The Bones of Civilization

Mon, Feb 10, 2014 - 8:39am

The aftermath of fall of the Roman Empire witnessed a strange and eerie phenomenon. In previous centuries, towns had been centers of local trade, places where the wares from across the empire were available to the industrious farmers and craftsmen of the place. In the aftermath of collapse, however, with productive activities like farming hampered by lawlessness and banditry, and a total cessation of long distance trade for the items people previously came there to purchase, there was really no economic purpose for these towns in the post-Roman world. Many of these places were abandoned to the elements and the newly triumphant tribes. 

The ghostly remains of these formerly thriving towns were not without economic possibility, however. In subsequent decades they became the targets of a booming trade in “monuments and marble”. Ships and crews of salvagers, who sailed all the way from still prosperous middle eastern civilizations of the Mediterranean, would land on the shores of northern Gaul or Britain and send work parties inland to dismantle and salvage the fine stonework, marble flooring, columns, and ornate carvings of these abandoned Roman towns. Boats full of the remains of the grandeur of Roman civilization would then sail back to still functioning societies far to the south and sell these treasures for considerable profit, to decorate the houses of merchants and tradesmen within functioning economies still capable of nurturing productive activity and creating wealth. 

In these forlorn places, the final chapter of the Roman era closed not with the sudden violence of a barbarian invasion and war, but decades later with the quiet dismantling of the once-grand physical remains of a bygone period of wealth, when the productivity that had supported it was no longer possible. A civilization is truly dead when someone harvests its bones. 

I was forcibly reminded of this story when I set about locating some old bricks about a year ago. As it happens, I was looking for 18th-century pavers and much to my surprise, I found on the internet a salvage yard for historic building materials that had some. I followed the GPS directions and eventually found myself in a decrepit and somewhat scary old suburb of Philadelphia, and I had a fascinating conversation with the man who owned the place. 

As he described it to me, he has made a very nice living going to horrible neighborhoods that are, for all intents and purposes, non-functioning (meaning most of the citizenry do not work, profits are not made, and economic activity is essentially nil) and he harvests architectural treasures from an earlier, productive age. Usually he hires security in the form of a few guards so he can do his work in these places. Woodwork, ornately carved mantles, wall sconces and flooring- all are for sale at his salvage yard, removed from the interior or exterior of households where no paycheck, other than a government issued one, has been brought home for a generation or more now.

The outdoor yard where stone, brick, and other weather resistant materials are stored is especially poignant, and it is easy to imagine that it must look exactly like the yards that sold the dismantled treasures of the Roman towns, right down to the fluted columns stacked in the corner. Ornate birdbaths carved by hand by incredibly skilled craftsmen from a single piece of stone stand next to slate roofing tiles. Decorative stone caps that once topped a beautiful Victorian garden wall piled beside a pair of wrought-iron gates look like they should be allowing entrance to a front walk of a proudly middle-class household. I also found my stack of paving bricks, from an 18th-century city alleyway where they were the first things to be placed on the ground there during the 1790’s to finally end the mire of previous decades, and allow the inhabitants safe and clean passage. All sit in sad profusion, the relics of once-productive neighborhoods, the detritus of a bygone age of the wealth created through free enterprise.

We often discuss the end of the Keynesian experiment on this blog but it seems to me that we sometimes have a far too linear view of this process. We tend to imagine a sweeping, society-wide event that makes clear to everyone the unsustainability of the present system. But what if that isn’t the shape it will take at all?

What if the decrepit end-point of the entire statist Keynesian philosophy isn’t something off in the future, but instead is being demonstrated daily in pockets of real estate that most closely hew to the government-centered anti-free market model? What if places like Detroit, decaying Philadelphia, Buffalo, and frankly many chunks of territory all over the country are showing daily that the strangling of productivity is already here, spreading out from definable points on the map just as surely as a tribe of Visigoths sweeping through Gaul? In short, what if a collapse of sorts is already happening and it has simply reached its logical conclusion in these places first? 

And if this is not so, then answer me this simple question: Why are people already harvesting the bones?

About the Author


Feb 10, 2014 - 8:41am


Has not happened in a while. I will celebrate by purchasing a sleeve of TFMR silver rounds.

Feb 10, 2014 - 8:51am

second !!!

now I will read


stack till it hurts

Feb 10, 2014 - 8:59am

Roman bones

to move legions of soldiers and equipment, remain as a reminder today


4 oz
Feb 10, 2014 - 9:12am

Let's here it for the kids!

Starting to really like this chick. Someone sent me a link to her a while back and not only she young and attractive....but could be on her way to being a leader in the Liberty any rate she makes me smile. Let's here it for the kids---maybe they have a better handle on the future that I've been giving them credit for!

Who Owns You?
Feb 10, 2014 - 9:16am

The Bilderberg Plan to Obliterate Humanity


Estulin mentioned that the wholesale destruction of the world’s economy is not an accident, nor is it a miscalculation or the result of political shenanigans. This destruction is being done on purpose, absolutely on purpose. Estulin revealed that his Bilderberg insider told him that the slave masters on this planet want to collapse the economy, force people into the stack and pack cities of mega millions and then exterminate most of humanity.

Estulin and I explored the methods that the super elite may use to exterminate 90% of all people on this planet. We both agreed that starvation is the most likely candidate. Starvation is a clean method of killing, it is quick and it would leave the planet in good shape for the global elite to establish their paradise on Earth.

Some of my readers and listeners have asked me about why I am so opposed to Agenda 21 and devote so much time fighting against it? To these and all others, I answer that forcing humanity to forsake rural and suburban living and move into the soon-to-be death traps of these megacities, is very consistent the tenets of Agenda 21 (i.e. Earth First)."

Feb 10, 2014 - 9:23am


happy monday to all the worker bees!

45 North
Feb 10, 2014 - 9:25am

Harvesting yesterdays bones and tomorrows hope

Insightful. Makes me think that the coup de gras of our era's demise is that we are also harvesting the opportunities of future generations to maintain our fantasy.

Feb 10, 2014 - 9:37am

45 North

Thank you! I agree, you could look at our present situation and see this dynamic in many things. Put it this way, if you think about that old trade in Roman marble and monuments, in trading terms it was basically an arbitrage play- take things of value and worth from an economically devastated place, and ship it to a place where the economy still works to get your profit from the higher value. This is how the guy I met makes a living- the arbitrage in historic building materials between economically disfunctional places and still functioning ones.

And isn't this exactly what is happening to western gold right now, too? Flowing to productive economies, away from sclerotic ones? Isn't China harvesting the (monetary) bones of a once-great civilization? Looks that way to me...

Feb 10, 2014 - 9:48am

"Nothing is imminent..."

...and...."We're in the moment"...are two vaporous comments I've thrown around on here almost since the beginning of this blog.

Both of them reflect what P4 is getting at as far as a singular event or set of circumstances that "officially" starts some type of new and negative era in humankind or the U.S. that paves the way towards cultural or socioeconomic collapse or noticeable degradation.

There's a reason why so many people over so many years, decades or centuries whimsically refer to "the good old days" as being better then their present (or even future) set of negative circumstances they perceive to be around them. I think it's because a lot of people who complain excessively might have a lack of total appreciation for the present (even life's monotony) while also maintaining a gloomy outlook for the future. The past represents a simpler and less stressful time they can safely reside in the memories of.

Are there injustices in the world around you and things to be concerned about? You bet! 

I would suggest to anyone who is tightly wrapped up in an impending collapse frame of mind to savor and appreciate all the good things in life every single day and not dwell on the endless stream of perceived injustices in the world around them.

TEOTGKE is going to take a bit longer imho in this current USD dominated world that uses a never ending electronic age advantage that all previous reserve currency systems never had at their disposal. Throw that 40 year old reserve currency stuff out the window in the digital age.

Yep, we're in the moment, and nothing is imminent because it's a slow and almost natural process that ushers in the type of drastic change that only years of hindsight within a future history book will be able to clearly see and define for a future generation.

Enjoy the moment....don't wait on it. Nothing is imminent.

Have a nice day!

Feb 10, 2014 - 9:50am

Salvage from homes

Recently a family member has been scouring the interwebs for furniture and came across a local facebook group that has rules and everything for posting and applying for the furniture. It seems quite strange to have rules on buying or at least putting an offer on furniture, the 1st person interested has the right to negotiate before all others and this reduces bidding wars on the items. Sad but true, bidding wars can be a great thing. 

When thinking on quality of furniture most figure that antiques would be the items most wanted, unfortunately this is untrue in this region, its old and heavy, hard and often has very small drawers. Upon hearing this I instantly thought of buying some sort of container to store long term, 'buy when its low'. 

Some time in the past few months American Pickers ( ) came on and there was this lady, she had tons of stuff her father had left over in a Warehouse the guys were picking through. Anyway the woman said her father sent all 4 of his daughter to University by selling nothing but bricks that he and his daughters had recycled and cleaned from old buildings during the 1950's. Recycling is natural during depressed times, during good times everyone wants NEW STUFF, they get sick of looking at the 17 year old couches. Thankfully everyone living here is used to recycling/upcycling stuff, the town really never has ever had any boom cycles, it kind of just plods along. 

Recycling the past is natural, economic stresses allow the reuse of a lot of items. Really there are too few UP/Boom years compared to low opportunity times. When people can buy new its a wonderful thing 'cause many people never have that chance or opportunity. 

Mr. Fix
Feb 10, 2014 - 9:50am

It does not have to be either/ or:

 a collapse of Western civilization, and the end of the Keynesian experiment is definitely all around us now, and in my opinion, there will be no recovery, at least not with the current system intact. Of course we are witnessing a long slow decline, but I do not think it will be a linear one. There seems to be far too many very powerful interests who are gutting the carcass of a once thriving society, and leaving nothing but blight in their wake.

 Economically speaking, ancient Rome did not have thousands of trillions of dollars of debt, a criminal banking class answerable to no one, enslaving the populace. And then there is the obvious genocidal depopulation experiments moving forward with impunity.

 Of course there can be a long slow decline, but if the lights go out, nuclear power plants globally will melt down. Food chains are already collapsing, the ecosystem is becoming incapable of supporting life. These are not linear events, they all reach a tipping point.

 Then there is the government waste fraud and abuse, which can not go on in anything resembling a linear fashion, once we are well past the point where those who contribute nothing to society outnumber those who live responsibly and within their means, that useful production of wealth will become impossible.

 The only thing we cannot know for sure is the timetable, but I suspect that the dates have already been circled on somebody's calendar, the people who have been engineering the demise of human free will, and the societal collapse we are witnessing.

 Spending too much of my time focusing on this, can have a crippling psychological effect, an overwhelming sense of “what's the use, it's all going to hell anyway” state of mind.

 By focusing on the few things that actually work in my life, and spending my days trying to enhance them, is how I spend my days, but the resources I have to work with are evaporating around me at an accelerating pace.

 Just like when America invades a country with “shock and awe”, and pounds a country into submission before the invasion, Western civilization is undergoing the same process now, whereby the will to fight back is being eviscerated, and the means to do so is being removed.

 This also is not a linear process, because there is an intended outcome, and it does not sit far off in a future yet to be seen, it has been replayed many times in history.

 The only difference, is that the evil Empire (and I am specifically addressing the banking elite), have accumulated far more technology and wealth and influence than at any time in human history, and the one thing we can be sure of, is that it will never willingly be shared with the rest of humanity.

 If no one rises up to standup to the psychopathic traffickers of death and destruction, a long slow journey to hell might be overly optimistic. They now have the technology to turn entire societies into ashes at a time of their choosing, and that may simply be when it no longer serves their purpose to maintain a population of useless eaters.

 Great article Pining,

 have wonderful day.

Feb 10, 2014 - 9:53am

Chernobyl Remains and Effects

This is a very good photo essay, talk about bones. Japan could end up being worse.

Feb 10, 2014 - 10:00am

Thanks Pining

Here are some bones in the making

Thames on red alert: Thousands of homes are threatened by rising floodwaters as SIXTEEN areas in South are warned of risk to lives job: A Network Rail photograph of the breakwater made from shipping containers as repairs continue on the damaged part of the track at Dawlish, Devon

Mr. Fix
Feb 10, 2014 - 10:07am
Feb 10, 2014 - 10:08am

HUI breaking out

of the wedge to the upside. Currently at 224 +2.23%.

Feb 10, 2014 - 10:10am

city mining!

Your most excellent post brings back some memories, Pining.

In 2000 my wife and I bought a home built in 1900 located downtown in a small midwest city. We restored it and felt like we lived in a mansion. The craftsmanship was incredible and the 100 year old woodwork offered a sense of opulence. The home cost about $65K. But we were new to the city and began to watch other homes deteriorate around us. We dared not let our small children run freely up and down the street. We learned that there was a crack/prostitution house three doors down. We smelled marijuana from the neighbors our first night in the house (not in Colorado). And the inner city was loud--horns honking at midnight, groups of youth patrolling the streets, talking loudly at all hours. Over half our neighbors were renters of these Victorian middle class homes that had been carved up into apartments, then left to slowly rot as the landords raked in the cash. We sold the restored home for 65K in 2007. Then the crash came. The buyer (sub-prime with nothing down) lost it to foreclosure. We saw it for sale again. I kept an eye on it and watched it sell for 10K a couple of months later.

A friend across the street rented his home. It had a beautiful fireplace (as did mine) which disappeared after a certain renter moved out. The home was well known in the neighborhood as where the Wright brothers lives as small children. He tracked down his fireplace mantle to an antique dealer who sold it to a dealer in Columbus OH. The dealer network clammed up when they realized it was stolen.

But I had often thought that one could do well buying these old homes after the crash and stripping them of their fineries: solid wood doors, hardwood floors, fireplaces, columns, stair rails, door and floor moldings. Another guy in town made a good living demolishing these home as they rotted away and nobody would pay the taxes. But not there are asbestos, lead paint, and mold issues that make even that business unprofitable.

The sad part about our cities today is that when these newer homes, build after WW2 deteriorate, there is little of value in them to mine. And restoring anything built before 1972 can create a money-pit due to EPA lead paint regulations.

I predict that Detroit is the future for US cities. New housing will be build by our socialist government--high rise apartments, small, efficient and very densely populated.

I have also been reading JC Collins since someone mentioned him over the weekend. Can't find out anything about him, but he is teaching about the same shifts in the economy and banking that Jim Willie has been describing--the shift to a new world currency and restructuring of debt. Very interesting, well presented, understandable and a website I can ask friends to read without apologizing for the other random wild theories that Jim Willie tosses at you.

Urban Roman
Feb 10, 2014 - 10:18am

Peak Wood

At its simplest extreme, the explanation for the fall of Roman civilization is "peak wood" -- an obvious analogy to "peak oil". But it really is pretty simple. When your energy supply declines, your economy declines, and your civilization declines.

There is also the fact that all the institutions, industries, and organizations within that civilization were founded on the predicate of "growth". Growth is an organic thing, really. Populations of mice tend to grow. Yeast grows. Everything grows given the opportunity. When growth is no longer possible, things get messy and collapse ensues. But that collapse, while it may happen quickly on a scale of centuries, does not usually happen suddenly. It takes a little time.

For some good parallels, these blogs have been keeping track -- look through their archives if you have lots of time.

Feb 10, 2014 - 10:24am

sold my miners

Something in me cannot believe that they will let us break out just yet. All my mining ETFs gapped up this morning. I guess I am fearful of watching a smackdown this afternoon. So I sold out at a nice profit and will try to buy back when the gaps fill. Hopefully I don't miss out.

If I am an idiot, please tell me.

The Doc
Feb 10, 2014 - 10:24am

Wow. Bitcoin down over 80%

Wow. Bitcoin down over 80% this morning.
Jim Willie calling for a similar deval in the USD in his latest:

Jim Willie: The Birth of the New 3rd World Dollar

Jim Willie dollarThe solution within the global currency reset is the launch of the new American Dollar, for its own usage, no longer a global reserve currency.
The United States is fast racking up characteristics of a Third World nation. Its finances are Third World. Its president is Third World. Its banking integrity is Third World. Its absent industry is Third World. Its decaying cities are Third World. It urgently begs for a Third World currency, but that is soon to be remedied. The nation has been a freeloader on the global reserve currency for too long.
That is about to end.

Feb 10, 2014 - 10:30am
Feb 10, 2014 - 10:44am

Dr. Jerome

Interestingly you mentioned Detroit. A lot of stuff happening there.

Too many to even list a snippet.

Feb 10, 2014 - 10:46am

wood and columns

There were metal pins between the pieces of Roman columns that held them together (sliding apart, actually). During the dark ages these were the only form of metal readily available, since the art of mining iron was lost for centuries. Perhaps in the future we will dismantle empty Chinese cities for the steel to make our new Agenda 21 homes.

The roof beams of Midwestern barns are quite valuable. There was a time when the Midwest was covered with 6-10 foot diameter pine trees that could make huge long beams. Those trees are gone, only relative toothpicks survive in the South, so if you want a 12x12 roof beam, it has to be laminated from smaller boards. IIRC, Duluth has an old grain elevator that has 6 million board-feet of 19th century pine. Our future Roman columns.

Feb 10, 2014 - 10:52am

enjoy the day

I too have to concentrate on the things that I enjoy. We are in the midst of societal change that has been taking place all 58 years of my life just ocurring at a faster pace. We have fed people who choose to do no work since the early 60's and they have become accustomed to being fed by others(you and me) if you pay taxes. We have and do provide housing, medical and other services for people who never intend to raise kids that they father and I use that term very loosely. We have over half of our kids born out of wedlock. Call me crazy or old fashioned but we are dealing with the consequences every day. 

Having said all that I spent last weekend breaking, cutting, grinding and wrapping two beef steers in rural NW Ohio. In exchange for my time I returned home with a quarter of beef for my freezer. I live in the suburbs of Chicago only due to a job move that was required. As I looked around at the farm with the sights, sounds and smells of hard work that it takes to keep that operation going I was blessed. I am thankful for rural America. I have not worked cutting meat since 1979 and was a little rusty but anatomy doesn't change and we got it done. What a way to spend a weekend with my daughter and son in law and grandkids. Our country is changing but the backbone is still there. There were family and neighbors in a semi heated out building trimming, boning, and wrapping to lend a hand. This coming weekend they put down two more and a week later will do the same thing all over. I don't get to join that group as it is a five and a half hour drive one way for me. My suburb here has homes over 130 years old with the beautiful wood work and all that as well and most in some unsafe areas. Excellent article about recycling and reselling goods. Many of those old homes are in gang banger neighborhoods here as well.

Times are changing but I don't think there will be collapse all at once. My two cents. Enjoy each day. Hug your kids and grandkids. Teach them how to work, how to say yes maam and yes sir. Turn out someone that will be worth something to society regardless of the state of that society when they grow up. Do your part. 24 a day is what we each have. Spend them wisely. We don't get to spend them twice. 

Feb 10, 2014 - 10:52am

Good Morning


Ah distinctly I remember, it was in the bleak December, as each separate dying ember wrote it's ghost upon the floor". So sad. Have a nice day.


Urban Roman
Feb 10, 2014 - 11:04am

Aaaand it's gone

That little pop in silver this morning. Silver must not be allowed to be > 20.

Feb 10, 2014 - 11:05am

There were 59 million families headed by a full time worker in

1965. Now there are 48+ million on food stamps alone. That War on Poverty has worked well, no?

Feb 10, 2014 - 11:06am

La Cucaracha

Feb. 10, 2014, 8:01 a.m. EST

How to invest like a cockroach

Building a portfolio that can survive anything

By Brett Arends

Main Street investors withdrew billions of dollars from the stock market last week—just before stock prices rallied.

And according to reports, they put the money into bonds—just before they fell.

This latest example of bad timing was a reversal of what was happening in the weeks before Christmas. Back then, Main Street investors were pulling money out of bonds and throwing it into the stock market. Naturally, this was just before stock markets tumbled and bonds rose.

So many investors act like the proverbial cat on a hot tin roof, always in motion, always trying to guess which way to jump next. Will new Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen stop “tapering” bond purchases if the job market remains weak? Will China tank? Will Puerto Rico default? Will inflation take off?

AFP/Getty Images Gold: A primary building block of the “cockroach” portfolio.

By lucky happenstance, last week SG Securities’ quantitative strategist Andrew Lapthorne directed my eye toward an absolutely fascinating piece of research, published just over a year ago by his erstwhile colleague Dylan Grice (who has since vanished into the maw of fund management).

To put it in a nutshell, Grice has advice for all of us: Don’t be a cat on a hot tin roof…be a cockroach.

Say what?

“Cockroaches get bad press,” Grice wrote in his research paper (“Cockroaches for the Long Run,” SG Securities, November 2012). “They’re pests. We don’t want them in our houses. Mainly, we want to kill them.” But, Grice added, cockroaches have one remarkable and underappreciated feature.

They’re survivors. And how.

They’ve been around for 350 million years—which means they have so far survived 7,000 times longer than the human race. They’ve outlasted the dinosaurs, and millions of other species. They’ve survived three of the five “mass extinctions” that have swept the planet, each of which wiped out about three-quarters of the other species. “They can go without air for 45 minutes, survive submerged underwater for half an hour, survive freezing temperatures and withstand 15 times more radiation than humans.”

No, they are not clever or inventive. But as Grice notes, cockroaches can survive a nuclear blast--even if they can’t build a nuclear bomb.

Wouldn’t it be great if we were able to find an investment portfolio that was as robust? Wouldn’t it be great if we could find a portfolio that we could just forget about, but which was designed to withstand whatever comes next?

This is a personal quest of mine. Thanks to my job, I really can’t run an active portfolio. And, because I know my financial history, I know that the standard alternatives to an active portfolio—those “balanced” and “target date” funds of stocks and bonds—may well be a disaster waiting to happen.

I call the holy grail the “all-weather” portfolio. Grice calls it the “cockroach” portfolio. And in his paper he thinks he may have found it.

The cockroach portfolio

Grice’s cockroach is a portfolio divided into four equal parts: Stocks, bonds, cash (i.e. deposits or Treasury bills), and gold bullion....(continued)


La CucaRacha

A contemporary corrido
 song sheet of La cucaracha issued during the Mexican Revolution. Note the original lyrics and the reference to cartoncitos, which were a type of scrip issued as pay.
Urban Roman opticsguy
Feb 10, 2014 - 11:22am

Re: war on poverty

Just wait 'til you see the results of the War on Terror.

Response to: There were 59 million families headed by a full time worker in

Feb 10, 2014 - 11:26am


history, that is.

I have always marveled at the economics that allowed the environment where wood craftsmen could spend so much time building those ornate victorians. I had a house in San Francisco once and the craftsmanship was could not afford to rebuild it, today. Was it slave labor,then?

This place still kicks it old school. Steam powered. :

The interesting part of it is they are a viable business.....they manage their own forests for raw stock, they are one of the only manufacturers of big, monolithic beams. Want a 50 foot 12x12? No glue necessary.

My Grandad started milling wood in the 20's. Never made much money until the gubmint paid whatever he wanted in WW2 (that is my opinion, based on forensics of his revenue reports). Was a good business until the 70's. The larger corporate mills then shoved the smaller ones out through monopolistic, predatory timber purchases (at a loss to drive out those unable to access capital) worked......10% of my graduating class has done hard time for drug related offenses ('78). That worked out well. Not many choices for blue collar guys when they shut down the mill.

Huh...predatory purchases.....kind of like if you wanted to control ownership of a precious them out through predatory market manipulation....instead of pricing it out of purchase...price them out of ownership through crushing the price......

In the end, those that held on in the mill world did quite well, as prices righted themselves....

stay thirsty my friends. 

Oh. In the 70's (when the big mills sat on the little ones) the gold market took off in the late part of the decade, as everyone knows.....what did stocks do? A bunch of nuthin! They were range bound for 6 or 7 years, going nowhere, while gold went up 800% (albeit briefly....I think 5x is probably a realistic gain to state)....I don't think stocks will go anywhere this time either....Having a socialist in place that thinks you can simply pull levers to create price control or profit is a surefire way to get neither....and stocks will reflect that, I think. I suspect miners will bounce hard here, but will be hard pressed to outperform the metal. They may be a great trade for a year, but then who knows? Metals, though, will endure until the "all clear".

dmpeters 4 oz
Feb 10, 2014 - 11:28am

the chick

Ismiley to think she is on the right track and follow her myself

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