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Economic and social collapse : a rough guide, part 1

Poster: Hank @ Wed May 25, 2011 6:52 pm

"Don't tell me it's OK when it's not OK, Moltar!" - Space Ghost

It's time that we stop pretending that everything is going to be OK. In fact, it's time to stop pretending that anything's going to be OK. As Ewan MacGregor says in "Trainspotting," things are going to be bad. Really bad.

The recent increase in European and US inflationary activity is the first concrete seepage of the massive $#!% flood in which we'll find ourselves swept away when the bizarre monetary policies of the last 3 years bear fruit. When that combines with the effects of our other laughably short-sighted choices over the last several decades, it's going to be a real wild time. I hope you guys are into German-style hyperinflation, because that's the yummy appetizer that will whet our palate for a feast of hardship.

**EDIT : as of May 26, the US economy has officially started grinding to a halt, with economic growth nearly halved to a rate of 1.8% : ***

You're already aware that the global economy, and especially the economies of developed countries like the US and UK, are doomed, @#$%ed, and going to completely collapse very soon. For those just tuning in, here's a review :

The reason that the US and European econo-societies are doomed is that the citizen-consumers in those countries, for the better part of a half-century, have cared more about having access to plentiful supplies of cheap goods than they have about their own well-being. So, we've happily supported the corporations as they grew from big, to national, to transnational -- which was enabled by their clever focus on branding as a way to conceal the fact that they were taking jobs, money, and smart people out of our economies and moving them to where it best benefitted their balance sheets. Our emphasis on getting the people decent educations has been a joke, and those that do get educated were diverted to work that produces practically no real value.

Jobs went to slave-labor economies like China and Indonesia, money went to mysterious securities fabricated on Wall Street, and the smart people were lured into designing weapons for sale, psyching consumers into desiring poisonous products, and calculating what could be done to squeeze the last hundreth of a cent out of each transaction.

The corporations own the US government, so they used it to start a few foreign wars of aggression in order to stimulate demand for the corporations' own products like oil, bombs and monocropped food for "foreign aid." In the meantime, the public has merrily gone into debt to finance the corporations and wars; now the debt is owned by grinning smart people in the same countries we "used" to abet our addictions to cheap oil and labor.

The corporations who control global food production have got it fixed so that soon, they'll nearly have a legal monopoly on food by means of biological patents on crops (which don't affect "organic" farmers unless, say, pollen from the engineered crops gets on the organic crops then whoops! Looks like that's some patent infringement, son!), buying all the "organic" food producers, and then tweaking food-labeling rules so that they can sell pretty much whatever they want under any label they want. Not that organic vs conventional marketing is going to make much of a difference when the average consumer is just struggling to survive, of course. And they've had the Third World completely locked into a survival trip of "genetically engineered seeds for high yield need our special fertilizers and pesticides to grow" for decades already.

This has all been going full-steam since the early 1990s, so for twenty years the guys with the plan -- that is, the transnational corporations and their puppet governments -- have been gaining ground. When the average stiff, who'd bought into the consumerist fantasy that the corporations peddled, finally started to get wise (starting at the crash of 2008), the whole thing was a fait accompli.

Fact : things are going to change profoundly and rapidly in the next few years.

Here's how it's going to be : those in control of the corporations will enjoy a high degree of freedom, while everybody else will be de facto slaves. If you're not part of the corporate upper echelon already, don't worry. Unless you have enough money now to become a significant shareholder in a major transnational, there's not really enough time for you to try to join the corporate swine herd in time to avoid becoming a serf (or worse).

Pretty soon, the US and European "markets" will no longer be a good place for the transnationals to hawk their expensive wares, because the vast majority of the population will have had their job outsourced and been unable to learn a skill that would allow them to continue their consumer lifestyle. Those people will have only a subsistence income or none at all. The corporations will still make a killing in America off basic staples like food and shelter, but they'll have to go to Asia to find buyers for their fancy trinkets and signifiers. If the corporations have it planned right -- and the smart money says they do -- they'll stop paying money wages altogether and start trading food and shelter for labor. This arrangement isn't much different from the common arrangement in East Asia, where workers are paid very little in cash while living and eating in dormitory and cafeteria facilities run by the corporation. Throw in a 'company store,' and we're right back to where we were in the first half of America's 20th century.

Which should make you realize that we've only been in an era of mass "prosperity" for a few decades. Turns out that it was just a historical hiccup, a side effect of the fact that we'd created immensely powerful and profitable institutions during and in the wake of World War II, and then fabricated a culture of consumerism to support those institutions. It gave us the illusion of affluence when in fact, we were following the whims of the institutions and becoming dependent on and indebted to them. Like Jason Statham says about the ruthless gangster Brick Top in "Snatch" : "Once you're in his debt, you're in his pocket -- and once you're in that, you're never getting out."

The massive public financing of private corporate debt that was done in 2008 and 2009 kept corporations afloat and swept the suffering of the citizens under the rug. The corporations get bigger and bigger, and turn healthy profits, so pundits and the gullible are hoodwinked into thinking that something called a "recovery" is underway. That's pretty @#$%in' far from the case, though. As the corporations rake in profits and funnel them to other corporations' securities and their own foreign facilities, the condition of the average person deteriorates. When those poor suckers watch TV, though, they hear all about the "recovery" and are hoodwinked into thinking that the problem must be with them or their community.

But why, you may still ask, will the corporations soon control everything and the people be so impoverished? Two reasons : 1) The corporations control the food supply and set its prices; 2) the corporations control the use of forces, whether the putatively "public" armies and law enforcement agencies or their own 'legitimate' security organizations.

Though the most glamorous and vilified transnational corporations are in the energy and weapons industries, the smartest and most dangerous are in the food and water industry. When things get rough, people can go without a car. If they have no choice, they can even go without proper shelter. They can't go long without water or food, though. "Economists" will talk about the slope of demand curves as a measure of how secure the sellers of a good are. When people are starving, the slope of the demand curve for food is just about vertical. The food corporations have also guaranteed that they are practically unbeatable with the aforementioned (and quite insane) genetic patents and the ability to squeeze other industries by controlling the price of food ("Want people to have enough money to buy your widgets? Give us an incentive to keep food prices low"). It should go without saying that controlling the supply of water, as the corporations currently prancing around the globe to buy water rights aim to do, gives one nearly unlimited real power over both people and industry, neither of which can do their thing without water.

It's already been amply demonstrated by the war in Iraq that corporations command the US military; that war was nothing but a mechanism for corporations to sell weapons and support items while raising the price of oil and attempting to secure additional supply of the same for themselves. [Of course, the supply thing didn't work out, but small worry, since that only served to publicly justify their preplanned price increases.] That war also demonstrates that private armies -- like those run by Blackwater / Xe -- are widely deployed in no secret way. Transnational corporations that operate facilities in dangerous places in the "developing" world openly deploy sophisticated security forces already.

A major factor that is happily abetting the complete domination of people and reality by corporations is that supposed conduit of freedom, the digital information revolution. By monitoring your activities on the Internet and when using credit / debit cards, the corporations and their governments build detailed databases about you, giving them really wonderful intelligence about how to best get you to do what they want (which is usually to buy more of their products and ignore the opposition). Naturally, the corporations control the media you consume, so they shape your opinion -- and now with an ever-increasing percentage of people consuming content "on-demand" from the Internet and other digital sources, the corporations can very cleverly design and time their campaigns aimed at you for maxiumum persuasion. This is what we have some of our brightest minds doing right now, engineering these campaigns (good thing they're not trying to figure out how to make it so that, oh I dunno, everybody in America has enough to eat, huh?). The result of this is that pretty much everyone does what the corporations want them to do, which is to consume products and allow whatever behavior the corporations desire.

The fact that we have our smartest people working not to extract us from this horror, but instead to deepen it, shows how badly twisted our system of values and incentives is. These kids should be hard at work developing ways that we can get back a shred of independence or security, but instead they end up as "quants" on Wall Street, creating nonexistent value through manipulation of false assets, or engineers designing Google's latest ad campaign.

All this sounds pretty bad, but there's another factor that hasn't even been mentioned yet : the habitability of our environment. Fortunately for the corporations, we've shown them time and time again that we won't hold them accountable for destroying the ability of our environment to support life. The 2010 BP calamity in the Gulf of Mexico, from which the perpetrator emerged intact as Americans and countless plants and animals died, is just the most recent in a series of examples that prove this. We'll leave a detailed pre-emptive autopsy of our biosphere for another time, but for demonstration purporses, suffice to say this : the oceans are @#$%ed. Really. Go read up on the current condition of the Pacific Ocean. Game over, man.

How did it get so bad right under our noses? It's because the corporations convinced us not to care, saying that we'd be able to continue prancing along in our "Dick Van Dyke" consumer fantasy no matter what happened to those pesky coral reefs or G_d damned bees, and that we could only have it if we let them do whatever they wanted to those things and more. Sounded pretty good at the time! The kicker is that the opposing voices usually hurt more than they helped, as the media focused on the vapid, parroting hippies instead of the scientists who were trying to get a verifiable message across -- and the hippies just made everybody go "aw man, that concern-for-our-environment stuff is hippie claptrap. Everything is hunky-dory!"

But wait, you say! The corporations and their goons suffer just like everyone else when the biosphere can't support life. If it was really that big of a problem, wouldn't they have averted the disaster?

Well, the fact is that they didn't care to. Consumers have never made corporations pay for the 'negative externalities' that their business generates, keeping prices artificially low and not reflecting the true cost of goods. The people who set this catastrophe in motion back in the 1940s through the 1960s knew they'd be dead long before the consequences of their actions even became clearly foreseeable. The evil men who continued on the way of profitable destruction in the 70s and 80s knew they'd be dead before those consequences came to bear. By the time the 1990s hit, people at large were so used to the situation that even the occasional really scary tidbit that made its way into the public view (like, say dead lakes in the Rockies, coral reef death, and bee colony collapse disorder) were pretty much brushed off as alarmist bullfeathers while folks kept swilling their Pepsi, playing golf, and watching "Seinfeld." And now, the people running the show have an inkling that they or at least their kids might be around when the $#!% really hits the fan, but they've been so conditioned by the corporate mindset to pay attention to the near term that they just don't give a hoot. "Hey, live for today, right?"

So get ready, guys. If you're lucky in a few years, you and your kids will be making Nikes for the Chinese market while choking down expensive and barely-nutritive food. If you're not, well, I hope you've been brushing up on your Boy Scout skills and are good at avoiding capture, because you'll have to live off a poisoned land while its owners try to arrest you for theft and trespassing.

No kidding. Hope you enjoyed the last 20 years of living in a nice house, driving a big car, and drinking all the "Capri Sun" your vile little palate desired. I know I did.

Comments: 9  •  Post Comment  •  Share Share Top
Anonymous Thu May 26, 2011 10:37 pm
I was with you up until that environment bit. If corporations or individuals owned the shorelines and the sea, there's no way BP would be allowed/allow themselves to do such risky business. Instead, Government owned the sea, Government owned the shorelines, and Government set a liability cap basically giving BP the ability to do whatever they want without consequence. Why? Because government couldn't give a crap about Government's shit, since nobody in Government is accountable if it gets fucked up.

You put people in charge of shit they have no reason to care about then you wonder why they allow it to be destroyed.

Yes, corporations don't have our best interests at heart, but they sure as heck act that way when the market is not totally warped by Government. Capitalism does NOT mean free market, and free market does NOT mean we all die of corporations destroying everything around us--the opposite, actually, as corporations usually have to reap the consequences of their actions unless government nationalizes their failure, as was the case in BP, the market collapse, etc etc.
Hank Fri May 27, 2011 1:52 am
Yeah, you're actually saying the same thing I am -- the reason the environment is fucked is because consumers haven't held anybody accountable for the bad shit that is done to it. There's no incentive for anybody in power to give two flakes off a dandruff scalp what happens to us.

The corporations (who in point of fact control government) are the villians here, but the real bad guys are us -- the consumers -- who fail to keep the corporations in check by means of using our own economic activity to punish bad behavior.

As you'll detect from my other posts, my political orientation is toward maximum freedom --- it's the responsibility of the consumers to shape their own world by controlling the incentives they give to producers, sellers, and other swine.
Daniel Roe Fri May 27, 2011 7:46 am
While I agree that the real bad guys are an apathetic populace, unfortunately I hardly expect even the most active and engaged voter base would ever do the right thing. I again refer to the misconceptions I alluded to earlier: People think voting in more government regulation will fix the problem.

The only way to fix it, as you say, is maximum freedom. You can call corporations "villains" because they own the government, but who are the ones who made the government--which used to be small and uninvolved--worth owning? The voters.

People wanting to right the wrongs of the world made the government huge and made it take over everything with regulations, taxes, and poorly-run services. Even after we escaped mercantilism in England, people want to bring it back like we don't already know what happens. If you give away your freedom and your property to a higher power, eventually someone with bad intentions will take over that power.
Anonymous Fri May 27, 2011 8:15 am
Hank Fri May 27, 2011 8:20 am
Oh, it's you

G_d damn it Roe, stop commenting on posts when you're too twisted on DXM and ibogaine to read through entire sentences and realize that you're making exactly the same argument as the original poster

re : "who are the ones that made the government...?" : here's what I wrote :

"but the real bad guys are us -- the consumers -- "

This entire post is about the evils of giving away your freedom and well-being to institutions in exchange for Chee-Tos, get with the pr0gram
Daniel Roe Fri May 27, 2011 8:32 am
Yar, but you seem to suggest the "consumers" can make a difference by being more engaged and trying to reshape their world. I'm suggesting they already have, and this is what we get.

You seem to frame it as "Corps are evil, they ate the Gov't, now Corps are our evil Gov't." I don't dig on this modern blame-game, it's more like "people love authority because they're scared of freedom, they gave their freedom away, and they're now slaves (slavs) to an evil authority"--something that is basically the timeline of every major civilization in history, dating back way before we had anything called a "Corporation" or a "Consumer."

I blame the people for not blaming the government, you appear to be blaming the people for not keeping the government more clean, which is something I claim is impossible.

If I'm wrong about your take, my B, you're one of the few that sees people for what they are: Morans [sic].
Hank was here Fri May 27, 2011 10:06 am
ZOMG am I really writing this

I think you've been studying too hard

If you didn't get "consumers HAVE been acting their will, and this is what we got" out of this post, either you didn't read it, or one of us is on LSD

Here's what I wrote : "The reason that the US and European econo-societies are doomed is that the citizen-consumers in those countries, for the better part of a half-century, have cared more about having access to plentiful supplies of cheap goods than they have about their own well-being."

This is ALL about the fact that c*ntsumer demand for bullshit has allowed the creation of monstrous institutions.

" Turns out that it was just a historical hiccup, a side effect of the fact that we'd created immensely powerful and profitable institutions during and in the wake of World War II, and then fabricated a culture of consumerism to support those institutions. "

There have been consumers since the beginning of humanity. There have been de facto corporations whenever producers get together to pool their resources and better @#$% people over. The root of the problem is age-old. It's gotten to an endgame stage because of advances in modern technology.

Nowhere do I say that the people didn't keep the government clean; throughout I say that the corporations ARE the government.

And finally, you'll note that I never suggest that consumers can reverse the dire trends I describe by changing their behavior. Instead, I say that it's too late because the wheels of doom have been turning at high speed for too long. GAME OVER MAN

Stop drinking a case of "Mountain Dew" every morning and go play some guitar.
Daniel Roe Fri May 27, 2011 10:29 am
I Do the Dew™ IV.

I know you're going to stab my face for this, but I don't blame consumer demand for products or their ostensible related apathy for anything here.

Sure, people have demand for stuff, but people have always demanded an infinite amount of stuff. If I had a factory that could produce 5,000 Bentley cars per second for $1, I could operate at full capacity for a thousand years before people had their fill of Bentleys. The streets would be packed with discarded Bentleys from California to Buggsville Maine. People would abandon them as soon as the complimentary tank of gas ran out.

People also demand protection for themselves and their environment. That's where they turn to government, and that's where they go wrong. It's not that people don't care, it's that they think their betters are taking care of it for them. There are plenty of people who still want to attempt to fight global climate change with regulations and keep their rivers and soil clean by inhibiting industrial dumping. However, they do it in the dumbest way possible: by nationalizing the environment and placing politicians in charge of their upkeep and protection.

The increase in productivity and associated ability for average consumers to buy a lot more, if anything, has allowed them to care more about the environment, not less. People have the excess resources to care more about the future. 50 years ago, if president Buttface decided he wanted to double the price of energy to fight a theoretical but as yet unproven unstoppable weather issue, he'd be shunned just prior to being ground up and served to the poor. Today, Obama says "Yeah, who needs that cheap energy crap anyway!?" and there are actually millions of state-educated morons backing him up.

People laud FDR and others for the national parks. As they get decimated by disruptions in their ecosystem (fire/species control) and polluted by nearby government-protected energy cartels, that paradoxically encourages yet even more government control to fix what they allowed/facilitated the destruction of.

So no, I don't blame rampant consumerism, I blame the busy-bodies that are actually attempting to make a difference. They climb over each-other to steal land, property, and liberty and give it to the state's leviathan in hopes of "protecting" it. That means the problem is not apathy or mindless materialism, but quite the opposite: Assholes.
Hank Fri May 27, 2011 1:23 pm
OK, you're pretty much still making EXACTLY the same argument as I am, except you're more fixated on the role of the government, which I view as nothing more than a corporate accessory.

The whole point is that all activities are driven by demand, and we're in a terminal pickle because we demanded idiotic tripe instead of health, a livable environment, and freedom. You think that this demand is coming from "busybodies," I think it's coming from everyone, but no matter.

One thing that you're factually wrong about is this :

" If I had a factory that could produce 5,000 Bentley cars per second for $1, I could operate at full capacity for a thousand years before people had their fill of Bentleys. The streets would be packed with discarded Bentleys from California to Buggsville Maine. People would abandon them as soon as the complimentary tank of gas ran out."

^ Completely false. Bentleys enjoy the demand they have BECAUSE they're expensive and rare. Just like any status-symbol item. As soon as they cost one dollar and are in nearly unlimited supply, their demand profile will more closely resemble that for Yugos or Kias.

And on your last point, that consumerism isn't that big of a factor in the death sentence we have handed ourselves, I guess we're just going to have to agree to disastabyouintheface.
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