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Under a Fluorescent Moon


     Mr. Obama heads to Europe now where official hostility is rising
against the Anglo-American method of pounding monetary sand down the
rat-holes of “non-performing” debt, bankrupt enterprise, and
bubble-levitated bonds. Our poised and charming Prez may escape
personal obloquy from the quaint old-world street folk, but most of the
other G-20 policy playerz take a dim view of the shell-and-pea games
being played by the custodians of the world’s reserve currency,
including front-end-loader bank bail-outs, the shuffling of worthless
securities under TARPS and TARFS, the desperate efforts to prevent the
sane re-pricing of real estate, the cannibalizing of treasuries by the
Federal Reserve, the now-notorious hijacking of public “liquidity”
injections by third parties like Goldman Sachs, and most generally the
perceived sacrifice of everybody else’s greater good for the sake of
maintaining Lloyd Blankfein’s cappuccino machine.
     What’s going
on now is nature’s way of telling you that America’s standard of living
has to be reduced by something between 20 and 50 percent. You can have
it in the form of a compressive deflationary depression, including
widespread bankruptcies… or you can have by way of inflation, in which
money loses its value. But there’s one basic qualification to this: the
way down is not symmetrical with the way up. That is, it’s really not
just a matter of ratcheting down to a standard of living half of what
it was, say, in 2006, because in the event all the various complex
systems that support everyday life enter failure mode before our
society re-sets at a theoretically lower level of equilibrium.
      By this I mean our methods for getting food, for moving about the
landscape, for deploying capital, for trading and manufacturing, for
schooling, doctoring, and running public services all destabilize and,
to some degree or other, fail to deliver their contribution to normal
daily life. Banking (capital deployment) is already mortally wounded.
It remains to be seen how this will affect the food supply half a year
ahead in the harvest season. Capital is as big an “input” for our
method of farming as diesel fuel or fertilizers made from methane gas.
The failure of banking will combine with city and state insolvency to
crush public transit, law enforcement, fire protection, and whatever
flimsy local safety nets exist to keep the ultra-poor and helpless from
die-off. The lowering of living standards by 20 to 50 percent
essentially eliminates all but the must critical commerce, meaning that
most of the stores in the malls and strip malls lose their customers
and shed employees, while the mall and strip mall owners lose their
rents, and the bankers lose performing commercial real estate loans. As
all this occurs, tax revenues go way down, schools can’t pay their
employees or buy diesel fuel for their yellow bus fleets. More people
lose the ability to carry health insurance. Hospital emergency rooms
are overwhelmed. Health care descends to Third World levels. Meanwhile,
pensions are destroyed, the elderly live on dog food and ketchup. . . .
      This is where we’re headed. It could easily be worse than the
1930s, when we still had plenty of family farms, plenty of oil, plenty
of factories in good running order, and a highly regimented population
of workers unaccustomed to luxury, leisure, and entitlement. We’ve
hardly begun to see the potential political repercussions of economic
disorder now underway. I think it will start to show in a big way not
long after Memorial Day, when the current false euphoric Wall Street
rally ends in yet another pool of tears, and the despair trickles
downward. A crucial piece of the outcome depends on what happens over
at Attorney General Eric Holder’s Justice Department – which lately
seems to have seceded from the federal government. A peeved public is
going to start wondering why the bankers and insurers have not been
called in by the criminal division to do a little ‘splainin’. As the
spring yields to summer, the Obama team’s current fix-it plans are also
likely to have run out of credibility. Mr. O better be prepared to get
a new game.
      I spent the weekend at the yearly Aspen Institute Environmental
Forum – a confab lately devoted about equally to the energy and climate
fiascos. It’s a peculiar exercise, since major sponsors include the oil
and gas companies and the auto industry. The Saturday center-ring panel
on peak oil, for instance, was shockingly weak, led by the flack from
the Shell corporation, a charming lady, highly-skilled at blowing green
smoke up the public’s ass. Even more shocking is the consensus among
the presenters and attendees – including the hotshots of climate and
energy science and the elder statespersons of environmentalism – that
the energy problem merely amounts to finding other means for running
all our cars. The assumption that we must remain car-dependent remains
absolutely entrenched among these people who ought to know better. Of
course, the words “public transit” were barely uttered. It’s
disappointing to find such idiocy among this particular elite.
      But Sunday’s departure really plunged me into the epicenter of
American idiocy – namely, the airline industry. They’ve been running
airplanes out of Pitkin County, Colorado for at least fifty years, but
they seem to discover a’fresh every morning that strange winds blow
through the valley. After jerking around absolutely everybody in the
terminal for a couple of hours with unexplained delays, the United
Airlines ground crew announced that all flights for the day were
cancelled, causing a rhino rush back out through the security
checkpoints to re-booking counters. I ended up on a bus for the Denver
Airport – a five hour trip, including twenty-miles of parking-lot
quality traffic along I-70 where the jackass Colorado DOT had closed
down one eastbound lane, despite the fact that it was Sunday and there
was no work going on there.
      You’d also think that after all these years, the state of
Colorado might have organized choo-choo train service from Denver into
the ski valleys of the Rockies, given how important the ski industry is
to the state’s economy – and how incredibly fragile the airline service
is. But that would be too sensible for a nation determined to become
the Bulgaria of the western hemisphere. So, instead, they get up every
single morning in Aspen and try to figure out whether commercial
aviation works out there, and half the time it doesn’t. Anyway, the
Aspen Institute was very generous in organizing the bus trek out of
there, and putting up us travelers stranded overnight in airport
hotels. Mine was some rummy operation called the Staybridge Inn where
the vaunted in-room wireless didn’t work in my room, so I write to you
in a dreary little chamber off the lobby where children are screaming
from their overdoses of fry-max and melted cheese in the only dining
venue (Ruby Tuesdays) along this massively over-scaled boulevard of
chain motels. I can easily see the whole miserable strip becoming a
ruin inside of five years as the airline industry dies. Final note: the
hotel elevator proudly declares itself to be the German-made product of
the ThyssenKrupps corporation. America’s so lame, it can’t even make
its own elevators anymore.
      I apologize for a somewhat sloppy blog this week. My tendencies
to insomnia are aggravated by high altitude and I am cross-eyed with
sleeplessness. . . .

My 2008 novel of the post-oil future, World Made By Hand, is available in paperback at all booksellers.

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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 the four-book series of World Made By Hand novels, set in a post economic crash American future. His most recent book is Living in the Long Emergency; Global Crisis, the Failure of the Futurists, and the Early Adapters Who Are Showing Us the Way Forward. Jim lives on a homestead in Washington County, New. York, where he tends his garden and communes with his chickens.

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