The last day

The limits to growth

Imagine there is a lake in a distant forest. On the surface of the lake a plant is growing. It suffocates all life below. The plant has already been there for a 1,000 days and it grows at a rate of 100% each day. If the lake is already covered half by the plant then how many days are left to save the remaining life in the lake? The correct answer is one day.

The plant doubles in size in one day. As the lake is already half covered it will be fully covered the next day, even though the plant was there already for 1,000 days. This is the power of exponential growth. And it ends suddenly. As soon as the lake is fully covered, the plant has no more room for growth. For every leaf the plant adds, another leaf has to die.

The lake represents Earth. The plant represents humanity. The leafs are people like you and me. No more room for growth may mean that for every child that is born, someone has to die. It is estimated that as of 1971 humans use more of the Earth’s resources than nature can replenish. Currently we use one-and-a-half times as much as nature can replace. By 2050 three Earths may be needed to sustain humanity. Make no mistake, this is the “last day”.

The end may come suddenly. Most people don’t see it coming. Some people believe that the end can’t be avoided. They are preparing for the worst. In 1970 a group of scientists called the Club Of Rome predicted “the end” when natural resources would run out. They expected it to happen shortly after the year 2000. It didn’t happen until now, but that doesn’t mean that the current path of humanity can continue for much longer.

This is the end
Beautiful friend
This is the end
My only friend
The end

– The Doors, The End

The depletion of natural resources and the degradation of our planet are amongst the most serious challenges we are facing. If these challenges are not addressed adequately, billions of humans may die of hunger, pollution, resource wars and ecological disasters. Poverty may spread because of the depletion of natural resources.

Perhaps new technologies will become available in the future that can deal with these issues but we don’t know whether that will happen and when. Even when these new technologies become available in the future, we may still have to bridge a gap in time and adapt our lifestyles until that happens.

Climate change

The average temperature on Earth is expected to rise by three degrees Celsius by the year 2100. It has already risen by one degree Celsius since the year 1900. Such a rise in temperature may alter the weather globally and cause massive harvests fails. Polar ice may melt so that the sea level will rise and low-lying territory where more than 500 million people currently live, may be lost. The main cause of the temperature rise is our use of fossil fuels.

There is a lot of uncertainty about the accuracy of the estimates regarding the consequences of climate change as was the case with the predictions made by the Club Of Rome. The impact of rising carbon dioxide levels on the weather are hard to predict. The estimates of the climate scientists are the best we currently have as were the estimates made by the Club Of Rome in 1970.

Ignoring climate change is like playing Russian roulette with the future of humanity without knowing exactly how many bullets are in the revolver, but sensing that it is two to five out of six. Taking action may result in wasting an unprecedented amount of effort and resources on combating climate change if these predictions are wrong. But you need to pull the trigger to know that.

Drastic actions like ending frivolous uses of fossil fuels and investing massively in clean sources of energy appear unavoidable. Several scientists believe that nuclear energy is cleaner than fossil fuels. There may be accidents and dangerous waste, but they believe that nuclear energy will cause fewer deaths than fossil fuels.

Going nuclear?

An incident in my life makes me cautious about nuclear energy. In 1994 I met my wife Ingrid. In 1995 we spent our first holidays together in the Dutch province of Zeeland. During one of our trips we came across a village named Kwadendamme. The English translation of this name is Evildam. Ingrid was driving. Suddenly she hit the brakes. I was lucky to have my seatbelts fastened. “Antiques,” she cried. By the side of the road was a small shabby shed with a sign “King’s Antiques”. Inside were piles of stuff. An elderly couple entered the shed via a back door. They may have been in their seventies or eighties. They may have the only real antiques in the shop.

Ingrid was browsing the shelves and soon she found a doll. 185 guilders (85 euros) was the price tag. Ingrid kept on staring in bewilderment. “This doll isn’t very old but the price reflects that,” the old lady said. Later Ingrid told me that she had seen this doll a few years earlier in a store chain. Back then the price was 9 guilders (4 euros). We were about to leave, but then the old man said: “Don’t go yet, there’s another hall.” He pointed at the back door. Behind the shed was a small place and another shed. It may have been a henhouse previously. I could hardly stand upright in there. It was filled with even more stuff.

Just after we left Kwadendamme we found ourselves on route N666 (National Route 666) to Borssele. Back then I already found this to be a bit peculiar, not only because of the route N666 passing Kwadendamme (Evildam), but even more so because it was the route to Borssele, which is the site of the only remaining Dutch nuclear power plant. The N666 ends near Borssele next to a village named ‘s Heerenhoek, which can be translated into The Lord’s Corner. With the benefit of hindsight, this probably is not a coincidence, and The Maker may have left this mark.

The other Dutch nuclear power plant was located in Dodewaard. It had been closed in 1997. Dodewaard can be translated into Death Holm, which is a bit spooky considering that Route 666 leads to Borssele. The Dodewaard area is 66.5 square kilometres, close enough to 66.6 to be a bit eerie. If this is an omen with regard to nuclear energy, it isn’t a good one. I would therefore not recommend using nuclear energy using the technologies that are currently available. It may be more dangerous than scientists believe.

Nuclear fusion can be a lot safer than nuclear fission, which is the type of nuclear energy that is currently available. If something goes wrong with nuclear fusion, the process dies out. It can’t go out of control like nuclear fission. The nuclear waste would also be more manageable. Nuclear waste from fission will be dangerous for thousands of years, while nuclear waste from fusion is safe after one hundred years.

There may be energy from nuclear fusion within a few decades, but that’s still far from certain. It is extremely challenging to generate energy from nuclear fusion. It requires working with temperatures of 150 million degrees Celsius. Scientists now estimate that nuclear fusion may be available by 2050, but only if the technical issues are solved.

Nuclear fusion could bring us unlimited energy at virtually no cost. In that case it would be possible to recycle much more than we currently do as the value of the recycled materials is now often lower than the cost of the energy needed to reclaim them. Even though developments in the field of nuclear fusion seem promising, it is still far from certain that it will be available soon. And as long as it isn’t available, living within the limits of our planet may require considerable sacrifices.

Mass extinction

Climate change gets a lot of attention but there are several other environmental disasters happening at the same time. Many species of plants and animals have become extinct or are on the brink of extinction because humans destroy their habitat. On average, there was 60% decline in the size of populations of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians in the last 40 years.1 There is hardly any wildlife left.

To put it into perspective, one can compare the total weight of all humans and their domesticated animals with the remaining wildlife, which are all the wild animals except insects and microbes. The seven billion humans on this planet together weigh 300 million tonnes. All the domesticated animals, such as pigs, cows, horses and sheep, together weigh 700 million tonnes. By comparison, all the remaining large wildlife on planet Earth, such as lions, elephants, whales, crocodiles and penguins, together weigh less than 100 million tonnes.2

And then there is pollution. The list with problems caused by the exponential growth of human activities is long. This is perhaps not a complete list:
– depletion of natural resources, especially fossil fuels;
– shortage of drinking water;
– air pollution, water pollution, soil contamination and noise;
– deforestation and loss of ecosystems that sustain global atmospheric oxygen and carbon dioxide balance;
– loss of arable land and a growth of deserts;
– increased chance of new epidemics;
– low life expectancy in countries with fastest growing populations;
– unhygienic living conditions for many because of water resource depletion and discharge of raw sewage and waste disposal;
– more crime rate as people revert to stealing in order to survive;
– conflict over scarce resources leading to wars;
– fewer personal freedoms and more restrictive laws.

Why produce garbage

Why produce garbage if it is thrown away?

Wealthy countries are throw-away societies. There is an excessive use of disposable items. Why should we recycle garbage when we can use more durable goods? Why are there so many packaging materials? For instance, liquids be transported in tanks and consumers could fill up their bottles at the supermarket. Why isn’t anybody dong this? Marketeers believe that the packaging and not the content is what makes a product unique. This is irrational. The amount of packaging can be reduced significantly.

There may be no other option than to curb polluting activities, the consumption of raw materials and carbon emissions. Frivolous consumption may need to be banned if it uses too many scarce resources. Harmful activities that are difficult to end may need to be taxed and the proceeds of these taxes may be used to reduce taxes on labour, so that labour can replace energy and materials consumption where possible. These changes can make it more attractive to recycle and to make products longer lasting. Tariffs may need to be put on products from countries that do not comply to these standards.

Population control

A mother in waiting once asked the biologist Midas Dekkers what she could do to raise her child as environmentally friendly as possible. Dekkers then said that nothing affects the environment more badly than having a child. For the environment it is better to cut down one hundred hectares of tropical rainforest than to have a child, he added. It may be a good idea to limit the number of children, for instance to one child per couple.

Apart from people wanting to have children, many poor people seek security. They worry about making ends meet. The depletion of natural resources is probably not on their mind. The only long-term plan of many poor people is having children who can care for them when they are old. Even though poor people do not use a lot of resources, they often have many children, and if we like them to prosper, that could be a problem.

If the rights of a couple to have a child can be sold, wealthy people may bid up the price of these rights, and poor people can have a pension out of selling them. There are some ethical issues with such a measure as it may result in poor people having fewer children and people from specific ethnicities opting for this more often than others. The limits of our planet are such a serious issue that these consequences may need to be accepted. And on the bright side, fewer children may be raised in poverty.

Meat consumption

Meat consumption causes animal suffering. Apart from that, eating meat has a few other disadvantages. It might be possible to feed more people when we eat less meat because animals used for consumption eat food humans could eat. It takes three to seven kilograms of grain to produce one kilogram of meat. Meat is an inefficient way of feeding humans. Meat production also contributes to climate change. It will be difficult to change diets unless substitutes for meat become available that taste as good as meat itself.

It’s the economy stupid!

It is often argued that the economy is unsustainable because of short-term thinking. The economy must grow in order to have positive returns on investments, and it is believed that returns on investments need to be positive otherwise the economy would collapse. The economic time horizons of individual people are reflected in their time preferences. The time horizon of the economy as a whole is reflected in the interest rate. The lower the interest rate, the longer the time horizon of the economy can be. The following example from the Strohalm Foundation illustrates this.

Suppose that a cheap house will last 33 years and costs € 200,000 to build. The yearly cost of the house will be € 6,060 (€ 200,000 divided by 33). A more expensive house costs € 400,000 but will last a hundred years. It will cost only € 4,000 per year. For € 2,060 per year less, you can build a house that lasts three times as long.

After applying for a mortgage the math changes. If the interest rate is 10%, the expensive house will not only cost € 4,000 per year in write-offs, but during the first year there will be an additional interest charge of € 40,000 (10% of € 400,000).

The long-lasting house now costs € 44,000 in the first year. The cheaper house now appears less expensive again. There is a yearly write off of € 6,060 but during the first year there is only € 20,000 in interest charges. Total costs for the first year are only € 26,060. Interest charges make the less durable house cheaper.3

The example shows that without interest charges there is a tendency to select long-term solutions. Interest charges make long-term solutions less economical. Interest promotes a short-term bias in the economy. It may explain why natural resources like rainforests are squandered for short term profits. If interest rates are high, it may be more profitable to cut down a rainforest and to put the proceeds at interest rather than to manage the forest in a sustainable way.

Only, things are not as simple as the example suggests. For example, the building materials of the cheap house might be recycled to build a new house. And technology changes. For example, if cars had been built to last 100 years, most old cars would still be around. This could be a problem as old cars are more polluting and use more fuel. Nevertheless, the example shows that long-term investments can be more attractive when interest rates are lower.

This also applies to investments in renewable energy. For instance, a solar panel that costs € 100, lasts 15 years, and generates € 150 worth in electricity in the course of these 15 years, is feasible at an interest rate of 5% but not at an interest rate of 10%. Many investments in making the economy sustainable may have low returns and are only feasible when interest rates are low. Low and negative interest rates can also deal with low economic growth. That may be needed for living within the limits of the planet.

Living within the limits of the planet

It’s easier to finance a great endeavour from investments than from taxation because nobody wants to pay taxes but everybody is happy to invest. This explains the success of the European empires that conquered the world after the Middle Ages. England, France, Spain and the Netherlands were much poorer and smaller than China, India or the Ottoman Empire, but they didn’t finance their conquests with taxation like the other empires, but with investment capital.

Europe came out on top because European conquerors took loans from banks and investors to buy ships, cannons, and to pay soldiers. Profits from the new trade routes and colonies enabled them to repay the loans and build trust so they could receive more credit next time.2 This logic can be applied to making the economy sustainable. The challenge is so enormous that it may not be possible to finance it by taxes.

Taxes could be used to discourage harmful activities. Banning harmful activities may be even better if that is feasible. For instance, gas guzzling SUVs, large mansions and private jets can easily be prohibited because you can’t use them without being seen. That may not apply to activities that can easily go underground. If a tax or a prohibition fosters crime and illicit markets, more harm is done than good.

When interest rates are negative, the time horizon of the economy could go to eternity so that it makes sense to invest in making the economy sustainable. A few examples from history can illustrate this. In the Middle Ages some areas in Europe had currencies with a holding fee like Natural Money. As there hardly was economic growth, interest rates were negative. It was the era of Europe’s great cathedrals. These cathedrals were built for eternity. As better investment opportunities were absent, wealthy towns people spent their excess money on cathedrals.3 For similar reasons, the people of Wörgl planted trees as the proceeds of the wood were expected to occur in the distant future.3

A bit of calculus can show why the time horizon of the economy can go to eternity when interest rates are negative. If the interest rate is 5%, putting € 1 in a bank account turns into € 1,05 after a year, so you would rather have € 1 now than in one year’s time, even when you need the money in one year’s time. That’s because you can put the money on a bank account at interest. At an interest rate of 5%, € 100 in one year’s time is worth € 95.25 now. The distant future has even less value. The same € 100 in one hundred year’s time is worth only € 0.59 now. And € 100 after 1000 years has no value at all in the present.

At an interest rate of -5%, you would prefer to have the money when you need it, otherwise you would end up with less. At an interest rate of -5%, € 100 in one year’s time would be worth € 105. The same € 100 in one hundred year’s time would be worth € 13,501 now. And € 100 after 1000 years would be worth more than everything there is in the present. That may explain why townspeople in Europe in the Middle Ages spent their excess money on cathedrals. This peculiar logic may help us to come into terms with the limits our planet poses on human activities.

Living within the limits of the planet may require unprecedented investments in the future. These investments may require low or even negative interest rates as their returns may be low or even negative. Only low and negative interest rates can make these investments economical. Everyone who has money to save can help by shifting money from consumption to saving and investing. The more people act like capitalists, the lower interest rates may go, and the more sustainable the economy may become.

Nothing but flowers

The challenge is so huge that it seems impossible. It can only succeed when we believe that we can make it happen and that we are going to make it happen. In the past no appropriate action has been taken so drastic measures may be inevitable. It probably will not be easy to make you accept the proposed measures. They may require a sacrifice you never imagined you would make. The economy may become like a wartime economy where every scrap is saved for victory.

The measures can have undesirable side-effects. For instance, China had a one-child-policy for decades. Many parents preferred a son so baby girls were often killed. Nowadays many men in China can’t find a wife. Another example is tropical rainforests making room for palm oil plantations that produce ‘renewable energy’. We need to deal with undesirable side-effects as soon as they emerge.

Only God knows what the future will look like. When everything ends well, you may not be satisfied with the outcome, even when you realise that the alternative would have been worse. The Garden Of Eden was a Paradise for Eve and Adam, but it may not be for us. Most people will adapt over time. And if you have trouble adapting, you can think of the children of the future. They won’t remember this era from personal experience. They may be happy with the way things will be.

Here we stand
Like an Adam and an Eve
Waterfalls
The Garden of Eden
Two fools in love
So beautiful and strong
The birds in the trees
Are smiling upon them
From the age of the dinosaurs
Cars have run on gasoline
Where, where have they gone?

[…]

And as things fell apart
Nobody paid much attention
You got it, you got it
I dream of cherry pies,
Candy bars, and chocolate chip cookies
You got it, you got it
We used to microwave
Now we just eat nuts and berries
You got it, you got it
This was a discount store,
Now it’s turned into a cornfield
You’ve got it, you’ve got it
Don’t leave me stranded here
I can’t get used to this lifestyle

– Talking Heads, Nothing But Flowers

Featured image: Judgement Day. Royal Museum Of Fine Arts of Belgium. Rama (2008). Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

Other image: Why produce garbage when it is thrown away all the same. Loesje. Loesje.org.

1. Living Planet Report. World Wildlife Fund (2018). [link]
2. Sapiens: A Brief History Of Humankind. Yuval Noah Harari (2014). Harvil Secker.
3. The Future of Money: Creating New Wealth, Work and a Wiser World. Lietaer, Bernard (2001). Random House.

What’s the use of politics?

Politics is worthless many people agree. Hence, the use of politics may need some clarification. Humans became the dominant animal species because they cooperate in large numbers in a flexible way. This makes us unique in the animal world. Some animals such as ants and bees can cooperate in large numbers, but they are not flexible in the ways they do that. Their cooperation is based on their genetic code. Social animals like chimpanzees, elephants, wolves and dolphins can cooperate more flexibly, but not in very large numbers. Cooperation in a chimpanzee band, an elephant band or a wolf pack is based on intimate familiarity of the band members.1

Language is the main tool for human cooperation. Animals have languages too. Animals can communicate about the whereabouts of food or enemies. Only, human language can be used for many more things. Most notably, humans can gossip and exchange information about what other people are doing and thinking. This gives them better information about other people in the group so that they can develop more sophisticated ways of cooperating. Apes like chimpanzees, baboons and gorillas all show interest in social information, but they have trouble gossiping because their languages don’t allow for that.1

The truly unique feature of human language is not gossip, but its ability to transmit information about imaginary things. All forms of large-scale human cooperation, such as nation states, churches, cities and corporations, are rooted in fictions that exist only in the collective imagination of human beings. Myths, like the existence of gods, laws, corporations and nation states, gave humans the unprecedented ability to cooperate flexibly in very large numbers. For example, churches are based on common religious beliefs. Religious beliefs make it possible that Christians who never met before can do things together like going on a crusade or building a hospital.1

Religions and ideologies have a lot in common. You could either call them myths or models of reality. Religions as well as ideologies maintain there is a superhuman order of universal laws that govern the world, which should guide human actions. For example, Buddhists believe that the law of nature was discovered by Siddhartha Gautama. Communists believe that the laws of nature were discovered by Karl Marx. Like other religions, Communism had its holy scriptures and prophetic books such as Karl Marx’s Das Kapital, which prophesied that history would soon end with the inevitable victory of the proletariat over the capitalist system.1

What does this have to do with politics? In democracies people can decide about what needs to be done and determine who should do what. Politics involves discussing collective imaginations such as laws, nation states, religions and ideologies to determine what course of action should be taken as well as gossip to determine who should do what, for instance who is going to be the leader of a political party or a nation. Many people nowadays believe that democracy is the best political system, even though democracy has some disadvantages.

Politicians may not do what they promised their voters to do. There might be intense political struggle. And politics might result in poor decisions when voters don’t like the measures that need to be taken. In times of upheaval people might opt for someone who promises to take drastic action, for instance when the economy has collapsed or when insurgents and criminals wreak havoc. The most notorious example in history was the rise of Adolf Hitler. The suffering of the Germans during the Great Depression and the inability of politicians to relieving their plight helped Hitler to grab power.

Featured image: House Of Commons in the United Kingdom. Parliament.uk. [link]

1. A Brief History Of Humankind. Yuval Noah Harari (2014). Harvil Secker.

US Declaration Of Independence

What a social order needs to be

A social order is an imagined order. Humans imagine that people have rights and are part of social classes. There has been a wide variety of social orders throughout history.1 For instance, you can compare the Code of Hammurabi, a Babylonian law from 1750 BC, with the United States Declaration of Independence from 1776 AD.

The Code of Hammurabi declares that the Babylonian social order is based on universal and eternal principles of justice dictated by the gods. It divides people into three classes, nobility, ordinary people and slaves. The code then sets out all kinds of laws and punishments for transgressions. The United States Declaration of Independence begins with the following sentence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

On closer inspection 3,500 years didn’t make a lot of difference. The eternal principles are replaced by self-evident truths and the order still needed divine support. There is no mentioning of classes in the United States Declaration of Independence. All men are created equal. But the devil is in the detail. Women and slaves did not have these unalienable rights when the constitution was written. Only nobility was done away with as businesspeople had become the new ruling class. It is often the ruling class that invents a social order and benefits the most from it. In the 200 years that followed slavery was abolished and women received equal rights before the law.

Saying that people are equal and have rights is problematic. People are not equal in their abilities as well as their opportunities. For example, we can imagine the right to live but we all die. Some people die young and some live very long. Still, we imagine that people have equal rights like the Babylonians imagined that people are divided into classes.

A social order is a collective imagination. It doesn’t exist in reality as such, but only in the minds of groups of people. If people agree on a social order, whether it is a division into classes or the notion that everyone is created equal, it can be a stable order. Social orders bring peace and stability. In most cases social orders don’t only benefit the ruling class. If that were true, people wouldn’t support the social order. If people agree on the social order, they can cooperate more easily.

1. Sapiens: A Brief History Of Humankind. Yuval Noah Harari (2014). Harvil Secker.

Wisdom of crowds and mass delusions

The quality of decisions in democracies depends on how large groups of people form their opinions. In this respect there are two opposing ideas, the wisdom of crowds and mass delusions. The wisdom of crowds was first discovered in 1906 by Francis Galton. He was visiting a livestock fair where an ox was on display. Villagers were invited to guess the animal’s weight. Nearly 800 people participated in the contest. No-one guessed the weight of 1,198 pounds exactly, but the average guess of 1,197 pounds was almost perfectly right.

At least in specific cases groups of individuals can on aggregate assess a situation quite good and better than nearly every individual on his or her own. The average guess included the extremes on both sides. Galton was impressed. He came to believe that this was an argument in favour of democracy. It suggests that if all views are reflected in parliament, it can result in good decisions.

The wisdom of crowds depends on individuals having different backgrounds and making their assessments independently so that they look at the issue in different ways. The more people are alike or the more they influence each other, the more they can become prone to group think so that the wisdom of the crowd disappears.1 In extreme cases this can lead to mass delusions like stock market bubbles.2

Diversity of opinions is a reasons why decision-making in democracies can be better than other forms of decision-making. Mass delusions are a reason why this is not always the case. The greatest mass delusion humanity is suffering from currently is not dealing adequately with the limits of our planet. Our planet cannot support our life styles for much longer. At least in democracies the information about this issue is freely available to everyone. So why don’t people in democracies act?

Perhaps that is because the measures that need to be taken affect us all directly and significantly as they would require considerable sacrifice, while we won’t feel the consequences of our inaction right now. Most people have a short term bias and they value the present more than the future, most notably a distant and uncertain future. And no country can take action alone as it wouldn’t make a difference.

At least in democracies it may be possible to make the wealthiest finance the efforts to deal with the challenges. These efforts require massive amounts of capital. The wealthy own most capital but only have a small portion of the votes. Low interest rates indicate an excess of capital and a lack of investment opportunities so that it may be possible to direct more capital towards meeting these challenges.

1. The Wisdom of Crowds. James Surowiecki (2004). Doubleday, Anchor.
2. Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. Charles Mackay (1841). Richard Bentley, London.

New World Order

The direction of history

We are heading towards a single integrated world order, sometimes called the New World Order. Humanity is converging in three major ways, intellectually, economically and politically. The spread of religions and ideologies made it possible to unify different peoples under the same set of ideas. Trade and money enabled the cooperation between strangers all over the globe. And the increased cooperation between nation states is paving the way for a closer integration of governments.1

The world is now run by a global elite of business people, politicians, bureaucrats, engineers, journalists, scientists, opinion makers, writers and artists. No matter where they live, whether it is New York, Buenos Aires, Shanghai, Dubai or Cape Town, these people increasingly have the same interests, the same viewpoints about the world, the same culture, and increasingly live similar lifestyles. The individuals in these elites have more in common with each other than with their fellow countrymen.1

The need for global cooperation

Global issues such as climate change, human rights, international crime and financial markets require international agreement and cooperation. The Old World Order was based on the sovereignty of nation states, which means that, at least in theory, there was no higher authority than the nation state. All nation states were equally sovereign, at least in theory. Their power was restricted only by the treaties they signed.

Nowadays nation states are increasingly under pressure to conform to global standards as actions of one nation affect other nations as well. The global elite makes decisions on these issues. The elite believes that it acts to the benefit of mankind and that we need more international cooperation or even a global government. This is reflected in the words of the British politician Denis Healey, who had been involved in Bilderberg Conferences in which members of the elite gathered in secrecy. He told the Guardian:

To say we were striving for a one-world government is exaggerated, but not wholly unfair. Those of us in Bilderberg felt we couldn’t go on forever fighting one another for nothing and killing people and rendering millions homeless. So we felt that a single community throughout the world would be a good thing.2

It is hard to get a clear picture of the influence of meetings like Bilderberg. It seems that these gatherings influence the political agenda. For instance the European Union has been discussed at Bilderberg and it may well be that these meetings helped to create the European Union by making the elite agree on the agenda. As Europe had just been ravaged by two world wars, it probably seemed a good plan.

How much global government we need is a matter of debate. The more power is concentrated, the more pervasive the corruption will be. On the other hand, many important issues are of a global nature and require international cooperation. The only way out is to make people agree on what needs to be done and how differences must be settled. That reduces the for a centralised bureaucracy telling us what to do.

Neoliberalism or neofeudalism?

The share of the wealthy of global wealth and income has increased in recent decades. A 2017 report from Oxfam points out that the world’s eight wealthiest people own as much as the poorest 50%.3 Until now there is no global government or binding international treaties so nation states end up competing to please large corporations and billionaires.

In the 1970s the situation in Western Europe and the United States was different. Most people were part of the middle class. Since then a growing divide between the rich and the poor emerged. This coincided with the rise of neoliberalism, which is the idea that more should be left to the markets and that governments shouldn’t interfere.

The ideology of neoliberalism emerged in the 1970s when the ruling class was in trouble. The economy was stagnating. Unions had a lot of power. Businesses were struggling because of the competition of low-wage countries. The elite then started to promote freedom of the markets, privatisation, entrepreneurial spirit and individual liberty. The power of labour was curtailed and wealth inequality began to increase.4

Good paying jobs were moved to low wage countries because of international competition. People in emerging economies like China and India saw their living standards increase but in the West many people had to work for lower wages. On the other hand, many products became cheaper. The rise of populism in Europe and the United States is a consequence of a loss of security and perspective.

Deep state

Politicians come and go but many officials remain within the governmental institutions for a longer period of time. Most of these people aren’t democratically elected. Often they are technocrats who believe to work interest of the country. They may obstruct decisions made by democratically elected officials. That may not always be bad as technocrats tend to have better knowledge of the field they are working in than politicians.

The deep state also consists of interest groups that have captured the government to profiteer at the expense of the taxpayers. One can think of lobbyist groups and think tanks who represent interests that live off government contracts or benefit from favourable legislation, for instance  the Military Industrial Complex. These people work covertly via social networks to influence politicians and other officials.

Conspiracy theory

Some people claim the elite has a secret plan to create a New World Order where ordinary humans will be mere serfs. Rather than seeing the emerging oligarchy as a result of social and economic developments, they believe it was deliberately planned. This plan is believed to be worked out in secretive meetings like Bilderberg.

Corruption in politics can be so pervasive that people seek refuge in conspiracy theories. In the United States politicians need to fund their campaigns. They often accept money from large corporations and wealthy individuals so that they represent their wealthy donors rather than the people electing them.

Conspiracy theorists tend to mischaracterize facts and intentions in order to spin them into their narrative. On the other hand, traditional media sometimes ignore their journalistic duties by under reporting issues that can threaten the social order. With the advent of internet and social media, everyone can start a website and become a source of information and opinion. And so traditional media are losing their grip on the public.

A better political system

There are different views on how the power of the elite can be curtailed. The proposed solutions are often to let the government curtail the power of the elite or a reduction of government power so that the elite can’t abuse the government for their own aims. As revolutions bring new elites to power, most people will not benefit from revolution.

A socialist revolution might scare investors so that capital leaves the country. A reduction in government might leave people in need without support. Direct democracy as is practised in Switzerland might be a good way of improving decision-making in politics and reduce the power of the elite without a violent revolution.

Natural Economic Order

History sometimes takes unexpected turns. In 1916 Silvio Gesell published his book The Natural Economic Order in which he proposed a tax on money. His ideas stand at the cradle of Natural Money. His book was first published in German in 1916. It was named “Natürliche Wirtschaftsordnung”, which can be abbreviated to NWO. If Natural Money is to become the money of the future, this would be a peculiar coincidence. There may be a secret plan for a New World Order the elite is unaware of.

Gesell was inspired by natural selection like many of his contemporaries. He viewed competition as beneficial to mankind. Effort and talent instead of money and privilege should determine one’s economic rewards. This was a common belief amongst liberals around 1900. Interest was seen as a reward for doing nothing. People living from interest didn’t supply their talents to society. Gesell realised that the Natural Economic Order will not arise spontaneously as it requires choosing money that allows for negative interest rates. In the preface of The Natural Economic Order he wrote:

The prosperity of mankind, as of all living beings, depends in the main upon whether selection takes place under natural laws. But these laws demand competition. […] Only then shall we be justified in hoping that humanity may in time shake off the burden of inferior individuals imposed upon it by thousands of years of unnatural selection – selection vitiated by money and privileges.5

Interest rates have gone down in recent decades and may go negative in the future because it will be increasingly hard for capital to make risk-free returns. After 100 years we may be at the doorstep of the revolution Gesell saw coming.

1. Sapiens: A Brief History Of Humankind. Yuval Noah Harari (2014). Harvil Secker.
2. Who pulls the strings? (part 3). The Guardian (2001). [link]
3. Just 8 men own same wealth as half the world. Oxfam (2017). [link]
4. A Brief History of Neoliberalism. David Harvey. Oxford University Press (2005).
5. The Natural Economic Order. Silvio Gesell (1916). [link]