Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Crumbling Collapse

I am one of those people who is absolutely convinced that industrial capitalism is in the first stages of collapse. The American Empire is starting to behave pretty much as past empires did as they peaked and began to decline. For example, spending increasing resources on merely maintaining access to resources. That trick only works as long as people remain intimidated, but, as the Iraq adventure demonstrated clearly to the world at large, resistance is not futile. And the rest of the world, tired of being exploited, is starting to wake up and react. An aside -- I've always sort of wondered why people in a nation with such a powerfully pervasive mythic narrative of the individual successfully resisting organized oppression (everything from Gary Cooper in "High Noon" to the campy SF series "V" to Mel Gibison's anti-british "The Patriot") would fail to grasp that they, in fact, have become the oppressive organization. Of all the potential narratives, I believe the best description is 'Catabolic Collapse' by J.M. Greer, but even so, the first steps will be relatively small, more akin to crumbling slowly than collapsing, but there will come one step that will be like some crucial brick finally giving way and the shell will then collapse with deceptive rapidity. Deceptive, because it will be easy to overlook the less-obvious signs of decay that preceed it. Here's what's going to happen over the next decades. Oil will become increasingly expensive and difficult to extract. That means that more and more energy will be devoted to extracting oil and that means gradually less and less will be available for productive use across the rest of the economy. More and more will be going to India and China, this will be sort-of okay with the elites, because their pet shills in their newspapers will print - sandwiched between accounts of the misadventures of the Hollywood glitterati - will work overtime to convince us that the globe is no different from a small town. In essence, the well-off managers and owners who run the local industries live in a different neighbourhood from the workers on the 'wrong' side of the tracks is now mirrored by us living in a different country from the workers on the 'wrong' side of the ocean. Cheap, plentiful oil, however, is the key resource that allows North Americans to live as we do, with the luxuries we have: what many act as if they believe is their birthright. Without oil, we cannot have continued economic growth, required by our political-economic system to provide sufficient excess to allow for debt-based money, debt-based government. Without easy access to more oil, we cannot even maintain our exising lifestyle. We have arranged our agriculture to be dependent on oil, using fertilizers and trucks and tractors to power farm implements. As the price of oil rises, the cost of daily living rises, even faster than the inflation due to borrowing. Driving -- a suburban necessity -- becomes increasingly expensive, which means less discretionary spending, and so the consumer-based economy begings to slow down and eventually shrink. As that happens, businesses begin to contract, close, to lay off workers, which slides down into "recession". If we used the same metrics they used in 1930, we would have to acknowledge that we are in a depression right now, that real unemployment is up close to 15% in Canada and has been for years. If we excluded financial transactions from the GDP, we'd be able to see that we've been in negative numbers for years. Debt-based living has become ingrained in our psyches, the idea that we can borrow today and will be able to pay it off later has been true for several generations now to the point where the populace, and our elected officials, can no longer grasp that this is an historical anomaly. So life will get more difficult for more people, slow decay will gradually become apparent all around and there is no extra money to keep things fixed up and the cost of fixing things up increases anyway. Ignore complaints by cities, municipalities, provincial, or federal governments about budget problems, in my entire lifetime there has never been a year without some budget 'crisis' to argue over. What will become critical is the percentage of people living off their credit cards and not paying them off. At some point, there will being a massive default, as happened in the U.S. housing bubble starting in 2005 (It's not pure coincidence that peak production of conventional oil also happened that year). Gradually, people will have to cut back on the luxuries and various industries will be in 'crisis' as they shrink. This will happen gradually, over years. Individual oil-dependent businesses will shutter one by one until one day, they are all gone. This will be punctuated by mergers and disappearances of single large corporate entities, until, one day, there will be only a very few left. Jobs will change, and more people will find themselves spending more and more time doing tasks necessary for survival at a much poorer level of living. Then, there will come a crisis, probably some budget crisis, only this time, the government will be forced to cut a whole slew of services, especially to outlying regions. Policing and support will effectively disappear and that will be the point of real collapse, when myriad small towns and counties will find themselves alone and isolated, except for immediate neighbours, and at that point, trade will effectively cease and subsistence poverty will become the new normal, until new trade networks create themselves and roads get re-built, and a new empire begins to arise from the ashes of the old. It's what happened to ancient Rome, to many empires across the middle east and it's what will happen to the American Empire and satellite states such as Canada and Mexico. Not in a sudden rush, but by degrees, a generation at a time. In 410, the Roman empire extended from Scotland to Palestine and it was possible to safely travel the distance in a few weeks. By 440, it was only possible to travel from the south of France across the mediterranean. By 475, there was no safe passage anywhere except around Constantinople.

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