Depression Until 2017…At Least?

Sharon November 13th, 2008

If you ask an economist or market expert how long the current economic crisis is likely to last, they’ll tell you that the average recession lasts between 8 and 16 months.  Sounds pretty reasonable, right?  Using that estimate, we’ll be doing fine in two years.  They then mutter something sotto voce about the fact that this will probably be a longer than usual, perhaps into 2010, but that they expect growth reasonably soon. And perhaps by a purely technical definition they will be right.

But it is worth talking about those numbers.  The first point worth noting is that the Great Depression isn’t actually factored into the “average recession” - they count since WWII.  The official reason of course, is that most economists imagine that they understand the prior crisis, and that it can’t happen again.  And maybe that’s true, but if you did take all the economic crises of the 20th century, you’d see that the average recession/depression lasted a good bit longer.

Now recessions are officially two quarters of negative growth. That’s why I prefer to talk about “economic crises” or a “Depression” because technically, we haven’t even had that yet.  We’re in the worst economic crisis since 1929, and we’re not in an official recession.  But, of course, for all non-economists, the recession started either last fall or winter, with the housing bust and the wild rise in prices for basic needs.  That is, real people have been living in the early stages of an economic crisis for a good while.

The other point is that it isn’t just the Great Depression that lasted a long time for all intents and purposes - if, instead of counting negative growth quarters, you actually look at the experience of living in the 1970s, you’d find that the economic crisis of the 1970s lasted, well, pretty much from 1973 to 1982.  Technically those years include two formal ”recessions” - 1973-4 and 1980-82, but the reality was rather different.  In fact, despite the fact that we were officially “out” of the recession by 1975, unemployment spiked up to 9% in that year, then gradually subsided a bit.  Meanwhile, the recession was followed by years of rapid inflation, rising to 13.5 percent by 1980.  For the most part, unemployment remained high (and remember, we did less statistical fudging then), while the experience of ordinary people remained purse pinching, tight energy supplies and real economic struggles that got mildly better from 1976-1978, but never improved very dramatically, and then were followed by a further unemployment spike to above 10%, until 1982.

Ignoring the technical definitions, the recession of the 1970s lasted not-quite 10 years.  The Great Depression, which also had its fits and starts, rising and lowering unemployment and brief periods of comparative improvement and then further decline, lasted, it is generally agreed, from late 1929 to early 1941 - over 10 years.  Now I realize that this is unconventional accounting, but given that most accounts of our economy understate the reality,   I think there’s a reasonable case for saying that twice during the last century we’ve had extended economic crises that lasted around a decade. 

Is this sufficient evidence to say that the current crisis will eat up a whole ten years?   No, it isn’t.  But it is, I think, worth asking the important question - what will get us out of this particular crisis - that is, what would actually lead us to believe that we’ll start growing again in a matter of months to a year or so?

At the root of our growth in both the early 1980s and during World War II was access to lots of cheap energy - it quite literally fuelled the economic growth that got us going again.  The long term prospects for cheap energy are not very good - despite the current price fall, we are almost certainly past our energy peak. Even the IEA, while explicitly repudiating peak oil, admits that without massive investment that will likely be difficult to fund at these prices and in this economy, we can expect a rapid decline in oil availability. A shift to renewables would be a way of hedging here, but that too requires large amounts of money and energy.  We are, at best, in a bind.  When we emerge into a new steady state, it isn’t clear what that state will look like. 

Am I claiming that we’ll be in an official recession for 10 years?  No, and I’d be shocked if we were.  Even if such a thing happened, I have faith in the willingness of the government to jigger the statistics.  I have no doubt that a combination of periodic minor improvements and the need to keep people believing will mean that we are, as French philosopher and critic Jacques Derrida would probably not quite put it, “always-already” out of our recession.  But that doesn’t change the fact that for those of us who see our reality not through the lens of questionable government statistics, but through our real pocketbooks, our grocery bills and our jobs, odds are, we’re in for a long, long haul, and a very changed world on the other end. I won’t be at all surprised if my sons, who at present play with legos and toy swords and are mostly learning to read and do arithmetic are studying calculus and taller than me (and I’m 6′0) by the time we emerge into some kind of economic stability.


35 Responses to “Depression Until 2017…At Least?”

  1. Alanon 13 Nov 2008 at 1:13 pm

    Many good points, Sharon, but I’m thinking that America’s emergence from the Depression/World War II owes more to government willingness to borrow _extensively_ to fund the war and build America’s industrial plant into what would be at the end of the war, the only intact industrial system in the world.

    Also, America’s industry had a unique and never repeated opportunity to export massive quantities of capital, military, agricultural, and consumer goods to what amounted to a captive market — our devastated allies and even more devastated enemies. This enormous market was made possible in part, because the U.S. was, again, borrowing to finance Europe’s reconstruction through the Marshall Plan. We were loaning our allies (and former enemies) the wherewithal to buy the output of our fields and factories.

    The resulting demand “fueled” the boom in American industry, cheap petroleum simply enabled our products to be manufactured, transported and sold more cheaply than would have been possible under conditions of energy scarcity.

    Petroleum was cheap for Europe, too, but without the Marshall Plan, the development of modern Europe as we know it might never have happened or been delayed for decades and certainly, the robust industrial economy of WWII would likely have shrunk into stagnation instead of booming into the “consumer paradise” of the 1950’s.

  2. Sharonon 13 Nov 2008 at 1:49 pm

    Alan, I see your point, and honestly, I’m not sure we disagree that strongly. I see the energy elements of this as more profound than you do - without America’s large energy resources, tehy would have had a hard time getting cheap oil from embattled regions during the War period. Without domestic production, the US might have lost the war. But whether the energy elmements were the root cause or merely a contributing factor, we do agree broadly. The fact tha teh US was the only nation able to build out the implements of war on the scale it die, and had a captive market in Europe, and then had a Marshall plan audience mattered was either a result of our energy boom, or a side factor - either way, the same circumstances are not likely to help us now.


  3. Green Assassin Brigadeon 13 Nov 2008 at 1:59 pm

    I think it will appear as a never ending depression. Fudge the numbers as they like, more people will be leaving the work force for subsistance lifestyles, while manufacturing, retail, and hospitality wither on the vine. More people will be scraping by on black market or under the table work. More of the countries work will be unpaid, bartered, tit for tat transactions that cannot be accounted for.

    I think a move to electronic money will be attempted to both monitor people and to make all cash grey/black market transactions impossible.

    The only way to hide the negative growth will be to fan inflation while lying about how high inflation is running, that way the GDP in dollars will look to be steady or growing all while the real value of transactions taking place will shrink.

    An Aside

    If you look at the numbers put together by John Willams using undoctored accounting he shows theres been a recession for nearly 4 years and only one possitive quarter in over 6 years.

  4. Kation 13 Nov 2008 at 2:49 pm

    Starting to change the stories and possibilities I tell my daughter (11 years), as to her future. This morning, I told her that I’m glad she is hoping to become a veterinarian, because the likelyhood is that to do vet work she may be able to apprentice to somebody who’s already a vet, and only need a COUPLE years of formal college, unlike other career choices (surgeon, for example). I told her that it’s highly unlikely we’ll be able to afford college for her, by the time she’s ready (and she certainly won’t have enough saved for more than a year or two at the local branch of our U), so to apprentice out for vet training may be the way to go. Fortunately, we’ve been talking about apprenticing, thanks to her history lessons. So she’s got some idea of what apprenticeships mean, and how it allows a person to start at the lowest level and work their way up, with on-the-job type training. It may not be possible entirely, but for most basic stuff, I think that this is going to be the way things work for post-primary training & education in the new (old!) way of things.

  5. Thomas Eicheron 13 Nov 2008 at 2:53 pm

    I recently read a fascinating book by David Hackett Fischer titled The Great Wave: Price Revolutions and the Rhythm of History.

    His argument is that the western world has seen four periods of rising prices since 1200. Each of these periods ended in crisis and was followed by an equilibrium period of fairly stable prices.

    The periods are: The Medieval Price Revolution (1180-1350) followed by the crisis of the 14th century and the equilibrium of the Renaissance (1400-1470);
    the price revolution of the 16th century (1480-1620) followed by the general crisis of the 17th century (1490-1650) and the equilibrium of the Enlightenment (1660-1730); the price revolution of the 18th century (1730-1789) followed by tge revolutionary crisis (1789-1820) and the Victorian equilibrium (1820-1896); and the price revolution of the 20th century (1896-?).

    Each of the crisis periods was marked by increasing financial and social instability with the major effects being growing inequality of wealth and income, increasing property crime and violent crime, and an increase in pre-marital pregnancies and births outside of marriage.

    Each crisis period was precipitated by an event or events that would not have caused a crisis in a more stable period. The book was published in 1996 and among the possible triggering factors he mentioned were an incompetent president or a change in climate.

    The book changed my thinking about our current predicament. I agree with Sharon that we are at the beginning of a long period of crisis. I also think that the world we’ll find on the other side of the crisis will be much different from today’s world.

    The current flailing around by our “leaders” will probably do little but make things worse.

    There is little that we can do about the crisis but live through it as best we can.

  6. Elizabethon 13 Nov 2008 at 3:59 pm

    I hope she considers other veterinary work besides becoming a full-blown veterinarian. By most accounts, getting into veterinary school is more difficult than getting in to med school, due to the small number of spaces available. I really wanted to be a vet when I started at college, but that dream feel by the wayside when I seriously considered 8 years of higher education (if I was lucky and got a spot). Apprenticing with a vet is still a great idea, though! Learning animal husbandry skills is never a waste!

  7. Leslie NWon 13 Nov 2008 at 5:07 pm

    Even if we did manage to get out of this and start growing again, (I don’t have the vision to see how or where under our current paradigm, but there probably is some bubble out there waiting to inflate). Anyway, if growth got going again, there is this energy crisis lurking that will thwart the whole thing. Once growth happens, demand goes back up and we start hitting that peak line again, which inturn will cause an economic slump.

    Even if we somehow got passed that one, and found cheap alternatives, we would still be facing ecological issues which would eventually curtail our growth.

    It kind of sad that the economic system which supports us, depends on never ending growth, when we live on a planet which does not grow. :)

  8. Chrison 13 Nov 2008 at 5:12 pm

    Sharon et al.,

    I guess I have trouble seeing how the recession/depression will ever end if we are truly entering into an extended (if not permanent) period of declining or stable energy supply.

    It is widely accepted that without a growing supply of energy, economic growth is not possible. If we assume that renewables won’t make up for depleting fossil fuels once they peak (which is a safe assumption at this point), then that means once oil peaks we’ll be looking at a future with either a declining or stable energy supply. One can imagine a period of decline or adjustment followed perhaps by an indefinite period of flat energy use (no growth and no decline) once we reach some kind of equilibrium.

    So here’s my question. If we go into a recession or depression now, and oil has already peaked or will peak in the next few years, then how are we ever going to come out of it? I realize that the term “recession” technically means two consecutive quarters of negative growth, but underneath that is always the assumption that at some point - whether in a month or a decade - the economy will begin to grow again.

    But what happens if it doesn’t? Our debt-based economy requires constant growth over time to survive. If this growth doesn’t ever resume, it seems to me that our global economy is finished, ka-put, over with. That means that we’re now entering an economic downturn that we’ll never come out of. Perhaps this is what you meant when you said “we’re in for a long, long haul, and a very changed world on the other end.”

    Perhaps a more accurate way of saying it is that our economy has “peaked”, much in the way oil and fossil fuels will, and that we are now headed to a permanent period of no economic growth and thus a much smaller, less centralized and less productive economic reality.

    I’d love to hear your thoughts.

  9. Rebeccaon 13 Nov 2008 at 5:39 pm

    I for one think the next bubble will be in the ‘green’ sector. Alternative energy, green collar jobs and all the rest.

    Chris, decline is almost never a straight slope down, any more than growth is. More likely, it will be more like a stair step pattern with periods of relative stability between the steps down.

  10. Gailon 13 Nov 2008 at 6:40 pm

    I am agreeing with Chris; what if it doesn’t come back? What if the old world really is gone? All the news outlets are wedded to economic theory. Most everybody else is too. We love the bell curve and encourage ourselves during downturns with the thought of the upturns right around the corner. I hear this every night on the news. I make rude noises in disbelief.

    When they stopped building subdivisions in Colorado, the construction economy tanked. Workers went back to Mexico. Cities don’t get those fat development fees anymore. All of a sudden.. no more growth, well, except down at the food bank. It is hard for me to imagine any kind of scenario that will resemble the past 20 years in boomtime. Will money ever be “easy” again? And then the oil runs out.

  11. LeeAnnon 13 Nov 2008 at 6:51 pm

    So, somebody, tell me how nuclear power figures into this?

  12. Sharonon 13 Nov 2008 at 7:38 pm

    I don’t think it will be quite an endless Depression - we talk about an end to all growth, of course, but that’s really “growth over past growth” if that makes any sense. Think of it this way - let’s say the Dow Jones drops down to 100, and then rises up to 1000 - Dow 1000 would still be pathetic, but it would be growth over the previous period. What is unlikely to happen is the Dow rising over 14000 again. The same would be true of energy usage - if a Depression cuts back our usage far enough, in the longer term, there might be ways we could use that oil to achieve “growth” it just wouldn’t be “growth over past growth.” My guess is what we’ll have is a series of crises, in which we drop down dramatically, and then have a small amount of growth into a new normal, then more crises… Of course, in a rational society we would (ideally sooner than later) say “ok, we need new things to build an economy on” but the problem is that we’re heavily invested in the old economy, and some of us still benefit from it.

    LeeAnn - I think the role of nuclear is going to be comparatively small - it is incredibly expensive and requires extensive subsidies we’re probably not going to be able to afford. It is going to be very difficult to build a nuclear power plant in an economy where credit is hard to come by and where energy prices are not stable. I think we’ll build some, but not enough to keep us growing.


  13. Chrison 13 Nov 2008 at 7:55 pm


    Thanks for your response. I’ve read John Michael Greer’s “The Long Descent” and he predicts a similar “downward staircase” model of decline. I tend to thing that’s right myself, but it’s helpful to make the distinction between “growth” and “growth over past growth”. Thanks for clarifying that.

    Using your language, what I meant to say in my previous comment is that “growth over past growth” is probably over once the depression sets in. The question is, how much growth will be possible at all during those relative periods of recovery/stability? Only time will tell, I suppose.

    LeAnn, let me give you a few sobering numbers about nuclear power:

    - The mean age of the 439 nuclear reactors in the world is 23 years. The “life expectancy” of these reactors is 40 years. That means we’d need a large number of nuclear reactors built in the next 15 years just to maintain the same number we have now, not to mention adding capacity.

    - According to the Nuclear Energy Institute (a pro-nuclear industry group) we can optimistically expect to have no more than four to eight new plants by 2016. If those plants are working to schedule, within budget estimates, without licensing difficulties, and with continued public policy support (all of which is far from certain), only then would a new wave of construction begin.

    - According to the Nuclear Power Joint Fact Finding Report issued in 2007 by the Keystone Center, we would need approximately 700 GWe of new net nuclear capacity by the 2050s in order to offset the decline of fossil fuels. This would require, on average,the construction of fourteen 1,000-megawatt-electric (MWe) plants each year. However, before 2050 it would also be necessary to replace the retiring nuclear capacity (approximately 370 GWe) which would require construction of an additional 7.4 1,000 MWe reactors each year. Thus we would need to build a total of 21 MWe new 1,000 MWe plants each year to successfully offset the decline of fossil fuels. This is not going to happen. The best-case estimate of the NEI (previous bullet point) was adding 4-8 reactors in the next six years, for an average of approximately one per year.

    - To meet the new demand for nuclear electricity we would also have to substantially expand fuel-cycle facilities (uranium mines, mills, enrichment plants, fuel fabrication plants and nuclear waste repositories). Roughly that would include 11-22 new large enrichment plants (compared to 17 existing), 18 fuel fabrication plants (compared to 24 existing), and 10 nuclear waste repositories the size of the statutory capacity of Yucca Mountain. (Statutory capacity is used because the Yucca Mountain project has been stalled and no new alternatives have been proposed.)

    I could go on but I hope the point is clear. Transitioning to a nuclear power would require trillions of dollars of investments, decades of planning, preparation and construction, huge amounts of fossil fuel and a tremendous level of political will - none of which are readily available at present.


  14. Verdeon 13 Nov 2008 at 8:34 pm

    Isn’t there a pill we can take and everything will be rosey in 6 weeks?

  15. Brad K.on 13 Nov 2008 at 9:14 pm

    Sharon, the economy of the 1930’s and even 1970’s was not as service-oriented as today. It might be possible to have an information technology-driven recovery that is much less reliant on cheap energy.

    If only we had the education and resources to field and utilize creative, driven IT people in massive numbers. As one video points out, India today has more honors students than America has students. That doesn’t lend itself to a secure and safe vision of the future.

  16. Frank Giffordon 13 Nov 2008 at 9:30 pm

    Jimmy Carter tried to talk straight with Americans about our future in the late 1970’s. There were lots of problems with his Presidency. But Reagan’s “Morning in America” trumped the straight talk about our energy future. If we had started to prepare then, we might have a reasonable chance of reaching steady state now. Reagan’s “Morning in American” is now proven to have consisted of nothing more than smoke, mirrors, and free market ideology. And now, here we are, at the end of a period of 500 years of exploitation fueled economics; first the “New World and slavery”, followed by increasing supplies of cheap fossil fuels and worldwide exploitation of the natural environment. If you look at the curve of petroleum extraction, it is closely followed by human population. The left side of this curve is quite steep. The right side of these curves will tend to mirror the left side. There is much quality information about this at The Dieoff Website. We passed a milestone in all of human existence in 1978; energy use per capita, from Richard Duncan’s “Olduvai Theory”, or the “Single Pulse of Industrial Civilization”. According to this theory, we are only a few years from the “Olduvai Cliff”. This is a period of steep descent. Think of a ball bouncing down the stairs. First it hits several stairs in a row, then it takes a long bounce, and goes way down….

    So the economic growth paradigm of the past 500 years no longer seems to apply. Do we have choices? Only if we can clearly see our predicament, can we formulate designs that have some chance of success. I believe it is important to develop a strong positive (and realistic) vision of the future, and seek to cultivate the wisdom, strength, courage, and perseverance to make this positive vision a reality. That is part of what we strive to demonstrate at our project, Truly yours Frank from EntropyPawsed

  17. Rebeccaon 13 Nov 2008 at 10:34 pm

    My only hope for nuclear power is that all the plants get shut down properly when the time comes -and by that I mean they don’t meltdown, which is probably going to be the case with one or more of them.

    Brad, neither is having as many students as India has, period.

    Sharon, I can’t wait until that happens -the Dow climbs BACK to 1,000 and the commentators cry ‘Happy Days are here again!’ That will probably be the best belly laugh I get in those days. ;-)

  18. AppleJackCreekon 13 Nov 2008 at 10:43 pm

    Brad, I am deeply entrenched in the world of IT, and I find it hard to imagine ways that the geeks of the world could possibly drive any kind of recovery in the economy at large. We chew up money, and we (generally, not always) bring in very little revenue in return.

    The in-house IT department in a large company is a cost centre, not a revenue centre. For a long time I worked at a big oil company, and it was often said that the IT department “didn’t do all that much to help get oil down the pipeline” - we were not a core service, at least not in the way that the guys running the cokers or the various bits of heavy equipment were.

    We provide pixel-wrangling services, making it possible for decision makers to push numbers and information around in ways that are harder to do by hand (sometimes impossible, or practically so, anyway). That surely adds some value … better info leads to better decisions, and that’s good. We’re just a tool, though … and unless the company that we geeks are serving is already solid and well-performing, that tool will be laid aside, as it’s frequently optional to a significant degree. If none of us showed up for work, the oil would still flow down the pipeline.

    Maybe you were thinking of IT in terms of the development shops - places that produce software, like Microsoft as one huge example, or any number of consulting firms and web designers and so on. Again, though, it’s a service being provided: someone’s gotta buy the software you produce. That only happens if someone else has already got enough funds already: when money is tight, companies make do with the spreadsheets they have instead of hiring a developer to build a custom database for them. Look at the downturns in IT jobs during any tightening of the economy in the past. We’re usually rather optional, and we know it.

    One of the things that frustrates me most about the work I do is the feeling that I’m not actually adding a whole lot of value to the world at large. Don’t get me wrong - I *love* the fact that we have the internet and Blogger and all these awesome ways of communicating, and they do add value and should be maintained and encouraged to grow. But I see that as more like ‘roads and phone lines’ - more along the lines of ‘public service’ than ‘profit making’, and it’s unlikely to be a major growth area especially when you think of the power required to run a server farm or the infrastructure maintenance of keeping high speed net access available in rural areas.

    Of all the IT work I have done in the past 15+ years, there is stunningly little of it that I feel made any sort of ‘dent’ in the larger world … and most of the other geeks I know feel that same sense of discouraged despair.

    This is a big part of why my hobbies are all ‘productive’ ones. A coder I knew once said about her knitting hobby, “At the end of the day, I can say see? that inch of fabric did not exist this morning. Now it does.” IT work is not really like that, not very often, anyway. And if we aren’t creating anything that adds value … how can we improve the global economy in any real way?

    Whew, that was quite the tangent. Sorry for the small detour into left field, everyone. :)

    My gut feeling about the larger question Sharon posed is that we’ll have to find new ways of defining and measuring ‘growth’ and ’success’. Our old benchmarks of stock prices and money changing hands may need to be replaced with markers like ‘how much food did we produce this past year and was there enough for everyone’ and ‘how many people had access to all the things they needed’. All very vague things that would drive a statistician nuts, I know. I just can’t imagine any kind of ‘hard numbers’ that would accurately reflect the kind of ‘health of the community’ that I believe is more relevant than the numbers on some banker’s chart somewhere.

    And then again … maybe it’s like those tales from people who made it through the Great Depression who say they never realized they were poor: if everyone feels that they are ‘poor, maybe, but we don’t feel poor’, then do the statistics really matter?

  19. […] Casaubon’s Book » Blog Archive » Depression Until 2017…At Least? If you ask an economist or market expert how long the current economic crisis is likely to last, they’ll tell you that the average recession lasts between 8 and 16 months. Sounds pretty reasonable, right? Using that estimate, we’ll be doing fine in two years. They then mutter something sotto voce about the fact that this will probably be a longer than usual, perhaps into 2010, but that they expect growth reasonably soon. And perhaps by a purely technical definition they will be right. […]

  20. Watcheron 14 Nov 2008 at 12:25 am

    Hold on a second. The messiah has arrived and we should have no worries. Haven’t you heard? 76% of people in a poll expect Obama to improve the economy, stabilize the market, generate more jobs, make the US less dependent on foreign oil, bring world peace, and that is just for starters. So all is good. No recession/depression. No oil/energy crisis. All is happy and we get to keep our self-esteems as high as we want. So no critical thought is warranted or even encouraged. Oh and by the way you will never need the guns or the Bible you cling to. The O-man has a cape and prevents all crime as well. I didn’t get through this with an straight face. When most of the US cant even grow any of their own food and don’t pull their heads out of the sand to take a look around……it could possibly be a very painful and very real time.

  21. Shelleyon 14 Nov 2008 at 1:13 am

    Probably totally unrelated but here’s the story:

    There was an avalanche that cut power to Juneau, Alaska recently. Since the power came back on, usage in Juneau has dropped 30%. The co. wants to know why….what are people doing differently. They are consistently consuming less power.

    Maybe this is an allegory for the future. Maybe if there is a “correction” a shrinking of the economy or what ever, maybe “when the power comes back on” Americans will have learned how to live on less, consume less, save more, spend less….in other word returned to sanity.

    We can hope, right?

  22. d.a.on 14 Nov 2008 at 4:20 am

    @AppleJackCreek - as a fellow IT geek, I empathize with what you’ve written. What you also wrote about “productive hobbies” makes sense. So many of my IT friends do things such as spin yarn, build/use wood-fired ovens, blacksmithing, etc. I hadn’t thought about the productivity angle until your post.

    At this point, my IT work is to fund creating a small family farm/orchard. With the exception of IT security and datacenter services, I think IT jobs will shrink with the rest of the economy.

    @Watcher: yeah, the sarcasm really adds value to the conversation.

  23. deweyon 14 Nov 2008 at 10:23 am

    For those with much experience on this type of blog, anyone who likes to say that his countrymen “can’t even” do this or that is easily classified, no?

    There is an obvious way to increase per capita consumption with fixed resources; it is to reduce the population. After the Black Death killed off about a third of Europe, the survivors were significantly more prosperous and labor was valued so much more highly that the smaller working class was able to escape the slavery (in all but name) that it had suffered under for centuries. I am NOT a doomer and am NOT ranting about dieoff, just pointing out a historical fact. There are plenty of slower but less stressful ways to reduce the population.

  24. Rosaon 14 Nov 2008 at 11:02 am

    I’ve spent my whole life in the service industry. Dishwashing, child care, pawn loans, advertising sales, admin, retail sales, customer service. There is endless room for growth but it’s mostly shitty work, where you get paid for emotionally serving other people. I bet the number of personal servants to the rich grew a lot during the Great Depression but most of those people were really, really glad to switch to factory work when they could.

    The thing is that we overproduce by so much - how much of our economy is really needed? Half? One third? Most of it is just the business of making work for pople because we don’t have a better way to distribute resources. We could use significantly less stuff and energy and have a very functional economy. But I don’t think we will anytime soon.

  25. Free Manon 14 Nov 2008 at 11:08 am

    Turbulence and Chaos are both necessary and natural. Let there be Light. Welcome to the Jungle.

  26. LeeAnnon 14 Nov 2008 at 12:29 pm

    Sharon and Eric, thanks for the reply re: nuclear power. My understanding of what you both said: basically, it’s very expensive, extremely high maintenance and requires massive amounts of resources that are unlikely to be available in times of economic instability.

    I was surprised that the average lifespan of a nuclear power reactor is 40 years. Seems like a short time considering the effort and materials consumption that goes into it.

  27. LeeAnnon 14 Nov 2008 at 12:30 pm

    Whoops, I meant Chris, not Eric.

  28. nikaon 14 Nov 2008 at 2:27 pm

    Becoming Peak Oil aware was hard enough when it all seemed academic. Now that we are experiencing difficulties that seem to fit into the paradigms foreshadowed by PO theories, its so very much harder.

    In both cases though we each have to go through stages of grief because you are having to say good bye to the old you which was defined by your place in an America that is slipping away.

    That’s so very hard. Its ok to feel overwhelmed and to obsesses and all manner of what may feel like un-natural reactions. Its ok to do well on some days and then wake to dark days where it feels like nothing is worthwhile.

    Before the recent collapse many got “stuck” or mired down by the proforma nature of our preparations.

    Now that things are collapsing (PO or not, it pays to be prepared now) PO types who prepared have a measure of qualified calm and now might be able to move on to other levels of dealing with the grief.

    Those of us who are coming to PO awareness in the midst of this collapse are handicapped by a lack of time that is needed to process the falling away of our American Way where we were “entitled” to live energy wasteful lives.

    The sooner one mourns and acknowledges this falling away and then embraces the transformational possibilities of transition and post-peak in a positive way, the sooner they can get active, help themselves and those around them not descend into unproductive and self-destructive grasping for the “old way of things”.

    Self-destructive is waiting for or living by the DOW or gold prices or oil prices, waiting for the housing market to come back, waiting for this or that manipulated economic metric to improve. Re-read your 1984 (Orwell) and pay special attention to the media reports that shower people in every venue.

    Constructive is practicing intentional calm (meditation), planning, stocking up, relocalizing, meeting neighbors, growing local community and local food. I suggest doing this joyfully, make it fun. I am not religious but my inspiration comes from Zen Buddhism – its all about right now and that right now is 100% free and its 100% gone already cuz right now is 100% new.

    Find a way to recharge and refresh.

    Constructive, obviously, is visiting Sharon’s blog, learning from her, DOING food storage. It is also finding time to get outside and away from the TV/radio and connecting with the pulse of your life that has zero to do with money and which slips away from each of us every moment we live.

    Instead of frittering away hours and days worrying about recession or depression, do the hard work to build your resilience and also to help others who have already fallen.

    I think there is likely exactly zero that you or I can do to gracefully unravel the CDOs, deleverage AIG and the banks, save the Auto Boondoggle, reinvest in alternative fuels, save recycling, reinvest in pipelines and oil industry physical plant that are old and convalescing poorly, invest in ultra deep sea oil drilling and explorations, (deep breath) and the MANY other things that need to be done.

    What we CAN do is what Sharon is showing you how to do. That right there is a full time job.

  29. Danon 14 Nov 2008 at 7:20 pm

    Nika- The end of your post is quite true. In the end there is little we can do other than take care of ourselves…not in the way those in the financial industry take care of themselves, but in the way Sharon talks about, preparing to help your family and your community and in working to move away from the way of life we’ve (almost) all been living.

    I agree with some others that the chance for growth is gone. The next years will be about using up what’s already been produced with a steadily declining comfort of life for most. Of course there will still be production, but it will be so dwarfed by decline in other areas it will barely register. Think of it this way, if every family bought a hoe, shovel, and seeds this weekend (and nothing else), our GDP would take an enormous hit. If we only buy the barest necessities of life for the next few years, think about the economic impact. We are seeing that right now in October’s Retail Numbers (3% drop). And that is just the slightest beginning.

    Unfortunately, those in the margins, the poor, the sick, the old are going to suffer the most at home and abroad. A die-off is inevitable if simply in the form of life expectancy (negating disease, war, famine) from lowered availability of medicine. At some point, there will be growth as it seems to be in human’s nature (unless western civilization is completely annihilated) to grow until a limit is reached. We’ve reached the limit of what got us here.

    Growth may happen, but only after we go through a fundamental change in the structure of our economy and society. And I don’t see that growth happening in anyone’s generation alive today. I see the collapse happening quicker than most expect and the recovery taking longer. Negative feedback loops go exponential really, really quick.

    So much of what we relied on to pull us out of the Great Depression simply isn’t there anymore…from our own natural resources, to undeveloped countries [sic] we can pillage for profit, to a captive audience to sell to, to a strong work ethic or a strong manufacturing base. None of that is there with us now in this crisis.

    I hate to admit it, because it scares the he11 out of me, but we are in for a terrible mess. Those of us who’ve been reading about PO for a long time knew this was coming…but can no longer just hope we were wrong. Sadly, we weren’t. And now it’s here to deal with.

  30. Steven Earl Salmonyon 16 Nov 2008 at 3:12 pm

    Who made the mess? And why are they paid billions now?

    Billions of dollars are paid in bonuses and bailouts to the “wonder boys” on Wall Street. Precisely what have these self-proclaimed Masters of the Universe been doing for billion dollar year-end paydays?

    Yesterday we found out.

    In recent years “the brightest and best” have perfected the rule-making governing the manipulation of ‘free’ markets and the institutionalization of fraudulent financial instruments and business models.

    What still mystifies me is this: What have these heirs of Ozymandias done in 2008 to merit this self-enrichment? More manipulation and more fraud for more ill-gotten gains, I suppose.

    What can done for the benefit of the human community to put right this massive wrongdoing?

    Steven Earl Salmony
    AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population,
    established 2001

  31. Sololeumon 16 Nov 2008 at 6:50 pm

    In purely thermodynamic terms you must expend energy to get out of a recession - energy is constrained now and into the future and so more energy use will result in an increase in price and BANG the financial melt down happens again - this time with a different subset - the middle classes. Ten years of recession and BANG — at the end of these many cycles we all will be living a much less material abundant lifestyle.

  32. […] Link […]

  33. Steven Earl Salmonyon 23 Nov 2008 at 11:37 am

    Dear Friends,

    Perhaps we can agree that science is indisputably the finest source for gaining an adequate understanding of the way the world we inhabit actually works and for accurately enough grasping the “placement” of the human species within the order of living things on Earth. But, as others have noted with such clarity and coherence, too many world-class scientists have treated the human overpopulation of Earth as a taboo topic and, even worse, perniciously participated in the politicization of the science of climate change. Barack Obama cannot know whatsoever could somehow be true, in large part, because so many scientists have failed to reasonably assume their responsibilities to science as well as to sensibly fulfill their duties as scientists.

    Rather than do what I have been doing over the past 7 years by extolling the virtues of good science, today I am going to try something different.

    What follows is a brief artistic expression that is intended to convey a symbolic meaning parallel to but distinct from, and more significant than, the literal meaning.

    Please consider an allegory: that a titanic struggle between human beings and the natural world is in the offing. It seems this struggle is fulminating now precisely because too many leaders of the 6.7 billion {soon to be 9+ billion} members of the human family generally do not share the distinctly scientific, evidence-based perspective of many within this community. Many too many of our brothers and sisters, especially those with great wealth and power, pompously and erroneously believe that human organisms are separate from, and somehow superior to, life as we know it on Earth.

    At least to me, it appears that an epochal contest is taking shape on the far horizon between the ‘team’ of “mother culture and father profit” on one side and ‘Team’ Mother Nature on the other.

    This could be the greatest show on Earth in 10,000 years.

    The team of “mother culture and father profit” appears adamant in its willful intentionality to stay the same old business-as-usual course of recklessly overconsuming limited natural resources; relentlessly expanding large-scale production and distribution capabilities without regard to physical limitations of the natural world; and overpopulating our planetary home, come what may for children and coming generations, biodiversity, the environment and the Earth’s body.

    Team Mother Nature simply is.

    Which team will likely be seen by reasonable and sensible observers as winning the contest for success in 2012, 2020 and 2050, if the human community continues its idolatry of distinctly human overconsumption, overproduction and overpopulation activities by choosing forevermore unbridled overgrowth activities just as we are doing now?

    If the leaders of the family of humanity do not choose change, do you have any ideas about which team will prevail and when will the outcome of the colossal contest no longer be in doubt?



    Steven Earl Salmony
    AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population,
    established 2001

  34. Pete Murphyon 24 Nov 2008 at 4:41 pm

    Sharon, something to factor into your thinking is that never in our history have we racked up a cumulative trade deficit of $9.1 trillion (the cumulative deficit since our last trade surplus in 1975). And the deficit grows by $700 billion per year. This deficit has literally bankrupted the nation. It’s been funded by a sell-off of American assets. When the high-yield, low risk assets were gone, the banks turned to high risk sub-prime loans to keep the flow of foreign money coming. Finally, that scheme collapsed. Now, there is nothing left to sell. And still the trade deficit persists, only because foreigners are pumping every bit of their trade money into treasuries, sending the national debt soaring. There will be no end to this economic melt-down until world leaders acknowledge that a global economy that depends on a huge American trade deficit is unsustainable.

    Pete Murphy
    Author, “Five Short Blasts”

  35. Steven Earl Salmonyon 30 Nov 2008 at 7:23 am

    A culture that defines its very raison d’etre by endless accumulation of material possessions; by the unbounded acquisition of more money, money, money, money; by recklessly overconsuming and relentlessly hoarding limited resources, demonstrably declares to all the world that greed is good.

    Are we not members of a culture that worships consumerism? Are the products of greed nothing more or less than the objects of our idolatry?

    Are the pin-striped suits, fleet of cars, chauffeur, private jets, McMansions, distant hideaways, secret handshakes and exclusive clubs…… all signatures of success in a culture borne of the ‘goodness’ of greed?

    Consider for a moment what greed has wrought.

    Steven Earl Salmony
    AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population,
    established 2001

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