Wasting Resources

The American suburb was the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world… Why? Because it has no future, because we’re not going to be able to run it…. We don’t have the resource base to run it.

A lot of the delusions that are now rampant in the country all focus on the alternative energy scene. I want to be very clear about this, I am in favor of alternative energy. I think we’re going to do everything we possibly can. But the key to understanding alternative energy is this: First of all, we are going to be disappointed by what it can do for us, and second, it is not going to change the fact that we have to make other arrangements for all the important activities of daily life…

We’re having an incoherent conversation about that in our society right now because of the psychology of previous investment. We’ve invested so much of our wealth and even our identity in the [existing American] way of life that we can’t imagine letting go of it… But the “project of suburbia” is over as a period in our history and the homebuilders are going down and they will not be coming back.

We’re in the process now of losing somewhere between $1.5 and $3 trillion worth of capital. That capital is going to be lost. It went into a black hole and things don’t come out of black holes. We’re not going to have money to lend to people, least of all for mortgages. In fact, the whole idea of mortgage in America may be similar to what happened back in France after the Mississippi bubble. They didn’t even use the word “bank” for 150 years, it was such a toxic word.

And we are facing a huge problem with food. All of the systems of our daily life are going to have to be reformed, whether we like it or not…really. We’re going to have to grow more of our food closer to home. The age of the 3,000-mile Caesar salad is over! We don’t know how much food close to home we are going to have to grow, but at least more than we do now…probably a lot more… This is going to change completely our idea of how we value our rural, so-called undeveloped, land. Right now, we’re still in the frame of mind where undeveloped means undeveloped for suburban crap. But that’s going to be over. From now on it’s going to be land that has needs to be used for agriculture…

But let me step back for a moment, just to give you an idea of the differences between suburban development and urbanism. In suburbia, everything is rigorously and relentlessly segregated from everything else.

You’re not allowed to live near the shopping mall; the school cannot be anywhere near the business. Everything is separated and everybody has to get in the car and go out to the “collector boulevard” then go into the pod, whether it’s the education pod, the business pod, the housing pod and we can’t do that anymore. We can’t afford it, especially from 38 miles outside of Dallas and Minneapolis.

By contrast, traditional urbanism networks of interconnected streets mix use with people living close to the schools, the shopping and the business and it will become self-evident very soon that that is a superior way to live…

We don’t know what the city of the future is going to be like, but I believe our large cities are going to contract substantially, even while they “densify” at their centers… And one of the things we’re going to learn again, as the automobile begins to diminish its presence in our life is how wonderful the composition of the urban block can be, because the center of it is not going to be for parking… We are going to re-learn the design and assembly of human habitat and that too will be a self-organizing process, as we’re compelled to respond to the circumstances of the global energy emergency…

We need a self-image that informs us that we’re confident and that we are competent and that we are capable people. And that’s why one of the first things we have to do is rebuild the railroad systems in America, because it’s the one thing we can do right away that will have the greatest impact on our oil use. It will put thousands and thousands of people to work in all layers and skills. The infrastructure for running it is lying out there rusting in the rain and it’s the one project that we can do right away that will allow us to demonstrate that we can actually do something. We can do a collective project as a nation, as a society, as a people that can actually accomplish something important at this time.

You know…the kids in the college lectures are always asking me if I can give them hope. And the one thing that the college students don’t understand is that they have to become the generators of the hope. They have to generate it themselves within themselves by demonstrating that they are capable people who understand the signals reality is sending to them about the kind of world they are going to be living in the next 20–30 years…

We’ve got to build a different world here in North America now and we don’t have any time to waste. We don’t have time to be crybabies about it. We don’t have time to point fingers. We have too many things to do right away. We’ve got to reform the way we produce our food; we’ve got to change the way we do commerce and trade; we’ve got to change the way we get from point “A” to point “B,” and we have to inhabit the landscape differently and, as far as investors are concerned, we’ve got to find a way to do finance that’s not based on getting something for nothing, because that is what has gotten us into this situation we’re in now.

James Howard Kunstler
August 18, 2008

The Daily Reckoning