"Diminishing Returns" - The Two Most Important Words For Americans

Authored by James Howard Kunstler via Kunstler.com,

"Diminishing Returns"

These two words are the hinge that is swinging American life - and the advanced techno-industrial world, for that matter - toward darkness. They represent an infection in the critical operations of daily life, like a metabolic disease, driving us into disorder and failure. And they are so omnipresent that we’ve failed to even notice the growing failure all around us.

Mostly, these diminishing returns are the results of our over-investments in making complex systems more complex, for instance the replacement of the 37-page Glass-Steagall Act that regulated American banking, with the 848 page Dodd-Frank Act, which was only an outline for over 22,000 pages of subsequent regulatory content — all of it cooked up by banking lobbyists, and none of which replaced the single most important rule in Glass-Steagall, which required the separation of commercial banking from trafficking in securities. Dodd-Frank was a colossal act of misdirection of the public’s attention, an impenetrable smokescreen of legal blather in the service of racketeering.

For Wall Street, Dodd-Frank aggravated the conditions that allow stock indexes to only move in one direction, up, for nine years. During the same period, the American economy of real people and real stuff only went steadily down, including the number of people out of the work force, the incomes of those who still had jobs, the number of people with full-time jobs, the number of people who were able to buy food without government help, or pay for a place to live, or send a kid to college.

When that morbid tension finally snaps, as it must, it won’t only be the Hedge Funders of the Hamptons who get hurt. It will be the entire global financial system, especially currencies (dollars, Euros, Yen, Pounds, Renminbi) that undergo a swift and dire re-pricing, and all the other things of this world priced in them. And when that happens, the world will awake to a new reality of steeply reduced possibilities for supporting 7-plus billion people.

The same over-investments in complexity have produced the racketeering colossus of so-called health care (formerly “medicine”), in case you’re wondering why the waiting room of your doctor’s office now looks exactly like the motor vehicle bureau. Meanwhile, it’s safe to say that the citizens of this land have never been so uniformly unhealthy, even as they’re being swindled and blackmailed by their “providers.” The eventual result will be a chaotic process of simplification, as giant hospital corporations, insurance companies, and overgrown doctors’ practices collapse, and the braver practitioners coalesce into something resembling Third World clinics.

We’re still struggling to even apprehend the damage being done to people by cell phones — and I’m not even referring to whatever microwaves actually do to brain cells. Many find it amusing to see whole streets and campus byways filled with young people staring into their phones. Whatever they’re gaining in endorphin hits from “being connected” is undermined by the immense losses they’re suffering in real social skills and the sinister effects of behavioral conditioning by the programmers of web-based social networks. These failures are being expressed in new social phenomena like flash mobs and the manipulation of college students into Maoist thought police — and these are only the most visible manifestations. A more insidious outcome will be a whole generation’s failure to develop a sense of personal agency in a long emergency of civilization that will require exactly that aptitude for survival.

Among the more popular and idiotic strains of diminishing returns is the crusade to replace gasoline-powered cars with electric-powered vehicles. And for what? To promote the illusion that we can continue to be car-dependent and live in suburbia. Neither of those wishful notions is supported by reality. Both of them will soon yield to the fundamental crisis of capital scarcity. In the meantime, hardly anyone is interested in the one thing that would produce a better outcome for Americans: a return to walkable communities scaled to economic reality.

The convulsions over President Trump’s vivid clowning are just a symptom of the concealed rot eating away at the foundations of American life.

What they demonstrate most of all is the failure of this society’s sensory organs - the news media - to ascertain what is actually happening to us.

And the recognition of that failure accounts for the current state of the media’s disrepute, even if its critics are doing a poor job of articulating it.


skbull44 Looney Mon, 08/21/2017 - 14:03 Permalink

Having just finished rereading archaeologist Joseph Tainter's The Collapse of Complex Societies, this is a timely article.
As Tainter argues, diminishing returns is a key issue in the collapse of complex societies although he also suggests it tends to be a choice by the people to opt for simpler solutions to the increased costs associated with complexity. Furthermore, he says that collapse only tends to happen when a power vacuum exists as neighbouring polities will absorb any faltering system. What's most interesting is that he concludes that when/if today's societies reach the tipping point of diminishing returns and can't right the ship, the collapse will be global this time...


In reply to by Looney

Erek Mon, 08/21/2017 - 13:47 Permalink

OBITUARY Common Sense Born – At the dawn of Man Died – Late 20th – early 21st century Today we mourn the passing of a beloved old friend, Common Sense, who has been with us for many years. No one knows for sure how old he was, since his birth records were long ago lost in bureaucratic red tape. He will be remembered as having cultivated such valuable lessons as: - Knowing when to come in out of the rain; - Why the early bird gets the worm; - Life isn't always fair; - Maybe it was my fault. Common Sense lived by simple, sound financial policies (don't spend more than you can earn) and reliable strategies (adults, not children, are in charge). His health began to deteriorate rapidly when well-intentioned but overbearing regulations were set in place. Reports of a 6-year-old boy charged with sexual harassment for kissing a classmate; teens suspended from school for using mouthwash after lunch and a teacher fired for reprimanding an unruly student, only worsened his condition. Common Sense lost ground when parents attacked teachers for doing the job that they themselves had failed to do in disciplining their unruly children. It declined even further when schools were required to get parental consent to administer sun lotion or an aspirin to a student but could not inform parents when a student became pregnant and wanted to have an abortion… Common Sense lost the will to live as the churches became businesses and criminals received better treatment than their victims. Common Sense took a beating when you couldn't defend yourself from a burglar in your own home and the burglar could sue you for assault. Common Sense finally gave up the will to live, after a woman failed to realize that a steaming cup of coffee was hot. She spilled a little in her lap, and was promptly awarded a huge settlement.   Common Sense was preceded in death by his parents - Truth and Trust, by his wife - Discretion, by his daughter - Responsibility, and by his son - Reason. He is survived by his four stepbrothers: - I Know My Rights; - I Want It Now; - Someone Else Is To Blame; - I'm A Victim. Not many attended his funeral because so few realized he was gone. If you still remember him, pass this on. If not, join the majority and do nothing. 

Ben A Drill Mon, 08/21/2017 - 13:54 Permalink

Road construction is everywhere slowing down traffic to a crawl. Must give myself extra time to get to work and back. 8 hour shift feels like a 11 hour shift each day. Beggars are everywhere, can't even have a smoke break without a person asking for a smoke these days.

I won't buy a new truck with the poor road conditions that I deal with on a regular basis. Let my old 05 Tacoma deal with the potholes, uneven roads, stop and go traffic. Car dings in the parking lot. What's the point anymore.

I'm burnt out, tired, old, cranky. That's even before I get to work.

HRH Feant2 (not verified) Mon, 08/21/2017 - 14:07 Permalink

A lot of people can't mind their own fucking business. It isn't only at the federal level where busybodies are stuffing their nose up your backside. I had to get approval to change the colors that my house is painted. I have a crappy little tree that I want to cut down. I had to get a permit from the city and I have to tell the HOA. Will I live in an HOA after I move out? No. Never again. At this point I am ready to move to a fucking shack in the middle of nowhere just to get away from all the assholes that never learned how to live and let live.

HRH Feant2 (not verified) Pollygotacracker Mon, 08/21/2017 - 14:16 Permalink

Oh I will get my revenge! Some of the owners hate renters. I figure everyone has to live somewhere and I rented for a long time so I don't get the grief over renters. I have been thinking about going mobile and renting my place out. That way if I don't like the neighbor's, neighborhood, or place I can go someplace else, that day.

In reply to by Pollygotacracker

Trader200K Pollygotacracker Mon, 08/21/2017 - 16:25 Permalink

Nope. They wouldn't leave me alone until I moved to Tennessee ... and saved $8000/yr in state income taxes. Best decision I ever made for family and kids' future.

Good citizens, double crap politicians.

Last time back to visit family at a Cross Lanes gas station ... 40% of customers were tatted buying 12 packs at 8am. Before I finished fueling, I was propositioned by a fat whore.

Sad, sad, sad ....

In reply to by Pollygotacracker

ZeroBeek Mon, 08/21/2017 - 14:10 Permalink

"The convulsions over President Trump’s vivid clowning are just a symptom of the concealed rot eating away at the foundations of American life."???President Trump’s convulsions and vivid clowning are just symptoms of the concealed rot eating away at the foundations of American life. !!

snblitz Mon, 08/21/2017 - 14:10 Permalink

The two most important words are "government regulation".

The "diminishing returns" are occurring within the paradigm of government regulation.

LightBulb18 snblitz Mon, 08/21/2017 - 17:34 Permalink

I am actually starved for information, and measurements of public opinion on Jews, non whites, white gentile men and women, dealing with nuclear proliferation, worldwide inequality, class divisions, freedoms, rights, and some peoples beliefs that they can be violent to make society respect the taboos they find morally objectionable, be they muslims or leftists, or everyone else that will try to defend their beliefs if free speech should disappear. Instead we get these nice stories that make me hopefull we will soon be free of this oppression, but aren't worth much because the author doesn’t cite evidence for why we will soon not be able to afford gas and electricity, or explain why without evidence, and answer questions like what about A scooter? In God I trust.

In reply to by snblitz

Kendle C Mon, 08/21/2017 - 14:13 Permalink

Howard? Out with it. Are you fully in support of Agenda 21, depopulation, Global Whatever-They're-Calling-It-Today? I appreciate your criticisms of modern urban design but again and again I see themes running through your work that expects (hopes for?) a world cull. It wouldn't bother me so much except your skilled writing resonates on many levels but feels like you have had a buy-in with globalists, almost an advocate?

Zip_the_Zap Mon, 08/21/2017 - 14:39 Permalink

Another doom porn posting by the Kunt and/or his Doppelgänger. I personally am more worried about the sun running out of Hydrogenium and turning our solar system into a vast dark, lonely place, plunged into the coldness by an uncaring universe manically determined to crush all forms of life through the destruction of the fundamental laws of physics that sustain our fragile, but pathetic lives. A darkness, that will crush all hope and leave no trace of the noble ones who thought they could defeat the relentlessly threatening chaos of systematic stellar energy collapse.  

MrGalt Mon, 08/21/2017 - 14:50 Permalink

"the illusion that we can continue to be car-dependent and live in suburbia. Neither of those wishful notions is supported by reality. Both of them will soon yield to the fundamental crisis of capital scarcity"Translation: Time to move into your stacked ghetto shipping container. Eat your dried insects and boogers like a good little serf.

Faeriedust Anopheles Mon, 08/21/2017 - 15:25 Permalink

They can't AFFORD a house in the suburbs.  They can't afford a decent car, either.  They don't know how to do their own maintenance, and modern cars aren't designed to be maintained by owners.  Running a vintage automobile for which stock parts may have to be scavenged from junkyards or even fabricated is an artform suitable only for people who really love cars.  So they're forced to live in urban postage-stamp apartments with access to public transport, which in this country is now limited to about 20 cities where such transport is actually dependable.  Don't imagine that they "choose" this lifestyle.  They "choose" it rather than starvation or jail.  They're trying to survive with the limited options and minimal wages they can access.  They're trying not to just lose all hope and commit suicide, so they try to enjoy what they can afford, where they can get it.  And don't even THINK about children.  Like Japan and China, the population of this country will begin to plummet in 20 years as no replacement bodies are in the pipeline. 

In reply to by Anopheles

Hkan Mon, 08/21/2017 - 15:46 Permalink

Right on!Very well written!Personal responsibility to seek information predict future to survive. Astonish me why som many turn to useless violence of those having nothing to do with this MADNESS instead of looking for those responsible and for solutions.Looks like our natural instincts misguiding us. Or not. Turning against eachother best way of reducing number. Number correction is key survival of spieces. So are we on the right way? Maybe.

Bemused Observer Mon, 08/21/2017 - 16:32 Permalink

The real damage tech is doing is that it is exponentially increasing the number of interactions people are having daily. Most species have some way of 'keeping count' of interactions, as a way of alerting to sudden increases. A grasshopper has sensors on its legs that count the 'bumps' they make against others...too many contacts in a short time means there are too many of you, move somewhere else, and they become locusts.Higher species would tend to register contacts at a higher level...social interactions are contacts that 'bump' the brain. Too many in a short time could mean move, or it could also mean "Start tuning some of this shit out if you're gonna live this way.". Maybe we'd see an increase in self-absorption, narcissism, sociopathy, more kids being born autistic. The only people who will be able to live in the globalist paradise are the kinds of people that will be unable to keep it running once they predominate. The whole thing will come apart, with everyone going off in their own direction, oblivious to the others.I suppose that would be as effective as swarming in 'breaking up' a population that had outgrown it's environment. The problem with the tech is that is is being forced into society much too quickly. It would have been better to allow it to spread organically, without all the outside interference by people seeking profits and control. Now we are basically stuck with this fairly new, untested technology that is now running most aspects of our lives. We have no clue what the longer-term effects might be, because we have simply never considered them. Should we need to walk it back a bit, that will be tough, as we have dismantled much of the old ways of doing things in our zeal to 'progress'. How many have been at a cashiers when the computers go down? And they cannot complete a 2.75 transaction with a customer who hands them a 5 dollar bill? Even if they can do the math, they have no way of registering the sale into the system. So there you stand, helpless, unable to even purchase a lousy container of half-and-half even though you are a willing buyer, with money, and they are a willing seller of a commodity with a limited shelf life. Everything in the Cosmos is saying this transaction SHOULD happen, right now. But the tech says no.

Dougs Decks Bemused Observer Mon, 08/21/2017 - 17:40 Permalink

Just the other day I gave the "cashier" a 20 for 16.39 bill,,, He accidently typed a 50 doller payment into the register,,, The register said he owed me 33.61 in change,,,Like the honest idiot I am, I pointed out the error in the math, and that he only owed me 3.61 in change,,, It took fucking 3 of them to confirm over 5 minutes time, that my math was right,, Sorry God if there is one, but the next time I might just grab the extra 30 bucks and hurry towards the door,,, Hope that wont take me from your good graces,,,        MAFFF IS HARD

In reply to by Bemused Observer

silverer Mon, 08/21/2017 - 16:48 Permalink

I'm with you, Mr. Kuntsler. I've seen the warnings before and from many who have been calling it accurately and are again being presently disregarded, and we've seen history play out before based on these same issues. People educated on where this will lead have a higher survival chance. Otherwise, you will get swallowed by the repeat of history that so many choose to ignore.

The Collapse of Complex Societies:


Rebelrebel7 (not verified) Mon, 08/21/2017 - 18:07 Permalink

End gasoline powered cars for what? How about for ending all of the wars all over the world used to support the Petro dollar, the fracking which has been causing earth quakes, uses vast amounts of water, poisons drinking water to the point of being able to light it on fire, the thousands of oil pipeline spills and hundreds of rail car explosions !The Toyota Muira uses hydrogen, does not use any fossil fuels for hydrogen production, which uses biomass from landfills and sewage treatment plants for its hydrogen production.You would have to be an idiot, a liar, or a predator not to agree to that!

Let it Go Mon, 08/21/2017 - 18:40 Permalink

It is very important people understand that economic growth does not equal economic strength. Quantity simply does not make up for poor quality, we are talking about two totally different animals.Misdirected spending based on low-interest rates and Ponzi style financing create an economy that is built on sand and prone to failure when put to the test. The article below delves deeper into this subject. http://brucewilds.blogspot.com/2017/08/economic-growth-does-not-equal-economic.html