Transformation or Stagnation? – Investment Watch

by Charles Hugh-Smith

Some decades are easy and expansive, others are painful but necessary to lay the foundations for future progress.

Many people reject the idea of ​​historical cycles because of its imprecision. I understand the appeal of this objection, but it is nevertheless surprising that transformative decades tend to manifest themselves in cycles rather than uniformly over time.

Compare the decades of the last 70 years: 1952 to present. How different was the US culture and economy between 1952 and 1959?

Although there were advances in civil rights and prosperity, the zeitgeist (the look, feel, values, expectations, beliefs, outlook, mood, etc.) of 1959 was not very different from 1952: clothes, movies, Cold War, segregation, etc. they were identifiable at the same time.

Elvis, Chuck Berry, et al. encouraged popular music, but the overall impact of rock/R&B was limited to entertainment and youth culture.

Now compare the zeitgeist of 1962 and the zeitgeist of 1969. The zeitgeist of 1969 was nothing like the zeitgeist of 1962. Not only did the clothes and music change; values, expectations, beliefs, perspectives, moods, and political, social, and economic structures had been transformed in ways that reverberated for decades to come.

The 1960s weren’t just tumultuous; the decade was transformative. The civil rights, feminist, and environmental movements changed laws, values, culture, politics, society, and the economy. Economically, the stagnation of the 1970s was a consequence of the changes that took place in the 1960s, much of it under the surface.

In 1969, the popular music of fifty years earlier (1919) might as well have been the music of a previous century. However, in 2022, music from the late 1960s and early 1970s is still being heard, bought and influential today, more than 50 years later.

Cycles are often the result of interconnected forces of wars, economic upheavals, energy/food shortages, and large-scale economic and social forces: the transition from wood to coal, for example, or mass immigration generated by crop failures and poverty.

The 1920s is another example of a decade of rapid transformation that set the stage for the Great Depression of the 1930s. The new freedoms of personal expression made the 1920s look and feel different from the immediate post-World War I era of 1919-1920.

The 1870s was another decade that transformed economies and societies worldwide. The railroad investment boom after the end of the American Civil War, the reparations imposed on France after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, the end of silver coinage in the US, a speculative stock market boom in Europe that crashed in the Panic of 1873: all these dynamics reinforced each other, resulting in a global depression that, according to some accounts, lasted until the 1890s.

Yet despite the failure of railroads and banks and widespread unemployment and suffering, the Second Industrial Revolution continued to transform economies as coal, iron, steel, manufacturing, transportation, and urbanization changed the foundations of global economies.

The industrial expansion of Western powers drove colonization, and reactions to colonization such as the Meiji Restoration of 1868 transformed Japan.

Of course, we can detect changes in every decade of human history, but Lenin’s famous exaggeration (“There are decades when nothing happens; and there are weeks when decades pass”) speaks to the way they accumulate various dynamics beneath the surface, interact with others. forces and then exploded.

The world of 2030 could look and feel completely different from the world of 2022which still costs on the excesses of the waste is growth Landfill economy of extreme financialization and globalization?

My guess is yes. Previous cycles arose from the financial excesses of expansion or contraction, the aftermath of wars, profound economic changes as energy sources expanded (switching from wood to coal and then to oil) or contracted (forests are being depleted) and climate change (the “years without summer.” in the 1630s, etc.).

While many believe the next energy boom is beginning (fusion or other nuclear, solar/wind), the practicalities of physics, resource depletion, and cost lend little support to these projections.

For example, the US should build hundreds of nuclear reactors in the next 20 years to reduce hydrocarbon consumption, but only two reactors have been built in the last 25 years.

There is no evidence that the resources, material and financial, and the political will needed to build 500 reactors in the next 20 years are available.

If massive amounts of wind and solar are installed over the next 20 years, all systems that are 20 years old will need to be replaced because they are worn out. These are not renewable, they are replaceable.

So, we are facing an energy contraction at the same time as the extremes of financialization and globalization that have driven the expansion are collapsing.

This outcome will not be linear, that is, gradual and predictable. It will be non-linear and unpredictable, with seemingly modest changes collapsing supply chains and speculative excesses.

The extremes of inequality and repression act as pendulums. Once they reach the maximum end point of the impulse, they reverse and draw a line to the opposite end, minus some friction.

Many of these dynamics are already visible. What is not yet visible is the rapid acceleration and mutual reinforcement of these dynamics.

Seasons of expansion can be liberating and fun, but there is no guarantee that the liberation and fun will be evenly distributed.

Times of contraction are rarely fun, and misery is widely distributed. Like it or not, the era of waste is growth Landfill economy is ending up in what promises to be a non-linear process.

But that doesn’t mean the end result isn’t positive. Turbulent transformations can set the stage for more distributed prosperity and liberation. Some decades are easy and expansive, others are painful but necessary to lay the foundations for future progress. What will it be in 2022-2030? Stay tuned.

The music of the late 1960s was remarkably different from the music of 1962, let alone 1952, or the popular music of fifty years earlier, in 1919.

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