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I sent John Busby's 7th August article to a friend who understands more about nuclear power than I do. His reaction was that 'Mr Busby is not conversant with the concept of pebble bed reactors'.  I would like to ask Mr Busby how he views that technology and whether he would care to tackle it in an article for the uninitiated like myself?

Kind regards, Paddy Imhof



The problem is that mining of uranium is running down, whatever form of reactor is envisaged.

See Die Welt which reports the imminent closure of some of the French reactors due to fuel shortages. 

The thorium alternative and fast breeders are dependent on vast development programmes which with the rapid and progressive failure of the nuclear industry will never be funded.

As far as the pebble bed reactor is concerned it depends on the integrity of the pebbles and as these contain graphite this is likely to lead to the demise of this technology.

The seven UK AGR's are likely to close prematurely as the graphite moderator blocks are disintegrating due to the irradiation which causes structural breakdown. Also there is an overheating due to the Wigner Energy effect which leaves a residual heat in the graphite. 

The gas-cooled fast reactor is also an unlikely candidate for funding for this reason as it relies on graphite moderation.

The nuclear lobby in desperation is arguing that uranium can be extracted from the earth's crust and seawater and looks to fast breeders to generate ever more plutonium. All of which is fantasy.

We do not have to wait too long for some of the lights to go out in France, which will hopefully lead to a reality check!
Kind regards, John Busby

How to succeed in destroying the U.S. without really trying Print E-mail
By Jon Rynn   

There are two main ways to destroy a country. Either conquer it from outside, steal all the assets, and prevent the people of the country from rebuilding; or conquer it from the inside, steal all the assets, and prevent the people of the country from rebuilding. Call the first strategy external imperialism and the second strategy internal imperialism. . . By diverting human capital and other resources, the military is creating a situation in which the U.S. will have great trouble rebuilding. All Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld have to do is let the powers that be continue to siphon off the assets of the United States, and they will have done their job, as far as the power elite are concerned.

There are two main ways to destroy a country: either conquer it from outside, steal all the assets, and prevent the people of the country from rebuilding; or conquer it from the inside, steal all the assets, and prevent the people of the country from rebuilding.   Call the first strategy external imperialism and the second strategy internal imperialism.  The British used the first type of imperialism to subdue India and other countries; George W. Bush, and the elites he represents, are in a position to achieve the second one in the United States.  Indeed, they are very far along in their efforts, but conquering from within is generally much easier than conquering from without.  The most important job of a would-be set of internal imperialists is to destroy the capability of the state to counter and overturn the actions of those same parasitic elites.  Once the state is powerless to stop those who already have from becoming those who have even more, the going gets pretty easy.  Your run-of-the-mill “deciders” can kick back at a phony ranch in Crawford, get drunk and hunt for quail, or hatch plots to conquer vulnerable oil states; Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld need only take advantage of the power that they already control

The sweet smell of success

 A popularly-based state is essential because societies are like ecosystems that are in constant danger of self-destructing.  The positive feedback loops of power that exist within all societies have the capacity to rip the system apart. 
 Positive feedback occurs when the increase in something – power, temperature, disease, machinery – increases the probability that there will be a further increase in that thing.  The most familiar physical example is an explosion.  A chemical process, or a nuclear process in the case of a nuclear bomb, sets off a chain reaction which explodes the pertinent material at a faster and faster rate, until everything is used up.  Positive feedback may also mean that a system becomes “stuck”, or “locked in” at either a maximum or a minimum.  For instance, the phenomenon of the “vicious cycle of poverty” was explored by the first recipient of the Nobel Prize for Economics (and one of the few who deserved it), Gunnar Myrdal . [1]   This process “locks in” poor people because education and other assets are needed to escape poverty, but poverty leads to a lack of these assets, and so it becomes difficult to “unlock” from a position on the economic “floor”.
Global warming, as we are seeing, contains many positive feedback processes.  For instance, when the polar ice caps lose snow, the underlying oceans and earth absorb more heat, which increases warming, which melts more snow, and so on .
 Empires are created by positive feedback.  A country conquers a smaller neighbor, steals its assets, and thus has more resources with which to conquer other countries.  Left to operate unimpeded, many countries throughout history should have been able to create a planetary empire.  However, as explained by international relations theorists, a balance of power forms, which counters a would-be global empire .  World War II was a good example.  The U.S. and the Soviet Union, at each others’ throats both before and after, became close allies in their bid to thwart the global ambitions of Hitler. 
The balance of power is an example of a negative feedback process.  Social scientists, and in particular economists, have made a fetish of stability and negative feedback processes, and by so doing, have ignored the positive feedback yin that complements the negative feedback yang.  Without understanding both processes, it becomes very difficult to correctly analyze complex global social systems.
The decline of Great Powers such as the U.S. occur because of the positive feedback processes at work within a wealthy country.  The production of goods and services, particularly within the manufacturing sector, gives rise to great wealth.  Those who are better at controlling things than producing things take advantage of this cornucopia to control large concentrations of wealth.  In particular, financial sectors and governments tend to deplete the manufacturing sector for their own internal and external imperial reasons, and eventually kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. 
In a dictatorship, this process is well-nigh impossible to stop, because there is no countervailing power.  Revolutions occur when the process of decline has advanced so far that the state itself is crumbling.  In a democracy, the possibility (but certainly not the inevitability) of reversal exists, in so far as the population can rouse itself to challenge the power elite. 
 Several authors have noted these internal processes of power.  In the 1960s the economist John Kenneth Galbraith proposed that the government can be a “countervailing” power to the rising power of corporations.  C. Wright Mills coined the idea of a “power elite”, composed of corporate, governmental, and military elites, although he did not discuss how they might be challenged.  Seymour Melman detailed how the state joins with corporations to form a “state capitalism” that centers on the production of military equipment, the operation of the state sucking dry the production system.  Recently, Kevin Phillips has written of the destructive effects of a rapidly rising financial sector. 
Perhaps the broadest effort to discuss positive feedback, over the long-term, was undertaken by Karl Polanyi in his book, “The Great Transformation”.  Writing in 1945, the lessons of the previous century were clear: left unregulated, global capitalism would destroy itself.   In a similar vein, Keynes’ identified the phenomenon of the “liquidity trap”, another form of positive feedback “lock in”, in which the lack of investment leads to a low level of economic activity which leads to a lack of investment, and so on .
The phenomenon described by the phrase, “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer”, is really two “lock ins”, one at the top of the economic system and the other at the bottom.  As Linda Minor has so ably demonstrated in her articles on this website, the rich are able to maintain their power, and even to enhance it, because they are rich and powerful.  As David Cay Johnston explains, the rich are becoming richer partly because of changes in the tax code, and the richer they are the easier it is to become even richer, partly because they increase their ability to avoid taxes .
Like an external empire, families and friends in the elite can continuously gobble up smaller centers of power within a country, until they eventually control most of the country’s wealth.  Power leads to more power.  Manufacturing firms are ensnared in this net and are sucked dry, left to rot with everything else in the ecosystem known as the national economy.  Instead of putting surpluses back into the manufacturing system from whence the surpluses came, those resources are used as weapons to control economic (and political) entities, world-wide.
The unions used to serve as a “countervailing” power to the corporations, but the destruction of the unions has been a long-term goal of the power elite of the United States.  Outsourcing manufacturing had two goals: first, increase profits by decreasing labor costs, but second, decrease the power of unions and the middle and working classes in general.  As David Kay Johnston argues, “We are the only country in the world that is in the pursuit of lowering wages” .  Lower labor costs alone would not in themselves serve as a reason to outsource; the larger goal is to take power away from the middle and working classes.  Even in the service industries, which are poorly organized, keeping uppity computer programmers scared by outsourcing to India even when the gains are dubious can make sense to power-hungry CEOs who want to keep the “business climate” in the U.S. “attractive”.  Such short-sighted agendas prevent the people of the U.S. from rebuilding, because eventually they will have neither the power nor the skills to do so.

Keeping prying eyes off of the prize
The state, as militarized, corrupt, and greedy as it is, is the only force strong enough to keep this system from exploding.  To do so would require a population that is sophisticated enough to know how the political economy really works and therefore how it should be managed.  The current mainstream economic ideology -- neoclassical economics -- serves to prevent people from understanding what is going on in two critical ways.  First, neoclassical economics, at its core, teaches that the government can only be a negative force in the economy because it defiles the perfection of the market; and second, the profession teaches that the most transcendent expression of market perfection is the theory of comparative advantage.
The main problem with all neoclassical economic theories is that they cease to apply in the long-run; Keynes famous remark that “in the long run we are all dead” really means that “in the long run neoclassical economics is dead”.  The state, ideally, exists as a social contract, and thus must be concerned with the long-term survival of its inhabitants, stretching into the distant future.  The main problem to be investigated here is the following: in the short-term, markets can reward those who destroy assets, which are necessary for the well-being or even survival of the economy in the long run.  Without the state, the market will destroy itself, for a number of reasons.
 First, there are certain classes of essential assets that would not be created without the intervention of the state, and are happily destroyed if the state is made impotent.  As I explained in “Say Dubai to the American Economy” , a market cannot function without a sophisticated infrastructure.  Similarly, the human capital created by an educational and training system have almost always been provided by the state, as well as crucial research and development activities. 
Second, the ecosystem that underlies all production is a critical asset that is merrily destroyed for short-term gain.  As we are now seeing in the case of global warming, there can be no market if the market is under water.  There can be no market if the climate is so erratic that production becomes impossible.  There can be no market for fish if all of the fish are taken out of the oceans , and there can be no market for wood if all the forests are gone.  There can be no agriculture, or not much else for that matter, if there is no fresh water .
In general, the market can not make rational decisions about using up nonrenewable resources, whether those resources exist underground or as an entire ecosystem.  The actions of the individual parts in a market are supposed to maximize the wealth of the market as a whole.  But if some actors in the system increase their wealth in the short-run, while at the same time decreasing the wealth-generating capacity of the planet in the long-run, then the market will be making the wrong decisions.  The effect is similar to “milking” a company for profit before it collapses.  Profits rise, but assets fall.
Third, there can be no market if there is no manufacturing.  Just as a market cannot exist if there is no infrastructure to bring the products to it, there can be no market if there is nothing to sell.   If, as in the United States, “market forces” are creating a manufacturing-free zone, then it is the market that is wrong, not the concept of the necessity of manufacturing . 
As in the case of environmental destruction, a set of actors – multinational corporations – are profiting in the short run by transferring manufacturing capacity out of the U.S., while the economic system of the whole – the U.S. economy – is losing its wealth-generating capacity.  Long-term assets are destroyed for short-term profits.  This is part of the process of internal imperialism, not economic growth.
Fourth, there would be no market if the market was left to its own devices, because markets will always be monopolized if left alone long enough.  If there is one group of people who hate the market, it is the people who run companies.  They may lie, steal, and cheat– they will even make weapons for the military – if by doing so they can destroy a free market and control it instead.  The state determines the structure of the market insofar as the state prevents such monopolization.  Only massive public uproar could have led to the break-up of the trusts of the late nineteenth century, and whatever is emerging at the beginning of the 21st will only be brought to heel as the result of another round of public intervention.
 We are told that 21st century competition requires corporations large enough to compete with other countries’ behemoths.   We must destroy competition in this country in order to save it.  In order for these corporations to compete abroad, we must establish a free-trade regime world-wide, for if we keep out other countries’ tyrannosaurus rexxons then ours will only grow to velociraptor size.  The train of logic runs out at this point, because if we were protecting our economy from such large beasts in the first place, we wouldn’t need big ones ourselves.  Out trots trade theory, and in particular, the theory that Robert Samuelson called “the most beautiful theory” of economics, the theory of comparative advantage.

The comparative advantage of power

The theory of comparative advantage does not hold that countries should concentrate on what they are best at, in an absolute sense.  The theory is more insidious than that.  The theory posits that even if a country is better than its neighbors in everything, the top country should remove resources from everything but what it is best at, relative to its neighbors.  In fact, every country should concentrate on just one industry, and eliminate – destroy might be a better term – all of its other industries.   The theory is in reality a justification for internal imperialism, the destruction of a country’s assets and capability to regenerate itself.
In the medium-term, where technological change is not important, Ricardo correctly showed that all countries would maximize their income by pursuing this strategy.  The problem is that in the long run this policy would be a complete and total disaster.
If the economy is like an ecosystem that needs all of its various parts in order to function properly, then destroying vast sections of the economy would lead to collapse in the long-term, not growth.  The different sectors need each other, and in particular, the industries that produce final goods and services need the industries that provide them with machinery.  In turn, the industries that make the production machinery need the industries that produce what I termed “Reproduction machinery”, that is, the core industrial technologies such as machine tools, steel-making equipment, electricity-generating steam turbines, and semiconductor-making equipment.  These technologies collectively reproduce themselves and are used to make production machinery.  In order for this industrial ensemble to work together and produce technological progress, they need to be in some close proximity so that the engineers, scientists, and skilled production workers that make up the human capital of this system can interact with each other and the machines . 
As I argued in “The rise and decline of the great American corporation” , the American automobile companies are a prime example of the problems of specialization.  They will not survive if they are the only extant components of the manufacturing economy.
Ricardo used his theory to make a prediction.  Let’s see how he did, looking back almost 200 years later:
Under a system of perfectly free commerce, each country naturally devotes its capital and labour to such employments as are most beneficial to each. This pursuit of individual advantage is admirably connected with the universal good of the whole. By stimulating industry, by regarding ingenuity, and by using most efficaciously the peculiar powers bestowed by nature, it distributes labour most effectively and most economically: while, by increasing the general mass of productions, it diffuses general benefit, and binds together by one common tie of interest and intercourse, the universal society of nations throughout the civilized world. It is this principle which determines that wine shall be made in France and Portugal, that corn shall be grown in America and Poland, and that hardware and other goods shall be manufactured in England. 

It all sounded so good until he got to the part about England being the master of the global economy forever and ever.  One might excuse Ricardo for ignoring the idea of technological progress, except that he was a witness to the Industrial Revolution.  How the economics profession has managed to ignore technology deserves an separate essay.

Following in their footsteps

Poor countries are the only ones, up until now, who have been unfortunate enough to actually follow the theory of comparative advantage.  Their elite specialize in the theft of their resources for the comfort of themselves and other countries’ elites.  Of course, this sort of behavior warms the cockles of the hearts of the IMF and the World Bank, who try to impose an economic theory on their unfortunate charges that no rich country would even think of implementing – until now.  When a country is exporting coffee or petroleum or precious metals or timber, and preventing its people from doing anything else, it is being destroyed by both its own elites and by international elites.  The government has all but disappeared as a conscious planning agency whose function is to keep the market from destroying the country.  The global market in these countries long ago destroyed them.
And now, it is the United States that is entering down the road traveled by the poor countries.  In the U.S., the centers of economic power have a willing partner in the theft of the country’s assets, the military. The military helps tie together the internal and external imperialism of the United States via the military-industrial complex and a worldwide network of bases and military proconsuls.  A global elite, not anchored to any particular country , is being created, and the U.S. military is doing its part.   
By diverting human capital and other resources, the military is creating a situation in which the U.S. will have great trouble rebuilding.  All Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld have to do is let the powers that be continue to siphon off the assets of the United States, and they will have done their job, as far as the power elite are concerned.  Only the people of the United States can stop them.

The next installment of “Taking the Long View” will explore the role of the U.S. military in the destruction of the U.S. economy.

You can contact Jon Rynn directly on his . You can also find old blog entries and longer articles at Please feel free to reach him at This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it .

[1] Gunnar Myrdal, The American Dilemma, 1944
  “The Tipping Point”, Time Magazine, April 3, 2006
  For example, Kenneth Waltz, A Theory of International Relations, 1979
  See John Kenneth Galbraith, The New Industrial State, 1967; C. Wright Mills, The Power Elite, 1959; Seymour Melman, After Capitalism,2001; Kevin Phillips, American Theocracy, 2006; Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation, 1945
 Say Dubay to American Economy
Julia Whitty, March/April Mother Jones, “The Fate of the Ocean ”,
  Lester R. Brown, “Plan B 2.0”, 2006
  See “Before the economy hits the fan ”; see also “Why manufacturing and infrastructure are central to the economy”, at
 The Rise and Decline of the Great American Corporation
  David Ricardo, On the principles of Political Economy and taxation, Chapter 7, “On Free Trade”
  I would like to thank Chris Sanders for this insight

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