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Then What?

     A theme in my 2005 book, The Long Emergency, was the counter-intuitive idea that the federal government, rather than becoming the omnipotent Big Brother Moloch so many feared, would instead spiral into impotence and become too incompetent and ineffectual to run everybody’s life. Another theme was that the USA was entering a political impasse comparable to the years that preceded the civil war, with many of the same old grudges playing out in disguise. What we’re seeing is an empire that had grown too quickly to even acknowledge it had become an empire, enter, just as quickly, the throes of contraction.

     Hence, the great unacknowledged task before the leadership class is managing contraction. The radical Republicans, even in their Jeezus-driven transports of Dixieland retribution and John Bircher paranoia, come a little closer to recognizing the situation than the Democrats with their Leviathan problem — their nanny-state grandiosity. So, those red state radicals are gonna run that ole ‘possum up a gum stump now and see what happens.

     What will happen is whole lot of uncertainty that will further undermine a faith-based economic system lurching on the fumes of legitimacy, especially where money and banking are concerned. The trouble with this kind of brinksmanship is that it is bound to produce unanticipated consequences. When the Carolina secessionists bombarded Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor, they didn’t have in mind the carnage-to-come of Spotsylvania and Chancellorsville. Similarly, the genteel spectators who rode carriages out of Washington to observe the doings at Bull Run as if it were the NFL season opener. In short, neither the Union or the Confederacy had a clue that they were entering upon the world’s first extravaganza of industrial mass slaughter. So, one wonders if their descendents today realize that are toying with the financial suicide of an advanced technocratic society.

      The merits of the case for or against Obamacare are almost impossible for even well-informed and educated citizens to parse. You start with a law roughly 2,000 pages long, cobbled together largely by lobbyists for the insurance and medical industries, both of them hideous rackets, and move to a labyrinth of 50 different state’s systems for administering the darn thing, and then consider the supposed beneficiaries, namely young people so burdened by college loans in an economy that only offers minimum wage scut-jobs that, from one day to the next, they probably don’t know whether to shit or go blind. They don’t even have the scratch to pay the opt-out tax, let alone purchase an insurance policy.

     Beyond that kind of uncertainty is the certainty that a whole lot of things are primed to shake loose. One that deserves the anxiety it is generating is the question of US debt, which translates directly into the question of US currency, i.e., the fate of the dollar. Does the legislative branch want to play games with the only thing that supports the market for US Treasury paper — the dollar’s proxy — which is the generally-held notion that the full faith and credit of the nation stands behind promises to pay? 200 measly basis points in the ten-year note is all that stands between the pretense of economic stability and some pretty serious chaos in the government / banking matrix. The one-two punch of the continuing resolution for appropriations and the imminent debt ceiling crunch may rip the fabric of our constructed financial reality and open a black hole into which the wealth of nations disappears forever.

      Some observers think a government shutdown would be salutary, the beginning of a wholesale house-cleaning of federal agencies and pain-in-the-ass public employees who get paid too much, enjoy too many benefits, and work strenuously to impede honest enterprise. There may be something to that. But the current actions in congress are more likely to produce a kind of epileptic seizure of all economic activity, public and private.

      If congress is really hot to de-fund something, I suggest they start with defunding suburban sprawl, which enjoys more direct government subsidy than even the medical racket. I bet that would not go over so well in the big red Nascar states of Dixie, where driving in a car to do anything has been more-or-less mandatory for decades. This is the kind behavior that is truly killing American civilization, but it’s the last thing we will pay attention to.

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About James Howard Kunstler

View all posts by James Howard Kunstler
James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency, and Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology and the Fate of the Nation. His novels include World Made By Hand, The Witch of Hebron, Maggie Darling — A Modern Romance, The Halloween Ball, an Embarrassment of Riches, and many others. He has published three novellas with Water Street Press: Manhattan Gothic, A Christmas Orphan, and The Flight of Mehetabel.

238 Responses to “Then What?” Subscribe

  1. volodya October 6, 2013 at 3:16 pm #

    Pucker, you’re right. I read the same thing, that Chinese leadership is worried. As they ought to be. Much more realistic than the gang of buffoons in Washington.

    China has got its own societal psychoses as evidenced by the decade long cultural revolution and before that the great leap forward. Tens of millions died and for what?

    This is how it is and how it’s been: the US elite and their lackeys take away the jobs of tens of millions of Americans, relentlessly grind down their prospects, call unpaid labor of “interns” the “new normal”, insult the intelligence of people by re-writing history and portraying the good times of the 1940s-1970s as fiction, call the offshoring of millions of jobs a canard.

    If this is a business model it is a business model cooked up by idiots and one doomed to go down in flames. I think it was Niall Ferguson that said that history proceeds in spasms. Others use the term “black swans”. Look for spasms and black swans a-plenty.

    The justifiers for this state of affairs try to give it all an air of the inevitable. They make the case that it was inevitable that businesses would source production to the lowest cost foreign locale, this locale being America’s chief adversary in the world, an adversary with no tradition of civil rights and due process and protection for intellectual property. Plus they say that it was inevitable that critical corporate functions would be relocated to impoverished places right next door to nuclear armed countries-in-name-only, full to the brim with terrorists and festering with tribal and class resentments.

    So they peddle this fairy tale of inevitability. And not only that but the even bigger lie about the US workforce moving to higher value work. But in fact none of it was unavoidable.

    At worst it was mass idiocy. The best face you can put on it is to call it mass lunacy. Just as China is periodically possessed by psychoses unique to its society, so is the US.

    • Being There October 6, 2013 at 4:31 pm #

      I just call it Milton Friedman neoliberalism. The Chicago school of business.

      We went into economic loss over Viet Nam a big lie to begin with.

      Then Milton Friedman peddled his ideas to Nixon and Co. He engineered the economics of Pinochet through the Nixon administration and then told Nixon to get off the gold standard.

      That’s when the idea of a national economy was switched into globalism and the rest is a nightmare from which we would like to awaken.

      They refuse to back down from this criminal ideology as they are making way too much money and never experience the downside.

      We’re taking the brunt for every misdeed they make and they say they’re doing god’s work.

      That god of theirs is a real sadist.

  2. ozone October 6, 2013 at 3:50 pm #

    Hey, I’ve got a great idea. Let’s let corporate interests place people with really bad ideas in positions of political power!
    Oh. You say it’s the default position now?
    Sorry, this article was the first I’d heard of it. (Been living in a cave without access to newsy things for the last 30 years.)


    The looting of the last real store of public “wealth” in america. (Besides na’chul resources, that is.)

    Then what? Who will be left to buy all these wonderful widgets and gadgets, commonly known as consumer goods? (I begin to understand why cashmere baby clothes are now being advertised for those who have more money than sense. It’s a waste of talent and dollars to go after the former middle class; not too much left to wheedle, wrangle, con or squeeze there.)

    • Being There October 6, 2013 at 4:32 pm #

      Can’t wait to see their dry cleaning bills.

      • ozone October 6, 2013 at 4:54 pm #

        “Those people” don’t DO dry cleaning; it’s another thing you have to take the trouble to tell the help to do (and they’ll just screw it up anyway).
        Never fear; into the garbage with baby’s soiled garment and shop for new and cuter, generating fun, satisfaction and commercial commotion!

        (You wouldn’t believe all the brand new, tags-still-on clothes that went into the hopper of the garbage truck I’ve seen. The waste by the rich borders on the criminal at times.)

  3. ozone October 6, 2013 at 5:28 pm #

    Here’s some advice I’ll share as well:
    Don’t presume to tell me what “I need” and I’ll do the same concerning you.
    M’kay? Good then; you’re welcome.

    • Janos Skorenzy October 6, 2013 at 7:02 pm #

      Why so touchy? Was there something in the article that bothered you? Why don’t we discuss it?

  4. rube-i-con October 6, 2013 at 6:29 pm #

    And not only that but the even bigger lie about the US workforce moving to higher value work.

    The industrial age with mass employment is long dead. Everyone needs to find a niché and milk it. It is good.

    Problem is, the proletariats want the good old Soviet-style mass employment days. They’re rusting in the field near the dried out well.

    We salute you as we leave you behind.

    peace peaceniks

    • Being There October 6, 2013 at 6:47 pm #


      Very sad that you describe mass employment as “Soviet” style.

      Mass employment in the US was during the height of the Cold War. That’s when we needed to prove that the US was the better option over communism.

      I don’t think Craig Paul Roberts who was Reagan’s assist. treasury sec’y and founder of supply side economics is wrong when he insists that sending our jobs overseas was our biggest downfall and a destruction of the tax base and ability to have a military. That’s what economic determinism is about. Without a mass of people able to buy this economy flat-lines.

      You may believe you’re doing well, but this thing will go to higher skilled people who work for a living and because the stock market is replete with insider trading and manipulations, if you’re not in with the in-crowd you might lose your shirt there too.

      You too will be left behind, my friend. Trust me, you’re not so great unless you’re Jamie Dimon posting on this blog.

      • Janos Skorenzy October 6, 2013 at 7:01 pm #

        Rockefeller said that resources must be “decoupled” from the nations in which they lie. This will be essentially the end of Nations in terms of real governing and the protecting of rights. As a Marxist Socialist, this is your promised land. But like so many, you don’t like what you wanted when you get it. Socialism was Always a conspiracy of the Rich to destroy nations and their middle classes.

        • Being There October 6, 2013 at 7:17 pm #

          I never understand what you’re talking about when you address me as a socialist.

          Communism is no more natural to human nature than inverted communism of the Milton Friedman flavor.

          You know I’m not a socialist, but you need the fight, I guess. ‘m not a substitute for Wage, who I met last week with her husband. Strangely we didn’t talk about politics all that much.

          I’m the one who posted the Rockefeller quote on this blog 3 years ago and you keep throwing it up Ad nauseam. (I do hope you are amused)

          Back to intense work tomorrow and off the blog for tonight.

          • Janos Skorenzy October 7, 2013 at 12:07 am #

            I know no such thing. The Lady protesteth too much methinks.

  5. rube-i-con October 6, 2013 at 7:33 pm #

    You too will be left behind, my friend.

    I will never be left behind. I have switched careers 3 times, along with countries, because I go where there is a need. I am one of those higher skilled people “this thing will go to” because I work very hard at it, not because of birth.

    The mass employment of the US during the Cold War was really all about misalignment of resources to meet a mostly phantom foe.

    The single hard truth most all Americans can’t face is that they’re not really worth much in terms of economic demand. Thus, you’d expect them to do something to invert the situation. Like learn a trade that’s in real demand. Instead, they whine about jobs going offshore.

    Fuck, I’ve been outsourced too, and it wasn’t a walk in the park, but I switched careers and am doing fine, haven’t worked as an employee in over 3 years and I don’t think I ever will again.

    Assembly line factory work, Cold War defense jobs, heavy industry….jeez already, how dumb do you have to be to bet your chits on those dinosaurs? Sure there are some jobs there still, but nothing to bet your future on.

    Learning a trade has never been a better investment, unless you can get a degree in engineering or another of the hard sciences. Which will most likely keep you in good stead financially. Go to the Middle East and work tax free a couple of years, they’re fairly much shyteholes but save your money. My cousin from Iceland is pulling in 10k a month tax free folks. Sux there, but the money’s great.

    I can work til I’m 100 in my field, and probably will. But, by then I will have likely learned another skill that’s in demand. What’s the big secret about this?

    The thing is, most Americans are just average dummies. Get agile, forget your age and just deux it.

    We salute you as we leave you behind.

    peace peaceniks

    • Arn Varnold October 6, 2013 at 8:33 pm #

      Very interesting post and reflects my journey as well.
      I’ve had 4 different careers; being versatile ensures success.
      I’m retired and pursuing my 5th career, which I can engage until death.

    • Janos Skorenzy October 7, 2013 at 12:02 am #

      People shouldn’t have to be or do all that. That’s what Nations are for: protect our rights so we don’t have to become global campesinos or compete against them. Congratulations on your abilities, but they are of no moment here. The Laws must be based on the average dummy or working stiff.

      There are different ways to see every issue. Your advice may be good but questions of policy must be based on normal people who want to stay home and earn a living in their own town, state, and country. You are clearly above average so have some compassion on those who are less or just different.

  6. Deblonay October 7, 2013 at 12:37 am #

    Pucker re Australia….

    On last point re Centrelink

    If one receives benefits and other incomes one must give Centrelink info on this and also the name/number of any bank accounts of any kind that you hold

    They have power under the law to check on this with your bank…any additional income you were to receive and placed into your accounts would be know to Centrelink with the aid of your bank

    Many tradesmen and small business will attempt to evade the tax laws by asking for payment i cash..and no doc given or required in the deal

    So I may call in a plumber…he may give me a discount on the job IF I pay him in cash
    This is ill;egal but widespread…both sides do OK from the deal

    Here we have a single Goods and Services Tax which goes to the States but is colected Federally

    It is 10% on all good and services…so it goes on the bill at the Supermarket Check-out or my bill from the plumber or repairman or on my electricity bill or my thetre ticket. or on a restaurant bill ….whatever

    Only fresh food is tax exempt..fruit ,meat,fish.vegies etc….(but not processed food in any form)…so fresh fish is tax exempt …but a in of sardines in not

    The States receives this money but levy no other taxes…nor do local givernment bodies
    Only the Feds levy income taxeson personal earnings etc…and on companies and investments

  7. rube-i-con October 7, 2013 at 12:41 pm #

    I’m retired and pursuing my 5th career, which I can engage until death.

    Everyone needs to follow this model, viz. being adaptable. Why wouldn’t one want to be that way? Anything else is stagnation, most likely.

    peace peaceniks


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