Where and How to Fall


Here’s a couple different perspectives on “the fall”. One is hopeful transformational and the other is earthy visceral. 

Hat tip to Tipping Point for ‘How the Crash Will Reshape America’  (by Richard Florida) in this months Atlantic Monthly.

“The crash of 2008 continues to reverberate loudly nationwide—destroying jobs, bankrupting businesses, and displacing homeowners. But already, it has damaged some places much more severely than others. On the other side of the crisis, America’s economic landscape will look very different than it does today. What fate will the coming years hold for New York, Charlotte, Detroit, Las Vegas? Will the suburbs be ineffably changed? Which cities and regions can come back strong? And which will never come back at all?”


Transcript of a recent talk given by Dmitri Orlov is posted at Club Orlov.  Here’s an excerpt:

“Another excellent idea pioneered in Cuba is making it illegal not to pick up hitchhikers. Cars with vacant seats are flagged down and matched up with people who need a lift. Yet another idea: since passenger rail service is in such a sad shape, and since it is unlikely that funds will be found to improve it, why not bring back the venerable institution of riding the rails by requiring rail freight companies to provide a few empty box cars for the hobos. The energy cost of the additional weight is negligible, the hobos don’t require stops because they can jump on and off, and only a couple of cars per train would ever be needed, because hobos are almost infinitely compressible, and can even ride on the roof if needed. One final transportation idea: start breeding donkeys. Horses are finicky and expensive, but donkeys can be very cost-effective and make good pack animals. My grandfather had a donkey while he was living in Tashkent in Central Asia during World War II. There was nothing much for the donkey to eat, but, as a member of the Communist Party, my grandfather had a subscription to Pravda, the Communist Party newspaper, and so that’s what the donkey ate. Apparently, donkeys can digest any kind of cellulose, even when it’s loaded with communist propaganda. If I had a donkey, I would feed it the Wall Street Journal.” 


40 Replies to “Where and How to Fall”

  1. Bif, I’m glad you posted this pair of viewpoints as a separate thread. tipping and I had them posted/buried in the “I love Koalas” thread. I’ve only read the Orlov speech so far, but am looking forward to the other POV article. My take on Orlov is many feel he is over-the-top. I fear he is not. Bad news is usually worse than initially thought and always comes sooner than hoped. Dmitry is careful not to predict dates, but it is clear that at some point soon, Hope will fade as Obama’s spending does not produce the magic collectively wished for.

    Anyway, it’s been fun musing and doing whatever else we do here on the blogs. I suspect it will end soon, as coming events will demand more of our time elsewhere and eventually, the internet fails, along with all other projects on a grand scale.

  2. Doom, I put this post up because when I read Tip’s article link I, like you, thought of the contrast to the Orlov speech. How bout it. This ‘Fall’ post was up earlier today but it was for some reason relegated to down below the Madonna vid. I don’t know how to re-shuffle them.

  3. From Orlov’s speech:

    “Women seem much more able to cope. Perhaps it is because they have less of their ego invested in the whole dubious enterprise…”

    “The old ways of doing things don’t work any more, the old assumptions are all invalidated, conventional goals and measures of success become irrelevant. But a different set of goals, techniques, and measures of success can be brought to bear…”

    These are the points I agree with most strongly. But Orlov takes a premise that is reasonable on it’s face, the decline of the US as a superpower, and then extrapolates to include the decline of the American society to abject poverty and misery. I think it’s a remote possibility, but so too is a meteor strike that would destroy most of humankind.

    The article I posted accepts that our ability to continue business as usual is limited. Geographically speaking, our society will be restructured, if only by necessity. Some degree of collapse may be inevitable, but I believe the scale of collapse can be mitigated. On an individual basis, there is not much you can do to protect yourself and family from a compete disintegration of societal norms. I am comfortable with my life so you may argue that I am in denial. Still, I’m pragmatic, if nothing else. Expect the best, prepare for the worst -though again, Orlov’s vision of the future is an extreme that can not be considered as anything more than a remote possibility, I believe.

  4. Penultimate paragraph in the Atlantic Monthly article:

    What will this geography look like? It will likely be sparser in the Midwest and also, ultimately, in those parts of the Southeast that are dependent on manufacturing. Its suburbs will be thinner and its houses, perhaps, smaller. Some of its southwestern cities will grow less quickly. Its great mega-regions will rise farther upward and extend farther outward. It will feature a lower rate of homeownership, and a more mobile population of renters. In short, it will be a more concentrated geography, one that allows more people to mix more freely and interact more efficiently in a discrete number of dense, innovative mega-regions and creative cities. Serendipitously, it will be a landscape suited to a world in which petroleum is no longer cheap by any measure. But most of all, it will be a landscape that can accommodate and accelerate invention, innovation, and creation—the activities in which the U.S. still holds a big competitive advantage.

    Does “a more mobile population of renters” mean something like Chinese migrant workers plus efficient transportation infrastructure to move them around? Or maybe drones packed into urban high-rises. They move around different parts of giant cubes through tubes, dropping into the sensory deprivation tank for a little R&R from time to time.

    Sounds like leftist elitist speak for “fuck the ignorant poor who don’t have high velocity ideas.” I guess my major beef with this Florida guy is that he seems to completely dismiss the possibility that we are going to have to manufacture anything that is real here in America in the future.

    Out of the same mouth, he states that “it will be a landscape suited to a world in which petroleum is no longer cheap by any measure,” implying that all of the things that are needed to live will nevertheless be available and effectively distributed to mega cities or, in his words, the “creative areas”. The idea that people aren’t capable to doing quality, efficient, or creative work unless they are within the boundaries of a mega/urban center is pure bullshit.

    If this Florida guy is even half right in assuming that enough money will be found to do all of this societal reconfiguring, it might be a good idea to first round up anyone born after the baby boomers and get them started on aversion therapy sessions designed to trigger sensations of horror whenever old paradigm thinking — such as desiring to own a piece of land for yourself and your family — starts creeping out of the rural or suburbanite reptilian brain center.

  5. What’s happening, tipping? (I haven’t yet read Orlov’s speech or fully considered your comments, but hopefully I’ll have time for that later tonight… after I watch at least the 4th quarter of the stupid NBA All-Star Game, which my TiVo is dutifully recording while I attend to more [full court] pressing matters.)

  6. Orlov’s plausible, based on real circumstances of a similar collapse and I think, human behavior. His scenarios come across as more likely, at least episodically, in areas where money has functioned similar to the way the Soviet jackboot did in the Balkans.

    I like Holmes’ take on Florida’s piece, but am more inclined to take a darker view of future “creativity” and figure Florida for being around too much second-hand hope and taking his denial straight-up.

  7. Wow holmes, it’s like we read two different articles. I didn’t take that article at all like you did apparently.

    In the context of the current economic environment, coupled with impending fossil fuel scarcity, more dense, local living is not only inevitable, it’s practical. I believe the author’s use of the term “more mobile renters” related to the people who were willing to go where there is work, which is inherently more difficult if you own a home. There are a lot of people who would relocate but owning their home and real estate issues such as they are prevent them from seeking other opportunities.

    To your next point, the article is about the financial reshaping of the US, not the revival of the manufacturing base. This is the Atlantic remember, not NYT.

    Lastly, urban centers are vital to our economy. As the author points out, cities are and will be instrumental in generating new ideas, concepts and paradigms than the more sparsely populated areas of our country. However, the author never said that suburban/exurban areas would be completely destitute nor devoid of societal value, just that their significance as destination or retirement spots would decline as our collective mores adapted to the changing economic climate.

  8. I just re-read what I wrote and I am quite astonished at the cohesive and cogent thought process there- crap, I’m having an identity tipping point crisis now…

  9. oh, I’m just kidding. My hubby is coming home very soon though. Woo-hoo for me!

    JR and I had a little tete-a-tete and though I find it strange to return here, I really do like most of you, and I find I can’t help myself. JR may elude me but I think I will meet at least Holmes and Bif, one day…. maybe MOU too.

  10. “And the city gets bigger as the country comes begging to town” — M. Jagger

    tipping, in the short-term, I do tend to think that Florida is more right than Kunstler regarding likely societal reconfigurations. But it’s a big country and, as you said, people are free to go wherever to look for work… or to stay where they are and starve.

    And how do you make people into “more mobile renters”? Convince them that they should prefer to rent? Sure, that and somehow get them out of their mortgages and imbue them with a heretofore undiscovered personal wanderlust. (I guess this will all happen anyway, so what’s the point of me rambling on against the government remaking or paying off loans, thusly punishing people who declined to overextend themselves and rented all along.)

    I’m not at all arguing about the importance of urban centers. Of course they are important. And talent that wants to make money typically relocates to where the opportunities are.

    The article definitely related in large part to steps that might be taken to accelerate societal re-engineering (e.g., changing tax laws regarding mortgage interest deduction) to encourage different sorts of living arrangements that would seem to better serve some future version of our economy… whatever that is going to look like. Who knows?

    p.s. — Woo-hoo, indeed! Many blessings to you both.

  11. “Will the suburbs be ineffably changed?”
    WTF? I’m surprised that “The Atlantic” let this error pass. I think the changes to the suburbs will most certainly be easily expressable in words. JHK has been writing about these changes for years. He may be wrong, but the suburbs are definitely going to change, in someway, physically.

    Ineffable is BunnBunn’s Kenshō .

  12. nice catch, AU. (I see from the masthead on their website that The Atlantic accepts unsolicited submissions.)

    BTW, thanks for that Zimbabwe video link. Keep up the good work!

  13. Holmes, although I am not one of them, there seem to be a lot of people out there who bought houses they couldn’t afford. I enjoy being a homeowner and still think it’s a great thing to aspire to. However, it’s not for everyone, it is expensive and you shouldn’t buy or attempt to buy a home just to say, “I own a home.”

    That being said, as credit tightens and more people are displaced, I think that culturally, renting will no longer be stigmatized and home ownership glorified, just for the sake of labels. I don’t think it will be an abrupt transition but rather a gradual reassessment of what’s feasible/sustainable.

    Wanderlust is a more difficult concept as it is a highly individualistic trait. People will gravitate towards the areas that suit them, just as they always have, but now those areas will likely be more geographically concentrated. Same as always, with less flavors. Not ideal, but still better than Orlov or Kunstler as far as I’m concerned.

    I think I’m agreeing with you but the whole thing sucks and I’m not sure who I should be mad at.

  14. Tipper,

    I’d love to meet you if you wanted!

    Bif, Holmes, All,

    Am I crazy, or are we going to come to a point where we remember the good old days when Bush was president and at least he had Cheney pulling his strings. The more I read the more I freak. Yeah Obama inherited this shit. But I think he has the opportunity to become the worst president the US has ever seen, no matter how smart or urbane he is.

    I was following the Atlantic/Florida and Orlov posts on the other thread. St. Bif, good call on the overt juxtaposing of them in a thread. Tipper, my Holmez is callin it the ways I sees it.

    There is no way we come out of this okay. UK is actually ahead of us on this shit. Here is a story about their version of Turbo Tax Timmie:


    I thought Orlov was terribly optimistic. Really!

  15. Your right MOU about President Obama

    He may become the 2nd worse president ever but not because he is not capable of doing the job he one of the most qualified people to get the job in a long long time. His problem is he was born to a system that needs a major overhall. But the people he put in place are the same people who helped push the US down this path of selfdestruction. It is almost as if he did not study Einstien in History.

    “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

    Albert Einstein

  16. Holme and JR- I would like to pin you guys down (not literally!) on where you think we could or should be in terms of economic and societal restructuring in the next twenty years or so. I don’t ask cause I would hold you to a plan, only to get a sense of where you think we should be going as a country/society.

    I value your opinions despite Bunnbunn’s tongue-in-cheek analysis of life and JR’s oftentimes incoherent ramblings about Saving Private Ryan and VanHalen viddies(or whatever)- maybe there’s something wrong with ME?

  17. Florida is so arrogant he does not bother to address the relationship of the megalopolis to the hinterlands from where it gets its sustenance. He also does not provide any examples of what this “metabolism and talent-clustering” creativity in New York is going to do for me out in the hinterlands (or for anyone), or how it intends to pay for all this food I’m growing out here on this here farm. The city doesn’t make finished goods I can use. The city boasts a thriving “intangible sector” he says. I guess that means making money by handling money. I suppose it stands to reason that if the city doesn’t have a tangible sector anymore it doesn’t plan to send me anything tangible in exchange for my tangible crops/lumber/coal. Maybe they plan to charge me for sending them food. I say “Show me the money!”, and they say “No. You show US the money!” There’s a lot of them, they must charge a lot! Wooo-whee! It just don’t make no sense.

  18. ‘high-metabolism’

    What? Lets see I live in a metro area 2nd to only Vegas for growth. When I moved here 11 years ago It took me 20 minuets to get to work. Now I go about 5 miles less and it takes me a half hour.

    If this high-metabolism growth of inovation was supposed to help my city be more efficiant why are there less busses then when I first move here? And gas then was 89¢. Sure we added a commuter train but it sucks based on the lack of rail distance and coverage. It does not even come close to the Airport which lies out in the middle of nowhere.

  19. Deborah Strumsky, an economist at the University of North Carolina

    Has no clue as to what she is talking about

    I case anyone had not come to that conclusion…

  20. My, my, my… I’ve ignited a virtual firestorm here on ZK just by posting an article that I thought was actually kinda positive. That is, positive for what is considered a “doomer” crowd that reads Kunstler and Orlov. My apologies folks! I did not expect such umbrage over such an insignificant article . So, I’ve asked JR and Holmes, but how about the rest of you? Am I too optimistic? Do you think life will be better or worse for you and and your family in the next 20 yrs or so? If you think worse, in what way?

  21. oh, and MOU- call me anytime 867-5309

    Just kidding dear. Should you find yourself in the NYC metropolitan area, mi casa, es su casa!

  22. Roachman- I wanted to give you credit. Here is the idjit’s quote (how fucking stupid can you be, btw?)

    Deborah Strumsky, an economist at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, told me she believes that in the end, both Charlotte’s banking industry and Charlotte itself will emerge from the crisis all the stronger: “The Wells Fargo deal has saved thousands of jobs by keeping Wachovia afloat. More importantly, Bank of America has taken to the banking crisis like a shopaholic with a new credit card; it has been bargain-hunting and cutting some astonishing deals. Bank of America will come out the other side far better than in any fantasy it might have entertained previously.”

  23. Here is a take on the old Kunstmeister that could put some things in perspective.

    Review of Kunstler’s post-peak novel by a woman who has lived the life
    by Elaine Meinel Supkis


    For Tipster regarding “worse”

    “Do you think life will be better or worse for you and and your family in the next 20 yrs or so?”

    I think what you would call worse might be better. See article posted above.

  24. Right Tipping

    ‘shopaholic with a new credit card’

    That is what got the world into the problem we are in today in the first place.

    That paragraph is why I felt the story fell short. Lots of hip hip horray all is going to be great but little solutions based an reality

    Little mention of food, oil and other basic human needs in the whole artical. More tech, more silly financial gimicks and modern medical advances. Only more of the same.

    I did like the renting back from the banks idea. Only problem was the fact rents for homes are higher then the mortgage rates. If they were not how the heck is the owner to make any money? The auther seemed to leave that little fact our of his story.

  25. MOU

    “I think what you would call worse might be better. See article posted above”

    If that’s what you want, terrific. I hope that we both have the option of living our way of life the way we want. Personally I can imagine all too clearly how I would hate that. Please don’t take it as a knock on you, it’s just that I really love the conveniences of my life.

    There are two history lessons I remeber from when I was younger. The first was telling my grade school teacher how cool I thought it would be to live, way back when, in a castle (I guess like a princess). He told me that chances are I would have been a serf, tied to the land that I toiled on, tired, sick and desperate. Obviously, I had never thought of the past like that before.

    When I got older, I remember reading something like “On Walden Pond” (I really dont remember what it was) and thinking about how we view nature as this beautiful, ethereal thing but it’s only been the last 50-100 years that we can see it as such. Before, “nature” was this menacing, scary force with which we battled everyday to stay alive.

    So even though I can appreciate your longings to shed some of the trappings of civilization, I can’t help but think that it would be a poor imitation of the hell that our forebears lived through. And I really have no desire to return to that way of life.

  26. So true tipping

    It was not till Emerson and Thoreau that nature became beautiful and have intrinsic value.

    Even so the prevailing fear of nature persist even today. Even Autobahn was not into the true beauty of nature if he was he would not have need to kill his objects of art to paint them.

  27. Oh, and despite throwing Jenny’s ph# out there, I meant what I said- mi es su casa. Or at the very least, let me buy you a beer. Please let me know if you’ll be in the area.

  28. Tip, its funny, I did not read it at all the same way. The Atlantic article to me seemed to suggest just a somewhat exaggerated version of what we have already had, and have now, with perhaps a little more stress on the sunbelt. I did not see any vision of real transformation in that article, though some of the wishful thing it espoused was appealing. Apples and oranges when comparing it to Orlov’s speech. Florida painted a picture where there is still a promising place/role for elites, and Orlov tackled more the practical issues of subsistence conditions for the masses. If I had to guess, the next twenty years would be a lot of Holmes’ scenario with generous scoops of Florida and Orlov to round it out, though Orlov’s comes a tad bit later (at scale anyway). But its just a biased guess.

    “I thought it would appeal to you since it does address issues such as localization and geographic concentration (specifically the decline of exurb/suburban model of living).”

    Though he did mention the disconnects and failures of suburbia I thought he failed in making any real case for localization. He wrote off a lot of cities for historic reasons without considering their possible evolved role for the future. His doting on the staying power of world financial centers smacked of (in his mind) continued multinational corporate dominance. He did nothing to put the cities in the context of the surrounding hinterlands, or suggest what the roles/relationship might be. He provided no examples.

    Holmes’ 20 year scenario was really good, and I’m on board with his general view of things, but it did not answer your question, as in, will his family fair better or worse in the next 20 years.

    “…Namely, things will change but perhaps not the way we (in the collective sense, those that read Kunstler and Orlov) envisioned.”

    I’ve never felt like people who post and comment here share a collective view of the future condition, at least not in synch with respect to time frames. To me, its been interesting to see how much predictions by everyone (external and internal) seem to be consistantly wrong, or at best, occasionally right but for the wrong reasons. (I must admit though, the old CFN crowd rode a wave of understanding regarding the impending financial tsunami that I did not see anywhere else in the media. Roubini must have been reading Jerry Johnson. But I digress.)

    Generally, the way I look at these things is that you have to accept the possibility of a full range of possibilities, from fair/medium to hellish. Psychologically its best to adjust expectations downward and practice acceptance. Otherwise the day may come you’re you’re no good to anybody, and that’s not good if there’s people (yound and old) who depend on you. You may do alright or you may end up in a shit hole. In either case, the goal is to be able to look back and tell yourself you did the best you could under the circumstances. Another meditation is to take nothing for granted. The smallest things may end up being the true happiness in life. Like treasure. Quality family time and a good hot cup of tea. Life may be short. Quality trumps quantity.

    Maybe simplistic, but that’s how I see “it”.

  29. Roachman- you should answer my question too. You have young children, yes? What kind of life do you hope they will lead? Do you hope that they will “get back to nature?” As you can tell, I think the concept of being one with nature is patently absurd on a large scale. I think it’s doable if that’s what you want, on a small, familial base, but not so much for a large society.

    It’s funny, (not haha, just ironic) that nature will now be one of the most influential forces in decision making on a political, societal and individual basis.

  30. Bif- oddly enough I only started reading the Atlantic through my good friend JR; so take that for whatever it’s worth.

    I keep defending the article because I posted it. It’s not supposed to be transformational, this is the Atlantic. What’s surprising is that a magazine such as the Atlantic is accepting that the economic model that exists today may no longer be viable. This is how a country’s dialogue changes.

    It is neither what I hope for, nor, necessarily, what I envision. Truth be told, I do not think that economic or social change will happen as quickly as some hope for, or, in some cases, fear. We will, likely as not, continue on the same path we have been on, with few allowances for climate and peak oil concerns. That is I believe, for the next 20 yrs or so. I do think things will get more rocky after that.

    In that context, I think the article is actually quite a leap forward in what right leaning, mainstream media has presented.

  31. Tip, you very well could be right. However, also having children, I do bear all possibilities in mind as I set about in what to teach them. I’ll tell you this, I would bet my kids (and they are girls) are the only kids in their school who know how to re-pack and adjust bearings in a bicycle wheel. And they know the difference between a weed and a bean sprout. For what ever that turns out to be worth.

  32. Have I told you Bif that I think you’re awesome? You are! My girls will learn skills like that (they are too young now), too bad we can’t set up play dates, huh? But hey, keep in touch, one day my little ones will be kicking ass and taking names!

  33. My son is starting too learn those skills such as growing veggies and he seems to be catching on to a life of less consumerism and has the ability to focus on one fun thing legos and not want everything he sees on TV. He needs a new bike though and we will be working on basic repairs when he gets his new bike for his birthday

  34. I will get to that other question about the future later. What I want and vision are not nessasarly what I see happening any time soon. I am often torn between Derrick Jenson the ideal and the idealized world of Kunstler the nut.

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