The other day I had some thoughts about the graphs for the Hubbert Oil Peak. Namely, it is very much like a typical boom/bust stock market graph. Then I thought of other things that fit into that model and it leads one to wonder if this is a basic human artifact that is hardwired into our brains?
All bubble/peak profiles look similar because the psychology coupled with the technology/inventions that feul bubbles create not a smooth bell curve but an over-hyped/panic/recovery/failure four-stage profile. In the stock market, these eruptions and collapses are first triggered by new technologies.
The chart at the top of the page shows the typical boom/bust cycle of not just the stock markets but it is the real shape of the Hubbert Oil Peak as well as the industrial manufacturing cycle, house building/selling cycles and indeed, the empire-building, empire collapsing cycles. The reason all these cycles are nearly identical if one subscribes numbers to describe events is because it is really a graph showing basic human nature.
Our brains are hard-wired to work on this scale! We collectively think the same way and react the same way. This is why cutting off this cycle always fails. The desire to milk opportunity to the nth degree leads to a lemming-like rush to the edge of a cliff and then oops! Over we go!
The peak isn't smooth sailing, there are usually at least two braking events on the way up, sort of like shots across the prow or hesitations and worry if whatever it is one is doing, is good or bad. If it has something to do with the body, reformers might demand a stop to whatever it is one is doing. Or moralists will rage about it and pass laws forbidding whatever it is the subject mania.
After ignoring, say health warnings and ignoring moral warnings, the mania goes full-blast to the furthest possible limits when one can't go any further, it crashes. And not slowly but swiftly. There are usually two main attempts at restoring the mania but they fade fast.
Future people look at whatever the mania was and laugh. We can pick from many manias, many examples. Off the top of my head, I drew several charts. At the top of the page is the head dress and shoe manias of the Middle Ages. When the Crusades started, fashion had been very conservative and rather simple since the barbarian invasions of the Roman Empire. Changes moved glacially if at all.
Then the Crusaders filtered through Byzantia and into the exotic Middle East and they looted the Muslims. The Muslims were just past their imperial apex and had lots of nice stuff. Two items of looting interest was the lovely veils the Muslim ladies used to cover their faces and mens' turned-up toe shoes.
The returning knights and kings showered these things on the ladies who took up the fashionable, light, see-through veils with a vengence. Over the next 200 years, these veils were covetted and artful ways of combining them with the basic head dressing and head bands took off as one lady tried to outshine the other.
Head gear grew increasingly elaborate and unwieldy until it was very dangerous to move about the chambers and though doors. At first, people worried about the health effects. Then moralists in the Church raged about the sexual messages these daring head dresses inspired. Cartoonists (mostly clerks of the Church) made fun of these creative, bizarre things. Then one day, women tired of it and ruthlessly reduced these veils down to nearly nothing.
With shoes, it was even funnier. Men made them longer and longer until they were over twice as long as the foot! Even the armor was made this way. Knights tried to fight battles encumbered with these flexible steel shoes. Walking was greatly interfered with by this fashion. But even though people worried about the health effects and then moralists raged about this, screaming it was the art of devils, the fashion ran its set course until the most impossible shoes were made and then they faded with tremendous speed.
With hoop dresses, this cycle is repeated over and over again starting with the invention of the Spanish farthingale at the height of the Spanish Empire. Each time hoop skirts are fashionable, they run through this cycle of increasing girth and weight, the health issues rise up and reformers introduce simpler hoop mechanisms that reduce the pressure on the hips and waists and then thanks to the reforms, skirts billow in size rapidly and moralists delare them the devil's temptation as it lures men into sexual thoughts (um, that's the whole point!) and then in defiance of the nay-sayers and cartoonists mocking them, skirts become tremendously wide and doors and furniture no longer work with these gowns and they are nearly impossible to wear.
Then it collapses. These cycles never end in the middle. They always, at the last minute, shoot to the heavens, they become literally impossible to wear before collapsing with sometimes comical suddeness.
I could select any item of feminine dress and draw this graph. Over and over again, whatever the body shape or decorative detail, the same cycle happens. In the case above, the size and shape of ladies' skirts
Or not so comical. Namely, wars and revolutions often accompany the collapse of some fashion. It is interesting to see how armor followed the same course running from simple chainmail to the heavy, elaborate, full armor at the very end of the Era of Chivalry. Henry the VIII of England commissioned a German-style armor suit to fight in only he got too fat too fast and never wore it and he used a modified half-armor instead.
And that was the end of it all. After 1600, armor rapidly fell in size and weight until it became only a cap on the head by WWI. Today, soldiers in America wear more and more armor and their ability to fight natives wearing zero armor, not even a metal cap, is collapsing and they are losing nearly any battle that requires foot soldiers.
And that takes me to the Hubbert Imperial Peak:
All empires have the exact same shape if one creates a graph. Namely, unification of local areas such as the Greek city/states under Athens and then under Alexander the Great. Then a sudden surge of conquest usually after destroying the previous major empire such as Alexander did to the Persian Empire, for example. Then spreading out, some significant defeats due to inter-familial battles as heirs squabble over the loot, for example, and then a rush to world domination.
For example, the Mongols under Ghengis Khan, conquered many lands. But when he died, there were squabbles. Then a second rush that enlarged the empire further and another squabble, a run to world domination with Kublai Khan ending in two significant defeats: the Egyptians winning in the Middle East and the destruction of the invasion fleet attacking Japan.
From then on, the empire rotted away.
By BEN FELLER, Associated Press Writer 28 minutes ago
WASHINGTON - With Democrats pushing for an end to the Iraq war now entering its fifth year, President Bush pleaded for more patience Monday, saying success is possible but "will take months, not days or weeks."
The war has stretched longer, with higher costs, than the White House ever predicted. On the fourth anniversary of the day Bush directed the invasion to begin, the president made a televised statement from the White House Roosevelt Room to defend continued U.S. involvement.
I include the point of bankruptcy of several empires here: this inevitably happens at the apex. Nearly always due to wars. The keynote war, even when it is won by the empire, dooms it to destruction due to high costs not being balanced by enough loot.
A great empire that rules the world can't defeat another world-ruling empire because there isn't any. So all wars are net losses. When Spain took over Portugual, it basically ruled the earth. But this didn't make Spain strong, it bankrupted Spain as all others fought Spain on every possible front and this meant all over the world, sometimes all at once, Spain was on the defensive.
On top of this, the health/moral issues rear their ugly heads. Empires are unhealthy and amoral. Even when the moralists and doctors rage about these things, the internal rot runs its merry way because it is what empires do. No matter what the basis of an empire, they all rot the same way. This is why Gibbon thought he could prevent this from happening to the British Empire. If they learn the lessons, the bad rot won't happen!
But the British Empire followed the exact same path all previous empires trod. Step by step to the bitter end, totally reduced to a bare bones stub living in the shadow of the upstart empire of the USA.
Mon Mar 19, 1:00 AM ET
Four years after the launch of the U.S.-led invasion on March 19, 2003, public opinion about the war in Iraq has turned decidedly negative with only 40% of Americans calling the decision to use military force there the right decision, majorities saying the war is not going well, and most saying that the United States should bring its troops home as soon as possible. In contrast, when the war began in March 2003 and for quite some time thereafter, the U.S.-led invasion had strong backing from most Americans, and was seen as succeeding quite well. A Pew survey in mid-February found a growing number of political independents are turning against the war and, overall, a 53% majority of Americans believe the U.S. should bring its troops home as soon as possible -- up five points in the past month and the highest percentage favoring a troop pullout since the war began nearly four years ago.
Slowly, the idea is dimly dawning that we are being driven to bankruptcy. We barely won the Cold War and really, if you look at the IMF figures, we lost to Russia and China. Both have gigantic FOREX reserves that dwarf our own. Japan, which we claim falsely, that we 'defeated' in WWII, is totally ascendant over the USA, even Germany is standing on top of our prone Gulliver body, pinned to the earth by a million financial obligations we can't pay off.
Ergo: we are in the Red Zone where I wrote the words 'Bankruptcy'. We can't escape our fates because we decided, despite the health warnings and the moralists yelling about how gambling is bad for our finances and debts are bad for our futures, first Carter tried to slow down the climb on this mountain of woe then Reagan had it shoot higher and higher, rapidly, ditto Bush Sr. and then Clinton was the second plateau where he tried desperately to balance the budget and reduce obligations but then Bush Jr made it shoot straight upwards and we are now at our imperial peak and in the Bankrupt red zone.
There must be a very deep organic reason for all this. I do know that every empire since the Egyptian Old Kingdom that struggled with this. All empires build their finest palaces a few decades before they are totally overrun and collapse. The first pyramids, they got bigger and bigger and then the Old Kingdom collapsed.
Rome's biggest public bath house was completed right before the Vandals vandalized it. The Brandenburger Tor in Berlin was erected right before Germany sailed from defeat to destruction.
Giganticism is running riot in American design. And right at the crest of our empire, the two biggest--square foot-wise, dwarfing all buildings in the world---the World Trade Center Towers---were recently destroyed in an act of war which now rages out of control and is bankrupting us.
The treadmill of history is marked by these graphs that seem to be anchored in something very deep within our brains. Perhaps this is what it means to be human. Animals that follow this path, say by growing bigger and bigger horns, often go extinct. This is possibly why we see a parade of new species starting off generalized, then through sexual selection, growing ever more bizarre or elaborate until, like the peacock, it is nearly impossible to go through doors or sit down in chairs, and then any slight change wipes them out.
Human breeding does this. We breed bigger and bigger animals or tinier and tinier pets. Or maybe more and more fur or more and more naked. Whatever the direction we go, we always take it to the logical extreme where it can't go any further. This fascination of ours is what we are. This is why rich people want more and more money and are unhappy if they must share a penny with anyone else. Or powerful dictators want total, absolute power over every detail of every human they can grab.
And all these efforts collapse quite suddenly. The sudden drop is part and parcel of the increasing pressure to push the limits. And the desire to push the limits is very hard-wired in our souls.