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Our Failing Civilization

Published on May 31, 2010

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The western world is going bankrupt! The final crisis is coming and when it does the economic, social and geopolitical clock will be reset permanently. The advanced industrialized world is going down hard. Already many millions of lives are destroyed, hundreds of millions of other lives are stunted, social organizations are crumbling, productivity is low, and we have a failing infrastructure, environmental disasters, ‘severe’ climate change, and a threatening financial/economic collapse, despite all the good news from the public media fantasy factories. And this is the short list of a much longer one of problems that are haunting our civilization like tremendous pollution; much of which is invisible like mercury but it’s in everything.

Whatever yardstick you care to choose – share-price moves, the rates at which banks lend to each other, measures of volatility – we are now in a similar position to 2008 . Edmund Conway

This present financial crisis, which is just starting to unfold, is worse than the sub-prime crash of 2008 because the sums are so much bigger and it is governments that are in dire straits this time. In computer game terminology the players (politicians) are down to their last life and it’s almost game over time. Throughout history civilizations have come and gone and there is nothing to indicate our present one can or will survive. Civilizations fall into chaos and conflict, terrorism, increased violence, apathy and a degrading quality of life. The symptoms seen everywhere are: declining integrity, rising corruption, less justice, insecurity and world conflict; all of which are evident in the daily news.

Americans are freaking out over their debts and for good reason. The grand total of mortgage, credit card, student loans, and auto loan debt is a stunning $13.5 trillion. Every man, woman, and child owes an average of $43,000 if we divided this mountain of debt.  Should we break this down to each individual household the amount comes out to over $120,000 per household. That’s a lot of money in interest to pay when income is drying up or disappearing entirely. 

We are very getting close to the beginning of a very hard ride down.

We have reached the endgame of Capitalism. "Globalization has reached the point of diminishing returns, as long supply chains, newly impoverished populations, foreign government expropriations, open rebellions against local predatory Elites and other factors reduce the plump gains. The Financial Power Elites have now strip mined the domestic middle class, and there are no big profits left in picking over the carcass,” writes Charles Hugh Smith. thinks that the phenomenon popularly known as globalization is in the process of rolling over, and that it will be replaced in the coming years by its opposite, localization.

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A deflationary/inflationary depression will be difficult to live through especially if you lose your life’s savings.

Smith continues, “A slow-growth real economy has been replaced with a credit-based speculative financial economy dependent on low interest rates and systemic fraud to survive. It is now imploding on a global scale. Governments around the world have attempted to replace the real economy of value produced with a financial model based on credit growth and speculation. They have failed, and their constructs are imploding before our eyes.”

Markets are starting to take away the credit card for sovereign nations around the world – a low blow to the groin of the green shoot recovery.

There is so much that can be said about so many subjects and areas of life that are in decline but there is one common area of experience, a point of no return or saturation point that hits in the gut with life destroying consequences. It’s a point individuals en mass have recently reached and now town, city, state and federal governments around the world are reaching it – but not quite simultaneously. Anyone who has been there knows when you have borrowed more money than you can ever hope to pay back your life changes in really disturbing ways. It is at these points that we lose the choice of good outcome or bad outcome we only have bad outcomes to choose from.

How we or organizations or governments act at such a time makes all the difference in the world as far as outcome. The problem is that no outcome is going to be favorable but if we choose incorrectly we can destroy lives and even nations and beyond that our entire modern civilization. This is where governments are at now. They spend so much more than they take in they are left with only bad choices and they are choosing badly making the consequences dramatically worse but there is no other political way. It’s baked into the cake already, so to speak. From all the wrongs and corruptions things can only get worse until they cannot get any worse so the bad replicates and multiplies (increasing unpayable debt) until it collapses and the system goes out like a wild fire. Government debt is the very bedrock of the financial system: should Greek government bonds collapse or any countries bonds collapse it will threaten the entire system because everyone owes money to everyone else.

The percentage of US personal income coming from private sector earnings hit an all-time low and is now just 41%! At the same time, obviously, the percentage of income coming from direct government payments has risen sharply in recent years and is now at an all-time high.

So when a government starts considering bankruptcy bankers start losing their sleep. Consider the facts, bankruptcy is inevitable for insolvency and fiscal madness is already the reality in most countries in the first world with many town municipalities, cities and states right behind them. It’s a stop the music moment around the chairs when bankruptcy is actually declared – for individuals its one thing but for governments it’s entirely on a different scale with disastrous consequences to the system if a country goes down like Greece, or a state like California, or a city like Los Angeles.

Justice Litle, Editorial Director, Taipan Publishing Group published an important commentary on this issue and moment that many are passing through:

“When a household accumulates a certain amount of debt, for example, there comes a point where bankruptcy is the only logical option. Imagine a man with a $50,000 salary and $200,000 in credit card debt, racking up 24% interest at a compounding rate, trying desperately to handle the bills while supporting a family of four. The math in such a situation quickly becomes impossible. Unless the man is willing to starve his children, move into a shelter, or some other drastic thing, the debt dynamics force him to consider bankruptcy… or to otherwise completely throw his hand in on paying back what he owes.”

“Bankruptcy is a horrible thing to experience. It is a pride-sapping process and a humbling admission of defeat. But sometimes, it is also the right thing to do. In certain situations, the avoidance of bankruptcy only makes the problem worse. Think of the family man with $200,000 in credit card debts again. Imagine if this man were to refuse bankruptcy as a point of stubborn pride, deciding he could cut back on expenses instead.”

“At the end of the day, bankruptcy is a necessary function of the free market system. This is because, under any free market system in which credit is freely available, situations will inevitably arise where the compounding costs of debt service become too large for the debtor to bear. The above is true for households, it is true for businesses, and it is true for governments.”

So when do we declare bankruptcy? That’s now the billion and trillion dollar question though for individuals five digit debt loads can do them in. For a small city like Harrisburg, Pa., the state capital, with a population of only 55,000, it’s the magic number of $70 million in debt payments due this year that will put them under. Harrisburg now has one of the lowest credit ratings of any municipality in the United States and the talk is hot for bankruptcy filing.

You don’t have the easy out of increasing revenue and you have a lot more call on services because of the economy. There’s no such thing as entertaining bankruptcy; there’s ending denial. Chriss Street – Orange County Treasurer

Vallejo, California is the largest city in California history to file for bankruptcy. The city council did begin cutting costs early on but ran through its reserves and sought bankruptcy protection in May 2008. Like in most places in the first world, unrestrained spending, out-of-control pension costs, a burst housing bubble and dropping tax receipts did them in. The bankruptcy was an attempt to fix the situation but in the case of Ireland it has only made matters worse. Some believe that if it hadn’t been for the bankruptcy, the problems would have been worse. The city could not pay its bills. But trees go untrimmed, potholes unfilled, city services are in steep decline and even Wal-Mart has deserted the town.

City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana said Los Angeles does not want its "brand" tarnished by bankruptcy and that the city can avoid it by continuing to cut spending, by reducing its work force and by handing off some services to the private sector and nonprofits. "Bankruptcy is what you do when you run out of options," Santana said.

There is this point before we have entered a series of actions destined to carry us over the brink with unpayable debt, there is that period when we know we have gone too far but continue on for as long as our credit holds out, then there is that desperate time when our credit does run out or our cash flow dries up. When is it best to stop the play and call it quits in bankruptcy court? When do we default is the key; and come on, we have to understand the motives of delaying the inevitable as long as we can pay with the resources we have.

In the current economic climate talk of bankruptcy has become more common. It’s the “B” word and it’s slipping from peoples’ mouth with increasing ease and of course bankruptcy rates have skyrocketed. Towns, cities, states and countries will find out the consequences of their choices in time. The measuring stick obviously is seen in the suffering their citizens are suffering through. Many believe the worst thing that can be done is to install austerity plans without filing bankruptcy meaning punish the people, take on more debt and protect the banks. People are already fighting on the streets about this.

“Europe is rescuing its economy in the same way that the Federal Reserve has attempted to save America’s financial system and economy.  They have used an unprecedented aid and stimulus package to offset massive fiscal deficits. In the US a deflationary depression was avoided at least temporarily and that is what is now being attempted in Europe with the guidance of the Federal Reserve,’ writes Bob Chapman.

Chapmen comments, ‘‘We Are now closing in on the next planned world war as a result. When and where we can only guess, but it surely is on the way, the same way it was in the late 1930s. War is a distraction and it succeeds in culling the population. It is also a cover-up for massive financial and economic problems that have resulted from the financial elite looting the system. The system is not being fixed and deliberately so. The elitists do not want it fixed. They want a collapse. This is the only way they can force people to accept world government.’’

Yes the world is complicated and there are some very nasty people we have to share the planet with. The first world en mass should have declared bankruptcy many years ago and reorganized itself along more humble designs. Looking at the situation as a whole, it is now way too late to save the system, so it will collapse. It is just a matter of when. It will be like a gigantic tidal wave sweeping in from the seas so our capacity to survive will depend very much on where we are and on how prepared we are.

Until that moment we and all of our towns, cities, states and countries have to fend for themselves financially unless some big brother continues to bail them and us out with more credit and debt. Justice Litle said, “In saying "no" to bankruptcy – i.e. some form of organized debt default – Europe is saying "yes" to a diet of fiscal pain that could economically crush the eurozone. In this the sins of the fathers (i.e. the current generation of voters and politicians) are being invited upon the children and grandchildren. Worst of all, Europe’s day-late and dollar-short "austerity now" attempts are being done for the sake of saving political face, moreso than out of long-term strategic interest or common sense.  “Or, alternatively, Europe can admit the impossibility of the current situation and allow struggling eurozone members to default, with the option of leaving the eurozone completely. This second alternative would also be a kind of hell… but it would be hell for the politicians, not the populace. There would have to be a readiness and a willingness to admit that the "grand experiment" known as the euro has essentially failed… that too much debt, mostly accumulated in happier times, has torn the union asunder… and that the idea of disparate countries holding hands and singing financial kumbaya was a pipe dream from the start,” concludes Litle.

Governments around the world ran up record debts during the $5 trillion effort to pull the economy out of its deepest slump since the Great Depression and now face a tough balancing act: how to reduce debt without choking off growth and that is just about impossible. The debt is unpayable and investors are slowly waking up to that reality.

The next bear-market will in all likelihood be much more traumatizing then the previous one.  The West will be unable to provide more ‘stimulus’ this time around because their balance-sheets are already in a terrible state. So during the next bear-market, sovereign default risk will be the Achilles Heel. Instead of financial institutions going bust this time small and midsized companies, towns, cities, states and even entire nations are likely to default. And millions more will lose their jobs as all hell breaks loose.

Hugh Hdenry says, "I would recommend you panic. The European banking system is in a crisis. "Let’s purge this system of its rottenness. Let’s take on a recession. It’s going to be tough, people are gonna lose their jobs. They are going to lose their jobs anyway. We can spread this over 20 years, or we can get rid of it over 3 years." The main point here is that what we do now, and have already done these last few years will affect us down line in terms of outcome.

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  • I previously commented on the website and selected notify me on latest responses. Can there be a way to disable that online system? I am getting several emails. aquaponics

  • For the 80’s it is brilliant!

  • Jim Dav

    Great article, and an interesting read, I don’t doubt the authors’ view of the future; what will be will be. It is also interesting that most comments are made by US citizens, those with little real knowledge of the world outside the USA. As for WW3, we can only hope it doesn’t happen, although throughout history wars have been seen as the best end to depressions or economic collapse.
    The corporate elite make billions while the poor go off to die. US citizens have done nothing to stop the wealthy that started the last wars and then blatantly stole billions from the US tax payers, and yet they keep the wars going. History has shown that civilizations that get to the point of spending over 50% of their GDP on the war machine end up falling. It is a shame that a once great nation has allowed itself to be taken over by the elitists, the media, and corrupt governments.
    Several past Presidents saw this coming and warned the people against it, they were murdered or retired shortly thereafter, (look back at their last few speeches) yet the people did not heed the warnings. It is difficult to heed such warnings when stomachs are full and we have warm homes to live in, with all the toys in the driveway and summer homes so we can get away from the cities. Although, at some point, the people will have to realize, not just in the USA but also in all the wealthy nations that the only possible solution is world/nationwide strikes. The only way to stop the elite is to stop producing for them, stop making fifty grand a year while making fifty million for the corporations.
    It isn’t capitalism that is the problem, nor a reasonable amount of socialism; it is allowing the capitalism to become corporatism. When the tax burden is placed solely on the shoulders of the working class while the corporations and wealthy pay nothing, even collect corporate welfare, the working class slander the poor for using the safety nets that were put in place for all the people, not the corporations; societies hurt. The comment concerning communism is somewhat amusing, as how can any society be free if people do not have a right to believe in different political systems, just as we have the right to religious preferences. Besides, there has been socialism in the USA since it began; the US Postal Service is the first example that comes to mind. The bank and corporate bailouts should be a good indication that American style capitalism isn’t working well.
    We have been lied to, our history is greatly lies, our wealth is greatly lies, the government, FBI, CIA, FEMA, and the rest have been lying to us for years, yet we go on taking it, and on the most part believing their lies. For those that don’t know it, the best example is that the USA did not win against the Germans, it was a collaboration of several countries, including Russia, yet few ever hear that part.
    It is time for all US citizens to wake up, take a real hard look at the system, get some history books and news from other countries, it is surprising how much different they read from US books and the elite run media. Iraq did not want to be rescued by the US. The US are invaders and now are occupying their country, just like Afghanistan.
    Stop listening to the media and government lies, wake up, and take a good look around. Recently CNN reported that reporters were no longer allowed to give unbiased news concerning the Gulf, I only heard it once, and not since, I can only assume it has been shushed up. A top US university recently put out a report that before the US started using water boarding, US media called it torture over 85% of the time, it is now seldom referred to as torture, around 5% of the time – an effort to brainwash US citizens into believing it is no longer torture. This is brainwashing and nothing else, just as the media spends most of its time brainwashing US citizens. As the song by Minority says, “Don’t want to be an American idiot, a nation controlled by the media.” This is a wakeup call, not intended to insult anyone. I apologize to anyone that feels insulted but you must wake up before it is too late.

  • Aldon Maleckas

    Someone once said that people go crazy in a group and come to their senses one at a time. The United States was built on the belief in the honesty of the individual. Kind of like a Christian ethic. In addition, we are group animals. We do not want to be outcast. People outside the group have a hard row to hoe, even if they are right. History has also shown that the governed care little for what the governors do just as long has they can have their two cars, large house, boat, vacations, pensions, etc.

    Our tormentors are taking advantage of these facts. They know that 3% of the people in a group can control the rest. It is not hard to find those 3%. These 3% have tricked us into giving up our freedom to the honest and trustworthy federal government. They have convinced us that freedom is not an individual thing but only the freedom to do what our government dictates.

    The pendulum is swinging in favor of the 3%. Remember, it is a pendulum and will eventually swing back to a time when our tormentors are no longer in control. Prepare yourself for the suffering that will continue until more of the 97% come to their senses.

    Our tormentors have been planning our current events for some time. Instead of borrowing money, we should have been building ghettos. While our tormentors laugh as they carry your money to the bank, we wonder how they could be so stupid as to accumulate all that wealth and leave us with nothing.

    • Don’t you just love these answers?Lemme see .you are a debaeadt. A few implied you don’t have a job and should get one. Others think you need 3-4 jobs .but whatever you do pay off your debts.Credit Counseling? Credit Consolidation? Credit Repair? Just more ways of delaying the inevetable I pray that some day these upstanding people find themselves in a bad financial situation. Maybe they get laid off lots of medical bills or a family emergency. Wonder if they will be thinking about bankruptcy.Did any of these fine, upstanding people ask the reason for your situation? Nope, don’t care. You’re a debaeadt.pettyrebelette’s advice is good, but keep in mind he’s in the business of bankruptcies so obviously he’s going to recommend you get one.My opinion? You are worried about your credit score and how a bankruptcy will effect it. Too late. You already have debts charged off and in collection, with several more on the way. You credit is already ruined, so why are you worrying about that? It’s already ruined!Lets pretend that all these fine creditors agree to freeze your interest payments and late fees (yes, you’ve moved to OZ) ..so you owe only $ 33k. To pay this off in 5 years you need to find $ 550 a month. To pay it off in 8 years you need $ 343 a month. Can you afford this? Can you live on an extremely tight budget for the next 8 years, and pray you don’t have any financial emergencies? Most people can’t.In reality, if you have to pay these loans with late fees and interest, you will be paying close to $ 600 a month for the next 10 years (at best).If you file for bankruptcy, they will put you on a very strict budget, and you will have to pay back a portion of your debts (depending on your income and current assets). It’s certainly going to be less then $ 550 and will not last more then 5 years. And you will NOT be paying further interest or late fees. So for starters, if you file for bankruptcy you now have a clear path of what your future will be. Yeah, it’s going to be rough. And your credit score will be trashed for several years (but it already is, remember?).Nobody wants to file for bankruptcy, but many times that is your only logical choice. Consult with a bankruptcy attorney and find out what he can do for you. Oh yeah the moral part about not paying your bills. Are any of these creditors trying to help you out of this situation? No, all they want is their money, and they will gladly destroy your life trying to get it.That’s why the bankruptcy laws were passed.

    • Patrick Tremblay

      “History has also shown that the governed care little for what the governors do just as long has they can have their two cars, large house, boat, vacations, pensions, etc.”

      But I DON’T have my two cars, large house, vacation and pension.

      That’s why I will rip the governor’s heads off.

  • louis martinez

    Yes, the world has incurred too much debt. But there are other forces at work….which are not spoken of. The most important being government…and though I have my concerns about if we will make it through a socialist president, I must say that all men are capable of re-learning. Learning that the biggest house does not mean the best thing. The schools teach nothing about responsible spending…but they are teaching socialism and one world government. I believe progressives are purposefully spending the country into non- existence. There was a time being communist was illegal in the U.S….it was considered treason. We must return to those days…and hold people accountable. This is no different than what happened in rome…it started a freedom loving colony and ended a perverse state who did not take care of their soldiers. As a people the United States started small, honest, hardworking and of strong faith…all in the Bible. George Washigton said it best…”A country cannot be run properly without God and the Bible”. I believe the writer has it backwards…its not about money….its about social responsibility…in every way. something we have lost as a nation. There will always be the poor…many of there own devices. I simply ask that if you must file bankrupcy…learn something from it…and do not be afraid to start again.

  • Jerry L. Bergman

    This commentary is spot on, and it shows how our world leaders have their heads in the sand, to serve their own purposes. The crash is coming, it is just when. Then the domino effect will begin all over the world

  • Carol Crow

    Bob Chapman is absolutely right, this entire crash is pre-meditated to force us into a One-World Government that will be worse than what we have right now. That’s why the banks were rewarded for their duplicity & dirty dealings. Why debt has been deliberately encouraged & by presidents! of all people. If that doesn’t tell the tale than nothing does! Don’t be fooled – there are NO accidents in the universe.

  • Trevor Colvin

    I don’t doubt any of what you say. The ‘trick’ is in knowing when and I don’t expect you to be able to pinpoint that.

    But, given that these scenario will occur, what advice do you have for the individual? There are millions of us around the world, struggling every day and watching greed ruin our economic world.

    What do you suggest we do with what little capital we have left?

    Trevor Colvin

  • It seems to me that our governments need to stop printing money to fund wars that we can’t afford. We also need to cut our dependency on oil and learn to use renewable sources like solar and wind power (maybe then our governments would lose interest in war in the middle eastern coutries). Additionally we need to cut tthe monopoly that Big Medicine has on health care and instead spend less dollars on natural health care options that solve problems instead of Big Medicines solution of covering symptoms and creating life long patients. When a government (or indivual) finds themself with less money than bills it is time to look at where the money is going and reevaluate how it is beinig spent

  • Dear Mark,
    Thank you for having the interest and the courage to write and publish this article. It’s hard to see an answer to our problems when we realise that we have elected so many corrupt politicians for so long.
    Best regards,
    John Scott
    BRISBANE – AUSTRALIA

  • Bernie Peach

    Well this is all so boring really. We have many people stating the obvious. But like all who make out their wise this is the oldest game. Shutting the stable door once the horse has bolted
    Let me state it very plainly. The western civilization is totally and absolutely doomed and will be crushed and its citizens will become3 slaves to foreigners who will own their lands.
    The reason is very simple really. They despised the one who made them great and now they sneer and scoff like dogs fighting blindly in the dark at His Holy name.
    The west has urination on the most high God. The lord Jesus Christ and they have been turned back to their own vomit.
    Guess what. You suck up vomit it ins’t long before the body becomes rotten.
    So rejoice in your filth and immorality for soon and very soon He who reigns will smash you in one hour of one day and then the end wil be Germany and China raining down nuclear weapons on your cities. LOL

  • Chris Camera

    Interesting….Paul Krugman was saying that it did not make sense that OECD was making the recommendations they were in regard to raising interest rates; moreover, if you listen to his point of view you would think OECD was doing this deliberately to crash all the world economies to usher in a new world order.

  • Edward Woodhouse

    The problems addressed in the essay are certainly real, but the author overestimates his own ability to extrapolate regarding how a complex system will evolve. No one has that ability.

    If Sircus said that there is a RISK of his crash scenario coming about, and that it is would be prudent to take steps to reduce the risk or prepare to cope with it, I’d agree. But actually predicting the future buys into some of the misguided assumptions (about mastery and predictability) that have helped evolve the crises discussed in the essay.

    To put that differently, virtually all of the author’s points can be made in a more humble way. And humility is warranted not just because of general human shortcomings at predicting, but also because a great many knowledgeable people (e.g., those who write for The Economist magazine) believe that there are steps that can be taken to significantly reduce the magnitude of the risks.

    Intellectual honesty requires acknowledging that one’s ideas are disputed by other, equally informed and caring persons.