I am usually an optimistic person, but one recent seemingly innocuous news item caught my attention and my emotion: France and Germany to propose closing the borders. I always viewed open travel and free trade across European borders as a positive sign for the future, not only in Europe but across the world. Now the dream of free trade and easy travel around the world is crumbling with the advent of the Great Recession, but will it become a Great Depression?
Reading doomsayer and bearish economic blogs, one would think that every week, every month, and every year, we are heading toward another Great Depression and/or hyper-inflationary collapse. When viewed from the standpoint of basic human action and the production of goods and services of real value it is easy to see how the current economic model is unsustainable, because of its inherent need for exponentially increasing levels of debt.
Before reading any further, consider some viewing some good backgrounder information on the fundamental workings of the current economic system:
Money as debt I
Money as debt II
One can make some minor quibbles with some of the methods of debt generation and interest payment, but Money as Debt is an overall good description of the history and functioning of the debt economy.
While it would seem that the world is getting tight on traditional physical resources, we live in an age where an increasing amount of the economy is driven by intellectual resources. From the rapidly increasing levels of productivity to the seamless delivery of information, it would seem as though we are headed for another golden age of human history. By leveraging and amplifying our intellectual resources with the help of software and connectivity (the Internet) one cannot help but feel that there is a workable solution to every problem.
This optimism is not new. Thus was the general mood during the 1920s in the United States, noted as the “Roaring Twenties”. Different technology and resources drove the prosperity and optimism back then. Exponentially increasing value of securities was one of the bedrock markers of the wealth of the “Roaring Twenties”, and like all unsustainable trends, it ended. But unlike other manias and burstings of economic bubbles, the first Great Depression was prolonged (according to many) by government spending. Instead of allowing the economic system to reset to a sustainable level, governments, the U.S. in particular, created money and mostly unproductive work in order in an attempt to “save” the economy. Trade wars and eventually a real world war developed. One could argue that the causality is not perfect but it does have historical precedent.
And the same thing is happening today. History might not be repeating itself exactly but it is rhyming. Why are Germany and France proposing to close their borders again? Why are the U.S. and Europe increasing trade barriers with China? Why are more wars on the horizon? How can we be on the verge of another Great Depression and increasing threat of war when technological progress has brought more comfort and wealth to more of the world's population? Is the the level of debt an unsolvable problem? Is an economic crash and depression the only possible result? The “Money as Debt” series would seem to argue yes. Debt seems to be the root of the problem in a fracturing Europe. Too many governments have promised too many benefits to too many people. Too many banks extended too many bad loans. “Austerity” has been the catch-phrase in recent months, but considering the election in France, this is not sitting well with the population (for obvious reasons) as the leading candidate is promising more (debt generated) benefits to more people. The level of debt in the U.S. is growing at an unsustainable pace as well.
Given the benefit of history, one would think we would not repeat the same mistakes as the past. Arguably one of the most powerful people in the debt-based world economy, the Federal Reserve Chairman of the U.S., claims to be a “student” of the Great Depression. Curious then that the world and the U.S. are following the same path as in the 1930s; trade barriers, issuing more debt, creating more money, paying for unproductive work, etc... About the only thing the FED has not done (or promoted) yet, that does not rhyme with the first Great Depression is raise interest rates, and it seems the FED chairman will go to his grave defending and promoting the zero percent (essentially) primary interest rate and his war on saving.
I do not want trade barriers. I do not want war. I do not want hyperinflation. Being a member of the Immortality Institute (and now Longecity), it has become increasingly hard to understand borders. We work across the imaginary political borders of the world for the benefit of everyone. I would hope that our efforts would be replicated in other areas of human endeavor, and they are, but again there is this counter-current of the collapsing debt-based economy.
I have no quarrels with most other peoples of the world. Then again, I have not been hit too hard by the current Great Recession. Sure, the FED's war on saving is tough for someone frugal like myself and the FED's inflationary policies are robbing more purchasing power every day, but I still have a job. I have a roof over my head and enough food. In places where the Great Recession has hit harder, such as Greece, it is easy to see why there are protests. When the gravy train ends and it seems you have become powerless to decide your own future, it is easy to be angry. Similar to the first Great Depression, politicians are stoking the flames, blaming the “outsiders”, and doing what drove me to write this article: proposing to close borders.
Is this a major threat to the goal of unlimited healthy lifespans? I would say yes. Not because progress would be stopped, but because it would be (will be?) delayed, perhaps significantly. Every day that passes is another day we grow older without rejuvenation technologies being available. Some non-profit organizations with similar goals as Longecity did note a substantial drop-off in contributions during the crash of 2008. The second Great Depression would make resources more scarce. More people would be working to survive and provide for their families and loved-ones instead of using their spare time to volunteer for loftier future-oriented goals. Again, it seems almost unfathomable that in an era of rapid technological progress and potential greater abundance, that the world could descend into another Depression, but the signs are there.
What can we do? I would like to think that the Longecity model of open collaboration would continue to spread. That the new generations with a new communication platform would be able to overwhelm the calls for trade barriers, travel barriers, and war. But it is not fait acompli. A large portion of the population of the U.S. in the 1920s thought the “world was their oyster”, but it fell apart quite suddenly.
I don't think there are any easy answers, but more openness and transparency seem to help. What do you think? Which trend will win out in the next few years? Can technological progress and the open collaboration across borders win the day? Or do we have to endure a few years of economic depression and war, before regaining our footing toward the future?
Edited by Mind, 22 April 2012 - 02:39 PM.