I Don’t Believe in Market Fairies: The Tinkerbelle Economy Starts to Falter

Sharon May 16th, 2008

Here are 10 Things Americans are doing to help deal with higher energy and food prices.  These are getting nasty. Among other things now mean that the average American family will spend 6K on gas and other oil prices (and don’t think other energy sources, like electricity, are going to get cheaper either), and will struggle to deal with rapid rises in food prices.  What they amount to is pulling out all the stops to keep things going - and once those stops are gone, they are gone:

1. Putting it on the credit card: This is the overall winner, as US credit card indebtedness rose to 6000 per working American.  The dramatic rise in the first quarter of this year seems to reflect people falling back to the only resource they still have.  One analyst argues that many Americans don’t ever expect to pay - and this may be true of some.  But I suspect more likely most Americans have no idea *how* they will pay, but hope to.  That hope is likely to be in vain.

But the truth is that most Americans have only the vaguest sense of where their money goes, or how to use it effectively.  Poverty will not magically make them better at it.  Some will learn - some will not.  And while certainly some of the responsibility for that rests on individuals, other portions rest on the endless cultural messages that teach us that spending is saving, that saving is bad, that frugality is cheapness and meanness, that buying stuff is how you express your individuality, deal with stress and meet all your needs.  I forsee an awful lot of people blaming Americans for not getting that this time is different - even as the same voices cry out that it really isn’t.

2. Giving up luxuries like eating out, taking drives, buying new stuff.  The rising rate of bankruptcies at chain stores like Linens N Things show how quickly these changes ripple through the economy. 

3. Not paying their mortgages. Foreclosure auctions in CA are now up to 1000 every day.  They not only exceed home sales, but more than 70% of the houses don’t sell.

4. Buying smaller portions - after all, we wouldn’t want the recession to hurt Sara Lee.  Almost certainly a false economy, resulting in greater net spending.  But then, that’s always the way - many studies over the years have shown it really does cost more to be poor for a host of reasons - you can’t pay for advance purchase contracts, buy in bulk, etc…, you pay fees to fix problems created by your poverty, you are likely to have to live far from services and resources.

Fortunately (for them), multinational corporations have been practicing for years on ways to keep you hooked on their products - in impoverished countries you can buy a french fries by the fry (at a hefty markup over a package) and single serving sizes of everything. Expect to see lots of hard work at keeping us from buying really inexpensive whole foods, growing gardens or otherwise finding real solutions.

5. Going on Food Stamps and making use of poverty relief services like Food Pantries and the Salvation army.  Apparently, however, while incomes have contracted stupidity remains abundant - a friend who works at a charity that helps families avoid eviction tells me she fielded 9 requests last week for help paying the cable bill ;-P.  Her explanations that cable was not considered a necessity seemed to fall on deaf ears.

For the larger chunk of people who really aren’t idiots, but simply can’t make the money meet their needs, there’s also the exciting new trend of going hungry and feeling bad about themselves for needing charity.

6. Pawning their possessions and selling them at Garage Sales, on Craigslist and Ebay 

7. Working more.  I have mostly anecdotal reports of rises in second and third jobs, but I suspect the data will start showing this more.  Particularly as companies, trying to keep the illusion that the economy is not collapsing, cut back on hours, instead of laying people off.

This is probably a prelude to working less, however, as unemployment, already wildly understated by government slanting, begins to rise in earnest, and people costs of gas and food begin to equalize with salaries. 

 8. Cutting back on trips to the mall, vacations and driving…finally!  On the other hand, some seem to be taking the “steal gas” strategy.

9. Experiencing panic, anger,  depression and anxiety.  Oh, no disposable income to spend on treating them.

10. Getting drunk, using more drugs, beating their spouses and children and occasionally killing themselves.  Misery and fear breed anger and depression and abuse and drugs.  And all those things make the situation worse - the drugs and alcohol suck up money that could be used for food and housing.  The rising divorce rate means that now two incomes have to support two households. 

Meanwhile, of course, the government tells us it isn’t that bad (as long as you don’t eat, drive or fly), and Wall Street keeps reassuring us that the problems are basically over.  The issue, of course, is that markets depend on belief in their success even more than money. 

We have a Tinkerbelle economy - in Peter Pan we’re told that every time you say “I don’t believe in fairies” one drops dead.  The same is effectively true of our present economy - every time someone actually admits that they don’t think the magical wish-fulfillment fantasy that is our market system can fix it, a little piece falls down dead.  So it is important that the media and public figures say, as loudly as possible, “I do believe in market fairies.  I do believe in market fairies” so as to drown out any doubts we might have, caused, say, by the actual evidence that we’re getting poorer.

But all of this, sad and horrible as it is, is merely the prelude.  Right now, many people are able to delude themselves that this situation will stabilize soon, because we are drawing down our back up options.  What happens when most Americans have nothing left to sell on Craigslist?  When the credit card companies cease to extend credit, and there is no equity left?  What happens as state budgets begin to crash and more and more households lose benefits, and have to absorb those costs?

The truth is that as long as the voices keep saying so loudly that everything will be all right, most Americans have no idea that they need to make fundamental changes - we’re being told this is just a downturn, and that if we all believe in market fairies hard enough, we can keep it from being bad.  Alan Greenspan tells us that the housing market will bottom out in 2009, and we’ll see the market saturation stabilize.  But how on earth is that going to happen, with thousands of unsold, foreclosed upon houses that no one wants even at 50% of their appraised value?

The fact is, just saying you believe in fairies doesn’t make Tinkerbelle appear at the bottom of your garden.  And as unpleasant as it is to hear the bad news, unless people know that it is going to get worse, they won’t start using what resources they have left in a coherent way - instead of starting gardens and dumping cars and relying on carpools and public transport, moving towards the more stable informal economy, they will try, as long as they can, to maintain their basic lifestyle.  And that only brings about a greater disaster.  But only a big pile of fairy corpses will be visible enough to make this clear. 

I’m dropping market fairies as fast as I can.  Because I don’t believe.


47 Responses to “I Don’t Believe in Market Fairies: The Tinkerbelle Economy Starts to Falter”

  1. Tony Orlandoon 16 May 2008 at 9:44 am

    I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the good work. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

  2. wisheson 16 May 2008 at 9:52 am

    I don’t believe either~

    love love love your blog!!!

  3. alyclepalon 16 May 2008 at 10:13 am

    We’ve put in a garden and a few months ago started building up a pantry. I have a loom and am putting back wool and cotton for making my own towels and fabric. Although I sew costumes I’ve never before sewn real clothes but this summer’s outfits will come at least 50% from homesewn and 35% from reused and only the rest will be bought at stores—simple, plain shirts that I can wear summer or winter. I hate to see what’s happening but I’m glad to be pessimistic enough to be preparing now. Nothing is ever wasted—if you and many others are wrong then we have all learned skills and put up food that will bide us well for a long time, decreasing our need to use disposable income. I’m surprised how easy the switch to the Mindset of saving has been for us. I hope more people start.

  4. MEAon 16 May 2008 at 10:37 am

    My newish across the street neighbors who are Turkish economists were talking to me about the play money economy the other day, and suggested (joke alter) we peg the dollar to the potato.

    They are also putting in a garden.

  5. Lisa Zon 16 May 2008 at 10:57 am

    Sharon, you’re right that a lot of people will just keep trying (and failing) to maintain their current lifestyles. But because of people like you and so many others online, many many of us are instead turning to gardening (or more gardening in my case), doing so much more for ourselves and in turn teaching others. Your message is spreading, trust me.

    And thank you, for that. (BTW, can we still believe in fairies even if not market ones?)

    Lisa in MN

  6. Lisa Zon 16 May 2008 at 11:00 am

    Oh another BTW, I have a Citibank credit card with about a $200 balance (will be paid off in full in two weeks and not used again). Today I got an email from Citi’s CEO or President or whoever he is, telling me how great the company is doing and taking care of our money and all that. Eek! Now if that isn’t frightening…

    Lisa in MN

  7. Adrienneon 16 May 2008 at 11:01 am

    I just ran across your site the other day- thank you so much for telling it like it is. An 0.9% drop in driving, that’s pathetic.

    I’m freaking out b/c I live in an apartment, no chance for a garden and no chance of this changing anytime soon, tho I am cleaning out the hall closet and building up some supplies. I wish I’d started sooner!

  8. Leilaon 16 May 2008 at 11:52 am

    Dear Adrienne and everybody else who is freaking out:

    Don’t freak out.

    Sharon wouldn’t want you to.

    Take sensible measures that are within your budget of $, energy and time.

    Apartment dwellers - find your local community garden and get a plot. Or start one. Learn to sprout pulses and beans; put a container garden on the patio/balcony/window sill/fire escape. Choose other ways to reduce consumption. By living in a small apartment rather than a big house, you are already part of the solution.

    Also - find a food co-op and buy there; or start one. Co-op with your friends and neighbors for all kinds of needs - tools, vacations, potluck dinners, repairs.

    Freaking out will leading to burning out. I think things are going to bump along for quite some time, and some of Sharon’s readers may pop up saying - where’s the apocalypse? I’m sick of this and I’m going to the mall! Sharon thinks it’s all going to happen quite rapidly, and she may be right. But if it drags along looking “normal” for years, folks who freaked out too early might give up trying too early.

    My respectful opinion.

  9. kristineon 16 May 2008 at 11:53 am

    there’s no such thing as market fairies!

    we are pretty frugal here and are seriously feeling the hurt. i am struggling to get our garden in between rain and flooding.

    we are better off than most, we have goats and chickens and bees and soon will have sheep. and an orchard and a huge garden and i know and use and grow herbs.

    i told the kids last night to savor the ice cream we have in the freezer because i can’t afford to buy any more after this. it will now be a special treat, homemade when we have a glut of milk to use up.

    what’s next? we don’t have cable. i need internet to run my home business. and phone too. i’ve ditched my cell phone service and switched to trac fone for emergency use. propane and electricity? (i’m looking into a small solar panel to run the computer if need be).

  10. Leilaon 16 May 2008 at 11:54 am

    and p.s., if Sharon is indeed right and “it” (The End of Modern Life As We Know It) happens quickly, freaking out still won’t help you much. Calm heads are essential to survival.

  11. Sharonon 16 May 2008 at 12:13 pm

    Leila, you do me better than I do me a lot of the time ;-).

    I would note that while I think things *are* unravelling rather quickly, I don’t claim to know how far they will go how fast, if that makes any sense. That is, I think that it makes sense for most of us to hedge our bets as much as we can, but I don’t believe that we’re all in a race to the apocalypse. It may happen very quickly for some of us, and less quickly for others - but it can’t hurt to, as Leila puts it, find those community gardens and other resources. And again, remember that apartment dwellers are doing their share too.

    Sharon, who is now beginning to think hmmm…I could go on vacation and let Leila run the blog for a while ;-).

  12. Cathyon 16 May 2008 at 1:02 pm

    The smaller portion sizes makes me nuts because it means more packaging waste! I would hope that folks would get smart and buy the larger/normal size of half of the items on their grocery list one week — and half the other week.
    I used to work for a manufacturer of household care goods that used the smaller size strategy for years — that’s how they avoided price increases but they didn’t point it out clearly to the consumer that there were fewer ounces, less weight in the package.

  13. Greenpaon 16 May 2008 at 1:09 pm

    Hi Sharon- a little cosmic synchronicity here; I’ve got a post today on the fact that “They” are actually chanting, loudly, that they DO believe in market fairies- and using really badly cooked statistics to back them up-
    it’s a plot

  14. Karinon 16 May 2008 at 1:10 pm

    I live in Central Maine. It is a very agricultural area. But also economically stagnant even before the country’s recent economic troubles. I drive into Bangor about once every two weeks. It is about an hour drive on back roads. I saw at least 5 newly tilled garden plots. These were not small hobby gardens but huge provider gardens. I saw more free range chickens than I did last year.

    The over arching theme of conversations I have or overhear these days is about the price of gas, food and the fear (not just worry) about how people will manage next winter when heating oil is beyond the reach of many.

    I am involved in the Independence Day challenge because I feel like I need something to keep me focused and accountable so that we an get through next winter. We are fortunate to heat with wood but the cost of gas could put us out of the market for regular trips to the grocery store. We are into our second year of “homesteading” and have ramped things up quite a bit. This isn’t just a lifestyle choice now but a true necessity.

  15. Heather Grayon 16 May 2008 at 2:29 pm

    Excellent post, thanks.

    Gardening is going more slowly than I’d like — clearing garden space in a compacted hay field is…. interesting… even with some powered rototiller help, I’m thinking maybe I should just dump the mulch on now and just clear spaces wherever I’m going to put seeds/plants. I’ve been gardening for years but not at this scale. I know we’ll feel better doing it, but it is a little daunting at times. I know next year will be easier, thank goodness!

    Reading about some of the stuff that’s going on these days is part of what keeps me going at it…

    Meantime, L’s and my combined credit card debt (we still have two cards, but one is on the way out, hopefully this month), is less than 2K, so some other people must have the other 10K of debt… I still use my card because I do purchase some of my supplies online and don’t want to expose our bank account, but then I send in a big payment to my credit card company as well — I wonder if that is taken into account when ‘they’ talk about credit card use going up?

    I’m glad we’re renting the 2nd floor of my in-laws’ house though — the drop in overhead costs means we’ve been able to pay off/down debts, save some money, and will be able to afford to buy a wood stove without putting it on a credit card (plus the guy we’re going to buy from has a sale starting this weekend!).

    Thanks for the note on gas theft. We’ll be looking into getting a locking gas cap this weekend.

  16. Greenpaon 16 May 2008 at 2:43 pm

    About locking gas caps- our friend the deputy tells us our local thieves have quit worrying about them. They don’t have time to monkey; so they just crawl under- puncture the gas tank with a sharp screwdriver, catch it in a pan… etc.

    sigh. A motion-detector light might be better deterrent-

  17. Robbieon 16 May 2008 at 3:08 pm

    I agree things are going south, not to be negative, but from personal experience. My husband was let go from Babies R Us a week ago for a stupid reason (e-mail not detailed enough!). He - and the other assistant manager who was let go a few months ago - were the highest paid ones around. The company is looking to reduce operating revenue by the millions this year. People need diapers and bottles, but probably not a lot of the extras the chain sells. I figure there’s little wonder why the store started extending credit to shoppers last year.

    So things are beyond tight for us. Having young children, we opt to stick to home rather than go out to eat/catch plays or movies. We’d already resigned ourselves to our annual budget including travel for funerals and possibly Christmas. That is likely gone. At this point, we’re both looking for jobs - a primary one for him, a second one for me - while we await word on unemployment. I used to adjunct teach at the community college a few years ago, and remember how they’d look for instructors up to the last minute due to demand. The semester’s two weeks out, and everything is filled. I think it’s a sign that people are less able to afford a college education as well.

    The sad thing is, I considered myself to be fisally frugal all these years. Our situation is just forcing us to be more and more creative with our resources. I just hope the many others whose situations are worse than ours don’t give up hope.

  18. MissyMon 16 May 2008 at 3:18 pm

    Well, other than last weekend’s purchase of 100lbs of flour, and also large quantities of salt, sugar, baking powder and soda, I’m not freaking out. Not sure what got into me, but I just had this tremendous urge to continue to be able to afford to bake bread!

    I actually am selling a lot of my stuff on craigslist… but not so much to make money, but I’m feeling overwhelmed with “STUFF”. I’d like to see the rooms in my basement, rather than shelf after shelf of more stuff. The money just happens to be better than giving it away. (And it’ll pay for the deep freeze that I do not need since I am NOT FREAKING OUT).

    Wise words. Thanks.

  19. Rosaon 16 May 2008 at 3:43 pm

    Robbie, don’t feel bad about your planning and frugality. That’s another one of the market fairies - if we all just do right, nothing bad will ever happen to us. It’s not true. You do the best you can, and the rest is out of your hands.

    I don’t know if I’ve posted it before, but the cost of heat this last winter, and the job market, have a *lot* of people I know doubling up on housing. The scary thing for me is that it’s mostly people’s Boomer-aged parents moving in with them, not the kids moving in with their parents - if the Boomers don’t have savings to tide them over, who are their debt-burdened kids going to turn to for help if they lose their jobs?

    It does look like the foreclosure wave has washed over my neighborhood. There are maybe half as many houses for sale this summer so far, and the houses that got foreclosed last fall all seem to have either new occupants or someone fixing them up. Prices are down where they were in the late ’90s (bad for us, since we bought in 2003, but not bad compared to the ’70s or the ’80s.)

  20. Paula Hewitton 16 May 2008 at 4:49 pm

    Another great post. what stuns me are the empty wastes of lawn in our neighbourhood - people who have the sapce to grow a lot (or at least something) and are doing nothing. I am also stunned at the waste of money for non-essentials (which are still relatively cheap) while at the same time complaining about costs of fuel/food.

  21. Rosaon 16 May 2008 at 5:01 pm

    Yeah, Paula - I will believe that the cost of gas is too high when I see even 25% of the cars in the loading zone at my office, or in the parking lot at the day care, turned off while people run in to get their kids/wait to pick someone up/ talk on their cell phones.

    Unfortunately the effects of utility companies cutting services to people in cold-winter areas won’t really be visible until this fall, and by then it will be a scramble to do anything about it.

  22. alyclepalon 16 May 2008 at 5:27 pm

    Our Indepence days step today was that the dh received permission to move to 4 10 hour work days. He has an hour commute each way so that will save us $15-20 a week and more quality time at home that we’ll be able to use on our garden infrastructure.

  23. catskillmamalaon 16 May 2008 at 8:17 pm

    My mother’s gas cap cover was dented, cap broken, gas was siphoned and the bums broke whatever reads the gas level to boot. I just taught her how to calculate MPG and then how many miles she can get on a full tank because who has the $$ to fix the thing ($400).

    Local movie theater owner said it was the worst April ever. Same with several other local businesses. I used to read the housing bubble pages, but it’s old news now. I used to follow the US, Asian and European mkts every day–but now I see that they are completely disconnected from reality, just looking for the greater fool.

    Still most of the mucky mucks I see in banking, real estate and government don’t want to admit anything is wrong. even though commercial loans are in arrears, nothing’s selling and sales tax revenues are plunging. And this means very little planning ahead by large institutions for GW/PO. More and more it makes me want to superlocalize my efforts to this here plot o’ land and these here people.

  24. Deb Gon 16 May 2008 at 8:56 pm

    In the first three months of this year, bus ridership was up 37% from last year in my community. Gas has hit record highs for the last three days in a row. I am so glad I don’t own car any more. And I am so glad that my potatoes are growing well : )

  25. Nitaon 16 May 2008 at 11:54 pm

    Excellent post! We have been preparing for this since before Y2K. All our friends stocked up on MRE’s and containers of gas at that time. We stocked up on seeds, canning jars and hand tools. We have been steadily marching a different way, while they threw away or sold all the supplies (except for the gas) they had accumulated. One family even sold their @^$**! cows, and bought horses instead. Those cows ate too much! As if the horses don’t.
    I think people need to change their lifestyles and stick with it - stocking up on food like most families eat today is foolish. When the supply runs out - then what?
    Save seeds that grow in your area, stock up on manufactured goods you can’t make yourself, learn basic home economic skills, and learn to cook with what is growing right now!
    We eat like kings and have never felt deprived one bit.

  26. Chileon 17 May 2008 at 8:09 am

    I just started noticing this week that people are skimping on car tires. I’m seeing bald tires on really nice trucks and a large proportion of people driving with their spare on. This is something I hadn’t thought about before, but indicates a potentially bad trend. As people get more and more squeezed, they are likely to let car maintenance slide. We’ve also noticed a rise in aggressive driving, presumably to folks being angry, depressed, and anxious about the whole economy. Combined with poorly maintained cars and bald tires, this spells more accidents. As a cyclist, I’m choosing side roads more often even though the bike lanes on the main streets are more convenient.

    In terms of increase in drug and alcohol abuse, we are not looking forward to the day that a couple of our neighbors get their tax refund. They already party a lot, often still going at 4 am when the dog wants out. With a windfall of cash, I expect quite a row. I just hope they don’t let their chiminea get out of control and end up burning down our house. Or shoot their guns up in the air. Falling bullets are dangerous. *sigh*

    This is a chiminea.

  27. Chileon 17 May 2008 at 8:22 am

    Heather, I just tried to post some information for you about gardening on your hay field. Since it got eaten, I’ll just do a post on my blog. Please come check it out. You can garden there in an easier manner!

  28. Verdeon 17 May 2008 at 9:05 am

    This is the second such article like this I’ve read this morning before 8:00 a.m. I have been looking for such articles and thinking these thought in my own lonely head for weeks, but not able to come up with anything but the cheery media. I was begeinning to think it was just me.

    I have not idea how to make such a thing but it would be fun to have a widget that says “I don’t believe in Fairies” and have it link to your article.

    I am on week 2 of Independence Days Challenge and have blogged it over here: http://www.justicedesserts.blogspot.com/

  29. lydiaon 17 May 2008 at 10:26 am

    And when the credit card runs dry and you can’t fit anyone else in your house after double up becomes triple up, and gas is ten bucks a gallon, then what? And when you lose the part time job, then what? It’s going to be interesting. CNN Money posted a video about a couple of middle aged women who now live in their cars along with their dogs.

    Apparently this one lady lost her job as a notary signing mortgage documents, (when the industry went to hell in a hand basket) and then as a result lost her condo she was living in. Her 19 yo daughter had to go live with friends. Can’t sleep two in the back of a SUV with dogs too. She sleeps in a parking lot in a fenced lot that is locked at night, so at least she has some security. She carried with her a set of china plates, hanging on to some remnant of her former civilized middle class life….She got a part time job at 8 bucks an hour and gets social security, but even that won’t pay for an apartment. Let’s see, guessing SS is about 500 -800 a month and the job pays about the same. So 1200 to 1400 a month in California, and you can’t afford to pay rent and buy food. And with our dollor going to hell, she and the rest of us will be even more at risk. She said, it’s ok, things will get better. So, she has a china plate, but no food to put on it? I am not making light of this at all.

    I think she may be living in her car for a while. She is 57 or 67 they said so what are the job prospects? Even full time won’t pay for what she needs at low wages. Sigh……..These are our mothers and grandmothers. Look for shelters to be overflowing. Look for more and more homeless- formerly middle class. Look for more crime, the gas thefts are just the beginning.

    Will the fairies stop and help these people? No. Even the fairies that formerly worked on Wall street are losing their jobs in record numbers. The news said 65,000.00 lay offs in the financial sector, and thats just one piece of the economic pie. And more lay offs to come. Maybe in the not so distant future we will ask someone what they do for a living, and they say “farmer -it’s the new stock broker”…..I turned my magic wand into a hoe……

    While out driving around the other day I saw for the first time in a while, a couple people in their front side yard building and dumping dirt into raised beds for a garden! Wow! Now that’s just one person, but it’s a start for what used to be nothing but lawns. Now, let’s hope they can keep their jobs and pay for the mortgage or else lose the garden along with house…My beans and onions are in. My house is paid for. I am richly blessed and thank god every day for all that I have.

  30. “Tinkerbelle Economy”on 17 May 2008 at 10:52 am

    […] us that “everything is okay,” but I am not buying their explanation - the “Tinkerbelle economy” is […]

  31. michelleon 17 May 2008 at 2:07 pm

    I believe in market fairies.

    But, I DON’t think they are kind, gentle, or nice.

    They are pure evil under that glamor veil.


  32. erlkingon 17 May 2008 at 9:52 pm

    You were a Victorianist, weren’t you?

  33. Anonymouson 18 May 2008 at 8:03 am

    Nope, Shakespearean.


  34. Kerron 18 May 2008 at 10:14 am

    Michelle, stop harshing on market fairies! I go to the farmer’s market at least once a week. Some religions may claim I’m immoral, but I’m sure I’m not pure evil.

    Faerie-phobe! ;)

    (Thanks, though, for the complement about my veil. I sewed the glamor on myself; all the sequins and beads are recycled from other drag. It’s really good for keeping the sun off my face. I think in a post-oil future everyone will wear them in place of polycarbonate sunglasses.)

  35. Jan Steinmanon 18 May 2008 at 10:42 am

    Our solution is simple: banding together.


  36. alyclepalon 18 May 2008 at 11:42 am

    Hey Sharon, someone at abcnews must be reading your blog:>. Last night they did a segment on how our lives might change as gas gets more expensive. They even mentioned Peak Oil. I sometimes wonder if the media starts on topics a little at a time to saturate the public consciousness with hints till a hard to accept idea becomes easy to shallow:>.

  37. mangomomon 18 May 2008 at 12:19 pm

    Hi Sharon,
    I’ve been reading your blog for a couple of months. I love it, and really appreciate the information you provide about what’s happening in our world AND what we can do to prepare (as best we can).

    The money issue is REALLY worrying me though. Thanks in large part to this site and your “100 things…” post, I feel like I know what to do about the Peak Oil stuff (eliminating car usage, growing/storing food etc) but I am totally lost about how to prepare for the financial collapse that’s coming. My husband has a somewhat stable (or so I assume) job that pays very well, but we have a lot of consumer debt that we are putting almost ALL of our extra income towards (after bills… and we are Rioting so we can get those bills as low as possible). We have a small emergency savings fund (about $1500) and are renting. We have 2 young children that I-ideally- want to stay home with until they are school age, but I am starting to panic and feel like it might be better for us-financially, at least, if not philosophically- for me to find a job.

    I read The Market Ticker and Automatic Earth obsessively…. but there’s not a lot of “how to” on those sites. Can someone-ANYONE!- please point me in the direction of books/websites that will tell us what to do with our money? Should we put less towards the credit cards and more towards savings? Should we be using a bank at all?!? What about 401Ks?

    Any help you or your readers can throw this way would be much appreciated. :)


  38. Heather Grayon 18 May 2008 at 12:27 pm

    Hi Chile, good post on sheet mulching. I thought about it for this year but strange as it sounds, we didn’t have the time — or more precisely, have it at the _right_ time. Sheet mulching is something we should have either started last fall or at least halfway through April. Last fall we were moving to the farm, and then it snowed. This past April we were finishing up sugaring (with an unplanned management/team changeover thrown in) plus getting a bunch of other stuff done around the farm, plus L has been working overtime for the past couple of months (telecommuting, but still…). We’ve literally only had real free time in the past week or two.

    So, not enough time for sheet mulching, but at least I can mulch after the fact to keep in moisture and keep down weeds. Most of the fields did get manure at the same time my FIL or husband did the tilling, except one spot, but that was on purpose. Potatoes, carrots, and parsnips apparently don’t respond well — potatoes like pine needles, straw, etc., and carrots and parsnips will fork when they contact manure.

    And of course all the mulch will stay in the garden after the harvest, and we can dump some compost on it in the fall, maybe before I plant garlic!

  39. michelleon 18 May 2008 at 1:40 pm

    Not that kind of market fairie Kerr….(:

    I don’t think you’re evil at all.

  40. Kerron 18 May 2008 at 1:43 pm

    Good, the glamor is working!

  41. […] As usual, Sharon Astyk’s blog is worth reading: […]

  42. Shaneon 18 May 2008 at 10:35 pm

    To Heather-
    Sheet mulching isnt the panacea it is made out to be. To start you need an abundant source of mulch, and unless you can grow your own you will be exposed to the rising costs of someone else buying, processing and hauling it. If you grow your own you need to factor in the time spent planting and managing the mulch patch. And for either source many types of mulch can have weed seeds in them, so you could be importing a new weed problem.

    Secondly you need massive amounts of newspaper. Not exactly eco friendly and sustainable. People in centuries to come will wonder that people could just mulch with something as refined and manufactured as paper. If you skimp on the thickness the longevity of the paper rapidly drops, so it is an open door for the weeds.

    Thirdly, no matter how thick the paper and how deep the mulch you will get some weeds growing through or on top of the layers (brought there by the wind or your feet). For the ones that come up through the paper, it is difficult to remove them without making larger holes in the paper, opening the door for more weed seeds underneath to come through. Some weeds, like creeping perennials, will spear through quite thick paper, but the crown or runners hide under the paper, making removal a complicated mess. Every hole you make to plant seeds or seedlings is another weak point.

    Fourthly the paper and mulch is pretty nutrient poor. So you still need a lot of fertiliser, especially to supply nitrogen. Adding nitrogen accellerates the break down of the paper and mulch.

    Lastly you need to haul all of this material and lay it out, usually while bending over, or crawling. So it is definitely not a physically easy thing to do, and I personally know of many people (including myself) who have been knocked around by the process.

    Seriously- read “Gardening when it counts” by Solomon before doing huge amounts of sheet mulching. The traditional alternative is to kill your pasture sod nibble by nibble with a shovel (though I cheat and use large sheets of black solarising plastic, though that requires preplanning and patience) then dealing with emerging weed seeds with a sharp hoe, never bending over. The only other tool is a strong fork to gently aerate the soil (no turning). You increase soil fertility with green manure crops and careful application of small amounts of minerals (mostly lime). Let the plants do the hard work of bringing carbon and nitrogen into the soil. And better yet grow the right plants for your climate at the best time so you dont need to haul water to them as well. I have been using this approach and it works!

  43. Leilaon 19 May 2008 at 12:45 am

    Hah, Sharon, you know I couldn’t run your blog for two minutes. I have been paying attention, however, and I seem to excel at *summarizing* your blog.

  44. mad mikeon 19 May 2008 at 5:00 pm

    as the u.s. economy depends on the 8 hour day and my body on 8 hrs sleep, i have 8 hrs leftover.
    to do things like prepare for work. and i have to chop wood for the winter, clean house, do laundry,buy and prepare food. maybe next year i will start a garden. which will mean dedicating time to that.
    but.. local property taxes eat up 25% of my income.
    the town aint gonna care if go green and local. if i dont pay my quarter taxes they take my house, garden and all. get ready for a shock. my 3 month quarter taxes are $1720! i cut the cable tv. save $50 a month. everyone i know thinks i am nuts.
    i got solar panels. what a waste! make $60 a month but cost $25,000.
    figger out how long pay back is.
    that is why i chop and burn wood. more cost effective. maybe i will bicycle to work if the weather ever gets warm. gasoline is $3.81 a gallon today. up 4 cents from yesterday.
    but i would have more time to chop wood and tend a garden if i was unemployed. the great state of new jerky where i live, had a $3 billion unemployment fund 3 years ago. now they have $160 million. i wonder where the money went?
    answer: into crooked politicians pockets.
    a man enslaved to wealth can never be honest.
    there is no limit to human greed and folly(tm). i dont believe in fairies but things look mighty queer to me.

  45. Leila Abu-Sabaon 19 May 2008 at 10:29 pm

    Re: solar panels - my really smart, environmentalist friend the Ph.D. in physics has posted on my blog that she thinks it’s bad social policy to subsidize solar panels. They cost too much for the benefit we get. I think she has a point.

    Conserve first. Hey, in the summer, put up awnings over your south and west facing windows - keep the house cooler. A LOT less money than solar panels to run the A/C. Try just not having A/C. Do all the other things suggested here and everywhere to cut energy use radically.

    Colin Beavan at No Impact Man went off the grid in NYC for a year. He only had a teeny solar panel to run his laptop. Check him out for tips on how to save energy.

    Build a solar oven from boxes & foil. Recipes easily googled.

    Good luck with coping, Mad Mike and all.

  46. Sharonon 20 May 2008 at 6:48 am

    Personally, I’m not that impressed by Solomon’s GWIC book, and among the many things I’m not impressed by is his take on sheet mulching. Weeds are actually really easy to handle in sheet mulch, for example. And people throw huge quantities of newsprint or cardboard out daily - no one actually has to go buy it. As for organic material - best use ever for rained on hay and straw which can’t be used for animal feed.

    Mike, I agree, solar panels are not worth it for most people, and time is a tough nut to crack. Do you have a partner or could you take in a roommate? Have property values fallen enough that you can get your property reassessed? Property taxes are tough - but as the market falls, they hopefully will get a bit easier for some of us.


  47. Stephanieon 20 May 2008 at 3:31 pm

    I’m not sure if your lack of faith is in market forces or simply in overconsumption - the demand side of a market economy that has been pushed hard in media and government messages since Keynes. But I suspect it’s the latter.

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply