Staring into the economic abyss

As the sucker rally on Wall Street passed the four-week mark, your president, Congressional delegations, and media worked themselves into a lather explaining how a recovery was under way. To which James Howard Kunstler appropriately asks, “recovery to what?”


We’re done with economic growth, forever, on this planet. Any evidence of economic growth will be viewed by oil traders as an opportunity to jack up the price of oil. Oil priced at $147.27 was problematic the last time around, when it produced the Greater Depression, but we can only imagine the outcome when it escalates again. The empire is toast if the price of oil comes close to $150. The first big swing in the price of oil destroyed the financial sector, and it took your pension, the automobile industry, and half the corporations dependent on consumer spending down with it. The big dominoes have yet to fall. Such as, for example, the remaining banks in the world, our entire agricultural sector, and every other entity bigger than the locally owned-and-operated grocery store.
Meanwhile, 19 in 20 people are completely unaware we might have tough sailing ahead. And although most Americans support a wide array of “renewable” energy policies, “half of all Americans could not identify a renewable energy source, nearly 4 in 10 cannot name a fossil fuel, two-thirds overestimate U.S. dependence on Middle Eastern oil, and more than half think that by reducing smog, the United States has gone ‘a long way’ in addressing global warming.” We make sheep look well-informed and introspective. If you’ve been following this blog, at least you know what’s headed our way and, if you’re paying the slightest bit of attention, you’ve started to make other arrangements.
The U.K. Guardian is correctly declaring the death of socialism and capitalism, while pointing out that we’re all neo-cons now and implicitly begging for a redistribution of wealth, from the haves to the have-nots. As if the haves will go along with that old ploy, this deep into the “free-market” system to which we are irrevocably committed. Damned near everybody else is calling for more bailouts, which of course will destroy the vaunted American middle class and all future generations of workers. Not that Americans have noticed, or at least cared, since we still have American Idol on the idiot box.
On the financial front, Moody’s has downgraded the entire United States, even as we take the first real steps toward economic collapse. In a couple years — perhaps less — we’ll look back fondly on trucks delivering groceries and iPods, fossil fuels delivering water to the taps, and the police state delivering security to our neighborhoods. With respect to the daunting cost to the world’s species and cultures, and even to our own species — facing extinction at our own hand — well, we industrial humans couldn’t care less. Extinction has never bothered us before. And apparently it doesn’t now, either. Living in the world is a moral choice. And we’d rather not.
What to do, what to do? TPTB are left with damned few choices, all of them destined to fail. They — meaning we — simply cannot sustain economic growth on a planet with finite resources. That is, we cannot sustain the unsustainable in the face of reality. Not that they — meaning we — will stop trying, mind you: raping the planet in the name of economic growth is all the rage for industrial nations and the people who “run” them.
What to do, what to do? As individuals, of course, we have the same alternatives we’ve always had: living in the world or empire (i.e., living in the world or bust). We can choose to live in large cities, and therefore die in them in the near future, or we can choose to live elsewhere. Living in small towns is inherently more “sustainable” than living in cities, as it always has been. And living in the world is even more durable, as it has been at least since the last Stone Age.
Where do you stick your picket pin? What do you defend, as the industrial age grinds to a halt?

Comments 24

  • Professor Guy:
    You need to go down in style.Now CIVILIZED people always drink wine with their dinner.
    The fact that most Americans do not,is one more example of how America is by far the most backward and barbaric of all the so called “advanced” nations.
    You have been victimized by this adverse social milieu,but I can help.What will you drink with your dinner this eve?
    Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm ???

  • Well, my task hasn’t changed much, personally. I’m just trying to make the best out of my corner of existence until my time is up and plan to weather the future–good or bad–as it comes.
    I just joined the Red Cross as a volunteer, and I’m helping to moderate the local freecycle board–among other things. (Including fighting with my irrational dislike of the Spanish language. You know, I really wish I could love it.)
    Anyway, though Kunstler throws out a good one-liner now and then, I’m pretty sick of him. Not for his message, but for his hypocrisy. He seems to tout living locally and abstaining from carbon emission as a “good for thee but not for me” sort of thing. Between advocating for the Israeli cause and hoping a plane every other week, he sounds more like a proper Bushie than a jolly green liberal giant.
    Besides that, he comes off as a cranky old misanthrope intent on kvetching til’ the bitter end.
    There are better uses of time and talent. I could be wrong, of course. I’ve spent probably the majority of my life wrong and/or making an ass of myself. Nevertheless, I don’t read his blog anymore. The one-liners just aren’t enough of a drawing card.
    If disaster strikes, I know were I’m going to be: taking care of my family and my community in whatever way possible. I wonder what Mr. K will be up to?

  • That should say “hopping” not “hoping”…I’m not sure how one would “hope” a plane, but it sounds like a bad idea.

  • Kunstler (Mr. Y2K) has simply found another bandwagon of doom to hop upon.

  • “…implicitly begging for a redistribution of wealth, from the haves to the have-nots. As if the haves will go along with that old ploy, this deep into the “free-market” system to which we are irrevocably committed.”
    Even if we took all the money away from everyone and redistributed it equally amongst all, the haves and have-nots as they are now would be right back in their current predicament within two years, then what? The haves would be the haves and the have nots wouldn’t have anything all over again. The haves wouldn’t give it up anyway and rightly so.
    What should we all do? I say get your crap straight: Get out of debt, if you don’t already own your home now’s a pretty good time to pay it off. Get in shape! No matter how old or young you are staying in shape is good for you.
    Oh, and if you didn’t already know or hear about it, the DHS (Department of Homeland Security) had a release put out of the seventh of April that says if you are preparing for a possible collapse (Guy), own firearms/ammo (me), or are hoarding food you are a terrorist. With all this demonizing I wonder what/when the next Reichtag fire will be.

  • Frank, it was civilized people who got us into this mess. I’m proposing we bring down civilization, and stop acting so civilized.
    Charlene and Roboto, I continue to follow Kunstler because I think he’s amusing and because I think he is one of the few writers to understand the connection between energy decline and the economy. On the other hand, I’m a big fan of economic collapse, so I appreciate doomer porn a little more than most folks.
    Turboguy, my point about the haves and have-nots is that the haves will not give up anything, at least not willingly — we agree on that point. Do you have a citation or link for the DHS release? I searched their website to no avail, but I’m having a hard time believing they would put out a release diametrically opposed to the 2nd Amendment. Not saying they didn’t, but I’d like to see some evidence. Ditto for collapse, since they’ve been giving plenty of advice on how to prepare for same, post-Katrina.

  • Charlene, too bad you can’t enjoy the Spanish language since you are forced to learn it. It is the most commonly spoken language in our hemisphere, so I can certainly see the practicality of becoming fluent in it. However, I can sympathize with your feelings. When I was growing up, the local migrant workers’ camp was on my school bus route. Now, I have nothing against Hispanics as a group, but this particular bunch of children would get on the bus in the morning and spend the long ride to school swearing in Spanish and making rude remarks to and about the rest of us because they could get away with it by speaking a language the bus driver didn’t know. Since that was my introduction to the language, I’ve always thought of Spanish as an ugly language even though it is reputed to be a beautiful one. What a shame. Good luck to you.

  • Guy,
    I understand. I just can’t read him anymore. Too much talk (whining/whinging) and not enough of anything else. His criticisms of archetecture, however, remain spot-on.
    Wendy,
    I probably know more obscenities in Spanish than anything else. One of my closest friends in school was Hispanic, but when she was mad at me she would talk to other friends in Spanish to let me know I was not welcome. But, more noteably, learning Spanish was something my father and I argued over. I told him I would learn some distant language because I would travel the world one day. Accepting Spanish as the one to fullfil my language requirement is acceptance of staying put.
    So, every time I pick up a book to study, it is a reminder of how wrong I was. Nothing worse than having to eat crow on a daily basis.
    Anyhow, I really do wish I could enjoy it a bit more. Perhaps, in time I will. 🙂

  • Professor Guy Emeritus To Be:
    Isn’t that grand eloquent.You are correct–I forgot my own admonition that civilization
    is not civilized.
    Wendy: be glad for your Spanish education,Charlene probably doesn’t know what a pendejo
    is and we are too nice to tell her.
    Charlene: I was at my favorite Mexican restaurant last night and asked that they sing Las Mananitas to me on my birthday–far better and beautiful, unlike the insipid English Happy Birthday.One example of how Spanish is often superior to English.

  • Frank, as I said, I probably understand how to swear in Spanish better than in other, more polite forms of communication.
    el pendejo (sustantivo): un hombre o una mujer que nos hacen muy enojados porque es siempre un estupido pinche idiota quien orine en el sopa cuando no estamos mirando
    Please forgive my grammar. It still needs a LOT of work, but I hope that is a sufficient definition of the term. 🙂

  • Yes, we’re done with economic growth as defined as an increase in the absolute size of the global economy, but is that really what the bankers care about? As long as they have their debt washed away through bailouts, then what they care about most is growth rates. Isn’t that what diaster capitalism is all about? Listening to Colin Campbell lately is hard not to believe that the bankers don’t get it. It might be recent news to them, but it is quickly becoming apparent to all that the total global economy is no longer able to grow. If I were a banker, then, I would fight like hell to have the public forgive my debt, collapse the economy to half or a third of its previous size, reduce my competition, and just start the ball rolling again at a much smaller scale. In their minds, when you hit bottom, there is nowhere to go but up, up, up.

  • Guy, it was released to Law Enforcement, but was leaked by an officer in Missouri to a radio personality. We all got this in an email. It’s actually supposed to be a confidential report. I can get you a outside link though.
    http://wnd.com/images/dhs-rightwing-extremism.pdf
    I just did a Google search and chose the first selection that looked pertinant. We get things like this every month from the DHS. One was Outlaw Biker Gangs, another was Eco-Terrorists, etc. This one in particular was alarming as it seemed that the opinion of the author was that anyone that disagreed with anything our new President proposes is an extremist/terrorist. It also talks of how returning soldiers are also potential domestic terrorists.

  • Thanks for the mention, Guy. I also have a link to the report embedded in my post, but in case anyone wants to read the report themselves without my take on it, they can do so at http://video1.washingtontimes.com/video/extremismreport.pdf.

  • James your link is broken… The link I posted is to the official report. I’m actually surprised at you James, how you could somehow defend this release. It was full of gross generalizations, amazing amounts of profiling, and villification of the very people that provide the very freedoms we depend on.
    Did the DHS put out a Left wing extremists release? Sure did, but in that one they didn’t specifically identify anyone, any political ideology, or belief as a possible extremist or one easily recruited as such.
    “…as white supremacists’ longstanding exploitation of social issues such as abortion, inter-racial crimes, and same-sex marriage.”
    [quoted]
    What do abortion and gay marriage have to do with white supremacy? Nothing. Many millions of Americans oppose abortion and a majority oppose gay marriage, yet these commonplace views are somehow associated in the minds of the report’s authors with “white supremacists.” This tells us more, I think, about the people who wrote the report than it does about abortion and gay marriage opponents.[quoted]
    http://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2009/04/023329.php?format=print
    or my new favorite: A prominent civil rights organization reported in 2006 that “large numbers of potentially violent neo-Nazis, skinheads, and other white supremacists are now learning the art of warfare in the [U.S.] armed forces.”
    They said that there were large numbers, but according to the very Prominant Civil Rights Organization, AKA, the Southern Poverty Law Center, exactly nine out of the 320 potential recruits into White Supremist wacko actually became full fledged wacknuts. Out of 42 million, that’s right I said FORTY TWO MILLION, veterans 320 were possible recruits. That’s not even 1% of 1& of .001%!!! You’ve got a better chance of getting struck by lightning while simultaneously winning the Powerball jackpot during a planetary alignment and they feel the need to warn Police Officers about these people? Furthermore they put a potential Right Wing extremist higher on the list of potential terrorists than Hamas or Hezbollah. Somewhere along the line, things have gone horribly awry.
    This was after we all got a release that told us that the easiest way to identify a right wing extremist is by a pro Second Amendment, Ron Paul, or other Constitution/Libertarian bumper sticker. At some point we crossed a threshhold, I don’t know when, but this is getting quite scary.
    I highly doubt that after this insanity that we’re only now getting a taste of the Democrats are going to be winning except Jack and sh**, and Jack left town.

  • Lame duck or cuckoo bird–either way, they’re both suffering from avian flu.

  • Turboguy, sorry about the broken link, but if anything this report should be viewed more a warning TO vets–who might be seen as potential recruits by these terrorist organizations–than a warning to be afraid OF vets. And you neglected to mention that (as my blog post notes) the latest report came from a division headed by Roger Mackin, a Bush-administration appointee who contributed more than $4,500 to Republicans during the last presidential campaign.
    And saying that some hate groups use abortion and immigration to justify their actions is not at all synonymous with saying that anyone opposed to abortion or illegal immigration is a terrorist. That would be like saying that because some terrorists are Muslims, all Muslims are terrorists. And I’m sure you’d never suggest such a thing.

  • James, this has NOTHING to do with political party. Republicans and Dems are exactly the same. It doesn’t matter one whit who appointed whom. If P.BO disagrees with it so much, why does he not get rid of him, or at the very least denounce the report. Could it be because he agrees with it?
    And the attempt to excuse this with it being a warning TO vets shows a lack of intellectual integrity. You read the same DHS report I did. You saw the same vilification of those that might not agree with this administrations quite insane actions because they’ve got worlds more experience than the rote goombaw US citizen.
    This is quite literally a page from Hitler’s book.

  • Yes, Turboguy, I read the same report you did, though apparently with a bit less paranoia. And I certainly wasn’t suggesting that Obama (or anyone else) should disagree with the report; I thought the administration’s mistake was “apologizing” for it.
    My point was that a Bush appointee was unlikely to produce something designed to help his new boss wipe out the one amendment that his old boss seemed to support.
    If Dems and the GOP are exactly the same, I guess we can do away with that expensive election business. 🙂 Actually I agree, though, that the parties are too much alike–both promoters of the corporate status quo, beholden to big oil, big pharma and the NRA.
    I am impressed that the discussion got to Hitler so quickly.

  • Impressed/Surprised? Why? Is this any different from the games which were played against the Jews as Herr Adolph came to power? Meteoric rise to power, hordes of sheeple supporters deifing, near immediate vilification of political opponents. If it walks like a duck…
    Were W. playing these same games you’d be walking on water, pissing fire and lightning would be shooting from your fingertips. You’d not only be calling for an official apology, but his immediate impeachment for libel/slander against veterans. Selective outrage is hypocrisy.
    In point of fact, the Liberal version cited several liberal extremist groups by name, as potential security threats:
    Environmental extremists:
    The Animal Liberation Front
    The Earth Liberation Front
    Stop Huntington Animal Cruelty
    Chapters within the Animal Defense League
    Earth First
    Anarchic extremists:
    Entities within Crimethinc
    Ruckus Society
    Recreate 68
    Which organizations does the DHS report on right-wing extremism name?
    Well…none, actually. Instead it lists people based on belief, military situation, and political paradigm.
    There was a report just before the “Right Wing Extremists…” report that advised Law Enforcement to be on the watch for those that might have a pro religion, pro gun, Anti Obama, or third party (Libertarian/Constitutionalist) bumper sticker as that is a surefire way to know an extremist. Think for a second if that was against Blacks, Jews, or Lizard people! The ACLU, and you, would be calling for a revolt. Since it’s your guy that’s doing it, is it okay now? I was just as outraged when W pulled loads of his crap, as I’ll bet you were. Where is your outrage now?

  • Turboguy, you will not convince me or James that Obama is a liberal. I call him a neoconservative, James calls him a conservative (using the language of the day).

  • Turboguy, my use of “impressed” was facetious, of course, because I wasn’t at all surprised. I often see a committed-but-anonymous conservatative spit out the term as soon as he’s confronted with logic (it happened on my own blog just today, as an “answer” to an entirely different point: http://jmcpherson.wordpress.com/2009/04/16/homeland-insecurity-dhs-chief-apologizes-for-something-bush-appointee-did-right/).
    And one advantage to posting under my own name with a link to my blog is that it’s relatively easy for anyone to check and see how critical I’ve been of Obama. But all I can do is take your after-the-fact word for it that you were “just as outraged” by Bush’s undefined “crap.” But if so, judging by your quick reference to impeachment above, I assume that you called for Bush’s impeachment, and now support charges being brought against him? (By the way, I’m being facetious again.)
    Regardless, the fact that I disagree with Obama’s neoconservative policies (Guy is accurate about that; I sometimes just revert to “conservatism” when thinking of those who have been in power for the last couple of decades or so), doesn’t make him the equivalent of someone who killed 6 million Jews and multitudes of gays, handicapped people, etc.
    Some liberals also compared Bush to Hitler, of course, and they also were wrong (and usually reacting to an intellectual argument they couldn’t answer). Though Bush did manage to killed a hundred thousand or so Iraqi civilians, he was a piker compared to Hitler.
    You seem mostly upset that while Bush and Cheney also engaged in “immediate vilification of political opponents” (remember, “If you’re not with us, you’re against us?”), Obama is far more popular and eloquent than Bush was. That may not make his policies any better, but it also doesn’t automatically make him evil.

  • I strongly agree with your opinion, informative and useful.

  • I strongly agree with your opinion, informative and useful.