As some of you know, I’ve been reading about the Argentinian collapse. To be plain, what I’ve been reading is Surviving The Economic Collapse by Fernando Aguirre.
Someone had mentioned it here years ago, in connection with my posts on the collapse.
So far the collapse he documented is what I saw in Portugal. Only Portugal never got that far, at least while I lived there. It seems to be straggling that way now. In the middle there the EU took over, which changed things and even made them seem better for a while. My brother told me that Europe injected billions into Portugal and that the amazing thing is that it didn’t do more. Perhaps. I don’t know. I left thirty years ago, when things were iffy but nowhere near as bad as they are in Argentina and were in fact on a slight.
My visits back don’t count. The country feels dirtier and more dangerous than it did when I lived there, but I suspect it would anyway. It’s sort of like I can no longer drink unboiled water there. I might have been a kid there, and played in the dirt by the irrigation ditches, but I’ve been in the US for 30 years, and my body doesn’t recognize the local pathogens anymore. On the other hand there are fairly impartial witnesses to rising disorder – including bars on windows and taller walls around the yards in the village. And the fact that keeping your back door open all day is no longer normal.
At any rate, as I said, the “collapse” Ferfal describes is exactly the same I experienced, only harder and faster. Like me, he’s bemused by Americans who think when the economy collapses we go back to either the stone age or frontier days. That’s not what either of us has experienced. Things just get dirtier, shabbier, and more unreliable. The niceties of civilization peel away. But we are not suddenly living in a Mad Max world. We’re just living in our old houses with bars in the windows, three different kind of alarms and a way of shutting out doors so that burglars have to break in through three levels which gives you time to get the gun from the closet. (Yes, guns are restricted in Portugal, but it seems like everyone has one anymore. Look, radios used to be licensed and OFFICIALLY even in the seventies there were only two in the whole village. Yet everyone had one. Some people had two. Any radio inspector (yes, that was a thing) sighted up at the entrance to the village, and all radios went to the attic or the priest’s hole, and everyone prepared their best poor face, “I wish we had a radio. Best we can do is hold a wire to grandpa’s fillings and then crowd around with our ears to his mouth, to hear the soap opera.”)
But as I read his book and nod sagely along with things like “buy used jewelry now, because that’s easiest to trade with. Gold coins advertise you have a hoard” and as I remember the massive flea markets of the late seventies in Portugal, and how my brother and his generation ransacked attics for things to sell because no one their generation had a job, I keep getting a feeling that things are also not right, things are… slightly askew.
Look, Ferfal is an educated man, and clearly he’s been on line and knows Americans. BUT he’s not an American, and we are different. We are the Aspergers kid of the international community. Every country has a constitution, for instance, but we’re the only one who takes it seriously. Every country has an history, but Americans, by and large (and yes, I know whence I speak) know more about their history and are more exact about it than anywhere else.
The first thing that impressed me about Americans was how seriously we took things – no, you took things. I was not one of you yet, at least officially. There were clubs for HOBBIES like sewing and hosting foreign students. They were run according to Robert’s rules. I couldn’t imagine that anywhere else.
Again, if you visualize the international community as a bunch of people, America is the Aspergers kid in the corner saying “You can’t do that, because the charter says—”
I don’t mean this as a criticism. I am one of us, after all. And by choice. This taking things too seriously and too literally and not doing the wink and nod thing other nations do is both the cause of our glory and a lot of our problems.
It is the cause of our glory because we believe in the Pax Americana, and we view it as our duty, and like no other country since the history of ever, we do not take over and create an empire, while dressing it up in charity and civic duty. We really do keep the peace of the seas and international commerce and we really do believe countries shouldn’t invade our allies out of what the heck, and…
The downside of it is that we often fail to understand – even our politicians – how other countries act. We don’t get that no, throughout history, England felt no guilt at all for doing down France, just to keep France from getting too uppity and vice versa. We fail to understand the basic chauvinism of other countries, even when being a patriot is a “bad” thing in most of them. If you listen to conversations in the pub or in the home, they’re still sure their “race” (by which they mean nationality) is way better than all others, and they wouldn’t even consider this might be a stupid thing to think.
Americans don’t get those mechanisms. We’re genuinely not that way.
At the same time, the fact that we don’t get other countries means we don’t get history, either. The only place in the world who could come up with “Americans are guilty of everything bad” is right here. We take an ideal constitution seriously, and the principals of individual freedom, worldwide, so of course, we’re going to feel guilty when Real Politick causes us to support dictators or arm less than sane/pure insurgents. And this, internalized through our academics, pollutes the mind of our young with self hatred. Then the other countries go along with it, because, h*ll yeah, it gives them an excuse for why they fail.
All of which comes back to the crash. I agree with Ferfal that the Argentine type crash is probably the closest to what America will be but… um… there are different factors.
There is the crazy American character which might make things much better – and in some places possibly much much better. Remember the power outage on the Eastern seaboard? Remember hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people quietly walking miles and miles back home? With no crime, no looting, no vandalism?
I can’t imagine that happening in any other country at any other time, unless in very small towns in mono-cultural countries like Sweden or Finland.
THAT is the measure of how perfectly weird we are. Yes, not all locations could do that. There’s New Orleans. And Detroit. But those stick out in the American landscape.
So – what if they gave an economic crash and no one noticed?
In many locations I bet you that’s just what will happen.
In others… Mad Max might be a best case scenario.
That’s one of the ways we’re different. Yes, Ferfal talks about disparities of that kind, but no one who hasn’t lived in America can understand or see the sheer difference in culture even between adjacent cities.
I can’t tell you how our character will affect an economic crash (and if you don’t think an economic crash is coming, kindly do wake up) – because we’re different, and we haven’t fallen yet. We can guess how it will affect it, but not KNOW — all I can say is it will be interesting.
But there are other factors that make it even more complex. In answer to someone ranting about the crash (on a thread about baby shower cakes. No, seriously) Eric Scheie said he doesn’t think our crash will come that fast/abrupt, simply because of our position in the world. We are THE economic/innovation leader of the world. If other countries admit we’re bankrupt, then they’ll collapse. (And please, do spare me Chinese triumphalism. Chinese prosperity is dependent on us, like a suburb’s on a big city. Sorry. There is no there there. Yes, I know the numbers. And what in h*ll’s own name are doing believing the numbers a totalitarian regime puts out? Didn’t the population statistics of the USSR teach you a lesson?)
That’s one factor. As much as they hate us, we’ve been pulling the engine of civilization a long time and there simply isn’t anyone credible to take our place. (No, this is not American triumphalism, either. The reason we are the engine of this train is that the other countries swallowed the spider of socialism earlier, and faster. Even in the “best case scenario” – the Scandinavian countries – the socialist model kills small business and individual experimentation and reduces the incentives for success. Which in turn kills innovation.) They don’t dare admit we’re running on thin air Merry Melodies fashion. They are, rather, holding their breath, and hoping we don’t look down.
But sooner or later either it becomes obvious we’re no longer pulling the train, or we realize it ourselves. And then—
We don’t know. I don’t know, and you don’t know, and no one knows.
Things to take in account: when those erstwhile kept quiet out of interest or fear realize the hen house is unguarded, will we be attacked? I’d bet on it. I’ve for years now been sure we’re going to lose a city, maybe two. But what happens after? I’d have said the US will rise in outrage and defend ourselves, but will we? The number of bots running around insisting “Benghazi isn’t a thing” scares me a bit. How many of these are live and how many paid? And how many simply stupid?
Part of this, of course, is that we’ve been so comfortable so long a lot of people are utterly stupid and divorced from reality. And their courting of the inevitable punishment for stupidity touches us too.
Other things – this happened in other industrialized countries that crashed, too, but here we have more of everything – like, the fact that we have a lot of people whose ONLY education is Marxism, (No, really? Various ethnic studies, social justice majors, you name it. Even English and literature and history of recent vintage.) Not only don’t these people have any useful skills but a lot of the ones they have will be counterproductive in the real world. Already are, really, but when things turn sour it matters more.
Will we get attacked? Almost for sure. Will be get invaded? I doubt it, though I dare say some of the left radicals might want it. (They did in the seventies, at least.) Thank heavens, we are armed to the teeth as a nation and would prove a very tough chestnut for any foreign power.
Any country invading us would quickly realize we’re ungovernable (as our own statists keep finding out.) You can break things and stop our prosperity, but you can’t control us.
Which brings us to another point – in many ways we’re … Odd. We’re the most law abiding of people, but we can also say “to heck with that” and exist beside the law/behind it/around it.
I’m SURELY not the only one who remembers that in 1980, with taxes through the roof, everyone who got paid in cash had two prices, the cash price and the “official” price.
I think we’ll take to the grey economy with a gusto and verve that will scare even Russians, and invent new forms of it very quickly. To an extent we already are. Online trading services – I plan to do most of my Christmas shopping in those. Used “like new” books for used “like new” games. This year, that’s the best we can hope for – craigslist. The list goes on and these are all American inventions.
And in the end, in the very end, that’s what I mean to say in this column.
First, don’t count us out. We’re Americans. Rising Phoenix-like from the ashes is what we DO. It’s our individual story. Most of us who came here came to build a new life because the old one had crashed badly – economically, emotionally or otherwise. It’s our collective story. Even those of us whose ancestors weren’t here at the time, are descended from the stock market crash and the Depression on our mother’s side, to paraphrase O’Rourke. It’s also our character. Mentioning O’Rourke reminds me that he talks about a restaurant (Russia? Poland?) where an American would set everything straight with a bottle of windex and a rag. That is also to a large extent true. Americans – self selected, having come here to start again or descended from people who did – look at messes and go “How do I fix this?”
This can be bad, but post collapse, it’s also good.
Second, stop assuming progressives have some amazing “planning foo.” I refuse to approve comments that say “this Health care thing is all a plan. We’re all doomed. All of this is planned.” Is it planned? Oh, sure. Is it working as planned? Snort, giggle. Seriously guy, if socialist plans worked here now it would be for the first time ever. Remember the five year plans in Russia and China? Yeah, that’s why Russia fed the wor… Oh, wait. No it isn’t. Yes our “progressives” believe that they have everything planned and can even lie to themselves that the plan is working PERFECTLY.
You’re not required to believe them. In fact, if you feel inclined to, you should take an aspirin and a strong cup of tea. This is the statist illusion – that things can be planned from above and will work perfectly, as delineated. Real life is not like that, even in small, homogeneous countries, much less in our glorious mess of a homeland.
Their plans are both going forward and falling apart, and the fact that they’re blind to their falling apart side makes the whole situation very dangers, but it doesn’t mean they’ll reign in glory forever and ever amen. Stop drinking their koolaid. It’s probably laced with acid.
Third, coming from a country with an enormous depth of history (we keep trailing it on our our clogs) – badly studied and imperfectly known by the people in the country. I found better books on Medieval Portugal in the US than in Portugal. More of them too. BUT just growing up in a village (yes, I am Miss Marple. Deal) gave me insight into that history – I have to tell you that even if the progressives “win” it not only won’t be forever, it won’t even be as they expect. Also, even if we enter in severe decline it won’t be forever. Or probably for very long.
Look, when I was growing up in the village – at a time when EVERYONE kept their backdoor open unless it was the bitterest cold. And sometimes even then, they just put a brazier under the kitchen table. The common way to find out someone wasn’t home, was to open the garden gate, go around back, get into the kitchen and BELLOW their name – I was puzzled by broken glass on top of the garden walls. And the fact that all the older – a hundred years or – walls were VERY tall (unlike the new ones, which were waist-high.) And I was puzzled by my grandmother’s insistence that the huge window in the kitchen MUST be covered by a thick board (with a bar across it) every night.
It was explained to me that when grandma was a little girl things had been utterly lawless and no one was safe in their own homes from home invaders and thieves.
Yet by my time, you were perfectly safe. Yes, that was strong man rule. Yes, because the strong man had the economic understanding of a small fluffy duck, it also made us poor as Job. But we were safe, and literate, and the mechanisms of civilization operated. Then came lawlessness, worsening again. Perhaps ahead lies civilization without strong man rule?
Why not? It could happen. The English war of the Roses with the country riven and torn came before Victorian England. Yes, many centuries. But still. It means we’re not witnesses to the apocalypse. We only live in interesting times.
And besides, look, it’s not written anywhere that we must decline. Yeah,the people at the top believe it and are trying to bring it about. But even they are having a hell of a time getting us to crash. How it must baffle them.
And come on – After fifty years of the socialists controlling education, they still have about half the votes (Less, if the fraud I saw is anything to go on, and the way they fight fraud indicates it is.)
EVEN in the fields they’re strongest in, things elude their plans. Because… we’re Americans. We don’t take direction well.
I am sick and tired of the whole “Witness to the Apocalypse” mode half of my libertarian/conservative friends are in. I am sick onto death of their buying into the infallibility of the “progressives” plans and integrating all features into “they meant to do that.”
Please! These people couldn’t tip piss out of a boot with instructions written on the sole.
Yes, they’re dangerous. Their certainty and their incompetence makes them dangerous. But they’re not a majority, they’re not half as smart as they think they are, and I’m going to predict right now reality is going to shock them even more than it’s already doing.
A crash might be inevitable. Staying down after a crash ISN’T.
The future is not written anywhere. It’s up to you to create. We must be prepared. We must be ready to pick up. We must be ready to rise from those ashes and go forward. We must — metaphorically speaking — make sure we have the windex and the rag at hand.
We have work to do, and none of it involves playing the lyre while Rome burns, no matter how pretty the flames and how romantic the prospect.
This is no time to go wobbly.