Steve Jobs: What He Hoped His Legacy Would Be

I recently finished the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson. If you haven't read it, you might find the following comments from Jobs interesting.

My passion has been to build an enduring company where
people were motivated to make great products. Everything else was secondary.
Sure, it was great to make a profit, because that was what allowed you to make
great products. But the products, not the profits, were the motivation. Sculley flipped these priorities to where the goal was to
make money. It’s a subtle difference, but it ends up meaning everything: the people you hire, who gets promoted, what you discuss in



Some people say, “Give the customers what they want.” But
that’s not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want
before they do. I think Henry Ford once said, “If I’d asked customers what they
wanted, they would have told me, ‘A faster horse!’” People don’t know what they
want until you show it to them. That’s why I never rely on market research. Our
task is to read things that are not yet on the page. Edwin Land of Polaroid
talked about the intersection of the humanities and science. I like that
intersection. There’s something magical about that place. There are a lot of
people innovating, and that’s not the main distinction of my career. The reason
Apple resonates with people is that there’s a deep current of humanity in our
innovation. I think great artists and great engineers are similar, in that they
both have a desire to express themselves. In fact some of the best people
working on the original Mac were poets and musicians on the side. In the
seventies computers became a way for people to express their creativity. Great
artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo were also great at science.
Michelangelo knew a lot about how to quarry stone, not just how to be a

People pay us to integrate things for them, because they
don’t have the time to think about this stuff 24/7. If you have an extreme
passion for producing great products, it pushes you to be integrated, to
connect your hardware and your software and content management. You want to
break new ground, so you have to do it yourself. If you want to allow your
products to be open to other hardware or software, you have to give up some of
your vision.

At different times in the past, there were companies that
exemplified Silicon Valley. It was Hewlett-Packard for a long time. Then, in
the semiconductor era, it was Fairchild and Intel. I think that it was Apple
for a while, and then that faded. And then today, I think it’s
Apple and Google—and a little more so Apple. I think Apple has stood the test
of time. It’s been around for a while, but it’s still at the cutting edge of
what’s going on.

It’s easy to throw stones at Microsoft. They’ve clearly
fallen from their dominance. They’ve become mostly irrelevant. And yet I
appreciate what they did and how hard it was. They were very good at the
business side of things. They were never as ambitious product-wise as they
should have been. Bill likes to portray himself as a man of the product, but
he’s really not. He’s a businessperson. Winning business was more important
than making great products. He ended up the wealthiest guy around, and if that was
his goal, then he achieved it. But it’s never been my goal, and I wonder, in
the end, if it was his goal. I admire him for the company he built—it’s
impressive—and I enjoyed working with him. He’s bright and actually has a good
sense of humor. But Microsoft never had the humanities and liberal arts in its
DNA. Even when they saw the Mac, they couldn’t copy it well. They totally
didn’t get it.

I have my own theory about why decline happens at companies
like IBM or Microsoft. The company does a great job, innovates and becomes a
monopoly or close to it in some field, and then the quality of the product
becomes less important. The company starts valuing the great salesmen, because
they’re the ones who can move the needle on revenues, not the product engineers
and designers. So the salespeople end up running the company. John Akers at IBM
was a smart, eloquent, fantastic salesperson, but he didn’t know anything about
product. The same thing happened at Xerox. When the sales guys run the company,
the product guys don’t matter so much, and a lot of them just turn off. It
happened at Apple when Sculley came in, which was my
fault, and it happened when Ballmer took over at Microsoft. Apple was lucky and
it rebounded, but I don’t think anything will change at Microsoft as long as
Ballmer is running it.

I hate it when people call themselves “entrepreneurs” when
what they’re really trying to do is launch a startup and then sell or go
public, so they can cash in and move on. They’re unwilling to do the work it
takes to build a real company, which is the hardest work in business. That’s
how you really make a contribution and add to the legacy of those who went
before. You build a company that will still stand for something a generation or
two from now. That’s what Walt Disney did, and Hewlett and Packard, and the
people who built Intel. They created a company to last, not just to make money.
That’s what I want Apple to be.

I don’t think I run roughshod over people, but if something
sucks, I tell people to their face. It’s my job to be honest. I know what I’m
talking about, and I usually turn out to be right. That’s the culture I tried
to create. We are brutally honest with each other, and anyone can tell me they
think I am full of shit and I can tell them the same. And we’ve had some
rip-roaring arguments, where we are yelling at each other, and it’s some of the
best times I’ve ever had. I feel totally comfortable saying “Ron, that store
looks like shit” in front of everyone else. Or I might say “God, we really
fucked up the engineering on this” in front of the person that’s responsible.
That’s the ante for being in the room: You’ve got to be able to be super honest.
Maybe there’s a better way, a gentlemen’s club where we all wear ties and speak
in this Brahmin language and velvet codewords, but I
don’t know that way, because I am middle class from California.

I was hard on people sometimes, probably harder than I
needed to be. I remember the time when Reed was six years old, coming home, and
I had just fired somebody that day, and I imagined what it was like for that
person to tell his family and his young son that he had lost his job. It was
hard. But somebody’s got to do it. I figured that it was always my job to make
sure that the team was excellent, and if I didn’t do it, nobody was going to do

You always have to keep pushing to innovate. Dylan could
have sung protest songs forever and probably made a lot of money, but he
didn’t. He had to move on, and when he did, by going electric in 1965, he
alienated a lot of people. His 1966 Europe tour was his greatest. He would come
on and do a set of acoustic guitar, and the audiences loved him. Then he brought
out what became The Band, and they would all do an electric set, and the
audience sometimes booed. There was one point where he was about to sing “Like
a Rolling Stone” and someone fromthe audience yells
“Judas!” And Dylan then says, “Play it fucking loud!” And they did. The Beatles
were the same way. They kept evolving, moving, refining
their art. That’s what I’ve always tried to do—keep moving. Otherwise, as Dylan
says, if you’re not busy being born, you’re busy dying.

What drove me? I think most creative people want to express
appreciation for being able to take advantage of the work that’s been done by
others before us. I didn’t invent the language or mathematics I use. I make
little of my own food, none of my own clothes. Everything I do depends on other
members of our species and the shoulders that we stand on. And a lot of us want
to contribute something back to our species and to add something to the flow.
It’s about trying to express something in the only way that most of us know
how—because we can’t write Bob Dylan songs or Tom Stoppard plays. We try to use
the talents we do have to express our deep feelings, to show our appreciation
of all the contributions that came before us, and to add something to that
flow. That’s what has driven me.

Free Market Capitalism? Where?

How long can our financial system survive such blatant corruption and favoritism?

  • Jamie Dimon, the Chairman and CEO of JP Morgan Chase, has served on the Board of Directors at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York since 2007. During the financial crisis, the Fed provided JP Morgan Chase with $391 billion in total financial assistance. JP Morgan Chase was also used by the Fed as a clearinghouse for the Fed’s emergency lending programs.
  • In March of 2008, the Fed provided JP Morgan Chase with $29 billion in financing to acquire Bear Stearns. During the financial crisis, the Fed provided JP Morgan Chase with an 18-month exemption from risk-based leverage and capital requirements. The Fed also agreed to take risky mortgage-related assets off of Bear Stearns balance sheet before JP Morgan Chase acquired this troubled investment bank.
  • Jeffrey Immelt, the CEO of General Electric, served on the New York Fed’s Board of Directors from 2006-2011. General Electric received $16 billion in low-interest financing from the Federal Reserve’s Commercial Paper Funding Facility during this time period.
  • Stephen Friedman. In 2008, the New York Fed approved an application from Goldman Sachs to become a bank holding company giving it access to cheap Fed loans. During the same period, Friedman, who was chairman of the New York Fed at the time, sat on the Goldman Sachs board of directors and owned Goldman stock, something the Fed’s rules prohibited. He received a waiver in late 2008 that was not made public. After Friedman received the waiver, he continued to purchase stock in Goldman from November 2008 through January of 2009 unbeknownst to the Fed, according to the GAO. During the financial crisis, Goldman Sachs received $814 billion in total financial assistance from the Fed.
  • Sanford Weill, the former CEO of Citigroup, served on the Fed’s Board of Directors in New York in 2006. During the financial crisis, Citigroup received over $2.5 trillion in total financial assistance from the Fed.
  • Richard Fuld, Jr, the former CEO of Lehman Brothers, served on the Fed’s Board of Directors in New York from 2006 to 2008. During the financial crisis, the Fed provided $183 billion in total financial assistance to Lehman before it collapsed.
  • James M. Wells, the Chairman and CEO of SunTrust Banks, has served on the Board of Directors at the Federal Reserve Bank in Atlanta since 2008. During the financial crisis, SunTrust received $7.5 billion in total financial assistance from the Fed.
  • Richard Carrion, the head of Popular Inc. in Puerto Rico, has served on the Board of Directors of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York since 2008. Popular received $1.2 billion in total financing from the Fed’s Term Auction Facility during the financial crisis.
  • James Smith, the Chairman and CEO of Webster Bank, served on the Federal Reserve’s Board of Directors in Boston from 2008-2010. Webster Bank received $550 million in total financing from the Federal Reserve’s Term Auction Facility during the financial crisis.
  • Ted Cecala, the former Chairman and CEO of Wilmington Trust, served on the Fed’s Board of Directors in Philadelphia from 2008-2010. Wilmington Trust received $3.2 billion in total financial assistance from the Federal Reserve during the financial crisis.
  • Robert Jones, the President and CEO of Old National Bancorp, has served on the Fed’s Board of Directors in St. Louis since 2008. Old National Bancorp received a total of $550 million in low-interest loans from the Federal Reserve’s Term Auction Facility during the financial crisis.
  • James Rohr, the Chairman and CEO of PNC Financial Services Group, served on the Fed’s Board of Directors in Cleveland from 2008-2010. PNC received $6.5 billion in low-interest loans from the Federal Reserve during the financial crisis.
  • George Fisk, the CEO of LegacyTexas Group, was a director at the Dallas Federal Reserve in 2009. During the financial crisis, his firm received a $5 million low-interest loan from the Federal Reserve’s Term Auction Facility.
  • Dennis Kuester, the former CEO of Marshall & Ilsley, served as a board director on the Chicago Federal Reserve from 2007-2008. During the financial crisis, his bank received over $21 billion in low-interest loans from the Fed.
  • George Jones, Jr., the CEO of Texas Capital Bank, has served as a board director at the Dallas Federal Reserve since 2009. During the financial crisis, his bank received $2.3 billion in total financing from the Fed’s Term Auction Facility.
  • Douglas Morrison, was the Chief Financial Officer at CitiBank in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, while he served as a board director at the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank in 2006. During the financial crisis, CitiBank in Sioux Falls, South Dakota received over $21 billion in total financing from the Federal Reserve.
  • L. Phillip Humann, the former CEO of SunTrust Banks, served on the Board of Directors at the Federal Reserve Bank in Atlanta from 2006-2008. During the financial crisis, SunTrust received $7.5 billion in total financial assistance from the Fed.
  • Henry Meyer, III, the former CEO of KeyCorp, served on the Board of Directors at the Federal Reserve Bank in Cleveland from 2006-2007. During the financial crisis, KeyBank (owned by KeyCorp) received over $40 billion in total financing from the Federal Reserve.
  • Ronald Logue, the former CEO of State Street Corporation, served as a board member of the Boston Federal Reserve Bank from 2006-2007. During the financial crisis, State Street Corporation received a total of $42 billion in financing from the Federal Reserve.

Source: Crony Capitalists of the Federal Reserve

What Happened to Self Reliance?

How often do you hear the phrase "Self Reliance" these days? I never hear it.

Apparently being self-reliant is out of style. It seems that we the people have become a nation of consumers, and consumers are not self reliant. Oil producing countries, advertisers, government, political parties, and employers, to name a few, want us to be consumers and not self reliant. They want us to spend our money and depend on them for information, compensation, energy, food, entitlements, loans, tax breaks, etc. (Likewise, the United States government consumes more than its revenue; it depends on purchases of debt by China and other countries to fund the endless overspending.) But the really ugly skeleton in the closet is our dependence on fossil fuels.

Cutting back on our energy use is critical. Leadership in this realm has been mixed at best. Many of the celebrity Americans who promote energy conservation and alternative energy don't walk their talk. Al Gore and his huge mansion are a glaring example.

Blogger and writer John Michael Greer is preparing for a future where fossil fuels are very expensive and scarce; he intends to be self reliant. He writes extensively about why and how to conserve energy. Does he walk his talk? He recently reported:

I've never owned a cell phone, a car, a microwave, a television, or most of the other conveniences so many Americans think of as essential to life. I do own a computer — it's essential to the way I make my living — and my compromise there is that I don't buy new computers; I take the old ones that would otherwise end up in a landfill, and keep them out of the ecosystem. I still use a very modest amount of grid power — our power bills run in the $30-$40 a month range — since my wife and I bought a home of our own for the first time in 2009, and we haven't yet raised the money for an off-grid system (or for several other improvements I have on the list, such as solar water heaters and composting toilets). 

Some of my food comes from a backyard organic garden; much of the remainder is from the farmer's market in season; almost none is processed and packaged, though that's as much because I have a hard time choking down standard American food products as anything else. Organic wastes, almost without exception, go into the composter out back. I don't use mainstream medicine, though that's a complex issue in its own right — I've had too many family members killed or harmed by MDs to trust my health to them, among other things. (see Comments)

His sacrifices are rather shocking to most of us in America. It's easy to say he's weird and ignore the fact that he is much more self reliant than anyone we know.

Most of the poor in this country own a cell phone and a TV. (Government programs often pay for cells phones for the poor.) Many of these same people are unhealthy, in debt, and utterly dependent on someone else's money to pay for their lifestyle. They are not self reliant and never will be.

Why am I bringing this up? Dependence weakens individuals and countries – self reliance strengthens. The US needs to be stronger to weather the storms that loom on the horizon. What if… Iran and Israel go to war. Would Israel destroy Iran's oil wells? Would Iran destroy Saudi Arabia's oil wells? The price of oil could jump to $400 – $500 a barrel. Gas prices in the US could be $16 – $20 per gallon. Heating and cooling our homes could quadruple in price. How quickly could our government adapt? How would unprepared people adapt?

Maybe self-reliant people can teach us a thing or two. What do you think?

Is an Empire that Borrows from its Rivals Doomed to Fail?

The United States is beholden to China, financially. The dirty secret is that our government keeps overspending by selling debt to China. But most people don't know about it. Perhaps we can't stand the truth!

Too many of our leaders would rather pull the wool over our eyes than try to fix the really big problems that threaten the future of the United States.

Bill Bonner explains "Why an Empire that Borrows from its Rivals is Doomed to Fail" at the Daily Reckoning. Excerpts below.

We’re still Number One, right?

Yes…in the sense that we can, in theory, kick any butt in the world. That is, if the Chinese let us. They’ve got so much of our money and so many of our bonds, if they decided to dump them, we’d be in one helluva fix. Because we don’t pay enough in taxes to fund our social programs and the Pentagon at the same time. We can’t afford it. So the nice Chinese lend us money.

But don’t worry. They’ve promised not to dump our bonds. And we’re sure they’ll honor that promise for as long as they want to.

As far as we know, no empire that had to borrow money from its rivals has ever lasted very long. Britain got itself in that position in WWI. It could no longer afford the carrying costs of the empire – including the huge cost of the war itself. So, it borrowed from the US.

Under the weight of growing social welfare programs and a shrinking empire, Britain’s economy sagged. Its old allies – France and the US – boomed in the post-war years. So did its old enemies – Japan and Germany. Soon, not only were its friends richer and more powerful…so were its adversaries.

Is that what we have to look forward to in America…a post-imperial decline, where our standard of living stagnates…our economy limps…and our place in the world frays and crumbles?

Yes. Most likely.

Why? Because the government is taking a larger and larger role in the economy. Because US social programs are too costly. Because we don’t have enough money to pay for them. Because not enough money has been invested in productive business. Because our military burden is too heavy…and difficult to escape. Because we have no savings. Because we will likely spend the next 10 years paying down private debt. Because the rest of the world is racing ahead. Because we are growing older. Because our leaders are corrupt and incompetent. And because the whole society becomes more zombified every day.

Teddy Roosevelt Quote on Preserving Beautiful Places

There can be nothing in the world more beautiful than the Yosemite, the groves of the giant sequoias and redwoods, the Canyon of the Colorado, the Canyon of the Yellowstone, the Three Tetons; and our people should see to it that they are preserved for their children and their children's children forever, with their majestic beauty all unmarred.

President Teddy Roosevelt, 1903

The Blindness of Economics

John Michael Greer describes why conventional economists cannot lead us out of the financial crisis. Excerpts below.

Link: The Archdruid Report: Why Economists Fail

…the profession seems to have become incapable of learning from its most glaring and highly publicized mistakes. This is all the more troubling in that you’ll find many economists among the pundits who insist that industrial economies need not trouble themselves about the impact of limitless economic growth on the biosphere that supports all our lives. If they’re as wrong about that as so many other economists were about the housing bubble, they’ve made a fateful leap from risking billions of dollars to risking billions of lives.

First of all, for professional economists, being wrong is much more lucrative than being right. During the runup to a speculative binge, and even more so during the binge itself, a great many people are willing to pay handsomely to be told that throwing their money into the speculation du jour is the right thing to do. Very few people are willing to pay to be told that they might as well flush it down the toilet, even – indeed, especially – when this is the case. During and after the crash, by contrast, most people have enough calls on their remaining money that paying economists to say anything at all is low on the priority list.

The same rule applies to professorships at universities, positions at brokerages, and many of the other sources of income open to economists. When markets are rising, those who encourage people to indulge their fantasies of overnight wealth will be far more popular, and thus more employable, than those who warn them of the inevitable outcome of pursuing such fantasies; when markets are plunging, and the reverse might be true, nobody’s hiring. Apply the same logic to the fate of industrial society and the results are much the same; those who promote policies that allow people to get rich and live extravagantly today can count on an enthusiastic response, even if those same policies condemn industrial society to a death spiral in the decades ahead. Posterity, it’s worth remembering, pays nobody’s salaries today.

Second, like many contemporary fields of study, economics suffers from a bad case of premature scientification. The dazzling achievements of science have encouraged scholars in a great many fields to ape science’s methods in the hope of duplicating its successes, or at least cashing in on its prestige. Before Isaac Newton could make sense of the planets in their courses, though, thousands of observational astronomers had to amass the raw data with which he worked. The same thing is true of any successful science: what used to be called “natural history,” the systematic recording of what nature actually does, builds the foundation on which science erects structures of hypothesis and experiment.

Economics is particularly vulnerable to this sort of malign feedback because its raw material – human beings making economic decisions – is so complex that the only way to control all the variables is to impose conditions so arbitrary and rigid that the results have only the most distant relation to the real world. The logical way out of this trap is to concentrate on the equivalent of natural history, which is economic history: the record of what has actually happened in human communities under different economic conditions. This is exactly what those who predicted the housing crash did: they noted that a set of conditions in the past (a bubble) consistently led to a common result (a crash) and used that knowledge to make accurate predictions about the future.

Politicians Can’t Cut Spending

It would be political suicide for a politician to even suggest that we should cut back in any area of the budget. If you suggest cutting the military budget, the right wing will tell you you're un-American and there are terrorists under your bed. If you suggest cutting Social Security, AARP will mobilize their tsunami of voters against you. And if you suggest cutting Medicare and Medicaid, the entire population will rise up against you screaming, "But health care is teh single most important issue of our day."

The problem is that every issue is the single most important issue of our day. That is why the tough choices that need to be made to shore up our economy won't be made.

Whenever a problem arises, the majority always say the same thing. "The government should do something about it." They all seem to think that our government shouldn't be everybody's safety net. When major hedge funds overleverage themselves, thkey think the government should bail them out, and when homeowners overmortgage their homes, they think the government should save them from foreclosure. We don't seem to make the connection that whenever the government "does something about it," it does so at half the efficiency and twice the cost of the private sector. Then it hands the public the bill through either direct taxation, or through inflation taxation. That means, in the end, we all pay.

Michael Maloney
Guide to Investing in Gold & Silver: Protect Your Financial Future

Congressman Ron Paul – Celebrating the Fight for Freedom on July 4

Ron Paul knows history and economics - unlike some other "leaders" from his state.

Link: Congressman Ron Paul – Celebrating the Fight for Freedom on the Fourth – Texas Straight Talk.

Every year on the Fourth of July we remember our founding fathers and the precious inheritance of freedom that they secured for us. Every year it seems we get further and further away from that birthright, but we still have much to celebrate.

This country was founded on principles of freedom from overbearing rulers, onerous taxation, and the right to live our lives as we see fit. Our independence was won after decades, and even centuries of abuses that unscrupulous, corrupted leaders and big governments visited upon their subjects. The Founders knew there was a better way, and they forged it here on this soil.

In the new United States of America, the rights of the individual were enshrined in the Bill of Rights. Today, government encroaches on those rights through countless provisions in numerous laws. However, how much worse off might we be had the Founders not enumerated these rights in the highest law of the land? While it is true that many aspects of those rights have been redefined and watered down, and will likely continue to be eroded, we can celebrate the wisdom of the Founders and that at our very core we, as Americans, still hold these rights dear.

The American tradition of individual liberty and self-reliance still runs deep, in spite of the increasing nanny state tendencies that government has been gradually shoving down our throats. It is sad to see government seeking to completely replace the voluntary protections through families and charities that we have relied on throughout our history. Especially disturbing is the rhetoric of community and interdependence being employed by the administration to institute government as the great middle man for all healthcare and charity for which all citizens must dutifully sacrifice. This trend is not improving quality of life for Americans, but instead is greatly enriching the government bureaucracies that take a generous cut of all transactions in the welfare state. There still remains much resistance to cradle to grave government dependence and control. This spirit of fierce independence is a tribute to our founders and is cause to celebrate.

The majority of our Founders believed in sound money, in part because they knew it kept government in check. Governments that are unable to expand the money supply and manipulate credit at will are unable to fund frivolous wars of conquest. Instead of adventurism abroad, seeking monsters to destroy, governments restrained by sound money are restricted to truly defensive wars that the people are willing to fight and to fund. Today, in spite of all the economic turmoil that fiat currency and military interventionism has caused, there is cause to celebrate. The demand to audit the Federal Reserve is quite encouraging. The truth about the fed will put us one step closer to sound money, and peace.

Public outcry against the bank bailouts and the government power grab known as cap-and-trade proves that the spirit of liberty still lives. Part of our celebration of Independence Day should include a renewed determination to keep fighting the good fight for freedom. As long as government continually seeks to take liberties away, patriots need to keep fighting this ongoing war for sustained independence.

Tiger Woods’ Mother – Tida Woods Does It Her Way

Jaime Diaz at Golf Digest magazine traveled through Thailand with Tida Woods. She doesn't give interviews, but Jaime found out a lot about her in their travels. She had a tough childhood and she balances toughness and love in her own unique way. Click on the link below to read about a very interesting woman who has raised an amazing son.

Link: Tida In Thailand: Golf Digest Magazine.

Tida Woods with Tiger

This was a 550-pound adult male tiger at Thailand's Tiger Temple, out on an alarmingly exposed area at the bottom of a rocky canyon with only a frail Buddhist monk in a flimsy orange robe holding a stick as her guardian. By most accounts, the monastery does an admirable job of "imprinting" tigers to be comfortable with human contact, and thousands from around the world visit every year without reported incidents. This tiger, along with about a dozen others within a 50-foot radius monitored by other monks, was deep into his mid-afternoon nap. 

…Without hesitation, she sidled up to the beast, kneeled down and stroked its back. After a few moments, she shifted herself toward his face with what Cesar Millan of "Dog Whisperer" fame would call "good energy." Lowering into a sitting position, she scooted forward and, yes, lifted the tiger's head into her lap. And as time stopped for her traveling companions, she happily kept it there for more than a minute.

"Tida" is an animal lover who indulges four big dogs at her home in Southern California, and as a native Thai, the tiger holds an exalted station with her.

via Bill Kruger

Can We Learn from History?

John Michael Greer applies his knowledge of history and ecology to the current financial crisis. Civilizations that have collapsed often took for granted essential resources until it was too late to recover. Excerpts below.

Link: The Archdruid Report: The Unnoticed Technologies.

Like the inhabitants of Easter Island, we depend on the reckless exploitation of limited resources to sustain our way of life; like the civilizations of the Middle East whose fate was chronicled by ibn Khaldûn, our survival depends on fragile infrastructure systems that few of us understand and most of our leaders seem entirely willing to starve of necessary resources for the sake of short-term political advantage. The industrial system that supports us has been in place long enough that most of us seem to be unable to conceive of circumstances in which it might no longer be there.

One of the wrinkles of catabolic collapse – the process by which societies in decline cannibalize their own infrastructure to meet immediate needs, and so accelerate their own breakdown – is that it can trigger abrupt crises by wrecking some essential technology that is not recognized as such. We are already witnessing the early stages of exactly such a crisis. What large trees were to the Easter Islanders and irrigation canals were to the early medieval Middle East, the current form of money economy is to modern industrial society, and the speculative delusions that passed for financial innovation over the last few decades have played exactly the same role as the invading nomads of ibn Khaldûn’s history, by stripping a fragile system of resources in the pursuit of immediate gain. The result, just as in the 1930s, is that a nation still relatively rich in potential resources, and provided with a large and skilled labor force, is sliding into crushing poverty because the intricate social system we use to allocate labor and resources has broken down.

Other unwelcome surprises along the same lines are likely events in the future. Before we get there, however, those of us who are concerned about the possible downside of history might be well advised to pay more attention to the unnoticed technologies in our lives, and to start thinking about how to make do without them, or get some substitute in place in a hurry, if the unthinkable happens and one or more of them suddenly goes away.