Sunday, April 29, 2012

What If A Collapse Happened And Nobody Noticed?

Every once and awhile I'll be listening to a podcast with one or the other writers specializing on the subject of Peak Oil or collapse and the subject of timetables will come up. When will the collapse finally be here, the callers ask insistently, almost pleadingly, so that they can finally justify their investments in freeze-dried foods, water purification tablets and solid gold coins. Inevitably the guest will demur, and speak more in general terms. But I'm going to be the first pundit to go out on the limb and assign a timeline for the collapse. Spread it far and wide, and let's see just how good my predictive powers are. Are you ready? Here it is:

Right now.

What do they think a collapse is supposed to look like? It seems people just cannot just cannot get past the "Zombie Apocalypse" theory of collapse. They imagine hordes of disease-ridden folks dressed in rags stumbling around and fighting over cans of petrol and stripping cans of food from shelves. That's not what collapse looks like. It never has been. In fact, there's very little evidence that a Zombie Apocalypse style collapse ever occurred in the historical record. Instead we see subtle patterns of abandonment and decay that unfold over long periods of time. Big projects stop. Population thins. Trade routes shrink and people revert to barter. Things get simpler and more local. Culture coarsens. High art stagnates. People disperse. Expectations are adjusted downward. Investments are no longer made in the future and previous investments are cannibalized just to maintain the status quo. Extend and pretend is hardly a recent invention.

No, what happens in a collapse is very much more subtle than a Zombie Apocalypse. Things tend to look pretty normal for the following reasons:

1.) People and Institutions are resistant to change.
2.) The system has a formidable array of resources to preserve the status quo.
3.) Sheer momentum.
4.) Creeping Normalcy
5.) Denial

This is how history says collapses go down, not with a bang, but with a whimper. Based on recent archaeology, it seems this is how the Roman collapse unfolded was well. Although images of pillaging barbarians looting burning cities sticks in people's imaginations when they think of the fall of the Roman Empire, this was not the experience for most people according to recent scholarship. Big events tended to come down to us in the written record, but for ordinary people, it probably seemed much less dramatic. Yes, there were some famines and plagues, as there had always been. The population declined, but there were no apocalyptic battles or mass starvation. Many of the cities appear to have been continually inhabited. There were no mass graves, ruined cities or signs of malnutrition found in excavations. Most people who survived the plagues lived right through the transition from Classical Antiquity to Late Antiquity to the Medieval period with remarkable continuity, just a change of institutions and expectations. But something clearly was happening, because we know it from history. Buildings got plainer. Citizens got poorer. Trade routes shrank. Economies became local. Lawlessness increased. The old Roman Empire had been around since far before anyone could remember, and as it broke down more and more and failed to do things it had once done easily, it must have seen to some people like the world was collapsing in on them. It wasn't, but something was happening. Much depended on who you were, where you were, what your expectations were, and how much you had invested in the status quo, both mentally and in terms of status and resources.

What brought this thought about was reading the heartbreaking article: Suicides in Greece increase 40%

And I remembered a comment I head from Dmitry Orlov in an interview about how much of his high school class were now dead. Yet there were no headlines and there was never any official crisis or emergency. They did not die in gunfights over scraps of food like in The Road. Rather, more quotidian things like alcoholism, unemployment, suicide, homelessness, exposure, lack of medications and ordinary sicknesses like bronchitis and pneumonia took their lives.  Russia's life expectancy fell dramatically. It's birth rate declined. Public health fell apart. Suicide rates went up. The population shrank. Entire towns became abandoned. In post-collapse Russia there was a slow die-off that occurred outside of the daily headlines that no one seemed to notice. They were ground down slowly by day-to-day reduction in the standard of living, a million little tragedies that, like pixels in an image, looked like nothing until the focus was pulled back.

And right now the entire continent of Europe is looking an awful lot like post-collapse Russia:
The savage cuts to Greece's health service budget have led to a sharp rise in HIV/Aids and malaria in the beleaguered nation, said a leading aid organisation on Thursday.

The incidence of HIV/Aids among intravenous drug users in central Athens soared by 1,250% in the first 10 months of 2011 compared with the same period the previous year, according to the head of Médecins sans Frontières Greece, while malaria is becoming endemic in the south for the first time since the rule of the colonels, which ended in the 1970s.

Reveka Papadopoulos said that following health service cuts, including heavy job losses and a 40% reduction in funding for hospitals, Greek social services were "under very severe strain, if not in a state of breakdown. What we are seeing are very clear indicators of a system that cannot cope". The heavy, horizontal and "blind" budget cuts coincided last year with a 24% increase in demand for hospital services, she said, "largely because people could simply no longer afford private healthcare. The entire system is deteriorating".
Greece on the breadline: HIV and malaria make a comeback

Is that not a die-off? What would a collapse look like? What should a collapse look like? Zombies? Mad Max? Or would it look like the following statistics from this article:
In Greece, we now have record unemployment, which includes the majority of young workers. Homelessness is up 20 percent, with soup kitchens in Athens reporting record demand, and the usually low suicide rate having doubled.

Portugal has complied completely with the austerity demands it accepted for its bailout deal, but its debt is growing and its economy is shrinking, its unemployment rate continues to reach new heights, there is a crisis in medical care, and a 40 percent rise in emigration, with the Portuguese government acknowledging its own failure by actually encouraging its citizenry to leave.

In Spain, austerity has  resulted in falling industrial output and deepening debt, with record unemployment and a stunning rate of 50 percent youth unemployment. And the Spanish government's incomprehensible response is to impose even more crushing austerity.

Ireland has fallen back into recession as austerity has led to falling economic output. A better future is being sacrificed, as young workers look for work abroad, "generation emigration" expected to number 75,000 this year.

The success of Italy's wealthy technocrat government was concisely summarized in similar terms:

        Italy's austerity measures are stunting activity in the euro-zone's third-largest economy, recent budget and economic data show, suggesting the steps are backfiring.

Italy's industrial production is falling while its rate of unemployment is at its highest in more than a decade, and its priceless cultural heritage is literally crumbling. But the wealthy technocrats themselves are ensuring that they they don't have to share the suffering.

Even in the Eurozone's stronger economies, such as Holland, austerity is hurting the economy, people, and culture, and risks backfiring even more.

The austerity program of French President Nicolas Sarkozy has led to a stagnant economy, with ten consecutive months of rising unemployment and factory output stalled and business confidence in decline.

Even economic powerhouse Germany, while taking advantage of the new flood of migrant workers fleeing Europe's weaker economies, is facing an austerity backlash.

Outside the Eurozone, the austerity program imposed on Britain by the relentlessly mendacious Cameron government has resulted in an economy that keeps shrinking, with the OECD saying it is back in recession, with unemployment soaring, and the overall brunt being borne by the elderly and minorities and the very young. An additional hundred thousand are predicted to be out of work by autumn.
Greece appears to be just the dress rehearsal for the rest of the world. And Japan has been experiencing diminished expectations, lower wages, deflation and declining birthrates since 1989. And I don't think I need to restate conditions in the United States: municipal bankruptcies, school closings, foreclosures, blackouts, roads being turned back into gravel, etc. And conditions are continuing to deteriorate. See this:
So many corporate-owned politicians in Washington these days seem to be going out of their way to work side by side with the Grim Reaper. They declare unnecessary wars. They tax us (not themselves) right down to the bone. They steal all our safety nets in order to have more money to add to THEIR safety nets. They bust our unions, steal our pension plans, enable Wall Street to invent pyramid schemes that ruin our economy, encourage big health insurance companies to cut us loose just when we need them the most, and allow Monsanto to poison our food, mutilate our seed stock and kill off our bees.

In America, death seems to be coming earlier and earlier to those who vote.

And now GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney has come up with an even more sure-fire plan to help out his new BFF, the Grim Reaper. Now Romney wants to not only eliminate most U.S. housing subsidies, he wants to eliminate the entire department of Housing and Urban Renewal as well. That will certainly speed up the Grim Reaper’s efforts for sure.

According to Forbes magazine, “In a closed-door Florida fundraiser for donors tonight, Mitt Romney offered a rare glimpse into his policy plans if elected President. And, as NBC reports, he got quite trigger-happy.”

According to TruthOut, “Romney’s plan to eliminate HUD, assuming he didn’t shuffle its programs to other departments, would bring an end to critical programs like Section 8 housing vouchers and community development block grants. And eliminating housing assistance is even more problematic given the disproportionate percentage of veterans in the homeless population.”

But what does Romney’s latest brilliant idea actually mean in terms of you and me? It means once again that the rich continue to get richer and live longer while the rest of us just conveniently die off too soon — because homeless people have a lot shorter life span than folks happily housed in the Hamptons.

You know that senior housing complex in your town where seniors now get a rent break courtesy of HUD? That will be gone. And without HUD, frail and ailing seniors will soon be wandering the streets of your town, dying in alleyways and hogging up all the space in your cemeteries.

You know those low-income “housing projects” on the other side of your town where all the poor people now live? Those will be gone too. Too bad for them. And now desperate poor folks will be wandering around in your part of town, homeless too. And did I already mention that they will be desperate?

And all those homeless vets? There will be a lot more of them now — also wandering around your city or town.

Remember back in the 1970s when Reagan shut down all those mental institutions and suddenly we had all sorts of crazy people wandering around, hopefully taking their meds but probably not? And if Romney’s latest hot new scheme takes hold, even more of them will be back on your streets.

And physically handicapped people will have no place to live either. They too will be wandering around, trying to elude the Grim Reaper.

And the number of homeless children will dramatically increase. A lot more little kids will be living in cars — if they’re lucky.

And all of these homeless people, millions of them, will be pouring into the streets of your city or town, herded in your direction by both corporate-owned politicians in Washington and the Grim Reaper himself — who also will have a sharp eye out for YOU.
Romney’s new housing policy: Offering the Grim Reaper a big helping hand (FireDogLake)

And this: Austerity In America: 22 Signs That It Is Already Here And That It Is Going To Be Very Painful (Economic Collapse Blog)

This is what a collapse really looks like: The poorest and most vulnerable die first, out of sight, and everyone else just does what they can to survive. Peoples' priorities change: they concentrate on getting by from day-to-day rather than planning for the future. They stop getting married. They have less children or none at all. They live for today. They work harder for less. Taxes go up even as basic services are cut. Long term unemployment has been conclusively linked to greater mortality and susceptibility to illness, physical and mental. Would many of these people not still be alive today if were not for austerity measures and declining middle class opportunity?  Isn't that a die-off? It's been said that having children is a referendum on the future. Based on global birth rates, I think the human race is collectively registering a vote of "no confidence."

Picture the ruin porn of decaying Detroit's vacant buildings, empty fields, shuttered factories, abandoned houses, crumbling overpasses, bursting water mains, rusting cars, and encroaching wilderness. Does this not look like collapse to you? If this had happened over a span of one or two years, would we even have any trouble of recognizing it as such? If you asked people twenty or thirty years ago what a global economic collapse would look like, would they not describe something very similar to what we are now witnessing? Why don't we recognize it? Because it is happening too slowly? Because we believe things will "get back to normal?" What are we waiting for, a sign from heaven?

Who you are and where you are effects this dramatically too. Your position on the hierarchy determines how well insulated you are from collapse. Are you poor already? (not middle class, everyone is middle class) Then you probably won't notice as much difference. Are you filthy rich? (if you're reading this, I doubt it) Then you have enough power to preserve your wealth or enhance it for a while (at our expense, of course). If you are in the technocratic caste that serves global corporate interests, have the privilege of an advanced education, work in certain select industries, have a vast inheritance, or are just plain lucky; you can probably safely hold on to your lifestyle for a long time to come. Your children won't be so lucky, though. For those people who wonder why they don't feel like they are in a collapse, please consider, have you gotten a raise lately? What's your home worth? Has your rent gone up? Taxes and fees? Some people may answer positively to these questions, of course, but that number has a funny way of shrinking over time.

If you live in a big city it also might be easier to get by. Cities have more diverse industries and higher tax bases,  There is more wealth in cites, more social momentum, and more resources to buffer the negative effects of a downturn. For those with social connections closest to the levers of power and the imperial courts, they can manipulate the system to keep the swag coming from their enclaves in Manhattan, Orange Country, suburban D.C., and the Hamptons. Just as in the Roman collapse where the cities were bulwarks of wealth, culture and commerce while countryside became depopulated, rural areas will be hardest hit. Indeed, rural towns that were dependent upon one major industry like farming or steel manufacturing have already become ghost towns, and much of rural America is already a lawless region with little infrastructure; a battleground for drug gangs dotted with marijuana plantations and meth labs.

We have a hard time imagining that in the midst of a collapse everything would seem so normal. That day-to-day life would go one for most of us, seemingly unaffected, and that only after vast stretches of time had passed would we notice anything different. That many of us could hold on to our modern conveniences and familiar things. That many people wouldn't even notice what's going on at all. Short of a plague situation, there are not usually piles of bodies during a collapse. Most people don't die. Here's what really happens: People move in with relatives. They barter services. They defer health care. They stop going to school. They sell off their possessions. They go on the dole, if they can. They stop caring. You see people happy to have food and warmth rather than the latest consumer toy. You see entire households supported by one breadwinner. You see homeless shelters and soup kitchens fill up and food banks empty out. You see people hanging out on streetcorners during the day and living in tents. That's what a collapse looks like. Sound familiar? In fact, much of the world never moved from this mode of  existence in the first place. Even during the worst historical collapses people still ate good food, listened to music, used the latest technology, and drank beer and wine with friends on warm summer evenings.

So then why is the collapse occurring? Is it all about debt, as we've been led to believe? Or is it about something else?

Imagine if you were the leader of one of the world's major industrial nations, with millions of people, economies worth trillions, and huge armies at your command. Now imagine that your top generals and admirals have briefed you and told you that the fundamental substances underlying modern industrial civilization were running out. That there would be shortages. Scarcity.  Resource wars. Dwindling food supplies. Decreased industrial output. A shrinking tax base. Insurrection. What would you do? Panic? Or would you do exactly what world leaders are doing right now: using economic policies to shrink the economy to a lower level and cause a slow die-off? Claim that "there is no alternative", and that once "confidence" is restored, things will be back to normal? Consider:
Last year two military planning organizations went public with studies predicting that serious consequences from oil depletion will befall us shortly. In the U.S. the Joint Forces Command concluded, without saying how they arrived at their dates, that by 2012 surplus oil production capacity could entirely disappear and that by 2015 the global shortfall in oil production could be as much as 10 million b/d. Later in the year a draft of a German army study, which went into greater detail in analyzing the consequences of peaking world oil production, was leaked to the press. The German study which was released recently is unique for the frankness with which it explores the dire consequences which may be in store for us.
And see this: Energy Security: an annotated military/security bibliography (2010 update) (Energy Bulletin)

Of course, to assuage the public's anger, governments will promise an imminent return to normalcy. What they mean is, slow collapse down to a slow enough pace that it is less noticeable. And they've been saying this for four years already. Want to bet they'll be saying it four years from now? And four years after that?

Once things did "stabilize" everything would return to a sort of normal and you would be considered a hero by the public. And things will look great, because people only judge things in contrast with the immediate past, not decades before. And in relative terms, after years of "austerity", things will be "recovering." Temporarily at least, until the next crisis hits. But by that time you hope there will be another sucker sitting in the White House, or 10 Downing Street, or the Élysée Palace while you spend your retirement skiing in Zurich or sunning yourself in Monaco. And the cycle begins again. Your family members, as "elites," will be unaffected, of course. Debts can be cancelled. It's just the excuse they need.

Really, austerity makes no sense otherwise. As Steve Keen put it in a recent interview, "they think causing an accelerated economic collapse will make it easier to pay their debts." Indeed. Even some of the world's most renowned economists have declared such policies insane. If even Nobel-prize winning economists think it's crazy, then why are governments doing it? But these economists are in the main, ignorant of Peak Oil, willingly or unwillingly. They can only think in terms of reactivating "growth" in a Keynesian sense. But based on the above, it's clear world leaders know that's not going to happen. What other reason could there be? After all, capitalism requires growth, and only after enough is destroyed can growth begin again. Is what we are witnessing now not a slow destruction? Austerity is a wildfire set by the political/banking elite classes to get rid of the underbrush and start anew.

Certainly they could implement more humane options if they so desired. But most of those would require a diminution in the power of corporations and banks. They need not fear socialist revolution as they did generations ago, because everyone knows that socialism has failed and that wealth redistribution makes everyone poorer (right?). Entire populations can now be effectively controlled by the media apparatus, and if all else fails, you can bust out the tear gas and pepper spray. From now on, all we will be permitted is what we can claw from the impersonal and shrinking market. Social Darwinism has finally been given free reign by the powers that be.

Of course they could just as easily come clean with all this and initiate policies that minimize the pain and suffering of the general population. They could implement policies that allow for graceful and gradual decline and stop spending money on malignant things like prisons, security, war, bank bailouts, corporate welfare, and needless consumerism in favor of public health measures, redistributing wealth, work programs, etc. They could cancel the debts. But today's governments are wholly owned subsidiaries of the banking establishments that control national economies, and they will have none of it. Over our dead bodies they say, we prefer your dead bodies. The real purpose of austerity and neoliberal economic doctrine is to get the remaining wealth of industrial society into their bank accounts before the shit hits the fan so they and their descendants can pick up the pieces in a post oil-crash world. They will continue to have the best of everything. Someone's going to have personalized genetic medicine and android servants, just not you or I. I myself am skeptical, however, that things will go as planned. This is why they need Authoritarian Capitalism.

People often wonder if the Romans knew at the time that their society was collapsing. Even if some  intelligent and literate Romans did recognize it, could they have done anything about it? We who know better at least know that we are on our own to deal with this. You know the truth. You don't have to flee to a bunker, and you don't have to die off either (of course we all will someday, but that's a different story...). Don't wait for politicians to tell you the truth about austerity, because they never will. You can see that this engineered collapse is exactly what we've been fearing all this time. No reason to fear the collapse-look around, you're already living though it even as you read these words, and you're presumably still here. Take a deep breath. Relax. Have a beer. Listen to some music. No Zombies Required.


  1. Great post. You're very right that what we're seeing going on right now is a slow motion decline. (I tend to avoid the word collapse because it has too many meanings.) I remember Greer saying that we've been in catabolic collapse since 1974.

    I do think you give leadership (broadly construed) more credit than is deserved here: I don't think they understand the scope of the problem. Maybe they do (though I think that understanding is more on the military side of things rather than in civilian government), but I don't think that's what's driving the austerity push. I think it's something more prosaic and unfortunate: that many ideologues who've been hoping to dismantle the New Deal and equivalent social safety nets around the world see this as a great chance to ride the austerity bandwagon and achieve their narrow political goals.

    Lately I've come to describe these regions of the world---Greece et al.---as "undeveloping regions" in the same way that industrializing nations were/are called "developing regions".

    1. Great post? Must be referring to the self -contradictory and hence nonsense phrase "authoritarian capitalism." Rome did not collapse. What is "an austerity push?" My insisting that you quit wasting my money? My insisting you be taken off the liver transplant list 'cause you've exceeded the lifetime limit for getting drunk on Sterno?

    2. "authoritarian capitalism" You need to read Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley.

  2. I actually wrote this in response to a specific comment I heard by KMO on the C-Realm podcast about how he had spent years talking about why collapse was immenent on his podcast, and now that he moved to New York City, theortetically the "belly of the beast," everything seemed so normal. Of course it does. It also expresed my contention that things will appear more nomral in places like that. If he wants to see collapse he should nove to rural Ohio. I also contend that in shrinking economies, cities are the best places to be, especialy since tend to have clever people, are the centers of commerce and culture, and are more progressive politically. But I've always lived in a city, so maybe I'm biased. I also discussed a similar idea in "Not collapse-Breakdown." I can't seem to follow my own advice and use the right words.

    I think you hit the nail on the head. I was planning another article about the fact that the corporate class sees such measures as the ones I outlined as the camel's nose for socialism. And I think they may be right. If more power is placed in the public sector, clealry the power of the private sector will diminish. For example, a public bank like the one in North Dakota will diminish the power over the economy that the banks now enjoy. A government job creation program will mean we no longer need to give tax cuts to "job creators." If we don't have to go into debt by printing our own currency, they can no longer use it as an excuse to dismantle the safety net. If government If government builds light rail, people are less dependant on automakers. If health care has a "public option," the power of health insusrers over us will diminish. there are a million examples.

    If government actions were to once again ameliorate the crisis as it did in the 1930's, the public's faith in government might be restored, and that's a dangerous thing from standpoint of corporate power. People might also realize how useless the private sector has become: That we can do without monopolies gouging the public, wasteful competition, useless advertising and celebrity endoresement costs that are passed on to consumers, annoyoing advertisements, outrageous CEO pay, government funded R&D being used for private startups, endless bailouts (banks, automakers, airlines...), privatized profits and socialized losses. They are determined to prevent it at all costs, even if that means burning society to the ground. To prevent common-sense measures, they need to militarize their base against anything "socialist" by means of their vast propaganda apparatus. Hence the Agenda 21 conspiracy theories and the denial of climate change. By trying to prevent another Roosevelt, they're pushing toward another Hitler.

    1. I think you hit your head on a nail. Wasteful competition? Annoying advertisements? Governments create jobs? Outlandish. Socialists can't do the arithmetic to know where scarce resources should be applied to identify and satisfy the most urgent needs of consumers. What, socialism's central planners is the proper ratio of acreage to plant in corn from which to produce ethanol relative to the acreage to use for domestic food to the acreage necessary for export to other countries? Well, by God, they just won't know. They won't even know how many board-feet of wood to set aside to manufacture pencils which they will have to stick behind their ears, which is where they'll stick them 'cause they showy won't need them for ciphering.

    2. And I am that Hitler. I will castrate and enslave those I perceive to be hoarding wealth through the conversion of their acquired dollars into tangible treasures, the precious stones, the precious metals and most importantly the land. I will gas and burn the rest of them.

      I will also eliminate the dollar. Everyone will be paid in Crown Notes and they will be convertible into platinum, gold and silver so no more "inventing" money as it's needed.

      Industry will be geared towards the creation of food and solar panels. Yes, many will starve to death until every roof of every house is covered in solar panels.

      You will work or you will die.

  3. right on... collapse is well underway. to those who are awake, it is totally apparent, and has been for a decade or more. now, can we pull together a sane contingent to build something new that largely evades the usurpations of the parasite class? that to me seems to be the answer, but in this late stage empire, built on 'rugged individualsim' and hyper competition, it's very difficult to find people who want to collaborate on such projects. our national ego has run amuck, and we are a nation of swindlers, as morris berman points out. a mass evolution in consciousness is about all that can pull us back together. what are the odds?

    related post by jm greer:

  4. Talk to any physician or pharmacist about meds availability.

    1. Story idea

      Unrestricted Warfare: China's Master Plan to Destroy America , and the International Think Tank Operatives that align with these Concepts that will bring about a Globalization of resources and control of them away from the private sector economic structure we currently have , all in the name of Saving Earth from the destruction of a Overpopulation of Mankind . "Seven big problems for 7 billion people. Experts weigh in on predicaments caused by a burgeoning world population , but are they experts or just 21st Century Marxists"?
      Paul Ehrlich on depopulation: 'We're going to go over the top' - audio

      the question now becomes what is it We the People of the USA are Up against ?
      Here is an excerpt from Unrestricted Warfare:

      "Whether it be the intrusions of hackers, a major explosion at the World Trade Center, or a bombing attack by bin Laden, all of these greatly exceed the frequency bandwidths understood by the American military..."

      Surprisingly, Osama bin Laden is mentioned frequently in this book.

      Then while our National Security is being Challenged we also are Financially being manipulated with a UNFAIR Trade Policy that NEVER balances because of Chinas long time Currency manipulation strategy thats made the USA and Europe TOTALLY DEPENDENT on China for Vital Human supplies !!!!

      Watch this Video and ask yourself why would We the People of a Constitution thats Reads " Independence is the Sustaining force of Human Liberty " Instead we listened to Politicians that said in the 1990's and 2000's ' We can Get our Supplies from China because its Cheaper than what we can do it for " , but what is Not considered in this Logic is the LOSS of self reliance and the Independence that comes with that and its ability to keep a Foreign Supplier from Using this Dependence against We the people who are dependent on this foreign supplier by this giving up our Freedom of Self reliance thats gained by supplying a balanced amount of our own Needs , this is whats wrong with our Economy today and will be the End of Liberty and Justice as the USA Financial system Burns down to the ground with a lack of overall supply and unmanageable Inflation from that lack of supply as the China cuts us off because they don't want to hold dollars anymore !!!! And should these guys be participating in a financial strategy that is going to destroy the USA Dollar and the National Security of the USA ?

    2. China supplies "Vital Human supplies"? What like all that plastic shit and iPods and shit and all that other shit? Did I forget to mention the Chinese shit we can live without? I live in a country where we trade our precious coal for Chinese plastic shit. USA just trades its worthless green credit notes for plastic shit. What is China going to do with its USA dollars when they're no longer worth diddly squat?

      You could trade dog turds with them. Trade real dog turds for fake plastic dog turds. That's the future.

  5. just wanted to say hello, I'm new to your blog and just can't praise your post highly enough.
    I'll be posting links to it on my blog and on the forums where I am a member and moderator.
    thank you so much for this piece.
    well, done!


  6. Well written, based on lots of fact. What you left out is what most seem to ignore or forget: Biblical prophecy. I am no bible thumper, but have learned how to read this book, and the truth is contained therein. If you apply what is given to us in the word of God, then this image you have painted turns severe and grim. It will be much worse than what you think, if a financial collapse seems like the worst scenario to you!

    Time is running out, and I myself have to make adjustments in my life to prepare for the worst. But the worst is not necessarily prepared for by sheer cunning and motivation in the material. It is dealt with by reinforcing yourself spiritually. The government knows things the public doesn't also This is much more than just an economic collapse my friend!

  7. And I got here thank to pamela. Outstanding really sums up a point that I've been trying to make on my own blog but hadn't been able to sum up quite as neatly or succinctly as you have done.

  8. The Roman Empire didn't have a fragile electric grid and a population addicted to electronic mental anaesthetic.

    Three days after the grid goes down, your streets will be full of starving people loaded up on a sense of entitlement and zero inter personal skills.

    That's what a zombie apocalypse looks like.

    No electricity to run the fuel pumps for police or fire vehicles. No street lights. Just you and your neighbors...

  9. you make a good point and that would be probable if, all the electrical grid went down at the same time.
    and EMP strike could do that, or a massive solar flare that hit earth directly.
    Barring either of those however, it is more likely that the power would stay on in many areas.
    It would take an event of global proportions to knock out the electric grid of the entire world.
    As long as some areas are still connected, I think it could very well be like the writer suggests.
    Think back to how things were in the late 80's, early 90's and you can see how far we've already fallen.

    I also think there may be Zombie Apocalypse type scenarios in different places. Not every place will fall at the same speed at the same time.

  10. What a great piece of work!

    Here are two comments from this peanut in the gallery:

    The firstis a book recommendation: "Secular Cycles" by Peter Turchin and Sergey A. Nefedov. They look at past cycles of rising and falling civilizations, and the general descriptions I've read about the situation in the 1400s, 1600s and part of the 1800s could be descriptions of today's Europe and America.

    Peter Turchin is professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and adjunct professor of mathematics at the University of Connecticut. His books include "Historical Dynamics: Why States Rise and Fall". Sergey Nefedov is senior research scientist at the Institute of History and Archaeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences. His books include "The Concept of Demographic Cycles".

    The full text is available on line, through this link:

    Highly recommended for more academic followers of the decline of Global Industrial Civ.

    Then there's this. One idea that keeps me awake some nights is the possibility that some nation-state with good scientific and military infrastructure and a genetically distinct population might decide that depopulating the planet by 80% is a good idea for the future of humanity and life in general. A genetically targeted, aerosol-transmissible virus with a 90% mortality rate would be an ideal mechanism.

  11. Exactly the collapse I've been watching for a number of yrs and it's everywhere. Anytime I try to get something done, I have to check to make sure. Just got off the phone to, again, request a financial matter get done.

    To me the collapse isn't just at high levels, it's everywhere in our system right down the clerk that can barely read/write. Sometimes the simplist statements get nothing but a blank stare.
    Nothing,and I mean nothing, gets done as it should. I don't rant anymore, I just follow up.

    As a young man I was a fairly serious drunk. It took a while to get there and because it did I didn't notice. My normal slowly shifted at a rate I could adjust to quite easily. And everything around me slowly shifted too. Make a good analogy for me. We have been collapsing for a long time.

  12. For anyone attempting to use history as an example or a model of the future, specifically to establish precedence for the now-unfolding collapse of industrialized human society, I would suggest that there are no suitable historical examples to adequately portray the zombie apocalypse that for now is only slowly creeping up on humanity.

    As Justin points out, there is no historical precedence for the electrical grid.

    There is no precedence for the monstrous levels of energy consumption.

    There is no precedence for seven billion souls on board.

    ...for an earth biosphere so degraded in air, water, soil, and atmospheric shielding due to human activity as to be nearing a level unsuitable for mammalian habitation

    ...for the extreme level of human dependence on insanely complex, yet fragile, technical hardware, software, and systems that provide every necessity and luxury for human existence

    ...for a monstrously large and complex, global financial system that is the circulatory system that enables the entire global economy on which virtually all of humanity depends, a financial system inherently flawed and now hemorrhaging

    There is no historical precedence for what is about to befall humanity. For those looking back to find predictors for the future, I suggest that you looking in the wrong direction.

    We've been having this discussion on the boards for over twelve years now. Nothing is going to be OK.

  13. toktomi, I agree completely. The main thing our exponentially more powerful technology has done is dig exponentially more of us into a n exponentially deeper hole. We are creating a permanent rupture in the biosphere and the resource base of the planet.

    I know plenty about the ecological, biophysical and resource aspects of the predicament. My interest in historical antecedents is to see what additional clarity they might bring to to the social processes that are working at the same time.

  14. Guider,

    You say, "Then there's this..." Yup.

    That's the way that I would do it if I was among the psychopathic super elite, and I think that is the way "they" are indeed going to do it. The delay that has the earth sliding closer to an irrecoverable tipping point for a mass extinction event has been in the perfection of the agent. - bunch a rookies, if you ask me :)

  15. toktomi, there's one more nightmare in the genetic virus scenario. It's virtually 100% certain that if such a thing is possible it will be used without warning.

    My thinking is this: everybody in the business knows that someone else is working on it. That means that everyone who can is working on it, either to produce a weapon or a countermeasure vaccine. If one country succeeds, they will know axiomatically that it's possible, and they will know that it's therefore only a matter of time before their "enemy" succeeds as well. In fact they might already have succeeded! In such a situation, the first nation to win the race must use it immediately, or risk being wiped out by a first strike. The risk is too great to permit any hesitation. That means that if such a virus is possible it will be used, unless the collapse of civilization from other causes intervenes.

    This is what frightens me so much about the long string of Mysterious Microbiologist Murders during the last two decade.

  16. While I agree with your general premise, your understanding of economics and capitalism is erroneous in certain areas. Shortages and scarcity are not the same thing. Scarcity, in fact, always exists. Shortages do not.

    The elimination of Section 8 should result in lower rents, as Section 8 works by subsidizing the market rent, i.e. The rent for the apartment is $1200, the Section 8 recipient can only afford to pay $700, so the government makes up the difference. Since there are a significant number of people who do not make enough to afford $1200, the laws of supply and demand would dictate that the price fall to where the demand is. Under section 8, landlords overcharge their tenants, i.e. charge more than the market clearing price for what they're offering. Whenever the government touches the economy, the law of unintended consequences wreaks havoc, generally making everyone poorer.

    Capitalism does not require constant growth; while it engenders more growth than socialism, there must also be what Schumpeter called creative destruction. Just as in nature, some things must die so that others may live. Uncontrolled growth leads to vast destruction. This is what we're facing as you so eloquently wrote.

    I would like to try to shine a positive light on this: the end of this civilization could lead to something much better, or at least something more free, maybe something akin to what the colonists enjoyed/experienced when they arrived here. Life was hard. Life is hard for most everyone in the world. All we can do is read articles like yours and hopefully slap ourselves awake and do what we can to position ourselves to avoid a block landing on our heads from the slowly crumbling edifice that is our debt-based society. But sometimes, in times of great distress, comes great opportunity. I know that many reading this will be as cynical as I am, but economic corrections usually root out waste and malinvestment. That's a net benefit, because it frees up resources for beneficial pursuits. (This is the reason why the distinction between scarcity and shortage is so important.)

    I guess where we'll part ways, respectfully, I hope, is the idea that the government should guarantee our security, whether it be from bogeymen or our own inability to make responsible decisions. In the words of Benjamin Franklin, "They that would give up Essential Liberty for a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

  17. I would say a majority of it was spot on. In my opinion The Long Slow Decline has begun. Here is the hope though, technology. We are on the brink of amazing new advances in almost every field of science. We are retracting and it may be that way for a decade or so, but the future is very promising. With perfected 3-d printing, nanno technology and advances in carbon fibers the human race will be able to provide whatever anyone wants or needs for very little in the way of currency or resource consumption. Then we collectively turn our eyes towards space exploration and colonization of other worlds.

  18. Robert

    I grew up on Heinlein and Clarke and Asimov. I'd love to think your scenario could happen. A few things keep me from believing though. One is the amount of energy it would take to revolutionize human existence like that, one is the amount of money it would take, and the other is the amount of social organization it would take. I think all of them will be in increasingly short supply as time goes on.

  19. Good piece. I would like to point out that, although Europe does have very real problems, the economic mess in the U.S. is actually far, far worse.

    Europe, after all, still has an advanced manufacturing sector. In much of Europe, there are still good public schools and excellent infrastructure. And while it's no utopia, Europe doesn't suffer from the complete political meltdown that has paralyzed U.S. leadership.

    Northern Europe, in fact, is actually doing quite well. Germany alone could easily fix Europe's fiscal woes. The reason it doesn't isn't because of a lack of capital---it's for political reasons.

    The German taxpayer simply isn't prepared to bail out the likes of Greece. But in a worst-case scenario, Germany will do just that.

    By contrast, America faces titanic woes. I'm not sure they'd be solvable even if we didn't have a broken political system. The whole American economy has become a big Ponzi scheme, full of parasitical activities that don't benefit society as a whole (everything from the legal profession to the health-care industry to the prison industrial complex). And the whole thing is backed up by trillions of dollars in East Asian capital in an arrangement that is clearly unsustainable.

    However, America does have one major trump card: stupid, uneducated workers who are happy to work endless hours for little pay and no complaints. For this, we can thank our abysmal public schools, as well as a corporate mass media that encourages apathy and ignorance.

    However, even this trump card is reaching its limits. Workers can only put in endless hours for so long before you experience diminishing returns via burnout. And while crappy Wal-Mart/McDonald's type jobs might make a relative handful of CEOs and shareholders rich, it's not going to do much to improve America's lot in an era of global competition.

    In the end, I believe Europe will get its act together. But it's over for the Great American Empire that dominated the world in the 20th century. We're a Third World nation now---we're just not aware of it yet.

    1. Thats so not right. I am a German, Germany has a doubt of ~ 2,4 Billion Euro. We also have many workless people in our country. The official report lies about the correct numerals and also politican like Ursel von der Laien, our employment minister.
      Also we have much workers which containing very little money for there work, they must take 2 or 3 jobs....than we have such called 1€ jobs, this workers became 1€ the our for there work. They are most unemployed and became public money and have to do this 1€ jobs, if they dont do this, they didnt become further the publik money.Than we have much low wages jobs in germany as well...our realy jobless count totals more than 10 Million people!
      Our population also manipulates by mainstream media as TV, and many of them look much TV.

      I also can confirm that most of our population thought, everything is normal, they dont notice much of differences to previous. Our school system isnt that good as previous, the elite school maybe, but not that of worker man. Much of school are in ruinous condition, many youth constitutions were closed because of lack of money.
      Our life will be continual expensiver...we also have in germany soup kitchens, donate clothes for poor people, homeless people etc. maybe not as worse like usa or greece, spain..but this big problems we didnt have in the 1990. Our problems in germany bigger than much know, because if they have a job everything is ok for them.
      This above report is very good, and if american's thought things in germany are very good...and germany could fix easily europes fiscal woes, that maybe say you your mainstream media. Of course many germans entrepreneur profit from this "crisis" and make much money with this...and many of them have many to do with manufacture freight. And many buisiness germans are very wealthy, but most of germans didnt wealthy of this "boom".its propaganda most.

      We have much of citizen, as me, which are poor....i became in month a premature pension from 420€ per month, thats very, very less. A simple worker earns more than 1000 € per month, many much more than that. A workless became 375€ per month, ok he becames also a apartment payed by public, but nothing that is luxury, its only were he can live and sleep, not more. And view for work isnt very good in germany, not for ja job which is good payed and sure for longer time.

      So, many problems and a slowly collaps also here in Germany....

  20. Ancestors? "The real purpose of austerity and neoliberal economic doctrine is to get the remaining wealth of industrial society into their bank accounts before the shit hits the fan so they and their ancestors can pick up the pieces in a post oil-crash world."

    Dude, it's Descendants, not Ancestors! Somebody who doesn't know the difference may not need to be taken too seriously.....

  21. There has been a great discussion of this blogpost over on

  22. @Gregg & drewkitty
    Yup, I read that post and he's right on. Those of us forecasting collapse are hardly "forecasting" at all. We just need to recognize it to adapt, and not get hysterical.

    thanks! I'm blown away at all the attention.

    Whatever floats your boat. I'm skeptical that an ethnographic account of a tribe in the Middle East's iron age contains the ultimate truth or accurate predictions for the future.

    @ Bill
    Bill Hicks of The Downward Spiral? Wow, I'm honored.

    We just get lowered expectations and rationalize them as 'the new normal.' Get used to that phrase.

    @toktomi & Justin
    Very true. History serves as a guide but it has limits. It's also why the future won't be like the past.

    @Glider Guider. I wrote a little about this earlier in the year. I doubt there's any way you can "target" a biological weapon to just the enemy; you'd kill you're own people just as assuredly - Pyrrhic victory wouldn't be the half of it. No, the only people who would have use for such a weapon are not governments but asymmetrical actors like radical anticivilization people. Think of a cult like Aum Shirikyo. Or imagine if the Unabomber were a microbiologist instead of a mathematician.

    Good book recommendations. Sounds similar to Hackett Fischer's "The Great Wave"

    Good points. People forget that a no or low growth economy is not synonymous with a stagnant economy. You can have a growth economy in negative things like lawsuits and illness. It's not the amount but the quality that matters. And companies do need to die for capitalism to work, but that's not what happens in practice. In actual practice entire sectors get taken over by a few producers who can rig the market, buy government protection and become too big to fail. In any ecosystem, things are dying and being born all the time. That is how an economy should work. Just as growth/death/rebirth is necessary for energy to flow through an ecosystem, so it is necessary for money to flow through the economy properly. If one organism sucked up all the energy in an ecosystem, everything around it would die and eventually it too would die. That seems to be analagous to where we are, where a few things (banks, health care, military, education) are choking the life out of the rest of the economy. I'm surprised some enterprising economist hasn't unified economics and ecology.

    An interesting point about socialism - I read somewhere that the actual growth rate in the 1950's for the Soviet economy was faster than even the U.S. economy. Given certain conditions, both can lead to rapid growth. The problem is, they both eventually run out of steam.

    It's simple: what's unworkable will one day just not work. What works will be preserved. The status quo will be preserved as long as possible, but eventually a new paradigm will emerge just as capitalism emerged from earlier economic forms that didn't address the needs of people and new discoveries.

  23. @Robert
    The problem is, every advance comes with a new danger. I wrote extensively about this here.

    Agree with all of it.

    D'oh! Stupid mistake. Corrected, thanks.

    Thanks for the tip. I was wondering why there were so many comments.

    I'm sorry if I missed anyone. Thanks for all the great comments!

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  27. The Romans were destroyed by crushing debt. The same type of debt accumulated by leftists and democraps, ever eager to pander to every minority with the momey of others, stolen by way of the publicans, and justified with the lie "we (govt) must take care of the little guy."

  28. Meaningless to talk about Rome's small population and decentralized food production. What are the ratios? Say kgs of protein per capita per annum maybe. Don't know, do ya? What does that mean "negative feedbacks of oil's decreasing energy return"? As oil becomes more expensive, the $$ /barrel will increase, oil will go to the industries where it is most needed, carpooling will become more attractive, and the equations that govern "just in time" processes will provide the economies of scale they are supposed to provide. And "we will fall much, much faster" is still as meaningless as how you began: no fit ratios and absolutely no quantification for what "much, much" means. Are you adding muches? Squaring them? Multiplying them? You remind me of the Hatter who told Alice tha she used to be "much muchier." are you that mad?

  29. did you sign up for blogger just so you could insult HipCrime?
    that's not cool.

  30. I found a lot of these statements ring a bell for me. The gradual decline has been going on since 2005. There have been many small (and large) businesses which have been going away. I have noticed many empty strip malls in larger cities and small towns. I feel small towns have been hit especially hard. Several companies which were doing well in small towns around where I live in Central MN are now gone. I did sewing for several boat manufacturing companies. Two of those are gone. The third one is down to bare bones. There are many more people visiting the food shelves. I never used to see homeless people in small towns. Sadly, I see many more of them now. Personally, my husband has been laid off several good paying jobs. We lost our home and had to file for bankruptcy. We now rent and live a very modest lifestyle in the country. Even though there have been several promising things happening, there are still many more which remain stagnant or are failing. It is worth watching and keeping common sense in mind with all of this. Look around you, wherever you live. Take note of the conditions of people around you. This is the true indicator of the state of the Economy.

  31. So the answer is to further enrich the bankers by borrowing .. and burden our children with debt?
    i realize the growing statist element is never mentioned in the article ..
    and freedom is now irrelevant in a society co-dependent on the government nipple

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  34. you obviously haven't studied very much critical environmental science, because if you had you'd understand that peak oil is only one crisis in an interlocking set of catastrophic crises occurring alongside climate change, hyper-exploitation of natural resources, escalating environmental pollution and *over-population*. With these combined *mutually reinforcing* problems occurring at an increasing rate what we are experiencing now will seem like Disneyworld in one generation, the data bares this out and when considered and appreciated properly, the facts reveal your above analysis to be naive and self comforting...

  35. Your picture of "normalcy", as opposed to some violent form of crash, makes sense were the government trying to rein in its spending. But in our present case, the opposite is true - the regime seems hell-bent on creating catastrophe. It's not for nothing they're stocking up on bullets, ramming gun-control laws down our throats, letting out criminals because they hadn't got their solicited bribes, etc (and the list goes on). Rome may have gone down this path, only now the numbers are in trillions and climbing - what say you to taht?

  36. Curiously I wrote a blog on Roman as a metaphor/history repeating itself. And yes, the post peak world is a slow decline, growth will find a new home for a short period like the Eastern Empire which switched from slave, land and war power to trade and crafts in Byzantine period.

    so China is the new US, for a time.

  37. Hi. Someone just posted this on Facebook, so brace for a new wave of comments. I think that you are spot on. My only quibble is with your use of the US ruling class meme of what happened to Russia in the 90s, when they destroyed the USSR and turned their economy over to US "experts", like Summers and Reich. You correctly point out that millions died. Then you used the meme that "life expectancy dropped",which is the way that the corporate media refers to the millions dead. If millions died from the plague, would you call that "a drop in life expectancy"? I agree that we could deal with peak oil and global warming as a society, in a rational way, if our government were not controlled by the 1%. Doesn't look like we will, though.

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  40. Eventually after a few new generations will rise up and say this could be better. They will reinvent capitalism, bring back prosperity, justice and the Bill of Rights and think that the last generations was a bunch of war mongering Neanderthals.

  41. And what about catastrophic climate change that could change everything like killing of most people and the like .. this time it is different there wont be some nice rebuilding and stuff ..forget about it


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