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An American Future

2010 December 6
by Ian Welsh

So, I’m peering into my looking glass today, or rather tonight, as the snow eddies down, the first snowfall of winter, and it’s winter I see for America, and for the world.

It’s clear at this point that America is only the shell of a democracy, and instead is run by a self-perpetuating oligopoly whose only law, whose only imperative, is its own survival and aggrandizement, no matter what the cost to America, to American citizens, or to anyone else in the world who is not part of the western elite class.  The same is, with America switched to Europe, true of the oligopoly who run Europe.

This is not a stable situation because the economics of it is not stable.  In order to bail themselves out they are enforcing austerity policies which are wreaking and will continue to wreak economic havoc in the real physical and social economies of the countries whose policies they control.  They are contracting the franchise, the membership of the oligopoly, pushing more and more people out of it, even as they impoverish millions of peoples at the bottom end of the economy.

They have created a two tier system of laws, where important people who commit trillions of dollars of systematic fraud are not prosecuted and where war criminals responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands are winked at, while small people are locked up for the most minor of crimes, where bankruptcy is essentially impossible for the small people, but the big people skate and are given whatever amount of money is necessary to bail them out of any bad decisions they have made.

They have created a surveillance state where they track in real time, without warrants, the movements of citizens through cameras and by tracking credit cards, debit cards and even loyalty cards. Their servants stare at the naked bodies of everyone who wants to travel by air or grope their genitals, inflicting sexual humiliation on the public as a matter of course.

When embarassed, as with Wikileaks leaks of diplomatic communiques, their response is a deranged manhunt combined with a truly Soviet-style screaming of “I can’t hear you” as they try and ban soldiers, the Library of Congress and public servants from reading information everyone has access to. This isn’t just authoritarian, it isn’t just jejeune, it is delusional.  Every principal and teacher knows that if you tell people they shouldn’t read something, that will make them want to read it.  If they wanted people to think they shouldn’t read these revelations, the reaction should have been muted, “ho, hum, nothing there”, not a deranged attempt to shut down anyone who mirrors the Wikileaks site and threats against anyone who dares read the information.

Meanwhile, in Congress, politicians of both parties, with Obama’s blessing, are set to extend tax cuts.  A few months ago the mantra was “deficits, deficits, deficits”, but now deficits don’t matter.  This isn’t to argue whether they do or not, simply to note that their real ruling ideology is that governments should only spend money on rich people, and that money spent on the middle class or poor is bad.

It will also, and I guarantee this, not help the economy.  The past 30 years, and the past 10 years in particular, have been a huge experiment in tax-cutting, and for ordinary people, the result has been stagnation and now an absolute decline.  Because ordinary people do not have pricing power, either as workers for their labor (since there are plenty of people who need jobs) or as consumers (because the oligopolies who sell food, energy, telecom and so on know you must have their services) every single red cent of tax cuts which go to the middle and lower class will be taken away by corporations and the rich.  Those corporations and rich will then use that money to either play leveraged financial games or to offshore jobs to low cost, low regulation domiciles.  Not only do tax cuts not do any good, they accelerate the loss of US jobs.  No, this isn’t what you’ve been told, indeed propagandized, for the last thirty years.  But how has trickle down economics worked out for you?  Are you going to believe your lying eyes, or the talking heads who tell you that tax cuts create jobs?

So the economic situation is going to get worse. That doesn’t mean there won’t be cyclical ups and downs, just that the trend line is down, down, down.  And every trend line reaches its end.  My guess, at this point, is that the US has only one business cycle left before a Russian style collapse.  The rest of the world just does not need to sell you oil for lousy dollars which don’t buy the future and don’t buy anything else, either.  At this point what must be gotten from the US are a few capital goods, jetliners (well, from the US or Europe), some software,the very best military equipment and some miscellanea.  That’s it.  That’s all.

The rest can be bought from other countries.  Now, if the next tech revolution was going to happen in the US, they’d have to keep their hands in, but it’s now clear that, no, that isn’t going to happen either.  American producers don’t, American consumers can only do so if heavily subsidized by China, and American technology is more and more a joke at anything other than killing people.

The US is going to be cut loose.

The reaction to that will be war.  Maybe in Iran, maybe in Korea, maybe in Saudi Arabia. Where doesn’t really matter, but it’s going to happen, because it’s the only card the US will have left and after Obama destroys the Democratic party by gutting Social Security, Veterans benefits and overseeing the cutting of Medicaid, yes, President Teabag is going to get in, whether Obama is primaried or not.  And the only way to both provide stimulus and get the resources the US is going to need and no one else will soon want to sell to the US, is going to be war.

I have said it before, and I will say it again.  If you can get out, get out.  If you can’t get out, but you have children, get them overseas—send them on exchanges, send them to overseas relatives for a year, send them to a foreign university (they’re better and cheaper).  Get them out, even if you can’t get out.

The game isn’t over in the US, but the smart money is that the first revolution in the US isn’t going to be a revolution of the left, it’s going to be a nutbar revolution from the right, and it is going to be extraordinarily ugly.

In the meantime, if you have to stay, make sure you’re on good terms with your neighbors, your spouse, your friends and your family.  Figure out how to grow food wherever you are and how to reduce your dependence on anything but people you trust.  (Don’t trust any corporation.)  And, if you can, organize.  Organize locally, organize at the State level, organize nationally.  Understand the age of compromise is over. It is now too late to save the old system.  It’s over.  We tried, and we failed.  It is beyond “reform”, it is going to flame out, the only question is how many people it will burn to death as it does so.

91 Responses
  1. Celsius 233 permalink
    December 6, 2010

    There is a future for the U.S. (America is a misnomer that will be increasingly confusing) , it’s just not what our leaders think or want it to be.
    There is an excellent read on Asia Times that echoes this thread with some interesting possibilities for our future;

    http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/LL07Ak01.html

    The author is historian Alfred W McCoy.

    For myself; I look forward to the U.S. being brought to ground. But I would rather they follow the English version of de-empiring (after the Suez disaster) by choice. They’re one of the few to do it and keep their country intact for the most part.
    I fear we’ll go down hard and not get up gracefully, if at all.
    With the present mindset, it must get ugly. Even more than it is now (which is pretty ugly).

  2. December 6, 2010

    I wish I could say I find this prognostication wrong. But I don’t. It sounds all too believable (well, except for the success of the she-male President — I still maintain that’s not going to happen! but maybe you’re talking about someone other than Palin).

    I would only say that since so many economies are tied to the U.S., especially in Europe, I’m not sure that moving away will do much good. Then again, it would be more pleasurable to flame out in Paris than here.

  3. Celsius 233 permalink
    December 6, 2010

    Ian;
    I have said it before, and I will say it again. If you can get out, get out. If you can’t get out, but you have children, get them overseas—send them on exchanges, send them to overseas relatives for a year, send them to a foreign university (they’re better and cheaper). Get them out, even if you can’t get out.
    ======================================
    And as someone who already has; I agree with you 100%!
    I don’t see a good way out of this mess (forgive my gross understatement), but as I’ve said before as well; this is a time for truly creative/critical thinking. Forget trying to save the U.S. through the body politic; it’s a dead body; a meme. The system is so broken there really isn’t a way to fix it from within at this point.
    International living is a challenge; but for those above the age of 50 with any kind of decent education; you are far ahead of most other countries on this planet. That would also apply to the limited few of the younger generations who actually got a decent liberal arts education along with some useful skills (education/degrees) in the English language; teaching is a very viable option.
    Well past my lifetime; we’re either going to eliminate ourselves (Gia Hypothesis) or figure it out; if we can/do; Gia will heal itself and maybe, just maybe make a place for a few of us to thrive.

  4. Concerned permalink
    December 6, 2010

    OK, I’ll bite:

    1. Where should we go? have 2 kids, 14 and 11. Wife is a nurse, CV surgical. I have a liberal arts degree and knowledge and experience in both printing and medical device sales.

    2. How much do we need to make this move?

    3. What is the triggering event to look for?

    4. What about our stuff? Financial obligations?

    5. How do we make this happen-passports, emigration, political asylum, what?

    Think of this as a FAQ.

  5. December 6, 2010

    Other than that, Mr. and Ms. America, how did you enjoy life under the neo-con/neo-liberal consensus?

  6. someofparts permalink
    December 6, 2010

    Excuse me for asking a question this specific (and possibly silly) in this forum. It’s just that no one in my actual physical environment is even having these conversations.

    Would it make any sense to try and protect my wee little stash of savings by converting in to Canadian currency? I’m an economic rube, so could some kind soul explain the flaws with my idea here?

    It just seems that if something were easy and obvious everyone would do it. But then by that logic everyone would read this blog. So maybe my silly idea isn’t silly, or is it?

  7. someofparts permalink
    December 6, 2010

    Concerned – From whatI’ve seen at immigration websites for other English-speaking nations, nurses are welcomed everywhere. For that matter, the official Canadian and Australian websites spell out what they require of immigrants.

  8. Concerned permalink
    December 6, 2010

    Sorry about the multiple posts!

  9. Celsius 233 permalink
    December 6, 2010

    Concerned PERMALINK
    December 6, 2010
    OK, I’ll bite:
    ============================
    Calm down and be patient with the slow to respond i-net connection.
    Where to go? I don’t know for you; I only know for me.
    Spend some time on the i-net and ask a lot of questions that are important for you and your family. One thing that is important is; can you work there and can you make a living wage there?
    Some countries it’s difficult and for others it’s easy. The quality of health care is going to be important for you.
    Just take some time to do the research; only you and yours will know what’s right. Cheers.

  10. someofparts permalink
    December 6, 2010

    Celsius 233 – Well I’m over 50 and have a good liberal arts education. How does that translate into being able to support myself overseas?

    I’m actually so old I’ll have social security in about three years. I’ve been investigating where I could live on that small income. But what if things fall apart before then? Or what if our miserable leaders crash the currency and never make those payouts on my social security?

    In other words, it limits me to depend on the social security. So if there is some way I can make it without that crutch I would love to hear it.

  11. Concerned permalink
    December 6, 2010

    No, I thought i was updating the post with more questions, and it sent multiples.

  12. December 6, 2010

    Would it make any sense to try and protect my wee little stash of savings by converting in to Canadian currency? I’m an economic rube, so could some kind soul explain the flaws with my idea here?

    I Am Not A Financial Advisor but I can tell you that this is a bad idea. Canada maintains a kind of unspoken currency peg insofar as it is dependent on exporting to the USA. Until Canada gets another major trading partner or decides to stop being an exporting economy, it’s not going to allow its currency to move too far out of step from the US one.

  13. December 6, 2010

    Should hedge further and say *probably* a bad idea. I have some personal experience watching the relative fluctuations of Canadian and American currencies as it is a practical matter for me. Usually Measures Are Taken to prevent Canadian dollars from rising too quickly, though they have risen over the past few years.

  14. Celsius 233 permalink
    December 6, 2010

    someofparts PERMALINK
    December 6, 2010
    Celsius 233 – Well I’m over 50 and have a good liberal arts education. How does that translate into being able to support myself overseas?
    I’m actually so old I’ll have social security in about three years. I’ve been investigating where I could live on that small income. But what if things fall apart before then? Or what if our miserable leaders crash the currency and never make those payouts on my social security?
    In other words, it limits me to depend on the social security. So if there is some way I can make it without that crutch I would love to hear it.
    =======================================
    I bailed at 57 with nothing but my SS. Fortunately it’s just enough to be comfortable.
    With a degree one can teach English (ESL) in many countries if you’re a native speaker of English. In most countries looking for this skill the pay is quite decent. If your wife is also degreed then you’re looking at a double income. Truth be known; if I’d stayed in the states I’d be destitute and my SS isn’t too bad; but with things as they are in the states now, I’d be in deep shit. I’m almost 66.
    The first step is to take the first step; check the i-net and connect with like folks who’ve made the jump.
    Just remember this; there is no place to rest; to believe there is, is to believe a lie. Life is striving to the end. Truly and happily. Cheers.

  15. tom allen permalink
    December 6, 2010

    You sound like some US citizen from the ’30s, Ian. If you want someplace to run away to, maybe Australia or the Canary Islands. The rest of us will do battle with the coming Depression. And then we will mock you.

    Things will improve once liberals get in charge and implement FDR-type policies. As long as we listen to Hooverites like Obama, nothing good will happen.

  16. December 6, 2010

    More good, or at least hilarious, news: The Greatest Printing Disaster In The History Of The World.

  17. Celsius 233 permalink
    December 6, 2010

    ^ Oh geez, well, so much for denial. Cheers.

  18. Albatross permalink
    December 6, 2010

    I’ve tried getting out. It’s not easy. Nobody in Europe wants to hire you, and if you don’t have a job you’re not getting a visa.

    Interestingly, I’ve already advised my college-aged kids to strongly consider starting their careers overseas, and to take courses overseas while in college. I hope they do it.

    I’ve been saying for years that the goal of the corporate right is the end of the United States. For them, it’s the ultimate deregulation, and the ultimate tax cut. The end of the 40-hour work week, the end of all health care, the re-introduction of slavery, indentured servitude, and child labor. And of course absolutely no environmental regulations. And former national parks shall become estates and strip mines.

  19. December 6, 2010

    I hope you’re right tom. I’m kind of betting Ian hopes so too, if I may be so presumptuous (not that I shy away from presumptuousness):

    Things will improve once liberals get in charge and implement FDR-type policies. As long as we listen to Hooverites like Obama, nothing good will happen.

    Thing is, you do not have an obvious trajectory put liberals in charge. A primary challenge to Obama will not likely win the general even in the unlikely event it were successful. Your next president will be either Obama or a tea partyist. That gives you 2016 with no current basis to imagine that the American electorate will choose a liberal.

  20. Celsius 233 permalink
    December 6, 2010

    ^ oops, sorry Lambert; my comment was for the one above yours.

  21. December 6, 2010

    I’ve been saying for years that the goal of the corporate right is the end of the United States. For them, it’s the ultimate deregulation, and the ultimate tax cut. The end of the 40-hour work week, the end of all health care, the re-introduction of slavery, indentured servitude, and child labor. And of course absolutely no environmental regulations. And former national parks shall become estates and strip mines.

    The plan for this has been laid out in the libertarian (ie social Darwinist) literature. For example, I vaguely remember that Rothbard wrote that private property should be established in the oceans itself, and then we’d have a flowering of aquaculture (and presumably never worry about running out of food).

  22. December 6, 2010

    By the way, the future of labour in the USA is not just outsourcing, but crowdsourcing, and not the fun kind where you munge government documents in an effort to embarrass them. It’s amazing how much of “knowledge work” can be converted into a series of randomly generated yes/no questions, and how little people will agree to be paid to answer them.

  23. Tom Hickey permalink
    December 6, 2010

    Agreed. The US is hurtling toward wider war.

    Peak oil (maximum production) happened in 2006. EROEI is getting worse, and climate change promises disaster, making the real cost of petroleum astronomical. Nominal price will increasingly reflect this. Technological experts estimate that it will take maybe fifty years to transition completely off petroleum, leaving a several decade gap where the shortfall will spell doom for the global economy and shrink population perhaps by billions as climate change kick in to reduce food and water supply, causing desertification and forced migration.

    The current battle is over Eurasia and the ME, were the energy resources are. This is pitting the West against China, Pakistan, Iran and possibly Russia. There is debate going on in the Kremlin right now over whether should cast its lot in with the West or the East. Russia leans West owing to its history but the US is driving Russia to the camp of the East.

    US rightwing geostrategists realize that they made a big mistake not taking Russia and China out after WWII, allowing them to go nuclear and develop modern economies. They are not going to make the same mistake again and are already agitating to take out China before it gets too big. Moreover, the US sees any challenge to its economic hegemony as a threat to national security.

    Their opponents are the multinationals that see China as a huge market for them to penetrate, but when push comes to shove if a right wing GOP administration is in power, the multinationals will lose the argument, being told that they will still have the market after the war, rebuilding what has been destroyed.

    Go somewhere else, or stay and fight? That’s a decision everyone has to make. If I were leaving, I’d be heading for the southern hemisphere to avoid possible fallout as much as possible. This could get really ugly.

    If you stay, build a network and ideally have some land with its own water source, capacity to grow food year round, and energy sources like firewood, solar, wind, running water, etc. that can be harnessed.

    The way things are going, the GOP will retan the House and take the Senate in ’12. There are I think about 23 Dem senator up for reelection and only 9 GOP. Obama cannot reasonably win with high unemployment and unemployment will still be high. No GOP candidate can win the GOP primary without the Tea Party, so there will be a rightwing GOP candidate in power, maybe even a far right one. Projecting rightwing domination for eight years, let your imagination run wild. I’ll bet no one can even imagine now what is going to transpire if that happens.

    Could the world avoid this through cooperation and coordination. Very likely so, although it would be difficult given the challenges of climate change and energy transition. It is a goal worth fighting for, but it is going to take more than keyboard warriors. At some point, people need to rise up and just say no.

  24. DancingOpossum permalink
    December 6, 2010

    I would LOVE to leave — I lived overseas growing up and have no problem with it. I learn languages quickly and already speak a couple.

    Here’s the problem. It ain’t that easy. Where do you go, what do you do for a living? I don’t have the any skills foreign employers want (heck, I barely have any skills U.S. employers want!). I have relatives in South America but it’s not like they are in a position to just hand me a job or a living.

    My SO is in a high-demand field and I keep begging him to move us to New Zealand. He isn’t convinced that things are that bad here, though. Maybe I’ll send him this article…

  25. S Brennan permalink
    December 6, 2010

    I’ve tried getting work overseas, the company may want to hire you, but you won’t get a work permit. 100 miles from where I live, Canada requires a survey taken for EACH high skill employee you intend to hire from the US, most Canadian employers don’t because of the time, expense and uncertainty once you start the process. Less than 1.5 hours from my house in Surrey, BC, Canadian jobs with my skill set go wanting, while every Friday the pub I go to has 3 [friendly] Canadians who work here and had no trouble doing it. US citizens emigrating are not welcome in most industrialized countries. While US rules may seem strict, L-1′s and other work arounds built by corporations into the laws make for an asymmetric world when it come to emigration.

  26. PurpleGirl permalink
    December 6, 2010

    Question re languages to people who have left the US: I stutter and have tried learning French and German. At the point when you should start to be thinking in the new language and speaking it, I start to stutter and learning just stops. How do you think this would affect my ability to move from the US? It would definitely affect my ability to be a teacher.

  27. Pepe permalink
    December 6, 2010

    I don’t know if I’d want to be outside the US while it’s flailing around like a wounded animal. I would be especially worried if I lived in Canada with all that fresh water.

    But yes, stock up on vegetable seeds, and learn to can and pickle.

  28. Pepe permalink
    December 6, 2010

    And what currency would replace the dollar?

    The Euro’s long term viability is questionable. The Yuan? The Chinese don’t have enough purchasing power yet, do they?

  29. someofparts permalink
    December 6, 2010

    Thanks for the input about Canadian currency Mandos. Even as an economic rube, I can figure out that if things get so bad the greenback crashes and nobody gets their social security payouts, the overall upheaval and chaos will be so severe my mincing concerns will be irrelevant.

  30. December 6, 2010

    They are contracting the franchise, the membership of the oligopoly, pushing more and more people out of it, even as they impoverish millions of peoples at the bottom end of the economy.

    if i may be a pedant?

    as the inventor of the term “The Franchise” in political/economic blogging, let me correct your use of it just a tad. The Franchise isn’t precisely “membership” in the oligopoly. i chose the term deliberately, having had the misfortune as a Little Person, to have worked for several. as you know, there are three types of people who work for franchise corporations, or rather, 3.5. at the top is a very limited, very exclusive, very abusive and myopic executive class. all they care about is “shareholder profit,” which is normally a self-interest, as many of them are at the same time executives and the biggest stakeholders in the corporation. in the middle are the “district manager” class; the Enforcers, and the ones who aspire to membership in the executive class, and honestly (while incorrectly, most of the time) believe they will attain such, should they only enforce the dictates of the executive class in a way that results in profit. they will attempt advancement, no matter how doing so may abuse the lower classes, or denigrate the product/service. below these groups are the worker group, who often are at the same time the consumer of the product/service. think of how many who work the window at McDonald’s also often bring their “shift meal” home to their families, because they wages don’t allow them enough to afford shopping for real food.

    it is the middle group that is being pushed out, as well as doing the pushing, and who represent the mindset and consciousness that people like us abhor, and which is destroying the country via their influence and also ability to be influenced by executive greed. which is to say, Harvard MBA executive X has a (wrong) pet theory which on paper which will increase his capital gains. he writes a corporate memo which is added to the district manager corporate policy guidebook. manager Y has no choice but to follow it, lest he lose his place and potential opportunity to join the higher ranks by pleasing the corporate CFO every quarter. manager Y is not happy about this, as he spends most of his very long, very hard pressed days haranguing individual franchise employees, forcing them to follow policy he and they both know is less effective management that will cost them profit and customers.

    on the ground worker type has not choice but to agree to this wrong, uniformed by reality, top down policy. jobs are scarce in these times and growing scarcer. manager Y knows this as well, and cruelly uses it to squeeze blood from stones, and at the same time often uses corrupt and untrue methods to report back to the executive class how “successful” the policy has been.

    in the long run, the results are: shittier burgers with less and less nutritional value, and more pollution and corruption as corners are cut to make up for the bottom line. angrier managers, who are essentially asked to achieve the impossible and when unable, to lie, cheat and steal to cover their failure. and an increasingly isolated and separate executive class, who have little idea how fantastical and ridiculous their pet theories really are, because of the constant sycophancy of those below them, all very desperate to stay within the Franchise. for the consequences of falling out are increasingly horrifying. as most of us here have experienced, rather directly.

    i posted on this some time ago, but didn’t do a good job of explaining, and i hope this long comment may be excused as an attempt to do a better job of it. the Franchise exists in the corporate world, but also the political world, entertainment, sports…

    the “so-called progressive” “creative class” Obama supporting A-list blogger is a perfect example of how the Franchise works in our world, and the key method by which they force lesser writers to conform is found in “blogroll amnesty,” which is anything but and has the end effect of hurting the cause and lessening the influence of political blogging, while at the same time advancing the fortunes of the executive and his cronies.

  31. bob mcmanus permalink
    December 6, 2010

    Isn’t South or Central America ok? It was the last time.

    I am also betting on war, I am just not so sure the US will lose. The military superiority, and the will or social control that the US spending on defense indicates leads me to believe that most of the rest of the world has decided it is simply not worth it. And with American air supremacy, no other nation will be allowed to build up an industrial war production machine after the shooting starts.

    Our minor competitors will try to get nukes, but America could just lose a few cities and keep on fighting. Don’t mistake me, I am no chauvinist, just trying to be realistic. We seem to have a completely pacified population here.

    IOW, middle to late Rome, with ever more expensive never-ending never really expanding skirmishes on the periphery. Domestically enslaved and impoverished by the war machine, which protects ME and Mid Asian resources, which are shipped to China, China selling parts for US weapons. The oligarchy ruling from Dubai.

    Oh. And hell yes, try to get out.

  32. December 6, 2010

    “Shittier burgers.” Exactly.

    Let me propound the following Law of The Franchise: “The quality of the burger and the power of The Three-Ring Binder are inversely correlated” (all other things being equal…).

  33. Shoto permalink
    December 6, 2010

    I’m new here, so I apologize in advance.

    About nine paragraphs down, I see the sentence:

    “My guess, at this point, is that the US has only business cycle left before a Russian style collapse.”

    Was there supposed to be a number between the words “only” and “business?” If so, what is that number? (I’m guessing one, but would like to be sure. Also, how long would you estimate the cycle(s) to be? Thanks much.

  34. bob mcmanus permalink
    December 6, 2010

    The populations of Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan may not like us much, but as long as the elites are paid off very well I think we can keep this global game going. I am just not seeing the Goths or Huns out there to really cut us off from the resources the US needs to be the mercenary arm of Global Empire.

    And I think that is what is being missed. It is no longer about nations, but about roles and elites.

    When the wells run dry Daddy Warbucks will pay one half of the poor to kill the other half, and retreat to his island.

  35. S Brennan permalink
    December 6, 2010

    CDyke, I agree with your point that the Ezra K’s, Matt Y’s, Josh Marshal’s, Kevin Drum’s et al are perfect examples of corporate lackey’s trying to enforce senseless upper management policy in the hopes of reaching privileged and prestige.

    The shallowness/callowness of the A-blogs really caught me by surprise during the lead up to the Iraq invasion, I should have expected their cold career calculus would be the equal to Judith Miller…but the new format distracted me from the reality that self serving people are always looking for new platforms to prance upon.

  36. B Schram permalink
    December 6, 2010

    CDyke,
    As I read your post I couldn’t help but think of Leavitt’s description of the economics of a gang. Very sobering that the dynamics and the aims of the members of corporations and gangs are so similar, I guess I need to watch The Wire yet again.
    While I sometimes hope that there will be some outcry to the events, I can’t see it doing anything, certainly not reaching the point of guillotines. I have little hope that even if there is genuine outrage -that it won’t be directed to some harmless enterprise (ie teaparty). Besides, the “bread and circuses” (star search, twitter, facebook) and “soma” (prozac etc), are far too effective.

    thanks yet again Ian, and for all posters, it is nice to see I’m not alone.

  37. anon2525 permalink
    December 6, 2010

    This is becoming a — what? monthly? — post in the series “Americans, Get Out of Your Country While You Still Can!” I’m waiting for the next post in the series “Humans, Get Off the Earth While You Still Can!”

    Here are some of the other posts in the latter series:

    http://www.ianwelsh.net/global-warming-a-localized-pause-and-then-the-end-of-our-civilization/

    http://www.ianwelsh.net/climate-change-a-fighting-retreat/

    followed by “jus’ sayin’.”

  38. Notorious P.A.T. permalink
    December 6, 2010

    Oh come on Ian, tell us what you really think. Don’t sugarcoat it.

  39. anon2525 permalink
    December 6, 2010

    Off-topic: I, for one, am glad and grateful to have seen the collapse of the Obama Commission. (It has collapsed, right? Bowles & Simpson are no longer being paid to meet and discuss their hair-brained ideas? They can go back to whatever parasitic activities they were doing before Obama summoned them from their swamp.) I expected that this group was going to go forward with its proposals to cut Soc. Sec. and Medicare, and that, as promised, Pelosi was going to give it an up-or-down, no amendments vote, followed by the millionaires’ club (aka, senate) rubber-stamping it before sending it off to Obama to sign, along with his statement about “doing the responsible thing.” Since these people have been shot down before, we can assume that they are zombies and will be back, likely in Obama’s “state of the union” propaganda.

  40. Notorious P.A.T. permalink
    December 6, 2010

    “OK, I’ll bite: Where should we go?”

    Start with countries that your ancestors came from. After McCain picked Palin, my family and I began researching this and discovered that Ireland, where our kind hails from, is pretty open to immigrants of Irish descent.

    “Would it make any sense to try and protect my wee little stash of savings by converting in to Canadian currency?”

    One thing to think about: maybe buy an electric car and put solar panels on your roof. They would help out both now and if society fractures. Just a thought.

    “The US is going to be cut loose. The reaction to that will be war. ”

    Don’t you need oil to go to war? You say oil-producers will stop selling us oil, so where will we get go-juice for our tanks and planes?

  41. December 6, 2010

    Even if the world still wanted the U.S. currency, we no longer have the competence to print it, properly.

  42. PurpleGirl permalink
    December 6, 2010

    Ian and any ex-pat or people considering leaving the U.S.: I’m serious in asking for your opinions on where someone who has trouble with language or speaking can move to.

  43. Notorious P.A.T. permalink
    December 6, 2010

    Re Bruce Wilder:

    A significant production problem with new high-tech $100 bills has caused government printers to shut down production of the new notes and to quarantine more than one billion of the bills in huge vaults in Fort Worth, Texas and Washington, DC, CNBC has learned.

    At the time, officials announced the new bills would incorporate sophisticated high-tech security features, including a 3-D security strip and a color-shifting image of a bell designed to foil counterfeiters.

    But the production process is so complex, it has instead foiled the government printers tasked with producing billions of the new notes.

    http://www.cnbc.com/id/40521684

    Change we can believe in!

  44. anon2525 permalink
    December 6, 2010

    Even if the world still wanted the U.S. currency, we no longer have the competence to print it, properly.

    Not that it matters, but that lack of competence would not be a hindrance because the vast bulk of financial transactions (in money amounts) are done electronically. Even for ordinary citizens in the U.S. (that is, the ordinary ones who are not poor and have access to banks) can go an entire month paying for all of their transactions without using cash.

  45. Notorious P.A.T. permalink
    December 6, 2010

    PurpleGirl, in lieu of someone who actually knows what they’re talking about: I had a psychology professor who said he knew how to cure anyone’s stuttering. I always wondered if it would work. His cure is to get a partner who is willing to help, and make sure they know what is coming, then spit on them. Or try to, anyway. Again and again. His idea was that fear of accidentally spitting on people causes stutters. Overcome this fear and you overcome stuttering.

    Is there any particular sound that gives you trouble? I used to have a speech impediment but a specialist at school worked with me by having me practice separate sounds until I got them right.

    Hope this helps, or at least provides a chuckle.

  46. anon2525 permalink
    December 6, 2010

    Don’t you need oil to go to war? You say oil-producers will stop selling us oil, so where will we get go-juice for our tanks and planes?

    Not that I want to go down this line of discussion, but the U.S. still produces roughly 5 million barrels of oil per day (and consumes around 20 million barrels per day), which is down from about 9.5 million barrels per day that it produced at its peak of production in the early 70s (and even then it was importing over 30% of what it consumed per day). If it was decided that the military needed oil and could not get it imported, then 1) you wouldn’t be able to get (much) gasoline for your car and 2) the strategic petroleum reserve would be tapped.

  47. December 6, 2010

    Start with countries that your ancestors came from. After McCain picked Palin, my family and I began researching this and discovered that Ireland, where our kind hails from, is pretty open to immigrants of Irish descent.

    Where *my* ancestors come from, it depends on what you mean. Both candidates are intolerably hot for me most of the time, as in hot to the point of making me ill. One of them is a US-despoiled powder keg of fail. The other occasionally engages in pogroms against people like me. I have lots of relatives there, but they know how to live there.

    PurpleGirl: One of the countries I mention above is India. I know someone who basically self-outsourced herself for a time. If you have a skill the Indian economy needs, I gather it is possible to go there, and you can even speak English. I don’t know what the rules are though.

  48. DancingOpossum permalink
    December 6, 2010

    PurpleGirl, Australia, Canada, England, or New Zealand would be clear choices since they speak English there. Same with any of the Caribbean islands. You can also do OK with English-only in Hong Kong. Again, this is just from the perspective of not having to learn languages, not that I have the faintest clue how easy or difficult it would be to find work in any of those places.

  49. John B. permalink
    December 6, 2010

    hell, the military/government would just ration oil here at home…they would get what they need first…count on it.

  50. jawbone permalink
    December 6, 2010

    anon2525- Re: Obama’s Cat Food Commission –

    Obama has said he will put some of their recommenations into his upcoming budget. And the Repubs will pluck out the things they like and scream “deficit” with no cessation until they get what they want and worse.

    Obama did, after all, set up the Cat Food Commission over the rejection and objections of Congress, and asked Pete Peterson to staff it and run those jokes of town hall meetings. He wanted the commission and stacked it with conservatives, so why would he not use its findings?

    All together now: “Because he’s a conservative!”
    He’s got two years to do some bad, bad shit.

  51. anon2525 permalink
    December 6, 2010

    He wanted the commission and stacked it with conservatives, so why would he not use its findings?
    All together now: “Because he’s a conservative!”

    Neither he nor the appointees were/are conservative. They are right-wing and neo-liberals. The word “conservative” has meaning in the English language. Don’t let the politicians take that from you. I don’t let them take it from me. Oh, and their report did not contain “findings.” It contained statements of right-wing and neo-liberal religious beliefs (that is, unsupported by experience or facts).

  52. December 6, 2010

    I don’t know – I really have to wonder where people think they are going to be safe if war happens. There are so many nukes out there that if/when someone gets an itchy trigger finger, the entire earth could be turned into glass in a matter of hours.

    As a resident of NYC, I will probably be one of the first to disappear in a flash of white light. I’d rather go that way than radiation sickness and nuclear winter. I suppose that’s a matter of preference.

  53. fuckno permalink
    December 6, 2010

    Ian’s cristal ball is projecting what my own is. But, prior to this whole thing unravelling, there will be protests and demonstrations, people will pour out into the streets demanding…?

    Herein lies the problem: the liberals, progressive, and lefties in name only, will be demanding gay rights, DADT, and all of their standard fare, as though there had not been a total paradigm shift. Much the same holds for the right.

    Currently, the worst that the libertarians offer is a free market without government interventions. The left reads it as resulting in something far worse than what we’re experiencing currently -huh,wtf? But, if shakes off ones political bias and looks at this libertarian nightmare ideology (I’m a anarcho socialist myself) dispassionately, there would not be any corporate personhood, no subsidies to the ‘FIRE ‘sector, no TBTF banks or Corporations, etc…

    On the upside however, we’d end all wars, dismantle the empire of lilly pads and propping up of dictators and tyrants, eliminate the FED, leave States to decide on the healthcare system they want to adopt, allow for gay marriage, etc. So, if we mull that one around a bit, devolving power to the states, making democratic decisions more local, is not such a fucking disaster as the MSM, and the ensconce power brokers of the left would make us believe….

    So, when the demonstrations will start, I’d love to see the same banners and signs on both sides: Jail the Bankers, Kill the FED, No subsidies to global corporations, etc. Things that would in effect project a popular united front! Things that would scare the crap out of the PTB, whose grip on power relies on the wedge they drive between workers, based largely on socio-cultural issues.

    United, we might be able to stop this madness, otherwise; keep your passports up to date!

  54. Cloud permalink
    December 6, 2010

    The populations of Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan may not like us much, but as long as the elites are paid off very well I think we can keep this global game going. I am just not seeing the Goths or Huns out there to really cut us off from the resources the US needs to be the mercenary arm of Global Empire.

    Possibly. But keeping people very well paid-off is, in the immortal words of Han Solo, “the real trick”.

    It really depends on whether the elites of China, Russia, and the others are content to keep the USA as the military arm of the global oligopoly, or whether nationalistic aspirations get the better (or the worst) of them.

  55. December 6, 2010

    “the military/government would just ration oil here at home”

    No doubt. But do we have enough oil for a war? And how long can such a war last when people can’t get to work, grocery stores are empty because big rigs can’t move, etc.?

    I guess this is what passes for optimism with me these days: “Hey, maybe America will run out of oil before we can invade another country!”

  56. alyosha permalink
    December 6, 2010

    I made up my mind to leave several years ago, and am hard at work getting my financial house in order (if things work out, all I’ll need is reliable internet, which limits myself to first world civilization/enclaves). At some point soon, I plan to travel a bit to narrow down the selection of countries.

    Those of you who are late to this decision, begin by researching your countries’ of interest immigration websites. There isn’t any time to lose – immigration is a slow process and you don’t want to be part of the flood of Americans trying to leave when TSHTF – you want to position yourself well ahead of this crowd. As an example, Canada recently raised the bar on their investor class visa – you now have to bring a lot more cash into the country than you did merely a year ago.

    Here are a few expat sites to start your research:

    Expat Daily News
    Shelter OffShore
    Paradise Uruguay

    This recent article, Ameica – The Grim Truth, written by an expat, echoes Ian, and should give you some encouragement.

    Load these sites into your RSS reader (or whatver), and start educating yourself by reading them whenever they post something new. The first two sites have extensive research available on many topics, just click around. Paradise Uruguay is obviously local to Uruguay.

    Like learning about a new city or country, it takes a while to amass enough knowledge to claim familiarity, it’s not something you can pick up in a short bit of time. So get started.

    On the plus side – we lament that no one understands us when we read stuff like Ian’s post, and agree with it, but that’s actually a good thing. We’re way ahead of the masses in seeing and sizing things up, which gives us a better shot at doing something proactive about what’s coming, and succeeding.

  57. nick permalink
    December 6, 2010

    Maybe some of us need to start a blog/wiki about emigration. I’ve been thinking of starting a reddit subreddit about it.

  58. Cloud permalink
    December 6, 2010

    And I think the answer to that question is not hard to see. The elites of China at least are not integrated into the Washington-London-Berlin-Dubai-Tokyo-axis Oligarchy. And they know that ‘we’ (meaning the people constitute Uncle Sam) basically distrust and fear and even hate them, and would rather that they went away. Therefore, they do not trust ‘us’ either, and will take the opportunity to grab first fiddle away from ‘us’ if it presents itself.

  59. Ian Welsh permalink*
    December 6, 2010

    You sound like some US citizen from the ’30s, Ian. If you want someplace to run away to, maybe Australia or the Canary Islands. The rest of us will do battle with the coming Depression. And then we will mock you.

    Things will improve once liberals get in charge and implement FDR-type policies. As long as we listen to Hooverites like Obama, nothing good will happen.

    How’d that work out for the Germans, Italians, Japanese and Spanish who decided to stay and fight. And for that matter, why did most Americans come to America in the first place? Because they decided not to stay in Europe and fight, but go to a land with more freedom and opportunity.

  60. Ian Welsh permalink*
    December 6, 2010

    Shoto. Oops. Meant one. It might be two. I used to think it’d be more, but it’s impossible to keep up with the economic mismanagement.

  61. Ian Welsh permalink*
    December 6, 2010

    Anon 2525: yes, it is one of a series. I care about what happens to most of my readers. Same way I screamed at people over and over again that the financial collapse of 2008 was occuring and did it early and often so people who paid attention had time to save their money. Some did, some didn’t, I occasionlly hear from people in both camps.

    I also think the post has some other value, and summarizes a number of things fairly well. Of course, you may not think it’s worth reading, in which case so be it. The obsessives don’t need to read it multiple times, but as a long time blogger, I can tell you that it’s only about the time a pundit is getting sick of saying something that the average reader is beginning to scratch their head and say “maybe there’s something here.” And commenters, in specific, much as I value you guys, are a fraction of total readership.

    If anything I should have screamed more about the financial collapse. I might have saved a few more people the loss of half their savings, or being stuck underwater in a house.

    When things get bad in the US, I do not want to think “If only I had written about this more, I might have saved more people.” Of course, I will think that.

    So, I’m not writing these articles primarily for you, feel free to skip, but I will continue to write them as the spirit wills.

  62. nick permalink
    December 6, 2010

    Alyosha, thanks for those urls. I think though there is a need for something more specifically from the plebeian econ perspective–I am one of those masses of which we are all trying not to be, no use pretending. Also for those of us who plan to live or allow for those alive past 2040 at best there’s a need to take account of the massive ecological clusterfucks on the horizon and it would be great to start a project incorporating those considerations (how hot? how dry? how localized? how green? all with future projections) into the expat mission impossible.

  63. Ian Welsh permalink*
    December 6, 2010

    Bob: I think your model of the future is certainly possible. I just have found, overall, that it seems impossible to underestimate US elites ability to handle situation outside their own incestuous Versailles. I’m betting on the Chinese, or that the Chinese and Americans destroy each other (in effect, like the Brits and Germans) and someone else sneaks up behind.

  64. BBG in LA permalink
    December 6, 2010

    There are places to go, when the Supreme Court approved Citizen’s United, we knew the game was over and we, the citizens lost. With that, we went down to Central Pacific Costa Rica and bought 9 acres with a rustic bamboo house flanked by gorgeous waterfalls and swimming holes that run the length of the property. All of this ran just under $100K. The owners worked with us on terms and everyone we dealt with have been very legit.

    The laws there allow you to work easily if you own a business and employ the locals, however, you can’t go there and take a job away from a local.

    The Medical system there is socialized and I hear it’s very good.

    The area where we bought in CR is not at all like the northern area which is settled and expensive. They just completed the road to our area so now, finally, it’s accessible. Our neighbors are for the most part, European and other Americans, all living very simple, natural lives, growing their own food, not paying much for essentials as the climate doesn’t require heat or AC.

    There are places out there that are nicer, but Western Europe is waaaay cost prohibitive, look south where populist governments are forming a block of Bolivarian countries that can stand up to the US if need be.

    I work for an airline so I was able to travel and check out many countries. Of them, Argentina was a big favorite of mine in that it’s like Europe and extremely beautiful and cultural, Uruguay is also lovely, Ecuador is high, cool and very inexpensive and diverse in its terrain (Amazon to volcanos to beaches). Mexico is running low on oil and will begin to really hurt when they finally admit it, not to mention the instability with the drug trade currently on the borders. It also doesn’t have enough water to suit me.

    I do urge people not to move and try and make your new home another US, but rather to adapt and adopt the new slower pace, simpler lifestyle of the locals, all will be happier that way.

  65. jomaka permalink
    December 6, 2010

    Ian, You have been 100% correct regarding Obama. In 2008, I campaigned for him in Illinois (Chicago), Indiana (Valparaiso), and Michigan (Holland). I live in Chicago, and am lucky enough to have a second home in Saugatuck, Michigan. You need to post more on your blog. I really like your opinions. I am very depressed that Obama has negotiated this Tax Cut deal for the 2%, but now I am not surprised. I hope you don’t mind but I have been posting your link on dailykos, firedoglake and digby. I think very highly of your insights. Please keep it up.

  66. jcapan permalink
    December 7, 2010

    “Understand the age of compromise is over. It is now too late to save the old system. It’s over. We tried, and we failed. It is beyond ‘reform,’ it is going to flame out, the only question is how many people it will burn to death as it does so.”

    Fair enough, but perhaps use this as a disclaimer the next time you post something like the “Primary Obama Movement Starts Now!”

  67. Ian Welsh permalink*
    December 7, 2010

    No, it’s still necessary to primary Obama, especially if you can’t flee. The US is going to flame out, but who picks up the pieces matter. And very low probability moonshots still have to be taken by those who remain.

  68. December 7, 2010

    who picks up the pieces matter.

    I guess that’s the thing. My problem with the “primary Obama” advice is that I don’t think it increases the chances that whoever picks up the pieces will be better.

  69. jcapan permalink
    December 7, 2010

    Sorry, it just seems a stretch that on one hand collapse, war and a rightist revolution are in the offing, and on the other claim that primarying Obama is worthwhile. It just doesn’t compute. If the left is going to put themselves out there (in a way those of us living in safer precincts don’t have to) in the age of the surveillance state, facing god-knows-what negative utopia to come, at the very least, they sure as hell shouldn’t be doing it in the hollowed out shell of the democratic party.

    The left working within that 1/2 of the duopoly is the mirror image of the co-opted teapartiers checking GOP-candidates on their ballots. As you said, the old system is over. I’m not (as much as I’d like to) disagreeing with your post. But I find it striking that someone with your outlook would advocate such an impotent course.

    BTW, as an American expat, regardless of how bleak my own take, I simply can’t begin to tell people to leave. It may amount to preemptive survior’s guilt. Perhaps it’d be easier if I were telling Japanese that they should bail.

  70. guest permalink
    December 7, 2010

    Notorious PAT, Ireland is not welcoming of people of Irish descent. They might prefer you to a Pole or a Filipina or African, but only if you’re a nurse or have some other skill they want. And I imagine many of their recent immigrants are heading to England, Germany or America, if not to their home countries.
    You can go try to get citizenship if one of your grandparents was born there but it is still very difficult. I have native Irish friends, and they get a huge amount of hassle just registering the births of their kids in the US with the Irish authorities.
    And right now Ireland does NOT want you even more than ever, in case you haven’t read the papers. What the hell would you do there when the natives are getting pushed out again?
    Back in the 1980′s I had heard I *might* qualify if I had Irish greatgrandparents, so I contacted the Irish consulate. They were very unhelpful and unfriendly, and told me I would not qualify without explaining why not. I did not learn what the actual rules had been until they were in the process of getting rid of that 30 year back-dating thing. [They used to back-date your citizenship 30 years, so that theoretically I could have become Irish if my parent had claimed Irish citizenship before I turned 30 (by backdating my parent's citizenship to prior to my birth, I would have been considered born to an Irish citizen). But my greatgrandparents were born in the 1860s before reliable birth or emigration records. All they had was a church baptism record, and someone even stole the page that had one of my greatgrandmother's records. The parent didn't want Irish citizenship and was afraid that claiming foreign citizenship could risk their US citizenship. So it was an impossible task anyway.]
    As for Ian’s dire warnings, I have no doubt they are accurate in the long run. But what’s the short-run urgency of sending your kid abroad if only for a year? Definitely I can foresee another financial collapse like the one that was averted (delayed, really) in 2008, but I don’t see how “getting out” will help any significant number of people. Do you want your kid half a world away when the banks fail and your money disappears and they are stranded, prey to slavery or prostitution rings or whatnot?
    Things will be sucky for sure, but even in a catastrophe like WWII, I doubt more than 1/5 of the population of most countries died. I can’t imagine you will have better odds in foreign countries where you have no friends or family or other ties to fall back on when things get shaky (and which we will almost all need at one point or another), and where Americans will be less and less popular.
    And why would we need to go to war with Iran and Korea or Saudi Arabia? I thought we already had two war’s going right now? Why shouldn’t those be enough to keep the military contractors fat and happy (and impoverish and endanger the rest of us)? Not saying it won’t happen with Israel in charge of our foreign policy, but I don’t see the necessity to go to war for war’s sake when we’ve already got two.
    Personally, I left a nice sunny southern city for a gloomy liberal one after nearly getting killed by a rightwing wacko earlier this year (that wasn’t the primary reason for the move, but it was a significant factor). I don’t know if it will make me safer in the long run. Maybe it will buy me a couple extra years. But at least I don’t have to listen to the wingnuts’ increasing derangement up close and personal anymore, and I don’t find myself as angry so much of the time from thinking about the incident.
    Besides, I’m almost 50, and I wasn’t really looking forward to old age that much anyways. I’m/we’re on a sinking ship. But a big enough sinking ship will also take down a lot of smaller ships that get sucked into its wake. Without America, how safe are Australia and NZ from China or other Asian neighbors? What’s safe about Latin America, especially for a gringo? Have they used up all their death squads and won’t have any more for the next generation? India? If you’re afraid of overcrowding, filth, poverty and corruption, why would you go to India? China? Gimme a break.
    I’ll save myself if I can, and even leave the US if the right opportunity arises (fat chance). But I’m not going to wring my hands or run around in a panic between now and then. Remember all the warnings about Y2K? I stocked nothing, because I can’t even cook for myself. At my age I sure as hell ain’t gonna learn how to eat beans, much less learn to cook them, or least of all grow the nasty things. If it really starts getting that bad I’ll get hold of some barbiturates or something, and then I’ll take death with peace and dignity.
    Keep your head on, and be careful around all the idiots who panic, whether they consider themselves liberal or conservative. They’re dangerous because they are irrational and will hurt others to save themselves from any real or perceived threats. I’m just amazed we made it thru 8 years of Bush in as good shape (relatively, compared to what I expected) as we did. I would have predicted catastrophe a long time ago. So maybe we’ll limp along another 10 years.

  71. December 7, 2010

    I once thought that the Peak Oil chicken would have come home to roost right now. Well, it sort of has, by some models, but it turns out that it’s going to roost with a whimper, not a bang. Mmm, mixed metaphor!

  72. jomaka permalink
    December 7, 2010

    I just burned my copy of ‘Audacity of Hope’ outside here in Chicago (it’s a balmy 18 degrees), and flushed the ashes down the toilet with some other human waste. I still feel nauseous…

  73. anon2525 permalink
    December 7, 2010

    4 Scenarios for the Coming Collapse of the American Empire
    The demise of the United States as the global superpower could come far more quickly than anyone imagines.

    If Washington is dreaming of 2040 or 2050 as the end of the American Century, a more realistic assessment of domestic and global trends suggests that in 2025, just 15 years from now, it could all be over except for the shouting.

    http://www.alternet.org/world/149080/4_scenarios_for_the_coming_collapse_of_the_american_empire/?page=entire

  74. anon2525 permalink
    December 7, 2010

    I just burned my copy of ‘Audacity of Hope’ outside here in Chicago…

    He sure played some people, didn’t he? Of course, he’s had help from the Democrats.

  75. December 7, 2010

    The problem with getting out is that imperial collapse at this scale is never an isolated implosion.

    Personally i’d consider Central or South America, but the only move that makes any sense is one where you can buy in without debt and then live on your wits/skill. The idea of moving abroad and continuing a life similar to what you live in the US is unreasonable at this point. I don’t have the cash, just the skill set and i’d be perfectly happy with a bit of land to work somewhere like Costa Rica.

    The key really will be the ability to feed yourself. Europe won’t be any fun if it continues to lose the mild climate it’s had for the last thousand years or so (excepting the little ice age). The global food chain that keeps grocery stores stocked is an accident/collapse waiting to happen. No matter where you are, i would strongly suggest developing the skill set necessary to live outside the system.

    I figure that i’m not going anywhere, but at the least i live on the margins of the US with the knowledge/friends/situation necessary to make a go of it until i get sent to the concentration camp.

  76. Cloud permalink
    December 7, 2010

    Consider a band of twelve men, who find themselves unemployed and are getting hungry. They do not know anything about the “back to the land” movement or useful skills therein, nor do they wish to. But they do have firearms.

    All these twelve men need to do is, on a monthly basis, locate and take out one guy like me, who has a year’s supply of food stashed somewhere as cushion while he tries to learn to grow squash and potatoes. There could be torture — whatever. Then they all eat for a month on my stash, while they stake out their next target.

    I think this could even happen while there are still functioning police and good civil order in most areas, if I happen to be in the wrong rural area. Especially if the local authorities have their hands full, or are unable or unwilling to stop such things — unwilling perhaps because culturally they are with the band of twelve, and against me.

    This sort of reasoning can be pretty depressing — ‘No man is an island’, which sometimes sucks when too many other men prone to violence.

  77. December 7, 2010

    I think the hysterical fear at the core of this post is . . . well . . . hysteria: a expression of fear and anger, but not prophetic, and not accurate in its anticipation of probable futures.

    A global empire breaking up is far more dangerous to life and limb, on its periphery.

    Ian seems to imagine that the U.S. has become entirely a tributary state, and the U.S. could quickly become Vienna after the first World War: a vast shell of an Imperial Capital, whose economic lifeblood for centuries had been tribute from a vast Empire, which was no longer there. People starved, and dismantled houses for firewood.

    Most of the U.S. is a vast, resource-rich continent. Large parts of the U.S. have always functioned at a price-level nearly an order of magnitude below that experienced on the coasts, and in relative isolation from international trade. The collapse of international trade and globalization would actually be a tonic to these parts of the U.S.

    Britain managed its loss of Empire as well as it did, because the U.S. was picking up the role, but also because there were always threads in British culture that never wanted an Empire. Ditto for the U.S. The most aggressive “tribes” in American politics actually also have a strong isolationist impulse; they could turn on a dime.

    American withdrawal from international trade and military adventure could come with amazing rapidity, but the vacuum that creates will not be at the Center, in North America. North America will be the cool, distant center in that firestorm.

    A political re-alignment has taken place in the U.S., and not one to my liking, and I agree with the common assessment that an authoritarian state has arrived.

    I would suggest to you that the political coalition that now rules the U.S. strongly prefers to keep Obama as President in 2012. To that end, the Republicans are likely to run a ridiculous candidate and campaign. Parody from the Left will simply be impossible. All the trends — demographic and economic — are not running against the real Left.

    Primarying Obama is a non-starter, because the Left doesn’t have an alternative candidate, and even a half-candidate can be eliminated in an instant by a hostile Media and professional consultancy establishment. (see Scream, Dean) I think we could still find ways to discredit Obama as a representative of “liberalism” or “progressivism”, and expose the strong preference of the powers-that-be for his re-election. How we do that, if we can do that, is going to require some creative thinking, that goes way beyond the ghost of Eugene McCarthy. And, we should anticipate that all the stops will be out, channelling the liberal tribe into support for Obama II.

  78. Ian Welsh permalink*
    December 7, 2010

    Well Bruce, we’ll find out. Barring bad luck both of us will be around to see who’s right. I hope you are, but I wouldn’t and won’t bet on it. My fear and anger comes from analysis, it does not drive my analysis.

    Much of what you say about the US is true, however I’d suggest reading Orlov on how well Americans will deal with collapse. After all, the USSR was a continenantal power too, and they were better set up to deal with collapse than Americans are, and that’s the parallel I keep drawing.

    In general, what I’ve noticed is that my failures of analysis are almost always because I am too optimistic, not because I’m too pessimistic. Things are generally even worse than I think they are, largely because I keep underestimating the incompetence, immorality and self-preservation instincts of our elites.

    Parts of the peripheries will be worse, of course (I wouldn’t suggest moving to Seoul, say), others will be better. The question is which will be which.

  79. December 8, 2010

    BW: How does energy factor into this? The resource richness of an isolationist empire would still involve a large decline in living standards since the USA cannot supply its own current oil needs. Technology?

  80. December 8, 2010

    Mandos, the problem isn’t oil. Energy is available in many forms, and the U.S. is resource-rich, not densely populated and profligate. There are many options available to reduce overall energy consumption and to obtain energy from sources other than petroleum, which need not involve an appreciable reduction in living standards.

    The overall problem is economic rent extraction, and oil is a particular and egregious example. Our financial and political systems are completely out of whack, trying to preserve the rents of Big Oil, an absolutely impossible task.

    We know that Peak Oil has arrived. We will never manage to produce more net petroleum to be consumed in productive activity than we do right now. The throughput for the extensive systems of extraction, processing and distribution of Big Oil is at its absolute peak for all time, and when that throughput declines, the rents earned on those resources will decline precipitously. After 150 years at the top of the economic food chain, Big Oil will become a global sickman. Like any industry in decline, any big city slum, it is becoming somewhat desperate and unstable. It will seek to take risks to keep output and system throughput up.

    We’ve prosecuted an enormously expensive war and occupation in Iraq. We just allowed an oil company to poison the Gulf of Mexico, and the government is busily covering up the crimes. In quite a few states, frakking to free marginal quantities of natural gas is poisoning the ground water.

    These are not rational responses to Peak Oil or Climate Change, but they are the responses that are built into the institutions of the global political economy, institutions which have been built up in the circumstances of steady expansion of the global petroleum-based economy. It’s how global elites and politicians think. And, the masses are not any more enlightened; people hated Bush, not because he was a war criminal, but because he didn’t deliver on an implicit promise of cheap gasoline.

    The decline of Big Oil will have huge impacts on a lot of wealthy folks and powerful corporations. The effect on ordinary people and social stability? Harder to say, and I would not count myself optimistic. Just like the collapse of Big Finance has been put down upon home “owners” and the disemployed, Big Oil would like to sucker people into accepting environmental degradation and foreign wars.

    Some part of the whole Larry Summers program of stability through stagnation is aimed at keeping U.S. economy near stall speed for a prolonged period, just to avoid spiking oil and other commodity prices. Without, of course, investing in a sustainable economic future that might not involve rent paid to Big Oil.

  81. zot23 permalink
    December 8, 2010

    First, I would like to say thank you to Ian for writing this post and for writing what he has in the past. It cannot be easy or easily palatable to play a digital Cassandra for that small block of people who: care enough to be forward looking despite what is seen, and are willing and able to have discussions about such events. This is not a normal readership, this is not your average blog post.

    I started following Ian years back, before the worst of the economic strife (after dot.com but before the TARP funhouse). After reading Ian, Stirling Newberry, Barry Ritzholtz, and a few other A+ economic bloggers I was able to finally screw up the courage to sell some long term family assets and reinvest in gold and silver. I still hold those investments today, I can tell you having purchased gold in the $600-650 range and silver at ~$11 /ounce the financial collapse was a lot less dramatic and precipitous. Too bad we couldn’t suck it up (nationally) enough to let this play out naturally and be done with it, I’m positioning for the next leg down next year. But to Ian I would like to say thank you and offer my example as someone whom you helped educate and show the path out of the swamp before the typhoon hit. I appreciate your posts and encourage you to continue, there are people are out there reading and putting this thought to good use, even if the feedback isn’t always instant or overtly positive.

    To the “challenges” that face America, I cannot steel myself to a life on the run in a foreign country. To leave my home and my network of friends here in America would be difficult if not crushing, uprooting my 3 young sons from their lives would be cruel. I’ve travelled enough and known enough peoples to offer that foreigners never fare as well as the local populace when economic times are grim and the heat is on. That’s not to say that everywhere will be as bad as America, but for certain in any area foreigners will be offered up as scapegoats first. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in the country, there were 2nd and 3rd generations of Japanese Americans in WWII who experienced this phenomenon first hand. I might very well consider and encourage my sons to travel/study abroad when they come of age (about 8 years or so for the oldest), the benefits of such an education is valuable in any time, good, bad, or worse.

    But I cannot leave, I cannot run. It would not suit me, I wouldn’t be very good at it. I can see the snarling visage of the rightwingers, the lock down by homeland security on our dwindling freedoms, the “holding” camps, and worse and worse yet by far. I don’t want to see my wife, my boys, our families, and my fellow Americans go through such a hell, I cannot imagine bearing the weight of enhanced interrogation on those you love. But I can’t leave, for there will always be a counterweight, there will always be a fight. What if I could aid in turning such a dark tide, what if I could use my money, contacts, abilities to save some lives in such dark times? Naive perhaps, maybe dangerously so but I cannot shake the intuition that my place will be here and this hard road can be made worth travelling (even in the heart of a dying empire.) No darkness is total and this too shall pass. Violent? yes. Bloody? certainly. But that is America’s history, it’s the way we move forward. To leave in some odd way is to admit that the Revolution, the Civil War, the Depression, Sufferage, and all the other great equalizers provided by our struggles are not worth my blood, my pain. Without Americans, America disappears.

    When I was young, I was small for my grade. A natural target for bullies on the playground, I had my share of bloody noses and bruises in the early grades. I submitted for most of it but the bullying didn’t stop. I couldn’t fight back toe to toe, the beating was worse and it ensured another. Once I was pushed to the ground by the worst of the bullys and held there while he checked to see if the coast was clear. I had a small revelation and grabbed his ankle with both hands, sunk my teeth int he soft flesh around his ankle. He screamed, he jerked, but my hold was tight and if he moved, I bit even harder. He couldn’t get me off without going through agony, I couldn’t let go for fear of a major beating. We sat like that for a good 3 minutes or so until a parent (or teacher?) noticed the situation and came over to rectify it. By the time it was all said and done, the school did nothing to me (he was a well known bully), after he stopped bleeding he limped for a few days, and I was not bullied again. It wasn’t so much painful for him as it was embarrassing to be brought to a standstill by such a small boy.

    Things will get tough, things might be worse than tough, but there’s always that ankle. All we need do is find it, latch on, and have the will to keep the hold longer than they can stand to bear it. It might cost me my small fortune, it might cost my life, or worse, but that ankle will be there – bullies never think of protecting themselves from such attacks. I hate to say it, but biting that ankle also felt damn good, the taste of blood was never so sweet.

    I appreciate the posts Ian and I have reaped rewards from your advice in the past, but I don’t think I can leave, at best I would stash my money elsewhere to keep it from confiscation and use it for the fight. This feels morbid, like writing my own epitaph, but if that is the way of it then so be it. Keep up the good posts and keep the fires burning, you never know who reads these things in the future. It might even be some anklebiters, too busy with their mouths full to respond ;)

  82. Formerly T-Bear permalink
    December 10, 2010

    The future does not happen in the US anymore. For those looking for such future, looking is now elsewhere. One consequence of the US myth-making is the world has bought into that myth and are looking toward incorporating much of it into their lives where-ever possible. Those carriers of that myth will find a reception where-ever they go should they escape the US, maybe not with governmental authority but with many people.

    What is probably the most important condition to attain is to quit buying the party line that has been merchandised into existence. Politicians, police and governments are not to be trusted – ever. It is still possible to extract yourselves from the miasma of perpetrated lies, although it is getting more difficult with the passage of time and the contraction of information resources. As schools, libraries, and books are being eliminated, the contraction of information resources becomes the threat to survival. If there are children, search and find historical narrative that exposes actual happenings, their genesis, and their consequences. Don’t trust the schoolbooks about the Spanish-American War, read Mark Twain (and others) or go to translated Spanish histories of the era. Their narrative is not the same, their sympathies are not hidden, and a different perspective having considerable validity will emerge. Do this where-ever there is a one-sided view being sold. Soon it will become evident that the official narrative becomes shallow and inconsistent with these other sources. Then it is clear that the withdrawal of consent is the refusal to continue belief in the official deceptions; that withdrawal of consent removes all power the official narrative may have to persuade or to distort and the power of propaganda can be broken. The power of the Soviet Union was broken by exactly this method applied to the government propaganda machine; the Russian peoples were not persuaded by the concoction of deceptions foisted upon their lives and most were able to survive their government’s collapse.

    It is not necessary to leave the US to survive its collapse, however attachment to the government’s deceptions will change the probability of survival. It is ultimately necessary to awaken the senses and become as aware as possible of the world about yourself, what the nature of your environment is and how it can be worked to provide the necessities of survival – food, shelter, clothing, a means of creating an economic living and probably most important, an understanding of the fundamental political processes that groups use to assure their survival. At the end of the day, there is some economic benefit for those that are self-sufficient but an even greater benefit to those who can become economically indispensable within their group. But this will not ever happen as long as governmental myths fog the thinking processes.

  83. Dr. Brian Oblivion permalink
    December 12, 2010

    I agree with much of your analysis regarding the present, but I think your crystal ball doesn’t take into account how much people are willing to endure before even considering taking to the streets and tearing down the system from within. There’s not nearly the level of fear or anger from my vantage point required for the United States to boil over, not within a business cycle or two.

    The current situation may appear rather dismal and the United States’ ruling class more disconnected than ever. That much rings true. While it never hurts to keep one’s passport current, it’s far too early to flee and watch the conflagration from abroad.

    One thing to keep in mind, and I’m sure you’ve noticed, that there are more similarities than differences between the United States government and those in Europe and the UK. We all face similar concerns with respect to the state. So while the U.S. may be seen as the primary bully today, don’t forget to keep an eye on the bully closer to home.

    Nevertheless, I hope you maintain interest in world affairs going forward and that you continue publishing your thoughts. Thanks, Ian.

  84. December 12, 2010

    If you’re going to say (and you should), then you need to organize. The kind of organization you’re going to need to help build is an anti-authoritarian one, and those can be difficult to keep functional. One of the things an anti-authoritarian organizations needs more than anything else is a functional intelligence acquisition and analysis section. Which is why people need to be paying much closer attention to what the WikiLeaks people have really been up to for the last ten years now.

    We can survive the decline of American empire with a soft landing, but only if we can organize ourselves to keep the wingnut revolution from burning down the foundations of American culture: a commitment to open democratic government. Our beltway elite villager cultural hegemony is congenitally incapable of doing that, hence the current growing dysfunctionality in Washington. Replace that, and the rest will take care of itself.

  85. Ian Welsh permalink*
    December 12, 2010

    Dr. Oblivion!

  86. December 12, 2010

    There is a problem with comments from expats, although I deeply, deeply sympathize. Unless leaving is a POSITIVE step, something you’d consider undertaking even if things were going relatively well here in still awesomely beautiful North America, the rest of your life could become an exercise in bitter self-justification. I remember meeting Americans in San Miguel, Mexico over 30 years ago who felt that way. A community of expats can be an awful place to be.

    On the other hand, a true citizen of the Earth can live anywhere and be fulfilled. If that applies and someplace beckons, go! I may do that myself…

  87. Natasha Chart permalink
    December 13, 2010

    @Ian Welsh You know, I don’t even really disagree with much of anything you’ve said. It mostly makes me think sadly of my huge student debt portfolio, not dischargable even in death, and despair a little. Though I have come to view our electoral politics as an extremely expensive bit of public performance art, brought to us by the same Family Foundations that munificently provide museums and opera houses to deserving metropolitan areas.

    For more meaningful results, I’d spend the resources that would go towards a primary on better community theatre projects.

    Take the, ‘these creeps are all working for the bankers’ argument to its logical conclusion: we’re governed by a supermajority of bank employees. They don’t care about the interests of the non-investor-class public, they aren’t listening, and that’s unlikely to change even if we can find someone willing to torch their political future in a primary challenge against Obama.

    @Bruce Wilder “Most of the U.S. is a vast, resource-rich continent. Large parts of the U.S. have always functioned at a price-level nearly an order of magnitude below that experienced on the coasts, and in relative isolation from international trade. The collapse of international trade and globalization would actually be a tonic to these parts of the U.S.”

    Erm, not really. Agriculture is a very globalized industry and the majority of cropland in the interior is devoted to the production of commodity crops that are inedible without at least some level of processing that’s no longer performed locally. And in the case of the variety of corn that isn’t good for anything but making corn syrup out of, entirely inedible.

    Most ‘specialty crops,’ ie, anything you’d find in a produce aisle that’s ready to turn into a meal, are produced on the coasts. Notably, in ridiculous places like the deserts of California’s Central Valley region, home of around 90% of the nation’s lettuce crop.

    In short, rural communities would also be extremely frakked over by an interruption of the grocery supply chain. They’d just have a somewhat better chance to bounce back from it by repurposing their land.

  88. JustThink4Once permalink
    December 13, 2010

    It’s painful to see a great country pull itself apart from the top down…
    My family left England in 1978 for Australia. Back then unemployment in England was 25%.
    Yes, things got better there, but Australia has it all… Just ask Opra.
    Being in the southern hemisphere it should be relatively free from the background radiation.

    http://www.immigration2australia.com/

  89. December 21, 2010

    That is a cool thing.

  90. December 21, 2010

    Australia is a great country. Just take everything from others to contribute its growth.
    http://www.immigration2australia.com/

  91. December 21, 2010

    Things have been changed a lot.

    http://www.noborders-group.com/

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