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I guess if I were to give last year year a name, I would call 2012 “The Year the Train Left the Station and We Were Not On it.” Since there were too many departing trains that we missed to discuss here, I will only look at what could be referred to as “The Big Train” or the “Everything Train” or even the “God Train.”

The God Train has an engineer and a conductor who sometimes change jobs with each other. I like to call him “The Sorcerers Apprentice.” He represents the fundamental physical and mathematical constraint that nothing in nature increases geometrically forever. (In other words the miracle of compound interest only occurs if you are lucky enough to get out in time.) As long as there is an end (a wall), whether it is at the far reaches of the universe or across the room, compound growth eventually must stop. In our case, you and I, the limit is often set by the earth; its air water or whatever.

In 2012 it appeared to me that most of us, even those whose interest it is to ignore or deny it, have recognized a feeling, no matter how vague, that there are limits to most things.

Unfortunately, one of the undeniable aspects of geometric growth is that, in effect, it speeds up the closer it gets to its limit. This is often represented in the hockey stick graph we have all seen whenever someone wishes to frighten someone else into awareness of a particular limit. (It never works by the way. I guess no one fears a hockey stick.)

Human induced climate change and its effects, such as rising commodity prices is evidence we are approaching that wall.

The second employee of Godʼs Railroad, I like to refer to as the “Rich Poor Ghost.” (Not the “Poor Rich Ghost” there are a lot of them around. Perhaps more today than ever.) You see there is another physical law of the universe; everything, even thought, takes energy no matter how little. But, what is special about the Rich Poor Ghost, is that often when you want to do something else, almost anything else than what you are doing (or you want to change something), it takes energy (or money) to stop what you are doing and even more energy or money to start doing the new thing.

Take for example an old automobile you have that you may still have some payments on it. You would like to rid yourself of the old clunker and get something that would better let everyone know that you are richer than you really are. Now normally there is no problem. You go to the dealer and trade in your old car and drive away with a fully bank owned new car. You can do it because the manufacturer (or bank) bears the cost of building the auto and charges you a mark up for that service when you buy the car.

Assume however, he doesnʼt do that and requires you to advance him the cost right from the digging up the metals with which the car is fabricated all the way until it reaches you freshly painted in the color of your choice. You then, for a while, would have to pay twice; pay for your old car while the new one is being built as well as for your new car during its construction.

Unpleasant, but you have a good job with extra money and a great deal of optimism, so you make the deal. But what happens if you do not have the money? Well you can sell your old car, but you would have to go without personal transportation. You could wait until you have paid off the old car before buying the new one, but it is now a very old car and there is increased upkeep and maintenance to pay for before your fully warranted car is ready for you to drive away in.

Well, the Rich Poor Ghost is telling us that, if we want to have a chance to avoid driving into the Sorcererʼs Apprenticeʼs wall, it is going to cost money. But, within the last few years we have begun to sense vaguely that the real value of our money (or energy) may be decreasing so there is less of it with which to do what we want. And, to add to our insecurity about our future, the Rich Poor Ghost tells us that we must pay twice in order to get that new car or energy system or financial system or whatever. As a result we are going to have to give up something that we have or want. In other words a significant contraction of life style and contraction of the economy may be necessary.

Unfortunately, in 2012, although we vaguely perceived the God Train was about to leave the station, we decided that the tickets were too expensive, had another drink at the bar and hoped that a new train with cheaper tickets would depart in the morning.

*****

Today's Quotes:

Why would anyone be morally bound or wish to be morally bound to a civil society that does not share the goal that it’s citizens deserve a fair distribution of wealth, income and power? If the civil society is not dedicated to that end what else could it possibly be dedicated to? What is freedom, to those without wealth, income or power?
Trenz Pruca
The last refuge of scoundrels is not patriotism but the claim that no one could see it coming.
Most wealthy individuals are scoundrels, only very few admit it and they usually are already in jail.

Trenz Pruca
In the past, the United States has sometimes, kind of sardonically, been described as a one-party state: the business party with two factions called Democrats and Republicans. That’s no longer true. It’s still a one-party state, the business party. But it only has one faction. The faction is moderate Republicans, who are now called Democrats. There are virtually no moderate Republicans in what’s called the Republican Party and virtually no liberal Democrats in what’s called the Democratic [sic] Party. It’s basically a party of what would be moderate Republicans and similarly, Richard Nixon would be way at the left of the political spectrum today. Eisenhower would be in outer space.
Norm Chomsky
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