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Letters from Saudi Arabia - II

My Dear Western Friends,

Many of you have read my previous letter, dated May 4, 2015, and responded by email. Thank you.

I think we still have a little problem: Your replies have been much too U.S.-centric.  Unfortunately,  the world today is far too interlinked, in good part because of the U.S. policies over the last 35 years, and all problems are global.  Please parse the last sentence again and try to understand that you can no longer get away with being over there and ignoring what is happening here and everywhere else.  The cheap clothing and industrial products you buy in the U.S. come at a very high price to all other parts of the world.  High price means environmental and social deterioration.

Since hardly anyone cares about the environment until they can't breath, have no water to drink, food to eat, drown in floods or mudslides; or alternatively fall sick with cancer, Ebola, cholera, AIDS or Hepatitis, let's focus on the social deterioration and project it onto the U.S.  Then, I hope, what I say might interest you.

Among other things, I am an expert on foams.  Foams are collections of gas bubbles of different sizes immersed in a liquid, say water with a surfactant.  A long time ago, I wrote a beautiful but difficult paper, "Self-similar collapse of stationary bulk foams," that very few people ever read and even fewer cited.  Please look at Figure 2 for a nice 3D picture of a foam, but do not try to read this paper. You'd only get a headache from all these math equations.

Almost all foam bubbles collapse because of a universal phenomenon, called "Ostwald ripening," (a 30s movie) and water being drained by gravity from the bubble walls. In short, the smallest bubbles disappear and transfer their gas to the larger bubbles, while the bubble walls are getting ever thinner.  This process goes on until very few very large bubbles remain, or the entire foam catastrophically collapses, which is more likely.  You can look for a few seconds at a foam in your beer or champagne glass to see what I mean. Some foams can be made rigid and long-lasting with an appropriate surfactant or polymer that prevents or slows down gas inside each bubble from crossing the bubble walls.

Let's translate this understanding of bulk foams at rest into the stationary society foams made of people with different amounts of resources.  The small bubbles in this model are the poor people, the intermediate size bubbles are the middle class, the larger bubbles are the rich, and the few largest bubbles are the super-rich.  Each class of bubbles has a bubble size distribution.  In other words, different people in each bubble category have different amounts of resources. The polymer on the bubble walls that slows down or prevents foam collapse is the pristine environment, plentiful resources, good education for all, a stable happy society, good labor laws, health insurance for everyone, good governance, etc.

Now let's globalize these social foams, that is let's remove most of the polymers and put all foams into a single huge container, so all foams (countries) can contact each other directly.  Ostwald ripening will then happen everywhere, and only the super rich will remain with almost all of the global resources, or the world will go down in flames.  The U.N. today is one of the few global institutions trying to inject some polymer here and there, but their resources are woefully inadequate, because we, the Bubble People, don't care.  We eat organic food, fly to meetings, go to concerts, and think that nothing can ever happen to us.

But you are not interested in anything outside of the U.S., are you?  So, let's look at the social foam in the U.S.  With the stabilizing polymer missing increasingly since 1980, the small bubbles disappear first, then the intermediate bubbles.  In other words, by now, most of the poor have become completely destitute and the middle class almost disappeared.

We, the Bigger Bubble People, have been gaining from the disappeared poor and our bubbles have been growing nicely at their expense.  So we felt good over the last 30 years, not suspecting that it is our turn now to succumb to the merciless logic of Ostwald ripening with almost all polymer removed by the friends of globalization.  Therefore, only now, the inevitable progression of social foam collapse in the U.S. is getting interesting to us, as we, my friends, have been really quite the upper middle class.  Well, we must disappear as well, given a sufficiently long time, and only the super-rich will remain holding all power and resources, or the entire foam collapses and the U.S. society goes down in flames.
The super-rich already control all politics in the U.S. Source: Sunday Review, New York Times, 5/10/2015.

In case you haven't noticed, the super-rich already hold all power in the U.S., but they still do not own all resources, just 80 percent of them. Will they inject some stabilizing polymer to hold our much smaller bubbles intact for a while?

I doubt it.  And that's because the super-rich always think that their huge bubbles are untouchable.  That's how they always acted throughout human history.  With the exception of the few of you, my friends, most Americans know no history, so they will have to take my word for it. 
The Jungle, a homeless encampment of tents and shacks in San Jose, Calif., was cleared in December of last year. Jim Wilson/The New York Times
That's where we are now.  Our personal bubbles are under stress, even when we don't see homeless in the Silicon Valley or around our wealthy neighborhhods:
One notorious example took place in 2013, when Greg Gopman, then the chief executive of AngelHack, a code start-up, lamented on Facebook, “why the heart of our city has to be overrun by crazy, homeless, drug dealers, dropouts, and trash I have no clue.” (He later deleted the post.)  Source: The Shaky Moral Compass of Silicon Valley, The New York Times, May 6, 2015.
Here is the punch line:  
  1. The border and social policies implemented, for example, in the U.S., E.U., and Israel, prevent us from contacting the smallest external bubbles (the illegal emigrants), while removing the polymer from the insides of our national containers and pumping gas (resources) through the walls.  This means that our societies will undergo an accelerated Ostwald ripening, while the rich will feel safer in their fast growing bubbles.  That feeling of safety is of course erroneous, because now the internal poor and displaced (the internal disappeared resource bubbles) will stir the national foams with ever fewer bubbles and accelerate their collapse.
  2. An ample, renewable supply of small bubbles (immigrants) is good for the social foam stability against sloshing (big external upsets).  The small bubbles dampen sloshing and stabilize the society. But for security reasons we forgot about this physical requirement of regenerating our societal foams.
  3. The U.S. super-rich remain in direct contact with other huge bubbles elsewhere, which may exist in more rigid foams.  Thus, some of our biggest bubbles may also be sucked out into oblivion.
In summary, the outcomes of the inevitable Ostwald ripening or social rearrangement in the U.S. are far from certain.  Such is the ever-surprising wealth diffusion in the global economy.

Wishing you a little more happiness in our disappearing bubbles, Tad

P.S. Since a theory of self-similar collapse of social foams could be developed, I challenge a graduate student of economics or a similar discipline to contact me to jointly develop such a theory.  The capillary suction due to gravity could represent job and capital flight abroad and/or loss of tax revenue from the corporations and individuals, who have been paying off politicians in exchange for tax avoidance.

P.S.P.S. 08/18/2015 And here is how Ostwald ripening works for the top employees of top-ranked firms (and universities), but then for the firms themselves, as all are sucked out down to the last winners and then pop!

P.S.P.S.P.S. 08/25/2015.  Do you see now what I meant by the globalized social foam?  The suction causing social foam collapse is now present literally everywhere.  It is truly scary for me that my own conceptual model of global economy has been so successfully tested by the global market collapse. "Tumult leaves analysts seeking explanations," shouts the New York Times.  Wow!  This tumult was a predictable instability of the global foam and $3 trillion worth of bubbles just disappeared by collapse, not Ostwald ripening. Collapse is worse, because the entire foam may disappear in the end.

And here is Roger Cohen: "This is a season of radical discontent. People believe the system is rigged. They have good reason. Rigged to favor the super-rich, rigged to accentuate inequality, rigged to hide huge increases in the cost of living, rigged to buy elections, rigged to put off retirement, rigged to eviscerate pensions, rigged to export jobs, rigged to sabotage equal opportunity, rigged to hurt the middle class and minorities and the poor. Increasingly unequal societies have spawned anger, an unsurprising development. The anger is diffuse, in search of somebody to articulate it, preferably in short declarative sentences."

How about this? It is the ever faster drainage and collapse of the global society foam, stupid!


  1. Thanks Tad. I love to hear the truth well told. Your words are Soul Food. Not the plastic crap that is rotting us from the inside. Those accustomed to being fed slick and savory lies, would find it strange that one such as I would seek out truth tellers whose offerings are often of the most repulsive stuff imaginable. But absorbing your messages feeds something real in me that grows stronger on this menu of straight truth, however pungent and bitter it may be. Keep dishing it out! mike k

  2. Unpleasant as the results have become, we are all engaged in the pursuit and appropriation of energy sources.
    All species do this, and have no choice in the matter, survival is all.
    The boat people, risking everything to reach Europe, weigh their chances of survival at sea, against chances of survival at home. They see life-energy available for the taking in the richness of europe, while there is correspondingly little in the shanty towns of Africa, or some form of persecution makes survival less likely.
    Ultimately migrants want a share of available resources in order to stay alive. We (collectively speaking) resist that movement, because to give it free reign would result in an avalanche of humanity subverting our comfortable way of life.
    Maybe, but it is human nature,
    The migrants in boats off Malaya/Indonesia are simply being turned away, having to face brutal reality.
    Ultimately we must all face that, we cannot escape it. We protect our own 'bubble', or choose to bring ourselves down to the common mean.
    The average individual just isn't going to do that; so poor, well off or obscenely wealthy, we imagine our bubble to be permanent and immune to outside influences, no matter how critical those outside influences are.
    So we continue to buy shirts from the sweatshops of Pakistan, or oil that fuels the corruption of Nigeria. We do not have the collective inclination to stop doing it. We contain ourselves within our bubble of comfort and will continue to so until it pops

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. @Norman. The theory of social foams, sketched in this blog, can be extended from individuals to nations. It is a matter of rescaling. Once countries are regarded as bubbles, the same concept of Ostwald ripening applies.

    The two most recent examples of small country bubbles being sucked out dry are Greece and Puerto Rico. But there are many other countries that are becoming very small bubbles, or have already popped but no one noticed. The already popped country bubbles include Haiti, Syria, Libya, Somalia, and South Sudan. The countries that have not quite yet popped include Mexico, Moldova, Ukraine, The Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Burundi, Yemen, and possibly Egypt.

    Since Greece is perhaps the best known example, let me state this: Greece should leave E.U. and reestablish its own currency. Greece should also keep the name Europa, which was copyrighted by the ancient Greek myth makers. Europa was a Phoenician (read ancient Semitic) woman of high lineage, for whom the continent Europe was later named. The rest of the European Union should revert to its real name which sounds awfully like Greater Germany.

    In this world of increasingly popping national bubbles, the small, simple bubbles with good food, relatively happy but poor people, and self-governance will be far more stable than those other bubbles in direct contact with the global “economic” suction. Call it a much needed change of the current paradigm rooted in the inevitable physics of Ostwald ripening.

  5. 7/6/2015. Greeks have agreed with my assessment of their situation and voted resoundingly No! The current plan of passing through tens of billions of euros from the eurobankers to the eurobanks, while charging the principal and interest to the impoverished Greek people has just fallen apart. This pass-through of big money through Greece has destroyed 1/4 of their GDP, while keeping the lenders happy. Now both sides will be unhappy.

    But other attractions are coming to your favorite TV stations when they do not report another royal baby baptism. In the last 12 months, sixty million people left their impoverished, drought and violence stricken lands without functioning governments.

    These environmental (climate change) refugees, motivated by starvation and thirst, as well as mass murder and stealing, will now flood the richer countries, including Australia and the U.S.A. Just as I predicted some ten years ago to the widespread amusement of "experts."


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