America(n) Idle

Despite the best of efforts by those clueless braniacs running the insane asylum (Bush, Cheney, Paulson, Bernanke, et al) we seem to be headed for a repeat of what the 1930s depression was most commonly called in pre-internet days: a crisis of confidence. Including the legions of laid-off 1099s, illegals no longer working, folks in service, folks behind bars, etc, we are at something around 11% unemployment. Lots of folks are still working, but suddenly no one seems to want to spend anywhere near as much as they used to.

Official economists (about whom my opinion has been very low for awhile) everywhere are busy making bold predictions all featuring that SlashDot-esqe missing third step between the setup and the profit. Amusingly, some of these folks are even featured on news media, as if they have even a smidgen of a clue about what they’re jabbering about. My favorite one of these, these week, featured on NPR, was some Mass-hole economist saying that unemployment will be worse in 2009 but will then get better in 2010 “when the economy turns around”.

The beggars at GM & Ford have a similar kind of mental blank spot. They’ve been busy telling our congresscritters lately that the billions loaned to them should be considered just loans to help them get through this rough spot “until the economy improves”.

Upon what, pray tell, is this mythical economic improvement supposed to be based? No one can say. This is part of why none of them can agree on the date of this turnaround, and none of them have anything to say about what will reverse the current factors so that business can automagically improve. Just goes to show you there’s nothing new under the sun .. these folks are merely the modern-day equivalents of the fresh-entrail-readers any respectable ruler usually kept handy near the throne.

Until other factors supersede the ones currently dominating the scene, this “lack of confidence” is a steadily-burning fuse that will effectively shut down the America we have known these past years.

Investing will be replaced by saving, once enough folks are personally educated (in the school of experience, of course) about the essential gambling nature of investments. It is /not/ possible for every person in the phone book to toss $1 into the market and withdraw $2 later (at least not during normal times anyway) though during the runup phase of Ponzi-style bubbles it certainly looks like it’s possible for everyone to win.

Buying a new car every three years (and rolling the unpaid loan amount into the new loan, haha suckers) will be a thing of the past.

Buying huge homes far from work/school/stores, and the enormous gas-guzzling luxo-barges that seem to be de rigeur for that lifestyle, will become the sort of thing you’ll remember from the 00s and the television shows of the period, sort of like the way many of us remember tailfinned cars and rumors of electricity too cheap to meter.

Ditto for new computers every few years, new televisions every few years, and large plasma screens in every significant room in the house. Ditto for sales of CDs and DVDs, and perhaps ditto too for those expensive multi-thousand-channel HDTV subscriptions.

What’s going to be left of our so-called economy (when the abovementioned fluff, as well as other things of that nature, are removed from it) is fairly well known at this point. While people really do need houses and vehicles and computers and cellphones and other things, what got so grotesquely out of hand during the roaring double-oughts was was the replacement rate for these oh-so-blingy things, and without a roaring replacement rate thing going, we’re facing a much smaller economy. They say some 70% of GDP, in the recent bubble years, was based on light fluffy consumer spending.

Amazingly, even though most people still have their jobs, the flow of dollars getting spent has suddenly slowed to a trickle. The [temporarily?] cheaper gasoline isn’t bringing about a mass resurgence in purchases of large, ungainly, overpriced SUVs made in Detroit.

What’s coming next will probably be something like American Idle. Most of us will have more free time and less money. It’s a no-brainer prediction that whatever pastimes people find to occupy their time will be ones that don’t cost much. A minor upside is that certain classes of crimes are a little less likely to happen then simply because there are more people at home and more eyes peeled around the neighborhood. Just imagine, library usage will be up, driving will be down, smoking will be down, smog will be down, and folks will necessarily get serious about energy conservation because it’s a great way to save money. Ditto for growing/raising your own food. Omfg, maybe the obese ones among us might lose weight simply by virtue of engaging in less driving and more walking?

Another set of benefits could revolve around bling becoming complete social anathema. Of course perhaps someone, somewhere, could keep a little basement or garage museum dedicated to the excesses of the roaring double-oughts. Someday these things will be as amusing to us as the Gordon Gekko type late-80s excesses were by as soon as the early 1990s.

This entry was posted by nudged.

47 thoughts on “America(n) Idle

  1. Nudge, let me be the first to pop the cherry on this fine, virginal post by adding a comment. I too, have been hearing and reading the meme of “2009 will be bad, but it (the economy, and all things related) will rebound in 2010”. To wit, I say, based upon what evidence? Because all things economic cycle? Or is it moron simply just based upon “hope”?

    If it’s a cycle, then how does one know the cycle rate? Also, if it’s not a cycle, then howsoever do we predict anything?

    I subscribe to the “belief” that this Greater Depression we are entering is not a cycle. I think it’s because we’ve run our growth economy up upon the rocks of finite resources. The first and probably not so coincidentally the most important of these is oil, or rather cheap oil, the high ERoEI stuff has hit some floor, below which it is leaving nothing much left overs to run ponzi scheme bubbles.

    And, I predict that will also be true of Obama’s proposed alternative energy bubble-based “recovery” economy. Once it’s gone, baby, it’s really gone for good. Game’s over, turn off the compact fluorescents. See? They didn’t prevent anything from unraveling, they just made you feel better replacing those old incandescents, like taking out the trash for the weekly recycle pickup.

    Sorry folks, reality, she is a bitch.

  2. Both scenarios are really projections based on the past. Incorporating future limits doesn’t make a viable projection. That said, my opinion is that we will experience pretty bad times. Will we see 20% unemployment? 50/50 in my mind. Are resources and an overactive economy going to weigh on us? Hell yes. Remember however, that the money, or more accurately the accounting of the money, existed. It bought things. Useless things yes, but things. Excess is not new. I remember signs of excess in things like china and crystal and watches… Normal people had nice things. However, they did not throw these nice things away to get new nice things.

    Like the 30s, perhaps infrastructure investment will lift the economy to a recession level by 2010. Perhaps the natural limits to growth has been reached. More likely is going to be an adaptation, economically, to the situations at hand. We don’t have to tax the world to the extent we do, and perhaps growth will subside in at least the first and second tier economies. It is about time we took into account the effects of our decisions. Suffering isn’t always a bad thing.

    I walked 5 or 6 miles doing some shopping today. Tis cold in Chicago! Dinner with friends will be at their home tonight. Is life really that bad when you have friends and a few bucks, maybe not lot of them. But, it makes buying a bottle of wine all the more important. Enjoy it while it’s there! We’ve been living vicariously through financial statements all too long tallying our value. So, it’s gone. You still have your health!

  3. Nicholas, the replacement mania extended even to things that could have perhaps been repaired, but weren’t. No one gets shoes or televisions fixed anymore .. the stuff is simply tossed in the trash, or left at the curb, and then used an an excuse to go shopping.

    I saw some of that in Boston earlier this past year when visiting friends whose building had a substantial student population departing for the summer recess. I picked up a nice Hoover vacuum left there simply because someone didn’t want to take it home. There was a lot of other stuff, even including desktop computers and clothing and speakers and household goods.

    Someone over on the HBB pointed out that when businesses and corporate entities and institutions engaged in practices like this (ie, ripping down and replacing a bridge / building / whatever even if the original could have been repaired) they financed it only by tapping into the bond market, and as of this year the laissez-faire financing has officially left town and may not be seen anytime soon in these parts.

    Love your ‘tude .. as long as you have some good friends and the time to spend with them (and maybe a little weed or wine, as the mood goes) how bad off can things really be? Bling is no substitute for any of that anyhow.

  4. Or maybe hanging out on blogs, talking to friends, if the net is still up. I’d adore a party with ya’ll. Maybe Bunn Bunn could learn how to do that live thing we did for the elections and we could hang out that way some evening. We did it once over at Kunstler’s site, back when Johnny was bad, but trying to be good.

    Perhaps an idle idea.

    But not idolatry. :-)

  5. MOU, “American Golden Calf” doesn’t have quite the ring to it :)

    For what little it costs to keep the net running, it’s entirely possible that the PTB will devote as much attention to it as they do the power grid or the interstate highway system. As a means of distributing streaming HD video to far-flung parts of the land, it excels. Like the the technology of the printing press, it could be used for good ends.

    That group chat thing was too cool. Otherwise getting that many people together IRL would be very difficult. It was amazing that so many people were awake during the same time span.

  6. Nicholas .. about the walking & shopping thing .. I don’t think it’s going to catch on in this town until we get some stores here worth going to. We have three dueling convenience stores close to each other, but not a single store that could replace a regular grocery store, even a small and poorly-stocked one.

    I keep thinking of making some kind of wheeled carrier that can be pulled along like a one-hand trailer. For sure, moving a couple bags of groceries that way is easier than carrying the stuff. No one seems to sell the kind of thing I have in mind .. it’s not like those rickety suitcase-carrier-derived ones you sometimes see the bag ladies using .. thinking something like bigger wheels and a metal bin as a body, so you could move firewood or a couple 5-gallon jugs in it.

    One of those three stores is owned by locals and is a recent start-up. Even with the startup expenses included, they turned cash-positive after just the first 3 months of operation. I’ve tried talking them into considering a bigger store, but they’d have to move into a bigger building, and there aren’t any such downtown that fit the specs. They don’t want to get into having a whole new building put up either. The downtown area is geographically size-limited anyhow.

  7. “The [temporarily?] cheaper gasoline isn’t bringing about a mass resurgence in purchases of large, ungainly, overpriced SUVs made in Detroit.”

    This is a huge point. I was about to say I was working on this topic. I am. But it is so big I can’t get a grasp on it.

    We should be working on it, but I dare say, we here at ZK are the only ones that have understood Detroit for many years, and maybe we should just drop this issue for the time being.

    Let’s refocus and reattack. We are clearly superior. Our plan needs some work.

  8. “Suffering isn’t always a bad thing.”

    Words to live by.

    I hate to bring in Winston Churchill, but the man had done everything wrong by the age of 21 and was horribly punished for it.

    Churchill evidently tried to get out of these circumstances and was beaten back at every turn. At a certain point he decided he was going to face the challenges by suffering. I think.

    Maybe I’ve reading too much into things. I just totally think Nick has a point with his words.

  9. “Maybe Bunn Bunn could learn how to do that live thing ”

    No need. Maybe you could learn. Just kidding.

    I’ll do it anytime, just give me an excuse… oh, here, I’ve got one.

    We’ll do it for Thanksgiving. This will give me the perfect reason not to moderate it. I’ll be too busy moderating my family.

    When I get annoyed/bored with my family I’ll tell them I have a LIve Blog I need to moderate. They’ll think it is a matter of vital national security.

    I think this is the best idea I’ve ever stolen from you, MOU. I think you just made my Thanskgiving awesome. And it hasn’t even happened yet. I Love You

  10. Stockmarket crash 1929.
    Great Depression 1930-33.

    Stockmarket crash 2008.
    Economic recovery 2009/10.

    mmm….

  11. I’m not reading Nick as deeply as some of you are, but maybe I’m just a shallow person. Here’s my take on the non-SUV buying spree: It’s over. It’s really over, folks. Word has definitely made it to the street that troubles are not only coming, there are here, arrived. A lot of folks, me included, can read the tea leaves, and they say “be grateful you still have a job, for now”. Add to those the 10+% of the American work force already unemployed, and the other 90% have gotten the message. They might have tats and Jesus delusions, but most can balance a checkbook, and tune to CNN.

    And it’s not just Detroit pig iron. That’s why this retooling idea for higher mileage cars, even PHEVs, is a bit of too late, already. Go back and review the DOE Hirsch report. He was saying 10-20 year anticipation of the peak would just get us by with minimal damages. Well, this is like no preparation, zip, nada, just talk, and talk’s cheap.

    Now, if you really wanna cry, ponder the fact that Hirsch wasn’t factoring in a collapse of the US and western world, even global, financial markets. Seems to me that stuffs us further down in the pit, especially with all the inflationary spending that the Fed and Treasury are doing, keeping up appearances until they exit stage right.

    Since the real oil depletion is yet to come, we will have even moron “challenges” to surmount in future. Just my two rusty zinc pennies.

  12. Hirsch tells the peak oil people to “shut-up”.

    http://blogs.wsj.com/environmentalcapital/2008/11/14/peak-oil-prominent-peaker-tells-allies-to-temporarily-pipe-down/
    TO THE PEAK OIL COMMUNITY:

    The world is in the midst of the most severe financial crisis in most of our lifetimes. The economic damage that has already been wrought is considerable, and we have yet to see the bottom or the turnaround. Against this background, I suggest that the peak oil community minimize its efforts to awaken the world to the near-term dangers of world oil supply. The motivation is simple: By minimizing our efforts in the near term, we may not add fuel to the economic fires that are already burning so fiercely.

    We are all aware of how disoriented governments and business are right now. Our leaders, leaders-to-be, and best minds are disoriented and seeking pathways out of the current morass. The public is in a quiet panic mode — those who were reasonably well off are less well of, and their options for action are limited. Those that have lost their jobs and/or homes are desperate. Businesses and the markets are in what might be called a free fall. If the realization of peak oil along with its disastrous financial implications was added to the existing mix of troubles, the added trauma could be unthinkable.

    Like many of you, I’ve devoted my recent efforts to trying to wake the public and governments to the impending horrors of peak oil. As much as that awaking is urgently needed, continuing to press forward now is almost certainly not in the broader interest.

    Many may be tempted to directly challenge the recent IEA World Energy Outlook. I am among those who were very disappointed. Pressing those concerns at this time might further the peak oil “cause,” but it could well do much more damage than any of us really intend.

    Please keep up your studies and thinking, because helping the world realize the dangers of peak oil is an absolute must. In the near term, keeping relatively quiet is likely the better part of valor.

  13. Wow, AU, that is coming from “the man”. OK, I see his point, but it’s not gonna go away just because we stop taking about it or trying to warn folks. Probably the most important people to advise at the moment are those that can or will at least try to do something, if anything can indeed be done.

    I think someone here recently said something to the effect that some suffering may not be all that bad. Well, chances are that if you’re reading this and use a computer, you’ll be able to make it, for at least awhile. What of those others? What are their chances? It’s looking grim to me.

  14. “Here’s my take on the non-SUV buying spree: It’s over. It’s really over, folks. Word has definitely made it to the street that troubles are not only coming, there are here, arrived.”

    I wish I could be that optimistic. I agree with you. I totally agree with you. Just don’t tell anybody. And that is definitely off the record and I didn’t say it.

    My religion is The Black Swan. And what Taleb and the Black Swan preaches is that we cannot predict. So as much as I want to agree with you, The Black Swan is telling me that I should say we have no idea.

    Your guess is as good as mine. I have no idea.

  15. “they’ re here, arrived.”

    Not necessarily.

    Think about it.

    Is this country suffering “the worst depression since the Great Depression”?

    I asked this question at dinner tonight to a bunch of people that are

    a) smart (all of them)
    b) have jobs
    c) half of them are worried about losing their job
    d) American (one of them lives in Greece 11.5 months out of the year, she doesn’t count)

    They didn’t even need to think about the question. They all answered unanimouusly as if their voices were one.

    They said no.

    I’ve developed this question to some extent. I am considering copyrighting it.

    It is called the Mars Question. There are several forms.

    Lemme put it to you real quick and easy. Let’s say you were abducted by aliens in 1994 and were held captive for 14 years. Nobody paid your ransom and the Martians got sick and tired of your incessant questions. Now all of a sudden you were deposited down back in this shit hole.

    Would you see any differences besides cell phones? It’s the same fucking planet !

  16. JR, I suspect that 14 years from now, there will be less people inhabiting Planet Earth. Maybe not a lot less, but less. I guess that sounds like a prediction. I suspect that the times we are heading into are going to be ripe for Black Swans, but we have the crude outlines.

    Global nuclear war (always an unexpected crowd pleaser).

    International human Moon, Mars missions, while back on Earth, marginalized people starve (they will say these expensive, daring missions are good for morale, in “these trying times”).

    Mega-droughts, leading to the next Ice Age.

    DOW 30,000, but only five traders left in the pit at the NYSE.

    Australia evacuated. All aussies immigrate to New Zealand, where they begin eating the native kiwis. Native australians throw coast-to-coast celebration, but it is not televised.

    Obama serves in new third term as President. Names Palin as new VP in 2016, as Biden retires.

  17. I did. Can you explain it to me? I just saw that the guy needed to drain some extra blood cuz it was still twitching. I’m not sure. I didn’t find it very interesting maybe since her poloitical career is over.

    What Math! I thought I didn’t allow any math here.

    Have you just been watching my “Where Eagles Dare Videos”? or are you just completely ignoring me?

  18. Naw, just busying myself with post-dinner chores, etc. I started to watch that video clip this AM, then got called away. Please leave it up for awhile.

    I’m not sure what that guy was doing to those birds, but draining blood is a good guess. I helped my parents kill and dress out chickens as a kid. Now we just pay others to do it, mafia-style. I recall that chickens will run around for quite some time after their head has been removed. It’s quite a site, and reinforced to me that a lot of what a chicken does in life doesn’t take too much brain power.

    Ya, Sarah’s a lot like them birds. She doesn’t know it’s been over for awhile.

  19. BTW, we’ve discovered two new tsunami deposits (big ones, too) right here on Oahu. They both date to the beginnings of interglacial periods, like the one we’re in now. Somehow, the climate changes (probably wetter, moron storms) and that triggers giant flank-collapse landslides off the islands, and into the coastal waters.

    Another ZK first. Only our readers are so informed. The rest of the world will have to await publication of our results in the peer-reviewed literature.

  20. “Please leave it up for awhile”

    Where Eagles Dare isn’t going anywhere. Personal favorite I guess you could call it.

  21. Doom: in response to your 2242 post of yesterday, please let me add that the still-employed people I know personally (most of whom have never read a blog in their lives) have nonetheless picked up the clue to ditch their unnecessary expenses ASAP. The fine art of penny-pinching has not yet reached the heights seen in earlier times (I remember the 1970s most vividly) but it will probably get up to GD-era standards soon enough.

    Here’s a relevant news link:

    “A sea of unwanted auto imports”
    http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/11/19/business/19ports.php

    LONG BEACH, California: Gleaming new Mercedes cars roll one by one out of a huge container ship here and onto a pier. Ordinarily the cars would be loaded on trucks within hours, destined for dealerships around the United States. But these are not ordinary times.
    For now, the port itself is the destination. Unwelcome by dealers and buyers, thousands of cars worth tens of millions of dollars are being warehoused on increasingly crowded port property.

    And for the first time, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, and Nissan have each asked to lease space from the port for these orphan vehicles. They are turning dozens of acres of the nation’s second-largest container port into a parking lot, creating a vivid picture of a paralyzed auto business and an economy in peril.

    “This is one way to look at the economy,” Art Wong, a spokesman for the port, said of the cars. “And it scares you to death.”

    The backlog at the port is just part of a broader rise in the nation’s inventories, which were up 5.5 percent in September from a year earlier, according to the Commerce Department. The car industry has been hurt particularly, with sales down nearly 15 percent this year. General Motors has said it would run out of operating cash by the end of the year if it does not receive a government bailout.

    —-
    So whole segments of the economy were not prepared for a purchasing slowdown as steep as 15% per year, eh? This is not going to end well. Get used to hanging onto what you’ve got, repairing it as best as you can, and not buying anything new if at all possible.

  22. Now that winter is almost here, I’m again missing the previous car (a Subaru) which despite its failings* was very good on slippery roads.

    * Failings:
    – steel body, subject to rust issues;
    – serious mechanical energy losses throughout the AWD drivetrain;
    – extreme thirst for gasoline regardless of how gently driven;
    – maintenance & tires expensive on AWD vehicles;

    The problem with the little hybrid could best be summed up as saying that there are other folks using the road. They seem to expect to go at the same speed all the time regardless of the terrain. In the little car, going up a steep hill means shifting 2, 3, or 4 gears down just to get enough torque .. and meanwhile you’ve got a bunch of impatient yahoos in giant BFTs tailgating you madly and demonstrating their impatience by threating you with death via rear-ending.

    (I don’t think most of the BFT drivers realize how scary it is being tailgated when the rear bumper is only a meter or so behind you and your car weighs about the same as the largest motorcycle. Of course, some of them are simply sadistic and enjoy threatening total strangers with death/injury .. one can only hope that maybe someone else will “take care of the problem” someday.)

    The little car is probably worth keeping even if gasoline is [temporarily?] cheaper. It’s made of aluminum (no rust) and it’s got Honda durability. With good care and minimal necessary use, it should last a long time. I’m not planning on using it for long distance road trips anymore, though. During the last one, I was in Ohio during the week when the stock market did its serious opening moves (as in volcano-clearing-its-throat type moves) and got to see /way/ too much bad road behavior resulting from ordinary folks getting driven around the bend worrying about keeping their jobs, their houses, their retirement accounts, their health coverage, their bling, whatever. They were all too happy to take it out on each other in the form of road aggression, uggh. No thanks, I’ll ride the bus/train/plane for any serious trips from now on.

  23. AU, that is consistent with what Hirsch was saying in his talk at the ASPO conference in Sacramento. There are some people who are obsessed with the idea that the public must be made aware of the hardcore truth about peak oil, ASAP. To them he says shut up. What would you expect people to do with that info right now? We don’t need a lot of freaked out people running around right now in total asshole panic mode. There will be opportunity for that later.

    Basically he said don’t break the worst of the the bad news until you are in a position to offer a “solution”, a plan. You would only serve to unleash a monster that you don’t want to deal with and can’t deal with. “Solutions” will and are coming in token gestures and superficialities at the moment. At the moment this is all that can be absorbed.

    The surface of awareness is being scratched though. The current crisis is providing an opportunity for much needed ramping down. Everything that’s fluff is vulnerable. People are re-learning what is fluff and what matters. Its a very hard lesson.

    Can spoiled brats ever be reformed at adulthood though? We’ll see, I’m not optimistic. And whether or not thats possible I don’t see where beating the peak oil drum louder right now helps.

    Don’t look at me that way. I never said I understood anything or had answers.

  24. With respect to shutting up, one has to wonder what the valor is for. To save the last semblance of a retirement account before the shit hits the fan? We are at a point where fundamental changes will be made, as with after world war two. We went from an agricultural, primarily rural economy to a permanently mobilized structure. Where are going to demobilize now.

    Any thought that the next decade will be about building a military that has little use in a world where small units are game changers (God John Robb makes me nuts at times) will be promptly squashed. Al Queda has presented themselves to the world as racist thugs recently, and some are going to begin to question their allegiance. The most important part. Forget about the people in Western Pakistan and think about those who are able to build the infrastructure. When we come out on the other side, war will be nearly automated. Soldiers will be clean up. The bots cometh.

    Nudge, much of the US is now store-less, but opportunities for people losing their jobs at Walmart will help to rebuild a lot of that. My neighborhood has priced out all of the coffee shops. Everybody misses something like that now. Neighborhoods are as much about entertainment as about purchases. Developing those relationships is incredibly valuable. People buy me drinks, give me coffee, feed me, and I continually come back to pay for stuff as well. Those who don’t understand this will when shit hits the fan.

    Doom, the buying spree is over because uncertainty with respect to future gas prices has been permanently inserted in their minds. It too till the nineties to eliminate memories of the gas lines. Additionally, credit is gone. Nobody can buy anything now! Unless they have cash on hand. I have been looking at pick-up trucks. I doubt I’ll even do it, and my feet will forever be my primary mode of transport, though you can buy them for nothing new. The market for these is reverting back to commercial equipment. This is exactly what I want, a commercial truck with a six cylinder or a diesel. Driving a truck around the city for fun will be an extinct activity. I’m optimistic, but have maintained that a lot of people are going to be dying at some point.

    14 years later, perhaps 20 after picking up National Geographic’s assessment of global environmental issues, my main impression would be that nothing has changed with respect to the attention these issues garner. But, we are on the edge of massive environmental changes. Will they come tomorrow, or two more decades down the road? Nobody pretends to know. We are screwed however, once they rear their heads.

    A good pair of shoes that can be repaired in perpetuity are not inexpensive beasts. I just bought a pair, and man was that a setback. Hand-made, lovely work shoe-esque looking things, with leather that won’t break at the toe crease, but a half-weeks wages at full employment. I remember my grandfather telling em how much he saved to purchase a bedroom set for example, and it was ten weeks. We are much better off than in the past, even reverting to 1980. We should get a grip, and be happy with what we have. The inevitability of increasing wealth was never a reality, much less one worth living in.

  25. Bif, I’ve told them good in my undergraduate and graduate classes this semester. And, they do look at me that way! What I’ve managed to do is wipe the silly grins off most of the undergraduates’ faces, and the graduates have a look of quiet despair. Now they all listen to me like I’m E.F. Hutton about to tell them where they can find their next meal, which is making my lectures run smoother and faster than usual.

    It’s not as enjoyable as it may sound. What the financial crisis has done is really get these kid’s attention, and they are not yet in the working class, at least most of them. I’m sure their parents are advising them to remain calm and study hard. That’s what I would do. Nevertheless, they are now informed that things will in future not be the same for them as their parents. I think that is an accomplishment, to get them to think about the long term.

    I wonder about MOU’s classes and students’ reactions.

  26. MY MO when walking in to a class is to say, that out of 15 of you, one or two will be lucky to be left. I generally have their attention thereafter…

  27. Here’s a good one: I was giving my lecture on Peak Everything to the graduates, and I showed a new PPT slide with alternative energy schemes, a quad slide of coastal wind turbines, a French tidal power project, algae biodiesel (complete with guy in white lab coat pointing to stacks of algae encased in clear PLASTIC tubing, and a PV array farm. In the lower corner are the questions: Can these scale? and Fossil Fuel Platform?

    Finally, one of the students broke her silence and takes me to task for being so pessimistic. She had just heard a seminar by a guy promoting tidal power, and it looked promising, yes there were some base load problems, but it just might work, etc. So, with my back against the building’s cement column, I say “Please don’t shoot me, I’m just the messenger!”. (Laughs from some of them.)

    Then I focused on her and I hotly replied “Look at that French tidal power picture! See the concrete bridge they are using? Did tidal power make that? Note the concrete. Guess how much raw power it takes to make it and transport it to that site. One has to be hard-nosed in such alternative energy schemes.”

  28. Great posts, guys. Nicholas, sorry, was not aware that you teach. Sounds like your course has a wicked attrition rate. Is it some kind of physics? And what kind of shoes did you get? I keep thinking about learning how to make my own leather footwear.

    Good point about the future opportunities for local stores.

    Unbelievably, I had another run-in today with a college-educated economist. Like the last one I had the misfortune to encounter (a relative in Ohio) the one seen today was similarly batshit-insane in the way she clung to obviously untrue things as “facts”. One so-called fact she kept screeching was how “houses never get cheaper than their replacement costs”. Hahaha .. WRONG. The floor’s the limit when someone’s desperate to sell and no one wants to buy or can get financing.

    (The one in Ohio [doctorate in economics] had a similarly erroneous generalization about determining the lowest possible pricing floor for various stocks or assets. Of course, despite his expensive education, he’s still losing big money in the market. Unfortunately he has not yet figured out that some of his assumptions are off-base. Sigh. No, just because stock prices are lower this week than last week does /not/ mean that this week was the absolute market bottom.)

    Anyway, just for kicks, I got onto today’s economist’s computer and pulled up the long-term Case Schiller chart to show her:

    The chart helped muffle some of her enthusiasm about how RE values will soon be rising through the roof and how “this is just a temporary blip on the radar”.

  29. WordPress ate my comment yesterday.

    1929 stockmarket crash
    Depression 1930/1/2/3

    2008 stockmarket crash
    economic recovery 2010.

    mmm….

  30. Nudge, I get called in every now and again to teach a class. I am an information designer, and graphic designers in general have that kind of attrition rate over five years or so. I refuse to even acknowledge my purchase!

    Uncle, very nice. Hard to argue…

  31. “I saw some of that in Boston earlier this past year when visiting friends whose building had a substantial student population departing for the summer recess. I picked up a nice Hoover vacuum left there simply because someone didn’t want to take it home. There was a lot of other stuff, even including desktop computers and clothing and speakers and household goods.” –Nudge

    Nudge,
    Enjoyed your post! Always food for thought and a different angle on life than I’m currently engaged in.

    After 19 years at the helm, the blowhard that ran “The George Washington University” (which has metastisized around me into the biggest private property owner in DC) finally stepped down in June 2007 and was replaced by a guy that is really into sustainability. He has instituted an excellent recycling program for student moveout when school ends in the spring. And he is a big supporter of our local tree canopy replacement and stewardship foundation, Casey Trees.

    It’s still a far cry from what colleges like Cornell (and others) are doing. My gut tells me that higher education is about to have a flock of black swans visiting.

  32. Nudge, holy shit you’re going crazy on CFN! Enough crank already…

    So Switzerland and Citi are on the menu for the week. Do I here 6,500? Going once…

  33. Wharton School of Business. Flock of black seagulls. Now THAT would be… nah,… couldn’t happen. Could it? [shudders, pulls blanket over head]

  34. Hey Doom,

    Yeah, I teach Graduate Theory Seminar this semester. I explained to them the first day what was going on in subprime and the stock market. Blew their minds. I had a student drop (it is a required class). Their homework was to go home and watch a movie online called “Money as Debt” and write a response paper. They came to class dazed and confused. I gave them an outline of some basics on theory (Thomas Kuhnish kinda stuff [I debunk it later in the course]), why we do it, relationship to methods, blah, blah, blah, and assigned them each a theorist to put together a mini-lecture on (folks they should have had as undergraduates, sort of a way to prime the pump). One thing they had to do was to present what they thought their theorist would say about the financial situation, using terms and the thought system. They also listened to the other students offer their ideas on what they thought the theorist would say about the financial situation. So each student presented the theorist’s ideas, their outline of their theorist’s potential response to the financial situation, and listened to feedback from class mates. They took all that feedback went home and wrote their next paper, which was to use the theory to frame a potential explanation for the financial crisis. That served as a gentle walk through on doing their first theory application. The next class period they discussed their papers and they watched The End of Suburbia. Their reading for their homework was The Long Emergency. Again a response paper, and then later a more formal framing paper. Then I walk them through the McDonaldization of Society (Ritzer), Habermas and Legitimatin Crisis, deconstruction, postmodern, and we are getting ready to do some environmental sociology (this is not my strong suit, this will only be the second time I have dared to try to do it).

    A different student from the first one dropped out of the program entirely. He could not make going to graduate school make any sense after what he was learning in class. He is back in GA and taking a job with the forestry service. He may do a local college.

    I had a student who was being foreclosed on go to her lawyer and get it stopped because they can’t prove who owns the mortgage (she learned that trick on the first day’s lecture). Another changed her husband’s 401k allotments. During the course of the class one student told us her husband’s account is down 40% (she is rationalizing that it was the part the employer put in, not what her husband put in :-/ ). The other one who changed the account has grown a little and lost no money. There are other good stories out of this.

    But yeah, it is to the point now that they bait me by bringing up the latest news, and I will look at them and say, “I wasn’t going to bring it up,” and off we will go off topic for a bit. One tried to deny the whole thing by saying Kunstler had shaky qualifications and she was not sure he counted as a theorist (they all knew I was presenting the economy, urbanization, and oil depletion as a “case” for us to consider over the semester as we mastered theory). But her denial has worn off. I let them know they don’t need to agree with me to do well in the course. I think they get that, I have had a few contentious but well written papers that I am happy to give good grades for. I just need to see that they can apply theory and think critically.

    Another cool thing is that I have been doing oil depletion for a couple years now and I have not 1 but 3 of my students teaching at the university. All of them show The End of Suburbia in their courses. 2 (teaching this semester) x 2 (number of classes they teach) x 40 to 60 (students per class) = 160 to 240 students a semester are being shown this movie and having intense discussion afterward in their Intro to Sociology Courses.

    Fuck Hirsch. Cat’s out of the goddamn bag, bitch. You shoulda thought through that “solutions” bullcrap before you opened your trap. That’s because you’re supposed to think it through by yourself and solve it without anyone else’s ideas or help, you silly Kunt[slerite]. Only you are man enough to handle this information.

    How condescending. There is a lot of that going around.

    Hope that wasn’t too wordy. I could say more, like how it is causing me problems with my chair (it will all turn around, I am just being a contrarian).

    But yeah, for me, like JR says, it all still looks so normal.

  35. Appearances can be deceiving. Recall we have entered The Twilight Zone. I’ll be your host, Dr. Doom. It’s a place of things and ideas. No questions too bizarre.

    Good on you, MOU. Your chair is probably scared shitless. Most are these days. Agree that Hirsch can shove it, no sense candy coating stuff now. Word’s out on the street–we’re running outta stuff, important stuff, too. No need to panic–yet.

    I am giving a guest lecture in the UH Sociology Dept. on Wednesday night. My approach as you know, is through geology and natural resources, but I waste no time getting into human population, ecology and overshoot.

    One of my assignments to both graduates and undergraduates was to take and 3-page critique Chris Martenson’s on-line, 20-chapt. “Crash Course”. One of the brighter graduate students called me out that is was an unusual assignment for a “geology course”. It was, but she did not realize that her professor is subversive, and an instigator.

  36. MOU, Doom, Nicholas: you guys are great .. and I am humbled by your talent. Great work on waking up the kids before they shuffle off to a lifetime of sleepwalking. :)

  37. ya, the “crash course” was good, for the most part. if i remember right, he tried to put various senerios and responses into a priority matrix of sorts, or something like that. that kind of made me laugh. putting repsonces into boxes seems kinda stupid to me.

    might be worthwhile to think things through, but then throw the boxes away, i guess.

    don’t argue too much with your limbic system, or enteric ganglia for that matter, i always say.

  38. Dave, some of the simplest tools are often the most valuable, particularly as the goal and option numbers increase. Remember computers do one thing 0 and not 0.

    Of course perhaps well have the option of both one of these days… Quantum computing is bizarre.

  39. dave, i have a question for you. as you may know, Jay Hanson has reactivated and updated his old dieoff.org site. since he lives in Hawaii, i contacted him about a possible seminar at UH. he wrote back that he doesn’t do seminars but agreed to an informal group discussion about Hawaii’s future. i’m thinking that translates to a round table meeting.

    one of my colleagues here whom i invited took a look at Jay’s web site and was taken aback by it. i’m wondering if it’s a question of style. maybe Jay’s just a bad artist. he’s a systems analyst-programmer, or at least was until he retired. also, i think Jay has taken the 2 x 4 or brick method of teaching, which may be appropos to the internet and “kids these daz”.

    what do you think of Jay, his site, our planned meeting at UH, etc.?

  40. Nudge

    The 2010 turnaround leaves me puzzled as well – what everything is going to be OK in one to two years after this biblical fallout?

    The replacement mania shows how willing people have been to be seduced by the next big thing. On a sustainability tv program there was a segment at a dump, where people instead of cleaning an oven that was maybe two years’ old chose to throw it out and get a new one.

    You wanting to learn how to make shoes comment is also something I’ve been mulling over for a while too as it is a specialized skill. We have a cobbler in our town who mostly makes shoes for people requiring irregular fittings that often come long distances for his services. I can see him having a lot of apprentices in the future which could perhaps draw a tannery here.

    Doom and MOU: kudos for getting the information out however subversive it may appear and for having the guts to challenge authority. Hirsh should be put in stocks for his relapse – just because there is a tiger in the room and you hide under a blanket doesn’t mean that the tiger isn’t there.

  41. Mary, I am something of a DIY nut .. I make most of my own clothing and also the patterns for the clothing, and am familiar with how things work and how to fix most of the things I use regularly. Had a good education in fabricating/debugging/redesigning stuff by a relative with more than a hundred patents to his name.

    Anyway it is all too obvious from the historical record that our ancestors were immensely more skilled than us in terms of knowing a great deal about the local plants & animals, the local environment, and how to make the tools and clothing they might need for survival. Compared to them we are pretty helpless :(

    A good depiction of this can be seen in the movie “Black Robe” and how useless the two Europeans were in the wild environment of the Americas.

  42. Well teach’em real good. Give them their parent’s moneys worth. Value added, unexpected existential bonus topic. I’d sign up for that class, and I would probably even show up on time. Yes, the Hirsch statement is lame. At ASPO he was preaching some of the same cautions, at that time in response to calls for the administration and presidential candidates to call a spade a spade regarding our oil and energy situation. His message was this is not the time, the conditions are not right, shut up. And now this, financial stress.

    As one of the appointed peak oil gods it’s curious that he was concerned and motivated enough to write this statement and put it out there. So now there are back-to-back reasons to shut up. Martin Luther King could have recommended the same kind of precautions, asking the country to hold off on desegregation and racial equality until after the Viet Nam War and Watergate. Civil Rights on top of those two national crises!? My gosh, how much can this poor nation take? But peak oil is a predicament, not a problem. OK so then, a predicament — if you discovered a big asteroid was going to hit the earth in six months, would you go public immediately? If not, when would be the appropriate time to drop the big news on the public? But our predicament wasn’t an extraterrestrial accident, we have done this to ourselves. In a built-out condition, 150% sunk cost, 6.7 billion strong, the time for consequences is on our doorstep, the time for change was yesterday.

    Are you ready for the new age
    They are setting the stage
    For the renegades
    To control your mind
    They planned it yesterday
    Fffffff-free
    Zulu nation here to stay
    Let’s get electrified
    Zulu nation
    Cities of angels
    Weee want your funk – Afrika
    We want your funk
    Let’s get electrofied
    The world is on fire, can I take you higher
    The world is on fire
    Zulu nation
    Hahahahahahaha future
    Hahahahahahaha future
    Z-U-L-U that’s the way you say Zulu
    That’s the way you say Zulu

    Sorry, reminded me of a song. Leftfield. “Afrika Roxx”. (aka Hirsch Report – the Lost Chapters.)

    “Options” now are close to home, local, personal. Teach them some of that. I’m guessing Hirsch would agree, but I don’t know. I think he’s more concerned about the national scene, policy, I think he’s got a concern, or he’s cracking under pressure,… but if not now under what conditions, and what are the odds of seeing those conditions any time soon? Let it rip. Zulu nation.

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