Skidding Toward Fall
The following article was written by James Howard Kunstler. Mr Kunstler wrote a book in 2008 about post-oil America called “World Made By Hand.” Fossil fuel and issues surrounding it are a natural fit for this writer. He wrote the article in early August when President Obama was touting General Motor’s new electric car. –Greg Hunter–
By James Howard Kunstler
Guest writer for Greg Hunter’s USAWatchdog.com
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 (the last week in July) 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 40 miles-per-hour to 60mph. 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 canapés. 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.
This article was reprinted with permission of Mr. Kunstler. To read Mr. Kunstler’s bio click here. Click here to go to Mr. Kunstler’s web site.
The sequel to Mr. Kunstler’s 2008 novel of post-oil America, World Made By Hand, is shipping to booksellers now. Order via AMAZON.
What does James Howard Kunstler mean when he says, “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…” What do you believe that looks like?
Musings From Tryon Street.
Are we approaching the silly season or the season of pretending?
If you look closely you can see a bit of color appearing in the leaves of the Oaks and Maples. The Canadian geese around the lake at Freedom Park seem to have taken on a bit of restlessness. If you listen carefully on these still warm nights that’s not just sushi fatigue you can almost hear spreading among the bankers of Dilworth and Meyers Park. The fall approaches with an ever-quickening step, its very name portending a decline of sorts. The government’s continued publishing of numbers even they don’t believe any more doesn’t hold back the looming reality that is beginning to penetrate through the fog of specious economic prognostications. Even as the day traders, huddled before their flat screens, nervously pray to the gods of CNBC that it’s all just a bad dream; still those visions of shrinking index numbers and negative equity just won’t go away. A seaming weariness grows and an almost imperceptible groan is heard all along Tryon Street. Pedestrians along the Overstreet Mall take furtive glances at each other, each with that unanswered question in their eye; what was that the sound we just heard, perhaps the economy taking that final sigh before slipping into a coma?
So why shouldn’t it? After all we’ve had peak credit and peak oil and all the other peaks visible to the denizens of the lower floors. Now the season of peak pretending has come and gone in an instant. All our pretending bought us reprieve from the havoc of mismanagement and fraud didn’t it? We all knew that the true conditions would reveal themselves eventually, but please God just not today. Now their specter is on the rise, worse than any of our Grandparents nightmares from the ‘30’s. As someone once said, “When nothing is believable, what’s the point in pretending any more?”
When a new reality sets in, it’s time to do some reassessment. We’re looking at some “bad ju-ju” here. Too many years of getting something for nothing, knowing full well that it always ends in tragedy, whatever can go wrong, will go wrong. All those things we have refused to restructure and resize to conform to the reality we denied existed are about to be done for us by the immutable laws of history and economics. What was once a nation of hardworking self-reliant and for the most part moral citizens has become inhabited by far too many over-entitled, self-indulgent and yes at times barbaric morons ruled by thieves and con artists calling themselves financers and politicians. What was once solely the realm of economics is about to become political, and dangerously so.
While we bemoan our losses in our 401ks, our home equity and manufacturing jobs, there is a greater loss many as yet fail to recognize. The loss of the rule of law, without which we enter the wasteland of nothing matters and anything goes wherein consequently, everything goes. That we had the rule of law is what has kept China and Japan and others buying our debt for all these years. Their continued buying was predicated in the belief that in the U.S. would enforce those contracts because that was the law. It wasn’t arbitrary and after all in spite of our flaws it made thing work better. As the rule of law disintegrates we kid ourselves to we think the rest of the world doesn’t notice. They are beginning to stop believing in our money, indeed in our future. As that confidence is lost they will sell all those billions in Treasuries for whatever they can get, and our economy will get flushed away like a quick summer flash flood down Little Sugar Creek.
Like the line from Cool Hand Luke “What we have here is a failure to communicate” – honestly, by all of our political leaders, both left and right. The separation between what politicians say and what people are actually experiencing has widened to an unbridgeable chasm. Example, Obama comes out in praise of the new Chevy Volt as the savior of the auto industry, except at $41,000 no one but the costal elites can afford it and even they won’t buy it. Why would they, that new BMW or Lexus is much flashier anyway. Example, Senator McConnell doesn’t want corporations to have to publicly disclose just which political ads they are paying for, claiming it will lead to job losses. Really? Or is he just running cover for their dubious justifications for shipping even more jobs overseas?
It isn’t just government that has failed us. It’s the news media, businesses, the education system, even the courts. All have become the political instrument of one faction or another, and hence all have become suspect. And why shouldn’t they? Just look at the new so-called banking regulation bill. Two thousand pages? That isn’t the rule of law, that’s just deliberately adding more chaos to an already overly complex chaotic system. Why, so they can tell us they did something? Wouldn’t it have been far more effective to just admit that a mistake was made in repealing the Glass-Steagall act and reinstate it? But why reinstate an effective law that was less than forty pages when they can birth a monstrosity of two thousand pages that no one has read never mind understands except maybe the bureaucrats that will use it as a shield for the fat cats and a bludgeon against honest businesses and citizens.
The fall of election years used to be characterized as the silly season, now I think it’s going to just be crazy and irrational. Many will forget how it’s our institutions that have deliberately misled us; their confusions will devolve into a vicious certitude devoid of any semblance of reality. Demands for trials for our perceived enemies in the kangaroo court of public opinion will become just what they are, another mockery of the rule of law. Will the chaos in political arena and the chaos in the markets become reflections of each other? We all need to pray that things don’t unravel, because if they do it could well become a cascade. Like the old analogy; when you have a fire in the Circus tent, don’t expect too much from the clowns’ bucket brigade. Up to now all our elected clowns have done is throw more kindling and kerosene onto the funeral pyre.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who has this sense, but a lot more of us need to start paying attention to that prickly feeling as the hairs on the back of our neck start to stand up with each new absurdity. Oh what the heck maybe I just need to take a vacation, the politicians have everything covered right? And what they don’t the gods of CNBC do, right? Right?
Weimar Republic! Here we come….
Invest in wheelbarrows to carry our devalued paper currency to the local stores to buy bread, etc. You’ll need a lot of paper & a lot of wheelbarrows.
Or better yet buy gold now (if you can afford it) or silver (which is still affordable).
Keep as many non-perishable supplies in your pantry as you can. (Pretend that you’re in a snow storm in the southern United States, they’ll understand, I live in NC)
Learn to shoot, hunt, fish, grow vegetables, apply basic first-aid.
Get in shape, get off the couch, walk, jog, bike ride.
Get to know your neighbors and foment goodwill with one another. (They might save your life one day)
In other words let’s get back to the basic human needs and practices. We’re all in this together and there’s no room for bigotry. We’re all Americans.
And never forget to pray for guidance.
Mr. Kunstler correct, who can afford, let alone get a car loan of a $41,000 electric car? Until electricity grows on trees, they are no more “green” than gasoline.
The Volkswagon, the people’s car was at least affordable for the people.
Thanks for putting Mr. Kunstler’s latest up. Always a good (abeit sobering) read.
Interesting how the FDIC has not updated their site in several weeks. Question is, are they not seizing banks or just not reporting the seizures?
Hope to hear you again soon on KSFO with your buddy, Brian Sussman.
I once heard a gallon of gas, could do the work of hundred men. I believe this to be true because a chainsaw can get all the fire wood you need in a couple of days.When I was a kid some old farts were still cutting wood by hand. Some would cut long poles whatever you could pick up. Then they get them up to a home made buzz saw and buck them in to fire wood. I just remember helping some an liking those old farts. All I watch an learn in my youth is called getting by, it’s a lost art. PEACE
Kunstler is an old hippie jew.I am sure that he is glad to see America die.
I had considered buying a Volt even though I had to buy it from GM. However, the promise is far short of what was delivered. And while I like the concept of an electric car; there are two issues. Cost benefit is not there. A Kia makes a lot more sense, even at $4 a gallon gas. And if they pass a carbon tax, I won’t be able to afford air conditioning, much less charging my car.
Mr. Kunstler harpooned Sarah Palin and conservatives in one of his recent online articles, then admits to voting for Barrack Obama and being severely being dissappointed in him. What a moron. This guy should be a politician.
Dear Blog Interviewer,
How about if I just put this comment up? I think that will provide a link back to your site.
Thanks for this article. I hope his dim view of our future is only partly correct. There is no doubt that the US and its government is floundering. One only has to watch a daily press briefing to discern that there no coherent thought going on in the White House. Undoubtedly there are hard times coming, the like of which most Americans cannot imagine.
One can only prepare for so much without access to large storage areas. Still it is imperative to have stocks of food, water, and any of the other items that make life a little more bearable. An infinite supply is impossible to acquire so what’s next? A complete societal collapse as Mr. Kuntsler posits seems unlikely to most.
The reason the population remains complacent is directly related to the dishonesty of the media; putting lipstick on a pig. Looking around the world other societies seem to be doing alright, but are they? Will Europe descend into darkness as well, Asia too?
Social paralysis is the order of the day at the moment. Only Boy and Girl Scouts will be ready.