Sunday, September 28, 2008

The World's Largest Pyramid Scheme

In the early 1900s, Charles Ponzi invented a scheme whereby investors are lured by abnormally high returns ("profits"), which are acquired from money paid in by subsequent investors rather than from revenues generated by any sustainable or even real business. Many forms of this fraudulent Ponzi, or pyramid, scheme have been tried over the years. They have all failed. Ponzi was jailed several times and died in poverty.

Now humanity is playing the largest pyramid scheme in history. Economic growth is spiralling ever upward and all the new players that are born into the game want a piece of the good life. Our politicians, the modern-day Ponzis, worship economic growth and do everything possible to promote it. The wealth that supports the scheme is the environment and the oil, water, air, forests, fish and much more that it contains.

But where will it end? An ever expanding economy, an ever growing population and a finite resource to make it feasible is just an enormous pyramid scheme. And we all know that a pyramid scheme comes crashing to a halt when it reaches its limits.

Oil prices have rocketed to over $100 a barrel, grain prices have doubled in the past year and water shortages are looming. These are glaring signals that the limits of our rich cradle of resources are finally being reached. We need to rethink our priorities, curb our population growth and stop this ludicrous Ponzi scheme.


3 comments: said...

A remarkable amount of mental energy has been exerted by many ‘experts’ (and wealth distributed to them by their benefactors) over much of my lifetime in a concerted effort to widely share and consensually validate the specious idea that there is no such thing, of all things, as the most obvious of things.....limits to growth in a finite world. Most recently, Schellnhuber in Germany, Rapley in England, Rees in Canada, Hansen in the USA, McMichael and Butler in Australia....the list goes on and on....good scientists all, have been noting over and over again that the human species is approaching ecological limits evidently, obviously imposed by the biophysical reality of the planetary home we are blessed to inhabit. To put it another way, rampant overproduction, rapacious overconsumption and unregulated overpopulation activities by the human species now overspreading the surface of Earth will lead to an ecological “tipping point” of some, perhaps unimaginable sort.

The question seems to have been, Which biophysical limit will be exceeded first? Precisely what will it mean for the human species to overreach and by so doing “give rise to” or “produce” some sort of ecological tipping point? What will happen then? What kind of global wreckage might ensue? What will that moment in space-time look like? Many scientists seem to have been thinking that the unbridled overgrowth activities of the human species would literally and eventually overwhelm the Earth and its environs because the family of humanity has chosen to recklessly ignore the reality of human species limits and Earth’s biophysical limitations. For example, recall the ruthless derision of the great work of the Club of Rome regarding ecological limitations to the growth of absolute global human population numbers.

Even so, despite all the attention, the warnings and the good scientific evidence, an ecological tipping point may not be the source of the greatest, most imminent challenge to human wellbeing in these early years of Century XXI. The most pressing, most forbidding threat to human wellbeing may not be ecological in its nature.

For a long time, I have been haunted by the words of Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) that are emblazoned in a sonnet about Ozymandias.

” I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter’d visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp’d on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock’d them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away. ” —Schelley

What was the “colossal wreck” this “king of kings” observed and how had it happened? What caused the destruction of the world?

The calamity Ozymandias witnessed may not have been more or less than the incredible consequences of human greed having exceeded limits to its growth. That is to say, the adamant and relentless greediness of kings and self-proclaimed Masters of the Universe precipitated the gigantic, distinctly human-driven catastrophe to which The King of kings makes reference.

A billion members of the human family exist on resources valued at less than one dollar per day. Africa is suffering from “slow drip” problems. Europe is getting warmer fast. Arctic ice is retreating and the arctic coast of Alaska is eroding.

Where are the new ideas, the financial backing, and the innovations needed to address these problems? There are tens of trillions of dollars in the global human economy. Where has all that money gone?

The front page of the NYTimes tells the family of humanity that we are on the verge of a global economic catastrophe. Are the taxpayers of the American family, acting alone, to become responsible for the problems now presented to the human community by the greed of a small group of rich and powerful people worldwide?

Why are an astonishingly small number of greedy people, holding hundreds of billions of dollars of ill-gotten gains from what are now recognizable as patently unsustainable business models and Ponzi-like financial schemes, not taking responsibility for their avarice?

Who are the people behind the mess we see splashed across the front pages of newspapers around the world this morning? Perhaps they need to be named, shamed and held to account.

Some greedy people are easy to identify. They are ones who have proclaimed themselves “Masters of the Universe” or Bohemians or the Greedy Boys of Greenwich or the Bilderbergers or members of The Trilateral Commission or the many too many outrageously enriched ‘experts’ and politicians who say and do anything to enhance wealth and power of themselves and their benefactors.

At least to me, it appears the problems in the global economy we are seeing today are the results of greed having reached its limits or, to put it another way, having “hit the wall” of unsustainability. That is to say, greediness of self-proclaimed Masters of the Universe and their minions has reached the point of greed’s unsustainability. The global economy can no longer support the conspicuous, patently unsustainable behavior of a small segment of the family of humanity.

Yes, definitely yes, something new and different needs to be done. Bold action is needed; but, more of the same, old business-as-usual behavior appears insufficient. Limits need to be placed on patently unsustainable behavior. People who are responsible for the mess need to account for their behavior.

The American family is not responsible for the world’s economic mess; but at the moment American taxpayers are being held solely accountable. There is something not quite right about such unfair and inequitable circumstances.

Real issues, and straight talk for a change, about a $700 billion dollar bail-out as well as abject failures of one generation to accept responsibility for its own patently unsustainable behavior.

Have the self-proclaimed Masters of the Universe among us adopted a behavioral repertoire characterized by unconscionable super-human greediness, the likes of which this world we are blessed to inhabit has never before endured and cannot much longer sustain?

What is to become of our children, whose future is being mortgaged once again this week and threatened more seriously with every passing day?

When is my not-so-great generation of rapaciously consuming and relentlessly hoarding elders going to stop its disturbing behavior of dropping problems of our own making into the laps of our children?

The financial engineers who manufactured the spurious business models and Ponzi-like schemes that are undermining the functioning of the global economy today need to take some responsibility for their greedy behavior rather than pass along the colossal debt derived from their subterfuge for our children to repay.

Steven Earl Salmony
AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population, established 2001 said...

Grotesque greed and widespread corruption dominate the family of humanity's global political economy.

Perhaps powerful people wealth access to great wealth and huge human institutions manipulated by them are driving the relentless, soon to become patently unsustainable expansion of the global political economy, that in our time appears to be requiring unbridled increases of economic production/distribution capabilities, conspicuously unrestrained per-capita overconsumption of limited resources and the unregulated growth of absolute global human population numbers.

But why?

As we having been observing in recent years, another huge "bubble" has been consciously "manufactured" by economic powerbrokers and allowed to grow ominously and uneconomically within the world economy. Not unexpectedly, this sub prime bubble has done what bubbles eventually do. The subprime bubble burst. We can readily observe how the credit markets of the world banking system are frozen, stocks are tumbling and the value of the dollar is gyrating. Who knows, a meltdown of the human community's financial system as well as damage to the real economy could be in the offing.

How could this be happening?

For a moment, let us consider that the organizers, managers and whiz kids overseeing the global economy (and the unraveling of the worldwide sub prime financial swindle) are running the artificially designed financial system of the global economy as a pyramid scheme. This is to say that the international financial system is being operated so that most of the wealth rises pyramidally into the hands of a small minority of people at the top of the world economy where this wealth is accumulated and consolidated endlessly. At the same time, the vast majority of people on Earth, near the bottom of the global economic pyramid, are left with very little wealth. In the 1980s, this method of arranging global business activities was called a “trickle down” economy. We have been told over and over again how this economic scheme "raises all ships." And yet, from my limited scope of observation, the billion people living on resources valued at less than one dollar per day and the additional 2.7 billion people being sustained on two dollars per day of resources now appear to be stuck in squalid conditions. The 'ships' carrying these billions of less fortunate people among us do not appear to be lifting them out of poverty.

Could anything be done to beneficially change these unfair, inequitable and, in billions of instances, intolerable circumstances?

Of course, there is plenty to do. The global economy is undeniably a manmade construction. Because the world’s economy is an artificially designed product of human thought and action, our economic system is known to one and all to be imperfect. Afterall, human beings can better themselves and their imperfect products can be improved. Only works of God are perfect, I suppose. With this in mind, if it is so that the manmade economy is not a perfect construction, it is just as obvious that the global economy can be re-designed, modified and otherwise changed, as necessary. The system of economic globalization can be reorganized, "downsized" and "powered down" so that the global economy sustainably meets the primary needs of majority of people. In this way, the economy of the human community could be sensibly conceived, systematically operated and realistically structured for the conduct of sustainable business activities as well as for a more complete realization of the principles of democracy.

Amanda said...

There is a taboo in our civilisation. It is SO taboo that noone, especially in North America, will even recognise it as such. This taboo subject is The Economy. It has replaced religion as the mechanism by which a tiny handful of super-rich psychopaths can enslave everyone else. Our current economic model actually favours psychopaths over normal, sane people. The economy is a human constuct. As such, it should serve humanity, but it doesn't. We serve it. We ignore the fact that most human suffering is caused by it. It's existence is supported by a collection of myths that make it seem necessary but do not stand up to examination. For example, we are supposed to believe that without this complex system of sticks and carrots, nothing would get done and our quality of life would suffer. Oh really? In fact we have an example of a non-economic model of society near to hand. It is called "the family". Imagine what would happen if we subjected the family to the economic imperative. Family members would be required to pay one another for every contribution. At the age of majority, we would present our children with an enormous bill for the cost of their up-bringing (adjusted for inflation and with interest). The most economically productive family members would be hard-pressed to justify remaining in the group since the others would interfere with their success. Any family members with severe disabilities would have to be cast out. If the above scenario were real, the world economy would collapse in a matter of weeks. The economy has endured for so long only because the family is exempt. Yet another myth has it that economic activity drives progress. So, let us consider two people, both with brilliant scientific minds. One has been working on free, non-polluting energy technology. The other is developing a new and powerful weapons system. Under our current system, who gets the funding? Progress? As a result of economic activity for it's own sake, we employ the earth's human and material capital in an incredibly wasteful way. Consider how much labour is invested for no other purpose than that of profit generation. A short list would include banking, advertising, sales, insurance, organised crime, and the greater part of manufacturing. Likewise our material resources; everyone knows that planned obscolecence is good business practice. This is wasteful. Most of our consumer goods are not needed or even truly wanted. We buy them only to temporarily dull the pain of meaninglessness. We currently have the knowledge and means to feed, house, clothe and educate all the world's people. Many assert that if we did, third world populations would explode, straining the earth's carrying capacity. In fact experience has shown in every case that higher living standards result in falling birth rates. The economic imperative has directly contributed to the intellectual devolution of our species. The human brain develops as it is used. Survival anxiety favors the development of the hind-brain/R-complex at the expense of higher brain funtion. Even in utero, it has been shown that survival anxiety in the mother results in the foetus developing a larger hind-brain and a shrunken pre-frontal cortex. Given the fact that the vast majority of humans live their whole lives in survival mode, is it any wonder that violence and over-population are the norm? These are the functions of the brain's R-complex. I suspect that the psychopathic personality is one in which the hind-brain is the dominant brain function. If we could reverse this trend, there is no telling what creative solutions might emerge. The world economy is a pyramid scheme. It's collapse is inevitable. None of us should mourn it's passing, but pull together, as families do, and move on.