Digging Dollars: Make-Work, Agriculture, and Empire

Sharon May 28th, 2007

Most work is busywork.

This is an ugly realization for most of us, especially those of us who have “careers” rather than jobs, for which we trained many years. But if, all of a sudden your work was to disappear from the planet - no one was doing it - how much would anyone really suffer? For some jobs, the absence of anyone doing them would hardly be noticed - we could do entirely without literary critics, theoretical astrophysicists (please note these two are the careers my husband and I trained for), psychics, pet psychologists, virtually everyone involved with television or advertising, make up artists, many beaurocrats, etc…

Oh, certain things about our society might change, and we’d have to find other jobs for those people, but no harm would come. In some cases, a bit of good might even occur - a few fewer trees would be slain on the form of the romantic sublime or the precise shape of a black hole, or people might wear a little less wallpaper paste on their faces. It is conceivable that some dogs might be a bit more angsty without their therapists, but couldn’t we all live with that?

In many other cases, maybe even most, at least half of the people who do your job could disappear, and while it would change the nature of our society some, it wouldn’t do any serious harm. We could get along with half as many (or vastly fewer) lawyers, novelists, retail salespeople, IRS employees, soldiers, plastic surgeons, drug dealers, housing developers, engineers, architects, fryolator tenders, etc… In fact, having less of all these things would probably be necessary in a sustainable society.

Even people who do useful things could be done without in many cases. Yes, we will always need doctors and nurses. But we could dramatically cut our nursing home employees, for example, by keeping our parents and grandparents at home with us whenever possible. Quite a few nations have similar lifespans to ours, but use 25-50% less medical care - think about it - they take 1/4 to 1/2 as many drugs, see the doctor that much less often, and they still live just as long as we do, and often report higher quality of life. Yes, doctors and nurses are valuable, but we could make significant cuts in their numbers, or keep the same numbers, and give the doctors and nurses much higher quality of life by simply reducing their working hours. The same is true with teachers - who are extremely valuable, but if more parents taught their children, particularly in the early years, we wouldn’t need so many. Why do so few parents do so? In part because they go out to jobs, and don’t have the time. Hmmm…

The simple fact is that we are mostly not needed to do any *particular* job - the fact is, we need work, but our careers are mostly optional. Somewhere between 1/5 and 1/3 of the American populace does truly essential work, and the rest of us mostly spread little pieces of paper around, shooting them back and forth. John Maynard Keynes, the famed economist, made the case that having enough work to do was so important to morale (and morale to the economy) that he argued that one potential way that government could stabilize the economy was to bury money in the ground and pay people to dig it up - that is, Keynes said that what was important was that we have some work, not that it be useful or valuable. Productivity and utility had their places, but mostly, we need some busy work to keep the economy and our lives running.

And a lot of our jobs actually operate funded by nasty, awful things we say we deplore. We may oppose global warming, but we make our money directly or indirectly by selling cars with low mileage standards or by driving long distances to our jobs. Perhaps we, like many people, are trickle down beneficiaries of things like the oil industry, the chemical agriculture industry or the military. Often, the military, with its endless wars.

Because Keynes didn’t claim that the government could put us to work forever, of course. His argument was that in times of economic trouble, the government should borrow money to put people to work, ideally on things with social utility, but if necessary, doing make work. And when prosperity returns, Keynes argued that the government must cut back its spending and its make work and let the larger economy take over again, while paying off our indebtedness. Keynesianism was largely the model for the New Deal. But the New Deal was never popular with most serious capitalists, and good or bad, we’ve replaced classical Keynesianism with military Keynesianism.

Military Keynesianism was first described by the term used by a Polish Economist to describe Nazi Germany, but it describes much of our economy quite well. That is, our current economy, to a large degree, owes its success to military expansionism and imperialism. People are put to work not at rebuilding the domestic infrastructure, but at war. The military industry and its offshoots (of which the web is one), account for an enormous portion of our economy and our GDP, and millions of jobs, particularly among lower income people. The war in Iraq alone is estimated by economists Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes to cost about 2 *TRILLION* dollars - dollars that get paid out to soldiers and Halliburton consultants, folks in the aerospace industry and janitors in the Pentagon, to government beauracrats and construction companies that build military facilities. And in turn, those dollars get paid out to Wal-Mart and fast food restaurants, bookstores and movie theaters, and trickle down to the rest of us.

Chalmers Johnson, in _Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic_ documents that 60% of GDP growth in just 2003 was attributable to defense spending, and that defense spending represents 50% of the government’s discretionary spending - that is, 50% of the things the government chooses to spend money on are about our ability to blow things up. The American defense budget annually exceeds the combined defense budget of every other nation in the world. And, we should note, we are still losing the war in Iraq and precious human lives to people who build 300 dollar roadside bombs. Perhaps this should tell us something about the utility of all this spending.

This was how the Nazis got their economy moving during World War II - they turned their nation into a war machine. And we have done the same intermittently since World War II, most recently since September 11. Instead of burying cash in the ground and digging it up, we’ve built up a need for war and an imperial culture, and then made up reasons to use them - we can‘t justify all that money without someone to kill. We now make ourselves more vulnerable to terrorist attacks by invading Muslim countries and letting them kill our family members, only to use those deaths as a justification for further imperialism and violence. And all of it, in part, as Johnson deftly documents, because we don’t have anything else to feed our economy.

But right now, war is not a money making venture - we’re doing it on debt, and sooner or later, we’ll pay the price for that. As Johnson points out, that might actually be the only way we can come out of this a truly democratic nation - after all, the price of our imperialism has been the loss of the things we say we value in democracy - if you look at the Bill of Rights, for example, and go down the list, you’ll find that the only rights that haven’t been undermined, infringed upon or stripped from us are the rights to bear arms and not to have Hessian troops quartered in your bedroom. And I wouldn’t hold my breath forever on that last one if it seems convenient to the Bush administration. Johnson argues that only economic collapse could break off our imperial project, and he might be right. On the other hand, it might be possible to do it another way.

It isn’t enough to deplore military Keynesianism. It might be useful to do more than deplore it (Americans are told in their own founding documents that if their government becomes tyrannical they have an obligation to overthrow it. Now I’m a non-violent sort, but I do sometimes wonder what level of tyranny we are waiting for before we get serious about choosing something else? Our government supports “disappearing” people without trial, a la Guatemala, torture a la China, spying on its own citizens a la the former Soviet Union…what do we have to do before we start calling it a tyranny and arranging the proper response? This is something I mull over now and again.), but if we’re ever to have an alternative economy, one that doesn’t depend on finding people to make war against, that doesn’t depend on exploitation and murder, we’re going to have to do more than get rid of military Keynesianism, we’re going to have to get rid of the make work and do useful things. And pay people more for doing useful things than for doing pointless ones.

That sounds obvious, but it isn’t at all under the auspices of modern capitalism. Many economists and politicians have been dedicated for a long time to the notion that it is best to pack poor young men and women off to be soldiers, to invest tens of thousands of dollars in their equipment, their training and their bodies, pack them off around the world, and let them discover that a million dollar helicopter is often no match for a 1000 dollar rocket launcher and that a 600,000 dollar tank can be blown up by a 120 dollar IED, because people fighting to get invaders out of their countries almost always trump expensively trained people just doing their jobs - all so that the young man can buy food and pay a mortgage. We believe it is better to do this, than to invest 10,000 dollars once in a young man, to give him training, a few acres of land, and a little equipment so he could grow food for himself and enough to pay his mortgage (or, gasp, build a house without one).

Now the reason for this is that it is deemed to create jobs to do it this way - the military base commander, the drill sergeant, the people who build military housing, body armor and tanks, the fast food place where the soldier eats, the government administrator that helps his family get food stamps because the military pays so poorly, the VA doctors that help him rehabilitate, the Halliburton employees that supply food and transport, the people who manufacture the body bags - all of them get a little piece of this, multiplied by hundreds of thousands of times.

On the other hand, if we had spent that same money setting the same man up as a small scale subsistence farmer, how many people would have gotten jobs out of that? Certainly the manufacturer of hoes, nails and boots, maybe even small horse drawn or efficient tractor equipment. The sawmill guy who cut the boards to build his barn, the logger who cut the trees for house and barn, some seed growers and a feed store. Maybe the local diner once in a while. But you can’t run a global economy on that, can you? Where’s the R and D money for high technology so we can shoot people out of space with lasers? Where’s the money for the people who will treat the soldier’s drug problem and find him an apartment when he ends up homeless because of PTSD? You can’t pay for global spy satellites off of the income of a small scale subsistence farmer - he barely pays any taxes, and he doesn’t need McDonalds to feed him, because he grows his own food or a drug company to treat his obesity induced hypertension, because he doesn’t sit on his ass all day, or anything much more technical than a few good tools and a way of getting his crops to market. Heck, if he could have land outside a city, he could do it with a bicycle cart.

Exactly. You can’t rule the world with a nation of farmers (ok, the Romans and Bulgarians did, but their empire was proportionally vastly cheaper to run). You can’t support a global network of military bases on a simple economy, based on things people really need - food, houses, clothing, tools. If we encouraged young people to do things that were actually useful, and paid them fairly for it, we couldn’t have this empire - we couldn’t afford it. If we made less money, if we earned less money to buy things we don’t need, we couldn’t afford to make up excuses to go to war, because China and Japan wouldn’t fund us to do so. If we mostly did for ourselves and met most of our own needs in self-sufficient communities and regions, we couldn’t afford to do anything other than defend ourselves from real threat.

Wow, doesn’t that sound terrible. The answer to the military industrial complex is pretty simple. It runs on money. It runs on our money. It runs on the money we pay in taxes for things we buy, and the money we pay on taxes from money we earn. Stop earning so much money, stop buying so much stuff, and the economy slows and the taxes stop pouring in. If enough of us cut our expenses, and our earnings to the bone, if enough of us stop being willing to fund this war and the next one, stop being willing to buy the oil that the war is about and the garbage about the way of life that the war is about - it will stop. Congress has tried (not very courageously) and failed miserably to cut off funds. But guess what - their funds come from …me. You. Us. We can cut them off anytime we’re willing to make the sacrifice. We just have decide it is worth it to us to make some economic sacrifices (if we can - I know everyone cannot, but many of us could), rather than sacrifice the lives of young men and women.

Your job is probably make work. Most of our work is. Or perhaps it is a little necessary - but perhaps not full-time, suck you dry necessary. I know you need a job to eat, to pay your taxes, to pay your mortgage. I understand that, and I’m not blaming anyone for taking the work they can. We do that too. But every dollar you earn above the absolute necessities, and every dollar you spend in the larger economy helps feed the war machine, and the economy that supports it. And it lends credence to the basic presumption that the largest purpose of our economy is to give us make work. I know you want economic security, a nice nest egg for retirement, a comfortable home, a pretty house. But all those things make globalization, and the wars that enable it possible. Is it worth it?

Now maybe it would be morally acceptable to do make work, regardless of its collateral damage, if there was nothing else important to do. But we know that isn‘t true. Our make work is causing us to take shortcuts - our pointless jobs are causing us to break down and buy fast food because we don’t have time to cook. They encourage us to dump chemicals on our gardens and lawns, rather than build soil - we don’t have time for that. Our make work is cutting into the time we could spend playing with our kids, or educating them, taking care of elderly people we love or volunteering with others. It cuts into our time for community building, chopping wood, growing gardens, cleaning up messes, avoiding pollutants, being frugal, cooking dinner, making love, stopping the war.

We’re doing things that don’t matter that actually make things worse. So we’ve got to stop. I’m not saying instantly. I’m not saying tomorrow, and I‘m not saying everyone. This is hard. But maybe, just maybe, we could stop this war and improve our lives if we started to ask “what needs doing” not “what can I do to make money.” Everything we do to stop needing money, to meet our needs at home and in our local community - by growing food, fiber, fertility, or making things, or helping one another and caring for one another, is something that means we need to pour less cash into the war coffers and less cash into the make-work economy.

How do we do this? We start rethinking our relationship to our work. If you can, one spouse quits their job, or gets a new one doing something that is useful and important. If you haven’t got a spouse, and can, cut back on overtime, or offer to take less money in exchange for one day off per week. Or both of you drop your hours back and work less. Maybe you are just getting by where you are, but living in a less expensive place, or taking in your sister as a roommate, or caring for your parents would make it easier. Or maybe you can’t do anything at all - you can’t get along any other way, or your job is so desperately important you can‘t stop. Ok, but those of us who can, need to. Even if we’ve trained for a make-work career, maybe we need to switch to something that really matters, like caring for the sick and disabled, or making things we import from other nations, or fighting for justice. Each year, perhaps we can grow a little more food or buy a little less, live more within our means and make our means a little smaller. And some
people can slip out of the public economy altogether and become war tax protestors. Most of us can’t. But we could make less, spend less, give more to the causes we care about directly, and less to the war effort and the public economy.

The bad news is that if enough of us did this, it would crash the public economy. The reality, however is that a crash in the public economy is probably inevitable, and more importantly, sometimes you have to break some eggs. Economists are fine with this when, for example, we are trashing our manufacturing sector and throwing people out of work - then it is called creative destruction. I suspect they’ll be less happy about trashing the capitalist economy so that we can get rid of the war machine. But in the end, sometimes, you do what’s right. That was one of the great arguments about slavery, about the end of the British Empire - the nay sayers said “It will hurt us financially to do this.” And yes, that was true. Not stealing money from other people, not enslaving them makes the people who had been stealing and slaving less rich. But some things you do because they are right, not because they are expedient. Ceasing to fund evil, ceasing to support imperialism you do because it is right.

The good news is that worldwide, only about 1/4 of all the work we do takes place in the public economy, the world of GDPs and tax accounts. The rest of the things that the world go round, most of the work that most people in the world do, is subsistence labor, or under the table labor, barter or other things that don’t get counted in the GDP. That is, most people in the world get their eating money and the things they need not from their company who is traded on a stock market, but from Raoul down the road who repairs shoes and takes chickens, and from Mama who loaned us enough money to buy the house without interest, and from cousin Lao who trades work with you at harvest time. The peasant economy, as Teodor Shanin, the sociologist who named it observes, is robust, vital and alive, and based on networks of family and community. And we could live far more in the peasant economy than we do now. Many of us could live fairly comfortably deriving most of our income from the communal and peasant economy, with just enough participation in the larger economy to pay taxes, buy a few luxuries and visit people now and again. Getting out of the public economy does not mean living in poverty - it simply means living differently.

The people in the world who most need to quit their jobs, or cut back their earnings, to work less or live on one income, or a collection of half incomes are the richest people in the world. That’s us. We pay taxes that fund the war. We buy the crap that funds our trade deficit. We burn the oil that warms the planet, and get people to make stuff for us by burning oil and then shipping that stuff to us. Money correlates with a whole lot of things, including emissions, environmental impact and your implication in the political system we’ve acquired. It is, I fear, simply not possible to be rich and not be complicit with doing a great deal of harm. So one of the projects we all have to address is how to be less rich. How to live on less. How to earn less. How to have security with less. How to take only a fair share of the world’s wealth, as well as its resources.

Most of us don’t want to put our jobs on the table. We don’t want to admit that the software we design or the products we sell or the message we give out is not only unnecessary, but destructive, contributing to the things we deplore. Unfortunately, it is true. And true is better than the lies we want to tell ourselves. And if it is true, we have to change - period. On the other hand, wouldn’t it feel better to be doing something other than burying things and digging them
up endlessly?


20 Responses to “Digging Dollars: Make-Work, Agriculture, and Empire”

  1. Pat Meadowson 28 May 2007 at 6:12 pm

    Hi Sharon,

    I have (rather late in life and reluctantly) come to the conclusion that capitalism itself is intrinsically evil and cannot be made good. It’s founded on constant growth, which - at this point - our planet cannot afford. That need for growth also drives the constant imperialism of the USA.

    In Buddhism, ‘right livelihood’ is part of the eightfold path to ending suffering. It seems to me that right livelihood would include efforts to overthrow, or at least lessen the evilness of, capitalism.

    You’ve sort of flirted with the intrinsic evilness of capitalism in this posting, but you haven’t come out and said it. (Possibly so as not to alienate most of your readers.) But maybe we’d all be better off if we actually proclaimed it from the housetops! I don’t know. We could hardly do less well than we have in the USA recently; very little could be worse.

    Pat Meadows

  2. Anonymouson 28 May 2007 at 6:25 pm

    You are sooooooo right. More than 1/2 of the output of the American economy is waste. One thing you need to change: it was John Maynard Keynes, not Milton Keynes. (You must have been thinking of the awful and always wrongheaded economist Milton Freedman’s first name).

  3. Anonymouson 28 May 2007 at 6:27 pm

    My goodness! Thank you thank you thank you!


  4. Anonymouson 28 May 2007 at 6:28 pm

    CORRECTION : my mistake too! It is Milton FRIEDMAN, not Freedman. Sorry!

  5. Anonymouson 28 May 2007 at 8:17 pm

    I’m all for people working less in order to live more. But I’d like to keep theoretical physics - and the other sciences, and art, music, architecture. All that stuff that’s non-essential is still awe-inspiring and beautiful and satisfying.

    (And yes, it’s John Maynard Keynes; Milton Keynes is a city in England.)

  6. RJon 28 May 2007 at 9:39 pm

    For anyone enjoying this essay (myself included), I would recommend the book “Pentagon of Power” by Lewis Mumford. It’s the best book I’ve ever read on the subject of the military industrial complex, dubbed by him the “Megamachine” in 1970.

    Anecdotally, I stopped working as a builder (unnecessary Florida job NO doubt)in 2003 to care for my preschool daughter, and her 81 year old blind grandmother. In the past four years, I’ve come to realize what freedom truly is. No television, no cellphone, no traffic, no deadlines, no bureaucrats, and no conversations with people who have absolute faith in the status quo.

    Last year may have been the apex of world oil production. How has that fact benefited our society? Well, it’s benefited those at the top, while ordinary folks are nothing more than interest rate meters for the ruling elite. I refuse to participate.

  7. jewishfarmeron 28 May 2007 at 10:57 pm

    Oops, how freudian of me to mix up Milton Keynes with John M. Keynes! Thanks for the correction!

    Pat - I don’t think capitalism is inherently evil. I do thinkg *GROWTH* capitalism is inherently immoral and can’t be sustainable (I’m not sure evil is the right word, because it implies intentionality). But I don’t think private ownership of things like land and other means of production is inherently evil. I think scale may be the problem more than anything, and growth capitalism demands growth in scale.

    I’m not trying to be mealy mouth about being anti-growth capitalist, but I do want to be clear about what I oppose. I think some very simple forms of capitalism are fine, and I think virtually all economic systems are hybrids of some sort. I’m not a pure Marxist or pure capitalist, or for that matter a pure feudalist. I’m not sure what to call it, which is why I don’t name it.

    But yes, I have no problem saying that capitalism as we know it is *THE* problem - this is a good point.

    Anonymous, I was sort of joking about astrophysics (DH is has Ph.d in theoretical astrophysics) - you’ll note that I left all the arts and sciences in there. I don’t consider the arts or sciences non-essential (although I maintain that if they were the right half we could do with half the novelists ;-)).


  8. Dmitryon 29 May 2007 at 1:58 am


    I agree with most of what you say, but there is one caveat: the money this system spends on war is not the money we have earned already, and not the money we are earning now; it is the money we (and our children) will have to earn, on behalf of foreign creditors, who will be our new owners. In the meantime, the system has ways of making you earn more than you need, by mandating all sorts of unnecessary things. We won’t be able to shut it down by opting out, and even just getting a bit of freedom turns out to be quite tricky. I think a better approach for most people, for now anyway, is to stay within the system, and muck it up and rot it out from the inside, until it is so undermined that it collapses without any effort, all the while devoting most of the effort to planning for the post-collapse future.

  9. Brian Curryon 29 May 2007 at 4:22 am

    Hi, Sharon. I’d prefer to e-mail this, than post this; but, I couldn’t find your e-mail. I sent this e-mail to my brother after reading your post and another, entitled “The Theory of Anyway.”


    Howdie, Davey!

    Hope you had a rowdie, non-touristy time this memorable, Memorial Day
    weekend. First, a link resembling a childhood memory I have of the
    American Southwest:

    “Four Corners.”

    The music is particularly stirring. Authentic, and shot up with
    Americana… Particularly sad, as well, when one considers the strong
    likelihood that epidemic, perennial drought is destroying what little
    green life remains of the southwest. Fuel for Los Angeles lawns, and
    greed-bought hot showers.

    Second, a link to art’s inspiration. In these dying times, a little
    glad inspiration is the headwater’s start of what we need.

    “Women in Art.”

    Third, the most important graph ever produced. If we end up on an
    American Southwest tour, this summer, I’m sure to draw this graph on the
    desert floor once, twice, or, likely, several times. :)

    The Y-axis of this graph is Homo Sapiens population - as measured in the
    billions - while the X-axis is time - as measured in 10,000 year steps,
    beginning 820,000 years ago.

    “A Brief Disturbance in the Force.”

    Fourth, the “Call of Life” trailer.

    “Call of Life.”

    Fifth, on the topic of “Your Dollar is Your Vote,” an article authored
    by the author of “Against the Grain,” and published in a magazine named
    “Harper’s.” That “Against the Grain” meme that Bad Religion advocate is
    the same meme advocated by that book. And that is, to summarize, that
    the hidious atrocity of the past 13,000 years and the current mass-
    extinction is a product of addiction to “catastrophic species:” species
    predicate on mass-extinction for propagation and gene-success. In other
    words, we are not empire-builders until enslaved to be empire-builders
    by a thin spectrum of the plant community. These plants require, by
    virtue of the biologic niche to which they evolved, that all competitor
    plant, animal, insect, and even bacterial species be catastrophically
    eradicated from the soil before they, these plants, are seeded in the
    soil. In a rational sense, therefore, the current catastrophes are
    extensions–culturally, economically, and politically–of this culture
    taking catastrophic agriculture as its fundamental assumption, goal, and
    raison de etre.

    I see a good deal of sense in such a theory. But,
    I let history be the judge.

    “The Oil We Eat.” Richard Manning.

    The last paragraph is the crux of his statement, if not the meat. “Food
    is politics. That being the case, I voted twice in 2002.” What was his
    second vote? This is the article, in fact, that inspired the phrase
    “Your Dollar Is Your Vote” in the grottos of my imagination.

    Sixth, also on this same topic, a recent blog-post by Sharon Astyk.

    The article is long, and often long-winded. But there are veined,
    glittering streams of truth in that wind: her pin-pointed definition of
    the economic problem, and some solutions. The finale four paragraphs of
    the post are key - absolutely key - as to pragmatic, possible solutions.
    They are solutions that I, and an increasing cross-section of America,
    have been living, leading, and direly trying for the past four years.

    “Digging Dollars: Make-Work, Agriculture, and Empire.” Sharon Astyk.

    “But in the end, sometimes, you do what’s right. That was one of
    the great arguments about slavery, about the end of the British
    Empire - the nay sayers said ‘It will hurt us financially to do
    this.’ And yes, that was true. Not stealing money from other
    people, not enslaving them makes the people who had been stealing
    and slaving less rich. But some things you do because they are
    right, not because they are expedient. Ceasing to fund evil,
    ceasing to support imperialism - you do because it is right.”

    But how do you cease to fund evil?

    And how do you cease to support imperialism?

    You withdraw your support from the economic system empowering that evil,
    empowering that imperialism, and empowering, by causal virtue of those
    evils, the consumptions on which you live. Or, “Consumption Stops at
    Home,” I’d say, if we want another phrase.

    It is not easy… But, then, good is never easy. Perhaps that is it’s
    final definition.

    Brian Curry

    [ My e-mail: bcurry at freeshell dot org ]

  10. Anonymouson 29 May 2007 at 10:18 am

    Anonymous, I was sort of joking about astrophysics (DH is has Ph.d in theoretical astrophysics) - you’ll note that I left all the arts and sciences in there. I don’t consider the arts or sciences non-essential (although I maintain that if they were the right half we could do with half the novelists ;-)).

    Oh good, just checking!
    And I suspect you may be right about the novelists ;-)

  11. alexon 29 May 2007 at 10:52 am


  12. jewishfarmeron 29 May 2007 at 3:14 pm

    3Hey Dmitry, you aren’t the Dmitry who is on Ingrid’s editing schedule right before me, are you ;-)? If so, I admire your writing.

    I think you are absolutely right that we are funding this war with debt. What I’m not sure is that that means we can’t shut it down - that is, I’m not convinced we’re so far away from the point at which Japan and China will be disinclined to support our economy that causing a short term crisis might not precipitate a long term one.

    For me personally, the moral argument against complicity is compelling, although I can understand your arguments for mucking things up from in the inside. Personally, I’m all for mucking it up for a long time - the system has shown what I think is surprising resiliance, and I’m increasingly convinced that we are far better off with an earlier, sooner collapse (little as I like the idea in some ways) than putting off until further into depletion, and casting not just the debt but the burden off on our kids.


  13. Michelle in Gaon 29 May 2007 at 4:47 pm

    An interesting essay. It gives a
    gentle nudge to move folks or their thinking along in other directions. BUT
    We are facing a huge nursing
    and doctor shortage. It would
    make an informative side study sometime. I speak from the trenches of acute care. We are
    crumbling now under the needs of
    caring for the greatest generation. The baby boomers will
    do us in for sure. We don’t have enough staff now to care for the sick. We have fewer ER rooms, waits are longer, specialists more
    difficult to obtain. Staffing is
    patched, and a “let’s get by and hope nobody dies tonight” attitude
    prevails. I could say more.
    As for caring for parents, well
    hubby and I have 7. I’m gonna need
    help. Michelle

  14. jewishfarmeron 29 May 2007 at 6:10 pm

    Michelle, I not only sympathize, I empathize. My husband and I took care of my husband’s grandparents at home. We have 8 parents between us, and for 3 of them, my husband is an only child. And I’m the only one of my sisters who is speaking to my father, so in that sense, I’m an only child too ;-).

    There is every chance that we’ll have 3-5 boomer family members who mostly can’t stand each other (either from lack of taste or having been previously married) living with or near us. That does not fill us with glee.

    We *are* going to need help, and better support systems. For example, if people imagine we could go to a 1-child family structure, they are going to have to figure out how that would happen when many of us have 6-8 parents to care for. My husband is an only child, and let’s just say I wish he’d had four or five siblings some days ;-).

    And I don’t deny that the medical system is overburdened. I do point out here that jobs caring for the ill and disabled are useful. I think many of us should stop lawyering and take up nursing, for example.

    On the other hand, no low-energy future is going to be anywhere near as medicalized as the present is, which will cut down that acute care need enormously. The average senior citizen has 3 surgeries in their last 5 years of life - in many cases, without them their lives would be only a few months shorter.

    In many cases, we aren’t so much prolonging life as prolonging death - and I’ve seen that in my days as a hospice and nursing home worker, and also in my own family. I’ve worked in EMS and seen the number of elder injuries that could have been avoided if they just lived with someone who cared about them, or had a better localized support system.

    I watched my husband’s grandfather, while dying, suffer from the side effects of numerous medications. He’d already had multiple small strokes, had poor quality of life and was 94 years old, but his doctor and wife didn’t want to discontinue his heart medication since he might have a heart attack. Never mind that there was little doubt he’d be dead within the year - we wouldn’t want him to have a heart attack ;-P.

    It is likely that many of our parents (and us) will experience slightly shorter lifespans. With a good triaging of the medical care system (something I’m writing about now and would be interested in your take upon), I think it isn’t necessary that those lifespans drop much. But we can expect much of the interventions traditional in the last few years of one’s life to end, and be replaced mostly with palliative care.

    Help is necessary. More professional medical help is probably necessary. But not as much as we think - a large portion of what is needed can be done by people with basic, minimal or no medical training but lots of commitment and compassion. Some of it will require nurses and doctors - but to a large degree, nurses and doctors are overburdened by a host of habits that IMHO, won’t survive the end of the oil age.

    Sharon in upstate NY

  15. Michelle in Gaon 29 May 2007 at 6:21 pm


    This says it better than I can.

  16. Michelle in Gaon 29 May 2007 at 6:32 pm

    There is every chance that we’ll have 3-5 boomer family members who mostly can’t stand each other (either from lack of taste or having been previously married) living with or near us. That does not fill us with glee. (sharon)

    My answer: Set up a trailer park in the front yard. Enemies of the
    bride on the left, enemies of the groom on the right.(Michelle)

    It is likely that many of our parents (and us) will experience slightly shorter lifespans. With a good triaging of the medical care system (something I’m writing about now and would be interested in your take upon), I think it isn’t necessary that those lifespans drop much. But we can expect much of the interventions traditional in the last few years of one’s life to end, and be replaced mostly with palliative care.(Sharon)

    Anytime. (Michelle)

  17. uluon 29 May 2007 at 9:37 pm

    Talking about debt.

    It’s certainly true that paying of your debts, all of them, no more mortgage, no more nothing, would be a more effective way than not paying taxes to achieve your goals.

    This is because all our money is created as debt. Hence, no more debt, no more money. It’s a shame not more people understand this. For high-speed connectors, there is a nice animation that explains it very well:
    Money as Debt.

    Problem is, most of our debts are hidden from view. USA Today, of all rags, runs a piece today that states every U.S. household carries $516,348 in Federal debt. (By comparison, U.S. households owe an average of “just” $112,043 for personal loans, including mortgages etc.)

    This means every household would have to pay about $31,000 a year for 75 years just tp pay off the current Federal debt.
    Rules ‘hiding’ trillions in debt

    It looks like we’re beaten by creative accounting.

    But getting out of debt should be the first priority for everyone, before doing anything else. Debts feed the machine. And you are the fuel.

    “In very short”, it goes like this: when a million people sign for a $100.000 mortgage, that’s $100 billion. But fractional banking allows for 100 times that amount to be created. So $10 trillion flows into the economy. And that’s not all: before that mortgage is paid off in full, you’ll have paid $300.000, though principal, fees, interest, etc. Do the math.

    Another matter: the way Washington hides its debts is by saying that future obligations don’t have to show up in this year’s books. Hmmm.. that would be like you signing a mortgage with one bank, and then closing another one with the next bank, without saying you already have a mortgage, claiming that since you don’t have to pay it right away, it’s not a debt. Yeah, that would be callled fraud.

  18. Annetteon 30 May 2007 at 4:17 pm

    I agree with Pat Meadows - and yes, maybe evil isn’t the correct word - but I think there can be little doubt that capitalism has been a terrible, immoral, earth- and community- destroying system. And how could it be otherwise when the central tenet of capitalism is that greed and selfishness are to be encouraged as they somehow result in the best decisions for society? That whole “invisible hand” thing never made any sense to me!

    And I don’t think being anti-capitalist necessarily means being against all private ownership. I have no problem with small-scale private ownership and very small businesses. But I think it was one of the sadder days in American history (not, of couse, on the scale of slavery and the genocide of the Indian nations) when corporations were given the rights of persons. We now live in a country where corporations have virtually unlimited rights and we have virtually none (if you doubt this, just read the USA Patriot Act, the Homeland Security Act, The Military Commisions Act). The Bill of Rights to the United States Constitution has been gutted recently, but even before that, Corporations had ever-growing rights and powers. I think its terribly important that we withdraw our support from the corporate powers-that-be. And not buying anything from them is one very important way of doing that.

  19. Zachon 31 May 2007 at 1:08 pm


    And I don’t think being anti-capitalist necessarily means being against all private ownership. I have no problem with small-scale private ownership and very small businesses.

    It’s called “distributism”. :) The name and idea was promoted heavily in the early 20th century by the English writers G. K. Chesterton and Hillaire Belloc, among others, as a concrete attempt to implement the Catholic social encyclicals.

    “Too much capitalism does not mean too many capitalists, but too few capitalists.”

    This is exactly what Chesterton and the other distributists were (are) after - a widespread distribution of usable property. Or put another way (which ties directly into Sharon’s writing), aiming at a society of “tolerably contented peasants.”


  20. Pat Loganon 15 Jun 2007 at 5:19 pm

    “50% of the things the government chooses to spend money on are about our ability to blow things up. The American defense budget annually exceeds the combined defense budget of every other nation in the world.”

    I quoted this to my twelve year old and he said, “I guess we’re pretty paranoid.”

    Out of the mouths of babes …

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