Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Taking Stock

I began this blog in the summer of 2008, right before the financial crisis hit. In the several years before this I had been reading all the Peak Oil and Doomer content I could find, and I have to say that I would not have been surprised to see our society collapse. I felt that our economy no longer created any value, since anything physical was manufactured outside the U.S. When the housing bubble popped I thought we would experience years of struggle and reinvention, going back to the old ways, and hopefully emerging better for it.

In the last few years the writings of Paul Krugman convinced me that outsourcing manufacturing and having an economy based on marketing and selling stuff is just another way things can work, and that there's nothing inherently wrong with it. I still believe that with the rise of countries like China and India we will see the limits of the oil supply, even with innovations like fracking. We don't have to run out, we just have to reach a price point where the cheap oil business model stops working, and then there will be a big change in the way we live. This might just mean that we start riding the bus instead of driving - but that's a pretty big change.

But I will admit that I've lost a sense of urgency. I gave up community gardening because I have a lot of other interests, I can afford to buy food, and I really don't have the time. Also I have been having trouble with tendonitis in my wrists and I try to stay away from very much yard work so I can keep playing guitar! So I've sold out and gone mainstream, but I'll certainly vote for things that will be more sustainable.

He's lost it, gone soft, you say - maybe you're right. I only have so much time and there's a lot of things I still want to do.

After five years we can see that our society didn't collapse and our economy is recovering. We were very fortunate that President Obama followed counter-cyclical or "stimulus" economic policies as far as he could. That, combined with the built in stimulus of social programs like Unemployment Benefits and Medicaid, allowed the economy to slowly grow in spite of all the cut backs at the state level (around 1 million public jobs lost). If we had followed the policies of Great Britain, as some were advising, things would be a lot worse.

Our society didn't collapse, but our government did. As we see ourselves lurching from one very short term budget deal to the next, I think we have to realize that things didn't use to be like this and that it's no way for a major world power to operate.

The financial crisis coincided with the takeover of the Republican party by its extreme elements. If the crisis had not occurred, would we have seen this anyway? I don't know; it had been building for decades and we had some of the same obstruction during the Clinton Presidency. But just as the terrorist attack on 9/11 enabled a militaristic interventionist doctrine that never would have been allowed in the past, so the mass unemployment and soaring deficits from the economic collapse enabled a wilder form of hard-conservatism. And we still don't know how this will turn out. The 2012 election showed that there is no future for a party that follows the Tea Party / Fox News path, but that doesn't mean they can't cause a lot of trouble in the next decade.