How Does the World Work?

  • See the About page for a description of the subjects of interest covered in this blog.

Series Indexes

Global Issues Blogroll

Blog powered by Typepad

Comment Policy

  • Comments
    Comments are open and welcome as long as they are not offensive or hateful. Also this site is commercial free so any comments that are offensive or promotional will be removed. Good questions are always welcome!

« What's wrong with ideology? | Main | New year's resolution - question authority »

December 30, 2009


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


I really enjoy reading your blog and this is an excellent post! I will definitely bookmark it and try to share it with others, even though I am still puzzled myself about the lack of conversation on this topic. I think that people in general feel there must be some technological trick to be pulled out of nature's sleeve and that people who do not believe in the omnipotence of man over nature are crazy or weak minded.

I have to disagree with you on the gold comment. It's true that gold could be considered a type of fiat commodity. But it does have industrial uses like silver, and it also requires work to remove it from the ground, it cannot be printed at will.


George, this is one of the best posts I have ever read on the web.
One thing though..the goldsmiths were the first fictional reserve banks for all the reasons you stated. They gave receipts for the gold and those changed hands while the gold stayed in their vaults. I know nit pick but I had to find something in your master piece.
I am going to send this post around and scare some people I know!.

PS. If I didn't know your background I would peg you as one of the most astute economists in the field.


An excellent article.

I remember working these ideas out myself over several years (in a somewhat woolly fashion), but it all became crystal clear when the so-called Credit Crunch broke. For me, it was a 'Matrix' moment as it confirmed that the world as most people know it is a fake. (If I recall the plot to that film correctly!)


You mifhr also like Chris Martenson's the crash course

The Crash Course is the world's most concise video seminar on how our economy, energy systems, and environment interact, and how they will impact the future.



I have a slightly off-the-wall question: if global growth is no longer possible, coupled with the proposed mitigation of Climate Change by reducing economic growth, does that mean that the average person's working hours will go down... or up?

You see, if it were sold to me as "Your standard of living will reduce, but it will be the same for eveyone else, and you'll have lots of free time to enjoy life." I would happily accept whatever changes were necessary; that's what I've always wanted anyway.

Somehow I don't think that is the way it will happen!

George Mobus

Hi Ann,

Thanks for the comment.

You are certainly right about gold's industrial uses and energy requirements for extraction/refinement, etc. As a commodity gold has its uses, of course.

By intrinsic value I am referring to a currency's capacity to do work. Food has intrinsic value in that it is a source of energy and material for the body. In this sense, even dollar bills have no intrinsic value. I guess I am being too narrow in what I am calling 'intrinsic'. When gold was used as a currency it played the same role as money and acted as a token marker for energy flows. Ultimately when you buy any commodity you are directing energy to be used to produce that commodity so it carries the embodied energy (emergy) value.

Don't know if this actually clarifies my thinking much. I suspect we are not far apart on the idea that gold or any commodity has its use value. I just was trying to differentiate between something that could actually provide motive power and something that required motive power.


George Mobus


"PS. If I didn't know your background I would peg you as one of the most astute economists in the field."

Well thanks. I'm not sure being called an 'economist' is a compliment!!!! But the astute part I like.

It is unfortunate that a whole field of thinking should have been so heavily dominated by fuzzy thinking, but that is the case for neoclassical econ. Hence the need for other adjectives like 'ecological' and 'biophysical' to distinguish a branch of thinking that is, one hopes, more scientific than traditional econ.

I have had the great good fortune to study and work with some of the truly astute thinkers who have been questioning the traditional brand. Most of these people came to economics from outside the field, particularly from outside the academic side of economics. I think that is what led to them having a 'bigger', more holistic vision of what economics was all about.



George Mobus

Hi David,

You should have taken the blue pill!!!

'You see, if it were sold to me as "Your standard of living will reduce, but it will be the same for eveyone else, and you'll have lots of free time to enjoy life." I would happily accept whatever changes were necessary; that's what I've always wanted anyway.'

I guess a lot depends on what you enjoy and what you consider free time. If you work in a job you don't really love, then you would love to do something else with your time. Unfortunately, unless you enjoy intensive permaculture (which some of us do), where you will be spending far more time just producing a subsistence level of existence, then you won't prefer the trade off.

Yes I do think there will be far fewer traditional jobs in the future. And everyone's material standard of living will be heading south. Probably no one is going to find much joy in having to huddle around a wood fire to keep warm, or go to the outhouse in mid winter, or any of the other throwback behaviors that we are going to find ourselves living with.

But this isn't a question of having to sell this to anyone. It is simply going to happen regardless of whether people think its a good thing or not. That is the tragedy of it all. I doubt very seriously if everyone is going to opt for voluntary simplicity in their living standards (of such seemingly draconian measures). In fact I doubt that a significant number would do so. Hence the transition is likely to be pretty painful.

OTOH I suspect most people will prefer it to the alternative!


George Mobus

Hi Rajiv,

Yes Martenson's Crash Course video series is a gem. My youngest son was exposed to it in school (he's 17) and suddenly he isn't thinking his old man is the only crazy old coot around. He actually got a fair amount out of the series and it allowed us to have more meaningful conversations.

I highly recommend it to anyone who is just starting to think about these issues.



Not sure if this is the right place to ask a question unrelated to the OP George but I cant recall you ever mentioning the Boskop homonoid skull finds from ~30,000 yrs ago:

I find the story of larger brained ancestors with higher developed frontal lobes in SA as interesting as the possible causes for their demise.
I read somewhere than brain capacity over recent mellenia has actually decreased not increased.
Techonolgy enchancing sideways evolution but inhibiting physical evoluton?

George Mobus

Hi GaryA.

I haven't addressed those finds. I get Discover and read the article, as well as bits and pieces in Science and Nature. It is fascinating but I will have to do more reading in the literature before I can think about how it fits. I will probably rely on my physical anthropology friend, Ken Smail, for guidance. He keeps up on this stuff.

I have several references on brain evolution you might find interesting. Specifically there is: Striedter, Georg F., (2005). Principles of Brain Evolution, Sinauer Associates, Inc., Sunderland, MA. Other book references can be found on this page:

There has been some decrease in brain volume but it isn't clear if it might also correspond to increases in density or rewiring for efficiency sake (and child birth).



Some more anti-Ferguson rhetoric for you, albeit a bit more polished than mine-

George Mobus


Not sure about the "more anti-Ferguson rhetoric" reference. I am not anti-Ferguson.

I will admit that Landis makes a few good points, but frankly I found most of his rant to be baseless. He really worked hard to make points but with quotes from the book that simply didn't support his objections. He does turn a phrase, though.

If the point is just that Ferguson buys the neoclassical model of economics as a basis for his treaties on money then he is simply in a very big boat. Fortunately, his work is more like history than causal explanation so it really doesn't matter (at least to me). I still think his book and series are good primers for understanding the debt financing role of money.



Great blog. It's absolutely amazing how all these economic "geniuses" are constantly on the battle to get people to keep spending more, conveniently ignoring the plain fact that consumption does not create wealth, only production does.

I also recommend 'The Ascent of Money'. Fantastic book.

George Mobus

Hi psamtani,

Thank you. Your comment is well taken.



Thank you for this fascinating and informative essay. I'm just a musician, but I've been saying for years that economics will only be a kind of game theory, not a science, until it integrates with the physical sciences which underlie the behavior and activity it studies. The type of thinking you're doing here seems to me to address this central flaw in the field.


George Mobus


Thank you. Please take a look at the other posts on Biophysical Economics (category on the left-hand side of the page.) You will find a lot more on this subject there.


irrigation systems

thank you for such a informative blog. i just loved reading it. i will try to share it with my friends and let them know about it. waiting for your next blog.


Even bad credit or adverse credit fails to materialize its consequences with secured personal loans.

The comments to this entry are closed.