Economy  
comments_image Comments

Yard Sale Nation: The Change Required to Salvage U.S Society Runs Much Deeper Than Most Imagine

Say goodbye to the 'consumer society.' Familiar touchstones of contemporary American life have to go. No more fast money and no more credit.

Continued from previous page

 
 
Share
 
 
 

In fact, techno-grandiosity and techno-triumphalism must be be sedulously monitored and guarded-against. They jointly amount to the great mass psychosis of our time and culture. This array of traps -- from proposed flying cars to "renewable" motor fuels -- is the ultimate Faustian "bargain." It will be at the heart of any campaign to sustain the unsustainable, sucking us ever more deeply into the diminishing returns of over-investments in complexity. Hence, the last thing this nation needs now is a stimulus plan aimed at the development of non-gasoline-powered automobiles -- married with extensive rehabilitation of the highway system. What I incessantly refer to as the Happy Motoring fiesta is drawing to a close as we have known it, whether we like it or not. Cars will be around for a while, of course, but as an increasingly elite activity. The owners of cars will be increasingly beset by grievance and resentment on the part of those foreclosed from the Happy Motoring life -- and it could easily degenerate to vandalism and violence, since the "right" to endless motoring was surreptitiously made an entitlement somewhere around 1957.

The "change" we face in agriculture dwarfs even the death throes of Happy Motoring (and is not unrelated to it either). A lot of people are likely to starve in America if we don't get our act together pronto in terms of how we produce the food we eat. Petro-agribusiness faces a set of disturbances that are certain to induce food shortages. Again, the Peak Oil specter looms in the background, for soil "inputs" and diesel power to run that system. But all of a sudden even that problem appears a lesser danger than the gross failure of capital finance now underway -- and petro-agriculture's chief external input is credit. Credit may be in extremely short supply this year, and hence crops may be in short supply as we turn the corner into spring and summer. Just as in the case of WalMart versus Main Street, the reform of farming in America is one of those "changes" much larger than most of us imagine. I'd go so far to say that a large proportion of young people now in college will find themselves not working in office cubicles, but in some way or other in farming or the "value-added" activities connected to it.

I don't see how America can confront the "change" represented by the stark fact that suburbia-is-toast. It is the sorest spot of all in the corpus of a culture beset by disease and debility. The salient manifestation of suburbia's demise is the remorseless drop of housing values in the places most representative of that development pattern. The worst thing the Obama team could do about this would be to attempt to prevent the fall of inflated house prices. Their real value needs to be clearly established before a picture emerges of which places have a plausible future, and which places are destined to be mere ruins or salvage yards.

Americans will have to live somewhere, of course, but the terrain of North America faces a very comprehensive reformation. The biggest cities will contract; the small cities and small towns will be reactivated, the agricultural landscape will be inhabited differently, and the suburbs will undergo an agonizing decades-long work-out of bad debt and true asset re-valuation. Since the loss of so much vested "wealth" is implied by the crash of suburbia, this may be a source of revolutionary political violence moving deeper into the Obama administration.

There's been plenty of buzz in the blogosphere about the imminent failure of the US "social safety net," including especially the social security program. Retirees are the biggest block of voters. They're not liable to foment riots -- that is best left to the youthful high-testosterone cohort -- but the older folks -- with Baby Boomers now coming aboard -- could be so distressed by the loss of their presumed entitlements that they will elect any maniac promising to bring back something that looked like the 1980s. We haven't begun to hear their war cries, and I hope they do not beat a path straight into some sort of crypto corporate fascism -- as, finally, every last failing scrap of American life is nationalized.

 
See more stories tagged with: