The future ain't what it used to be

This marks our our 10th year of doing this. And by “this", we mean using data, logic and reason to support the very basic conclusion that infinite growth on a finite planet is impossible.

Surprisingly, this simple, rational idea -- despite its huge and fast-growing pile of corroborating evidence -- still encounters tremendous pushback from society. Why? Because it runs afoul of most people's deep-seated belief systems.

Our decade of experience delivering this message has hammered home what behavioral scientists have been telling us for years -- that, with rare exceptions, we humans are not rational. We're rationalizers. We try to force our perception of reality to fit our beliefs; rather than the other way around.

Which is why the vast amount of grief, angst and encroaching dread that most people feel in western cultures today is likely due to the fact that, deep down, whether we're willing to admit it to ourselves or not, everybody already knows the truth: Our way of life is unsustainable.

In our hearts, we fear that someday, possibly soon, our comfy way of life will be ripped away; like a warm blanket snatched off of our sleeping bodies on a cold night.

The simple reality is that society's hopes for a "modern consumer-class lifestyle for all" are incompatible with the accelerating imbalance between the (still growing) human population and the (increasingly depleting) planet's natural resources. Basic math and physics tell us that the Earth's ecosystems can't handle the load for much longer.

The only remaining question concerns how fast the adjustment happens. Will the future be defined by a "slow burn", one that steadily degrades our living standards over generations? Or will we experience a sudden series of sharp shocks that plunge the world into chaos and conflict?

It's hard to say. As Yogi Berra famously quipped, “It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future." So, it's left to us to remain open-minded and flexible as we draw up our plans for how we'll personally persevere through the coming years of change.

But even while the specifics about the future elude us today, “predicting" the macro trends most likely to influence the coming decades is very doable:

Rising trends:

  • Populism in politics
  • Federal debt levels
  • Geopolitical tensions
  • Interest rates

Falling trends:

  • Funding levels for pensions
  • The numbers of insects world wide
  • Confidence in the future among the younger generations
  • Wealth and income equality

Trends can be expected to continue until they change. Therefore making "predictions" on trends is like making a "prediction" about which way an already tossed ball will travel. It's not really a prediction at all, but a statement of observed data.

These two lists bring to mind another great Yogi Berra quote:

No, the future certainly isn't what it used to be.

Once it was a place in which you could invest towards your hopes and dreams, confident that conditions would be better for your children than they were for you.

That's no longer the case. The defining trends in play are all working to degrade, rather than enhance, our future prospects.

Which is why it's little surprise that millennials aren't saving for retirement. Here's the dim view many of them hold:

“In general, I regard the future as a multitude of possibilities, but most of them don't look good," Elias Schwartzman, 29, a musician, told me. “When I'm at retirement age, around 2050, I think it's possible we'll have seen a breakdown of modern society." Schwartzman said that he saw the future as encompassing one of two possibilities: an apocalyptic “total breakdown of industrial society," or “capitalism morphing into a complete plutocracy." “I think the argument can be made that we're well on the way to that reality," he added.
Wood, 32, a political consultant, told me via Twitter that she felt similarly. “I don't think the world can sustain capitalism for another decade," she explained. “It's socialism or bust. We will literally start having resource wars that will kill us all if we don't accept that the free market will absolutely destroy us within our lifetime [if] we don't start fighting its hegemony," she added.
(Source – Salon)

As someone who tracks economic, environmental and energy data closely, these views are neither surprising nor really debatable. They are merely trend extrapolations, which are difficult to dismiss.

What the older generations don't yet understand is that the economic and social models that rewarded them so richly are not doing the same for younger folks. In fact, those old models are visibly breaking down. And confidence in them is failing, too.

Younger people are increasingly seeing that the model of extractive, exponential growth (which is often errantly termed “capitalism" when, as practiced, it should be termed “corporate socialism") has no future. And of course, they are right.

But regardless of age, anyone with an open mind should be able to identify that something is wrong with the story of "endless growth". The evidence is pretty much everywhere we look:

(Source)

If we're willing to entertain the possibility that infinite exponential growth is impossible, and we extrapolate from there, what sort of economic trajectory would we expect to see as growth peters out? Exactly the sort we see in the above chart. Lower and slower growth that finally peters out and then slips into reverse for the rest of the story.

Sociologically, we'd expect people to be nervous, anxious, and scared as their dominant cultural narrative is increasingly revealed to be no longer viable. Ask yourself: is the world becoming calmer or more volatile? The rash of mass shootings, anti-establishment election victories, prescription drug epidemics, and returning nuclear war fears make the answer sadly obvious.

Biophysically, we'd expect to see key resources and species populations depleting at alarming rates -- which we are. This is due to diminishing returns: nearly every planetary resource is getting harder and more expensive to obtain. Mars anyone?

In a desperate attempt to mask the costs of of slower and lower growth, the world's central banking cartel has deployed its “one weird trick": lowering interest rates to historic rock-bottom levels. This has allowed for more debt to be crammed into the system for a few more years, to keep the mirage of the party continuing for just a little bit longer.

Because of that hail Mary, we have ended up in this very bizarre situation where our debt has been growing at twice the rate of our income -- which clearly will end up in a solvency crisis:

Perversely, the central banks are doing everything in their power to defend and propagate this unsustainable status quo, even though fourth grade math tells us it will surely end in ruin. How is it possible that this very simple observation eludes so many of those in positions of power? You'd have to be an intellectual yet idiot to hold the view that debts can forever compound at faster rate than income.

Further, we find that when the US government's deficit spending is stripped out from GDP growth, there actually hasn't been any economic growth at all for years:

(Source)

The US has been going deeper and deeper in debt simply to maintain the appearance of "economic growth". This whole illusion is being limped along for just a little while longer.

For what purpose? And why? Both excellent questions without a good answer. You should be asking yourself what "success" looks like here. What's the eng game? More growth? Okay, then what? More growth? Keep going along that line of thinking. Take as much time as you need.

Clearly there's an end to that story somewhere. Growth ceases. Presumably smart people in power get this, too, although they'll never admit it publicly so as not to spook the herd. Looking at the number of very well-connected and wealthy elites busily arranging bolt-hole properties to retreat to 'just in case', they're already well ahead of the general public in preparing for the tribulations to come.

All of which brings us to the very real prospect of war, as that has long been the favored path of politicians seeking to deflect public ire from their own policy failures. I worry that a major military conflict is dangerously close at hand. The ridiculous UK government narrative around the Skripal poisonings (which remains utterly illogical from start to finish) used to seriously degrade relationships between Russia and NATO has all the hallmarks of contrived political operation.

Added to the brewing geopolitical risk is the very likely prospect of the bursting of The Mother Of All Bubbles. When (not if, sadly) that happens, it will be truly catastrophic to every financial market in the world, and especially damaging to the western economies.

So the race is on. Will the bubble burst first? Or can the political class engineer a massive military distraction beforehand?

Regardless of who “wins" that race, you need to be physically, emotionally and financially prepared for these outcomes. PeakProsperity.com's (free) What Should I Do? guide is an essential resource for those not yet fully prepped, as well as is our Self-Assessment.

Yes. Things are that serious.

If you're not yet an enrolled subscriber to PeakProsperity.com, please consider becoming one now. 2018 is looking to be the shoo-in candidate for "The Year Everything Changed". Interest rates are finally rising. Volatility is finally returning to the financial markets. Oil prices are threatening to finally return to the critical $70/bbl range. The populace is finally waking up to the extent of the abuse perpetrated on their safety, personal data, and civil liberties. The crypto bubble has finally burst.

So many long-term trends that have defined the (false) sense of 'prosperity' over the past eight years are ending now. What ensues will be fast-paced disruption.

By enrolling, you'll stay abreast of developments and be able to position yourself (and your wealth) accordingly, benefiting from our daily work to harvest and synthesize all the complex information so you don't have to. You'll support will also help our ongoing efforts to bring Peak Prosperity's alternative message and insights to a greater percentage of the general public, who desperately need this information to counter the "Don't worry, everything is awesome!" narrative prevalent in our captive mass media.

In this vein, in Part 2: Everything Is Suddenly Deteriorating, Fast we analyze the recent whipsaw volatility that has broken out in the financial markets and explain why it, along with other markers we've been watching out for, indicates that the markets are poised to fall dramatically further from here -- whether war breaks out or not.

But even if this is as far as you're going to read, please get your preparations in place and get ready to hold fast. Things are only going to get bumpier from here.

Click here to read Part 2 of this report (free executive summary, enrollment required for full access)

As the nation soaks in the victory of the recent passing of the historic First Step Act, there are Congressmen who haven't stopped working to solve additional problems with the criminal justice system. Because while the Act was impactful, leading to the well-deserved early release of many incarcerated individuals, it didn't go far enough. That's why four Congressmen have joined forces to reintroduce the Justice Safety Valve Act—legislation that would grant judges judicial discretion when determining appropriate sentencing.

There's a real need for this legislation since it's no secret that lawmakers don't always get it right. They may pass laws with good intentions, but unintended consequences often prevail. For example, there was a time when the nation believed the best way to penalize lawbreakers was to be tough on crime, leading to sweeping mandatory minimum sentencing laws implemented both nationally and statewide.

RELATED: If Trump can support criminal justice reform, so can everyone else

Only in recent years have governments learned that these sentences aren't good policy for the defendant or even the public. Mandatory minimum sentences are often overly harsh, don't act as a public deterrent for crime, and are extremely costly to taxpayers. These laws tie judges' hands, preventing them from using their knowledge and understanding of the law to make case relevant decisions.

Because legislation surrounding criminal law is often very touchy and difficult to change (especially on the federal level, where bills can take multiple years to pass) mandatory minimum sentences are far from being done away with—despite the data-driven discoveries of their downfalls. But in order to solve the problems inherent within all of the different laws imposing sentencing lengths, Congress needs to pass the Justice Safety Valve Act now. Ensuring its passing would allow judges to use discretion while sentencing, rather than forcing them to continue issuing indiscriminate sentences no matter the unique facts of the case.

Rather than take years to go back and try to fix every single mandatory minimum law that has been federally passed, moving this single piece of legislation forward is the best way to ensure judges can apply their judgment in every appropriate case.

When someone is facing numerous charges from a single incident, mandatory minimum sentencing laws stack atop one another, resulting in an extremely lengthy sentence that may not be just. Such high sentences may even be violations of an individual's eighth amendment rights, what with the imposition of cruel and unusual punishment. It's exactly what happened with Weldon Angelos.

In Salt Lake City in 2002, Weldon sold half a pound of marijuana to federal agents on two separate occasions. Unbeknownst to Weldon, the police had targeted him because they suspected he was a part of a gang and trafficking operation. They were oh-so-wrong. Weldon had never sold marijuana before and only did this time because he was pressured by the agents to find marijuana for them. He figured a couple lowkey sales could help out his family's financial situation. But Weldon was caught and sentenced to a mandatory 55 years in prison. This massive sentence is clearly unjust for a first time, non-violent crime, and even the Judge, Paul Cassell, agreed. Judge Cassell did everything he could to reduce the sentence, but, due to federal law, it wasn't much.

The nation is facing an over-criminalization problem that costs taxpayers millions and amounts to the foolish eradication of individual liberties.

In cases like Weldon's, a safety valve for discretionary power is much needed. Judges need the ability to issue sentences below the mandatory minimums, depending on mitigating factors such as mental health, provocation, or physical illness. That's what this new bill would allow for. Critics may argue that this gives judges too much power, but under the bill, judges must first make a finding on why it's necessary to sentence below the mandatory minimum. Then, they must write a clear statement explaining their decision.

Judges are unlikely to risk their careers to allow dangerous criminals an early release. If something happens after an offender is released early, the political pressure is back on the judge who issued the shorter sentence—and no one wants that kind of negative attention. In order to avoid risky situations like this, they'd use their discretion very cautiously, upholding the oath they took to promote justice in every case.

The nation is facing an overcriminalization problem that costs taxpayers millions and amounts to the foolish eradication of individual liberties. Mandatory minimums have exacerbated this problem, and it's time for that to stop. Congresswomen and men have the opportunity to help solve this looming problem by passing the Justice Safety Valve Act to untie the hands of judges and restore justice in individual sentences.

Molly Davis is a policy analyst at Libertas Institute, a free market think tank in Utah. She's a writer for Young Voices, and her work has previously appeared in The Hill, TownHall.com, and The Washington Examiner.

New gadget for couples in 'the mood' lets a button do the talking

Photo by Matt Nelson on Unsplash

Just in time for Valentine's Day, there's a new romantic gadget for couples that is sure to make sparks fly. For those with their minds in the gutter, I'm not talking about those kinds of gadgets. I'm talking about a brilliant new device for the home called "LoveSync."

This is real — it's a simple pair of buttons for busy, modern couples who have plenty of time for social media and Netflix, but can't quite squeeze in time to talk about their... uh... special relationship.

Here's how it works. Each partner has their own individual LoveSync button. Whenever the mood strikes one partner, all they have to do is press their own button. That sets their button aglow for a certain period of time. If, during that time window, their partner also presses their own button, then both buttons light up in a swirling green pattern to signal that love has "synced"...and it's go time.

According to the makers of LoveSync, this device will "Take the Luck out of Getting Lucky." It brings a whole new meaning to "pushing each other's buttons." It's an ideal gift to tell your significant other "I care," without actually having to care, or talk about icky things like feelings.

If you find your significant other is already on the couch binge-watching The Bachelor, no problem! You can conveniently slink back to your button and hold it in for four seconds to cancel the desire. No harm, no foul! Live to fight another day.

Have fun explaining those buttons to inquiring children.

No word yet on whether LoveSync can also order wine, light candles or play Barry White. Maybe that's in the works for LoveSync 2.0.

Of course, LoveSync does have some pitfalls. Cats and toddlers love a good button. That'll be a fun conversation — "Honey, who keeps canceling my mood submissions?" And have fun explaining those buttons to inquiring children. "Yeah, kids, that button just controls the lawn sprinklers. No big deal."

If you've been dialing it in for years on Valentine's Day with flowers and those crappy boxes of chocolate, now you can literally dial it in. With a button.

Good luck with that.

The social power of 'Reddit' is helping teens of anti-vaxxers get vaccinated

Noam Galai/Getty Images for TechCrunch

Reddit certainly earns its motto as "the front page of the internet," with roughly 540 million visitors monthly, the third most-visited website in the U.S., sixth worldwide. Unlike Twitter and Facebook, Reddit is a largely anonymous platform. People's faces are masked, their names are disguised. Which makes their hidden humanity all the more impactful.

On Reddit, both news and serious information are threaded in among gifs of cats and posts about Call of Duty, but that doesn't make it any less important. For many people, Reddit signifies the town hall where news is passed along or stomped into obscurity.

It gives you a healthy read of our society as a whole.

RELATED: Forget Rabies, 'Woke' Hipsters in Brooklyn Skipping Vaccines to Prevent 'Dogtism'

A recent Pew Poll found that Reddit leans left politically at a rate higher than the general public. Most users are young men, whose extensive internet use gives them a gatekeeping authority over what information should be considered important. From there, it spreads through the rest of the internet and helps shape public opinion.

So, it makes a lot of sense that Reddit has become a sort of makeshift safe place for children who grew up with parents who refused to give them vaccinations. Of course, Reddit also vehemently mocks the anti-vaccination folks, for better or for worse, often the latter, but that's a subject for another day.

The Daily Dot recently published an article on this strange intersection of ideology and nerd culture. "Desperate teens of anti-vaxxers are turning to Reddit for vaccination advice."

The article follows Ethan, whose parents are staunchly against vaccinations:

But Ethan is not his parents. When he turned 18, he decided to take matters into his own hands. He wasn't sure where else to begin, so he turned to Reddit.

Where do I go to get vaccinated? Can I get vaccinated at my age?" Ethan asked his fellow redditors in December. Ethan's post flooded with over 1,000 comments from users offering their encouragement and support, along with practical advice. "Good on you for getting your vaccinations," one user responded. "It's never too late and you're not only protecting yourself but those around you who truly can't get vaccinated.

Ethan told the Daily Dot that some redditors even offered to give him money via GoFundMe or PayPal if insurance didn't cover the shots. "People were really supportive, and that was really cool," he said. "I had the blessing of Reddit. They were supporting me on a decision my mom freaked out about." Ethan is not alone. "More and more teens are turning to places like Reddit to seek out information on where and how to get vaccinated, and if it's too late."

Whatever your opinion on vaccinations, there's a positive message to all of this. A human message. Hopeful. Proof that, in an increasingly caustic world, people can turn to one another in times of need.

Whatever your opinion on vaccinations, there's a positive message to all of this. A human message. Hopeful.

Now more than ever, that is crucial.

Given the social power of Reddit, it is often characterized as a tool for politicians or political movements. Throughout the forum, various political ideologies gather and organize like factions in some ideological war. A political thread on Reddit is like a Facebook comment section at its most hostile, arrogant or confident, but with no identities attached to the attacks, rants or opinions. When you find yourself riled into a debate, it's easy to wonder who's behind the replies, especially the more vicious ones.

People often characterize it as a hive-mind message board full of circlejerk memes and jokes about SpongeBob. This description isn't entirely wrong, but it is shallow and incomplete. At its core, Reddit is humane. Its users, for the most part, are compassionate. If it were an experiment on human nature, the results would be gratifying.