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Closing the Collapse Gap: the US vs the USSR

by Lupin Thu May 3rd, 2007 at 07:37:13 AM EST

This article by Dmitry Orlov may be one of the most pertinent and concise (and also funny!) article about whence the US is going.

On a personal note, the rather draconian changes that Mrs Lupin and I made in our lifestyle in 2004 were motivated by a nebulous and complex web of factors. Dmitry Orlov pulls it all together in a superb piece.


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a briiliant piece. Definitely worth reading in full.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu May 3rd, 2007 at 08:53:30 AM EST

When their career is suddenly over, their savings are gone, and their property worthless, much of their sense of self-worth is gone as well. They tend to drink themselves to death and commit suicide in disproportionate numbers. Since they tend to be the most experienced and capable people, this is a staggering loss to society.

"drink" is only mention of vodka here. I heard from people connected in russia that vodka is still a huge and growing problem there. Seems a difference with USA, no?

by Laurent GUERBY on Fri May 4th, 2007 at 03:25:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Seems a difference with USA, no?

The "socially acceptable" level of drinking that people engage in in the privacy of their own home in the US is nothing short of shocking. And we're talking the kind of people who fit the socioeconomic profile of that paragraph you quoted.

Bush is a symptom, not the disease.

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri May 4th, 2007 at 07:16:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
From testimonies it looks like the situation is much worse in Russia. Remember the blow up plane from moscow? Four or five guyes were scheduled on the plane but weren't allowed on board because they were too drunk. Do you see that in USA airports?
by Laurent GUERBY on Fri May 4th, 2007 at 01:56:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I also have the impression that alcohol consumption is on average higher in Russia then in the US, but that might be a result of the collapse.

But I think the significant message in:

They tend to drink themselves to death and commit suicide in disproportionate numbers.

is not the drinking part, that is just a subset of the selfdestructive behaviour.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Fri May 4th, 2007 at 03:51:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
A friend of mine who did Peace Corps in Uzbekistan a few years ago noted in emails that she was shocked by how much vodka was consumed at every social event. She could only talk her way out of so many shots, and ended up drunk most evenings and short on energy the next day.

Social isolation in the US is a much bigger problem than alcoholism, IMO.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Fri May 4th, 2007 at 05:46:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It is ... and I remember looking at it back in December (directly from Energy Bulletin ... from a link here ... ???).

While interesting, there is a key point to consider in Thinking in Time.  Lay out both similarities and dissimilarities in your historical analogy to strengthen understanding of the viability of the analogy, its strengths, weaknesses, gaps.  Orlov has a slide on similarities and, oops, isn't as explicit up front on the second.  

Here ... and at Daily Kos ... there is some discussion to fill in that gap.

Blogging regularly at Get Energy Smart. NOW!!!

by a siegel (siegeadATgmailIGNORETHISdotPLEASEcom) on Fri May 4th, 2007 at 11:07:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I know his focus isn't on the history of the USSR, but he oversimplifies in his comparisons.

In the first place the Soviet economy was never anywhere near the size of the US. Second, the USSR always was an autocratic society which needed to keep its satellites under control.

The consequence of this was that the empire fell apart quickly since it was only held together by force. The second consequence was that since there was no democratic infrastructure there was no way of altering policies to accommodate the changed circumstance. In its last stages the USSR was a kleptocracy with no effective countervail forces. When the empire dissolved the kleptocrats just grabbed all the good stuff during the "privatization".

Putin represents a drift back to the norm in Russia - an autocratic regime. Democracy has never yet existed and it seems like it won't last this time either.

As for what things in the US will look like after the fiscal collapse, we have plenty of evidence. The US has had several major economic crashes, 1929 was just the most recent. What is different this time is that there are more government programs in place to ease the impact.

The dislocations caused by environmental and resource issues are another matter. As the useless flailing at the series of climate change meetings shows there is no meaningful global plan on what to do. The human race is incapable of thinking on such a big scale and planning over such a long time period.

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Thu May 3rd, 2007 at 08:59:21 AM EST
I'm inclined to agree with a lot of what you said.

First, I have enormous faith in the American people. Zero faith in the American government and institutions, but I think the people can organize at a local level; maybe the country will split. There is plenty of land, rich land, and resources.

I can easily imagine fractured US that's somewhere between Putin's Russia (but more decentralized) and today's Brazil in ten years' time.

That, or Bartertown! :-)

by Lupin on Thu May 3rd, 2007 at 09:21:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Second, the USSR always was an autocratic society which needed to keep its satellites under control.

and the US hasn't been?

ummm (just off top of head).... Puerto Rico, Phillippines, Panama, Chile, Nicaragua, Colombia, Grenada, Okinawa, Indonesia, Australia (OK that was election fraud rather than direct armed force, but still...), Greece, Iran, Iraq...

Things went from bad to worse when Greece further annoyed its superpower benefactor by squabbling with Turkey over Cyprus, and then objecting to U.S. plans to partition the island. Democrat Lyndon Johnson summoned the Greek ambassador for a brief -- and very instructive -- lesson on how America handles its affairs. "Fuck your parliament and your constitution," said LBJ. "America is an elephant, Cyprus is a flea. If these two fleas continue itching the elephant, they may just get whacked by the elephant's trunk, whacked good...We pay a lot of good American dollars to the Greeks, Mr. Ambassador. If your Prime Minister gives me a talk about democracy, parliament, and constitutions, he, his parliament, and his constitution may not last very long."
 footnote

Practically Yeltsin-quality, as sparkling statesmanlike dialogue goes.  And Johnson was considered a liberal...

3rd world traveller is a sort of one-stop shopping nexus for analysis/critique of US treatment of its satellites over the last 3 generations or more.


The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Thu May 3rd, 2007 at 04:36:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think we need to separate the American domestic and foreign policies. Domestically the US has been mostly democratic only slipping into civil liberties abuses when under wartime stresses (WWI - Palmer Raids, WWII - Japanese American Internment, Iraq - Guantanamo).

Externally the US has practiced some version of gunboat diplomacy since the term was invented, or since the Monroe Doctrine if you prefer. This is "imperialist" or "colonial" behavior, but has nothing to do with an autocratic internal government.

One of the reasons the USSR collapsed was because it had no mechanisms for ideas to be tried out in response to changing conditions. This is the fatal flaw of central planning. The US, as we can see happening now, can "throw the bums out" when things get too bad.

There is a lesson to be learned for China in all this, but I don't expect they will heed it.

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Thu May 3rd, 2007 at 07:11:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Vietnam - Kent State; Korean War - McCarthyism and Red Scare; Civil War - suspension of Habeas Corpus; World War 1: imprisonment of pacifists and opponents of the Democratic adminstration of Woodrow Wilson (see Eugene Debs); et c.

Are you sensing a pattern?

You can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig.

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Thu May 3rd, 2007 at 09:35:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I sense that rights must be continually fought for.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Thu May 3rd, 2007 at 11:25:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You're absolutely right. There's another pattern.

I was simply taking issue with Mr Feinman's somewhat pollyannish (in my view) assertion that the US is a paragon of civil liberties, except during wartime stresses.

I would counter observe that wartime stresses occur with some amount of frequency in the US, and that in any event, even without those stresses, civil liberties are the province largely of the urban middle classes and especially the wealthy, whereever they live. Try, for instance, being poor in Bismarck, ND and needing to get an abortion.

Freedom is, after all, merely privilege extended unless enjoyed by one and all...

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Fri May 4th, 2007 at 08:19:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You've got me pegged wrong. The fact that I only cited a few examples of abuses doesn't mean that I'm ignoring (or forgiving the rest).

Here are some examples of my previous writings on these issues:

Liberty vs Democracy

Saving Democracy

and a historical example as a word of warning:

Surveillance vs Civil Liberties

I would also suggest reading this book about our national myths (also historical):

Richard T. Hughes - Myths America Lives By

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Fri May 4th, 2007 at 08:53:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The fact that I only cited a few examples of abuses doesn't mean that I'm ignoring (or forgiving the rest).

redstar wrote:

I would counter observe that wartime stresses occur with some amount of frequency in the US

I agree with him that the problem is not with your examples but that you view them as exceptions -- e.g. war stress is too frequent.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sat May 5th, 2007 at 07:01:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't see the standard of living in the US falling particularly far below western European standards for two reasons: 1, worker competitiveness, and 2, the US' extensive natural resource base.

On point 1, I think people sometimes forget that the middle class in the US is extremely well educated from an employment perspective, and assume that the country is economic toast because of the relatively poor education levels in other areas (current events, history, etc), along with the relative inequality. In a world that doesn't require as many knowledge workers as there are that want those sort of jobs, the mean education level isn't necessarily a good indicator of a country's economic future. A collapsing US dollar and a government in crisis probably means that US workers take European jobs for less money.

I think point 2 is often underestimated from a European perspective - strong European institutions and efficient infrastructure are meaningless if oil export capacity drops to zero in 25 years and alternatives are not in place.

Also keep in mind that Western Europe and North America are the only places on earth with a long tradition of democracy. The rest of the world (particularly south, east, and southeast Asia, IMO) has little hope of maintaining democratic institutions when resource stresses come to bear.

While I'm not a complete doomer and have some optimism, I think the coming resource strains spell bad news for the entire planet in material, political, and spiritual terms.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Thu May 3rd, 2007 at 06:14:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
2, the US' extensive natural resource base.

...

I think point 2 is often underestimated from a European perspective - strong European institutions and efficient infrastructure are meaningless if oil export capacity drops to zero in 25 years and alternatives are not in place.

This is the elephant in the living room of European Energy Policy.

Bush is a symptom, not the disease.
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu May 3rd, 2007 at 06:36:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The coming avian flu could very well take care of all those "resource strains".

Hey, Grandma Moses started late!
by LEP on Fri May 4th, 2007 at 09:23:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Agree with much of this ... good post ... thank you.

Blogging regularly at Get Energy Smart. NOW!!!
by a siegel (siegeadATgmailIGNORETHISdotPLEASEcom) on Fri May 4th, 2007 at 11:10:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't. Let's say gas becomes too expensive to make either road or air transport economical over distances of more than 10-20 miles a day.

The US has no backup system. Rail has minimal carrying capacity and - that's pretty much it. Shipping could conceivably take up some of the slack, but it's too slow for perishable items. And if diesel becomes expensive, neither will necessarily solve the problem.

Now let's say you live in Vegas. Vegas is surrounded by desert. Even if plentiful water were available for irrigation - which it isn't - it can't be farmed with cattle and ploughs.

A significant proportion of the population lives in areas that are too remote from food production sources. Even if you try to turn city parks into farms, the production capacity is very limited - certainly too limited to support the population density.  

So assuming a hard landing scenario, things simply fall apart. People can't afford to commute to work and food becomes too expensive to deliver. There's no amount of neighbourly good-will that can save the suburbs or many of the cities in that scenario. The best you can hope for is that people will learn to start growing their own food on the their limited lawns. But you'll get massive looting by desperate starving displaced people, which is going to complicate things more than a little.

It's really a post-nuclear scenario, only without the physical damage.

A soft landing is less apocalyptic, but as Orlov points out, hordes of starving homeless don't make for political stability.

What saved the US in the 30s was spare physical carrying capacity, plus oil. In the '0s or 10s neither of those will be available.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Fri May 4th, 2007 at 11:38:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
After 60 years of criminal stupidity the US has (finally) rubbed two neurons together and discovered a whole bunch of stuff can be shipped really efficently and cheaply using choo-choo trains.  

New track is being laid, the use of freight trains is increasing, and - gadzooks! - passenger rail service is being expanded.  

Is this happening soon, and quickly, enough?  

Beats me.  

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Fri May 4th, 2007 at 11:54:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The US has no backup system.

There is no backup system that can replace energy, only systems of varying energy efficiency.

Vegas, LA, and Phoenix will disintegrate over time, that is certain. In an energy constrained world very few people will choose to remain there (and a dying city with its horrid social conditions and violence will only accelerate the trend).

So assuming a hard landing scenario, things simply fall apart. People can't afford to commute to work and food becomes too expensive to deliver.

Electric rail cargo systems (powered mostly by coal) can be whipped up in 10-15 years. Also the US produces about 1/3rd of the oil it uses - when export capacity drops to zero, that oil will be used to transport food, and can be used to get the country by until the energy burden has been switched over to coal and renewables. The wildcard is the political environment - will the military simply come in and take everything for itself? I don't have a guess.

But you'll get massive looting by desperate starving displaced people, which is going to complicate things more than a little.

Starvation will begin in Mexico long before the US feels significant pain, which means the first crisis of this sort will be a mass wave of refugees from the south. After hearing the theory a few weeks ago, I'm starting to think all the giant detention centers that have been built over the past decade or two are primarily to deal with this.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Fri May 4th, 2007 at 01:45:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What giant detention centers??? That sounds so conspiracy-ish-theory, so do you have linkage? Also, I'm not sure the powers that be in the US are capable of thinking that long-term.

Rachael

by R343L (reverse qw/ten.cinos@l343r/) on Fri May 4th, 2007 at 08:11:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I do not know about "the last decade or two part" but here is some recent construction from wikipedia:

On January 24, 2006 Halliburton’s subsidiary KBR (formerly Kellogg, Brown and Root) announced that it had been awarded a $385 million contingency contract by the Department of Homeland Security to build more temporary security facilities.

According to a press release posted on the Halliburton website, "The contract, which is effective immediately, provides for establishing temporary detention and processing capabilities to augment existing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Detention and Removal Operations (DRO) Program facilities in the event of an emergency influx of immigrants into the U.S., or to support the rapid development of new programs. The contingency support contract provides for planning and, if required, initiation of specific engineering, construction and logistics support tasks to establish, operate and maintain one or more expansion facilities."


Wikipedia on Halliburton (middle of page)

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se
by A swedish kind of death on Fri May 4th, 2007 at 08:44:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
See this as well.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Sat May 5th, 2007 at 01:42:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Fri May 4th, 2007 at 09:09:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Look at the post that I said that 'I mostly agreed with' ... how does it end:

The dislocations caused by environmental and resource issues are another matter. As the useless flailing at the series of climate change meetings shows there is no meaningful global plan on what to do. The human race is incapable of thinking on such a big scale and planning over such a long time period.

Does that discount the real potential for the types of issues that you raise?

Blogging regularly at Get Energy Smart. NOW!!!

by a siegel (siegeadATgmailIGNORETHISdotPLEASEcom) on Sat May 5th, 2007 at 11:11:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu May 3rd, 2007 at 09:24:18 AM EST
I apologize, of course.

I don't read all the Diaries, and I didn't recall seeing his name before.

I only discovered it myself because I saw a link on James Kunstler site, not the usual hang around place of this crowd.

by Lupin on Thu May 3rd, 2007 at 09:43:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Not asking for an apology, just saying that it's good we finally have a diary on the presentation. Hopefully we can have a proper discussion of it.

Bush is a symptom, not the disease.
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu May 3rd, 2007 at 09:59:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This may be one of the most brilliant things I've seen in a long time.

Thank you for this.

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Thu May 3rd, 2007 at 12:31:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Classic. The best humour always has a deep vein of Truth.

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson
by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Thu May 3rd, 2007 at 02:03:34 PM EST
I like Orlov because he's such a darkly cheerful doomster...  this is my favourite among his essays.

I think it would tie in well to a theme that Nomad and I were thinking of addressing soonish.  maybe we could fold the two themes together into one diary:  a discussion of Orlov in specific and post-peak-oil likelihoods and possibilities in general.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Thu May 3rd, 2007 at 06:21:29 PM EST
Great idea! Can't wait to read your & nomad's piece! <hint, hint, nudge nudge...>

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Fri May 4th, 2007 at 07:04:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
yeah!

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.
by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Fri May 4th, 2007 at 07:52:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
We could front page this too...

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Fri May 4th, 2007 at 07:11:49 AM EST
I'd rather see a real diary on it.

Bush is a symptom, not the disease.
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri May 4th, 2007 at 07:13:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Agreed ... if it matters ... but I will make sure, if I try doing it, not to use any 3-D graphics (especially not with a downward slope) ...   :-)

Orlov's analogy is thought-provoking and has value.

In terms of the Peak Oil responsiveness/resiliency, I would probably think that a diary taking this -- taking a look at discontinuities in the analogy that Orlov glosses over -- and, as well, the comparative Cuba/North Korea cases could provide something quite interesting.

Blogging regularly at Get Energy Smart. NOW!!!

by a siegel (siegeadATgmailIGNORETHISdotPLEASEcom) on Fri May 4th, 2007 at 11:09:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Can anyone blog about the last 15 years in Cuba and the biotech industry there?

Bush is a symptom, not the disease.
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri May 4th, 2007 at 11:12:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The two Capitalist parties offer a choice of two placebos. The latest innovation is the photo finish election, where each party buys 50% of the vote, and the result is pulled out of statistical noise, like a rabbit out of a hat.

LOL

Why make a state secret of some statistic, when you can just distort it, in obscure ways? Here's a simple example: inflation is "controlled" by substituting hamburger for steak, in order to minimize increases to Social Security payments.

With a wee tad of programmic fiddle-dee-dee statistics can "prove" anything; all it takes is the intellectual ethics of army ants on the march.  Then multitudenous 'Gee-Whiz' graphs can be endlessly generated and sent to "journalists" (sic) for public dissemination.

Many people expend a lot of energy protesting against their irresponsible, unresponsive government. It seems like a terrible waste of time, considering how ineffectual their protests are.

This is a pet peeve.  Marching On {Wherever} is a lot of fun.  The hard work takes place back home where the struggle to provide decent food, affordable housing, sustainable jobs, responsive financial structure(s) - e.g., a Credit Union, economic democracy - member oriented Unions, and so on and depressingly etc doesn't happen.

Get Out of Debt

No 'killer quote' here.

Going into a financial crises, where income streams necessarily fall, with a high percentage of income devoted to paying off debt is a receipe for individual ruin.  When a high percentage of the population is in that boat the financial crise(s) will be harder and prolonged.  Currently the average US consumer, dunno about the EU, is bankrupt.  Not from a Balance Sheet POV, there's plenty of assets held, but from Cash Statement analysis.  Any 'shock' to their financial position will result in a downward spiral implying a downward spiral for the US economy, implying a downward spiral in the global economy, implying a further downward spiral for the average US consumer: a classic negative feedback loop.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Fri May 4th, 2007 at 11:47:28 AM EST


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