Archive for June, 2022

Book note: Tolstoy’s War and Peace

June 29, 2022

WAR AND PEACE by Leo Tolstoy (1865-1869) translated by Almayer and Louise Maude (1923) edited and with an introduction by Henry Gifford (1983)

War and Peace is the best novel I have ever read.  Each time I read it, it seems new to me, and I notice things it it that I missed before.

It is the story of two very different friends, Prince Andrei Bolkonsky and Pierre Bezukhov, and the woman they both love, Natasha Rostov.  It is also a war novel, a historical novel and a comedy of manners, full of subplots, great descriptive writing and interesting, believable characters.

Andrei is the ideal Russian nobleman and military officer.  He is dashing, handsome, and rich, and occupies a high social rank.  He is a respected commander and staff officer, well able to cope with enemies on the battlefield and intrigues at headquarters.  Everything he does, he does competently.  His manners are impeccable, although some find him arrogant. 

His friend  Pierre is the opposite.  He is fat and clumsy, naive and foolish.  He is the bastard son of a nobleman, a marginal person in society until he unexpectedly inherits great wealth from his father, and then is taken advantage of by all.

What binds these two unlikely friends together?  Both question whether life has meaning.  Both want something deeper than the conventional values of society.  Andrei’s answer is to play the social game by its meaningless rules as best he can; Pierre’s is to search for meaning, in his blundering way, in freemasonry and other schools of thought.

The two friends differ in their opinions, and have interesting arguments.  Pierre is a would-be humanitarian reformer.  Andrei is a cynical conservative.

Both lack emotional intelligence.  Pierre is easily exploited, especially by his new, gold-digging wife, Helene.  Andrei is unable to form close relationships.  He enlists in the military partly to avoid his wife, who loves him deeply but whom Andrei cannot love in return.

Neither had a loving father and mother to set an example.  Pierre’s father apparently disowned him, until the very end; Andrei’s father was a harsh and distant widower, who didn’t like women.

Andrei does have a spiritual awakening of sorts when he is wounded in the Battle of Austerlitz and near death.  He comes to realize the futility of the quest for military glory, but otherwise is not permanently changed.

He spends years in isolation after the death of his wife in childbirth.  His capacity for affection is awakened by an encounter with the sweet, charming 16-year-old Natasha Rostov.

The Rostovs are everything that the Bolkonskys are not.  Natasha’s father is an irresponsible spendthrift; her mother is a foolish society lady.  But they are a loving couple, and their children, including brothers Nicholas and Petya, are affectionate and joyful, and have good values.

Andrei and Natasha are each fulfillments of the other’s ideal fantasy.  Andrei is a handsome, dashing prince; Natasha is a lovely, pure young maiden.  When they dance at a ball, they are smitten with each other, and soon decide to marry.

But the elder Bolkonsky intervenes.  He tells Andrei that he will give his consent to the marriage only if he and Natasha separate for a year and still want to marry at the end.

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Book note: Crime and Punishment

June 24, 2022

CRIME AND PUNISHMENT by Feodor Dostoyevsky (1866) translated from the Russian by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (1992) with an introduction by W.J. Leatherbarrow (1993)

Dostoyevsky’s great novel is about how a young man with basically decent and humane feeling puts himself into a psychological state in which he commits a cold-blooded murder.

When we meet the young man, Raskolnikov, he is hungry, exhausted, and in ill health.  He is full of guilt for sponging off his needy mother and sister.  He is deeply in debt to a pawnbroker, a greedy old woman who has an abused half-sister.

We later learn that he wasn’t always like this.  A fairly short time before the action of the novel begins, when he was solvent and healthy, he was compassionate and responsible, keeping his own life in order and going out of this way to constructively help others.

But now he is in a state where his mind is on automatic pilot—acting on impulse rather than conscious decision.  Some of his impulses are generous and kind, some are bad, but none are the result of conscious decision.

This state has been well described by 20th century psychologists, starting with Sigmund Freud.  The conscious mind is not necessarily master in its own house.  It thinks it is the CEO of the human personality, but often it is just the PR department.  

Dostoyevsky understood through introspection and observation what Freud and others later figured out through scientific study and clinical experience.

Raskonnikov’s main source of self-esteem is an article he wrote about how the end justifies the means, and how a truly great person, such as Napoleon, pursues his goal by all means necessary, without concern for moral rules.

Napoleon knowingly caused the deaths of many thousands of innocent people, but he was regarded as a great man because he was a force for progress, Raskolnikov wrote; a Napoleon on the individual level, who acquired money through a crime, but used the money to do good, would also be great.  In fact, it could be your duty to overcome qualms of conscience to accomplish a great goal.

He begins to fantasize about killing the pawnbroker and using her money to help his mother and sister, canceling out the criminal act by the good deed.  But there is no point in the narrative at which he comes to a conscious decision to commit the murder.

One day he overhears a student arguing with a military officer about that very thing.  The student says that killing and robbing the pawnbroker would be justified if the money was used to accomplish a greater good, because the pawnbroker contributes nothing to society.  Ah, replies the officer, but would you really do it?  No, the student admits.

This is what the experimental psychologist Daniel Kahneman called priming or anchoring—one of the subtle things that influence human action below the level of consciousness.

Raskolnikov goes ahead and commits the murder.  He kills the greedy pawnbroker and then her innocent half-sister.  All the while he acts more on impulse and instinct more than rational judgement.  It is as if he is a spectator to his own actions.

I myself have experienced being in such a mental state.  I have done things with my mind on automatic pilot, sometimes to my great regret, and then wonder why I did them.

Raskolnikov flees the murder scene and gets away with loot, but not as much as if he had been able to act calmly, rationally and decisively.  

Later he reproaches himself, not for committing the murder, but for not being Napoleon-like character he imagined himself to be.   But his sense of guilt is too great and he eventually confesses.  Even so, he is still tortured by the conflict between his conscience and his philosophy.

Raskolnikov’s inability to overcome his basic human decency is not, as he saw it, a fatal flaw, but a saving grace

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Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy and Russianness

June 22, 2022

I’m re-reading Feodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov, and Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Anna Karenina.  I’ve read them before, but somehow they seem as fresh and new as if I was reading them the first time.

My reason for re-reading them is partly to get some idea of what’s Russian about Russia.

No question, Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy are distinctively Russian.  They are polar opposites in many ways, but opposite sides of the same coin.

Dostoyevsky was a troubled soul who suffered prison, exile, poverty, the loss of children and gambling addiction.  Tolstoy was a wealthy aristocrat who went from success to success, yet in the end found his successes spiritually empty.

Dostoyevsky plumbed the depths of human evil.  Tolstoy explored the possibility of human enlightenment.

Both found modern European civilization spiritually shallow.  Both rejected secular humanism, utilitarianism, materialism, progressive reform and revolutionary socialism.  Dostoyevsky saw these ideas as evil; Tolstoy, as foolish.

Both were Christian believers.  Dostoyevsky was a champion of Eastern Orthodox Christianity and an opponent of Catholicism.  One of his heroes, Aloysha Karamazov, was a Russian monk.

Tolstoy preached a more universalist version of Christianity, which caused him to be expelled from the Russian Orthodox Church.  His ideas  influenced Gandhi and Martin Luther King. 

Dostoyevsky was one of the few writers of his era to make poor people in cities his viewpoint characters.  He neither idealized or ridiculed them, because he shared their experiences.  In his novels, they could mess up their lives just like anybody else.

Tolstoy idealized workmen and peasants.   But in his novels, they were what’s called non-player characters.  He didn’t try to enter into their minds. His characters were all members of the upper crust—landowners, judges, army officers, educated intellectuals.  His ideal was the land-owning aristocrat who took responsibility for the people who depend on him.

Even so, he had such a wide-ranging knowledge of society and human character that his greatest novel, War and Peace, gave me an impression of a summing up all of human life.  

Also, unlike Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy was able to enter into the minds of his women characters.  Grushenka in The Brothers Karamazov is one of the most fascinating characters in literature, but we see her only from the outside.  The inner workings of her mind remain a mystery.  

Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy are both known for their writings about the quest for spiritual and philosophical truth.  The debates among the characters are like Plato’s Socratic dialogues.  But their novels can also be read as social commentary and even comedies of manners. 

What’s Russian about them is rejection of modern Western ideals of freedom, reason and tolerance as supreme values.  Both believed it takes something deeper to make a civilization.

∞∞∞

Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy were contemporaries, and read each others’ books.  Dostoyevsky reviewed War and PeaceTolstoy reviewed  Crime and Punishment.  Each thought the other was okay, but not great.  They never met face to face.

One difference between the two was their handling of the Napoleon legend.  In Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov was fascinated by the idea of Napoleon as a man of destiny, whose greatness was manifested in his willingness to commit crimes to accomplish great deeds.

Napoleon is a character in War and Peace, which came out about the same time.  Tolstoy depicts him as shallow and empty,  unworthy of his reputation.

Pierre Bezukhov, in the opening chapters, defends Napoleon’s crimes to shocked aristocratic party-goers.  Later he tries to be a man of destiny himself, by remaining in Moscow during the French invasion in order to assassinate Napoleon.  But the kind-hearted, indecisive Pierre can’t bring himself to pull the trigger.  Raskolnikov would have thought him a weakling.

Tolstoy thought most peoples’ stated philosophies had little or nothing to do with their actual conduct—which, considering what some people believed, was a good thing.   Dostoyevsky, on the other hand, believed ideas have consequences, and bad ideas have disastrous consequences.

Although Tolstoy had a point, the history of the 20th century, especially 20th century Russia, supports Dostoyevsky.  Ideas that, in Dostoyevsky’s time, were being kicked around in small, isolated discussion groups, were to become official doctrines imposed at gunpoint.

∞∞∞

All four of these novels are great, and worth reading for their own sake.  If there is anything greater in the Western literary canon, I haven’t read it.  I didn’t find anything in these four novels, or my (admittedly incomplete) reading of the writers’ other works, to indicate what they would have thought about the current Ukraine war.  But others have.

LINKS

How should Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy be read during Russia’s war against Ukraine? by Ani Kokobobo for The Conversation.

Can Russian literature make sense of Russia’s war on Ukraine? by Tim Brinkhof for Big Think.  

Tolstoy or Dostoevsky? Eight Experts on Who’s Greater by Kevin Hartnett for The Millions.  [Added 06/25/2022}

Michael Hudson explains what’s really going on

June 20, 2022

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Michael Hudson is an economist whose books make clear how the United States exercises financial power over the whole world, and escapes the consequences of government budget deficits and balance of trade deficits.  In his most recent book, The Destiny of Civilization, he explains how the U.S. free ride may be coming to an end.

He laid all this out in the podcasts above.  He said the Biden administration is speeding up the inevitable U.S. decline.   Here’s an excerpt from the transcript: 

My job at Chase was to analyse basically the balance of payments of Third World countries and then of the oil industry.  I had to develop an accounting format to find how much does the oil industry actually makes in the rest of the world.  I had to calculate natural-resource rent, and how large it was.  I did that from 1964 till October 1967.  

Then I had to quit to finish my dissertation to get the PhD.  And then I developed the system of balance-of-payments analysis that actually was the way it had been calculated before GDP analysis.  I went to work for Arthur Andersen and spent a year calculating the whole U.S. balance of payments.  

That’s where I found that it was all military in character.  And I began to write in popular magazines like Ramparts, warning that America’s foreign wars were forcing it to run out of gold. That was the price that America was paying for its military spending abroad.

I realised as soon as it went off gold in 1971 that America now had a cost-free means of military spending.  Suppose you were to go to the grocery store and just pay in IOUs.  You could just keep spending if you could convince the owner, the grocer to use the IOU to pay the farmers and the dairy people for their products.  What if everybody else used these IOUs as money?  You would continue to get your groceries for free.

That’s how the United States economy works under the dollar standard, at least until the present.  This is what led China, Russia, Iran and other countries to say that they don’t want to keep giving America a free ride.  

These dollarized IOUs are being used to surround them with military bases, to overthrow them and to threaten to bomb them if they don’t do what American diplomats tell them to do.

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Why I didn’t watch the Jan. 6 hearings

June 18, 2022

I don’t think the Jan. 6 investigations revealed anything new.  They reached a pre-determined conclusion on an issue most Americans had already made up their minds about, and few Americans care about.

The investigations would have had merit if they can explored why it was the police presence in Washington, D.C., and Capitol Hill specifically, was too small to deal with the mobs.  And why videos showed some Capitol police welcoming the Trump protesters into the Capitol building.  There are innocent explanations for both things, but I would like to know more.

There also would have been merit on hearings on whether legislation is necessary to protect the integrity of the presidential election process at the state level.  Some Republican states are considering legislation to give state legislatures the power to set aside the popular vote and make their own choice of Presidential Electors, or otherwise tampering with the voting process in presidential elections.   This is a real threat to the integrity of the election progress.

There was no chance that Vice President Pence could have changed the outcome of the election.  If Pence had refused to certify the electors, there would have been an emergency appeal to the Supreme Court calling on him to do his Constitutional duty.  If he refused to comply, there would have been some sort of work-around.  If neither of these things happened, the offices of President and Vice-President would have fallen vacant on Jan. 20 and, in accord with the Constitution, the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, would have become chief executive of the United States.

The whole national military-police-governmental-business establishment was opposed to Trump overturning the election.  If Sanders had been the Democratic nominee, the establishment might have allowed the election to be overturned, but he wasn’t.

Underestimating Russia, etc.

June 16, 2022

[check the comment thread for a correction]

The Russian Federation has not lost a war or failed in a military intervention since it came into existence in 1991.

The United States has not won a war or succeeded in a military intervention since the U.S. attack on Panama in 1989, and this includes campaigns to destroy nations by means of economic sanctions.

As corrupt as Russia is, on many levels, I don’t think its government spends money on weapons that don’t work, promotes generals who lose wars or doubles down on foreign policies that have failed.

At the top levels of the U.S. government and journalism, failure has no consequences.  Yes-men are rewarded, even when they’re proved wrong.  Dissidents are pushed aside, even when they’re proved right.

It is pretty plain that Biden, Blinken and the rest had no idea what they were getting into when they decided on a showdown with Russia.

The economic blowback from the sanctions war is hurting the U.S. and its allies more than it is hurting Russia.   Public opinion polls indicate that average American voters are more concerned about the cost of living than Ukraine.  What nobody has told them is that the sanctions war against Russia is driving up the cost of living.

U.S. spokesmen are talking more and more about the possibility of defeat and the need for negotiations, although I suspect that Vladimir Putin has decided that the USA is, as he puts it, “not agreement-capable.”

I am not a military expert, I’m neither bold enough nor foolish enough to predict the outcome of the Ukraine war, but I’m pretty sure it won’t be of net benefit to the United States or its allies.

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Why isn’t Ukraine an economic powerhouse?

June 15, 2022

I’ve always known that Ukraine was rich in economic resources.  And I’ve always known that’s why American and other foreign corporations have wanted to get their hands on Ukraine’s resources.  but I never realized how rich until I read the statistics in this post.

UKRAINE IS:

🌐 1st in Europe in proven recoverable uranium ore reserves;
2nd place in Europe and 10th place in the world in titanium ore reserves;
2nd place in the world in terms of explored reserves of manganese ores (2.3 billion tons, or 12% of world reserves);
The 2nd largest iron ore reserves in the world (30 billion tons);
2nd place in Europe in mercury ore reserves;
🌐 3rd place in Europe (13th place in the world) in terms of shale gas reserves (22 trillion cubic meters)
🌐 4th place in the world in terms of the total value of natural resources;
7th place in the world in coal reserves (33.9 billion tons)

Ukraine is an important agricultural country:
🌐 1st in Europe in terms of arable land area;
🌐 3rd place in the world by the area of chernozem [a kind of fertile black soil] (25% of the world volume);
🌐 1st place in the world in the export of sunflower and sunflower oil;
2nd place in the world in barley production and 4th place in barley export;
🌐 3rd largest producer and 4th largest exporter of corn in the world;
🌐 The 4th largest potato producer in the world;
The 5th largest rye producer in the world;
5th place in the world for honey production (75,000 tons);
8th place in the world in wheat exports;
9th place in the world in the production of chicken eggs;
🌐 16th place in the world in cheese exports.

Ukraine can meet the food needs of 600 million people.

Ukraine was an important industrially developed country:
🌐 1st in Europe in ammonia production;
The 2nd and 4th largest natural gas pipeline systems in the world;
🌐 3rd largest in Europe and 8th in the world in terms of installed capacity of nuclear power plants;
3rd place in Europe and 11th in the world in terms of the length of the railway network (21,700 km);
🌐 3rd place in the world (after the USA and France) in the production of locators and navigation equipment;
🌐 3rd largest iron exporter in the world;
🌐 The 4th largest exporter of turbines for nuclear power plants in the world;
🌐 The world’s 4th largest manufacturer of rocket launchers;
🌐 4th place in the world in clay exports;
🌐 4th place in the world in titanium exports;
8th place in the world in the export of ores and concentrates;
9th place in the world in the export of defense industry products;
🌐 The 10th largest steel producer in the world (32.4 million tons).

So why are Ukrainians so poor?:

Ukraine is one of the worst off countries after the collapse of the USSR.  It is the poorest country in Europe despite having a huge aerospace industry, natural resources and some of the most fertile land for agriculture.  During the communist era, Ukraine was the breadbasket of the Soviet Union.  Despite all this, Ukrainians have experienced terrible famines such as the Stalinist Holodomor.

Today, the situation is not much better. Apart from enduring a war with Russia, its political system is particularly corrupt. Almost the entire economy is in the hands of big oligarchs: millionaires who amass fortunes thanks to their connections with political power.

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Fighting men and fertile women

June 10, 2022

The darker the red, the greater willingness to fight.  Click to enlarge.

A people that cannot defend itself, and reproduce itself, will be replaced.

Historically most societies have said that it is the duty of men to bear the hardship and danger of war, and the duty of women to bear the pain and danger of childbirth.

A poll, taken back in 2014, showed that only a minority of Americans and citizens of many other countries refused to say that they would fight for their countries.  At the same time the fertility rate in the USA and many other countries has fallen below the replacement rate.

On one level, I’m pleased at these trends.  Being an old-time liberal, I’m glad the world’s population increase is starting to level off, and I oppose U.S. military interventions of the past few decades.

Also, it is a mistake to read too much into these trends.

Just as it was wrong to think that population increase would never level off, it is wrong now to think that population decline would never bottom out.  And the fact that many Americans are reluctant to be shipped overseas to fight doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t defend our country if it really were in peril.  So maybe there is no real cause for alarm.

But still.  Having children and rearing them to be responsible adults requires great sacrifice.  Serving your country in time of peril requires great sacrifice.  What happens to a nation whose citizens decide individually, on a cost-benefit calculus, that these sacrifices are not worth making?

Click to enlarge

I wondered whether there was any correlation between a nation’s willingness to fight and its fertility rate.  I took the nations in the 2014 poll and looked up the World Bank’s most recent estimates of their fertility rates to see if there is some correlation.

If there is a correlation, it is a weak one.  

With one exception, all the surveyed nations with fertility rates above the replacement rates had more than half the population expressing a willingness to fight.  But some nations with low fertility rates also had a relatively high willingness to fight. 

Ukraine and Russia and China all had lower fertility rates than the USA and a greater percentage saying they’re willing to fight.  China had a relatively low fertility rate and a relatively high willingness to fight.

I provide the numbers below.  Make of them what you can.  

Notice that fertility rates are estimates, and estimates differ.  The map above, the figures below and the figure for India in a previous post were drawn from different sources.  Also notice that most of the nations with the highest fertility rates were left out of the survey.

The minimum fertility rate needed to replace the current population is 2.1 children per woman.  The global average fertility rate is 2.4 children per woman

UNITED STATES.

Willing to fight:  44 percent.

Fertility rate: 1.64

RUSSIAN FEDERATION

Willing to fight: 59 percent.

Fertility rate: 1.50.

UKRAINE

Willing to fight: 62 percent

Fertility rate: 1.22

CHINA

Willing to fight: 71 percent

Fertility rate: 1.70

INDIA

Willing to fight: 75 percent

Fertility rate: 2.18

JAPAN

Willing to fight: 11 percent

Fertility rate: 1.34

GERMANY

Willing to fight: 18 percent

Fertility rate: 1.53

UNITED KINGDOM

Willing to fight: 27 percent

Fertility rate: 1.56

FRANCE

Willing to fight: 29 percent

Fertility rate: 1.83

CANADA

Willing to fight: 30 percent

Fertility rate: 1.40

AUSTRALIA

Willing to fight: 29 percent

Fertility rate: 1.58

BRAZIL

Willing to fight: 48 percent

Fertility rate: 1.71

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The LGBT identity explosion

June 7, 2022

An estimated 20 percent of Americans under 30 identify as LGBT.   That’s roughly double the percentage of the previous generation.

Now this could be an exaggeration.  Also,  sexual identity is changing at a faster rate than actual sexual behavior.  But the trend is clear.

Click to enlarge

LGBT identity is celebrated by almost every major institution in society, so it shouldn’t be surprising that LGBT identity is becoming more popular.

Strangely, many people who only engage in heterosexual sex still identify as LGBT.  Most of the increase is in the B for bisexual category.  You can live the life of a straight cisgender person, and still call yourself a “B.”  Make of this what you will.

Click to enlarge

A study of the rise of LGBT identity by Eric Kaufmann has just been published by the Center for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology.  Here is his executive summary.

  • The last decade has seen a precipitous rise in the share of Americans identifying as LGBT, particularly among the youngest adults. Today, among those under 30, a wide range of surveys converge on a number of around 20 percent.
  • Government data from Canada and the UK indicate that surveys might be overestimating the extent of the rise in LGBT identity. This caveat must be kept in mind in understanding this report.  Nonetheless, these government sources indicate that the trend is real, even if less reliable surveys might exaggerate it. The UK’s Office for National Statistics finds that 7.6 percent of those 16-24 identify as LGBT, which can be taken as a low-end estimate for that country.
  • The most popular LGBT identity is bisexual, which is significantly more common among women than men.
  • When we look at homosexual behavior, we find that it has grown much less rapidly than LGBT identification.  Men and women under 30 who reported a sexual partner in the last five years dropped from around 96 percent exclusively heterosexual in the 1990s to 92 percent exclusively heterosexual in 2021.  Whereas in 2008 attitudes and behavior were similar, by 2021 LGBT identification was running at twice the rate of LGBT sexual behavior.
  • The author provides a high-point estimate of an 11-point increase in LGBT identity between 2008 and 2021 among Americans under 30.  Of that, around 4 points can be explained by an increase in same-sex behavior.  The majority of the increase in LGBT identity can be traced to how those who only engage in heterosexual behavior describe themselves.
  • Very liberal ideology is associated with identifying as LGBT among those with heterosexual behavior, especially women.  It seems that an underlying psychological disposition is inclining people with heterosexual behavior to identify both as LGBT and very liberal. The most liberal respondents have moved from 10-15 percent non-heterosexual identification in 2016 to 33 percent in 2021. Other ideological groups are more stable.

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Everyday religion (or socialism)

June 5, 2022

The coming baby bust in India

June 3, 2022

Source: Wikipedia via Marginal Revolution.

India, with an estimated population just below 1.4 billion, now has a fertility rate just below the replacement rate, with is 2.1 children per woman.  This means India’s population will peak and then decline.

The USA, Europe, Russia, China, Japan and many other countries also have a fertility rate below the replacement rate.

Most demographers think this is an inevitable trend, whenever (1) birth control is widely available, (2) women can choose to limit child-bearing and have other careers besides motherhood and (3) material living standards rise to a point where husbands and wive can have old-age security without a large number of children to support them.

Overall this is a good thing.  It means the threat of the population bomb—population rising exponentially until mass starvation occurs—is not inevitable.  

The new threat is an economic system based on ever-increasing consumption while food and energy resources are being disrupted and exhausted.  

Meanwhile we have proportionately fewer and fewer working-age people to support people too old to work.

Then, too, there are parts of the world where the demographic transition hasn’t yet taken hold—mainly in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Latin America and the Muslim world.

The varying rates at which the demographic transition means that rich, aging, shrinking nations will share a world with poor, relatively young, growing nations.  This will not be an easy challenge.

LINKS

Why India Is Making Progress in Slowing Its Population Growth by Vaishnavi Chandraskekar for Yale Environment 360.

The Astonishing Drop in Global Fertility Rates Between 1970 and 2014 by Ian Wright for Brilliant Maps.

List of sovereign states and dependences by total fertility rates on Wikipedia.

The Ukraine war and the cost of living

June 1, 2022

Click to enlarge.

Whatever else it is, the war in Ukraine is a war to control food and energy supplies.  The turning point was the 2014 coup, which took Ukraine out of the Russian economic orbit and into the U.S.-dominated  “rules-based economic order.”  

Umair Haque gives the big picture.

Food prices rising — commodities prices in general — were a directeffect of climate change.  So what about Putin’s war?  Well, just think about what it’s really about. Controlling resources.  Putin knows that if he controls the resources — oil, gas, metal, wheat, and so forth — he can control a dying planet.  He who controls the resources controls a dying planet, because we all need them that much more.  You can see this very, very clearly in the way that Putin’s skewered Europe right on the horns on an insoluble dilemma: allow war in Ukraine, or depend on Russian resources?

Putin’s war in Ukraine is driven by ideological reasons, true — the weird blend of religion and fanaticism I’ve called New Age Fascism.  But more than that, it’s the first of the great resource wars on a dying planet. Ukraine is a strategically vital nation, at least on a dying planet — it’s Europe’s breadbasket, provides the world all kinds of basic resources from wheat to metals.  Ukraine is one of the very first nations you’d want to conquer if you wanted to control what few resources were going to be left on a dying planet, and this is the deeper logic of Putin’s game.

Resource wars are not going to end. In fact, they are only now just getting started — just after commodities prices have been soaring for the last few years thanks to failed harvests.  See how predictable that is?  It’s not that the two are even consciously linked — some dictator sees commodities prices rising and thinks “it’s time for war!” — it’s just that this is what inevitably happens.  Putin’s wars are obviously not going to end.  China, soon enough, will have to secure its own empire of resources, as the planet goes on dying. The West appears to have no strategy for any of this, because it’s only answer is globalization,” which has failed the way that my first marriage did — she threw plates at me, dear reader, because I was a bastard.

We are therefore now entering an age of (a) resource wars (b) shortages and (c) inflation.  Serious, sustained, vicious inflation.  These three things have already the defined the 2020s.  What did Covid do? Cause shortages around the globe — in a foreshadowing of the future on a dying planet.  Covid highlighted just how illusionary all this abundance of stuff really is — ships stop for a few days, borders shut down for a day or two, and bang — you can’t get stuff to eat or drink the way you’re used to.  But what happens on a planet of mega fires and mega floods and mega weather?  Mega risk does.  Shortages becomes endemic, a way of life.  As they slowly are now.

The flipside of shortages is, of course, inflation.  And inflation is the savage, gruesome reality of living on a dying planet.  There isn’t enough left to go around.  There never was.  20% of humanity — otherwise known as “The West” — consumes 90% of the planet’s resources.  That leaves just 10% of them for 80% of humanity.  The rest of the world has always lived without.  It’s just we in the West who are starting to discover what the real economics of existence are.

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