As I was growing up I learned that the only unforgivable sin in life is to be boring - a notion that collides somewhat with the current education system.
Tenured professors at universities are unusual beasts in nature, for they have no predator. Their jobs are safe, they don’t need to publish new research unless they really want to.
The result is not encouraging. How many technological breakthroughs have come from the universities? Or how many times we turned to professors to resolve an important issue?
Then look at the amount of money that is needed to get education in America and in the UK as well.
It’s a Ponzi scheme, which is what academia has to a great extend become. Young people are running up massive debts in a system that can’t reward them and there is a huge resentment coming in the next few years from the people who realize they’ve been had.
Also, if you massively increase the number of people who think they should go to a university, you can’t keep up a system that rewards people for having gone to these universities.
This creates a major imbalance in society.
One can look at it from different angle. Geopolitics is a pattern of power, and one of the elements that make it happen is technology. Meaning that the rise and fall of nations is in step with the rise and fall of technology. Core technology, to be specific, which branches into many areas of life, like what made Apple and Microsoft so powerful.
Now, what is the next thing that is coming? The one fact you can be certain of, is that it will be utterly unexpected, and it will be different from what came before and will drive power one step further.
The battleground in geopolitics is the next technology.
What comes after the decade long pause in invention?
When a really smart guy or girl, who can’t get a date, is not interested in anything digital anymore and starts to think about the next thing, this is when progress will happen.
If history is any guide, he will not be a graduate from a prestigious university; he’ll be working out of his parent’s garage.
Switching the topic, which is what guys say before they do and women just switch on the fly, the winter is now brutal in Canada and the army was sent to dig out the Atlantic Provinces from a massive snowfall.
It’s tough with the snow and the cold, long winter plus Prince Harry with Megan moving there. Thank God for Hockey Night in Canada and curling, where the most important part of the game is beer.
Prime minister Trudeau already offered to pick up the royal pair’s security bill while they’re here and it will go in seven digits. Nice of him dispensing other’s people money so leisurely.
The weather is better in the Geneva area, where I was able to ride the motorcycle at +2C on a sunny day. I wasn’t doing a good job of it – no matter how warm I dress, the dexterity suffers and you need both feet and hands to make the Bimmer fly.
I end up with saying this - the upcoming BMW 1.8 boxer is not a convincing piece of equipment, big in the news as it is. It is meant to take on Harley, but whoever signed off on the design doesn’t have a sense of harmony or a sense of beauty.
They need the Italians to make it look dashing.
I always thought that if something is worth doing, it’s worth overdoing, and this was back in times when I still cared about the consequences.
And I remember were my attitude came from.
I had a business lunch with an older man in Houston, Texas a long time ago. He had the Strohhut hat on and a bolo tie and he drove a Lexus.
He said, “take whatever original skill you have and amplify by ten. That’s how you make it in life. Find the original you, something that only you can say and do.”
I was listening.
Also, I think I lived through the best 50 years of all of humanity – the progress, the growth, the access to information, the openness and inclusion of the western culture has been unprecedented.
All this may be closing a little now.
I was always a spiritual man, attracted to religion because of the distance it gives to current happenings in life. Walking into an old church from a busy street is like changing reality. And I always liked the Old Testament more than the New one, the Old is way deeper in my opinion, except for what St. John had to say in his gospel, easily the best part of the bible.
What he said about the “word” defined humanity and it is extraordinary. It keeps people interested still, despite constant shenanigans from the Vatican, two popes on the display, arguing.
The name Israel actually means “he, who wrestles with God”, and this is a sign of a life that is lived properly, because if God is the source of meaning, the place where answers can emerge – you will wrestle with it all your life it if you’re honest.
Important thoughts get lost in the daily rutine and visions get blurry. Just ask yourself this question: who is now able to build Jerusalem?
I admire people who don’t watch news on TV and I think I’m half way there, taking the long view from the heart of the Alps here.
I consider a German - Rainer Maria Rilke, the best poet that ever lived.
One Christmas some years ago I was flying home through Frankfurt and I stayed the night at the Sheraton at the airport. I picked up a book about Rilke earlier and I was fascinated by it, reading it at the bar late into the night until they kicked me out.
His famous verse “and the song remains beautiful” rings in my head every day.
No matter what happens in life, don’t you just want this to be about you?
Now the capital flow models are indicating that there is a high concentration of dollar hoarding in Germany as fears continue over the future of Deutsche Bank. Brussels EU leaders do nothing about it - they’re simply lawyers trying to get around the constitution, not the leaders you want. The fear of a “Deutsche Bank moment” is causing repo rates to spike because banks don’t trust each other for the fear of exposure to DB. US Federal Reserve has stepped in as intermediary – the nonsense you read in the media about them pumping trillions into the market is just that. They extended a line of credit of sorts that is repaid daily; there is no new money in the system.
And they’re saving the world again, make no mistake about it.
They say that history isn’t kind to men who play Gods and I don’t agree with that for a moment.
Which is to say, I don’t believe in mediocrity. Make your life remarkable, be the God.
Back when I was in eleventh grade, our high school owned a chalet deep in the Sudetes, which is a mountain range on the border with the Czech Republic. Take a look.
To qualify for the winter skiing trip you had to make the school famous by winning medals in sport competitions. My friend and me did just that and we were tasked with going to the chalet earlier and get the place ready for the rest of the team.
So, we took a couple of trains and then found a taxi in this town close to the border. Wet wind came, the snow was blowing and people were hiding in their homes. The man drove as up as far as the car could make it and then he said – “you’re on your own now boys.”
We were walking uphill in waist deep snow for most of the evening.
If this is not an impression of an empty planet for a 16 year old, I don’t know what is. Nevertheless, when the team came two days later we had the house warmed up and hot food on the stove.
Fast-forward to today and to my take on the empty planet now.
The world population growth prediction by the United Nation Population Division assumes nearly linear increase until the planet can’t sustain us anymore. The model is based on trends that may have been right in the past, but they don’t consider changes in society.
In fact the world’s population is about to take a dive.
The reduction in fertility in developed countries is by now an accepted fact; fertility rate of Canada today is 1.6, way below the 2.1 replacement level.
The extreme case is Japan, which lost almost half a million in 2019 (out of a total population of about 125 million). Do the math when the last Japanese will walk the earth.
It gets really interesting looking at India and China (40% of world’s population lives there).
China has a birth rate of 1.5 and India has just been reported at 2.1, so you may wonder how we can explode if we’re hardly replacing ourselves.
And keep in mind that Eastern Asian countries just don’t accept emigrants.
It’s the same in Eastern Europe – a cultural issue, they would rather shrink and be united, than expand and be divided.
In China’s case there is a twist to it – thanks to the disastrous “one child policy”, they now have 60 million more men than women.
That’s roughly the population of France, all men no women.
The major driver in population decline is urbanization – for the first time in history we now live mostly in cities (55% of humans). When you move into the city, a child stops being an asset (another pair of hands to work in the field) and starts to be a liability (another person to feed).
Keeping in mind that statistical 2.1 children per family is just the replacement level, here is how we score elsewhere: European Union is at 1.6 (740 million people who’re not replacing themselves, just rapidly aging).
The problem with aging population is that they just don’t buy that much.
And old populations are expensive – healthcare, pensions and all the issues you have to deal with as people age.
One way to deal with population decline is immigration. Canada, US and Australia are doing it right, the EU is doing it wrong.
Russian demographic is just a disaster, the fertility rate collapsed with the Soviet Union. This means that if they have any military ambitions in Eastern Europe, they need to do it now.
There is a twist with Russia as well – the population there is still in support of the old communist order (up to 60% by some polls). President Putin has been doing a good job of keeping the old demons at bay, but he is on his way out.
If Russia slips into a more democratic system, all bets are off who raises to the surface.
Back in the mountains, there was a classified military area not far from us, where they used to mine uranium in the 1950’s. One local took us to the entrance of an abandoned mine and we went in and took some blue sparkling crystals from the walls. Back in the chalet they were exploding when thrown in the fireplace. It made for a fine combo with the howling wind outside.
* ”Empty Planet” is a book by Darrell Bricker and John Ibbitson. The statistics in the text above were taken from the book.
On my annual pilgrimage south I ended up on an ocean beach called just that.
Palms, luxury villas and kite surfers all around me.
The resort in the bay is run by a crazy Austrian, who doesn’t move anywhere without bodyguards. Whatever the reasons, the man thinks he needs more than one.
The singer Falco from Vienna (of the “Rock me Amadeus” fame) used to stay here. He died here too, in a traffic accident.
Things get out of control easily in the south if you’re not careful; in his case he met his Maker courtesy of speeding bus on a bad night.
Here we are at the end of the second decade of this century, and I am typing this essay waiting patiently for the New Year’s party to start.
In the last twenty years we have seen the collapse of a tech bubble and the implosion of fake debt, aka the sub prime. Central banks have skillfully navigated between Scylla and Charybdis and managed to avoid the implosion of the system.
The world today seems to be convinced that with MMT, or Modern Money Theory (Trickery) we can replace work with money printing. This, combined with AI (artificial intelligence) might be the ultimate nirvana if it wasn’t for years of decadence and false economic theories.
As societies start to fragment, as we are seeing globally, the interconnectivity declines. Commerce returns to local, hoarding of money increases and it’s velocity drops. I don’t see much wrong with going local.
I am also convinced that the country to watch next year is China, as it is entering a traumatic squeeze with the end of its thirty-year growth spurt. When the going gets tough there, the government cracks down. And when that doesn’t work, China historically sinks into some kind of civil war. The action in Hong Kong this past year may be a preview of coming attractions for Beijing and Shanghai.
Beijing is also stepping up the battle to stop money flowing out of China - cash has been leaving the country at a record clip - total net capital outflows occurred for the sixth straight quarter and reached a new record of $221bn. The decline in official reserves was also a record at $161bn.
On average, the amount of money leaving China in the last few years is an equivalent to 6% of the country's GDP according to an estimate by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, even though anyone with an ounce of common sense knows that China's GDP is grossly overstated.
In total, China lost $1.28 trillion, which shows people voting with their money on the state of Chinese economy and confidence in the government.
Understandably, this is not the type of news that can be delivered in mass media by a news anchor with a twenty-three-word vocabulary and an impulse control problem, so you can read it here.
Europe has experienced serious blowbacks from its contracting standard-of-living as expressed by the Yellow Vests in France, the Brexit humiliation and the raising of nationalist movements in many nations.
The European banks, led by the sickest of them all, Deutsche Bank, suffer from a crushing burden of non-performing loans, bad derivative obligations and zero interest rates regime, which makes the operations of banking insane.
And then there’s Greta growling, “How dare you” at the world with that spittly grimace of pubescent moral superiority.
Luckily, these incidents of public madness always burn out.
Now I see two bodyguards flanking the patio, so the Austrian is here for a drink.
I don’t need bodyguards yet, but I learned that life could turn on a dime.
Tom Kubiak is the author of The Traveler