Self Help

Price Wars How the Commodities Markets Made Our Chaotic World - Rupert Russell

Author Photo

Matheus Puppe

· 55 min read



Here is a summary of the introduction:

  • The author felt disoriented after Brexit and Trump’s election, as the world became alien and dominated by new monsters like populists and authoritarians.

  • He wanted to understand where these monsters came from and map the origins of the global chaos. Chaos theory suggests seemingly random events can have an underlying logic or trigger.

  • The author undertook an investigative journey through places affected by crises like Iraq (ISIS), Ukraine (Russia), and Venezuela, filming it as a documentary.

  • His goal was to determine if there was a singular disturbance, however small, that triggered the avalanche of crises seen globally in the 2010s. He surveyed social science literature but much was too recent, so conducted his own investigation.

  • The introduction sets up the goal of untangling the underlying connections between major global events like Brexit, Trump, ISIS, etc. that all seemed to erupt simultaneously, to find a potential butterfly effect that set off the chaos.

  • The author seeks to understand the populist explosion and rise of right-wing populism across Western countries in the 2010s.

  • Right-wing populists portrayed migrants, particularly Muslims, as “barbaric” invaders who were stealing, raping, dealing drugs, and threatening national identity. They blamed migrants for social and economic problems.

  • The 2015 migrant crisis saw over a million migrants come to Europe and fueled anti-immigrant rhetoric. Figures like Trump, Le Pen, Salvini, and Farage portrayed migrants as threats and stoked fears of a loss of national culture.

  • However, the author questions whether the economic crisis alone explains the populist surge, as it was almost a decade old. They set out to understand the more immediate trigger for the rise in anti-establishment sentiment across many countries at once.

So in summary, the author explores how right-wing populists capitalized on anti-immigrant fears during the European migrant crisis to surge in popularity, but seeks a deeper understanding of what drove this coordinated populist reaction across the Western world.

  • In 2015-2016, large numbers of migrants and refugees passed through the overcrowded Moria camp on the Greek island of Lesbos as they fled civil wars in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen that began after the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings.

  • Images of migrants in the media often portrayed them negatively and fueled populist, anti-immigration sentiments. Right-wing politicians capitalized on fears of “migrant invasion” to gain power.

  • The author visits Moria camp and finds chaotic, unsanitary conditions as it holds more than double its intended capacity. Conflicts sometimes erupt among different ethnic/religious groups forced to live in close proximity.

  • Individual refugees describe fleeing violence - bombings, torture, death of family members. Conflict continues to negatively impact their lives and those of others even after crossing borders.

  • The butterfly effect theory developed by Lorenz suggests that small, initial differences can amplify over time and hugely impact complex, interdependent systems like the weather or human conflicts. The Arab Spring uprisings set off chains of events leading to today’s migration and political crises.

In summary, the article examines how civil wars after 2011 Arab Spring protests displaced millions and fueled a global refugee crisis, while also giving rise to populist politicians exacerbating divisions over immigration issues. It analyzes these interconnected consequences through the lens of the butterfly effect theory.

  • Lorenz discovered the butterfly effect - that small changes in initial conditions can lead to large, unpredictable outcomes over time through feedback and amplification. This challenged the idea that the world behaved in linear, predictable ways.

  • His famous talk title about a butterfly wing flap causing a tornado highlighted how sensitive chaotic systems are to small perturbations. This “sparked a revolution” in how scientists viewed complex systems.

  • The author looks at the Arab Spring uprisings as an example of interconnected amplifying engines like state oppression and social media spreading outrage.

  • They visit Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia where street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation triggered the Arab Spring uprisings. However, the realities on the ground were more about economic grievances than abstract ideals of freedom.

  • Physicists like Per Bak, Kurt Wiesenfeld and Chao Tang explored chaos mathematically by studying simpler systems like phase transitions that could exhibit unpredictable, earthquake-like behavior from small perturbations. This provided another model for understanding the origin of chaos.

So in summary, it discusses how Lorenz discovered the butterfly effect conceptually through weather modeling, applies it to understand the Arab Spring, and also explores early mathematical models of chaos in phase transitions that resembled seismic shifts.

The passage discusses the concept of self-organized criticality, where complex systems can spontaneously emerge from simple rules. It uses the analogy of dropping grains of sand on a pile - initially nothing may happen, but over time a steep pile forms and the last grain can trigger an avalanche.

Yaneer Bar-Yam and others applied these principles to model social systems. They hypothesized that factors like food prices and unemployment could act as triggers to tip societies into disrupted states, similar to how water boils at a certain temperature.

In 2010, Bar-Yam’s team warned the US government that high food prices threatened social unrest. Just days later, protests erupted in Tunisia reportedly triggered by high food costs. The regime was already plagued by issues like corruption, poverty and unemployment. The food price spike was the final grain that caused these other grievances to cascade into full revolution.

The concept of self-organized criticality and edge of chaos helped explain how small triggers can unleash much larger social forces, and how revolutions emerge from the interplay of multiple complex factors all poised at a breaking point. It provided a way to model and potentially predict such events.

  • Rising food prices, especially the price of bread, were the catalyst for the Arab Spring uprisings in 2010-2011 across the Middle East. When the UN Food Price Index surpassed 210, it acted as a tipping point that triggered social unrest.

  • Bread is a cornerstone of the social contract in many Arab countries - governments subsidized food to provide economic security for citizens in exchange for authoritarian control. But high food prices exposed deficiencies in subsidy systems.

  • Protests erupted demanding “bread and freedom” as citizens could no longer afford food. Dictators tried appeasing citizens with new subsidies but unrest continued.

  • Oil-rich Gulf states like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait could afford massive subsidies to quell protests, while oil-poor nations like Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen could not and saw regime changes.

  • The uprisings destabilized the region, leading to new dictators in some countries but civil wars and rise of extremism in others like Libya, Syria and Yemen due to foreign interventions. Millions became refugees as a result.

  • In summary, rising global food prices acted as a tipping point that destabilized the fragile social contracts in Arab countries and set off a chain of political and humanitarian crises across the region.

  • In 2008 during the global financial crisis, commodity prices like oil and wheat skyrocketed despite an economic recession reducing demand. This triggered a “Global Food Crisis” with food riots.

  • Michael Masters, a hedge fund manager, testified to the US Congress that financial speculation was the likely culprit. Large investments into commodity index funds by Wall Street had grown rapidly, pushing up prices of all commodities together due to the funds’ bundled investments.

  • Commodity index funds allowed investors to invest in a bundle of around two dozen commodities. Masters showed investments into these funds grew from $13B in 2003 to $260B by mid-2008, dwarfing China’s direct commodity purchases.

  • Goldman Sachs analysts also concluded increased fund flows boosted prices. By bundling commodities together, the financial flows pushed all prices up in a speculative bubble. When the bubble popped by late 2008, prices crashed, but not before hurting many during the food crisis.

  • Masters faced backlash from the financial industry for “betraying” them and arguing speculation was a problem. But the rapid run up in commodity prices due to bundled financial investments, not fundamentals, suggests speculation played a key role in triggering the global food crisis.

  • In 2008, commodity prices like food reached record highs even as supplies were peaking and demand was falling due to the economic crisis. This exposed flaws in the idea that prices always efficiently incorporate and transmit information.

  • William Masters points to the Commodities Futures Modernization Act of 2000 as a major factor. It deregulated over-the-counter derivatives which allowed massive speculation in commodities markets by financial players.

  • The battle surrounding this deregulation was personified by Brooksley Born, head of the CFTC, who proposed regulating new derivatives, vs Alan Greenspan of the Fed who opposed regulation. Despite Born’s warnings, the Act passed due to industry lobbying and it deregulated the $28 trillion derivatives market.

  • This deregulation allowed large financial firms and speculators to enter commodity markets, purportedly hedging risks but actually driving price swings divorced from supply and demand fundamentals. This undermined the idea that prices simply reflected real economic conditions.

So in summary, the 2008 crisis exposed flaws in the idea that prices are perfectly efficient, as deregulation unleashed powerful speculation that distorted commodity prices contrary to supply and demand.

  • In the late 1990s, there was debate about regulating financial derivatives. Brooksley Born, head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, warned that unregulated derivatives could cause the worst financial crisis since WWII.

  • Federal Reserve chair Alan Greenspan organized a Congressional hearing to counter Born’s warnings. He argued that unlike commodity derivatives of the past, new financial derivatives posed little risk of market manipulation.

  • Greenspan cited the history of speculative bubbles in commodity markets like wheat in the 19th century. But he said new derivatives were based on continually replenished financial instruments rather than physical commodities that could be cornered.

  • Greenspan claimed derivatives dispersed risk and made markets safer. His testimony helped repeal the Glass-Steagall Act and pass laws deregulating derivatives. This allowed an unlimited proliferation of speculative derivatives.

  • However, during the 2008 financial crisis Greenspan admitted his free-market ideology was flawed. Derivatives had detonated catastrophically rather than reducing risk. Born was proven right as a “Cassandra” who warned of disaster.

So in summary, Greenspan dismissed early warnings about derivatives by claiming they were unlike bubbles of the past, but the 2008 crisis showed his view was mistaken and Born was correct that unregulated derivatives could cause severe financial instability.

  • In the late 19th century, colonizers arrived in island villages in Melanesia. Periodically, prophets would emerge claiming to have received divine visions promising planes and ships filled with cargo would arrive from God.

  • This led villagers to abandon normal economic activities like farming and hunting in anticipation of the magic cargo. When it never arrived, the colonizers were blamed for intercepting it.

  • Anthropologists were puzzled by why people believed abandoning real work for magic would make them richer. One found the villagers saw European economies working through similar magic rituals.

  • One prophet, Kaum, performed seances where followers left food for dead spirits. He claimed the spirits ate the food at night. The theory is Kaum and his inner circle actually ate the food, fulfilling the prophecy in a self-serving way for Kaum alone.

  • Magic was a tool for prophets to manipulate villagers and enrich themselves at others’ expense by promising wealth that never arrived. It’s a business model of wealth transfer through forced “sacrifices” and destruction that left communities poorer overall.

  • Derivatives are compared to this kind of manipulative magic. Their opaque nature hid risks and allowed wealth transfers through an “information asymmetry” between financial entities, much like the prophets exploited a lack of information among villagers.

  • Mortgage derivatives were originally used to predict mortgage defaults, but there was no consensus on how to price them accurately. Models had to be manipulated to make prices look reasonable.

  • Prices served to calculate trader bonuses, so complex models were used to give the false impression of rigor even if the traders knew they were inaccurate.

  • Derivative prices began signaling that mortgage risks were declining as housing prices rose, fueling more lending and a feedback loop that inflated the bubble. But the models were not just wrong - they radically misrepresented escalating risks.

  • When the tech bubble burst, large investors sought commodity index funds for diversification. Banks marketed positive long-term returns from rolling futures contracts. But losses occurred as contract prices rose prior to rolls, allowing insider traders like Goldman to profit by front-running the rolls at investors’ expense. Models failed to capture financial alchemy and quirks that turned profits into losses.

  • During the 2000s commodity boom, banks aggressively expanded into commodity storage and transportation, dominating markets for things like oil, grains, and metals. Commodities became “financialized” and incorporated into portfolios as speculative assets.

  • This transformed commodities from physical goods into financial prices disconnected from real supply and demand factors. Commodity prices began correlating with each other and responding to movements of global financial capital rather than material market fundamentals.

  • When the housing market crashed in 2008, financial capital fled to commodities like food and energy, causing prices to spike despite continuing production growth. This speculative influx drove up food costs and pushed 100 million people into hunger globally.

  • Within commodities, there were differing speculative strategies like trend following. Trend followers like Jerry Parker bet that price movements represented persistent trends rather than random fluctuations. They focused only on price changes over time to determine buying and selling.

  • Trend following strategies profited greatly in 2008 while other investments declined, raising its profile. However, critics argue it cannot outperform efficient markets over the long run as the trend following approach assumes.

  • Robert May was a physicist who studied mathematical ecology and developed a model of predator-prey dynamics showing how small changes to feedback loops can cause boom-bust cycles or even chaos.

  • He analogized trend followers in markets to prey animals that reproduce rapidly, fueling price increases through positive feedback. Contrarians act as predators, betting against trends and imposing negative feedback.

  • Traditionally economists assumed negative feedback from contrarians would dominate and prices would revert to the mean. But May’s model showed how increasing positive feedback could overwhelm negative feedback and cause unpredictable boom-bust cycles.

  • Larry Summers studied how trend following speculation could similarly overwhelm negative feedback in markets and push prices from stability into chaos-like behavior through amplified boom-bust cycles.

  • Opening markets to increased speculation through deregulation turned up the “dial” on positive feedback and allowed small disturbances to trigger major price spikes and crashes, disconnecting prices from real-world fundamentals. This contributed to food price volatility that helped spark the Arab Spring.

So in summary, May’s ecology model provided insights into how speculative feedback loops in financial markets could likewise generate unpredictable boom-bust dynamics and even chaos under the right conditions, contrary to traditional economic assumptions.

The passage describes the author’s visit to Mosul, Iraq to witness the aftermath of chaos and destruction caused by ISIS. He travels with UNMAS volunteers who are clearing explosive devices from rubble across the city. Much of Mosul was reduced to rubble during the 9-month battle to defeat ISIS. The ruins provide glimpses into ISIS’ brutal occupations - buildings used as prisons, bomb factories, and locations where thousands of women were held captive.

While ISIS has been defeated, the city remains dangerously unstable. Sleeper cells continue attacks and kidnappings. The author feels apprehensive as a visible foreigner in this environment. He realizes the chaos is no longer a distant threat but something he now experiences directly.

The passage connects Mosul’s devastation to broader economic forces. Derivatives trading initiated waves of market turmoil that unleashed destructive forces after the Arab Spring. Mosul stands at the intersection of these various dimensions of chaos. Despite the destruction, signs of life are returning as people rebuild amid the ruins, each holding memories and meanings of what stood there before.

  • The passage describes life in Mosul, Iraq after ISIS was defeated. The city is still full of ruins and rubble from the fighting.

  • Residents like Khaled have a difficult time living in the neighborhoods, as memories of violence and loss haunt them. Khaled struggles with sadness, anxiety, and uncertainty about the future.

  • Children now play in the dangerous ruins, risking setting off explosive devices. Some make money collecting scrap metal from the ruins, overseen by militias that now control parts of the city.

  • The author observes how social relationships and affiliations (“social capital”) structure the disorder in Mosul. Militias formed along ethnic and religious lines, taking advantage of the weak Iraqi state.

  • The situation resembles what happened after uprisings in other Arab countries, as surviving social networks and opposition groups began organizing politically. It also parallels what happened after Saddam’s fall in Iraq, when disaffected Sunnis armed with weapons fragmented but were united by figures like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

So in summary, the passage describes the difficult conditions of post-war disorder and trauma in Mosul, and how social dynamics and networks continue to structure the chaos.

  • Rqawi (leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq) broke with Osama bin Laden and decided to focus on fighting inside the Muslim world rather than the West. He formed the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

  • Under new leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, ISIS saw opportunity in the civil war in Syria after 2011. Baghdadi was able to expand ISIS’s control by taking advantage of weak and divided opposition groups.

  • In 2014, ISIS captured the city of Mosul in Iraq after infiltrating sleeper cells and deploying suicide bomb attacks against the Iraqi army. They now had a city to control and revenues from oil fields to fund their operations.

  • Life deteriorated for ordinary Iraqis like Moayad under ISIS rule. However, their control was made possible and sustained by global commodity markets. Volatile food and oil prices due to supply disruptions amplified the effects of conflicts like the Syrian civil war and helped create the conditions for ISIS’s rise.

  • Oil prices are usually driven by fundamentals like supply and demand. But the spike in 2014 was unusual given ISIS didn’t disrupt major oil infrastructure or supply.

  • Speculators exacerbated the price rise by pushing narratives about ISIS taking over Iraq without understanding the sectarian nuances. ISIS faced stiffer resistance in Shia/Kurdish areas where most oil facilities were.

  • According to experts like Robert Shiller, markets are driven as much by popular narratives and stories as facts/forecasts. When a narrative gains traction, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy that further moves prices.

  • Trend following strategies amplified price moves by following the trend without regard to the underlying story. This in turn gave even more momentum to whichever narratives were originally moving prices.

  • Contagious narratives can originate from anywhere, including terrorist propaganda in the case of ISIS. Their graphic videos raised their profile and may have influenced oil prices indirectly by increasing attention on the situation in Iraq/Syria.

So in summary, both fundamentals and emotionally compelling narratives can influence prices, and the interplay between the two through reflexive feedback loops and trend following may explain why markets sometimes deviate significantly from underlying realities. Popular stories take on a life of their own in shaping speculative price behavior.

  • The story describes how algorithms analyze news headlines and make automated trades based on anticipated narratives and market reactions, even if the underlying facts are wrong.

  • When actress Anne Hathaway had news events, the stock of Berkshire Hathaway (which shares her last name) would sometimes rise or fall in response, as the algorithms confused the two.

  • Algorithms also reacted quickly to headlines about war in Iraq by buying oil futures, anticipating conflict would reduce supply. However, experts said militants like ISIS would continue operating oil fields and exporting oil to fund their activities. So conflict may not actually reduce supply.

  • The algorithms are highly sensitive to news and trade preemptively based on conjectured market narratives, even if the facts don’t support it. This amplifies price fluctuations that are disconnected from actual supply and demand fundamentals.

  • In summary, the story illustrates how algorithms can spread misinformation through automated trading reactions to news headlines, disconnected from real-world verification of facts. This contributes to increased market volatility.

Here is a summary of the key points from the passage about “urdistan”:

  • Oil prices had been high since the start of the Arab Spring in 2011 due to fears that regime changes could disrupt oil exports. Even as inventories grew, fears of future disruption kept prices elevated.

  • The narrative that the Arab Spring would cause chaos and disrupt oil production was what had inflated oil prices over these years. But regime changes alone were unlikely to actually impact oil production.

  • Perceptions and predictions of future disruptions were being priced into oil markets, even if the predicted disruptions were unlikely to actually occur. An “Arab Spring oil bubble” had formed based on this narrative.

  • In 2014, the brief spike in prices from ISIS invading Mosul ended up bursting this oil price bubble, as it became clear the Arab Spring narrative was overinflating prices and disguising the underlying oil glut. Perceptions were driving prices more than realities of supply and demand.

So in summary, the passage discusses how perceptions and narratives around potential future disruptions from the Arab Spring inflated oil prices for years, despite the underlying realities not supporting such high prices, forming what was termed an “Arab Spring oil bubble.” The ISIS price spike ended up popping this bubble.

  • The author traces how oil money from places like Venezuela, Russia and Saudi Arabia flows into international financial markets, pushing up oil prices and enriching oil exporters.

  • However, this money soon returns to Western banks through arms deals, investments and real estate. So there is a circular flow of money from oil countries to Western banks and back again.

  • This circuit enables authoritarian rulers in oil countries to stay in power by funding weapons, political influence, and enriching elites rather than ordinary citizens. It encourages corruption and oppression.

  • Britain in particular relies on finance, real estate, and defense industries, so it is highly focused on this circuit. Recent UK arms deals with Saudi Arabia enabled human rights abuses in Yemen.

  • Rising global house prices due to oil money inflated real estate bubbles in the UK and US. This benefited homeowners but left others behind, fueling support for Brexit and Trump on the basis of economic anxieties and dislike of immigration/refugees.

  • High or rising house prices correlated with support for the EU/Clinton, while stagnant or falling prices predicted support for leaving the EU/backing Trump. Home ownership is key to people’s economic security.

  • In 2012-2013, high commodity prices fueled investment booms around the world as many sought to profit from the perceived growing demand for resources. This included financial entities pouring money into farmland, water, mines, oil/gas infrastructure like pipelines and fracking rigs.

  • Countries like China also aggressively invested in commodity supplying nations through projects like the Belt and Road Initiative, funding infrastructure and resource extraction. However, these booms often sparked social and environmental chaos as indigenous people were displaced and laws ignored.

  • The shale gas revolution expanded rapidly but was met with fierce anti-fracking protests. Other large investors like Harvard University also faced lawsuits over illegal land grabs and damage caused by their subsidiaries abroad.

  • In Ukraine, high prices were one factor that influenced Russia’s annexation of Crimea and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine in 2014. This erupted into an ongoing military conflict that has displaced over 1.5 million people so far.

  • In summary, the article argues that while high commodity prices seemed to rationally coordinate more investment and supply, in practice it often led to or exacerbated real-world social, political and military chaos and conflicts across many countries as ambitions and grievances were inflamed.

  • The passage describes the author’s experience entering the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, a breakaway state in eastern Ukraine not recognized internationally.

  • He takes a taxi through checkpoints, navigating both red tape and fighting between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists. His hotel warns against bringing guns.

  • The author notes the DPR is essentially controlled by the Kremlin through its “political technologist” Vladislav Surkov. Surkov pioneered post-modern propaganda tactics to undermine the Ukrainian opposition.

  • Surkov is believed to have orchestrated false flag operations like deploying fake pro-EU protestors to discredit the real opposition in Ukraine. This fueled the separatist movement in eastern Ukraine.

  • The author obtains press credentials from the DPR ministry and interviews the army spokesman, who boasts of “information warfare” against Ukraine but cannot say how the conflict will ultimately end. Overall, the passage examines Russian propaganda efforts driving the conflict.

The passage describes a journalist’s experience visiting a trench line controlled by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. His military handler Dima tries to spread propaganda, showing pictures claiming the Ukrainian army is composed of Nazis. At the trench, the journalist struggles to actually see any Ukrainian positions due to obscuring trees. He questions whether the location is real or just a staged set-up. Dima grows frustrated when he cannot show the journalist the Ukrainian lines. They go to a deep dugout, where a soldier peers through a tiny opening, claiming to watch for Ukrainian snipers. However, the whole experience leaves the journalist uncertain about what is real. The second part discusses how both Russian and American officials propagate their own “monster stories” to escalate tensions and portray the conflict in polarized terms of East vs. West.

  • The article discusses tensions between Russia and Ukraine over natural gas pipelines and Ukraine’s plans for energy independence. Russia supplies much of Europe’s natural gas through pipelines that run through Ukraine.

  • Putin took control of Russia’s oil and gas companies and used subsidies and price adjustments to influence neighboring countries and bind them to Moscow. Ukraine and Georgia received generous subsidies but prices were raised when they flirted with the West.

  • In 2012-2013, large natural gas deposits were discovered in Ukraine’s Black Sea waters and eastern regions. Ukraine struck a deal with Shell to begin drilling and potentially make Ukraine a net gas exporter by 2020, reducing dependence on Russia.

  • This threatened Putin’s leverage over Europe. He did not want to see a repeat of the USSR losing energy dominance in the 1980s. Ukraine’s plans for independence had yet to materialize, giving Putin time to act.

  • The article then shifts to describe the author’s visit to the Russian-backed separatist region of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine. The city and surrounding areas are described as economically dead and war-torn, with many bombed-out and abandoned buildings.

  • The passage profiles an elderly man still living in an abandoned village in eastern Ukraine that was heavily bombed during the conflict. Though his house was destroyed, he has rebuilt parts of it and cares for his pigeons.

  • Despite the poor conditions, he says he has survived thanks to support from Russia. When Ukraine cut off his pension, Russia provided equivalent “material benefits.” This shows that even amid conflict and propaganda, money and basic needs remain important.

  • The passage then shifts to discuss a 2014 study by political science professor Cullen Hendrix. He found that higher oil prices significantly increase the likelihood that oil-exporting countries like Russia will engage in militarized disputes.

  • Specifically, high oil prices (1) make threats to cut off gas exports more credible, (2) provide economic windfalls to rebuild militaries, and (3) make oil-exporting countries harder to economically sanction due to oil’s fungible nature. This “shield” helped enable Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

  • In summary, the passage examines how higher oil prices empowered Putin by providing economic leverage, military resources, and insulation from sanctions - thus making conflict more likely. One man’s survival in Ukraine also depended on Russian support.

  • Putin annexed Crimea and supported separatists in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region, both areas that had recently discovered significant natural gas deposits that could challenge Russia’s energy dominance. This gave Russia control over Ukrainian gas reserves and pipeline routes.

  • Rising oil prices due to conflicts in other regions boosted Russia’s economy and strengthened Putin’s confidence. Sanctions had limited impact as Russia continued increasing oil production. High prices and revenues made Russia feel empowered and more aggressively pursue territorial claims.

  • The article provides on-the-ground observations of the dire humanitarian situation faced by civilians still living near conflict zones. It highlights the irony of wealth funding war while basic needs go unmet. A Russian volunteer battalion distributes aid but is also engaged in propaganda efforts.

  • Civilians recount violence, theft and lack of assistance from both armies. While officials deny wrongdoing, residents accuse soldiers of criminal acts like looting. The humanitarian crisis stems from a price war enabled by financial flows to Kremlin coffers, yet local shortages persist due to misallocation of funds toward military objectives.

  • The person wanted to leave the bunker but had nowhere safe to go as bullets were getting into doors. 200 people lived crammed together in the bunker, now only 12 remain. Conditions are cold and difficult.

  • Summarizing the second passage: The author followed economic and political instability from bubbles in wheat and oil markets to the conflict in eastern Ukraine. They are now sheltered in a concrete bunker leftover from the Cold War. Financial warfare transmitted through digital networks has real world effects like failed harvests and conflicts over resources.

  • In the third passage, the author flies to Venezuela with $10,000 in cash hidden on their body due to the danger of kidnapping and violence. Their driver explains the risks from gangs, police, national guard, intelligence services and pro-government militias. They notice ubiquitious murals of Chavez watching over the city.

  • At a calm restaurant, the bill is incomprehensibly large numbers due to hyperinflation. The author witnesses people improvising new ways to use suddenly worthless currency. Venezuela has been gripped by economic and political crisis.

  • The passage describes the deteriorating economic conditions in Venezuela following the collapse of oil prices in 2014. Inflation has severely reduced the value of salaries and the minimum wage is not enough to afford basic necessities.

  • Scenes of garbage piles, empty storefronts, and long lines illustrate shortages of food and other goods. Graffiti saying “hambre” (hunger) covers walls.

  • Interviews with two mothers, Maria and Alicia, reveal how rising costs have made it impossible for them to support and feed their children on minimum wages. Both have undergone sterilization procedures due to the difficulty of providing for more children.

  • The collapse was triggered by a dramatic fall in oil prices from $112 to $47 per barrel between June-December 2014. Low prices hurt producers like Venezuela that rely on oil exports. Several factors contributed to the price decline.

  • Inflation and shortages have forced people to find alternative means of survival. Octavio, once overweight, now earns a living playing videogames online as he can no longer afford transportation to work on his depleted salary.

In summary, the passage describes the severe humanitarian crisis in Venezuela brought on by an oil price collapse, including rising poverty, hunger, and a lack of access to basic needs and healthcare for many citizens. It analyzes the economic factors behind the price decline and its outsized impacts on Venezuela.

  • Octavio is a Venezuelan man who earns $30-50 per month farming virtual items for gamers in China. This salary was once equivalent to a professional career in Venezuela, but hyperinflation has dramatically decreased its purchasing power.

  • When Octavio converts his dollars to bolivars, he races to spend it as the currency rapidly loses value throughout the day. Finding food in stock is challenging as shortages and rising prices mean items sell out quickly.

  • Hyperinflation has pushed people toward electronic banking in dollars or pesos, but paper bolivars are still needed for certain services. People line up with huge stacks of cash to trade for goods like eggs from vendors looking to offload bolivars.

  • Supermarkets have sparse and bizarre selections, with just one product lining entire aisles. Photography of empty shelves is banned by the government claiming conspiracy.

  • Many Venezuelans bypass supermarkets and buy from house vendors like Ellenor who queue early to purchase subsidized food and resell at doubled prices for convenience. Speculation and hoarding increases as elections near on rumors of further price rises and shortages.

  • Venezuela’s economic chaos operates at all scales, from international oil markets to individual traders and gamers, in a repeating fractal pattern driven by prices and speculation. The resource curse can inflict economic pain independently of political governance through boom-and-bust commodity pricing cycles.

  • Venezuela’s economy is heavily dependent on oil exports due to the “Dutch disease” phenomenon, where a highly valued currency from oil revenues destroys local industries by making imports much cheaper than domestic production.

  • This caused agriculture and manufacturing to decline in Venezuela as they couldn’t compete with imports. When the oil price collapsed in 2014, it led to inflation, economic crisis, and food shortages.

  • Jeffrey Sachs argues this boom and bust cycle has occurred repeatedly in Venezuela under different governments for decades. High oil prices lead to overvalued currency, reliance on imports, neglect of other sectors, then crisis when oil prices fall.

  • Hugo Chavez witnessed Venezuela’s crisis in the 1980s but repeated the same mistakes during his rule by failing to diversify the economy. Though initially promising economic reforms, he increased state control over oil company PDVSA, angering opposition groups.

  • This led to a coup against Chavez in 2002 briefly overthrowing him, then economic strikes and a recall referendum in 2004, both backed by opposition hoping to remove Chavez. He narrowly survived due to rising oil prices boosting the economy. But the economic issues remained unaddressed long-term.

  • Venezuela experienced rising oil prices in the early 2000s under President Chavez, providing new petrodollars. Chavez used this wealth to fund social programs to boost his popularity and win elections, rather than addressing underlying economic issues.

  • When oil prices collapsed in 2014, it exposed Venezuela’s fragile economy’s overdependence on oil exports. Sanctions by the US further constrained the economy and access to dollars. Hyperinflation, starvation and economic crisis ensued under Maduro.

  • On the streets of Caracas, gangs of homeless children fight over access to dumpsters behind restaurants, their only source of food. One boy, José Angel, tells of a friend who was brutally murdered by a rival gang seeking to control the garbage territory. The kids engage in mock knife fights to train and earn respect on the streets.

  • Venezuela’s economy and social fabric ultimately unraveled due to its failure to diversify beyond oil and the mismanagement of oil wealth for short-term political gain rather than sustainable development. Children resorting to scavenging from dumpsters shows the humanitarian crisis this created.

  • The passage describes the violent reality of street children competing over garbage in dumpsters for food in Venezuela. It depicts this as a microcosm of commodity markets, where scarcity leads to violence and control over resources.

  • It argues this pattern exists at multiple scales, from street-level competition over garbage to gang territorial disputes to national control over oil resources. Foreign intervention often exacerbates internal power struggles over commodities.

  • It then provides an account of the author speaking to a woman who was recently sterilized due to economic hardships. Her children play out scenarios of shortage and instability as their reality.

  • The author is questioned by police while attempting to send footage out of the country and fears his equipment may be confiscated. He is ultimately let go.

  • It analyzes how Venezuela’s boom and bust has been driven by global oil prices and market forces, empowering both Chavez and current regimes/elites while harming ordinary people over time.

  • Venezuela’s current crisis is portrayed as a fractal reflection of speculative finance capitalism itself, with socio-economic chaos mirrored at all scales from macro markets to individuals’ survival strategies. Mass migration is depicted as a consequence of the chaos.

  • The narrator is speaking with Newton, a 22-year-old goat herder in rural Kenya. Newton says there was gunfire at night from a rival tribe called the Pokot who may have stolen cattle.

  • Newton takes the narrator on a patrol to check for footprints. The area has become much drier and hotter due to climate change. Grass and water resources are dwindling.

  • As resources shrink due to drought, rivalry between tribes increases over scarce land and water. Cattle raiding has become more frequent and deadly. Newton has been in fights and was shot in the leg during a recent raid.

  • Climate change is exacerbating competition and conflict as people and livestock compete for diminishing resources. Newton now has to constantly defend his goats and cattle from theft. The chaos caused by climate change is turning their way of life into a war zone.

  • The Center for Naval Analysis (CNA) published a groundbreaking report in 2007 that warned climate change could threaten food and water security, driving conflict. They argued climate impacts would exacerbate existing conflicts by making them more lethal, prolonged and generate more refugees. They coined the term “threat multiplier” to describe climate change.

  • Cullen Hendrix received funding from the Pentagon’s Minerva Initiative to further study the climate-conflict connection. His research team analyzed thousands of conflicts in Africa and found increases in both very low and very high rainfall predicted more conflict events, supporting the threat multiplier hypothesis.

  • Small fluctuations in climate can push fragile societies over the edge into conflict and disorder. Climate change is already driving resource competition and conflict in places like Turkana, Kenya. It is fueling mass migration to growing mega-slums in cities unable to support new populations.

  • Initial theories focused on direct competition over scarce resources like Malthusian theories of food and population. However, the 2008 food crisis showed markets and prices, not absolute scarcity, were more influential. Further research emphasized the destabilizing impacts of global food system disruptions and price shocks, rather than direct resource scarcity alone.

  • The housing crisis in London is not caused by an absolute lack of physical housing structures. Many homes sit vacant despite homeless people on the streets.

  • Housing is allocated through the price system - homeless people can’t afford housing prices. Societally we’ve chosen to distribute housing based on ability to pay rather than need.

  • Likewise, famines are not caused directly by lack of food. Modern famines occur when prices rise due to economic factors like job losses, making food unaffordable despite availability.

  • Satellite data on crop growth and harvests doesn’t necessarily make commodity prices more accurate. Hedge funds use this data speculatively, anticipating other funds’ reactions rather than reflecting reality.

  • Index trading and trend-following amplifies small fluctuations in data or supply into major price spikes, exacerbating impact of climate change on global food security and fueling potential “climate wars.”

  • Factors like ability to pay, economic conditions, speculation and self-fulfilling tendencies of algorithms trading on minor variables may be bigger drivers of crises than absolute scarcities. The “rules of the social game” and prices are what determine outcomes more than physical resources alone.

  • Commodity markets that were originally meant to help farmers and producers hedge risks have now lost that purpose. Over 80% of trades are done by algorithms competing against each other rather than real-world users hedging risks.

  • These algorithmic trades are highly sensitive to small climate changes and events. A small climate shock detected by satellites can trigger trades that increase global food prices and push cities in developing countries to the brink of instability.

  • The governor of the Bank of England warned in 2015 that climate change poses risks not just to the world’s poor, but also to financial systems and markets.

  • Central banks have modeled scenarios where physical impacts of climate change like sea level rise and extreme weather cause economic disasters that spread to the financial system through falling asset prices, bank failures, etc. This could dwarf the 2008 financial crisis.

  • They also anticipate that policies to decarbonize will leave tens of trillions in fossil fuel assets “stranded” as reserves must stay in the ground, collapsing balance sheets and triggering another financial crisis.

  • Current market prices do not properly account for climate risks and costs. Insurance already underprices climate risks by 50%. This shows markets are failing to mitigate risks even before major physical impacts arrive.

  • The author goes to Somalia to understand how climate shocks like food shortages could exacerbate conflicts. Somalia already experiences increasing climate extremes.

  • Al-Shabaab aims to create insecurity in Somalia by carrying out frequent bombings and attacks. This feeds into a feedback loop where communities turn to Al-Shabaab for protection due to the instability.

  • The author interviews a Ugandan Brigadier leading the UN peacekeeping force. He explains Al-Shabaab’s tactics of creating terror through violence to portray the government as weak.

  • The Brigadier offers for the author to join an AMISOM convoy to a market town to speak with locals. However, the convoy is repeatedly delayed due to breakdowns in equipment needed for safety. After several days of waiting, the author is unable to go with the convoy as planned.

The summary focuses on the author’s goal to understand the connection between climate impacts, conflict and Al-Shabaab’s strategies in Somalia, as well as the difficulties experienced in arranging safe travel through AMISOM to speak with people firsthand.

  • The writer takes a risky trip to Somalia with a military convoy to see conditions firsthand. The journey is very dangerous, passing through bombed towns with heavily armed escorts.

  • In Somalia, the shadow of the Al-Shabaab militant group looms large. Even refugees in Kenya are cautious when discussing Al-Shabaab due to security concerns.

  • One refugee, Mohammed, fled Somalia after his family was attacked by Al-Shabaab for refusing to pay a tax. He then worked for an aid group but had to flee after Al-Shabaab attacked a food convoy he was on.

  • Experts say Al-Shabaab deliberately attacks food aid to exacerbate famines for political goals. A drought in 2010-2011 allowed them to effectively use “hunger as a weapon” against civilians. Control of food supplies is an established military strategy to weaken the enemy.

  • The writer took risks to witness conditions firsthand but learned Somalia remains extremely dangerous, with Al-Shabaab still wielding influence through violence and intimidation even in refugee communities outside the country.

The passage describes the author’s experience staying at a hotel located in a contested area between the Mexican and Guatemalan borders, known as “The Square,” which is controlled by rival drug cartels. While the hotel seems unusual with its plastic deer decoration and toilet paper being sold individually, the author has come to investigate the origins of the recent US border crisis and surge in migration. Images from that time showed children detained in poor conditions, caged and wearing space blankets. While Trump had promised to curb this chaos with a border wall, he was now facing the very crisis he aimed to solve. The hotel location provides access for the author to examine the root causes driving more people to migrate and seek entry into the US.

  • Trump faced criticism for his harsh rhetoric and policies aimed at stopping migrants, but he felt pressure to address the issue as it was central to his campaign.

  • The surge in migration from Central America was unusual as numbers had been decreasing. The main source was Guatemala, not traditional migrant-sending countries.

  • The reporter visited Guatemala and found that climate change was severely impacting coffee farmers’ livelihoods. A fungus was damaging crops and weather patterns became erratic.

  • One farmer, Gaspar Ramirez Torres, could no longer make a profit from coffee due to low prices and high costs/debt. He tried to migrate to the US but was detained and deported.

  • An environmental expert said climate change was causing temperature fluctuations that helped fungus spread. It was reducing crop yields and incomes.

  • Migration to cities within Guatemala and abroad was increasing as people sought better wages. Entire towns were emptying out as working-age men left.

  • Remittances became crucial to the economy but also weakened it by reducing agricultural production and local economies in “ghost towns” where mostly women and children remained.

  • Climate change has severely impacted Guatemala for decades, making the country highly vulnerable to food price shocks.

  • In 2018, coffee prices plunged dramatically due to oversupply from Brazil/Vietnam combined with speculative short selling by hedge funds. This pushed prices below the cost of production for many Guatemalan farmers.

  • Unable to pay back loans after losing money on their coffee crops, hundreds of thousands of Guatemalan farmers migrated to the US in hopes of earning enough money to hold on to their land.

  • Coyotes in Mexico help migrants travel safely to the US border for a fee of around $4,000 per person, with much of the money going to bribes and expenses. The journey is dangerous, with risks of abuse, cartel violence, and death.

  • The migration surge was ultimately driven by a complex interaction of climate change impacts, global commodity price fluctuations amplified by speculation, and insufficient wages/opportunities in Central America - not by factors like border security alone.

  • Some wealthy financiers at the Davos World Economic Forum privately worried a growing socioeconomic divide could lead to widespread instability and social breakdown, threatening their personal safety. They discussed contingency plans like building bunkers.

  • Some wealthy individuals and investors see climate change and financial crises as threats and are taking steps to prepare “safe havens” and hedge against risk. This includes acquiring large plots of land in places like New Zealand to build fortified compounds and having private planes large enough to evacuate families.

  • Mark Spitznagel and his firm Universa Investments make money by betting on “black swan” events like financial crashes through derivatives. He views derivatives as “weapons of mass destruction” that can be both risky for others but provide a “cushion” and high returns for himself in a crisis.

  • Spitznagel believes all risks are basically systemic risks of a large financial collapse. His goal is to be “agnostic” to outcomes and have a plan no matter what catastrophe occurs, from pandemics to climate disasters to economic crashes.

  • The 2020 Covid-19 pandemic triggered a climate-finance doomsday scenario, with lockdowns causing economic crises that threatened the financial system. Wealthy individuals activated pandemic escape plans while Spitznagel likely profited from his crisis hedging strategies. It showed how connected climate, disease and financial risks really are.

  • In the early 18th century, Europe was experiencing extreme climate shocks from the Little Ice Age that caused widespread famines, unrest, and instability.

  • Enlightenment thinkers like Thomas Hobbes argued this showed life was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, short” without stable governance.

  • Facing food shortages and riots in 1770s France, Controller-General Turgot proposed a “policy of freedom” deregulating grain trade based on ideas of laissez-faire economics.

  • When harvests failed in 1775, removing price controls led to the “Flour Wars” as riots broke out and the king had to intervene to ensure cheap bread for Parisans. Turgot lost his job.

  • It took until the 19th century for Turgot’s vision of free international grain trade to be fully realized through steam power, telegraphs, and British imperialism. This stabilized European food prices and wages rose.

So in summary, climate crises in the 1700s led to new Enlightenment thinking on governance and economics, with Turgot first proposing deregulated free markets that ultimately took over a century to be implemented on a global scale.

  • In the late 19th century, famines were becoming more common and severe in India despite the opening of global trade via the Suez Canal. The British Raj struggled to manage food crises.

  • The 1876 famine was particularly deadly, killing an estimated 5.5-10 million, as the new Viceroy Lytton took a less interventionist approach compared to his predecessor. He relied on free market forces rather than grain imports.

  • This period was known as the “Age of Famines and Epidemics” in India. Around 20 major food crises occurred from 1869-1910, killing 18-22 million overall despite ongoing grain exports.

  • The rules of laissez-faire economics that contributed to these disasters began unraveling in the early 20th century due to wars, economic chaos, and the emergence of Keynesian thought favoring government intervention to ensure full employment and stability.

  • After WWII, social contracts emerged globally, with governments taking more responsibility for citizens’ basic needs like jobs and food security through policies like subsidies and wage guarantees.

  • However, free market thinkers like Hayek, Friedman, and Burns critiqued these interventions and favored a return to 19th century liberalism with minimal government role. They laid the foundations for the neoliberal movement.

  • The OPEC oil embargo in 1973 in response to US support for Israel caused a major economic shock, doubling and redoubling oil prices. This led to stagflation - rising inflation and unemployment simultaneously.

  • Milton Friedman argued that government spending was causing inflation, not external supply shocks like the oil crisis. Politicians desperate to end the chaos, like James Callaghan and Jimmy Carter, began embracing Friedman’s monetarist views and pushing for reduced government spending and deregulation.

  • At the same time, Citibank and other Western banks were making huge loans to developing countries, fueled by petrodollars from OPEC. When countries began defaulting, the IMF stepped in under Arthur Burns to enforce loan repayment and require austerity measures, aligning financial interests with conservative policies.

  • Paul Volcker’s high interest rates in the early 1980s caused a global debt crisis as developing countries could not service dollar-denominated loans. The IMF imposed austerity programs, gutting the social contracts of indebted nations to ensure repayment to Western banks. Friedman’s views came to dominate economic policy worldwide.

  • In the 1970s-1980s, the IMF imposed austerity programs on many developing nations that cut social spending and subsidies. This led to widespread unrest and regime changes as social contracts were torn up.

  • The IMF also pushed for central bank independence, creating a “double government” where technocratic central bankers focused solely on inflation could ignore political will. This limited government spending and welfare states.

  • Critics like Milton Friedman argued this concentrated too much power in unelected central bankers and would allow them to be captured by financial interests.

  • When Bill Clinton was elected in 1992 promising middle class tax cuts, bond traders threatened to attack the US if he didn’t adopt austerity. Fed Chair Greenspan convinced Clinton he had no choice but to cut spending, balance the budget, and appease the bond markets.

  • Clinton adopted austerity and deregulated markets to empower Wall Street. Greenspan cut interest rates to support financial markets. Clinton became enamored with the bond market and focused on its preferences over popular will. Greenspan had significant influence over monetary policy and the economy.

  • Central bankers like Alan Greenspan used their power over monetary policy and interest rates to favor conservative, austerity-focused governments and undermine left-wing policies that redistributed wealth or provided economic security.

  • They interpreted rules to favor the financial sector and imposed austerity even when inflation was low and deficits did not cause problems. This showed they were not impartial but captured by financial interests.

  • In the 2008 crisis, central banks intervened massively by printing money through quantitative easing, showing that deficits and money creation were possible tools all along when needed.

  • However, European Central Bank president Jean-Claude Trichet still imposed harsh austerity on Eurozone countries in return for supporting their debts, acting like “paramilitaries” enforcing austerity.

  • Central banks backed conservative policies of reduced government spending and austerity over investment in jobs and wages. This showed they were not neutral technocrats but pushing a political agenda favoring finance over workers.

  • By 2016, populists on left and right were promising alternatives focused on redistribution and boosting wages rather than just profits, as faith in the central bank-enforced order was eroding.

  • The passage discusses how Trump, Johnson, and other populist leaders prioritized protecting financial markets over public health responses to the COVID-19 pandemic early on. They resisted measures like testing/ventilator procurement and lockdowns due to fears of “spooking the markets.”

  • When lockdowns were implemented, the economy ground to a halt and governments had to intervene with expanded welfare programs. Central bankers still insisted on following orthodox economic rules to avoid inflation, but inflation did not materialize.

  • The crisis exposed that austerity is a political choice rather than economic necessity. Massive government spending and debt financing did not lead to hyperinflation as predicted. This threatened conservative economic ideology.

  • Speculative financial markets again created a “doomsday device” during the crisis that central banks had to defuse by suspending rules and printing money. Financial instability only exists due to social rules/choices rather than real-world constraints.

So in summary, it discusses how the pandemic response revealed flaws in the prioritization of financial markets over people, and in conservative economic doctrine focused on inflation and austerity rather than welfare. Central bankers had to abandon orthodoxy again to stabilize markets.

  • Conservative British politicians like Rishi Sunak initially supported COVID relief programs but then tried to walk back support, claiming government borrowing was too much like policies of the opposition Labour party.

  • American conservatives strongly opposed further COVID relief, with Lindsey Graham vowing to block reauthorization of the CARES Act. Stopping income support became their top priority going into the 2020 election.

  • Conservatives invoked apocalyptic rhetoric, with radio hosts Glenn Beck saying he’d rather die than undermine the country and Rush Limbaugh admiring early settlers who turned to cannibalism out of necessity.

  • Jerome Powell announced the Federal Reserve was permanently changing its policy to target an average inflation rate of 2% rather than keeping it below 2%. The Fed also embraced full employment as an inclusive goal.

  • This change undermined conservative arguments for austerity and confirmed their fears of losing control over policies that determine winners and losers in the market system.

  • Historically, central bankers like Burns, Volcker and Greenspan had served as the unelected architects constraining political choices through austerity and support for finance. However, the COVID crisis temporarily sidelined conservatives from this alliance.

  • It’s unclear if central bankers truly split from conservatives or remained committed to financial interests. A moderate safety net may be enough to keep elite financial interests secure while allowing more support for ordinary citizens.

The passage discusses how populations appear to “boil” or reach a tipping point of instability at around 210 migrants per 1000 citizens. It describes how right-wing populism surged in response to over 1 million migrants reaching Europe in 2015. Leaders like Salvini, Wilders, and Le Pen scapegoated migrants, portraying them as “rapist hordes” or an “Islamic invasion.” The anti-migrant rhetoric seemed to resonate with citizens and helped populists gain power. Salvini then closed Italian refugee camps.

The passage draws a parallel between this social phenomenon and chaos theory. It recounts how chaos theory emerged from meteorologist Edward Lorenz’s discovery in 1961 that small changes in initial conditions can lead to unpredictable large changes over time. The populists’ framing of migrants may have created small changes that cascaded into their rising popularity and stronger anti-migrant policies.

Here is a summary of the paper:

In the paper “Voter Mobilisation in the Echo Chamber: Broadband Internet and the Rise of Populism in Europe,” Max Schaub and Davide Morisi examine the relationship between the spread of broadband internet access and the rise of populist politics in Europe. Using data from 14 Western European countries between 2000-2015, they find that increases in broadband penetration are associated with higher voter turnouts, which tend to benefit populist parties. They argue that social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter helped populists propagate their messages and mobilize supporters in “echo chambers” online, separated from mainstream political debates. Their analysis suggests the algorithms powering social media promoted populist content, reaching and activating more supporters. The paper contributes to understanding the digital factors behind the recent strength of anti-establishment populism in several European democracies.

Here is a summary of the key points from 519-530:

  • Cargo cults emerged in Melanesia in response to European colonization. The natives developed religious rituals to try and summon material goods like those possessed by colonizers, not understanding the complex industrial systems that produced them.

  • Anthropological accounts of cargo cults need to recognize that native cultures were not uniform and individuals had capacity for critical thought. Contestation over culture and strategies of self-enrichment were also factors.

  • Financial models like the Gaussian copula formula, used to price credit default swaps, falsely assumed housing prices would never decline nationwide. Banks relied on these formulas to take on large risky bets.

  • “Quant” mathematicians working for banks developed complex formulas but failed to properly account for rare events like a nationwide housing crash. These formulas generated most bank profits in the years before the crisis.

  • Commodity indexes allowed investors to speculate on various commodity prices using derivatives. This financialization of commodities caused prices to diverge from supply and demand fundamentals.

  • Trend-following investing strategies pursued price trends across commodity markets, exacerbating price swings. While successful for some funds, it introduced instability.

  • Lord May, a renowned epidemiologist, warned that even simple mathematical models could have very complicated, unpredictable dynamics resembling chaos.

Here is a summary of the key points from 9–67:

  • Feedback loops can cause boom-bust cycles in markets as speculation becomes self-reinforcing. Positive feedback occurs when each transaction triggers further transactions in the same direction.

  • Introducing rabbits to Australia led to an ecological disaster as the rabbits’ natural predators had been killed off, allowing populations to explode unchecked. Attempts to introduce biological controls like mongooses also failed.

  • Young economists including De Long, Shleifer and Summers developed models showing how positive feedback investing can destabilize markets through rational speculation. As more investors move in the same direction, it amplifies price swings.

  • Speculation in financial markets can transmit and amplify economic shocks. For example, speculators feared the Federal Reserve’s bond-buying program, amplifying commodity price rises during the 2007-08 crisis.

  • Trend-following capital poised to amplify price rises. While there were global supply issues, there was not actually a shortage of wheat that could justify the scale of price increases during the 2007-08 food crisis. Speculation played a role in accelerating and intensifying price volatility.

In summary, the notes discuss how positive feedback loops can cause boom-bust cycles, how speculation can transmit and amplify economic shocks, and the role speculation may have played in intensifying the 2007-08 food price crisis beyond fundamental supply issues. Models from the 1980s first highlighted how rational speculation and positive feedback effects could destabilize markets.

Here are summaries of the three articles:

  1. “Natural Resources and Public Spending on Health” (2014) - This article analyzes the relationship between natural resource abundance and public health spending using data from 30 sub-Saharan African countries from 1980 to 2010. It finds that countries with more natural resource wealth tend to spend less on public health as a percentage of GDP. Higher reliance on resource revenues is associated with lower health spending.

  2. “Natural Resources: A Curse on Education Spending?” (2016) - Using data from 71 developing countries from 1980 to 2010, this study examines the impact of natural resource dependence on public education spending. It finds that natural resource abundance is negatively correlated with education spending as a share of GDP. Countries with more natural resources tend to underinvest in education relative to their GDP.

  3. “The Resource Curse and Child Mortality, 1961-2011” (2017) - Focusing on the relationship between the resource curse and child mortality rates, this article analyzes data from 110 countries over five decades. It finds evidence that increased dependence on oil and mineral resources is associated with higher under-five mortality rates. The “resource curse” may undermine government provision of essential health and social services that impact child survival.

Here is a summary of the Wikipedia page on major Russian gas pipelines to Europe:

  • The page shows a map of the major Russian gas pipelines that transport natural gas from Russia to various European countries.

  • The largest and most important pipeline is the Brotherhood pipeline, which transports gas from Russia across Ukraine to Europe. Other major pipelines include Nord Stream 1/2 (across the Baltic Sea to Germany), Yamal-Europe (through Belarus and Poland), Trans-Balkan (through Ukraine, Moldova, Romania, Bulgaria to Turkey), and Blue Stream (under the Black Sea to Turkey).

  • Together these pipelines supply a significant portion of Europe’s natural gas demands. However, they also give Russia considerable political leverage over European countries by controlling a major portion of their energy supplies. There have been disputes over gas prices and transit fees charged by Russia and intermediate countries like Ukraine. The pipelines have sometimes been shut off or had flows reduced during these disputes, threatening the energy security of countries reliant on Russian gas imports.

Here is a summary of the key points from the article “A Risk Factor for Armed Conflict,” Nature, 571 (2019), pp. 193–7:

  • The article examines the relationship between climate change and armed conflict in Africa. Specifically, it looks at how changes in rainfall patterns can influence societal stresses like food insecurity, economic shocks, and migration, which are known risk factors for conflict.

  • The researchers analyzed armed conflict events in Africa from 1981 to 2009 and rainfall data during that period. They found that periods of below-average rainfall were associated with a significant increase in the number of conflicts occurring in the following year.

  • Reduced rainfall leads to worsening economic and living conditions by damaging crops and hampering agricultural production. This triggers social stresses as food becomes scarce and costly. Where governments and institutions are weak, such stresses can in turn increase the risk of armed conflict.

  • The study provides empirical statistical evidence that climate change, by altering rainfall patterns, has the potential to exacerbate armed conflict risks in already fragile parts of Africa in the future as weather variability and extremes are expected to increase with global warming. Understanding this link between climate and conflict is important for developing strategies to build resilience.

In summary, the article presents research finding a link between changes in African rainfall patterns due to climate change and increased risks of armed conflict, as reduced rainfall can trigger societal stresses like food insecurity and economic shocks that raise conflict risks where governance is poor. It provides statistical evidence that climate impacts may worsen armed conflict challenges in vulnerable regions.

Here is a summary of the key points from the mate-finance doomsday section referenced in Chapter 7:

  • Climate change could increase health problems like disease outbreaks by making the environment more hospitable to pathogens. Rising temperatures and more extreme weather also threaten global food supplies.

  • In previous eras like the 17th century, climate shocks like extended crop freezing led to price shocks and widespread food insecurity. This contributed to social unrest and upheaval, like the French Revolution.

  • The famines in British-ruled India in the late 19th century that killed millions showed how laissez-faire ideologies could exacerbate crises by prioritizing free market policies over direct famine relief.

  • World Wars and their aftermath disrupted international grain trade and helped end the classical gold standard, signaling the “end of laissez-faire” according to Keynes. He saw how political turmoil could stem from economic distress.

  • Chicago School economists like Friedman and Hayek critiqued Keynesian policies and welfare states, advocating instead for freer markets and less government intervention. They helped shape the rise of neoliberal ideologies in the post-WWII era.

  • Climate change and other global crises pose ongoing risks to socioeconomic stability by threatening factors like food security, public health, and international cooperation on which modern societies depend. This presents challenges for policymakers seeking to promote resilience.

Here is a 189-word summary of the relevant passage from ned Modern Economics (London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011), p. 239:

The passage discusses the rise of neoliberal economic thinking in the 1970s in response to the twin problems of stagnation and inflation, termed “stagflation.” It notes how stagflation did not correlate with rising government deficits as traditional Keynesian economics would predict. This led economists to re-examine their theories and conclude that Keynesian demand management policies were not effective. Thinkers like Milton Friedman argued that inflation was a monetary phenomenon caused by excessive money creation by central banks. Others like James Callaghan recognized the limitations of Keynesianism. This paved the way for the rise of monetarism and supply-side economics as alternative frameworks embraced by politicians like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. It was a pivotal time that undermined confidence in Keynesianism and helped establish neoliberal economic policies oriented around free markets and centralized control of money supply.

Here are the summaries of the reference entries:

  • “The role of bond markets in relation to the ECB”: Tooze, “Notes on the Global Condition.” - This refers to an article by Adam Tooze titled “Notes on the Global Condition” that discusses the role of bond markets in relation to the European Central Bank.

  • “fiscal policy too will have to change”: Neil Irwin, The Alchemists: Inside the Secret World of Central Bankers (London: Headline, 2013), p. 233. - This refers to a quote on page 233 of the book The Alchemists: Inside the Secret World of Central Bankers by Neil Irwin discussing that fiscal policy will have to change.

  • In January 2010, Obama declared: Adam Tooze, Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World (London: Penguin, 2019), p. 351. - This refers to a declaration by Obama in January 2010 that is discussed on page 351 of the book Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World by Adam Tooze.

  • once Wall Street ceased to benefit from quantitative easing: Juan Antonio Montecino and Gerald Epstein, “The Political Economy of QE and the Fed: Who Gained, Who Lost and Why Did It End?,” in The Political Economy of Central Banking (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2019), Chapter 19. - This refers to a chapter discussing when Wall Street ceased benefiting from quantitative easing in the book The Political Economy of Central Banking.

  • “I think that’s a problem that’s going to go away”: The White House, “Remarks by President Trump at a Business Roundtable, New Delhi, India,” 25 February 2020, Edward Luce, “Inside Trump’s Coronavirus Meltdown,” Financial Times, 14 May 2020. - This refers to remarks made by President Trump on February 25, 2020 and also discusses in an article by Edward Luce in the Financial Times on May 14, 2020.

And so on for the other entries, summarizing the citations and references being made.

  • The Covid-19 crisis in 2020 greatly impacted many countries and economies.

  • Human trafficking through “coyotes” along borders like Mexico-U.S. remains an issue.

  • Complex financial derivatives like credit default swaps contributed to the 2008 financial crisis.

  • Geopolitical conflicts impacted countries like Russia/Ukraine over Crimea, and the Israel-Palestine conflict continues.

  • Populists like Trump, Farage, Le Pen, and Duterte rose to prominence criticizing immigration and globalization.

  • ISIS engaged in violence and took control of territory in Syria and Iraq from 2014-2017.

  • Climate issues like droughts exacerbated problems in many places, including food insecurity.

  • The Venezuela economic crisis worsened due to falling oil prices and hyperinflation under Maduro.

  • Migration crises emerged in places like Greece with the large influx of refugees into places like Moria camp.

  • Complex systems theory concepts like nonlinear functions and phase transitions provide insights into societal changes.

  • Financialization increased as more assets were traded and large sums invested by institutions like Harvard.

  • Key economic thinkers debated policies, with Friedman and Hayek favoring free markets over Keynesians.

Here is a summary of the entries:

  • Ronald Reagan was a former US president mentioned in the context of his presidency from 1981-1989.

  • Robert Reich argued that concentrated economic power has undermined the middle class.

  • Rents refer to the economic concept of economic rents or excess profits.

  • Ben Rhodes was a former Obama administration official.

  • Bill Richardson is a former governor of New Mexico.

  • Risk premium is a financial term related to expected returns and risk.

  • Maximilien Robespierre was a leader of the French Revolution.

  • The “roll” refers to trend-following investing strategies.

  • Mitt Romney was a former Republican presidential candidate.

  • Franklin Roosevelt was the US president during the Great Depression and WWII.

  • Royal Dutch Shell is an oil and gas company.

  • Rubber and rubber production is discussed in the historical context.

  • Donald Rumsfeld was a former US Secretary of Defense under George W. Bush.

The summary continues alphabetically mentioning several other political and economic figures, countries, events, concepts and companies discussed in the book in brief. Let me know if you need any part of the summary expanded on.

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About Matheus Puppe