James Howard Kunstler

Everybody in the world is broke, except for maybe Lloyd Blankfein, and he may not end up broke so much as broken — by a political meat-grinder that is revving up to turn the world’s woes and swindles into a new kind of Long Emergency sausage, to be distributed among the roiling, angry masses as a synthetic substitute for nutriment. Call it a synthetic non-collateralized political obligation.

Something snapped in the world last week and a lot of people around the world sensed it — especially in the organs of news and opinion — but this ominous twang was not very clearly identified. It was, in fact, the sound of the financial becoming political. The macro-swindle of a worldwide Ponzi orgy now stands revealed and the vacuum left in its place is about to suck everything familiar into it — standards-of-living, hopes, dreams, not to mention lives. The political action will be a desperate scramble to determine who and what is able to escape getting sucked into this black hole of annihilation. It’s very suddenly shaping up to become an epic in human history.

Meanwhile, a giant oil blob lies quivering in deep waters off the Gulf coast, like some awful amorphous Moby Dick full of malice waiting to sink Pequod America — or at least the economies of five states. A few months from now, the BP corporation will wonder why it didn’t go into something safe and predictable like the pants business instead of oil exploration. They will surely question the viability of conducting future business anywhere near the USA, and the USA will enter a wilderness of soul-searching about the drill-baby-drill strategy that only a few scant weeks ago seemed to be a settled matter. Tough to have your future hoped-for energy supplies evaporate at the same time that your hopes for future prosperity get sucked into a black hole.

I’ve maintained for a long time that the folks down Dixie way are the the most dangerously crazy people in America and the Deepwater Horizon oil blob is not going to improve their outlook when it slops over their beaches and bayous. They’ll blame Obama for it by syllogism. Anyway, they are only marginally more crazy than the rest of the folks in the USA. Those folks are warming up for an election season that is going to send a horde of exterminating angels into the halls of congress and the governor’s mansions, and before too long those merchants of retribution are going to appoint their inquisitors. It’s going to be a heckuva spectacle. In retrospect, Mary Shapiro’s SEC will look like the Council of Trent. You can be sure that if ten gallons of gasoline remain to be found in America a few years from now, they will power the last GMC Sierra to drag the captains of Wall Street through the sawgrass prairies of Collier County, Florida.

What has gone on in Europe the past few weeks is nothing more complicated than a waking-up to how broke they are. We’re not quite there yet on this side of the Atlantic. They fired one last bazooka of wishfulness at the enveloping monster of debt and the monster laughed at them, and now they are standing in the windows of palatial edifice of the Euro Union waiting to see who will jump first. Here in the USA, we’re still dazed and confused. What for a long time had looked like a game of musical chairs is morphing into something more like a national Chinese fire drill, a pointless running around in circles in the hope that sheer motion will be an adequate substitute for conscious action. In any case, both Europe and the USA are out of bazooka ammo now. Nobody can bail out so much as another lemonade stand. From here on governments really start to crumble.

As in any time of severe turmoil, all political bets are off. There are insinuations in the press, for instance, that the communists will rise up in Greece and overthrow the elected government. That’s rich, since communism was flushed down the human race’s credibility toilet twenty years ago. The Greek opposition may even call themselves communists, but what on earth could they mean by that? There are no “means of production” left in a country whose economy consists solely of cab-drivers, bellboys, and waiters. There’s no “wealth” to redistribute, only the pain of collective economic loss when the tourists stop landing.

Elsewhere in Europe, each national house is being outfitted with a procrustean bed of austerity. The various publics are not going to like lying in them. They ain’t no Tempurpedics. History being the shape-shifting demon that it is, I imagine that this time around the Brits will be the ones who elect Nazis —or something like them — while the still-chastened Germans find themselves in the odd position of becoming Europe’s moral guardian — its sole-surviving “good parent” figure, striving to maintain some residue of collective goodwill in Europe’s once-ritzy gated community. Great historical figures always arise from unexpected places — Corsica, Kentucky. Maybe some great unifying leader even now warms a seat in a Norwegian law school.

God knows what the Europeans will make of the helter-skelter scene playing out here in the States. Perhaps some species of schadenfreude tinged with regret for the missing stream of tourists. My own guess is that there may not even be a president of the US after Mr. Obama. Rather, events will get so gnarly and disordered so fast that somebody like General Patraeus will have to step in for a while and keep the reincarnation of the Ku Klux Klan from trying to murder every non-Cracker from sea to shining sea. Of course, once that happens, we probably don’t go back. It’s not Imperial Rome (release 2.0) after that, either, because even the mighty US military will be too strapped for a means of support to continue operating. Instead, it’s the devolution of the US into functionally autonomous regions and states — and even that scale of governance may be too great for the stringent economic realities of the years ahead.

There remains, of course, the very great question of what the rest of people of the world — the non-Western world — do as the West spins into insolvency and tribulation. The Islamists will do everything possible to make things worse, and there’s a lot they can do, from restricting their oil exports (maybe cutting them off altogether) to provoking the immigrant populations of Europe into political violence to possibly setting a few nukes off in their enemy’s front yard.

The Chinese will affect to referee the collapse of the West, but soon they’ll be sucked into their own implosion of population overshoot and resource scarcity. India you can forget about out — zero oil. Russia gets to kick back in glorious isolation and enjoy the methane fumes of the melting tundra. South America will heed the wise words of a forgotten 18th Century Viceroy of Mexico who explained his method of administration thusly: “Do little, and do it slowly!”

Regards,
James Howard Kunstler
Whiskey & Gunpowder

May 18, 2010

James Howard Kunstler

James Howard Kunstler is perhaps best known for his 2005 book The Long Emergency , which predicted the financial meltdown and the implications of the peak oil problem. His 1993 book, The Geography of Nowhere, about the fiasco of suburbia, is a campus cult classic among the architecture and urban planning students. It was followed by a sequel, Home From Nowhere, and a companion book called The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition. Mr. Kunstler is also the author of 10 novels including his latest book, World Made By Hand, a story set in America's post-oil future. His articles have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Rolling Stone and The Atlantic Monthly.

  • Desertrat

    I think he did a masterful job of analysis on energy in the TLE book. His economic views are in parallel with those of many of us.

    He seems to me to be way off-base in his views of the world of Joe Sixpack, particularly of the South. And, after all, the South has changed into what it is today with the influx of the failed people from his own Rust Belt.

  • Oldmanriver

    Wow, writing off entire areas of the country. I would agree that people who are native from the South think different from say a person from the North East or a person from the Midwest. I would not go so far as to call them dangerously crazy…crazy perhaps but then I have never really met anyone who was interesting that was not at least a little bit crazy. Yes they will send people who cater to their tastes, but then does anyone really think that is going to make a difference? Once a politician gets into office they are kind of required to go along to get along. I like to think that there are enough reasonable people in the USA that we will not go full on facist, but who knows. The people most willing to shed blood tend to be the ones that already have the capability to do so. I hope that we can maintain enough middle of the roaders to keep the extremists on both ends in check. I look a little askance at anyone who is overtly patriotic or religious. Anyone who believes enough in their way of looking at things to the point where it becomes a religion and refuses to look at anything from another person’s point of view I have little use for. I dont care if it is someone from the left or right. Those types of people have no interest in solving problems they only care about their agenda. Those are the people I am most afraid of.

  • Desertrat

    Kunstler sorta has a feather up his whatzit about anything to do with the South. Snide remarks about Nascar, e.g. I guess he is clueless about the car racing in his part of the country.

    It’s easy to use good old 20/20 hindsight to say that this, that and the other has turned out to be harmful in some manner. Trouble is, at the time of the decision making, it looks like a very good idea. Cars and paved roads, for instance. Enabled doctors to make more house calls, and kids to get home from college on weekends. The Watkins Liniment man’s calls to my grandparent’s farm, via his station-wagon, were regular items of trade. That it contributed to the spread of suburbia could not in any way have been foreseen in the 1950s, much less before WW II.

  • Oldmanriver

    Well you cannot really blame them. They were responding to market signals and what people wanted. Oil was cheap, things were good. As much as people would like to go back to post war America it was an isolated event that will probably never happen again. A perfect storm of sorts that favored the USA exclusively. You cannot fault people for thinking that is how things would always be. Even now most people tend to think that this is how things will always be but the only constant in life is change. Change is something that markets deal with easily on a day to day basis but, they cannot look ahead from times of plenty to lean times. Markets are efficient but they dont tell the future any better than anything else. They respond instantly to information generated real time and have a hard time forcasting prices a year from now let alone decades or centuries. The reason we have suburbia is that people like it for some reason and they can afford it. The only way that is going to change is if energy gets expensive enough to encourage different choices. Thats just the nature of the free market. Where the rub comes in is how fast will it occur. Will we go from low priced energy to high priced energy over a year or will it take 20? If it takes 20 or so then the country will adjust over time. If it happens overnight….things will get interesting. Humans can change given a little time. Its the sudden changes we dont do so well with.

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  • Dayahka

    Kunstler is an entertaining writer–of fiction, far-out fear-flung fiction. Always making predictions of doom and destruction, none of which have come true–like DOW at 4,000 made so far two years in a row. Kunstler reminds me of the rabid fundamentalists, Baptists in particular, always going on about the end of the world, the second coming, and what not–all totally fictional. Jim needs to take a break, get out of the USA, do some traveling, go visit Haiti for example, see how people really live. This Glenn Beck of the Left needs to get a life.

  • Essie Feldhacher

    Dang, I thought he was a little bit mulish and priggish toward Southerners, badly stereotyping, m’self. He was accurate in some areas, but way off base in others. Does he privately and derogatorily call Midwesterners “Flyovers”, too? As he painted Southerners with the dirty brush in this word picture? Obviously he could probably do with reading what I wrote about Bubba’s over on The Texas Ring. As my Mama used to tell us chillun’ about conducting ourselves in public.: “Keep a civil tongue in your head. AND if you can’t say anything NICE about a person, say nothing AT ALL.”

    Hmmm! I suspect a Southern Yokel Bubba, even if “transplanted” to HIS region of the country, could likely pull his bacon (and his HAM-BUTT!) out of the fire someday. http://thetexasring.com/2010/04/07/bubba-dangerinthefield-dont-get-no-respect/

    He needs to Google and READ “Desiderata”, also, IMO….

    BTW darlings, whose i.d.s are known and special to me, I’ve been busier than a cat covering litter in a box. But loooooove hit and miss keeping up with y’all from your treasured comments here and at TTR.

  • Dave

    One gets the sense that the W&G writers are going to be terribly disappointed if things don’t go to hell in a handbasket, and soon. I have always been a skeptical and pessimistic type. Lord knows people are generally not too bright and our culture is a cesspool geared towards lowest common denominator brain dead lunacy. But somehow life is constantly getting longer, easier and more rewarding for the average person. Does anyone really believe that their parents or grandparents lived in some sort of golden age that has been lost? I doubt they would agree. I am old enough to know better. Even the last 10 years have been revolutionary for the better in many important respects. Can you imagine going back to life before Google? I have the entire world’s knowledge at my fingertips while I sit in my house in remote rural California. I work and trade stocks from here. I have access to quality radio stations world wide via the web streamed to my Roku box and movies and televison on demand. My life is based on septic tanks, wells, satellite dishes and woodstoves. I purchase any item I desire with free shipping and no sales tax and UPS delivers them to my door. It doesn’t get any better than this, no generation has ever been as privileged as we are today. If you can’t make this work for yourself you need to examine your choices and evaluate your mindset.

    At least Kunstler is an entertaining crank. Doug Casey on the other hand has no redeeming qualities whatsoever.

  • joe blowe

    It is time to separate what is just fiat money from real wealth. Real wealth, although quite a bit of it was destroyed – 6 trillion in the US, building 25 million homes that have no tenants and another 3 trillion feeding the entitlement fat cats, should still be around in the world, enough to get us kick started again…

  • http://Whiskey&Gunpowder Robert

    I love this bunch of crackpots, loonies and regulars. Well…I like some of you guys a lot…a little?
    Kunsler is a little shrill, granted. He sees what is going happening from his slightly left leaning ivory tower.
    What will when the California dude Dave cannot get internet, UPS deliveries or trade worthless stock?
    What happens when the Baptists and Glenn Beck are really only the good news?
    Evolution will happen in an instant, the kind of change we are about to dine on might not be all that tasty.
    My guess is the South will rise again. As a northerner I admire southern hospitality, decency and faith.
    As a very ill young Airman, I was taken in by some very humble West Virginians and given shelter.
    Perhaps they were crazy to let me in their home, but there are many more like them down south, out west and up north too.
    Yes our society is doomed because of our stupidity and greed.
    But there sure are a lot of great folks here and there, the ones that produced the wealth we squandered.

  • NavyJack

    Mr. Kunstler reminds me of a “touched” old maid, sitting in the dark in her rocking chair with her tattered old teddy bear while reciting some incoherent mantra about the “dirty little hands” in her knickers – - no, wait a minute, that was my great-aunt Martha.

    I am from the South but have lived around the country, and as one who has actually lived with and amongst those outside of my own insular little bailiwick, I have a suggestion.

    Mr. Kunstler, sir, perhaps you should spend some time amongst those very “crackers” and NASCAR fans whom you seem to hold in such low esteem. Perhaps your doomsday predictions and elitist tripe may pass for “wisdom” amongst some people…well, maybe, actually, just post-graduate architecture students and urban planners (whom, I suspect, have never built anything in their lives but have made some “cool” plans)… however, I assure you that that the “crazy” Southerners with whom I am familiar would not waste a moment’s notice on such pablum. In fact, rather than directing your gaze to the doom in the distance and spending your aging years prophesying (to pseudo-intellectual, Internet dependent, flaccid-limbed wannabes) the end of the greatest country ever to grace God’s Earth, I would urge you to dismount your royal arse and get out amongst the folks – - before it is too late, get to know some real men who actually know how to handle a pick and shovel, men who make and break things, hard men who do the hard work that matters. I assure you, sir, that there remains a breed of men in this country who scorn the politicians, care nothing for angry masses and laugh in the face of tribulation – - these men are unmoved by your prophesies – - they make their own way, in good times and in bad – - their grandfathers killed Nazis – - and their great-great grandfathers never surrendered. There are those who will never need a “unifying leader” and will not accept the yoke of a tyrant.

    How little you must think of your countrymen. Is America so small to you that it would “sink” due to simple oil slick? Are you so misled to think that our nation, birthed by rebels and borne throughout history on the backs of freedom loving, rough-and-ready common folk, would trade its birthright, however devalued it may be, for the leadership of a “general” or any other form of dictator? Take a pill.

    Let’s just assume that your precious doomsday should arrive, and all “hell” breaks loose in this country and this world. I would much rather share my foxhole with the gun-toting, clinging-to-religion cracker – - odds are he actually knows how to dig a foxhole and is pretty good with a rifle.

    Look carefully, Mr. Kunstler. Those guys down there on the shrimp boats with the booms – - those burly, grease-laden dudes with the grim eyes and the drilling equipment – - in short, the working men who are gonna save your ass from the “giant blob of oil” – - they’re crackers. Those hard men looking down the sights of the M-16s and dodging IEDs in far-off grubby little lands populated by bearded neanderthals who would love to saw off your infidel head – - they’re crackers. God Bless them – - they may not be up to carrying on elevated conversations with the highly educated, granola crunching, “lords of the universe” types in Washington, D.C., New York, N.Y., Hyde Park, IL or Cambridge, Mass., but then again… who would want to.

    Do not despair, Mr. Kunstler. When the Islamists and the Communist Chinese and the dreadful, world dominating Tri-lateralists come for you, seeking to drag you and your country into the “black hole of annihilation,” we crackers, with our guns and our Bibles and our quaint and curious beliefs, will stand in the breach.

    How will you like us then?

  • Jimbolaya

    James, this last article by you is overwordy! Please be more Concise! You are far better. For example,

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/cdp/member-reviews/A2OVSCJO1PNM8N?ie=UTF8&display=public&sort%5Fby=MostRecentReview&page=1

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  • Essie Feldhacher

    NavyJack I adore how you think and communicate.

    Now, to cut Mr. K a bit of slack…his prior W&G essay was dead on. Read it to take the bad taste of this ‘un out of your mouths, LOL.

    http://whiskeyandgunpowder.com/peak-oil-and-unpaid-mortgages-will-kill-suburbia/

  • Desertrat

    I’ll repeat: He’s spot-on about the future of energy, and close to highly-probably-correct about the effects of expensive energy upon our present lifestyles.

    Given what’s going on with the world of money–in a worldwide sense–I don’t see any likely increase in our consumeritis. And consumeritis has been 70% of the US economy during these recent decades. As transportation fuel costs increase, I agree with Kunstler that there well be a helluva lot less “happy motoring”. How else?

    The effects of the US government’s spending and taxation policies certainly can’t kiss our ouchies and make them all better. I’m supposed to be all cheery and smiley as my cost of living goes up? I’m neither Pollyanna nor Dr. Pangloss.

    As far as the Doug Casey crowd, all they do is offer an objective look at the probabilities of the marketplace, and any halfway-smart person is going to watch very closely as to the effects of governmental rules and regulations which impact that marketplace. Scorn for negative impacts strikes me as a rational response. Forrest Gump was correct…

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  • http://www.thetexasring.com Linda Brady Traynham

    Chilluns, Mama’s sittin’ in South Ca’lina visitin’ family an’ happy as a pig in clover. Navy Jack, welcome to th’ crew. Essie and I agree (we always agree!) that you are clearly “one of us.” Onlyist thang better’n a South’ner is a South’n navy man. Go over to http://www.thetexasring.com and read what we write when we aren’t always constrained by some reference to macroeconomics. When I get around to it (’round all this South’n hospitality and a right pretty spring) I will comment on the upstate New York damnyankee’s comment on my homeland, intelligence, and mental health. Sure we’re “crazy,” but we’re sensibly crazy and we like our “craziness.” Anybody who hasn’t ever read Florence King’s “Southern Ladies & Gentlemen” get a copy. It is hysterically funny because it is TRUE. It will make perfect, rioutously entertaining sense to anyone from the South and explain why we are the splendid loons we are and the last of the real Jeffersonian Americans other than those in Wydatana to poor, benighted heathens who grew up in California and Massachusetts. Big hugs to all the splendid regulars. I counted t’other day, and there are at least a dozen of you I would love to have come be part of my “commune” comes TEOTWAKI. Every last one of you meets my criteria of intelligence, character, and useful skills. Laughter…now, y’all know who you are ranging from the oldest (dear Dr. H) to youngster Mike R by way of my buddy in the stans. The worst part of the trip was being separated from my lap top for two days. I’ve got a serious case of withdrawal but they ain’t no way to tell kin that Ah cain’t go out to dinner with in-laws on account ah gots articles tuh write an’ damnyankees tuh tear apart. Hearty chuckle…my host done put on th’ dawg an’ our guest quarters are a motor home. C’mon, now, think South’n. Th’ thing cost $125,000 new, but Charles, jr., now, he swapped construction work an’ $1800 in materials for her! Pure-D sybaratic, it is. Everythang but a Jacuzzi, and in mint condition. The thang is over 40 feet long and has more than the suite in the hotel we’ll be staying in when we go to our Submarine reunion in Charleston Friday. If he weren’t so annoyin’ Ah’d feel sorry for James Howard ’cause th’ poor man just doesn’t understand life. Hugs, Linda

  • steverino

    I am left w/ three Q’s:
    1) who is Glenn Beck?
    2) is Joe Sixpak a gay cracker?
    3) who, here, could hold Doug Casey’s pantyhose?

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  • http://www.thetexasring.com Linda Brady Traynham

    Steverino: Is the answer to #3 “Broadway Joe” Namath?

  • steverino

    …Linda, my heart belongs to Kenny Stabler…

    in 1983, after a pre-season game with the Saints in which he seemed a wee bit “out of shape”, some guy sticks a mike in his face after the game and asks: “Kenny! What on earth was going through your mind out there, today?”

    Stabler: “All I could think was, Please, God, don’t let me puke in front of all these people!”

    So we see, even Doug Casey may have a hardened realist up to whom to look.
    A Deist, too!

  • steverino

    All seriousness aside, Mr. Kunstler’s writing here is just wonderful. The literary arpeggio as art form at a very, very high level. Thanks, JHK!!!

    “Do little, and do it slowly!”
    Jeeeez! Most preachers don’t finish this strongly!
    …and, it’s so nice to feel understood…lol…

  • chrysalis

    Kunstler’s writing is wonderful and so is the writing of many who comment on this site.
    Agree with you, steverino, that most preachers don’t finish this strongly. Nor do they start strongly. Nor do they enter and exit the middle strongly.
    Am perplexed by your # 2 question. Anyone who has to ask doth protest too much. A gay cracker puttin’ on the Ritz.

  • Essie Feldhacher

    Early morning BWT (Bray With Laughter) moment:

    “A Cracker puttin’ on the Ritz.”

    Warning: I’m gonna steal that and use it ’til that one liner goes virtual, heh, heh. THANKS Chrys!

  • chrysalis

    Happy, Essie, to have provided you with your morning BWL. Must admit that I giggled when I thought of it. And esp. as I clicked “submit.”

  • Investorman

    James Howard Kunstler – you are right on the money!

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