Comment: I think we're in the midst of it

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Michael Nystrom's picture

I think we're in the midst of it

And it is happening all around us. It is hard to see unless you break out of the trance we all live in.

The other day I saw a guy at a stoplight begging for money. Not the standard beggar - he looked like he belonged in front of the TV, on a Lay-Z-Boy with a beer in one hand cheering on the Patriots, or out in front of his house raking leaves. But there he was with his cardboard sign, "Anything helps."

Harvard Square is now like Homeless Square. The tramps and beggars and hobos and homeless abound. Many of them are young and healthy, but extremely demoralized.

I don't think there will be so much a 'collapse' as much as a massive bifurcation in income levels. We already see how the middle class is getting squeezed. But the upper classes - the well educated, those close to money, those in the right industries (defense, biotech, banking) will do well. Those without skills or education will have a harder and harder time. America will start to look more like a third world country - like China or India or Brazil. The divide will widen, and everyone will scramble to be on the high side of the divide.

Here are two articles that explain things pretty well - one serious, and one satire:

Satire from the Onion:
Nation's Lower Class At Least Grateful It Not Part Of Nation's Middle Class

Something a little more serious, and thoughtful, from the Archdruid Report:
The Onset of Catabolic Collapse

The central idea of catabolic collapse is that human societies pretty consistently tend to produce more stuff than they can afford to maintain. What we are pleased to call “primitive societies” – that is, societies that are well enough adapted to their environments that they get by comfortably without huge masses of cumbersome and expensive infrastructure – usually do so in a fairly small way, and very often evolve traditional ways of getting rid of excess goods at regular intervals so that the cost of maintaining it doesn’t become a burden. As societies expand and start to depend on complex infrastructure to support the daily activities of their inhabitants, though, it becomes harder and less popular to do this, and so the maintenance needs of the infrastructure and the rest of the society’s stuff gradually build up until they reach a level that can’t be covered by the resources on hand.

It’s what happens next that’s crucial to the theory. The only reliable way to solve a crisis that’s caused by rising maintenance costs is to cut those costs, and the most effective way of cutting maintenance needs is to tip some fraction of the stuff that would otherwise have to be maintained into the nearest available dumpster. That’s rarely popular, and many complex societies resist it as long as they possibly can, but once it happens the usual result is at least a temporary resolution of the crisis.

The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.
- Alan Watts