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The Wonderful World Of Rational Superstition

By Case Wagenvoord

19 August, 2009

If you scratch at economic theory long enough, you discover it's little more than long strings of arcane mathematical formulae grounded in superstition (the Invisible Hand of the Market), platitudes (peaceful competition) and pipe dreams (eternal growth).

This could explain why our economy has made a terminal trip to the outhouse. Future historians will look back and scratch their heads and wonder how so many bright and educated people allowed superstition to drag them around by their collective nose.

Author Richard Heinburg ( ) points out that our government has committed $23.7 trillion dollars in “total potential government support” in an attempt to reinflate a new asset bubble. This figure comes from the inspector general of the government's Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP).

Million, billion, trillion—so what! They all sound the same, so it's hard to distinguish between them…

…unless you substitute seconds for dollars, and then you get the following relationships:

· A million is the equivalent of 11.7 days.

· A billion is the equivalent of 37 years.

· A trillion is the equivalent of 37,000 years.

Yet Obama assure us that the worst is behind us. And he is right. When you fall off a mountain, the fall eventually stops. However, the fall doesn't kill you; it's the sudden stop at the end.

Prior recessions have been like diving into a body of water. You go under water and then you bob back to the surface.

With this meltdown, we fell off the mountain, and it's doubtful we'll climb back up again.

According to Heinburg, capitalism's superstitious believe in unlimited growth has hit a wall—resource depletion. As could be expected, the mainstream response to this is another platitude, “Man's” infinite ingenuity, i.e., it's only a matter of time before we invent ourselves out of the mess we've made. The only problem with this is that you can't invent coal or oil unless you kill a lot of dinosaurs and keep them under heat and pressure for millions of years. And given that oil, coal and natural gas supply 95% of the world's energy needs, it's doubtful we'll come up with an alternative

As Heinburg explains:

“If the physical scientists who warn about limits to growth are right, confronting the global economic meltdown implies far more than merely getting the banks and mortgage lenders back on their feet. Indeed, in that case we face a fundamental change in our economy as significant as the advent of the industrial revolution. We are at a historic inflection point—the ending of decades of expansion and the beginning of an inevitable period of contraction that will continue until humanity is once again living within the limits of Earth's regenerative system.”


One could argue that the tremendous technological advances of the past 200 years have been a fluke made possible by an abundance of cheap oil, and that is what is happening now is a restoration of sanity as the Earth forces us to return to a more balanced lifestyle.

Heinburg bases his arguments on science that has not been funded by Big Oil. Counter arguments tend to leave the world of science and wander into the foggy fields of theology. “You gotta believe! We'll come up with something, so stop being such a heretical naysayer and join the church. God (the Invisible Hand) is in his heaven, and we are his chosen species, so nothing bad can happen to us.”

And witches fly on broom.

Note: If you want a good read, click on the above link. The article is long, but Heinburg is a fluid writer whose prose carries you along.

Case Wagenvoord is a citizen who reads. He blogs at and welcomes comments at .

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