The Long Emergency
As the election campaign ground on like a 3000-mile race between a
greyhound and an armadillo, the media kept harping on Barack Obama’s
vague promises of "change." We now know what the main promise was: regime
change, right here in the USA, not in some place where the natives wear
strange headgear. Mr. Obama’s victory was a moment of epochal
exhilaration, not least because he appears to be a decent and
intelligent person self-made from a humble background — someone who
has personally bought tube socks in the K-mart, worried about money,
and made many trips in a subway car.
The current occupant of
the White House, however, has sedulously prepared for his successor the
biggest shit sandwich the world has ever seen, and there is naturally
some concern that Mr. Obama might choke on it. The dilemma is
essentially this: the consumer economy we all knew and loved has died.
There will be pressure from nearly every quarter to keep it hooked up
to the costly life support machines even though it is dead. A different
economy is waiting to be born, but it is nothing like the one that has
died. The economy-to-come is one of rigor and austerity. It is not the
kind of thing that a nation of overfed clowns is used to. Do we even
have a prayer of getting to it, or are we going to squander our
dwindling resources on life support for something that is already dead?
A case in point: the car industry. The Big Three, all functionally
bankrupt, are now lined up for bail-outs from the treasury’s bottomless
checking account. Personally, I believe the age of Happy Motoring is
over. Many Americans have already bought their last car — they just
don’t it yet. The current low-ish price of oil is a total fake-out,
having to do much more with asset-dumping in the paper markets than the
true resource supply-demand equation. Most of the world (the media for
sure) has ignored preliminary leaks from the International Energy
Agency’s (IEA) forthcoming report which forecasts global oil depletion
to be 9.1 percent in 2009. This is a staggering figure, very likely to
offset whatever slack we see in global demand from the worldwide
economic crisis. In fact, the global oil markets are poised for the
most severe dislocations ever seen, meaning it’s a toss-up what happens
first in the USA: a major leg back up in oil prices, or shortages, hoarding, and rationing.
For my money (literally) there are only two main reasons that any
portion of the car industry should be rescued at the present time:
one, because we need somebody to manufacture engines for military
vehicles, and two, because we need somebody to manufacture rolling
stock for the revival in passenger railroad service that will have to
be a centerpiece of the future economy if we want to remain a civilized
Even the progressive factions of the public may be in
for much more "change" than they bargained for. The global economy as we
knew it is finished (despite British PM Gordon Brown’s fatuous
suggestion that we are ready to formalize it). The world is about to
lose its "flatness" (sorry Tom Friedman) and get much rounder. For one
thing, the racket of American "consumers" gobbling up the output of
Asian factories in exchange for paper promises is over. For the moment,
the Chinese are struggling with epic factory closures with the sudden
prospect of a restive lumpenproletariet. The situation there is bound
to get worse. Before long, these broke-and-hungry masses may actually
challenge the present government. In the meantime, there’s no telling
what the (unelected) Chinese government might do either to keep itself
in power, or genuinely defend its country’s perceived economic
interests. One thing is self-evident:
we are not returning to the old racket of toys-for-treasury-bills. One
thing China might do in economic self-defense is shed whatever US
dollar-denominated paper is moldering in their vaults before it becomes
As global trade relations wither, and
they will, the US will be thrust back on its own devices, at the same
time that oil resources grow punishingly scarce. Mr. Obama will have to
contend with the necessary radical reform of all the activities
necessary for daily life here. Near the top of the list — invisible to
most of the public so far — will be the question of how we produce the
food we need. Industrial farming is done, just as suburbia is toast.
Mr. Obama will have to apply plenty of ass-time to the first stages of
negotiating this bottleneck. I don’t even know what he can do
policy-wise, though he can certainly make it plain to the public that
we have to grow more of our food close to home and do it with fewer
engines and fewer oil-based soil supplements. It is a problem of such
surpassing difficulty that it was not even close to being in the
election arena. The transition will probably occur by means of
"emergence." Self-evident necessity will prompt different behavior and
different ways of doing things. Sooner or later, the new arrangements
will self-organize — if we don’t squander resources defending an
unsustainable status quo. One thing we can certainly predict is that
growing our food will require more human labor and attention — meaning
there will be plenty of work for people currently losing their jobs at
The Footlocker and Arby’s, but it’s far from certain whether they will
be happy in their new vocations.
We’re going to have to resume making things in the USA again,
too, probably at a more modest scale, and probably fewer things than we
are used to. We have no idea yet how this is going to happen. Like
agriculture, manufacturing culture may have to return, if at all,
emergently, as individuals and communities see opportunity in
advantages like proximity to water-power and water transport. My guess
is that corporate enterprise as we have known it — at the continental
and global scale — is done for. I would not bet on any of the Fortune
500 carrying on the manufacturing work of the future using the
plants-and-equipment that are familiar to them. The manufacturing of
the future may be more like cottage industry than Proctor and Gamble.
Yet, obviously, there will be tremendous efforts to prop up failing
corporate enterprise and prevent natural bankruptcies from occurring.
Similarly, the retail part of the economy. Many observers think
that Wal-Mart and its clones are immune to the larger forces swirling
around us. Just because many cash-strapped people are hunting for
bargains at WalMart these days does not insure the survival of the Big
Box model very far into the future. In fact, in every trend we can see
— from the oil markets to events in China to the impoverishment of the
US working class to the coming crisis in truck transport — you can
easily discern fatal weaknesses in this model. Local retail (and its
support structures) is coming back. We just don’t know how, yet, and we
don’t know how much capital and effort will be squandered trying to
rescue WalMart, when the time comes. But the imperative re-scaling of
commerce in America also represents huge opportunities for young people
to get into their own businesses.
Mr. Obama will preside over the potential restructuring of all
our systems, some of them in ways he and his supporters have not
imagined. We haven’t begun to see where fate will take higher
education, but my guess is that it will no longer be a "consumer"
activity, and that the hypertrophied land-grant diploma mills will have
to to shrink or die as state financial support withers away, and all
sorts of unnecessary professions from "public relations" to "marketing"
cease to require certified graduates. The luxurious central high
schools, utterly addicted to their yellow school bus fleets, will be
left as a problem for the states and municipalities. I don’t believe
they can be rescued, and they are already failing in many other ways,
not least, educating and properly socializing young humans.
In the months just ahead, Mr. Obama will certainly be swamped
with straight-ahead cash problems in every area of American life, from
the foundering pension funds to the bankrupt state treasuries to the
beggaring corporations to the starkly dispossessed and hungry masses of
the jobless and re-poed. I wasn’t kidding when I came up with the
label, "the long emergency," to describe the storm that we are heading
into, along with Mr. Obama. Of course, the current president — and Mr.
Obama has been shrewd to point out there is only one president in
office at a time –has more than two months to wreak additional havoc
in the financial system. Right now, he’s asking Mr. O, "…do you want
fries with that sandwich I made for you?"
I met Kunstler at the ASPO in Sac….what strikes me is that I can’t figure out if his belt size is larger than his mouth. He has great points, no doubt, he’s a famous author and notable public figure but he is the opposite embellishment of what he criticizes, I’d like to have the chance to discuss with him some positive actions but he simply won’t let you finish a sentence. He is so bias about Bushco he has lost any potential prospect for objectivity., frankly…Pelosi being the WEALTHIST person in con-gress on mony made on sub-primes/real-estate in CALIFORNIA. and their lot, he has yet to investigate that…..she had to know what was going on and had to be in on it. SO all those folks in California who lost homes while Nancy is laughing all the way to the bank…Hey Kunstler..if you are reading this learn some humility.
Face the fact that both groups need to be removed from power.
my humble opinion
One issue here is Military manufacture. Only GM makes anything major for the Army. The HMMWV and the CUCV. The Humvee is still in play made in Mishawaka Indiana, but the CUCV is mostly National Gaurd and Reserves. (The CUCV is the 1984 Blazer and PU body style.) The Abrams tank used to be Chrysler, but General Dynamics bought them and moved the manufacture to Lima Ohio, from Warren Michigan a sub-burb of Detroit. Lima is afew hours south of Detroit. The Bradley is made by BAE Syetems. I don’t know where, but not the Detroit area. Cummins makes the engine. The LMTV and MTV are made by Armor Holdings and appears to have been bought or partnered with BAE. I don’t know who makes the engine. The Stryker and Fox is made by Genral Dynamics and the Buffalo is made
by Force Protection is South Carolina. The LMRS is made by Lockeed
Martin. BAE also makes the new 155mm Howitzer and the Paladin self propelled howitzer and most of the MRAP’s. The M113 APC is still in service is various roles and BAE looks like the current manufacturer. Of course many of the big three suppliers probably suppy these guys too.
I know the Military has many more vehicles than this and there might be some small stuff done, at least from the Army point of view. I knew Ford used to make F-16 Radar, but I don’t know about it any more. The point being is that this may keep some suppliers in business, but I doubt the Humvee will keep GM afloat.