What is going to happen next?

Our society is in the dark about one great issue. Its own continuance. It fears that if its standard of living falls, society itself will fall. This is the publicly unsayable thought which paralyses all public debate. It is not true of course. It is possible that we could undergo economic collapse and yet still remain an intact society. That is a matter of moral strength, which we can’t assess until we need it and then either do or don’t discover it. Perhaps we will find the courage on the day to hold together as a united national community under the rule of law.   

Since our standard of living depends on consumption of energy, and that means on coal, oil and gas, and (despite the rise of solar and wind power) at greater levels than ever before, it is imperative that energy continue to be cheap and available. That is our problem. Our energy is becoming more expensive because it is becoming more difficult to extract. We consumed first the energy that was easy to reach and so cheapest. The question is, is there enough productivity in our economy to afford to pay the price of getting this more expensive oil out of the ground? If we are unable to pay the energy extraction industries what they require for this increasingly difficult oil and gas extraction, that oil and gas will stay in the ground. The oil price has to go much higher if oil companies are going to be able to drill and pump oil. But if the oil price goes higher, our economy goes into recession and demand for oil falls back. There is then a loss of enterprises, of employment and of infrastructure and so a drop in demand. If enough economic damage is done, demand for oil may not recover. Then oil companies stop investing, exploring, drilling and soon after, pumping. Perhaps this is the moment we have arrived at. Our economies are now at stalling point. Every single transaction requires energy, but available energy has become too expensive for us, and now every single part of the economy has become vulnerable to a never-before experienced volatility.   

For a long while our society has faked its standard of living. Our long-term drop in productivity has been masked by debt, which has been the principal source of growth, for the last forty years. There is scarcely any home-produced energy, any industry, and certainly none of the industrial sectors that we rely on for transport and communications that could make our debt burden plausible. We are no longer able to procure the energy to maintain the productivity that supports the public sector and service industries which employ most people. There is not enough productivity to support our present standard of living.

Our leaders have, wittingly or not, responded by cutting a large proportion of the population out of economic participation. Bizarrely, governments have decided that the only essential workers are public sector workers, while the private sector, the small and medium businesses are expendable. Governments must serve their clients first, and buy off short-term trouble even though this means making things worse long-term. They have shut large parts of our population out of economic participation, as consumers and producers. It has been decided that these are unneeded and superfluous. They have effectively been made redundant. They are no longer able to travel and commute or even gather in groups. Measures have discouraged them from congregating in city and town centres, either in the pubs, clubs, gyms and stadiums and festivals of the sports and entertainment industries, which was previously how numbers of people came together and were able to exchange views face-to-face. Governments are dealing with our energy crisis by dramatically reducing our freedom to travel and meet, o work and support ourselves, and to discuss and oppose this power grab. Perhaps they have decided that it is imperative that there be no panic and no opportunity for protests and violence as this great economic slide becomes obvious. What is going to happen next? Here’s hoping we all find our courage.