Thursday, March 4, 2010

Its a Cold, Cruel World - The Final Analysis

OK, I've laid out the "Why" (BTW... the "Why" comes after "If" and before "Then").

But before we move on, I want to sum it up again:

The already overwhelmed, overburdened, and overtaxed productive people in our society (if this were not true, we would not have deficits, right?) are steadily losing their "energy slaves" (we all know what is meant by energy slaves, don't we? If not, for brevity sake please google it), AND the "tax receivers", those people that are subsidized in their daily lives by the productive tax payer, are ALSO losing their "energy slaves", leaving them MORE dependent upon the Net Tax Payer, a Net Tax payer that is has been maxed out. (Don't worry about money, cash, printing presses, etc... the only real measure is goods and services produced and then the percentage confiscated as transfer payments of those goods and services).

Now that we have established the issues for ANYONE, ANYWHERE on the political spectrum... how does it all turn out?

Well, that's very complicated.

How much longer will industrial civilization be able to increase the volume of nitrogen fertilizer? What will be the world population at "Peak Fertilizer"? How will the international community compete for declining volumes of energy exports from OPEC? How much and what form of resistance will those populations losing government support give? During the transition period will we endure a string of bad luck... or good luck? (You can fill in the blank with your favorite boogey man. Mine? I rather think that a massive California earthquake at this time would be the disaster to end all disasters. The state is broke, and that would really, really finish that off... and they supply so much of America's food with a water supply that is entirely manmade and would be destroyed in an earthquake... oohhh! Such Hollywood script!)

To my mind the humanitarian crisis brewing in the coming decades for America's elderly is mind boggling and it will make Haiti look like a small potatoes. Social Security was established to provide comfort and support for a reason - many people did not or could not provide for their final years during the early part of the 20th century. Social Security did not change the Facts of Life, it likely only enlarged the elderly population and condensed the issue into the future where the demographic time bomb will, IMHO, be of biblical proportion.

Eventually, there will be a Jay Hanson-esque "Die Off" (google him and "die off"), and it could be 5 years or 50 years from now, but all of my readers are familiar with the mathematical concept "e", and "e" says the probability of that outcome approaches 1.00. But we knew that, didn't we? Nobody wants to sound like party-pooper, but in the back of our minds we all knew what had to happen at some point on the time line. Well, when it happens, it will happen to the elderly - primarily to those without family. If you have ever traveled DEEP into the third-world (I hate that term, but is the best I've got... "developing world" does not, to my mind, describe living in an abandoned Inca home in Peruvian Andes and living the same way as your ancestor's did before the arrival of the Conquistadors... I have spent a great deal of time there, traveling by foot, bike, bus, and hitchhiking... If you live in the West and you have not experienced this, you might want to tune me out and surf over to a Home & Garden dot com type site...) you know why people celebrate the birth of a child! No children = a very, very tough old age for people in these countries, and it will be so for people living in the West, too.

The rest of us will muddle along, IMHO. We will live with more people in smaller homes, and will heat and cool a much smaller portion of our homes. We will be thinner. We will be poorer. But if we were to live like those Indians I lived with in Peru or Costa Rica or Honduras or Mexico... we will not be NEARLY as busy nor as stressed - they seemed to have plenty of time for soccer and socializing (well, I don't know about people living in the far North and having a 6 month winter to contend with... in most of my travels in the third world, there was not a big requirement for heating as they were in the tropics and sub-tropics (think Malaria)... I cannot imagine the cabin fever of spending a winter in upstate New York or Minn., Wis., the era I foresee). The very rich will lose most of their "wealth" (for the most part, its already gone... they just don't know it) and the very poor, those depending on government for their daily bred, will adjust by making other arrangements - or else.

The Middle Class will lose most of their wealth, too, just as I described the wealthy above. Since they are already used to working hard and budgeting, etc... they will get by, too. The issue will be for the weak - the elderly, disabled, the sick, etc... the resources simply will not be there in the form that they now exist. The only thing you will have is family.

I read a lot about "Community". I believe this is PC speak for Liberals. Your tribe, your clan, your DNA will matter a great deal to you. Your "Community"? Not so much, but good luck with that... let me know how it turns out in the long run. If you look at the history of "Community", Israel's Kibbutz experience is pretty telling:

With time, the kibbutz members’ sense of identification with the kibbutz and its goals decreased. This process originated both from personal frustrations among the kibbutz members as a result of internal processes and from the growing stratification and inequality due to the growth of capitalistic practices. [9] Over the years, some kibbutz members established professional careers outside the kibbutz, accumulating power, privileges and prestige. [10] The balance between individual values and values of the kibbutz began to tip, and work motivation was affected. An emphasis was placed on social compensation to encourage productivity. These processes occurred in parallel with a severe economic crisis.
Nice idea. Might work in heaven, or on another planet...

As I have said at least 2 GAZZILION times before, there are no macro solutions. There are also no individual preparations one can make unless one is either rich or semi-rich. Read this link. Here's a family that bought a homestead and is finding out that this is really not a solution if you have to have a 9 to 5 job to fund it. "Its a Cold, Cruel World". If you did not have the luck or foresight to do something like regular commenter here at the AEC, "Kathy", did - namely, build her LIFE around this lifestyle and become accustomed and GOOD at it and do it from Jump Street (don't know Jump Street?) - well, you better have the resources to treat a homestead like this as an insurance expense. My bet is, this fellow is going to be stuck there for a while, and with any luck forever without having to pay back his mortgage. I wish him well. It has taken me 4 years (this is my 5th growing season and I can't wait to get at it) to feel somewhat competent at running a homestead - and I had the luxury of not sweating the mortgage.

In other words, I have NO SOLUTIONS for most folks - you are on your own. Still, I think I laid out the issue reasonably well (well, at least I think so). Of course that and $4 will get you a grande mocha frapacino....


Anonymous said...

This back to the land notion, isn't feasible with our very large population and degraded environment. This is a fairy tale people tell themselves, if things get bad. Most people would do better to focus on making money, and being frugal, rather then "end game" scenarios--missing the steps in between a collapse scenario is illogical, being broke will not allow you to homestead.

Homesteading itself although a fun/hard work hobby is not viable most places to produce significant quantities of food. Sure you can mitigate some high prices of certain veggies and maybe get a couple months worth of food, but unless its a full-time job, or for most even if you did it full time, you would find yourself needing to get groceries, and likely pretty often.

As you state--IF CA has a major earthquake (matter of when not if according to geologists) that would certainly be a death blow to this current incarnation of living. CA produces massive amounts of our food in the US, that alone would be game changing, not even counting further economic problems/debt etc.

Ah well, when you build a culture based on fantasy, you end up with everyone planning to win the lotto--people won't be happy as previous posters have discussed, when the "dream" goes away, this is already happening to many in this country in the form of lower paid employment and a huge glut of college grads being unemployed.

Anonymous said...

It's already here if you check out the back woods of any rural American place...tho with 1700 kids being beaten to death by abusive parents in 2007, it seems the message is not out about the new Social Security.
Oh, and for those in cold won't get cabin fever. That's only an affliction of the well fed rich and underworked.
Children of Men is a movie that gives the flavor quite well. It's actually quite an optimistic, happy view of things going badly.

westexas said...

My 2¢ worth, my ELP Plan essay from three years ago, follows, along with an interesting case history.

The discretionary spending side of the US economy will continue to get crushed as we transition from an economy focused on meeting wants to one focused on meeting needs.
The ELP Plan: Economize; Localize & Produce
April, 2007
“Cut thy spending and get thee to the non-discretionary side of the economy.”


"In my opinion, the unfortunate new reality is that we are going to see a growing labor surplus--against the backdrop of deflation in the auto/housing/finance sectors and inflation in food and energy prices. By reducing your expenses now, while you can do it voluntarily, you will at least be better prepared for whatever the future may bring."

An interesting case history:
Published on 22 Jul 2004 by San Francisco Chronicle. Archived on 25 Apr 2005.
Berkeley: Urban farmers produce nearly all their food with a sustainable garden in their backyard

Greg T. Jeffers said...


I remember your post well. It was met with some derision, but as turned out quite prescient.

westexas said...


As you have probably noted, there is an obvious "Atlas Shrugged" analogy here, where the small group of actual producers of essential goods and services are taxed at ever higher rates to support the huge number of consumers of essential goods and services. So, Atlas' "reward" for being a producer is an ever higher tax rate.

In any case, Sharon Aystyk has written about a truly terrifying threat, the unemployed brother-in-law on the sofa syndrome.

One of the advantages of having a small garden/farm operation is that one can take an incoming liability--unemployed adult children and relatives--and turn them into a productive asset, i.e., farm workers.

Anonymous said...

West TX mentions Urban farming, again I think that growing some food can help mitigate some food expenses and produce truly local food without some of the problems with Ecoli and chemical treatment residues.

I know many people who have been gardening for a long time, own goats, chickens, ducks etc etc, and still produce a very small amount of their own food. I think sometimes the "grow your own food" solution is hyped up too much and made out to be easy. To many yuppie types they aren't going to quickly learn all the nuances of growing a lot of food quickly.

Most people rely heavily on many inputs, bought with money to keep their garden producing. Permaculture methods and the like take some research/skill and practice to do well.

Most people still need to worry about money, unless the jobless and woefully underpaid folks are gonna just go live in a insulated van down by the river and grow potatoes?

Enjoying each day and the present seems more valid as worries seem to lead most to ruminating and feelings of helplessness, with adaption often not even occurring.

It's sunny out today, huzzah!

westexas said...

"I think sometimes the "grow your own food" solution is hyped up too much and made out to be easy."

Like growing old, growing at least some of your own food might beat the alternative.

In any case, I frequently ask people what their primary requirement is for retirement. I put food at the top of the list. Even if one does not actively engage in farming, one could acquire and then lease out (either for cash or via share cropping) an organic farm. Or would you rather buy 30 year US Treasury bonds?

What we need is a crash Future Farmers of America program in virtually every school in the country, with apprentice programs at local farms and gardens.

Anonymous said...


From your post:

"you know why people celebrate the birth of a child! No children = a very, very tough old age for people in these countries, and it will be so for people living in the West, too."

And thus is the human race inextricably linked to e.


Coal Guy

Greg T. Jeffers said...

Coal Guy:

It is just so mind bogglingly basic as that. Funny how pi, e, 1|1.62, etc... dominate EVERYTHING.


I agree that a crash course in Ag in all high schools would be helpful... still, N fertilizer is, in fact, the whole game now. "Nature Bat's Last" is how one smart guy put it... America is in a good spot on this when compared to the ROW.

To Anon:

It really is not that hard to grow all of your own eggs, milk, and meat PROVIDED that you have access to the land - no you can't grow ALL of your own food... but in rural counties in the rain belt east of the Mississippi? I think not that hard. In NYC? NAFC.

The problem is the timing, and the rate of change. WHile I think it is too late to worry about the rate of change regarding the economy and our worldwide debt machine, that system is going to go Chernobyl, the rate of change on the resource depletion for food production is a whole other story.

bureaucrat said...

Meanwhile, for all you Earthers, the gas stations are all open (tho gasoline is rising a little) and the supermarket has orange juice on sale this week! 2 for $5! Minute Maid even! :) (P.S. natural gas prices are dropping again)

The family thing isn't going to fix anything as humans didn't move out of the house solely cause the kids found spouses. They often just couldn't live with the parents anymore, and move the children did anyway. Something I read said it takes 1.5 generations for the children to throw out all the "cultural patterns" of their parents. This is humanity making its own choices. It will take a lot to change that.

What also hasn't changed is the migration of people from the farms to the cities. Recently, the percentage of people living in the suburbs versus the city exceeded 50% for the first time. So you have your land thing already happening (on average, we already have more than 1 square foot per person). What will not change is the farm we all left behind -- the smelly, exhausting, filled-with-risk, papa-runs-everything-with-an-iron-hand farming life that almost no one wants to return to.

I don't even try to predict the future, but I see no glamour in the options listed here. And I'm afriad I still believe things will work out, or in "something" happening (the Chevy Volt working would be a good start.) :)

Anonymous said...


I'm not so worried about N so much as phosphate. Potassium is relatively common. Ammonia can be made as long as there is a source of power and air. Nuclear, wind, or solar will do. Phosphates are mined. I don't think we're that far from peak phosphate.


Coal Guy

Anonymous said...

You are a stud Greg! Loved this series. Keep up the good work. I don't have to mention it that I agree 100% with everything you have written here and that is not always that way. I think (for example) that vegetarians who are pro abortion have got it right on. It is completely congruent thinking. But not from the I love animals point of view (which I do and much more then people). We need to reduce our footprint on this earth and we can do it in two ways, keeping our own numbers down through abortion for example AND eating lower on the food chain which is being vegetarian.

Disclosure, I eat animals although I think that it is bad for my health and I am pro abortion - for others :-) But I digress. Great post dude.

Chuck H.

Greg T. Jeffers said...

Thank you, Chuck... for myself, I refuse to play G-d on the "how" of reducing our foot print by human population. Vegetarianism is a product of cheap and easily obtained food that comes from energy slaves...

but the point of the series "is what it is".

Greg T. Jeffers said...


I must repeat my request that you add something of empirical value and not merely argument.

PioneerPreppy said...

I can't speak to some of the points made but like you Greg I agree (least I think we agree) that it is mostly possible to feed yourself if you have the land.

The 9 to 5 thing is a problem but what I do is just try and get by with what I can do and figure if/when the job thing ends then I can multiply by that much more time.

If my calculations are correct I could survive. I have even managed to do most of it without oil based fuel. The hardest part for me will not be food (provided it isn't stolen by hordes) but fuel. Without energy it will be next to impossible for me to cut and haul the fuel (wood) I would need for the Winter.

This is a problem I am still working on but the remedies I come up with involve so much more feed and work it isn't calculating out well.

In my opinion when peak oil hits the only option we will have is back to the land.

Anonymous said...

We need to recogize that "producers" come in many stripes. The guy who prepares taxes is making money, paying taxes, etc but is largely just part of the dig-a-hole then fill-it-up culture. However, the farmer produces a product that provides essential sustenance to the entire population.

The person who builds their own house, homeschools their kids, and produces much of their food and firewood may be technically unemployed. And the person who plastic wraps video games or packages pet rocks is technically a fully-employed productive citizen.

I guess that as the resource crunch develops, these folks employed doing unproductive or negative work ie too many lawyers filing frivolous lawsuits & tax preparers etc will find that their proud occupations will become less and less essential.

Greg T. Jeffers said...

As I said in my closing, I don't know what the answers are - I have only enumerated and defined "Why" and "Then" or "therefore"... the rest is up to you, the fates, luck....

Anonymous said...

'Vegetarianism is a product of cheap and easily obtained food that comes from energy slaves...'
Don't forget the Aryan invaders of North India', the Hindus,some of the original cowboys on the planet. Vegetarian for 4 or 5 thousand years. They just decided to use their cows differently, for the fuel and milk protein.
The gross over consumption of meat in the US will stop with energy decline after the industrial herds disappear. All that nitrogen to grow all that feedlot corn is in the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.
Mother nature does indeed bat last.

Stephen B. said...

Greg wrote: "Social Security was established to provide comfort and support for a reason - many people did not or could not provide for their final years during the early part of the 20th century."

Maybe people suddenly became more grasshopper-like (thinking of Aesop) as the Twentieth Century started, and the elderly simply didn't save and plan. But I think what really happened is that life, for the first time, starting at the last turn of the century, started changing things in this society that more or less demanded that people, when elderly, have a large pile of cash put aside for themselves.

For example: until the 1900s, one didn't have lots of utility bills, high real estate tax bills, medical bills, insurance, assisted-living bills, and other bills that could only be paid in cash dollars. Before that, one's kids and/or community helped out by supplying things like firewood, helping with transportation (or communities were more walkable, even for the elderly), supplying a room to live in, and so on. But with the advent of "modern" living, even if a person DID have kids, the modern expectation became that the elderly were best off if they lived alone, in their own (cash sucking) apartment or house. Then of course there was the BIG game changer in the early 1900s - people started living longer and actually *needed* some kind of retirement planning.

I don't pretend to have any answers for all of this either except to say that I think society is going to start simplifying and regressing to the point that, once again, the need for lots of cash in "retirement", especially great piles of it, will necessarily lessen and older people will suffer more. Then too, people probably won't live as long once again either.

Happily, Sharon has written extensively about this subject. A lot of what she has had to say on the subject as per solutions comes down to reinvigorating the local community connections between people, among other things.

Let's hope her optimism is justified.

Lastly, on a different note - perhaps more of those people that post here under "anonymous" could pick a nickname? It's getting kind of confusing of late, reading all the anonymous @xx:xx am/pm posts and responses. Pick something, anything, and stick with it, please. It will help the rest of us keep the opinions of posters here somewhat better sorted. We might even begin to remember what you say too.

Meiyo said...

Solutions for individuals are by necessity customized. IF one has money, then many options avail them self.

IF one has fertile land, some know how, willingness and physical ability to work, and perhaps family and friends to help, some food production is viable--as long as you don't lose that land due to money problems.

Finding away to maintain one's integrity, enjoy life, savor good relationships, and do something that is productive and fulfilling while hedging against some possible gloom and doom scenarios seem best. But for every scenario you attempt to predict, another one can come along--more personal in nature. That said, the writing on the wall that modernity will be changing drastically seems clear, the timing isn't so apparent, to many unknown unknowns. But Oil, water, and food are better gauges then the DOW.

The truth will set you free . . . but first it will make you miserable." (Arnold Schopenhauer)

Donal Lang said...

In countries where the high birthrate is the problem, one of the solutions is healthcare and old age pensions, re[placing the two primary drivers of needing lots of kids; infant mortality and security in old age.

If we reverse-engineer the coming decline, then more kids will become the norm again, and families living 3 generations in the same place for healthcare, old people support, childcare, and food/money production. Family life saves money.

And we're seeing it already as middle aged 'kids' move back in with aged parents. Hard for a generation who have grown up to value some notion of 'independance' but maybe good for a dislocated society?

Anonymous said...


Dead on. We live within 10mi of our four daughters and my mother-in-law. We're staying put. The fractured family has fractured our culture.


Coal Guy

Greg T. Jeffers said...

Coal Guy and Donal:

Yes, "Dead On... The fractured family has fractured our culture."

We live 2 blocks from my 86 year old mother, close enough that she can take her meals with us everyday.
At some point, she will live with us and one of her adult and now 60 plus children will likely live in her apartment.

But think about this... did the tax system in the U.S. confiscate so much that people did not save and instead relied on SS and Medicare? - one look at Asia and their savings rates and lack of social programs and it would seem to support that contention.

My mother cared for my father when he was sick and dying (at home). Her children will care for her.

To Life!

Anonymous said...


Should the need arise, my mother-in-law will live with us, too. We were going to give her a 90th birthday party, but she asked us to hold off until she's 100. I plan to be a burden to my children;)

I think that the tax system certainly hindered savings, as well as charitable giving as well as donations of time and labor. It created the necessity for two income earners to maintain a pre-Great Society standard of living. In most two income households, the wife's income just covers the taxes. There's a whole new take on "wage slave."


Coal Guy