[A-List] Skidding Toward Fall
shimogamo at ashisuto.co.jp
Wed Aug 4 18:28:34 MDT 2010
by James Howard Kunstler
Comment on current events by the author of
The Long Emergency (2005)
www.kunstler.com (August 02 2010)
This economy has a destination for sure, but it's not in the direction
where all eyes are trained in moist hopefulness: that glimmering horizon
of longed-for growth. You will not get that kind of growth - the kind
that increases the overall wealth of the organism in question. A few
people will make more money than they did before, but overall we are in
an epic contraction. More people and organizations will go broke than
will thrive. It will seem very unfair.
The true destination of the US economy is to get smaller and for two
reasons mainly: (1) Capital ("money") is vanishing out of our system
steadily and rapidly due to a massive collective failure to repay money
owed on loans, mortgages, debts, and assorted obligations. (2) Access to
the primary resource we depend on for powering the economy (oil) is
increasingly beyond our control - even worse, under the control of
people who would like us to eat shit and die.
We really have a choice between two ways of dealing with this. We can
downsize and re-scale consciously and coherently, or we can continue to
chase after the phantom of growth and allow the nation to fall into a
shambles of desperation. So far into this long emergency of an economic
fiasco, we seem to have chosen the pursuit of a phantom. That's what
President Obama was doing last week in Detroit, shilling for a new
electric automobile which, he said, will make us "energy independent".
If Mr Obama believes this, then it isn't a very good advertisement for
an Ivy League education.
I'd like to know how many Americans believe that electric cars run on
virtually free energy (but I don't have pollsters on my payroll). I'd
bet a lot of them do, including President Obama. Sorry to rain on this
uplifting parade. At best, such a car fleet would run on coal - that is
coal-fired electric power plants - but even that is a ridiculous fantasy
when you actually pencil-out the details. Not to mention that a nation
full of people with dwindling or vanishing incomes won't be in a
position to fork over forty-grand for one of those new pseudo "green"
vehicles. Also not to mention - wait for it - that due to rapidly
vanishing capital there will be far fewer car loans available. The only
thing growing in this part of the picture is the number of Americans
who cannot possibly qualify for a car loan under normal terms that
would require regular repayment of interest and principal. (Plenty of
Americans qualify for the new "innovative" kind of loan - the kind that
you never have to make payments on, but for the moment, the banks are
choking to death on them, so additional approvals may lag for a time.)
It's instructive that so much current hoopla about economic growth
revolves around the issue of cars. For, if anything, reality is telling
us very clearly that the mass motoring paradigm is near its end. Our
determination to prop it up at all costs, despite the grave impairments
of available capital and energy resources is a symptom of our
detachment from reality. It's also a fine illustration of the
psychology of previous investment, which prompts a desperate society to
squander its scarce remaining resources on the very things that are
putting it out of business.
We don't need need more highways. We're about to find out that we don't
have the money to keep up regular repairs on the highways we already
have. The hundreds of millions of "stimulus" dollars that President
Obama flung into "shovel-ready" highway projects was among the more
tragically dumb mistakes he made early on, and he has apparently
learned nothing along these lines since then.
Interestingly, NPR ran a local story over the weekend - an obscure
little item - saying that Amtrak was determined to raise the average
speed of its passenger trains running north from Connecticut through
Vermont from forty miles per hour to sixty mph. That would be some
triumphant accomplishment! It would bring us back to about an 1860
level of service. Of course, I happen to believe that we will be lucky
in a few years if we are able to enjoy an 1860's standard-of-living, so
maybe this little side venture in public transport is perfectly in tune
with America's future.
Otherwise, these are just ominous days of drift in a place of stillness
where the uncomplaining robot traders tirelessly work their magic in the
server farms of Wall Street, while their putative "handlers" enjoy the
dainty pleasures of the Hamptons - which seem to center these days on
pounding back vast draughts of premium vodka in conjunction with Red
Bull, cocaine, hydroponic ganja, Viagra, and Klonopin to round off all
those edges. And let's not forget the catered delicacies circulating on
trays passed by super-models - the yellowtail tartare tidbits, the
green olive pesto crescents, the firecracker shrimp canapes. I wonder
if the nibblers ever stop to reflect on how many of the un-privileged
"out there" get by lately on dog food and ketchup.
My timing is notoriously faulty, they say, but I can't ignore the
sensation of being seasick on dry land that tells me something awful is
at hand. President Obama appears more and more Gorbachev-like to me, a
well-intentioned functionary sailing his ship of state steadily into a
maelstrom. The course is set and ain't nobody going to make a move to
change it. Of course, Mr Obama is no more to blame than Mr Gorbachev
was - if anything one can't help but admire Gorby's steering of the
creaky old Soviet ghost ship into drydock with nary a pint of blood
spilled in the process - but what's really striking in America today is
the massive failure of leadership in the layers below Mr Obama, and in
all the other sectors of American culture where CEOs,
chairpersons-of-the-boards, deans and provosts, doctors of this and
that, generals and attorneys-general, even diverse clergy in all their
arresting head-gear cannot collectively advocate for reality.
This failure of credentialed and elected authorities will surely unleash
the crazies as we skid toward fall. Legitimacy hates a vacuum. The
absence of a reality-based consensus for action will invite a consensus
based on other things such as the lust for vengeance, the labeling of
scapegoats, patriotic gore, and all the alternate trappings of a
politics gone mad. Enjoy the heat and the clam rolls wherever you are
in the meantime, and when you come home don't be surprised if you no
longer recognize the country you're in.
A sequel to my 2008 novel of post-oil America, World Made By Hand, will
be published in September 2010 by The Atlantic Monthly Press. The title
is The Witch of Hebron.
Mr Kunstler's biography is at see http://kunstler.com/bio.html.
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