Coping: Our “Least-Cost” Futures

Ever cheerful and chipper, Oilman2 has his game on and keyboard warmed up already this week, as he contemplates something he calls simply The Descent, which is a nice “tone-setter” for the week.

Jim Kunstler wrote a short bit this summer about the possibility of Japan descending to a lower energy state with reduced chaos and fuss. He asserted this because prior to western civilization forcing itself onto their culture, they had a stable and very artistic culture, albeit they too maintained a savage edge in certain respects. However, living on an island is similar to what we are faced with as a human culture – there must be a certain degree of ‘unfairness’ in life – everyone cannot be on top and there are definite limits for each of us based on the circumstances of our birth.

Jim Kunstler’s post is over here.

I think this thought train needs to be run with the US in the passenger car. Our society, like many others born of western civilization, is relatively shiny and new. We have barely 2 centuries of history, and that history is far from a reign of peace and artistry. Our country was born just before the industrial revolution, and acceded to powerful status on the back of cheap coal and oil, and a plethora of natural resources.

Oil has peaked, decent coal has peaked, uranium has peaked, most metals have peaked and we are staring down an unavoidable descent in standard of living and eventually population. Maybe not in our boomer generation, as we are winding down our years, but our children and grandchildren will live in a far different world.

Because our country rode the crest of the industrial revolution, and bore the sparkling banner of ‘new technology’ with both military and energy dominance, we have long bathed in the highest living standard on the planet. This cannot stand in the face of ever declining petroleum availability – we have no choice but to dial things back dramatically over the next decades.

From the standpoint of much of the rest of the world, we are spoiled and pampered. We believe in tap water, electricity abundance, ownership of homes and multiple personal vehicles as the ‘norm’. This is not the norm for the rest of the planet.

We spend millions on maintaining green lawns, washing cars, trimming the verges and ‘shopping’. Millions of Americans have private planes….
We accept the internet as an integral part of existence and civilization, never mind that this is considered luxurious by much of the rest of humanity.

Due to the lack of a long and binding history, our conglomeration of immigrants and their offspring share a spotty cultural heritage. Unlike the native people we displaced, we have few binding customs and commonalities outside of living under the same general rules. With the disintegration of the family unit over the last several decades, that tether has become very questionable for holding us together as a people.

Based on Jim Kunstler’s piece, I would suggest that those of us here in the US are going to be in for a rough time as we descend into traditional normalcy from the heights of cheap energy. We have the longest distance to fall and the most to lose in terms of ease of living and physical possessions.
Most will do their utmost to cling to the old ways and to try and maintain the status quo – they will fail. Many will not be able to adjust to what the new normal must entail. Many have nothing to exist for outside of ‘work’ or pursuing ‘money’ and physical ‘things’. A large portion of our native consumer culture holds this to be both a right and a core belief, just as we accept the ever-expanding economy and unlimited growth as our ‘right’.

$8 and eventually $12 gasoline will force drastic changes to transportation, personal mobility, food as a tiny percentage of income and many, many other things we consider as ‘normal life’ here in the US. As the government wrestles with those dependent on it during the collapse of the economy, there is little I can see that will soften the inevitable culture shock and massive changes coming. For those able to change and adapt, opportunities will abound, especially for those who throw out the infinite growth mindset and accept that less can be better, even if different.

Perhaps I am wrong, but it may be that flying so very high on the hog for these couple of centuries has put us, here in the US, at greater disadvantage as we slide down the back of the Peak Oil and other resource curves….

All of which is why I’ve started a new website ( to focus more discussion on what’s coming – and how to cope. 

Although Elaine and I have been looking for a way to get back up to the Pacific Northwest, the reality of our situation is that we have a tremendous platform built – food capacity, water, trees for energy and basic cooking – that moving back up north and starting over again at our ages – just doesn’t sound like a lot of fun.

It seems for us that the least cost future will be the one that arrives.  And the reality of that one is that at some point the airplane will have to go, travels more likely confined to autos and inexpensive hotels/motels/B&Bs.

The idea that the Internet is serving as a kind of global awakening consciousness sounds good, and everything (especially if it can press on policy wanks to think before killing and such) but the flip side is that it is abundantly clear that we have more than most other parts of the world and so as an adjustment, we need to consider the “Least-Cost Future”.

People are cheap, mainly, when people aren’t looking.  They will pay out the nose for solutions, sure, and half the computer gear sold is probably based on the mistaken belief that a better computer will make you richer/smarter/whatever.  The fact is that if you want to change your computing skills, what you need to do is clean up your file structures, find new ways to organize information so you can get at it better…plus maybe a new keyboard. 

If an i3 processor got gummed up with malware and cookies and just got unusably so, why would a faster processor meet with any other fate?

Oilman2 and the linked JHK article get the outline right, I think:  If you want to pick the right lifestyle profile, or the right investments to make, pick those which will best fit into a Cost-driven future.  It doesn’t mean that good ideas won’t survive – but they will be considered in combination with costs and these will be of a broader nature.

Costs, during the American industrial experience, were mostly hard dollars and cents.  But as we move forward, additional costs like the environment, the elimination of human labor/work component, and sustainability (which includes energy use) will all have to be considered.

While we wait around to see Fearless Leader do his “Why we need another war speech” tomorrow night, the real question  – although unstated – is “Who benefits, now, from war now?

The Descent that Oilman2 thinks has begun, likely has, but it’s a descent that will take a couple of decades to run before we can sit back and ask “Is this progress?”

Compared with turn-of-the-century life 120-years ago, what will have changed?  Will autos have come and gone?  How exactly would like be different than the 1890s?

  • We would likely still have an Internet, but it may be licensed on the content origination side, so as to make any rabble-rousing a crime in order to ensure systemic stability.
  • It will also be a marketing-saturated Internet because the costs associated with web creation will go up on the security/censorship side like mad.  If you don’t like intrusive TSA now, wait till they come to the net via NSA and others.  Ooops!  Guess that one is in motion now.
  • Homes will have better heating, as long as power lasts, but the time at work to secure the heat (and to put calories in the family larder, too, as long as we’re at it) may not show a net improvement at all from 1890s levels.

There are bits and pieces of the “New World” peeking out from here and there – cheap ebooks and  crowd-sourced music are two obvious growth areas.  Another is food, as just about everything we gleefully surround ourselves with now as icons of “success” may shortly disappear into the inflatosphere where money’s purchasing power resumes its long-term erosion.

Hitler’s Second Book: The Unpublished Sequel to Mein Kampf” presents an interesting notion along the lines of how nation’s keep their vigor at their core is by warring.  Do enough of it and what happens?  The young who can resist are largely squandered on the battlefield, but those that return make fine leaders.

To be sure, deep-seated crazy though he likely was, obsessed with his off-the-rails thinking on racial purity and such, Hitler may have been onto something.  Perhaps war does have some kind of benefit to it, in teaching military thinking which can be brought back to the public.

But there’s another, darker, side to it upon reflection:  Maybe war’s function is the opposite.  Maybe it’s outcome after decades of non-stop battling and losses of lifetimes of young people, has the effect of squandering the youthful change movements which have influenced history.  Perhaps, in some way, by promoting wars, the existing power paradigm is neutering the youth and young so that the intergenerational war – transferring the debts of the old onto the up and coming generations – can be pulled off without discussion.

It’s a long, and deep, topic and it’s only Monday, so we shan’t dwell much longer on point, except to note that the odds of a Long Descent are ever rising, and the talk of a second war cannot be dressed up in a morality suit now, after our national blindness at genocides past.

There’s something else at play – something either very long term – like the oil and gas fields of Leviathan, or simply clearing out Syria’s antiaircraft encampments, so Israel can bomb Iran more efficiently, or even darker, to continue the control of the young/change class to prevent disruption of the existing paradigm. 

Whatever it is that grabs you eyes in the morning headlines, two questions to be continually asked are 1) “Does this tell me anything about the The Descent?” and 2) “Which paradigm wins from this: The older PTB or the post Descent new America?”

Reader Patrick was wondering about movements like www.rollingjubilee.orgIt’s an interesting concept but I would like to see “que bono”  while another reader asked me how far into Strauss and Howe’s “The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy – What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America’s Next Rendezvous with Destiny “ we might be?

I’m sorry, but specific answers are unclear and mostly unknowable.  That’s because we could have some kind of global ‘event’ any old time that would seriously change the course of how history tracks from here forward.  It’s like the TV series Revolution: If that happened tomorrow, would any advice in this morning’s column really help?  No, of course not.

So we awaken to another Monday with the same task as always around here:  Trying to ride that wave of future best we can.  But realize that socioeconomic efficiency has a lot in common with that wave. 

Water is self- leveling and the US/West has been at (and riding) the peak of the wave, so we ought (like water) to be following a least-resistance path to lower levels, now that the wave has peaked.  It doesn’t mean you can’t make money, or even prosper.  But it does mean that some of the inputs which made our part of the wave rise up due to competitive advantage will be coming down while those in the trough will be coming up.

Importantly, this “wave concept” applies to business cycles, as well.  And we know from our study of previous economic depressions that our wave could be bottoming in the next year or five.  After that, we may have our mini-wave up, but it will not rise to such heights as the troughs should be getting smaller, too, globally.

Egotistical leaders who think they can command the wave through policy are pretty much nuts, as it’s like barking at the tide.  “There is a tide in the affairs of men…” and presently, that tide has turned and is going out for those riding the high part of the wave.

The Future of Bling

A reader of ours, who we’ll just call “Madison Avenue Mike” sent along a link to Women’s Wear Daily’s article “China’s Anticorruption Campaign to Affect Luxury Brands” which is sort of along parallel lines.

We might wonder if China isn’t making some preemptive moves now to slow down the adoption of expensive/Western-branded goods with articles like “Luxury brands and high rents threaten old Hong Kong’s character” are showing up, as well.  And last month, official media reported that “China to place consumption tax on more luxury goods.”

Seems to me that China is acting preemptively by developing social policies now which can moderate the urge to an over-consumptive lifestyle.  By doing so, they may bring down total costs, have less “spread” between those on top and those on the bottom, and avoid some of the pitfalls of the West.

As we eye this, the question comes up, what will happen to many of the “High ego consumption” that comes with name brands, especially those which imply a certain wealth or income level?

Well focus more on this changing scene in Wednesday’s Peoplenomics….but for now, we rather expect that some major changes will be coming to the world of bling as the “spread” must be narrowed between the “haves” and the “have-nots.”

Irritating Spamvertising

This one came in this morning and in case you get it, I will share the answer with you.  Here’s the spam:

If you want to learn how to turn on any woman in the world, then we will help you make this happen…get ready,
because once we teach you how to do this, there is no turning back. You will be able to get any woman you want
turned on!

Okay, this should be illegal, but it’s not. There are 3 questions that will turn on any woman right after they hear
them…They really do work…Do you want to know what these 3 questions are?

We already know those three answers:  “Visa, MasterCard, or American Express?”

OK, so much for Monday…more tomorrow…

Write when you break even