The Reaper

Recent rumors of blog death in the reactosphere have been greatly exaggerated, but elsewhere — not so much. For sheer weirdness, it’s hard to beat the announcement of The Oil Drum‘s closure at The Daily Bell — an event of huge significance for the fate of the Peak Oil ‘promotion’, we were assured — and one almost immediately followed by the closure of … The Daily Bell. (Here‘s the farewell post, although I’m reluctant to link to a self-declared corpse.)

By simple analogy, can we assume this death is also overflowing with meaning? Has the DB’s signature brand of libertarian conspiracy theorizing been terminated for a reason?  If so, there aren’t any clues to be found in Anthony Wile’s quite bizarrely uninformative good-bye note.

I’m guessing my vague melancholy on the subject won’t find many echoes out here on the right fringe. “Another bunch of nutty libertarians go over the cliff, big deal” might not be a bad guess at the average response, if it didn’t so clearly underestimate the prevailing indifference (I don’t recall anybody else linking to them on anything). They were strong advocates of the “Internet Reformation”, ushering in a new epoch of liberty worldwide, as the scheming “global elite” were forced to take a “step back”, their “directed history” undone by electronic “truth-telling”.

I’m taking it that has all been swept off the table now, Peak Oil-style. It never did quite seem nasty enough to be real.

July 17, 2013admin 11 Comments »
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11 Responses to this entry

  • Alrenous Says:

    Blogs aren’t supposed to be immortal, it’s normal for them to die from time to time. I wouldn’t expect the retirement announcements to rise above rationalization. They stop because they feel like it, but feel uncomfortable just coming out and saying so. Greer might have something worthwhile to say about that, actually. They can’t acknowledge that this ‘feel like it’ might have a good reason behind it even if it isn’t conscious.

    For example, if your heart isn’t in it, it takes willpower. Willpower is finite. At some point it becomes cost ineffective.

    The ‘defences’ of peak oil: really? Only topped by someone literally talking about peak water. Sure, we’ll have a water war. Any day now. The more popular it gets, the more certain I am they have no idea what they’re talking about.

    Of course it’s always easier to predict more of the same than to predict a black swan. But I think I’ve hit my quota of arrogant certainty in the face of constant failure. I think I’m going to start a policy of looking for humility as a trigger for epistemic respect.

    That said, here’s where you need EROEI. What we need to know is not gross barrels but net barrels. That said, it looks like my conclusion that there’s ‘truly huge’ deposits is true. To get net barrels up, pay for even more fracking using fracking.

    I’m also reminded of Bueno de Mesquita With a real model and computer aid, you can do real predictions in sociology, but it would seem predictions are not the point in most cases. At least Greer’s predictions about Peak Oil are wrong. In principle, he could learn a bit more and be corrected. (Indeed, he would probably start saying true things that I couldn’t myself predict.) Most of the above things are barely predictions, not even wrong.


    admin Reply:

    The Daily Bell had a lot of commentators, including some of unusually high quality. When a blog dies, and disappears, all of that gets zeroed out, which seems like a substantial problem. I’m not sure what the answer is, and it’s also the fact that at the present level of search sophistication finding old comments is already a difficult, hit-and-miss affair. Collective intelligence is to a huge extent a memory problem, which is incrementally being worked on, with reasonable prospects of leading to interesting places. Right now, though, sporadic blog death can’t be seen as a helpful factor.

    EROEI is a useful analytical tool, as long as it is properly understood as a shifting techno-historical variable, and not a cosmic-ecological constant. The amount of energy required to access a given type of energy reserves depends hugely upon the intelligence of the approach, as crystallized within technology and economic institutions.

    The ‘Pascal scams’ critique is important, but also one-sided. If taken seriously, it would dismiss Black Swan possibilities as little more than hoaxes, which leads to a problematic cognitive bias of its own.


    Lesser Bull Reply:

    Blog death is a subset of institutional death, which is really the problem of mortality., A great many people, it turns out, are something like indispensable. Yet we limp on.


    Posted on July 17th, 2013 at 6:27 pm Reply | Quote
  • Doug Says:

    Generally I’ve found that for all their other virtues reactionaries, libertarians and those prone to conspiracy beliefs tend to give crappy financial advice. The crackpots that swirl around Zero Hedge and the like have some truly insane beliefs about how the financial system works.

    The art of investment is being right slightly more than 50% of the time. To that end people who can flexibly switch their opinions on a dime, and often times make investments under simultaneously contradicting theses, tend to be the best investors. This is a different game than political philosophy (or any type of philosophy), where most intellectual effort should be going into figuring out how new information fits into existing frameworks. A good political philosopher shouldn’t commit to major ideas until the evidence is substantial, and as such shouldn’t be constantly changing his mind. This is in contrast to uber-traders like George Soros who literally flips his positions if he gets a back ache. That’s why he makes a great investor, but a mush-headed intellectual.


    admin Reply:

    “The art of investment is being right slightly more than 50% of the time.” — One complicating factor there is the ‘harvesting pennies in front of a steam-roller’ phenomenon, which Taleb derides so mercilessly. Being a little bit right a thousand times, and then catastrophically wrong once, can bring even the most astute exploiter of consensus ‘wisdom’ crashing down. Normal times don’t make it easy to identify this kind of disaster in the making, but we can be quite confident that normal times don’t last forever.


    Posted on July 17th, 2013 at 11:57 pm Reply | Quote
  • Handle Says:

    At least Radish is back on the air

    As far as “peak anything” goes (or is that peak “anything goes”?), there seems to be a typical dysfunction in the attempt to achieve dialectic compromise in our age.

    First someone makes a reckless and alarmist claim – all kinds of environmental proximate apocalyptic scenarios fit this model. Then the extreme claim is easily refuted, but instead of finding a reasonable moderation of positions, the whole concept is dismissed absolutely as being completely disposed. “The Science is Settled!”

    I often find myself turned off by these sorts of “Discrete, Boolean Resolutions” to debates on Continuous, Marginal subjects.

    Here’s a moderation between the ‘peak oil’ alarmist position and ‘nothing to see here’ dismissive one:

    While fossil petroleum may not be running out, and while global production may not be on the decline, demand remains high and growing (look at the trend in numbers of new internal combustion engines being produced each year in Asia), while the growth rate in product supplied to market is low and the price to sustain production is high compared to other Historical periods. In other words, petroleum is relatively more scarce relative to demand than it used to be, and the total factor productivity of extraction is lower than it used to be (and declining).

    Compare this decline with, for example, total-factor productivity in information technology (which has exploded over the past few decades in ways without Historical precedent), with TFP in agriculture (stagnating but stable, more or less).

    Since the global economy is heavily dependent on petroleum and sensitive to its price (Singapore, for example, almost entirely so – 90% of all primary energy consumption), then we should adjust our plans and visions of the future to include one where elevated (+$100 Barrel) prices are the norm and overall supply is highly inelastic. This is basically the CEA scenario, and their vision have been well borne out by recent data. And this has some very serious implications especially in regard to the feasibility of productive-factor accumulation growth-strategies in lesser developed countries.

    In other words, the era of easy, cheap, ‘low-hanging-fruit’ motor fuels is over, and that has major consequences for the future development of the world economy; to include major shifts in living and patterns of behavior and economic activities in countries heavily dependent on petroleum. In a way, it’s not much different from water issues in the Western United States, and people there have simply learned to live with less.

    Technological progress in costly and resource-intensive extraction seems to be helpful mostly in stretching what would have been a 70’s-style supply shock into a long, slow rise in real prices. I don’t think it’s all that alarmist to think that oil goes to $200 a barrel by 2025. If this happens steadily and predictably then we can probably adjust without a debilitating crisis. Citizens of poor nations will probably be locked out of the mass automobilization of their societies for some time.

    When you put the “peak oil” idea that way, it seems completely reasonable to me – even (potentially) justifying some proactive precautionary policies – just in case. It seems to me the difference between this realistic framing and peak-oil alarmism is mostly one of magnitude.


    admin Reply:

    I don’t disagree. Where Greer and the other Peak Oilers go wrong, though, is in their disengagement of (futile) exhortations for behavioral change from the incentive structures provided by market signals. People use less energy when prices tell them to (and reciprocally, businesses accelerate energy innovations in response to the same ‘disequilibrium’). Moral appeals are utterly marginal.

    There are of course plenty of sensible policy options, in an ideal world, but far less in the real one. Energy consumption subsidies are almost unimaginably stupid, but for a number of societies they cannot be eliminated without triggering a revolution. If stupidity means survival, no regime is going to opt for intelligence.

    Similarly, it would make (abstract) sense to eliminate all income and corporate taxes, replacing them entirely with energy, raw materials consumption, and pollution taxes. How politically plausible is that? It’s scarcely necessary to answer.


    sviga lae Reply:

    Exactly, the epistemological sins committed by the peak-oilers are dual:

    1) Forgetting that historical and present marginal supply and demand responses reveal information *only at those margins* and not beyond them, thus misestimating the sensitivity to prices, in combination with:

    2) Not accounting for secular trends in technology; where increasing capabilities and lowered costs intersect with 1), placing much faith in existing production models is foolhardy.


    admin Reply:

    It’s a central theoretical commitment for these guys that techno-economic solutions are enveloped by larger ecological structures, from which they can’t in principle escape. Greer typically talks about technology as if it’s a sub-component of energy extraction, destined to fall into a decay trajectory once Peak Oil truly begins to bite. This strikes me as deeply misconceived, but it’s worth a serious argument.

    Posted on July 18th, 2013 at 2:42 am Reply | Quote
  • Bill Says:

    Just posted a link to xenosystems in the comments on this Spectator article entitled “A New Reformation.” Hopefully I didn’t butcher the description of this blog.


    admin Reply:

    Thanks — but I’d be more than surprised if they were to bite. They’re looking for something politically usable, and the final stage of GOP despair hasn’t fully set in yet.


    Posted on July 18th, 2013 at 3:35 am Reply | Quote

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