The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

The American Death Wish

(Kicking this back to the top, it’s eternal, particularly in light of the continued efforts to spin health care reform.)

I’ve been struggling with how to write this post for quite some time. It’s the conversation you have to have with a friend where you have to say “it’s nice that you’re trying as hard as you can George. I even believe you are, but it doesn’t matter. Because George, your best just isn’t good enough.”

Or, as Captain Jack Sparrow would put it, all that matters is what a man can do and what a man can’t do.

Sometimes the world doesn’t grade us on a curve. You need to jump a fence, and you can’t. You need to climb a rock face, and you aren’t good enough. You’re running away from a bear, and you don’t run fast enough. And now you’re dead. You wanted to get into a good grad school, but you don’t have the grades or test scores. You’re in a fight, and the other guy wins, and you wind up on the ground and he puts the boots to you and you’re crippled for life. You tried “your best”, but you lost and you’re going to pay the price for losing for the rest of your life. Maybe you lost because he fought dirty, and you’d rather take a chance of being crippled for life than kick someone in the balls. Maybe you lost because he trained harder than you, and you’d rather go have a drink with your friends.

Or maybe you needed to pay for health care, and you didn’t have the money, and someone you loved died. And they died because you didn’t have the money, and because your country didn’t have universal health care. And maybe you always worked as hard as you could, and you campaigned for health care with all your heart. It doesn’t matter, your child, your wife, your husband—they’re still dead. Your best wasn’t good enough.

Now this is where America is. This is the real world. The United States in aggregate has been living beyond its means for over 30 years now. You have been shipping the real economy overseas. Ordinary families have been going in debt. The government has been going in debt. You’ve been voting yourself lower taxes and not paying for infrastructure reinvestment, or education, or anything else that matters, really. You’ve been spending too much money on guns, not enough on butter. You’ve been pushing the bill off into the future.

And whenever I write about what needs to be done to fix this—simple things like universal healthcare, which we know for a fact reduces health care costs by 1/3, because it has worked for every single other country that’s ever done it, people come out of the woodwork and they tell me “that’s not politically feasible.” Or perhaps I suggest a 55 mile an hour speed limit “that’s not feasible”. Or spending significantly less on the military since half the world’s military spending is a bit overboard. “That’s not politically feasible.” Or raising taxes, “that’s not feasible”. Or… but why go on, the list is endless.

Then Obama comes out with a Stimulus bill which simply will not do the job.  It is not big enough.  It is not well constructed enough.  It has no vision.  It won’t work.  This isn’t really in question, even their own report(pdf), which has the thumb heavily on the scale, shows it won’t work if you take the time to look at the job charts.

A lot of people think this is some academic debate that doesn’t matter in the real word, like “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin”. It’s not, it’s deadly practical. The US is in severe decline, it is past the point where any other country would have flamed out and had an economic collapse (Argentina collapsed with better numbers than the US has now, for example). Because of America’s privileged position in the world, it’s been able to stagger on.

Now folks can say “Ian those things aren’t necessary, I think the following steps will fix it” and that’s fine. Could be I’m wrong. Obviously I don’t think so, or I wouldn’t write what I write, but hey, plenty of people have been dead certain they were right, and dead wrong.

But what gets me is that so often what I hear is “that isn’t politically feasible. We can’t do that”. Now, by can’t they don’t mean “those things are impossible” or “we don’t have the means”, what they really mean is “we won’t do them, because they would be hard or they’re outside our ideological comfort zone.”

Fair enough. But if those things are necessary, and if you don’t do them, then the consequence is going to be catastrophe. I don’t mean disaster. New Orleans was a disaster, and it wasn’t enough to wake America up. The current financial crisis was a disaster, and so far it’s looking like it wasn’t enough to convince people that real fundamental changes are needed.

So because no one will do what is necessary, catastrophe will happen. What I mean by this is a severe decline in the US standard of living, probably between 20% to 40%, starting in 4 to 6 years and taking place for a decade. Might happen sooner if folks keep refusing to do what needs to be done to fix the financial crisis and stop it from turning into a worldwide Great Depression.  Even before it happens, you’re going to see real wages declining for Americans while their assets collapse in price.

To see what a precipitous decline in standard of living is like, read up on Russia’s history in the 90’s. A lot of people will die of starvation, of cold, of heat, of lack of medical help and from violence.

That’s just the way it’s going to be. Because while there are no problems that America has that America can’t fix, there also appear to be no problems America has that America is willing to fix properly. And it doesn’t matter why. It just doesn’t matter. The bear doesn’t care why you couldn’t run fast enough when it mauls you to death. When the economy finally goes into full bore collapse, when all the bills come due and everyone decides to stop paying Americans to consume, it won’t matter why Americans thought they could suspend the economic laws of gravity forever and live beyond their means for decades.

It just won’t matter. You can either do what it takes to fix the problems or you can’t. If it’s true that you can’t, then I quite seriously, sadly, and with utmost sincerity suggest that you either start learning how to survive in a societal meltdown, or you get out, or you hope that your number comes up in the next few years so you don’t have to pay the bill that comes due when people think they can live in fantasy land, on credit, forever.

America elected Barack Obama. He’ll have, essentially, two chances to fix things. He’s failing the first one already, with his botched stimulus bill and that’s going to be disastrous. If he fails the second one, that’ll be catastrophe.

So I sure hope that, yes America can.

(Originally posted January 18, 2009 at FDL.  It’s pretty clear now that, no, America can’t.)


How Futures Affect the Price of Oil


Obligatory cautionary note on the employment #’s


  1. anonymous

    Thanks for summing up what a lot of us have been thinking and saying for years. I was shocked that Bush didn’t bring us into full blown catastrophe within his first term. He almost did it in two terms, but Obama got the Congress to give him a breather with TARP and all that. Maybe was the right thing to do, but it really let the delusionists pretend for another year or two (for some reason we can’t have extend without pretend), and it also means that Obama will be the new Hoover, not Bush. And the one who leads us out will not be an FDR, but rather a fascist or a Putin.

    Unfortunately I’m over 40, not rich, and my skills are not mad, so I’m stuck here. When energy prices get to high, which climate is more bearable? Five months of hot as hell Texas with limited A/C, or 8 months of temprate but depressing Seattle gloom and diesel soot (man, the air up there is filthy).

  2. I don’t see anything here to disagree with and share your experience of struggle with these perceptions. One doesn’t want to help activate the archetype, so to speak, never mind something so insignificant in the larger scheme of things as Americans having to live like so many of the poor devils we’ve been robbing and blowing up forever.

    Half-assed measures aren’t enough. We don’t have any more excuses. It’s all laid open, right in front of us. We KNOW what to do, but don’t. That’s why the health care bill is so monstrously wrong.

    Growing awareness of this might allow for mass casting out of demons, though. Maybe we just haven’t had our noses rubbed in it hard enough.

  3. Ian, you are on the same page here as I’ve been on for a long time, too, since the Sixties and Seventies, actually. While it’s not necessary for the US to blow itself up, it is fixed on that course. The ship is steaming full speed at the iceberg of reality, and no one on the bridge is talking about changing course or even reducing speed. when it will hit that iceberg is uncertain, however. I thought it would be long before this, but I obviously got the timing wrong. But, given the impending environmental/energy crisis that is coming to a head, I don’t see the impact as very far off now. The financial crisis and healthcare, etc. will be dwarfed by this. They are only the tip of the iceberg. The bulk of the mass — environment/energy — lies beneath the surface.

    The way that the US is headed, the middle class is deteriorating and there is an increasing disparity between have’s and have-not’s. This will likely result in a three tier society, the obscenely wealth, their well-paid minions, and the rest of us. Only the top two tiers will continue to have access to unlimited energy, and other perks of wealth. The “eaters” will have to fend for themselves as best they can, receiving enough to prevent revolt. Of course, this will require massive propaganda and scapegoating to keep the masses off-track, so expect expanded war, too, and a lot of rightist populism. So, best not to be too visible.

    OK, this is a worst-case scenario, I admit. It doesn’t have to be this way, and everyone should be doing everything possible to prevent, while also prudently preparing for any eventuality. But to expect the political system as it now stands to fix things is, I think, hoping for miracles.

    The best answer at this point for people who see the inevitable coming is to shout from the rooftops, while at the same time working hard to create alternative networks for survival. These networks have to recognize that the status quo cannot be amended sufficiently to avoid catastrophe and that a completely alternative society needs to be created, complete with its own economy. These networks can also now go global through the Internet. Check out the Rainbow Family, for example. Founded in the early Seventies, they are now international in scope. Too extreme for you? There’s lots of other stuff happening, too, at a lot of different levels. There are even sustainable living departments springing up in academia. If you can’t find anything that suits you, start it. Life isn’t a beach (and it doesn’t have to be a bitch), it’s a garden: “Let a hundred flowers bloom.”

    I’m not talking about adopting bare survivalism, although knowledge of these skills is certainly an asset in many ways, especially since when one needs them it is too late to begin acquiring them. Even with loose organization, a sizable globally networked community with many different nodes can arise to meet the coming challenges without having to resort to bare survivalism. There are sustainable communities springing up all around now, and while this movement is still beneath the radar as far as the mainstream goes, it’s significant in numbers and capability. While it’s not yet possible for global society to adapt before the collision without a radical transformation of lifestyle, and there won’t be without a technological advance that is not on the horizon at this time, alternative communities may be able to do it, especially acting in concert. Worth trying anyway, considering the alternative of relying on the status quo.

  4. jo6pac

    tjfxh, Thanks for what you wrote and Ian people are starting to come out of the long slumber and between king g/o it’s starting. Well it be in time, who knows. I think until corp. looses citizenship and money is no longer in elections it’ll be hard but some are starting see what’s happening to family and friends around the world and no less here in Amerika. It might even take one term for o and then for a r, then maybe we can join the rest of the adults at the table and all people of this nation have not only health care but a way to earn a living to take care of family and friends.


  5. Taos John: “Maybe we just haven’t had our noses rubbed in it hard enough.”

    That was the value of the draft in the Vietnam era. Too bad so many people had to die and be maimed, though, in order to rub our noses in it. But that’s what it takes to get people off their duff.

  6. dougR

    Just a quick comment to say THANKS, Ian, for your all posts this year. Thought you were a little “out there” over on FDL, but since most of what you predicted has come to pass, I appreciate your views that much more.

    My top 2 items on my “wish list” for progressives to fight for this next year are an end to the Senate’s 60-40 rule, followed by publicly funded elections, and hopefully a side order of rescinding corporate “personhood”. I’m sure none of this is on Obama’s radar screen, but I don’t see fundamental reforms emerging from congress without these things. And, in the wake of the HCR debacle, I hope we can hold the progressive coalition (such as it is) together instead of fragmenting into “tis-taint” stuff.

    I’m in the same demographic as “anonymous” up top, and trying to figure out if there’s a country to move to, to have some sort of decent old age, since the US is almost prideful at how easily it lets poor people slip underwater. Clearly it’ll be years if ever before our corporate congress permits enlarging the safety net we’re already paying for. Till then, it’s fight like hell for incremental progress and hope for the best, I suppose.

  7. For the record, I remember the draft in the ’60s very well, as I was constantly trying to avoid it, so I pretty much agree with you. You’d think we’d have evolved to the point where so much cowpie in the face wasn’t necessary, though. Surely we’re almost there.

    On the matter of a 40%-60% decline in our standard of living, all anyone has to do to practice is move to Taos, NM. My wife and I did 10 years ago. Great way to blow up your life and get down to, um, basics. No equity, no insurance, freezing-ass cold and dusty. Or muddy. No wonder I empathize with those other poor bastards in mud huts on the other side of the world: I’m in one, too!

  8. bob mcmanus

    Ian, you are being way too optimistic here.

    This is the United States, one of the most efficiently consistently successfully violent empires the world has ever seen. 30-40 percent of this nation would take out the whole world before declining, or die trying. “Our way of life is not negotiable.”

    That is the other side of “not feasible.” Why hasn’t the sane world confronted us? You can say Britain or China have nukes. Would/will they use them? I personally think we are in late Republic Rome, not late Empire. The day will come soon when America demands open empire. Oh, it will be tolerable, with prosperity in the provinces(BRIC), panem et circenses and incredible wealth in the center.

    Or there will no safe place to run or hide.

  9. bob mcmanus

    If you want to compare us with the Roman or the British empires, well, imagine Gaul or the subcontinent of India with no natives remaining. They were relatively gentle conquerors. America was born in genocide and conceived in slavery.

    There will be some nuked cities, here and abroad, but the American Empire is only beginning.

  10. bob mcmanus

    One thing I look at, if historical parallels are of any use, is that Rome and Britain were in part brought down by their military competitors.

    I grew up when, for examples, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon had militaries that if not frightening, were at least capable of annoyance.

    The interesting fact of current history is not that the United States is spending so much on the military budget, but that everyone else is spending so little, relatively.

    Looks like a surrender to hegemony to me, and something that is recent.

    You don’t get it.

  11. Ian Welsh

    I don’t think the Chinese and Russians will back down, and the Europeans would stand aside in such a scenario. Nuclear parity, plenty of manpower and industrial capacity. They aren’t ready yet, but China’s getting there. They have more idle steel capacity than the entire US has steel capacity period. Shipbuilding has moved over to Asia, and it’s not clear to me which countries would stand by the US, which would be neutral and which would go with China.

    What history teaches us is that modern power follows industrial capacity. And the US is in relative decline while Asia is rising.

    Also, frankly, Americans hate dying. You’re very good at killing folks who can’t fight back (the genocide was done against backwards natives), but modern Americans aren’t the GI generation (who also weren’t that good at dying compared to other countries) The whole “make the other guy die for his country” thing only works up to a point. At some point, ya’gotta be willing to die.

    No, I’m betting on war, actually, I agree with you on that. But I’m also betting on the US losing the war or series of wars. I’d rather you win, because I’m in Canada and I know what side we’ll be on unless the war starts with us or we have an extraordinarily savvy and brave PM in power (unlikely), but I’m not putting my money on it. Pretty and ridiculously expensive precision weapons won’t be much use against China and Russia, and if you nuke them, well, that’s armageddon, because they can and will retaliate. By the time the war happens, China will probably have full reach over the entire States.

    America’s going down. It’s the end of the Republic, arguably the Republic has already eneded in all but name, but America won’t make the transition to the Empire.

    Because you aren’t the people who created the empire. You’re their soft heirs. Oh yes, you’re ruthless, but you can’t take a punch.

    And the Chinese and Russians can take punches.

    And because the economics are all against you. You can’t keep gutting your economy this way and expect to be able to fight. This isn’t the US of WWI or WWII.

  12. Jim

    Even though it may appear that the problems we face today are a result of living beyond our means, unwillingness to beef up the stimulus package, pass critical reform legislation, trim the bloated military budget, etc., these all may be symptoms of a much more fundamental problem. The world keeps on changing, changing, into the future. Something like that. You can’t stop things from changing but you can try to understand why things are changing and, from that, make your contribution. The problems we face today demand that we put aside our preconceived ideas and try to understand what is new in the world today and how we can work with this change to make a better world.

    We see in history, as agriculture developed, the productive relations that developed under the tribal hunter-gatherer society were abandoned. This began a period of struggle to develop new productive relations that would correspond to agriculture. New tools: the plow produces more wealth than the bow and arrow. This in turn created new social relationships. The plow created the farmer. The old skills and relationships under the hunter-gatherer society could not exist under the new agricultural society. This has been the development of societies over time. New tools, new technology, new social relationships.

    Today, again, new tools–electronics, i.e, computer-controlled robotics and other forms of high technology–are being applied to industry. This has been developing for the past thirty years or more. Futurist Alvin Toffler wrote in 1980:

    “The Third Wave affects everyone… challenges all the old power relationships, the privileges and prerogatives of the endangered elites of today, and provides the backdrop against which the key power struggles of tomorrow will be fought.”

    Electronics, made possible by the semiconductor and micro-chip, is the basis of labor-replacing technology. It is on this basis that the old social relationships of reform, trade unionism, civil rights, etc. are breaking down. The basic contract between the working class and the capitalist class is breaking down. If you can’t exploit labor but instead replace it with robotics, then you have a new class of people that can’t survive under the old contract. Conversely if you can’t exploit labor to make your profit, then you must move to another way to extract max profit and this other way is speculation. So, all the old relationships are breaking down. The rich will get richer; the poor, the underemployed and unemployed will be forced to fight to survive. The old contract will not work for either the working class or the capitalist class.

    This is the process we are going through with the development of labor-replacing technology. But, more importantly, the knowledge which makes this possible also makes possible freedom from the dog-eat-dog, survival-of-the-fittest laws of the animal kingdom. . Humanity has the wherewithal to fully ensure the intellectual, cultural, emotional, and spiritual lives of all. The possibilities of humanity’s realizing its full potential are astonishing…depending if we understand what change is possible, and embrace and facilitate that change.

  13. dude

    Ian, and all–
    Happy holidays. Thanks to Ian for his site and his insight, and all the readers who comment. I can rely on you to provoke thought and usually to depress me, but I am not complaining. I don’t need to feel depressed, but I can surely use it. I mean only that reading thoughts here helps put my daily life and daily routines in perspective. Perspective is a funny thing. It provides scale, appreciation of detail, and the dynamic of time. It’s –well, fascinating.

    I have a young son. I will not , in all likelihood, see him to manhood. I don’t have an insidious illness or anything—I just started a family late in life. I am a lot like my own father who did the same thing. One of the advantages of being an old “old man” is that you indeed have some perspective to pass along and make an impression on a child that many a younger father does not. I risk ruining his natural youthful optimism every day. I have to concentrate on being less curmudgeonly. But the perspective of experience is a valuable teacher in this peculiar time. I think Ian is right about this being a time of American transition (and Chinese, and Russian and Indian), but it goes back more than 30 years. My father who died in 1994 at age 81 was an architect and a teacher of world history at one time. He told me when I was in high school that America was declining and he saw it commence during Ike’s time. He was not saying “because” of Ike or a particular set of policies; he was talking about a larger milieu which I did not fully grasp. I don’t quite buy into the “decline of Roman Empire” analogy, because I don’t think “empire” fits exactly to America’s development. I think we , as a nation, have always been bad at the empire-game.
    The Romans were good at it and quite committed to it.

    I think there are still Americans who are bad at empire and who know we are bad at it. I think we are still struggling to be heard. I have to be optimistic for my son if for no other reason, and I tell him sincerely that much of life–perhaps the most important thing in life–is a matter of belief. We cannot be blind to the facts or the trends, but we still have much to choose.

  14. Celsius 233

    Ian said;
    “Because you aren’t the people who created the empire. You’re their soft heirs. Oh yes, you’re ruthless, but you can’t take a punch.

    And the Chinese and Russians can take punches.

    And because the economics are all against you. You can’t keep gutting your economy this way and expect to be able to fight. This isn’t the US of WWI or WWII.”
    It never was so obvious to me until I moved to Asia (Thailand) how soft we Americans are. Thai’s are tough, Laotians are tough, Burmese are tough along with all the rest and I’m not talking about fighting; I’m talking about living. I hear westerners constantly say how lazy Thai’s are, but that’s just ignorance speaking; I know better and nothing could be farther from the truth.
    But it’s also true about taking a punch; as a society we can’t. I see things exactly as Ian does and have for many, many years; and my gut told me (in the early 90’s) the economic pyramid scheme had to come down. But not being an economist I was sometimes confused when it didn’t crash; but in my saner moments I knew it would and made sure I steered clear of the stupidity.
    I used to feel badly for America/Americans, but can no longer muster any sympathy when time after time they failed to act at every opportunity to stop the insanity and further; they then allowed irrational fear to enable the theft of their constitution, bill of rights and most grievously habeas corpus.

  15. Speaking of guns and no butter, how’s this for irony? Soon, our kids won’t be able to operate the weapons we build for them.

  16. Formerly T-Bear

    Nice observations Ian,

    For the want of an education, sound minds were lost.

    For the want of sound minds, the ability to think was lost.

    For the want of sound thought, beliefs, myths, and fiction dominate.

    For want of substance, a people became blind to their estate.

    For want of estate, the code of Law and Constitution were lost.

    For want of Law and Constitution, the Republic was lost.

    For the want of a Republic, the future was lost.

    For want of a future, a people was lost.

    Will the above sum up your point?

  17. Glen

    Good post, Ian. Unfortunately, I agree. I cannot understand at this point how Obama expects to get to the end of even a four year term without confronting the serious systemic flaws we Americans have have created over the last thirty years.

  18. Celsius 233

    Here’s a link to a video on the Real News network;

    Philip Dine: Unions extremely disappointed with Obama but where is their independence?

    I think it ties in nicely with this thread.

  19. Wow, more food for corvids! Croak!

    But I don’t think matters are quite as bad as all that. “Politically impossible” is pretty much the normal state for the US Senate, which can only be persuaded to act in crisis. The USA has survived it so far, though it has had a high cost. I don’t think Russia is a reliable model: that was the collapse of a command economy. I don’t see how that can happen in the USA: a collapse into regionalism seems much more likely and, while hard, that’s not likely to lead to mass starvation.

    The economics is not predictable. We are coming into, for want of a better word, we may call the post-industrial world, where information technology is a mainstay of manufacturing. Fewer and fewer products will be mass-manufactured–mostly enabling technologies like integrated circuits and display panels. Unfortunately, it appears this new kind of production is going to develop in a depression, out of necessity. I doubt we will enjoy the experience.

    I am dubious that any major power in these days is willing to launch a war of imperial conquest: all recent attempts to start have failed, as in Iraq. Oh, I’ve no doubt there are factions in major countries that dream of it, as witness Rumsfeld and Cheney. The reality, though, is that modern wars cost the victors almost as much as the losers and I don’t see how a new global military imperialism will do anything but fail: the USA, with enormous resources to squander, has not succeeded.

    And climate change is still the game timer.

  20. Lex

    I’ve long agreed with you on the softness of Americans, Ian. You’re right. We can’t take a punch. What i fear is our tendency to draw a gun after taking a punch to prove our manliness.

  21. John B.

    Global bullies. Syracuse/Athenians…when it gets to that point, all bets are off.

  22. anonymous

    Raven said “The USA has survived it so far..”

    Americans keep saying that as a reason not to reform the Senate, not to elect presidents directly, not to reform health insurance, etc. And it has been true (for the survivors) and will be true until it is no longer true. It’s an absurd, lazy and stupid way of thinking. But carry on. If it’s to late to change your fate, there really is no reason to contemplate it if you don’t want to.

  23. S Brennan

    During the Iraq invasion I used this example: “Syracuse/Athenians” there was more to it, it was the proximate cause of the fall…good one John.

  24. One thought, after a bit more sleep: the economic form we have–early 21st century capitalism–is starting to creak very loudly. It will be the work of the next decade, perhaps next two decades, to reinvigorate it or replace it. I don’t think that Western Europe is exempt, though it is coping better: think how the UK followed the USA into Iraq, for instance, think of Thatcher, Sarkozy, and Merkel.

  25. S Brennan

    With all the American bashing going on here, let’s be clear, there sizable pockets of people are already living third world conditions.

    The media is completely saturated with propaganda at every level.

    Public education is a shell of it’s former self.

    Good bootstrapping jobs are rare…and held out as plums for the connected.

    When we are talking about Americans being soft and unwilling, we are talking about the ruling class, it’s minions and the faltering middle class, which are the top two quintiles…in other words, the people we see. There are a lot of people you don’t “see” even though they’re right in front of you.

    The vast majority of people want change, they thought they voted for it, they didn’t know that the “smart people” they knew had been misinformed. A-list [Blog-go-sphere] cheap whores that they are, take a bow here.

  26. How can you imagine that there would ever be a war between China and the US? They own us. At the first sign of trouble China will call the mortgage.

    You can’t go to war if you can’t make payroll.

  27. jo6pac

    You can’t go to war if you can’t make payroll.

    dcblogger thanks for the laugh, sad but true.

    Formerly T-Bear thanks that pretty much covers it.

  28. Oaktown Girl

    Well, the one constant we can continue to count on is that no matter how bad things get, we will still be riddled with propaganda about how much better it is here than anywhere else, and how lucky we are to live here in the good ol’ U.S.A.

    Guaranteed, the corporate media will still be pumping that jingoistic crap at us even as we are forcefully herded by the Police State into prison camps (which will probably be called something like “safety zones”) for our own “protection”.

  29. John B.

    Boy, that’s the truth Oaktown Girl. In my local paper letters to the editor are always talking about the “greatest health care system in the world” and how we should be thankful for what we have, etc….This is of course emblematic of our hosts main points, but people keep believing this shit without factual knowledge making any kind of dent in thier worldview and experience. You get the feeling that everything would fall apart for them if anything was able to penetrate the belief that America in Year 233 was anything other than the last hope for mankind…

  30. BC Nurse Prof

    I do think that there are elements here that fit with the Russian situation in the 1990’s. Dimitri Orlov has written very detailed comparisons. He’s here: and James Howard Kunstler gets another bit of this right. He’s here: with a new blog post every Monday morning.

    The part that Kunstler gets right speaks to what you’ve written, tjfxh. These nice “sustainable” communities will be doing well until people figure out they contain food and energy for the taking. Collapse will be ugly, as it always is. Think “The Road.” I’ve just recently come to this realization after thinking (as a lot of progressives did) that collapse would bring us back to some romantic rural sustainable existence in which we had learned all our lessons and humbly fix the world. It ain’t gonna be anything like that.

    There are other ways. Did you read “Three Cups of Tea”? Those are the people who will survive this. The ones in New Guinea and in rural China and in the highlands of South America, if the new extremely drug resistant TB doesn’t go global (

    Leave the U.S. Didn’t our ancestors, poor as they were, leave to go somewhere else? Somewhere where they could start a new life? Or are you too suckered into the patriotism propaganda? Too much to lose, eh? Sorry to hear that. My ancestors arrived with nothing. But they were tough. Like Laos, like Thailand. That kind of tough. They are my heroes. I left and I’m glad.

  31. Celsius 233

    @ BC Nurse Prof;
    “Too much to lose, eh? Sorry to hear that.”

    I’m convinced that’s the reason; and like swimming with an anchor, they’ll go down.

  32. someofparts

    If reading Ian were not enough to persuade me of the utter dysfunction of U.S. public administration, watching The Wire would have done the job in depressing detail. The second season, where they show what was done to the jobs and unions at the port, is going to be hard to watch again until I can figure out how to do it without crying my eyes out all the way through.

    I resemble some other commenters above in being, probably, too old and broke to escape. Also appreciate the harsh justice of being reduced to circumstances Americans have been all too comfortable inflicting on others for so long. I try to prepare and anticipate, but it may prove pointless when the bad times start in earnest.

    But meanwhile, all the people around me are proving Ian prophetic. Without exception, every one of them is either making believe things will turn around or ranting about the need to do more of the very things that are causing the problem. The fact that one’s fellow citizens are to be feared and avoided in a crisis kind of shows how far the rot has gone. Maybe a community made up of folks who won’t help each other in a crisis must expect to be wiped out.

    Personally I don’t think it’s just stupidity. I think it is bad sour little hearts. They don’t WANT to know what’s happening. It makes them get mad and stamp their little feet if they are expected to make an effort to have a clue.

    Time to change the name of the place to reflect who lives here. Instead of USA, it’s time to switch to United States of WATB.
    Funny thing is, I was reading a bit of Emma Goldman this weekend, and that is what she called the American middle class even back then – babies, spoiled babies.

  33. someofparts

    “When we are talking about Americans being soft and unwilling, we are talking about the ruling class, it’s minions and the faltering middle class, which are the top two quintiles…in other words, the people we see. There are a lot of people you don’t “see” even though they’re right in front of you.”

    Thankyou. I was coming back to post the same thing. The world me and those I know inhabit includes features like no health care, no jobs, remote bedroom suburbs with no bus service anymore, bare bones survival food, houses in disrepair we can’t afford to fix, periods of homelessness, education priced out of reach and schools so dangerous we fear sending our children to them. Crime is also pretty much a daily thing – burglary, vandalism, mugging at gunpoint – all are routine where my friends and I live. The house I used to own was burglarized six times, my car was vandalized twice and some teenagers even put a gun to my face while I stood in my own driveway, just so they could steal a couple of CDs.

    Fortunately, by working two full time jobs, I can almost afford to live in the paradise of opportunity described in this paragraph. Short of outright starving, I wonder how much tougher me and my friends are supposed to get.

  34. Ian Welsh

    The lower class is functionally soft. In the 1890’s through 30’s the working class in America was willing to take on cops and the military, in organized action.

    Could be Americans of that class are now just beaten down too much, or too disorganized, and could be it will change, but for now…

  35. When people are ready to take on cops and the military, they’re not just tough – they’re desperate. Are people desperate yet? I doubt enough of them are.

  36. K_L_Carten

    Do not be too surprised about people being desperate. I was looking at Feb’s revised unemployment numbers, I live in rural West Tn. The county I live in was at a mere 16.9 and the county next to us was revised to 28.3. The state forgot to revise up all of the counties at the end of the table. Why am I not surprised, had to check a few times to make sure I did not miss anything. What do you bet that the numbers will be announced will be the number that are not accurate on the local news.

    There were 11 counties over 20 percent in this state, you can not tell me these people are not desperate. The only thing I hear on the news is another meth lab being found, I have been keeping track this week, its been the 7th, I guess drugs must be the only jobs around here. To me that sounds pretty damn desperate, just wait when the unemployment benefits tapers off, and there are no more service jobs in these small rural towns, what is left but crime, and isn’t that the opposite of law abiding citizens.

    I guess the drugs are what the moon shiners were during the 1920’s and 1930’s. I sure do not see any soft, lazy Americans in my town, I see a lot of people struggling, and a lot of people planting gardens that never did so before.

    I would also like to comment about the labor movement in this country, it was not just a few decades, it was a long hard struggle. Both of my great great grandfather’s were boilermakers, and they fought for every single thing. It was not only about wages, it was about safety standards. My grandfathers in the 50’s were still fighting for fair wages, decent health care and most of all work place safety. My dad did during the 70’s and 80’s and I did too, we all were union, and we all fought to make ALL workers have a better standard of living, even if most of them did not even realized that when they bashed unions.

  37. Cloud

    The lower half is both “soft”, and desperate and overworked and abused at the same time. That’s the tragedy. 21st century health has a huge effect – we’re poisoned from the womb by bisphenol-A and hydrogenated corn product and high fructose corn syrup and television. School is theater of the absurd, as aptly described way back in the 80s by Matt Groening in his Life in Hell. Work tends to be soul-crushing telemarketing-type rubbish when you can get it.

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