Limits, desperate times and crazy solutions

Source: Pixabay CCO Public Domain

What about oil?

Oil is like a two edged sword. Considering climate change and ecological degradation we should stop using it tomorrow. Greenhouse gas emissions is only one of the reasons. Another is our usage of oil to make plastic products that now fill the oceans and kills marine life. On the other hand, we have made our civilisation totally dependent upon oil for transportation, food production, medicines and keeping the economy going. Economic growth is basically a function of energy (oil) per capita consumption. Also, in Sweden we import a staggering 50% of all the food we consume, while farmers go into debt or have to close down their farms (which is totally outrageous). If there is a serious oil shock we might not be able to feed our population and people would starve! One report said that we perhaps could eat more horse meat since we currently have 360 000 horses only for recreational use. That is a bizarre proposal for solution. 

I wonder what will happen when credit run dry due to an economic slow down, can we still import the oil we need? Looking at the current situation of falling commodity prices one might think that this would be a good thing. But I'm afraid it could be just the opposite. First of, it is lack of demand that has caused the current falling prices, people are broke and debt saturated, not some myth about "Saudi-America". Second, falling prices means that many commodity companies will face bankruptcy which eventually would mean falling supply. And once supply falls I'm not sure it will be able to come back online again as no one will fund these expensive and risky operations in a economic downturn. So either if there is a shock or we simply cannot afford it, we are very vulnerable to a loss of oil imports.

Limits to growth

Ordinary people are not aware of how precarious our situation really is since government officials have started changing their statistics. Since 2010 they have chosen to exclude GDP per capita measures adjusted for inflation, something that almost no journalist seems to have questioned. What has been seen as a "Swedish miracle" of strong GDP growth compared to rest of Europe, since 2008, has been total fiction that mainstream media fell for without critical analysis. Looking at the numbers, GDP per capita adjusted for inflation, we can see that Sweden actually only grew by 0.3% per year between 2006-2014 (see diagram). Compared to other "developed" nations Sweden places somewhere in the middle, with Poland having strong growth (3,5%/year) while the Greeks have suffered de-growth (-3,1%/year). What also becomes evident is that most of these countries have actually been stagnant or suffered de-growth. Something that is no surprise for those who are aware of the limits to growth, the fact that we live on a finite planet with a limited amount of natural resources and dwindling energy.  
Source: OECD statistics

Political theatre that serves no one

As with most things these days our politicians don't really have a plan for any of the above situations. It seems to be a rule these days that the more serious the situation gets the more they fight about inconsequential things. This becomes evident in the latest budget discussions. The conservatives don't want to raise taxes while the social democrats want to tighten finance but at the same time makes the debt problem even worse!

The central bank has adopted negative real interest rates and supported buying of securities in a desperate attempt to stimulate the economy while the government has presented a budget that is supposed to be financed by raising taxes and lowering government spending. This sends the signal of a totally incompetent government that has no clue of what its doing. These policies will only benefit the people who have financial assets, speculating on houses and stocks, while savers are being punished. Thus, making the debt crisis worse. The private sector has an enormous amount of debt (252% of GDP), way above the stagnant GDP per capita income, which according to one study makes Sweden the number one country with the largest private sector debt in the world.

Source: The Telegraph

Fictive wealth 

It is no wonder that the Swedish people are growing impatient with the political elite, especially when they present a story that does not fit with reality. The self serving myth of the "Swedish miracle" only help worsen the debt crisis at the same time as politicians escape responsibility. Swedish household debt has sky rocketed and now widely exceeds disposable income. The housing bubble reaches new highs for every month. But this is not real wealth, only fictive wealth, no products or services have been created. As most people probably understand, even if they repress it, there cannot be large deviations from the real economy without an eventual correction. It is not hard to figure out how it will end, rapidly growing asset prices in a country where income is stagnant is not sustainable. The hard part is telling when the bubble will pop. So when Swedes say "the Greeks have themselves to blame" then this will surely have to apply to the Swedes also when the crisis hits. All our debt is in the private sector, which is what kills economies, while the Greek debt is in terms of government debt.

A global slowdown   

Signs of deflation are now everywhere. Back in 2008 the central banks of the developed world and China decided to double down on failed policies that had promoted massive debts to accumulate in the private sector, that eventually led to a near implosion of the banking sector. Now here we are 8 years later and with $60 trillion in new debt that has not led to any significant recovery of the real economy, only asset inflation. But there is a limit to how much debt people can and are willing to take on. 
Source: The Telegraph

Now we see global currency markets in disarray, for example the Swedish krona lost 2.0%. The global debt bubble could be bursting leading to tightening financial conditions and a flight to safety into the US dollar. Emerging markets are struggling due to falling commodity prices. China has stumbled and is doing all it can to prevent a stock market collapse. Manufacturing and shipping is way down. And the list goes on, something is definitely happening. 

Desperate measures

Since interests rates are at zero, or negative, central banks have lost this weapon in their toolkit. All the stimulus that piled up even more debt has not led to any substantial recovery in the real economy. No monetary policy in the world can change the fact that we have reached limits. But desperate times have led to even more desperate measures. All G20 nations have put in force so called "bail-ins" which means that the big banks can take depositors savings next time there is a crisis. This is what happened in Cyprus. The EU is pushing Sweden to do the same and most likely we will go along with it, according to some sources it could come into effect by 2016. In other words, no one is safe when the next crisis hits. And all the suffering to come will be due to humanity's inability to understand that infinite growth on a finite planet is impossible and doomed to fail miserably.


Out of the ashes into the fire

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