Change comes on little cat feet.

I remember when the Soviet Union collapsed. Nobody saw it coming. It even took a while for people to recognize that it did. It went out with a whimper. But soon, everybody claimed that they had foreseen it. We have a game changing change in energy happening now. The center of energy production is shifting from the Middle East to the Americas. This will be a change almost as important as the collapse of the Soviet Empire. There are other good things happening. We just need leadership in Washington that will let it happen.

There is good news on both the supply and demand side. The U.S. reached what might be called "peak demand" in 2005; since that time our consumption of oil and declined and is set to continue to decline, as we become more efficient users of oil and shift to plentiful natural gas for many uses.

On the supply side, I have written about the fantastic amounts of natural gas made available in places like New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Oklahoma by new technologies. Government & industry need to agree on sensible regulations that protect environment while filling our energy needs but we need to move ahead. No more blocking progress w/o giving alternatives.

New technologies are also at work with so called "tight oil". North Dakota has become a major oil producer for that reason. It is a big change.

Beyond that, energy is being discovered or developed in friendly places close to home. Newly developed Canadian oil sands are producing more NEW oil than the total Libyan output BEFORE the revolution. Brazil has discovered vast reserves of oil & gas that may rival that of Saudi Arabia.

Alternatives are also developing rapidly. Wind power, especially when coupled with natural gas, is becoming viable in some markets. Wind power's danger to birds and bats is being addressed. Another promising development is old-fashioned biomass. In some parts of the country, especially the Southeast, wood scraps from forestry and sawmills is already making an important contribution to the energy mix. Research on biofuels is continuing and biodiesel is looking more and more promising.

Many of our new energy sources will be able to hitch rides on rapidly developing techniques in nanotech and biotech. For example, solar panels can be more efficiently made using nanotech, which can allow less expensive materials to be substituted for scarce ones. Biotech will certainly help with things like biodiesel and maybe cellulose ethanol.

I am talking about good news in energy, but there is another area of success ... and challenge. Success always come with challenges, otherwise life would be boring.

The guy who came to fix my furnace told me that he couldn't find a helper willing to train and do the work despite the fact that he could make around $80,000 a year. Now I read about a shortage of skilled blue-collar workers. The American manufacturing-base is twice as big as it was in 1970, but productivity gains mean that many fewer workers are required for the greater production AND the workers left are mostly higher skilled. There just is not much grunt work left.

Since 2009, the number of job openings in manufacturing has been rising, with average annual earnings of $73,000 (reference the above link). Booming American energy production, natural gas in places like Ohio and Pennsylvania and oil in unlikely locations such as North Dakota, are already driving a manufacturing renaissance that is putting a strain on available skilled labor sources.

Americans are resilient. We respond to challenges. I graduated with my undergraduate degree in those dark times of the late 1970s. At that time, many of the experts were writing us off. We were running out of everything, they told us. Nobody would have believed back then how much we progressed in the last few decades.

America's best days are ahead of us. We don't need to go back, we can look forward. Despite what the pessimists told me in the late 1970s, my life has been better than my father's. And despite what the pessimists tell me now, I know that my kid's will have more choices than I had. We will get through these hard times and when we do all those pinheads currently crying about the end of prosperity will think that they knew it all the time.

References here & here

My title is inspired by Carl Sandburg's poem, "Fog." I think it accurately describes change.

THE FOG comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

Posted by Christine & John at December 11, 2011 8:46 PM
Comment #332968

I think the collapse of the Soviet Union was predicted before it was created.

Some have said it would have collapsed in the mid 1920’s if not for a massive U.S. relief effort spurred by Hoover.

I thought the whole concept of the Cold War was containment until collapse. I could have collapsed during WWII if not for foreign aid and strong leadership.

The collapse of the Soviet Union was predicted by many on many occasions, and it was somewhat of a shock when it happened.

Is it just a coincidence that the gap in income between the wealthy and the rest began to grow as the threat from the Soviet Union began to decline?

Posted by: jlw at December 11, 2011 11:31 PM
Comment #332975


Ronald Reagan predicted the imminent fall of the Soviet Empire. All the pundits said he was nuts. I was in the Cold War business at the time. I used to give lectures on the subject. When I would bring it up, the audiences said I was nuts like Ronald Reagan. In fact, among liberal thinkers talk of the imminent fall of Soviet Communism was treated more or less like denying climate change is today. They didn’t START to come around until 1989, even then I was at a meeting of the CSCE in Vienna on November 8, 1989. On that day, the experts were telling us that East Germany was fundamentally sound and would survive the crisis. You know why that date is important. Check the REAL sources, not what people said later to hide their previous blindness.

Of course many people made vague statements about its eventual fall, just as they did about the end of oil, the end of war and even the disintegration of the U.S. Those kinds of predictions are not useful.

Re the gap in income - it began to grow in 1972, when the oil shocks and end of Breton Woods made the economy change worldwide. The collapse of the Soviet Empire helped the world economy grow faster and faster growth has led to a greater gap. Interestingly, the recent economic downturn has narrowed the gap. If everybody is poor, everybody is equal.

All those people enslaved by communism until the collapse started to work toward their own and our prosperity after the collapse. That, more than anything else, created the boom of the 1990s. It is such a big thing, that we don’t notice it. It was like a weight taken off the world’s chest. Freedom is a wonderful thing.

Posted by: C&J at December 12, 2011 4:38 AM
Comment #332992

Agree, Breton Woods, followed by globalism and wrapping up China’s nuke capability in the world economy has led to ‘the biggest pig at the trough’ syndrome. All in the name of ‘good capitalism’ I suppose, taking advantage of slave labor conditions around the world, few to no regulations in developing countries, etc.

While the rich get richer they have done an excellent job of breaking the back of the middle class workers. Fewer engineers graduating today than in 89, etc. The working class is made poorer by each increase in income for the wealthy. I believe the wealthy already own something like 60% of all US resources. If the wealthy double over the next few years wouldn’t it be fair to guestimate that they would likely own 90 percent of resources?

But, here we are, paying ADM big bucks to plant here, don’t plant there, subsidizing each pea and pod with taxpayer dollars even while countries like Brazil/WTO sue the US for subsidizing ADM, etc.

Some are complaining that Calif raised their min wage to $10 and change. GM entry level is around $18/hr. Lots of degreed people working for wages somewhere in between. How sad is that? In the 60’s we used to hold down importing degreed folks, ascribing it to a ‘brain drain’ hurting the developing country. Today, a degree gets an immigrant a ticket to fast tract citizenship. Illegal drugs is one of our top business models, something like $100B year, while Mexico gets trashed, some 50k slain over the last few years.
But, I do agree with the thrust of your post C&J, Americans can, and will get along with less. No doubt, we will survive.

But, I can’t put on the rose colored glasses. I don’t believe my grandkids can live up to our lifestyles with $20T of debt $100k educations. Perhaps, if we import enough ‘brain power’ they can innovate/create , get the debt paid down, and, and ….
Otherwise - - -

Posted by: Roy Ellis at December 12, 2011 6:15 PM
Comment #332993


You wouldn’t have believed things would get better in 1979 either.

Posted by: C&J at December 12, 2011 6:41 PM
Comment #332996

“Ronald Reagan predicted the imminent fall of the Soviet Empire.” Yes, He got the news from Nancy’s astrologer.

Posted by: jlw at December 12, 2011 7:17 PM
Comment #332997


He was right. If he got that news from an astrologer, perhaps we should rethink our attitudes.

Posted by: C&J at December 12, 2011 7:38 PM
Comment #332999

C&J, this one is more than a little different from 79. Size of debt, congressional gridlock, worldwide competition with China sitting on our head, education in the tank, others.

Posted by: Roy Ellis at December 12, 2011 8:02 PM
Comment #333012


I don’t think it is that different. Each generation thinks its problem is the worst. Think of how the world looked in 1939. There was never a worse time to be looking ahead. Yet we did made it and came out ahead.

There is a lot of work to do. But I am realistic in thinking that we can do it. The people who want to just call things bad and look to blame others or the past are the ones who are the ones to criticize.

Posted by: C&J at December 13, 2011 4:39 AM
Comment #333023

A few points.

1) Predicted, but predicted how? That the Soviet Union might fall was a possibility that many believed in, liberal as well as conservative. You might step back for a moment, and realize that the people who failed to predict the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc were employees of the Reagan and Bush Administrations that you’re claiming to be so prescient.

Additionally, the specificity of the claim is important. After 9/11, anybody who claimed we would get Bin Laden would have been proved correct during this last year. However, who would have thought that it would have almost been a decade later, under a Democratic President like Obama, and that he would be found only a few hundred yards away from a Pakistani Military academy?

The specifics are important. vague predictions are hard to prove or disprove, easy to be vindicated on. The Soviet Union falls is a vague prediction. Who would have thought that it would be diplomacy, not a war of some kind that would have ended it? Certainly not the folks who called the people making the prediction of the Soviet’s decline and fall a dangerous fiction.

That is, your Neocons, your people who had Reagan and other Republicans warning about a resurgent Russia. The real factors behind the decline of the Soviets, including their overreliance on defense industries for their economic productivity were scoffed at by the folks who fearmongered about the Evil Empire.

It ended up being diplomacy, carried out on multiple fronts, and the encouragement of a reformer in the Communist ranks that lead to the change. The incredible disaster of Chernobyl, an inherently difficult to predict event, also made a difference.

2) As far as prediction goes, your side has had it’s share of dangerously off-base predictions. Such as:

a) a failure to predict 9/11, or anticipate the foreign policy problem of international terrorism.

b) a failure to properly quantify the threat Iraq actually posed.

c) the failure to anticipate the possibility of an insurgency arising, and then a failure to anticipate that it would spread as it did.

d) a failure to anticipate that this would eventually lead to sectarian warefare.

You can add that to their doomsaying on Libya and Qaddafi, their failure to get their eye on the ball concerning Bin Laden, and their failure to bully the international community into doing what we wanted.

The Republicans need to stop breaking their arms patting themselves on the back about the fall of communism. That was twenty years ago, when I was just a child. Since then, the Republicans have made more mistakes on foreign policy than triumphs, and have even repudiated the techniques and attitudes of those who did contribute to their success.

The GOP isn’t the party it was. It’s gone considerably downhill since then.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at December 13, 2011 12:52 PM
Comment #333034


I said NOBODY predicted it. I didn’t say only liberals didn’t predict it. I only pointed out that when anybody would talk about the fall of the Soviet Empire around liberals, they would treat it as a kind of climate denier is treated today.

We can talk about why the Evil Empire fell. Lots of people were involved. Without Reagan, Thatcher and the Pope, however, it would have survived. Also necessary but not sufficient were Gorbachev and the brave people of Poland.

But my point was NOT that people should have predicted it. Gorbachev did NOT intend to destroy Soviet power. The point is that changes sneak up on us and experts often miss the really big events.

Most predictions - especially about the future - are wrong. That is why we need a flexible, decentralized, and robust system to deal with the uncertainty and complexity.

Posted by: C&J at December 13, 2011 5:15 PM
Post a comment