"Two Intellectual Systems: Matter-energy and the Monetary Culture"

(summary, by M. King Hubbert)

During a 4-hour interview with Stephen B Andrews, SbAndrews at worldnet.att.net, on March 8, 1988, Dr. Hubbert handed over a copy of the following, which was the subject of a seminar he taught, or participated in, at MIT Energy Laboratory on Sept 30, 1981.

"The world's present industrial civilization is handicapped by the coexistence of two universal, overlapping, and incompatible intellectual systems: the accumulated knowledge of the last four centuries of the properties and interrelationships of matter and energy; and the associated monetary culture which has evloved from folkways of prehistoric origin.

"The first of these two systems has been responsible for the spectacular rise, principally during the last two centuries, of the present industrial system and is essential for its continuance. The second, an inheritance from the prescientific past, operates by rules of its own having little in common with those of the matter-energy system. Nevertheless, the monetary system, by means of a loose coupling, exercises a general control over the matter-energy system upon which it is super[im]posed.

"Despite their inherent incompatibilities, these two systems during the last two centuries have had one fundamental characteristic in common, namely, exponential growth, which has made a reasonably stable coexistence possible. But, for various reasons, it is impossible for the matter-energy system to sustain exponential growth for more than a few tens of doublings, and this phase is by now almost over. The monetary system has no such constraints, and, according to one of its most fundamental rules, it must continue to grow by compound interest. This disparity between a monetary system which continues to grow exponentially and a physical system which is unable to do so leads to an increase with time in the ratio of money to the output of the physical system. This manifests itself as price inflation. A monetary alternative corresponding to a zero physical growth rate would be a zero interest rate. The result in either case would be large-scale financial instability."

"With such relationships in mind, a review will be made of the evolution of the world's matter-energy system culminating in the present industrial society. Questions will then be considered regarding the future:

"It appears that the stage is now set for a critical examination of this problem, and that out of such inquries, if a catastrophic solution can be avoided, there can hardly fail to emerge what the historian of science, Thomas S. Kuhn, has called a major scientific and intellectual revolution."

The following is from an article entitled "King Hubbert: Science's Don Quixote," in the February 1983 issue of Geophysics magazine, by Robert Dean Clark, assistant editor:

"Hubbert has had serious health problems for several years. Both his eyesight and hearing now give him problems. But neither the ailments nor the recent adulation have eroded his zest for intellectual combat. In recent years, he has assaulted a target--which he labels the culture of money--that is gigantic even by Hubbert standards. His thesis is that society is seriously handicapped because its two most important intellectual underpinnings, the science of matter-energy and the historic system of finance, are incompatible. A reasonable co-existance is possible when both are growing at approximately the same rate. That, Hubbert says, has been happening since the start of the industrial revolution but it is soon going to end because the amount of [that the?] matter-energy system can grow is limited while money's growth is not.

"'I was in New York in the 30s. I had a box seat at the depression,' Hubbert says. 'I can assure you it was a very educational experience. We shut the country down because of monetary reasons. We had manpower and abundant raw materials. Yet we shut the country down. We're doing the same kind of thing now but with a different material outlook. We are not in the position we were in 1929-30 with regard to the future. Then the physical system was ready to roll. This time it's not. We are in a crisis in the evolution of human socienty. It's unique to both human and geologic history. It has never happened before and it can't possibly happen again. You can only use oil once. You can only use metals once. Soon all the oil is going to be burned and all the metals mined and scattered.'

"That is obviously a scenario of catastrophe, a possibility Hubbert concedes. But it is not one he forecasts. The man known to many as a pessimist is, in this case, quite hopeful. In fact, he could be the ultimate utopian. We have, he says, the necessary technology. All we have to do is completely overhaul our culture and find an alternative to money.

"'We are not starting from zero,' he emphasizes. 'We have an enormous amount of existing technical knowledge. It's just a matter of putting it all together. We still have great flexibility but our maneuverability will diminish with time.'

"A non-catastrophic solution is impossible, Hubbert feels, unless society is made stable. This means abandoning two axioms of our culture...the work ethic and the idea that growth is the normal state of life...."

During his interview with Dr. Hubbert, Mr. Andrews asked him for his updated perspective, five years later, about his comments as quoted in the article above. He said:

"our window of opportunity is slowly closing...at the same time, it probably requires a spiral of adversity. In other words, things have to get worse before they can get better. The most important thing is to get a clear picture of the situation we're in, and the outlook for the future--exhaustion of oil and gas, that kind of thing...and an appraisal of where we are and what the time scale is. And the time scale is not centuries, it's decades."