For all its evocation of history, I find this post to be rather ahistorical, There was, most economic historians believe, a major discontinuity in world history. Beginning with the Industrial Revolution nations began to enjoy the possibility of continuous economic growth. Malthus was not wrong in 1799 looking backward; as Gregory Clark has argued in his book A Farewell to Alms, the world did face Malthusian crises on a regular basis, and Malthus was right in looking forward and saying all things equal there'll be another one. But at just that moment things were no longer equal. By the standards of the past there should be no way we can feed and clothe 6+ billion people; we should have had mass starvation and epidemics years ago.
But the standards of the past are, well, passed. As Nobel-Prize winning economist Douglass North has noted, until the 19th century long-run economic growth was essentially unknown, and examples of past failures of temporarily prosperous states--2000 years ago in some cases--are extremely problematic to apply today. Rome, for example, grew rich not because of superior production but because of its ability to wage war and extract tribute from conquered peoples. But when supply lines became too long, further conquest was forestalled and Rome began a long term decline.
The main feature that has distinguished the last 200 years has been increasing productivity--the ability to make more with less. Ms. Tverberg worries about the rising price of energy, but in fact we now produce a dollar of GDP with more than 50 percent less energy than we did in 1973. Why? We increased productivity and efficiency and continue to do so. This makes real energy costs much lower than they would be in a world of stagnation.
Much of this is from the benefits of technological change. The fear expressed above that automation leads to recession and joblessness is simply not supported by the facts of the modern world. Fears of this kind reflect a view of labor as a fixed quantity and that technological change that substitutes capital for labor means a net loss of jobs. In fact technology changes the composition of labor but generally in the aggregate creates jobs. A few hundred thousand operators lost their jobs with advances in telecommunications in the 1980s and 90s but telecoms added on net millions of employees because of these changes.
This is not to say that there aren't dangers ahead with respect to our economic future. We will need to confront fiscal problem and we may have periods of low growth and recession. At the same time, parallels with Egypt and Syria are entirely beside the point. These are failed states that have never created the institutions needed for long term economic success or for political stability.
Finally, I would add that catastrophism has been a good way to sell airport paperbacks but every catastrophe scenario of the past 50 years has looked silly in retrospect. Malthusians say it's just a matter of time before they are right. Maybe but from my viewpoint it doesn't seem anywhere near at hand.