Thriving in the Age of Collapse, Part I
> by Dmitry Orlov
> A while ago Matt Savinar proposed that I write
an article that specifically addresses the situations and concerns of some of the visitors to his Web site. He was also kind
enough to provide me with three profiles, each of which is a composite of many people. One profile is of a young professional,
another is of a middle-aged couple, and a third is of a high school student. My task was to adapt my knowledge of the circumstances
in which people in Russia found themselves after the Soviet economy collapsed to the needs of diverse people in the United
States. This I have tried to do. Keep in mind, however, that these are not real people, and that although I sometimes offer
them detailed advice on subjects such as education, law, finance, and medicine, I do not practice any of these professions,
and what I express here is mere opinion.
> My premise is that the U.S. economy is going to collapse, that this process
has already begun, and will run its course over a decade or more, with ups and downs here and there, but a consistent overall
downward direction. I neither prognosticate nor wish for such an outcome; I just happen to see it as very likely. Furthermore,
I do not see it as altogether bad. There are some terrible aspects to the current state of affairs, and some wonderful aspects
to the post-collapse environment. For example, the air will be much cleaner, there will be no traffic jams, and people will
have plenty of time to devote to their children and to people within their immediate community. Wildlife will rebound. Local
culture will make a comeback. People will get plenty of exercise walking around, carrying things, and performing manual labor.
They will eat smaller and healthier diets. I could go on and on, but that is not the point.
> Since such a scenario
might seem outlandish to some people, I would like to sketch out why I find it entirely plausible. There is an ever-increasing
amount of mainstream media attention being paid to the looming energy crisis. At this point, very few people still argue that
there is not a problem with the energy supply, immediately for natural gas, eventually for oil. There is also a viewpoint,
which is ever more closely and persuasively argued, that what we have to look forward to is a permanent energy shortfall,
which will cause economic and societal dislocations that will be monumental in scope, and will transform the patterns of everyday
life. The current, consumer-friendly economy would be no more, replaced with a subsistence economy characterized by a good
deal of privation and austerity.
> This viewpoint is usually served up under the rubric of > "> Peak Oil> ">
- the all-time global peak in the rate of extraction of conventional crude oil. The connection between the inability to goose
up oil production beyond some already icecap-melting number, and the immediate trotting out of the four horsemen of the apocalypse,
is not immediately obvious. But apparently the U.S. economy is a sort of pyramid scheme, based on nothing more than faith
in its growth potential, and can only continue to exist while it continues to expand, by sucking in ever more resources, particularly
energy. Even a small energy shortage is enough to undermine it. So Peak Oil is hardly the problem - it is the foolish notion
that infinite economic growth on a finite planet is possible. Collapse can be triggered when any one of many other physical
limits is exceeded - drinkable water, breathable air, arable land, and so on - and so the limit to sustained oil production
is only one of many physical limits to growth.
> I do not feel the need to argue for the inevitability of a permanent
energy crisis, not only because others have already done so quite persuasively, but also because it involves arguing with
people who do little more than shout slogans. The slogans that are heard most often range from the simplistic > "> There
is plenty of oil!> "> to the ideologically hidebound > "> The free market will provide!> ">
to the somewhat more nuanced but technologically implausible > "> Technology will provide!> "> to the perennially
hopeful but unrealistic > "> Other sources of energy will be found!> "> There is even the refreshingly irrational
> "> People have said that oil would run out before, and they were wrong!> "> repeated endlessly by Daniel
Yergin, an oil historian who believes that history repeats itself endlessly, even the history of nonrenewable resource extraction.
Facile notions of this sort will remain popular for some time yet, but I feel that it is already quite safe to start ignoring
> It bears pointing out that most of us would prefer to remain blissfully unaware of any and all such arguments
and notions, perhaps choosing to concern ourselves with topics less likely to depress our libido. Awareness of topics of global
import is certainly not compulsory, and may not even be beneficial. Why worry about disasters we can do nothing to avert?
Why not just enjoy our day in the sun, come what may? Also, large groups of people can be dangerous when panicked, and so
I do not wish to panic them.
> As for the few of us who are concerned, my message to you is a cheerful one, because
I believe that you can still exercise some measure of control over your destiny. So, if you want some help thinking things
through with a positive attitude, read on. If not, do not concern yourself unduly. Instead of reading this, you could lift
your spirits by going for a drive, or going shopping, or taking a nap. Rest assured that these are all good things for you
to do, the nap especially. Rather than you being menaced by some issue of global importance, any number of other unpleasant
eventualities could bring about your untimely demise, on which you should likewise refrain from dwelling morbidly. Your participation
in this program is optional.
> The first step in this program is admitting that what is looming on your horizon is economic
collapse - that the economy, as you are used to thinking about it, will cease to serve your needs. You will not hear about
it on the evening news, and there will be no signs in shop windows that read > "> Out of business due to economic collapse.>
"> The traditional array of experts will be on hand, claiming that prosperity is just around the corner, and offering
this or that short-term fix, which, for all we know, might even work for a little while.
> An economy collapses one
person, one family, one community at a time. First, the dreams evaporate: the future starts looking worse than the present,
and ever more uncertain. Then people are forced to withstand ever greater indignities and privations, which they tend to accept
as their personal failings. The resulting stress causes them to experience a variety of physical and psychological symptoms.
Our pride, our habits and expectations, and our unwillingness to adapt, can kill us faster than any physical hardship. But
eventually something has to give, and even if life does not get any easier, one morning we wake up, and not only has life
all around us been transformed out of all recognition, but everyone we encounter recognizes that times have changed. And we
realize that none of this is about us personally, and feel better.
> I feel qualified to write on this subject because
I had the opportunity to observe an economic collapse firsthand. I did some of my growing up in the Soviet Union, and the
rest in the United States. I have visited Russia repeatedly, on personal trips and on business, during the years of Perestroika,
the ensuing collapse, and the lean years of the 1990s. I feel equally at home, or, on occasion, lost, in both places. Unlike
most Russian émigrés who witnessed the collapse, I was fascinated rather than traumatized by my experiences there, and have
not tried to blot them out of my memory, as many of them have. Also unlike most > émigrés, I know quite a lot about the
United States, its society and its economy, see its fateful weaknesses, and care about what happens here. When peering apprehensively
into the unknown, it is useful to have as your guide someone who has already been there. Since no such guide is available,
you will have to make do with someone who has been someplace vaguely similar.
> The main use
of oil in the United States is for transportation. Once the crisis gets underway, there will be much less transportation available,
of goods as well as of people, at any price, exacerbated by the lack of public transportation infrastructure. The U.S. Gross
Domestic Product turns out to be almost strictly proportional the number of vehicle miles traveled, and this implies that
large reductions in the availability of transportation will translate into similar-sized reductions in the size of the economy
overall. A few years on, roads and bridges will start falling into disrepair, making travel slow and difficult even when enough
fuel for the trip can be found. People will be forced to stay put most of the time, perhaps making seasonal migrations, and
to make use of what they have available in the immediate vicinity.
> To see what that will be like for you, all you
have to do is to give up driving; not cut down on driving, but sell your car, and refuse to ride in one on a regular basis.
If this forces you relocate, or to switch jobs or careers, you should probably do so now. You will be forced to do so, when
everyone else tries to do it at the same time. I sold my car a few years ago, and my life got better, not worse. Now I work
within bicycling distance from home. I am physically fit because I ride for at least an hour a day, and I am saving more money
than I was before because I do not have the expense of keeping a car. If you have children that ride the school bus to school,
assume that the school bus will not run any more. You might be able to work out a home schooling arrangement, or find another
school closer to home that the kids can walk or bicycle to.
> Food and Clothing
> Consumer society, as it currently
exists in the United States, is propped up by the still relatively cheap and accessible energy, and by the fact that the Chinese,
and other nations, are still willing to dispense goods to us on credit. This credit is secured by the promise of future economic
growth in the United States, which is already being whittled down by the high energy prices. Thus, the energy crisis will
in due course translate into a consumer goods crisis.
> Therefore, as part of your exercise, assume that every supermarket
and big box store is out of business, driven bankrupt by the high cost (and low availability) of diesel, electricity, and
natural gas. Shop only at the local farmer's markets, small neighborhood groceries, and thrift stores. Buy as few new things
as possible: trash-pick what you can, and repair items instead of replacing them. Learn to grow or gather at least some of
your food. If you do not wish to go strictly vegetarian, raising chickens and rabbits is not so hard. To buy staples such
as rice, travel into town and buy them in bulk from small immigrant-owned groceries - you can be sure that these will be around
even after the supermarkets are gone.
> If your lease or mortgage requires you to have a full-time job
in order to afford it, find a way to change your living situation to one that you can keep even when there is no more work.
If you can cash out your equity and buy a place that is smaller, but that you can own free and clear, do so.
> Pay particular
attention to how difficult a place will be to heat; do not assume that heating oil, natural gas, or large quantities of firewood
will be available or affordable. Also, pay very close attention to the neighbors. Are they people you know and trust? Will
they help you? Do not assume that there will be police protection or emergency services. If you live in an area with a history
of ethnic strife, how sure are you that you will be able to find a common > language and make peace with everyone there,
even people whose culture and background are vastly different from yours?
> Know where to escape to in case your primary
residence becomes unlivable, either permanently or for a time. Your arrangements might be as simple as a friend's couch, or
a campsite that you rent by the season, or some land where you know you can camp, or an unused farm, ranging all the way to
an alternative residence somewhere else in the world that you can relocate to.
> If you have or foresee
significant ongoing medical needs, staying in the United States will pose a unique set of problems; you might even consider
seeking refuge in one of the many countries that provide free basic and emergency medical care to their entire population.
The United States is a very special case in having made basic medicine into a profit-making industry rather than a social
service. The medical system here has become a parasite, bloated and ineffectual. The doctors are saddled with unreasonable
regulations and financial liabilities.
> When it comes to medicine, almost any country in the world will be better than
one that is full-up with unemployed medical specialists, insurance consultants, and medical billing experts. In Belize, which
is quite a poor country, I received prompt and excellent free emergency medical care from a Cuban medic. In the U.S., in similar
circumstances, I had to wait 8 hours at an emergency room, then was seen for five minutes by a sleep-deprived intern who scribbled
out a prescription for something that is available without a prescription almost everywhere else in the world. Then there
ensued a paper battle between the hospital and the insurance company, lasting for many months, over whether the hospital could
charge for a doctor's visit on top of the emergency room visit. Apparently, in U.S. emergency rooms, doctors are optional.
There are specific steps you may be able to take to avoid having to depend on the medical system. Do whatever you can to be
in good health, by getting enough sleep and exercise, and by avoiding unnecessary stress. Avoid processed food and junk food.
If you do not feel well, get plenty of rest, instead of medicating yourself and attempting to keep to your schedule. Unless
your life is in danger, try to do without maintenance regimens of prescription drugs, keeping in mind what will happen when
you lose access to them. Be sure to have a living will that allows your family to have control of your medical care. Look
for alternative medicines for symptomatic relief of minor complaints.
> For several decades now, the U.S.
Dollar has been able to keep its value in the face of ever larger trade and fiscal imbalances largely because it is the currency
most of the world uses when buying oil. Other nations are forced to export products to the United States because this is the
only way for them to gather the dollars they need to purchase oil. This has produced a continuous windfall for the U.S. Treasury.
This state of affairs is coming to an end: as more and more oil-producing nations find alternative ways of doing business
with their customers, trading oil for Euros, or for food, the U.S. Dollar erodes in value. As the Dollar drops in value, the
price of an ever-increasing list of essential imports goes up, driving up inflation. At some point, inflation will start to
feed on itself, and will give rise to hyperinflation.
> If your immediate thought is, > "> Hyperinflation in the
U.S.? Impossible!> "> then you are not alone. A lot of people have trouble thinking about the possibility of hyperinflation,
economists among them. Hyperinflation, they say, requires the government to emit vast amounts of money, which, being a good,
prudent government, it simply will not do. But this government is drowning in red ink, and will do what desperate governments
have always done: opt for inflating its debt away rather than defaulting on it, to retain at least some spending ability in
the face of a collapsing tax base and dried-up foreign credit. The people at the F> ed do have to be kept fed, after all.
Alan Greenspan, Chairman of the Fed, has voiced the viewpoint that since oil expenditure is such a small percentage of the
overall economy, increased oil prices will have little effect on it, and, of course, he is right. I am, however, still a bit
concerned about lower overall quantities of oil, regardless of the price, because these would result in less economic activity.
What I would like Mr. Greenspan to reassure me on is, How is a small national economy going to be able to support a big national
debt? By the way, I have an idea: print some money.
> Others who doubt the inevitability of hyperinflation point to
the weakness of trade unions, and say that workers in the U.S. are too badly organized to bargain collectively and secure
cost of living adjustments that would propel the economy along an inflationary spiral. These people seem to feel that the
workers will somehow continue to be able to work even as their entire paycheck disappears as they buy gasoline for their daily
commute. They remind me of the proverbial farmer who trained his horse to stop eating, and almost succeeded, but unfortunately
the horse died first. Those who have work that needs to be done will have to make it physically possible for someone to do
> There are also plenty of people in this country - the ones who are closer the top of the economic food chain,
or just feel like they are - who will pay themselves whatever they require, giving themselves, and those upon whose loyalty
they must depend, any cost of living adjustment they deem necessary. They will continue doing so until they are bankrupt.
Because wealth is distributed so unevenly, these people make a disproportionately large difference.
> Lastly, there
is a large group of people who feel that such matters are for economists to decide. But decide for yourself: in March of 1999,
The Economist magazine ran an article entitled > "> Drowning in Oil.> "> In December of the same year, it
was compelled to publish a retraction. Economists are starting to look a bit ridiculous, as their predictive abilities are
repeatedly shown to be quite feeble. Moreover, the whole discipline of economics is starting to become irrelevant, because
its main concern is with characterizing a system - the fossil fuel-based growth economy - which is starting to collapse.
Perhaps the difficulty in reconciling oneself to such a possibility stems from history and culture, not economics. Unlike
the Russians or the Germans, whose historical memory includes one or more episodes of hyperinflation, it is hard for Americans
to imagine living in a time when their paper money is not worth its weight in toilet paper. But such conditions have been
known to occur. Savings boil off into the ether. People who still receive paychecks or retirement checks cash them immediately,
and do their best to buy the things they need to survive as quickly as they can, before the prices go up again.
are some steps you can take to prepare yourself for life without money. For a time, you might not have an income at all, or
an income so meager it will not be enough for even one meal a day, so find out just how little money you need to stay active
and healthy. Learn to rely on family, friends, and acquaintances. Find out what you can take from them, and what you have
to offer in return.
> Perhaps most importantly, assume that your retirement income, whether government or private, will
in due course become quite close to zero, and make some other arrangements for your old age. If you have children, start buttering
them up now - you will need their help to survive in your dotage. If you do not have children, then think about having some,
or adopting one or two. If you do not have or want children, then be sure to have some good friends who are younger than you.>
> For each economic arrangement involving money, try to come up with an alternative arrangement that does not involve
money. For example, if you pay a baby-sitter, try to find a baby-sitter who is willing to work in exchange for lessons. If
you pay rent, find a caretaker situation where you pay with your labor. If you pay for food, start growing your own food.
As you are learning to live with less and less money, you will inevitably find that the money system works to your disadvantage.
If you have debt, it becomes harder and harder to make the payments. If you own property, it becomes harder and harder to
afford the taxes. The money system takes a bite out of everything you do. But this is true only if your economic relationships
are monetized - if they have monetary value and involve the exchange of money. As you try to reduce your dependence on the
money economy, you will need to invent ways to demonetize your life, and that of the people around you.
> Savings and
personal property can be transformed into the stock in trade of human relationships, which then give rise to reciprocal flows
of gifts and favors - efficient, private, and customized to personal needs. This requires a completely different mindset from
that cultivated by the consumer society, which strives to standardize and reduce everything, including human relationships,
to a client-server paradigm, in which money flows in one direction, while products and services flow in the opposite direction.
Customer A gets the same thing as customer B, for the same price.
> This is very inefficient from a personal perspective.
Resources are squandered on new products whereas reused ones can work just as well. Everyone is forced to make do with mediocre,
off-the-shelf products that are designed for planned obsolescence and do not suit them as well as one crafted to suit their
specific needs. A commodity product can be manufactured on the opposite side of the planet, whereas a custom one is likely
to be made locally, providing work for you and the people in your community. But this is also very efficient, from the point
of view of extracting profits and concentrating wealth while depleting natural resources and destroying the environment. However,
this is not the sort of efficiency you should be concerned with: it is not in your interest.
> This, then, is the correct
stance vis à vis the money economy. You should appear to have no money or significant possessions. But you should have access
to resources, such as food, clothing, medicine, places to stay and work, and even money. What you do with your money is up
to you. For example, you can simply misplace it, the way squirrels do with nuts and acorns. Or you can convert it into communal
property of one sort or another. You should avoid getting paid, but you should accept gifts, and, of course, give gifts in
return. You should never work for money, but always donate your time and effort charitably. You should have a minimum of personal
possessions, but plenty to share with others. Developing such a stance is hard, but, once you do, life actually gets better.
Moreover, by adopting such a stance, you become collapse-proof.
> The American justice system favors the
educated, the corporations, and the rich, and takes unfair advantage of the uneducated, the private citizen, and the poor.
It would seem that almost any legal entanglement can be resolved through the judicious application of money, while almost
any tussle with the law can result in financial penalties and even imprisonment for those who are forced to rely on public
> Many people naï> vely believe that a criminal is someone who commits a criminal act. This is not true,
at least not in the American system of justice. Here, a criminal is someone who has been accused of committing a criminal
act, tried for it, and found guilty. Whether or not that person has in fact committed the act is immaterial: witnesses may
lie, evidence can be fabricated, juries can be manipulated. A person who has committed a criminal act but has not been tried
for > it, or has been tried and exonerated, is not a criminal, and for anyone to call him a criminal is libelous.
It therefore follows that, within the American justice system, committing a crime and getting away with it is substantially
identical to not committing a crime at all. Wealthy clients have lawyers who are constantly testing and, whenever possible,
expanding the bounds of legality. Corporations have entire armies of lawyers, and can almost always win against individuals.
Furthermore, corporations use their political influence to promote the use of binding arbitration, which favors them, as the
way to resolve disputes.
> This state of affairs makes it hopelessly naïve for anyone to confuse legality with morality,
ethics, or justice. You should always behave in a legal manner, but this will not necessarily save you from going to jail.
In what manner you choose to behave legally is between you and your conscience, God, or lawyer, if you happen to have one,
and may or may not have anything to do with obeying laws. Legality is a property of the justice system, while justice is an
ancient virtue. This distinction is lost on very few people: most people possess a sense of justice, and, separate from it,
an understanding of what is legal, and what they they can get away with.
> The U.S. legal system, as it stands, is a
luxury, not a necessity. It is good to those who can afford it, and bad for those who cannot. As ever-increasing numbers of
people find that they cannot pay what it takes to secure a good outcome for themselves, they will start to see it not as a
system of justice, but as a tool of oppression, and will learn to avoid it rather than to look to it for help. As oppression
becomes the norm, at some point the pretense to serving justice will be dispensed with in favor of a much simpler, efficient,
streamlined system of social control, perhaps one based on martial law.
> People have been known to get along quite
happily without written law, lawyers, courts, or jails. Societies always evolve an idea of what is forbidden, and find ways
to punish those who transgress. In the absence of an official system of justice, people generally become much more careful
around each other, because running afoul of someone may lead to a duel or give rise to a vendetta, and because, in the absence
of jails, punishments tend become draconian, coming to include dispossession, banishment, and even death, which are all intended
to deter and to neutralize rather than to punish. When disputes do arise, lay mediators or councils may be appealed to, to
help resolve them.
> The transition to a lower-energy system of jurisprudence will no doubt be quite tumultuous, but
there is something we can be sure of: many laws will become unenforceable at its very outset. This development, given our
definition of what is criminal, will de facto decriminalize many types of behavior, opening new, relatively safe avenues of
legal behavior for multitudes of people, creating new opportunities for the wise, and further tempting the evil and the foolish.
As a safety precaution, you might want to distance yourself from the legal system, and, to the extent that this is possible,
find your own justice. As an exercise, examine each of your relationships that is based on a contract, lease, deed, license,
promissory note, or other legal instrument, and look for ways to replace it with relationships that are based on trust, mutual
respect, and common interest. Think of ways to make these relationships work within the context of friendships and familial
> To protect yourself from getting savaged by the justice system as it degenerates into oppression, try to weave
a thick web of informal interdependency all around you, where any conflict or disagreement can be extinguished by drawing
in more and more interested parties, all of them eager to resolve it peaceably, and none of them willing to let it escalate
beyond their midst. Struggle for impartiality when attempting to mediate disputes, and be guided by your wisdom and your sense
of justice rather th> an by laws, rules, or precedents, which offer poor guidance in changing times.
> Thriving in
the Age of Collapse, Part II:
> What Can Young Professionals and Aging Baby Boomers do to Prepare for America's Collapse?
By Dmitry Orlov
> The first personal profile I will consider is of "Chris", a professional in his twenties,
who lives in a large urban area in the Pacific Northwest. Chris earns some $60,000 to $90,000 a year, contributes to his employer's
401-k program, and carries massive student debt. Thankfully, he is in good health. Among his many marketable skills, none
are directly applicable to an energy-scarce environment. He is a fantastic bore at parties, compulsively attempting to hold
forth on the subject of resource depletion and economic collapse, and, needless to say, his parents, friends, and fiancée
do not wish to hear any more about it, but love him just the same. Being uncertain of the future, he rents. Chris is a regular
North American workaholic, working 50 to 60 hours a week. Chris had never given politics, oil, or the looming economic collapse
much thought, until somebody handed him a copy of Mike Ruppert's book, but now he is a true believer.
> As a young professional,
Chris may be able to continue in his current profession, or shift to another one, to avoid dead-end career paths, and to position
himself in one of the professions that is sure to see substantial growth. Clearly, many professions do not hold much promise.
For example, the demand for lawyers, plastic surgeons, psychiatrists, and financial advisers will drop, because ever fewer
middle-class people will require or be able to afford their services. Likewise, jobs in sales and marketing are likely to
dwindle. Other professions, such as repossession, auctioneers, and undertakers, will still be very much in demand, for a time.
Whether or not Chris decides to switch professions, he should choose something lucrative, work hard for a while, save up money,
and get out. There is no sense in diving into these murky waters except to make a bundle, or in exposing his wealth if he
manages to accumulate any. Endlessly running on a treadmill, as so many people do today, will no longer be a viable option.
Serve Your Country
> If Chris finds that he needs to switch professions, and wants to remain within the official economy,
then he may decide to transition into the area of government contracting, availing himself of the ample opportunities presented
by official corruption, graft, and politically sanctioned organized crime, which are sure to continue seeing substantial growth.
There will be a great deal of government inventory of all sorts - from very expensive weapons systems to very expensive toilet
seats - to be sold off, sometimes at a substantial profit. If Chris has the flair for international deal-making, then finding
foreign buyers for liquidated U.S. government assets might be something he could ease his way into.
> Although government
work may be steady work for a time, it also involves following rules and regulations (or at least pretending to), toeing the
line, turning a blind eye, and playing the politics. Also, it rarely provides the satisfaction of getting something useful
accomplished. Unless Chris manages to position himself close to the top of the food chain, where billions in public money
regularly go missing with hardly any questions asked, it is also not going to be particularly lucrative. Profiting from government
corruption is a high-stakes game, with only the extremely well-connected admitted to the table.
> If Chris feels that
playing Catch-22 is not his style and decides against working for the government, another excellent growth area, right in
the middle of the newly emerging food chain, is security. As the populace becomes increasingly distressed economically, all
items of value will need to be kept out of view, or carefully guarded, preferably both. The first requirement in any middling-to-large
transaction will be to provide security. An organization that can provide security in an unstable environme> nt is thus
well-positioned to branch out into a multitude of other services: warehousing, logistics, transportation, finance, and legal
> Business Redux
> Last but not least, Chris can avail himself of a role in the burgeoning cash economy,
which will grow to encompass an ever greater list of products and services. Currently, unreported, cash-based activities in
the U.S. fall into a number of distinct categories that encompass traditional crime. I do not recommend any of these niches,
since they are already fully occupied, and a shrinking economy will make for a highly competitive environment. For the sake
of completeness: there will always be gambling, prostitution, graft, and murder for hire. Another large category is illegal
drugs and guns. Yet another revolves around smuggling people across borders, as well as providing them with cash-based employment
once they arrive. Yet another is money-laundering, by moving cash through front businesses and into bank accounts. All of
these are likely to see substantial growth, with the possible exception of money laundering: as the official economy becomes
deemphasized, cash stockpiles are more likely to be traded for gold and other valuable commodities than to be entrusted to
shaky financial institutions.
> But there will be plenty of new niches opening up for Chris to choose among. Currently,
the cash economy mostly involves services and products that cannot be obtained legally. In the future, it will expand to encompass
necessities that are no longer available or affordable through official channels. The list will eventually grow to include
transportation, food, security, shelter, and medicine. Thus, in trying to think about business trends of the future, Chris
should first expand his definition of business. Conversely, in thinking about the future legal climate, he should reason from
the point of view of what will be enforceable, and, if so, to whose financial benefit, because unenforceable or unprofitable
legal strictures will be eagerly overlooked, as the entire legal framework falls into disuse.
> House Calls
Black market medicine promises to be particularly interesting, although perhaps not particularly lucrative. The cash economy
will inevitably come to include pharmaceuticals, which in the U.S. are overpriced and often not available over the counter,
but which can be manufactured in underground laboratories, or purchased elsewhere in the world and imported in bulk. In addition,
every year there are more and more people for whom Western medicine does not work, or works badly, and who are learning to
avail themselves of the pharmacopeia of traditional medicine. Although there are some exotic ingredients used in traditional
medicine, many medicinal herbs can be grown in most places, do not require complex cultivation, and are, in fact, weeds. Once
Western medicine and the pharmaceutical industry on which it depends enter a period of decline, it is likely that acceptance
of traditional medicine will increase.
> If black market pharmaceuticals may be somewhat lucrative, then what about
black market medical practice? At some point it will come to include office visits, and even surgery, at first administered
as > "> free care,> "> but if one wants a follow-up visit, then it would involve a > "> gift.>
"> Currently, doctors in the U.S. are sandwiched between layers of lawyers, insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies,
and hospital administrators, all of whom require a profit in order to exist. Once there is no profit to be made by anyone,
only the doctors will remain, because they (and nurses) are the only ones who are indispensable to the practice of medicine.
They will once again start making house calls, and work for whatever they can get: a bit of cash, or even for food, or simply
because they care about their patients and want to be helpful and respected. They would be well advised to become competent
herbalists before their pharmaceutical supply dries up.>
> Quitting While Ahead
> There will be plenty of
professional opportunities for Chris to continue to make a good living, although he may have to switch professions in order
to take advantage of them. In spite of this, Chris should not bet his life on his ability to find a place in the new economy,
and should also make sure that he can sustain himself directly. It will be an uncertain environment, fraught with dangers
and complications, and Chris should be prepared to make a hasty exit if circumstances turn against him.
> Chris is in
a good position to marshal his resources and make preparations for a soft landing for himself, and possibly for his family
and friends as well. It is likely that he will meet new people and make new friends as he makes his preparations, and it may
be that these new friendships will be more conducive to achieving this goal than his current ones.
> Given his high
income, Chris can quickly save up a considerable sum of money by living frugally. To achieve a high savings rate, he can downgrade
his car to an old beater or give up driving altogether, move into a low-rent, ethnically and racially mixed neighborhood,
avoid buying new things, trash-picking and buying used stuff instead, shed unnecessary possessions, avoid buying prepared
or packaged food and only buy food fresh or in bulk, and avoid going out (entertaining friends at home, or visiting them,
works just as well). With these measures in place, there is no reason why his personal saving rate should be anywhere below
75% of his net earnings.
> By using some of his savings, and by cashing out his retirement accounts, Chris can put together
a sizable sum with which to purchase some arable land with access to water, which he can own free and clear, and on which
he can build a homestead. He should retain a reserve, preferably in gold, to be able to pay property taxes far into the future.
He is young and in good health, and can learn the many new skills he will need to survive. He should learn and practice these
skills before he needs to rely on them for survival: once he has built his homestead, he should try a > "> dry run,>
"> spending an entire summer on his land, improving it, and growing food. This experience will teach him what he
will need to stockpile, and what other preparations he will need to make.
> The longer Chris waits to start making these
preparations, the less effective they will be, because the purchasing power of his savings is likely to decrease over time
due to inflation. If he waits until after the onset of financial meltdown to make his move, he may forfeit his savings altogether,
and be unable to make any preparations. He would then find himself in the same sinking boat as everyone else, stuck where
he is, or wherever the government evacuates him, dependent on dwindling government assistance and meager charity for survival.
> Chris's biggest liability is his student debt. Student loans tend to be guaranteed by the federal government,
which is not subject to the same legal limitations as other creditors. The government can ignore bankruptcy laws and homestead
exemptions, and can seize any property. While fixed-rate loans are likely to be rendered irrelevant by inflation, variable-rate
loans should be taken seriously. If it is not possible to pay them off, then his other option is to make plans to render himself
indigent. This is not trivial, but quite possible to arrange. Since a post-collapse economy generally relies on unreported
cash and barter transactions rather than reported, taxed ones, Chris should be able to live out his days in peace, flying
under the radar.
> Chris's biggest hindrance in making effective preparations is lack of time. It is impossible to carry
out the necessary research, arrangements, and exercises while working 50-60 hours a week. There are many people in his situation,
forced to concentrate on a career path that requires an inordinate level of effort, because it is predicated on perpetual
career advancement rather than on making one's money quickly and getting out. But> with just a change of mindset,
Chris can become far more creative than the average workaholic in maximizing his short-term earnings while minimizing his
effort. The effort should be allocated towards getting jobs that pay the most but require the least effort, and towards finding
creative ways to avoid time-consuming tasks. With this new approach, Chris should be able to work no more than 35 hours a
week, at a comparable level of compensation.
> Just as it is usually better to quit than to be fired, it is better to
drop out voluntarily, in stages, than to wait for one's career to end due to lack of prospects for continued employment. In
a business climate where most companies' crystal balls are far from clear, it is much easer to secure temporary employment
than a permanent position. Contract work may not appeal to somebody who is looking forward to a long and prosperous career,
but it may be very well-suited to somebody who realizes that the entire economy is circling the drain.
> I believe that
lack of understanding from Chris's parents, friends, or significant other is not a serious problem. It is often hard to decide
just how much effort to invest in trying to enlighten any given person, but a good rule of thumb is to only offer answers
to those who ask questions. The answers should consist almost exclusively of references to the most authoritative sources
of information available, rather than heated expressions of personal opinion. These may give rise to more detailed questions,
and perhaps even some guarded admissions of doubt. Whether or not the people around him understand what is happening, they
are sure to be most grateful if, when the time comes, Chris knows what to do, while everyone around is flailing about helplessly.
On the other hand, if Chris expends effort on working his loved ones into a paroxysm of despair while remaining unprepared,
he will not remain popular with them for very long.
> The Middle Age
> Next we consider the case of > ">
Mike> "> and > "> Mary,> "> who are aging baby boomers. Their combined income is around $100,000
a year. Mary has worked as a teacher for most of her life, and expects to start receiving her pension soon. Mike has worked
a succession of office jobs for most of his life, and is also nearing retirement. They have a mortgage on a suburban home,
and own two cars. They had planned on paying it all off over the next decade or so, and living out their golden years just
as they are. They have three children: two are out of college and on their own, one is in college, nearing graduation. Mike
or Mary are in fairly good health, but both have minor medical conditions that require monitoring and small amounts of medication.
Mary has some gardening skills. Mike is a bit of a handyman, and can fix things around the house.
> They have known
that this crisis was coming since the 1970s, but did not think it would come this fast, nor did they think that it would be
so severe. They found out about it by reading James Kunstler's article in Rolling Stone, then doing some research on the Internet.
None of their children has shown more than a passing interest in these issues.
> Old Age in Turbulent Times
The older we get, the more ossified we tend to become in our ways of thought, our habits, and our expectations. We may be
unhappy with many things about our world, but, as we age, our ability to embrace change decreases, until we find ourselves
resigned to live out our days with the devil we know. Some old people are quite functional when they are within their element,
but put them in an unfamiliar environment, and they become disoriented, unsure of themselves, slow to adapt, and deeply distressed.
When confronted with cataclysmic, irrevocable change, some old people rebel in a peculiar fashion. For many years after the
Soviet collapse, one could see a certain type of old person in the streets: miserable, dispossessed, and protesting. Often
they carried with them portraits of Lenin and Stalin, held high fo> r all to see: these were the devils they knew. Perhaps
in future years we will see baby boomers on the streets of U.S. cities, begging for food while displaying their treasured
portrait of Ronald Reagan as if it were holy relic, or a lucky charm, hoping against all hope for a return to a former national
greatness, stoically withstanding ridicule from everyone around them.
> Even in less extreme cases, in disrupted, crisis-ridden
times, older people run a huge risk of becoming alienated from younger people, on whom they depend for survival. Being fixed
in their ideas of right and wrong, they tend to prejudge young people, who must survive in a world where the old rules and
notions no longer apply. In a futile attempt to hold on to what they see as moral high ground, they make themselves into objects
of pity at best, and indifference at worst.
> The Human Life-cycle
> Cheap energy and the short-term bloom of
humanity it has fueled have given rise to some social arrangements that are not destined to survive the onset of permanent
energy scarcity. One of these is the notion that a few young people will anonymously contribute a large part of their income
for the welfare of many old people they have never met or even heard of.
> In the days in which most of human history
has transpired, parents took care of their children as their topmost priority in life. As with many other species, it was
their biological imperative to do so; beyond that, most of them were conscious of the fact that if their children did not
survive, neither would they: their genes, their memories, their culture, or anything about them would be erased by time. The
care of children could be entrusted to family members, but never to complete strangers. The education of children took place
largely in the home, through storytelling, shared labor, and through rites of passage. The elderly, and especially the grandparents,
took an active part in rearing and educating children. It was they who watched and attended to young children throughout the
day, and who inculcated in them much of the ancestral wisdom - the stories, the myths, and the practical knowledge - through
ceaseless, tiresome repetition.
> At the trailing edge of the fossil fuel age, where we find ourselves, prosperous society
looks quite different. Both parents work dismal jobs, mostly away from home, in order to keep themselves out of bankruptcy.
Those who prosper most attend to their careers with far greater attention than to their children, abandoning them to the care
of strangers for the better part of most days. The grandparents live elsewhere, enjoying their golden years, the fruits of
their labors encapsulated in some properties, some investments, and a merciful central government that has promised to at
least keep them alive even if all else fails. They are living on artificial life support that is about to be shut off.
Once the joy-ride ends, human society will revert to norm, but many will suffer, and many lives will be cut short. The elderly
will get a dose of their own toxic medicine. Adult children will take care of their helpless parents only inasmuch as their
parents had taken care of them when they were young and helpless. Were they placed in day-care, sent off to a boarding school,
or encouraged to join the military? Well then, institutional care for the elderly must be the perfect solution! (And no use
complaining; when their children were three years old and complained, did they listen to them?) Were they made to work for
their allowance, to learn the spirit of free enterprise at a young age? Well then, how do their parents expect to earn their
keep when they are eighty? Shape up or ship out! These words will not necessarily be said out loud; but they will be felt,
> What will make matters worse is that most of the children are humans-> "> lite> "> -
deprived of the stories, the myths, and the trials that human children have been put through for the past few million years,
minus a bizarre century or two - and so are gravely ill-equipped for life outside the artificial life support system. They
are an industrial product: almost from birth, they are placed in an entirely artificial social context, where they are evaluated,
classified, and shoved through a series of institutions, to be readied for a lifetime of service in a system whose feedstock
is a commodity human product: Grade A human, marketable skills up-to-date, properly credentialed. Even if their parents and
grandparents were intact and able to impart wisdom, their children had not been programmed to process that sort of information.
> When we are young, it is easy to embrace change, to adapt, to leave our past behind; not necessarily
so as we get older. When it comes to flexibility and adaptability, there is a broad spectrum of older people. There are ones
that seem relatively young, but are hardened and calloused on the inside. They simply want to have what's theirs, and to be
left alone. There are others that seem old and crusty, but have really been waiting all their lives for that time when they
have to rise to the occasion, shake off the shackles that society has placed them in, and become amazingly alive. Yet others
will simply do whatever is necessary, because that is what they have always done, for as long as they can remember; and then
one day they will stop, and become like children. Yet others fall into despair, or act normal but convert their psychological
shock at the changed circumstances into mysterious illnesses.
> Some older people I know are like giant warehouses of
knowledge - richer than the biggest library. Others hold their secrets well, looking for one or two young persons they can
teach, who will deliver them one generation further. Still others simply have a rhythm to their lives that can go on forever
- if you learn it, you will be able to pass it on. But plenty of others are simply dead weight: organic matter kept alive
artificially. An oil-based life support system that has allowed them to be fruitful and multiply is now allowing them to persist,
for a time. One more day is one more day, like fungus growing on a tree stump.
> Who knows what any of this means for
Mike and Mary, our two aging baby boomers with an income in the $100,000 per year range and a dream of living out their retirement
in their suburban home? The fact that they are concerned about something they have read on a Web site is not significant:
there are lots of alarming, and alarmist, Web sites. The fact that they have known that oil was going to run out some day
since the 1970s is also not that significant: quite a few people have known that for just as long, and have not done a thing
about it. The fact that their children are not the least bit interested in these matters is to be expected. Even if their
motto is > "> do as we say, not as we do,> "> why should anyone expect their children to follow it? Least
important is the fact that at their ripe age they are showing concern over something that has been unfolding over most of
their lifetimes, and will continue unfolding, sometimes gradually, sometimes suddenly.
> Out of Retirement
and Mary should brace themselves for some bad news. The first piece of bad news is that their retirement is going to be canceled.
Their investments and savings will be devalued, and the value of their equity in their suburban house will be negligible.
They will probably continue to receive checks from the government, but it will not be enough to live on. The second piece
of bad news is that there will not be any actual official paid work available to them to make up the shortfall. Nor is it
likely that there will be any official recognition of their plight, or public attempts to remedy the situation, or effective
political organizations for people in their predicament. This may come as a shock to a generation used to being a political
force to be reckoned with.>
> A Byzantine system of accounting has already been put in place for forging inflation
and unemployment statistics. Cost of living adjustments are always kept at about half the level of actual inflation. The term
> "> unemployed> "> has been redefined to mean > "> eligible to receive temporary unemployment benefits.>
"> As inflation starts to pick up, retirees on fixed incomes will gradually be driven destitute.
> A Sad Alternative
If Mike's and Mary's plan is to live out their golden years in a suburban house, driving to and fro, then they clearly do
not have a plan, and will gradually lose control of their lives. Almost immediately, their house will become too expensive
to heat. Next, it will become impossible for them to continue driving, due to gasoline rationing and shortages. Next, electricity
will be cut off. For a time, they may continue to be supplied with food by some community-based service.
> At some point,
if they are lucky, they will be evacuated to some hastily organized compound - most likely a dormitory or a barrack with cots
and a television set in the corner, which is mostly off due to lack of electricity, and plenty of blank walls to stare at.
There will be a dining hall, where they will receive their daily portions of tea and gruel.
> Perhaps one of their children
will come to their rescue. But it is more than likely that their own circumstances will be quite difficult, and that they
will have little ability to provide for their parents, especially if none of them have made any preparations for doing so.
Or perhaps they will be quite capable of providing for their parents but will not want to.
> A Happier Alternative
So Mike and Mary need a plan. But who are they, and would it not be presumptuous of me to attempt to contrive a plan for them,
not knowing who they are? Nevertheless, let me venture a guess or two. Is there something unique and amazing, lurking behind
that vinyl-clad suburban façade and those tinted SUV windows? Even if there is not, here are some fairly basic ideas that
spring to mind.
> Maybe Mary's spirit has not been broken over decades spent teaching in the soulless U.S. public school
system. Maybe she is ready to open her own school, in her own living room, for neighborhood kids of all ages, one that teaches
something more valuable than how to pass government-mandated standardized tests. Maybe she could recruit some younger trainee
teachers, who need not have the worthless degree in Education? Retired American schoolteachers are known for doing that sort
of thing in other third world countries, so why not in this one?
> And what about Mike and his decades of accumulated
business and managerial acumen in striking deals, negotiating and enforcing contracts, and inspecting financial statements?
He could, for instance, put his skills to good use in pushing through mixed use zoning, so that people in his community could
open shops in their basements and garages. When the public water supply becomes contaminated, disrupted, or too expensive,
perhaps Mike could help negotiate utility easements for the gathering of rainwater. He could organize rent strikes against
absentee landlords, forcing them to sell to people within the community. He could help convert the school bus fleet to full-time
use, serving the entire community throughout they day, rather than just children, twice a day.
> The best that Mike
and Mary can hope to achieve is to cluster their children around them, all living in close proximity, although preferably
not in the same house. Too close is almost as bad as too far away; next door, or on the same street, is optimal. The bigger
the extended household Mike and Mary are able to form, the better their chances of living comfortably. It makes little difference
whether their children are aware of these preparations ahead of time. If Mike and Mary are able to offer support and practical
advice to their children when the economy turns sour and their children's lives start to fall apart, they will probably accept
the favor, and will later want to return it.>
> Suburbia Forever
> Am I being overly optimistic about the
promise of a reformed American suburbia? Some people are ready to declare suburbia to be at an end. But then I know that Americans
are very much driven to hyperbole, always willing to put an end to something certifiably unstoppable (war, AIDS, cancer, poverty,
global warming), usually by making a small charitable donation, by wearing a colorful plastic bracelet, or by going for a
walk, a run, or a bicycle ride. Below the charming, childlike confidence and optimism of such ventures lurks a culturally
ingrained inability to grasp something basic: not all problems are solvable.
> And thus I discern an element of wishful
thinking in the idea that suburbia is going to conveniently disappear, and that everyone who lives there will simply go and
live someplace else. A cabin in the woods, perhaps? Or a picturesque desert island? How about a space colony? Nor do I find
it plausible that half the U.S. population will lay down and die shortly after they discover that some of their cars no longer
run or that their kitchen appliances no longer work. And so I find it safe to think that most of the existing infestations
of Suburbia americans are ineradicable, but that the evolutionary pressure of a chronic energy shortage will force them to
evolve into something much less energy-intensive. Whether, in each case, that something will turn out to be absolutely horrible,
or quite pleasant, will depend on many things.
> For instance, a suburb with many big lawns and golf courses could pass
a series of enlightened ordinances such as > "> No grass shall be cut until it has gone to seed, and shall only be used
for forage or fodder.> "> Then they could all keep ponies, ride them to the market, and live happily ever after.
No, it is not quite that easy, but I am convinced that the biggest obstacle is bad habits - like keeping the grass clipped
really short and putting the clippings into garbage bags to be hauled away in garbage trucks. It should not take any brilliant
new inventions or high-priced initiatives to make suburbia survivable. All that is needed is for people to stop doing a lot
of nonsensical things and start doing a few commonsense ones. Even if they resist, circumstances will inevitably nudge them
in the right direction.
> Should Mike and Mary decide to move or to stay? Do they know, and like, their neighbors? Do
they think that their current community will hold together? Do they have faith in their ability to adapt? Is their suburb
a place where their children will want to live? If answers to any of these questions is > "> no> "> , then they
have very little to lose by moving.
> If they decide to move, they could move to a small town and strive towards self-sufficiency
by doing some gardening, maybe even raise some livestock. Their children may decide to join them there, once they run out
of other options, which they will if they do not prepare. Or they could move to a city (one of the few compact, livable ones)
- and hope that they will be taken care of there.
> Finally, they could decide to leave the country altogether, but
for this they would need to have quite an adventurous spirit. There are plenty of stable, if not prosperous, places on this
planet, that are far less dependent on the international energy and financial markets than the U.S., and where the cataclysms
that will shake the U.S. will barely register.
This is from Life After The Oil Crash