Quote o’ the day, from Adam Smith of all people:

“To widen the market and to narrow the competition, is always the interest of the dealers … The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from this order, ought always to be listened to with great precaution, and ought never to be adopted till after having been long and carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention. It comes from an order of men, whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it.”

In other words, be very wary of any regulatory changes proposed by big business. (Hmm, US Chamber of Commerce, anyone?)

The world has been a stranger-than-usual place since the global economic crisis of 2008. At first, taken at face value, the events of that year looked mostly like a financial failing. But developments since then show that society is undergoing a sea change, a wholesale transformation of every part of our way of life.

We can’t enjoy the wisdom of hindsight yet. While we recognize that our way of life is evolving dramatically, we’re not at some endpoint where we can say, “Aha, this is how things will be from now on.” In fact, the more you look at things, the harder it is to even say where it all began. Was it really the fall of Lehman Brothers that set today’s strange wheels in motion? Or did the invention of the internet seed the revolution? What about the birth of the oil industry that enabled a globalized economy and civilization as we know it? Maybe that’s when it all started.

Ultimately, it probably doesn’t matter. Because it’s the “here” and the “now” we find ourselves in that we have to deal with. And that here and that now are telling us one thing:

The era of growing is over – it’s time to start downscaling.

Reality is telling us that.

Our financial systems are telling us they can’t get any more complex. They’ve already crashed once under the insanely complex investment “instruments” dreamed up by quants who knew a lot about calculus, physics and engineering but not much about the real people and real lives those instruments had the power to devastate.

Our highways, power grids and sprawling developments are telling us they’re crumbling under the weight of too much demand, too little thought to sustainability.

Our public-sector education and healthcare systems, and our social safety nets, are telling us they’re dying a slow death by a thousand cuts.

Our energy supplies are telling us they’re becoming harder to get and more expensive.

Our water supplies are telling us they’re becoming harder to get and more expensive.

Our food supplies are telling us they’re becoming more expensive and more vulnerable to shocks both natural and manmade.

The fish and other sealife in our oceans are telling us they’re choking on a toxic cocktail of discarded pharmaceuticals, industrial chemicals, plastics and oil … and that, when we eat them, we’re eating that cocktail too.

Our climate is telling us it’s about to slip into a realm never before experienced by humans.

Even we are telling ourselves that, as we’re seeing now from the rising protests of ordinary people from Greece to the US, Chile to Egypt and beyond.

All these diverse developments might seem disconnected, but they’re not. The commercial lied: What happens in Vegas never stays just in Vegas … a hangover there affects someone’s wedding plans two states over, a shock in energy prices affects the cost of food, which affects poverty levels, which affects social unrest, which affects whole governments. You get the idea.

Bottom line: like it or not, things are changing. We can fight tooth and nail to deny the forces driving those changes and try in vain to preserve “life as we know it” by continuing to apply patches no better than string and bubblegum … until the whole darned edifice crashes around us. Or we can adjust our habits, our social systems, our ways of life accordingly and make the difficult but necessary transition to a more stable, liveable future.

For our own sakes, as well as for the sake of our kids and grandkids, the choice should be obvious.

Our future rests on downscaling.

Why are thousands turning out to occupy Wall Street and so many other cities? Probably has something to do with sentiments like this:

“Don’t blame Wall Street, don’t blame the big banks, if you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself … It is not a person’s fault if they succeeded, it is a person’s fault if they failed.”

That’s GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain, giving his take on the demonstrations of the disenfranchised. (Note: Go to the 9:56 mark in the video to hear the money quote.)

It’s encouraging to see that the Occupy Wall Street movement so derided by the corporate media and “Masters of the Universe”-types is picking up steam. Must have something to do with the images of cops Macing young women in security pens, hundreds of airline pilots joining the protest and the outrageous video of young oligarchs (or kleptocrats, if you prefer) yukking it up and sipping drinks while looking down on the “rabble” from a balcony in New York City. Help keep the momentum going by donating food, money, supplies or your own services here.

OK, so more US citizens are in poverty that ever in the past 50 years. Home values are still dropping. Interest on savings accounts will add pennies a month to your investment, while the stock market’s a crazy roller-coaster ride only for gamblers who can afford to lose. The economy’s not yet adding net new jobs, much less adding them fast enough to keep up with population growth. And this past weekend I saw an ad in the local Craigslist from someone desperate to find a cheap, used RV or trailer because he has a wife, two kids and is “soon to be homeless.” But 20 percent of Americans think they’ll be millionaires by 2020?


If the constant assault on the middle class, fairness and reality-based thinking is getting you down, this video from the United Steelworkers will have you pushing yourself up from the canvas again. It’s like a mini-“Rocky.”

This find of the day is “Who Rules America?” by Bill Domhoff, a research professor of sociology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. The website (and book with the same name) provides some fascinating insights into “how power and politics operate in the United States.” Among its recent posts is “An Investment Manager’s View on the Top 1%,” a guest article that explores the differences — and they’re huge — between being merely in the top 1% of the nation’s wealthiest and being in the top 0.1%.