Thursday, October 7, 2010

Silly Season

Octobers that come in a November election year are always the silly season, but this one is particularly daft, falling as it does at the cusp of civilizational collapse.

Virtually any candidate we can shake hands with is talking about the “speed of recovery” whether they view it as too slow, unfortunate, or the best that can be managed given the economic destruction just experienced.

A pitiful few are speaking of federal spending that might actually be a good idea — revived rail lines, green jobs in renewables and energy conservation, or bringing home the National Guard, for instance. Instead, the candidates are a chorus of raucous parrots repeating the party lines, all of which — Democratic, Republican, Green, Tea Bag — are from the la la land of a past century, when oil, coal, and uranium supplies seemed infinite and climate warming was a paltry half degree.

Of course, every rule has an exception.


Going back to the mainstream, or even the progressives, how anyone can be promising to increase the salaries of schoolteachers in the 113-degree heat of Los Angeles is almost beyond comprehension. Obviously they don’t connect the dots between a fossil fueled economy and the stains under their armpits. Robert Reich had it right when he blogged:

You want to know how to cut unemployment by half tomorrow? Get rid of the minimum wage and unemployment insurance, and make everyone who needs a job work for a dollar a day.

He was being facetious, but was more on the mark than he may have realized. In an era of declining resource availability, whether it is cheap petroleum or home mortgages, the only way to keep an economy stable is to match speeds with the rate of decline. This is not your normal business cycle. A huge number of dollars, created magically by fractional reserve banking during the heyday of deregulation, have now magically gone out of existence. As banks and governments write off bad loans and absorb the losses, the currencies backing those loans diminish. Trillions in imaginary wealth revolves back into thin air.

Where it went is less important then where it came from. It came from the pockets of home owners who had been using their overpriced houses as an ATM card, boutique mall stores that employed people to sell gee-gaws, or people who used to hire other people and now just need to buy groceries for their kids.

In this chart showing current markets and GDP and overlays of historic declines and leading economic indicators, the decline slope for 2010-2011 is 7 percent, or halving the economy every ten years. Halving the global economy every ten years is a realistic assumption based on population and available net energy trends. Buckle up. This slope could run through most of the next century. Unfortunately, it won’t change the direction of greenhouse gas pollution, or delay the consequences.

So, liberal notions of paying teachers more, or reopening colleges, pushing up the minimum wage, or subsidizing local fire departments with federal block grants, while noble, even common-sensical, are economic malfeasance. Politicians badly need to stop taking Chamber of Commerce checks and take a reality check. Everything has to contract to match the contraction of energy and natural resources.  We can do this in an orderly way or we can do it with civil strife and concatenating disasters like the summer floods in Nashville and Pakistan.

Here is a platform: get rid of the minimum wage and unemployment insurance, and make everyone who needs a job work for a dollar an hour (we are not as extreme as Reich). Forget subsidizing the bloated football programs of the State universities. Offer vo-tech for the great reskilling; training a new generation of oxen drivers and local flour millers. Teach vegetable gardening and canning in middle schools. Encourage students to leave school after the 8th grade and work at home to feed the family. Plant trees and build biochar kilns to process landfill woody wastes. Keyline fields to restore soil biology and draw carbon from the atmosphere.

Show us a politician with the guts to be talking that way and we will show you a profile in courage. That there are almost none shows just how cowardly and irrelevant our alternate Octobers have become. 

1 comment:

Alvin said...

The current fields we sow for our children seem toxic, sad that the wake up call for so many seems to require such pain.

While your articles are far from mainstream acceptance it is nice to see someone putting real thought into longer term pragmatic ideas.

One politician that I was proud to help is Michael E Arth for governor of Florida




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