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Is there a point to saving money?

by Zwackus Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 02:27:23 AM EST

This is not a terribly substantive diary, nor one which presents new information or arguments.  However, it may be a place for substantive discussion, as the question posed in the title may perhaps be a gateway to a further discussion of one of ET's favorite topics . . . DOOM!!!!

So here it is - is there any point, given where the world economy and the whole of Western Civilization are headed, in saving money?


I am fairly young, steadily employed at a job that provides me with about $1500 of discretionary income a month, and have no appreciable debts.  I don't have a family, or the prospect of one anytime soon.  My parents are not rolling in cash, but seem stable enough.  I understand the value from personal experience in having a few months income saved up, just in case.  I'm also paying into a retirement fund, as is mandated by Japanese law.  I try to keep a few extra bags of rice around the house, and occasionally think of putting together a basic survival kit.

But is there any point in saving beyond that?  Investments don't really seem like that great of an idea, for a whole variety of reasons, the collapse of global capitalism being up amongst them.  Further, it would be a long time before I'd have enough money for investment to be an even vaguely meaningful term.

Further retirement savings, which I would not begin to cash in on for another 25 to 35 years or so, also seem a bit dubious, as I kind of wonder how much of the world we know will be left in 25 to 35 years.  That's well within the timeframe for catastrophic climate change, peak oil, and every other big bad boogeyman to be hitting pretty damn hard.  Even if we aren't faced with catastrophe, how much can I trust that any large bank, insurance company, or other financial entity will still be in existence by the time I'd be ready to cash out?

I really do wonder if there's any point in saving anything beyond a few months income, simply because the next few years of my life may well be the last time I could ever make use of the money I'd be saving.  Hyper-inflation, climate apocalypse, World War III . . . all of them would make my sacrifices now rather moot.  Why not take another nice trip this summer?  Why not eat, drink, and be merry, while there is still good food available at any price?

I'm not planning to quit my job, or do anything drastic.  I'm not going to load up my credit cards in US debt as a bet on the collapse of the dollar.  I'm not going to move to a hut in the distant mountains to await the apocalypse.  Normal life will continue until it doesn't, but how much should I really prepare for the continuation of normal life beyond the next 5 years?

What do y'all think?

Poll
Long term savings for the young - worthwhile?
. Yes - save as much as you can. 35%
. Yes - it wouldn't hurt to have USD $10,000 or so, but not much more than that. 28%
. Yes - buy gold coins and a survival kit. 21%
. No - wait until the current crisis sorts itself out. 7%
. No - money will soon become worthless. 0%
. No - there's no way you're living to retirement age. 7%

Votes: 14
Results | Other Polls
Display:
I don't make plans beyond 5 years. Not because I expect the apocalypse but because my life has already taken several sharp turns at intervals of less than 5 years. Those of us around me (old, but also many young) who still labour under the old mental model of the job for life, the house for life... really seem to live on a different planet.

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 04:48:49 AM EST
With those kinds of decisions, I really feel year to year.

A job for life?  Heck, even a single career path for life?  Who could imagine such luxury!

by Zwackus on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 05:12:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I know people who still think you're a failure if you don't have a single career path for life. Me, I think I'd find it boring after 5 years :P

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 05:41:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
For whom is that even an option, really?  I mean, a real and serious option that they can actually choose and make real?  The modern economy seems intent on preventing as many people as possible from getting on a proper career track anyway - easier to deal with perpetual beginners.

And I've been a loser since I quit grad school.  Anything is better than grad school. <shudder>

by Zwackus on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 05:47:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
"For whom is that even an option, really? "

For quite a few, really.
If you are a schoolteacher, you can expect to be one in a while. Or a medical doctor. Or a plumber, an accountant, an electrician...

There really are quite a few jobs that you can hold for life -if you are the kind of person who will accept holding a job for life, that is. And I understand Miguel when he says he probably couldn't.

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed. Gandhi

by Cyrille (cyrillev domain yahoo.fr) on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 05:55:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Mass Teacher Layoffs + Seniority Rules mean bad news for kids

New York City's fiscal mess means that massive budget cuts are simply unavoidable. Since teacher salaries represent a huge portion of the budget, it's always been clear that some teachers will need to go. According to Mayor Bloomberg, as many as 15,000 of them may be subject to emergency layoffs if state and federal aid are not forthcoming.

The rest of the article is right wing trash, but the headline makes the point well enough.

L.A. School Board recinds teacher layoff notices for 2000


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L.A. school board rescinds teacher layoff notices for nearly 2,000
April 14, 2009 |  3:05 pm

Teachers protesting their RIF notices hold red placards with tombstones prior to the special board meeting at the LAUSD headquarters in Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles Board of Education has just approved the easier of two key proposals it is scheduled to take up: It has formally rescinded layoff notices to nearly 2,000 tenured teachers.

The school board still faces the tougher call about whether to approve measures expected to result in more than 5,000 employees losing their jobs.

At this hour, board members are listening to entreaties from teachers, parents, union leaders and others who are imploring them to find another way to close a budget deficit of $596.1 million for next year.

Among the most impassioned voices was that of former school board member Jackie Goldberg, who had to approve an earlier generation of massive budget cuts in the early 1990s.

"If I could do it again, I would not have done what I did," she said. "I am asking you to be audacious. I am asking you to be irresponsible."

Goldberg said the district once had the finest music program in the country, and it never came back.

-- Howard Blume

Note the last line - this is not the first time.

Accounting is not immune either, though not in nearly as bad a situation as teaching.

Accounting losses represent the past, layoffs represent the future

Accounting losses report about actions that have been taken and the consequences of those actions. The announced layoffs, in the thousands, give us an indication of what is in store for us in the future. The announced layoffs mean:

    * Retail sales will continue to be soft. Say goodbye to Christmas volume, and hello to special sales, even before Thanksgiving.
    * Industrial production will continue to decline. Will foreign companies produce all cars in America?
    * There will be more declines in housing prices and increases in foreclosures - the American dream is on hold.
    * The wealth of Americans will continue to decline which will only mean, more layoffs.

Not only is Ben Bernanke speaking gloom and doom, but Hank Paulson is also now on record saying that a long and difficult period of economic retrenchment is what's in-store for the U.S. The amazing thing to me is how Paulson seems to carry out what ever seems to be on Bernanke's mind.

Plumbing is probably the safest bet.

by Zwackus on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 07:48:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
teachers and nurse are civil servants and are very hard to sack...

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Dec 31st, 2009 at 07:53:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In France, perhaps.  Less so in the USA, especially for nurses.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Thu Dec 31st, 2009 at 01:57:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
can root people to a spot. Some people would love 20 years of stability to raise a family.
by Magnifico on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 05:28:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
So... if you can't see further than 5 years ahead, is it irresponsible to have children?

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 05:42:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, I have to wonder whether it's responsible to have them given the state the earth will be in when they are adults.
Of course, you may object that babyboy is due next month. Yes, I know.

More seriously, there are countries where you can expect some degree of solidarity even if things went bad, so that the likelihood of not being able to raise a child at all in 5 years time if you are reasonably settled now would be very low. I think France happens to be one of them.
And of course, having children is hardly a decision you make on pure economical terms.

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed. Gandhi

by Cyrille (cyrillev domain yahoo.fr) on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 05:52:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I would expect being able to see or prepare for life 5 years into the future would be an amazing gift as a parent, especially since that 5 year window is always progressing with time.

Where the long term stability may come in handy is having something stable to offset the twists and turns that parenting may bring. If a person doesn't have to worry about X, then he or she can focus on Y. That's why some people, I suspect, like the long term stability of housing or employment.

by Magnifico on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 05:52:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In the current climate, I see that longer-term stability as best provided by extended family.

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 07:14:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Extended family and/or a Tribe.

Given my experience with both I'm sanguine about neither.

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

by ATinNM on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 02:27:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Society is better but if that goes MIA...

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 05:25:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Agreed, some people would love that.  But young people don't seem to have that option any more.  I recall a couple diaries on this point rather here on ET recently.
by Zwackus on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 05:48:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
My dad grew up relocating every 3 years, basically, in a family with 6 children (of course, only his father worked). He seemed not to have enjoyed the relocating experience much, so I've grown up in the same town for my first 20 years. Of course I left as soon as I could, but then so do more than half the other educated 20-somethings.

Then again, I've met a few diplomat's children who seemed not to mind the travelling experience in different countries as much, they were rather satisfied about speaking different languages and having different cultural and social skills and seemed like well-rounded individuals. Of course it's possible that this was only surface, but at any rate, there seems to me to be a large degree of plasticity in how humans deal with changing social settings. So, I once wanted the complete traditional picture but after that broke one serious relationship I've adjusted my sights and decided that financial resilience alone will do.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 08:55:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I remember reading statistics that average seniority in jobs today was actually not that different, on average, than it was 30-40 years ago. People change jobs and careers, but not much more than before, apparently...

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Dec 31st, 2009 at 07:55:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This will not be true with people under 35
by paving on Thu Dec 31st, 2009 at 02:50:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, you may save even though you don't expect to be in the same job 10 years later.

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed. Gandhi
by Cyrille (cyrillev domain yahoo.fr) on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 05:47:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, but that's Zwackus' question: how many multiples of salary do you save? A few months (cash), a few years (financial assets), a few years (home)...

And what Zwackus didn't even talk about is whether it makes sense to go into debt. He doesn't have debts as it is. And with a 5-year horizon it's not like you can get deep enough in debt to, say, buy a home...

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 05:55:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, unless you are ready to let the home if your income drops - something that was a major factor in my purchase. The rent could go a long way towards paying the mortgage, but that requires having a fallback if things go really pear-shaped.

That being said, for it to make a purchase impossible, it would take a major deflationary crisis. If you get hyper inflation, then repaying the loan becomes easy. Now, I know Japan hasn't had any inflation in 25 years...

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed. Gandhi

by Cyrille (cyrillev domain yahoo.fr) on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 06:00:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What you need to make taking large amounts of debt impossible is not something as drastic as a deflationary crisis but substantial downward risk in individuals' personal income.

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 09:43:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That depends on what is your fallback.

I am in general sceptical over the merits of homeowning. But at least that gives an option to rent out the place if you can no longer pay the mortgage, provided you have a fallback of course.

Similarly, if you were to borrow in order to own a wind turbine, you may be able to refinance against the income stream, if your income dropped.
On the other hand, if you want to buy an expensive car, there's no way out of it.

So, borrowing in order to get a reasonably safe asset (or a potential one if you intially live in the house) is far less risky than borrowing for consumption.
I realise that's hardly a major breakthrough in economic wisdom, of course.

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed. Gandhi

by Cyrille (cyrillev domain yahoo.fr) on Thu Dec 31st, 2009 at 05:28:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The value of a home is that you can live in it.  
by paving on Thu Dec 31st, 2009 at 02:51:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Taking on long-term debt to purchase a residence at this stage of an economic down-turn is not a good idea.  (Was going to write "stupid" but decided to mealy-mouth.)  In fact I would be very wary of taking on any long-term debt UNLESS you had a secure income stream from a non-wage slave source.  The greatest number of hardships during the Great Depression came from the slow decline in real estate values following the 1929 stock market crash.  These values didn't recover until the early 1950s.

If one is all twitterpatted about purchasing property the thing to look for is some kind of non-viable commercial building on the outskirts of the downtown area.  These can be picked-up for a third to a quarter of the price of residential properties, including the cost of conversion.  If you know what you're doing there are some great deals to be had and these properties have, IMHO, the best chance to increase in value over the next 20 years.

If you don't know what you're doing and cannot hire or acquire the knowledge ... don't even consider it.  There are also lots and lots of Money Pits on the market and buying one of them turkeys will result in financial ruin.

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

by ATinNM on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 02:42:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There is one reason to buy a property even in a downturn and that is that renting doesn't give you any control over your living quarters...

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 05:27:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I've renting the same place for 17 years; we've done major works (essentially redoing the whole place) twice already, and minor repairs regularly. It's not money thrown away: I live here and get to enjoy the improvements every day...

And we have no worries whatsoever about the daily running of the place, it's someone else's job.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Dec 31st, 2009 at 07:59:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
As I've pointed out before, it depends very much on the legal and customary practices where you are. It was unusual for our landlord to allow us paint the apartment we lived in for seven years. My brother is renting a place where he basically can't change anything; the landlady had a hissy fit at the idea that he might corrupt her lovely decor by replacing her bed with one of his own ...
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Dec 31st, 2009 at 08:07:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In France, the main reason you can be kicked out of an apartment you rent is because the owner wants to use it for personal needs, or because it gets sold (and then you still have some decent periods to stay in). These do not apply in our case.

In terms of work you can do, it depends if you rent it with furniture or not (the usual here is: without), and what agreement you can reach with the owner. Our redoings of the apartment were done with the consent of the owner, and it even contributed to some of the costs on various occasions as it could see it was improving its asset.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Dec 31st, 2009 at 08:14:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
"It" suggests that your owner is not a person but an organisation. Which might explain some of the differences in what you experienced.

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed. Gandhi
by Cyrille (cyrillev domain yahoo.fr) on Thu Dec 31st, 2009 at 10:59:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
"I've been renting the same place for 17 years"

Now this baffles me. In 1993, you were just out of school. Your place is big enough that you can have a family of five. What were you doing renting a big enough place for five back in 1993 (note that I assumed the 17 years were counted down from 2010, so maybe it's even 1992)? And were you still renting it when in Ukraine?

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed. Gandhi

by Cyrille (cyrillev domain yahoo.fr) on Thu Dec 31st, 2009 at 11:04:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There is one reason to buy a property even in a downturn and that is that renting doesn't give you any control over your living quarters ...

Agree.

One possible investment/living strategy I haven't mentioned due to my lack of knowledge: purchase of a 4/6/8-plex, an apartment complex contain 4/6/8 apartments.  In the US these can be purchased in good condition for anywhere from the same to 1/3 the cost of a single detached family home.  No idea if the same is possible in the EU.  4-plexs are almost always a good buy relative to a stand-alone home.  Typically these are two stories and it is possible to gut one of the stories for personal living space and rent out the other two or keep one and rent out three.  And it's always possible to get a group together and purchase the apartments for individual living.  

Going it alone or with one other person, if the deal is correctly structured, would give the owner(s) a place to live and an income stream, however modest.  

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

by ATinNM on Thu Dec 31st, 2009 at 11:26:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A friend of mine did that.  It seemed to work out pretty well for him.
by Zwackus on Thu Dec 31st, 2009 at 07:41:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, an apartment in a city with a big rental market is a secure income stream from a non-wage source.

I'm not saying it necessarily makes it a good investment. But it makes it a possible one. After all, the issue tends to be that you need someplace to live, but can be scared at the prospect of debt. In that case, wondering whether you could at worst rent it in order to pay the mortgage makes sense.

The purely economical choice would probably be renting, but there are other motivations beyond money. They should not be discarded offhand.

Besides, even if real estate looks like a bad choice, if you are afraid that any financial asset will be wiped out, that life will be dramatically altered by global warming, then an apartment in a major city with a mild climate probably at least protects your savings from disappearing. They may lose in value, but probably not disappear. Then, if hyperinflation comes, it's probably the best bet.

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed. Gandhi

by Cyrille (cyrillev domain yahoo.fr) on Thu Dec 31st, 2009 at 05:23:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This will make you laugh; when I was in my early twenties, I was kicked out of my private pension scheme when I joined the company one, "because of the risk of overfunding".  I wish! It's an issue here in the UK for a different reason: even if you don't assume the imminent collapse of civilisation, the relative generosity of tax credits for the retired (brought in by the Labour government) means that you have to save a LOT for your retirement to be better off than if you had saved nothing at all.

My savings are squarely in the mug's zone, and I don't really know what to do for the best, save that what Labour giveth the poor, the Tories are likely to take away, and at least those savings are mine. But they are stockmarket based, and may prove just an illusion anyway.

by Sassafras on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 04:57:56 AM EST
Building up a stock portfolio in today's environment seems . . . questionable.  Sure, if you already have one, it's important to make the best of it.  But if not . . .

Thats a good point about public pensions as well, though how applicable that is depends on the country.  From my parents example in the USA, private savings were incredibly important as my father's line of work dried up before he and my mom hit the proper retirement age, and health costs have been sucking them dry.  Bloody USA.

In Japan, on the other hand, public pensions are quite skimpy, but many people have separate, and often generous, company pensions.  If they own a small business, the government gives them welfare to keep it going in a zombie state, and many VERY old people keep their business nominally running.  But then, most people save an incredibly large part of their income, as some things are oddly expensive.  Having a kid is not covered by any form of insurance, though those costs are defrayed significantly if you live in a rich town.  Weddings are insanely expensive.  Traveling is incredibly expensive, because people only go on luxury tour package groups.  Go figure.

by Zwackus on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 05:10:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I should add, though, that I lived well below my means in my twenties, and, combining that with being old enough to have paid a lot less than the current market rate for a house, I am in a rather comfortable position, mortgage-wise. It is very freeing not to have to worry where the rent will come from, and I think that, for me, the economies were an acceptable price to pay for that. But there are competing kinds of freedom, and I know that there are other freedoms I've given up for this one.
by Sassafras on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 05:19:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Cash is useful as long as the house of cards is still standing.

If it is disposable income anyways, then sock a few dollars away for a rainy day and diversify the holdings. The difference between spending $1500/month versus $1200/month on the joys of life, as long as you're buying experiences and not things, is not that much of a difference.

Personally, I think having a half years worth of emergency funds in a diverse basket of currencies is a good hedge against the future mishaps and shortcomings. The house of cards may collapse, but I may lose my job or get hospitalized or worse, first.

by Magnifico on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 05:24:56 AM EST
That is kind of my thinking at the moment.  However, the fact is that if I really wanted to, I could save a LOT of money really quickly, without suffering all THAT much.  Thirty years ago, with American civilization at its peak and a seemingly bright future ahead of hard working, law-abiding citizens, that would have been a no brainer.  Save for a house, save for a wife and kids, save for college.  I grew up hearing that.  But really, does that make any sense in today's world?
by Zwackus on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 05:51:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Having a house, wife, kids, college, the works only makes sense if you want those sorts of things. If you do, then yes it makes sense. If you want something different from life, then no it doesn't make sense.

If you do want a house, wife, kids, college, etc, then perhaps your true question is there a point in trying to save money to do this in America?

If you don't want this, then saving money for it regardless of how bleak or bright the future looks, would be pointless.

by Magnifico on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 06:15:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I've always thought I'd have a family and whatnot, but I must admit, as the years go by it seems less and less likely.  Good point, though - if I plan on being permenantly single, there is much less of a need for any kind of savings at all.
by Zwackus on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 06:56:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
i can think of single people who wished they hadn't used up their savings.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaïs Nin
by Crazy Horse on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 07:00:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That I can easily imagine.  But the question I want to keep bringing things back to is this - is now different from ten years ago?  People keep talking on this site about how everything looks bad, bad, bad, and it looks even worse if we don't change our behavior now.  So - should I change my behavior as well?  Do the personal survival strategies of ten or twenty years ago still make sense, given what seems to be looming on the horizon?

If our world and economy and society is going to continue on, business as usual, into the indefinite future, beyond the age when I can expect to retire and die, than the answer to whether I should save now is a whole heck of a lot different than if we are on the verge of, say, a massive hyper-inflationary bubble that will cripple the world economy for a decade, or if the end of an oil-based economy will soon permenantly end industrial society as we know it, or if climate change is going to render most of the world un-inhabitable.

by Zwackus on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 07:23:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Ten years ago was near the start of the US real estate bubble. It made excellent sense to buy in 1999, as I did. But one precipitating factor was that the owner of the house I had rented for ten years with no increase in rent had decided to sell all of his ~ 10 rental homes in the San Fernando Valley. The other factor was that I had just started my own company and had almost doubled my income the previous year. I could, at last, afford a house and, after preparing my income tax returns for '98 could painfully see how I needed to have the interest deduction for real estate to capture more of my income for my family.

The US tax code strongly encouraged me to buy a house. But I also worried that, were real estate values to continue to rise, so would most rents, and I did not want to have to move often. Best decision I ever made.

But the last real estate bubble in Japan burst 20 years ago.  It is hard to know if real estate would make sense as an investment, even if you knew you wanted to stay in Japan for another ten to twenty years. If your annual rent is over 75% of what a mortgage payment would be and you were confident you had long term employment, ten years or so, it might make sense.

If long hours at your job are a problem, anything that makes your life easier makes sense. Do it yourself home maintenance probably doesn't qualify there. :-) But saving so that you have options does.  Having two year's worth of income saved would leave you more comfortable changing locations, either within Japan or elsewhere. You might also be able to find a situation that is less demanding of your time, which could allow you to invest more in personal abilities. You could even afford to take off for a year and travel.

In Japan, the problem with the economy for the last 20 years seems to have tilted more to deflation than to inflation. So long as that continues, your savings are appreciating, even if you are not getting much, if any, return on investment. But you might want to diversify in terms of currency exposure. Study the variation of the Yen vs. currencies of countries you might consider investing in, say Brazil, India, the EU and wait until the yen is strong with respect to the target market and buy several somethings that is likely to be there in another ten years in each target economy.

In sum, it is better to have savings, even if they might be eroded in value, than to have none, especially in a crisis.  If diversified, the chance that all of your savings will be worthless is far less than the possibility that they may be very important to you. It may be that a time will come again when economies seem predictable and stable. That will be a much better opportunity if you have savings than if you don't.  But I would spend a portion of that surplus on yourself, on vacations, personal conveniences and smaller pleasures as well.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 06:34:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As a non-national, I'm not eligible to own property in Japan, even if I wanted to.  Right now, I'm not thinking of being here more than another year or two, so that would be kind of silly.
by Zwackus on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 09:04:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Zwackus: I'm not thinking of being here more than another year or two

classic last words of long-term ex-pats in Japan.  (^_-)

La Chine dorme. Laisse la dormir. Quand la Chine s'éveillera, le monde tremblera.

by marco on Thu Dec 31st, 2009 at 01:32:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A desire not to become one of those poor, generally miserable people is why I'm thinking of leaving.  
by Zwackus on Thu Dec 31st, 2009 at 02:10:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
actually, the ones I know there are generally quite content -- and often have a bunch of half-breed tikes running around the house, too.  ;-)

La Chine dorme. Laisse la dormir. Quand la Chine s'éveillera, le monde tremblera.
by marco on Thu Dec 31st, 2009 at 03:14:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, I suppose part of that is due to a co-worker of mine who often, and loudly, grips about how moving here was the worst decision of his life, etc. etc. etc.

That's not really the thing, I'm just feeling now that I'm kind of tired with living here for the moment, though prospects elsewhere don't look very good.  My desire to leave Japan is more emotional than rational.

But I suppose that was one of the spurs to writing this diary.  I am at a job that may well be my lifetime earnings peak, and I don't hate it.  I don't like it very much either, though, and it's never going to get any better nor will the pay ever rise.  It may also collapse on its own in the next year or two.  But, should I return to the US, I may well enjoy a year or two of unemployment/marginal employment before I get a job half as livable as this.  That is a path with risks and rewards all its own, and my employment situation may not be nearly as dire as I fear.  However, there is a strong chance that moving back like that would put me in the situation of reaching 40 without a dime in the bank.

So, I get to thinking about it, and really can't make up my mind about how much that really matters.  Obviously my decision about staying or going depends on many things much more personal and better known that the fate of the global capitalist system.  However, those are things I need to figure out on my own.  ET is a wonderful place for talking about doom and all, and so I posted the diary with that as the main angle.

And given the discussion provoked, and the many comments on the diary, it seems to have been a good choice.  Thanks all for contributing, and for giving me an idea for a diary on a related topic, regarding the intersection of the personal and the political in terms of the larger macro-economic forces at work in the world today.

by Zwackus on Thu Dec 31st, 2009 at 04:36:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Collapse or no collapse, it does seem likely that our generation will be the first one in a long time to have a generally lower standard of living than our parents'. [This is in the overdeveloped world, leaving aside debates about Hans Rosling's presentations]

The 5-year rolling window of preparedness also seems to be part of this here consensus. But the conventional wisdom still operates on much longer time frames - the 40-year mortgage, the single lifetime career (and its associated scourge, ageism)... The only thing that isn't cultural and which doesn't fit in the 5-year frame is the 20 years it takes for one's children to reach adulthood.

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Dec 31st, 2009 at 04:52:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yep.  Sobering thoughts.
by Zwackus on Thu Dec 31st, 2009 at 07:38:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
So, under business as usual you think if you don't want to be poor, generally miserable in the long term you need to leave Japan.

But long-term business as usual contradicts the premise of your diary...

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Dec 31st, 2009 at 04:20:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
My answer to you is largely in the above answer to Marco's comment.  But yeah, it's complicated - but a doom-focused approach to the situation seemed a better fit to ET than a personal psychology one.  And I'm much clearer about my doom anxieties than I am about my other psychology problems. :-)
by Zwackus on Thu Dec 31st, 2009 at 04:38:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh, and another angle on that comment.  Should global civilization collapse, Japan seems like it would be in a bit of a quandary.  On the one hand, its present population is simply not sustainable from local production, especially given the global collapse of world fisheries underway.  On the other hand, the Japanese government has been FAR more forward looking, and willing to adapt to obvious problems facing it on the level of macro-economic structure, than has that of the USA.  So, it has its strengths and weaknesses a collapse scenario.

However, as much as they like foreigners now, I wonder how that would change, or not, should things turn ugly.  I also wonder what the heck I'd end up doing, once teaching English/teaching in English is no longer a viable option.

So yeah, I guess doom anxieties play a bit of role in this decision as well, though as with savings, I can't really make up my mind.

by Zwackus on Thu Dec 31st, 2009 at 04:42:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
today is interesting as we teeter on the brink of either deflation or inflation, and it's still not clear which way we'll go (I've used occasionally the image of the upside down pyramid, which is now unstable, but it's not clear which side it'll topple on, as one side is being propped up - but maybe too aggressively...)

And these two destinations bring about completely different answers to your question.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Dec 31st, 2009 at 08:02:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Basing your investment strategy on being smarter than everyone else is generally a brave choice.

Betting on the collapse of global capitalism is definitely brave, despite what the echo chamber may say. You do not have any clue where Western Civilisation or the world economy are headed.

Which makes concrete plans beyond five years pretty much pipe dreams anyway  ...

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 05:36:39 AM EST
Well, that's the heart of the dilemma, isn't it?

As I said, I'm not quitting my job to go live in a cave.  That would be stupid . . . right now.  Maybe later.  But not now. :-)

But it's really, really hard to decide whether getting use value out of my money now, when I know how much it's worth, is a good idea or not.

by Zwackus on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 05:46:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
With that kind of cash flow and spare time, you could invest in yourself and get busy shaping the world you'd like to see, while preparing yourself for one that may likely happen.

Work on you personal physical fitness -- building up your health while young will help you survive civilization collapse and or climate change.

Work on your language skills -- there are going to be more hospitable places with climate change than others... northern Scandinavian countries, Siberia, and northern Canada may be the best places to live in 30 years time. How is your Norwegian? Maybe buy land above sea level in the northern climes?

Work on your post-collapse skills -- can you do anything by hand? Grow or preserve food? How about carpentry or blacksmithing? Sewing, weaving, or anything to make or mend clothing.

Work on your green skills -- bicycling, personal solar, wind investments, or anything else that you think will make a small difference.

Work on your society skills -- find a cause that you see as good and donate your time and money. Meet people, work together, and help them.

by Magnifico on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 06:06:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Good suggestions, and doable.  I've actually been considering moving to a more rural place, so I could practice those things more while still working at my current job.  The downside of that would be that I'd have to give up several of my current hobbies which require a more urban situation.  And the current job doesn't leave all that much time for anything, but that's just something to accept these days.
by Zwackus on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 06:52:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Of course, don't forget to work on your post-non-collapse skills as well.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 06:57:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Somebody had to do it :-)

Obligatory Dmitry Orlov reference:  Thriving in An Age of Collapse

A couple of years old now, but it holds up pretty well imho.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Tue Jan 19th, 2010 at 03:06:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Putting together one of various cooperative schemes, to invest in wind and solar, still seems like a decent bet no matter the future.  But then i'm prejudiced.

If i were young today, and i am, sorta, i think i would put a fair percentage of my money into really good tools, even including the electrical kind.  i would end up with a great stash of useful.

If now i had a collection of all the fine tools i've used in my life...

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaïs Nin

by Crazy Horse on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 06:58:10 AM EST
I would put half of this money on voting green. When you buy stuff , food, investments.. you vote

My horizon is also 5 years. It seems good to have five years of income as saved money plus a house. It makes sense, so it makes sense to reach an equilibrium between voting on green with your purchase.. and save a part to reach this 5-year cushion.
After reaching the 5-year save threshold it really makes no sense....

If I ever reach that threshold, I really would have to think what to do... would I really improve my self-sufficiency skills, would I save to buy a house with renewable energy? ..Well i do not have that kind of money actually house prices prevent me from having that kind of money), but I would think about if I ever win the lottery :)

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 07:20:51 AM EST
For me to save 5 years worth of income, at current levels of income and savings, would take just about nine years.  Worth thinking about, I suppose.
by Zwackus on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 07:25:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Not in Spain given the house-market bubble.

A lot of the assets are based on housing, so prices can go down but not that much.

In other words, you need roughly 400.000 euros in assets (150.000 in cash, 250.000 in a house/appartment) in Spain to qualify for the 5-year safety net plus house.

In big cities is something like 600.000 euros (200.000 euros in cash and 400.000 to have the house).

The way to save 600.000 when your income after taxes is roughly 20.000 euros leads to 60 years saving half your income.

As you may see, in Spain, most people (like 80% of the spaniards) never get to the point of wondering about the problem of saving. Maybe in ten years if the house market remains at cosntant prices adn teh flats move from generation to generation there will be more people in the sityuation (if your parents die, you get the flat or half flat since families hava, at most, 2 children), that will allow some saving in the future.. but not now.

Coem to think, I can guess when this would happen, and how strongly it would change the spanish economy. People who bought the flat in the 70's when they were in their thirties.. so around 2020-2030 spanish economy will change dramatically.

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Thu Dec 31st, 2009 at 11:18:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I hadn't put the house into the equation.  Not planning on that, far too poor.
by Zwackus on Thu Dec 31st, 2009 at 07:44:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I kind of am sorry even now that I didn't spend and borrow more during those 10 years of prosperity...As we are not willing to risk too much we kind of lived by our means...Stupid!
When/if collapse happen we will suffer the same way as everybody else...ans some of them who borrowed heavily at least will have something good to remember.
So you better live to full extend...have what ever you want now ...even if you have family in your plans.
I did not think like this before but now I do...

Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind...Albert Einstein
by vbo on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 08:46:48 AM EST
If everyone acts on this advice it will really be slash and burn like there's no tomorrow...

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 09:52:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Why "will"? Hasn't it been that way already ?

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Dec 31st, 2009 at 08:04:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It would be great if anyone could convince me that there will be tomorrow after all...Whaching TV news does not look like there is...
But we can at least hope.

Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind...Albert Einstein
by vbo on Sun Jan 3rd, 2010 at 01:40:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I have friends who figure that it is better to travel the world now, at least then they will have something to remember as the world comes tumbling down. So half a year working, half a year traveling.

Though they are really to poor to have any staggering effect on resource consumption. In fact even with the flight they might have a lower ecological footprint then similar youngsters who try to make a career and get all the trappings of the consumerist lifestyle.

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

by A swedish kind of death on Sun Jan 3rd, 2010 at 04:02:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I have contingency savings I guess, which will keep me going for 3-5 months depending on how much I cut back and top up with other temporary means of income if I lose my job.  It was originally meant to be a mortgage deposit or capital for starting my own business if I ever decide what that would be.

The dilemma is that I have too much in savings to be eligible for state benefits, and I hate the idea of having to sit on my arse and watch my savings go down the drain until I do become eligible.  A large part of me is tempted to use the money to travel for a few months, do something productive with it rather than watch it disappear slowly. I don't know.

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 11:16:13 AM EST
Travel can be very "cost-effective" if done right.  If you're going on tours, well that's just like going to Disneyland, spent cost, purchased experiences.  If you're getting to know places, learning cultures and languages and most important of all, making connections with people, then should the time come you'll have resources to leverage that cannot be purchased.

Knowing more and different kinds of people is an excellent survival strategy.

by paving on Thu Dec 31st, 2009 at 03:09:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"Knowing more and different kinds of people is an excellent survival strategy."

Should that be the new ET slogan?
Actually, I agree with you, though I don't do it for that reason. I just feel that it's the best thing under the sun.
However, I know I would try to help people I know if the need arose, so they would presumably do the same. Besides, knowing lots of different people helps knowing about opportunities that you'd have missed otherwise, even without any active help.

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed. Gandhi

by Cyrille (cyrillev domain yahoo.fr) on Thu Dec 31st, 2009 at 03:25:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
European Tribune - Comments - Is there a point to saving money?
Normal life will continue until it doesn't, but how much should I really prepare for the continuation of normal life beyond the next 5 years?

I'm not expecting a general collapse; I figure the foreseeable future will look much like today, only crappier.

Which would to my mind imply:

  • Whatever resources you put aside today will still have some non-negligible value.
  • You are going to be more likely to need them.
  • Assuming infrastructure deterioration keeps pace with general crappiness (and I personally figure it is more likely to lead it), it might be a good idea to have a few bags of rice in the cupboard (or at least, keep one ear open for global harvest forecasts).

If there is a general collapse, the vast majority of us are going to be so screwed anyway that I'm not sure it's worth worrying about on a personal level.

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman
by dvx (dvx.clt ät gmail dotcom) on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 11:58:44 AM EST
The conventional rules in the US, based on the experiences of the Great Depression, as related to me by my financially conservative father, are roughly as follows.

Keep 6 months of gross salary in cash (savings) for when you lose you job. Put as much as is allowed into your company retirement plan. Within that plan, choose mainstream, large capitalized company stock funds. Outside of that plan, buy an equal amount of municipal bond funds, because they are available in forms that avoid taxation. Don't get involved in non-dollar accounts, because your mortgage is in dollars, not yen or euros. Put aside money for your kids to go to the best schools they can get into. Understand compound interest, and why you should start saving for retirement early. When approaching retirement age, move into more conservative accounts.

I would add to that list the idea of inflation-indexed funds. These are available here in the US and would theoretically provide protection against rampant inflation. Otherwise, though, they are not very good investments.

All of this is based on the "social security is not going to save you butt" system we have going here. May not apply to other countries, and depends on not having a revolution.

by asdf on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 12:05:35 PM EST

Don't get involved in non-dollar accounts, because your mortgage is in dollars, not yen or euros.

Advice coming from a long, long, long time ago when the dollar was a sound currency.... It's been declining for a full generation now.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Dec 31st, 2009 at 08:09:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
dvx and colman have it right.

I can't emphasize this enough:

the next few years of my life may well be the last time I could ever make use of the money I'd be saving.

this is a fantastically bold statement.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 02:23:24 PM EST
We have already witnessed the first indications of the arrival of peak oil.  Not enough is being done.  Will things be able to continue as usual in the future?

We are already witnessing the first indications of global warming.  Not enough is being done.  Will things be able to continue as usual in the future?

If things can't continue as usual, then what presently existing forms of value that I could invest in today would have a serious chance of holding their value in the future?

by Zwackus on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 09:14:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Zwackus:
If things can't continue as usual, then what presently existing forms of value that I could invest in today would have a serious chance of holding their value in the future?

first of all, congratulations on grasping the nettle with regard to the imminent realities we are beginning to navigate, and second, this blockquoted question is the one i ask myself every day when i wake, and i cannot find a more practical one.

on the bright side, doom is not guaranteed by any means, though it will take extraordinary leaders who also have the courage to stare down reality and deal.

these could spring out of nowhere, indeed i expect them to, as somewhere is just recycling the same stale soup of before. to assume things are going to swing far right is presumptuous, considering history, although it's just as foolish to assume they won't!

get a basic skillset that's peak oil-proof. if i were you since you're in japan, i'd pick up some shiatzu and food preparation skills on the side, the whole science and art japan has evolved to turn the humble soybean into such a fascinatingly diverse array of super-nutritious delicacies would definitely be worth some study. in the future i expect to see tofu, tempeh, shoyu and natto shops spreading all over the world like pizzerias. indeed once we trim down our meat consumption, that will almost certainly be recognised as the most intelligent and elegant way of supplying good quality vegetable protein to the hungry.

i don't know anything about financial services, but the best investment you can make is in friends and community, followed by land and tools, practical hobbies, and whimsical interests. that way you can be as ready as possible, though the image of a straw shack in front of a tsunami does come to mind...

keep your sense of humour and try to plan where you want to land after japan, i suggest.

and keep checking in and writing smart diaries! it's great to have you there, reporting from the rising sun.

good luck, there is so much the ancient japanese culture has to offer the rest of the world, they are truly extraordinarily creative in many engaging ways. you are very fortunate to have the experience i think!

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 09:41:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Natto is definitely super-nutritious, but it's going to require the prospect of starvation before most Americans start to consider it edible, let alone delicious. :-)

I'm sort of natto-agnostic.  I could eat it, if I had to, but would rather not.  Most Americans I know who have been introduced to it find it disgustingly, nauseatingly foul.

Good points, though, and thanks for the comments!

by Zwackus on Thu Dec 31st, 2009 at 04:50:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]

unfortunately, HTTP does not support olfactory data transmission.  yet.

Zwackus: I'm sort of natto-agnostic.  I could eat it, if I had to, but would rather not.

just keep on eating it. you will learn to love it.  i did.  even if it did take about 30 years.

La Chine dorme. Laisse la dormir. Quand la Chine s'éveillera, le monde tremblera.

by marco on Thu Dec 31st, 2009 at 05:10:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I believe that picture says just about everything about natto that can be said without smelling it. :-)
by Zwackus on Thu Dec 31st, 2009 at 07:40:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
well that's sure appetising!

i've never eaten it, gag, but i omitted the mother of all soyfoods, MISO!

the best edible medicinal food pound for pound in the world.

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Thu Dec 31st, 2009 at 02:20:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Miso is wonderful and delicious.
by Zwackus on Thu Dec 31st, 2009 at 07:45:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And that reason is that you believe that there will, in fact, be a complete collapse of the capitalist system, and that you are so sure of this that you are willing to bet your future on it by spending as much as you can today.

Is that really the bet you want to take?

For context, people have been predicting the imminent collapse of the current economic system since Marx defined capitalism, but rarely has it ever occurred. With the exception of some nationalistic experiments and periodic and very temporary crises, the capitalist system has thrived, adapted, and grown.  I think the wise bet is that your future will continue to be defined by that system, and your payoff for betting otherwise doesn't seem high enough to justify making it.

by santiago on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 02:47:08 PM EST
There is some truth here, no question.

But this isn't the first "capital based industrial revolution," that occurred during the High Middle Ages.  The rise and fall of such is instructive.  Capitalism works great during periods of population increase where investing money for future reward is met with future reward due to increased demand.  It is unclear, to me at least, what will happen under capitalism - as we know it - during an extended period of population decline.

 

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

by ATinNM on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 03:33:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Please explain what you mean by the capital based revolution of the High Middle Ages and what happened to it.
by santiago on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 03:54:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sorry, that s/b "Capital based industrial revolution"

The High Middle Ages went through a spate of water and wind powered industrialization funded by capital accumulated through trade, human-powered (looms) production, and grants/gifts to religious institutions.

Briefly, this system collapsed due to over-production versus consumer ability to purchase, over-population versus the food supply, and disease.

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

by ATinNM on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 04:23:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What are some good books to read on that?
by santiago on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 04:32:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Don't know the state of current research is.  This is topic I sloughed-off due to lack of time a long time ago.  The only book I can find in my library, at the moment, is Gimpel's The Medieval Machine written for a 'high brow,' not academic, audience and it's over 30 years old.    

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 10:16:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
by santiago on Thu Dec 31st, 2009 at 11:33:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
ATinNM:
Briefly, this system collapsed due to over-production versus consumer ability to purchase, over-population versus the food supply,

too many cooks, not enough broth?

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 09:48:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And the black plague.  That didn't help, either, though its role was more to finish off a declining system, rather than to start the system's decline.
by Zwackus on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 10:43:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The plague put a sharp underlining to the end but they had outstripped their resources at their level of technology.  In cases like this ignorance is lethal.  

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 11:03:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Too many piggies for the teats.

Can't remember their ag complex yield but it was, by today's standards, pitiful.  You can start your research href="http://www.cropyields.ac.uk/project.php">here, if you want ;-).  They would get, roughly 4 bushels for every bushel of seed compared with, roughly, the 20 to 30 bushels modern farmers can expect.  This meant they had to increase the total number of farms by using ever marginal land in order to try and maintain food production.  Eventually, they farmed areas that are not in use for field cropping even today.

Then the weather turned on them, the marginal land went out of production, some kind souls invented the Black Death, and it was all over.  The European population didn't recover until the introduction of cultivars from the Americas, particularly the potato.


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

by ATinNM on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 10:50:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Correct Link.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 10:52:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Capitalism works great during periods of population increase where investing money for future reward is met with future reward due to increased demand.  It is unclear, to me at least, what will happen under capitalism - as we know it - during an extended period of population decline.

what's the opposite of predator capitalism?

'enlightened' capitalism? reverse-engineered capitalism? collaborative capitalism? conscious capitalism? capitalism as if people mattered?

chris cookism?

right little slogan factory, must be cuz i watched madmen earlier!

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 09:46:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
what's the opposite of predator capitalism?

Damfino.  Co-operative syndicalism, I guess.  

In either case, there's still the need to accumulate "capital" - however one defines it - to pay for "investment" - however one defines that.  I don't have a handy definition to trot out. The latifundia of the Roman Iron Age required "capital" in the form of land purchases and slaves; there was continual political strife between debtors and debt holders; but I wouldn't go so far as to claim the Roman Empire was a "predatory capitalist" political-economy although there are degrees of commonality 'tween then and now.


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

by ATinNM on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 10:31:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Forgot ...

Marx's critique of Capitalism was based on Hegelian Logic which, at best, has a limited application to the Real World©.  Marx wrote some good things but to take him seriously as a political economist in light of current knowledge is, I submit, a grievous error.

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

by ATinNM on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 03:36:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That's a bit more severe than I see it.  

On the one hand, I continue my month-to-month existence, with a small cash reserve put away on the side.  With the remainder, I enjoy going out to eat, drink, and take fairly modest vacations once or twice a year.  This is hardly an ideal situation, but it's no worse than that of my many, many friends who have enormous student debts hanging over their heads.  

On the other hand, I guard my rather meager income much more carefully, don't eat out or travel much at all, and save up enough money to think about things like investments.

If civilization continues in a recognizable situation, and present investments are not wiped out in a financial calamity, then I would definitely be a bit richer following the second course.  Yay.

If civilization continues, but most financial assets are wiped out, than I'm more or less the same either way, except I'd perhaps be a bit less bitter if I'd spent the money myself, instead of seeing it all disappear into inflation/asset value collapse/confiscation/etc.

If global warming/peak oil/financial collapse push civilization into a long, slow decline over the next twenty or thirty years, than I'll probably not die immediately.  More likely is several marginal years of homelessness and unemployment before I die of cancer or tuberculeprosy or something.  While savings might help mitigate my misery in such a situation, I have to wonder how well pre-crisis assets are going to hold up in value, and thus be useful.  Cash might be the best thing there is, or it might become totally worthless as governments turn to hyper-inflation to deal with unsustainable debts.

If civilization doesn't continue in a recognizable fashion, then I'll die, sooner rather than later.  I have no illusions regarding that.  So, savings are a bit of a moot point, whether they have value or not.

by Zwackus on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 08:59:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
[Zwackus's Crystal Ball of Doom™ Technology]

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Dec 31st, 2009 at 04:16:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Eh, I tend more to the tarot cards than the crystal ball, but the way I read them, they don't give the most useful answers to these kinds of questions.  :-)
by Zwackus on Thu Dec 31st, 2009 at 04:45:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Tarot is a good storytelling device...

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Dec 31st, 2009 at 04:55:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
True, but that's why it's better to help people think about situations that they are in or may be in, rather than to predict the future.  
by Zwackus on Thu Dec 31st, 2009 at 07:42:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But we're not trying to predict the future, we're doing scanario-based contingency planning.

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Dec 31st, 2009 at 10:56:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'll die, sooner rather than later.

Ah, but the danger is that you will not!  :-)

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Thu Dec 31st, 2009 at 02:20:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In a predatory capitalist system money is power.  Just like land ownership was power during the pre-industrial era.  So, yes, there is a point to saving money.  The one thing money can buy is time.  Time gives you a chance to "impact your options."

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Wed Dec 30th, 2009 at 03:18:07 PM EST
... I kind of wonder how much of the world we know will be left in 25 to 35 years.  That's well within the timeframe for catastrophic climate change, peak oil, and every other big bad boogeyman to be hitting pretty damn hard.

well, the russians are all over the asteroid threat, so you probably don't have to worry about that, especially since impact probability is only 1 in 250,000 to begin with.

La Chine dorme. Laisse la dormir. Quand la Chine s'éveillera, le monde tremblera.

by marco on Thu Dec 31st, 2009 at 01:27:27 AM EST
but the accelerating rate of human enhancement technologies concerns me as much if not more than environmental, economic and social upheaval.

what will mean to be "human" in thirty to fifty years, and thereafter (if we are still around)?  what will the word "humanity" mean?

paranoia or giving undue weight to Bill Joy and Ray Kurzweil, maybe.  but reports of surprising new developments, overhyped and/or distorted though they may be to some extent, suggest that Joy and Kurzweil are not completely off the reservation.

La Chine dorme. Laisse la dormir. Quand la Chine s'éveillera, le monde tremblera.

by marco on Thu Dec 31st, 2009 at 04:17:35 AM EST
The transhumanist scenarios may well be some of the most optimistic visions of the future out there, at least among those with a smidgen of reality to them.  Sure, it poses all kinds of philosophical dilemmas, but whatever.  A nice photosynthetic layer would both solve my problems with sunburn AND provide an alternative calorie stream, reducing my need for food intake and cancer risks at the same time!  Yay!
by Zwackus on Thu Dec 31st, 2009 at 04:47:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Great point. Technology has already advanced to a point where there are inevitable changes coming in the next 10-15 years that will absolutely rock the modern experience.  This isn't hyperbole and it is easy to look back 15 years from today and see that we've just been through such a period.  The next one will be equally confusing to most people.

I see the main point of this discussion as one about the inability to 'get ahead.'  A young adult right now can see no clear path toward an improved standard of living.  If one tries to focus on their career, they may lose working years without making any significant gains.  Investing 5 years in education to gain skills that may go from valuable to practically worthless in a 5 year period is also a concern.

Saving cash that may inflate over 5 years and represent a lost opportunity cost is a concern.  Investing in commodities that show no sane pricing schemes runs a similar risk.

Ultimately we are left with the choice to accept, for the next 10-20 years, our current economic situation.  Once that decision is made the rational question is where to invest our resources, in a future that we can't really make a significant impact on or a present which may ultimately provide for a future when conditions change.  

The fight is against disillusionment.  It can be a difficult experience to invest a life in savings only to have those savings dissipate in the tsunami's of government policy and corporate theft.  If you had put your savings into Enron stock as an Enron employee in the late 1990's wouldn't you rather have now spent that money on something else, such as real estate?

I believe this problem is compounded by the lack of forward progress.  If I make investments that lose their value in 5 years but am actually seeing income and status gains over those 5 years I still come out ahead of where I am today.  If I can reasonably expect to be in essentially the same income/status range in 5 years and STILL lose my investments it appears that I may have actually lost those 5 years entirely.  

It does seem wise to ensure that your next 5 years are lived well.    

by paving on Thu Dec 31st, 2009 at 03:30:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, you've hit the nail on the head there.  That is exactly the thing.
by Zwackus on Thu Dec 31st, 2009 at 07:49:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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