By James Howard Kunstler
The Covid-19 virus itself didn’t run the United States into a ditch but it exposed the weakness and rot in the nation’s drive-train, and now all of us passengers on that disabled bus must decide whether to stay helplessly inside the smoldering wreckage arguing over who’s to blame, or begin a long, uncertain march down the road on our own two feet to a place of new arrangements.
In 1918, the country was lashed by a far deadlier pandemic disease at the same time it was fighting a world war, and daily life barely missed a step. The economy then was emphatically one of production, not the mere consumption of things made elsewhere in the world (exchanged for US IOUs), nor of tanning parlors, nail salons, streaming services, and Pilates studios. The economy was a mix of large, medium, and small enterprises, not just floundering giants, especially in the retail commerce of goods. We lived distributed in towns, cities not-yet-overgrown, and a distinctly rural landscape devoted to rural activities — not the vast demolition derby of entropic suburbia that has no future as a human habitat. Banking was only five percent of the economy, not the bloated matrix of rackets now swollen to more than forty percent of so-called GDP. Government at the federal and state levels was miniscule compared to the suffocating, parasitic leviathan it is now.
What happened? Like Hemingway’s old quip about a man going broke slowly and then all-at-once, we allowed everything in American life to creep into hapless giantism too cumbersome to adapt to new conditions, and suddenly conditions have changed. And now it’s all coming apart: the dying chain stores, the giant zombie companies that can only exist by borrowing money to buy back their own stocks, the auto-makers who have run out of lending schemes for non-creditworthy customers, the shale oil fracking companies that could never make a red cent, the agri-biz farmers grown morbidly obese on a diet of credit and government subsidies (just like their end-customers grew obese on engineered snack-foods), the Wall Street lords of financialization hypothecating fortunes by leveraging the stripped assets of everything not nailed down from sea to shining sea, the swelling underclass conditioned to helplessness, addiction, and vice, the inescapable ambient tyranny of media hype, propaganda, and disinformation, and, of course, the catastrophe that government has become.
Get this: none of these things now wobbling and staggering will be resurrected. They’re all going extinct, like the Baluchitherium of the Oligocene. To keep propping them up — as the Federal Reserve sedulously props up financial markets — will only promote the illusion that we don’t have to move on and conduct daily human life differently. A worldwide contraction was already underway before Covid-19 stepped onstage. The contraction was sending a very loud and clear message: gigantism went as far as it could go and now it’s up to the smaller and nimbler to carry on. Beware the promises of the sclerotic authorities asking you to remain in thrall to them — and dependent on them.
Expect these authorities to screw up even the next big exercise in their own franchise: the 2020 election. It will be the climax to a season of political hysteria and will complete the chapter of our history that left us on that smoldering big bus in the ditch. The scramble away from that disaster scene will be frightful and desperate. No matter who ends up in control of the government — or pretends to be — the same forces of contraction and decomplexifying will actually rule and you will have to act accordingly.
Many people will seek to escape the places they live now to find new homes and livelihoods elsewhere. These demographic movements are already underway. New York City is hemorrhaging much of its tax base as the wealthy flee, Chicago too, and the whole state of California. These places will be overwhelmed by functional bankruptcy, even if legal legerdemain allows them to avoid declaring it. Other states, counties and municipalities — including many suburban blobs — will also founder, meaning all the usual support systems and safety nets vanish. Many supply chains will break. Money may either be scarce or worthless, which are two ways of going broke.
Right now, start planning where you might go and what you can do. The turmoil will be filled with opportunity to find ways to be useful to other people, to devise work-arounds for ruptured systems and relationships, in getting food to people, making things they need, distributing them, fixing things that are broken where possible, and moving people and stuff from point A to point B. There will be plenty of work for people who are willing to do it. Keep in mind that it’s entirely up to you to make good choices.
Don’t despair, and if you find yourself veering toward it, get over yourself. It’s just part of becoming stronger than you thought you could be, and the times will require it of you anyway. The offices that gave out brownie points for avouched victimhood will also be shutting down. Won’t that be a relief? Welcome to the joyful illumination that life is difficult for everybody. Who is ready for this epic journey?