Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Our world is finite, in case you hadn't noticed.

As I read this article on the Oil Drum yesterday, I couldn't help but think of a discussion I had with a political science professor a couple of years ago. That professor had us reading a textbook that was so gung-ho for globalism that it sounded positively syrupy.

This professor extolled all the supposed "virtues" of globalism to the class, while neglecting to mention the drawbacks. So I mentioned them, namely falling wages, exploitation of the third world workers by greedy unscrupulous CEO's, devastation of the environment in said countries by said CEO's. I pointed out that we can't all make money "taking in each other's laundry" as the old midrash goes, and insisted that unless we are making products with value, our economy is based on nothing. I also mentioned that the whole idea of "economies of scale" for international companies peters out at some point, just like it does for national companies - because even if your market is the whole world, it's still a closed system. There are only so many people, and they only need so many widgets and what-nots.

My comments were not greeted warmly, to say the least.

But I stand here vindicated today, as it becomes increasingly obvious that the whole "globalism" paradigm was built on transient economic conditions instead of permanent ones, and the lofty promises of globalism pale in comparison to the benefits of self-sufficiency and localism.

The transient conditions were cheap energy for international transportation, cooperation from mother nature in the form of stable climate conditions for the areas that supposedly have "comparative advantage" in agriculture or production of certain natural products, and acceptance of the idea that self-sufficiency is bad.

Unfortunately, the reality is:

A. Peak Oil.
B. Climate Change.
C. A belated recognition that depending on ambivalent or even hostile foreigners for your necessities of life doesn't make you the sharpest tack in the box.

The drawbacks of globalism are hidden somewhat - wage leveling and benefit leveling come to mind. It's not immediately obvious why you aren't getting annual raises any more, or why your benefits are slowly but surely disappearing. The reason is that companies aren't willing to pay you those things anymore when they can simply move their operations to places where people are ecstatic to get fifty cents or a dollar an hour for your job. But the transition is slow, so the average guy is unaware of how much his wages have been leveled in a given year. Only over a fairly long period of time does it become evident, and we haven't had that much time pass. People do have some vague idea that their money doesn't go as far as it used to, but they're not sure why.

It's also not obvious until a crisis occurs that there aren't any local or even national manufacturers of something you need until you need it and can't get it. Since we haven't yet suffered a severe recession or depression due to our economic mismanagement, most people aren't alarmed by the fact that they can no longer "Buy American" even if they try to do so. And even if they do notice, they don't understand the implications.

But all that is about to change, and not for the better. I urge you to read up on Peak Oil and educate yourselves about the reality of our precarious position we have placed ourselves in by "outsourcing" all of our manufacturing and relying on imported energy to run what few productive businesses we do have. We are in big trouble, class, but most people won't understand that until they can't get to the store by car, and when they do get there, there's nothing there for them to buy - no food, no clothes, no shoes, no household goods, no nothing.

Alarmism! you say. Go ahead. Say it. Convince yourselves that nothing is wrong. It will be a little while yet before reality bites you in your exalted posterior. I'll wait.

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