Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The End of Employment

Nothing is easier, as the Long Descent begins to pick up speed around us, than giving in to despair—and nothing is more pointless. Those of us who are alive today are faced with the hugely demanding task of coping with the consequences of industrial civilization’s decline and fall, and saving as many as possible of the best achievements of the last few centuries so that they can cushion the descent and enrich the human societies of the far future.  That won’t be easy; so?  The same challenge has been faced many times before, and quite often it’s been faced with relative success.

The circumstances of the present case are in some ways more difficult than past equivalents, to be sure, but the tools and the knowledge base available to cope with them are almost incomparably greater. All in all, factoring in the greater challenges and the greater resources, it’s probably fair to suggest that the challenge of our time is about on a par with other eras of decline and fall.  The only question that still remains to be settled is how many of the people who are awake to the imminence of crisis will rise to the challenge, and how many will fail to do so.

The suicide of peak oil writer Mike Ruppert two days ago puts a bit of additional emphasis on that last point. I never met Ruppert, though we corresponded back in the days when his “From The Wilderness” website was one of the few places on the internet that paid any attention at all to peak oil, and I don’t claim to know what personal demons drove him to put a bullet through his brain. Over the last eight years, though, as the project of this blog has brought me into contact with more and more people who are grappling with the predicament of our time, I’ve met a great many people whose plans for dealing with a postpeak world amount to much the same thing.  Some of them are quite forthright about it, which at least has the virtue of honesty.  Rather more of them conceal the starkness of that choice behind a variety of convenient evasions, the insistence that we’re all going to die soon anyway being far and away the most popular of these just now.

I admit to a certain macabre curiosity about how that will play out in the years ahead. I’ve suspected for a while now, for example, that the baby boomers will manage one final mediagenic fad on the way out, and the generation that marked its childhood with coonskin caps and hula hoops and its puberty with love beads and Beatlemania will finish with a fad for suicide parties, in which attendees reminisce to the sound of the tunes they loved in high school, then wash down pills with vodka and help each other tie plastic bags over their heads. Still, I wonder how many people will have second thoughts once every other option has gone whistling down the wind, and fling themselves into an assortment of futile attempts to have their cake when they’ve already eaten it right down to the bare plate. We may see some truly bizarre religious movements, and some truly destructive political ones, before those who go around today insisting that they don’t want to live in a deindustrial world finally get their wish.

There are, of course, plenty of other options. The best choice for most of us, as I’ve noted here in previous posts, follows a strategy I’ve described wryly as “collapse first and avoid the rush:”  getting ahead of the curve of decline, in other words, and downshifting to a much less extravagant lifestyle while there’s still time to pick up the skills and tools needed to do it competently. Despite the strident insistence from defenders of the status quo that anything less than business as usual amounts to heading straight back to the caves, it’s entirely possible to have a decent and tolerably comfortable life on a tiny fraction of the energy and resource base that middle class Americans think they can’t possibly do without. Mind you, you have to know how to do it, and that’s not the sort of knowledge you can pick up from a manual, which is why it’s crucial to start now and get through the learning curve while you still have the income and the resources to cushion the impact of the inevitable mistakes.

This is more or less what I’ve been saying for eight years now. The difficulty at this stage in the process, though, is that a growing number of Americans are running out of time. I don’t think it’s escaped the notice of many people in this country that despite all the cheerleading from government officials, despite all the reassurances from dignified and clueless economists, despite all those reams of doctored statistics gobbled down whole by the watchdogs-turned-lapdogs of the media and spewed forth undigested onto the evening news, the US economy is not getting better.  Outside a few privileged sectors, times are hard and getting harder; more and more Americans are slipping into the bleak category of the long-term unemployed, and a great many of those who can still find employment work at part-time positions for sweatshop wages with no benefits at all.

Despite all the same cheerleading, reassurances, and doctored statistics, furthermore, the US economy is not going to get better: not for more than brief intervals by any measure, and not at all if “better”  means returning to some equivalent of America’s late 20th century boomtime. Those days are over, and they will not return. That harsh reality is having an immediate impact on some of my readers already, and that impact will only spread as time goes on. For those who have already been caught by the economic downdrafts, it’s arguably too late to collapse first and avoid the rush; willy-nilly, they’re already collapsing as fast as they can, and the rush is picking up speed around them as we speak.

For those who aren’t yet in that situation, the need to make changes while there’s still time to do so is paramount, and a significant number of my readers seem to be aware of this. One measure of that is the number of requests for personal advice I field, which has gone up steeply in recent months. Those requests cover a pretty fair selection of the whole gamut of human situations in a failing civilization, but one question has been coming up more and more often of late: the question of what jobs might be likely to provide steady employment as the industrial economy comes apart.

That’s a point I’ve been mulling over of late, since its implications intersect the whole tangled web in which our economy and society is snared just now. In particular, it assumes that the current way of bringing work together with workers, and turning the potentials of human mind and muscle toward the production of goods and services, is likely to remain in place for the time being, and it’s becoming increasingly clear to me that this won’t be the case.

It’s important to be clear on exactly what’s being discussed here. Human beings have always had to produce goods and services to stay alive and keep their families and communities going; that’s not going to change. In nonindustrial societies, though, most work is performed by individuals who consume the product of their own labor, and most of the rest is sold or bartered directly by the people who produce it to the people who consume it. What sets the industrial world apart is that a third party, the employer, inserts himself into this process, hiring people to produce goods and services and then selling those goods and services to buyers.  That’s employment, in the modern sense of the word; most people think of getting hired by an employer, for a fixed salary or wage, to produce goods and services that the employer then sells to someone else, as the normal and natural state of affairs—but it’s a state of affairs that is already beginning to break down around us, because the surpluses that make that kind of employment economically viable are going away.

Let’s begin with the big picture. In any human society, whether it’s a tribe of hunter-gatherers, an industrial nation-state, or anything else, people apply energy to raw materials to produce goods and services; this is what we mean by the word “economy.” The goods and services that any economy can produce are strictly limited by the energy sources and raw materials that it can access.

A principle that ecologists call Liebig’s law of the minimum is relevant here: the amount of anything  that a given species or ecosystem can produce in a given place and time is limited by whichever resource is in shortest supply. Most people get that when thinking about the nonhuman world; it makes sense that plants can’t use extra sunlight to make up for a shortage of water, and that you can’t treat soil deficient in phosphates by adding extra nitrates. It’s when you apply this same logic to human societies that the mental gears jam up, because we’ve been told so often that one resource can always be substituted for another that most people believe it without a second thought.

What’s going on here, though, is considerably more subtle than current jargon reflects. Examine most of the cases of resource substitution that find their way into economics textbooks, and you’ll find that what’s happened is that a process of resource extraction that uses less energy on a scarcer material has been replaced by another process that takes more energy but uses more abundant materials. The shift from high-quality iron ores to low-grade taconite that reshaped the iron industry in the 20th century, for example, was possible because ever-increasing amounts of highly concentrated energy could be put into the smelting process without making the resulting iron too expensive for the market.

The point made by this and comparable examples is applicable across the board to what I’ve termed technic societies, that subset of human societies—ours is the first, though probably not the last—in which a large fraction of total energy per capita comes from nonbiological sources and is put to work by way of  machines rather than human or animal muscles.  Far more often than not, in such societies, concentrated energy is the limiting resource. Given an abundant enough supply of concentrated energy at a low enough price, it would be possible to supply a technic society with raw materials by extracting dissolved minerals from seawater or chewing up ordinary rock to get a part per million or so of this or that useful element. Lacking that—and there are good reasons to think that human societies will always be lacking that—access to concentrated energy is where Liebig’s law bites down hard.

Another way to make this same point is to think of how much of any given product a single worker can make in a day using a set of good hand tools, and comparing that to the quantity of the same thing that the same worker could make using the successive generations of factory equipment, from the steam-driven and belt-fed power tools of the late 19th century straight through to the computerized milling machines and assembly-line robots of today. The difference can be expressed most clearly as a matter of the amount of energy being applied directly and indirectly to the manufacturing process—not merely the energy driving the tools through the manufacturing process, but the energy that goes into  manufacturing and maintaining the tools, supporting the infrastructure needed for manufacture and maintenance, and so on through the whole system involved in the manufacturing process.

Maverick economist E.F. Schumacher, whose work has been discussed in this blog many times already, pointed out that the cost per worker of equipping a workplace is one of the many crucial factors that  mainstream economic thought invariably neglects. That cost is usually expressed in financial terms, but underlying the abstract tokens we call money is a real cost in energy, expressed in terms of the goods and services that have to be consumed in the process of equipping and maintaining the workplace. If you have energy to spare, that’s not a problem; if you don’t, on the other hand, you’re actually better off using a less complex technology—what Schumacher called “intermediate technology” and the movement in which I studied green wizardry thirty years ago called “appropriate technology.”

The cost per worker of equipping a workplace, in turn, also has a political dimension—a point that Schumacher did not neglect, though nearly all other economists pretend that it doesn’t exist. The more costly it is to equip a workplace, the more certain it is that workers won’t be able to set themselves up in business, and the more control the very rich will then have over economic production and the supply of jobs. As Joseph Tainter pointed out in The Collapse of Complex Societies, social complexity correlates precisely with social hierarchy; one of the functions of complexity, in the workplace as elsewhere, is thus to maintain existing social pecking orders.

Schumacher’s arguments, though, focused on the Third World nations of his own time, which had very little manufacturing capacity at all—most of them, remember, had been colonies of European empires, assigned the role of producing raw materials and buying finished products from the imperial center as part of the wealth pump that drove them into grinding poverty while keeping their imperial overlords rich. He focused on advising client nations on how to build their own economies and extract themselves from the political grip of their former overlords, who were usually all too eager to import high-tech factories which their upper classes inevitably controlled. The situation is considerably more challenging when  your economy is geared to immense surpluses of concentrated energy, and the supply of energy begins to run short—and of course that’s the situation we’re in today.

Even if it were just a matter of replacing factory equipment, that would be a huge challenge, because all those expensive machines—not to mention the infrastructure that manufactures them, maintains them, supplies them, and integrates their products into the wider economy—count as sunk costs, subject to what social psychologists call the “Concorde fallacy,” the conviction that it’s less wasteful to keep on throwing money into a failing project than to cut your losses and do something else. The real problem is that it’s not just factory equipment; the entire economy has been structured from the ground up to use colossal amounts of highly concentrated energy, and everything that’s been invested in that economy since the beginning of the modern era thus counts as a sunk cost to one degree or another.

What makes this even more challenging is that very few people in the modern industrial world actually produce goods and services for consumers, much less for themselves, by applying energy to raw materials. The vast majority of today’s employees, and in particular all those who have the wealth and influence that come with high social status, don’t do this.  Executives, brokers, bankers, consultants, analysts, salespeople—well, I could go on for pages: the whole range of what used to be called white-collar jobs exists to support the production of goods and services by the working joes and janes managing all the energy-intensive machinery down there on the shop floor. So does the entire vast maze of the financial industry, and so do the legions of government bureaucrats—local, state, and federal—who manage, regulate, or oversee one or another aspect of economic activity.

All these people are understandably just as interested in keeping their jobs as the working joes and janes down there on the shop floor, and yet the energy surpluses that made it economically viable to perch such an immensely complex infrastructure on top of the production of goods and services for consumers are going away. The result is a frantic struggle on everyone’s part to make sure that the other guy loses his job first. It’s a struggle that all of them will ultimately lose—as the energy surplus needed to support it dwindles away, so will the entire system that’s perched on that high but precarious support—and so, as long as that system remains in place, getting hired by an employer, paid a regular wage or salary, and given work and a workplace to produce goods and services that the employer then sells to someone else, is going to become increasingly rare and increasingly unrewarding. 

That transformation is already well under way. Nobody I know personally who works for an employer in the sense I’ve just outlined is prospering in today’s American economy.  Most of the people I know who are employees in the usual sense of the word are having their benefits slashed, their working conditions worsened, their hours cut, and their pay reduced by one maneuver or another, and the threat of being laid off is constantly hovering over their heads.  The few exceptions are treading water and hoping to escape the same fate. None of this is accidental, and none of it is merely the result of greed on the part of the very rich, though admittedly the culture of executive kleptocracy at the upper end of the American social pyramid is making things a good deal worse than they might otherwise be.

The people I know who are prospering right now are those who produce goods and services for their own use, and provide goods and services directly to other people, without having an employer to provide them with work, a workplace, and a regular wage or salary. Some of these people have to stay under the radar screen of the current legal and regulatory system, since the people who work in that system are trying to preserve their own jobs by making life difficult for those who try to do without their services. Others can do things more openly. All of them have sidestepped as many as possible of the infrastructure services that are supposed to be part of an employee’s working life—for example, they aren’t getting trained at universities, since the US academic industry these days is just another predatory business sector trying to keep itself afloat by running others into the ground, and they aren’t going to banks for working capital for much the same reason. They’re using their own labor, their own wits, and their own personal connections with potential customers, to find a niche in which they can earn the money (or barter for the goods) they need or want.

I’d like to suggest that this is the wave of the future—not least because this is how economic life normally operates in nonindustrial societies, where the vast majority of people in the workforce are directly engaged in the production of goods and services for themselves and their own customers.  The surplus that supports all those people in management, finance, and so on is a luxury that nonindustrial societies don’t have. In the most pragmatic of economic senses, collapsing now and avoiding the rush involves getting out of a dying model of economics before it drags you down, and finding your footing in the emerging informal economy while there’s still time to get past the worst of the learning curve.

Playing by the rules of a dying economy, that is, is not a strategy with a high success rate or a long shelf life. Those of my readers who are still employed in the usual sense of the term may choose to hold onto that increasingly rare status, but it’s not wise for them to assume that such arrangements will last indefinitely; using the available money and other resources to get training, tools, and skills for some other way of getting by would probably be a wise strategy. Those of my readers who have already fallen through the widening cracks of the employment economy will have a harder row to hoe in many cases; for them, the crucial requirement is getting access to food, shelter, and other necessities while figuring out what to do next and getting through any learning curve that might be required.

All these are challenges; still, like the broader challenge of coping with the decline and fall of a civilization, they are challenges that countless other people have met in other places and times. Those who are willing to set aside currently popular fantasies of entitlement and the fashionable pleasures of despair will likely be in a position to do the same thing this time around, too.

193 comments:

gaias daughter said...

Another short story for your consideration: http://ofcastlesandcucumbers.blogspot.com/2014/04/founders-day.html

Doug W. said...

Many readers may find it helpful to read the works of the late Ralph Borsodi, a decentralist, who did a lot of his work on homesteading in the 20's, 30's and 40's. While acknowledging the need for some income, Borsodi believed that at the time people could produce 70% of their needs in a household based economy, including food, shelter, and clothing. Of course, he was talking about a less material lifestyle. He didn't believe in producing an agricultural surplus. Instead one produced for one's own needs,and then, rather stopped, and went on to produce something else for his own use. Many of Borsodi's works are no longer subject to copyright and may be available online. JMG is right to get started now, and look for opportunities to learn more. For example, there was a bumper crop of apples in the Northeast US last summer and fall. Many rural folks ended up making hard cider and vinegar for the first time, picking up valuable experience and the accompanying basic equipment to use their new founded skills in the future. It never hurts to cut your energy use NOW. Prepping for our photovoltaic array we cut our electric use to 140kwh per month, still have electric lights and a computer, but gave up the dryer and go without a lot of the electronics. Many of the back to the landers from the 60's and 70's who didn't give up, often ended up with their feet in two worlds. That meant working professional jobs AND putting in long hours gardening, cutting firewood and a long list of other activities. Those folks can be a valuable resource if you happen to have any such folks living near you.

Paul K. said...

John, I wanted to thank you for cluing me in at "Age of Limits" 2 years ago to the importance of hands on skills and retooling. Since then I've discovered that my local community colleges in the SF Bay Area are a hotbed of highly practical training programs--all available at a fraction of normal retail cost. Whether I want to learn how to grow food, fix broken machinery, or weatherize houses, it's all right here. And the interesting thing is that it's actually a lot of fun to be hands on. Yes there is life after PowerPoint.

ChemEng said...

Mr. Greer:
You have often alluded to the importance of doing actual work, not just reading about how to do it. I had an example this week. I have been building raised beds using 3.5” Phillips screws. It has been slow going. Then I visited a friend of mine who is building a small berry farm. He talked to me for almost two hours — and very good listening it was. But the whole visit was made worthwhile by learning that he uses 4” lag bolts. It sounds like no big deal, but when I followed his advice my productivity jumped.

My points are (a) he and I are actually building vegetable and fruit gardens — not just talking about it, and (b) his hints were something I have never seen written down.

Regarding employment, he sells virtually all of his produce at the local farmers’ market. I either store our produce for family use or give it to food banks (who are always in need).

My next project is the development of a Community Garden at our church — where the emphasis is on Community, not Garden.

I recognize that we are still very much part of the industrial system (for example, where are lag bolts made?) Still, every little helps.

Pinku-Sensei said...

"The suicide of peak oil writer Mike Ruppert two days ago puts a bit of additional emphasis on that last point."

I've been showing my students "The End of Suburbia," in which Ruppert played an important role, one almost as big as Kunstler, for the past five or six years. That means I've listened to his recorded words and watched his filmed image at least thirty times (twice a semester, three semesters a year). Even though I never met the man either, I have a sense of the man. I can say that knowing that I won't see anything new from the man elicits a sense of loss from me.

As for the demons that haunted him, I watched some of the opening of "Apocalypse: Man" from Vice. Ruppert was very clear about how little hope he had. He sounded like one of the people who think that humans will go extinct by 2030. I guess he didn't want to be around to see that happen.

Also, Vice described some of his other history, such as his confronting the CIA director over allegations of the agency's involvement in illegal drugs and Ruppert's later dabbling in 9/11 Trutherism. When Ruppert's death was reported on Raw Story, that's the tack that the reporter took, calling Ruppert a conspiracy theorist. That drew dozens, if now hundreds, of Ruppert's fans to defend him.

About that slant on the story, I have two things to say. First, it vastly underplayed Ruppert's involvement in the peak oil community. I don't know if this was a good thing or a bad thing. On the one hand, it slighted an important aspect of the man and his message. On the other hand, it didn't tar peak oil with the same brush as the conspiracy theories.

Second, it's a sign of how people on what passes for the American Left engaged in a form of "Evil, Be my Good." When an unnamed Bush Administration official mocked the Administration's critics as "The reality-based community," Bush's opponents almost seemed as one to say, "yes, we are reality-based, and you're not." I consider that to be one of the great rhetorical miscues of the 21st Century. The upshot was for the bulk of the anti-Bush crowd to reject conspiracy theories and conspiracy theorists as not reality-based, and that played out in the quotes Raw Story used in their obituary, including one from David Corn.

“'Conspiracy theories may seem more nuisance than problem,' wrote columnist David Corn about Ruppert’s work in 2002. 'But they do compete with reality for attention. There is plenty to be outraged over without becoming obsessed with X Files-like nonsense.'”

http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2014/04/15/911-truther-mike-ruppert-kills-himself-after-finishing-his-radio-show/

John Michael Greer said...

Daughter, got it. When you have a chance, drop me an email with the byline you want to use for the story and your email address, so I can get those added to the file!

Doug, thanks for the suggestion -- I somehow managed to miss Borsodi's work.

Paul, excellent! Indeed there is.

ChemEng, I wonder if an equivalent of lag bolts could be made on a blacksmith's anvil...

Kutamun said...



Social complexity goes with Social Hierarchy .Fascinating concept to me . Harks back to your musings about "spontaneous organic Burkean communities" .  Progressives who are voluntarily collapsing today must understand that this does automatically grant them priveleged status at the head of any future deindustrial structure .( see Kunstlers " world made by hand" . Things could indeed become quite Darwinian as we become the yeast in a vat once again . ( Raoul Ilarji Meier) . In Australia new arrivals from cities to long established remnant rural community are viwed with a mixture of suspicion , disdain, amusement and outright hostility . Acceptance of ones place at bottom of hierarchy essential until skills and worth are proved . One must not point out that rural community has enthusiastically supported system that has broken them . In Australia, skill and humility most admired traits , greenies and lefties despised , despite the Australian bush quite possibly being one of the biggest most long running socialist programs ever undertaken .
( Quarterly Essay no 42) .
Elements of convict mentality still  prevail , on a chain gang , one must not work too hard and compel others to keep up or make them look bad .  Think building a road through heavily timbered mountains while chained to fifty others all swinging axes . Forget rogue banditti roaming countryside , rather, consider the sudden arrival of thousands of newly displaced alpha males and females into the mix. For at least some , the drives and charismatic traits that elevated them to corporate peaks will also allow them to thrive in rural settings , where many who remain were those who were oppressed.  by vicious typecasting , family demons , could not find courage in themselves to leave . Remember , many in the city today originated from farms .
Far from standing bonfires chanting Kumbayah , many rural towns seem to operate on autopilot until a certain skill or leader is required , who then makes an appearance . Atttendance at regular socialist gatherings rarely required, many can live there for generations while " flying under the radar" and are still valued members of community .
Cheers

Dan the Farmer said...

I'm reminded of a couple similar things. One is the old joke of the waiter at the Presidential dinner address. The President says, "Under my administration, we've added (X number) of new jobs." The waiter mumbles, "Yeah, I've got three of them."

The other is a thought from Gene Logsdon, The Contrary Farmer, who points out that most farmers have jobs in town to support their habit. Both employments are economically sensible when combined.

And then here in Maine, there's lots of seasonal work. Digging clams and raking blueberries, cutting boughs for wreath makers in November and December, care-taking houses when the summer people are away, and the like. Of course some of these will change, but the idea of having a range of seasonal jobs is valid.

I think that maybe the two points to keep in mind are to be entrepreneurial, cutting out the middle man employer, and develop a range of occasional trades. If those trades produce food, extend the useful life of clothing or other manufactured goods, or help folks stay warm in the winter, so much the better. Maybe rather than training for a specific skill, there needs to be the equivalent of the classic liberal arts degree that's supposed to teach the student how to be adaptable to whatever the situation calls for. That flexibility and vision (cognate with wizard, of course) seems to me to be of the utmost importance.




Pongo said...

I am one of those lucky few who have a stable, well-paying conventional job. I manage a casting studio in Los Angeles and am paid quite well, more than enough for a single man to comfortably live on. And yet the sacrifices that I am required to make in order to keep this job are significant. The reason I have been able to keep it for as long as I have is that I have a high tolerance for psychological punishment – long work hours (my days are rarely shorter than ten hours), abusive and neurotic clients and long stretches of stress or extreme boredom. Besides the good pay the one other consolation is that the on-the-job downtime is frequent, which has allowed me to work on a number of other projects while at work, including the post-peak story that I will be submitting next week and a few other things of relevance to the crises we are facing. About 90% of the work that my studio does is casting for television commercials. Right now business is reasonably steady – enough to still justify my salary – but I am well aware of the speed with which that could change. It’s not exactly an industry with a bright future.

One thing I would like to add to your analysis is that this formerly stable system of third-party employment you describe also supported the creation and development of many complex cultural activities, without which said developments would either not have taken place or would have taken place at a much slower speed. Hollywood is a good example of that (although you could also use the example of stage actors in New York or musicians in Boston). It’s always been difficult to maintain stable employment in the film industry, and even the people who achieve it often slip out of it again at some point in their careers. During the twentieth century, when southern California’s economy was growing dependably and supported by such mainstays as oil, real estate development and the defense industry, it was entirely possible for some ambitious budding actor/actress/writer/director to come to Hollywood and support themselves with a job waiting tables or stocking shelves while they wrote or auditioned or looked for film opportunities on the side. Maybe they would make it, maybe they wouldn’t, but their lives usually wouldn’t hang in the balance. The ability to support yourself in other professions also provided a safety valve for people who had once made in the industry but whose careers were winding down. A lot of the actors who were big in the 30’s and 40’s saw that start to happen, so what did they do? Some of them went into television, but a very large number of them went into real estate and became successful brokers or developers.

Now this has changed very dramatically. Los Angeles is one of the toughest job markets in the nation now and new arrivals have to simply fight to get a subsistence job before they can begin the long, arduous process of establishing themselves in whatever their specialty is. This has a qualitative impact on the work that is done here, for I’ve seen so many promising endeavors either never start or flounder midway simply because the time and energy is no longer there to complete them.

Joel Caris said...

Hi JMG,

Thank you for this post. It's actually quite comforting to me as I've been doing more and more bartering and work-trade in recent years, as well as building my food production skills.

I'll note that gaining skills in this regard is not just about figuring out how to produce something of value--though that's obviously critical--but also about how to barter and trade in general.

My approach is a soft one. I don't like to inconvenience people or make them feel like I'm pressuring them into anything, just as I don't like the same done to me. And so I tread lightly. For instance, the other day I was visiting with the neighbors, friends of mine, who are setting up a farm and homestead across the street. Part of that involves clearing out some alders and they have wood everywhere. I heat with wood, and am just getting started learning the business of procuring and keeping a stock of wood. So I make a passing comment about perhaps buying some wood from them and that pretty quickly gets into a conversation of my getting wood from them via a work-trade scenario. Score. Perfect.

Similarly, they recently purchased a walk behind tractor. I have a field I want to turn into vegetables. This is a new property, so this field is in grass. I can do it by hand and will if necessary, but breaking through that sod with their tractor would sure save a heck of a lot of work. So again, some passing references and pretty soon we have a work-trade agreement.

It's a skill. You have to always be on the lookout for local, unused resources. You have to maintain good relationships with people in your community. You have to inquire and ask questions. You often have to put the idea out there, whether that be in a very direct manner or in a passing manner that allows them to grab the ball and run with it if they want. You have to be constantly thinking in community-oriented terms rather than monetary terms. Time isn't money in the world of bartering--it's work and production. It's cooperation and mutual benefit.

You also are likely to get a heck of a lot farther if you're generous. Don't let yourself be walked on, but don't obsess over balancing the books down to the last cent, either. What do you have excess of? If it's not claimed for trade or barter, considering Giving it away to the right people, to the people who have helped you or who you know will. If you choose the right people, these things are remembered. After my friends made that first pass with their walk behind tractor, they left the house with a dozen eggs from my chickens and a quart of homemade yogurt. These things cost me more in effort than money and sending them out the door was not a burden for me. I did it naturally; I knew not to send them away after they had worked on my homestead without something in hand, even if I planned to work for them later.

Always remember with trade and barter that you're not in the industrial economy. You're in the community economy, the informal economy. It's a different beast, requires different interaction, requires attention to different details, demands different behavior. This is part of the learning curve. A big chunk of this economy is about building and maintaining community. It's about relationships. Those who understand that and act accordingly are likely to do well.

Lastly, always remember your debts. If someone who's helped you, been generous with you, has been there for you puts a call out for help, you show up. If they're having a work party, you make sure you're there. And if you really can't be there, you explain why and you arrange another way to help. Reciprocation is a gold standard in the informal community. People will be quite generous so long as you hold up your end of the bargain. Fail to do that and you'll find yourself cut off quick.

latheChuck said...

For fastening the frames of raised-bed gardens, suppose one abandoned metal fasteners entirely, and pegged it together with dowels?

|--|-------------------------
|> || V
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| |

The "v" holds the corner together in the horizontal axis, and the > keeps the V part from pulling out.

I can't say that I've done this with pegs, but I've learned to put the side-plate on with nails when they pulled out as the wood aged.

Robert Mathiesen said...

@JMG:

Yes, a blacksmith can make lag bolts in his smithy. I asked a working smith a similar question a few years back He (or his helpers) can cut the thread with a file after making the blank bolt. A simple jig puts the work within an apprentice's skill. A smith could also make a wrench to turn the lag bolts.

Files are trickier, though. In the early 1800s, so the working smith at Old Sturbridge Village told me, most blacksmiths would have bought their files "from away" with cash.

For those of your readers who are in New England, I recommend the resources at Old Sturbridge Village in the highest possible terms. They have a wonderful research library (available to members) on how everything was actually done on farms and in small shops during the early 1800s. They also have costumed expert craftsmen who work the Village's farm or practice their crafts in the Village's shops using period tools and methods; and they are delighted to explain how things are done.

My wife and I are old and cannot do all that much physically any longer. And we might not survive the inevitable collapse of "big pharma." But there are a few useful things we are doing to make it easier for others to get through the collapse. One of these things is to live as frugally as we can in order to free up more money in support of the work of Old Sturbridge Village and a few other similar institutions here in New England (for instance, Plimoth Plantation).

Dan the Farmer said...

Lag bolts would be difficult to make on an anvil, but spiral shank nails, sometimes called pole barn nails, could be made. They're driven with a hammer, but the spiral of the square cross section shaft makes them much more resistant to pulling out.

Sixbears said...

Macabre curiosity. I guess that's what keeps me in the game. I'm sad that Michael didn't stick around to see how it turns out. Then again, maybe he thought he saw how it turns out.

Personally, my financial collapse happened over 20 years ago, and I'm only getting really good at it now. It takes practice to get this stuff right. At least there are others who've been able to benefit from my trial and error.

In recent years barter and the gift economy make up more and more of my time and efforts. That's where the rewards are. I'm only putting in enough effort in the main stream economy to keep it off my back. (they will take your house if the taxes are not paid)

These are scary times, but exciting too.

Tom Bannister said...

I'm speculating at the moment about how to make a living from an increasing failing (but still relevant for many years to come I'm sure) legal system (here in NZ). Certainty I don't think I'll ever work for big law firms (then again I wouldn't want to anyway, collapse of industrial civilization or not), but I have thought for a while about smaller scale legal advice stuff. More control over my own income/ work arrangements and more flexibility (hopefully). anyway, just a few speculations.

To tell you the truth, I reckon a being your own employer situation is better for everyone anyway. More direct accountability for ones own work, more personal human involvement instead of everything being hidden behind faceless corporations/bureaucracies. Not that I'm envisaging some kind of utopia here, but It just seems to me like a much more well... fun and interesting way to live instead of being tied to a grinding 9-5 job (probably more than that now...) five or more days a week. We humans are much more dynamic and variable than machines, although i realize modern economics fails to acknowledge this.

Anyway, just my two cents. cheers for the post as always!

HalFiore said...

Your discussion of employment for wages reminded me that the word "entrepreneur" comes from two French words that mean "to go between," and "to take."

Greg Belvedere said...

Thank you. I quit my librarian job two years ago because of increasingly worsening conditions and to start an internet business that never got off the ground. Now I'm a stay-at-home dad. Next week I'm moving out of NYC to an area where I can have a garden again and put together the kind of skill set you are talking about. As a SAHD, I'm looking for ways to contribute to the household. People ask me if I plan to get a telecommute job, but I think it makes more sense to try and make a dent in the grocery bill by growing as much food as I can. When the kids are old enough to go to school and I have more time, I will pursue writing and something like fish farming. I know I have the right idea, but I know a lot of people don't get it. So, it reassures me to read this blog.

While I don't think Green Wizardy is a 100% comprehensive manual, I can't think of a better place to start. It has a lot of good info and led me to a lot of great resources. I'm currently reading Filters Against Folly which works well with last week's blog on thought stoppers.

My donkey said...

"how many of the people who are awake to the imminence of crisis will rise to the challenge, and how many will fail to do so."

If we're already at or near Peak Energy globally, I don't understand how the human population can possibly increase from its current 7+ billion to 9 or 10 billion by 2050... but that's what multiple sources are predicting. Where will all the extra energy come from to support all those extra people? It sounds absurd to me.

Liam Jackson said...

Is it my imagination or are you increasing your criticism of despair? Good stuff if so Mr Greer, passive despair is a juvenile indulgence and a self-fulfilling prophecy to boot.

Enrique said...

Damien Perrotin had a related essay on this topic several years back:

http://theviewfrombrittany.blogspot.com/2009/11/decline-of-wage-system.html

One of the points that he makes is that up until a century and a half ago, most people were either farmers, craftsmen or small business owners. Wage labor only became common as the Industrial Revolution gained steam. Before then, wage labor was generally restricted to domestic servants, day laborers, hired hands, sailors and the like. As a result, wage labor and being an employee of someone else was generally looked down upon and seen as being one step above being a slave, a serf or an indentured servant, hence the term “wage slave”. The one notable exception to this attitude was military officers, judges, officials and the like, who saw themselves as being servants of the king or the state and thus had social prestige because of who they served.

Matt Heins said...

In re: lag bolts for raised bed frames

Why waste metal on garden beds? Use joinery. I recommend dovetailing:

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woodworking_joints

For garden beds, don't even bother with glue. All you are really doing is preventing rain from washing away your garden soil. So the pressure on the box is either constant or slowly rising/falling. The joint itself should typically hold. Leave raw the wood at the joint and the rain that is the main problem will swell it and keep it tight.

Ruben said...

Ah this touches on a topic I have spent many long hours discussing and wrestling with.

I think that many jobs that people imagine are actually part of the utopia/apocalypse narrative this blog works to break down.

And once we reject the idea of apocalypse, many jobs are collateral damage.

For example, oil has peaked, therefore international shipping will collapse, therefore we must all learn to weave baskets.

I would argue there will be container ships crossing the oceans for decades to come--slowly, seasonally, carrying only non-perishables--but still coming.

So, I imagine most of us will still wear shoes made in China. It is going to be a long time until wages have evened out enough to make local cobblers competitive with factories in Asia. Sure, not all the colours and sizes we are used to. We might even have to go down to the docks and sort through big piles to find a left and a right that match. But I don't see be able to make much of a living as shoemaker in my lifetime. Now shoe repair is a different thing...

Similarly with baskets. I think most of us will be rather desperate to get food on the table, and won't spend too much time on basketweaving. Again, containers full of laundry baskets will be hitting the docks for decades to come. So, my children or grandchildren may need to weave baskets--the skills must be passed down. But even that project--maintaining skills purely for transmission to further generations--is a luxury that must be supported by surplus food.

Blacksmithing is another one. The salvage economy should provide us all the hinges and doorknobs we need for centuries to come. Sure, you might want to bang a point on something, but decorative gates are going to be far and few between. Now homebrew welding setups on the other hand....

So, we must make enough actual cash money to keep a roof over our heads, and buy or grow enough food to keep us from starving. Everyone is going to be facing some variation of that reality--which I think is going to get awfully Darwinian on the job front.

How about that darling of localism--the baker? My local artisans charge $7 per loaf. I can buy local, organic wheat for $1.50. How long will that baker stay in business? How will they do against the industrial bakeries--famous in the past for adding sawdust, gypsum and dirt to the loaves?

Why would I pay someone to bake bread, make sauerkraut or brew beer? Why would I give my very hard-won dollars for something I can do myself?

Ruben said...

So, here is a shot at a list:


jobs that I think will make:

Lots of money

Installing solar hot water
shoe repair
plumbing
alternative electrical installations.
machinist/welder
dentist
parts supply for certain things
-shore repair supplies
-seed house (for a while until seed saving is established)
-moonshine still parts
-brewing parts
-solar oven parts
-coleman stove and lamp parts
-bows saws, axes and hatchets, pumps and siphons
-fabric and thread, knitting yarn.
(all the parts may be just be collected in a General Store, which I expect will do quite well)
organized crime: extortion, smuggling, prostitution, drugs
breeding stock--bees, trees, sheep, goats, chicks
gunsmith

Reasonable money

van taxi driver (after the government stops making it illegal)
undertaker
banker
phone call renter
cheap food stall/kitchen speakeasy operator (after the system has degenerated enough to allow)
grey water, where needed.
maybe the pig club/cow share/land share/CSA manager could make a living, if you manage enough things to skim a little off each.
tool librarian
herbal forager
commercial scale root cellarer
building recycler




I think it is reasonable to look back a hundred years, or look to the Depression, and see what people were doing. They bought sugar, flour and tea. They baked bread, made pickles, canned food, made jam, sewed clothes, built furniture, fixed and patched. Anything that falls under this sort of category I think will be very difficult to make a living at--it is just what everyone does to scrape by.

The best jobs will be in basic trades (but not carpentry because there are a million of them), ideally with an angle towards the Long Descent. So plumbing, focussing on solar hot water. Electrical, focussing on wind and PV installation. Also the repair world, shoe repair, metal repair. I think there will be many more jobs for machinists and welders than blacksmiths. Most of these jobs will be accessed through apprenticeships.

As for who is doing it--look to the Hill Williams, the rednecks who know how to fix anything and eat off their bioregion. They have been scraping by and paying the rent for a long time.

Richard Larson said...

Excellent advice. As a small business owner with employees myself, I will attest the market is worsening, the government is more demanding, my competition was bought out by a cash-rich hedge fund, and having employees is becoming problematic. I've started the process to shut it down. Crash now and avoid being forced into a crash!

John Michael Greer said...

Pinku-sensei, maybe so, but the fixation on conspiracy theories has been anything but helpful -- it's been my experience that focusing on finding someone to blame for our current predicament very often takes precedence over doing anything constructive to deal with the predicament itself.

Kutamun, I've noticed the same thing here in America, though it's actually not that hard to fit into a rural town -- all you have to do is demonstrate respect for your neighbors and their values. Now of course that's something that most American urbanites are utterly unwilling to do!

Dan, exactly. The jack of all trades who is master of some is a very valuable person in a subsistence economy.

Pongo, I'll look forward to your story. Thanks for the update from the trenches!

Joel, exactly -- you get tonight's gold star for a lucid summary of how life works in a world where cash can't buy exemption from community any more.

LatheChuck, hmm. I'm sorry to say that Blogger apparently doesn't support ASCII artwork!

Robert, agreed! In the deindustrial future, institutions that preserve knowledge from the preindustrial past are going to be worth their weight in light sweet crude. I'd encourage those of my readers who have access to such things to get their buns over to those institutions sooner rather than later, and learn everything you can.

Dan, most interesting. I don't claim to know much about ironwork, so that's useful lore.

Sixbears, exactly. Dealing with the deindustrial future may be scary, as you say, but it's a lot more interesting than sitting in a cubicle daydreaming about doing something else with your life.

Tom, legal advice for individuals and small businesses might be a worthwhile niche, especially if you charge modest fixed fees and know your way around the whole range of everyday legal activities, from wills to incorporation papers.

HalFiore, bingo. It's not necessarily a compliment.

Greg, no question, you have the right idea. When you produce goods and services for your own use, or for exchange with your neighbors, you get all the value of your own labor. If you work for someone else, they take a substantial cut of the value of your labor, and if you then take the salary and use it to buy things, another cut goes to the store, etc. Thus anything you produce for your family is a significant gain.

My donkey, I'd be surprised to see peak population delayed as long as 2050. My guess is that we'll see the beginning of prolonged demographic contraction within 10-20 years.

Liam, yes, because I'm getting a lot less giddy cornucopianism and a lot more wallowing in despair these days. I aim my critiques where I think they're needed!

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG,

What? Despair? I don't have time for such nonsense, I'm too busy having fun!

Every time some preserves are cooked up, some energy is harvested for future use, some freebie fruit is gleaned or a new batch of drinks is produced I get a little glow of satisfaction that I'm sticking it to the man. That doesn't even take into account the productive garden.

I'm in the process of producing and distributing plants because I've finally conceded that the only renewable systems here are of biological origins. The rest, well, yeah, not so much.

There is a tipping point which I expect to reach sooner or later when I reckon I may be able to commence reproducing the plant systems and plant guilds here on an ever larger scale all about the place. The test will be the natural fencing project which will kick off over the next few weeks. The Aboriginals used to have to build brush fences to keep out the wallabies too whilst the plants got established!

Having a foot in each path means that you can pull energy and resources from the industrial system whenever it is required, but it isn't as crucial. It also allows some fat for the inevitable mistakes that occur. There is an old saying which says something like: "you have to kill a plant three times before you can say you know something about it."

The second time around coffee shrubs have survived the summer and are just now starting to put on new growth. It'll be the winter that will really test them though. We’ll see.

Hi Doug,

You go dude! I've never owned a dryer or dishwashing machine. The dryer can be replaced with a washing horse (or clothes line). Dishwashing machines aren't particularly energy intensive (unless they heat the water), but the chemicals they use...

Hi latefall,

Nice one.

Regards

Chris

Mark Rice said...

I am still employed the way I have been for a while. Here in the Silicon Valley employment is still the norm. But I have a friend who runs his own small business. He is ahead of the curve.

"Moore's Law" seems to be running out of steam. That will impact employment here. Already in the electronics industry, all employment is transitory. A company is only as good as it's last product. A shrinking of the electronics industry is on the horizon.

But right now I love what I do. I do not want to give it up. There is an enjoyable mixture of Applied Math, programming, electronics and Physics. There are plenty of puzzles in the form of machines that do not behave as intended.

I have been starting to ask myself what I can do when such employment is less common. I do like to improvise repairs and to improvise the construction of useful things out of things considered to be junk. There is hope here.

Matt Heins said...

In re: lag bolt equivalent on blacksmith's anvil.

IIRC, pre-industrial smiths often had a sideline in wire drawing. Silver and gold for jewelry and black for nails.

Once you have wire, you use a screw cutting lathe to make it into a bolt. The first of these are bench-style and hand driven from the end of the 18th century:

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Screw-cutting_lathe

Where the smith would shine is in making all these tools (in conjunction with carpenter) for joinery, wire drawing, screw cutting, and more.

John Michael Greer said...

Enrique, he did indeed -- Damien's usually spot on.

Matt, for that matter, why edge your garden beds? It just provides harborage for slugs and snails. Classic biodynamic double-dug beds aren't edged at all, just gently sloped on the sides, and do just as well -- that's the style I use, with good results all round.

Ruben, excellent. You're asking the right questions. My guess is that a lot of people in a deindustrial US will be wearing makeshift shoes with soles salvaged from old tires, because they don't have the money to buy shoes from China; still, your lists by and large match mine.

Richard, I suspect a lot of people will face that choice as we proceed.

Cherokee, I rarely give out two gold stars in an evening, but you've earned one with a fine display of what a green wizard with attitude sounds like! ;-)

Mark, by all means, if your job still works for you, stick with it. As long as you're getting its replacement lined up, you're likely to do well.

Shakya Indrajala said...

It is also interesting to consider what else depends on the contemporary employment model and will likely revert back to earlier models: the nuclear family and other even more dispersed family arrangements.

It wasn't so long ago that it was largely unfeasible for people to live by themselves, especially when cooking, gardening, washing and so on required a division of labor so that everything got done during the day (this was still true during the industrial revolution). The idea of 18 year olds living in their own cozy private apartments for leisure while working part time to pay the rent wasn't really possible for anyone but aristocrats not so long ago. Student bachelors used to live in boarding houses rather than "bachelor pads".

So, it follows that if you can jump ahead of the trend and start living together with a group of reliable people, then you'll be at a great advantage when the nuclear family (or single living) becomes unaffordable.

jcummings said...

I had that same thought. Believing as jmg apparently does that something worth saving can be managed is tantamount to optimism. Which is awesome. Thanks JMG!

Matt Heins said...

Re: garden beds sans edges.

Oh I quite agree!

I think the whole three way exchange we've just had demonstrates quite nicely what may be an ecotechnic rule:

"Don't do what you don't have to do."

KL Cooke said...

"Already in the electronics industry, all employment is transitory. A company is only as good as it's last product. A shrinking of the electronics industry is on the horizon."

I caught a segment on Book TV last night where James Barrat was doing one of those bookstore promo talks on his book 'Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era.'

http://www.amazon.com/Our-Final-Invention-Artificial-Intelligence/dp/0312622376


He anticipates the imminent arrival of Artificial Intelligence rivaling human intelligence. "Super intelligence to follow close behind, rendering humans obsolete. He further hinted at ominous potential "HAL" type scenarios, with highly efficient but essentially psychopathic machines engaging in activities dangerous to people. Being capable of self programming, such "psychobots" will develop security measures to avoid being shut down.

I wish I had been in the audience for the the question and answer session. I would have liked to ask him if he thought these machines would be capable of establishing the highly complex systems required to provide themselves with spare parts, without which all machines eventually stop working. I would not have said anything about energy requirements, as mentioning that subject would have branded me a fool unworthy of a serious response.

When I worked in the Silicon Valley years ago, it was all about hardware and manufacturing. Now it's mostly about code and applications. The platforms on which these are run seems always to be a given,similar to the energy required

John Naylor said...

I don't know if it's just me, but I've noticed lately a more dour attitude with office drones at businesses I patronize. If I ask "How are you?" in the morning, I often hear "Well, too early to tell" in response. I was registering a new vehicle at the DMV (I'd gone car-free for 7 years, but new circumstances require a temporary lapse from that) and the clerk greeted me with "I dunno...you got any money?". I know he was trying to maintain levity in a soul-sucking task, but it made me think that one of the next steps on the way to Third World status will be needing bribes or personal connections to get competent government bureaucracy done, if it can't be side-stepped entirely.

I used to be handy, but a plush computer job put a stop to that. In the process of moving out of a trendy large city in favor of something more rust belty, I'm sorry to say how soft my fingers have become and how klutzy I've become with hand tools, noticed while disassembling furniture. I'm going to have to remedy that after I get some space to start gardening.

A question about empires on the wane: How do client states fare as the empire collapses? Does their lot improve, or are they destabilized by all the changes as well?

Travis Marshall said...

A few posts back you suggested that peak oil and industrial decline would find it's way back into main stream thought very shortly. These are the lyrics to the most popular song currently on the radio, second only in airtime to the countless sports talk radio shows. I only wonder how many people are singing along with no clue as to what they are hearing and the changes that around the corner or already present for so many. "I was left to my own devices
Many days fell away with nothing to show

And the walls kept tumbling down
In the city that we love
Great clouds roll over the hills
Bringing darkness from above

But if you close your eyes,
Does it almost feel like
Nothing changed at all?
And if you close your eyes,
Does it almost feel like
You've been here before?
How am I gonna be an optimist about this?
How am I gonna be an optimist about this?

We were caught up and lost in all of our vices
In your pose as the dust settles around us

And the walls kept tumbling down
In the city that we love
Rain clouds roll over the hills
Bringing darkness from above

But if you close your eyes,
Does it almost feel like
Nothing changed at all?
And if you close your eyes,
Does it almost feel like
You've been here before?
How am I gonna be an optimist about this?
How am I gonna be an optimist about this?

Oh where do we begin?
The rubble or our sins?
Oh where do we begin?
The rubble or our sins?

And the walls kept tumbling down
In the city that we love
Rain clouds roll over the hills
Bringing darkness from above

But if you close your eyes,
Does it almost feel like
Nothing changed at all?
And if you close your eyes,
Does it almost feel like
You've been here before?
How am I gonna be an optimist about this?
How am I gonna be an optimist about this?
But if you close your eyes,
Does it almost feel like
Nothing changed at all?



Read more: Bastille - Pompeii Lyrics | MetroLyrics

Alex Smith said...

The Near Term Extinction meme seems unlikely to me, and a high stress for those who are starting to mourn far in advance of any such thing.

That may provide an out for those who are for other reasons tired of living. It's dangerous ground to try and stand on.

It's less convenient to have to face a bumpy road down, as both you John Michael and Richard Heinberg have suggested for our future.

There is also an urgent desire, true for centuries now, for the world to end when we end. To see the Last Days or the return of Jesus, or whatever, before we go. Too many have died disappointed that the collapse did not come in time!

That's a pity, given the glory of nature and joy in each other still available now, right now.
Alex
Radio Ecoshock

streamfortyseven said...

Have a look at this site, it may be of use: http://www.appropedia.org/Welcome_to_Appropedia

patriciaormsby said...

On Ruppert's death, "If you gaze into the abyss for long enough, the abyss gazes back into you," said Friedrich Nietzsche. While keeping the hazardous precipice in mind, you have to turn your attention elsewhere, or it will get you. I have a lot of respect for Carolyn Baker as well, but recently she has become convinced of near-term human extinction, and while she is very philosophical about it, it may have handicapped her ability to pull Mike out of the funk he was in. He had been depressed for a long time. He had trouble dealing with the trollery at Collapse Net. My father, who was also dealing with depression three years ago, found Mike to be very depressing. Depression has myriad causes, and staring at abysses can just be a symptom of it. I was depressed as a teenager. You circle the drain quite a while, and suicide looks like the moral choice. It is very hard to climb out of that pit. Focusing on helping others--I mean physically helping--is one step up.
I wouldn't call his work on 911 Truth dabbling. It was the major theme of Crossing the Rubicon. It was meticulously researched and referenced, but most of all, by tying major political events into peak oil, I think he helped give people a road map and an inkling of the seriousness and urgency of what we face. He later turned away from 911 Truth because it had become a distraction, as you have noted, from the real issues.
He emphasized preparation for collapse, like you do, Mr. Greer, and I love your articles. You have the right approach. The Japanese say, "Talk of next year and the devil laughs." I think, we don't die until we die, and then after we die, there we are, good and dead.
Until Ruppert left it, his Collapse Net blog had one particular feature that I loved. It promoted networking among the participants and encouraged people to share their experiences through regional and topical blogs. I see people sharing good ideas here, too, but I have to scroll along, and there is no way to respond directly.
I hope that that particular legacy of Ruppert's which is still limping along, can be refurbished and made free of charge. The cost of participating was a problem.

streamfortyseven said...

While I'm at it, here's a place from which PDF copies of Wireless Age from 1914 to 1924 can be downloaded: http://www.americanradiohistory.com/Wireless-Age_Master_Page.htm

Yupped said...

Timely post for me to ponder on. These last few years I've kept a foot in both camps: building up a large garden/mini-farm and many related food preparation and preservation skills and learning herbal medicine; while continuing to generate income from the industrial economy (working part-time as an IT consultant and starting a business selling herbal products to people with industrial money). So I've kicked the regular employment habit and become much more self-sufficient. But much of my cash income still comes from the regular, industrial economy. To echo Chris' comments, a lot of what I'm doing is sticking it to the man, but then I'm still using the man to help pay for it all. Seems wrong somehow?

So what to do? In our area, decline is undeniable, but there's still enough juice in the regular economy to support this bifurcated lifestyle for sometime to come (maybe a year, maybe 5 or 10). Should we cut or ties more completely, or continue to take industrial money to fund our lifeboat building? Do we continue to surf our way down a declining economy, or jump off more decisively? Most of the time I must admit I'm just too busy to give this much thought, especially at this time of year. Maybe I should just stop worrying and go check if the peas are up.

jean-vivien said...

Dear Mr Archdruid,

there are three places I do read on a regular basis now. Yours, Slashdot and Ray Kurzweil's afterwards. Living in Europe, it is easy to push aside those as "stuff that happens in the USA only". But I hope you outlive the two others, because it is rare to find a place on the Internet that calls for wisdom and values experience adquired with age (another thing I like about martial arts). The people I know in real life are much wiser than the Internet, fortunately.

Unknown said...

I found a little used but old and neglected Taig micro lathe on craigslist cheap. Of course I have to modify it and get it capable of doing everything worthwhile it can. The last mod will be a foot treadle drive. This could be very useful for small engine and appliance repair when parts get scarce.

It would take a screw cutting lathe to make screws and bolts, I doubt I will bother with that on this little machine.

It would seem the minimal tools for a steam punk machine shop would be a drill press, shaper and a lathe. It would seem wise to buy files while they are still cheap and plentiful.

I am a long way from understanding boilers.

Unknown said...

I am an herbalist and healer. Contemporary herbology is worth knowing, it works well. Part of it is understanding nutrition. It will become much easier when pharmaceuticals get scarce, contraindications and interactions are difficult when your "victim" is on drugs.

Healing seems to be something I kind of always did without even knowing it. When I do it on others they "get it" and start doing it themselves. It seems to be a rebalancing of energies that has the best effect if done immediately after injury. Intention seems to be the primary. Positivity also helps.

My neighbors in Seattle are Mexican, Somali and Ethiopian. They are not far from a simpler existence and might do better if life gets as hard as I think it will. Whether they would accept a self made local Euro shaman as someone to make exchanges with is another question.

irishwildeye said...

When looking for the jobs of the future, it might be worth looking back to the jobs of the past. This is a link to a genealogy site that list the occupations in 19th century British census. There were a bewildering variety of very specialised trades and crafts.

http://rmhh.co.uk/occup/index.html

Farm-girl Sarah said...

Mr. Greer,
You are exactly right that the transition between "employment" and work is tricky. I've noticed that my attempts at sane living are often in conflict with the demands of the workplace. If I were to ask my boss for time off to work in my garden, for example, she wouldn't say of course, go grow yourself some food. She would see gardening as a somewhat quaint hobby and assume that my survival would be better guaranteed by earning my wage and going to the grocery store. Many of the sensible adjustments to sustainable living would be met with the same skepticism: if I wore only two alternating outfits to work, for example, or took time off for laundry when the weather was sunny, I could expect trouble with my employer. At some point, I suppose, we will have to make a clean break -- or it will be made for us.

Somewhatstunned said...

Goodness, so much to say about this - too much for a comment. The first question any UK reader is going to ask is "how far are we behind you?". The UK situation is not the same - but just how different is it? I don't know enough to have much of an answer to this ...

The UK still looks longingly to the US. It wouldn't be too whimsical to say that we've decided to accept a role as your colony (perhaps "decided" is just face-saving - although I can't help thinking that "we" could have decided to "become" a bit more european). I think you once referred to the UK as a US aircraft-carrier - yes, that's got us pegged. So, despite the fact that we are a tiny wee island rather than half a vast continent, and even as signs of crumbling are becoming more visible for you guys, over here we are increasing our energy profligacy, embracing SUVs and aircon, flogging public education and health to "the market", moaning about "business burdens", promoting greater car-dependancy and so on. There are visible cracks here too, of course, but perhaps not quite so prominent.

In general I suspect things are going to take longer than you estimate (I could well be wrong though). That is not necessarily a good thing - it means there's more time for our government to destroy things in a desperate attempt to bring back "growth", more time for things to be lost. Please note that I'm not "wishing" for anything to happen, just wondering what might ...

Thought-experiment: if you knew that there would be a serious economic "hiccup" in 12 months time, what is the one thing you would start working on right now? I knew my own answer as soon as I posed the question, so that's me sorted for the time being.

gregorach said...

I've been "joking" for some time that I expect to see the phrase "taking early retirement" re-purposed as a euphemism for suicide within my lifetime...

As for those debating how to hold your raised beds together - you might be better off asking if you need raised beds at all. Yes, they're currently rather fashionable, and they do have some advantages in certain circumstances, but they're a very recent fad, which makes me think they're not really needed in most cases. I certainly don't use them in my allotment - in fact, almost none of the really serious allotmenteers I know do. I can't help but suspect that the fashion for them has been at least partially driven by the people selling raised bed systems.

Tony f. whelKs said...

Well, I finally started making progress on my post-peak story, after realising my original 'hero' was in the wrong tale, and wasn't actually the hero anyway. Funnily enough it focuses largely on new ways of getting by when all the stuff goes away. More spookily, I'd been thinking a lot about Liebig's barrel in that respect. I hope to submit before too long, now.

Spring has finally arrived, so the garden beckons. I see the gooseberries are flowering well this year, which is good - I still have a couple of pounds of last year's jam and a bottle of wine left, so I think I have enough bushes now.

I have time for the garden (and now allotment too) because I'm in a collapsed-early position, having quit full-time employment at the end of 2010. It's an adventure into radical poverty (ie the non-coffee-table book version of voluntary simplicity), but it focuses the mind, and it works with a bit of odd-jobbing and a couple of other small ventures plus some seasonal work. Once you get comfortable with money not being the only way to earn, it helps. I'm as happy with a bag of leeks or a couple of pints, it's all income. You learn to appreciate the small things. 'Big events arise from trivial causes,' to paraphrase Julius Caesar.

More on that theme when the story's finished :-))

--... ...--

Ha! captcha = money ansentsR

Johannes Roehl said...

I do not know much about the '70ties alternative movement. But for me the fascinating thing is that my parents as children in postwar pre-Wirtschaftswunder Germany of the 'fifties experienced a lifestyle that seems quite close to what might be had. My maternal grandfather (born 1895, he married late, his children were born between 1943 and 52, he died in 72 before I could get to know him having been born but a few months earlier) worked in the postal service (not delivery, but sorting and loading mail at the train station). In addition, he was a "spare time" farmer. The family was probably almost self-subsistent as far as food goes. They would raise a few pigs every year, slaughter two of the for sausages and sell one or two. They kept 2-4 cows for milk (and farm labour) as well as chickens. Vegetables and fruit from the garden, fodder and rye or wheat from the fields. They bought sugar, salt and a few other things, but produced enough milk and eggs they could sell some of these. Most of the clothing was bought, but things were mended or changed for younger children to make them last.
Of course, this was a lot of hard work and a somewhat old-fashioned lifestyle back then, but not at all unusual and probably even less so, if one goes back to the 1920ties. Certainly, the framework was already an industrial society, but these people probably lived at a fraction of today's fossile and other resources and were self-subsistent to a remarkable degree.

Matthew Powell said...

Hello Mr.G.

To my understanding, in 'The Long Descent', you describe the economic and social decline facing Industrial societies as likely to be staggered in nature Ie.economic crash, followed by some period of political/economic stabilization, followed by a return to some degree of economic growth, in turn followed by another inevitable crash.

I raise this because you seem to be describing the difficulties regarding employment in America as representing a slide that is heading more directly toward de-industrialised society in something more like a 'big crash'; that societies will have to begin building new modes of living sooner than later - that the government is not going to be able to patch together a workable solution for the next , say, twenty years.

I figure there's got to be a point where the average Jane or Joe realises en masse that what they have taken for granted (functioning social instiutions providing social services) cannot no longer be relied upon.

Are you feeling that current economic crises are leading us to that point sooner than later?




Adrian Skilling said...

An excellent essay. It's hard to come to a different view if you read the signs well (and your blog of course). I'm still in the conventionally employed camp but I'm trying hard to learn as many skills as I can, food growing and preservation skills are my main ones, cheese and wine/beer making, and construction using hand tools. Of course, improving the energy efficiency of my house is another good use I can make or surplus money now. I'm also studying electronics as I think that is a skill that could be put to good use in the medium term.

However, I often get panicked that what I am doing is far short of what is required, it really isn't. I feel a jack of all trades but master of none - but perhaps thats not too bad. My 'hobbying' needs to take a big step up to make it viable as income generating activities and I'm well aware of this. My cheese making for instance has given me a whole new appreciation for this skill, and the time learn how to produce a good hard cheese when the turn around time is 12 months show why you need to start learning skills early.

Thank you for giving me the impetus to try harder.

(Matt, on raised beds - I've come to the conclusion that using wood to edge beds isn't worth it, the weeds and slugs, couch grass, etc.. tends to be hard to get at, and you need to rebuild them every few years with new supplies of wood. I've moved to sloped edges and am trying to use clover in the paths)

Ursachi Alexandru said...

JMG, I would appreciate it if you could give a few examples of what kind of goods and especially services those people whom you know are providing. Let's just say that I am no stranger to being on the brink of despair, economical uncertainty being one of the main reasons;I have not exactly "fallen" though, since me and my familiy have never actually prospered.

Zach said...

Dear John Michael,

Good heavens! I assumed you must already be familiar with Borsodi - I second Doug's recommendation. I am right now using Borsodi's Flight from the City: An Experiment in Creative Living on the Land as a supplemental text for the economics class I am teaching at our homeschool co-op. It provides a detailed study of the ways the Borsodis "collapsed early" during the Roaring Twenties and avoided the rush when the Great Depression hit. One of my goals is to expand their imaginations beyond the "employment by a corporation for wages" model.

It's startling how up-to-date a book written in 1934 can feel.

As for rest... God have mercy on Mike Ruppert's soul.

Despair is a sin.

I don't know how other spiritual traditions handle things, but for Christians, our Hope isn't supposed to be in this world anyway. So, we can sorrow at the passing of an age (especially at the suffering that it will involve), but still have Hope. Despair at the Long Descent, then, indicates that we've let Business As Usual become an idol, and placed our Hope in it rather than God. (And yes, I find this is something I am prone to, which is why I recognize it.)

And as you point out, this has all happened before anyway.

For the end of the world was long ago,
And all we dwell to-day
As children of some second birth,
Like a strange people left on earth
After a judgment day.


-- G. K. Chesterton, "The Ballad of the White Horse"


peace,
Zach

lahevend said...

Tom, being a lawyer myself, I share your concerns regarding the possibilities of making a decent living as a lawyer in a future of much more modest means. However, I am inclined to think that lawyers who have their heart in the right place (are there any? HA) have a place in the deindustrial future. Gone of course will be the days of ridiculous billing rates and extreme specialization, which characterize the current market of legal work. The lawyer of the future must exhibit far greater versatility (a characteristic which many older country lawyers probably still possess). I am reminded of the example of Abraham Lincoln, who spent months riding around towns, handling "every kind of business that could come before a prairie lawyer". But at the same time, I the future might actually provide a unique opportunity to renew the honor of the profession, one badly damaged by the culture of greed prevailing in modern society. So I suppose law is a field still worth pursuing, but a capacity to adapt is crucial if one is to actually survive in it.

Anyway, that's my two cents. Thanks for the food for thought, JMG.

Catherine smith said...

Hello JMG
Last evening I was sitting at our kitchen table with 2 young folks talking about skills it would be worth their time to acquire. My husband and I made the jump to a homesread 4 years ago ans have been living the collapse learning curve. There have been many missteps but this year the seedlings are sprouting, the maple syrup is on the shelves, the chickens are laying and best of all these two wonderful young people have come to live on the land with us. Life in community with all it's glory and challenges is the essential for the future ahead.
One skill haven't seen mentioned much is body work. Many years ago in the city I learned and practiced Shiatsu, a meridian based body work. It is incredibly effective. I have dusted off the skill and now have a practice and am teaching in an apprenticeship model as well. As modern medicine becomes more difficult to access low tech alternatives become more important. If you can fix a farmers shoulder or help a woman through pregnancy you will always be in demand especially if you barter.

HalFiore said...

Threaded fasteners were made on foot-powered lathes long before powered equipment was available. Not too sure where you'd find such a thing today, though.

ando said...

JMG,

Excellent analysis and good reading. I am experiencing the decline to the extent you mentioned. I lost many friends to lay-off recently, and was sent back to the bench from the mid manager cubicle. The good news, they did not cut my pay. I was actually glad to get back to using my hands, although not for real productive value, repairing military radar. I am seeking a productive retirement pursuit, now.

Thanks for the good motivation.

namaste,

mac

RPC said...

My goodness - JMG is channeling Charles Hugh Smith! Obviously a case of convergent evolution...

RPC said...

One of my passions is recording classical/acoustic music. Two decades ago I was at the top of my game, actually making a living as a recording engineer in Chicago. Then I got married; my wife made double my income, so it was off to the east coast. Instead of trying to hang out my shingle, I went to the big guy in town, who had some of the same major clients as I, and asked if he needed an employee. He declined, but started hiring me for gigs when he was busy. A few years later he called, saying "there's a woman putting on concerts in people's houses. She can't afford me; can I give her your name?" Well, "that woman" was successful and now runs a concert series; I'm still her engineer. And half my work is still contracting for the big names in town. (All this is in addition to my "day gig.")
Now, reading your post made me realize: I'm what in the Middle Ages would have been called a journeyman! There's not really room for another "master," but the existing masters between them have enough work to support another person.
Two points: first, it's important to figure out how the system works, then work yourself into it. Second, this takes time; it was probably five years before I became re-established. So get started now; that way the cushions will be there when you need them! (And yes, I know "recording engineer" is not a job for the deindustrial future - but I'll bet "journeyman" is!)

Rhisiart Gwilym said...

Pinku: before speaking down to Mike Ruppert's remarkably early and accurate calling of the 9/11 false flag, you might like to take a serious in-depth look at the hard, high-quality evidence in spades which has now been accumulated by such outfits as Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth - of which I'm a member.

Not all conspiracies are just scornfully-dismissable fables. Some really happen. It's the hard evidence which tells you which is which. Until you're up to speed with that, you're not really in any position to come on too strongly with dismissive over-certianty. Makes you look rather foolish in the eyes of those who've done their due diligence.

Rhisiart Gwilym said...

We don't need no stinkin' timber nor no stinkin' lag bolts for raised beds. See here how a mistress of the craft, Emilia Hazelip, did it:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oy_x5rXq19g

Damo said...

I found this essay and the following discussion very interesting. Like some others, I too doubt that there will be a 'big crash'. I accept that the easy energy is gone, but there is still enough to cook our planet and enrich a few more old white people for another few decades I suspect.

On this topic, I wonder what choices a young person who is not a landowner might consider. I am finishing university this year and need an industrial eocnomy job for at least 10 years if I am to afford a reasonable patch of land in this country (Australia, which is horrendously over priced, yet another present from the generation above me but I digress).

My plan has basically boiled down to:
-enjoy cheap energy while it lasts (OS holidays, Govt. subsidised education)
-get as much high paying work as possible when I graduate (this is possible in my area of study, but obviously nothing is certain) to build up funds
-buy a dozen acres of good land, downgrade to part-time work and build a house/grow my own food

This plan is appealing to me - I am looking forward to building my own house. Pity it is impossible unless I have ~10 years of reasonable economic prospects ahead of me.

Lance M. Foster said...

One more entry for the stories: "The Red Plastic Cup"
http://nemaha.blogspot.com/2014/04/the-red-plastic-cup.html

Wornsmooth said...

JMR,

Another superb post...and I had considered your post from last week the best one I had yet read.

Even though I seldom post anywhere..first time here ( lack of time and reluctance to display my lack of knowlege in front of the many very knowlegable commentators here and on Gail the actuaries blog)I have read your blogs for some time now.

Thank you for the insights, and the ocasional whimsy.

My fears for the near term future involve a more dictoral type society to maintain BAU and the USA going to war(repeatedly), in an even more overt manner than the recent past, to access the resources required for its "two planet" lifestyle. With the evolution of America's professional military, and the political taboos on any questioning of it's mission, I see little hope of either political party not using it to maintain America's current consumption economy.
To some degree the current public opinion regarding all things involving the military reminds me a bit of pre WW1 Prussia. The world eventually banded together to make a point of eliminating Prussia from the map, and as much as possible, from German political culture.(In much the same way your fictional story of an allied group saying"enough" to the USA military adventures of the not so distant future)
Thank you for your blog and insights to the world as it is.

beneaththesurface said...

At this point I have found what works best for me is to work part-time in the formal economy, while having the rest of my time to devote to the informal economy. Not only does working part-time free up time to devote to household work, hobbies, and developing skills, and forces me to live on less money, but psychologically it helps me not equate my identity solely with my job. If I were to suddenly lose my job, I wouldn't lose my identity.

Unlike those who are forced into part-time work, I have the option of working full-time if I wanted to. But so far I have declined. It was amusing, when I started this part-time job (at the public library) last year, during my initial meeting with my manager, she asked me, "Just out of curiosity, why are you working part-time?" (The other part-time workers in our division all have second jobs or are full-time students, but not me.) Without getting into too many details, I replied with some of the things I like to do in my free time (including actually having a chance to read library books). My manager's response was something like, "Well, I wish I had the option of working part-time..." I could sense a bit of envy. No such thing as a part-time manager. Before getting this job, I worked for eight years doing odd jobs of various kinds in the underground economy, so what my manager didn't understand is that now formally working part-time is actually a "step-up" for me (in her worldview). Funny.

While in most places in seems like the budget for libraries is being cut back, in our city it isn't the case. The budget was greatly increased last year and many new people were hired (me being one of them). However, I'm not sure how long-lived this will be, especially if the economy tanks again in the next decade. So, I make sure not to get too tied (both economically and psychologically) to my job.

On another note, I think I've read studies on adults who were homeschooled, finding that homeschoolers are more likely to create their own job than work for a large company. One of many advantages of homeschooling in these times!

Colin Flood said...

While I have been a dedicated reader of this blog for several years, I have to take issue with this post, as it really shows a deep blind spot in your worldview -- an insistence on personal and individualistic solutions -- which ends up being classist. As you say, for many, including myself, it is too late to "collapse early," if we ever had the resources to do so.

The "vast majority" of human societies throughout history have not been composed of entrepreneurs scraping for a place in the jostling market, but communities with a shared commons. Political action can strive to restore this principle to the country as a whole, in which case the disappearance of the tertiary economy and all the useless white collar jobs it entails would no longer be a problem, but a huge expansion in liesure time that would free up the labor of millions to replace dwindling fossil fuels. How many jobs are actually socially useless? 70%? But in order to do this, we have to start talking about capitalism. Surely you, with your depth and breadth of historical knowledge, know more about anticapitalism and libertarian socialism than the reactionary efforts of the USSR and their ilk, and the possibilities that rich tradition offer us today.

E pluribus unum said...

This is not a test, not true, this kind of is a test of our endurance
There's really no one left to place the blame on and hang in effigy This was not ruined by a regime, it also took a hundred million Of angry, stupid, scared, pathetic populace to complete the deed

And it's a long, long way down
And there's no climbing back so wave bye bye And it’s a long, long free dive So fill your lungs with air and grab a weight It's been a long time coming and well deserved

It's time to redefine what we call neighborhoods and start to trust your neighbors Circle the figurative wagons and figure it's gonna be A long painful de-evolution that could last for decades America as we know it, is finished, fermenting and flailing

And it's a long, long way down
The parachutes are gone so grab a smoke And it's a long, long free fall No signs of soft landing bon grave voyage It's been a long time coming and well deserved

DaShui said...

Salutations ADJMG!
Accupuncture could be good for future employment. Even OTZI the iceman from 3300BCE had tatoos on his accupuncture meridians to treat his bad back.
If one could make their own needles and other equipment so much the better.
Also no heavy labor required.

Cathy McGuire said...

Wonderful post, and timely! I was feeling a bit discouraged because my half acre looked really ragged (trying a new technique of growing grass to at least 1ft, then harvesting w/weedwacker for the rabbits – hay bales are $7 each now!) and even other “local food” fans have suburbia-neat places… but I just put in two more fruit tree saplings (low-cost from a scion swap event) and even with heavy freeze this year, I’d wintered over several veggies (which then tried to bolt in the two 70-deg days we just had)… I’m already out of the job-economy and though I’m comfortable with dropping all the “trappings” of our cheap-energy society, it’s hard when I interact with family & friends… one foot in each world gets stressful at times… but you’re right about practice!!

Mind you, you have to know how to do it, and that’s not the sort of knowledge you can pick up from a manual, which is why it’s crucial to start now and get through the learning curve while you still have the income and the resources to cushion the impact of the inevitable mistakes.
I second and third this! So much of my growing and home repair skills are specific to my site, and though there are some manuals, you have to be able to cobble together all sorts of hints, and try/fail a couple times to make the best solution for your place.

Re: raised beds – they save space, if it’s in short supply, and allow those of us who can’t bend and reach as well to avoid leaning on raised soil. Also, if you have moles, wire-bottomed raised beds are some help.

@Cherokee: There is an old saying which says something like: "you have to kill a plant three times before you can say you know something about it."
and that’s only the beginning! ;-) Because every year is different… and it’s certainly a relief to know I won’t starve (yet) due to my crop failures.

@patriciaorrmsby:I see people sharing good ideas here, too, but I have to scroll along, and there is no way to respond directly.
go to www.greenwizards.org and find the right topic or make one. If you have trouble signing on, contact me or David (moderators – emails on the site) and we’ll help. It’s in transition right now – but what isn’t?

thrig said...

Random food research:

Ghee is very easy to make, and keeps without refrigeration for, well, longer than it takes me to use it. One might also do something with the resulting milk solids, though I do not (age thing? A1 vs. A2 milk protein? I dunno).

Moroccan preserved lemons are super yummy, though challenging for me (aggressive Seattle mold, limited need for lemon vs. size of preserving jars, lack of tradition that would know why a batch might be brownish, etc). There is a biophobic factor of "what, just cut the lemons with some salt and lemon juice and stick them in a fido jar?", and the four week lead time. But the flavor!

Bread can be made with just whole wheat flour, water, salt, suitable containers, and appropriate energy inputs, though lacking accurate measurements the results are quite varied, as are the flavors. Locations with poor natural yeast might try the "salt rising" trick, though in either case the rise times—well, the starter may take most of a week to get going, and the dough takes no few hours. Industrial yeast really is a different beast. Otherwise, not really time consuming, besides the washing of sticky fingers. A scale? Maybe if I find something manual at a garage sale, but I'm not trying to sell consistent results, and the results are mostly not burnt, so...

BoysMom said...

One of the current decline problems, and I'd be very interested in hearing how others handle this, specifically in the USA, is that government-required expenses eat up such a large percentage of monthly income. At the moment, federal and state mandated insurance (health and auto) plus the non-mandated life insurance cost us over 50% of after-tax income.

I have seen guesses that, as resources are distributed according to census results, countries that receive aid have great motivation to lie about their population numbers, and that the overall world population numbers may be significantly inflated. I know of no one attempting to actually test this, but given human nature, it seems not unbelievable.

Dmitry Orlov said...

This post goes in the right direction, but it doesn't go far enough. Deproletarianization (end of wage labor) is, of course, an essential next step. But what happens when the amount of available energy drops below that needed to maintain the client-server paradigm of goods and services for sale? Answer: shift to communist patterns of consumption and production, which are proven to be much more energy-efficient and are able to sustain a relatively larger population on the same resource base. Why not skip the intermediate step of individual production/consumption and go straight to the communitarian model?

SLClaire said...

One of our friends who attends estate sales and auctions purchased a working 100 year old treadle sewing machine for me at an auction (my husband is helping him get his model steam engines running). Now I'm learning to run and use the sewing machine along with learning how to scythe and keeping our household books by hand (the first step in re-learning the art of bookkeeping without a computer). I think I have enough new projects for one year now ... it's a good thing I've already spent a lot of years learning how to garden at least passably well.

Pantagruel7 said...

As usual, I can find little of your substance with which to argue. However, there is this: " to perch such an immensely complex infrastructure on top of the production of goods and services for consumers..." "Infra" means lower. "Superstructure" might be better, but it was one of Marx's terms, if memory serves. I am one of those early "boomers" myself. I retired from AT&T in 1998 and I hear that they are dropping retiree health/vision/dental coverage next year. Nonetheless, I hope to avoid all those suicide parties, just as sedulously as I avoid "classic rock."

wolfvanzandt said...

What you have mentioned here is complicated by a cult of individuality in today's society ("Watch after number One," "I don't need anyone else," etc.) 50 years ago, people needed each other to survive. We have relegated our survival to our technology - we have domesticated ourselves to our technology and domesticated animals are biological dead ends. When people tell me that "all this has happened before," I reply that it's different this time in that people don't rely on each other (they are getting to where they don't even know how.) So I would like to propose two rules for future survival.

The brain is your most important tool. I'm not sure how much prepping is needed but I'm pretty sure that, if you know how to solve problems and you're emotionally, as well as physically and spiritually) fit, then you're in a good position to survive.

Extended families (not necessarily related by blood) will be better able to survive.

EBrown said...

I also appreciate Borosodi's writing - The Distribution Age (1920s or 30s), written a good long time ago, points up many of the assumptions and problems of a society built on long distance shipping (especially foodstuffs). He was prescient for sure.


I am a serious gardener and question the need for wood-walled raised beds. The dollars and/or time required to build them might be better spent on other projects. As with almost everything, whether or not to use build them is going to be specific to the situation at hand, but often (usually IMHO) they are not needed.

I "raise" my garden beds a little bit each spring by shoveling some dirt from the paths between growing beds onto the beds themselves. This allows for a little better drainage from the beds, but none of the annoying parts of having wood lying next to crops.

Violet Bertelsen said...

The mental image of baby-boomer suicide parties was enough to call my parents and urge them to get chickens. Thank you JMG.

I'm 26 years old. Have no college degree, no debt and spent the last 8 years traveling around the country living at organic farms, squats and intentional communities learning skills.

My basic skillset include a fairly in depth understanding of organic gardening practices, cooking, basic carpentry, basic sowing, basic herbal medicine, basic nursing etc. Currently I'm learning Spanish.

I think it's important to draw a distinction between different forms of skills. I guess I could call them productive skills and cultural skills.

A productive skill is something like gardening that literally PRODUCES something. I would consider language aqcuisition and literacy to fall under this category as well because they are skills that allow for different exchanges of goods, via barter or book-keeping etc.

A cultural skill is very different in application and scope. An example would be the subtleties involved with living many people in close quarters. Of knowing when to share a resource and when to establish a boundrary. Or living in proximity to people from vastly different cultural backgrounds and not getting run out of town.

I would include in the subset of cultural skills things like: enjoying a very simple dinner, sleeping in the cold without getting sick, and remembering to laugh and not take life too seriously.

While of course there is crossover between these two categories of skills I think understanding the difference is important.

Crudely put:

A productive skill can help you make ends meet.

A cultural skill can help prevent indulgence in a suicide party.

Joel Caris said...

Hi JMG,

Thanks for the gold star! I'm honored.

On the domestic insurgency front, I assume you've read a bit about the Cliven Bundy situation in Nevada? This historical timeline of the situation put together by the Washington Post does a pretty brilliant job of laying out the details and highlighting the ongoing, simmering anger toward the federal government.

It's interesting, one of the indications of how fraught an issue this is, in my mind, is how hard it is to find a write up on it--regardless of the source--that doesn't seem to have an angle on it. What I like about the WP write up is that it provides a much more detailed historical accounting of the conflict that really shows how much it's rooted not so much in the particulars of cattle and tortoises, but in the issue of local versus federal control.

And you'll note that a number of local officials are coming down on Bundy's side. They have to if they want to stay in office. And there's an excellent chance they sympathize more with him anyway.

Seems to me the break keeps getting closer. At some point, the funds and resources provided by the federal government to localities is going to reduce to the point that localities see a greater benefit from taking control over their local resources and telling the federal government to take a hike. I would expect this will happen first in the rural areas surrounded by large swaths of federal land. When that starts becoming widespread and the local sheriffs stand next to their fellow, armed community members--well, that's when the rubber's really going to meet the road. Will be interesting, and mighty unnerving, to see what happens.

escapefromwisconsin said...

This conclusion is pretty widely shared, enough that's it's becoming part of the zeitgeist:

http://www.psmag.com/navigation/business-economics/post-employment-economy-makes-us-entrepreneurs-79280/

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/13/opinion/sunday/recovery-for-whom.html?_r=0

Rich Brereton said...

Hi JMG,

Thanks for this thoughtful, timely piece. I'm one of the people you mention who has written you lately seeking for wise council on dealing despair a swift kick to the hindquarters and ushering it out the door. And thanks to Chris of Cherokee Organics, Glenn on Marrowstone, and many other for the commonsense reminders to get to work. As a result I'm "putting in another row of potatoes" on many fronts in my life.

Hi Zach,

With all due respect, please follow JMG's example and don't publicly presume to know what Mr. Ruppert's reasons were for ending his life, unless you were privy to his state of mind in his last days. That being said, reflecting on his passing can certainly be illuminating for dealing with despair. I'll only note that for anyone who occasionally thinks suicidal thoughts, whether in isolated moments of desperation, long bouts of depression, or what have you, please consider making it more difficult for yourself to access firearms.

Thanks,
Rich Brereton

Glenn said...

Re: Raised Beds

We have very poor drainage, our land literally weeps all winter; the rainy season here on the Olympic Peninsula. We started out with double dug beds, but our seeds would rot in the spring. Having hard borders on the raised beds takes less space than allowing the soil to slump to the natural angle of repose; as much work as land clearing is for us in our second growth forest (well, possibly third or fourth), we do like to save the space. We use common 8" X 8" X 16" concrete block, commonly called cinder block (20 X 20 X 40 cm). My wife fills the voids in the block with dirt and plants in them too. Looks decent, doesn't rot, and defines the edges of the bed well. The blocks cost us 1.67 USD each, but will last almost forever in this climate.

Glenn

in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea
Cascadia

Ruben said...

@Gregorach et al, re: raised beds.

I cannot recommend highly enough The Market Gardener - A successful grower's handbook for small-scale organic farming. Jean-Martin Fortier and his wife Maude-Helene gross six figures from their 1.5 acres.

They use permanent raised beds, and do much of their work with hand tools, though a walking tractor was an early purchase for them.

In many ways, this book is the how-to manual for Eliot Coleman's philosophy. Both farmers have been heavily influenced by the French market gardeners of a century ago, who fed the metropolises from small plots.

But, as an interesting side note related to the End of Employment...

Jean-Martin is very hip to resource depletion--he would fit right in on this blog, if he isn't reading it already. However, I asked him what his plan was as the economy tightens and people start growing their own lettuce instead of buying his luxury baby green mix. He had not thought of it...

That ties in to my earlier comments about artisan bakers and whatnot. Many of the jobs that are the rising stars of localizing economies are actually quite high up the luxury ladder--which seems like a problem to me...

John Michael Greer said...

Matt, good to know.

Shakya, true enough. On the other hand, that requires learning skills such as not putting your own sense of entitlement ahead of all other considerations, which Americans are very poor at just now!

Jcummings, you're most welcome.

Matt, a neatly turned aphorism.

KL, my take -- for what it's worth -- is that artificial intelligence is right up there with commercial fusion power; it was twenty years in the future when I was born, it's twenty years in the future now, it'll be twenty years in the future when I die, and ten million years from now, when the last human beings go extinct and are replaced by the intelligent descendants of chipmunks, it'll still be twenty years in the future.

John, depends on the client state. Those that have a substantial power and resource base of their own, or switch sides in a timely manner, sometimes do quite well. Those that are too dependent on the imperial center, and can't or won't transfer their allegiance in a hurry, sometimes crash and burn even more colorfully than the imperial center does. It's a real mix.

Travis, fascinating. I may just find a recording and give this a listen.

Alex, true, and very well put.

Stream, thanks for the link!

Patricia, have you checked out the Green Wizards forum at www.greenwizards.org?

Stream, many thanks! That's the kind of reading guaranteed to warm the cockles of an archdruid's heart.

Yupped, most of us need to live in both worlds just now -- it's a common experience for those who are standing on the border between two ages. You do what you need to do, which in this case is probably checking if the peas are up.

John Michael Greer said...

Jean-Vivien, well, that's a diverse reading list! That said, thank you.

Unknown Mechanic, congrats on scoring the lathe! As for boilers, all in good time -- have you considered picking up some old manuals of steam power (there are quite a few available, online and from reprint houses) and then getting a working-model steam engine to tinker with?

Unknown Herbalist, talk to your neighbors, get to know them, and ask them about what they know about healing -- which may be quite a bit. Now's the time to build community, so it's there when you need it!

Wildeye, many thanks for the link. I wonder if there's a comparable site giving data on early 19th century frontier communities in the US and/or Australia -- that might be a bit of a better match to our future situation.

Sarah, a lot of people I know who still have jobs are transitioning to part time, precisely to get the flexibility, or are making arrangements with spouses etc. so that one person can move full time into the household economy. (Of course layoffs can help make that decision!) Yes, it's a balancing act -- one of the complexities of living at a time such as this.

Stunned, that's a very useful thought experiment. I'm already working on my full list, because I think it's quite possible that we'll have quite a serious crisis and downward lurch in the next year or so.

Gregorach, the raised bed system actually dates from the 19th century, and was used in those days for intensive vegetable growing. I use it because that's what I learned back in the day, and I get very good results from it. If you get good results in a different way, though, by all means!

Tony, I'll look forward to your story. It sounds as though you're collapsing at a good clip, well ahead of the rush!

Johannes, a lot of people in Europe still remember the hard times during and after the catastrophes of the 20th century, and so are better positioned to deal with the looming catastrophes of the 21st. I wonder if it would do any good to start connecting elderly people who grew up in those more difficult conditions to younger people who want to learn how it's done, so that the practical knowledge gets passed down.

Matthew, no, I'm still predicting the same stairstep crash -- the crisis ahead of us is one of the downward lurches, and there'll be some form of stabilization afterwards, though it may be at a Third World economic level. As for a sudden realization on the part of the masses, don't hold your breath; if history's any guide, the worse conditions get, the more frantically most people will cling to the fantasy that they can have everything they've been promised.

Adrian, the early part of the learning curve is the steepest -- the fact that you're working at it, to my mind, puts you a good long leap ahead of most.

Ursachi, some are growing vegetables for sale at farmer's markets, some are doing alternative health care, some are casting horoscopes -- astrology always does well in hard times. It's a really broad mix of options. The question I'd encourage you to ask is this: what are the services that people you know wish they could get, and can't?

William said...

Hi, JMG
I loved this post. I need to read it again to master the comprehensiveness and elegance of the model.

But I have had a different thought, reawakened by your mention of Schumacher. We moved from science/management middle class in S. Cal. to a hilly corner of NE Iowa. Our region is not so different from a colony as described by Schumacher. Sometimes Facebook or Google will open a facility here to use the cheap labor. We export food. Recently deposits of sand suitable for frac mining for oil/gas were discovered near here, and we are threatened. They poison the air and the water, and add negative value to the local economy by destroying existing business. We're fighting it, with some prospects for success, if we can keep the state out of it.

Personally, I am now a small farmer, producing healthy food in competition with the deer, raising a few large mammals for beef and to close the nutrient loop with their composted manure for our garden. I prefer to consider this the "top" rather than the bottom of the food chain. :-)

Love your analysis, this week and most weeks!

Joel Caris said...

Hi Ruben,

A pet peeve of mine is the increasingly bougie aspects of farmers markets and the local food movement. I see far too many people starting up their own enterprises with the apparent belief that they can make a middle class income on what are essentially homesteading activities.

I see this a bit more with the value-added stuff, which in the Portland markets is often reaching absurd prices. The vegetables, meat, and so on is a bit of a different story--they too often are overpriced for decline conditions, but they're not making the farmers rich, either. We're caught in that tough grey period of transition when the industrial stuff is still cheaper and fossil fuels are mostly still a worthwhile subsidy. Eventually, this will even out a bit.

But again, I see and talk to too many people who want an industrial economy return on their household economy work. It's not going to happen and a good chunk of the current local food movement will be wiped out over the next couple decades.

Some of those players will be smart enough to adapt while others will realize their romanticism is unrealistic and will fade out of the scene. New players will also come in with an understanding of the new dynamics and they'll do well, most likely.

Personally, as I work to establish my little homestead and ultimately create some excess food to sell and barter, I'm looking to put together a small private buying list. I'll let people know what's available, keep prices reasonable, and bring in a bit of extra cash while I can. This also helps keep overhead low (there are a lot of costs associated with working a farmers market, for instance) and allows me to be flexible with pricing and striking deals with individuals, bartering, work-trading, and the like.

Again, it's about a community-oriented frame of mind rather than an industrial economy one. There's still too much of that in the local food movement. I can't tell you how many people I've seen in the movement who claim they despise the industrial economy--thus their presence in the local food economy--but then expect their alternative to run on all the same principles of what they claim to hate. It's total nonsense. But the increasing pressures of decline will suss them out before long and they'll be onto the next supposed savior, until they either get it through their skull that they have to start behaving differently, or they slide deeper into the abyss until there's no getting out of it.

Ray Wharton said...

Several of my most dear friends have been taking some serious turns for the worse in recent months, keeping cars operational is becoming quite difficult, lucky for me I don't even know how to drive. Though I admit to feeling a portion of the pressure as I am currently trying to distribute my elder compost pile to a variety of interesting people whose graces I am eager to invest in.

I also really need to get a good work place ready for a couple projects, but I know that the limiting factor here in my scheduling skill. I have friends with good shops, and know how to use facilities in the manner which gets me invited back, but scheduling is challenging, especially as my life is tied to others whose lives are destabilizing. Balance is delicate, and I and very sad that triage among the many lovely people I know is becoming a more real issue.

Also, I just finished two books worth recommending. The Autobiography of Ben Franklin, which is most excellent, especially because of the attitude toward circumstances Ben had, even though for the majority of his life, even after he rose to wealth his access to goods was a tiny fraction of what I (for now) have working for 16 hours a week and a fraction over minimum wage. The second book is The Ways of my Grandmothers, by Beverly Hungry Wolf. It is a recording of folk wisdom from the Blood people of the Blackfoot alliance. Again it is fortifying to the soul to read about how one might feel wealthy in a lifestyle with much less material wealth than even our mid term future is likely to offer. Common famine, warfare, staggering mortality rates. Their response was prayer and a life filled with what I would consider intense magical practice.

Simplify and organize! And time invested in inner growth pays itself back with good returns, half of my waking time is on some form of inner development, yet I still carry forward more projects than I did going full tilt two years ago.

Ray Wharton said...

Fate smiled on be recently, and I looks like I can separate myself from the early 90's house I was lamenting, and well before winter too! Thanks to my ample income of $600 a month (half of which is at my desecration to spend, beyond ongoing necessities) I can afford to build a shed like some I have lived in before and found adequate as a residence, movable too so I need not establish a long term commitment to any one land lord. Some farmers are asking if I will start selling garden produce to them, I think that I won't make it to that point this year, but likely by next season.

I think about the good businesses (Ruben's list being similar to mine) that might thrive in the area, and my over large ambition is saddened that I cannot master nearly as many of the skills as I would like, and even more so I can not be actively employed in more than a small number at any time, regardless of what skills might develop in time. But, their are friends who have the skills to move into those niches, and I, in proxy of where my skills are lacking, encourage those friends to develop those hobbies to the level that could become business, and I aid them in every way that avails itself to me, especially the connection of skilled people to one another and the making available of useful materials.

Though, come to think of it, I need to focus more on making gifts to give away! Now is the ideal time to put energy in that direction, as I am at the moment slightly protected from the current round of decline, having collapsed a few times before, and thereby having acquired a degree of tolerance.

Quos Ego said...

@JMG

" in which attendees reminisce to the sound of the tunes they loved in high school, then wash down pills with vodka and help each other tie plastic bags over their heads."

Excellent.
One thing that's been annoying me to no end recently on the peakosphere are those dark and sly comments punctuated by Youtube videos of some corny pop/rock music pieces from the 60s or 70s.

We will not collapse gracefully. We will collapse with tears in the eyes, with huge loud-speakers drooling our atrocious suicide playlists.

Ruben said...

Hi Joel,

Thanks for you thoughts on this--you are making sense to me.

What I can't make sense of is how to pay rent in the transition. In my city, we are fully indulging in the housing bubble the US popped years ago. It is different here!

So, I think it is going to be some years before rents drops to match the economic potential of the city.

Family dynamics keep us here, so it is what it is.

Paulo said...

Readers may enjoy this steam powered box factory. This is a delightful video. Notice the dog's tail.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_mKSKZau9qs

regards....Paulo

Carlos Cancho said...

News from Nowhere (1890). William Morris.

Back to Neo Medievalism.

Varun Bhaskar said...

The unfortunate truth is that I realized this almost as soon as I graduated. I'm still in no position to buy land and won't be for several years. I hope the education I'm giving myself is enough to get me through. However I'm going with the old adage "when in troubled times trust old wisemen with mighty beards, or winzed old women...with mighty beards."

How long do you think before the shaking stops this time?

SaintS said...

JMG

Love you and your books (most of which I have read) but you are too restrained on Ruppert's death. I am hoping for a little more of your clarity.

Best regards

Robert, Glasgow, Scotland

Merle Langlois said...

JMG the thought of not having a job scares the living daylights out of me. My Mom had two failed businesses and the only successful people in my family worked for someone else (the single most successful person worked for a huge corporation!). Lacking any up close examples of successful entrepreneurs/off the books people from my personal life I'd have to learn the ropes myself. I think of all the features of industrialism at this point, having a job would really be the hardest thing to let go of. I'll be like those Russians working at a glass factory making glass for free after the collapse of the Soviet Union because they didn't know anything else.

Off topic: JMG, I may be the crummiest Green Wizard on the block (although my consumption isn't much for first world standards) and I'm not into Druidry (I bought your books but left them in Onterrible), but I have to say that your blog has been instrumental in the positive development of my character for the past six years. Nowadays I've developed so many good habits, both mundane ones and spiritual ones and I owe a lot of it to you. I remember you said something about how to develop a good habit, practicing it every day until it takes and becomes automatic, that was something that I needed to hear at that time. You also said something about how accumulating a roster of good habits was the key to wise living.

Your blog can be more than a place for people to bang on about how we'll avoid collapse with windmills or "PV," provided the readers have ears to hear. I never had many positive influences growing up and have really lead a life of pulling myself up by my bootstraps. This blog is like a university course combined with a detailed guide to personal character improvement. If anybody needs this blog it's young people like me who grew up in every-man-for-himself families who had the misfortune of being educated in an ineffectual school system.

Thank you JMG for providing such a good example.

Vesta said...

Work in the aptly-named trades. As in, I'll trade you a bushel of apples if you'll do that tomorrow.

rabtter said...

Something that is rife amongst white collar workers is a lack of sympathy for the working class; constant complaints about subsidizing the poor in welfare and healthcare, etc. There is little awareness that if the folks on the lower end of the pay scales that get their hands dirty and fingers scratched weren't producing a surplus, white collar jobs wouldn't exist. Who is really being subsidized?

Yupped said...

Peas are indeed up. Lots of them as well. And all saved from last year's harvest. Now there's a closed-loop system that really delivers!

I've also been giving thought on how to get my young adult kids on the road to supporting themselves. I've been pushing the self-employed mantra for years with them, which is starting to take. I try to remember that they will grow up in the world they live in now, not the one I grew up in. So they are better able to deal with reality than me in many ways. Their generation will have a rough road, but the further we get down it the less memory there will be of the old normal, of regular employment and plentiful benefits and careers, etc. I used to pity them, but now I pity my generation more: we will have to live with the knowledge of what went before, what became of it and what we failed to do about it. it's harder to miss what you never had in the first place.

William McCracken said...

Leaving the industrial economy is hard. My expenses such as property tax and health insurance are based on the assumption that I can generate I industrial amounts of income to pay them.

S P said...

I'm a physician who learned about collapse in 2008 right as I got out of residency. Perhaps unfortunately, because I never established a regular job. In retrospect, I should have worked harder for at least the first 2-3 years as there was a brief "recovery" or rather rebound from the depths of the crisis.

I'm doing ok, but it's harder to find a permanent job. I collapsed too early and too quickly! May I suggest that's another cause for depression amongst doomers. We are realizing things will be kind of slow after all. There is no exciting breakdown in which the masses panic and the politicians and bankers get their due.

You have to keep one foot in and one foot out. If I could go back to college, I would concentrate in agriculture, chemistry/materials, or energy, or consider trade school.

I think finance and real estate are still due for epic contractions that have been delayed by the Fed's magic digital printing press.

patriciaormsby said...

Dmitri, because the right wing will hand you your @$$ on a platter. But you are right. The LDS church (Mormons) have been doing this all along--they just don't call it communism! And they are probably the best set up to survive what is going to happen. An important part of the strategy is never to draw negative attention from the authorities, or they will shut you down.

Mr. Greer: thank you and God Bless! I'll mosey over to Green Wizard.

Clarence said...

http://www.soilandhealth.org/03sov/0303critic/brsdi.intrvw/the%20plowboy-borsodi%20interview.htm

had i thought about it, i would have posted this link some time ago. this interview is from the early mother earth news. dr. borsodi mentions toynbee and spengler and critiques adam smith.

soil and health.org also has many books and pamphlets available on a variety of subjects, including some of dr. borsodi's.

clarence

Ozark Chinquapin said...

I was an avid follower of Mike Ruppert's From the Wilderness website for several years. Although I stopped paying much attention to him a few years ago, the news of his suicide still affected me. He always seemed like a very sincere person even when I disagreed with some of his conclusions.

That got me thinking about something that is a bit of a tangent but I think related to the theme of how to deal (or how not to deal) with very troubling situations. I'm thinking of a book, one on the books of my childhood that affected me the strongest, "The Giver" by Lois Lowry.

It's not just me, ask anyone born after 1980 who liked to read in their childhood and the chances are they've read it, probably around the age of 12, and have something to say about it. It won the Newberry award. I read it at that age too, and thought of it at the time as one of the best books ever, but even then was dissatisfied about the ending.

I re-read it a couple of years or so ago. It's sort of a "Brave New World" for children, with a decent amount of fantasy rather than pure sci-fi. It's the ending that I want to mention here however, the ending is left purposely vague (none of the rest of the book is like this). Jonas, the 12-year-old main character, has learned enough about what's really going on in his world so as to make it intolerable. He ends up just running away, taking with him a baby that's due to be executed the next day. They manage to avoid capture and end up near death from cold and starvation. Then, there is seemingly happy but very vague ending. An optimist would say he's found a new home, that's what I thought when I read it as a child but was unsatisfied by the vagueness, but reading it as an adult it seems more likely that he's dying and the images are either hallucinations coming from memories or near death visions or something like that. The author purposely keeps it vague.

As much as I loved "The Giver" as a child, I wonder now if it encourages dysfunctional thinking patterns. In the book, Jonas deals with his situation by running away on what resembles a suicide mission. The vagueness of the ending is probably because the author realized a true happy ending didn't work but wasn't going to put a "Brave New World" type ending on a book for 12-year-olds, but may inadvertently encourage a problematic mindset. I think the popularity of "The Giver" has something to say about the state of our culture, but I can't put my finger on exactly what.

Dwig said...

Patricia and all,
"Until Ruppert left it, his Collapse Net blog had one particular feature that I loved. It promoted networking among the participants and encouraged people to share their experiences through regional and topical blogs. I see people sharing good ideas here, too, but I have to scroll along, and there is no way to respond directly."

This is something I've felt for some time, and is a limitation of the blog model. It's occurred to me that it might be worth setting up a Google or Yahoo group devoted to discussions that arise from TAR posts. That format allows "threads" of messages that put interactions close together. It also allows people to come in to a discussion much later, responding to an old message, which might re-ignite the topic. In general, it provides for a more leisurely, in-depth exploration of an area of interest.

As others have commented, the Green Wizards site is definitely related here, but as far as I can tell, lacks the ability to have posts sent to one's email inbox (and reply to them), as the Yahoo and Google sites do. (I'm subscribed to many newsgroups and RSS feeds, and it's considerably more convenient to have them all come together in my email agent.)

Somewhatstunned said...

JMG said:

I think it's quite possible that we'll have quite a serious crisis and downward lurch in the next year or so.

ok, I'll stay aware of that prediction. I don't wish to seem frivolous, but it'll be ... errmmm ... interesting to see if you're right :)

(I've already made a long-term note to watch for signs of your prediction about the demise of the internet in the next ten or twenty years).

Melson said...

A strategy/philosophy I haven't seen mentioned here but ties in neatly with this week's post is called Early Retirement Extreme (ERE). It's based on two premises: 1) drastically cut your monthly expenses by living a more simple life, and 2) develop practical skills (the author calls them 'Renaissance skills') with which to generate income. Many more details can be found on the ERE wiki page, on which this week's discovery - Ralph Borsodi - is mentioned not once but twice :)

Gunnar Rundgren said...

Thanks for that application of the Law of the Minimum to society at large and industrial processes in particular. In a way it is quite obvious (as the law itself hardly was anything new for the farmers), but the formulation of rather obvious things is often the most ground-breaking. Thinking about society and technology without the filters of "efficiency", "markets", "money" etc. is the way to better understanf them.

makedoanmend said...

Could I make a humble suggestion to a few fellow commentors that will probably come across as bolshie.

Drop the entrepreneurship twaddle. Do not think in terms of profit. Do not think in terms of innovation. Do not think in terms of supply and demand. All are jargon, and all are useless to the uninitiated.

If you are skilled and lucky enough to produce something (products/services), be it a pea plant, rabbit pie or a curative for piles, just be thankful.

All you really need to think about in a descent economy is: can I eat it, drink it, wear it, store it, carry it, live in it, learn some skill from it - and, then, maybe, eventually, can I trade it?

If you are in a position to trade/gift/barter/invest goods or service to others for future reciprocity, every day in an ever changing world must by necessity imply changing values. The skill here is learn how to value the changes. This skill requires that you begin to understand human nature - including your own.

Less jargon and as much practice as you can possibly engage in over time are far more important than adopting some artificial measurement or ideological language. Simple is an ally.

Untangle.

KL Cooke said...

"...my take -- for what it's worth -- is that artificial intelligence is right up there with commercial fusion power..."

I'm inclined to agree, but what I find noteworthy is the highly attenuated thinking that goes on in these circles that seems never to consider the fundamentals.

Even if it did work, it still wouldn't work.

Rhisiart Gwilym said...

I second that gold star for Joel Caris. He describes vividly the way that non-commercial community mutual aid works, and how to get and keep a reputation as a valued member. Excellent advice! The judicious gift-giving is particularly important, and pays huge - non-commercial - dividends. Keep it judicious, nicely judged. Neither a sucker nor a miser be!

That's exactly how things work in my below-the-radar community too. Living this way, I get the feeling that I'm plugging back into a very ancient morphogenetic form, where humans and pre-humans in local communities always cooperated like this for thousands of generations, because it works, and because it feels - to our long-evolved instincts - to be the fundamentally 'right' way to live. It also means that even on a state pension which has just inched up this month to a bit short of £150 a week, I can actually save money, with which to buy and stash gold Sovereigns - like Silas Marner...

And hey, if you like raised beds, try soil mounds, laid straight down on the existing turf. As long as there's plenty of fertilising stuff - compost, manure, forest-floor soil and litter, etc. - laid into the upper layers as the mound gets up, they produce fulsomely the very first year. I'm into my nth year of growing staples such as potatoes like this, with consistently good results.

Try broadcasting white clover seed onto the surface as soon as your mound is raised, for a green mulch plus nitrogen fixer. If you have non-flushing loos, well-composted humanure should go fairly low down in the layers; but pee can be poured on at any stage, as a continuing practice. Food plants will grow fine in this setup, from the first year on.

Plant your food veggies much more shoulder to shoulder than is normally recommended, to crowd out volunteers. Then a bit of judicious differential clipping back, with hand shears, to favour the desired plants a little over the volunteers, keeps everything balanced nicely in your favour. And any time you cut clover growth back a bit, the corresponding die-back of their roots releases another jag of nitrates and humus material just where it's needed! You're aiming NOT to have bare surface soil anywhere, ASAP. Even couch grass is no problem, and certainly not the inveterate enemy, to be annihilated at all costs, which most gardeners in Britain still seem to think. Think no-till, and no bare soil, especially on the sloped sides.

You can go on scattering soil-feeding stuff onto the mound, year-round: compost, poultry manure, whatever. Just do it thinly, to avoid 'burn' or smothering of growing food vegs. Straw and paper/cardboard spot mulching can be applied judiciously too, to slow down volunteers getting too dominant. Never worry about volunteer seeds in your mulches. The more the better!

And of course, if you want to include plenty of woody material, from big logs to twigs and chippings, in the foundation of your mounds - why then you have hugel-stacks, with all their big advantages. My second big hugel-stack is starting out growing potatoes and onions this year. Coming up nicely right now, with a few volunteer beans that got into the mound soil accidentally, from my farming neighbour's recent tractor sowing of his adjacent field.

No sawn-timber or bolts are harmed in the making of these fertile barrows. Or even used at all.

JM, I hope to speak to you face to face in London on 1 June, and maybe buy you a beer? See you there, Deo valente.

OrwellianUK said...

It really does annoy me when people use that phrase "Conspiracy Theory/ist" to describe something or someone. It's one of those thought stoppers that is used to prevent people thinking for themselves.

Recall that Peak Oil itself has been called a "Conspiracy Theory" and when challenged on the motive of Iraq's Oil for the invasion, British War Criminal Primeminister Tony Bliar (sic), called such accusations "Conspiracy Theory" too. I really despise the phrase and the way it is used as a slur and thought stopper.

To be sure, there are plenty of bona fide "Conspiracy Theories" out there, but conflating Mike Ruppert's investigative journalism into insider trading, war-games and supranational business and intelligence connections surrounding 9/11 with "Missiles at the Pentagon" etc is very disingenuous and cheap.

The phrase "9/11 Truther" actually came later. The initial investigations of Cynthia McKinney's Citizens 9/11 Hearings, featured researchers such as Ruppert, Peter Dale Scott, Nafeez Ahmed and Paul Thompson who compiled the renowned 9/11 Timeline. Some including Ruppert and Ahmed, tied the event to Peak Oil very early on, the former after a conversation with Dale Allen Pfeiffer.

As for Mike Ruppert's issues and stances, he had become very erratic it is sad to say. His experiences following the Pat Tillman scandal that his Newsletter From the Wilderness reported on seemed to be the turning point which pushed him into despair and although he had periods when he seemed content and cheerful, he had become very much "out there", embracing some of the more "doomer" perspectives such as those of Guy McPherson and the idea of Fast Collapse.

I felt the same way myself for a while, particularly as I had a long period of illness a few years back. Ruppert suffered many demons and had been shot, poisoned and harassed over the years due to his habit of pursuing investigations into the criminality of very powerful interests. This naturally took its toll on his physical and especially mental well being over the years. I had some private exchanges with him and I was worried about his state of mind.

I still recommend his book Crossing the Rubicon however, despite the flaws that like any book of 600 pages, have slipped in to the pages. What Ruppert doesn't discuss in the book, apart from to say why, is "Physical Evidence" such as the building collapses and there is good reason for that.

My friend Rhisiart has commented above about the evidence and I agree that it should be read and understood with the work of the above mentioned people being a central point, but I'd ignore such physical evidence issues like the AE911 Building Collapse stuff, because it really is a dead end and in my view, should not be the main "talking point" of the event.

The main talking point about 9/11 - regardless of whether or not an individual believes the US government had a hand in it - is the context of a failing Empire in the light of Peak Oil. 9/11 was and continues to be used as justification for "Business as Usual" by the American Empire and this mentality deeply threatens our future.

Phil Harris said...

JMG
My story entry for consideration
http://philsharris.wordpress.com/

First story I have written since I was 13 or 14, I realise. I enjoyed doing it. Thanks for providing opportunity and impetus.
best
Phil H

Renaissance Man said...

Your description of workplaces becoming gradually worse is very much on the money. The at the top have been gradually eroding benefits and increasing our workload through worker layoffs for a decade now... even as the corporation makes record profits and they pat themselves on the back with big, fat bonuses larger than the total compensation of the entire department where I work. It is a source of anger and frustration and to describe morale as poor is to overstate the case. Everyone is looking for a job somewhere else. I am not. I expect my job will be eliminated eventually. I plan to do something else.
Nonetheless, I shall continue here as long as I may because:

1) Although my house is completely paid off, and the massive amount of insulation I put in last year kept my gas usage this year exactly the same as last year, even though the average daily temperature was about 15 degrees colder, I'm not done insulating or renovating. I still have much to go and that will cost money.
2) My truck is also completely paid off, so all my costs are gas, insurance, and maintenance. I use it to frequently haul heavy things for friends. I might be able to use it to make money or as coincident to some other work.
3) This job pays the bills I incur while acquiring skills and knowledge which I hope will become useful as we collapse, viz., becoming:

- a competent horse trainer; I am getting a reputation for my ability to work with horses. Soon, I hope to have demonstrable results (i.e. in competitions). This takes up the bulk of my spare time, and keeps me sane and balanced and fit. It is my dream job once the current one disappears. Possibly sooner, if I can work it.

- a competent leatherworker; since I know how to turn a hide into leather, and have produced some good work making belts, bags, clothing, saddle accessories, and horse tack, this may become a means of living. I have yet to build a saddle or make boots, but they are on the list. I may use my savings to take classes to become a master saddler or harness-maker.

- a competent metal-worker; although my lathe-turning needs a lot of practice, I have built a working smithy in which I have made several small pieces.

- I know how to timber-frame a small building, specifically, the aforementioned smithy. Also, working on my house has taught me a lot about building and how to do quality work. I still am far too slow and methodical to ever make a living building or renovating houses, but I do know how they ought to work properly as a system.

- while I have achieved only pitiful success when I grow vegetables, I do produce first-class compost which kicks my friends' gardens into over-production. I got at least a dozen meals at friends' houses featuring their delicious produce last year. (Peculiar. I don't like gardening, but I am fascinated by compost -- go figure.)

So, like Yupped and Mark Rice, I think, rather than jump off now, I'll ride the descent down as far as I can and continue to feast at Hagbard's table until I can leave with the best assurance that I can survive out there. I reckon I'll need about five more years to become truly accomplished enough at something other than computers to up and leave.

Honyocker said...

Joel,
Good point. I've been involved in small scale farming, ranching, and vegetable growing and marketing for about 30 years. My average wage, as long as I'm in competition with the industrial economy, has been about $1.63 per hour over that time. When I tell that to other people involved in the same activities, their usual response is "How do you make so much?". The real value is in the distance you can put between yourself and this insane national economy, as the Archdruid says.

ando said...

JMG,

You have made some references to a possible crash in the next year or so. What indicators are you monitoring? The fracking bubble??
Please?

Namaste,

mac

d said...

JMG,

I know you stop replying to posts to a post on your Blog after a period of time but I hope that you read this. What I am going to ask you about is the discussion of slavery. Living in Southern Alabama there still are matters of race and voluntary segregation. Recently inmates at three prisons here refused (Holman, St Clair and Elmore) to work. They make numerous products for the state besides car tags, my desk was made in a correction facility workshop. Recently a bill was passed to let private business employ prison labor and the State department of Agriculture has proposed using prison labor in agriculture, in place of migrant labor.

Alabama has a history of doing this before. In the years following the Civil War, blacks were arbitrarily arrested, fined outrageous amounts, and charged with there own cost of imprisonment. They were "sold" to coal mines, brickyards, rock quarries and any other place that needed backbreaking physical labor.

My own Great Grandmother was sold from an orphanage to a textile mill when she was 12. Do you have any suggestions about how can we guard against this? I fear that just as people now do not care about the conditions that there clothing is made in Bangladesh, they won't care about the working conditions in Alabama, or think that prisoners deserve the punishment that they get. It seems that the right-wing media even pushes this view.

I can only hope that religion can make people feel a moral obligation to the treatment of there fellow man.

Thanks,
Darryl

Paulo said...

Chem Engineer

From a carpenter re: appropriate fasteners

You absolutely cannot beat deck screws...Robertson head...with an impact driver and driver bit. I use them for almost everything and have been in trade most of my life. Lag screws expensive and time consuming.

Paulo

Nastarana said...

About "community" or "communitarian"(ness), that tiresome reproach always leveled against alleged American "individualism":

1. First, a minute percentage, I would informally estimate around 1-1.5%, of human populations are natural born hermits. Such folks usually live quite frugally, abide by law and custom, and make limited or no demands on publicly funded social programs.

2. Second anyone who has endured decades of hard time in the toxic workplaces of late capitalism will, and who might have retained the fortitude to have established him or herself in a situation of modest independence, such as the cabin with garden space not too far from fishing; such a person will have no interest in giving that up to be free babysitter in the Waiting for Collapse Commune.



beneaththesurface said...

Someone mentioned the LDS Church. Which makes me think of my extended family, which is a mix of atheists and Mormons. This has been entertaining for me, but we seem to be able to get along fine at family reunions.

Anyway, I find a lot of overlap in what some of my Mormon cousins and I are striving to do. They're raising chickens and rabbits, growing gardens, planting fruit trees, making applesauce, canning food, cooking from scratch, making instead of buying, homeschooling their kids... One cousin recently express interest in making homemade laundry detergent (which I do), so I shared with her my experience. Another cousin often dubs certain months "austerity months" where their family can't buy anything at all (with a few exceptions), surviving on food storage, which helps them become closer to the Lord.

Personally, I don't care much for the Mormon Church (particularly its views on homosexuality, gay marriage, its pressure on its members to have large families, avoidance of discussing overpopulation). My cousins have different political views from me. But on a lifestyle level, we are exploring some of the same things, even more so than some of my friends who have more similar political views.. And in the future I think we'll find more of that. What people are doing on the ground may mean more than shared political views.

onething said...

Boys Mom and Dmitry,

I was thinking the other day about how much money I would really need to survive and I came up against the same issue of needing money to maintain certain things like insurance. Well, for the moment I will maintain them, but what I'm really interested in is: how close can I come to taking care of myself if those things went away or if I had to give them up but there were still some semblance of them, such as having to pay property taxes.

As for communalism, it seems to me the ideal is a combinaton. Also, it is going to depend on where you live, what the situation is. There could be some situations, suburban and urban especially, in which communal raising of food would be ideal, including use of people to watch over it in shifts. Where I live, most everyone is already in place on land that they own, but the appalachian roots are strong here, and the hippie "newcomers" took up with them as well: You grow your own stuff but people constantly help one another out and trade labor, advice, know-how, tools, and goods. Since no one person can do it all, it makes sense to trade some things, like maple syrup or what have you. But the communism could easily overlay that. For example, I've started a garden this year, but want to open a second one to grow some grain, and my neighbor (who traded roofing labor for tilling my garden as we don't have the equipment -- and it wasn't a trade like "I'll do this if you'll do that." It was that he was redoing his roof under time pressure last fall, and my husband took an entire WEEK out of his life and roofed with him but refused money for it, so now he's quite happy to do anything we need!)said that it might be better instead of the spot I'm thinking of which is quite sloped to use a small piece at the end of his meadow. I was rather taken aback, but then I pointed out that after all our properties join in a weird angle with a narrowing strip running along the side of that meadow, and I said that as far as square feet is concerned, it probably might make a good rearrangement, although not in the legal sense.
I can easily envision some of the large pieces of land laying around being put to use communally to share labor.

John Michael Greer said...

Zach, nicely put. Despair usually has its roots in pride -- in the insistence that one already knows how the story is going to turn out. Hope, by which I don't mean the facile optimism of the privileged, requires more humility.

Catherine, true enough; I've learned several forms of natural healing in the course of my odd education, and once the legal climate changes enough that I won't be risking jail time for helping people, that may well become a tradable skill.

HalFiore, I'd look into living history sites.

Mac, if you can repair a radar set, you probably have all the skills you need to build and repair simpler electronics -- and that could be of quite some use down the road a bit.

RPC, said the porpoise to the icthyosaur! As for future professions, you ought to be able to capitalize on your existing skills and contacts in some way -- musical entertainment tends to be as popular in hard times as ever.

Rhisiart, thanks for the link!

Damo, while you're at it, pick up some other skills -- things you can do that produce goods and services other people need or want. That'll serve you in good stead if you don't get those ten years.

Lance, got it.

Wornsmooth, that's certainly a possibility. If that happens, though, there's all the more need for you to have some barterable skills and to cut your own consumption of energy and other resources as far as possible -- if the US ends up facing the economic burdens of prolonged war, not to mention the serious risk of defeat, those'll be crucial for you and the people you care about.

Beneath, that sounds like a very good strategy.

Colin, it's not a blind spot, it's a reasoned disagreement. Yes, I'm familiar with the various flavors of socialism; no, I don't think they have anything useful to offer the current situation. No doubt it's very comforting to dream of mass movements that will overthrow the status quo, but where are they? The vast majority of Americans are clinging like grim death to the status quo, because they know -- and quite rightly -- that when it goes away, their own standards of living are going to drop like so many stones. Once the US no longer has a global empire and can no longer draw down the wealth of the planet to prop up its current lifestyles, all of us are going to be a great deal poorer, as in Third World levels of poverty. That's the elephant in the American living room, and it's why progressive causes in the US have gone nowhere for decades. More on this in an upcoming post.

onething said...

Re Joel Caris' reply to Ruben,

Maybe it's by the grace of God but my tiny, rural, poor community has a wonderful farmer's market. I went to the big city and visited the farmer's market, and just on a whim asked a proprietor if he used pesticides. He said, "We all do." I put the produce back down.
At the same time the proprietors of our farmer's market, two of whom work on it more or less full time, struggle to keep prices low enough that people will buy, but their prices are significantly higher than the grocery store. And, they are not really making money! They have both admitted that, and have other income sources. I, myself, am planning to be a vendor this year. One thing I will sell is maple syrup, at store prices of perhaps 9 dollars a pint, but I doubt we will clear a dollar an hour for our labor. I do know that a lot of farmer's markets have high priced luxury goods, but on other hand have you considered what it means to raise sheep, sheer them, process the wool into yarn and make a pair of socks?
There's a reason that prior generations owned just a few pairs of clothes, and darned their socks!
I think it's true that those goods can only be afforded by yuppies, but the reason is not overcharging. The reason is that these local goods are competing with Chinese labor in a very different economy. What I'm saying is that right now, food and other goods like socks are way under priced.
The vendors in our market do it for fun and satisfaction, not to make a living, for if they tried to make a living, we'd have no farmer's market. Our prices are lower even on the value added things because our local population simply can't buy at yuppie prices. How things will evolve as the economy declines I don't know but most of us are aware and encourage all comers to begin to grow their own. Perhaps in the future the market will be more of a trading post.

william fairchild said...

Mr. Greer,

You write, "Nothing is easier, as the Long Descent begins to pick up speed around us, than giving in to despair—and nothing is more pointless. " True. But there is a difference between experiencing despair, and giving in to it. I think bouts of despair are quite normal.

For example, if you had asked me twenty years ago, whether the monarch butterfly would be threatened with extinction, I'd have said you were out of your gourd. Yet just this week, an article in the local paper pointed out that monarch populations have crashed by 90%. If current trends continue, if as Derrick Jensen would put it, each year you have less and less butterflies return, at some point you have none. Then the iconic state insect of IL goes extinct.

The thought of a world devoid of monarchs is deeply saddening, it is enough to make me cry. Watching the Machine of industrial agribusiness work so hard to maintain profit at the expense of the living world causes despair. So what shall I do? Hang myself? No. Cultivate milkweed. Yes!

If we lose the monarch, I will mourn their loss, just as I mourn the loss of the passenger pigeon I was never privileged to see. But Abbey was right, action is the antidote to despair.

Regards,

Bill

ViewFromHere said...

Doug W- Borsodi is a find! His book The Distribution Age is free on line here: http://www.soilandhealth.org/03sov/0303critic/030308borsodi.dist.age/030308toc.htm

The entire Soil and Health dot org website is an incredible on line library of practical works, especially in agriculture. And goes to show that our generations 'coolest ideas' like permaculture, were being talked about 100+ years ago!!

I learn so much here.

Jan Wareus said...

Interesting reading, JMG, but it seems that your posts are being infected on the way to Africa - I'm alerted and it takes long to clean the posts. What's happening - is it Heartburn?
However, I hope it wont get worse for us out on the globe. Keep on!

AlanfromBigEasy said...

I have chosen not to concern myself, more than minimally, with my survival during the London Descent for several reasons.

The first and most important is that it will distract from my efforts to cushion, slightly, society during the coming decline.

The second is that I am 60 years old, and enjoying my time in New Orleans. Enjoying is too mild a word - I am more alive and creative here, part of the larger community.

Losing good, enjoyable years in exchange for possibly more, but miserable, years in a society I do not want to be in, is not an attractive trade.

I am fulfilled on my current course, and would be profoundly dissatisfied
just caring for my personal well being.

I have come to the conclusion that fulfillment is the greatest goal that one can reach for. Having attained that, I will not easily foresake it.

ViewFromHere said...

JMG and Kutamun- re: fitting into a small town. JMG is so right that "it's actually not that hard to fit into a rural town -- all you have to do is demonstrate respect for your neighbors and their values." We were urbanites who moved into the rural northern Great Plains and became "joiners." 4-H, community service club, volunteer to coach kids sports, teach Sunday School, etc... and were brought into the fold. Other who moved here expect the locals to join their much more enlightened work and take offense at 'primitive' local mores, like being part of a faith community.

Be a joining. Put your shoulder to other people's wheel. Help where asked. It works.

Adrienne Adams said...

Re: lag bolts, screws, etc.

Handmade nails (commonly called square nails, cut nails, etc.) were widely made at home in simple farm forges. A square-edged nail holds much better than a round (wire) nail. If your cut nail is long enough to pass completely through your work and poke out the other side and then clinched, you have an amazingly strong connection: better than screws, really.

Ursachi Alexandru said...

Mr. Archdruid, that's a question I've been asking myself for quite some time now and especially since I started reading your blog; I appreciate the fact that you've touched this subject which, as evident in the comments, is of topmost importance to all of us.

There are a few things I have in mind, among them bicycle repair and bicycle cargo transport, and I'm trying to broaden my options as much as possible. Whatever it may be, I have that learning curve to get through, and for that to happen I need a few years of stable or semi-stable employment to have the resources to invest, which right now I don't.

One more question regarding employment options in a deindustrializing world: in an older article you speculated on the future of a big astronomical observatory in your country, and how a Chinese trillionaire was bragging to the mass media of 2070 or so about making that observatory his new home. That assumes there will still be a mass media by then. It would likely be dominantly print media and radio, but I'm curious how widespread it would be and what chances would an average Joe have at, say, working as an editorialist, radio host or newspaper or magazine photographer.

John Michael Greer said...

Pluribus, a nice summary.

DaShui, any form of healing that doesn't require a modern medical and pharmaceutical industry will likely do very well.

Cathy, exactly -- here again, dissensus does the trick.

Thrig, that's why sourdough was so common on the American frontier -- once you get the starter culture under way, you can keep it going indefinitely, and produce all the bread you need from flour, salt, water, and a bit of starter.

BoysMom, I don't own a car, thus don't have car insurance, and won't be getting health insurance -- I'd rather pay the fine, for as long as the current scam lasts. There are ways to avoid at least some of the mandatory costs.

Dmitry, the average communitarian experiment in the US lasts for a little over two years before crashing and burning, because Americans have no clue how to get along with each other. In the long run, yes, that kind of arrangement will probably do well, but a lot of people are going to have to shed a lot of fantasies of entitlement first.

SLClaire, delighted to hear it. It's stories like yours that keep me enthusiastic.

Pantagruel, oh, granted, and when this gets turned into a book I'll want to work out some new way of saying the same thing.

Wolf, granted, but once again, a lot of people are going to have to unlearn a lot of bad habits before community becomes an option again.

EBrown, I raised my beds by double digging them and working in as much organic matter as I can, and keep 'em plump by digging in more compost, rotted leaves, and the like every spring!

Violet, it's very heartening to hear from someone who's taking all this seriously; thank you. Your distinction works, too.

Joel, exactly. 52% of the land in the western US is owned by the federal government, and states, counties, and cities get no tax revenue from federal land. Don't think they aren't dreaming about how easily they could balance their budgets if that changed. The possibility of a sustained insurgency in the west, including everything from roadside IEDs to full-blown guerrilla conflict, is rather on my mind these days.

John Michael Greer said...

Escape, I'm not surprised that others are noticing it.

Rich, get those potatoes in! ;-)

Glenn, of course -- if you're in a really soggy area, it can make sense to build the beds in boxes and literally have them up above the ground. (That's also easier for people with mobility issues.) Techniques are best chosen based on local conditions, not on abstract considerations.

William, that's a very good point, and one which I haven't considered adequately -- that economically peripheral regions within the US are treated as internal colonies. It might be worth revisiting Schumacher in some detail along those lines.

Ray, a lot of people are having their lives disintegrate these days, and I expect it to get much worse as we proceed. Glad to hear you're landing on your feet!

Quos Ego, that might be the makings of a new aphorism -- "collapse now so you can do it with at least a little grace."

Paulo, thanks for the link!

Carlos, I wonder how many of the socialists who comment here have ever heard of Morris, and his kind of socialism...

Varun, if it stops in my lifetime I'll be surprised. As I've noted in previous discussions, my guess is that we're moving into something equivalent to the final crisis of Europe's age of empire, 1914-1954 -- except this one has its ground zero here in the US.

SaintS, sorry, but you're going to be disappointed. A human being is unnecessarily dead; that calls for a bit of forbearance.

Merle, thank you. I appreciate hearing that I've made a difference.

Vesta, a good strategy!

John Michael Greer said...

Rabbter, true enough. Caste consciousness is very widespread in the US, and as unhelpful as always.

Yupped, we save seed from our peas every year, too, and are getting better and better crops as Darwin does his thing. ;-) As for the young, I've heard from quite a few people in their 20s who have a very clear notion of where we're headed -- they've grown up with the early stages of the Long Descent happening all around them, so yes, it does seem to be easier for them.

William, yes, those are among the challenges. That's why it's often necessary to keep a foot in both worlds for the time being.

SP, that's why I've been trying to warn people all along that it's not going to be fast and clean and sudden. The Long Descent really is more scary...

Patricia, you're most welcome.

Clarence, thank you!

Ozark, hmm. Since I was born in 1962, I missed that one. I may see if I can make time to read it.

Dwig, I'll talk to my team and see what might be possible.

Stunned, this isn't the first time I've made this prediction, you know!

Melson, fascinating. It sounds like a very good plan. Thanks for the heads up!

Gunnar, thank you for getting it!

Makedo, that's good advice -- bolshie or otherwise.

John Michael Greer said...

KL, okay, that last line of yours is worth a gold star!

Rhisiart, drop me a not for posting comment with your email address and I'll keep you updated with my plans -- I'd be delighted to put a face to yours and other names among my commentariat.

Orwellian, conspiracies happen, but that doesn't make it useful to fixate on them to the point that it gets in the way of more useful pursuits. Neither you nor I nor any of the people who post on truther forums will ever know for sure who did what on 9/11 and why, and when there's a great deal of other work that needs doing and not that much time to do it, I get impatient with the obsessive pursuit of ever more baroque theories about the unprovable.

Phil, got it.

Renaissance, having a foot in both words is a viable strategy for those who can manage it, no question.

Ando, yes, it's the fracking bubble. When the proponents of a bubble start babbling palpable nonsense, the crash is not far away -- and the delusions about exporting gas to Europe, to my mind, fall into that category. I expect something on the order of the 2008-2009 crisis, and possibly more severe.

D, that's a complex question, and one I'll discuss in a later post.

Nastarana, and yet America used to be a hotbed of communal experiments. It's a complicated issue, and we'll see how things work out once more people get the fantasy of entitlement knocked out of them.

Beneath, it's good to see how much common ground you can find with people of different religious and political views when the questions that matter are, say, digging garden beds or learning how to make soap!

William, don't confuse grief and despair. Grief is sorrow for what's being lost. Despair is the conviction that nothing is worth saving.

View, thanks for the link!

Adrienne, true enough.

Ursachi, that's a good question and one I'll have to research, but it's probably worth a post down the road a bit, too. Let me see what I can find.

Jeff BKLYN said...

He who looks out dreams, he looks in awakens. I was sad to hear about Mike Ruppert. As someone who looked deep into the dark, he was a bright light to me. To hear that he snuffed out his light by his own hand wasn’t surprising, just very disappointing. The spirit of the age will be disappointment, that’s what bouts of unemployment always were for me, a disappointment. As our unwelcome future closes in, I find still working in one of those rare ‘paying’ jobs exhausting. Since 2010, it has been all about doing the job of two if not a few just to keep that one job. Run for the red queen… I do think about a printing press, a slide rule and the need to look deeply into the past to see the future, thanks to you and men like Mike Ruppert, that’s where I want my head to be. Keep up the good work. Keep the faith.

shtove said...

@JMG
"Travis, fascinating. I may just find a recording and give this a listen."

It is worth a look - 83m hits on youtube. The title is a joke on living in Pompeii during the eruption. But the video is pointed about the city state of London, a sequence about young people not being able to "get into cars" (insurance, debt) to escape, and a bit vague with black-eyed zombies, then a twist on eco-survival. Interesting.

It was released early 2013. Never heard it before, but I is not a young un', innit?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F90Cw4l-8NY

Nastarana said...

Mr. Geer, I wonder if you would please explain what kinds of attitudes, habits and beliefs you would include under the rubric 'sense of entitlement'. So far, the only inducement that proponents of communalism, if I may use that term, are offering is energy costs are cheaper. I think any radically frugal person can match those savings. It is true that solitary persons can become victims of violence. One can also fall out of a tree, step on a rattlesnake or slip on ice and freeze.

The issue for me is not how much comfort, convenience and stuff do I get to have. All of those I can do without, and have done without. So far, any proposals I have heard strike me as same old same old, the only difference being you get to be miserable for 24/7 instead of 40 hours a week.

PhysicsDoc said...

Any suggestions for what a dude like myself with multiple degrees in physics and math could do off the employment grid (please be nice)? I am still employed in R and D but things are obviously shifting and changing. My specialty is optics and electromagnetics.

Atilio Baroni Filho said...

Hey JMG!

About economically peripheral regions that are treated as internal colonies, we can have a good example from brazilian history. Since the beginning of the 19th century coffee was the main national product, the export (mainly to the US) which guaranteed the foreign exchange necessary to keep the economy afloat at the time. In 1906, the representatives from the three richest states at the time, São Paulo, Minas Gerais e Rio de Janeiro (not surprisingly still where the money is), worried about the precipitous fall in international prices, gathered at the city of Taubaté and decided that the government should buy the surplus coffee, subsidising the price. To make the deal work, a loan of 15 million pounds would be made to ensure the viability of the proposal, another stone to the considerable pile of foreign debt problems in our history.

The president at the time didn't want this hot potato on his hands so the states were initially the ones responsible for the subsidy, but later on that same year a more "amenable" president was elected and the federal government picked up the tab. There you have it: the whole country was paying to keep the coffee oligarchy on these three states filthy rich (of course, the governors and the presidents of that time were all from those same states). The fact that the agreement had some checks to prevent overproduction, and that they were ignored, made some fortunes even more rich on that decade.

The party went on until the 1929 crash: the coffee was quoted in the New York Stock Exchange, the prices went down for good and the "coffee and milk" oligarchy suffered a deadly blow... to be substituted by different power groups, but that's for another day :P

The historical absence of the state, and relative poverty, of some brazilian regions compared to others can be easily traced to such episodes on our past.

Cheers!

aglehmer said...

John, could you let us know when the final deadline is for the story contest?

Many thanks!

- Aaron

John Michael Greer said...

Jeff, if we can pass from disappointment to disillusion, and then, having gotten out of the illusion, start seeing what possibilities remain, then the doors open wide again. I'm sorry Ruppert wasn't able to get that far.

Shtove, most interesting.

Nastarana, that's a tall order! In my experience, though, most Americans think that their personal wants always trump the needs of the community; that's why so many American communitarian schemes crash and burn so quickly, because if a community is going to survive, the community must come first. Those who think they can ignore that should plan on being hermits, and accept that there won't be anyone to help them when trouble comes knocking at the door.

PhysicsDoc, that's a hard call. What do you do in your off hours?

Atilio, fascinating, and all too typical. This is definitely going to want some study...

Aglehmer, May 1 is the deadline.

Elizabeth Forest said...

Another interesting post and subsequent comments this week, thanks for the brain candy.

For the last 17 years I have been either employed with or on the board of our local food co-op. During that time I have seen housing co-ops, banking co-ops, bike co-ops, education co-ops (homeschoolers) and the discussion of auto co-ops flourish in this community. Co-ops and labor unions are intrinsically connected, and will hopefully see a resurgence as we make our way into the future. I see getting along with each other and being able to have polite discussions that end with a goal towards a forward moving solution as a paramount skill in our future societies- this nonsense of badgering each other into the dust will have to stop. Bullying gets no gold stars.
As a bodyworker(primarily), gardener, and general laborer, I have bartered for the last 20 years. I have bartered for multiple used cars, CSA shares. acupuncture/bodywork, picture framing, custom clothing and underwear, art, IT services, haircuts, etc. I love barter, and I'm happy to slide the scale in the favor of who I'm bartering with- because it's fun and worthwhile. The service/time exchange is not dollar for dollar in my book- it's important, to me, that we all leave the interaction feeling awesome about the barter.
One of the things I am looking towards is relocating to a new community, and it makes me sweat a little. To move from a place where I have a well established business where I make cash and barter for awesome services to some place new is intimidating. I'm just never wanted to settle where I'm living, and even though I have a decent scene, I get so depressed at the thought of staying here. Business is good, but I am lacking in social connections out of my professional life. It has been a somewhat of a surprise for me to have this veil lifted, and I am ready to move in the next year.
I'd love to see a networking opportunity of intentional community building, as I imagine we would all like to be somewhere that we can work at building something better together. I have a definite skill set, and there are definitely skills I am lacking. I don't want to have to think that I need to know how to do it all. I want to live in another community where someone has the skills I don't, and they are willing to barter and work together to make things happen positively.
On another note, I have considered taking out more student loan debt for acupuncture, as I have received so much healing from this ancient art and I would like to share that with the people who come to me for health and healing. Thoughts on the student loan bubble? (I think Get The Education! The knowledge is priceless and I own nothing to repo).(My son wants to go to college for art. It's great,extremely expensive and so frivolous too).
captcha=nichhi sacred

Elizabeth Forest said...

I also was prompted to look at my Consumer's Energy bill and discovered I used 328 kWH in April- that worked out to 12KWH/day. (And today is only the 18th) I use very few electronics other than lights, radio, and computer. Heat, hot water, and stove are gas. Aprils use was 10.9 Mcf. That equals 0.389 Mcf/day. It's going to be cold in the winter at my house when the heat begins to be rationed... Anyone want to barter massage for retrofitting my house with hemp crete blocks?

PhysicsDoc said...

JMG, In my off hours when I am not baby sitting my kids or doing house/garden work, I can usually be found in the garage working on their BMX bikes, fixing or building stuff, or taking things apart that can't be fixed. I recently took an old electric mower apart and used the stator of the universal motor to make an electromagnet.

Morgenfrue said...

@Ozark
There are 4 books set in the Giver world, each from a different person's point of view, but Jonas and Gabe are (if I remember correctly) present in all of them.

Jason Heppenstall said...

From my own perspective, it's been a little over a year since I jumped off the sinking ship and took over a woodland for (amongst other things) coppice production for wood and charcoal. Yes, it's a steep learning curve but an enjoyable one.

But there is strength in numbers. I have hooked up with a few other like-minded woodlanders and we have formed a community group asserting our 'usefulness' to the sometimes sceptical local 'community'. I say 'community' because, as is the case in most rural idylls, people are mainly wealthy, conservative about aesthetics and profoundly atomised. Indeed, people turning up to our woodland meetings sometimes have not even met each other - despite having been neighbours for decades. Some have thanked us for being a catalyst - maybe they sense that we will indeed have to pull together again.

Our little group is in the process of setting up a cider club - planting apple trees, scouting out abandoned ones, hassling local authorities to plant others on roadside verges etc. One member is a skilled greenwood worker and he's making the press. His wife makes baskets from willow and is a rare example of someone who has made a success of it.

Apart from the cider, we're also getting charcoal kilns put in later in the year. A chicken enclosure is being built - as soon as we can get the money for the wire - and there is talk of a pig club. Pheasants will also be arriving soon - an often overlooked source of food which are easy to keep and even easier to catch (they cannot walk backwards so you just make pens on the ground that they walk into).

Firewood, cider, charcoal and goodwill are available to anyone in the local area who comes and lends a hand. Others get firewood for free - such as the old lady in the cottage with a disabled husband.

All in all there's a great feeling of excitement and accomplishment in the air. Those people who opposed us to start with have gone grumpily silent - for the time being.

Of course, we can't all make a living from it yet. We all have to do bits of work in the 'real' economy, but few of us work full time. In my case, I do online translation work, and will soon be working one day a week managing some local gardens. Formal work helps to pay the bills, but working the land helps you avoid the bills in the first place.

BTW JMG, I'll second the offer of purchasing a beer on June 1. I suspect there might be a few ADR readers over here who'd like to take the opportunity to meet both yourself and one another. And if you find yourself venturing down to west Cornwall you would be more than welcome to stay.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG,

Thanks for the gold star. I enjoyed Joel's accurate description of the complexities and rewards of community relationships and social currency too. It is a really grey area that has to be slowly re-learned and negotiated household by household.

I reckon the complex and fragile environment here affects the psyche too, which is where the attitude comes from. The bush creates a rough character. Interestingly too, after the bush-fires in February this year, there is a lot of property for sale up here.

Those points get me to a thought that I've been fermenting over the past few months: I reckon that there is a deep psychological and cultural aspect to decline / collapse as well.

Why else would it be so hard for people to "man up" and accept a lower standard of living for themselves and their families?

I'll tell you a little story about a mate of mine. He's a clever bloke with a PhD in science. He's had the unfortunate experience of only ever working in one business for over the past two decades. I mentioned a couple of weeks back that science in Australia has been copping it in the neck of recent times (a metric of collapse if ever there was one). Anyway, he was made redundant quite a while back and has either not found, or chosen to not find work since.

The interesting thing is that in conversations it is quite clear to me that his self-esteem still rests solely on the ability to have a job with status. I suggested to him a while back that there is an opportunity for a person with his skill set to provide their services to small business and whilst he did not laugh at me, he dismissed my opinions out of hand. The sad thing is that I could have opened a few networks for him too.

It reminded me of your essay about earlier astronomers supplementing their income with astrology readings. I respect that level of versatility. I'd do that and wouldn't think twice about it.

In fact, I reckon a lot of males define themselves through the status that they get from their employment. This may well be their undoing in the immediate future.

Years ago, I lived a few doors down from a stay at home dad who wore his heart on his sleeve about his situation. Once, I needed some help with some labouring on a job. He always talked himself up about such work so I even offered to pay cash in hand as he was always whining about his - at that time - situation. What was disappointing about his decline of that friendly offer was that he gave me what I politely call a "go away and stop hassling me price" (note the polite language used was not actually the reality!). Needless to say, it became easier to do the job myself without assistance at that price.

Anyway, a few years later, he had a bush walking accident whilst on his own and died. On hearing this news, my first - and even still today - gut reaction was that he had committed suicide in such a way that the life insurance was paid out to his partner and children (fell off a cliff). What was more disturbing for me was how much happier they all looked only a year after the event. Perhaps it is merely cynicism on my part to think such thoughts, but I can't shake them.

The recession of the early 90's here taught me everything I needed to know about decline and the appropriate place to rest my self-esteem. Nothing that I have experienced to date has changed my perspective either: Focus on what you can produce. Seems simple enough to me, but it is a very hard ask for those (particularly males) immersed in the employment economy.

I’m noticing that the frequency of shark like behaviour from government bodies seems to be on the increase here too.

Regards

Chris

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG,

Yes, my gut feel is that the baby boomers may take that option too. It is certainly more likely to me than not. No one so far in the comments seems to have touched that issue.

I try very hard to keep abreast of the zeitgeist and I'll note that the merest touch of such a thought has entered the mainstream with the final episode for this season of the US TV show "Girls" (one of the very few shows that I commit any time too).

You may laugh, but Lena Dunham is an interesting writer and is more in touch with the zeitgeist than most people and is also very comfortable in her own skin which I respect (despite the appalling feedback she obviously has to deal with).

Hi Yupped,

Yeah, well of course I too have to step between two worlds. There is nothing inherently wrong with this and of course I too receive benefits from joining in. However, if you take the high moral road then you can't complain when you are run over. Just sayin...

Regards

Chris

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Damo,

There is very little in the way of good arable land Down under - that's life, get used to it. To expect otherwise means that you do not fully understand the situation that you live in. I live where I do because the land was cheap, high risk and no one else wanted it.

Soil can always be improved, housing can always be built it just takes understanding and hard yakka. Right now at about 8.45pm, Fatso and baby wombat are both out munching on the green herbage. They know where they are best fed.

Has it occurred to you that ownership is not the only path to skill development?

Regards

Chris

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Cathy,

Oh yeah, I hear you. Every growing year is completely different from the previous one. Well spoken. You can’t learn that stuff from a book.

The climate here is anything but stable, so the physical responses are many and varied. The need for backup systems, plant or otherwise - for just in case weather here - are truly mind boggling.

PS: In really wet areas raised beds are a saviour. A couple of summers back I had 250mm of rainfall (a bit over 9 inches) over 5 days and without the raised beds, the plant death rate would have been massive. Sure the summers can produce a drought too, but raised beds work in those conditions too.

My grand dad in the 70's used to heap the soil into raised mound rows for his vegie beds. Nothing fancy like my galvanised steel raised beds, but just as effective.

You could even use rocks which are permeable. Mmmm rocks, pity they're getting in short supply here!

Regards

Chris

C.L. Kelley said...

Lawmakers from Western States Gather to Discuss Reclaiming Federal Lands

Is this what you mean, sir Archdruid? I'm seeing deep echoes of your recent fiction book, and planning for an extreme economic down-step later this year...

John Michael Greer said...

Elizabeth, in your place I'd stay strictly away from taking on student debt -- sooner or later that bubble's going to pop, but what's going to happen to the debtors is by no means certain.

PhysicsDoc, seems to me that you've just defined your niche. As technology stops being cheap to buy and replace, someone who can take old devices and get them working again -- especially if he can, for example, swap out the defunct circuitry in a washer or a toaster oven and put in a mechanical timer instead -- can probably count on a thriving barter business. You might pick up some used books on small appliance repair, and start refurbishing and selling things to the retro market!

Jason, that sounds very promising! I'm sorry to say I won't be getting any further west than Glastonbury -- I'll be attending the 50th anniversary gathering of the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids there on the weekend on June 6-8 -- but if that's within easy range for you, I'm sure a pub can be found. ;-)

Cherokee, I expect to see a lot of that sort of thing -- men who can't find work drinking themselves to death, or killing themselves, or plunging into one or another kind of violent activity with an eye toward police-assisted suicide, or what have you. When the Soviet Union went to pieces, a fair number of people responded in much the same way. As for the TV show, I confess I've never heard of it -- I stay pretty far away from pop culture.

C.L., why, yes, that's exactly what I had in mind. Watch this space...

Iuval Clejan said...

PhysicsDoc: Come help us build a solar concentrator/storage system. You can live rent free and share some land, but you won't be paid, at least not in the near future. We are working on other businesses as well, though they may be more for providing basic needs for our community than making money off the global economy.

The concentrator needs to have a focal length of about 10 feet, with an aperture/diameter of about 4 feet and although we are not looking for telescopic surface accuracy, it needs to be pretty good, for reasons which I can tell you over email. We are also working on a cheap DYI solar tracker (though part of the cheapness is due to availability of oil and sweatshops which make the electronic components).

Iuval Clejan said...

As far as jobs, it is interesting that we've become a service economy, where there are more jobs that women typically enjoy and excel at than men. The opposite of what happens in an ecovillage where most of the work is more suited to masculine sensibilities.

Caged Writer said...

Hi, JMG

I just posted three submissions and one note to you on my blog Caged Writer at http://cagedwriter.blogspot.com

Thanks for the opportunity!

Chris G said...

It's worth pointing out that the pinch for most people, between "employment" and the communal economy, is the necessity of some industrial employment simply in order to pay the rent or the mortgage. Increasingly few people are the owners of their "homestead" - be it one, ten, or one-hundred miles from a city center.

It's curious: as a Denver resident - not a place that pops into the head as sustainable - we're in the middle of a veritable jobs and real estate boom. There are a few reasons: first, insurance rates along the gulf coast (it's hard to even get insurance along the coast anymore, and if even possible often prohibitively expensive) - but most of the migration into Colorado has been among the lower middle class service workers (canaries in the coal mine). And there are lots of migrants from those regions. Second, the rust belt migrants - that's been going on for roughly 15-20 years, into Denver. Third, the California migrants - a big segment, mostly because of the real estate premium. Going back to the end of the Cold War military base closures. There is also a very significant oil and gas presence in Denver, along with internet and telecommunications - arguably a last hold-ou among growth sectors, albeit notably ephemeral, shifty, imaginary... Lastly, the defense industry continues to hold on. Air Force, Lockheed... a big presence here. And being a continental crossroads for transportation and defense. And the acompanying construction and service booms that go along with the other industries. There is an add-on effect that creates the appearance, it's not that bad. That is, locally.

There are efforts at sustainability, and it's not impossible to get involved now. Community gardens are available across Denver. Many people are conscious of it. Still, living in the suburbs, I get lots of funny looks for riding a bicycle. But the suburbs can be self-sustaining, and better if cooperatively and systematically. We still have good water distribution systems, lots of grass to turn into gardens or be grazed... and much waste, excess that can be shed. What's scary is the uncertainty. Our whole economy is based on growth. The interest rates charged to the home buyer, the premium paid by the renter, based on economic growth. The services provided by government, based on growth. Like a good surgeon, we ought to be very selective about what is getting cut out. Much of the fight here now is about public school funding, and that's a pretty tricky matter, because people assume it will be as it was for their grandparents. But, often, first the lesson comes, then the learning. And sometimes, that is only, only by experience - no one can teach it. Indeed, most of our wise old men are bunch of fools once peak energy flips everything upside down.

Chris G said...

Regarding music:

in my experience of it, there has been a notable upsurge of bluegrass, old timey music - and I don't think it's just a coincidence. A band called Mumford & Sons is winning grammies!!

One of the most popular songs in the last five years has to be Wagon Wheel, by Old Crow Medicine Show.

They're playing string instruments, gwowing long beards, dancing in the dirt. Still, there are many bands that have an industrial chic fashion coupled with a decadent ennui, such as the song by Bastille, lyrics above.

It's quite a bit like the hippies from the 60's, but it's quite a bit more... what's the word? serious. Many people feel the really visceral need to re-make this way of living. Largely, the sense of loving nature-as-is is coupled with a willingness to live and let live, no matter the lifestyle.

It's no surprise the artists are a little ahead but still operative within the masses. The artistic mind is simply, I think, a little bit out-of-time. I suppose particularly at this nether end of a life process, the artist struggles in the "make/do" thingyness of the present Zeitgeist.
And though the artists rebel against it - mostly they are not "revolutionary" but "co-opted", as subject as any to the whims of power.

Anonymous said...

It is not necessary to own land to be a farmer... Around here, there is a lot of vacant land with appropriate water that is available for the asking or in exchange for a few vegetables. Many land owners lack the skills or ambition to grow food on their land and are delighted if someone puts it to good use.

Unknown said...

Chris G and others interested in schools:

Check out John Taylor Gatto. The one room school with many students per teacher may have been both the most economical and the most effective. The very rich messed it up.

The Underground History of American Education

http://www.johntaylorgatto.com/chapters/index.htm

PhysicsDoc said...

Luval Clejan:
I have three small kids and a wife that depend on me for income so relocating is not in the cards, but I appreciate your offer. I do have professional optical design tools at my disposal, however, and could model up a concentrator based on your specs. My plate is pretty full at the moment so this would be a quick study. It could give information on the necessary surface quality. If you want you can send me details at ealtendorf@comcast.net.

PhysicsDoc said...

Luval Clejan:
Your concentrator has a reasonable f/# (focal length divided by aperture diameter) of 2.5. This should reduce the design complexity and possibly allow spherical/cylindrical or even segmented surfaces to be used. It all depends on details and specifications of course. As I said before you can follow up off line if you want.

Grebulocities said...

About the end of the fracking bubble, I've come to the opinion that we're in the equivalent of 2007 in the "everything" bubble, in which nearly all financial instruments have been bid up to astronomical levels, buoyed by the ability to borrow newly-created money at no interest. Hence, uneconomic investment across the board, of which fracking is one example, is commonplace. But enough people have caught onto the fact that nothing about our markets makes any sense that these opinions (and denunciations thereof) are appearing here and there in the mainstream financial press, much as in 2007 after housing prices started falling but before the financial house of cards built on it collapsed.

I've also noticed a surge in advertisements for home equity loans and other speculative consumer debt, which makes me think that our financiers are becoming desperate enough that they're hoping people will fall for the same trick they fell for less than a decade ago in order to keep the bubble going a bit longer. I read this as a sign of desperation.

The last bubble collapsed shortly after the Fed increased interest rates to a "normal" rate of around 5% after leaving them at 1% into 2004, coupled with a huge rise in oil prices, which brought down some of the elaborate Ponzi schemes that made up Wall Street's business. This current one will probably pop once oil companies stop increasing capital expenditures at ~10% just to keep up with decline rates, which probably happens after QE ends and nobody can take on more debt even at nearly 0%. The bubble behavior of financial markets is all that keeps growth going, so the ~2015 recession may well be a pretty big step down in the long descent.

I found an op-ed from December by Paul Krugman, responding to Larry Summers, that is really interesting. Summers seems to have realized that we're in a period of secular stagnation, in which growth rates are insufficient to maintain anything resembling "full employment" without blowing up bubbles. His prescription is, of course, insane: massive spending no matter how wasteful as an economic stimulus, coupled with negative interest rates to discourage saving, in order to deliberately inflate bubbles whenever possible and keep business as usual running along. I find it fascinating that the economic mainstream is beginning to (re)understand the limits of growth, but is so caught up in the ideology of perpetual growth that they're willing to blow up bubbles on purpose just to keep the illusion going. This does make me wonder if the next crash might bring about a change in the dominant economic paradigm, once some critical mass of people wakes up to the fact that long-term growth has ended.

http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/11/16/secular-stagnation-coalmines-bubbles-and-larry-summers/

Jason Heppenstall said...

"I'll be attending the 50th anniversary gathering of the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids there on the weekend on June 6-8 -- but if that's within easy range for you, I'm sure a pub can be found."

Glastonbury is within easy reach for me, and it would be great to attend the 50th anniversary.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Alan,

Ah, so that is how you think.

I am much younger than you and have a completely different outlook.

Please correct me if I am wrong, but didn't Hurricane Katrina pound New Orleans in 2005? Maybe not the old section, but still…

My understanding of the environment here has led me to believe that lightening does indeed strike in the same place twice. You would do well to ponder that thought.

Regards

Chris

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG,

It is my gut feel that it is the young who are less committed to business as usual, are on the truly fracked (haha! I'd been looking for a way to work this word into the comment) end of things and are also far more mentally adaptable to unusual situations (excluding some exceptions such as yourself and many of the commenters here, of course).

That is why I spend time monitoring the zeitgeist. If I spot any trends, I'll let you know.

Regards

Chris

IndiaJP said...

JMG said:
>one question has been coming up more and more often of late: the question of what jobs might be likely to provide steady employment as the industrial economy comes apart.

Charles Hugh Smith addresses this in his new book "Get a Job, Build a Real Career & Defy a Bewildering Economy" (of which I have only so far read the intro teaser):
http://www.oftwominds.com/get-a-job.html

Given the generally high quality of his insights and commentary on his blog, it might be worth checking out.

Yupped said...

Hi Chris,

I really agree with your points about certain people's self-esteem being tied to steady employment with status, rather than to actually being productive. A neighbor of mine lost his high status managerial job recently, and you could see his self-confidence crumble in the course of just a few weeks. He seemed to be in the race of his life between getting another similar job and losing his mind completely. The same thing happened to me about ten years ago, but circumstances required me to take a different path and get off the employment train. I'm glad that I did.

At the same time it does seem that a person's self-esteem should be partly linked to their work. But it's much better to have it connected to how productive you are, and also to how much you are facing reality in your circumstances, than it is to status and title and whether your career expectations were met and all that jazz. It's incredible to me now, looking back at my old managerial lifestyle, how incredibly unproductive I was, moving from meeting to meeting to typing stuff, with very little tangible stuff to show for it.

John Michael Greer said...

Caged, got 'em! You're in the contest.

Chris, thanks for the update. I'd been hearing rumors of the flight from the Gulf coast; interesting to hear that that's become a major force out your way. As for the musical shift, hmm! That'll bear watching.

Anonymous, around where?

Grebulocities, that's more or less my assessment. Thanks for the Krugman piece -- a really classic example of economic irrationality!

Jason, I'll look forward to seeing you there!

Cherokee, I've been getting that impression myself, and it's very heartening.

IndiaJP, thanks for the suggestion -- I'll give it a look.

dltrammel said...

Glenn said:

We have very poor drainage, our land literally weeps all winter; the rainy season here on the Olympic Peninsula. We started out with double dug beds, but our seeds would rot in the spring. Having hard borders on the raised beds takes less space than allowing the soil to slump to the natural angle of repose; as much work as land clearing is for us in our second growth forest (well, possibly third or fourth), we do like to save the space. We use common 8" X 8" X 16" concrete block, commonly called cinder block (20 X 20 X 40 cm). My wife fills the voids in the block with dirt and plants in them too. Looks decent, doesn't rot, and defines the edges of the bed well. The blocks cost us 1.67 USD each, but will last almost forever in this climate.

I second concrete blocks, but look for the thinner ones, called "partitioning" blocks at Home Depot. They run just at a dollar and as you say will last much longer than wood, not to mention you don't have to worry if the wood has been treated with harmful chemicals.

I did a tutorial on the Green Wizard site about using them here

Small Scale Raised Beds

They are heavy enough you don't have to worry about pinning the corners. Light enough you disassemble them if you need to move and as you say, the holes in them allow you to plant additional plants and flowers around the bed.

streamfortyseven said:

Have a look at this site, it may be of use: http://www.appropedia.org/Welcome_to_Appropedia

Great find, thanks.


patriciaorrmsby said:

I see people sharing good ideas here, too, but I have to scroll along, and there is no way to respond directly.

Email me at random surfer at yahoo dot com and include the words Green Wizard in the title of the email. Tell me the user name you would like and I'll set up your account and send you a temp password so you can log on.


Dwig said:

As others have commented, the Green Wizards site is definitely related here, but as far as I can tell, lacks the ability to have posts sent to one's email inbox (and reply to them), as the Yahoo and Google sites do. (I'm subscribed to many newsgroups and RSS feeds, and it's considerably more convenient to have them all come together in my email agent.)

I'll look into that and see if its a feature we can add to the new forum.

Rhisiart Gwilym said:

You're aiming NOT to have bare surface soil anywhere, ASAP. Even couch grass is no problem, and certainly not the inveterate enemy, to be annihilated at all costs, which most gardeners in Britain still seem to think. Think no-till, and no bare soil, especially on the sloped sides.

WOW, that's completely counter of what most people would recommend. I'd love to hear more on that, if not here then over on the Green Wizard forum. If you don't have a user id, let me know.

I just planted my green leafies this weekend and cleared all the weeds out. The thought of the raised bed covered in clover with the lettuce and spinach rising too holds a much better appeal, since the bees in the neighborhood seem to love the clover and ignore the flowers I put out.

I like to sit out in my small garden and enjoy morning coffee but seeing one lone bee making its way along the flowers saddens me. And every time the landlord hired lawn guys come thru and mow the clover the flowers take a hit. not good for the bees.

Nastarana said...

My daughter graduated from college this year and was hired for a full time position in a field related to her subject of study.

She lives in a large house in an expensive West Coast(USA) city with a number of other young people. As she describes it, the house is nothing like the easy come easy go let it all hang out communes of the 60s. Every tenant is required to be employed or actively seeking employment and when a vacancy occurs, the entire group interviews prospective newcomers. (She got in by invitation). I gather the place is more exclusive than any sorority or frat ever thought of being. Mere pedigree will not get you through the door here. This arrangement allows her to save money and pay her loans. Much of her education was financed by me and grants and scholarships, so the loan burden are not so large as for some. This sort of arrangement is viable so long as cities still have adequate public transportation. I think there are no cars among the bunch. I am not the first to have noticed that the generation coming of age now is not impressed by car culture.

I agree that we need to revive and rebuild neighborhood and village life and I see this happening around me, in mostly informal ways. A village can allow for many variations in way of life, from multigenerational families inhabiting one large house, to the elder in his or her tiny cottage.

Zyriz said...

JMG, I know it has already been said numerous times, but maybe it's still not enough, sincere gratitude for your work. Week after week of careful and well written analysis all on a free blog, its very existence debunking the myth of more money = more value. I came across this blog late last year while reading another recently discovered and well done series, Do the math by Tom Murphy. I have been trying to suggest that something is wrong with our current direction as a civilization and have been handing out to friends, various versions of what we might do about it. I am currently going through the 2012 -2011 posts. I have tried the story challenge and found the exercise useful. Here are my efforts.
http://vivalnotes.blogspot.com/
More may be on the way.
As for the this week's post, I can easily agree with you. I still mostly do odd jobs despite being a university graduate. since the field I choose to study was for personal interest I don't feel too cheated (importantly I didn't have to take loans so that helps), but I suspect it will be nasty when most people find out that the promises the education industry makes are no better than pyramid schemes. Will there be a revolt against knowledge as a pursuit for its own sake?
I am from the third world and it is worth noting that in many such 'developing nations', even relatively highly paid corporate and civil servants with stable jobs, practice subsistence farming almost out of habit, especially if they live in the rural areas. Even among the wealthy there are many who remember far simpler if not harsher times. But as I have found out, trying to say that the servile nations of the world are not going to have the lifestyle currently enjoyed by their former (some say they still are)masters, is not something that is politically viable. it will be interesting to see what values and narratives these nations will adopt whenever it becomes clear that the game of trying to become a "first world nation" has ended and despite the high scores of some teams, in fact produced no winners.

Mark Rice said...

There seems to be large acceptance of the thesis that employment on the decline. Maybe this is because everyone can see it happening.

During my own misspent youth, I could find employment with sufficient pay to be financially independent even though at the time I could do little more than fog a mirror.

The young people of today do not have it as easy a time. Even young people who can do more than fog a mirror have a hard time getting income sufficient to be financial independent.

Shane Wilson said...

Reading this essay, I wonder how many readers realize what a gift American immigrants are and will be in the coming deindustrial age. Many, if not most, of them are already producing durable goods and services for trade or barter, and are already living outside the "legitimate" economy, on a lot fewer resources than the average middle class American family. And a lot of them are great role models for communitarian values, living cooperatively in extended families and close knit communities. And they are that much closer to traditional/non industrial lifestyles than the average middle class American I just wonder how many in the peak oil/sustainability scene have a broad enough outlook to view undocumented immigrants as a valuable resource for the future ahead? I'm glad that I speak, read, & write Spanish well enough. I'm sure it will be useful.
My biggest concern in working with Latin American immigrants is that they are assimilating way too much of the dominant extravagant culture, that they are idealizing and internalizing too much of the extravagant American culture that is past its pull date already, and don't sufficiently value the gifts that their traditional culture has to offer.
JMG,
regarding insurrection in the West, I think the violence that the US will unleash will be one for the record books, looking back from the Civil War to Vietnam to Iraq, the US has deployed a scorched earth strategy dealing with insurgents, and considering that a Western/Southern insurrection would be an existensial threat to a weakened US, the violence unleashed would probably make Sherman's march to the sea/burning of Atlanta look tame in comparison.
Regarding needing land to do anything to prepare for post-employment, I've already accepted that I'm already financially collapsed enough not to aspire to buy a home/land. I'm already thinking in feudal terms, of what skills or trades that I could learn that would be useful to someone who already has land. I don't think you need land to be useful in a post-industrial economy. It's only been in postwar America that the ideal of home/land ownership is the norm. Most people, me included, will go back to either renting or "earning your keep" in the future.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

Two pertinent agriculture stories from this weekend's San Francisco Chronicle:

One way to make a living at farming without owning land is to be good enough at it to be hired as a farm manager. This article includes details about how people get that training. The article's main subject is a variety of enterprises which a 45 acre family farm in Santa Cruz County engages in to stay solvent. They recently took up making hard cider and growing cider apples.

growing more than crops

This article from the financial section is about rising demand and prices for chocolate. People who are trying to grow coffee and tea in a temperate climate might be better off figuring out how to grow cacao outside West Africa.

http://www.sfgate.com/default/article/Chocolate-prices-skyrocket-5415411.phpdc

Babylon Falls - Tasmania. said...

The lists of suitable employment options tend to lean towards the practical. But I've been meditating on the potential of the entertainment industry. Tied to the declining years of Rome is the notion of Bread and Circuses (food and entertainment); and the main character in The Postman starts the movie as a travelling actor. In a future decline, where electricity might be scarce and people start to prefer home grown, might a person generate revenue as a multi-faceted entertainer, e.g. magician+musician+clown+story teller?

onething said...

Cherokee, someone did mention the suicide option for baby boomers, and humorously, too.

dltrammel and all,

Someone up the chain here linked to this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oy_x5rXq19g

about Emilia Hazelip and her no-till method of gardening. I was so impressed with it that I think I will begin using her method tomorrow, or as soon as I can figure out where to come up with a huge enough amount of mulch, which I think has to be hay.

What I'm going to do is a combination of Bob Gregory's soil correction methods as taught at Berea Gardens, yes you can google it, and her no-till mulch method.

I'm very impressed with his results, too, including the health of his family.

Because of the mulch there's less weed problem (very little after a couple of years)and the ground isn't exactly bare either.
I've been somewhat perplexed by the way everyone has expensive rototillers and one guy at our farmer's market says he uses his tiller every week to control weeds. When I told my sister she said, "I do not approve! You lose moisture, worms, and soil texture. Better to mulch heavily. Then as the mulch breaks down it adds organic matter to the soil."

With Emilia's method, you till once and make mounds, and never disturb the soil again. The mounds are kept covered with mulch and you make a hole in the mulch to plant and then lightly close it over.

So I might not need a rototiller.

Now, as to Bob Gregory, we've got local farmers here who've done well for many years and they are absolutely glad of what they have learned from him. And, if you don't feel like coming for his week long class, he's got a 6 CD set that's probably about as good.

OrwellianUK said...

Hi John. I'm in general agreement with those points re 9/11. I've considered it a dead issue for years, as did Ruppert who said in January 2005 that he and others "Gave it their best shot, but the window of opportunity for any meaningful political change or accountability has long gone" (words to that effect).

After that, Peak Oil issues, and such events at the BP and Fukushima disasters were his number one priority. He became too "out there" for me though. It's becoming clear that he was suicidal on and off for a number of years and turned to Native American Philosophy and Spirituality in an attempt to stave off his demons, but alas to no avail.

I do however still discuss the subject of 9/11 a little with a couple of researchers, in particular Jon Gold. This is partly because of my own continued fascination with the subject, but mainly because Gold is very aware of the context of "Business as Usual" and the damage it is doing and how the event is used as justification for ignoring the major predicaments of our time.

He doesn't "Theorise" at all, but sticks to the facts. Quite rightly, he always says that he doesn't know what really happened on that day, but only that we were lied to and his activism for issues such as the health of the 9/11 First Responders, the Families of the victims, Anti-War/Anti-Empire in general and the Israeli-Palestine issue are notable and worthwhile and undertaken with a great deal of compassion and respect for human life.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG,

The younger generation are getting well and truly fracked - they just don't know it yet.

It's mead-o'clock now and earlier I was out with the chooks meditating on middle men, employment and banks, whilst also picking up kindling. Fun times!

When the English first settled Australia, they offered manufactured goods to the Aboriginals. The Aboriginals in turn took those manufactured goods and promptly discarded them - much to the dismay of the Europeans.

What is interesting is that the Europeans placed value in the manufactured goods, whilst the Aboriginals placed value in natural capital. The difference itself is both quite fascinating and telling. The similarities are also interesting in that both parties recognised the concept of "value".

In fact my current understanding is that our European concept of land ownership with clearly defined boundaries translated quite well into the Aboriginal culture. The difference however was in the concept of value. The Aboriginals considered that land with higher natural capital was more valuable. Natural capital translates to more wallabies, wombats, kangaroos, higher diversity of plants (useful or otherwise), wells, springs etc. than your neighbours.

Europeans on the other hand consider many factors other than natural capital when considering the abstract value of land. Some of those factors include social capital in the form of location, perceived prestige, access to markets and employment etc.

Anyway, so I'm wondering about the orchard picking up kindling (it is very windy today - not enough to run a turbine though, unfortunately) and a thought bubble pops into my head: Our culture is fixated on the purely magical definition of the understanding of the term "value".

So, how does all of this relate to banking? Well, I was recently reading an article about how the big four banks here, are now considered "too big to fail".

Size matters for the banks for better and perhaps for worse

It is an interesting article, well I thought so anyway. What jumped out at me immediately was the statistic that between 1995 and 2010 the four big banks (Down Under) Balance Sheets here jumped from 94% of GDP to 193% of GDP. Now, read that statistic again and have a good think about it. How is it possible?

As an interesting side note the Australian government provides a tax payer backed guarantee for deposits up to AU$250,000 and the banks themselves pay nothing in return for this government support on the understanding that they are too big to fail. There are no funds held aside by the government either to support this guarantee thus there is a bit of soul searching about the issue.

Cherokee Organics said...

cont...

Anyway, whilst that is interesting, it isn't the main point. The main issue is how could the banks have possibly jumped that percentage of GDP in such a short period of time?

The simple answer is that the financial markets have very recently (in the past couple of decades) become unaligned with the natural capital of the nation. There can be room for no other explanation.

Property value growth here is obviously the main driver of this statistic.

If the financial markets become disconnected with the natural capital of a nation then obviously banks are required to provide the vehicle for demonstrating any imbalance to all and sundry (ie. You can look at a piece of paper and think about how big your phallus is relative to others!). They are essentially a tool with which to capture and display abstract wealth and serve very little other purpose.

Banks are clearly middle men that have captured the market for their own benefit.

So, let’s presume that property values are purely abstract and based on magical (as understood here) considerations.

Much of that abstract wealth I can see being spent on lifestyle and medical choices of the baby boomers in the next decade or so. There is not enough abstract wealth for the next generation - by a long way.

Baby boomers leave slim inheritance

There is little wonder that many baby boomer parents are assisting their children financially with housing and education. It is unconscionable that they would do otherwise. It is hardly a source of pride if anyone looks at the big picture.

Many older people in my profession never had to go to university or obtain a post graduate simply to trade at the same level that I achieved. They also receive remuneration - even now - well in excess of anything that I've ever achieved. Housing was also affordable for those baby boomers with only 3 years of salary (with a single income). But, by the time I got to that point housing required 7 years of two people working full time whilst also paying off student debts. That study I had to wholly undertake part time too due to the lifestyle choices of my baby boomer parents.

Over here, the screws of complexity just seem to be turning tighter too in all sorts of areas in a last ditch effort to extract wealth from any source possible.

All of those indicators just tell me that decline is well and truly amongst us. My gut feel says that it won't be until we remember to fixate our attentions on the natural capital that we'll stabilise as a society.

In the future, however, if the younger generations ever cotton onto the fact that they’ve been fracked, then my gut feel says that they may just be pretty angry about it.

Regards

Chris

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Yupped,

What do they say about rats and the rat race? If you win the rat race, you're still a rat! hehe. Yeah, I jumped off too. Nice work on your part.

Hi onething,

Ooops. Busted! Yeah, I hadn't read all of the comments by that stage. hehe! Nice pick up.

Regards

Chris

Phil Harris said...

All
I found Ralph Borsodi very interesting, as he spanned the early back-to-the land movement circa 1907, and then retained traditional farming methods during the 1920s - 40s industrialisation of US agriculture, (though it as to be said modern American urban civilisation would have had big problems without that chemical intervention – many soils were running out of natural fertility), and finally witnessed the revival of Limits to Industry theory in the 1970s.

There seem to be more than one Borsodi of interest, but thanks to whoever started me looking http://www.soilandhealth.org/03sov/0303critic/brsdi.intrvw/the%20plowboy-borsodi%20interview.htm

I found this quote at the end of Ralph Borsodi's 1974 interview very practical. "I've often said that if we're going to have a real rural renaissance I'd just take the solving of the how-to problems for granted. The first thing I'd provide would be festivals."

Lonely chores are difficult.

Btw I have a copy of The Oregon Desert (Jackman & Long), which in part documents the impact on both the desert and ranching of that brief 'homesteading' episode mostly 1905 - 1915, in a chapter titled 'Those with the least stayed the longest'. There was almost no trace left by the 1960s except some had married into the older stockman families. Being good at baseball was a very good asset for both work and social life! There was quite a bit of fun for a while, but the Oregon Desert imposed very strict ecological limits!
best
Phil H

Jogger momma said...

Last week I had the very good fortune to hear a presentation by Will Allen, urban gardener extradonaire, on his Growing Power company/farm based in Milwaukee. He is truly an inspiring example of how one can make a living and connect with and give back to one's community. None of the garden beds that he starts have borders. As he said when I asked him how he keeps his soil and seed from washing away, "A garden doesn't have to be in a box." They make all their own soil on site through an intensive composting operation and because they don't screen their finished soil it still has enough organic matter to hold together in a two foot high raised bed with no borders. It's a great example of building healthy soil and having a productive garden with almost no start up cost or extra material needed.

thrig said...

Cherokee: "between 1995 and 2010 the four big banks (Down Under) Balance Sheets here jumped from 94% of GDP to 193% of GDP."

Capital accrues to those that have it? Thomas Piketty has no few words on that matter, and does cover the shift in capital from agricultural land to present forms (urban land, transportation, communication, industry, etc), though I'm still picking my way through his work.

Immediate takeaways include that assuming a future of low growth (both economic and demographic) capital will likely accumulate to those that already have it, though considering Thucydides marginal yet well-maintained land might be ideal, given the propensity of humans to squabble over the good bits. Also, expect that there will be those who will sell their capital in order to maintain their lifestyle (while they can).

Anne Jardine said...

It's not knitting yarn that will be important. Spinning is easily done on a spindle, which is, in its simplest form, a circular disk with a stick speared through the center. Easy woodturning project. The bottleneck will be carding - turning the fleece from off the sheep into a form where it can be used to spin finer yarn. Off the sheep, wool can only be used to create a thick, corkscrewy, lumpy yarn. Cleaning and carding makes it possible to spin finer, smoother yarns that knit into fabrics that can be used well into spring and through fall, as well as during winter.

Ruben said...

A very grateful tip of the hat to Doug W. for the recommendation of Ralph Borsodi. I downloaded a free ebook of Flight From the City and am over halfway through. It is a great read.

It is interesting to question how the math will change, given how globalization has driven costs down overseas. He is also very interesting for his position that the point is not to make or grow for sale, but rather to reduce household costs.

Redneck Girl said...

4/21/14, 11:59 AM

Blogger Anne Jardine said...
It's not knitting yarn that will be important. Spinning is easily done on a spindle, which is, in its simplest form, a circular disk with a stick speared through the center. Easy woodturning project. The bottleneck will be carding - turning the fleece from off the sheep into a form where it can be used to spin finer yarn. Off the sheep, wool can only be used to create a thick, corkscrewy, lumpy yarn. Cleaning and carding makes it possible to spin finer, smoother yarns that knit into fabrics that can be used well into spring and through fall, as well as during winter.


One thing the Pacific states have here in much of California and Oregon is 'an inheritance' from Europe in the form of star thistle which was imported to make honey, the bees love it but it's really bad for horses and it's deep rooted and takes over fields! But the other thing that gets really annoying is teasels. They can take over a field like nobody's business! And why were they imported? I'm glad you asked! The first clue is in the name, they are the original primitive carding comb for wool. The body of the seed heads can be at least an inch or two wide, have long pointed fingers and the durned things can get three to four inches long as well! They really like to get tangled in a horse's mane and tail. The goats 'may' eat the leaves but horses and (as far as I can tell) cows don't! They have become a real pest in some pastures if they get a toe hold.

You might try looking some up and planting it in a tightly controlled plot. Or not since they can become quite a pest!

Wadulisi

Bogatyr said...

Today's Guardian is carrying a very topical article: Austerity in Greece caused more than 500 male suicides, say researchers. As in Russia, now in Greece, and we'll see it becoming more widespread as collapse creeps into homes across the developed world.

John Michael Greer said...

Nastarana, it's exactly that sort of ad hoc muddling-through adjustments that, to my mind, offer the best options for getting through the next round of crisis. Warren Johnson's Muddling Toward Frugality remains a critically important guide.

Zyriz, got your stories -- you're in the contest. As for the Third World, I suspect that at least some nonindustrial countries are going to come out way ahead as the industrial age winds down, precisely because so many people still know how to produce food and other necessities for themselves, not to mention how to get by in very hard times. The casualty rate here in America as the formerly privileged learn how to do that is likely to be considerable.

Mark, I'm impressed that there isn't a more widespread effort to deny it!

Shane, I'm sorry to say that you're right -- not least because that kind of strategy only works when the earth-scorchers can count on an overwhelming preponderance of force. At this point the US military is huge but brittle, and a little inspired monkeywrenching in the wrong place could leave it spectacularly vulnerable -- and if it's abandoned the protections of the Geneva convention and of basic humanity, the blowback is likely to be horrific.

Unknown Deborah, thanks for the links!

Babylon, yes, that's also an option. Entertainers made a decent living right through the dark ages, if they knew how to appeal to the taste of barbarian warbands!

Orwellian, oh, granted, it's an interesting question -- like the questions around exactly how JFK was assassinated. My objection is purely that too many people seem to think that arguing about how one or the other happened is a viable substitute for doing something about the future that's breathing down all our necks.

Cherokee, it's possible because the manufacture of hallucinatory wealth is very nearly the only industry left that makes any large amount of money. Those huge balance sheets consist of make-believe money, unpayable IOUs conjured out of thin air. It's an interesting spectacle, not least because as far as I know, nobody's ever tried that particular way of wrecking an economy before, and there's much to be learned in watching how it plays out.

Phil, Borsodi's comment about festivals is intriguing. Ross Nichols, arguably the 20th century's most influential Druid thinker, wrote an essay on the revival of rural life that drew exactly the same conclusion: start with the festivals, the rituals, the things that make rural life meaningful and fun, and the rest will follow.

Jogger momma, thanks for the info! My methods are not too different from Allen's, for whatever that's worth.

Anne, and why should carding be a bottleneck? I know a lot of people -- my wife is one of them -- who card wool themselves; it's not a difficult process, and can be done using very simple hand tools.

Bogatyr, thanks for the link. From what I'm hearing, there's already a fair amount of that happening in the US, especially among twentysomethings who have crushing debt and no prospects at all.

Sunyata said...

What would you recommend for people who are disabled, or who are not able to engage in physical labor? Are these people just going to be trampled by the realities of life?

Additionally, how long do you think one would have to prepare for the economy shrinking?

I, for one, like to imagine going back to school for engineering and familiarizing myself with energy. I like thinking that understanding this basic and important part of life would make my skills valuable, regardless of the economic situation.

daelach said...

@ JMG: One of your points was that the energy surplus will no longer be there to support the classes who aren't productive themselves (managers, bankers, politicians etc).

During the middle ages, there was no capitalism, but feudalism - and the nobility was just as unproductive as managers or bankers. From the king down to the low nobility, they consumed what the peasants created, forcing them even to compulsory labour which could amount to as much as three months of a year.

So obviously, take-it-from-others-classes are possible without fossile energy.

Or was your point rather that today's take-it-from-others-classes will not persist, not withstanding that others might appear instead, most likely not consisting of the same persons?

John Michael Greer said...

Sunyata, learn a skilled trade that doesn't require a lot of physical stamina, and fits within the limitations imposed by your disability. In many nonindustrial societies, there were specific trades set aside for the disabled -- massage, for example, was customarily reserved for blind people in feudal Japan -- and though it'll be a while before that kind of set-aside becomes common again, there are plenty of crafts that can be done by someone with a disability even now.

Daelach, the feudal aristocracy in a medieval society, counting everyone from the king or shogun down to the lowliest man-at-arms or samurai, amounts to maybe five per cent of the population; another five per cent consists of religious professionals, and then you get maybe ten per cent in the various skilled trades, leaving 80 per cent working in subsistence food production or the household economy that supports it. Nowadays the proportions are reversed -- we have maybe 20 per cent of the population engaged in something productive, and 80 per cent in one or another parasitic role. That's going to change, in a big way, as the take-it-from-others class contracts to a scale that a nonfossil fuel society can support. As for the personnel -- yes, in parallel historical situations there's a 100% turnover in personnel, because the skill set that allows you to successfully parasitize a complex civilization has essentially no overlap with the skill set that enables you to claw your way to the top in a dark age warrior culture.

daelach said...

80% parasitic? Hmm.. we don't have that many bankers, politicians, managers and the like. Or are those who don't produce a thing but are somewhere in the distribution chain also being counted?

Example, I want to eat an apple. So I do need someone to grow apples, naturally. But between the farmer and me, there's the whole distribution chain from the procurement of the supermarket chain, the truck drivers, the mechanics maintaining the trucks, the road workers maintaining the roads, the soldiers fighting abroad for the fuel to drive that whole machinery, down to the cashier in the supermarket.

I guess this effect will be most notable in the US because that's a side-effect of the imperial wealth pump, but to a lesser degree it works this way also in the rest of what has been the First World.

As for the reversal of the economy, I agree - I once read that 1 barrel of oil corresponds to 5,000 hours of human farm labour.. as long as there is heavily mechanised agriculture, that is. Once that runs out of fuel, we will have to redirect a huge percentage of the working force to farming (unless we agree to starve).

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG,

Agreed, much will be learned. It will be interesting too in that we have the option this time around of continuing to feed the beast. It will only stop being fed if we make the decision to do so (and few in developed countries show any signs of doing so). One possible outcome is that it may just possibly die a quiet death as it gains increasing irrelevance? Dunno. Possibly, default and replacement may end up being the more likely outcome though. There are probably all sorts of nightmare scenarios though.

Over here, they are throwing everything they have at it. The rules have changed to allow people to purchase geared (ie. with borrowings) investment properties in their superannuation funds. The superannuation system was specifically established with the rule: thou must not borrow. But somehow the rules changed. I’ve read that there are financial planners obtaining real estate licenses so they can recommend real estate. They were previously not allowed to do so as real estate is not considered to be a financial product.

What is really interesting is that in the very small window of time that I hear commercial radio (usually in other people’s businesses), commercials are spruiking this form of investment.

Remote Florida real estate anyone?

Hi Thrig,

Yeah. Plenty of uber wealthy people lost their shirts during the Great Depression. I understand the technical definition of capital. However, if the real world meaning of that term becomes distorted then what does it mean in the future and what can it purchase?

Hi Deborah,

Thanks for the idea, that's why I keep coming back here. You can buy them too. Nice work.

In cooler and drier areas carob is an excellent substitute and fixes nitrogen into the soil too. I grow some here.

Regards

Chris

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@Cherokee Organics--I think your patch is too dry for cacao cultivation to be practical. Parts of the American South would be better. I got the information about the requirements for growing cacao beans (among other crops) off a website of the Queensland Department of Agriculture. Great resource.

http://www.daff.qld.gov.au/plants/fruit-and-vegetables/fruit-and-nuts/other-fruit-crops/growing-cocoa

Translating your financial remarks into Murcan, geared = leveraged and superannuation = retirement. Made redundant = laid off.