How wrong can one man be?

SUBHEAD: David Brooks goes Thomas Friedman one better, and delivers the American upper middle class, middle aged, wet dream?

By David Brooks on 12 March 2013 for New York Times -

Image above: Photo of David Brooks. From original artilce.

The Axis of Ennui

[IB Editor: Our commernts on David Brooks statements are in bold.]

Because I have to generate two columns a week for you, Dear Reader, I spend some time hunting for new ideas on the conference circuit. When you are on that circuit, you are perpetually under the illusion that you are hearing from the exciting, fresh people who are about to change history.

You're hearing from, say, the brilliant technology entrepreneur Shai Agassi, who is starting a paradigm-shifting electric car company. You're hearing from some wizard with a new solar-panel technology, or some new social-networking entrepreneur.

My main impression over the past five years is that the conference circuit capitalists who give fantastic presentations have turned out to be marginal to history while the people who are too boring and unfashionable to get invited to the conferences in the first place have actually changed the world under our noses.

Shai Agassi's company, Better Place, for example, has generated glowing magazine profiles, but it has managed to lose more than $500 million while selling astoundingly few cars. He stepped down as the chief executive, and his replacement lasted only a few months. It turns out that the things that are sexy to politicians and paradigm-shifting to conference audiences are not necessarily attractive to consumers.

Meanwhile, the anonymous drudges at American farming corporations are exporting $135 billion worth of products every year and transforming the American Midwest. (Tthose exports are from 5,000 acre Monsanto GMO cornfields that were nurtured by Koch fertilizer using John Deere equipment. Yum!).

The unfashionable executive at petrochemical companies have been uprooting plants from places like Chile, relocating them to places like Louisiana, transforming economic prospects in the Southeast. (Did someone mention something about a BP oil spill poisoning the Gulf of Mexico recently?). Most important of all, the boring old oil and gas engineers have transformed the global balance of power.

By 2020, the United States will overtake Saudi Arabia as the world's largest oil producer, according to the International Energy Agency. The U.S. has already overtaken Russia as the world's leading gas producer. Fuel has become America's largest export item. Within five years, according to a study by Citigroup, North America could be energy independent. (Wasn't Citigroup selling soured AAA sliced-and-diced mortgage instruments to any pension fund they could sucker in just a few years ago?)

"OPEC will find it challenging to survive another 60 years, let alone another decade," Edward Morse, Citigroup's researcher, told CNBC. (The only time the USA will be energy independent is when it forsakes it total dependence on burning fossil fuels. What a different world that will be.)

All of this was accomplished by people who exist largely beyond the reach of the lavalier-mike circuit.

Joel Kotkin identified America's epicenters of economic dynamism in a study for the Manhattan Institute. It is like a giant arc of unfashionableness. You start at the Dakotas where unemployment rates are at microscopic levels. You drop straight down through the energy belts of the Great Plains until you hit Texas.  (This is mind boggling. A nightmare tour through Oilspill Alley. At least they have rerouted the Keystone XL Tar Sludge Pipeline out of the Sandhill Crane habitiat after some pressure.)
Occasionally, you turn to touch the spots where fertilizer output and other manufacturing plants are on the rebound, like the Third Coast areas in Louisiana, Mississippi and Northern Florida. (They certainly cannot rely on oysters, shrimp, and fishing anymore.)

Vanity Fair still ranks the tech and media moguls and calls it The New Establishment, but, as Kotkin notes, the big winners in the current economy are the "Material Boys" - the people who grow grain, drill for fuel and lay pipeline. (These are the people ruining the soil, poisoning our children and robbing the future).

The growing parts of the world, meanwhile, are often the commodity belts, resource-rich places with good rule of law like Canada, Norway and Australia. Daniel Yergin, an energy guru, noted in Congressional testimony last month that the revolution in oil and gas extraction has led to 1.7 million new jobs in the United States alone, a number that could rise to three million by 2020. The shale revolution added $62 billion to federal revenues in 2012. At the same time, carbon-dioxide emissions are down 13 percent since 2007, as gas is used instead of coal to generate electricity. (These stats are merely the upside of down as we continue to defecate on the planet).

Most of us have grown up in a world in which we assumed that energy was scarce, or even running out. We could now be entering a world of relatively cheap energy abundance. (Thinking that's possible is the only way some people can live with themselves).

Most of us have grown up in a world in which oil states in the Middle East could throw their weight around because of their grip on the economy's life source. But the power of petro-states is on the wane. Yergin argues that the oil sanctions against Iran may not have been sustainable if not for the new alternate sources of supply. (Most of us have grown up in a world where the USA could throw its weight around because we had all the guns.).

We've grown accustomed to despotic regimes in Russia and Venezuela that live off oil and gas wealth. But those regimes are facing hard times, too. Gazprom is already offering roughly 10 percent discounts on existing contracts. The Nigerians and Venezuelans may find it hard to compete. People in China and elsewhere are wondering if the fracking revolution means that the 21st century will be another North American century, just like the last one. (We've grown accustomed to a despotic regime in America!).

What are the names of the people who are leading this shift? Who is the Steve Jobs of shale? Magazine covers don't provide the answers. Whoever they are, they don't seem hungry for celebrity or good with the splashy project launch. They are strong economically, but they are culturally off the map. (The revolution is being led by Derrick Jenson, Vandana Shiva, Bill McKibbon, Albert Bates, Naomi Klein, Paul Kingsnorth, Rob Hopkins and others - that you, David, are not following.)

This revolution will not be plenaried. 
(With that I agree. The revolution will not be fully attended. Certainly you won't be there.)



Dharma Sanctuary said...

Wow, cognitive dissonance in the extreme! Let's all believe the middle class is in ascendancy! What is up is down, what is failure is success.

It's a wonder many of us bother to pay attention to this malarky.

For those who are aware, it is a sorry, sad time. I feel like I'm almost ready to quit most of my internet viewing. What's the point?

The long emergency is at hand. The corporations, the fascist state is gathering power daily. It is happening in Hawaii as the current legislature is busy taking power away from the counties and the citizens and giving it to the corporations. They're ready to grant immunity to GMO companies who have already demonstrated their complete disregard to our health.

Do I need to read daily of the programmed demise of our society and nation? Do I need to keep going back to the well to again realize that all markets are manipulated, and yes the central bank ponzi scheme is roaring toward its final catastrophic demise?

Until it changes and people say enough, it's all a downhill slide. I've prepped and I can prep some more. OK, I'm going outside to prep some more (and turn off the computer), and be thankful for living on Kauai

Anonymous said...

Great BOLD comments deserve the thumbs up... David Brooks sounds convincing if you depend on the NY Times enlightening you. Admire those people Brooks says are "under the radar." Where has he been if he can't name at least one on that list? Under corporate wraps?

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