Note — Jul 03, 2022

A Conversation About Civilizational Collapse

A couple of weeks ago I linked to a piece by Alex Steffen saying I wasn’t sure if he was a bit delirious or if I had yet to accept completely our current predicament. I’ll say the same about this bit of abyss gazing by umair haque. It’s bleak af, but I’m still recommending the read because other than perhaps some stridency, I can’t really disagree with what he’s saying and I’m very intrigued by his framing of “investment” (first quote below). He says that the US is currently operating at 20% investment, Europe at about 50% and we need to flip the whole planet to 50% investment, and on renewables, within a couple of decades. To me it’s adjacent to maintenance and a social safety net, and provides one number to measure actual progress. What percentage of your country’s budget is spent investing in itself and its future?

Everything for a civilization has to do with investment. Investment is the linchpin of the project of civilization. Town squares, universities, science, art, literature, medicine — all these come from investment. Civilization in a very real sense is just the act of collective investment. That is how we come to “be” civilized, to have things like schools and roads and hospitals and drugs and books and so forth. And then we live, hopefully, in peace, and intelligence, and with empathy. Everything depends on investment. […]

Why do I say that? 20% needs to become 50%. But how big is that number, in hard terms? Our economy as a civilization is — let’s call it $100 trillion for simplicity’s sake. We invest $20 trillion of that back. It’s not high enough. That number needs to rise from $20 trillion to $50 trillion. That’s $30 trillion, in a decade or two. […]

Inflation is surging, and the cause isn’t just war. It’s Cataclysm, the Event. Extinction. Harvests are beginning to fail. The water is beginning to run out. What dirty fuel there is is left in the hands of fascists and lunatics. Inflation is here, and it’s not going to stop. […]

Our investment rate is still exactly the same. This is why, every year, the UN has to do this sad dance — goals and pledges unmet, the worst case scenarios come true. The investment rate — our investment rate civilizationally — isn’t rising.