile Caesar salad.

      Ag represents another collection of business cartels, Monsanto and Cargill are among the more notable. The cartels can borrow freely at low rates and kick their cans down as long a road as they can find, as long as there are smaller firms that can be swallowed up by the Big Boys. The operation of the cartels and lenders is no different from any other Ponzi scheme: money/credit comes in one end and flows to the pockets of the promoter with a few shills here and there getting a (small) percentage. When the loans dry up the scheme collapses. “You can’t feed the world on organics” = you cannot feed the world with racketeering, either.

      It isn’t clear what organic can- and cannot feed. Organic ag cannot support fleets of fast food restaurants or a meat-heavy American-style diet for 7+ billions. It becomes harder to produce the needed numbers of livestock and producer profits at the same time: larger operations, larger surpluses = higher costs. Every farmer is caught in the same paradox: the need on one hand to produce food so cheap than even the poorest customer can afford it. Meanwhile, the same farmer has to produce food at a profit so he- or she might remain in business. Industrial farming is a way to go broke over a long period of time, until the farmer sells his land for a subdivision and then settles his debts. Non-industrial farming puts the farmer at the mercy of the elements … it can work for awhile in most places but sooner or later there are two bad years in a row and the farmer is done.

      There are only a few places in the world — fewer now — where farmers can plant sustainable monocultures. Outside of those areas, which are mainly flood plains and a few highland areas with volcanic soils and heavy rainfall, some industrial inputs are probably necessary.

    2. steve from virginia Post author

      Ag doesn’t get much in the way of historical study. Books are written and monuments erected around the world to- and about military bosses but never farmers. Nobody really knows how people farmed even in the US 200 years ago. We make assumptions based on what people are observed to do today. One thing is clear, nobody in the US, and I mean nobody, knows how to sustainably farm in this country.

      It takes several generations on the same plot of land to know what can be grown and what can’t, what can be grazed and what shouldn’t, what will tolerate the temperatures, the light, the soil and the water … and what will dry up and wither. Industrial ag means any idiot can call himself a farmer and nobody can dispute it b/c the tech makes farming into a ‘one size fits all’ proposition. All ag problems = spray something and get another bank loan.

      Ag without machines is very labor intensive. The early agronomists solved labor the problem by building militaries and capturing lots of slaves. Ag = slavery, no two ways about it. The problem quickly arose as the agronomists on the receiving end built their own armies and slaves became scarce or expensive. It took better ag techniques to give one particular group or another the permanent advantage both in ag production and on the battlefield. For instance, irrigation and waste recycling made Rome more powerful than its neighbors because it had more food available and could keep its soldier-farmers on campaign longer. Ag techniques also gave neighbors an incentive to play along with the Romans instead of fight; the farmers could ‘get rich’ selling crops, providing the bread that went along with the circuses in urban centers!

      Ag in the pre-industrial West was likewise dependent upon slaves; first natives, then Afro-Caribbeans. The alternative was medieval-style small-holdings and the sort of elaborate, non-financial arrangements between landowners and yeomen, the sorts of inducements that allowed farmers to have shared control over pasturage at the same time keeping them and their hard-gained intimate knowledge of local conditions on their land for the needed generations.

      The medieval Europeans were successful agronomists without slaves but they suffered periodic famines, there were also indentures and compacts between landowners and farmers that rendered the latter and their families little better than slaves.

      The small-holding strategy cut against the property ownership impulse that the new European settlers brought to the colonies and, after 1776, the new country as a whole. The new farmers did not know the land or its capacity, and frankly they didn’t care. America seemed endless, there was no shortage of land that was treated as something to pillage. Farmers raised commercial crops after stripping the land of timber. Once the soil was exhausted the farmers pulled up, sold their holdings to naive newcomers and headed west; the cycle of stripping, exhausting and moving on like agricultural locusts. Plantation ag in the American south had the same outcome: soil exhaustion which left the important source of plantation income = sale of slaves into new plantation areas. The outcome of that was war and the poisonous social attitudes we have to struggle with today.

  25. Creedon

    Gail Tervberg said that all economies are self organizing. We can’t really organize an economy for others.
    In the midwest there are zillions of acres producing corn and soy beans for chickens, hogs and cattle in CAFOs that if this land were all used in small scale organic agriculture would produce much more food I believe, but there I go trying to organize an economy.

  26. ellenanderson

    I am amazed at the amount of food that can be produced using hand tools on a small acreage if you know what you are doing and you can keep the banks off your back. (Of course a lot of it is turnips and potatoes.) Small ruminants, no-till soil management and other benign practices mean that if the potatoes fail you may have squash and when the invasives grow nicely the goats and chickens will have something to eat. You cannot feed armies, wage wars, etc. this way but local populations using traditional peasant practices can probably have happy lives. They seem to have done so all over the world until greedy empires decided to take their land and turn them into (wage) slaves.

    Given the horrendous abuses of the land that Steve describes he is correct that there is a lot of remedial work that would be best undertaken while we have some industrially produced resources available. Many of the northeastern and midwestern areas of the US still have some soils left with adequate rainfall and reasonably predictable climate patterns. Other climates I don’t know about. Some replacement of annual crops with perennials and what they call “regenerative agriculture” seem pretty workable. Many people have taken advantage of the nearly ten years since the financial crisis of 2007-08 to spread these techniques around. But, as Eeyore pointed out, most did so thinking that they would be able to “make a living” or that the current system would have collapsed by now. All not true. So far

    Every year that goes by with this corrupt poisonous industrial waste based system in place the problems gets worse. But if its collapse requires all-out war, very few of us will get to see whether we are correct about ideal agricultural practices, that is for sure. So we need to get clear about what is going on and how to protect ourselves for some sort of disconnect. But we are going to have to give up our love of driving around all alone producing nothing but smog. I don’t know whether most people can bear to do that.

  27. Creedon

    On the Rendezvous Mountain Site there is a chart showing that wages as a percentage of GDP have been falling consistently since 1970. This is really the only thing that we can be sure of. We are getting poorer and we are destroying the earth. They also mention that 60 percent depletion in exploitive systems is a sort of turning point. We should be getting close to that point.

  28. Bachs_bitch

    Hello again, Steve. This is the new poster from earlier.

    I wanted to hear your (and the other commentators’) take on the oil glut coupled with increasing US oil production. If low oil prices means expensive drilling is uneconomical then why is overall production increasing? This is a subject I haven’t had much time to research yet would like to learn about.

    1. Ken Barrows

      While you wait for the heavy hitters, I will step in for the junior varsity.
      See where free cash flow (operating profits less capex less dividends) goes for oil producers, especially ExxonMobil, Chevron, and ConocoPhillips and other biggies. If that rises in the next couple of years, Steve is wrong. I don’t think Steve is wrong. If borrowing stops to the oil giants, things will get “exciting.”

    2. steve from virginia Post author

      Basically, extraction and consumption are always in balance … but not always at the same time. When the rate of extraction is greater than the rate of consumption, the result is an inventory surplus. This condition can persist for a long period, particularly when drillers are eager to put every possible barrel on the market, to make up their losses with volume. Also, when the customers are broke and getting broker. That is the real problem in the industry right now, the generalized increase in poverty: energy shortfalls, even the relative variety, do not make anyone richer.

      US extraction has indeed increased since 2011; worldwide, a few other plays show increases while most of the legacy plays are in decline. This is taking place even while applying tertiary methods of extraction such as increasing the length of laterals, steam- and solvent flooding, CO2 injection, infill drilling, etc. The big problem now is the paucity of new discoveries. It is impossible to extract what you don’t discover so the future is grim for the drillers.

      Drillers are like everyone else; they believe the ‘next big score’ is out there somewhere, they just have to get ‘over the hump’, live through a few bad years and financial conditions will improve. Right now the US drillers are borrowing with both hands; the giants are continuing to pay their annual dividends even as they must borrow to do so. The US and its government is prepared to do whatever it takes to keep the oil flowing, including guaranteeing loans to the drillers and refiners. At some point they might (will) orchestrate the nationalization of the industry, shifting the oil company debts (in the trillion$) to the taxpayers. The current government strategy ‘appears’ to be one of disrupting Iran, China and Europe at the same time making new oil deals with Putin. The aim would be to shake loose 10 million barrels per day of exportable consumption from the first three countries while shifting to Russia as The US’ primary supplier.

      There are gluts and there are gluts: today’s inventory excess amounts to a few hundred thousand measly barrels, a very modest amount. During 1998, the Saudis shut in 4-5 million barrels per day in an attempt to put a floor under prices which were lower than any time since WWII. A barrel could be had for $7.50 so the effort was not particularly successful. That was the peak year; oil was never cheaper in greater quantities. The following year oil prices doubled then came the long march to 2008 and $147/barrel.

      Oil inventory increases b/c the managers count everything as new fuel, including natural gas liquids and volumetric refinery gains. For instance, 42 gallons of crude oil will reduce in the refinery to gasoline, distillates, asphalt, bunker fuel which added together equals 46 gallons. Yet the total energy content of the barrel is reduced as a fraction of each barrel is required to run the refinery. According to Jeffrey Brown, a percentage (if not all) of the increase in volume is natural gas liquids which are separated from the gas stream at the wellhead. Gas + liquids is ‘wet gas’, the increase in liquids is the result of the natural gas fracking boom. Gas is still very cheap but the liquids are priced like crude, liquid sales have been internally subsidizing the gas extraction efforts.

      1. Bachs_bitch

        @Steve and Ken – thanks for the responses! It’ll take a while for me to parse Steve’s response. For the moment I’ll focus on Ken Barrows’ post:

        >>>See where free cash flow (operating profits less capex less dividends) goes for oil producers, especially ExxonMobil, Chevron, and ConocoPhillips and other biggies.

        I found a couple of links – adduced below – that report Exxon’s and Chevron’s free cash flow being down significantly since 2011/12, which is also about the time US production started increasing as Steve notes above. Presumably that indicates they are making new plays but getting (much?) less than expected returns. However, that site also provides a graphic showing that they have spent less money on share repurchases since 2005.

        Exxon – http://oilprice.com/Energy/Energy-General/ExxonMobil-Is-Digging-Its-Own-Grave.html

        Chevron – https://secure.marketwatch.com/investing/stock/CVX/financials/cash-flow

        I guess the question now is who is giving them money to them and how long can/will they do so?

  29. Creedon

    Your post is the first place that I’ve seen that the U.S. is wanting to make Russia it’s predominant supplier. Your saying that since they couldn’t destroy Russia they are now willing to make deals. To me it would also mean that they are aware of things with the Saudi oil supply that we are not aware of. The State department being run by an oil man may not be as wild as we would suppose.

  30. Eeyores enigma

    Bachs_bitch; to paraphrase the others comments on your Q, producers are losing money on every barrel, but making up for it in volume. Although it is a classic joke in this situation it is almost true.

  31. Creedon

    The big banks and oil companies have to know that they are in an unsustainable situation, which makes you wonder if they have a plan for when it goes down, or maybe they are just stupid. I have been debating on this for years.

    1. steve from virginia Post author

      Stupid is always an appropriate answer.

      In DC it’s called ‘believing your own propaganda.”

  32. Dan Johnson

    Steve and commentariat, I want to point out the writings of Ted Trainer, which I just discovered, much in line with Steve’s thesis. From Ted’s “Critique of the Left” http://thesimplerway.info/LEFTCRIT.htm
    “What we are going to do is in effect to ignore capitalism to death. Capitalism cannot survive if people do not continue to purchase, consume and throw away at an accelerating rate. Our aim is to gradually build the alternative practices and systems which will enable more and more people to move out of the mainstream, to shun consumer society, and to secure more and more of their material and social needs from the alternative systems and sources emerging within their neighbourhoods and towns.”

  33. Bachs_bitch

    OK, I read Steve’s post and looked some things up over the last 30 mins. The observations about shifting to Russia as the US’ supplier certainly seem logical, but not practical given the ongoing breakdown of communication between opposing political factions. The media world at this point has transformed into a nightmarish rendition of a Teletubbies episode.

    Apart from that, the real issue still seems to be how long the oil corps can continue producing increasingly expensive oil. In other words EROEI, which is a term I am reasonably familiar with but haven’t thought about at any great length until now. I searched for “oil industry diminishing eroei” and came up with this site (among others):


    Which in turn lead me to this site:


    The former criticizes the latter for exaggerating the decline of the EROEI in oil production because the calculation is based on first principles not applicable directly to a complex real world system. It also links to a paper that it claims shows the current EROEI to be reasonable.

  34. Eeyores enigma

    Dan – I have been hearing that pipe dream for over 12 years now (longer if you count the conservation/ecology movement of the 60’s) and it ain’t gunna happen.

    What is going to happen is what IS happening. Capitalism has little or nothing to do with it. Money has everything to do with it. Some will get money others will not and they will die. Famine is not about lack of food, it is and always has been a lack of money.

    I have been working on this wonderful transformation to a local economy that you quote for over 10 years and none of it has happened. In fact 90% of those who committed to doing this, many of whom I encouraged and supported, ended up losing everything. The trend in our region, a region considered bay all to be prime for localization and sustainability by the way, has been the opposite.

    I no longer advocate for localization on a community level (I practice it myself with my 5 acre farm with solar, wind, and hydro that has no hope of being sustainable) because so many people have been hurt by attempting it that I am some what shunned. It is a noble thing to speak of and push for an alternative but at this point it is a sure recipe for speeding up ones decent on the economic ladder. Those who resisted our movement and pursued wealth and possessions are visibly, demonstrably better off and more and more people are choosing to pursue that path…including, unfortunately my own daughter. They are by far the vast majority.

    One might argue that there will be a turning point where this reverses but it is very clear to me now that that inflection point will not herald in the new era of localization, sustainability, community, and mutual aid. It will spell the end for most folks as they will no longer have hope for a future, at least a future that they are willing to live in.

    1. Volvo740...

      I think the most sensible advice would be to alter your lifestyle and buy nothing you don’t need, and save the rest. Pay off debt if you have it, and then hope for the best. MSM is doing everything it can to sell shit. But the paradox of thrift is well studied…

      In the end (already?) the real resource depletion is going to manifest itself in a way that can’t be denied (unless you want to make a fool of yourself). Denialism seems to be having a good time so far though.

    2. ellenanderson

      @Eeyore – well hopefully you are living a life that you enjoy. I guess lots of people will have to decide whether they are willing to live without their cars. I am pretty sure most of them will try to stay alive.
      It is important to at least consider what Trainer states so clearly. I am quite sure that many people who would formerly have made up our “left wing” agree with him. The people who can’t or won’t get it are those who claim to be on the left but are just confused.
      Left and right don’t make sense at all anymore IMHO.

  35. Ken Barrows

    Very small sign of recognition of the world’s oil plight. Forbes article acknowledges the Bakken may be terminal.

    1. steve from virginia Post author

      Our old friend Art Berman: https://www.forbes.com/sites/arthurberman/2017/03/01/the-beginning-of-the-end-for-the-bakken-shale-play/#768271d01487

      There is more information available regarding Bakken so the quality of the play’s output can be measured. Right now the biggest problem is per-well output is declining and has been for over a year. Adding more wells under the circumstances isn’t as productive.

      Texas- Eagle Ford is iffy: http://peakoilbarrel.com/texas-update-january2017/

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