Monday, November 10, 2008

The architect of our future.

Not for the delicate of disposition, Jim writes plainly about the dilemma facing us as our Culture collapses and we stand on the brink of having to create a new one.

James Howard Kunstler
November 10, 2008
Presto Change-o

...The current occupant of the White House, however, has sedulously prepared for his successor the biggest [bleep] sandwich the world has ever seen, and there is naturally some concern that Mr. Obama might choke on it. The dilemma is essentially this: the consumer economy we all knew and loved has died. There will be pressure from nearly every quarter to keep it hooked up to the costly life support machines even though it is dead. A different economy is waiting to be born, but it is nothing like the one that has died. The economy-to-come is one of rigor and austerity. It is not the kind of thing that a nation of overfed clowns is used to. Do we even have a prayer of getting to it, or are we going to squander our dwindling resources on life support for something that is already dead?

Jewish communities are facing the same dilemma - the ways we have done things in the past, in lock-step with broader Western Culture and Economics, cannot continue. But we have not yet embraced that truth - instead we are clinging to a false and failing paradigm of "something for nothing," which are Ravs are pushing in spite of all evidence to the contrary. Instead of breaking away from the selfishness and consumerist Western Culture, we continue to be parasites on it, ignoring both our own best interests and those of our community.

...A case in point: the car industry. The Big Three, all functionally bankrupt, are now lined up for bail-outs from the treasury's bottomless checking account. Personally, I believe the age of Happy Motoring is over. Many Americans have already bought their last car -- they just don't it yet. The current low-ish price of oil is a total fake-out, having to do much more with asset-dumping in the paper markets than the true resource supply-demand equation. Most of the world (the media for sure) has ignored preliminary leaks from the International Energy Agency's (IEA) forthcoming report which forecasts global oil depletion to be 9.1 percent in 2009. This is a staggering figure, very likely to offset whatever slack we see in global demand from the worldwide economic crisis. In fact, the global oil markets are poised for the most severe dislocations ever seen, meaning it's a toss-up what happens first in the USA: a major leg back up in oil prices, or shortages, hoarding, and rationing.

But we continue to ignore the facts, and pour money into unsustainable paradigms such as private schools and women sold into slavery to the goyim, both miles away from home and no thought to how this will work when private automobiles are not an option due to unaffordability of the vehicle itself, inability to obtain loans for it, or the unavailability of fuel. Instead of ourganizing our communities to be self-sufficient, we are more dependent than ever upon outside Western Culture to sustain us.

...For my money (literally) there are only two main reasons that any portion of the car industry should be rescued at the present time: one, because we need somebody to manufacture engines for military vehicles, and two, because we need somebody to manufacture rolling stock for the revival in passenger railroad service that will have to be a centerpiece of the future economy if we want to remain a civilized nation.

I agree strongly with this statement - not so much the military aspect, though I recognize it is naive in the extreme to think we can do without military spending - but particularly the idea that US plants that now manufacture private automobiles should immediately begin retooling to produce rail cars, both passenger and freight (not to mention making the rails themselves), and others should retool to make electric trolleys, subway cars, electric streetcars, electric buses, and yes, electric cars, and even three-wheel and other useful model bicycles with space for hauling groceries and other shopping.

We don't need to lose any more manufacturing - we simply need to redirect manufacturing to meet the needs of the new paradigm which removes emphasis from private automobiles and places it instead of neighborhood, local, metropolitan, regional, state, and interstate mass transit.

...Even the progressive factions of the public may be in for much more "change" than they bargained for. The global economy as we knew it is finished (despite British PM Gordon Brown's fatuous suggestion that we are ready to formalize it). The world is about to lose its "flatness" (sorry Tom Friedman) and get much rounder. For one thing, the racket of American "consumers" gobbling up the output of Asian factories in exchange for paper promises is over. For the moment, the Chinese are struggling with epic factory closures with the sudden prospect of a restive lumpen-proletariet. The situation there is bound to get worse. Before long, these broke-and-hungry masses may actually challenge the present government. In the meantime, there's no telling what the (unelected) Chinese government might do either to keep itself in power, or genuinely defend its country's perceived economic interests. One thing is self-evident: we are not returning to the old racket of toys-for-treasury-bills. One thing China might do in economic self-defense is shed whatever US dollar-denominated paper is moldering in their vaults before it becomes valueless altogether.

The press has given very little attention to this problem, but it's symptomatic of the wider failing of the false globalization paradigm in general. The globalization scam was predicated upon and cannot survive without cheap inter-continental fuel and transportation, which it is fast loosing. China's massive manufacturing economy is large enough to relocalize (or re-regionalize) itself. Ours, however, has basically been destroyed. We are in deep trouble, but most people do not yet realize it.

...As global trade relations wither, and they will, the US will be thrust back on its own devices, at the same time that oil resources grow punishingly scarce. Mr. Obama will have to contend with the necessary radical reform of all the activities necessary for daily life here. Near the top of the list -- invisible to most of the public so far -- will be the question of how we produce the food we need. Industrial farming is done, just as suburbia is toast. Mr. Obama will have to apply plenty of [personally involved]-time to the first stages of negotiating this bottleneck. I don't even know what he can do policy-wise, though he can certainly make it plain to the public that we have to grow more of our food close to home and do it with fewer engines and fewer oil-based soil supplements. It is a problem of such surpassing difficulty that it was not even close to being in the election arena. The transition will probably occur by means of "emergence." Self-evident necessity will prompt different behavior and different ways of doing things. Sooner or later, the new arrangements will self-organize -- if we don't squander resources defending an unsustainable status quo. One thing we can certainly predict is that growing our food will require more human labor and attention -- meaning there will be plenty of work for people currently losing their jobs at The Footlocker and Arby's, but it's far from certain whether they will be happy in their new vocations.

Many of us have seen this coming for quite some time, and tried, without success, to galvanize our communities to make a strenuous push for public and home gardening and to relocalize the production of everyday household goods. So far, those warnings have fallen on deaf ears, precisely because (and this is especially true of Jewish communities) we feel we are too good for honest manual labour.

...We're going to have to resume making things in the USA again, too, probably at a more modest scale, and probably fewer things than we are used to. We have no idea yet how this is going to happen. Like agriculture, manufacturing culture may have to return, if at all, emergently, as individuals and communities see opportunity in advantages like proximity to water-power and water transport. My guess is that corporate enterprise as we have known it -- at the continental and global scale -- is done for. I would not bet on any of the Fortune 500 carrying on the manufacturing work of the future using the plants-and-equipment that are familiar to them. The manufacturing of the future may be more like cottage industry than Proctor and Gamble. Yet, obviously, there will be tremendous efforts to prop up failing corporate enterprise and prevent natural bankruptcies from occurring.

That effort will waste a tremendous amount of our already scarce and falling monetary resources, although I have certainly tried to make it plain that we should begin putting our resources into sustainable and re-localized self-sufficient economic activities instead of propping up the Robber Barons at Wally-wort. But again, I don't see any evidence that anyone is actually taking the problem seriously.

... Similarly, the retail part of the economy. Many observers think that Wal-Mart and its clones are immune to the larger forces swirling around us. Just because many cash-strapped people are hunting for bargains at WalMart these days does not insure the survival of the Big Box model very far into the future. In fact, in every trend we can see -- from the oil markets to events in China to the impoverishment of the US working class to the coming crisis in truck transport -- you can easily discern fatal weaknesses in this model. Local retail (and its support structures) is coming back. We just don't know how, yet, and we don't know how much capital and effort will be squandered trying to rescue WalMart, when the time comes. But the imperative re-scaling of commerce in America also represents huge opportunities for young people to get into their own businesses.

Here I think Kunstler is a wee bit off the mark - it won't be young people per se but rather the return of family businesses that will be the new economic engine of our households and communities.

...Mr. Obama will preside over the potential restructuring of all our systems, some of them in ways he and his supporters have not imagined. We haven't begun to see where fate will take higher education, but my guess is that it will no longer be a "consumer" activity, and that the hypertrophied land-grant diploma mills will have to to shrink or die as state financial support withers away, and all sorts of unnecessary professions from "public relations" to "marketing" cease to require certified graduates. The luxurious central high schools, utterly addicted to their yellow school bus fleets, will be left as a problem for the states and municipalities. I don't believe they can be rescued, and they are already failing in many other ways, not least, educating and properly socializing young humans.

Centralized schooling has been a bane not just to wider American Culture but to Jewish Culture as well. Kids are taught to disrespect the traditions and interpretations of their ancestors and are instead instilled with a cookie-cutter intolerant mentality that has destroyed wide swaths of our predecessors creative and inventive and adaptable means of fulfilling halacha while at the same time providing decent jobs and economic sustainability to our communities. Those older patters are going to have to be restored, which will be difficult for parents to do since the Ravs have taken away children's respect for their parents and their own common sense and instead replaced it with a slavish idol-worship of the Ravs and their stringencies-du-jour.

The tuition crisis, however, is just the tip of the financial pendulum that will swing people back to home-schooling and neighborhood-schooling (home school cooperatives) away from the centralized influences of the Ravs. People can simply no longer afford private school tuition, and there's nothing anybody can do about it, especially since a Democratic administration will be the last one on earth to support school vouchers and private education. He will never agree to taking money away from the Teacher's Unions and the Public School system - rather they will try and force more people into it, to take resources away from private schooling.

...In the months just ahead, Mr. Obama will certainly be swamped with straight-ahead cash problems in every area of American life, from the foundering pension funds to the bankrupt state treasuries to the beggaring corporations to the starkly dispossessed and hungry masses of the jobless and re-poed. I wasn't kidding when I came up with the label, "the long emergency," to describe the storm that we are heading into, along with Mr. Obama. Of course, the current president -- and Mr. Obama has been shrewd to point out there is only one president in office at a time --has more than two months to wreak additional havoc in the financial system. Right now, he's asking Mr. O, " you want fries with that sandwich I made for you?

It should be clear to us that waiting around for some economic benefit to trickle-down to us from the bailout of the Robber Barons is a waste of time. We have to be the architect of our own future. And we have to start now - indeed, we should have started already.

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