Feb 222010


THE THROW OF FICTION these days is decidedly dystopian. Novels and movies are chock-a-block with images of the Ends of Times, wherein humans scurry about in shadows, while machines run amok, or the Earth heats up or cools down with catastrophic suddenness, or the undead rage in the streets for healthy blood. The future is a Mad Max movie on hyper-drive, and the stupid and brutal shall rule…

Read More at Global Brief–>

“On the Coming Order, Looking for the new century’s Copernicus”


  No Responses to “My latest foray into global affairs (an epigram)”

  1. When do you sleep? 🙂

    I read a lot of the peak-oil books a few years back. Hubbert’s curve and the like. I began to think ‘things’ were happening when gas hit $5 per gallon, and who knows, maybe that was a canary in the coal mine (pardon the mixed fossil fuel metaphor) which we ignored.

    I worry, though, about the effect of the global population on all this. Population always remains the sticking point issue for me, beyond the financial, beyond the climate change, etc. When I consider both the positive and the negative ramifications of global meltdowns/solutions, I always go back to the population issue. With the world population having grown so much so quickly, I cannot ever fully escape the nagging doubt that the rerource carrying capacity is not just a dystopian myth. We multiply like ants and consume like lions.
    Great thoughts though. When you talked about our inability to see, about confusion being order we haven’t recognized yet, the so-called paradigm shifts, I was reminded of Coetzee’s essay on Eliot’s lecture, “What Is a Classic,” delivered in 1944 in England. I just happened to read this yesterday. Coetzee talks about how Eliot barely mentions the war, how the war would ulitmately be just another phase in history. Coetzee expressed it this way: “Eliot does not mention wartime circumstances, save for a single reference–oblique, understated, in his best British manner–to ‘accidents of the present time’ that had made it difficult to get access to the books he needed to prepare the lecture. It is a way of reminding his auditors that there is a perspective in which the war is only a hiccup, however massive, in the life of Europe.” It seems Eliot recognized the order amidst the confusion.

    • I had a section on population but cut it out for length and coherence. World population growth is actually slowing pretty much everywhere except in parts of Africa. Some countries are dipping below replacement level (e.g. Russia and its former colonies). In the near term, some countries are actually suffering from a lack of population (workers, that is, and the perspective is the capitalist marketplace). Aside from China, no government is telling people not to have children, but in vast areas of the world people are having fewer children. This is a pretty interesting development, maybe a fundamental change in the way the species functions.

      Another oddity: there is a symmetry between Failed State growth and the growth of membership in the EU.

      I am geared up for Peak Oil though–long on Canadian Oil Sands.


  2. I’m think I’m more sensitive to the whole population issue after visiting Cairo this fall. I’ve never seen anything so miserable…man’s inhumanity to man. My wife told me Monrovia, Liberia was worse, though I have a hard time imagining how. She went there on a humanitarian mission last summer.

    Good to hear about the oil sands!

  3. I don’t think fiction writers can keep up with the creative minds on Wall Street. Even after the crash, they are still looking for exotic, new ways to invest, now with life insurance policies, doing with them what they did with mortgages a few years back:

    After the mortgage business imploded last year, Wall Street investment banks began searching for another big idea to make money. They think they may have found one.

    The bankers plan to buy “life settlements,” life insurance policies that ill and elderly people sell for cash — $400,000 for a $1 million policy, say, depending on the life expectancy of the insured person. Then they plan to “securitize” these policies, in Wall Street jargon, by packaging hundreds or thousands together into bonds. They will then resell those bonds to investors, like big pension funds, who will receive the payouts when people with the insurance die.

    The earlier the policyholder dies, the bigger the return — though if people live longer than expected, investors could get poor returns or even lose money.

    Either way, Wall Street would profit by pocketing sizable fees for creating the bonds, reselling them and subsequently trading them.

    The idea is still in the planning stages. But already “our phones have been ringing off the hook with inquiries,” says Kathleen Tillwitz, a senior vice president at DBRS, which gives risk ratings to investments and is reviewing nine proposals for life-insurance securitizations from private investors and financial firms, including Credit Suisse.

    From the NY Times. I assume these settlements can be leveraged out in all kinds of exotic ways, as were mortgages. There is $26 trillion of life insurance policies in force in the U.S.

    Cf. Gogol and Dead Souls.

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