Finally The U.S. (aka Trump) Has Caught On To What The G20 Is About

Everybody knows what the G20 is about. Everybody, that is, except high-ranking members of the Democratic Party, the “establishment” branch of the Republican Party, the mainstream press, and the U.S. State Department career bureaucracy. Those people somehow think that what the G20 is about is reasonable people trying to work together in good faith to solve the world’s problems. Really! (Could anybody be that dumb? Yes. In fact, the “smarter” they appear to be from their credentials, the dumber they prove to be when it comes to understanding world affairs.)

And by the way, I don’t mean particularly to single out the G20, other than by the fact that they were just holding their annual meeting last week in Japan. Essentially all major international organizations, from the UN on down, are about the exact same thing.

And here’s the thing that all those organizations are about: . . .

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What Is The Biggest Problem Facing The United States?

If you were asked to identify the biggest problem facing the United States today, what would be your answer? I think that the answer is obvious: out-of-control entitlement spending that threatens to bankrupt the country.

Reasonable people might differ about this assessment. For example, some might cite the threats posed by international strategic adversaries, like China or Russia or Iran. Or the threat of a rogue power like North Korea or Iran getting, and maybe using, nuclear weapons. I’m not saying that these aren’t serious problems, but just that there’s not much that can be done about them that we aren’t already doing. Also, I don’t think the chances of any of these guys doing something really stupid, like launching an unprovoked nuclear strike, are very high.

By contrast, the entitlement funding problem is gigantic, and obvious, and by no means imaginary, and currently nobody is doing anything about it whatsoever. The bonded national debt — currently around $20 trillion and about 100% of annual GDP — is often cited as a big problem. But the unfunded future liabilities of the Social Security and Medicare programs are far higher. The 2018 Trustees’ Reports for the Social Security and Medicare programs put their 75-year unfunded liabilities at approximately a combined $50 trillion (approximately $13 trillion for Social Security and $37 trillion for Medicare). And many analysts give credible reasons why those figures represent substantial low-balling of a much bigger problem. For example, James Capretta of the American Enterprise Institute, in a June 2018 post following release of the Trustees’ Reports, points to highly optimistic assumptions about ability to control future Medicare costs (“the Medicare projections assume deep, permanent, and ongoing cuts in payment rates for physicians and hospitals that are difficult to believe will be implemented”), as well as equally optimistic birth rate assumptions. Other credible observers think the shortfalls, particularly on the Medicare side, could easily be double or more the government’s official projections. For example, from Michael Tanner of the Cato Institute in 2015 (“[I]f we return to double digit health care inflation, we could see Medicare’s liabilities swell to more than $88 trillion.”).

You may recall that President George W. Bush made a serious effort at least to begin to address this problem. During his first term, he appointed a Commission to come up with some solutions on the Social Security side, and the Commission proposed a series of reforms. None of them went anywhere in Congress. W did not try again in his second term. President Obama, and now President Trump, have showed no interest in this subject.

Anyway, I mention this subject today because not only is nobody paying any attention whatsoever to the huge problem, but over on the Democratic side, with the 2020 presidential sweepstakes just getting started, there has suddenly erupted some kind of a bidding war as to who can offer the most grandiose and completely impossible set of proposed expansions to the existing entitlement state.

It was Bernie Sanders, of course, who laid down the original marker for the bare minimum list of new entitlements for a true “progressive” Democrat to embrace. Bernie’s list in his campaign for the 2016 nomination included the following:

  • Medicare for all.

  • Social Security benefit increases

  • Infrastructure program

  • College affordability (free tuition for all!)

  • New paid leave fund

  • Bolster private pension funds

  • Youth jobs initiative

In a September 2015 article, the Wall Street Journal put a ten-year price tag on that list of $18 trillion. Others put the figure at $30 trillion or more. Whichever it is, Bernie’s list has turned out to be merely the small opening bid in what is quickly becoming a much grander game.

Credit new “it” Congressperson Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with launching the advocacy for what she calls the “Green New Deal.” We’ll eliminate all fossil-fuel energy within 10 years! With government spending and subsidies tossed out left and right, of course. Next thing you know, the presidential candidates are lining up to get on the bandwagon: Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Beto O’Rourke, Kamala Harris. Do any of them have a clue how much this might cost, let alone how it could be engineered? Not a chance. A recent study by Roger Andrews at the site Energy Matters put the cost of batteries alone for a wind/solar/battery system just for California at about $5 trillion. Multiply by about 8 to get a cost for the full U.S.: $40 trillion. As you know from your cell phone, the batteries would need to be replaced every few years. The cost of the wind turbines and solar collectors is extra.

Where to from here? Ms. AOC is never short of other bright new ideas. How about “Housing as a human right”? She must be inspired by the great “success” of the New York City Housing Authority — an infinite sink for about $2 billion a year in federal funds and in desperate need of some $30 billion for capital repairs. Multiply those numbers by about 30 if you want to replicate on a national scale. Oh, and the 170,000 units of NYCHA housing somehow never make a dent in the “homeless” problem.

And then there is the proposal for “reparations” for black Americans, most prominently pushed by Representative Maxine Waters. She has recently become the Chair of the House Financial Services Committee. Any price tag for that? It’s whatever you want it to be. Make your bid!

These are people who talk endlessly about “sustainability.” They just have a different definition of the word than I do.

Thank Heavens For The New Campaign Against Plastic Straws

Thank Heavens For The New Campaign Against Plastic Straws

Without doubt, a good classic tale of sin and redemption makes a powerful appeal to human emotions.  Do you find yourself with an overwhelming sense of guilt, and a yearning for atonement and salvation?  A very large number of humans do.  Plenty of others will listen seriously when accused of sinning.  And in this era when traditional religion is fading fast among the trendy set, the favored sin and redemption narratives tend to revolve around the environment and the "planet."  For decades, the number one such narrative has been the global warming story:  By our use of fossil fuels to power a modern industrial society and to develop great wealth, we have sinned against the planet, leading to a future of irreversible catastrophic warming!  Redemption lies in the collective commitment to give up our use of energy and our modern ways and to cede control of our lives to our environmental priests and priestesses!

Unfortunately, after a good run of several decades, this narrative has recently run into a serious problem, namely the failure of global temperatures to increase in accordance with official predictions of catastrophe and doom.  Just a couple of weeks ago, in a post titled "Why 'Climate Change' Seems To Have Faded From The News," I noted that world temperatures had declined by more than half a degree C over the past couple of years, thus giving back about half of all of the twentieth century "global warming."  The frequency of press stories banging the global warming drum has inevitably declined dramatically, with the few remaining stories relegated to trying to keep up the alarm by cherry-picking a handful of record high temperatures from somewhere around the world, while omitting any mention of corresponding record lows or the decline in the overall average.  The main piece of reporting that I criticized in that post came from the Washington Post.

So what is the New York Times to do? . . .

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A Few More Who Think The Poor Ought To Have Access To Cheap Energy

If you were asked to name the most immoral thing going on in the world today, you would be hard pressed to come up with a better candidate than the campaign to keep the world's poor in poverty.  This campaign usually goes under the banner of "saving the planet" or "sustainability" or something similar.  There are times when it feels very lonely out here in the small group pointing out the deep immorality of this campaign.  For example, one such time was last April, when some hundreds of thousands of spoiled, wealthy Americans conducted what they called the "March for Science," demanding that cheap and reliable energy be restricted and that the price of energy be increased to a level to make sure that the poor could never afford it.  The entire progressive press and media cheered these people on.

In the camp of people calling out the "sustainability" campaigners for their immorality, I particularly favor the ones who don't mince their words.  These campaigners need to be harshly condemned.  So today I'll give a shout out to a couple of voices that aren't afraid to say the obvious on this subject.

First, Benny Peiser of the Global Warming Policy Foundation in the UK participated in a debate at Cambridge University on October 26, where the question before the house was "This House would rather cool the planet than warm the economy."   Cambridge, like all elite universities these days, has become a center for advocacy of de-carbonization, of de-industrialization, and of making sure that poor countries cannot get energy that is cheap and reliable and that works.  Benny's full presentation can be found at the link.  Here are a few excerpts:

[T]he fact that stopping economic development is even being advocated by some of the world’s most privileged students in Cambridge reveals how far removed this green bubble is from the harsh reality of billions of people who are desperately trying to escape poverty.  Let’s not beat about the bush: If today’s motion would ever be implemented by some radical green government, it would lead to the death of millions of poor people in the developing world, astronomical mass unemployment and economic collapse.  That’s because poor nations without economic growth have no future and are unable to raise living standards for impoverished populations. . . .  

Climate and green energy policies have lead to is the biggest wealth transfer in the history of modern Europe — from the poor to the rich. . . .  The proponents of today’s motion argue that economic growth should be sacrificed or at least curtailed in order to cut global CO2 emissions.  Denying the world’s poor the very basis on which Britain and much of Europe became wealthy — largely due to cheap coal, oil and gas — amounts to an inhumane and atrocious attempt by green activists to sacrifice the needs of the world’s poor on the altar of climate alarmism.

"Inhumane" and "atrocious."  I could have come up with even more such words, but that's a pretty good start.  Good job, Benny!

And here is another one, this time from reader Mikko Paunio, who sent me a link to his recent (October 30) article discussing why restricting fossil fuels and requiring expensive and intermittent renewables threatens public health in poor countries.  The title is "Sustainability Threatens Public Health In The Developing World."   

Paunio points out that good public health requires large amounts of clean water, which in turn requires reliable and affordable power.

We take sanitary practices for granted in wealthier countries but hygienic practices require water in quantity and uninterrupted power to supply that water and related sewage systems.

And it's not just clean drinking water that is at issue.  Good hygiene and sanitation require water not only for drinking, but also for things like laundry, dishes, toilets and sewers.

Painstaking research has shown that the provision of clean drinking water brings down children’s diarrhoea risk by [only] around 20-25 per cent in a developing country setting (31,32). This is partly because purified water is a harsh environment for those enteric pathogenic microbes that would otherwise enter the system. However more importantly, it is because so many water washable diseases remain transmissible under unhygienic conditions. . . .   [H]ygienic practices include personal hygiene, household hygiene i.e. linen and other laundry, kitchen hygiene (utensils and food), cleanliness of suitable surface materials especially in bathrooms. These require water in substantial quantities for ensuring hygiene by de-contamination and human-waste disposal, in addition to providing solely drinking water.  

And then there's the question of air pollution, particularly the indoor variety.  In countries without cheap and reliable electricity, the people of necessity turn to indoor fires of wood or animal dung for heating and cooking.  The result:

Decentralized heating and cooking in homes in the urban areas of the developing world account for most ambient air pollution and perhaps 80-90 % of the WHO estimate of up to 6.5 million annual deaths linked to such air pollution.

So where are our national and international bureaucracies on addressing these critical issues?

Instead of addressing those [water and air pollution] issues in the most practical way possible, the US in 2013 declined multilateral (World Bank) aid to build centralized power plants in the poorest countries – because to be affordable they had to use coal. Instead, the US government sided with WHO and Dr. Margaret Chan and insisted on climate change mitigation for poor countries while giving China unlimited emissions until 2030.

Where did we go wrong? When guiding the "Our Common Future" report, Director General of the World Health Organization Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland chose to deny crucial infrastructural urban development, such as the provision of fresh water supplies and the installation of sewerage systems, unless it could be done "sustainably". But the countries that need such infrastructure are often unable to raise capital on their own and need multilateral assistance from rich countries. By mandating they could only have loans if they agreed to build things that would be too expensive, we doomed those countries to failure.

I guess I can understand how the bureaucracies can get involved in these efforts that lead to mass impoverishment and millions of deaths.  After all, bureaucracies have an internal dynamic that makes them only interested in increasing their own power and prerogatives; the poor are just collateral damage.  But how is it that the faculties and students of all elite universities, and the entire progressive media, have become part of this immoral endeavor?  It's impossible to understand.

Should The Federal Government Just Write A Blank Check To Cover The Flooding In Houston?

You have to be impressed with the response so far by the Texans to the massive floods in the Houston area.  Media reports are filled with images of fleets of privately-owned boats joining in rescue efforts, of hundreds of people lining up to join in volunteer efforts at shelters and food pantries, of brave volunteers carrying old people and children and dogs through the flood waters to safety.  These people are remarkably and commendably self-reliant and immediately willing to pitch in to help their neighbors when trouble hits.

And then yesterday Texas Governor Greg Abbott came out and said that Texas will "need" a federal "relief package" (aka handout) "in excess of" $125 billion.  Whoa! -- What happened to that old Texas self-reliance, Greg?  Not to be outdone, Houston-area Democratic Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee immediately upped the ante to $155 billion.  Next thing you know, seemingly conservative Republican and budget-hawkish Senator Ted Cruz was joining Lee to make the demand for the massive federal handout "bipartisan."  Back in 2012/13 Cruz had earned himself much scorn from New Yorkers for providing at least a little token push-back against the then-proposed $60 billion federal "relief" handout after Hurricane Sandy.  I guess that was then.

Actually, I can't say I blame these Texans.  Katrina in 2005 and then Sandy in 2012 set the new parameters for federal handouts after natural disasters, which basically come down to this: When people are dying in the streets, the feds can't say no; so now is your chance to get everything on your wish list and then some paid for by the infinite bag of free federal money.  Louisiana and New York played this game brilliantly, and got all the other states to pay for everything with even the most tenuous relationship to their hurricanes.  Having been on the paying end a couple of times, you can't expect the Texans to sit back and fail to collect when their turn comes.

In a post way back on January 2, 2013 I warned New Yorkers that they were playing a dangerous game by demanding a massive blank-check handout from the feds for recovery from Hurricane Sandy, because New York is not much subject to natural disasters like hurricanes and tornados, and we would end up paying ten or twenty times over to the other states by the time we were done:

Federal government open-check-book disaster relief is . . . a particularly terrible idea for New York and New Jersey, because these areas, thankfully, are not very subject to natural disasters.  We almost never get a serious tornado or earthquake, and hurricanes, while they do occur, are quite rare here compared to other areas like the Gulf Coast and Florida.  According to data from NOAA here, in the 50 years from 1961 to 2010 some 27 "major" hurricanes (categories 3, 4 and 5) made landfall in the United States.  Of those, 23 hit the Gulf Coast or Florida; 3 hit the Carolinas; and just one (Gloria in 1985) hit in the mid-Atlantic.  While we may be looking to get a big handout at this moment, over time the disaster relief game is a massive transfer away from New York and New Jersey and to other areas far more susceptible to hurricanes, tornados and earthquakes.  By demanding this relief now, we are encouraging more building in those areas and setting ourselves up to pay 10 or 20 or more times any amount we can hope to get in today's handout.         

Ability to do this kind of simple arithmetic was never the strong suit of New York progressives.  Things have been relatively calm in hurricane world since 2012; however, we are now seeing the early stages of the inevitable turnabout.

But, you ask, isn't paying the bills for recovery from a big natural disaster a basic job of the federal government?  Actually, not at all.  From the beginning of the republic through well into the twentieth century, the federal government provided nothing at all in the way of disaster relief funds.  Consider this history from the Texas Almanac of the Galveston hurricane of 1900.  The town was literally wiped out.  Almost all the buildings were destroyed and something close to half the people died.  Disaster relief poured in from charitable efforts, from other states, and from the state of Texas.  The feds contributed not a dime; and what's more, it seems that nobody even thought to ask them.  In those days, this just wasn't viewed as part of the federal mission.

And that wasn't much changed well into your lifetime.  FEMA was only created in 1979.  As recently as 2000, the feds contributed relatively small amounts for hurricane recovery to supplement state, local and charitable efforts.  At this link, CNN helpfully compiles the losses from hurricanes since 2000 that have caused $1 billion and more of damages, and how much of those losses have been paid for by the federal government.  Pre-Katrina in 2005, the federal contributions were remarkably small:  Of about $2 billion in losses from Lili in 2002, the feds covered only about 7%; of about $8 billion from Isabel in 2003, the feds covered about 18%; of about $21 billion from Charley in 2004, the feds covered about 10%; and so forth.  Summarizing the pre-Katrina situation, CNN states:

In the half dozen storms that caused at least $1 billion in damages immediately before Hurricane Katrina, the federal government contributed funds to cover only 17% of estimated damages in federal aid, on average.    

Hey, we're just trying to be nice!  The problem is that once the feds got into paying something, there was no limiting principle.  If you have an infinite pile of free money, and you recognize a responsibility to pay something, why shouldn't you pay everything?  Then Katrina (2005) blew the lid off any restraints of any kind on the federal handouts.  The losses from Katrina were in the range of $160 billion, and the cable news networks ran nonstop footage of the drowning and the suffering and the destruction for weeks on end.  By the time it was over the feds had paid about $115 billion, or some 72% of all losses.  

And once that had happened, why should anybody else with a natural disaster on their hands settle for a federal contribution of a lousy 10 or 20 percent?  Federal contributions for run-of-the-mill hurricanes immediately ratcheted up to the 30-60% range.  Then, with Sandy in 2012, New York and New Jersey put on a full court press to squeeze every possible dollar out of the feds, with a supportive Obama administration that thought that passing out the free money was their highest calling in life.  According to the CNN chart, the feds paid almost $60 billion, some 80% of around $75 billion in losses from that storm (that barely qualified for hurricane status).  Over to you, Texas!

So, other than the Manhattan Contrarian, is there anyone else out there who might advocate for putting any kind of reasonable limits on the federal contributions to Hurricane Harvey relief?  I can't think of who in Congress might do it.  President Trump?  I suspect he will be only too happy to see a big payoff go to people who are essentially his core supporters.  The media?  They're looking for any excuse to excoriate Trump for being too stingy.

Meanwhile, I'm sorry but $150 billion or so is real money.  With the federal money, Houston will be rebuilt bigger and better than ever in the same flood plain, waiting for the next "500 year flood" -- of which they've already had three in the past three years.  The current dearth of major landfalling hurricanes will inevitably end.  Does anyone care if this is a sustainable model? 

UPDATE, September 5, 2017:  With Hurricane Irma now a Category 5 and approaching the Gold Coast of Florida, I'm wondering if another big strike might knock some sense into anybody.  Even if we've gotten to a point where $150 billion seems like just a rounding error in the federal budget, how about $300 billion?  Tens of billions to restore the ocean-facing condos of the wealthy? 

Things That Aren't "Sustainable": Socialism, Obamacare

It was just over a year ago that Manhattan Contrarian won the award for the "World's Most Sustainable Web Site."   OK, admittedly we gave the award to ourselves, but nevertheless it was richly deserved.  For example, as noted in the linked post, unlike Barack Obama we did not fly to Florida on Air Force One to give a speech celebrating Earth Day; and, unlike Leonardo DiCaprio, we did not take six flights on private planes within one month.  That's true sustainability!

But if you are following the news on the subject of "sustainability," you have undoubtedly noticed that the word has become more and more separated from any connection it may once have had to the root "sustain."  Indeed, you could be forgiven for concluding that, as currently used by the forces of the environmental Left, the word "sustainability" means something more like "imposing new regressive taxes in order to further lower the living standards of low income people."  For example, if you go to the "sustainability" section of the web site of prestigious Yale University, you will find that Yale believes it is achieving "sustainability" by joining something called the Global Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition.  What is the GCPLC?  It is the cabal among the likes of the World Bank, the IMF, governments and non-profits seeking to jack up the price of energy for everybody else, including the poor and low income people of the world:

Yale will become the first university member of the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition (CPLC), a private-public partnership among the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), governments, nonprofits, and private sector companies to strengthen carbon pricing policies. . . .  

And why stop with energy?  How about still further impoverishing the poor by jacking up the price of food?  Actually, our friends at the U.N. have exactly that as their next plan -- all in the name of "sustainability" of course.  Consider this article from June 30 at the Washington Post's wonkblog, advocating intentionally increasing the price of food, particularly the price of red meat, because meat is not sufficiently "sustainable":

Maarten Hajer, professor at the Netherlands's Utrecht University, led the environment and food report that recommended the meat tax.  “All of the harmful effects on the environment and on health needs to be priced into food products,” said Hajer, who is a member of U.N.’s International Resource Panel, which comprises 34 top scientists and 30 governments. “I think it is extremely urgent.”

Before we get too far here, perhaps we should step back and consider the original meaning of the term "sustainable," and what it would entail under that meaning for something to be truly "not sustainable."  According to a standard dictionary definition, something that is not sustainable should be something that cannot "be maintained at a certain rate or level."  In other words, a thing or process is "not sustainable" if it is on an unavoidable glide path to oblivion, i.e., a "death spiral."  And of course, when you think of death spirals, the first thing that comes to your mind is socialism.  

As you well know if you spend time trying to observe the world (or if you are a regular reader of this website), economies, or parts of them, that are organized on a socialist model inevitably go into death spirals.  For an introduction, check out posts here and here.  The one sentence version is that, when it's "from each according to his abilities, and to each according to his needs," rational people organize their lives to decrease their abilities and increase their needs.  Thus productivity gradually declines, at first slowly and then faster, unto the inevitable collapse.  Importantly, though, governments engaged in socialist policies have numerous tools available to conceal the early stages of the decline, so that when the collapse comes it appears to hit all at once.  An excellent example of this process is currently unfolding in Venezuela.  And yes, the government of Venezuela put out cooked economic statistics purporting to show rapid growth right up through 2013, when they just stopped reporting any economic statistics at all.  (Their main fraud was reporting all government spending, no matter how wasteful, as a 100% addition to GDP.  Our government practices the exact same fraud.)

Is there any example of such blatant "death spiral" unsustainability going on in the U.S. right now?  Well, there's Obamacare.  That's the program where we pretend that it's possible for people who are already sick to buy "health insurance" by the government decreeing that it be so. We'll just have "guaranteed issue," by which rule a health insurer must accept all customers who present themselves, no matter how sick they may already be.  It's just like fire insurance, where insurers are happy to sell you an "insurance" policy after your house has already burned down -- not!!  Anyway, nobody would game this "guaranteed issue" thing and wait until they got sick to buy the insurance, would they? 

That brings us to the great article in yesterday's Wall Street Journal, headlined "UnitedHealth Sues Kidney-Care Chain."  It seems that American Renal Associates is a company that provides dialysis services to patients whose kidneys have failed.  ARA would like to charge some $4000 per dialysis session to patients.  Since patients who need dialysis require about three sessions per week, this would mean that each patient would represent about $600,000 per year in revenue to ARA.  But some of these patients were previously uninsured, and still can't afford the premiums.  No problem.  ARA has created a "charity" called the American Kidney Fund, and contributes to the "charity" (tax deductible of course!), which in turn makes grants to fund the Obamacare premiums of patients on dialysis.  So some patient goes uninsured until his kidneys fail and he needs dialysis, then finally buys an Obamacare exchange policy under "guaranteed issue" and gets his premiums of about $10,000 per year paid by the "charity"; and then UnitedHealth from then forward must pay $600,000 per year to ARA.  Somehow UnitedHealth doesn't think this is a good idea, and has sued ARA for "fraud."

Whatever you may think of UnitedHealth's claim against ARA, it's not hard to see how this is something that can't go on for long.  It's unsustainable!  But why hasn't the unsustainability manifested itself yet?  Writing in Investors Business Daily on July 4, Sally Pipes points out that it's the usual government deception.  The Obamacare statute came complete with various subsidy programs designed to cover over and hide the statute's losses for several years until the law could become entrenched.  One of these programs is called the "reinsurance program," although, as Pipes points out, the word "reinsurance" is a complete misnomer -- this is no more than a federal handout to health insurance companies.  Pipes:

The "reinsurance program," on the other hand, is just a federal handout. If an enrollee's medical bills cost an insurer between $60,000 and $250,000, the government picks up part of the tab.  Originally, the feds planned to pay 80% percent of the cost within that window. But in 2014, they made the program more generous -- by paying 100% of costs between $45,000 and $250,000 per enrollee. They gave out almost $7 billion that year.  As the Mercatus Center study concluded, ObamaCare has depended on these subsidies to keep the exchanges from collapsing. Without the reinsurance program, premiums in ObamaCare's first year would have been 26% higher than they were.

But these statutory subsidies run out in 2017.  It's just in time for Obama to leave office, and leave the problem to somebody else.  As usual with the unsustainable socialist death spiral, the government covers over the problem during the early stages of the decline, and then when the government cannot continue the deception any longer, everything falls apart all at once.

And the kidney dialysis issue is just the tip of the iceberg of the gaming of Obamacare's "guaranteed issue" provisions.  For another example, see this post from April 11 on so-called "short term" health insurance policies.

How long can a socialist death spiral go on before the final collapse?  For the Soviet Union, it was 74 years.  Chavista Venezuela has only been 18 years so far, and the end already appears to be near.  Cuba is at 56 years.  North Korea is at 71 years.  Compare those to the eating of red meat or burning of carbon-based fuels by humans, both of which have been going on for many millennia and don't seem to be heading toward any kind of imminent denouement as far as I can see.  I'd be willing to bet on either of those outlasting any socialist economic system by easily thousands of years.  I'd say it's rather obvious which is "sustainable" and which not.