Follow the OIL. They usually say, Follow the MONEY, but nowadays, paper money isn’t anything of permanent value. It is just an easy way to transport stored and fungible value, but modern money isn’t backed up by a portable physical value like gold, but by fixed assets which can be purchased, like oil, or land or weapons, and the numbers are a bit arbitrary. Perhaps it was always thus, even with metallic gold. However, gold was considered valuable in itself even though it didn’t serve much of an economic purpose. Before the electronic era where gold is useful for corrosion resistant connections and switches, it was mostly used for art objects of lasting quality. King Tut’s face mask at age 3,300 still looks shiny and very nice. And because of its permanence, gold was valued for objects of supposed permanence, like wedding rings symbolizing eternal faithfulness.

Modern money is more linked with a life- and status-supporting function. With a fixed and limited supply of oil, which will become scarce to the point of nonavailable over the lifetime of a presently newborn child, it has been called black gold, but in the short run it is much better than gold because you can do more useful things with it. Thus, oil is the new gold, and it’s the new money, and it’s worth fighting over because it gives its possessor the power to do things which are impossible without it.

Politicians talk about human rights to maintain respectability before the press and the public, but without a constant input of new oil, all of the modern societies would fail in a month. Without constant input of new gold society would last for a thousand years, with some painful adaptations of course but it wouldn’t destroy society. Without input of new copper, society would be in crisis mode within a year, because there would be no new electrical devices made. Modern society is tremendously dependent upon electricity and for the economy to grow there must be more electrical devices. It is presently necessary to go a mile deep to get either oil or copper whereas a hundred years ago they were available on or near the surface. These essentials to modern society are becoming increasingly difficult to obtain. Even though copper isn’t consumed directly, it is slowly lost back to the environment, so in the long run, say a thousand years at present rates, copper will become very valuable. At present the only readily available material for conducting electricity that is better than copper is silver. Obviously people can’t wire their houses with silver because it is too expensive. Aluminum can be used and it is plentiful in the Earth but it wastes a lot of the electricity flowing through it as heat. There is hope for carbon fibers being a replacement, but that may not be viable. If it were easy that discovery would have been made by now.

The people running the world know these things—they are obvious—but to maintain their grip on the essentials of political power, they must hide the obvious. That is done by focusing the press coverage on easily pictured and understood horrible human events. I don’t know which of the essentials of society will fail first, but it is a bit optimistic to believe that humanity and its society can continue growing forever as we have done for the last four hundred years.

Watch the price of copper, oil and fresh water as harbingers, not money.