Saturday, October 25, 2014
Friday, October 24, 2014
Thursday, October 23, 2014
By Michael Snyder theeconomiccollapseblog.com
Most people that discuss the "economic collapse" focus on what is coming in the future. And without a doubt, we are on the verge of some incredibly hard times. But what often gets neglected is the immense permanent damage that has been done to the U.S. economy by the long-term economic collapse that we are already experiencing. In this article I am going to share with you 12 economic charts that show that we are in much, much worse shape than we were five or ten years ago. The long-term problems that are eating away at the foundations of our economy like cancer have not been fixed. In fact, many of them continue to get even worse year after year. But because unprecedented levels of government debt and reckless money printing by the Federal Reserve have bought us a very short window of relative stability, most Americans don't seem too concerned about our long-term problems. They seem to have faith that our "leaders" will be able to find a way to muddle through whatever challenges are ahead. Hopefully this article will be a wake up call. The last major wave of the economic collapse did a colossal amount of damage to our economic foundations, and now the next major wave of the economic collapse is rapidly approaching.
The mainstream media is constantly telling us about the "employment recovery" that is happening in the United States, but the truth is that it is just an illusion. As the chart below demonstrates, just prior to the last recession about 63 percent of all working age Americans had a job. During the last wave of the economic collapse, that number dropped to below 59 percent and stayed there for a very long time. In the past few months we have finally seen the employment-population ratio tick back up to 59 percent, but we are still far, far below where we used to be. To call the tiny little bump at the end of this chart a "recovery" is really an insult to our intelligence...
#2 The Labor Force Participation Rate
The percentage of Americans that are either employed or currently looking for a job started to fall during the last recession and it has not stopped falling since then. The labor force participation rate has now fallen to a 36 year low, and this is a sign of a very, very sick economy...
#3 The Inactivity Rate For Men In Their Prime Years
Some blame the decline in the labor force participation rate on the aging of our population. But it isn't just elderly people that are dropping out of the labor force. In fact, the inactivity rate for men in their prime working years (25 to 54) continues to rise and is now at the highest level that has ever been recorded...
#4 Manufacturing Employees
Once upon a time in America, anyone that was reliable and willing to work hard could easily find a manufacturing job somewhere. But we have stood by and allowed millions upon millions of good paying manufacturing jobs to be shipped out of the country, and now many of our formerly great manufacturing cities have been transformed into ghost towns. Over the past few years, there has been a slight "recovery", but we are still well below where we were at just previous to the last recession...
#5 Our Current Account Balance
As a nation, we buy far more from the rest of the world than they buy from us. In other words, we perpetually consume far more wealth than we produce. This is a recipe for national economic suicide. Our current account balance soared to obscene levels just prior to the last recession, and now we have almost gotten back to those levels...
#6 Existing Home Sales
Our economy has never fully recovered from the housing crash of 2007-2008. As you can see from the chart below, the number of existing home sales is still far below the level that we hit back in 2006. At this point we are just getting back to the level we were at in 2000, but our population today is far larger than it was back then...
#7 New Home Sales
Things are even more dramatic when you look at new home sales. This is an industry that have been absolutely emasculated. The number of new home sales in the United States is just a little more than half of what it was back in 2000, and it isn't even worth comparing to what we experienced during the peak of 2006.
#8 The Monetary Base
In a desperate attempt to get the economy going again, the Federal Reserve has been wildly printing money. It has been so reckless that it is hard to put it into words. When I look at this chart, the phrase "Weimar Republic" comes to mind...
#9 Food Inflation
Thankfully, much of the money that the Federal Reserve has been injecting into the system has not made it into the real economy. But enough of it has gotten into the system to force food prices significantly higher. For example, my wife went to the store today and paid just a shade under 10 bucks for just four pieces of chicken. And as you can see from the chart below, food prices have been steadily going up in America for a very long time...
#10 The Velocity Of Money
One of the reasons why we have not seen even more inflation is because the velocity of money is extraordinarily low. In general, when an economy is healthy money tends to flow through the system rapidly. People are buying and selling and money changes hands frequently. But when an economy is sick, money tends to stagnate. And that is exactly what is happening in the United States right now. In fact, at this point the velocity of the M2 money stock has dropped to the lowest level ever recorded...
#11 The National Debt
As our economic fundamentals have deteriorated, our politicians have attempted to prop up our standard of living by borrowing from the future. The U.S. national debt is on pace to approximately double during the Obama years, and it increased by more than a trillion dollars in fiscal year 2014 alone. Despite assurances that "the deficit is under control", the federal government borrows about a trillion dollars a year to fund new spending in addition to borrowing about 7 trillion dollars to pay off old debt that is coming due. What we are doing to future generations of Americans is absolutely criminal, and it is just a matter of time before this Ponzi scheme totally collapses...
#12 Total Debt
Of course it is not just the federal government that is gorging on debt. When you add up all forms of debt in our society (government, business, consumer, etc.) it comes to a grand total of more than 57 trillion dollars. This total has more than doubled since the year 2000...
If you know anyone that believes that we are in good economic shape, just show them these charts.
The numbers do not lie. Our economy is sick and it is getting sicker by the day.
And of course the next major financial crisis could strike at any time. U.S. stocks just experienced their worst week in three years, and if cases of Ebola start popping up around the country the fear that would cause could collapse our economy all by itself.
The debt-fueled prosperity that we are enjoying today is not real. We are living on the fumes of our past, and every single day our long-term problems get even worse.
Anyone with half a brain should be able to see what is coming.
Sadly, most Americans will continue to deny the truth until it is far too late.
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
By Bryan MacDonald and originally published at rt.com
Whenever the public right to know comes under attack, a heavy responsibility falls on the journalist. When I was 17, my teacher told the class this salient information. Did the Western mainstream media learn it too or have they simply forgotten it?
“News is what someone wants to stop (you) from printing; all the rest is ads.”- William Randolph Hearst.
Johnson’s Russia List (JRL) was first published in 1996. I’d guess that every single working journalist with a passing interest in Russia is a subscriber - except me. However, it seems I might have been a tad foolish to ignore this resource. Note to self - less Groucho Marx, more Mark Twain.
The JRL is published daily, but occasionally increases frequency. As for the founder, I know zilch about him and we certainly have never crossed paths. However, this week, Mr. Johnson piqued my interest for the second time this autumn. The first was when he published a list of, what amounted to, US propaganda outlets which are anti-Russia by default. That was extremely useful for indicating to friends which news services to avoid for coverage of the region.
However, this (second) time, Mr. Johnson has asked some extremely legitimate questions and they deserve an airing. The collator linked to two extremely interesting pieces from two wildly disparate sources, firstly The Kyiv Post, a ferocious supporter of “Euromaidan,” the resulting coup and the subsequent Kiev government.
Secondly, RT, the very organization on whose website you are reading this. RT could be, accurately, described as an enthusiastic supporter of Russia, its government and the breakaway republics in Eastern Ukraine. Fair is fair. While RT is a much larger organization than the Kyiv Post, the Ukrainian-based newspaper has punched above its weight during this year’s crisis. Indeed some of its work is of a very high standard and it deserves credit for attempting to expose corruption in that country.
Both articles JRL referred to concerned the Neo Nazi Right Sector organization’s vicious assault on an opposition lawmaker named Nestor Shufrych. During an attempt to hold a pre-election press conference in Odessa, the politician was administered a beating which led to concussion and a head injury. This followed an incident in Kiev where another opposition figure, Duma Deputy Vitaly Zhuravsky was forced into a trashcan.
Johnson asks a number of questions. Initially, if “anyone has seen a comment by any of the mainstream experts on Russia and Ukraine or government officials expressing criticism of Kiev regime violence?” I personally haven’t, but if anyone has feel free to use the comments section below to outline them.
Next, JRL queries “Has anyone criticized the term ‘Anti-Terrorism Operation’ or the ubiquitous characterization of the opposition in the east as ‘terrorists’?” Again, can’t say I have.
Johnson’s final question: “Is the proliferation of vigilante justice okay? There must be examples of unease that I have missed in view of the high regard that experts have for human rights and the rule of law.” I’m afraid, I have also missed this. I decided that if anyone would feel strongly about this, it would probably be Amnesty International so I checked the Twitter feed of their “Media lead on Amnesty International's Global Campaigns” - a gentleman named Maxim Tucker. I featured Mr. Tucker in a previous op-edge, where I tried to support his battle to prevent the UK government from introducing legislation to allow GCHQ to snoop on private citizens (known as DRIP). Hence, I was hopeful that Tucker would be active in highlighting these abuses in Ukraine. Instead, I found a Twitter feed peppered with news about Ukraine - but almost exclusively from one side (Kiev), except a single retweet from Vice News. Disappointing.
In recent days, Russian TV channels been “reporting (in Ukraine) mass graves, numerous cases of civilians pulled out of their cars and summarily shot, mass graves of people shot with their hands tied in their back and tortures, tortures and more tortures: systematic beatings, branding with swastikas, knife wounds, broken bones, heard trauma (and) damaged kidneys”, according to Russia Insider. Some of these reports may be exaggerated but, on the assumption of no smoke without fire, there must be some truth. Western media haven’t bothered to assess the issues.
BBC did run a report which, loosely, touched on the story but instead focused on an error by Russia’s independent REN TV. They, correctly, pointed out that REN had used a photo of MH17 body bags to illustrate a report about the alleged East Ukrainian atrocities. BBC then went to state: “The second image used by REN TV appears intended to support the reports of ‘mass graves.’ The reality is rather different.”
“An OSCE report on 24 September about the graves mentioned by the Russian media said that two of them contained two bodies apiece. It said that at another site there was a mound resembling a grave marked by a plaque bearing the names or initials of five individuals and suggesting they had been killed on 27 August. There was another inscription saying they had died for ‘Putin's lies’, the OSCE noted,” the writer, Stephen Ennis, continued.
So by BBC logic, a potential five-person grave is not a “mass grave?” Certainly, the British usually murdered far more than five people on their killing sprees, indeed there’s a mass grave in my hometown in Ireland containing more than 600 victims of British barbarity. Nevertheless, five does count as a “mass grave” in the civilized world, even if the Brits once aimed for higher numbers. The BBC then goes on to complete the article by referring to Alina Kabayeva, whom it describes as “the former gymnast and MP who has been romantically linked to Putin.” This is the kind of stuff one would expect to read in Hello! magazine, not a serious news organization as the BBC purports to be. That said a number of recent Western media features, including an infamous Newsweek front-page piece have been straight out of Hello!’s stylebook.
Meanwhile in Germany, a country which, unlike the UK (and Russia) has, largely successfully, dealt with its sordid past, state-owned ARD came in from criticism from its own board this week. They found that “The station’s coverage had ‘given the impression of bias’ and appeared to be directed against ‘Russia and Russian standpoints.’”
According to the Hannover-based Telepolis, the report “criticizes the absence of any fundamental analysis of the negotiations between the European Union (EU) and Ukraine on the Association Agreement. It criticizes the fact that 'NATO’s political and strategic intentions' with regard to its policy of eastern enlargement were not raised. Nor was any critical analysis made of the legitimacy of the 'so-called Maidan council.’ The same applies to the 'role of the radical nationalist forces, particularly Svoboda' and their activities during the failure 'of the agreement to resolve the crisis in Ukraine of 21 February.’”
The "constitutional and democratic issues" involved in the removal of President Yanukovich and the role of right-wing forces in his overthrow were also not adequately investigated by ARD. In addition, there was no critical analysis of the role of politicians such as Yulia Tymoshenko and Vitaly Klitschko.
“The council also challenged the station’s coverage of the secession of Crimea from Ukraine. There was no proper investigation made of the procedure and legality of the Crimean referendum, its international legal status, the significance of popular participation in the vote, and the role of historical issues and the ethnic groups in Crimea in the secession process,” Telepolis continues. If other Western media was subjected to the rigorous examination foisted on ARD, one wonders how different coverage might become.
All this nonsense brings to mind Western movies, a genre I’m inordinately fond of. The Irish-American director John Ford (or Sean O’Fearna), who basically invented the category, used a simple, and ugly, methodology in his American films. The Americans were the good guys, and the Indians the baddies. The distinguishing feature of Ford's Cowboy and Indians-themed Westerns is that his Native American characters always remained separate from white society. However, in Ford’s Irish movies, the English took the Indian role.
In the Western media discourse, Russia is the Indians, the bad guys who must be kept separate and apart. Indeed, at this stage Marvel Comics are more nuanced in their superhero stories than much of the EU and US press and that’s saying a lot. United Artists, and later MGM's, representation of Bond movie Russian villains had nothing on this.
There is no doubt that sections of the Russian media are, often, guilty of hyperbolic reportage. However, much of the Ukrainian-media is completely one-sided propaganda. In a conflict situation, it’s the duty of the independent press, from nations not directly involved, to sift through the information (and disinformation) and produce a narrative which accurately describes the reality.
Too often, in this year’s Ukrainian turmoil, coverage has been completely of one hue, a yellow and blue one. This is wrong. It must stop.
“A community needs news, for the same reason that a man needs eyes. It has to see where it’s going.” - Rebecca West.
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Originally published at woodpilereport.com
Prediction. Our institutional defenses against epidemics assume 1950s-style civic support. Those days are gone. Even so, it'll work for a while, not perfectly, but well enough. For a while. Ebola will go exponential when it gets into our Liberia-like urban areas and separatist enclaves. Necessary but inconvenient countermeasures will be widely evaded, denounced as genocide in disguise. Those who demand drastic action in defense of the nation will be slandered as paleo-rednecks.
From then on events will be decided by doddering civil rights agitators, the gullible morons who support them and the usual lunatic opportunists in . Naturally those who are actually stricken will demand priority on a "Poor, Minorities Hit Hardest" basis. The irony will go unnoticed. Worthwhile results will be either accidental or unavoidable. Ebola will burn its way through the populace all but unimpeded, and when the last victim collapses in a mushy pile of its own bloody excretions, victory will be declared. Heroes will be acclaimed and every faction in the country will have made new, enduring enemies. This is easy. It's like predicting the past. But—details. We want details.
Our farce thus far. How competent are our medical institutions with their world-class facilities and internationally renown experts, the same experts who tell us our fears are unfounded? Apparently word hadn't gotten to them that people coming from Ebola-infested pest holes in Africa may have Ebola, duh, including one who exhibited advanced symptoms and offered himself up to anyone who would listen:
Thomas Eric Duncan
told a nurse at a Dallas emergency room that he had recently visited Liberia, which has been ravaged by the Ebola outbreak. But an executive at Texas Health Presbyterian hospital told a news conference that the information was not widely enough shared with the medical team treating Duncan, and he was diagnosed as suffering from a “low-grade common viral disease”.
As a result of this lapse, Thomas Duncan was able to leave the hospital and interact with more people while experiencing symptoms, which is when the virus becomes contagious.
He didn't go to some first aid outfit in a backwater burg. He went to Texas Health Presbyterian, one of those outfits with nice corporate graphics which "raises awareness" and gives itself awards. Top shelf, in other words. Here's how obvious it had to be before he they admitted and isolated him:
“When the ambulance came his whole family were all screaming, he got outside and he was throwing up all over the place … when he was throwing up he was trying to walk and he couldn’t walk.”
Which means from the 24th to the 28th of September he was stumbling around loose among the people of Dallas with infectious Ebola , and he did so until his nephew called directly—which, incidentally, suggests the reason for his trip here in the first place. He all but handed them a signed affidavit with across the top in all caps, yet Texas hospital says:
Regretfully, that information was not fully communicated throughout the full teams. As a result, the full import of that information wasn’t factored into the full decision making.
We fully understand. He wasn't coughing up lung tissue or spurting blood from his eyeballs so hoo cudda fully node. But just a few days before Mr. Duncan arrived, none other than President Obama assured us:
We've been taking the necessary precautions, including working with countries in West Africa to increase screening at airports so that someone with the virus doesn't get on a plane for the United States. In the unlikely event that someone with Ebola does reach our shores, we've taken new measures so that we're prepared here at home.
In Obama's defense, he's a liar. His core supporters believe him, who can ask for better evidence? No sense in getting all worked up about it. Some people are left handed, some people are short and others tall, some people stutter. Obama lies. It's just his way. He can't help it so let it be.
Cynics say Duncan was knowingly set loose, that this is a trial run for a Club of Rome-style population reduction. How else does a driver for FedEx in Monrovia come up with airfare—about $3,500 one way—and a visa, apparently on short notice, they ask. Others say it's a psy-op calculated to prod the populace into demanding a national lock down under martial law.
Look what we have on the other side. Texas Health Presbyterian "regrets" their incompetence. They'll take even newer measures so that we're even more prepared here at home. Measures like a seminar, say. Off site. Nassau perhaps. Signup is by the door. Not a compelling counter argument. Denying entry to travelers with West African passports is a compelling counter argument. So is defending our borders and controlling immigration. is proudly and emphatically doing none of these so "oops" is their only counter argument.
We will stop Ebola in its tracks in the U.S... I have no doubt that we will control this importation or this case of the Ebola so that it does not spread widely in this country. It is certainly possible that someone who had contact with this individual, a family member, or other individual, could develop Ebola in the coming weeks, but there is no doubt in my mind that we will stop it here.Officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention took to the airwaves to assure the public that there is no risk of widespread infection. The reason: The United States has a strong health system and trained health workers who can efficiently and effectively contain Ebola.
From farce to tragedy. Let's look at 's and Obama's claim American medical facilities are so sophisticated "the chances of an Ebola outbreak here in the United States are extremely low". Assume each suspected Ebola patient in high-level isolation requires eight medical professionals per shift. That's twenty-four per day. Should there be, say, one hundred high-risk patients admitted to isolation, that's 2,400 medical professionals, and all the necessary equipment and supplies for one hundred containment accommodations. It's already unrealistic. No hospital could function with that many diverted assets. Perhaps efficiency measures could bring these numbers down. Or perhaps these numbers are too low to begin with. What if there are not one hundred high-risk patients, but five hundred? Or a thousand.
Use 's —reinfection rate per 21-day cycle—and say one out of every ten high-risk patients is a confirmed case of Ebola. Every person they've been in close contact with is now another high-risk patient. Use twenty each per 21 days. Multiply these new numbers by twenty-four medical professionals each—plus or minus. To put it plainly, a hundred cases of Ebola in any one city would implode its health services. The city's alternatives would be to lower the standard of care to third world levels or concede outright defeat and sprint to the executive bunkers. Numbers are numbers, here or in Africa.
And oh by the way, it's game over if they start missing one or two infected contacts here and there. Think they won't? There's also an infection rate for the medical professionals we haven't considered. And don't bet against asymptomatic carriers, animal or human.
It has been shown that dogs may become infected with
and remain asymptomatic. Dogs in some parts of Africa scavenge for their food and it is known that they sometimes eat infected animals and the corpses of humans. Although they remain asymptomatic, a 2005 survey of dogs during an outbreak found that over 31.8% showed a seroprevalence for closest to an outbreak versus 9% a farther distance away.
Then there's this:
The Texas health commissioner, Dr. David Lakey, told reporters during an afternoon news conference that health workers should have moved more swiftly to clean the apartment but that they had had trouble finding an outside medical team to do the work. They encountered “a little bit of hesitancy,” he said.
There's an old comeback to the professional who says he's dedicated to 'serving mankind': would you still do it if you weren't getting paid? Now we have to ask if they'll still do it at a substantial risk to themselves of a ugly death. The realist says the occupancy rates at exclusive resorts will rise. Further down the ranks, when suited-up stay away from crowds.s and s are dying, how many s will stay on the job? How many ambulance crew? Would firemen respond to a call on the Ebola floor? How understaffed can a medical facility get before it's a barracks for the doomed? You see where this goes even without a general panic. Safety is not in numbers. Rule One for survival is the new common sense:
The bottom line. A realistic mortality estimate has to include secondary effects, which includes a drastic reduction in ordinary medical services, disrupted transportation of food, fuel and other necessities, much diminished commercial activity, breakdown of civil order and the like. If we discount "perfect storm" doomer scenarios and stay within the likely, a mortality of 25% in the is a reasonable estimate, with a burnout time of about three years. That's about 77 million. Our population is unevenly distributed and the country is large, look for it to advance in waves like the pandemic of 1918-1919. Again, mortality means deaths from Ebola and secondary effects.
In small, densely populated third-world countries, a single sweep of the scythe will suffice. 50% mortality may be too low a number. In sub-Saharan Africa, with its sketchy infrastructure, its "impaired to severely impaired" average intelligence, it's knack for making lemons out of lemonade and its near-total dependence on world charity, mortality may overtop 75%. Secondary effects need only a nudge to go full catastrophic, and its default 'prevention' is ritual and denial.
Long before it's over our failure to deny visas to west African nationals, or defend our borders and control immigration at all, will be seen for the unconscionable dereliction of duty it is. Alas, the opportunity is largely foreclosed even now. The mother of all buyer's regret is just now setting in. Too late. The dark side of globalism is about to have its way with us.
Meanwhile, the bad news just keeps rolling in:
is lying! If they’re not lying, they are grossly incompetent. For them to say last week that the likelihood of importing an Ebola case was extremely small was a real bad call. Once this disease consumes every third world country, as surely it will, because they lack the same basic infrastructure as Sierra Leone and Liberia, at that point, we will be importing clusters of Ebola on a daily basis. That will overwhelm any advanced country’s ability to contain the clusters in isolation and quarantine.
On September 28, when he returned to Presbyterian, this time deathly ill in an ambulance, the
staff immediately suspected Ebola, Presbyterian told reporters, and called in the infectious disease team. How then did the ambulance drivers and the ambulance itself continue in circulation, unquarantined, for the next 48 hours.
Being at first skeptical that Ebola virus could be an aerosol-transmissible disease, we are now persuaded by a review of experimental and epidemiologic data that this might be an important feature of disease transmission, particularly in healthcare settings... The potential for transmission via inhalation of aerosols, therefore, cannot be ruled out by the observed risk factors or our knowledge of the infection process. Many body fluids, such as vomit, diarrhea, blood, and saliva, are capable of creating inhalable aerosol particles in the immediate vicinity of an infected person.
Ms Greening said the stark prediction by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that Ebola cases could reach 1.4 million by January highlighted the need for rapid action. The official number of people infected currently stands at 7,178 – of which 3,338 have died. But the US health institute suggested in a report last week that the true scale of the outbreak may have been hugely underestimated due to under-reporting... The number of people infected with Ebola is doubling every 20 to 30 days, and aid agencies said that the situation on the ground was dire.
The White House said Wednesday
it will not impose travel restrictions or introduce new airport screenings to prevent additional cases of Ebola from entering the United States. Spokesman Josh Earnest said that current anti-Ebola measures, which include screenings in West African airports and observation of passengers in the United States, will be sufficient to prevent the “wide spread” of the virus.
Officials confirmed that roughly 100 people are being questioned about possible exposure to the virus — up from reports of more than 80 earlier in the day. Only a "handful" likely could have caught the virus, they said, and no one but the patient is showing symptoms.
The Dallas Fire Department left the ambulance that transported Ebola patient Thomas Duncan to the hospital in service for at least 48 hours before putting it in quarantine on Wednesday. The ambulance was exposed to the Ebola virus when Duncan was transported on September 28th.
For months, doctors in my community have been convinced that the United States will be importing clusters regularly. Right now, on the continent of West Africa, there are a million people in isolation, in quarantine, because of Ebola, and ten thousand passengers leave West Africa every single day. It’s just a matter of time before this disease is carried to every corner of the world.
Monday, October 20, 2014
By Dmitry Orlov and originally published at cluborlov.blogspot.comAt the moment, the Ebola virus is ravaging three countries—Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone—where it is doubling every few weeks, but singular cases and clusters of them are cropping up in dense population centers across the world. An entirely separate Ebola outbreak in the Congo appears to be contained, but illustrates an important point: even if the current outbreak (to which some are already referring as a pandemic) is brought under control, continuing deforestation and natural habitat destruction in the areas where the fruit bats that carry the virus live make future outbreaks quite likely.
Ebola's mortality rate can be as high as 70%, but seems closer to 50% for the current major outbreak. This is significantly worse than the Bubonic plague, which killed off a third of Europe's population. Previous Ebola outbreaks occurred in rural, isolated locales, where they quickly burned themselves out by infecting everyone within a certain radius, then running out of new victims. But the current outbreak has spread to large population centers with highly mobile populations, and the chances of such a spontaneous end to this outbreak seem to be pretty much nil.
Ebola has an incubation period of some three weeks during which patients remain asymptomatic and, specialists assure us, noninfectious. However, it is known that some patients remain asymptomatic throughout, in spite of having a strong inflammatory response, and can infect others. Nevertheless, we are told that those who do not present symptoms of Ebola—such as high fever, nausea, fatigue, bloody stool, bloody vomit, nose bleeds and other signs of hemorrhage—cannot infect others. We are also told that Ebola can only be spread through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected individual, but it is known that among pigs and monkeys Ebola can be spread through the air, and the possibility of catching it via a cough, a sneeze, a handrail or a toilet seat is impossible to discount entirely. It is notable that many of the medical staff who became infected did so in spite of wearing protective gear—face masks, gloves, goggles and body suits. In short, nothing will guarantee your survival short of donning a space suit or relocating to a space station.
There is a test that shows whether someone is infected with Ebola, but it is known to produce false negatives. Other methods do even worse. Current effort at “enhanced screening,” recently introduced at a handful of international airports, where passengers arriving from the affected countries are now being checked for fever, fatigue and nausea, are unlikely to stop infected, and infectious, individuals. They are akin to other “security theater” methods that are currently in vogue, such as making passengers take off their shoes and testing breast milk for its potential as an explosive. The fact that the thermometers, which agents point at people's heads, are made to look like guns is a nice little touch; whoever came up with that idea deserves Homeland Security's highest decoration—to be shaped like a bomb and worn rectally.
It is unclear what technique or combination of techniques could guarantee that Ebola would not spread. Even a month-long group quarantine for all travelers from all of the affected countries may provide the virus with a transmission path via asymptomatic, undiagnosed individuals. And even a quarantine that would amount to solitary confinement (which would be both impractical and illegal) would simply put evolutionary pressure on this fast-mutating virus to adapt and incubate longer than the period of the quarantine.
Treatment of Ebola victims amounts to hydration and palliative care. Transfusions of blood donated by a survivor seem to be the only effective therapy available. An experimental drug called ZMapp has been demonstrated to stop Ebola in non-human primates, but its effectiveness in humans is now known to be less than 100%. It is an experimental drug, made in small batches by infecting young tobacco plants with an eyedropper. Even if its production is scaled up, it will be too little and too late to have any measurable effect on the current epidemic. Likewise, experimental Ebola vaccines have been demonstrated to be effective in animal trials, and one has been shown to be safe in humans, but the process of demonstrating it effectiveness in humans and then producing it in sufficient quantities may take longer than it would for the virus to spread around the world.
The scenario in which Ebola engulfs the globe is not yet guaranteed, but neither can it be dismissed as some sort of apocalyptic fantasy: the chances of it happening are by no means zero. And if Ebola is not stopped, it has the potential to reduce the human population of the earth from over 7 billion to around 3.5 billion in a relatively short period of time. Note that even a population collapse of this magnitude is still well short of causing human extinction: after all, about half the victims fully recover and become immune to the virus. But supposing that Ebola does run its course, what sort of world will it leave in its wake? More importantly, now is a really good time to start thinking of ways in which people can adapt to the reality of a global Ebola pandemic, to avoid a wide variety of worst-case outcomes. After all, compared to some other doomsday scenarios, such as runaway climate change or global nuclear annihilation, a population collapse can look positively benign, and, given the completely unsustainable impact humans are currently having on the environment, may perhaps even come to be regarded as beneficial.
I understand that such thinking is anathema to those who feel that every problem must have a solution—or it's not worth discussing. I certainly don't want to discourage those who are trying to stop Ebola, or to delay its spread until a vaccine becomes available, and would even help them if I could. I am not suicidal, and I don't look forward to the death of roughly half the people I know. But I happen to disagree that thinking about what such an outcome, and perhaps even preparing for it in some ways, is necessarily a bad idea. Unless, of course, it produces a panic. So, if you are prone to panic, perhaps you shouldn't be reading this.
And so, for the benefit of those who are not particularly panic-prone, I am going to trot out my old technique of examining collapse as consisting of five distinct stages: financial, commercial, political, social and cultural, and briefly discuss the various ramifications of a swift 50% global population collapse when viewed through that prism. If you want to know all about the five stages, my book is widely available.
Our current set of financial arrangements, involving very large levels of debt leading to artificially high valuations placed on stocks, commodities, real estate, and Ph.D's in economics, is underpinned by a key assumption: that the global economy is going to continue to grow. Yes, global growth started stumbling around the turn of the century, stopped for a while during the financial collapse of 2008, and has since then remained anemic, with even the most tentative signs of recovery having much to do with unlimited money-printing by the world's central banks, but the economics Ph.D's remain ever so hopeful that growth will resume. Nevertheless, this much is clear: halving the number of workers and consumers would not be conducive to boosting economic growth.
Quite the opposite: it would mean that most debt will have to be written off. Likewise, the valuations of companies that would supply half the demand with half the workers would be unlikely to go up. Nor would the houses, half of which would stand vacant and dilapidated, increase in value. If the supply of oil suddenly outstrips demand by 50%, then this would cause the price of oil to drop to a point where it no longer covers the cost of producing it, and oil producers will be forced to shut down. This would not be a happy event for those countries that are heavily dependent on energy exports in order to afford imports of food to feed their populations. Nor would such developments spell a happy end for those countries that need to continuously roll over trillions of dollars of short-term debt in order to continue feeding their populations via government hand-outs (the United States comes to mind).
“But what about wealth preservation?!” I hear some of my readers screaming in anguish? “How do I hedge my portfolio against a sudden 50% global population drop?” Well, that's easy: you need to be short all paper. Short it all: currency, stocks, bonds, debt instruments, deeds on urban real estate. Get out of most commodities: energy, obviously, but also precious metals, because you can't eat gold. Go long people (who will be in ever-shorter supply) and arable land (because people have to eat) and stockpile everything else that they will need to learn to feed themselves. If they are sufficiently grateful for all you help, they will feed you too. Alternatively, you can just sit on your paper wealth as it dwindles to nothing, and wait for the torches and the pitchforks to come out. Since wealthy people squander a disproportionate amount of wealth on themselves and their families, killing them off is a good wealth preservation strategy—for the rest of us, so feel free to do your part.
It would be a challenge to keep global supply chains in operation while commodity prices plummet in value, credit becomes unavailable, and other knock-on effects of financial collapse make themselves felt. Since a lot of production depends on overseas suppliers, it would shut down shortly after international credit becomes unavailable. Countries that have food security, strong central control, many state-owned companies and long-term barter agreements with other countries (Russia and China come to mind) may find it possible to switch their economies into the old command and control mode, so that the few products that are key for keeping the survivors alive remain available.
It should be expected that certain forms of production—those particularly capital intensive—would disappear entirely. Examples might include integrated circuit manufacturing, pharmaceutical industry, offshore oil drilling, satellite technology and so on. Certain long-lasting forms of technology, such as manual printing presses, manual typewriters and solar panel-powered shortwave radios, would remain in use, treasured and passed along as technological heirlooms.
For many operations, different staffing arrangements would need to be put in place. For instance, ships would need to double their crews, in expectation that at least half the crew might drop dead during any given trip. This would not be as problematic as it sounds: during the age of discovery it was not unusual for half the crew to be lost during a voyage from causes ranging from blunt trauma to scurvy. The shift to double-staffing would be particularly important for operations that affect public safety in a major way, nuclear power plants in particular.
A 50% reduction in global population would no doubt accelerate the already speedy process by which nation-states fail and turn into ungovernable regions. Not a year goes by without one or two more countries joining their ranks: Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Ukraine... Several African countries may join this list before the year is out.
Especially at risk are those countries that would be unable to continue feeding their populations once oil prices plummet. Saudi Arabia, for instance, would be quickly wiped out as a country once the vast welfare state supported by the House of Saud ceases to function. As soon as that happens, Saudi Arabia would become a particularly soft target for the Islamic Caliphate, with very interesting consequences for the entire region.
There is one effect that would be common to all countries, or at least to those who have not yet undergone political collapse: since the population would become much younger, gerontocracy would become a thing of the past. The swift die-off would cause life expectancies to plummet, but we should expect the effect to be much more pronounced at the higher end of the spectrum. In many of the prosperous, developed countries in particular, there is currently a very large bulge near the geriatric end of the age spectrum. In these countries, people have been living longer and longer thanks to aggressive medical interventions: cancer surgeries, drug regimens and a variety of therapies. Many of these people are living longer but in increasingly poor health, and we should expect Ebola to carry them off in disproportionately large numbers. Organizations such as the US senate, with an average age over 60, would be expected to lose much more than half of their members—to most Americans' inordinate glee, if public survey numbers are to be believed.
For those countries that manage to remain stable, the disproportionately heavy die-off among the aged may pave the way to large-scale economic and political reforms. Older people tend to vote more than the young, and they tend to vote for the preservation of the status quo rather than for change. This pattern is particularly clear in some countries, such as the US, where older people vote to maintain the privileges that had accrued to them during prosperous times, thereby depriving their children and grandchildren of a viable future. The demographic projection where soon there will be just two working-age people supporting each retiree would be invalidated. Other types of rapid positive change may occur; for instance, many academic disciplines, in which nothing can change until the old guard dies, may begin to see rapid progress.
There would likely to be a wide spectrum of outcomes. Those communities that are ethnically homogenous, well-defended, strongly bound together by conservative and uniform social and religious traditions, with a history of favoring self-sufficiency and perseverance, would be likely to survive and recover. On the other hand, those communities that are ethnically diverse with a history of bigotry, racism and ethnic strife, with weak, optional, or nonexistent standards of public morality, which are integrated into the global economy in non-optional ways, and which are unaccustomed to hardship, are likely to perish.
The cultures most favored to survive would be those that can be preserved autonomously at a small scale. Particularly favored to survive would be those that have a strong oral tradition, teach their own children within families rather than submitting them to government-run schools, and insist on internal systems of jurisprudence and governance in defiance of any external interference. It is hard to imagine that the Roma of the Balkans or the Pashtuns of Waziristan would fail to pass on their culture just because half of them suddenly die. Such circumstances may sound dire to most of us, but to these long-suffering tribes it's a sunny day in the park and a boat-ride on the pond, and they would be sure to add a few epic poems about it to their repertoire once it's over.
At the other extreme are those cultures that depend entirely on book-learning, and have a writing system sufficiently abstruse to require many years of schooling just to achieve a basic level of literacy (English, Chinese). Education relies on transmitting information from those who are older to those who are younger, and as the die-off compresses the age spectrum toward its younger end, the number of teachers will dwindle. Coupled with other inevitable disruptions, formal schooling may become impossible in many areas, resulting, a generation or so later, in very low levels of literacy. Severed from its main mechanism for acquiring knowledge, the culture of the people in such areas would disintegrate. At the very far end of the spectrum are found roving bands of feral children, speaking a language that no adult is able to understand. It is at this point that we are able to conclude that cultural collapse has run its course.
I have already mentioned that it may be a good idea to make arrangements through which survivors would be able to feed themselves, and provide them with the few other necessities for survival.
Beyond that, there are the basic mechanics of handling the pandemic. The current strategy treats it as a medical problem, best handled by doctors and nurses working in hospitals and clinics. This strategy only works for as long as the epidemic can be said to be under control; once it can be said to be out of control, the surviving doctors and nurses (medics are usually the first to be exposed—and to die) would be well advised to specifically refuse to handle Ebola patients.
In absence of any curative or preventive therapies, Ebola patients need shelter, hydration, hygiene, palliative care and, if and when they die, sanitary disposal of the remains. The goal is to do what is possible to give patients a chance to recover more or less on their own. To this end, it is very important to do all the things necessary to make sure that people are dying just from Ebola, and not from exposure, dehydration, or from any of the opportunistic diseases that thrive in disrupted circumstances, such as cholera and typhus. Sanitation is the most important aspect of the entire operation.
These services need not be provided by trained medics. The main two requirements for such service are: 1. psychological immunity to scenes of horrific suffering and death; and 2. immunity to Ebola. The first of these requirements comes down to natural talent; some have it, some don't. The second requirement is being provided free of charge by the Ebola virus itself, in cooperation with the survivors' immune systems.
English lacks a good word to describe this type of specialist, but we don't have to reach far to find one: the Russian word for it is “sanitar.” A popular Russian saying goes “wolves are sanitars of the forest” because they take care of disposing of the sick, the weak and the lame, thus giving those that survive a better chance. A sanitar need not be medically trained, but some training is needed: in diagnosis, palliative care, sanitation procedures and corpse disposal.
A third requirement is one that applies to the sanitation service as a whole: the number of sanitars has to scale with the rate of infection. Since the number of those infected is increasing exponentially, the number of sanitars assigned to serve them has to be able to increase exponentially as well. It seems outlandish to think that sufficient numbers of people will spontaneously volunteer for the job, and this means that they have to be press-ganged into service. And a super-obvious way to do just that is to simply never discharge Ebola survivors: once you are in, you are in until the pandemic is over, or until you die, whichever comes first. If you recover, you are given a bit of training, and then you go to work.
If you don't like the mitigation strategy I am proposing, please feel free to propose your own. Keep in mind, however, that what you propose has to automatically scale with the increase in the rate of infection, which is exponential. Sure, you can propose setting a public health budget, but then it has to double every couple of weeks—and keep doubling until the number of patients is in the billions.