Actually, to counter singer/songwriter Billy Joel, we did start this FIRE. Not you and me, of course, but our culture. The U.S. industrial economy is all about Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate. The FIRE is about to run its course, extinguished by the absence of fuel in each of those interconnected sectors.
The financial sector has been largely nationalized, with the U.S. taxpayer on the hook for trillions of dollars of bad loans made by big banks. Back in February 2009 our national debt was a mere $10.5 trillion, but it already exceeded the value of all the currency in the world and all the gold ever mined. Those were the good old days. Now our national debt exceeds $13 trillion (with more than $8 trillion still hidden from view), and the empire will go down like a tub full of gold bricks if we stop fanning the flames by slowing the printing press.
By running the printing presses at full speed, we are inflating the most massive bubble yet. We’ve seen how those bubbles pan out for the industrial economy. If we build them, the pin-pricks will come. Can we create another financial crisis? Of course. After all, a smoke-and-mirrors economic recovery is no protection against a crash in the equities markets. The peak in industrial economic growth is already here, with about ten thousand swords out there vying for attention to burst the bubbles of Treasuries, the U.S. big banks, China’s economic growth, the re-inflated housing market, and a renewed credit crisis. Oh, and of course the interaction between these myriad factors. In summary, the countdown is well under way for completion of the ongoing U.S. economic collapse, and there’s simply no way to soften the blow when we plunge to the bottom of the economic heap. The U.S. has the world’s biggest industrial economy, and the bigger they are, … well, you know.
The one-size-fits-all solution of printing money is leading inevitably to hyperinflation, even as the U.S. money supply dwindles. Think Zimbabwe, but with U.S. dollars. And the U.S. dollar is still the world’s reserve currency. All signs still point to a major crash in stock markets (see here and here, too, among a kajillion other sites). At this point in the post-peak oil era, it’s clear to anybody paying the slightest attention we’re headed for full spectrum collapse.
How will it end, and when? It seems completion of the U.S. economic collapse will follow on the heels of Europe, which is cheering for its own demise even as all the PIIGS drown in a sea of debt. This is supremely good news, of course, for the dozen or so people who care about non-industrial cultures and the living planet: Our little reign of terror is just about over. We’re an empty garbage can, playing power games enabled by the hologram-like appearance of power.
I’ve no doubt the empire will fail to go silently into the night. Instead, we’ll take out individuals and countries with every lethal weapon in our power, including weapons most of us don’t even know about and people we don’t care about. Iran apocalypse? Could be — talk about mutually assured destruction — and soon. How soon?
Your guess is as good as mine. But is it as good as the 25 leading trends forecasters, who agree that 2010 could be the year? Hedge funder Hugh Hendry provides a concise summary: “I would recommend you panic.”
As much as I appreciation the concision of Hendry’s recommendation, I would recommend you prepare and celebrate. I’ve been recommending the former for several years, while pointing out the good news associated with economic collapse. I have more company now than I’ve had for a while: Economic collapse has gone mainstream, and the occasional worthwhile ecologist is joining Daniel Quinn in recognizing and spreading the news.
Even as the gusher in the Gulf gets much worse by the day (thus diverting our attention from BP’s other large spill), even as Barack Obama tries to use the disaster to push his ill-founded political agenda, even as the cozy relationship between BP and the Obama administration becomes clear, so too do U.S. political policies keep steering straight at the iceberg of economic and environmental collapse. As the industrial economy stumbles along, the world’s biological diversity continues to suffer even as we peer into the abyss of extinction for many of the world’s species (including, ultimately, our own).
Where should you be when economic collapse comes to your house? Michael Ruppert and his protégé Rice Farmer suggest staying where you’re most comfortable. Much as I appreciate their efforts to inform and engage economic collapse, this advice seems immoral and short-sighted to me. First, it’s the comfort of city living that got us into this civilized mess to begin with, and it’s exactly this comfort that requires obedience at home and oppression abroad. Second, today’s comfortable urban existence might not be so damned comfortable when the lights go out and the water stops coming out the taps. Rice Farmer points out that people in rural areas will “have to cope with hordes of desperate, starving city people who try to steal our food. Unless you are in a really remote location, expect hungry visitors.”
Good point. But why do you think those “hordes of desperate, starving city people” are bound to be desperate and starving? Why do you think they’ll be leaving the cities in hordes? I’d guess it’ll be because they’ll become suddenly and profoundly uncomfortable when the grocery stores run out of food and the water stops coming out the taps. If you think you’ll be comfortable surrounded by a few thousand desperate, starving city people when TSHTF in your backyard, by all means stay in your comfort zone. On the other hand, if you don’t think that’s going to work out well for you, I’d recommend skedaddling out of the city before the real rush gets under way. When will that be?
In this case, “better late than never” is the wrong answer. The time to dig a well is not when you’re thirsty. The time to plant a garden is not when you’re hungry. The time for securing your water and food is now, before the industrial economy burns itself out. You and I didn’t start the fire of empire. But we’re about to see it extinguished.
This essay is permalinked at Island Breath.