Defeating The Great Depression

Weirdly this is not an history post.

Right now a lot of us have fallen into a great depression.  The economy, the politics (also known as teh stupid at a national (and state, and local, and epic) level (take my city for instance.  They are turning off the lights in every cross street to save money, BUT they are still filling downtown with great, mostly without redeeming value, (yes, there are exceptions, but not many) piles of metal for “art on the streets.”  Because, art is more important than the safety of lighted streets, and “art creates community” or something – will the Sixties never lie down?  They’ve always been dead.)  Our kids are coming of age, and there’s no economy for them to step into.  We’re most of us holding on to the edge of a job that might or might not be there in a year – or a month.  Everyone is holding their breath.  Something has to give, but no one knows what.

We wait and we wait, and we can’t talk to anyone, and no one will talk about anything that’s really worrying them in public (though we do, in private, with a bottle of wine and some time.) And we get depressed, because what we believe, what we do, what we are, what we want, and simple stuff that could be one to make the economy better is obvious, but nothing gets done.  Or teh stupid grows deeper.

There is a certain Weimar republic weirdness.  People talk around and over things.  People smile a lot.  Even cons that used to be acrimonious, no one talks of anything important.  (Well, except me, when someone said money was a measure of labor.  You guys know what it does to me.)  We’re all being overnice with each other as though we were all accident victims and slightly dazed.

The people who still have jobs are working too hard.  The people who don’t are wondering if they ever will again.  (Some think they won’t because they bought the with-folded-hands-crap.)  Those of us who drink are wondering if we can afford as much as we need.  Those who don’t drink often act drunk through sheer exhaustion.

But mostly, mostly, we each one of us feels powerless, lost, as though what we are, what we think, what we want, all the plans we had for ourselves and kids and our careers, and our friends, and our retirement, count for absolutely nothing.

It is not good for man – or woman – to feel alone.  It is no great shakes for man – or woman – to feel powerless and irrelevant.

I can’t tell you what to do, personally.  I’m not you.  I’m finding my own way out of the grey goo, into some semblance of normalcy.

Either things will get better or they won’t.  Either the worst will happen, or it won’t.  You can’t do anything about it, but you don’t want to give your life over to a wasteland for however long.  We hear history moves faster now, but history is still not that fast.  The collective thought and feeling are a slow thing to move and change.

And meanwhile… well, in Venetia Heyer makes some reference to the years the locust ate.  This is of course a reference to the Bible.  But it is also a weirdly resonant phrase.  The character is referring to his years spent in wenching and gambling, not building a life, a family, an estate.

I hate to tell you this, but if you’re going to waste years, wenching (what is the distaff equivalent?  Roguing?) and gambling are better than grey goo-ing.  In another, smaller scale, I let the locust eat the years I was struggling to break in.  I’d lose hope, and spend months, years, spinning in place, doing nothing.

It serves nothing.  It helps nothing.  So whether you’re overworked, underworked, or completely lost in some hopeless routine, let me share what has helped.  Because one way or another, either this will end well or badly, and in either case you’re going to need to be alert, prepared, and not so depressed you can’t move.

Prepare for the worst, hope for the best and – to quote Heinlein – keep your clothes and weapons where you can find them in the dark.  Metaphorically, at least.

I’m not going to tell you how to prepare for physical survival.  It would be stupid.  There are far better informed people.  I do wish womeone who can’t eat carbs – for reasons other than diet – would have a list, though, since our storage is whimsical, to put it mildly.

What I’m going to tell you is how to keep yourself from being a depressed pile of mush, in the meanwhile.  Because – trust me, I’m by nature a depressive, and I KNOW – if you are a depressed pile of mush, you won’t think clearly in an emergency; you won’t react quickly in a life threatening situation; you won’t take advantage of something getting unexpectedly better; and you WON’T survive, no matter how many plans you’ve made.

So, this is what has been working for me – your results may vary.


1-      Control.

Years ago, in the throes of burnout, I bought a book on how to get out of burnout.

They identified three causes of the burnout: overwork; lack of control; hopelessness.  They said countering just one of those could get you out of a burnout spin.

I don’t know where the book is, but I think it’s in one of the massive “to sell” bins, because it was to my purpose nothing.  At the time, I couldn’t take control of my career, I could do nothing about working less (not if I wanted career to continue) and I’d pretty much lost all hope of my career experiencing any progress (I think the year I had six book releases and NOT ONE made it to bookshelves in CO was the time I figured that out.)


In a way we’re there.  And of course, we can’t do anything substantive about those three things.  But there is something we can do on a minor scale.  You can control yourself and your surroundings, and make some improvements.


a)      Eat well, exercise, try to get in shape (I recommend Charlie Martin’s 13 weeks program.)  Try to be the healthiest you can be.  Depression – at least in me – tends to translate into sweet-cravings and couch-potatoing.  Counter that part.  Control your body.  It will pay off.

b)      Clean and organize your surroundings.  No, I’m not being mommy.  Look, there is a psychological effect from living in a mess, and you don’t need it.  And being able to find a book, a reference, a tool when needed is an inestimable good.  The other advantage of these two is that most of the time they will tire you out, so you can stop running in the hamster wheel of the mind and sleep at night.


2-      Hope

Whether you’re unemployed or employed, you need to feel like you have something you can do to help in the future.

I’ve said here before the future is not one job, not one occupation, but multiple streams of income.  Yes, I know, if you’re already overworked you’re going to throw things at me (it’s okay.  I’m really good at ducking) because there SIMPLY isn’t the time or… the “give.”  But there is, if you find it.  And it can help you.  During the worst time in my writing career, I picked up art.  As income it hasn’t come-in yet.  (But it could, if I organized better.  Something that I’m working on.)  But as something to learn – something that I could feel I was making progress in and it was volitional, it’s inestimable.

Writing six books a year was eating me alive, so I added art classes and time to draw, and I felt better.  It makes no sense, but it worked.

Given the times we live in, and that the future is uncertain, I’d advise you to pick a hobby that can double as a money-making thing, preferably one you can do on your own/contract/fre lance.

I don’t know what your talents are.  My family is NOT normal – you knew that, right? – so yesterday we spent time picking courses off a catalog, and the gamut went from history to music, to art, to storytelling.  Activities and skills people are working on in my circle range from editing to handy-manning (shut up you!) to building computers from discards, to writing indie, to art, to all sorts of what used to be called womanly crafts.  Embroidery, crochet, knitting, calculus, statistics, piano, languages, programming, baking, backyard gardening…  All of these will almost for sure have a value and allow you to make at least some money.  All of them are absorbing enough to keep the mind from the down spiral.

Pick one and master it.


3-      Rest

This will seem insane, considering the stuff above, but listen to me.  One thing I learned in the burnout years was that I couldn’t rest simply by doing nothing.  Doing nothing was an opportunity for the locust to come gnawing at the edges of how hopeless my situation was.

The mini-vacations my family does – Denver, mostly, for three days or so – worked (kind of.  Family time does, because I like the guys) but it didn’t LAST.  Instead of a vacation a year or so, I found myself needing a vacation every month, which, of course, interferes with mini-galt, and also with the fact that we were (and are) fairly broke.

So, here’s my advice:


a)      Plan your escape.  Look, there’s mini-galt and being broke and stuff.  But then there’s holding yourself to such an arid and work-laden schedule that makes you feel life is a never ending slog.  It means that sooner or later you will break out, and then it will be worse for the finances (and you.)  There will be the “ARGH, can’t take it,” and a ticket to an expensive show you don’t even want to see that much; or dinner out somewhere expensive, or…

Here, we follow Heinlein again (genuflects.)  “Budget luxuries FIRST.”  Luxuries can be anything from planning an afternoon a week lollywagging in front of the tv or games (hint, do NOT go with other people’s idea of fun, even your nearest and dearest.  My husband likes sitcoms, but they drive me up the wall.  My kids love minecraft.  I think it would leave me more tired than just working.)  The fact you plan it, and it has limits, stops it from turning into endless escape and then into grey goo because you’re doing nothing and you know it.  Say “Saturday at two to five, I’m going to do THIS” and then that’s fun.  Sometimes your escape can be an hour a day “when I come home from my too-demanding job, I’ll take a bubble bath/read a book/watch a stupid show.” Don’t be ashamed of what you do to escape.  It will probably be stupid.  It doesn’t matter if it works. My busiest and most stressful year in school was made better by a truly spectacularly dumb Brazilian soap.  For whatever reason it worked for me, and it was on at seven when I got home.  My parents ate before me, so I’d take my dinner to the TV room, and watch the soap for an hour, after which I was ready to face reality (and homework.)

b- Plan some bigger escape too.  Budget it.  Eat pancakes if you must, for three weeks (or vegetable soup, in my family’s case) but take that mini-vacation for three days once a quarter.  Or go hiking in the wilderness for two days, if you’re that kind of wild and wooly.  Or drive to see something you always wanted to see and lacked the time/funds to.  Or buy a season ticket to the symphony (this is my own personal dream.  We can’t afford it, but I’m trying to figure out how to do it.)

If you have a family, the “big escape” should involve ALL of you.  Something you all like to do, if at all possible.  This a) is cheaper.  b) it gives everyone something to look forward to “another three weeks, and I finish this, and we go to Denver and go museum hopping.  Wheee.”  And the kids/husband are going “another three weeks, and…”  c) it helps reconnect with those you love.  Part of the issue with depression is that after a while you feel as though everyone around you is miles and miles away.  Having fun together, DOES help reconnect.

c – Merest escapism.  This was mentioned above, but I want it to have its own place, because it’s not something that needs to be part of scheduled time off, or that needs to be very expensive.

It has become fashionable to sneer at escapist entertainment.  This is nonsense.  It is part of the whole utilitarian view of human as a unit in society, a cog in the wheel.

If you’re reading this blog, chances are you read.  In the middle of “better reads” feel free to have the utter escapist novel.  For me, weirdly, when I was really depressed this involved revisiting the trashy reads of my younger years, mainly Enid Blyton.  But it can mean reading category Harlequin or pulp SF – don’t be afraid to do it.  The only criteria is “does it make me bubbly-happy inside?”

Again, you need to limit its time, or nothing else will get done, but if you read before bed, make every third read something that makes you happy, even if (particularly if) it has no redeeming qualities whatsoever.

And if you’re a writer – speaking for myself – write a bubbly-silly story or short novel every once in a while.  It will both (hopefully) give you some money  (and sharpen your mad indie skills, if you’re not going that way yet) and I’ve found (don’t think it’s just me) it helps with the escape.  I too can escape into the silly stuff.

Games, movies – all of this comes in escapist flavor.  Make escapism part of your plan.  Limit it, of course, or nothing else will get done.  When you’re depressed you obsess on things, and if escapism is all you do, it’s kind of like living on Cheetos.  After a while you get sick of it, and it doesn’t nourish you either.  But as part of your “make self feel better” a little won’t hurt you.

And now you’re going “Sarah, if I do all this, I’ll be stumbling-tired and nothing will get done.”

No, you won’t.  A lot of this is planning ahead, which will increase your sense of being in control of your life and your future.  And some of it – cleaning, organizing, exercising – can be combined.  BUT most of all, by pulling yourself out of the Great Depression, you WILL rest better in the time you have, and work better when you can.

Learning a skill might be only an hour a week, but you’d be amazed the difference an hour a week makes after a year.  Exercising might be fifteen minutes a day, but it too makes a difference.  And your escape might be reading ten pages before bed, but you’ll sleep better for it.

My specific strategies might not work for everyone, but something like it will.  Give it a try.  This great depression is communicating itself to everyone, all around – and it is no use to anyone.

Don’t sit down under it.  You have so many years – don’t let the locust eat them.


72 thoughts on “Defeating The Great Depression

    1. I know what you mean. There are a few things I can do, but trying to do some of them would make things worse in my house, because everyone would hate me. Most of them would be the kind of things that would allow us to save money to do other things for entertainment.

  1. Right now I’m working really hard, because I do have hope for a future. I don’t know what it will look like, yet, and I may be too much a pollyanna to imagine it will be good, but I have hope. However, full-time student, two jobs (one is my own business) and part-time mothering of four children is taking a toll on me body and soul. I am very fortunate to have someone to talk to, daily, and we can prop each other up. But your advice I am going to take to heart. I need some rest desperately some days. Otherwise my body will give out and I won’t get to see that future, in whatever form it takes.

  2. Great post today, Sarah. It really mirrors a lot of what I’ve been going through for almost the last two years. Some really good advice in there that I have been trying to follow and some that I haven’t been, but should heed. Like so many times, you are saying the very things I’ve been thinking and feeling. I think that there is a brighter future awaiting all of us, if we can just drudge through the hard times and survive to see them.

  3. Excellent post! Reading the first part was so see words put to the feelings I’ve been experiencing. I never felt I was the only one, but wondered why no one else said anything. Thank you, Sarah.

  4. I picked up something quite helpful lately (someone’s blog – would credit, but that would mean I remembered where): that 97% of the thoughts we have today – and we have many, many thoughts – are the SAME thoughts we had yesterday.

    So now, when I find myself obsessing over one of these ‘old familiar thoughts,’ I tell myself not to, unless I’m ready, right now, to do something about it.

    Most of these thoughts are things I need to get to – some day. Thinking about them one more time does NOT help.

    And it is really cleaning out the mental clutter: it goes on the list – and no more circular thinking.

    1. “that 97% of the thoughts we have today – and we have many, many thoughts – are the SAME thoughts we had yesterday.”

      I believe it. There are times I’ve put myself on a “mental diet” to avoid obsessing over something stupid.

  5. Another gem…you, Dear Lady; are a Pearl of Great Price- keep them coming, the encouragement is a great help!

  6. I’ll ask my wife to read this and make me reread it as needed. It’s very useful.

    Another thing I’d recommend is that if you can’t find something profitable, find something useful for other people and implement that. This has several advantages over doing nothing:

    1. You hone your technical skills.
    2. By doing it you build business skills and connections that could be useful for income producing projects later.
    3. You feel a sense of control and confidence from being useful to other people.

  7. Well…I wasn’t going to contribute until I had finished 4 job applications this week…but it is Sunday.

    I think it was Hugh Cook who said that dispair is the greatest sin of all, its the one that makes the others possible.

    I always suggest physical exercize it at all possible. And figure out what lies you are telling yourself. If you are depressed you have no time for them, and if you are not, they will make you spend time on things that aren’t so, so you need to pull them up like the weeds choking out your garden.

    1. Some of the early church Fathers held that despair was the deadliest sin, because it meant that you were so proud that you believed even G-d was not strong enough to help you.

      1. Not exactly dropped since then. After all, despair will refuse forgiveness, and the only way to escape any sign is forgiveness.

    2. Strongly agree on the exercise thing (says the man who’s going to run a half marathon in a couple of hours). In fact I’d recommend a) trying to make it part of your daily routine and b) make sure that it involves GOING OUTSIDE IN DAYLIGHT. No really, especially in the winter it’s really easy to not go out and that’s bad in lots and lots of ways.

      I have to say that finding time to read (or watch if you prefer that) something silly is excellent too. The financially challenged can read lots of Project Gutenberg PG Wodehouse, those of us with some money can also invest in other more modern authors (mad genius ones even – Dave, Kate …).

  8. Thanks, I needed that. I’m forwarding this to my daughter, who is trying to break into writing.
    And I’m going to take a walk. I probably won’t make it far – hasn’t been that long since the hospital stay – but it beats sitting around the house.

  9. Last year was a bad health year and this year started the same way. I hope that getting my mind right will help me get back on track. I used to do a mini-galt vacation every three months when we were in Panama. I’ll have to talk to Otto about doing it again. Even one day in another city (or even visit a ghost town) once a quarter would be a great vacation for us. It would give the hubby some photography time as well. Thanks for the encouragement.

  10. Sarah, thanks again for the right outlook. And thanks for bing a great fan of Heinlein. I discovered him about 1968, and you do the best job ofrecallingwhere his philosophy shold be guiding. I’m working on teaching my youngadult kids the wisdom of Lazarus Long. You seem to instinctively kno wit.

    1. The most important wisdom of Lazarus Long?
      “Hit the soft parts with your hand. Hit the hard parts with a tool.”

  11. What scares me is people have no idea how bad the economy really is. If you are in the business of providing business services there is no work to be had. No demand. Everyone has the same story. We are waiting for things to pick up but it doesn’t. The good news is the local Democratic politicians are pretty corpulent. So someone must have money.

    1. Fascism, baby, fascism. Crony capitalism and state allocating favorites to party friends/donors.

      Because it came without armbands or goosestepping and the anti-Semitism is disguised the nice people who see only superficialities have failed to see it.

      But make no mistake, that’s what it is. With the interesting twist of being anti-national socialism. You have to admire the inventiveness of bad ideas…

      1. C. S. Lewis warned us that:

        “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”

        The variations and permutations of those errors are as great as that enabled by the 1’s and 0’s of the internet.

        Don’t you know you can’t win?
        You’re no exception to the rule,
        I’m irresistible, you fool, give in!…Give in!…Give in!


      2. Its anti-national socialism in rhetoric but it is pro-have socialism in fact. Want to watch some steam head-steam come out of the computer monitor? Let a Leftist commentator know you are onto his Eurocentric viewpoint. That he is the real racist and his whole point of view is designed to get people who look and sound like him back into real power. The power of life and death over others. That he loves the UN because it is an oligopoly among nations. That he loves the Palestinians because they accepted German racial superiority in return for a chance to have a free hand in their hate. They never refute just act shocked that you would even suggest it. Then they disappear from the thread

        1. Ask them their thoughts on Mitt Romney’s purported bank accounts in the Cayman Islands … then ask them whether Jack Lew’s Cayman Island accounts don’t disqualify him from being Secretary of Treasury. Condemn Henry Kissinger’s refusal to turn over financial information about his foreign funds receipts, praise Hillary Clinton’s willingness to reveal all of her (and her husband’s) funds’ sources before accepting the Secretary of State nomination … then ask if (considering how much of our federal budget is spent through the Pentagon) it is appropriate for the Republican Chuck Hagel to keep secret his funds received from foreign sources.

          Goose, gander – the same sauce is good.

    1. “Low Carb Apocalypse” Now I have to remember to [searchengine] that term when I get home from work.

  12. I have similar depressive reactions to similar issues. These get added onto the down swings of my bipolar disorder. I’ve had a hard time coping in recent years (despite multiple drugs) because the combination is devastating. The worst problem for me is not the foolishness, lying, incompetence, and shenanigans of politicians, it’s the idiots in this nation who keep electing and re-electing them. For example, how could the voters re-elect Obama, the president with the worst record in generations? Were voters taking soma (Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’) for the past four years? Grr.

  13. One other thing – whatever the change you’re making is, make only one small step at a time. It’s trying to start up a new habit (exercise, whatever) and if you do too much of that in one hit (which I do), chances are good things won’t stick and then depression starts whispering about how you can’t stick to anything worthwhile.

    1. Especially exercise. Just do a little at first. Just enough so that you start to get tired, but not so much that your muscles feel like jelly: that’ll leave you in significant pain for days, automatically derailing your intended result. Also, possibly resulting in injury.

      1. A pedometer may help, if you go for walking. In particular, I recommend if you use it, for a couple of days, just continue in your usual pattern, except to check for progress. Once you have the totals, you can add gradually to it. The reason for checking through the day is that you don’t want to add about five hundred steps and then realize that actually, your normal walking about is concentrated in the evening, because you really added two thousands. . .

        Also, be sure to eat enough protein, to enable you to build up muscle. Protein supplements may be wise if necessary. I found that glucosamine and chondroitin supplements helped when I had joint pains, too.

  14. Music can also help with depression. Myself, I listen to Goth to get me out of a depressed mood, but I have been told that makes me Odd 🙂 So choose whatever type of music puts you in a happy mood, and play it while doing some of the other things on Sarah’s list, like cleaning house.

  15. That is a big part why I work magick (I do find that extra k silly, but so far it seems to be the only way to indicate whether you mean something like stage magic, or whether you are doing rituals which are meant to alter your reality in some way). It’s a bit difficult to explain how I see it, I both believe and not believe that the rituals can actually work, at the same time. I don’t expect to find a pile of money to materialize on my doorstep out of thin air after a money spell, but often it seems I will find it a bit easier to find a way to earn what I need after I have done one.

    So for me magick is three things: the rituals give me something to do, and I like doing them, so it’s a pleasant hobby, it does give me at the very least the illusion that I am doing something to help myself, so it makes me feel less of a victim and more in charge, and third, doing a spell makes me more alert for anything which might help me to realize it, since, as said, I don’t believe they work like they do in fairy tales, but rather that if they work anywhere but inside my head they do it by changing the probabilities in a way which will favor the desired outcome, but that this still requires me to notice and grab the opportunity which might manifest. So for me the big question is whether something supernatural is actually happening, or if the effects are psychological. Whichever, good enough for me. I kind of favor the supernatural explanation, but perhaps that is just because I like it better. More fun.

    I guess a big part here is simply the feeling of being in control, at least to some extent. It’s a lot easier to do the real world stuff when you are not feeling completely overwhelmed, or hopeless. I suppose Christians can get that same benefit from their faith, and praying, but since I really truly don’t believe there is just one true faith in the world I can’t quite commit to that, while this neopagan eclectic version of magick is something that works for me, however silly it may seem.

      1. Yes. But it’s a balancing act. Magick, for one, can be extremely silly, lots of very woo-woo practitioners, even if a minority actually do manage to sound almost completely level-headed most don’t, so I have moments of defensiveness even when I’m not talking about it (mostly I deal with this by pretty much never talking or thinking about the whole thing in a completely serious manner). And then there is going too far in the other direction, starting to feel too much in control and relying on it too much – it’s smart as long as it’s a tool to keep myself in a place where I’m able to function, but there is always the risk I might start to rely too much on it.

        But I guess that same goes for all the tools we use for our mental health. Optimism is good, feeling comfortable is good, and it doesn’t really matter how real the source may be as long as it’s just enough to keep you away from depression, but if it’s more from something which may be more imaginary than real you have to be careful that you keep at least one foot in confirmed reality, however depressing that reality may be. If you go completely for the comforting – well, isn’t that where the people who vote for the politicians who promise them nice things regardless whether those politicians have even a remote chance of giving them those nice things, are?

  16. There’s a point you miss in the Galt discussions…the end of the book. The ability to survive in Galt mode was not to take yourself off the grid and live as a hermit hiding in a bunker in the woods, it was joining an active COMMUNITY of like minded people who could support each other off the grid.

    Those of us who qualify as middle-aged were able to grow up with light or no community ties – because societal infrastructure worked and worked well and according to the rules (more or less, kinda-sorta). You didn’t have to know your neighbors or be friendly, because you’d never need enough of a connection to be able to turn to them for assistance.

    Today, when you can’t get a bank loan, when you have skills which you could barter but which enough formal employment doesn’t exist to get a job, when you have excess of a product that you can’t afford to sell because of regulations or environmental impact or layering taxes and licences on top make it not worth it… you need a trusted network of contacts to share that information and make things happen.

    Most such communal structures tend to be organized around strong religious structures (a nice sized church or synagogue or other faith based community) or strong ideological structures (a commune or even a militia), and the truly strong such tend to be those who are truly committed to their religious strictures (meaning fundamentalist Christians or Orthodox Jews and the like) or ideals, where an element of charity and helping the other is given the extra oomph of religious drive or force of communal ideology – which helps overcome any risks involved. (Example, helping provide food to the hungry IN your church is allowed to members of your church as it’s just a church event or activity, but in New York and [I think] Portland, generally feeding the hungry without a permit, commercial kitchen sanitation conditions and equipment and nutritional regulation to prevent too salty or sugary food is ILLEGAL.)

    So one answer you’ve not included, and miss in your mini-Galt approach, is to join or even attempt to form a COMMUNITY. Hopefully this is not due to an aversion to religion. Regardless, don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater, strong communities can weather the current situation by compensating with collective support.

    1. She doesn’t mention it in this post, but has mentioned it in past posts. Part of the trick to it is to form a community without any Judas goats that turn other members over to the government if it really gets bad.

    2. About barter and the breakdown of financial institutions:

      One semi-subversive idea that’s been banging around in my head for a while (though it is far from originally mine) is the idea that, somehow, there should be a way to use cryptography to set up some sort of banking/currency system that is opaque to the government.

      Modern encryption algorithms can be unbreakable. Actually, even relatively simple ancient algorithms can be literally unbreakable means of transmitting a message. Something like the one-time-pad (provided you only use it *ONE TIME*) method can ensure that, without the key, the message is literally just a block of random text. The information is in some sense not even present. No hypothetical NSA supercomputers, no super-clever mathematics, etc can break the encryption. Brute force and arbitrary amounts of resources cannot prevail against a good encryption scheme. (Of course, there are other vulnerabilities, such as lead-pipe cryptanalysis of the keeper of the data, betrayal of keys, etc.)

      And as far as trade goes, currency is mostly a form of communication. (Granted, communication that has to follow strict rules to be meaningful and work correctly.) Someone with sufficient capital to back the issuing of some sort of note can use it to smooth trade. In a future hyperinflation currency collapse, the only reason why a grey-market economy need be reduced to barter is if everyone accepts that the only authority to issue currency rests in the government. At one point in our history, every bank with a reserve or holder of some commodity could issue their own notes against it – until the government made it illegal.

      It would be a sweet revolution if, some day after driving the dollar into the dirt through some asymptotic deficit-spending meltdown, federal officials find that goods and services are still being exchanged, but rather than carting around wheelbarrows full of trillion dollar bills, or trying to trade chickens for motor oil, peoples’ business is getting done in some way that they cannot penetrate. They’ll be swiping cards, or communicating some sort of credit prior to shopping, but they won’t be reporting any of it. How do you tax something like that? How do you control it? You could send in police to seize the computers of a shop – but you wouldn’t be able to break the encryption on their records. They could try to trace the communications between the shops/private computers in an attempt to find the source of the illegal currency, but they wouldn’t be able to figure out what any of the packets mean. If by some analysis of traffic they track down the pirate bankers, they could take their computers also, but not break the records. And the records would be easy to duplicate and mirror. As long as a pirate banker maintains his agreement of silence, his friends could easily see that his empire continues to run without interruption, no matter how many servers are seized.

      A government may be able to attempt penetrating the network by opening an account like any other citizen, they may try to solicit donations. But they can no longer use force to take someone else’s money, know how much any given person has, or by fiat create their own. Or they can ride around like barbarians and try to live off of physical tribute that they extract, and be completely cut off from the organic economy of the nation.

      Anyway, it is a nice dream, but there are some structural problems with it that need to be resolved somehow before it can be anything but a nice dream. First and foremost among them being that if you can’t audit a pirate bank (and that is its chief protection against the government intruding into the trade it supports), how can you trust it? Pirate bankers may not do something as direct as removing your account balance, but they would be subject to the same temptation that any government is – overissuing of their currency while trying to hide how much they have loaned/spent against any particular backing asset/reserve. Also, in the encrypted grey market, the police would obviously not be able to help you with any problem you have. Force would be impotent, and fraud would be impossible to deal with except by breaking off contact with the defrauder.

      Anyway, rather than a transparent future where all transactions, however small are monitored by the state and it’s computers, and through control of business, all human interaction and association is tightly constrained; you could have an opaque future where the privacy of your business is defended by something stronger than the state’s respect for your 4th amendment rights.

        1. The Bezos
          Editorial of The New York Sun
          February 9, 2013

          “Bezos Versus Bernanke” is the headline up on, issued by the founding managing editor of The New York Sun, Ira Stoll. He cites as the “latest news in the story of the fall of the fiat dollar” word that the online retailer is issuing “Amazon coins,” which, the reports, it is calling a “new virtual money” and we’re inclined to call the Bezos.


          The Sun was the first newspaper to endorse [Congressman Ron Paul’s] Free Competition in Currency Act. We didn’t have the Bezos, per se, in mind. But were the ideas of Hayek to go into law, what in this electronic age would prevent the Bezos from competing with the dollar? The Bezos could even be managed with an idea of maintaining its convertibility into gold. Had that been done, a one-dollar Bezos issued in 2001 would today have a value of more than six times a dollar. And you could no doubt buy it in “one-click.”
          [MORE: ]

        2. Write each other checks, and swap back for your own, perhaps organized by a banker once a month. Or run it like a limited membership online game. “It’s like Farmville. It’s not real.” Or everyone in the co-op agrees on a value for something physical that can’t be cheaply forged. For instance, 24 karat gold chains of a specific size link. One inch equals $1. Or coffee. Or shotgun shells.

      1. I heard on the radio the other day that the Virginia House of Delegates is funding a study about having its own currency. Last year, the WSJ had a long article about the new barter economy in Spain.

    3. LOL. I am religious, but at odds with my religion just now — no. At odds with the local practitioners of my religion and with its leadership ninnified ways. (Totally a word. Don’t give it a second thought.) Which is probably enough to identify my religion — it’s not a deep secret. I don’t name it, because my entire life I’ve played footsy with another religion, so that identifying me as just one seems like betrayal.

      But anyway, that and the fact we don’t have friends nearby, even as we reestablish the social life that was nuked by 9/11, is one of the reasons for considering moving, which is at the back of the mad house cleaning of 13.

      On Galt — Sorry — you misunderstood the thrust of the post. Somewhere in the archives (one day I’m going to pay younger son to tag posts, I swear) is my mini-galt article “what to do when you can’t go galt.” That included (at least) an online community.

      This one is literally what it says it is “How to shake off the deep depression that so many of us are battling against.”

        1. You have something against (hat tip PJ O’Rourke) the episcopalian guerrillas that go to people’s houses and force them to cut the crusts off sandwiches and play no contract bridge at gun point?

            1. When they engage in unwitting self-parody they render the efforts of others futile. Anybody claiming to be both Christian and Muslim understands nothing meaningful about either creed.

  17. PS – thank you for the advice to stave off “The Great Depression”. It is what has lead me to swear off (unsuccessfully) reading about the political outrage of the day (and it always is some outrage), every New Years.

    1. Oy. I go through weeks I can’t read political blogs. Then weeks when I can’t write because I MUST read political blogs, because I can’t trust them. I UNDERSTAND you.

          1. You forgot half the name. they’re not just Progs. They’re Vile Progs. In many ways I’m a Lib — but not in any way that’s used now. I mean, guys, seriously, how can you call a minarchist who wants government cut back to a minimum and made powerless to choose winners and losers a “conservative” — and yet, our language is so corrupted that’s what I am. Technically.

  18. Thanks for another great article. I’ve been following your blog for the past two months, and nearly every day find something that strikes a chord with me. I’m still hoping someone will tackle the mini-galt phenomenon in slightly more detail. I know there are sites dedicated to survial prepping, investing, political news, etc. But it would be great to have an online community with people talking about how they are dealing with the long, slow decline you talk about in “It All Ends in Chickens.” For instance, are people cashing out their retirement accounts? What’s the consensus on economic collapse? Is there hope of recovery once the baby-boomers retire or die off? How many readers are seriously considering expatriation? Jerry Pournelle and Lazarus Long would recommend being prepared for anything, especially with the warning signs we see daily. So, in dealing with our potential for hopelessness and depression, what is everyone else doing to take action for upcoming Doom and Gloom?

    1. Well, I’m seriously thinking about offering adult-education history and government classes, starting on a donation basis. “You think what you heard/read/discussed is valuable? Please tip the instructor.” I’m getting the sense that there would be a real market from adults who don’t want to admit that their public education was lacking in useful content, or who have been out of school a wee bit long. Sort of a local, live-action version of the Teaching Company (or whatever name is is currently going by).

      1. Well, what I told the kids was “let’s study real stuff now, because if it all comes crashing down credentials will be worth nothing, but learning WILL.”

        I say do it.

        1. The Universe seems to be working in a mysterious way. I’ve just been called to teach a 12th grade government class at [private school] for the foreseeable future.

          1. Do I offer congratulations or condolences? 🙂

            On Mon, Feb 11, 2013 at 12:22 PM, According To Hoyt wrote:

            > ** > TXRed commented: “The Universe seems to be working in a mysterious way. > I’ve just been called to teach a 12th grade government class at [private > school] for the foreseeable future.” >

            1. A little of both, Jasini. Kind thoughts for the family of the person for whom I’m teaching, and for her, would not be amiss.

              It’s like I said when I flew for EMS: I’m sorry you need me but I’m glad I’m available.

          2. TX — one of the reasons I downloaded all the free stuff from the Federalist Papers is because I want to write a series of essays on American History, and wanted the latest and best information I could find. I hope to start on it at the end of this month. I’ll keep you informed!

  19. “In times of change, learners inherit the Earth while the learned find themselves equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”
    — Eric Hoffer

  20. For me, getting out of the Great Depression involved 1) Creating a Future, and 2) Having A Goal with Permanent Consequences.

    (Hint– changing my religion and getting married really helped!)

    Now, it’s all about getting out of the Great Recession, because I’m so overwhelmed!

    I am slowly building up a sense of normalcy. The dangerous thing about Depression (or Recession in my case) is that it becomes the default. You have to build in habits that take you to a different level. This way, the next time you have to run on auto-pilot (as busy/overworked/underutilized lives are wont to do) the settings you have instilled gravitate you back to something nurturing and not something destructive.
    In case you are wondering– for me, Depression is debilitating, and means NOTHING HAPPENS. A Recession is where things are slow, frustrating and difficult, but work can still be done. You have room to fight a Recession. A Depression you have to dig out that 3 square foot of space just to feel– like there’s a point to doing anything.

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