By Paul B. Farrell, MarketWatch
SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. (MarketWatch) — The American Dream? Now a Global Nightmare? A ticking time bomb, a lethal virus spreading worldwide, could destroy the entire world, backfire, take down America and capitalism? Yes.
But, first, a little history: Five years ago Bill Gates and his Billionaires Club asked that question. But gave up. Here’s why.
Gates’ billionaires essentially asked: What do you think is the single, biggest ticking time bomb that will eventually take down global economies? The absolutely biggest one with a trigger mechanism that can ignite, set off a nuclear chain reaction that will throw a permanent wrench in global economic growth, ending capitalism, potentially destroying modern civilization as we know it.
Yes, that one. The one that — if not solved soon — renders all efforts to solve all other problems in the world irrelevant, futile and virtually impossible ever to solve. Yes, that one. What is the “big one?” Several alternative predictions have also been reported:
* Global wars? Pentagon warns warfare will define human life by 2020.
* Big Oil? Bill McKibben’s “End of Nature” prediction could ignite soon.
* Capitalism? Many progressives see capitalism destroying democracy.
* Inequality? Pope says inequality is the root of all social problems.
* Climate warming? 2,000 UN scientists warn humans are killing Earth.
* Technology? Robert Gordon says we can’t stop GDP falling to 1%.
Biggest risk? Guess again: Not warfare … not the inequality… not energy resource depletion … not global warming … not out-of-control capitalists … yes, all are important, all part of the domino effect, the chain reaction as the global clock winds down to zero.
Yes, five years ago the one-percenters thought they knew. Bill Gates and his Billionaires Club were certain, unanimous. Gates had brought together billionaire philanthropists in a supersecret meeting in Manhattan about the time the market last bottomed. Included: Buffett, Rockefeller, Soros, Bloomberg, Turner, Oprah and others. The London Times Online reported that during the afternoon session each spoke about their favorite charities.
Then, the big question: What was the underlying, core problem driving all their interests? The world’s biggest time-bomb?
Overpopulation said the billionaires. Too many people on Planet Earth.
True, the United Nations predicts that by 2050 global population will explode by as much as 40%, from more than 7 billion today to 10 billion. Overcrowding. Demanding. But as Scientific American repeatedly warns in special issues, population is “the most overlooked and essential strategy for achieving long-term balance with the environment.” The “third-rail” for politicians, ignored by the world’s political leaders.
Three delusions: the American Dream mutates into Global Nightmare
But there’s an even bigger problem that will peak and backfire as the American Dream goes viral. For a couple generations, spread by the economics of globalization, the American Dream has been exported, spreading the capitalism virus worldwide, accelerating global GDP growth, infecting every nation and individual with their own mind-set imbedded in the promise of the “perpetual prosperity” inherent in the American Dream.
The effect? Today capitalism, globalization, the new Global Dream, the virus is rapidly spreading, mesmerizing the brains of everyone … mass-producing new billionaires … global lists on Forbes, Bloomberg and CNBC report an explosion from 322 billionaires in 2000 to 1,847 in 2014… China now has 358 billionaires … Africa has 29, adding nine last year … today, 85 of the world’s richest billionaires make more that the 3.5 billion in the bottom half … Credit Suisse predicts 11 trillionaire families in the world by 2100.
But three self-destructive delusions dominate today’s billionaires:
1. Delusion 1: Perpetual economic growth on planet of limited resources
The Super Rich are trapped a classic delusion now ingrained in the collective unconscious of the world. They have ingested a self-destructive gene. They believe the same capitalism ideology that made them superrich will continue indefinitely, that economic growth is perpetual, even on a planet of clearly limited resources. This delusion is rampant in Exxon Mobil and the energy industries as they race ahead with an unsustainable business model that’s rapidly depleting nonreplaceable natural resources.
2. Delusion 2: New technologies will replace disappearing resources
The club of billionaires believes technology will overcome the limitations of resources and thus fuel the perpetual economic growth essential to create more and more billionaires, that some of this eternal prosperity will also trickle down to the world’s poorest 3.5 billion people. Economist Robert Gordon refutes that assumption in his rhetorical National Business Research Institute piece “Is U.S. Economic Growth Over?” Silicon Valley technology will never overcome all the headwinds reflected by today’s raging self-destructive political, economic and religious conflicts.
3. Delusion 3: Mutant Capitalists do not need to share the future
The new billionaires in America and worldwide have forgotten that the same capitalism that fueled the American Dream since 1776, that created the democracy supporting their accumulated billions, was a legacy that, in the past, also meant hope for the masses of Americans and all nations, that everyone, no matter how poor, had equal opportunities.
Unfortunately, as Jack Bogle warns, while spreading the American Dream we’re also a spreading a new Mutant Capitalism, a virus infecting superrich billionaires: Further widening the inequality gap, stifling opportunities for most Americans and people worldwide, hoarding the power, wealth and opportunities for those already in the top one percent, already listed among global billionaires.
Billions are in denial of their self-destructive delusions: “One of the disturbing facts of history is that so many civilizations collapse,” warns Jared Diamond, an evolutionary biologist, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed.” Many “civilizations share a sharp curve of decline. Indeed, a society’s demise may begin only a decade or two after it reaches its peak population, wealth and power.”
Harvard financial historian Niall Ferguson, author of “Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire,” was more dramatic, hard-hitting, immediate: The world will be caught by surprise, unprepared. The coming collapse will “accelerate suddenly, like a sports car … like a thief in the night.” Crashing. Shocking us wide awake.
Paradox of Prosperity: the Global Dream will also peak, collapse
Today we’re all being misled by these three delusions. As Diamond warns: “There are ‘optimists’ who argue that the world could support double its human population.” But he adds, they “consider only the increase in human numbers and not average increase in per-capita impact. But I have not heard anyone who seriously argues that the world could support 12 times it’s current impact.” But that’s exactly what happens with “all Third World inhabitants adopting First World standards.”
Every nation in the world has its own version of the American Dream, the new Global Dream. Everyone wants prosperity, success, opportunity. More is never enough, either individually or nationally. Not just 310 million Americans, but 7.3 billion people worldwide are demanding more, more … on a finite planet with dwindling natural resources, as economist Michael Klare warns in his book “The Race for What’s Left: The Global Scramble for World’s Last Resources.”
Bottom line: As the world population explodes 40% in the next generation, “what really counts,” says Diamond, “is not the number of people alone, but their impact on the environment, the per-capita impact.” First World citizens “consume 32 times more resources such as fossil fuels, and put out 32 times more waste, than do the inhabitants of the Third World.” \
And it’s delusional to think this trend will disappear. It will get worse because billionaires are in massive denial about their delusions … the self-destructive Global Dream will continue … until a catastrophic black swan shocks us awake.