From Economic Crisis to World War III

The response to the 2008 economic crisis has relied far too much on monetary stimulus, in the form of quantitative easing and near-zero (or even negative) interest rates, and included far too little structural reform. This means that the next crisis could come soon – and pave the way for a large-scale military conflict.

Qian Liu  

income inequality us

BEIJING – The next economic crisis is closer than you think. But what you should really worry about is what comes after: in the current social, political, and technological landscape, a prolonged economic crisis, combined with rising income inequality, could well escalate into a major global military conflicto.

The 2008-09 global financial crisis almost bankrupted governments and caused systemic collapse. Policymakers managed to pull the global economy back from the brink, using massive monetary stimulus, including quantitative easing and near-zero (or even negative) interest rates.

But monetary stimulus is like an adrenaline shot to jump-start an arrested heart; it can revive the patient, but it does nothing to cure the disease. Treating a sick economy requires structural reforms, which can cover everything from financial and labor markets to tax systems, fertility patterns, and education policies.1

Policymakers have utterly failed to pursue such reforms, despite promising to do so. Instead, they have remained preoccupied with politics. From Italy to Germany, forming and sustaining governments now seems to take more time than actual governing. And Greece, for example, has relied on money from international creditors to keep its head (barely) above water, rather than genuinely reforming its pension system or improving its business environment.

The lack of structural reform has meant that the unprecedented excess liquidity that central banks injected into their economies was not allocated to its most efficient uses. Instead, it raised global asset prices to levels even higher than those prevailing before 2008.

In the United States, housing prices are now 8% higher than they were at the peak of the property bubble in 2006, according to the property website Zillow. The price-to-earnings (CAPE) ratio, which measures whether stock-market prices are within a reasonable range, is now higher than it was both in 2008 and at the start of the Great Depression in 1929.

As monetary tightening reveals the vulnerabilities in the real economy, the collapse of asset-price bubbles will trigger another economic crisis – one that could be even more severe than the last, because we have built up a tolerance to our strongest macroeconomic medications. A decade of regular adrenaline shots, in the form of ultra-low interest rates and unconventional monetary policies, has severely depleted their power to stabilize and stimulate the economy.

If history is any guide, the consequences of this mistake could extend far beyond the economy. According to Harvard’s Benjamin Friedman, prolonged periods of economic distress have been characterized also by public antipathy toward minority groups or foreign countries – attitudes that can help to fuel unrest, terrorism, or even war.

For example, during the Great Depression, US President Herbert Hoover signed the 1930 Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, intended to protect American workers and farmers from foreign competition. In the subsequent five years, global trade shrank by two-thirds. Within a decade, World War II had begun.

To be sure, WWII, like World War I, was caused by a multitude of factors; there is no standard path to war. But there is reason to believe that high levels of inequality can play a significant role in stoking conflict.3

According to research by the economist Thomas Piketty, a spike in income inequality is often followed by a great crisis. Income inequality then declines for a while, before rising again, until a new peak – and a new disaster. Though causality has yet to be proven, given the limited number of data points, this correlation should not be taken lightly, especially with wealth and income inequality at historically high levels.

This is all the more worrying in view of the numerous other factors stoking social unrest and diplomatic tension, including technological disruption, a record-breaking migration crisis, anxiety over globalization, political polarization, and rising nationalism. All are symptoms of failed policies that could turn out to be trigger points for a future crisis.

Voters have good reason to be frustrated, but the emotionally appealing populists to whom they are increasingly giving their support are offering ill-advised solutions that will only make matters worse. For example, despite the world’s unprecedented interconnectedness, multilateralism is increasingly being eschewed, as countries – most notably, Donald Trump’s US – pursue unilateral, isolationist policies. Meanwhile, proxy wars are raging in Syria and Yemen.

Against this background, we must take seriously the possibility that the next economic crisis could lead to a large-scale military confrontation. By the logic of the political scientist Samuel Huntington , considering such a scenario could help us avoid it, because it would force us to take action. In this case, the key will be for policymakers to pursue the structural reforms that they have long promised, while replacing finger-pointing and antagonism with a sensible and respectful global dialogue. The alternative may well be global conflagration.

Qian Liu is an economist based in China.

Oil majors switch on to a future in power generation

Electricity deals by global groups gather pace amid shift to gas and renewables

Anjli Raval in Madrid

© FT montage

A fuel station on Madrid’s Calle de Alberto Aguilera offers a glimpse into the future. Customers can pick up Amazon packages and gourmet groceries, drop off their hybrid car-share or sip a café con leche as they wait for their electric vehicle to charge.

While regular petrol-guzzling cars are welcome, Repsol — the Spanish oil major that operates the station — is preparing for a global shift in energy consumption as people turn away from dirtier fuels. This is forcing the majors to reimagine their businesses.

“Power is going to be one of the main drivers of new low-carbon business models for all major energy companies,” said Antonio Brufau, Repsol’s chairman, in an interview with the Financial Times. Electricity would “account for most of the primary energy growth”, he added.

Repsol and European rivals Royal Dutch Shell and Total are now making deals along the electricity supply chain — from power generation to electric charge points — echoing the existing drilling rig-to-petrol-pump model.

Penetrating the market for household energy supply, which has previously been dominated by utilities, is where they see future growth.

“It’s a hedge for these companies. No one knows how the energy transition plays out or at what speed,” said Tom Heggarty, of consultancy Wood Mackenzie’s power and renewables division.

“There is a belief they need to evolve with the market so they do not fade away into obscurity.”

Oil utilities chart: The use of renewables and gas is set to rise

BP, in its long-term energy outlook to 2040, expects almost 70 per cent of the increase in primary energy to be the power sector, with electricity demand growing three times quicker than other energies. Electric vehicles are a small proportion of the global car fleet today but the segment is growing rapidly, with autonomous cars and ride sharing also promoting the trend.

“As oil is so linked to mobility, it is more exposed to changes in consumption,” said Mr Brufau. “We need to figure out how we manage this.”

Repsol’s strategy has seen it invest in a network of rapid charge points for electric cars; set up a joint venture called Wible in Madrid with South Korea’s Kia Motors for a fleet of 500 hybrid vehicles; and make a €750m acquisition for the gas and hydropower assets of Spain’s Viesgo.

Shell also expanded its gas business after the $50bn acquisition of BG Group. It acquired UK power supplier First Utility in February, giving it direct access to retail electricity consumers for the first time, and New Motion, one of Europe’s largest electric vehicle charging companies.

Repsol's modern petrol station in Madrid. The company's strategy to expand into both mobility services and electricity production has seen it invest in a network of rapid charge points for electric cars

Maarten Wetselaar, head of integrated gas and new energies at Shell, said electrification would “underpin” the energy transition.

For Shell, not only will gas displace coal and become more dominant in power generation, it provides a back up for renewables on overcast or windless days. As electricity grows as a proportion of energy consumption, Mr Wetselaar said Shell had “to play in that if we want to be a major”.

Shareholders have also been propelling this investment focus in preparation for an energy transition, concerned that spending on long-term oil projects could be uneconomical in years to come and increasingly over the sector’s contributions to greenhouse gas emissions and global warming.

European groups such as Total, Shell, Equinor, BP and Eni have so far made more low-carbon investments than their US, Chinese and Russian rivals, according to a study by environmental non-profit group CDP. Out of 24 companies, European majors rank as being best prepared for the transition to a low-carbon economy.

Oil utilities chart: China and OECD countries fuel growth

However, it is still unclear what success looks like and some investors want oil companies to manage the decline of their businesses — concentrating on generating cash rather than power.

“Finding, developing, producing and transporting hydrocarbon molecules is fundamentally a different business from generating and transmitting electrons,” said Nick Stansbury, head of commodity research at Legal & General Investment Management.

“Does the oil and gas industry need to transform itself into something that more clearly resembles a utility to future-proof its business? [The] answer is probably no.”

But the shift is happening. Total has said it is “allergic” to the word utility even as it builds a retail energy business in France while sidestepping the regulated market.

It bought US solar company SunPower, power vendor Lampiris, battery specialist Saft and took a stake in renewable energy group Eren before acquiring French electricity retailer Direct Energie for €1.4bn this year. This has enabled it to develop a portfolio of gas-fired and renewable energy power plants.

“The potential to combine gas and renewables for power generation is big,” said Philippe Sauquet, Total’s head of gas, renewables and power.

As the power generation world changes “rapidly” towards a more competitive market, he said Total would benefit. “We don’t have legacy assets and privileges in this space. We can be more efficient. We can offer better prices.”

Unlike traditional utilities with a single-facet relationship with customers as a household power supplier, Mr Sauquet believes energy majors want multiple interactions.

“While electrons should be seen as a new commodity, how you provide them to the customer is not,” Mr Sauquet said. “We can make more money from added value services, from smart-meters to monitor consumption and lower bills to electric vehicle charging.”

Oil utilities chart: global coal and oil use will decline by 2040

However, some industry analysts say there is a difference between stepping into adjacent businesses — such as installing electric charging points at existing fuel retail networks — versus areas where they are not leading players, for example, in generation.

Danish wind giant Orsted or Spain’s Iberdrola might be much better suited to develop clean power projects, while crunching data about how and when customers use electricity is more the domain of tech groups such as Google or Microsoft.

The oil majors are also reluctant to spend huge sums until they can make financial gains. Typical returns on investment for wind or solar would be 5-9 per cent versus more than 20 per cent for traditional oil and gas projects, Wood Mackenzie has said.

While Shell has said it plans to spend 80 per cent of its $2bn “new energy” budget on the power sector until 2020, it remains a small proportion of its $25bn capital expenditure total.

Even Mr Brufau at Repsol admitted the money spent on power and clean technologies was “peanuts”.

How to sell electricity profitably is crucial, particularly given the sector’s history when it lost billions of dollars trying its first transition into renewable power. BP made a long retreat after a big move in the 2000s into solar module manufacturing, under its “Beyond Petroleum” mantra. Since then it has trod lightly — investing in another solar company Lightsource; the UK’s largest electric vehicle charging network Chargemaster; and battery start-up StoreDot.

Wood Mackenzie’s Mr Heggarty warned: “Returns will just not be anywhere near what they see in other parts of their business.”

Global Economy Shows Strain as U.S. Steams Ahead

China, Japan and Germany show signs of stress, posing a risk to the U.S. should the trends persist

By William Boston in Berlin, Josh Zumbrun in Washington and Nina Adam in Frankfurt

The global economy has hit a soft patch, putting the U.S.’s robust growth at risk should the slowdown persist.

Economic output in Japan and Germany contracted in the third quarter, while in October consumer spending in China hit its slowest pace in five months and bank lending fell, according to data released Wednesday about the world’s biggest economies after the U.S.

“You’ve seen a bit of a slowdown—not a terrible slowdown,” Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said Wednesday evening. “It is concerning.”

One-time events played a role in some of these bumps, including a typhoon and earthquake that hit Japan and bottlenecks at German auto plants associated with new emissions standards.

But across the globe, economists and business executives warned about a common denominator that is hurting growth: trade battles among the U.S., China and others. Tariffs are hitting some businesses, and worries about the impact of worsening trade discord are also weighing on sentiment.

One company recently caught in the crosscurrent was German engineering firm Heidelberger Druckmaschinen AG. A ship bound for the U.S. carrying two large pressing machines it built at a Chinese plant was waylaid at a dock in Canada as the company haggled with its customer over how to divide the costs of new U.S. tariffs. The customer balked at a higher bill.

“Ultimately, we sold the machines to someone else,” a Heidelberger Druck spokesman said.

The global scenario stands in contrast to a U.S. economy that expanded at an annualized rate of 3.5% in the third quarter.

Germany, Europe’s anchor economy, reported its gross domestic product contracted at a 0.8% annualized rate in the third quarter, the first quarterly drop in 3½ years and the lowest rate since early 2013. The eurozone economy grew at an annualized rate of 0.7% in the third quarter, its weakest performance since early 2013.

“One month of no growth shouldn’t unleash panic, but at the same time we see that growth rates are weakening and there are a lot of unknowns,” said Ralph Wiechers, chief economist at the German Mechanical Engineering Industry Association.

Japan’s economy contracted at an annualized pace of 1.2% in the third quarter after expanding at a 3% annual pace the previous quarter.

Tokyo-based trading company Marubeni Corp.said the trade war hit its U.S. grain unit, Gavilon, after U.S. soy prices fell on a tumble in soy shipments to China. Beijing put a 25% tariff on U.S. soy imports in July. Marubeni said net profit for its food-products segment for the six months through Sept. 30 fell 46% from the previous year.

President Trump’s administration has imposed tariffs on $250 billion worth of goods imported from China. It has also placed tariffs in sectors including steel and solar panels. U.S. trading partners have retaliated.

While the U.S. economy has continued to outperform, there are signs the global slowdown is taking some toll on the U.S. as well, said David Joy, the chief market strategist for Ameriprise Financial Inc. He said the global growth slowdown has been one factor behind declines in U.S. stock markets and the plunge in oil prices that are likely to hurt U.S. oil producers.

“A deceleration in global activity will probably take a little wind out of our sails, but I don’t think it will have a huge impact yet,” said Mr. Joy.

Few economists predict a global recession, particularly given the strong momentum of the U.S. economy.

After climbing for most of the past two years, U.S. exports have trended down since May. But the U.S. economy is still being boosted by strong consumer spending, associated with low unemployment and individual income tax cuts enacted last year. Rising government spending, particularly on the military, has also boosted U.S. demand.

The U.S. is somewhat insulated from an international slowdown because its exports are only about 12% of gross domestic product, compared with a global average of about 29% and even higher in Germany, meaning the U.S. is less exposed than most countries when the global economy weakens.

A Volkswagen Touran SUV stands on a raised conveyor on the assembly line at a factory in Wolfsburg, Germany.
A Volkswagen Touran SUV stands on a raised conveyor on the assembly line at a factory in Wolfsburg, Germany. Photo: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg News

On Tuesday, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries cut its forecast for global economic growth to 3.5% for 2019 from 3.6% previously, saying that “the slowdown in the global economic growth trend has become more accentuated lately.” It pointed to trade tensions and tightening monetary conditions, notably U.S. interest rate increases. With global growth slowing, it sees demand for petroleum also slowing, which is weighing on oil prices.

A monthslong slowdown in China’s economy, driven in part by a crackdown on risky financing and jitters over the trade dispute between Beijing and Washington, is hurting spending there. Retail sales rose 8.6% in October from a year earlier, slowing from a 9.2% one-year gain in September. While automobiles have been slowing in recent months, a broader range of consumer products—such as stationary and jewelry—also slowed sharply.

China’s slowdown has been most felt in factories around the world. According to a global measure of manufacturing activity compiled by J.P. Morgan, output rose at the slowest pace in 28 months during October, while export orders fell for the second straight month.

In Germany, a rise in trade barriers threatens what has been a major source of strength for Europe’s powerhouse economy. German companies are major exporters, having stretched their supply chains around the world and invested heavily in selling to Chinese consumers and companies.

German exports of goods fell 1.2% in September from that month a year earlier, led by a 2.2% decline in shipments to countries outside the EU, according to the German statistics body.

German industry is so uncertain about how U.S. trade policy could impact its business that when luxury car maker BMW AGrevised its core profit figures down last week, the company warned that even that forecast may not hold to the end of the year.

“The trade conflict between the U.S. and China is a burden on the global economy,” said Nicolas Peter, BMW’s finance chief. “Should conditions deteriorate considerably we can’t rule out that it would have an impact on our forecast.”

For now, economists and corporate executives say a German recession doesn’t appear imminent. But as core indicators begin to buckle, they warn fresh shocks could emerge and tip the German economy off kilter.

“The uncertainty is palpable,” Mr. Wiechers said.

—Paul Hannon and Megumi Fujikawa contributed to this article.

Israel’s Strategic Reality

The current fighting in Gaza is part of years of sporadic conflict, but there’s more to it than that.

By George Friedman


Israel and Gaza are involved in an escalating firefight that began with the exposure of undercover Israeli soldiers at a militant checkpoint in Gaza over the weekend. The Israeli probe there is part of an ongoing operation to limit Hamas’ ability to wage war. It may seem that this attempt failed, given that several hundred rockets have been fired into Israel. But the strategic situation goes far beyond this exchange.
Palestinian Divides
For the Palestinians, one of their main challenges has been the profound divide between Palestinian groups. The West Bank is controlled by the Palestinian Authority, a descendant of the Palestine Liberation Organization. The PLO is an umbrella organization for various Palestinian factions that all descended from the secular Arab movements that emerged in the 1950s and 1960s. Gaza, on the other hand, is dominated by Hamas, a different strand of the Palestinian movement that took its bearings from the rise of Islamists. Ideologically, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority diverge profoundly. Strategically, they have different interests in Gaza. The PA had some possibility of creating a viable entity there and made formal and informal arrangements with the Israelis to achieve that end. But ultimately, Gaza wasn’t viable. Given its size and population, it was sustainable only through outside support. Any settlement with Israel would leave Gaza permanently unmanageable. But the divergent interests of the PA and Hamas benefited the Israelis. Internal division had been a feature of the Palestinian movement from the beginning, but this sharp ideological and geographical split made it easier for the Israelis to manage the situation.

Gaza was contained not only by the Israelis but also by the Egyptians, who saw Hamas’ links to the Muslim Brotherhood as a threat to their interests. The Saudis, on the other hand, saw an opportunity. Saudi Arabia sees itself as the center of Sunni Islam and, therefore, responsible for the religiously oriented Palestinian movements, providing them with military support.

Another factor was Iran, which also offered Hamas support. The foundation of Iran’s power in the Levant was Hezbollah. It was a Shiite political and military movement that confronted the Israelis during Israel’s invasions of Lebanon and in Israel itself. There was tension between Shiite Iran and Sunni Palestinian groups, but Hamas needed military aid, and Hezbollah and the Iranians were ready and willing to supply it. They provided the rockets that Hamas fired at Israel and the technology Hamas needed to construct rockets of its own. Israel was thus militarily diverted in two directions: to the north in Lebanon and to the south in Gaza. Neither posed an existential threat to Israel, but together they were a significant force drawing Israeli attention in multiple directions.



Iranian Expansion
After the U.S. withdrawal from the region, the spread of Iranian power created a new strategic dynamic. Saudi Arabia and Israel had a common interest in containing Iran, and Iran’s connection to Hamas concerned both. The Saudis seemed to support Israel’s efforts to shift Hamas away from confrontation. As the main supplier of non-lethal aid, the Saudis had massive influence over Hamas, and in recent weeks, the group indicated it was interested in some settlement with Israel and displacing PA as the main representative of Palestinians.

The shift in Hamas’ posture had to alarm the Iranians. Gaza was not an existential threat to them, but its ability to divert Israel’s focus and shift logistical support would be an asset in any potential conflict with Israel. I speculate now that the Saudi pressure to accommodate Israel may have resulted in Iranian counter-pressure, and the increasing Israeli probes were in some way connected to this. Gaza would be permanently crippled if it accepted the Saudi status quo and, therefore, continued working with Iran, as covertly as possible.

For Israel, the real strategic problem is that Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa are the heart of the country and where its population is concentrated. If they were to come under massive rocket and missile fire, the losses would likely be unacceptable. Israel, therefore, must pre-empt any possible attack from Iran. U.S. economic pressure on Tehran has weakened the regime, but that has not changed the strategic problem Israel faces.

Gaza is therefore not the real problem. The real problem is the peripheral threat from the north, east and south. The Israeli military has no way to instantaneously destroy all the rockets that can be launched from these positions. Any Israeli attack, therefore, would take an extended period of time and might require ground forces. And once the Israelis begin such an operation, the Iranians would be able to launch a large number of missiles toward the main population hubs. Israel would thus have to engage its entire periphery simultaneously. It’s unlikely Israel would use nuclear weapons given the proximity and high probability of nuclear fallout reaching Israel. An Israeli assault must be conventional and very quickly effective. A difficult task, to say the least.

It would also have to be pre-emptive. If Iran were to initiate war, Israel would be in the worst position possible. It can’t assume Iran won’t act, nor can it assume that a pre-emptive strike would even work.
Russian Interests
As odd as it seems, the matter may come down to the Russians. If they block Israeli aircraft attacking Syria, then Israel has the choice of backing down or attacking Russian facilities, making the situation even more unmanageable. What Israel needs is for the Russians to force Iran to withdraw its missiles from Syria. Gaza is manageable, and with the Syrian problem eliminated, Israel would face only one remaining threat: Hezbollah in Lebanon. Indeed, without Gaza and Syria involved, Hezbollah might not be willing to begin an exchange.

The Russians don’t want to see Israel attacked, and they don’t want to face an Israeli assault either. Russia would be at a disadvantage, and it has little desire to deploy more forces to the region. And while it has no love for Iran, it doesn’t want to force the Syrians have to choose between Russia and Iran. The Syrian army is far larger than the Russian force in place, and superior training and weapons don’t always compensate for numbers. Russia’s presence in Syria is getting more complicated by the day, but it can’t withdraw without giving up the one thing it sought in Syria in the first place: credibility. It can act quietly against Iranian missiles but can’t guarantee their withdrawal.

It’s for this reason that the U.S. abandoned the nuclear agreement with the Iranians and demanded they halt the construction of missiles. Long-range missiles in Iran would turn Israel’s problem insoluble without rapid, aggressive action, which the U.S. doesn’t want at a time when the situation throughout the region is volatile.
The Least Dangerous Force
The current fighting in Gaza is part of years of sporadic conflict, but there’s more to it. The spread of Iranian power has threatened Sunni Arabs in the region, particularly the Saudis. Now it has reached the point of forcing Israel to consider pre-emptive action, and Gaza is the least dangerous force with which it can deal. The Israelis clearly didn’t take Hamas’ offers for an agreement seriously, likely due to its rocket production capabilities.

The Israelis have warned the Lebanese about Hezbollah’s rockets. They have insisted that the Russians permit continued airstrikes against Iranian positions in Syria without warning. And they are taking rocket fire from Gaza. All these events are in some way connected to the massive growth in Iranian power. The Iranians, though, are facing severe economic pressure and may see confrontation with Israel as the kind of national security event that could boost patriotism and allow citizens to forget their economic hardships.

Meanwhile, intense talks are undoubtedly underway. The Americans are using their new favorite weapon – economic warfare – against Iran and avoiding military involvement. The Russians are getting the old sinking feeling of foreigners intervening in the Middle East. The Israelis are contemplating full peripheral warfare. It comes down to how badly the Iranians want to hold their current position, and the extent to which they are willing to back down. The possibility of a defeat might be enough to force them to choose another day.

Everything Around Him Burned. He Stayed Put, and Lived to Tell the Tale.


Kevin Jeys rode out the Camp Fire in his home in Paradise, Calif., despite orders to evacuate. / CreditJ ason Henry for The New York Times

PARADISE, Calif. — As his neighbors fled, Kevin Jeys read. Then, as a mammoth wildfire moved in, he took a break from flipping through a New Yorker magazine and stepped outside to see what was happening.

“Propane tanks were exploding all over the place, people were screaming and the embers from the buildings on fire around me were crackling,” said Mr. Jeys, 62, a paralegal who writes briefs for criminal defense lawyers. “But I knew then and there I wasn’t going anywhere. I thought, where the hell am I going to go with three cats?”

So, Mr. Jeys — who does not own a cellphone or functioning vehicle but does, in addition to the three cats, have a cockatoo, a zebra finch, two tree frogs and a red translucent bearded dragon lizard — stayed put. Somehow the home he rents on Birch Street emerged unscathed from a firestorm that turned most of Paradise, Calif., into charred ruins and killed dozens of area residents.

Just about the entire town of 27,000 people has evacuated to safe zones. But not Mr. Jeys, who was outside his home on Tuesday. He still isn’t going anywhere, he said. 
Mr. Jeys’s remarkable decision to stay in a home that somehow survived the Camp Fire offers a glimpse into the unpredictable behavior of both wildfires and those trapped in them.

The authorities made it clear from the start of the fire that Paradise had to be evacuated.

Saying he was concerned about continuing hazards in the devastated areas, the Sheriff Kory L. Honea of Butte County repeatedly warned residents that they were not allowed in the evacuation zones without a police escort. He also said he wanted to protect the evacuated homes and businesses from looters.

“I have warned people time and time again,” the sheriff said at a briefing last week. “If you’re in these evacuated areas where you shouldn’t be and you are violating the law or taking advantage of these poor citizens who were displaced we are going to stop you and investigate you and take you to jail if we find that you are violating the law.”

Up and down suburban lanes, in one cul-de-sac after another in Paradise, some of the only structures that remain standing are the brick fireplaces of homes otherwise gutted by the firestorm. What remains of families’ personal effects are laid bare. There are also a number of homes and businesses intact, vacant of their owners and an inviting target for thieves. 
Nearly every natural disaster includes people like Mr. Jeys. Some refuse to leave during Category 5 hurricanes, arguing they are safer in their homes than in panic-ridden traffic jams. Others express fear of looting if they leave, opting to defend their property.

Mr. Jeys said he had stayed behind because he could not move his pets, which include three cats and a bearded dragon.

Mr. Jeys said he had stayed behind because he could not move his pets, which include three cats and a bearded dragon. / Credit Jason Henry for The New York Times

Mr. Jeys listed his pets as his top reason for staying. He said it dawned on him quickly that it would be impossible to evacuate with them all, especially because his Mazda pickup remained broken down and stranded in front of his house.

“I didn’t want to be a burden on anyone who was in their own car trying to flee,” Mr. Jeys said in an interview outside his home. “And I had my strategy for making a stand to protect my home.”

That plan of action involved a garden hose. Mr. Jeys said he used it to spray the roof of his one-story home and extinguish nearby embers. For those patches of fire beyond the reach of his hose, he stomped on them with his cowboy boots.

Mr. Jeys acknowledged that the fact that his home was made largely of cinder block instead of wood or drywall may have made the structure more fire resistant. Still, he pointed at the dry pine needles in his yard — fuel for a fast-moving wildfire — and wondered why they didn’t burn.

A fire crew in Paradise also lent a hand, extinguishing a blaze that was ripping through an alleyway behind his dwelling. From his front porch, Mr. Jeys said he could still see nearby structures going up in flames. He glimpsed squirrels and birds scurrying along the ground on an empty lot in front of his home, as if escaping the heat above.

“I woke up the next day and Paradise looked a little like Dresden,” said Mr. Jeys, clad entirely in black from head (felt brimmed hat) to toe (those cowboy boots). 
Surviving the Camp Fire was one challenge for Mr. Jeys; enduring its aftermath is another.

Power and telephone services went off after the fire, on Nov. 8. Three weeks later, they have yet to come back on. Mr. Jeys, who relied on a landline to access the internet, does not have a way to keep in touch with people on social media.

Asked why he never got a cellphone, Mr. Jeys stared shortly into the distance before responding. “My ex would say it’s because I’m a Leo who’s resistant to change,” he said. “That sounds about right.”

However, Mr. Jeys, who explained he was a journalist in this part of California until economic upheaval in the newspaper industry forced him to change professions, said he stayed informed by listening to a local AM station on a battery-powered transistor radio.

To keep warm at night, when temperatures in Paradise dip into the 40s, Mr. Jeys said he used a wood stove. Water service in his home has been restored, but he does not have hot water, which means he has not bathed for a while.

“I’m too chicken for cold water,” Mr. Jeys, bespectacled and generously whiskered, said.

Otherwise, Mr. Jeys has largely relied on the kindness of strangers and friends to make it through this ordeal. 

Investigators are trying to determine why some homes remain standing in Paradise, while others were reduced to ash.CreditJason Henry for The New York Times

Luckily, he is well known from his reporting days among journalists in this part of California. One writer in the Chico News & Review, an alternative newspaper, has called Mr. Jeys “Chico’s answer to Hunter S. Thompson,” describing his articles as “usually brilliant, funny and dangerous.”
Mr. Jeys said he gave his debit card to a radio reporter who recently made it through the roadblocks to survey Paradise. The reporter returned with several packs of Pall Malls, his preferred brand of cigarettes, and some mouthwash.

For sustenance, Mr. Jeys said that members of work crews in Paradise had given him sandwiches and bottles of water. They’ve also doled out other essentials, like batteries and bags of cat food. He repeatedly praised the generosity of those going house to house in the town looking for the remains of missing people who may have died in the fire.

Since the fire hit, Mr. Jeys said he found himself grappling with feelings of guilt and bewilderment. He said he had listened to radio reports on the staggering number of people who died in the fire, now at 84, as well the hundreds listed as missing.

“I know people who escaped with only the clothes on their backs,” he said. “Others didn’t make it out at all, and here I am. I find myself asking how that can be sometimes.”

Mr. Jeys said he was also pondering the apparent randomness of which structures were razed in the fire and which ones remain unscathed.

Nearby, on Skyway, the commercial strip winding through the town, the Pelicans Roost Restaurant, Dutch Bros. Coffee and Meeho’s Mexican restaurant somehow remain standing. The same cannot be said for the Main Event styling salon, Maria Celeste’s Gastropub or Jack in the Box, all destroyed.

Meanwhile, Mr. Jeys is still reading each morning and spending time with his pets.

He smiled while explaining that he named one of his cats after “Porius,” a 1951 historical novel set in Wales during the Dark Ages by John Cowper Powys, a British philosopher and novelist. The name became too laborious to pronounce, so he shortened it to Por. The other two are Nikolai and Bites. 
Mr. Jeys said he did not venture far when he strolled around Paradise. He heard through the grapevine of workers sifting through the rubble that the town might have another person or two who similarly decided to stick it out. But if so, he said, he hasn’t run across them.

Gazing at the conifer and oak trees that still tower over his home, he said the tragedy reminded him how unpredictable life can be.

“Look at me,” Mr. Jeys said. “I now live on an island in a sea of destruction.”