Tuesday, July 21, 2009

New at Gyre.org (Data Analysis, Brain Hacking, Ocean Energy)

Amid the recent barrage of articles on missile defense and cyber-warfare, Gyre.org has also presented three pieces of special interest in the last few weeks:

* A piece from the Federation of American Scientists on the JASON Advisory Panel's December 2008 report "Data Analysis Challenges" (accessible here in PDF form), which discusses the challenges posed by the growing amount of data captured by state-of-the-art sensors for data storage, analysis and fusion. (Incidentally, the report's conclusion is that the problem is large, but not unmanageable.)

* Wired on the prospect of "brain hacking" via neural devices, citing an article in the July 2009 edition of the journal Neurosurgical Focus. (The original piece-Tamara Denning, Yoky Matsuoka and Tadayoshi Kohno's "Neurosecurity: Security and Privacy for Neural Devices," which also struck me as quite accessible to non-experts in the field-can be freely read-in both full text and PDF forms-off the journal's web site.)

* New Scientist on some recent work in the area of harnessing ocean energy, an approach less developed and less often discussed than wind turbines or photovoltaic solar, but definitely worthy of some attention.

The Next 100 Years: Another View
Space Review: Apollo Anniversary Issue
The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century, by George Friedman
The Real Unemployment Rate-And What It Means
IEA on Oil and Gas

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Next 100 Years: Another View

George Friedman offered his image of The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century (reviewed here).

Now I'll offer mine.

As I explained before, it is better to think in terms of a spectrum of possibility (inside of which some outcomes are more probable than others); to recognize patterns of diminishing returns, the irrationality of vested interests and simple friction impeding particular lines of development; and make clear the qualifiers up front; than insist on a single, overdetailed scenario. It was with this in mind that I prepared the following.

The Great Powers
My guess in regard to how the big powers will stack up against each other, as discussed in my review of the book, is a weaker U.S. than Friedman predicts (due to the hollowing out of its economy), and a more robust Western Europe (given its relatively strong economic foundations, and the failure of the usual metrics to fully capture its performance, as well as a tendency to exaggerate its demographic issues), while huge question marks hang over China (and India).1

Rather than dynamic contenders battling it out for supremacy, I expect we will see a more defensive game, brought on in part by ecological challenges (particularly climate change and energy shortages), as well as the continuation of the post-1973 stagnation of the world economy (even if we happen to crawl out of our current hole) I have described many a time earlier, as well as the increasing vulnerability of advanced societies to disruption.2

On the whole, I expect that Germany/Western Europe and Japan will adapt more effectively than the other players, but Europe's disunity, and Germany and Japan's relative smallness, will constrain their exploitation of any such advantages relative to bigger actors like the U.S. and China. As a result, while there will be regionally dominant actors, global dominance of the kind exercised by the U.S. in the 20th century, or Britain in the 19th, will prove elusive, and dramatic challenges like those posed by Wilhelmine and Nazi Germany, and the Soviet Union, will accordingly lack an analog.

Instead, there will be muddle as they all do their best to hold on to what they have.

War in the 21st Century
As one might expect, the domestic, intrastate and interstate conflicts among poorer and weaker states will be the principal sources of political violence in the decades to come. Despite the human toll that violence will take, it will only arouse more than passing or superficial interest from the "international community" when it touches on a particular political or geopolitical interest of the larger powers (for instance, a threat to some desired resource), though this will likely happen often enough to keep those bigger powers constantly occupied. (Venezuela's Orinoco Belt, for instance, could have a geopolitical significance comparable to the Persian Gulf region if its "extra heavy crude" becomes a viable source of unconventional oil, and unconventional oil assumes an important place in the world's energy portfolio-a big "if," but nonetheless one deserving of mention here.3)

This will raise the risk of great power military conflict, but it is likely to be much lower and less global than in the twentieth century-in part because demographics, slow growth, tight finances and debt will limit what these powers can afford; because of the high cost of long-range, large-scale intervention, all the more important because of the physical distance (often across oceans, or very difficult terrain) of most of the major powers from one another (the Sino-Russian border the principal exception); because of a tendency toward smaller "footprints" in third countries by the larger powers (rather than giant bases on sovereign territory), lowering the stakes in many a situation; and because spending on the requisite conventional military capabilities will compete with rising personnel costs and the cost of the other kinds of operations they are more likely to perform ("Military Operations Other Than War"), which will absorb more resources.4 Additionally, generalized economic stagnation (and the tendency toward short-term thinking reinforced by the economic culture) will encourage cautious, conservative statesmanship, risk-averse and commitment-shy (even if governments find it politically expedient to rattle their sabers and play up the foreign menace for the benefit of domestic consumption).

When states do fight it out, outright territorial grabs will be rare, changes to state borders more likely to occur as a result of fragmentation (which may be assisted from without) than annexation, with action undertaken from behind a facade of action by internal actors (as in the First Congo War in 1996-1997, and the Kargil conflict in 1999), and control later exercised through them (again as with the regional players in the Congo conflict of the late 1990s, or Russian intervention in Georgia in 2008). Additionally, the wars will likely be fought in limited ways, full-blown marches on foreign capitals rare (again, as in the 2008 war in Georgia). The priority the belligerents give to holding down the risk of escalation will be further encouraged by the likelihood of more widely dispersed nuclear capabilities, which will not be so easily countered as enthusiasts of missile defense imagine.5

Accident, blunder or the hijack of foreign policy by fanatics inside of a key power will pose a bigger danger than any "inevitable" collision of essential state interests-and it is not to be taken lightly.

The "Developing" World
Outside the narrow club of relatively affluent countries (the established industrial states), the constraints imposed by the reality of overtaxed resource bases and institutions will be felt more sharply. Due to their poverty, the economic life of these countries will also be more susceptible to the price shocks resource scarcity will bring, with some areas (like sub-Saharan Africa and Bangladesh) especially hard hit by climate change. While the global population boom is waning, many of these states will still see significant population increases, generally those least capable of handling them (like Nigeria and Pakistan).

Given the larger political and economic framework, and the real but relatively low level of great power discord, the chances that such countries get to play big powers off against each other or seek patrons as a way to secure aid or widen their room for maneuver in resolving their problems (the way, for instance, that many East Asian countries were able to pursue heterodox economic policies to successfully develop their economies inside the context of the Cold War) or pursuing other agendas will be limited. Despite this, these regions may be the most likely scene of ideological challenges to the global status quo, though these places are also the least likely scenes of a successful challenge, given their relative vulnerability, and their distance from the core of the world-system (to use the language of dependency theory). These challenges may most frequently be rooted in ethnic or religious movements (and Islamic fundamentalism is not the only conceivable one), but as the situation in Latin America has demonstrated, a revival of socialism is also not as implausible as the proponents of the "end of history" school of thought would have us believe.

It is conceivable that falling birth rates and modest development will take some of the pressure off many of these states, but any gains coming from that direction might be overwhelmed by the worsening of other problems (like resource depletion), and few undeveloped states will succeed in joining the club of industrial heavyweights. (Eastern Europe, for instance, will likely remain the periphery to the West European core, while Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa and Asia's southern littoral generally remain in the "Third World.")

Trouble From The Bottom Up
In any case, the troubles occuring in the less-developed states (which great powers may find it steadily harder to control, or to insulate themselves against barring really extreme measures) could get serious enough to upset the games of high politics-not only in the form of conflicts that threaten to draw in great powers on opposite sides, but refugee flows, the havens they provide for criminality and the like. Indeed, the sorts of internal troubles typically associated with developing nations might be seen inside the developed ones, especially if living standards fall, government services fail, and poverty increases; and particularly if societies fragment sharply along sub-national lines. (The troubles in Greece in December 2008 could be just the beginning.)

Straddling the line between the two groups are states like the "BRIC" countries (Brazil, Russia, China and India), large, populous and playing significant roles in the global economy and international affairs, but also relatively poor, and subject to especially severe internal stresses. Potential superpowers, they are also potential scenes of global disruption (though in the event of fragmentation, pieces of them may still be capable of playing global roles, like a bloc comprised of the relatively prosperous southeast provinces of China, perhaps with Shanghai for a capital). This also applies to Mexico, particularly because of its proximity to the U.S., just as India will be vulnerable to a crisis in poor, populous and low-lying Bangladesh, perhaps triggered by rising sea levels. (Other particularly worrisome collapse risks: Nigeria, South Africa, Indonesia, Pakistan, North Korea-the latter two because of their combination of nuclear capability and proximity to one or more major powers.)

That said, much will depend on the speed with which the problems defining the century develop, the severity they attain, their interaction with other factors that may be hard to predict by their very nature (like particular political crises or disease outbreaks), as well as the technical state-of-the-art at the moment, and the quality of decisionmaking by elites. Nonetheless, a "hard crash" (think Martin Rees, think Peter Ward) is a very real possibility.

Wild Cards
Of course, "wild cards" could change fundamental aspects of the framework laid out above. The range of these is nearly endless, from the emergence of some super-virus to a massive natural disaster, like an asteroid strike or the eruption of a supervolcano. Still, two are particularly deserving of attention.

The first is technological, and while this includes the possibility of a technological disaster, there are more positive possibilities, like an easy "technological fix" to some of the major problems discussed above, as with an idiot-proof mix of carbon capture tech and renewable energy production that moves out of the lab and comes online in the next decade or so.

More radical, there is the possibility of a technological Singularity, the odds and consequences of which I will not even attempt to guess at, though we could see anything and everything come about from the fears expressed by Bill Joy to the utopia imagined by Ray Kurzweil. (Like I said, it's a wild card.)

The second wild card is that we pull off the miracle of "social ingenuity" for which optimists have for so long hoped, and something serious is done about the most pressing economic and ecological problems without the aid of an easy fix of the sort described under the heading of the first wild card. The capital and technology currently exists to blunt and in cases, even reverse, many of the difficulties described-but for the time being, only at a high premium in political will, and through an unprecedented level of international cooperation.

It may be that the exceptional challenges the world faces now will bring forth an exceptional response (to use the vocabulary of Arnold Toynbee), but if I had to bet on one of the two helping to actually bring about a brighter picture, it would be the technological fix. Of course, such a convenient outcome is not something anyone ought to count on, but between this, that and the other thing, we just might make it through the twenty-first century to see a twenty-second.

1. I suspect "labor shortages" (so commonly exaggerated for political reasons) will be less of a problem than it is fashionable to expect, precisely because unemployment/underemployment has steadily worsened in recent decades, and can be expected to go on doing so in the years to come (even if IT and robotics make only slow advances), meaning plenty of slack in labor markets, because of the numerous factors that will constrain the economic expansion that creates jobs, while economic realities will collide with neoliberal reform to keep people working longer (even without any great biotech boons). Indeed, joblessness will be the bigger problem, especially at the global level, and this fact will be reflected in immigration policy, likely to be schizophrenic: open enough but difficult enough to maintain the size of the underclass, while the anti-immigrant bandwagon remains a major political tool.
2. I refer here to my 2004 article in International Security, "Societal Complexity and Diminishing Returns in Security" (available here) in which I argued that the security of advanced societies was declining as they became more complex because of the following three points:
(1) Increasing complexity is producing diminishing marginal returns (in the form of economic growth) and eating into slack (as measured by the piling up of debt, and the more strained, rigid patterns of central government taxation and spending). (I have since extended this argument considerably in another, even more catchily titled piece published on this blog, "A Long-Term Trend Toward the Depletion of Fiscal-Macroeconomic Slack?")
(2) The increasing tendency toward tightly coupled (and scale-free) systems is producing increasing vulnerability, both by presenting more points to attack and creating a susceptibility to greater disruption as a result of such attacks.
(3) The cost of the means for providing an "acceptable" level of security is also rising disproportionately in the face of attacks based on late twentieth century tactics and technologies (a problem highlighted by the challenges of ballistic missile defense).
3. Another area which might acquire a new strategic importance is Russia, which between its declining population and warming weather, could regain something of its old importance as one of the world's granaries.
4. The irrelevance of advanced military technologies in the most common operations major powers actually undertake, such as peacekeeping; the susceptibility of many of these technologies to relatively low-cost countermeasures; and the diminished willingness of the U.S. to lead the way in this area on account of its economic troubles (and the inability of anyone else to fill those shoes) will also diminish the tempo of conventional forces development, qualitatively but also quantitatively (important, as mass will still matter far more than proponents of the Revolution in Military Affairs commonly appreciate).
5. The combination of increased use of Generation-III nuclear technology, and increased insecurity, could easily translate to a larger number of nuclear weapons states, a point I discussed in my Parameters article "The Next Wave of Nuclear Proliferation."

Space Review: Apollo Anniversary Issue

Today is, of course, the 40th anniversary of Neil Armstrong's setting foot on the moon.

Appropriately, four of the six articles in today's edition of the Space Review are devoted to the Apollo mission, namely:

* Alan Stern on "Apollo's greatest achievement."
* Michael Potter on the "real" Apollo hoax.
* Thomas J. Frieling's interview of Charles Murray and Catherine Bly Cox, authors of one of the most acclaimed histories of the project, Apollo: The Race to the Moon (enjoying its own anniversary-the big 2-0-today).
* Jeff Foust's review of three new items commmemorating the subject, including Buzz Aldrin and Ken Abraham's book Magnificent Decision, Decode Interactive's Apollo: The Game (for the IPod) and AOL's new web site, We Choose The Moon.

After that anything else seems anticlimactic, but also worth a look is part two of Dwayne Day's three-part examination of the old Samos recon satellite program (part one appeared two weeks ago, and can be accessed here), and Taylor Dinerman on "The New Politics of Planetary Defense."

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century by George Friedman

New York: Doubleday, 2009, pp. 272.

All too often futurists limit themselves to describing past and present trends and suggesting hat they will (or will not) continue beyond a certain point. They rarely put themselves out there by making specific, concrete, readily testable claims (or even offering a range of possibilities that may or may not approximate what could happen). This is, of course, frequently a matter of honesty and responsibility in the face of the task's intrinsic difficulty, but can frequently leave the reader unsatisfied.

George Friedman cannot be accused of that in his latest book, The Next 100 Years, in which he offers a veritable future history.

Essentially, the "plot" unfolds like this. The U.S. focus on southwest Asia and Islamic fundamentalism fades after Iraq and Afghanistan, the next great challenge coming from Russia instead. Specifically a Russia politically and militarily resurgent on the basis of natural resource exports will collide with the U.S. and its allies in a second, scaled-down Cold War-which Russia (because of its demographic slide and limited power base) will inevitably lose.

China's growth, too, will prove unsustainable, especially in the face of worsening internal stresses.

As a result, both Russia and China will collapse before 2030, leaving most of Eurasia up for grabs by neighboring countries, from Finland to Taiwan. Along with the failure of Europe to become a coherent politico-military entity (and the decline of Atlantic Europe in general) this still leaves the U.S. the world's hyperpower.

Nonetheless, the scenario has the makings of a challenge to U.S. hegemony, with the activity of three powers on the fringes of the collapse zone-Poland, Turkey and Japan-particularly relevant.

Japan is of course a great economic and technological power now (with the means to become a greater military one as well), whereas Friedman expects Poland and Turkey to eventually become that due to heavy U.S. support for these front-line players in the second Cold War.

Friedman foresees Poland as the core of a coalition of East European states, much as some Polish statesmen had hoped for in the interwar period, with influence reaching east into Belarus and Ukraine after Russia's collapse; while Turkey's sphere of influence becomes something like a resurrected Ottoman Empire, covering North Africa and the Middle East to the borders of Iran, Kazakhstan and Algeria (excluding Israel, of course), as well as a large chunk of southern Russia, and even including a Balkan presence in Bosnia and Albania.

The growing power of Turkey and Japan puts a strain on their alliances with the U.S., particularly as Turkey's sphere of influence collides with Poland's in the ex-Soviet space and the Balkans. As a result, Turkey and Japan, in alliance with a Germany that is down but not yet out, confront the U.S. and its allies (not just Poland, but an America-leaning Britain and Iberia, and friendly parties inside China) in a third world war around mid-century.

The U.S. and its allies win this war decisively, with the result that not only is the new Axis chastised, but Japan loses its sphere of influence in East Asia, and Turkey is contained, while an already powerful Poland becomes the dominant power in Europe and in due course, the U.S.'s next worry. (As a result, the U.S. supports Britain in organizing a counterbalancing alliance on Europe's Atlantic seaboard.)

More importantly, the U.S. secures the exclusive right to militarize space, and with it, control of the space-based solar energy production key to meeting the world's energy needs.

The 21st century therefore proves to be another American century, but the U.S. will face a serious test closer to home, from a populous, prosperous and potentially revanchist Mexico to its south, and its own changing demographics, much of the American southwest having become Mexican-American and "an extension of their homeland," setting up a confrontation over dominance of the North American continent, and by extension, the world as well.

The early chunk of the narrative is admittedly plausible-the turn away from the Middle East, the limited confrontation between Russia and the U.S., the problems in China. But the further the book goes into the future, the less persuasive it becomes. This is only natural enough in even the best-considered such effort, but I would also argue that Friedman's analysis is deeply flawed in many ways.

To his credit, Friedman appreciates:

* That the war against al-Qaida will not be the sole concern of U.S. foreign policy in the twenty-first century (and indeed, may be eclipsed by other matters fairly quickly).
* The limits of Russian "hard" power for all the talk of Russian resurgence (something I have also written about).
* That the rise of China is a more complex and less certain matter than generally appreciated (ditto, in my Survival Forum article last year).
* The limits of European integration, particularly in the politico-military sphere.
* The speed with which alliances turn to enmities, and in particular the historical tendency of the U.S. to back one actor, then find itself confronting it militarily a short time later (as with Saddam Hussein's Iraq).
* The reality, and some of the significance, of the demographic turnabout in the direction of a declining world population by mid-century, including the cultural changes underpinning it, which simply reflect the shift from an agrarian to an urban-industrial world.

Still, he leaves out a number of important factors, in many cases not even deigning to discuss them, including:

* The effects of climate change, or for that matter, environmental challenges of any sort.
* The likelihood of a scarcity of energy in the near term. Instead he defers serious shortages of hydrocarbons to the latter part of the twenty-first century. (His response to the question of U.S. dependence on energy imports specifically is a reply that the U.S. also happens to produce a great deal of oil and natural gas, something of a non sequitir.)
* The impact of deindustrialization, overfinancialization and unsustainable trade imbalances on the long-term power and prosperity of the U.S..
* The role of India, which is almost a non-entity in the story (save in its helping tear Tibet away from a crumbling China).
* Events in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa, not only as places where major players might emerge, but also as junior partners for the bigger players, and even as pawns or flash points in the game.
* The fact that China is so large, and portions of it already so affluent, that even pieces of a fragmented China (for instance, a bloc formed around the provinces of the southeastern coastal region, perhaps in confederation with Hong Kong and Taiwan) may by themselves have the weight of great powers; or the damage a Chinese collapse is likely to do to other parts of the world economy.
* The impact of sub-state actors, which are dismissed wholesale.

He trivializes a number of others, like

* The significance of nuclear weapons, and in particular the constraints they place on great power war. (Of course, in an earlier book Friedman classed World War II as a "limited" conflict.)
* The potential impacts of new technologies, like robotics and genetic engineering, which many observers would characterize as laughably conservative.
* The effect of internal politics on state conduct.

He is also too eager to embrace a number of claims that fail to stand up to serious scrutiny, like:

* The image of an economically and demographically stagnant Western Europe. The truth is that when adjusted for population growth, the expenses of German reunification and higher American expenditures on health care and security (which can be thought of as "bad growth"), Europe's economic performance looks broadly equivalent to the U.S.'s. When European energy efficiency, trade balances and infrastructure are considered, as well as the greater robustness of Western Europe's industrial bases in the face of globalization to date, they actually appear healthier. Additionally, as Friedman himself notes, the rest of the world is not far behind Europe's changing demographic profile.
* The countervailing image of a vigorous and dynamic Eastern Europe. The East European nations are not only less populous and less economically developed than France or Germany, but in the same demographic boat as Western Europe, and while experiencing faster growth in recent years, there are grounds for real doubt as to whether they will attain comparable per capita GDP.
* The view that technological change in the twenty-first century must necessarily redound to the advantage of the U.S. relative to other major powers.
* A complacent optimism regarding the possibilities of economic growth in the twenty-first century (and especially the economic development of many of his key players), and along with it, the possibility of a backlash against capitalism.

In contrast with much recent politico-military futurism, Friedman avoids the Wall Street utopianism of Thomas Barnett, and the Kiplingesque zeal for imperialism of the neoconservatives. Still, for an author insistent on the pragmatism of his views, his thinking seems thoroughly dominated by a good many vulnerable theories:

* A state-centric, billiard ball model of international relations in which only the great powers count for very much, definitions of the national interest are unchanging, and nuclear weapons do not rule out great power-on-great power war as a viable political option.
* The salience of the geopolitical tradition in which both Halford Mackinder and Alfred Mahan are prominent.
* A "conservative" view that there is a "constancy in the human condition" that is only a slogan when not backed up by some serious thought about what precisely is being referred to as "constant" (as is the case here).
* A neoliberal approach to economics, which (at least in my view) is overoptimistic about the prospects for development inside the context he describes (which is to say, even without taking into account all the other obstacles he overlooks).
* An acceptance of the most extravagant claims made for the Revolution in Military Affairs (and for U.S. investment in it), particularly the combination of precision-guided munitions, Starship Troopers-style armored infantry and space-based command and weapons systems ("battlestars") as the defining factors in the conduct of future warfare (the focus of his 1996 The Future of War, which discusses these ideas in much greater detail and at much greater length), and the idea that by wielding these the U.S. will enjoy unquestioned military superiority over any and all potential challengers.

It should also be noted that he follows these ideas out to their logical conclusions, with few of the caveats and qualifications that would seem to be called for in a survey covering a hundred years of human history. Hence the exclusive focus on the balance among the great powers in Eurasia, the dismissal of both the ecological concerns and the important weaknesses of the U.S. economy referred to above, the embrace of an Old Europe/New Europe rhetoric that has more to do with the distaste many American conservatives have for the continent's social model than the facts on the ground, and the expectation that we could survive the conflict he imagines circa 2050.

Pull out these threads, and his conception quickly falls apart-and anyone who has followed this blog for long realizes that I doubt all of those presumptions. Consequently, even without the wild cards, from a technological "Singularity" to the emergence of a brand new ideology, it seems highly unlikely to me that history will follow the track he lays out. (Indeed, I am nearly certain that some of the things he describes-for instance, anything resembling his version of World War III-will not happen, though that side of my response would be better reserved for another blog post, at another time.) Nonetheless, the sheer ambition and breadth of the conception makes for interesting, provocative and often entertaining reading, and it is in this way that the book should be approached.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Real Unemployment Rate-And What It Means

The BLS reported on Thursday, July 2, that the official (U-3) rate's 9.5 percent, while the more inclusive U-6 rate hit 16.5 percent. (In each case, the figure is up 0.1 percent from what it was in May.)

This report is apparently "not as bad" as what was expected (a 9.6 percent U-3 rate), even though the number of job losses was higher than forecast: 467,000 workers got pink slips, many more than the figure predicted (over 100,000 more actually, and close to 50 percent more than in May).

This lower-than-expected unemployment rate, despite higher-than-expected job losses, is all the more surprising given that the percentage of the labor force which is suffering long-term (15 weeks+) unemployment (the U-1 category) saw a big jump-from 4.5 percent in May to 5.1 percent in June (a full 0.6 percent).

At least part of the explanation would seem to lie in the shrinkage of the work force. While some economists last month were quick to point to the labor force's expansion as a factor in the high unemployment rate (it rose by over a million between January and May, which as I noted last month could be read as a sign of distress) the number dipped by over 150,000 from May to June (about 0.1 percent of the work force) as people drop out of the game, an issue rarely acknowledged in the press (Liz Wolgemuth of U.S. News & World Report, whom I also cited in my discussion of this issue last month, being the one exception I've come across).

In any case, simply counting up the number of unemployed understates the problem, because those who do have jobs are still seeing their hours drop. The average work week is now down to "33 hours . . . the lowest level on record," which combined with weak earnings growth (hourly earnings were flat), means falling income (even prior to adjustment for inflation).

As to the longer term picture: this recession has effectively erased the growth in employment of the last business cycle in its entirety, so that as far as the number of jobs available countrywide goes, we're back where we were in 2000, when the country's population was about 10 percent smaller. (And it is well worth noting that manufacturing has been especially hard hit, again accounting disproportionately for the lost jobs-136,000 of them, or almost 30 percent-speeding us further and faster along the road to deindustrialization.)

Of course, there is still plenty of optimism among the talking heads, still promising a turnaround in the "second half of the year" (which we have just entered). One reason is that announcements of layoffs to come seem to have fallen to their lowest levels in 15 months.

Still, the general expectation is that unemployment will hit 10 percent later this year, and just as the talk of "growth" has meant increasingly less to those who actually have to work for money, so will "recovery" (likely to take years where job creation is concerned, in even the optimitsic forecasts-even some mainstream ones being much worse) mean little as this "indicator" (if you actually need a job to live, it's far more than that to you) continues to lag.

IEA on Oil and Gas
Economic Update (OECD, Joshua Holland, Tim Hanson)
Global Finance Development 2009
More On The Economic Crisis (Eichengreen and O'Rourke on Industrial Output, Wolf on Eichengreen and O'Rourke, Austerity?)

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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

IEA on Oil and Gas

In the news recently: the International Energy Agency on fossil fuel supply and demand.

According to the press release regarding the launch of its two new publications, Medium-Term Oil Market Report 2009 and the Natural Gas Report 2009, the IEA forecasts lower growth in oil demand between now and 2014, perhaps to the tune of 3 million barrels a day less. Still, those certain that this means the end of all those pesky "peak oil" worries should not get too excited yet, because as they note themselves "It may be too early to cite a definitive structural downshift in oil use." Additionally, even if they see hints it will occur in GM and Chrysler filing for bankruptcy and "further rationalisation affecting transport and power generation fuel use," growth demand in Asia and the Middle East will eclipse cutbacks in the developed (OECD) states by 2014.

More ominously, they see less supply growth happening-just 4 million barrels a day by 2014, almost 30 percent less than they guessed in December, and note that "Supply could be lower still were upstream spending curbs to extend beyond 2009." Additionally, that 4 million barrels counts in biofuel growth (they see it doubling from 1.5 to 3 million barrels a day between 2008 and 2014), and from OPEC-rather than the non-OPEC countries to which those pinning geopolitical hopes on a "diversification of oil sources" so often look. Still, the release takes the position that the tightness will be due not to resource scarcity, but "above-ground" obstacles to exploitation.

The gas situation is unprecedented in at least one way: the IEA is predicting the first drop in natural gas demand in fifty years during 2009.

Additionally, given the impact of economic uncertainty on the infrastructure/investment side of the market, notes "a risk in the medium term of tightening markets when demand recovers."

July 2009

New at Gyre.org (Data Analysis, Brain Hacking, Ocean Energy)
The Next 100 Years: Another View
Space Review: Apollo Anniversary Issue
The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century, by George Friedman
The Real Unemployment Rate-And What It Means
IEA on Oil and Gas

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