Anedota Aquilina

Amonde estreluçava Meloquim quando na guela dos beantos zarpeava em agadel a verrusão: zapatia nos loucados sua bande abolegada, e já nem rulas de lourel o dondoíam nos abigos. Chape-chapenado, ia sem-senão.

Era zapego, Meloquim. Mas aparido ao porticão de sua fronca (porque de vize lhe runcavam os ingóis do seminel), não mentava ser abém de missalinhos numa corfa de lambrenos. Por isso, abindoava as avelenas, as pisternas, os linhéus, e de fós agandulava pulamente, pernicoço, no trelim da sua lorna. Todamente fardilhavam os minocos de landim, mas ninguém se bandolia nos rentalhos.

Ninguém, até o dia em que Zincário, que de froque arrançoara de Setúbal, se lanteve nos gambés e lhe reliu: «Ó Meloquim, avantiaste o relanzil da tua choba no bancão da lefarina?»

Meloquim rechubiou, esbalontado. Nem reliu. Por tinecos, inda fimpou numa troaba os arrabantes, pesarino, mas o adonso já pengava nos tribóides, com relocos de tardiva (de tardiva!) no chimpão. E nunca mais a guela do bengano Meloquim se recedeu por baladais de verrusão. Rolo era.


Some people would argue that 2016 was the year that the world economy started to come apart, with the passage of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. Whether or not the “coming apart” process started in 2016, in my opinion we are going to see many more steps in this direction in 2017. Let me explain a few of the things I see.

[1] Many economies have collapsed in the past. The world economy is very close to the turning point where collapse starts in earnest.  

Figure 1

The history of previous civilizations rising and eventually collapsing is well documented.(See, for example, Secular Cycles.)

To start a new cycle, a group of people would find a new way of doing things that allowed more food and energy production (for instance, they might add irrigation, or cut down trees for more land for agriculture). For a while, the economy would expand, but eventually a mismatch would arise between resources and population. Either resources would fall too low (perhaps because of erosion or salt deposits in the soil), or population would rise too high relative to resources, or both.

Even as resources per capita began falling, economies would continue to have overhead expenses, such as the need to pay high-level officials and to fund armies. These overhead costs could not easily be reduced, and might, in fact, grow as the government attempted to work around problems. Collapse occurred because, as resources per capita fell (for example, farms shrank in size), the earnings of workers tended to fall. At the same time, the need for taxes to cover what I am calling overhead expenses tended to grow. Tax rates became too high for workers to earn an adequate living, net of taxes. In some cases, workers succumbed to epidemics because of poor diets. Or governments would collapse, from lack of adequate tax revenue to support them.

Our current economy seems to be following a similar pattern. We first used fossil fuels to allow the population to expand, starting about 1800. Things went fairly well until the 1970s, when oil prices started to spike. Several workarounds (globalization, lower interest rates, and more use of debt) allowed the economy to continue to grow. The period since 1970 might be considered a period of “stagflation.” Now the world economy is growing especially slowly. At the same time, we find ourselves with “overhead” that continues to grow (for example, payments to retirees, and repayment of debt with interest). The pattern of past civilizations suggests that our civilization could also collapse.

Historically, economies have taken many years to collapse; I show a range of 20 to 50 years in Figure 1. We really don’t know if collapse would take that long now. Today, we are dependent on an international financial system, an international trade system, electricity, and the availability of oil to make our vehicles operate. It would seem as if this time collapse could come much more quickly.

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Our economy is a mystery to almost everyone, including economists. Let me explain the way I see the situation:

(1) The big thing that pulls the economy forward is the time-shifting nature of debt and debt-like instruments.

If we want any kind of specialization, we need some sort of long-term obligation that will make that specialization worthwhile. If one hunter-gatherer specializes in finding flints that will start fires, that hunter-gatherer needs some sort of guarantee that others, who are finding food, will share some of their food with him, so that the group, as a whole, can prosper. Others, who specialize in gathering firewood, or in childcare, also need some kind of guarantee that their efforts will be rewarded.

At first, these obligations were enforced by social norms such as, “If you don’t follow the rules of the group, we will throw you out.” Gradually, reciprocal obligations became more formalized, and included more time shifting, “If you will work for me, I will pay you at the end of the month.” Or, “If you will pay my transportation costs to a land of more opportunity, I will repay you with 10% of my wages for the first five years.” Or, “I will sell you this piece of land, if you will pay me x amount per month for y years.”

In some cases, the loan (or loan-like agreements) takes the form of stock ownership of an enterprise. In this case, the promise is for future dividends, and the possibility of growth in the value of the stock, in return for the use of funds. Even though we generally refer to one type of loan-like agreement as “equity ownership” and the other as “debt,” they have a great deal of similarity. Funds are being provided to the enterprise, with the expectation of greater return in the future.

As another example, governments make promises for future benefits, such as Social Security, healthcare, and payments to the unemployed. These payments are not guaranteed, so are not considered debt. Even without a guarantee, they act in many ways like debt. Citizens plan their lives around these payments, even though they may be reduced or eliminated.

Surprisingly, even “cash” is debt. It is similar to a bond that pays zero interest and has no redemption date; this type of bond can also be easily transferred from person to person. Since cash can be hidden under mattresses, it too can be used as a device for time-shifting.

(2) The big thing that goes wrong in this time-shifting approach to operating the economy is the loss of what I would call an “opportunity gradient.”

As long as the future looks better than the past, it makes sense to make these debt-like obligations. But as soon as the future looks worse than in the present, the whole model falls apart. Even if the future looks exactly the same as the present, there is a problem, because taking on these long-term obligations has some overhead costs, such as administrative costs and a margin to cover the possibility of defaults on loans. These overhead costs need to be paid in some way. Because of this, there needs to be enough of an upward gradient to cover the necessary costs of the loans or the loan-like agreements. (This is part of what makes a Steady State Economy, advocated by many, an absurd idea.)

Once the opportunity gradient becomes negative, it becomes very difficult to get anyone to borrow money and to use the resulting debt to lead the economy forward. When the opportunity gradient becomes negative, young people are less inclined to get married, and tend to have fewer children. International organizations of countries (such as the European Union) have a harder time staying connected. The whole model of cooperation working better than “every country for itself” starts falling apart.

Just as human bodies often go downhill before dying, an economy that finds itself on a downward slope may very well be near collapse.

(3) The loss of an opportunity gradient comes from diminishing returns in many areas, including:

  • Rising energy extraction costs
  • Rising costs of mitigating pollution, as increasing resources are extracted and used; these pollution mitigation costs are really part of total extraction costs
  • Reduced quantity of arable land per person
  • Reduced fresh water per person, without high-cost treatment such as desalination
  • Fewer investment opportunities that allow for true growth, such as providing tractors to farmers who previously used draft animals, or adding a new road that permits fast transit across a country for the first time
  • Many more required “investments” that are simply for the purpose of offsetting deterioration in previously built infrastructure

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3 x Pop Dell’ Arte





Não tenho, para ser sincero,
muita simpatia por aquele rapaz
de óculos escuros que roubava livros
em Santarém. Rapou o cabelo,
decorou páginas inteiras de Genet,
sem que nada percebesse do amor.

E, no entanto, é ele que me pede agora
contas da vida que não vivi — esse
náufrago de espelhos abolidos e
de noites sem saída. Esse rosto imberbe
que finjo reconhecer ao longe.

Talvez lhe pudesse simplesmente
dizer: ao menos não engordei,
cretino, e escrevi mais poemas
do que tu alguma vez sonhaste.

Mas ele riposta, implacável:
não te voltarão a chamar rapaz.
Deves-me todos os poemas que escreveste.

(Manuel de Freitas)





Baixo, guitarra, furor, bateria: o habitual

da insurreição juvenil, retiro de ofendidos

ou coisa que o valha, por todo um meio Inverno

de rotos acordes. Dizer que foi um sonho

é já efabular, se até os instrumentos eram

emprestados, os gritos de empestado, a pose,

o cuspo dos pês no microfone suburbano.


Não, não era isso. Não era sequer a música:

apenas a suspeita de nenhum futuro, como

berravam os piores cantores; o desconsolo

do real, tão alheio à fantasia do possível.

Quando tudo nos chamava pelo nome e

ninguém desconhecia que devíamos à morte

uma conta calada, um balúrdio de espuma.

E assim a juventude, em nosso peito,

retumbava uma batida detestável.


Foram cinco, seis semanas de frustradas

tentativas, todas muito de partir o comboiinho

do sentido. Pelo tropel de decibéis desnorteados

percebemos que corríamos a monte, sem

feitio nem agrado. Não era por ali. Paciência,

concluímos, cada um para seu lado: o das vozes

para os livros, o baixista para as mágoas,

o guitar  para a mentira, o baterista para a morte.


(José Miguel Silva)

In Walkmen, & etc, 2007



3 x Butthole Surfers

3 x Minimal Compact

2 x Pavlov’s Dog

4 x The Clash


4 x Dead Kennedys