Monday, October 27, 2008

What we will need is a new WPA.

October 27, 2008
Easthampton Burning?
James Howard Kunstler

...As we discover ourselves to be a much poorer nation, one of my correspondents put it: "the bogus risk-swapping economy must be replaced by a net value-added economy." That means actually making things, growing things, and rebuilding things, and that can only begin to happen if we do not stupidly sucker ourselves into a war with other nations who are liable to be extremely ticked off at us for destroying the global economy, but also competing with us for a dwindling supply of resources that are not equitably distributed around the world.

This means especially oil. I hope you're enjoying the temporarily cheap prices at the gas pumps, because this is purely a function of the compressive deleveraging that is going on right now, as contracts and positions held in energy markets are being dumped by everybody and his uncle to raise cash to meet margin calls. My guess is that oil and its byproducts will become much more difficult to get in the months ahead -- not just more expensive, but literally not available. The current falling price of oil has little to do with the real supply and demand fundamentals. It's simply a function of the markets being in near-total disarray. We're running on current inventory, and running it down. In the background, all kinds of peculiar and terrible things are happening. The entire apparatus of allocation and distribution is being thrown out of whack. The smaller tanker operations are going bankrupt. The "less-developed" nations are heading back to the 17th-century level of daily life without electricity...

...The bottom line of all this is that we in the US could find ourselves in a situation of shortages, hoarding, and rationing. This would pretty much kill off whatever remains of the previous shuck-and-jive economy -- hamburger sales, theme park visits, Nascar weekends -- while it makes obvious the failures of our suburban living arrangements (and drives the value of housing there closer to zero).

The new president will have to be Franklin Roosevelt on steroids, with some Mahatma Gandhi and Florence Nightingale thrown in. My pet project of restoring the American passenger railroad system might seem pretty minor in the face of all this, but it's at least a place to start that will accomplish several things: allow people and things to get places without cars and trucks; put many thousands of people to work at many levels doing something of direct, practical value; and be a small step in rebuilding confidence that we are a society capable of accomplishing something.

Kunstler doesn't say this in so many words, but these projects are going to have to be done, and not by private contractors who do more swindling and inflating their costs than they do actual work, all the while employing illegal aliens and pocketing the difference. We need a new WPA - just like we had before. We need new high speed passenger rail tracks between major cities that are separate from freight shipping lines. We need short-line commuter rails between the satellite towns of large cities, and we need electric streetcars and trolleys to every neighborhood, along with subways and inter-urbans. None of this can be done now at market rates - government income is crashing and burning at the same rate as everybody elses. These projects can only be done at the cost of materials and a reasonable but not inflated pay for American citizen labourers if they're going to have any real benefit to us and not become expensive boondoggles.

It's simply not true that private enterprise can do everything cheaper and better - oh, they can do the cheaper, but the better? Never. We need European style rail and they have developed and extended their bullet and high-speed lines and commuter lines to form a fast and efficient Eurorail system that works for everyone, is reasonably costs, and didn't bankrupt any country's economy to get them done. Our government has been fleeced by private contractors too much and for too long to trust them any longer.

Europe’s Transportation System
Inclusive, Efficient, And Accessible (part II)
By Jim RePass
Publisher, Destination:Freedom
October 27th, 2008

Part one was in last week's journal, part three will be next week.

...What I found, from Berlin to Switzerland to Paris and back, over an eight-day period that started with a visit to the world’s largest trade show for railroad equipment at Berlin Messe, was a smoothly-functioning and integrated transportation system, not just a rail system, that works well because it was planned to work well, and because the Europeans have spent the money necessary --- by taxing themselves --- to create a robust, redundant system that can handle anomalies and go around problems, without missing a beat...

There's no reason we couldn't have done this - except for shortsightedness and self-centeredness in presuming that the world has an obligation to continue to let the US use far more per capita natural resources than everybody else - in the form of private automobiles at multiple vehicles per household. This simply cannot go on, either ecologically or economically. But while Europe has been steadily developing their rail and mass transit systems, we acted like the party could go on forever.

Now the party has come to a screeching halt. And for that, too, we have only ourselves to blame, living above our means and counting on gambling with our money and ponzi schemes to stay afloat. It couldn't last, class - it didn't last and it won't last. That paradigm has failed, and we refused to see it coming and prepare for it.

And the result is going to be a lot of anger and probably a lot of retaliation, too. Easthampton burning? I hope not, but I'm not prepared to bet it wont.

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