Spectrum of global worldviews, per Michael Adams’ American Backlash. The beliefs and behaviours shown in bold are increasing the fastest, and are particularly prevalent in the US and among younger people.
It is not in human nature to prepare for catastrophe. We are, at heart, a reactive species, adapting to situations as they occur, rather than anticipating and taking steps to mitigate or pre-empt them. This is abundantly clear from our recent reactions to 9/11 and the consequences of Bush’s Middle East wars, to SARS and Mad Cow and Poultry Flu, to the Asian tsunami and last year’s hurricanes. We are not prepared now for economic depression, for disease pandemic, for the End of Oil or the End of Water, for the effects of global warming including the 2006 hurricane season, for biological or chemical attacks by desperate individuals, or for nuclear wars precipitated by overpopulation, famine, cultural conflict or Bush’s threats to launch nuclear attacks on non-nuclear nations.
Most of these catastrophic events have a reasonably high degree of probability of occurrence, and those that occur will probably cause horrific damage, death, loss and suffering. For some of them, we have feeble contingency plans, known mostly only to governments that have demonstrated clearly that they are not capable of carrying them out anyway. For the rest, we have no plan at all. We will worry about them if and when they occur, make it up as we go along. That is our nature.
On that basis, given that at least some of these events are most likely unpreventable, inevitable, and not prepared for, how will we behave when they occur?
Let’s look at what might happen in a second Great Depression to answer this question. Many people, including leading economists and historians, have acknowledged that this is likely, as our debt-ridden and over-extended economy is now so fragile that only co-dependence is keeping most of us from bailing out and precipitating it. The world’s only superpower, with the imminent collapse of its automotive and airline industries, is now utterly dependent on its two biggest industries: War, and Profit-Skimming. The US Defense and Homeland Security Departments, totally funded by taxpayers and with a larger centrally-planned budget than any communist regime could have dared dream of, is spending money like water, with (at best) zero return on investment. Corporate profit-skimming, the result of oligopoly price-gouging, is giving many global corporations, most of them US-based, huge mark-ups for almost zero risk, very little real ‘work’ and extremely low investment, which consumers, no longer protected by anti-combines legislation, have no choice but to pay. These fantastic and unwarranted ROIs are necessary to prop up the wildly overpriced stock market. Much of the rest of the US economy is dependent on massive government subsidies, a form of corporate welfare, without which they could not compete, or even survive, in the international marketplace. These subsidies are in turn financed by taxpayers, and by the largest government debt in the history of civilization.
The first domino to fall, many seem to agree, will be the US dollar, followed quickly by the stock market and the housing market. Interest rates will soar to double digits as borrowers desperately try to refinance US dollar debts no one wants to own. The net worth of millions, perhaps the large majority of North Americans (the Canadian economy is totally dependent on the US economy), will be quickly wiped out. Consumer spending will cease, and as a result corporate profits will disappear and bring about massive layoffs and pay cuts. Debts incurred to pay for consumer purchases and real estate will be called in, resulting in large numbers of foreclosures and bankruptcies.
Keep in mind that the immediate effects of a plunge into Depression are on paper only. While you may lose your life savings in a month, it may take a year or two, through slow attrition, before you lose your job. You will probably find that, without all the expenses of your (and your spouse’s) job, many of the costs you incur now will disappear. As Paula at Adaptation has explained, the first real pinch you will feel is the cost of food, especially when your worthless dollars are no longer accepted by vendors. You may find, as many did in the last Great Depression, that growing your own food (with your new idle time) makes sense.
I don’t believe we’re going to see massive rioting, looting, home invasions and theft-related murders when this happens. In fact, I think most people will pull together, help to maintain civil order, and be generous with what they have. That’s based in part on my positive view of basic human nature, and in part on my study of past serious Depressions, both global and local (like the recent one in Argentina). But blog readers and writers who have commented on this are of two minds about this: In particular, there seems to be a sense that the US has become so un-compassionate over the past fifty years that hoarding and civil disorder is more likely to occur there than in other countries. There also seems to be a sense that the younger generations today (who are disproportionately in the lower right quadrant of the behaviour spectrum illustrated above) are more fatalistic and inclined to take an “every person for him/herself” approach to such a crisis. I’m not so sure, but this is important to know, especially if this Depression can be stalled off for another ten or twenty years. What do you think?
There are some who believe that millions will be rendered homeless (by eviction following bankruptcy or foreclosure) when a Depression occurs. I think this is unlikely, because lending institutions would be better off taking a small amount of money each month instead of houses they can’t resell, and in fact having people stay in the house at least prevents it from being ransacked. In the last Depression foreclosures and evictions were common in some areas and rare in others. Since financial institutions are unlikely to be prepared for a Depression, it’s hard to say what they will do. My guess is that they’ll only foreclose and boot people out into the street as a last resort once the Depression is well underway. The trick I think is to either have no debt on your home, or to have enough cash that when Depression hits you won’t be one of the unlucky first wave to run out of money — they’ll be the ones to be evicted.
Utilities are another big question mark. If the Depression occurs (as I believe it will) before the major impacts of the End of Oil, you’re going to be hungry and unemployed long before the lights go out and the heat and air conditioning stop. But if you’re dependent on your car, life could be very difficult, because oil prices are likely to spike well before electricity prices do. And, again, if you’re paying with a worthless currency, you’re going to find gasoline unaffordable. You’re going to have to find a means to work, and buy the stuff you need, close to home — or move. There could be a major exodus both into the cities that still offer jobs and into small towns with cheap housing close to local food supplies — and away from the suburbs, which offer neither. The suburbs could become partially abandoned and fall prey to squatters and scavengers.
Given this scenario, I still bravely believe that we would muddle through pretty well — until and unless cascading disasters like disease pandemics, ecological catastrophes brought on by global warming, global wars precipitated by massive famines in struggling nations, or the End of Oil, add to the burden. In fact a Depression might actually equip us to better face the adversity of these subsequent threats to our well-being.
That’s my take, but I’m interested in your views on this. If you think a Depression is highly unlikely or impossible, please save your thoughts for another time or post. What I’d really like to hear is if and when we face another Great Depression, how will we react, behave, and adapt to it? And what stories can you tell, from relatives who lived through the last one or who lived through a more recent one in another part of the world, that can help us, if not plan, then at least prepare ourselves for what we will face?
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Archive by Category
My Bio, Contact Info, Signature PostsAbout the Author (2016)
--- My Best 100 Posts --
Preparing for Civilization's End:
What Would Net-Zero Emissions Look Like?
Why Economic Collapse Will Precede Climate Collapse
Being Adaptable: A Reminder List
A Culture of Fear
What Will It Take?
A Future Without Us
Dean Walker Interview (video)
The Mushroom at the End of the World
What Would It Take To Live Sustainably?
The New Political Map (Poster)
Complexity and Collapse
Save the World Reading List
What a Desolated Earth Looks Like
Giving Up on Environmentalism
The Dark & Gathering Sameness of the World
The End of Philosophy
The Boiling Frog
What to Believe Now?
Conversation & Silence
The Language of Our Eyes
Cultural Acedia: When We Can No Longer Care
Several Short Sentences About Learning
Why I Don't Want to Hear Your Story
A Harvest of Myths
The Qualities of a Great Story
The Trouble With Stories
A Model of Identity & Community
Not Ready to Do What's Needed
A Culture of Dependence
So What's Next
Ten Things to Do When You're Feeling Hopeless
No Use to the World Broken
Living in Another World
Does Language Restrict What We Can Think?
The Value of Conversation Manifesto Nobody Knows Anything
If I Only Had 37 Days
The Only Life We Know
A Long Way Down
No Noble Savages
Figments of Reality
Too Far Ahead
The Rogue Animal
How the World Really Works:
If You Wanted to Sabotage the Elections
Collective Intelligence & Complexity
Ten Things I Wish I'd Learned Earlier
The Problem With Systems
Against Hope (Video)
The Admission of Necessary Ignorance
Several Short Sentences About Jellyfish
A Synopsis of 'Finding the Sweet Spot'
Learning from Indigenous Cultures
The Gift Economy
The Job of the Media
The Wal-Mart Dilemma
The Illusion of the Separate Self:
Did Early Humans Have Selves?
Nothing On Offer Here
Even Simpler and More Hopeless Than That
What Happens in Vagus
We Have No Choice
Never Comfortable in the Skin of Self
Letting Go of the Story of Me
All There Is, Is This
A Theory of No Mind
The Ever-Stranger (Poem)
The Fortune Teller (Short Story)
Non-Duality Dude (Play)
Your Self: An Owner's Manual (Satire)
All the Things I Thought I Knew (Short Story)
On the Shoulders of Giants (Short Story)
Calling the Cage Freedom (Short Story)
Only This (Poem)
The Other Extinction (Short Story)
Disruption (Short Story)
A Thought-Less Experiment (Poem)
Speaking Grosbeak (Short Story)
The Only Way There (Short Story)
The Wild Man (Short Story)
Flywheel (Short Story)
The Opposite of Presence (Satire)
How to Make Love Last (Poem)
The Horses' Bodies (Poem)
Distracted (Short Story)
Worse, Still (Poem)
A Conversation (Short Story)
Farewell to Albion (Poem)
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