Thinking Ahead: Predicting the Depression

Sharon October 14th, 2008

One of the hardest things about facing tough times is figuring out what to do.  The right choice depends on an uncertain future – it depends on guessing right about what will happen.  Do you transfer your stock market funds to Treasuries?  Get out of the market?  Give up on retirement?  Go back to school?  Should you be preparing for a job loss?  Should you let your house go?  And of course, we’re gambling with your future, and losing has high stakes.

A lot of people have emailed me lately asking me what I expect to have happen, so that they can make plans.  This is not something I’m totally wild about – I’d personally rather you base this on your own analysis.  I have been doing fairly well at the prediction game so far – I predicted a deflationary depression with rising food prices just about a year ago and my annual New Year’s predictions are now officially 8 for 10, but I also would have predicted oil prices to remain fairly high for a while into the recession, and I’ve long said that I though the fundamentals of the economy were so bizarre and unstable that I didn’t understand why it hadn’t crashed already.  That is, I do not think that every word that comes out of my mouth was put there by a divine being, and neither should you.  I’m wrong sometimes, and you should remember that.  But because so many people are asking me to give them a sense of what we’re facing, I’m going to do that, if you promise not to make any life decisions solely based upon my thinking.

 So here are my bets for what we’re facing the coming decade in re: food, energy, etc…

 - That in retrospect, the current economic shifts will last at least 7 years, and probably a decade or more before stabilizing, almost certainly at a new, lower economic and energy level.  During that period, there will be a number of seeming signs of recovery, periods where things are worse, declarations the crisis is over (I like CNBC’s website for a daily promise that the crisis is over today and that the last set of interventions have worked.  They start out every morning with that promise, and amend their claims according to the end of the day.)

I think we are entering a Depression – and both the Great Depression and the 1970s recession took us a full decade to get out of.  In both cases, they were essentially escaped by the application of lots of cheap energy – the former withe WWII build out, the latter with the cheap oil of the early 80s price collapse.  It isn’t clear to me what would get us out of our current economic crisis – but we will probably reach various points of stability in between drops to lower economic levels, as John Michael Greer argues.  Meanwhile, I also believe that we are likely to see what we’ve seen in other economic crises – denial, rallies (such as we’ve seen in the markets yesterday and so far today), minor improvements, declarations that all will be better soon.  One of the tricks is going to be sorting out real improvements from wishful thinking and outright lies.   My own opinion is that it is wise to think about this crisis as a long term, rather than a short term one.  That does not mean that things won’t get very nasty in a short time – it means that whatever levels we fall to, I would say we’re a ways from getting out.

- Markets will still exist after this.  This seems obvious, but  I’ve had people ask if there will still be a stock market after this.  The answer is yes, certainly.  If nothing else, the US, which is the world’s largest grain exporter will be trading food to energy producing nations and food for large nations that can’t produce what they need for a long time.  There may be points at which trading is suspended, and my own bet would be in a steep decline over the next year – a few days ago we were down 40% over last year – I think there’s at least another 40-50% to go from here.  It won’t be a steady downturn, though – there will be rallies and improvements.   I think it is perfectly possible, however, that a lot of foreign investment may leave the US and the amount of money available for markets to play with will continue to decline for a long, long time.  I suspect most ordinary people will probably get out of the markets, just as they did after the 30s.

Where should you put your money?  This is not my area of expertise, so I’ll just tell you where I’ve put mine - into my home, into the food in my pantry and the tools I use, into my community (I’m trying to keep up my charitable donations as much as possible), and my local credit union.  Is this a perfect solution?  No, and it probably isn’t helpful to those close to retirement, retired or with lots of money to preserve.  In that case, I’d take the advice of Ilargi and Stoneleigh over at www.theautomaticearth.blogspot.com.  They are far better at this than I am.  I still think that durable goods, land, natural resources and basic things like food make a lot of sense.

-  This one is more an intuition than a fully formed and reasoned thought, but I’m coming to suspect that we may find ourselves unable to import some, or many goods at some point in the not-too-distant future.  Watching Iceland’s current situation is going to be unique – and the costs of shipping are also a major issue.  There are two consequences of this – the first is the re-onshoring of some manufacturing, which would be good.  A friend of mine who works in the medical equipment business already jokes that his job in New Bangalore (Boston) is the cheap place to make stuff for the Swiss company owners. 

The second consequences may be that you just can’t get stuff you are used to.  So I’d suggest getting unused to it, if you can.  This will not be easy or pleasant.  And this includes food and other things we need.  While the US can feed itself, we are also one of the largest food importers in the world. 

- I’d expect to lose your job.  I’d bet on high unemployment levels over the next decade – 15-30%.  There’s a lot of fat in our economy, and a lot of us make our money on that fat – that’s not a value judgement, btw – books are a luxury too, as is a college education.  The problem is that we don’t much distinguish in economic crisis terms between valuable luxuries like education and valueless ones, like Mercedes. 

Just to be clear, we’re totally implicated in this one.  We figure there’s a 50-50 shot Eric will lose his job – he brings in a huge amount of money to the university and is paid less than a comparable tenured professor (part of our betting mechanism), but if across the board commands come to get rid of non-tenured faculty come out, he’s toast.  This is bad, since it provides our benefits and also much of our income.  It is also bad because Eric loves his job.  We particularly took this job, as opposed to say, a tenured position at a small university (Eric is primarily interested in science education, not research, so tenure at a research University was never considered), because we thought that despite the risks, the state universities are more likely to survive a major crisis than small private ones, but this was a bet, and we may pay the price.

If your job depends on travel, state and county budgets, parents having the money for private schools or college, luxury goods (and by luxury I mean “stuff you don’t need), high end consumers choosing to pay more for quality (and this is likely to affect many small organic farmers, crafters, etc…  me included), real estate development, or can be described as a “Dilbert Job” you are probably at risk.  I’d also suggest that people relying on current non-traditional energy booms, and renewables are in trouble if the credit crisis continues.  You are even more at risk if you are a. older, and highly paid and can be laid off and replaced with a much cheaper younger person b. recently hired c. recently graduated or d. have a medical condition that makes you expensive or are likely to have a baby, and thus seem expendable. 

What can you do about this?  If you can, make sure someone in your household (and remember, “household” is a fungible commodity – it does not have to consist only of a nuclear family) has a reliable job if possible.  If you currently are making a lot of money, but could shift into something more stable, it might be wise to do it.  Otherwise, pay down your debts and do what you can to start cottage industries and local businesses so that you have a way of bringing in income.  Double up with family, share resources, cut your budget and get ready.  If you do have stable employment, sit tight and play nice.

- I may be wrong here, but I don’t expect most people to lose their homes, nationally. I think millions will, but the enormous build out of homes has left us with more housing than we can possibly use in any rational system.  So while some people will be homeless, my assumption is that gradually, either municipalities will decline to foreclose, as several have already, or legal challenges will allow people to keep their homes, because the institutions that once held their mortgages are now owned by the government, and paid for by the people.  I think more people will end up living together, but most people will have homes, simply because we built so many of them.

- I think that most people’s kids aren’t going to college for a while.  Eventually, my guess is that some small schools will close or be bought by state colleges, and eventually, the US will probably go to a subsidized college education system – but that’s longer term. I think this is likely simply because sending young adults to college is one of the best ways to keep them from rioting and causing violence – it is a cheaper thing than letting them start revolutions because they have no work and no money.  In the coming 5 years or so, I wouldn’t bet on college unless you have the cash to pay for it securely in your mattress – I think state colleges and community colleges will do ok, with trickle down of more affluent parents sending their kids there, but private, expensive colleges without huge endownments will struggle. 

 It is time to think about alternative education – apprenticeship, cooperative universities created by professors in their communities, and other educations. 

I do expect, in the very short term, a lot of people to go back to community college and especially graduate schools.  But since such programs only have subsidies for a few, be very cautious about borrowing money for this.

- I don’t expect short term loss of the utility grid as a whole or food access as a whole, but I do expect a lot of people to struggle to pay for them.  Utility shut offs are up again, and food is the one thing whose price is not falling much.  I expect high food prices in proportion to income to continue over the next years – and people are going to pay more and more of their income for food.  The same is true with utilities – while people may cut back some, I don’t expect radical drops in gas or electric prices.  So my guess would be that more of us should be set up to do without electricity or heat, or with very minimal use of these.  Growing some of your own food, and perhaps food to sell is going to continue to be essential. 

- I have said this before, but I expect that generations are going to have to come to terms with one another really soon.  That is, older folks who have been expecting to retire, or are retired, but now can’t do so or are struggling, are going to have to come together with younger folks who can work, but don’t have assets like housing or remaining funds, and have large debts from college and other sources.  The only possible answer to this set of problems is for them to work together – parents with kids, younger friends with older ones.  The good news is that this isn’t bad.  The bad news is that both generations are going to have adjust their expectations of the future enormously – the all leisure retirement is probably over.  So is the idea that living with your parents means you are a loser.  Valid relational difficulties are going to have to be overcome – or chosen family will have to take on the characteristics of biological family  – ie, they’ll love you and help you even when they don’t like you much. 

- I expect that in the coming years there will be a lot of misery and unhappiness.  And also a lot of surprising moments of happiness.  There will be a lot of pain and suffering.  And there will be a lot of moments in which people show extraordinary courage, kindness, and experience joy and delight, despite what’s happening.  We will live through extraordinary events, but we will also experience our lives in ordinary ways, and if we plan and think ahead, it is possible even to imagine that happiness will predominate, in the face of very difficult times.

 Sharon

73 Responses to “Thinking Ahead: Predicting the Depression”

  1. Tangibles are always a good bet. Food, clothing, housing, guns, bullets, and cash will always be worth something.

    Maybe the economy will become based more on labor than investing and paper shuffling.

  2. Ani says:

    I’d have to agree with most, if not all, of this Sharon. I just finished reading Greer’s “Long Descent” and I reccomend it wholeheartedly. My basic take on it is similar to what you’ve voiced here- and what he has to say in his book and many of his on-line posts. I think the hard thing about this is that many people are just sort of waiting for the “crises” to arrive and then be over with- the notion that it is going to be a “long descent” or even a “long emergency” is a hard one to plan for.

    I’ve been trying to figure out what I need to do here- in many ways I’m ahead of the game, living debt-free, off-grid, growing food- although I am in a very rural area and car-dependent. As well I am conscious of the need to keep my prices affordable for food- although in reality, as the grocery store prices climb, mine start looking beter and better! I’ve stopped teaching at the expensive private school I was adjunct-teaching at- would also guess that schools such as those will be hard hit. I think it’s going to be interesting times we’ll be living in- and pretty much will be the case for the rest of our lives so we may as well settle in, be flexible and try to enjoy ourselves all the same….

  3. Well, even though this is essentially not good news, it is reassuring to me. I have been anxious about what might happen and feeling pretty sure that something big and bad was sure to happen soon. So I guess I am changing the timeline in my mind from three weeks till it is really bad to maybe three years. This will free me up psychologically to get more stuff done like get a new roof, as opposed to thinking it is already to late to do it. I appreciate your going out on a limb to write up your predictions. Thanks Cindy in FL

  4. karen says:

    I agree with everything I would only add the very real possibility of hyperinflation. The govt is monetizing so much debt/bad loans/buying stocks all with money we don’t have. (In addition to all of our regular obligations we don’t have enough money for.) Read shadowstats.com to get a pretty good picture of what hyperinflation looks like.
    Karen

  5. Shaunta says:

    I was just hired to be an addictions counselor. The vast majority of my clients will be people who were sentenced in drug court to an 18-month program. So the state/county foots that bill to the non-profit I’ll work for and then I’ll get paid. I’m also licensed to be a substitute teacher (what I’ve been doing until now.)

    The drug counselor job feels stable to me. It isn’t likely that what’s happening in the economy is going to scare people straight. And if the people convicted aren’t sentenced to the counseling program, they’ll be in jail which is even more expensive. There is no competition in my county, I’ll work for the only program available.

    I’ll keep up my teaching license, because if something happens to my other job I’ll be able to at least make some money this way.

    But both of these jobs rely on public funds. My husband is a poker dealer (we live in Nevada,) which to me is iffy at best. People might still gamble during hard times, but they don’t travel and his income depends greatly on tourism.

    I’m curious, Sharon, if teachers and social workers fall into the realm of secure jobs?

    Shaunta
    http://www.shauntagrimes.com

  6. Shaunta says:

    P.S. I’m a writer, too. I wonder if you have done any research into the book buying habits of people during the Great Depression? I’d be interested. Maybe I’ll see what I can find out myself.

    I was at a huge conference this summer for romance writers and listened to several big publishers talk on the state of the industry. They universally said that despite the economy, sales are up. People want a little escapism and when they have a little money to splurge will often spend it on a book.

    Shaunta
    http://www.shauntagrimes.com

  7. Anonymous says:

    Making do without utilities was a VERY real problem for the entire population of Houston, Texas, just a few weeks ago. Large populated areas were in the dark for weeks, with grocery stores dealing with mountains of rotting food and no new shipments coming in. No pump stations working at wastewater treatment plants. No cell phone service. Few working landline phones. Some of the newer homes have windows designed to never be opened, so dependent are they on air-conditioning. With global warming we will see more hurricanes, more blackouts, and making do with less, and neighborly cooperation will be essential. Generators require a constant diet of gasoline, so those are impractical as well. My elderly parents coped well thanks to their collection of antiques — those oil-burning lamps give off nice light. I’m through with making fun of their Depression mindset. Something tells me we’ll soon need their advice.

  8. Shamba says:

    Shaunta, book buying in the depression was as bad as buyin anything else, I’ll bet, but I’ve not done any reasearch into that subject. I just know that libraries are used more heavily in hard times than in good times. And libraries are supported by public funds, most of the time.

    People will want the escapism whether it’s romance or mysteries or science fiction or historical escapes so there will be some people looking for books but probably at book exchanges or marked down copies rather than full retail price. Still, there are people like me who’d just as readily buy a book as a piece of clothing or eating out so if you have the yen to write I’d say do it.

    cheers,
    Shamba

  9. [...] is “Thinking Ahead: Predicting the depression” at Casaubon’s Book today. For economic predictions she points us to The Automatic [...]

  10. Russ says:

    Two reflections on this:

    1. People should be looking closely at what Iceland’s experiencing right now in the same way we’ve closely studied the example of Cuba post-Soviet breakup, since Iceland’s also likely presenting a preview of our own future.

    2. If the government’s really worried about riots and revolutionary activity among the unemployed and underemployed young, I’d say some some of new Deal-type CCC program would be a much better bet than state-subsidized college education, since few things are more destabilizing than a large cohort of underemployed college graduates. Just look at 19th century Russia.

  11. Rosa says:

    I can’t believe I’m saying this but I think you’re being pollyannaish on the utilities question – we’ve let all our infrastructure degrade so much, if we cut repairs/upgrades for financial reasons, we’re going to have outages on a regular basis within the next few years. And as the climate gets weirder, we have more to repair on less of a budget. I think I already talked about how the line south of which we get ice storms instead of snow is moving North – our local energy company is not equipped to cope with that. I think the week-long electric outages after an ice storm that are already pretty common for small towns in northern Iowa will hit Minneapolis in this decade – only it will affect a lot more people at a time.

    And there are already a lot of small towns that can’t afford to treat all their wastewater – that’s only going to get worse. Lots worse, if what gets skimped on is testing.

    This morning an official from one of our rural counties was on the radio talking about not being able to repair their roads and the need to prioritize and just let some of the paved roads go. Some of the ethanol plants that survive are going to have to put in their own rail lines, the way the coal plants did back in the day.

  12. Chris says:

    I would have to agree on the utilities side of things. Our infrastructure is in dire shape. Reduced budgets will have severly negative impacts on that with or without an extreme winter or continued natural disasters. Expect utility disruptions to increase over the next decade whether you can afford the monthly bill or not. This will be more so in the electricity and water side of things. Thats right I said WATER!

  13. Sharon says:

    Rosa, I agree with you – I guess the distinction I was trying to make was between total grid failure as a source of power outages and economic reasons causing intermittency and shutoffs. I suspect we’ll see privatization of sections of the grid so that affluent have fairly consistent power.

    I definitely think services will disappear in many places, especially rural ones such as my own area.

    And Cindy, I hate to say this, but I’m not sure we have 3 years before things get bad – at least for a lot of people. The iceland scenario is very possible here.

    Sharon

  14. Meadowlark says:

    Nice to hear things in a more tangible form. Thanks.

    I’d love to think that “government” jobs are a good career, but can’t convince myself of that. When people that work for an agency tell me “yeah, I’m a firefighter/police officer/ corrections officer/ EMT, so my job is safe” I remind them that the city/county has to be solvent for them to have a job. And it’s not like the city can simply raise taxes to cover the shortfall – people can often barely cover the taxes they’re paying now. Of course, I say this living in a community that fell $2 million short on the rest of the 2008 budget. Ooops. About that last public art expenditure: not so good. :(

  15. Susan says:

    Meadowlark, I completely agree. I did that public job for 10 years. The fire district I still live in, and used to work for, has the highest legal limit in taxes of any district in our state; they are in debt to their eyeballs and we have no industry to support it other than homeowner taxation…if people start leaving this area in droves I am not sure what will happen. And private ambulance companies are in the same boat regarding profit vs. costs. There is only so much an insurance company is going to reimburse for the trip, and most of those using an ambulance are on a fixed income and won’t pay their bill regardless. At least here in my state that’s the norm.

    DH just lost one of his jobs, the ambulance co. he worked for had their contract canceled with no warning at all.

    I cashed out my public safety retirement so I could go back to school and become a nurse, but I am curious to find out what has happened to the fund at large — our state had chosen to use the money to invest heavily in ‘safe’ funds in the market. It USED to be one of the highest rated public retirement funds in the nation.

  16. AnnMarie says:

    I’ve been hopeful that colleges will stick around. I work at a 12,000-student state college! But I don’t teach, which could be good or could be bad. (Actually, I could teach and sometimes do, but it’s not my regular job.) I support faculty who teach online. DH and I have debated whether that is more or less likely to stick around. On the one hand, folks might not have computers/internet access, esp if utilities go down. On the other hand, libraries might still have them or it might be the one thing folks try to keep around because of access to news, info, etc. In that case, which we are hoping for, online education might become HUGE because people wouldn’t have to travel to campus, just to the local library at the worst. Luckily, we know we could live on a reduced salary, but we aren’t prepared for a complete job loss–my skills aren’t very transferable.

    One thing I haven’t been able to find news on is, if this all happens as you predict–or even less than that like what’s going on these days–what do folks think will happen to Social Security? My parents are retired and using that instead of their retirement savings; my MIL ditto, plus her two child are disabled so their SSSI payments are probably supporting the family. Another family member is on SS Disability. Is it likely that these payments will continue or do we need to worry hard about these family members? (Unfortunately, they all live 1000 miles away from us. My parents can take care of themselves quite well–growing food, using geothermal heat, or their woodburning stoves, foraging, etc. They’ve always been frugal). But the others couldn’t survive w/o SS. (And she’ll NEVER move to WI. We’ve asked. Begged. Promised all sorts of help. Not happening. She does have two other adult children in NJ however, so not all is lost.) So anyway, any thoughts on Social Security–all kinds of it–or links to others thinking about it?

  17. WNC Observer says:

    Sharon:

    Lots of good points, with which I mostly agree.

    My basic planning model assumes a long-term decline trend in US per-capita GDP. This shouldn’t be a surprise for anyone paying attention, for the Shadowstats site shows real aggregate GDP having been stagnant or declining for the past 18 years; given that our population has been increasing, that means that we’ve already been experiencing declining per capita GDP for the past two decades. Given all the massive problems we are facing in the future, there is little reason to believe that this trend will not continue, and probably worsen.

    Long term, I am doubtful that the US has the resources to sustain an economy at much more than 1/4 present per capita GDP levels. Look at Costa Rica, Uruguay, Ecuador, Dominican Republic, or Cuba for Western Hemesphere examples of approximately what that might look like. This is a somewhat hopeful, optimistic view of the future; of course, things could also end up much worse. I am sceptical about ending up much better than this.

    The above paragraph is looking from a half-centruy to a century into the future, and far beyond my lifetime. I don’t know how rapidly we’ll descend to that level. I do expect that it will not be a smooth and steady descent, but rather a descent on a stairstep pattern. We are on a downslope right now, but we should level out eventually. When I say “level out”, I mean that key economic indicators will move up and down within a relatively limited range. Any moves beyond this narrow range on the upside might fool some people into thinking that we are experiencing a “recovery”, but don’t be deceived – such moves will be short-lived, and will quickly revert to the current plateau.

    This is a totally different pattern than anything to which we are accustomed, so a lot of people are going to be fooled and misled for a long time. Many people will keep thinking that the downturn is only cyclical, and will keep looking for the resumption to upward growth that will never come. Others will be expending a fast and unremitting plunge downward, and will be confounded by an economy that levels off rather than continues the downward journey. Things will be different, though, because the world has changed, and we are now operating under a new paradigm, driven by resource scarcity.

    -Since we are focused on the stock market these days, my take on this is that the market is just now getting down to appropriate price levels for the coming plateau. Given that there is no reason to expect long-term sustained growth in the economy, there is no reason to accept elevated price-earnings ratios on stocks. The market is thus just now reaching down-to-earth p/e levels, and I do not see these moving up again except for short-term, wishful-thinking bumps. In the future, the stock markets will thus be driven even more by earnings and future earnings expectations. Since these will pretty much follow the overall economy, corporate earnings and stock prices can be expected to follow this same stair-step pattern. The bottom line for all of this is that the era of capital gains in the stock market is over. From here on out, dividend yield is the whole ball game. This is a game that “value investors” understand. If anyone reading this doesn’t understand what I mean by “value investor”, you had better educate yourself, and adjust your investment strategy accordingly.

    Overall, I still believe that diversification is a good policy. Understand that, given the turmoil and probable economic decline, you might very well end up losing some money in the future. The trick is to not lose it all, and to end up at least no worse off than your neighbors. I am of the opinion that if times get bad enough, it can be downright dangerous to be viewed as being obviously and very much better off than one’s neighbors. Being just a little better off than the average person – especially better off in some little, mostly invisible, but very important ways – is about the best that one can hope for. Abandon any hopes of getting rich or holding on to riches, this won’t be the time for that.

    -I would also say that the probabilities are very high that the US government will eventually try to inflate its way out of its problems. This has been the historical precedent, and they are running out of other options. At the very least, this will make it more expensive for us to import oil from OPEC and other junk from China. Since we will be importing less from both, and because their reserves of dollars will decline in value, we will not be able to inflate our money supply very much without a severe reaction from either OPEC, or China, or both. The possibility of a sudden curtailment of oil or all imports cannot be ruled out, and is a contingency that people really should be seriously planning for. It is pretty obvious that our federal, state and local governments have done NO planning and have made NO preparations for such a contingency, so each of us will be pretty much on our own for a while. Don’t expect that the US will ever “recover” from such an economic catatastrophe; we will not “recover”, only adjust, and that at a permanently lower level.

    -Employment is a concern, but that is also something that the government can actually do something about. There are lots of jobs that could be done in this country if somebody organized the work and paid the workers. I could see something like the CCC being revived, and extended into many more types of things besides just conservation work. Frankly, IMHO the re-allocation of workers from the provision of frivolous junk to the production of socially useful goods and services is something to be welcomed rather than feared. Alongside this, expect a movement toward more localized, small-scale production of goods and services by part-time and full-time small entrepreneurs and freelancers; we’ve already been talking about this a great deal.

    -As for housing, I pretty much agree that we are not likely to face a situation where the entire housing stock is sitting empty while everyone is out on the streets. However, there will still be a lot of people underwater that will end up foreclosed and evicted. We are going to see a lot of houses vacant, abanoned, and eventually dismanteled and salvaged. We are going to see a lot of single family houses remodeled into dual or multi-family houses. We are going to see more accessory apartments built in attics or basements or garages or back yards. We are going to see more infill development in cities and suburbs close to transit nodes. We are going to see more relatives or non-relatives rooming with people.

    -As for education, we as a nation are going to have to become much more serious, and very quickly. We have really screwed around for several decades now, and will be paying a high price for it. We’re going to have to cut out the frivolity, insist that students, parents and teachers really put their noses to the grindstone, and get more real learning done in the limited time that our kids will have for schooling. We’re also going to have to undo the trend toward school-bus serviced consolidation and get back to small neighborhood schools within walking distance.

    As for higher education, community colleges are clearly a good value, and everyone who can benefit from them should be encouraged to go to a community college for their first two years. That smaller subset of students that prove themselves capable of handling more challenging academic work can then consider attending university for last two years of undergraduate studies, and maybe even continue into graduate school. The idea of college as being four years of sports and partying before one starts adult life is going to have to go – we simply can’t afford it any more.

    -As for energy, it is obvious now that we are seeing a complicated dance being played. A depletion rates exceed additions of new capacity, scarcity increases and this drives prices up. However, as prices go up and economies go down, demand destruction results, and prices go lower. Expect a general upward trend for prices in the long term, but with considerable variability. The recent swing in oil prices between $140/bbl and $80/bbl is typical of what we are likely to see in the future. This complicates decision-making for energy efficiency and renewable energy investments. I would suggest this guide: assume that the less vulnerable you can make yourself to energy supply disruptions and price increases, the better off you will be. As a general rule, just about anything you can do to reduce the amount of energy you use will be worthwhile in the long term, and lifestyle changes that save energy have an immediate payback. Retrofitting homes with renewable energy systems is going to be more of a challenge for most people, especially given that these tend to be expensive and most household incomes will be declining. Hopefully some new programs will be forthcoming to address that.

    -A lot of people are going to be unhappy, and some people are going to suffer terribly. However, some people are going to thrive and even be quite happy going through all of this. There are many ways in which our “un-negotiable American way of life” is quite unhealthy and unhappy, and there are ways in which the journey to a different lifestyle can actually also lead to a more healthy and happy lifestyle.

  18. Meadowlark says:

    Susan, sounds like we might be in the same area. Of course, the state reserves the right to drastically change the retirement contract in mid-stream, as they did several years ago. So even if it’s written in a contract… that means very little. Voters are simply not going to vote to continue paying high rates of return to Public Servants if they’re scraping by.

  19. Chile says:

    I agree with much of what you said, Sharon. My husband reads all the economic blogs and news regularly, as well as some other alternative blogs, so he keeps his pulse on that end of things. My job, unpaid at this time, is doing the research and legwork to make us more self-sufficient. I can envision a time when people may be willing to barter for my help in doing this in their home, especially in a smaller community.

    We are preparing with the assumption that rolling brown-outs and occasional black-outs will eventually be in our future. If part of the grid goes down, and I mean in just a very localized way, it may take quite a bit longer to bring it back up. Any available power will be shunted to the military base here and to the hospitals. We already get regular outages from the summer thunderstorms which often bring very damaging microbursts.

    Oh, on a generations note, you planted the seed that germinated into our plan to have my husband’s mother live with us once we find our new ‘homestead’. She’s nervous about it because she doesn’t feel she can “watch every drop of water like you do” and I’m nervous about it because she doesn’t really believe our picture of the future is accurate. Should be an interesting adjustment for all of us. Angel, the dog, will come out as the big winner as she’ll have the opportunity for full-time belly rubs from her ‘grandma’.

  20. risa b says:

    Susan and Meadowlark: Yep, “highest rated ” PERS: I was on track to retire in 930 days and now I’m not so sure that opportunity is going to be there for me. So I’m racing the clock to convert the garage into a little factory; we know how to make things with hand tools if it comes to that. And to re-equip the spare bedrooms for family and friends, if it comes to that. And buying kerosene and mason jar caps and rings, and … but nobody lives forever. So let’s all remember to go to the lack sometimes, watch the grebes and the coots and then take three deep breaths.

    Beloved has trouble reading things just on my say-so and prefers light fiction, but I left “Depletion and Abundance” on the dining room table for two weeks and she bit.

    “Risa, let’s give away twenty of those in December this year.”

    !!

    “Umm, can we afford that? How about ten? And ask everybody to share them around.”

    “Okay, that sounds good. And Daughter says she wants to read this one when I’m done with it.”

    “Yah, but I want it back. Sharon signed that one!”

  21. risa b says:

    “lake” for “lack.” Oy, senior moments!

  22. Chris says:

    I agree with many of Sharon’s observations and almost everything WNC Observer said in his comment.

    I’ve found it helpful to break my planning into immediate, short-term and long-term time frames. Sharon suggests this in her book “Depletion and Abundance”, and so do others like Chris Martenson and John Michael Greer.

    Of course everyone’s steps will be different, depending upon their circumstances. But there are certain things that I think all of us can do no matter where we are and what we’re doing:

    Immediate (right now)
    - Get out of the stock market unless you really know what you’re doing
    - Pay off your debt or at least start paying down debt as much as possible
    - Have enough cash to cover living expenses for one to three months on hand at home
    - Go to bankrate.com and thestreet.com and check the ratings on your bank; if they are less than four stars or under a B, find a bank with a better rating
    - Have enough food on hand for a minimum of two weeks and preferably a few months

    Short-term (as soon as possible)
    - If you do not already have a way of making a living in a “post-carbon” economy, find one. This means making products or offering services that are valuable in a world that is more energy-scarce, economically depressed and locally-based than the one we live in now.
    - Move to a small/medium-sized town (<100,000) that is surrounded by arable & productive cropland, with access to fresh water or at least 25-30 inches of rainfall a year, with an active and aware community and a dense downtown center. If you live outside of town, make sure you live within bicycling or walking distance unless you plan to be mostly self-sufficient.
    - If you cannot move, work together with your local community to figure out how you’ll maintain access to water and energy if the municipal supplies break down. Consider forming co-housing communities and working together to grow food for your local area.
    - Learn to take care of your own health without pharmaceutical drugs, and/or find an herbalist, acupuncturist, or other non-technological health care provider to help your family stay well.
    - Invest in tangible resources that will put food on your table and provide energy and water.
    - If you have extra money left over, buy gold and silver – if you can find any.

    Long-term
    - Mostly consists of building on strategies outlined in the short-term section and moving towards energy and food independence if possible.
    - Work with your community to build systems that will endure the collapse of Western civilization as we know it..
    - Enjoy life as much as possible and reap the benefits of a more sustainable, connected and humane life.

  23. Karin says:

    My husband is a teacher with the Bureau of Indian Affairs so there is a hint more security with his job than a locally funded school. But just a hint.

    So we are looking at ways that we can generate income locally in our rural setting: sheep sheering, music performance, ways to function in the informal economy. Childcare is an option for me to do so I can stay home with my own kids.

    If time allows we could build a micro cabin on our property to rent out. We have one spare room off our garage that we will be installing a woodstove in this winter; that is available if we need to take someone in. We are a family of four in a very tiny house; we already share rooms and are squeezed for space with our winter squash crop right now.. We are pondering ways to grow excess feed crops for our livestock and to sell ( pumpkins for pigs, extra corn to finish our pig off and dry beans for winter fodder). Some one has offered us an acre to farm next summer so we would look at crops that we could get the most bang for the buck and would be something practical that folks could put in their cellars ( winter squash, spuds). We can also use some of this for our own fodder ( sunflowers, oats)

    We just feel like we need to keep our house so that we can feed ourselves and will make what ever sacrifices we need to see us through our adaptation. We are a frugal lot and thanks to the IDC challenge we are getting prepared and making the changes we hope will see us through.

  24. WOW Trainee says:

    Once again, I want to say how grateful I am that Sharon, this site and you all are online. I’ve some thoughts I’d like to share.

    1. Somewhere I’ve saved a newspaper article about a longtime Argentinian educator. Going to & from work, she’d pass by the people desperately looking for work. She never thought she’d be one of them. But it happened.

    2. Nurses, teachers and others who worked during the Depression used to tell stories about salaries being horribly reduced and all sorts of stuff.

    3. Vietnam continues to be a lesson in what the determined effort of many can accomplish. A lot of food, supplies and even powerful weapons taken apart were transported many miles via foot power. One person walking beside a heavily loaded bike can move a lot of weight.

    4. Human ingenity is amazing. I still have a keep sake shoe made from a rubber tire.

    5. Home security is going to become more important. While I don’t have stretched concertina wire with tin cans filled with pebbles stretched along my lighted property lines, I am considering what else I can do. By inserting screws, nails or something into my window sashes the lower window can only be raised to a certain height. I’ve also thought about contracting with a professional security company. That isn’t the best use of my money. In a large involved security situation, having many alarms sounding at the security station is not going to help much.

    6. One book I suggest reading is The Patriots. It’s about life post US economic collapse. Not only does are there helpful survival hints, it also have a good ending.

    pax Helen

  25. hugh owens says:

    Sharon, thank you again for your efforts to help us on the long descent or the long emergency or whatever. I have been spending a lot of time trying to figure all of this out on my own blog as well. cal48koho.blogspot.com. and I have come to rely upon you to help me think outside the envelope which you do well as does my wife. It could be a feminine characteristic in fact. I think most of us were blindsided by this financial panic. I think many of your readers assumed it would happen…..eventually. And I guess I have a wee hope this was just a preamble to the real thing. Now I’m not so sure. The absolutely humongous debt and jungle of CDS,MBS, CDOs. structured contracts and other derivatives out there of unknown size are all swirling around the financial and bank systems like the outer bands of a hurricane. How bad will it be? The ratio of all debt, corporate,individual and government to GDP is a high and climbing number and is GDP falls which seems likely, that ratio increases. That ratio is said to be 12:1 in Iceland and 3.6:1 here. But our GDP is over 70% due to consumer spending so the ratio almost certainly will rise. It was 2.5:1 during the great D. It’s numbers like this that make me think America’s options are really limited, much like Iceland. But they are a peaceful people, homogeneous and with a history of overcoming adversity on their island. We are a divided people, an angry people, an undereducated people and we have guns. If this is in fact “IT” I think we are in for it. The scarys who go to Palin/McCain rallies may decide that someone is by golly going to pay for this. It’s hard to conjure up a scenario with a happy ending but I and my family are as prepared as we can get with good water, ample game, a good garden and a remote location far from the madding crowd. I hope your readers will have the sense to realize the gravitas of the situation and begin to make sensible preparations for the difficulties ahead. Eventually we are likely to come out of it in a different and ultimately better place with much lower energy consumption and a more hard working healthy lifestyle. It’s just the getting to that point that will tax our patience and our resources. Thanks again. Hugh

  26. BoysMom says:

    I have a chance to go back to school for almost nothing. Books will be the most expensive part if I can figure out a child care swap. What would you study?
    I’ve got a BA in music, and I don’t intend to continue with that, so I’m going to have to take some undergrad courses, probably quite a few. I’m thinking maybe architecture or Ag Ed (think County Extension agent). I’m absolutely not interested in the medical field, in fact, that’s one of the few fields, along with public school teacher and social worker, that I think would be horrid to work in.
    The Architecture school is big on sustainable development and carbon neutral buildings. I also like physics, but I’m not sure that’s as employable in the future, and I’m not sure I’d like it so well as a career.
    My husband fixes computers, so even if the University jobs like his go away (we’ve heard a fair number of people say they’ll get federal student loans and go to grad school if they lose their jobs), he’ll still be able to bring in some income: banks, insurance agencies, schools, medical facilities, and many others are effectively mandated to use computers by the feds. If anything, there will be more work for him when businesses are less able to buy new computers.
    Thoughts?

  27. Fern says:

    I agree with WOW trainee about government jobs being no more reliable than private sector jobs. I just re-read Studs Terkel’s “Hard Times”, and while teachers were working – they weren’t getting paid.

    Certainly if your time horizon is under 5 years, you should NEVER be buying/holding stocks.

    Fern

  28. Elizabeth says:

    I was an AmeriCorps volunteer a few years ago and still have my education award. I have about 5 more years to spend $5,000 on education and am kind of at a loss. I’m thinking about possibly just auditing some classes (like the apiary class and various wildlide resources classes) at the local university, or I might see if I could finish the clinical portion of the LPN program I started years ago. Any suggestions (I already have one BA and no student loans)?
    Right now, we’re trying to figure out how to make things work with less of my income. I was pregnant through the summer, but had a miscarriage. We want to try again in the spring, but I don’t really have any desire to have kids if they’ll be in daycare 50 hours a week (no judgement here, just not how I want to do things). My job in the healthcare information field has the possibility of working part time and still retaining benefits, so we’ll see.
    My husband works for a large, university affiliated hospital, running video conferences and sound engineering for events. He is technically a state employee, and at the moment, we’re grateful for that. His field has seen a boom since gas prices went up and there has been a greater emphasis on distance learning and teleconference consultations with rural health clinics that have fewer specialists.

  29. BoysMom says:

    Elizabeth, see, your situation sounds easier to me. Maybe it’s just ’cause it’s not mine. Do you like medical work? It sounds like you do. Do you think you’d ever work as an LPN if you lost your current job? If you think you might use the degree, I’d say get it. Or maybe (I don’t know how much it would cost) even an RN degree. If you wouldn’t want to use that nursing degree, since you have a degree and career, just take whatever classes would be interesting or help with a home-based business, since it sounds like you might be looking for a way to stay home with kiddos and bring in some extra cash.

  30. Rosa says:

    That’s funny, I’m in distance learning too. Though for a private school – I was looking to jump ship but realized I’d indentured myself using the tuition “benefits” here, so I’m stuck for a while.

    When I was trying to get pregnant I had a great part time job. Then the recession of 2000-2001 (the one the fed held off til now by lowering interest rates) hit, and that job doesn’t exist anymore. I worked part time for about a decade, with benefits, various places – when I looked last spring I could not find a part time job with health benefits at all.

    It’s always hard times for someone – went to a meeting last night and learned that on any given Fall night, researchers can find 2,000 homeless kids in my state. It was 40 degrees here last night.

    I don’t think people will stay homeless if the foreclosures keep on – I think we’ll just have lots and lots of homes full of squatters (in fact, the teenager profiled at the Avenues for Youth site spends awhile sleeping in newly-built, unoccupied homes.)

  31. Geoff Trowbridge says:

    Hey y’all; first off, I just want to congratulate Sharon on writing yet another fantabalous post. When people that I get talking to about Peak Oil, Energy Descent, etc. ask where on the internet they should go to learn more, Sharon’s website is always one of the first places I tell them about.

    I’m in a bit of a dillema, and I don’t know if this is the best place to try to answer it, but it seems as good a place as any. I’m 22 years old and trying college for the second time; I went for a semester a couple years ago, to a different school, and then dropped out before doing a bunch of different things. Now I’ve come back, and really hope and plan this time to finish and graduate, thinking that college is the place where I can be most useful right now.

    I should say that the school I’m going to is extremely ecologically conscious for a college, and will probably head even more in that direction in the future. That’s one of the biggest reasons I chose to go to it. Ideas and concepts like Peak Oil, Climate Change, and Energy Descent are pretty well known and recognized by students, faculty, and staff alike and for a small, not particularly wealthy liberal arts school without a huge donor base, it’s being about as smart as a school can be in response to the future that’s starting to take shape before us.

    But I’m not so sure now. It’s really, really, really, really hard to decide whether college is where I can be most useful right now, or if I’m just telling myself that because I’d feel like I was dropping off the face of the earth if I dropped out again. To be blunt about it I’d feel like a failure- even if that’s just traditional society, relatives, or whatever telling me that in subliminal ways.

    I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few years with what could be called the ‘Eco-counterculture’: sustainability learning centers, ecovillages, organic farms, that sort of thing. I’ve developed a number of connections with a lot of very smart, extremely capable people, the sort of people who know very well what’s going on and are doing everything they can to do what’s necessary to survive and even thrive in the future. If I drop out this world is still there for me to go back to, sort of.

    I plan to be an Environmental Studies Major, the most popular major at my college. Specifically either a focus in Environmental Policy or Environmental Education, and even more specifically there’s a focus within the Environmental Education program here that is centered around ‘Community Systems’, or dealing with the dynamics of sustainable planning and human communities. I think that’s about as appropiate and relevant a field of study to do in the world we live in as you can get at an American college or university.

    BUT I’m still not sure. Everything seems to be on the line. Things in the past month or so have gotten pretty dicey, as we’ve all seen, and look to get dicier still. So what’s a 22-year old to do? I’m open to any advice anybody has to give me.

    Thanks a lot!

  32. I’d like to chime in with the education bit of the conversation. I am currently a public school teacher. I homeschooled my children for 3 years and sadly had to go back to work this year when my husband’s job got cut to near-nothing hours. Before homeschooling I worked in both public and private schools. I feel like I have enough background to speak honestly about this subject.

    I would humbly submit that yes, education as a WHOLE is going to have to stop thinking about education in many different ways and shift our thinking. We need to stop all this “professional development touchy-feely-program” stuff we’re doing with teachers and GET BACK TO HARD CORE BASICS.

    I am a sixth grade teacher and I have students who still cannot write ONE complete sentence. I have students who cannot count by fives.

    They have been taught with “programs” and “seminars” and whatever the educational trend du jour is. Nothing sticks.

    Couple that with a lazy generation of kids with lazier parents (lassez faire parenting at its finest, people) and you’ve got a problem. Half of my parents care more that their kids wear Aeropostale or Abercrombie than if their kid can divide fractions without a calculator or not.

    I see such apathy and laziness about I have no idea where we need to begin.

    Can I tell you that educators as a whole need to wake up and quit with the latest “trends” and focus on basics, basics, basics. And that my friends (to quote Mr. McCain LOL) includes LIFE SKILLS. I can tell you that the kids today have no clue how to balance a check register but they can check email.

    We need a shift in our ideology, in ALL areas of life, I think….

  33. WOW Trainee says:

    Geoff, have you considered a hands on program such as Vo Tech. It’s surprising what you can study and then apply. Having working skills then allows you more freedom to do what you decide to do. First comes beans on the table, roof over your head and all those Maslow things. Good fortune!

  34. WOW Trainee says:

    I’m working on gathering up people for a cocommunity living. No we don’t have to share a close proximity but rather could be across town, city, state or country. The plus is that we connect as human beings living our lives as best we can. This includes not just support but also sharing the good times.

  35. New Mama says:

    I’m a SAHM and my husband works in the aeronautics industry. He’s been with the company for twelve years and they have lots of government contracts. Does anyone have any opinion on how this kind of company might do? I know the devil signs his paycheck in a sense, but we really NEED that paycheck.

  36. Dan says:

    Sharon-

    Great post as usual. These have been hard times to navigate mentally. One day it feels like things are going to collapse “tomorrow”…and then “tomorrow” comes and its all still life as normal for the most part. Educating ourselves about the probably outcomes seems to be the best thing we can do to help give guidance to our actions and plans. It’s hard at times not to have a knee-jerk, the sky-is-falling reaction. I think you are right to point out that these things take time to develop. There may be little spikes here and there, but overall, it does feel like a slow decline.

    Thank you for reminding us to prepare, but also to live our lives. At the very base, there is nothing barring happiness from our lives. Oppression in this world is not new. Hunger is not new. It may not have been on most of our doorsteps here in the US for recent history (as a whole anyway), but that doesn’t mean that people the world over haven’t had to figure out how to balance life on few resources and make do. I look to SE Asia, to Central America, and to our own rural history as proof that family, hard work, and focussing on the things you have control over can pull you through tough times with, if not a smile on your face, than at least love in your heart. Life is what you make it. Not to say that staying out of extreme poverty can’t help make things easier…

    @ The Grid ::

    I’d say it’s highly unlikely that parts of the grid would become privatised. It just doesn’t work that way. I’m sure if there are regional outtages you will see plenty of private generation sprouting up in the form of diesel generators and maybe the rich going “off the grid” with expensive alternative systems. But, our “grid” can’t be parcelled out, at least not without massive redesign. As it currently operates, there is a massive infrastructure for voltage regulation and support. You need multiple injection points of energy into the grid to keep everything operating and balanced. There’s a lot to it (much more than can be explained here). It very well may be that we’ll have to deal with a certain amount of curtaillment of peak power (think super hot summer days that weren’t forecasted resulting in AC demand overshoot), but it’s doubtful our baseload generation (coal, nuke, hydro) is going to go anywhere in the next 5-10 years. We currently have a baseload surplus during most of the year. Case in point, power was trading in the low teens ($0.012/kwh) last night in the Western Interconnect. That is less than the cost to generate for 99% of all power producers. As the recession takes hold, there simply won’t be as much heating and cooling demand, nor commercial and government load demand. If anything, I think we’ll continue to see power surplusses over the immediate future. Beyond 10 or 20 years as coal extraction viability dwindles, natty gas depletes, and hydro dams silt up, yeah, things will have to change, but its a crap shoot to try to predict anything that far out not knowing what everything from population to climate to economic realities will look like. I’m really only familiar with how things operate in the West though, you are on a completely different system out your way, so…YRWV.

    Dan

  37. I’m a programmer (or at least I was until today) and I worked for a large outsource consulting company. A lot of contracts have disappeared in the last few months. A lot of my friends are having trouble finding work.
    For me, I decided to go into a more recession proof line of work. I used to be in charge of security for a large call centre (investigation, setting policy, the actual security plan) and I figure that is probably a good line of work to be in for the next little while. Much as I hate to do it, any business that makes money off of fear is probably a good bet right now.

  38. Rosa says:

    Geoff, I’ll give you the advice I have given a number of community interns (when I was one, I was 27 and had a college degree already), coop volunteers, and young people who’ve lived with us:

    it depends how you pay for it.

    College is definitely worth investing your time in. It’s worth the labor. It’s worth putting a lot of other stuff on hold for.

    What it’s not worth, is your future. One of the tenets of finance is “Only borrow for income-producing assets”. College is not a sure thing that way.

    My history degree was an expensive personal development program. Which I enjoyed a great deal, but which I would probably regret if I were still paying for it in my 30s. Environmental studies *may* be an investment, if your school has good internship and networking opportunities. Civil Engineering with an environmental focus is probably a good financial investment.

    Now, if you’re going to a small endowed college or university, you may get enough in grants and other funds to pay as you go, that’s a whole other story. And you may have a specific job in mind, and a track to get there, and it requires a degree, any degree. Me, in my job history my degree has been a bonus, but not a requirement. My people skills are my marketable asset – though knowing some African colonial history is a good way to pick up Marxists at anarchist parties.

    So; do it if it’s important to you. But before you commit, knowing the quitting will make you feel like a failure again, and that you may be paying for it 10, 20 years from now, make sure it’s really the path to what you want. Too many people substitute “going back to school” for a plan.

    Okay, now Sharon’s gonna smack me ;)

  39. Sisterlisa says:

    I went to Google blog search to search for someone who would be blogging about just this topic. I am glad I found you. Sometimes I feel like I’m alone on this matter. I can ‘see’ what you’re getting at and how it relates to the Bible. I haven’t read your blog before and really have no idea what your belief is in regards to the Bible, but what you’re describing is so Biblical. If you study the time when the Hebrews went to Egypt all because Joseph interpreted a dream that the Pharaoh had about a season of plenty and a season of famine. Fast forward several years and the Hebrews became slaves to the Egyptians just to feed their families. Does anyone else see the pattern between that story and what we’re seeing today?

  40. Ani says:

    Hi Geoff

    I’ve taught Enviro Sci at the college level- and it’s my field- or one of them actually. I’m not really sure what to advise- I am somewhat biased against general enviro studies/sci majors as they prepare you to do just what?? There are lots of people out there with this sort of education/degree- and in my state, lots of us with little hope of any good jobs in this field as well.

    I think that if you want to study in the enviro field, you should plan on being able to do graduate work as well- in a very technical specific area such as climate change impacts in marine science or some such. I would just caution against very general overview type majors- just where are all your cohorts at your school going to work anyway?

    Or,perhaps you don’t need to be at college either? Do you have a technical bent? Perhaps you might want to study/learn how to work with alternative energy systems? Retrofitting and weatherizing houses?

    I guess I think that one should only go to college for a good reason- and I’ve had too many students who are just there because their parents want to or they think they need to be there but they had little motivation .

  41. Sharon says:

    Rosa, I’m not smacking anyone, especially someone giving as good advice as you are. I agree with you. I think education for education’s sake is likely to become a rich person’s luxury – or you’ll have to find it more cheaply. Geoff, don’t mortgage your future to get something you can get for free. Get to know some college profs – get a good set of skills and ask them (gently) if they will guide your reading and talk to you occasionally about it – offer to help them around their houses and work on their property if they will sit with you for half an hour to talk about what you’ve read. Look online at the course lists for free and set yourself to reading. Find other people in the internet to talk to. You can get that education – and a set of other more valuable skills. If you have the cash to pay for college, or your parents do, that’s one thing, but don’t take on tens of thousands in debt for this, unless you are taking on a highly employable degree.

    Elizabeth, if you like the idea of nursing, I’d finish the LPN/RN. BoysMom, I think either architecture or ag education would make a lot of sense. Maybe combine them? Do landscape architecture? You could pop over to Aaron Newton’s site and email him – he’s one, and doing some interesting things with infill agriculture.

    Sharon

  42. Shaunta says:

    Geoff,

    Is there a community college you could go to for the basics? Usually if there is a community college in the area of a university they’ll have classes the lend themselves toward the specialty of the university. For instance, I’m from Las Vegas. The local community college, CSN, has lots of classes in hospitality because that’s one of the most popular majors at UNLV.

    Regardless, everyone needs to take the core basics. And that’ll take you some time. FASFA should cover the tuition and books, and you can make up your mind about university and safe some money toward it.

    Good luck!

    Shaunta
    http://www.shauntagrimes.com

  43. Hi Sharon,

    You have become a valued and important part of our lives out here – your book was spot-on, and my wife and I (and 7 month old boy) appreciate your perspectives and the wisdom you share so freely. 5 years ago I left my high-paying job working on motivational seminars and started a biodiversity and seed saving operation – http://www.ediblegardens.com. I think it is essential that people get their backyard food gardens started, and get their systems in place for seed saving, frost protection and storing and canning…it is amazing how much nutrition and food can be grown in a small backyard. If we can help anyone, we would be delighted! Thanks

  44. BoysMom says:

    Thanks, Sharon, I’ll pop over to his place. Haven’t been by there lately. The school has a landscape architecture program . . . I haven’t looked into it, don’t know why, my next-door-neighbor in the dorms was a landscape architect. Maybe because she had a really hard time finding a job in this region.

    Geoff, try hard not to get loans. They’re like a dead albatross around your neck for years. My husband has loans and didn’t finish his degree. They’re not bankruptable, and I’ve heard that while they’re supposed to be discharged if you’re disabled, it’s awfully hard to get them discharged, so no matter how your circumstances change you’ll be paying them back, even if that means you can’t buy medical care or housing.
    One thing you might be able to do, and it depends on the school and employee benefits package, is take advantage of the same sort of program I’m using. My husband’s employer offers a certain amount of credits/courses each semester to employees and employee spouses for $20 per course plus $5 per credit and any course fees. Does your school offer such a program? It would take you twice as long to finish (at least here we’re limited to half time) but eight years from now, less if your previous classes transfer, you’d have a degree, no debt, a bunch of work experience, and possibly a start on a nest egg towards your future endevors. You can also challenge test out of a lot of courses if you can just study the materials on your own.

  45. [...] Casaubon’s Book » Blog Archive » Thinking Ahead: Predicting the Depression One of the hardest things about facing tough times is figuring out what to do. The right choice depends on an uncertain future – it depends on guessing right about what will happen. Do you transfer your stock market funds to Treasuries? Get out of the market? Give up on retirement? Go back to school? Should you be preparing for a job loss? Should you let your house go? And of course, we’re gambling with your future, and losing has high stakes. [...]

  46. Vegan says:

    Geoff, I agree with others here when they suggest “don’t get in debt for a college degree.”

    Our 19-year-old son is attending the local community college; we pay the $1000/semester tuition. He enjoys it and is very serious about his academic work after having homeschooled from K to 12. Nevertheless, he plans to drop or reduce hours pursuing formal studies to become an organic farmer as soon as we move to our land in Vermont. Learning to grow food is a noble and much needed skill in our collapsing civilization.

    Unless one needs a particular degree to practice a given in-demand profession (assuming one will not get in debt), I would not recommend attending college. If one is interested in learning, that can be pursued on one’s own, as suggested by Sharon. Much is available online, plus your local public library and interlibrary loaning can help provide the books needed.

    In past eras, intellectually inclined individuals pursued knowledge on their own. No need to depend on an institution that might make a person a debt-slave.

  47. Anonymous says:

    I am familiar with most of the collapse problems above (read through most of it) and was interested in the solutions posed. But maybe I didn’t read all the way to the bottom, but what is really terrifying to me is all the stuff I have heard about recently like being on a list as a peace protester or from mycomputer (a dissenter) and getting thrown in prison etc. That and war are the two big worries. When I started hearing more and more about the martial law stuff, I started thinking of abandoning all my plans and skidaddling out of the country???But my kids are here…and they are just under 35 -28 and 30 and still draftable. Unfortunately my daughter’s fiancee bought a little house in Portland and so if they keep it, they will have a long time to pay the mortgage on it as prices collapse and it is on too buys a street. In normal times it would be a nice starter house. He is still able to sell it if willing…Thoughts?

  48. Anonymous says:

    I am familiar with most of the collapse problems above (read through most of it) and was interested in the solutions posed. But maybe I didn’t read all the way to the bottom, but what is really terrifying to me is all the stuff I have heard about recently like being on a list as a peace protester or from mycomputer (a dissenter) and getting thrown in prison etc. That and war are the two big worries. When I started hearing more and more about the martial law stuff, I started thinking of abandoning all my plans and skidaddling out of the country???But my kids are here…and they are just under 35 -28 and 30 and still draftable. Unfortunately my daughter’s fiancee bought a little house in Portland and so if they keep it, they will have a long time to pay the mortgage on it as prices collapse and it is on too busy a street. In normal times it would be a nice starter house. He is still able to sell it if willing…Thoughts?

  49. Aaron says:

    The past three days I’ve been watching with increasing concern reports of the credit crisis impacting global shipping. This is a good synopsis of what may be developing:

    http://benbittrolff.blogspot.com/2008/10/credit-crunch-baltic-dry.html

    LIBOR and the Baltic Dry Index are the two indicators to monitor for any improvement in the situation. Since LIBOR is essentially fictional at this point, the Baltic Dry Index may be considered a more “real” indicator.

    Without significant improvement in either indicators in the next few weeks, you can expect severe economic hardship.

  50. Evelyn says:

    When I think of the future I think about a lot of people not having health benefits and being malnourish.
    I a lot of people depend of medicines daily. The better medicine gets the longer people live depending in all this medicines. My mother has a lot of things wrong with her and she has to take certain medicines daily like a lot of people that I know. Hospitals are going to get invaded with sick people because they will not be able to afford or get their medicines. Everybody knows few people in this position (I lot of kids with asthma) and we will have to deal with the reduction of population. This part of the future will be really sad.

    Schools in South Florida are design to have a/c. They do not have windows that can be opened. I will have to think about a better option for my son. We will have a lot of people moving upstate or to the country like it happens every time there is a big hurricane. It is happening to a lot of cities already. People are moving to places that are still growing like Texas. I wonder if expensive cities like Miami Beach will have less people because they cannot afford the expensive apartments or the will lower the rent so the places at least get rented.

    I always think about all the laws that we have and if they are going to be ignored and go back to basic. I am referring to the ones like: not having animals, not planting vegetables in your front yard, not been able to park a car without a tag in front of your house. All those new home improvements to our houses to receive new members of the family or to rent for extra income cost a lot of building permits. Are we still going to pay for them? A lot of people will be scam because they do not know how to fix their house and they will pay other to do it but they do not know either. I know it always happened after a storm or a hurricane.

    One think that makes me happy is what other people hate. I live around a lot of people that came from places where they had nothing. They know how to survive. My best friend mom is from Cuba. Even thought she left more than 20 years ago she have live like there is not going to be food tomorrow. She tells me that she barter with salt. People always forget to buy salt and if you have extra is always a good thing. The other thing that she did to put food on the table was fixing nails. Women will always pay to look beautiful even if is with a chicken or a piece of bread. I am saving everything that I can in a box that says “nails”.

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