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Complex Systems, Dysfunctional Industries, and Catastrophic Collapse

by John Rubino on January 8, 2012 · 41 comments

Over the holidays we tempted fate by booking a multi-stage plane trip … and ended up with cancelled flights, missed connections, and blank-faced airline employees who sincerely didn’t care if we spent a night or a week on the terminal floor.

While I wallowed in self pity over this loss of control, my wife noted that it’s not just the airlines. Big Food, Big Pharma, and the big banks, among others, are all just as customer-unfriendly. This distracted me from my rage and I spent some time thinking about how strange it is that in a time when Apple is creating Star Trek-level gadgets that streamline and simplify their users’ lives, and Amazon is making shopping almost supernaturally easy, there are huge industries that seem to go out of their way to make their customers’ lives complicated and hard.

Why do they do this when it makes so many people so mad? A pharmaceutical company CEO, for instance, probably can’t leave the house without someone accusing him of doubling the price of a crucial prescription drug while spending millions marketing erectile dysfunction pills to TV football viewers. An industrial food company exec can’t attend a cocktail party without being cornered by someone who reads labels and is appalled by trans fat, high fructose corn syrup-laden “food”. Goldman Sachs execs must cringe every time they pass a newsstand where the latest Rolling Stone is calling their company a “vampire squid”.

And airline employees, of course, must be abused non-stop by people like me who have had their vacations turned into exercises in enforced patience and asymmetrical negotiation. South Park caught the general mood perfectly with this (warning: very rude) episode:

Anyhow, on a different vacation this line of thought might have been nothing more than a way to occupy a pissed-off mind for an hour or so. But this time I had James Rickards’ new book Currency Wars on my Kindle (a device from customer-friendly Amazon that makes my life simpler and easier), and while waiting for a flight I came across this:

The third principal is that complex systems run on exponentially greater amounts of energy. This energy can take many forms, but the point is that when you increase the system scale by a factor of ten, you increase the energy requirements by a factor of a thousand, and so on. The fourth principal is that complex systems are prone to catastrophic collapse. The third and fourth principals are related. When the system reaches a certain scale, the energy inputs dry up because the exponential relationship between scale and inputs exhausts the available resources. In a nutshell, complex systems arise spontaneously, behave unpredictably, exhaust resources and collapse catastrophically.

That’s a pretty good framework for understanding these huge, complex, mostly dysfunctional industries. They’ve spent decades consolidating and concentrating and now have to generate sales on pretty much any terms, no matter how questionable, in order to avoid death by complexity. The customer takes a back seat to the desperate institutional need to survive and the product gets crappier and crappier until the production/delivery system breaks down.

The same dynamic is at work in the global financial system, says Rickards. In the US, a dollar of new debt produced nearly that much in new GDP in the 1960s. But today the return on new debt is negative. From here on, we can borrow as much as we want and the only result will be more debt. Wealth won’t increase at all. But we can’t stop; as with any other Ponzi scheme, the choice is more debt or instant bankruptcy.

This stage is generally followed by catastrophic failure, with the only question being what else the financial system takes down with it. As Rickards puts it:

A considerable challenge arises when one considers the interaction of human behavior and market dynamics. The complexity of human nature sits like a turbocharger on top of the complexity of markets. Human nature, markets and civilization more broadly are all complex systems nested inside one another like so many Russian matryoshka dolls….When you apply this paradigm to finance, you begin to see where the currency wars are headed.

  • Sean

    So how does Apple and Amazon make our life easier, but Big Food, Big Pharma, Big Banks and Big Airlines make it harder? Are the latter inherently more complex and can’t be reduced, or are those involved in the latter moral corrupt?

    • paper is poverty

      I think not all corporations have hit peak complexity yet. But I also think government assistance plays a big role in protecting broken business models. Government subsidizes corn farmers, resulting in the use of high-fructose corn syrup instead of sugar, which makes us fatter. The soy lobby gets its cut too, and thus all the partially hydrogenated soybean oil. They pay statin drug manufacturers even though statins do not reduce overall mortality, and the gov’t spends money to push flu vaccines which, depending on the year, never work as advertised and sometimes do not work at all. Having to lobby for handouts to support your failing model must be the death throes of the overly complex business.

      • http://www.facebook.com/GPSTG Nick

        I would like to invite people interested in Complex Adaptive Systems Theory and applications to Economics to visit the wall of this Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/GPSTG

        There you will find loads of published papers, news articles, and opinion pieces regarding applications of Systems Theory.

        I apologize for replying to this post to get near the top of the comments, but I hope that you will forgive me when you see how much work we have done to get all of that great stuff on the wall there.

  • Goldman

    What will happen to Apple when the masses finally realize that the Android platform or a Windows phone does what their favorite iOS device does for 1/3-1/2 the price. How long will Apple be viewed as morally superior company – a morally superior company that would not be possible without lots of cheap labor from China and less stringent manufacturing environment of China.

    In many aspects of every day life we American demand that we are catered to for our specific needs without appreciating the unintended consequences that result.

    • http://Ronowan.c Frank

      Steve Jobs was obviously a genius, but as someone with liver disease, I can’t help but wonder who that unlucky soul was who was next in line for the liver transplant Jobs bought in secret. Wonder if he’s still alive. Someone down the waiting list line isn’t. That much is certain. Amazon is great and easy to use, I do myself often. But think of the “friendly” local stores that are hurting or out of business for our convenience.

  • d. baker

    3 words can explain the latters significant handicap. FDA, FAA, and FDIC. There are others of course but these industries are managed by the State.

  • paper is poverty

    I liked this post… I too feel like most big industries are just broken.

    In high school we were taught about economies of scale, and how mechanization and giant factories had been great things. Henry Ford was presented as a genius for coming up with the assembly line. The impression we were left with was that bigger is always more efficient. (Public schooling as we know it was originally a product of the “scientific management” / efficiency / factory mindset, so it’s not surprising.) That there might be an upper limit to this centralized complexity was never even hinted at.

  • Dan B

    John, you should take a look at the book, “The Collapse of Complex Societies” by John Tainter. He lays it all out very scientifically.

  • kopavi

    John quotes Rickards’ book Currency Wars. I’ve read it. It’s a great read, if you haven’t had the pleasure yet, do get a copy. I got the hard copy, refusing to cater to the techno-pleasures offered by some vendors. :-) Either way, it’s a worthy read.
    kopavi

  • W G Thompson

    Doesn’t it all come down to the Law of
    Diminishing Returns? WGT

  • http://www.mindmagic123.com Holistic Hypnosis & Hypnotherapy – Los Angeles

    It has long been apparent to me that the size of the larger public schools and school systems was a detrimental factor. I have often been amazed at the cavalier attitude that airlines have towards their passengers wellbeing. Putting it together with the description of systems as in this post adds a piece to the puzzle. Combined with the ossification of beaurocracies in general. hypnohotshot.

  • http://Ronbowman.com Frank

    I am located in a fairly high probability of survival area. In a sparsely crowded area of NW Florida. I’m making my plans to ride it out here. On the water, good fishing, etc. My wife is Colombian. I love the country. We own a nice high rise apartment there. Sometimes I wire money there as a hedge. The COP peso is strong against the dollar and their economy is on fire. My Spanish sucks so I’m not so sure that would be an ideal spot to ride out the next few years. Anyone have similar ideas, costa rica, panama, for example?

    • http://BrophyWorld.com Mark Brophy

      Imagine living with a responsible government like Hong Kong, in a Mediterranean climate like California. Chile offers a combination of pleasant climate and fewer government burdens than many others. If you’re ready to shed the debt your government has imposed upon you, it is a good destination to consider.
      http://brophyworld.com/move-to-santiago-chile/

    • Matt Parkhouse

      Having tangled with health insurance companies 6 times (THAT’S SIX TIMES!) in a calendar year over erroneously cancelled coverage I can certainly identify with the theme of the article. We won’t even talk about the hospital that almost killed me with botched surgery and then FIRED me (I’m a Registered Nurse) “because I could no longer do the work!

  • Jason Emery

    Jim Rickards will either be dubbed the ‘most brilliant’ or the ‘most asinine’ before 2012 is out. He has really stuck his neck out with his ‘euro to the moon’ call. I’ll give him credit for having big cajones, lol.

    I’m not sure what to make of the complexity angle. Certainly a gold standard is more complex than a primitive barter system, and a fractional reserve system is more complicated that a gold std. But the powers that be have kept this fed system going 99 years, which is quite a long time. John Law only lasted a few years. The average standard of living appears to be rolling over, but that is mainly a function of massive over population of the planet. Total economic output, worldwide, is near the peak, even with this horrible economic environment the last few years.

    Regarding the airlines, their safety record is something like 7 or 8 sigma, with 6 sigma being the gold standard for most other industries. Yeah, they lose your luggage once in a while, and they don’t even feed you any more, but that is not the main point of the service.

    • Steve

      Overpopulation certainly is not the cause of the standard of living appearing to roll over. It has been greed. Everyone wants something for nothing. My mother and economics teachers taught me that there is no such thing as a free lunch. That is exactly what humans want. Italians get paid a 13th month’s worth of wages. All of Europe has at least one month’s worth of holidays, if not more. Americans want everything cheaper. What does that amount to? Greed.

      The complexity of the system is trying to find who is going to make something cheaper. First it was the Americans. Then there was postwar Japan and Germany (Europe), then Brazil, Korea, then starting with Nixon the Chinese could make everything cheaper. That was followed by Latin America, Mexico, Russia, Ukraine, Vietnam, India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. When robots make everything, who will be able to buy anything since no one will be productive any longer? Yes, complexity begets fragility.

      Regarding population growth…that has been a Marxist boogie man since 1848. Read the Communist Manifesto, the Talloires Declaration and the Earth Charter. They all say the same thing…we are overpopulated and must understand the concept of sustainability. We, as humans are the problem according to them.

      So what does the modern world face? Japan and China are at NPG. Bets are already being taken on when the last Japanese will die. China’s one child, one couple policy will create absolute havoc in the immediate future. The Chinese have traditionally held, culturally speaking, that the first born should always be a male. That means that at least 100 million males will be unable to find a spouse due to the lunacy of the central planners. All of Europe is at NPG or ZPG except for the Islamic immigrants. Russia has bumped up their tax deductions to increase their severely reduced population growth (they haven’t even recovered from the losses of WWII, the Stalinist pogroms, and the Soviet gulag losses). African birth rates are through the roof, but war, phoney famines, and raging diseases manage to limit their growth rates to just barely above sustainability. If not for illegal migrants to the USA, our population would be at about 1, maybe 1.66.

      Regrettably the standard of living seems to be in decline because the United States has continuously sought for cheaper products to buy. In an effort to stay one step ahead of the competition company after company has left the American worker for cheaper foreign labor. For many years this strategy paid off as American workers were able to relocate, re-educate, and re-establish themselves. This is no longer the case.

      Unfortunately Americans discovered, like the Athenians of old, that they could obtain goodies from the treasury. I remember the Detroiters (since I live in North Metro Detroit) who when queried about were the government was going to obtain money for the expected handouts several years ago, responded, “From Obama’s ‘stash'”. Obama’s stash comes from only 50% of the population…those people who still pay taxes. Too late will they learn that the trillions in debt racked up from just the budgeted on line items will be impossible to pay back, let alone the un-budgeted, off line items like SSI, Medicare, and Medicaid. Americans are being bled to death one tax at a time…and that will have to be part of the calculus of the fragility of the complex.

      • Jason Emery

        You’re not very good at basic arithmetic, Steve. If the world’s total output of goods and services stays flat for any considerable period of time, and population increases during that time interval, then the average standard of living falls. That is an economic and mathematical law. No political ideology can alter it, in one direction or another, only redistribute it a bit, as you noted. But that doesn’t change the AVERAGE std. of living.

        It can be mitigated, by technology. For example, the world’s total annual production of petroleum liquids has been basically flat since 2005, almost 7 seven years, and worldwide population has increased. But technology has been used to increase fuel efficiency, thus mitigating a portion of the shortfall.

        Also, the free market, to the extent that it is allowed to function, can help. Higher petroleum prices make tar sands and other previously submarginal petroleum deposits economic.

        Apparently you dislike communism as much as I do, but what does that have to do with the max carrying capacity of the planet? The max carrying capacity, at a specific average standard of living (in terms of calories, units of energy, etc.) is a function of technological innovation and establishing sustainable systems. Technology seems to flourish better in our system, but we seem to be just as adept at flushing our topsoil into the ocean as the Ruskies.

        The Chinese initiated their 1-child policy, many years ago, due to their perception that their own country was already vastly overpopulated. Obviously, due to modern ultrasound technology enabling gender specific abortion, they have a mismatched younger population with way more male, marrying age adults. What is your argument? That China would be better off today if they had another 100 million (mostly female) mouths to feed? They can’t feed their present population.

        And have you seen the price of food in the supermarket lately? Add significant, increased demand from China, and it can only get those prices higher.

        Government handouts, like food stamps, breed dependency and are a form of wealth redistribution. What I would propose in the place of the present system, is a requirement that anyone receiving food stamps be concurrently enrolled in a gardening class. This would greatly increase the complexity of the system, but when fiscal sanity eventually returns, and there is no money for food stamps, at least the people will know how to grow their own food. Laziness might be an issue at that point, but I, as someone willing to teach gardening for free, will have a clear conscious.

        • Steve

          Jason, please do not make assumptions about my math skills. I did not call into doubt or question any of your skills or capabilities. That is not what this forum is for. This is not about math, but economics, industry, liberties, and politics. It is about complexity and fragility. I was not looking to rain on your parade, but just to make some observations.

          Additionally you made other assumptions…”If the world’s total output of goods and services stays flat for any considerable period of time, and population increases during that time interval, then the average standard of living falls.” “If” is the start of an assumption, as in an “If/ Then” statement in programming. But I am curious about your “Then” statement. Is it etched in stone that the average standard of living will fall? Will it fall world-wide, or will it occur regionally, or only in a country? Is there a ratio that I can utilize, and what time period are we looking at? Again, I agree that we are discussing, in part economics. I do not claim to be an economist, but having read my piddling little of economics, I do know that there are about as many theories as there are economists, and theories are subject to change. We are also discussing politics, and industrial complexities, fragilities, and human relations.

          Please understand that it was you who commented that, “The average standard of living appears to be rolling over, but that is mainly a function of massive over population of the planet. Total economic output, worldwide, is near the peak, even with this horrible economic environment the last few years.” Using language like “appears”, “mainly”, “near” are not quantifiable. I suppose that had you backed up your observations with facts, that would have been different. I probably would not have even written a reply. You also stated that there is “massive over population of the planet”…yet most of the world is either at NPG or ZPG. I used the Chinese as an example of further reductions in world population. Do you know for certain that the Chinese cannot feed their own? I find that 100 million or more people looking for spouses would turn against their government, and perhaps that government would go to war looking for women…but that is only an outrageous supposition. Of course any war that is instigated would further reduce the population. How much more should we reduce the population? Of course the concept or war relates to complexity and fragility of large and over-sized systems.

          Regarding my observation about Marx and population growth, as I detailed in my response, I will so re-state myself. Marx and his followers have always been concerned about the growth and the control of the population. It has always been their concept of central planning and control. That was why I included the Communist Manifesto, the Talloires Declaration and the Earth Charter. All of them refer to population control. I am merely contending that the concern about over-population is unwarranted, as most of the world’s population has been declining for many years, with the exceptions as noted. If the world population has increased, as you observe, how much has it increased, and over what time period. Again, the topic of discussion was complexity and fragility of large and over-sized system. Start playing around with population growth, and start employing central planning committees to dictate nature, and the laws of unintended consequences will surely follow…complexity and fragility. Of course it can also be argued that leaving people to procreate on their own without state licensure is tantamount to the same thing. I just happen to find state control odious. I suppose it could also be argued that restricting religious freedom in China is also a good thing, as is your argument for a one child, one couple law. Libertarians and constitutionally limited republicans (not to be confused with the RNC, the GOP, or the Republicans) find that these types of restrictions as interfering with the basic legal rights of humans anywhere. You were the one that brought up the fact that the Chinese cannot even feed their own. I do not know if that is the case, but if not they cannot do so because the central planners in Beijing control what is grown and what is not. Just like they control everything else. Unfortunately, the United States is not that far from such control. Again, these are the issues of complexity and fragility as regards humans, their rights, and monstrous systems.

          Regrettably the free market has ceased to exist. It has, for the most part been replaced with crony capitalism. It took a long time…about 100 years, but the capitalism that our Founding Fathers and Adam Smith were familiar with was abolished a long time ago. Heck, police swat raids on private milk cooperatives in California, and other political methods to restrict organic food production originating in DC by lobbyists for Monsanto is proof positive that we no longer live in a constitutionally limited republic. Oil production no longer occurs in our country, and the White House Occupant is hell bent to restrict all future production and transmission of oil or fuel through the country. The collapsing of our economic system in favor of central planning will be the proof of systemic complexity and fragility.

          Finally, under the present system we have now evolved to–moving apart from a constitutionally limited republic, requiring people to work would be a violation of the 13th Amendment. As I stated in my missive, when the tax payers are either not able nor willing to pay taxes for which they were not alive, or able to vote for a representative (my children and grandchildren) because of the unreasonable amount of debt incurred prior to their births, this corrupt, and increasingly complex and fragile system will collapse. In the meantime, if you feel that teaching gardening will give you a clear conscience, then please accept my best wishes. My observation is that a goodly percentage of the population will go to the stores until the day the SHTF, and then come a’knockin’ lookin’ for freebies and handouts, because this is a broken and systemically flawed complex and fragile system–all because our great-great-grandparents expected that those they elected to Congress were people of good will, and were looking out for their own constituent’s benefits. Our forbears, like my parents and myself chose to believe that lie too, and so US Senate Bill S.510 (from 2011), which was passed by the House, will eventually proscribe the growth of the organic vegetables and fruits you desire to teach others to grow…even on their own property. Another shining example of citizen laziness, corporate greed, and systemic complexities and fragilities.

          Jason, I would indeed, and with all sincerity, like to thank you for making me think. It is in these forums that I come to further my education. Perhaps you and I may disagree, but let us agree to disagree, so that when we write again it can be with an honest and open spirit, and that should we meet, our conversation will be vibrant and transparent.

          Best wishes my friend,
          Steve

          • Jason Emery

            Hi Steve–Sorry about the ‘math’ comment. It was meant in jest.

            Here’s another way to look at it. Take a rough guess at the average standard of living in the USA right now. You could use calorie consumption, median income, or btu’s of energy consumed per person, or a weighted average of those things. Perhaps gdp.

            Is this std. of living sustainable? We know it is not sustainable, because the government is running a deficit of $5 to $7 trillion per YEAR, if one uses GAAP accounting. (per John Williams/ShadowStats) We will hit a credit limit on a national basis soon, and from that point forward we will live within our means.

            What does complexity have to do with it? It is not significantly different from you or I maintaining our standard of living with credit cards after getting laid off from a job.

            The only thing complex about the ‘airline’ example above is the ability of the airlines to achieve an unbelievable safety record. John’s negative experience is due to security (that’s the govt.), rude worker’s (because they’re underpaid and overworked, like everyone else in the USA), and overbooking of flights, which the airlines must do to keep prices low, which is what the American people want.

            Our economic system seems pretty simple. We exported our manufacturing sector to get low prices, but the dollar is still the world’s reserve currency as if we were still a robust producer. This is allowing us to run up unpayable bills. The party is just about over.

  • Larry Melvin

    I find your South Park episode disgusting. I watch the Dollar Collapse site every day and I am appalled that you found it necessary to resort to that type of trash to put on your website. Who ever put this up should be fired!!!!!!!!!

  • http://www.myslohomefinder.com Mike

    What John is saying is so true. I have talked to numerous Americans about the “treatment of people” in the US. Not only have we lost many freedoms, but we have lost “autonomy”. The entire state, local, and federal government is about “control”. Just try to start a business here vs other countries. When are we going to reverse this? Or is it better to look for some where else to go!

  • http://www.myslohomefinder.com Mike

    I traveled first class on Air India once. I couldn’t believe how well I was treated. My drink was never empty, and the attendents wore beautiful “surees”. I felt like I was the “Rog”. Then I switched flights to an American airline and I felt like the “smuck”.

  • B

    Karl Marx could not have agreed with you more. Ofcourse, with Karl came the strange paradox that the fall of capitalism is inevitable, yet every good comrade should help make that “inevitable” fall happen, i.e. the Hegelian-Dialectic. So with marxist infiltration of education and government what do you expect of these institutions? After all, crisis is what changes the behavior and thinking of people.

  • http://ww.myslohomefinder.com Mike

    Adam Smith wrote in “Wealth of Nations” that the capitalist system would eventually run into the “steady state”. This is when the population and production outstrips resources. Just look at the world population. In 1980 it was about 2.5 billion and this year it is above 7 billion. Perhaps the “steady state” will actually become the “declining state”.

    • http://www.facebook.com/GPSTG Nick

      It will probably look more like the curve of reindeer population from St. Matthew Island Alaska between 1960 and 1965, then it could either look like the rest of the graph for this population through 1980 (they all died off), or it could rebound and do it all again.

      Then there is the example of Easter Island, but with humans this time.

      This is what you get for a bacterial population in a dish too, exponential growth and then a crash. The crash is always rapid.

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  • Philidor

    ‘Tis true, I fear. The American republic died in 2011 with the NDAA, RIP. What remains is the Empire/Hegemony, which is on its last legs due to monetary excesses. Au, Ag, Pb.

  • Philidor

    ‘Tis true, I fear. The American republic died in 2011 with the NDAA, RIP. What remains is the Empire/Hegemony, which is on its last legs due to monetary excesses. Au, Ag, Pb. Sic. (A little Latin pun.)

  • David II

    Who is John Galt!!!

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  • http://chaosandconspiracy.wordpress.com SeadragonConquerer4

    W/in 48 hours of Isramerica’s next attempt to run a carrier battle group thru the Straits of Hormuz…none of this long-term stuff is going to matter. Invest in lead.

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  • http://www.myslohomefinder.com Mike

    I always heard “There is no free lunch” saying all my life. I went to my son’s school the other day. I saw a bunch of free lunches being served. I asked the teacher if my son could get one? Teacher responded, “How much money do you make?” When I told her, her jaw dropped, and she said sternly “Of course not!” She had the attitude that I was trying to rip off the system or something! So I responded to her with the same stern attitude “So what you are saying is that if I pay taxes there is no free lunch?” She replied “That’s about it!” I replied with my Ayn Rand attitude, “So if I and the 50% of Americans that pay income taxes stop earning money and paying the taxes, who will pay for the free lunch?” She looked at me like I was some sort of evil person, and she said “the government I quess!”

    My final line to her was “If I pay so much in taxes then my son should have the free lunch, and the “poor kids” should be serving the lunch to pay for theirs”. She shook her liberal head and walked away.

    • paper is poverty

      The concept of a social safety net predates the existence of government by around 180,000 years. Ever heard the phrase “the least among us”?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000494066773 Jerry

      Dream tira il fiato aelnmo la vigiia di Natale, devi mantenerti in salute perchè non possiamo permetterci di perderti!!!Ottimo post, mi sembra di poter dire che la curva dei tassi italiana sia migliorata rispetto al mese scorso. Vediamo se oltre alla forma migliora anche nei valori.

  • mark hagen

    John
    Yours and Jim Rickard’s comments are accurate.. Someone needs to start properly educating the people on the importance of doing business locally. The big system we are currently using is failing fast and unless we rebuild our local infrastructure (businesses and banks) soon, we are toast. The local infrastructure is in tatters already..We WILL be needing it soon. If only the lazy populace understood that if everyone pulled every dime from the big banks they would be gone over nite. And if they would quit shopping a Walmart, the local hardware and grocery stores would rebuild and provide stability and jobs for all of us.. They just don’t get it. I came from the airline industry. Everyone there was either getting their diapers changed 5 years ago or they worked at McDonalds. This especially includes the TSA
    Mark in Troy

  • Murray

    All three listed industries:
    Pharma, Food, Airlines have at the root of their problem the Fed and inflation.
    (the problem for us, rather than the problem for them primarily).

    On the other hand, Apple/Amazon, while existing in the same overall environment are themselves in a sub-environment that is deflationary.

    Pharma in many ways is the worst, as it exists in a government-monopoly protected bubble, thus insulating it from the Fed’s inflation to a great extend (the other two “industries” being education, and government itself. All three have taken on an ever greater share of the overall output due to this, they were able to increase at real inflation, while the others were not).

    Food is a great example of a coping-with-inflation mechanism:
    While it is true, that a business will always try to improve the net-profit, much of the degradation of our industrial food supply is not done in order to increase the bottom line, but to maintain it.

    They cope in three ways:
    a) gradual, but insufficient, increases in price
    b reduction of the sales-unit;s weight of volume
    c) replacing more expensive commodities with cheaper substitutes

    a) needs no comment
    b) can be seen everywhere, when ice-cream “pints” are now 14 ounces, ditto coffee-cans or salad-dressings and so on. A boon to the packaging industry, as they devise ever more clever packages that have the outward appearance as always, while having reduced interior volumes.
    This one can only go so far of course, but there is still much leeway.
    c) this one is the main problem for the consumer, as it affects not just the wallet, but the body.
    It breaks into: cheaper surrogates, and chemicals to prolong shelf life, or restore the olfactory/visual appeal of the replacement of real ingredients.
    A great example is a non-necessity:
    Bubble Gum.
    Take the good old Wrigley’s sticks:
    a) 25c pack long gone
    b) 5 instead of 7 sticks (and maybe even less length/width/thickness)
    c) ALL of them, even when not marked DIET, use artifical sweeteners along with nat. sweeteners (those haveing gond from sugar only to sugar + HFCS).
    Because even HFCS is more costly than Aspartame, Sucralose, etc.
    And they now include sythetic antioxidants, and so on.

    Because b) is gradual, and c) only visible to label readers, both are stealthy, and not easily seen, like watching grass grow.

    But, it is all done to cope with inflation, thus the Fed lies under this all.

    Airlines:
    Just look at the recent report of Continental having more and more unschedulied refulings, due to the use of the smaller, cheaper 757 on trans-atlantic flights. Because their costs are increasing all the time. While some of that is due to government overreach, that overreach is itself only enabled by the Fed.

    So: The Fed ruins our health by enabling Big Pharma, and the FDA, by putting the thumb-screws on our food supply, and our general enjoyment of life by making our physical movement ever more difficult.

    Its not just our financial health they ruin.
    End the Fed!

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