Excerpts of the first 3 points of a brilliant article posted on July 11, 2018 by Gail Tverberg are republished here for their undoubtful interest. It is about how today’s world economy is perceived from the USA as things are unfolding under Trump’s leadership. Meanwhile, the world’s weird self-organizing economy seen from the MENA would seem not to be exactly any different for reasons that we could ponder and eventually elaborate on sometime in the near future.
Today’s indications seem to suggest that an even more major recession than the Great Recession may strike in the not too distant future. Why should this be the case? Am I imagining problems where none exist?
The next ten sections provide an introduction to how the world’s self-organizing economy seems to operate.
1) The economy is one of many self-organized systems that grow. All are governed by the laws of physics. All use energy in their operation.
There are many other self-organizing systems that grow. One such system is the sun. Some forecasts indicate that it will keep expanding in size and brightness for about the next five billion years. Eventually, it is expected to collapse under its own weight.
Hurricanes are a type of self-organizing system that grows. Hurricanes grow over warm ocean waters. If they travel over land for a short time, they can sometimes shrink back a bit and grow again once they have an adequate source of heat-energy from warm water. Eventually, they collapse.
Plants and animals also represent self-organizing systems that grow. Some plants grow throughout their lifetimes; others stabilize in size after reaching maturity. Animals continue to require food (a form of energy) even after they stabilize at their mature size.
We can’t use the typical patterns of these other growing self-organized systems to conclude much about the future path of the world’s economic growth because individual patterns are quite different. However, we notice that cutting off the energy supply used by any of these systems (for example, moving a hurricane permanently over land or starving a human) will lead to the demise of that system.
We also know that lack of food is not the only reason why humans die. Based on this observation, it is a reasonable conclusion that having enough energy available is not a sufficient condition to guarantee that the world economy will continue to operate as in the past. For example, a blocked shipping channel, such as at the Strait of Hormuz, could pose a significant problem for the world economy. This would be analogous to a blocked artery in a human.
2) The use of energy products is hidden deeply within the economy. As a result, many people overlook their significance. They are also difficult for researchers to measure.
It is easy to see that gasoline provides the energy supply needed for our cars, and that electricity provides the power needed to clean our clothes. What is missing? The answer seems to be, “Everything that makes humans different from wild animals is something that was made possible by the use of supplemental energy in addition to the energy from food.”
All goods and services require the use of energy. While some of this energy use is easy to see, other portions are well hidden. Energy used in manufacturing and transport is most visible; energy used in services tends to be hidden.
Governments are major users of energy, both for their own programs and for directing energy use to others. Retirees get the benefit of goods and services made with energy products through pension checks issued by governments; researchers get the benefit of goods and services made with energy products through research grants they receive. Wars require energy.
Medical treatments are possible because of the availability of medicines and equipment made with energy products. Schools and books, as well as free time to study in schools (rather than working in the field), are possible because of energy consumption. Jobs of all kinds require the use of energy.
One thing we don’t often consider is that if energy supplies are growing sufficiently, they permit an expanding population. In fact, expanding population seems to be the single largest use of growth in energy consumption (Figure 1). Growing energy consumption also seems to be associated with prosperity.
3) Prices of energy services need to be low relative to overall costs of the economy. Falling energy costs relative to overall GDP tend to encourage economic growth.
Most economists expect energy prices to represent a large share of GDP costs, if energy is truly important. The statement above says the opposite. There are at least two reasons why low energy prices, and energy prices that are truly falling when inflation and productivity changes are considered, are helpful.
First, tools (broadly defined) used to leverage the labor of human workers often require considerable energy to manufacture and operate. Examples of such tools include computers, machines used in manufacturing, vehicles, and roads for these vehicles to drive on. The lower the cost to purchase and operate these tools, relative to the benefit of the tools, the more likely employers are to purchase them. If energy costs tend to fall over time, it becomes progressively easier to add more tools to leverage the labor of employees. Thus, employees become increasingly productive over time, raising the economy’s output of goods and services. For a similar reason, rising energy costs, if not offset by efficiency gains, present a barrier to economic growth.
Second, if the cost of energy production is low, it is easy to tax energy producers and thereby capture some of the benefit of their energy for the rest of the economy. If there is truly a “net energy” benefit to the economy, this is one way it gets transferred to the rest of the economy.
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