[Repost unchanged from 6/26/20]
I am going to try to boil down what could be volumes into one short post.
Civilization is not the default state of human society. The default state of humans is small, family-based tribes that are constantly at war, starving, and generally miserable. The default life span of humans is about 40 years, and much less for women, who tend to die in child birth without the modern technology that fuels modern medicine, abundant nutrition, and physical ease.
Almost all of human history has been bound by the amount of food one able-bodied man can produce in about 10 hours per day on relative fertile land in areas with adequate rainfall and temperate climate.
Throughout history there have always been blips where, due to some highly unusual circumstances, humans were able to amass more production capital than normally available. This could include: an unusually fertile patch of land (fertile crescent, United States), an unusual break in uneven weather (Anasazi or Greenland Vikings), virgin but nonproductive areas (Easter Island), slavery (many), and, most recently, fossil fuels.
These circumstances feed increasing complexity, which leads to increased prosperity. However, none of these circumstances can keep pace with the ever-increasing risk that comes with increasing complexity.
Fossil fuels were a one-shot deal. It's done and over with. There was enough energy in the world's coal, oil, and gas to create a utopia of what is needed for thousands of years. What did we do with it? What do we have to show for it? You'll find those resources in our landfills, in our aging infrastructure, in nutrient runoff, and in our fat bellies.
Modern productivity is not some marvel of human ingenuity. It comes from oil. The production gains from oil are now complete. What we are seeing today is the natural consequence of a complex system overshooting its resources.
Risk has increased beyond the resources the system has to mitigate it. Like every empire before, this one will also collapse, and it will collapse for the same reason: the cascading effects of risks that we can no longer afford to mitigate.
The expert consensus is that prosperity in the United States apexed around 1976. Every year since then, people have had a lower standard of living. There are no more problems to be solved that yield solutions greater than the new problems they create. There are fewer and fewer ways normal people can contribute to the system. Everything is coming down on itself.
Modern life provides almost nothing to be happy about. Wasted youth, wasted health, and wasted time. Nothing is deep or meaningful.
Modern happiness is not based on living wisely. The system punishes those who do the right thing. In today's world, happiness comes only from incredible ignorance or dishonesty or both.
I read this comment on a news article about WireCard's recently exposed fraud:
"I've been in senior management within a publicly traded company. I didn't have access to all the information, but I knew about multiple things that were fraudulent. I don't know how many people knew, but there were also probably things I didn't know about, so there must have been a dozen or more people who knew about serious problems, and not one of us said anything to anyone outside the company. For what it's worth, that was also at a very well run, and generally quite ethical, company. I've worked at less ethical places (including in finance), though not at as senior a level, and I'd be shocked if they weren't worse.
Between that experience and what we're seeing here, I think the best guess as to what percentage of Fortune 500 companies are cooking the books is: all of them. I'm surprised I hadn't thought that through, before, but having been through the process of trying to hit the numbers demanded by Wall Street to keep the share price up, over a period of years, I know all too well the reasons people might cook the books, and those pressures apply to every publicly traded company.
If the truth came out (and I'm a big fan of the truth), the economy would probably collapse."